Monday, August 26, 2013

School Solution: Sovereign Immunity for Students?

I was talking to a family member about the problems regarding public schools and their infringements on ordinary civil liberties afforded by the bill of rights, particularly the rights of free speech and due process. He, having kids of his own in middle school, had been thinking about the problem for some time now and had an extraordinarily creative idea: ask the school for a signed document upon admission granting his kids sovereign immunity. "Our soldiers get it over in Iraq, and these school rules are so different from our laws that attending them is like going to another country," he reasoned. "If the school decides to back out of this and decides to punish or expel one of my kids for anything other than a law of the federal or state government, they would owe me, say, two times what I payed in tuition costs, fees, books, etc. Maybe three times."

The catch, of course, would be the difficulty in getting schools to sign this, though their claims (and they all make these claims) that they support the rights of students under the Constitution would make it look rather strange for them to refuse to sign a legal document granting students the rights they already have outside of their campus.

But since many schools have sovereign immunity themselves, it may be possible to circumvent the school completely and simply get something signed by a district judge in the region. Maybe not. I don't know how that kind of law works, but this is an idea I hope to research a bit further, and look into as a possibility for myself in the near future. Since a lot of the expulsions, suspensions, mandatory sensitivity training, and unconstitutional rules (like "free speech zones") are the result of legal-pressure from people with little tolerance for uncomfortable ideas or speech, it seems like responding with legal-pressure from those of us with little tolerance for infringements on our laws and principles of government might need to be part of the necessary recourse.

Lyin' eyes... or machines?

Polygraph testing proctors might tell you that you can't hide those lyin' eyes, but the rich old man in this story should give you plenty of reason to worry, and not just about the test itself.

An article in the Seattle Times a few days ago declared that "Federal agents...have launched a criminal investigation of instructors who claim they can teach job applicants how to pass lie-detector tests." Given that how to pass lie detector tests is all but common knowledge and that lie-detectors themselves are generally impermissible as evidence in court due to their propensity to give false positives as well as false negatives, I actually don't think I need to add anything about how hypocritical, ridiculous and asinine this is.

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Slow-Creep Back to Tyranny (or, how to metaphorically boil America)

This is not where you sit in the big picture...
Whether or not a frog will actually allow itself to be boiled alive in a slowly heated frying pan (the expert opinion seems divided on the subject), their supposedly more highly evolved mammalian relatives--humans, to be precise--will do, and have done, just that. In our case, the old analogy of jumping out of frying pans into fires would be more suitably modified to jumping into another frying pan, which has yet to heat up to the hellish conditions that finally stoked our allegorical frog to make the first leap. It may be time for a second.

What on earth is all the metaphorical gibberish with frogs and fryers about? It's about America; in fact, it is about the heart of America, the reasons for its creation, and the familiar bubbles of history returning to present-day politics.

Within the Declaration of Independence, a good deal of the indictments against King George had to do with the removal of protections of the individual from the government. To give you an idea of what exactly motivated our geographical ancestors to violently rebel against and overthrow their government, it is worth quoting the document at length:
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
The most noteworthy of these offences is, in my opinion, the final one from this abridged excerpt. In the early 17th century, the Charters were the anchors and foundations of Colonial government and law, much as our own national Constitution is today. Theodore Draper describes at length the importance of the Charters in his excellent history, A Struggle for Power: "[T]ampering with colonial charters threatened the entire system of chartering, on which much of property rights and local autonomy in England itself was based. The colonies could always hold the English authorities at arms length--or much farther away--by appealing to their charters as if they were so sacred that no king or Parliament could touch them." Many colonials described their charters in tones of reverence on par with the Bible, and a few even credited Jesus Christ as the buyer of their evidently divine documents. Perhaps it was just as well, since the Crown was at that time God's own megaphone in Britain.

