If I don’t think Islam is an inherently violent religion, then what theory do I offer for explaining contemporary Islamic terrorism as a phenomenon?

I’ll offer one to start: the collapse of Marxism as an ideological force over the past 20 years has left the poor in formerly colonial powers at a loss for an ideological substitute for resistance to what they perceive as ongoing exploitation from globalism. In other words, instead of turning to Marxism, they are turning to fundamentalist and medieval forms of Islam for an ideological counternarrative to cultural and economic imperialism. And terrorists tend to combine Islam with a Leftist analysis and critique of globalism—a kind of Isalmo-Bolshevism—and apply it to politics. Thus Islam, when it is combined with 1970s-style Leftist forms of political action—underground movements, urban terror, and bombing—becomes a heretical SYNCRETISM. Most Muslims regard suicide terrorism, for example, as completely contrary to Islamic principles of warfare (not to kill yourself or harm civilians).

And I’d note that when the Western powers respond with violence in turn, it fuels a cycle of aggressive rhetoric on all sides. A bumper sticker I used to see around my city about five years back, for example, callously advised, “Kick their ass, take their gas.”

I’d also note that in the evolution of Malcolm X, that it was his conversion to Islam that chilled him out, mellowed his violent rhetoric, and helped him see the universal brotherhood of human beings. I think that Islam has enormous issues with regard to patriarchy and authoritarian religion, but I also think it is a religion that is perfectly capable—like any other form of monotheism—of peacefully integrating into a global multicultural system of trade and peaceful relations. For example, Muslims in the United States—the vast, vast majority—have already made the journey of this integration and are peaceful and productive citizens. And the children of Muslim immigrants to the United States will be ever more Americanized, as will their  children (even as they, in all likelihood, continue to practice the religion of their upbringing).

And on an anecdotal level, I live in a part of the country where Muslims are a decided presence, and all the Muslims that I know are lovely and moderate people. One of my coworkers, for example, is a very committed Muslim. He is an exemplary friend and coworker, and a gentle, funny, and thoughtful person.

I’d also bring up one more issue: people with authoritarian, aggressive, and violent personalities will tend to be attracted to forms and styles of religion that match them. Those, on the other hand, who are temperamentally the opposite will tend to practice religion in a gentler way, noticing the peaceful parts of their chosen holy book and ignoring the noxious parts (or metaphorizing them). Gandhi, for example, read the Bhagavad Gita metaphorically even though it is, if read literally, a justification for violence and killing in war. The Gita  is a Hindu book which Hindus have, indeed, used (historically) to justify killing in war. You can argue that this is precisely why the author wrote it.

So what I’m saying is that we are not just cultural creatures—Lockean blank slates—influenced by holy books in a linear fashion (“My holy book says kill so I kill”). We are also biological creatures with strong inherited temperamental inclinations that range from aggression and asociality to passivity and social cooperation. Our religious expression is frequently just a veneer for our inherited temperamental characteristics. Gandhi is going to read the Bhagavad Gita  differently from a Hindu general who has risen to the top of the Indian army. A Reformed Jew in New York is going to read the Hebrew Bible differently from his Orthodox counterpart living in the West Bank and taking the “chosen people” passages of the Bible seriously, his weapon at the ready. Likewise, a Muslim in the West can see no problem parading in a swimsuit and winning Miss USA even as her counterparts in Pakistan wouldn’t think of doing such a thing.

One more thought: Islam in Islamic countries obviously has a problem of rewarding authoritarians rising through the clerical ranks. In other words, the authoritarians are rewarded, and have essentially taken whole countries hostage to their authoritarian dictates. Iran is an obvious example. Moderate Muslims living there try to resist, but are brutally repressed. But who are the true Muslims? The young people protesting in the streets of Tehran or the authoritarian geezers at the top? I’d argue that it is neither. Islam is plural because human beings’ inherited temperaments are plural. The WAY you read the holy books (which, historically, have been written by a mix of sadistic and masochistically tempered individuals) tells you a lot about who you are.

I realize I’m offering a form of analysis that is not especially politically correct, but I have been influenced by Steven Pinker’s book, The Blank Slate. His book, which is very carefully documented and argued, has convinced me, even though I’m a liberal, that at least half of our expressed human temperaments are the products of our genes, and this impacts how we read holy books and affiliate in our politics. We are not blank slates at birth, and getting rid of one political or religious ideology will not change authoritarian or violent human impulses, but probably set people on a search for a fresh ideology that matches their psychological inclinations.

Have you ever noticed, for example, how a person who believes in one conspiracy theory—a 9-11-truther, say—is also inclined to be attracted to a lot of the other conspiracy theories as well, mixing and blending them into a stew of paranoia?

