Why atheists can speak in the West

By Razib Khan | April 22, 2013 5:06 am

Recently Bill Maher ripped into CSU San Bernadino professor Brian Levin for making the ridiculous equivalence between Christian extremism and Islamic extremism. The problem, which Maher pinpoints, is that Islamic extremism is not that extreme. By this, I mean that Islamic extremism (e.g., Muslim Brotherhood) has much greater broad based support than Christian extremism (e.g., Christian Reconstruction). The difference here is that you’ve heard of the Muslim Brotherhood, while far fewer have heard of Christian Reconstructionists. That’s because the former have democratic support in a populous Muslim country as the ruling party.


The standard liberal cant is to change the subject, and point to the past history of Christianity, or engage in unrepresentative comparisons. Since I know more history and religion than most of my interlocutors, I have little patience for this. Sophistry loses its power when the tactics are often so nakedly amateurish. And this is not simply abstraction. Let’s look at what’s been happening in Bangladesh, the country in which I was born, BANGLADESH’S ISLAMISTS CALL FOR DEATH OF ‘ATHEIST BLOGGERS’:

On April 6, hundreds of thousands of men and boys spread out across the sweltering capital Dhaka to call for, among other things, the hanging of atheists. The mass mobilization of Islamists was spurred by a handful of “atheist” bloggers who are supposedly so offensive to Islam that they should face the hangman’s noose.

“There is no place in this country for atheists,” was one of the friendlier refrains that a supporter of the organizers, Hefazet Islami, a Sunni Muslim outfit from the country’s second largest city, Chittagong, told me.

The Islamist marchers listed 84 bloggers who they demand be arrested or hanged, In February an atheist blogger named Rajib was stabbed to death a month after blogger Asif Mohiuddin was nearly killed for his beliefs.

First, Bangladesh is a moderate Muslim country. The ruling party is secular. It is not an Islamic state. Rather, in an old fashioned 1970s socialist manner it is officially the People’s Republic of Bangladesh. But in deference to the religiously conservative nature of the populace there is still some mixing of church & state, as we would understand it in the West. But Bangladesh, unlike Pakistan, has not opted for a monotone Islamic identity. The national anthem was written by a Hindu.

So there you have it, in a moderate Muslim country you can have hundreds of thousands march for the death of individuals based on their religious disbelief. This isn’t entirely unreasonable from their perspective, as religious zealots long ago succeeded in monopolizing the cultural high ground in places like Pakistan. In Bangladesh there is contestation, and what is playing out is a classic culture war. Due to the power of economic globalization I’m moderately confident than the Islamists won’t get traction. Additionally, there exists a Bengali intelligentsia which organizes itself around national-linguistic lines which is likely to resist an attempt by Islamists to grasp the commanding heights.

Second, on a more specific note the name which I was given by my parents is Rajib, not Razib. The z was interpolated into the place of the j by my kindergarten teacher. As someone of originally Bangladeshi nationality, and an atheist blogger, who happens to be called the same name as the person who was killed above by my parents, I have some interest in this situation. The discussions of “moderate Islam” and “there are Christian extremists too” aren’t quite as abstract for me as they are for some others. I’m not going to lie, a part of me is a little worried that if I ever visited Bangladesh a relative with a grudge against me might point out to the local savages that I’ve posted pictures of Muhammad being sodomized by a camel (personal sketches), as well as the Koran in the mouth of a pig.*

And yet I’m not worried in the United States. Why? The ultimate reasons are products of history (e.g., the longstanding Anglo commitment to freedom of conscience). But more proximately there is a broad American consensus that atheistic speech (and offensive speech more generally) should be protected, especially on the part of cultural elites. You an confirm this with the General Social Survey. The SPKATH variables asks if people should be allowed to speak against churches and religion in their communities. Below are the results by political ideology and education by respondents after 1989:

Yes, allow anti-religionist to speak
Liberal Moderate Conservative
< HS education 59 59 52
HS degree 79 75 72
Junior college 87 78 80
Bachelor 93 87 86
Graduate 96 89 86

An interesting aspect here is that college educated conservatives are even more protective of this freedom than non-college liberals (still true if you correct for race). This is a trend when it comes to speech: cultural elites are particularly protective of this liberty. To me this is reasonable if thought of in a Maslow’s hierarchy of needs sort of fashion. The ability to persuade, entertain ideas, and engage in unfettered debate, has been a privilege and avocation in particular of those who are less concerned with want and day to day subsistence. In the pre-modern world this would encompass the leisured classes, while today it expands to include much of the middle class.

More generally in relation to the topic of this post there is a culture war going on all across the Islamic world at the elite levels. One of group are basically what one might term ‘liberal nationalists.’ Their power waxes and wanes depending on the situation. Arab nationalism may be moribund, but Bangla or Turkish nationalism is not. Liberal economic determinists would offer that ultimately this faction is bound to defeat the Islamic groups, but such a victory can take generations. The Iranian revolution continues on in some form to this day, even if attenuated in its ambitions.

Addendum: Over the years I’ve mined the World Values Survey for a lot of data. Unlike some Left cultural relativists who play the equivalence game I actually like to deal with empirical distributions. To get a sense of range of opinion on something like stoning of adulterers, please see this post.

