Sunday, April 20, 2014

Who Speaks for Islam: What a Billion Muslims Really Think

Related to a previous post, here is an interesting and thought-provoking discussion with the editor and co-author of the 2008 book Who Speaks for Islam: What a Billion Muslims Really Think (Gallup Press, 2008). Dalia Mogahed, co-author and Executive Director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, and editor Reza Aslan, author of Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth (Random House, 2013), speak with the host Ray Suarez and respond to a number of online and video questions from viewers.

I thought this discussion was a very good one. I think Dalia Mogahed and Reza Aslan did a very good job explaining the views of the majority of Muslims, particularly the ”Danish Cartoon incident.” I found Mogahed's comparison between these dramatic and violent riots which occurred across the Muslim world and race riots from the 1960's to be convincing. She argues that a particular race riot that caused several deaths and millions in damage was caused by a simple traffic stop. But it was not the traffic stop that caused the riots. She argues that there is a difference between the “trigger” and the “fuel.” In the case of the race riots, the “fuel” was the constant harassment and second-class status felt by many African Americans and the “trigger” which set off an explosion of anger and violence was a simple traffic stop by a white police officer of two African American teens. Similarly, the decades long invasions and support of brutal dictatorships by the US and Eastern countries was the “fuel” in this case, and mere cartoons was the “trigger” which caused all of the chaos.

I am, however, skeptical of her comparison between someone feeling offended by being called a racial epithet and Muslim's becoming enraged over an insult of Muhammad. She claims that both are examples of attacking someone's identity. But I don't see how a Muslim's belief that Muhammad is god's prophet is the same as someone's race. One is a belief about a person, the other is something intrinsic to them that is a part of them. Their argument about Muslims' feelings of powerlessness in the face of oppression seem more reasonable to me, though.

Regardless, I thought most of the author's and editor's explanations seemed reasonable on most other topics. I've recently bought their book, Who Speaks for Islam, and I'm looking forward to reading the entirety of their findings.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

My Leap from Extremism to Moderation and Rationality

After 9/11 I was like most people in the world who were angry about the attacks and I felt much anger towards Muslims. I recall stories of hate crimes against Muslims and oftentimes these attackers would mistakenly assault a person of Indian decent. I also recall the time when I walked into a gas station and glared at the cashier who I mistakenly took for a Muslim (who I now believe was Indian) and I did not smile when I gave him my money and quietly said, “thank you” with a straight face, and walked out of the store.

Looking back, I regret my cold demeanor immensely and wish I could go back and treat this innocent man with all of the respect and kindness he deserved. Luckily for me, it did not take long for me to realize how the war in Iraq Bush Jr. was leading everyone into was a farce and was built on lies. It was this event that initiated my reading about politics in my early 20's. Before this period I knew nothing about politics. I honestly didn't even know the difference between a Republican or a Democrat! I quickly learned about the illegal acts of the Bush administration and around this same time I began learning about the religious right and their attempts at subverting democracy. My political conscience was born.

My views have shifted much ground over the years, but I firmly believe I largely have the facts necessary to make rational and just decisions. It wasn't always this way, however.

Reading Sam Harris' The End of Faith and the other New Atheists' best-sellers helped to shape part of this political awakening, mostly as it had to do with the treatment of Muslims and my views about Islam. Needless to say, due to these influences I was very anti-Islam and very anti-Muslim. It wasn't until several years later that I began to read more widely and my views began to shift.

What precipitated this change was watching the independent news broadcast called Democracy Now where they would often depict Muslim families, children, the elderly, and innocent women who had been attacked by Western forces in their country or whose homes and/or families had been destroyed by a drone's Hell Fire missile.

I witnessed these people from far off lands speak about the loss of their homes and loved ones. I saw the look of despair on their faces, or in the case of some Muslim women, the sound of their voices through their burqa as they would cry and talk about the loss of their loved ones. I saw Arab men and women demanding freedom during the Arab spring and calling for democracy, freedom of speech, and other basic human rights. These scenes touched me and made me realize that not all Muslims were anti-Democratic or hated the West. It was not the ideals of they West they hated (as the propaganda of George W. Bush would have it, and even some irrational atheists), but the West's numerous military interventions and interferences in their countries and the countless innocent lives lost and the destruction caused (among other reasons, as I would later learn). I came to the realization that these people were not much different than you or me.