If a political or religious system starts rewarding such a person you can end up with a nutty person in power. But now I’m thinking of Sarah Palin. Is the Republican Party essentially nutty—and necessarily so? No. But the system has gotten skewed to rewarding its nuts (like Palin) and sublimating its saner elements (like David Frum). I think that the same thing is true of contemporary Islam in Islamic countries like Iran. The crazy authoritarians are being rewarded through the way the system is set up in those countries. A different system of rewards in a culture might bring temperamentally less rigid Muslims to the fore (as it obviously does in the United States, as the winner of Miss USA attests).

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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39 Responses to If I don’t think Islam is an inherently violent religion, then what theory do I offer for explaining contemporary Islamic terrorism as a phenomenon?

  1. Khan says:

    Good reading!

  2. Paradigm says:

    Again, you have to come up with something that is exclusive to the Muslim world; the collapse of Marxism is global.

    The West’s aggressive reaction to the Islamic terrorism is hardly an explanation of the terrorism but a consequence of it.

    You then go on to say that Muslims in general are opposed to terrorism, and most of them are good people, they integrate well in the US and your personal experience with them is positive. All good but it doesn’t explain the terrorism.

    Then finally you say:

    “The crazy authoritarians are being rewarded through the way the system is set up in those countries. A different system of rewards in a culture might bring temperamentally less rigid Muslims to the fore (as it obviously does in the United States, as the winner of Miss USA attests).”

    Yes, that is possible. But another way of putting this would be to say that Islam, the way it is practised in Muslim countries, rewards crazy authoritarians which results in terrorism. And that’s why Islam is an inherently violent religion. So now you kind of proven my point.

    • CR says:

      Is this any different than Christianity was 500 years ago? It was just as oppressive and and shortsighted as Islam is today. I believe Islam is simply going through the growth and modernization pains that Christianity went through. It is struggling to cope with a more morally liberal world and with the influx of information that challenges some of its assertions that conflict with science.

  3. santitafarella says:


    Your key phrase is this: “Islam, the way it is practised in Muslim countries, rewards crazy authoritarians . . .”

    That’s a historically contingent, not essential, element to Islam. When Muslims encounter modernity—the Enlightenment, capitalism etc.—and find themselves benefiting from it, they integrate well (as most Muslims in the US do) and still call themselves “Muslims” even without behaving like the Taliban (even as American Protestant Christians call themselves “Christians” without holding the same views as Martin Luther, a rabid antisemite, on what to do about Jews).

    I am not arguing that pre-Enlightenment Islam, Christianity, Judaism etc. are desirable phenomena in the 21st century. Obviously, they are not. What I’m saying is that it is not helpful to demonize Islam qua Islam as uniquely unintegratable into modernity.

    Is that what you are saying? If so, how do you account for Muslim integration in the United States?

    As for the death of Marxism, look at the contingent factors at work in Central America (as an example) that aren’t at work in a country like Iran. Immigration northward as a valve to social unrest is just one factor that is different.


  4. Roger Salyer says:

    Well, one could just simply admit that they have been provoked.

    You really are quite the preacher for your own fundamentalism, aren’t you? You just assume that it would be insane for anyone to resent the march of Univeralism/Americanism/Modernity, your system, then look for complex theories to explain the insanity.

    Geez,I may be Catholic, but I don’t assume that non-Catholics are pathological.

    To characterise Islam as unintegratable into modernity would NOT be a demonisation. It would be a compliment.

  5. andrewclunn says:

    As I recall it, the Muslim world was fighting against the Soviet Union and Marxism just as strongly when it was a force in the world. If we were to tell a Muslim in the middle east that adopting western political procedures and governments wouldn’t lead to a complete transformation of their culture where things like promiscuity and homosexuality would become legal and even culturally acceptable, then we’d be lying.

    Marxists collectivism, Lockean individualism, and Islam are all mutually exclusive. They cannot coexist without one being subordinated to another, and in western societies religion has increasingly become pushed aside. I don’t see this as a bad thing, but it’s dishonest to say that it is not the case.

    Perhaps it’s just as simple as the west killing God, and Muslims not wanting that.

    • Roger Salyer says:


    • santitafarella says:

      Andrew and Roger:

      You two don’t have a “bingo” but are, yourselves, in checkmate. Your “mutually exclusive” irreconcilability is only true if you cede interpretation to those committed to reductio ad absurdums (like, say, Rand Paul). Why give ideas always over to the intemperate, the ridiculous, the cultic, the fanatical? Sensible people can be “Marxist”, “Muslim” or “Lockean” and live in society with people who are not. People living in Los Angeles do it all the time. And intellectuals on college and university campuses do it all the time: Terry Eagleton teaches at Oxford and calls himself a “Marxist,” Edward Said was a “Muslim”, and Milton Friedman was a “Lockean.” All of them, I’m sure, were always more than pleasant with their colleagues in the mailroom.