* When I told a French friend that I’d done this he was terrified for me. He was convinced if I’d done this in Europe I’d be a dead man. Probably he was overly worried, but it illustrates the problem of having a critical mass of belligerent barbarians within the gates.

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  • Luis Aldamiz

    OK, now go back to 1800-something and do the same in a Christian context. I bet you’d be burned at the stake or at the very least dumped in a dungeon for many years. For most of the 19th century in my very
    forwardly, bourgeois and archetypally European country the chant of “freedom” was “for God, for the Fatherland and the King”. I call it our Taliban period, although the official term is Carlism (look it up in Wikipedia).

    Try to do something like that under Franco’s fundamentalist-fascist dictatorship, for example.

    It’s not that Christians are more tolerant by grade: they are more tolerant only by force because we secularists and atheists have forced them to hide in their homes and temples and only show up and moderately so for specific holidays. The 19th and 20th century are full of socio-political conflicts in which the anti-religion cause was an important element: destroying the Papal state, dethroning and possibly behading absolutist ultra-Christan monarchs, expelling the Jesuits, separating society and religion in essence. We have evolved to societies which are in all but residual details atheist, so residual Christians and others (yeah, Muslims too, at least where I live) must keep to their own marginal
    social circles and when they dare to protest, they always find someone who faces them.

    There’s no such thing as “Christian World” anymore, at the very least not in Europe.

    • https://delicious.com/robertford Robert Ford

      someone didn’t watch the video:)

    • razibkhan

      OK, now go back to 1800-something and do the same in a Christian context. I bet you’d be burned at the stake or at the very least dumped in a dungeon for many years.

      i specifically said this was the standard reaction, which is besides the point and btw, the last person in the british isles killed for atheism was tried and executed in 1700.

      There’s no such thing as “Christian World” anymore, at the very least not in Europe.

      AND THAT, is the exact point. we do talk about the “islamic world” (and muslims do too)!

      • ohwilleke

        The most recent killing in Bangladesh wasn’t under the color of law, and I suspect one could find much more recent extralegal killings on those grounds in the British Isles and in the West, generally. The Bangladesh phenomena reminds me quite a bit of KKK lynch mob attacks based on religion in the U.S. as late as the 1920s (Denver had a KKK Mayor and Colorado had a KKK Governor in the 1920s, so the link to politics elites is a match as well.)

        I agree that there is no good Western Christian equivalent today, although arguably some strains of African Christianity where literal witch hunts and trials are still conducted, are more virulent.

        • razibkhan

          although arguably some strains of African Christianity where literal witch hunts and trials are still conducted, are more virulent.

          close. the main distinction i’d make is that substantial numbers of elite/mainstream muslim intellectual would support persecution of apostates and minorities (in the latter case they wouldn’t define it as persecution, but we would). there are atavistic witch-hunts in indonesia too, but that’s less due to islam than the nature of rural superstition.

      • TheBrett

        i specifically said this was the standard reaction, which is besides the point and btw, the last person in the british isles killed for atheism was tried and executed in 1700.

        Why is it “beside the point”? It just shows that the main difference between heavily Christian societies and heavily Muslim societies is that there’s been a longer period of time in which that type of religious violence became unacceptable. For many muslim societies, that’s happening right now – they haven’t found their way to a consensus on religious tolerance yet, particularly among a vocal minority that is just against the idea of democratic government at all.

        • razibkhan

          mahrer’s point is to focus on the now. i assume you watched the video? i’ve discussed the history of religious thought extensively, you are surely aware that i know this material better than you (that’s my prior, i’ll be impressed if someone can trump me :-)

          • TheBrett

            And the point is that this isn’t because they’re Islamic – it’s because they’re highly conservative societies with a much more abbreviated tradition of free speech and religious practice (sometimes, as in the case of Egypt, completely new tradition). Sometimes that shows up in behavior among the ex-pat communities in the West, but it’s fairly rare.

          • razibkhan

            And the point is that this isn’t because they’re Islamic – it’s because they’re highly conservative societies with a much more abbreviated tradition of free speech and religious practice

            i think the main issue that’s a nuance is that other societies where liberal democratic traditions of western provenance are alien or resisted don’t have a coherent elite ideological response. the attempt to forward ‘asian values’ in the pre-1998 era was one stab, but it hasn’t gone very far, in part due to the cultural and socioeconomic distance of east asian nations. in contrast, islam DOES have a purported alternative ideology. the reality is it’s probably unworkable in a modern economy (see: iran, where islamism is basically more symbolic markers than a wholesale reorganization on a non-western pattern), and has marginal international coherency (e.g.: what does malaysia have to do with morocco?). but it is there as a flag, and inspires weirdos, radicals, etc., just like radical socialism inspired people in the 19th and early 20th century (and like islamism radical socialism didn’t turn out to be a workable alternative). therefore, the ‘islamic declaration of human rights’

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cairo_Declaration_on_Human_Rights_in_Islam

      • Luis Aldamiz

        The UK is not all Europe but point taken. What I or others with similar stand think is that areas of Muslim tradition are dialectically struggling in a process similar to what Europe (or other parts of the world) experimented in earlier centuries or decades.