As a matter of fact, numerous polls backed my observations. In a book titled Religion and the New Atheism: A Critical Appraisal, edited by Amarnath Amarasingam, was a chapter by a doctoral candidate (at the time of the publishing date) in Religious Studies named Rory Dickerson who cited several polls demonstrating that “Muslims do not differ significantly from others in terms of basic moral and political positions.” As I've noted many times in the past what the vast majority of Muslims are in opposition to are specific US government policies, “not the principles on which those governments are based.” The principles in which the “tens of thousands” of Muslims that were polled said they admired were democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. This is in stark contrast to the typical Islamophobe, who seem to believe all Muslims are immoral and evil. All of the objective data says otherwise. I would highly recommend all people who feel this way about Muslims read Rory Dickerson's contribution. It is titled 'Religion as Phantasmagoria: Islam in The End of Faith.' Hopefully it will help in scraping the scales from your eyes.

After coming to terms with all of this new information I began to take a much more nuanced view about Muslims and the religion of Islam. Yes, there are many extremists out there who would not hesitate to kill innocent people, but these are a minority, when compared to the Middle East as a whole, so why is the US military occupying entire countries and killing many innocent people who have nothing to do with attacking innocent people? Then I began to read the work of James Bovard (specifically his book Terrorism and Tyranny), Noam Chomsky, William Blum and Chalmers Johnson. These books opened my eyes to even more facts. The fact that not all Muslims want to harm Americans. The fact that US foreign policy is often what drives these extremists, and just because someone follows the religion of Islam, this does not make them violent. The US government's foreign polices have more to do with economic and military interests than humanitarian interests. The speeches by US leaders have more to do with consoling a population than enlightening them, or is simply telling them what they want to hear, all the while continuing to operate in the same manner, despite public outcry, or making a few token changes just to console protesters, while leaving the primary abuses and problems unresolved and unfixed, where they ultimately return to business as usual once the media attention dies down. These are the facts that have shaped my political views for the last several years.

I have written at great length about many of these immoral foreign policy decisions and this irrational and factless hatred of Muslims as a whole.

Unfortunately, with these more moderate views, many extremists seem to take the infamous line of George W. Bush: “Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.” This nonsensical and extremist position has been used as a highly unfair and inaccurate slur against myself by a few irrational atheist extremists, whose hated of Muslims and Islam appears to hinder any hope of rationality or polite discourse, as strawmen, personal attacks, and propaganda, rather than facts, become their weapons of choice since they have abandoned all rational thought.

When someone blindly accepts an ideology – any ideology – those beliefs begin to chip away at the person's humanity as all things become subservient to that ideology. It's happened with the Religious Right, it's happened with Russian Communism, it's happened with US foreign policy, and it's happened with the recent explosion of so-called Islamophobia.

Innocent abortion doctors are murdered for the sake of an ideology, thousands imprisoned or killed, drone strikes terrorize and murder countless innocent men, women and children, the political process is hijacked by irrational Christian fundamentalists and the rights of pregnant women and homosexual persons are stripped away without a care in the world by these many ideologues.

One cannot lose his or her way by succumbing to any ideology. One must rely on human compassion, empathy, facts, and brute rationality to make decisions. Not blind ideological slogans or beliefs, which more often than not, leaves the innocent, the minorities, the most in need or the most vulnerable, exposed and trampled underfoot by those who would sacrifice their compassion for an idea or a belief. It is in this way, the New Atheists and those who parrot this black or white viewpoint have fallen victim to the very target of their rage. But nothing is just black and white. There are many shades of gray as well and one mustn't forget this. If you do, you're liable to lose your way like so many have, and even like the few atheists I've debated with over the drone war and US foreign policy in the last year.

Friday, April 11, 2014

McClatchy: "CIA’s use of harsh interrogation went beyond legal authority, Senate report says"

The drama over the Senate report on CIA interrogation techniques is still going strong, yet the report is still classified. However, the conclusions drawn from the report have been made public recently by McClatchy.

