2002 October 26 Saturday
The DC Snipers And Religious Bigotry

Dave Trowbridge takes exception to the reaction that many bloggers are having to the news that the older DC sniper, John Allen Muhammad, was a convert to Islam. Trowbridge especially has a problem with what he calls the "(militant) Islam delenda est" crowd. Trowbridge quotes Max Sawicky:

...even fundamentalist Islam provides no basis for driving around the Maryland and Virginia suburbs, shooting people at random. It has to require a special mental process to transition from a religious faith to spree killing. Otherwise we would see much more of the latter. This fact points to the salience of factors in the killers' makeup that are prior to their religious views. The latter merely provide a way to organize an underlying psychosis. [emphasis added by Dave]

Is this meant as a reason to dismiss the idea that something core to Islam is the cause of Islamic terrorism? If Islam provides a way to organize an underlying psychosis which other religions don't seem to provide - or at least not anywhere nearly as well - then isn't that a very powerful criticism of Islam? After all, any large population has some psychotics in it. Aren't their psychoses best left politically unorganized?

I think of each religion as having something akin to a Bell Curve of effects upon people. Each religion has its own unique center of effect on belief and behavior in how the minds of largest number of its adherents are affected by it. Then there is a tapering off with smaller fractions of believers on various axes in terms of types of behavior and attitudes that the religion fosters. The curve might not be a Bell. It could be some other distribution shape. In fact, any religion has many affects on belief and behavior. There are a number of separate variables (eg motivations about whether to be honest in different situations, motives about obeying government laws, motives about how to treat spouses and children, and so on) and each variable has its own distribution for the believer population for a given religion.

The point is that the Islamic extremists do not exist separate from the rest of the believers. They are on a continuum with them but further out on the continuum in some effect that Islam has upon believers. Furthermore, extremists draw support from less extremist members of Islam. There are fewer people who are willing to die for Islam than are willing to kill for it. There are fewer who are willing to directly kill for it than are willing to train or provide logistical support (eg fake passports, safe houses or bomb manufacture or gun smuggling) for those who do. And there are fewer who are willing to provide direct support with their physical presence than are willing to send money or to look the other way or cheer on the killers in a street demonstration.

Attempts to define away the problem of Islamic extremists as being something entirely separate from the core require that one ignore a continuum of behaviors and attitudes in the larger Islamic population that help support the most active terrorist cell members. These attempts also require that one ignore the unique distribution of effects caused by each religion. Plus, they miss the fundamental importance of this idea that for some people religious belief systems can provide a structure and purpose for how to interpret and respond to their own existing feelings of hostility and anger.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2002 October 26 11:25 AM  Religion Secular Ideologies


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