        They definitely need radical secularism and anti-clericalism but patronizing them from the West does not seem the best approach, especially when done in the unreal contrast of Islam vs. Christianity (“clash of civilizations” doctrine). The real contrast is secularism vs. religious society of any kind, otherwise you may fall in the Wilders conceptual trap.

        We must support and entice secularism everywhere but precisely for that reason citing Christianity or Judaism as examples are a no-no: they are only examples in the sense that they have been defeated and sent home.

        That kind of action may imply supporting the Saddam Hussein and Soviet Afghanistan style regimes vs the Saud style monarchies and the like, instead the West is doing exactly the opposite, effectively promoting Islamism all the time as a sockpuppet ghetto ideology, easily controlled and manipulated for imperialist goals like the interventions in Central Asia or the Sahel.

        • razibkhan

          That kind of action may imply supporting the Saddam Hussein and Soviet Afghanistan style regimes vs the Saud style monarchies and the like,

          the key is *may* since i don’t support any of these internationalist/imperialist projects i don’t feel like i have to defend them. i’m describing natural variations, not prescribing policies in reaction to them.

  • prasad

    “an atheist blogger, who happens to be called the same name as the person who was killed above by my parents”

    No serious point, but I burst out laughing when I read this :)

    • ohwilleke

      A bit of a crash blossom there indeed.

    • razibkhan

      lol. yeah, that’s confusing….

  • razibkhan

    this user is banned. but i wanted to show the typical quantitative illiterate and specious reaction that many american liberals have been brainwashed into giving. people who analogize american fundamentalism to islamic fundamentalism make neconservatives look reality based (this is a standard talking point that american liberals give which must seem persuasive within the group, but is laughable outside of it).

    So bombing abortion clinics in the US doesn’t qualify as extremism in your book?

    also, just so readers know, i routinely ban you if you respond rhetorically to a question you specifically pose as a strong man to make your argument seem more supportable. the obvious answer to this is that bombing of abortion clinics is less pervasive than say the repeated pograms of religious minorities.

  • razibkhan

    This article is just yet more bigotry and is possibly the least most perceptive piece of writing I’ve ever seen on here. Stick to science.

    another standard tactic, accusations of racism. people are being killed for being atheists, and hundreds of thousands of people are marching to support this act in public, and you’re fixated on my bigotry. nice.

  • https://delicious.com/robertford Robert Ford

    not that you can respond but…if you were forced to pick a random Islamic country to live in or random Christian one, which would you choose? And I’ll take my answer off the air…

    • Misophile

      Coward! ;)

  • bossel

    “He was convinced if I’d done this in Europe I’d be a dead man. Probably he was overly worried”

    Certainly, I’d say. Europe is a quite diverse place & not everyone lives in a muslim-dominated suburb. The Denish caricatures have been re-posted numerous times & there are enough people who tried their own more or less creative approach. Here is one (in German) of the tastier ones:
    de-de.facebook.com/PierreMettvogel
    Mohammed in mett ( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mett ).

  • GuestOfGuests

    Knowing Islam very well (as well as speaking Arabic fluently), I know well enough that those we are quick to label as “islamists” or “salafis” are but normal muslims in that they emulate perfectly Muhammad’s Sunnah.
    Someone willing to argue in favour of “peaceful” or “moderate” Islam has the burden of proof, reality & sourcing against him… And likening Islam to Christianity or Judaism is hilarious at best.

    • razibkhan

      i tend to argue against this idealistic/platonic idea of religion. additionally, islamists/salafists often are radicals in their de facto interpretation, belying their claim toward excessive fidelity. religion is not something out there, it is something people do.

      • Nortalud

        That’s a point which people often overlook in this kind of discussion, and one which I’ve sometimes found persuasive to those inclined to minimizing the religious aspect of violence carried out in the name of Islam. The content of religious texts and teachings is less important than the extent to which it is practiced. Christians in America, for example, have long practiced the art of broadly interpreting and selectively emphasizing various portions of the Bible, with mixed results.

      • GuestOfGuests

        Problem is that Islam is, itself, radical… Interpretation is something which doesn’t exactly go unnoticed within the midst of Islamic jurisprudence, it is codified via Bid3a and Naskh.

  • Nortalud

    I was involved in a public discussion on G+ the other day about this very topic, though with a slightly different emphasis. Perhaps predictably, I eventually found myself fending off an apologist insisting that violent acts of terrorism carried out in the name of Islam really have nothing to do with religion at all. There were, of course, also the usual assortment of “let God sort ‘em out” bigots, too, but they’re more easily dismissed.

    The widespread, mainstream support for acts of violence against non-believers that is present in parts the Muslim world is orders of magnitude beyond any of the similar extremist groups that exist primarily at the fringes of Western society.

    • razibkhan

      The widespread, mainstream support for acts of violence against non-believers that is present in parts the Muslim world is orders of magnitude beyond any of the similar extremist groups that exist primarily at the fringes of Western society.

      this is an assertion which can be refuted, but to many it is an ipso facto ‘bigoted’ and ‘ignorant’ contention.