Something I find amazing (or not...) is Dianne Feinstein's tremendous opposition to the CIA, all the while she's been a continuous apologist for the NSA and their blatantly illegal and unconstitutional surveillance of millions of innocent people around the world, including economic espionage.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Lucifer Effect – April 2014

In this first video, a cop detains two African Americans and threatens to “make stuff up” when they didn't have evidence of any wrongdoing. This is not uncommon. Here is another example of a cop threatening to make up charges to arrest a teenager who did nothing wrong whatsoever.

In this next video, a cop detains and threatens to arrest a man for the most stupid of reasons: the cop believes there is no muffler on the car! He then proceeds to threaten physical violence against the man for no reason at all.

This last video looks to show a cop mad with power as he proceeds to arrest an entire family for what I believe to be made up justifications about the teen swearing at him. I'm appalled at the FOX News reporter who justifies this cop's behavior, but the female former prosecutor sets him straight.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

BlackFish: A Call for the Humane Treatment of Orcas

 photo blackfish-poster_zpsdfef2fe3.jpg

I just finished watching the film Blackfish. It is a very moving documentary about the ethics surrounding the capture of orcas in the wild and their treatment while in captivity. The film takes a close look at the popular park Sea World and their treatment of orcas, more commonly known as “killer whales,” and the resulting tragedies that occur to the trainers of these animals, such as Dawn Brancheau, who was killed by a 12,000-pound killer whale named Tilikum in 2010 at a Sea World park.

The film was very moving and superbly done. I really enjoyed it, though at the same time it left me very sad about the treatment of these beautiful, majestic and highly intelligent animals.

The documentary contrasts the environments, life spans, and behavior of orcas in the wild and compares them to those in captivity, and argues that the negative changes seen in captive orcas are a direct result of that captivity. Examples include curled fins, separation from family, and attacks on humans, which do not occur in the wild. Blackfish appears to have an open and shut case that captivity isn't good for these animals, unlike what the parks often argue, who make millions from parading these animals around as if in a circus.

It has long been my belief that human beings are not a special species on earth that should traipse around the world destroying the habitats of other animals, killing and capturing them for sport or other unethical uses. One such disturbing example I learned a few years ago was that the US military sought to train dolphins and sea lions to seek out sea mines. When I heard about this I immediately objected because I feared these high intelligent dolphins might be blown to bits because of the military's uncaring program that put these animals at risk (though I have heard that robots would be replacing these animals, which I hope was implemented).

A much more ethical means to put these animals on display would be to contain them in sea pens or sanctuaries where companies could still charge for people to come watch these animals, but at the same time ensure they are better cared for in a more natural environment with their families. With this more ethical option available, which doesn't threaten their profits, there is no reason at all to treat these animals in this manner.

I urge all people to watch this film. I think it has the potential to change the way people view marine parks like Sea World.

As a side note, for my skeptical readers Donald Prothero reviewed the film Blackfish in the November 2013 issue of Skeptic magazine, Vol. 18 No. 4 2013. Rest assured. For those who are not subscribers to Skeptic you can find this article for free at

Irrational Atheists Are At It Again...

Updated below...

The Prussian is at it again and it he continues to employ the same rhetoric that I described in a previous post wherein I felt the need to rant a little bit about my growing frustration by two atheists' lack of critical thinking skills and defense of immoral governmental policies that have killed hundreds, if not thousands, of innocent people. But apparently, because they're Muslims, it's OK, according to these two atheists.

The Prussian takes a dig at me, referring to his post titled “How to Argue Like Stalin” wherein he cites those who are critical of him who call him a racist and other things. Funny. And here I thought Stalin, you know, killed people and simply didn't merely insult them or report obvious moral shortcomings (like the support of foreign policy decisions that kill many innocent people). So, I think it's just more of his ridiculous rhetoric on display again...

He writes,

I complete my piece on how to argue like Stalin and my (former?) colleague Arizona Atheist has provided me with examples.

Need I say more? Moving on...

Not only does he resort to this kind of rhetoric but he seems to be suffering from amnesia when he quotes me from a previous post and responds:

Me: “ Their religious-like zeal for the drone war, and their seeming hatred of Muslims blinds them […] Like any typical religious zealot, they cling to their false and harmful beliefs…”

His reply: “I’m sure we do. But what have I or NCNC written that is, you know, wrong?”