      The world belongs to the sane and temperate. The broken wheels get attention because they squeak loudest. Terrorism, fundamentalism, reductio ad absurdum underground men, conspiracists etc. are annoyances in history. The world will go forward with or without them (and is). Life will be better in the 22nd century. The nuts will not determine our future or ultimately undermine it. Fanaticism is the chess piece that moves back and forth even as everyone else can see it is headed for checkmate.


      • andrewclunn says:

        Umm, no. If I’m a Muslim then how can I live in a society where society where my prophet is openly mocked, where I am obligated to pay taxes for schools where my daughters will be mocked for wearing traditional clothes, and where science classes will teach that my holy scripture is false.

        If I am Marxist, how can I live in a society where parents are allowed to teach their children nonsense and give them an “us and them” mentality that pits them against their fellow man? How can I live in a society that allows casino owners to get rich by exploiting the weaknesses of others to rob them?

        If am an an individualist (Which I personally am) then how can I live in a society where I am required by law to support strangers, and where my freedoms are easily stripped by the whims of the masses? How can I live in a society where freedom of speech is controlled and censored in the name of “not offending” others.

        At the end of the day, there are difficult questions where values DO matter. The argument that ‘moderation’ somehow makes this real incompatibilities disappear is simply a technique for attempting to hide (perhaps from one’s self) where one’s values are really coming from.

      • santitafarella says:


        There is no one “how to” or “how is it possible” answer to the ways that people square the circles between their private beliefs and their public practices, but one needs only to drive around Southern California to see real human beings doing it everywhere. Ayn Rand’s institute is in Orange County. The largest Buddhist community in the Western world is in Los Angeles. Catholics, Environmentalists, Republicans, Hindus, Muslims, Protestants, gays, Jews, and atheists all seem to manage in LA, however incoherent or unintegrated their worldviews might seem to you. They all wish their views to ultimately prevail (perhaps) and they all await the future with alternations of equanimity or anxiety, raising their kids and living in a capitalist society. Economic and cultural integration is the future of humanity with all the hothouse ideological plants flourishing, but not in their most wild forms.

        Fanatics want the wild forms to flourish, but global interconnection with others is simply too valuable for most people to walk away from. Man cannot live on ideology alone. That’s the inverse truth that Jesus, in his impoverished purity, missed. Galt’s Gulch and the pure rural religious community has no Starbucks. As ideas they may be coherent and self-contained purities, but they’ve forgotten the Phoenicians: global trade and interaction—even with people you don’t like, or even disgust you—makes for a better life than the isolated community can make for itself alone. Render to Ceasar the things that are Ceasar’s and to God the things that are God’s (or Ayn Rand’s). People have to figure out how to do this for their own lives, and they do.

        Did you know that demographers and economists generally predict that human beings, in the 22nd century, will be about ten or more times wealthier than human beings are today? The benefits of global trade, communication, and technology sharing are simply overwhelming alternative models for setting up societies. LA is the future, and the university campus is the future, not Jerusalem or Tehran or SB 1070 Arizona or Vatican City or eco-communes or Galt’s Gulch. These alternatives are the static—the background noise—to the megatrend.

        The Phoenicians—and by them, community models consistent with the Enlightenment and Hindu pantheism—are winning out over the purist monotheisms and their equivelent purist ideologies (Galt’s Gulch, Marxism, Republican triumphalism, Whitopia Idaho etc.). Humanity’s future is signaled by California, not by Islamabad or Boise. And young people moving into the world’s cities, choosing to live interconnected lives, are voting with their feet.


      • andrewclunn says:

        Water scarcity, over population, militant rebels, incompetent bureaucracies; these are what our future holds, and when people are struggling, they fight over what they do have. It is true that people require fewer principles when the times are good, but then the population expands through child bearing or immigration and eventually the good times come to an end.

        Then people will need structure, they will need a message, something to make sense of their harsh world and to bring order to society. Then the lines will be drawn in the sand. And if you don’t want those lines drawn by race or region, then you’d best make sure they’re drawn by values and ideology.

        Society is boom and bust, and if I’m wrong, then the better for it, and may our continued accent last for generations to come. But if societies fail and those that remain don’t have the resources to prop them up again, then it will be the Amish, the Fascists, the Theocrats and the Vegan Communes that will replace anarchy.

        If the world economy collapsed tomorrow, North Korea would probably still get along just fine (well, just as fine as ti is right now.) It’s no wonder that Marx required the downfall of the (then) present power structure for Communism to arise, because societies only really get replaced when they fail. it is in these upwards moments that we have the opportunity to forge the new ‘religions’ that will allow humanity to create civilization in wilderness or from ruin. We’d best not assume that our accent shall not continue forever, or we might go the way of Rome, where we slip into a dark age ruled by mystics and dominated by regional conflict because it was not insisted that we teach a morality based on reality.