      • TheBrett

        It’s an assertion that requires actual proof.

        • razibkhan

          depends on your prior. what’s yours? be clear, or be silent (or i’ll make you silent as i’m wont to do).

    • https://delicious.com/robertford Robert Ford

      I always respond to those apologists by saying “Yes, because things you believe in have no effect on what you do.” or: “If Islam didn’t exist would there be less violence?”
      Anyway, I feel your pain.

  • Justin Giancola-Bailey

    That’s an awful situation… I hope you won’t be prohibited from visting the country of your birth.

    • razibkhan

      as jon indicated above the primary concern isn’t legal fiat, but vigilante action. there was a case a few years back of a bangladeshi briton basically held hostage with the collusion of her relatives (they wanted her to marry someone).

  • TheBrett

    The standard liberal cant is to change the subject, and point to the past history of Christianity, or engage in unrepresentative comparisons. Since I know more history and religion than most of my interlocutors, I have little patience for this.

    Why not? You said it yourself that these are highly conservative societies by Western standards, and more critically many of them are societies with little to no tradition of free public discourse or free religious choice (even if minority faiths were in theory allowed to practice unharassed).

    The main difference in that regard between Christian extremism in the West and Islamic extremism in Islamic societies is simply that the Christian ones have had a longer period of time between now and when that violence gradually became much less acceptable (combined with strong leftist, anti-clerical movements against religious orthodoxy in many countries in Europe and Latin America). The US seems rather peaceful on the religious disagreement front now, but tell that to the people caught in anti-Catholic riots in the 1830s, which was also around the same time that the Mormons got hit with massacres and official expulsion from Missouri.

    So there you have it, in a moderate Muslim country you can have hundreds of thousands march for the death of individuals based on their religious disbelief. This isn’t entirely unreasonable from their perspective, as religious zealots long ago succeeded in monopolizing the cultural high ground in places like Pakistan.

    I highly doubt there were “hundreds of thousands”, and your source provides little info on where they got that number – and these numbers are almost always exaggerated by the groups in question. And in any case, as you said, it’s a highly conservative Muslim country, with some serious political divides based on religion, and all stirred up recently because of the investigations into war crimes done under the control of the Jamaat-e-Islami party.

    As for Pakistan, it was always an ultra-conservative Muslim country even by the standards of muslim countries outside of the Gulf. The fact that it had a minority secular elite atop such a society didn’t stop it from being so.

    • https://delicious.com/robertford Robert Ford

      “the only real difference…”

      yes, and we’re suffering the consequences of that difference. i guess i like to have actual standards – not just excuse terrible beheadings by saying that others did bad stuff too back in the day. i don’t like your comment – it bothers me because it’s so stupid and you just repeated exactly what the guy in the video did.

      • TheBrett

        Who said it was an excuse? I never said that it was right for them to do it, but that it’s not something that’s fundamentally linked to Islamic societies. It’s just that they’re super-conservative societies coming off of a tradition and history of dictatorship, where the mosque and religious groups were often the only places where alternative political organization was possible (as in the case of Egypt).

        • https://delicious.com/robertford Robert Ford

          and why are they super conservative? have you watched halal slaughter videos? MEMRI vids showing imams describing how to beat your wife “properly”? You don’t decide to do those things because someone told you to. Plus, look at rich arab countries like Saudi or Kuwait, Qatar. those are not brutal dictatorships – the people living there are pretty much choosing to be that way (except for some of the women.) Look at muslim honor killings in Canada and other western countries. Look at polls of muslims living in the UK – it’s not pretty. Muslim converts in Nigeria that are insanely violent. Sudanese muslims exterminating other blacks. Thai muslims slaughtering teachers? The islamic “rape problem” in Nordic countries. the boston bombers? the muslim problem in France, Germany, etc. It seems like an amazing coincidence that all over the world, no matter what society, we have a problem with these people. Are the muslims here in Dearborn conservative because of their oppressive environment?

          You would never claim that the Amish act the way they do as a result of anything other than their beliefs that are fundamentally linked to Amish society. Nor would you for Orthodox Jews or a tribe in New Guinea.

          • TheBrett

            and why are they super conservative? have you watched halal slaughter videos? MEMRI vids showing imams describing how to beat your wife “properly”? You don’t decide to do those things because someone told you to.

            Again, super-conservative patriarchal society. Look up “coverture” and the myth of “rule of thumb” if you want to see what the western equivalents used to be like (although the West thankfully never developed the “seclusion” belief outside of ancient Athens).

            Plus, look at rich arab countries like Saudi or Kuwait, Qatar. those are not brutal dictatorships – the people living there are pretty much choosing to be that way (except for some of the women.)

            They are severe dictatorships, even if their oil money lets their nationals live in the lap of luxury under said dictatorship.

            *snip* long list of throwing every but the kitchen sink in terms of accusations

            Why don’t you actually prove some of these allegations, with legitimate, non-partisan sources and actual numbers? It’s not my responsibility to refute every little bit of rumor and far-right accusation that you throw out here.

