Thursday, November 28, 2013

What is the Role of Religion vs. US Foreign Policy Around the World?

My former Skeptic Ink colleague, The Prussian, has asked me to peruse his posts titled “Friday Jihad-Round-up” and find out once and for all how many are truly due to foreign policy and how many are because of religion. I will go through most of posts in his series and briefly discuss a number of the examples of the violent acts done by Muslims.

The Prussian and I have disagreed over the role of religion in Islamist attacks, with him believing their motives are entirely religious, with my view being more nucanced, believing that US foreign policy is largely to blame, and admitting that religion does play its role, but it is not as large as policy issues in many cases. To reiterate, I do acknowledge the fact that religion does play a role in many attacks. In addition, there is a lot of sectarian strife taking place in the Middle East. However, what The Prussian does not seem able to grasp is the fact that many attacks have nothing to do with religion, or with sectarian violence. I've looked at a few of his posts and have seen some acts of violence that have been because of foreign policy and not religion, so I already know he has mistaken a U.S. Policy motive for religious ones in some cases.

The first post I will examine was posted on August 31, 2013.

One of his links, citing the case of Hindu children being attacked by Muslims for singing, was dead so I cannot confirm it, but assuming his description is accurate, this account does appear to be religiously based.

The fourth example, where he cites the Boston bombing I've already discussed this act of violence in a previous post. I cited a hand-written note by Dzhokhar Tsarnaev himself that the reason for the Boston bombing attacks was “retribution for U.S. military action in Afghanistan and Iraq.” One of my other Skeptic Ink colleagues vehemently disagrees with this assessment, and claims religion was the only motive, but I've yet to see any first hand evidence of this, or any direct quotes from Tsarnaev stating religious reasons. Until more evidence comes to light I will continue to maintain religion had very little - if anything - to do with it.

The thirteenth example cites a group of Muslims who attacked a Christian church. The Prussian must not have read the article very closely because this incident had very little, or nothing, to do with religion. The article is explicit: “A Muslim mob with knives and iron rods injured several members of an Anglican church in Nasarawa state on Aug. 17 over a dispute about less than one cent in change, area Christians said.”

The article discusses what took place,

Area residents said they got cuts on their heads and other parts of their bodies when about 30 Muslims attacked with motorcycle chains and wooden clubs, along with the other weapons.

An area member of the Evangelical Reformed Church of Christ in Lafia, Joshua Nuhu Kuju, told Morning Star News that a Muslim woman incited the Muslims to attack after she had an argument over payment with a young Christian man who runs the church's water borehole (a way to get water).

"The Muslim woman sent her children to purchase water from the church's borehole, and then a misunderstanding over about five naira (less than one US cent)," he said.

"The Muslim woman then went and invited some of her Muslim neighbors, who stormed the church and attacked the members of the church."
I agree this act of violence is reprehensible but the issue at hand is distinguishing between religious and non-religious acts of violence. This clearly was not because of religion. Now, 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.

The next “”Friday Jihad Round Up I will examine was posted on September 6, 2013.

In one of the links at the liberal news organization The Guardian he complains that they are upset that Obama is discriminating against innocent Muslims ("Meanwhile the Guardianistas whine that Obama is being mean to Muslims. I could put up with this if, for once, you’d hear some complaints about how infidels are treated from this crowd.") She writes about the NYPD program that sought to target Muslims all over New York for surveillance:

As we've witnessed time and time again domestically, most recently with the Associated Press revelation that the NYPD designated Muslim houses of worship and community centers as terrorist organizations, the United States is no stranger to legalizing discrimination. In the elusive pursuit of true equality, President Obama has made considerable and long overdue progress in securing the rights of the LGBT community. But he in no way can tout the badge of "basic morality" until he acknowledges that many Americans are being confronted with institutionalized discrimination in every tier of the government hierarchy. Racism, Islamophobia and prejudice run amok in our society, but when discriminatory practice is etched into law, it harkens back to a sinister time in our nation's history.

Regrettably, branding mosques as terrorist enterprises doesn't exactly move the needle given the NYPD's history of targeted surveillance and monitoring of the region's Muslim community. Invidious policy and religious profiling are not confined to the NYPD either. This is just the latest in a mounting string of offenses by government agencies against Muslim Americans. The FBI maintains an intimidatingly lengthy catalog of 15,000 spies, three times as many as there were 25 years ago. In a post 9/11 climate many of them operate as informants in mosques throughout the nation. The mosque that I grew up attending in Irvine, California, was infiltrated by one such informant, who worked so hard to plant seeds of violence and terrorism in the minds of its congregants that members of the mosque immediately reported him.

An excellent book about this – and how this program in 99% of cases – targeted innocent people and failed to produce any leads of terrorist plots, by AP investigative reporters Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman, is Enemies Within: Inside the NYPD's Secret Spying Unit and Bin Laden's Final Plot Against America. I sympathize with the many law abiding Muslims who are discriminated against because of the actions of a few. Many people need to get something straight: Just because someone is a Muslim does not make them a terrorist or mean that that they want to commit any crimes.

Another example cited is this Muslim who wants to try to dispel the myth that Islam is all about violence and The Prussian writes, “...just hope the guy isn’t using the 'All kaffirs are not innocent' dodge.” If this series is supposed to be about Muslim extremists how in the world does this man – who is calling for peace and understanding – count as an example?