I literally stopped breathing for a second when I read this I was so stunned. I think these posts speak for themselves. I shall get to a handful of each of their errors at the end of this post to refresh their memories...

Next, The Prussian complains once again about something else I said in the same post:

Me: “Despite my having completely demolished their arguments with facts and logical argumentation [...] What’s even worse, when they try to respond to the facts I’ve laid out, they resort to strawmen, non sequiturs and other fallacies…”

His reply: “I’ll give AA this advice for free: this is the kind of thing you really want someone else to say for you.  It’s like the old maxim about being smart, skeptical, powerful, or ladylike: If you got to say y’are, you prob’y ain’t.”

Like I said, this was a “rant.” But I don't need to state the obvious... I have a number of posts that undeniably prove this statement, but again, that's what a rant often is: stating the obvious for the morons who just don't “get it.” Finally, many people do agree with me. Probably a majority of people, since there has been such a backlash against the exact kind of irrational statements like The Prussian and No Cross No Crescent make often: the belief that all Muslims are the same and want to just kill people and hate democracy. Of course I've disproven this as well, but I'll get to that later...

This post of his is really just a horrible factless response to his requested reply to his “Friday Jihad-Round-up” series. He writes,

but I just wanted to focus on AA’s comments on my Friday Jihad round ups. Drawing on two round ups, he addresses eight stories. Out of these eight, one is a factual criticism, the rest are all matters of AA’s interpretation of events.

Hmmm.... Anyone is free to look at the post for themselves. I actually looked at four separate posts. In addition, at the time my response was written, I had responded to a majority of the posts he'd written in this series, unlike what he implies.

That's it??? They're nothing more than my “interpretations!?” Would you like some fries with that rhetoric? Let's take a quick run down of the first “Round Up” post I looked at. The first one had a dead link so I could not confirm or refute it and left it at that. The second case was the Boston bombing and discussed Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, whose note I cited which said the reason for the Boston bombing attacks was “retribution for U.S. military action in Afghanistan and Iraq.” The third case involved a group of Muslims who attacked a Christian church. The Prussian wanted to blame it all on religion, however, when I looked at the source of the story it turns out that the argument was over money! Yes, money! While this episode was about an entirely non-religious issue I still admitted that “I think religion may have been an exacerbating circumstance and caused greater violence than would normally be caused over such an incident, but the clash was over a purely non-religious reason: a disagreement over money.”

I simply looked at the facts and came to logical conclusions. The Prussian is beginning to sound like Ken Ham: It's not that I'm wrong, I'm just interpreting the facts differently! Ignoring facts is more like it.

The Prussian continues to address a single argument I made:

Case in point, he picks up on my citation of the guy who says that Islam is against killing innocents, and my concern that he may not be on the level.  The reason I say this is that it is  an Islamic mainstay that no infidel is ever innocent: [here is cites a video of a Mullah who argues that non-Mulsims are not innocent.]

Choudry isn’t an isolated figure in believing this.  According to many Islamic sources the worst possible sin, worse than murder or rape, is shirk, a term that covers both unbelief and ‘associating others with Allah’ (as the Christians do).  So we cannot just take someone saying ‘Islam is against killing innocents’ as what we’d like it to sound like.  Similarly, AA argues that the ‘free Kashmir’ slogans of the Pakistan supported jihadis shows it is a neutral, national liberationist movement, rather than straight Islamic jihad.  The Nazis spoke of ‘liberating’ the Sudentenland and Danzing, too.

This response is odd since I pointed out the obvious fact that this is a Muslim who condemns violence, and yet The Prussian cites him in a post that is supposed to be highlighting violence by Muslims! Apparently, The Prussian seems to be grasping at straws to turn a condemnation of violence into an acceptance of violence! Wow! That must take a lot of cognitive dissonance to achieve. As I said, it appears he believes all Muslims are violent and wish death to all when this isn't the least bit accurate as I've noted elsewhere.