      • santitafarella says:


        I agree that we could find ourselves in a Blade Runner future, but I seriously doubt it. I’m not trying to be complacent, and forms of fascism may continue to have their sporadic days in the sun, but even Hitler, awful as he was, only drove history for less than 15 years. Communism only managed to hold the former Soviet Union for 70 years. And the Iranian Revolution is rickety at 30 years.

        I’ve got a book suggestion for you: it gives me more than a little hope for the future, and it might cheer you up as well. It just came out and I’ve been reading it (hence my glib optimism). It’s written by a highly respected science journalist, and it has a libertarian subtext that I think you would like:


        You can counter with a negative text that you think is convincing. I’m also reading Jared Diamond (who is negative). I’m more convinced right now by Ridley.


      • andrewclunn says:

        I’ll have to read that.

  6. Paradigm says:

    “That’s a historically contingent, not essential, element to Islam.”

    No, actually it is not. Not unless there is a factor or a set of factors unique to the contemporary Muslim world that can account for it. Otherwise it’s inherent in the religion. And you have yet to come up with any such factors.

    You also keep bringing up the idea that Muslims are integrating well. A Pew poll on this does claim that few American Muslims endorse terrorism. But if you look at the actual numbers it turns out that 5 percent are in favor of al Qaeda and 27 percent declined to answer that question. Also 8 percent say suicide bombings are sometimes justified. If Italians held this views would you say they were also well integrated?

    “What I’m saying is that it is not helpful to demonize Islam qua Islam as uniquely unintegratable into modernity.

    Is that what you are saying? If so, how do you account for Muslim integration in the United States?”

    That is exactly what I’m saying because that is what I’m seeing. I can’t change my mind about reality because some other idea would be more helpful. As for the integration see above. Also note that large minorities, about 15-30 percent, of European Muslims want sharia laws with public corporal punishment.

  7. santitafarella says:


    The Sharia law support in Europe is a product of recent first generation immigrants from places like Pakistan (where they were born). Their children will generally not hold the views of their parents, nor will their grandchildren hold the views of their grandparents two generations from now. Assimilation takes time. My grandfather, fresh from Italy, was very, very Catholic old school, with reactionary attitudes, no doubt, toward gays and women. His children had a different experience and I, as his grandson, would be barely recognizable to him in my attitudes. There is not a one-to-one reproduction of culture over time. One of my wife’s childhood friends, for example, grew up with my wife in England, is a 2nd generation Muslim, has a responsible position in a corporation, and is thoroughly Westernized (even as she practices her religion as part of her private life). The generalizations that you are making distort perception, and fail to notice how people make compromises and adjust to live in plural communities and multicultural urban areas. Remember, more than half of the human population lives in cities.

    Also, the suicide bombing question is misleading. Had someone tried to blow up Hitler at the sacrifice of their own life would you regard it as a wrong act? A hypothetical like that does not provide specific context for how the person is reflecting on the question before answering.


  8. Paradigm says:

    No, there children will not hold the view of their parent – they are actually more radical. Here is an example from the UK: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1540895/Young-British-Muslims-getting-more-radical.html

    Your grandfather came from on western country to another – that’s a different story. His values were probably not that different from those held by inborn Americans of his generation. He was probably not in conflict with society.

    As for me distorting by generalizing – isn’t an opinion poll where many are included a more reliable source of information than your wife’s Muslim friend? That’s anecdotal.

    As for suicide bombings, unless you live on a deserted island you know the context. It’s in the new all the time. And killing Hitler is far cry from killing innocent civilians.

    It seems to me that you bring up your personal experience a lot. Remember what any psychologist will tell you: salient information is always overinterpreted. And nothing is more salient than personal experience.

  9. santitafarella says:


    Seriously? You think, on average, that a third generation American born Muslim who is, say, thirty years old, is likely to be more fundamentalist and traditional in sensibilities than his or her immigrant grandparents from Pakistan?

    Now you’re reaching. Might you clarify?

    I’d also point out that if a Westernized young Muslim male decides he despises his Muslim parents for their moderation, accomodation, and lack of religious zeal, and converts to a fundamentalist brand of Islam, it is not the parent’s fault: it’s a vulnerability in the youthful religious psyche. Young males have always been dangerous and prone to fanaticism. They continue to be dangerous. Barring castration, they will always be dangerous. Such fundamentalist religious anamolies in an American community can be kept track of by the FBI. They do not threaten Western civilization in any existential fashion the way that, say, a foreign al Queda terrorist with a nuclear weapon could.

    Again, you are focused on the wrong targets for your ire. The great existential danger to Western civilization comes not from American Muslims or British Muslims. It comes from underground men—fanatics—bent on getting nuclear weapons (whatever nihilistic ideology drives them).

    What you are trying to do, in my view, is sustain the politics of disgust (as opposed to the politics of humanity) with regard to people who, though not violent, are strange and frightening to you. Thus you conflate them with terrorists and blur distinctions. In short, it’s about you, and your nostalgia, not what is.