          • razibkhan

            They are severe dictatorships, even if their oil money lets their nationals live in the lap of luxury under said dictatorship.

            this is an interesting point. i don’t think we have a good term for what the gulf monarchies are. i don’t think they’re totalitarian dictatorships in the form of the old soviet union (or n. korea today), morals police aside. additionally, they aren’t traditionally conservative, their way of life is totally subsidized by oil-rents. i like to think of them as techno-feudal.

          • TheBrett

            I was thinking something similar. They’re bizarre neo-feudal societies, where the royal families and those business people connected to them live in luxury, the remaining national population lives somewhat well (better if they live in the UAE or Qatar than if they live in Saudi Arabia), and the whole thing is built on a gigantic imported labor force that basically does everything except drive taxis.

            The Saudi government seems to be getting worried about it, though, or at least they’re going through motions of getting worried about it. I’m not sure how well it will work, though, when nearly half the official population consists of imported workers that have been doing everything for decades (and that’s not counting illegal immigrants or that the Saudis may have been manipulating the demographics numbers – I’ve heard they over-count the number of nationals).

          • razibkhan

            i can’t swear anymore as per publisher’s orders. but you know what they are….

          • https://delicious.com/robertford Robert Ford

            First, your argument is still worthless as all you are pointing to is past bad behavior. The insinuation you changed it to (their behavior is not unique to Islam) is meaningless all you are doing is saying that its not unique to Islamic societies. Wow! why am I talking to you?
            all I’m concerned about is whether, in the here and now, their bad behavior caused by their ideology. that is the only question that could possibly matter. Does evangelical Christians ideology influence their behavior? everyone knows that violence is not unique to any particular religion. the point is that it is enhanced by it. you’re making the really stupid assertion that their religion is somehow separate from their culture. no one is arguing that it’s something that is fundamentally linked ONLY to Islamic societies. I am arguing that it’s caused by their ideology, which is clear.

          • razibkhan

            but many of these practices can be found among non-muslims, though often they aren’t justified with the same vigor, or supported by an ummah. e.g., christian arabs have been known to engage in honor killings i think as well, and i know sikhs and hindus in noth india have. one could argue this is islamic cultural influence, but it’s hard to disentangle causality, and i think it really pre-dates islam.

          • onereader

            Oh, for fuck’s sake, 30 years ago marrying the woman you had raped extinguished the crime in Italy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franca_Viola

            What does it say about the society that created those rules? And you can’t tell me that Italy wasn’t a Christian country.

            There’s nothing intrinsically modern or liberal in Christianity, the freedoms we now consider natural are the consequence of two centuries of beating down the religious troglodytes (mostly, there’s still a lot of cultural influence and there are always attempts to force religious morality through legislation).

          • razibkhan

            There’s nothing intrinsically modern or liberal in Christianity, the freedoms we now consider natural are the consequence of two centuries of beating down the religious troglodytes (mostly, there’s still a lot of cultural influence and there are always attempts to force religious morality through legislation).

            who are you arguing with?

          • https://delicious.com/robertford Robert Ford

            I think it was me. I am saying current Islamic societies suck because of their religion. they seem to think that pointing to an imaginary future scenario proves me wrong. even if it came true I wouldn’t care because I would say the same thing for a Christian society 500 years ago: your society sucks because of what you believe and do.
            if they are right then this means great things for the Amish – they’re modernizing soon (maybe.)

    • razibkhan

      first, i know all that history. it’s a good point. second, (which would really be more akin to Egyptian Salafism, didn’t the salafists get 25% of the vote last time? this probably overstates the salafist base, but shows the attraction of their bizarre message. like dominionism salafism really only makes sense as a bizarro world reaction to modernism. though that modern world overthrew a traditional one where the integration between sacred and the polity was assume.

      • TheBrett

        They did, but that’s at least partially because the secular opposition was a rolling disaster of bad planning and preparation. It’s not entirely said opposition’s fault, since they were starting from a worse-off point – Mubarak heavily suppressed any secular opposition in Egypt while allowing the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafist fanatics to organize in their mosques (and soak up foreign donations in the case of the Salafists). Moreover, the Salafists tend to be better at organizing street actions that bely their actual numbers, such as during the Youtube Video Protests.

      • https://delicious.com/robertford Robert Ford

        isn’t that *not* a good point though? his (typical) argument not only excuses terrible current behavior but assumes that Islamic countries will follow the West in cleaning up their act. The argument implies that muslims will inevitably catch up with the West. The future is not inevitable! (You said so yourself in the next post:)

        • TheBrett

          It’s not inevitable, but most trends are pointing that way outside of Pakistan. Democratic governance is the majority preference of Muslims worldwide, for example.

          • https://delicious.com/robertford Robert Ford

            ok, then the burden of proof remains on thee…
            I.e. Africa is still Africa so there are no guarantees.

          • razibkhan

            is *liberal* democrat governance the majority preference? hussein ibish has explicitly said he’s not sure that most arab societies understand the liberal part of liberal democracy. looking back over your comments they exhibit a sneering tendency to reframe the argument in your own terms. unpleasant. i never said muslims weren’t in favor of democracy. only a minority of salafists favor that. but i would assert most reject liberalism.

            no more sophistry from you. be concrete.