With a wave of a hand he dismisses a direct quote from a separatist movement who says they wish that India would allow them “self-determination” but simply dismisses it by saying, “The Nazis spoke of ‘liberating’ the Sudentenland and Danzing, too.” Evidence please... because rhetoric is all that's been on display in this silly response... but it just continues to get worse. First was pure rhetoric and now for a dose of strawmen (The Prussian must have been very busy gathering all of this straw... he must be exhausted!) He writes,

Something people forget: outside of films like The Dark Knight, there’s no such thing as a villain who has no reason.  Everyone has some sort of reason; it’s just that the reasons themselves are sometimes awful ones.

This matters because there are two related questions here:

1)  Are the jihadists motivated by politics?

2)  Does this mean we should give them what they want?

AA’s answer to both of these is an unqualified “Yes!”, though about the latter, he doesn’t seem to get that the jihadists political demands don’t just include foreign policy, but extend to the abolition of democracy, the institution of medieval laws on sexuality (total abolition of homosexuality) and so on.  Indeed, Dinesh D’Souza takes exactly this tack, that we should become way less socially liberal, so as not to antagonize the jihadists.

For those who have read my posts on this topic the bullshit should not be hard to spot. Do I want to “give them what they want?” No. He has badly misinterpreted what I've said here. There, I sought to make two points. First, cite the actual grievances of the extremists (as well as a number of the non-extremists' views) in order to demonstrate that religion is not the main issue. Second, use this as a spring board to devise a plan to deal with the Middle East that does not involve massive losses of innocent people and the resulting destruction their lives, thus making it more likely that they will join extremists groups, not for any ideological purpose, but simply for revenge over the deaths of their loved ones. The US, with each drone strike, is creating more and more enemies, ones that could have been avoided by not killing their family members. It is a self-perpetuating war.

Yes, I argued that the US ought to not support dictators, avoid killing innocent people, and apologize for overthrowing Iran's democratically elected leader and installing a dictator. Oh yes, I'm sooo bad for believing these are very wrong acts committed by the US towards the Middle East.

Now, on the other hand do I want to allow that extremist portion of the Middle East to destroy The Prussian's “motherland” or destroy democracy for those in the Middle East? No! What I've said is that because the majority in the Middle East are not extremists I believe the best plan would be to stop killing many of these innocent members of this majority (wow, what a novel idea! Don't kill innocent people!), help them rebuild their lives, and they will aid the West in marginalizing that minority of extremists, since they also don't like them much.

Certainly, those minority of fundamentalists do want to take away basic freedoms as The Prussian notes, but this is where The Prussian goes horribly off the rails. Once again, I'm not talking about that minority. I'm talking about the majority of Muslims who want peace, democracy, and don't want to harm anyone. They just want to be left alone to live their lives. And here is where The Prussian and I part ways dramatically. He advocates drone warfare, which as I've demonstrated, kills hundreds if not thousands of innocent Muslims and I advocate diplomacy, helping that innocent majority of Muslims, who also hate the Taliban and al-Qaeda, to isolate these extremists and to stop killing members of that majority and interfering in that innocent majority's lives.

The Prussian couldn't seem to get a single fact right in this piece. Now to the finale. I will now cite five separate errors by both The Prussian and No Cross No Crescent just to pop that delusional bubble of his and to reiterate the point of my rant: these two atheists are entirely irrational and are not allowing reason or facts to guide them, but ideology.

5 Errors by The Prussian:

1. This very post! But for the sake of making him look even more idiotic I will cite all of his errors here as just a single error.

2. He wrongly believes that religion is the main motivator of Islamic extremists.

3. Palestinian hostility towards Israel is not because of “anti-Semitism,” but the fact that the Israeli government and military is stealing their land, kicking them out of their homes, and kills them and terrorizes them on a near constant basis!

4. He wrongly believes that violence will stop violence (didn't Gandhi say something about that...?) and seems to believe that diplomacy is merely kowtowing to Islamic extremists, which is ridiculous. I've explained a strategy that would very likely work above.

5. In my post titled ”How to Really Stop Terrorism: A Response to Criticism” I point out the fact that he misread the report about the level of desire for democracy in the Middle East and tried to argue that the majority in the Middle East believed Saudi Arabia was a good example of a democratic country and wanted to emulate it. However, I had to point it out to him that he misread the poll and how it's actually only about half, when taking the Middle East as a whole. When looking at individual countries some of the numbers were: Turkey, 18%; Tunisia, 31%; Lebanon, 48%.