    As for confirmation bias, it’s you who said this: “That is exactly what I’m saying because that is what I’m seeing.” That sounds like an experiential argument to me.


    • concerned christian says:

      Santi, you asked “Seriously? You think, on average, that a third generation American born Muslim who is, say, thirty years old, is likely to be more fundamentalist and traditional in sensibilities than his or her immigrant grandparents from Pakistan?”
      My answer is absolutely yes, simply because if he ever lost faith in the Western civilization and turned to his religion, he will find that his prophet, Muhammad, instructed all true Muslims to fight the infidels, with the promise of 72 virgins if they die fighting. I guess that will be a very good incentive to motivate an Army Physician to kill his fellow soldiers, or a minister son to set himself on fire to blow up a plane filled with unbelievers.

      • santitafarella says:


        We live in a big, interconnected, and complicated world with nearly 7 billion people. It will never again, in human history, be possible to say or do something in one part of the world and it not be picked up everywhere else. And that means we cannot ignore or avoid one another’s existence. That also means that some young people in the U.S. will come under the influence of fundamentalist Islam and read the Quran for purposes of killing.

        Muslims, Christians, atheists, Jews, feminists etc. are not going away. We’ve got to live with one another. And that means giving people credit for making the compromises and assimilations that makes their private cultural life and their civic public life work peacefully for them. The young people you are fearing who may actually do something evil and violent are to be counted (maximum) in the hundreds (in terms of being in the United States). The FBI has an eye on half of them, and most of the other half who have slipped beneath the FBI’s radar will end up not following through, or getting older, or falling in love and mellowing enough to keep their views and youthful intensions private. In other words, that leaves millions of Muslims who will live peaceful and productive lives in the United States. And that means that the rest of us need to treat them with basic human decency and not as people carrying a deadly contagion. To treat them this way is, ironically, a sure-fire method for increasing the likelihood that some of their children will feel ailenation and resentment, and radicalize. We’re in a delicate dance. The answers are not simple. But the first thing is to make distinctions between the violent and the nonviolent.


  10. Paradigm says:

    “Now you’re reaching. Might you clarify?”

    Did you click the link? It seems pretty obvious. But again you go on personal experience. Most Muslims in the West live in Europe. Given America’s reputation in their home countries the little minority who settle in the USA are less rigid than most – polls show this too by the way.

    “They do not threaten Western civilization in any existential fashion the way that, say, a foreign al Queda terrorist with a nuclear weapon could.”

    No, they probably will not get a hold of nuclear weapons but they can kill a lot o people with more conventional methods. There is nothing magical about nuclear weapons. You’ll be just as dead by a ordinary bomb.

    “What you are trying to do, in my view, is sustain the politics of disgust (as opposed to the politics of humanity) with regard to people who, though not violent, are strange and frightening to you. Thus you conflate them with terrorists and blur distinctions. In short, it’s about you, and your nostalgia, not what is.”

    These people who are “strange and frightening” to me are so because 5 percent openly support al Qaeda, and another 27 percent doesn’t want to tell me if they do. Around 25 percent of them in Europe want to flog criminals – like those committing adultery – on the town square. Why wouldn’t they be frightening to me?

  11. santitafarella says:


    What you linked to is troubling and sad, but I think that we are in the grip of an escalation born of both sides internalizing the fear of the other. In other words, young Muslims living in the West have been treated with such suspicion and prejudice that they are (more than their parents) sympathetic with the Muslim world’s fundamentalists. It’s a guilt formation: “I’m living relatively more comfortable in the West; capitalism and postmodernism are alienating and unsatisfying; Westerners don’t like me, use me for restaurant labor, and resent me as a human being; the least I can do is talk hard to pollsters on the side that does claim me.”

    And remember: the pollsters are asking young people (with lots of hormones and black and white thinking going on) to express their opinions on issues that they have only a superficial understanding of, and then the pollsters are comparing it with their seasoned, experienced, and mellowed parents. If you asked me my opinions at 16 about religion you would have heard a black and white fundamentalist as well. My argument is that you are comparing apples and oranges. The young people will always be more radical in polls at that age, but their assimilation at 30, 40, and 50 years old will be very different. My prediction is that Islam in the West in the year 2040 (when these young people are pushing 50) will be more mellow, not more virulent, and it will be because of factors of assimilation doing their work. And these same pissed off teens will be 50 and have different views and gained life wisdom.

    Think of the 1960s as an analogy. The hippies of the 60s somehow managed to be the yuppies of the 80s and their grandkids are indifferent to hippies.

    I’m not trying to be glib. I’m trying to disrupt the easy panic narrative that you have ginned up (and that fuels the reaction in young Muslims who feel, apparently correctly, that the older generations of Westerners fear and hate the Muslim religion, and resent their very existence as human beings).

