Dissents Of The Day

Many readers are upset with this post:

Wow, Andrew. I’ve been with you since 2007, and I can’t recall reading a more blatantly ridiculous statement from you than this one: “And when will they grasp that a religion that does not entirely eschew violence (like the Gospels or Buddhism) will likely produce violence when its extremist loners seek meaning in a bewildering multicultural modern world?”

You know it’s bullshit too. Because otherwise you would’ve said “Christianity” instead of “the Gospels,” keeping it consistent with your blanket characterizations of Buddhism and Islam. But you knew you couldn’t, because of Christianity’s and the Old Testament’s indisputable record of violence, which refutes your narrative that doctrine was the primary cause.

And otherwise you wouldn’t have qualified it with that long modifier of producing violence “when its extremist loners seek meaning in a bewildering multicultural modern world.” How many contingencies do you have to stuff into the interpretation and practice of a religion before you realize those contingencies matter a hell of a lot more than the words in the document everyone’s reading into in whatever way suits their condition? What a logically, linguistically, and sociologically inept attempt to baldly enforce your double standards of religious causation upon your readers.

I do not write things I know are “bullshit.” They may be, but I write in good faith. Perhaps I should have put it this way: All religion, including Christianity, is susceptible to the violence associated with tribalism and fundamentalism. Christianity’s murderousness through the ages is a matter of historical fact, from the Crusades to the Inquisition and beyond.

What distinguishes Islam is that its founder practiced violence, whereas Jesus quite obviously favored the exact opposite – nonviolence to the point of accepting one’s own death. Unlike Christianity, but like Judaism, Islam also claims sacred land, and, along with extremist forms of Judaism, the divine right to repel intruders from it. Religion is dangerous enough. A religion founded by a violent figure, with territorial claims, and whose values are at direct odds with modernity is extra-dangerous. Which other major world religion believes that apostates should be killed? Or regards negative depictions of the Prophet as worthy of a death sentence? As I wrote more than a decade ago now:

The terrorists’ strain of Islam is clearly not shared by most Muslims and is deeply unrepresentative of Islam’s glorious, civilized and peaceful past. But it surely represents a part of Islam — a radical, fundamentalist part — that simply cannot be ignored or denied.

Another reader:

What is “Jihad”? It’s only a religious war in the minds of those who believe that it is. Do we need to broadcast this to people who may be susceptible? Can’t we fight this war without feeding the enemy’s propaganda machine? My worry is that using Jihad/religious war is going to do two things:

1. Help radicalize more people

2. Rev up the right wing into the frenzy we saw post 9-11, which makes us lose our heads and do dumb things, and also reinforcing point No. 1 – it’s a self fulfilling prophecy: “See, the West is after us. Fight the infidels, etc.”

I think this older brother absorbed these radical ideas through osmosis – speaking to a radicalized (but not a member of a radical group) person, all the messaging in the media/Internet, etc., visiting Russia and seeing/experiencing it. But there does not seem to be a direct link to a radical group, where he was directly trained, was meeting with a group, etc. Maybe we just haven’t learned that yet, but until then, we should not jump to conclusions. It seems to me, media outlets calling this a religious war/Jihad are only going to make these people more susceptible to this stuff and give them  greater justification for their feelings and actions.

If I were writing to maximize public safety, I would minimize the religious aspects of this terror attack. But I am writing in order to tell the truth as best I can. Another reader:

It’s terrifying to me that you can write sentences like: “Legally, the case for the presumption of innocence is absolutely right. But come on.”

“But come on” was the animating logic of the drumbeat for war in Iraq. It was the ideological territory of Cheney, Wolfowitz, and Co. It was why Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib happened. “But come on” says, to me: “I know I can’t justify this with reason so I’m going to appeal to a general sense of hysteria.”

But that is precisely why we have these laws and safeguards in the first place. Mirandizing a suspect, presuming innocence and so on were not primarily intended for the low-key cases that take place in America every day. No, they were in large part designed specifically for moments such as this, to prevent a nation in the throes of a huge emotional overreaction (more on that in a moment) from stepping out of bounds. “But come on” represents precisely the arbitrary, emotional desire for overreach that our Constitution and legal system was specifically supposed to neutralize.

If I had simply said the words “come on” and not followed them with a superfluity of evidence, my reader might have a point. But I didn’t.