          • TheBrett

            I simply pointed out, above, that most muslims are in favor of democratic governance, and that shows up in the poll that I linked to.

            I’ve been trying to figure out exactly what your argument is in that original post. My guess was that you were trying to say there was something *different* about Islamic extremism, something that made it more than just the result of a highly conservative, religious, patriarchal set of societies with little tradition for democratic governance or religious tolerance. I answered as such.

            As for -liberal- democratic governance, I attribute that to the relative recentness of anything resembling democratic governance in the Arab world outside of Lebanon (where it was more of a cover to put on an oligarchical set-up that eventually broke down). As recently as 30 years ago, you could have also pointed out that there’s no precedent for liberal democracy in Korean history, until Korea transitioned into one. It’s a work in progress, particularly since whoever rules in Egypt has the unenviable task of purging the government of what’s left of Mubarak’s regime.

          • razibkhan

            My guess was that you were trying to save there was something *different* about Islamic extremism, something that made it more than just the result of a highly conservative set of societies with little tradition for democratic governance or religious tolerance.

            not really. those who make the equivalence between islamic intolerance and christian intolerance behave as if the two phenomena are interchangeable. i think they’re as interchangeable as $1 and $100.

            but in the comments here you even objected to the assertion that islamic societies have orders of magnitude more intolerance of religious minorities. do you disagree with the quantity? do you disagree with the assertion? if you don’t understand what i’m saying you should ask me to clarify first instead of answering what you think i was saying. it would save us some time.

          • TheBrett

            I don’t think they’re any more bigoted in terms of their treatment of religious minorities than you’d see in most other societies that are that deeply conservative and religious, except for the Gulf states.

          • razibkhan

            don’t speak in generalities. let’s compare. so would you agree that northern nigeria (conservative muslim) and southern nigeria (mostly conservative xtian) are symmetrical in their treatment of their respective minorities? i’d like to see a list of dyads, because that’s how i would do it. when i make assertions like this i run through my own mental checklist. i want to see if you’re worth listening to. the next reply should clue me in to how thick your personal data set is.

          • razibkhan

            did you respond to this comment???

          • TheBrett

            I honestly just don’t care enough to continue the argument. That’s why my more recent responses tended to be more succinct, and I’ve been slow to get back to you.

          • razibkhan

            that’s fine. just front load your arguments with facts in the future. not too interested in your judgments unless i know you know something.

          • TheBrett

            I did link to a poll, but I’ll leave it at that.

  • razibkhan

    your view of the religion is like that of a cartoon. you should be more empirical. i understand you have particular experiences, but essentialist rhetoric for memes is not useful.

  • razibkhan

    yet I don’t see a problem with correcting liberals for comparing Christian extremism and Muslim extremism.

    well, did u notice how the other reader called me a bigot? this sort of stuff gets you called an islamophobe (in fact i have one long standing stalker whose habit is to harass my friends on the internet about my islamophobia). i understand many liberals disagree with this, but the pc-police are part of your broader coalition. just how it shakes out.

    see the sorts of comments mahrer is getting now:

    https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=558136854206546

    You seem to say Islam is fundamentally an extreme or violent religion.

    did you see my comment above? if not, check it out. i make comments for a reason :-)

    in any case, i don’t believe any religion is fundamentally anything, because i don’t think religion is fundamentally a thing. religion is just a label people give to a suite of practices, beliefs, etc. i am of the school who believes there is a weak correlation between texts and explicit beliefs and realized practice, at least where the former entails the latter.

    • PrasadRao

      Why is it incorrect to compare Christian extremism with Green extremism with Libertarian extremism with Islamist extremism ?

      Some of these extremisms had an impact in the past, some have an impact today and others will have an impact tomorrow. Its valid to compare how and when in their lifecycle, each ideology had an impact – since, in theory, we should be able to abstract out the lifecycle of ideologies and the methods ideologues use to propagate or impose their ideology.

      “religion” is “religious practice” – texts are used to illustrate, explain and later, educate an extant practice and i agree the texts are loosely correlated with practice. So, liberals note the text did not start a practice and conservatives note that codifying it in a text made uniform practice possible (e.g. did communism start with “das kapital” or have its roots in the french revolution and the economic upheaval of industrialisation?). in this case, the conservative view better describes and communicates the result.

      In this sense, “capitalism” and “liberalism” can be practiced as ideologies that compete with (and sometimes, complement) other religious practices. “Leaders” use texts to illustrate and explain a belief (e.g. “efficient markets” and “comparative advantage” ) and these texts end up justifying folk beliefs of the laity (e.g. medicine should be private, trade should be free).

      From this sense of “religion as ideology”, criticising a particular aspect of the practice of ideology is answered with justifications from dogma. Where the religion (or ideology) is identified with a text, critics end up questioning the text. The text, gradually, becomes a rallying point, a symbol like a flag, and what is written has the same use as the colors on a flag – ideologues on opposing sides react to the flag along expected lines, the text (or color) may be anodyne but it scarcely matters. Thus, “ideological battle” = “culture war”.