    It’s time that Westerners made friends with their Muslim immigrant neighbors: get to know them and their children as human beings. You can short circuit resentments by talking. And they are here and speak English. It’s not like you have to travel to other countries to get to know them. That requires work, of course, and maybe it’s just easier to demonize and point and whisper with horror and cynicism.


  12. concerned christian says:

    The West have to openly discuss what Islam is teaching. This link is a Saudi Arabia’s collection of the words of Muhammad and the comments on these sayings. That specific page is part of a section about the Jihad, it describes the beautiful women (hours) promised to those who die fighting for Islam. It says that if one of these women is shown to the world she will bring light to the whole world! and in one of the comments mentions the number of women promised to everyone who die for God, namely 72 hours!
    Sadly very few in the West are aware of this propaganda that encourage Muslims to fight a real Jihad. Discussing how to deal with Muslims without knowing the full message of Islam is not good.

    • santitafarella says:


      I find fundamentalist Islam repugnant in the ways that you do: I don’t like irrationalism, inequality between the sexes, violence advocacy, or patriarchal authoritarianism.

      And let’s you and I posit (for the sake of argument) that the violence associated with Islam is somehow inherent to the religion, and not a contingent historical phenomenon of our contemporary moment.

      Now what?

      There are already millions of Muslims in the United States, and the vast majority of them, however repugnant you find their religion and views, live peaceful and productive lives here.

      What do you propose that one do with them? Do you want them deported?

      What, exactly, and as a practical matter, do you want done (given your thesis that Islam qua Islam is bad)? What public policies—domestic and foreign—does your thesis bring you to?

      What isn’t being done about Islamic fundamentalism that you want done?


      • concerned christian says:

        Here is what we need to do in the West if we want to maintain our civilization
        1. Reexamine our humanist ideology, we are in a post Christian world and we are obsessed with a humanist ideology that worship multicultural inclusiveness and consider any attempt to criticize other people’s beliefs to be worst than murder. We need to apply the same critical analysis we applied to Christianity and the Christian Churches, to Islam and its organizations.
        2. Take seriously the demographic changes, Muhammad instructed his followers to increase in number through multiple marriages, there is even a hadith in which one of Muhammad’s early followers told him that he can either marry a beautiful women who is barren or an ugly woman who is not barren, and Mohammad told him to marry the one that will increase the Muslim population! What make this a serious threat is that while most Muslims are busy breeding, the West is obsessed with issues such as Gay Marriage and abortion which cut down the number of Westerns.
        3. In dealing with Muslims, demand reciprocity, a concept put forward by Pope Benedict. Muslims in the West are using a standard response when you ask them how they could be ignoring all the atrocities committed in the Muslim world against non-Muslims while they are raising hell every time an apparent discrimination happened to them in the West. Their “talking points” is if you have a problem in Saudi Arabia go talk to them there but we in the West are entitled to all the freedoms everyone enjoys. To put this in focus, consider what’s going on lately; many Americans are upset that a 13-story Islamic Center will be build next to the ill-fated WTC and they are right to complain about it. Do you know that there are not a single Church in Saudi Arabia and in many Muslim countries, churches are regularly destroyed by angry mobs, while the West allowing large Mosques to be build in every major city from New York, to London, to Rome.
        If we can discuss these three issues we will be making great progress.

      • santitafarella says:


        Starting with question #1: I agree with you that Islam deserves every bit the critical scrutiny of every other religion. But there is just a teensy problem with doing this: it’s dangerous. It shouldn’t be, but scholars have to tread very carefully in applying critical methods, for example—or God forbid, irony or cynicism—to their critiques of the Quran. There are enough fundamentalist extremists within the Muslim world to make the life of an academic who gets too critical dicey. There will probably be no Bart Eerdmans writing academic books inflaming Muslim fundamentalists in the Internet age any time soon. It’s very, very sad and pathetic that this is true.

        Christianity has, for a century and a half, been in tumult as a result of higher criticism—critical inquiry into its texts—and has arrived at some compromises with the secular world about this—but fundamentalist Islamists, being more inclined to violence, and lacking the least irony, are happy to feign offense at the drop of a hat, and intimidate, with threats of violence, people out of pursuing such scholarship.

        Does this make these Islamists an existential threat to the West because we can’t (safely) critique the Quran?


        I think that the problem of Islamic fundamentalism on this level should be dealt with in the same way we dealt with the Soviet Union. Isolate them from the West and wait it out. The world will pass them by. Who can respect or admire that? Islam does not demonstrate its strength in avoiding such criticism, but its weakness. And any ideology that receives no respect from the academic community is unlikely ever to overtake Western culture. What made the Soviet Union more dangerous than the Islamic world today was that (1) it could annhilate us with nuclear weapons; and (2) Marxism was taken seriously as an ideology by academics. Niether is true of fundamentalist Islam.