5 Errors by No Cross No Crescent:

1. He reported (without citing any evidence, mind you) that al-Awlaki “instigated” the Foot Hood shooting. However, I cited al-Awlaki's emails with the Fort Hood shooter and demonstrated that he did no such thing.

2. He wrongly believes that the drone war has been successful against terrorism. However, I pointed out to him how these drone attacks have only helped to fuel hatred against the US and is the direct cause of many attacks.

3. He falsely believes that the drone war is not the cause of many of these attacks, even though I've cited numerous extremists citing precisely the drones as the reason for their attacks.

It should be noted how these first three errors were only from a single post!

4. NCNC believes that the US is allowed to go into any country they wish and bomb the living shit out of the population (ie. Pakistan with drone attacks). I had to point out to him that there is this thing called state sovereignty and international law and that there are strict rules in place restricting the violation of another country's sovereignty, none of which are covered by the drone wars.

5. Terror suspects can and have been successfully captured by local forces, such as in Pakistan.

Update – 4-12-14:

The Prussian has made a small update to his original post, linked to above, responding to a brief section of this post. First, he quotes me. I had replied above:

Now, on the other hand do I want to allow that extremist portion of the Middle East to destroy The Prussian's “motherland” or destroy democracy for those in the Middle East? No! What I've said is that because the majority in the Middle East are not extremists I believe the best plan would be to stop killing many of these innocent members of this majority (wow, what a novel idea! Don't kill innocent people!), help them rebuild their lives, and they will aid the West in marginalizing that minority of extremists, since they also don't like them much.

The brief section in bold is the only part of the paragraph that he quotes. He responds with the following:

Oh he doesn’t want it, does he? Incidentally my concerns are for Europe and Christian Africa.  So, what – AA supports ending all Muslim immigration to Europe and clamping down, hard, on the nutbags we already have? And providing military support to the Nigerian Christians and the Kenyans who are on the front lines here?

Oddly enough, no. But he doesn’t “want” any bad consequences – and if his line is followed and slaughter spreads all over sub-Saharan Africa, and Europe collapses into civil war, AA will be able to contentedly shrug his shoulders and say: “Well I didn’t want that.”

Lest I be accused of hyperbole, let me note that that is exactly what happened in the case of Darfur. The line of the peaceniks – no unilateralism, the UN, durka durka – was followed and thanks to that we’ve inaugurated this century with genocide. If there is a single peacenik hanging his head in shame over that, I haven’t found him – the line is just, “Oh, I didn’t intend that, so you can’t blame me!”

So my response to AA is: Your ‘want’ and two quid will get you a cup of coffee. No one wanted the First World War, not even the Nazis wanted the Second World War. They got it nonetheless.

This response is incredibly naïve and dishonest. Had he quoted the entire paragraph it should be clear to anyone with half a brain that I do not advocate simply allowing extremists to wantonly murder innocent people or force their religious beliefs on others. I proposed a reasonable solution to the problem that does not involve massive death and destruction, which currently results from the United States' drone program. As a matter of fact, many others with intimate knowledge of these conflicts and issues agree with me, such as the late Ibrahim Mothana, the 24-year-old writer, activist and a co-founder of Yemen's Watan Party, who was a steadfast advocate of ending the drone war. These are not proposals I dreamed up in my sleep. They are well thought out ideas which have come from those who are living with these issues every day.

Despite all of the evidence I've gathered and presented to The Prussian, there seems to be no getting through to him. As I noted earlier, he appears to be no different than the typical religious zealot, who can't seem to see past their distorted view of the world.

Monday, March 17, 2014

ACLU: “Meet Jack. Or, What The Government Could Do With That Location Data”

I found out about this video by reading this disturbing piece by the The Intercept. You can find some of the latest revelations about the NSA there as well, such as the (not so shocking) story about how the NSA pretended to be a Facebook server in order to download information from user's computers.

This is a likely future possibility of what could be done with all of the location data and the mass surveillance of innocent people that has been taking place with the NSA revelations.

I believe in some ways this has already been taking place; it's just not automated in the way the ACLU video describes. How many innocent people (such as activists) are surveilled and scrutinized by the government? The Occupy protesters were watched and tracked by local police departments.