  • razibkhan

    if you want to have some sense of my views of religion, please read this whole thing

    http://www.gnxp.com/blog/2005/12/theological-incorrectness-when-people.php

  • razibkhan

    1) stop being hysterical. it’s not productive for real conversation. as someone who posts pictures of muhammad being sodomized by a camel it isn’t as if i’m an islamophile. but there’s a time and place for everything. if you don’t stop, i will just ban you

    2) i am actually very well versed in the survey literature. the problem i seem to have with anti-muslims, muslims, and muslim-apologists (e.g., left liberals) is that they don’t seem to understand that i know this material well. you may disagree with my assessments, but they’re based on a lot of reading and a non-trivial amount of thought. if anyone wants proof of this, and my diverse thoughts (which have changed over time) over 10 years, go to my original blog, and type islam on the google search box to the right. you’ll find LOTS of posts. http://www.gnxp.com

    3) and finally, i have to admit one problem i have is that anti-muslims accuse me of being pro-muslim and muslims and muslim apologists accuse me of being anti-muslim. i am generally more anti-muslim in my personal sentiments, but the reality is that most people with strong opinions seem to barely know anything. they’re guided by ideology. when i dispute their cartoon sketches, whether nightmares or flattering illustrations, they resort to accusations of bad faith or ignorance. it is not very pleasant to have to deal with supremely confident but information poor people (and yes, i’m really sick of liberals trying to educate me about islam).

    • pnard

      “2) i am actually very well versed in the survey literature.”

      there seem to be a lot of surveys out there, some pretty bad (once i saw a gallup survey of egyptians that was only n=9). just wondering if you could mention some good ones.

      • razibkhan

        check pew’s stuff on islam. finally, check the world values survey. you can interact with it online. you can select nations, religions, etc., the sample sizes are decent (basal is 1,000 per nation).

  • razibkhan

    1) i am aware of the serious problem with islamic separatism in your country. in fact, many of the international terrorist acts in the past 15 years have some connection to moros.

    2) your nation’s experience is not analogous to that in the west because the moros are indigenous people.

    3) as a point of historical reality if not for the spanish interruption of the historical trajectory your whole archipelago would likely be muslim. there were already muslim warlords operating around manilla bay when the spaniards arrived. this makes the philippine’s relationship relationship with islam very peculiar indeed, as moros have a sense that they live in a cosmos where history was diverted. except for isolated tribal populations, and the hindus of bali and far east java, all of the austronesian populations in island southeast asia seem clearly to likely have become muslim without european colonialism. even the chams of vietnam and cambodia became predominantly muslim because of their connection to the malay world.

    • Street Anthropologist

      That’s incomplete. Read some historical accounts about lumads (non-Muslim natives) that predated Philippine Islamization. The Christian-Moro conflict in my country is religion-based not the indigenous-versus-the colonialist conflict. The chaos they perpetrate in my country is no different to why they bombs cities in the West–all because Allah and Muhammad say, “kill the infidels.”

      • razibkhan

        well, of course there were non-muslims who pre-dated the muslims. most of the philippines was non-muslim. my point is that i’ve read a lot of historical accounts, and it seems rather obvious that the period when europeans showed up in island southeast asia was seeing a shift among austronesian peoples toward islam. this was incomplete and haphazard ~1600. but barring the emergence of a european social-cultural alternative (christianity of various sorts) it seems obvious that the non-muslim local identities would have been submerged into the broader austronesian muslim super-culture. is this wrong? if so, how? elaborate.

        • http://www.facebook.com/karl.zimmerman Karl Zimmerman

          Chiming in for one second…

          My understanding is, as odd as it sounds, Dutch colonialism actually furthered the spread of Islam in Indonesia. The Dutch didn’t want to bother having trading ports on every isolated island, and thus relied upon Muslim traders to be the middlemen, who collected goods from the more backwater villages and brought them to more centralized locations. As a result, Islam was exposed to a much further range of peoples throughout the sphere of Dutch influence.

          If you have differing information, that’s fine. I haven’t done a detailed study of Indonesia, but I did run across this a few years back.

          • razibkhan

            yes. some of the same could be said for european colonialism in general in north and east africa.

  • razibkhan

    you didn’t answer my question. when i ask you a direct question you answer the direct question. obviously i’m aware that many people were not islamicized. in fact that’s true today with some dayaks, etc., though they are being islamicized and christianized as i write. the key is that i asked you if the process of islamicization would have magically stopped. it seems likely that the presence muslims at manilla bay suggests that maritime zones facing the trade routes would quickly have been integrated with the greater malaysian world.

    don’t reply to this comment, i’m disgusted at your evasion (granted, you could have presented an alternative narrative and totally enlightened me, but instead you side-stepped the direct question).

    • Street Anthropologist

      We’re talking about Islamization by invasion and even forced conversion. Local histories in the Philippines are peppered with Moro raids. Stick to that. Forget trade routes. You will just complicate things. Prehistoric Filipinos were mostly seafarers and yes, Muslims. That’s true. Early Sultanates in major coastal areas with political and economic connections with Brunei and Borneo will prove that. They were only interested to invade and Islamized coastal areas maybe due to logistics. It could be that the wealth was in coastal areas. Manila is a coastal area, and so is Sulu. Lumad groups avoided Islamization because they were in (or they moved up to) the mountainous areas. They could easily move because of their small communities and populations. Also, because their cultures had no Muslim influences, they could not be easily Islamized.