      • santitafarella says:


        A bit more on #1:

        I applaud anyone who engages in political and religious criticism. I do it all the time. Who wants to live in a world where people can’t speak their minds or hear things? I want, however, the criticism to be cogent, and if it is not, I want to be able to sass it back without the accusation that I am intolerant of the critical spirit. In other words, the critic has to be open to criticism as well (I’m thinking of Sherry Marquez here).

        As for multiculturalism, I reject a number of the premises that often accompany it, such as this one: all ideologies and cultures are equal and deserve respect. Obviously, they are not and they don’t. Fundamentalist Islam is something I regard as inferior to, say, the New Atheist movement, and I don’t have any respect for the premises underlying fundamentalist Islamic ideology.

        But multiculturalism also has its upsides, such as its affirmation that we should try to imaginatively and sympathetically walk in the shoes of others, and try to understand where people who are not like us are coming from. And multiculturalism faces reality (that we live in a global world that is internet connected, and this diverse community has some common human ground on which we can talk and try to be nice to one another).

        What would you suggest to replace multiculturalism in civic arrangements? If we all can’t agree, but need to keep talking in the civic square (for purposes of trade and business), then what model for civility do you suggest, if not some rough version of multiculturalism? Do you want to pretend that Protestant Christianity is normative, say, in Los Angeles county, and that gay people and Jews should be invisible?

        Multiculturalism has fuzzy-headed elements to it, obviously, but I think it is pervasive in academia and the corporate world because it makes for relatively smooth and civil social exchanges. Respect for people physically standing or sitting in front of you, recognizing their presence, and acknowledging our human differences, seems not so bad to me. The old fashioned word for this was good manners.

        In any case, what’s your alternative?


  13. Paradigm says:

    “In other words, young Muslims living in the West have been treated with such suspicion and prejudice that they are (more than their parents) sympathetic with the Muslim world’s fundamentalists.”

    I think you’re confusing cause and effect here. People from all over the world and of all sorts of religions move to Europe and America. Still, this phenomenon is exclusive to Muslims.

    “My prediction is that Islam in the West in the year 2040 (when these young people are pushing 50) will be more mellow, not more virulent, and it will be because of factors of assimilation doing their work.”

    Yes, you have point here. Most people mellow with age. But they will not necessarily become less radical than their parents. That’s still an open question. Especially given that Muslims are a unique group in this respect.

    “I’m not trying to be glib. I’m trying to disrupt the easy panic narrative that you have ginned up (and that fuels the reaction in young Muslims who feel, apparently correctly, that the older generations of Westerners fear and hate the Muslim religion, and resent their very existence as human beings).

    It’s time that Westerners made friends with their Muslim immigrant neighbors: get to know them and their children as human beings. You can short circuit resentments by talking. And they are here and speak English.”

    If I have a bad reaction to their hostility I should restrain myself so that I don’t make it worse? No, I don’t think that will work. I don’t think you realize what the situation is like here.

    Let me give you an example: In Malmö, the third largest city in Sweden, the Jews are now moving out because they are harassed by the large and influential Muslim minority. Their kids are attacked by the Muslim kids on their way to school. The local politicians have done little to prevent this because they want to get re-elected and there are more than 20 Muslims votes on every Jewish vote.

    And you say that we should just talk to them, make friends and everything will be alright? Yes, it does sound a bit glib.

  14. santitafarella says:


    My concern is that the fundamentalism of young Muslims is a contingent historical phenomenon—a real and persistent-through-time disconnect from the trends in attitudes of their better-assimilated parents. That would bode ill for areas of Western cities where Muslim populations are large, and would make my “assimilation thesis” wrong.

    Your characterization of what is happening in Malmo is very troubling. If you have a link that can be translated into English I’d appreciate having it. It is outrageous that any Jew living in Europe would ever go unprotected from harrassment or violence. Surely the politicians seeking urban votes can build a winning constituency absent the inclusion of anti-semites.

    But as a practical matter, do you see Islam qua Islam as an existential threat to the West, or mostly just a nuisance that can be generally isolated and controlled?

    You don’t think the West is in danger of ever becoming Islamic, right? You don’t think that Islam represents a vital intellectual choice in the 21st century—something that challenges secular culture outside of these traditional urban-dwelling community enclaves—do you?


  15. Paradigm says:

    Here is an article about Malmo:

    As for Islam being an existential threat or not, It’s hard to tell. I know that many dutch people started leaving their country after the murder of Theo van Gogh. He was, by the way, murdered by a young Muslim born in Amsterdam. When those with money and education leave I imagine the conflicts escalate.

    But no, I don’t think Europe or, even more unlikely, America will become Islamic. What worries me is that we’ll be stuck with a conflict that will result in more terrorism and other types of violent crime – Muslims in Sweden are about as overrepresented in assault and rape as African Americans are in the USA – and we did not bring them here as slaves.

    In the long run I suspect the West will divide into problematic countries like Holland and others that have a stricter immigration policy, like Switzerland.