In another Round Up The Prussian cites the recent attack upon a mall in Nairobi by al-Shabab. In a now defunct post at my former Skeptic Ink blog The Prussian and I discussed this attack and I cited a video of one of the leaders of the attack stating their motives. In the video he said,

“The attack at [the mall] was to torment the Kenyan leaders who have impulsively invaded the Islamic [could not understand the word used]. It was also a retribution against the Western states that supported the Kenyan invasion and are spilling the blood of innocent Muslims in order to pave the way for the mineral [most likely means oil] companies. So make your choice today and withdraw all your forces from the Islamic [could not understand the word used], otherwise be prepared for an abundance of blood that will be spilled in your country, economic downfall, and displacement.” (This statement takes place at approx. 1:57).

When faced with this damning evidence that religion had nothing to do with this attack The Prussian had no response; only accused me of wishing to “appease” terrorists, which is by far not the case. But my point has been proven. Religion is not the only motivator of attacks. Often it is US foreign policy.

In another example The Prussian believes Muslim fighters wishing for independence for themselves against the “brutalities” at the hands of India is about religion. I'm sorry, but it is not. This is a separatist movement, who want peace and “self-determination” for their people from India. The article quoted one of the protesters:
The protestors waved black flags and shouted: "Our struggle will continue til Kashmir is freed", and condemned Indian "brutalities", as Salahuddin appealed to the government and people of Pakistan to fully support Kashmiri independence.
At the end of this post he writes, “Someone mind explaining to me how this is only about the United States, again?” As I noted, not all acts of violence can be attributed to US foreign policy, but I demonstrated how many of them are. This example is one in which this has nothing to do with either the US or religion. But I think this proves my point. Isn't this series supposed to be about religious violence by Muslims? But here we have a purely non-religious separatist movement.

In the final “Round Up” post I will look at The Prussian cites an article that he argues proves that the mall attack in Nairobi discussed above was religiously, and not politically motivated. Sorry, but as I've said before, motivations can be mixed and can be motivated by more than religion, as the video cited above demonstrates. But even the article cited by The Prussian noted how this had more to do with politics than religion:
Al Qaeda has since realized that the indiscriminate killing of Muslims is a strategic liability and hopes instead to create a schism between Muslims and everyone else, whom they consider “kuffar,” or apostates.

“What this shows is Al Qaeda’s acknowledgment that the huge masses of Muslims they have killed is an enormous PR problem within the audience they are trying to reach,” said Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, director of the Center for the Study of Terrorist Radicalization. “This is a problem they had documented and noticed going back to at least Iraq. And now we see Al Qaeda groups are really taking efforts to address it.”
It appears he did not read the entire article.

Throughout these posts The Prussian has made snide remarks, such as, “Again: this is the fault of US policy, how?” “...again, not religious reasons?” Etc. However, he badly misunderstands these situations around the world and continues to misconstrue my position. This is not black and white. These various acts are not simply the result of religion, or protests against US foreign policy. There are many different groups who have varied motivations for their actions and ascribing only one motive is very close-minded and one-dimensional. There are many motivations, as I've demonstrated without a shadow of a doubt. Many examples The Prussian cited were about religion, but several were not.


I believe this should demonstrate the fact that The Prussian needs to be more careful in the future before labeling an act of violence as being motivated for religious reasons, because many of his examples were not about religion at all. If they weren't about foreign policy, then they were sometimes about other matters, such as independence in the case of India and Kashmir.

As I said above, and elsewhere, there are many different groups around the world, who have different motivations for the actions they carry out. Yes, many of them are precisely because of religion as many of the examples cited by The Prussian have shown. But there is a lot more than just religiously-inspired violence happening in the Middle East and in other parts of the world, as I demonstrated above. And, as I've demonstrated in previous posts U.S. foreign policy is a common reason for violence and unrest. This cannot be denied. Citing 100 other religiously-motivated acts of violence does not magically make those examples go away, from the 9/11 attacks to the Nairobi mall attack, US foreign policy has resulted in its share of innocent victims.

Just as getting rid of religion will not magically end violence in the world, neither will a change in US foreign policy. However, these two influences in the world remain two of the largest motivators of violence in the world. It is wrong to neglect one and not the other, because both play their role. Obviously, I have focused a lot on US foreign policy related violence but I do so because its role is often swept under the rug or outright denied, and I think someone needs to stand up and explain how many of the US's policies are fueling the very violence these policies are meant to put an end to. Pouring fuel on a fire is not an effective way to put out a fire, just as invading countries, killing many innocent people, and destroying their lives, is not an effective method of combating terrorism. Violence will only beget violence and more diplomatic and pragmatic solutions need to be found. I've explored some of these alternatives in past posts.

As I've noted elsewhere in posts about this issue, in some cases violence is necessary, but these actions must be focused on those who wish to do others harm and not on innocent people and the civilian infrastructure. This is only going to inspire hatred and spite, and will result in “blowback,” exactly the kind we've been seeing, such as the Nairobi mall attack recently, which was in retribution for US foreign policy or the case of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the “underwear bomber,” who tried to detonate a bomb because of the drone attacks that kill many innocent people. In a statement at his trial he said quite clearly: “I had an agreement with at least one person to attack the United States in retaliation for US support of Israel and in retaliation of the killing of innocent and civilian Muslim populations in Palestine, especially in the blockade of Gaza, and in retaliation for the killing of innocent and civilian Muslim populations in Yemen, Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan and beyond, most of them women, children, and noncombatants.” (emphasis mine)

After looking at all of the evidence, it ought to be clear. Religion is not the only motivation for violence. Often that motivation is US foreign policy.

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