      Read how Islam came to the Philippines and how Muslims in the fourteenth century started Islamization immediately.

      Wikipedia can actually help. It explains Moro raids and why Visayas avoided Islamization.

  • razibkhan

    no, that’s irrelevant. the point is that the vast majority of filipinos would be muslim at the present if the spaniards had come a century later. the mountains always fight rearguard action (e.g., hindu kingdoms in central java). anyway, stop talking. you’re not saying anything.

    • Street Anthropologist

      You’re wrong again. The Spanish settled in Mindanao (mostly a Muslim area) in 1800′s, and Catholicism took root in 1900′s. When they arrived, they found the lumad groups not yet Islamized (still animists). The mountainous areas where the lumads settled were surrounded down below by Muslim groups, and they could easily Islamize the lumads if it was geographically possible. So, your assumption is wrong. I know you’re intelligent, but I don’t expect you to know the entirety of our history.

      • razibkhan

        you know a lot about your country, but i know a lot more about the islamicization of southeast asia in general (the maritime zones). if you knew about that you’d know that it was not abnormal (and isn’t) for hinterland populations to not be christianized or islamicized down to the 20th century (the same applies the highland regions of mainland southeast asia re: theravada). islamicization and christianization are occurring still today in borneo. so the filipino experience is not sui generis.

        anyway, stop commenting on this issue or i’ll ban you. we’re talking past each other and i’m not learning anything.

  • Elemen Ope

    Were you raised Muslim, Razib, and do you attribute some of your absolutism/empiricism to an Islamc upbringing? I think that’s the case for me. I remember sneering at the wishy-washiness of Christianity as a child – none of that “the Bible is allegorical” nonsense for me, the Qoran is THE word of God, period!

    To the subject, my family is pretty moderate, but I remember when a bunch of atheists held a convention in a hotel on Friday… and an angry mob burned down the hotel. The conversation that followed was all about how thoughtless the atheists were for holding the convention. ><

    • razibkhan

      raised, but never believed. and yes, my family is moderate. but my american standards they are quite conservative. the *real* conservatives are just kind of crazy.

      i didn’t really know about other religions until i was a teenager, except for buddhism. since i didn’t believe in god really the godly religions seemed rather uninteresting to me. interest only came latre when i figured i should grasp the phenomenon more factually.

    • Street Anthropologist

      “the Qoran is THE word of God, period!”

      Really? I’m not an atheist. I consider the Qur’an and the Bible as literary texts. That’s it–like how I treat Ramayana and Mahabharata.

      • razibkhan

        the mainstream view among muslims is that the koran is the literal word of god, transmitted to muhammad by gabriel. but, as a practical matter the sunnah and hadith have much more influence on muslims, especially sunni muslims. some of the shia and quasi-shia groups don’t make such a pretense toward textualism, and rely more on guidance from religious leaders who have a more diverse portfolio of tools at their disposal (e.g., some shia still believe in the validity of esoteric philosophy which is generally considered impermissible in sunni islam).

  • razibkhan

    I believe you’re missing an important point when talking about Bangladesh, the unrest is mainly spurred by the current ruling coalition putting to trial several opposition leaders in kangaroo courts

    i’m not missing anything important. the social context is necessary, but not sufficient, for this instantiation of the violence (obviously there are others, like the constant clashes between AL and BNP factions, along with their federates). IOW, there are plenty of circumstances where political and class conflict occur. that doesn’t always result in religious persecution. you need other factors to have that be resultant.

  • razibkhan

    In a nutshell;do stop posting Bill Maher of all people please, I’m conjecturing here but you get called bigot because you post youtubues of bigots like Maher.

    1) don’t ever tell me what to post again. if you do, i will ban you.

    2) don’t mischaracterize my posts again like you did above. e.g. There is nothing inherent in Muslims that makes them violent, else there wouldn’t be several million Copts living in Egypt for example. i disavowed ‘inherentness’ repeatedly, and yet u people keep imputing it to me. the next time someone does this, i’ll ban them.

    3) it isn’t as if i don’t know (and even agree in part with) all your arguments. basically you have a schema of talking points, and i ‘trigger’ that scheme by whatever i said. then you start rattling off your arguments, without much detailed consideration of what even my position might be.

    4) lots of nations have been colonized. again, u people seem to not understand the distinction between necessity and sufficiency. your ‘nuance’ is all one-sided, and wrapped up in re-characterizing your interlocutors in the least charitable manner possible.

  • Dave

    Islam is the only religion with organized terrorist groups around the world that trains people to kill Muslims and Non-Muslims in masses everyday. I’m sorry but as an Atheist Islam is the worst possible religion that could exist out there, it’s beyond anything i have ever seen. People need to stand up for what is right. Islam is downgrading humanity to a point where people are afraid to criticise it no matter what it does.

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Gene Expression

This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com

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