    • santitafarella says:


      Your perspective is interesting here, and your take sounds right to me.

      My hopefulness, as a Westerner and secular humanist living in the United States, is that the relentless advance of Western techne will wear down, over the next few generations, resistance to secular modernism in the Muslim world (and in Muslim enclaves within Western societies). I don’t mean that Muslims will cease to be Muslims. Only that they will mellow in the way that, say, Evangelical Christians have mellowed under modernism in the United States. In other words, they will cease to have angry young men within them who aggressively hate the infidel, or who want to do violence to a system that so obviously benefits most people, including Muslims. Demographers and economists are pretty insistant that even modest global (economic) growth rates over the next century, accompanied by technological advances, will make for people, on average, ten times more wealthy than we are today. That means that people living on, say, 4,000 dollars a year today are likely to see their great grandchildren enjoy a level of comfort and existence equivelent to somebody making 40,000 dollars. Once you reach a certain level of collective affluence, and people are living at least as well as the average person in, say, Los Angeles, then people will, whatever their personal beliefs (and however crazy and conspiratorial they may be), find ways to get along with strangers. I still think LA is the human future.

      In a way we’re in a race with time. Can we bring the average human being’s existence up to a decent living standard before too many minds are infected with civilization destroying anarchic and nihilistic memes? If, every decade or so, we see a terrorist put a nuclear bomb on a city, screwing up the global economy, we might never get there. That, to my mind, is the existential threat: a Luddite nuclear shoe being thrown every ten years or so into the wheel of progress. Such a thing would drive Western politics into authoritarian reaction and totally goof up the human future. It would poison not just the economy, but politics, and the optimistic and rational soul.

      I’m thinking of Rod Serling’s sobering Twilight Zone episode, The Shelter. It’s philosophically interesting, and worth a half hour when you have the time:


  16. Paradigm says:

    I hope you’re right, but I have to say I doubt it. It all boils down to the fact that Muslims behave so differently from all other groups coming from third world countries of other religions.

    It may be that they will mellow with increasing wealth but is it wealth or is it social status. The latter is a zero sum game (as Pinker pointed out in The Blank Slate). In that case they may end up like the African Americans many of whom despise a brother who reads a book and pretends to be white.

    I guess we’ll see in time if my iceberg-theory or your anomaly-theory of Islamic terrorism fits the data best. Meanwhile I will definitely check out that episode of Twilight Zone : )

  17. concerned christian says:


    While Western Women continue to be fascinated by the non-Arabic version of Islam, one of the most debated issues in the Arabic Muslim World now is a discussion about if grown up woman can let Men who share an office with her to drink from her breast-milk so they can share the office without breaking the Islamic rules!

    This is a link to Muhammad Hadith about breastfeeding the grown up. You can use Google Translate to get an English translation.

  18. concerned christian says:

    Beware if you want to exercise your freedom of conscious in a Muslim country.

  19. concerned christian says:

    But if you preach hard line Islamic intolerant views you are allowed to the United Kingdom to enlighten the Infidels!

  20. I tend to think most people are really very ideological or thology oriented. They just want to make their home and get them and their by.

  21. Anonymous says:

    If you really think about it Islam has only one choice: It needs a “new” testament. In other words, I must make “new” law, the current text is too old, it must be revitalized. That’s the only way out of its predicament.

  22. Bear Stern says:

    I have to admit that i like the adult breast-feeding-at-work concept so long as its mutually agreed upon pre-hire 🙂

  23. Bear Stern says:

    Actually, INSISTING upon the ironic mockery of religion across the board is the very least we can do to help. We must offer our resistence often and enmasse to minimize the danger. It would be great if American humanists insisted upon doing so with greater pointed focus and resolve (see Hitchens, Harris, Maher, etc) rather than leaving it to our own in-house gullibles, the xtians to use the issue to raise funds and to fear-monger.
    Being more careful when it comes to muslims due to higher numbers of potentially violent fundamentalists is simply unacceptable.
    It is our civic duty to call them out and to make them think about their actions and beliefs, despite of the risks. Its clearly up to the most civilized of us to change the dialogue and affect the perceptions of successive generations.
    At present we here in the US are in greater imminent danger from demented Christian radical gun nuts than we are from suicide bombers.
    That should be regularly and publicly acknowledged. It bears mentioning that Muslim fundamentalists are not predominantly the persons shooting up schools across the US.
    That being said, we should not leave it to under-educated NRA types to do the speaking for us as a culture. Fear mongering will only exacerbate the issue by feeding the fire of religious separatism and self importance. The world’s intelligentsia need to speak to this issue with a bit more authority and with a clear disdain for ALL religious delusion. Young Muslims desperately need to be exposed to significant mockery from CREDIBLE SOURCES to help them toss the crap sandwich they’ve been dealt right where it belongs -on the rubbish pile of bad ideas from primitive human history..

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