My point is that the removal of the colonial Charters was on par with the destruction of Constitutional protections of the individual from the government. The presumption of innocence, which is remarkably rooted in game theory and human evolution, as Dr. Robert Sapolsky beautifully explains in his Stanford lectures on behavioral biology, is among those currently "under destruction" by the NSA and various law enforcement agency's continuation of the war on drugs and war on terror. The "castle doctrine," an ancient legal philosophy dating back to Cicero, and its children, the 3rd and 4th articles in our bill of rights, are further casualties of our government's zealous efforts to root out so-called "public enemies." In his well-researched and terrifying book Rise of the Warrior Cop, Radley Balko proves rather forcefully that, for all intents and purposes, our modern-day police force is a standing army:
No one made the decision  to militarize the police in America. The change has come slowly, the result of a generation of politicians and public officials fanning and exploiting public fears by declaring war on abstractions like crime, drug use, and terrorism. The resulting policies have made those war metaphors increasingly real.
If you go back and re-read the specific indictments against King George, you'll find that every single one of them could arguably apply to our recent President George, and even more forcefully apply to President Obama, whose lip-service opposition to such tyrannical policies adds the crime of perjury to the basket. Between the increased political power of the military and military-linked organizations like the police force and the NSA, the continuation of Guantanamo Bay and the detainment and even assassination of American Citizens without warrant or trial, and the abuse of the Espionage and Sedition acts to imprison journalists for the crime of actually speaking truth to power. Orwell's essay on Politics and the English Language, an under-read and underrated piece of writing for its short length, has much to say on the legitimacy and trustworthiness of such "wars on abstractions." Suffice to say, one should be skeptical and suspicious of the motives of those who call the mob to arms against foes that do not exist and cannot be defeated.

The one charge from the list that I included which President Obama might be acquitted on at the moment is the accusation of subjecting Americans to foreign jurisdictions without consent. His defense of free expression at the United Nations, in opposition to an attempt to pass an anti-blasphemy law, was in my opinion one of his more eloquent moments. But recent events (and prior reservations) have completely shattered my previously half-held expectations that Obama might be trusted to stand by this position should push come to shove in the political arena.

If you are like a friend and near-opponent of mine at the public debate stand who declined to follow through on the old, "who am I to take a stand on these things?" argument, I hope I can preempt your humble apathy. I might start by reminding you that Thomas Paine was merely a corset-maker, but there are actually two more powerful rhetorical responses to the sly evasion in the question form: "who's asking?" and "who are you not to take a stand on these things?" The old axiom about evil triumphing when good men do nothing seems always to refer to those 'other' good men, standing around letting the world go to hell, as the speaker impugns the moral degradation of the apathetic masses between comfortable and activism-free days. To hell with that.

More relevantly to the issue at hand, however, I would quote the man who authored our Constitution at age 36, after having started in politics at merely 25:
It is proper to take alarm at the first experiment on our liberties. We hold this prudent jealousy to be the first duty of Citizens and one of the noblest characteristics of the late Revolution. The free men of America did not wait till usurped power had strengthened itself by exercise and entangled the question in precedents. They saw all the consequences in the principle, and they avoided the consequences by denying the principle. We revere this lesson too much soon to forget it.
Writhe in your grave, James. The pan is near boiling and the frog hasn't jumped out yet.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Is Islam a Religion of Peace? The debate goes on...

In the wake of the murder of Lee Rigby in the United Kingdom, an Oxford Union debate was held on the old subject of Islam: is it "a religion of peace" or not? (The motion was phrased in the affirmative, "Islam is a religion of peace"). I have watched enough religious debates to consider myself something of an expert; if not on religion itself, at least on religious debates. That said, I haven't watched a full length one in a while, which is why it took me nearly a month and a half to see and respond to this. I think it's also at least part of the reason I was so shocked by the opening speech of Matthew Handley, and then again by the meek, bumbling, and at times actually misleading response of Anne-Marie Waters.

Though Daniel Johnson came back with a compelling and powerfully delivered argument after Adam Deen's slightly boring lecture, Mehdi Hasan did a brilliant job parrying the attack like a matador with an equally powerfully delivered and, in my opinion more strategically marshaled set of arguments. After Peter Atkin's rather meek response, I think it would be safe to say that Hasan ultimately won the debate for his side, 286 for to 186 against.

It would be improper to call Hasan's arguments red-herrings, as Waters, Johnson and Atkins actually did make several of the arguments he was responding to. In my own opinion, however, the opposition (my own side of choice) did a fairly poor job of presenting the best argument against the motion. This will be my attempt to rectify that.

In this response, I'm completely ignoring the opposition's points, and drawing instead primarily from Hitchens, Murray, Dawkins, Harris, Dillahunty, and my own personal experiences and education. I've ordered the affirmative's arguments into more concise points I hope the reader will judge to be true to Handley's, Deen's, and Hasan's videos, which I've linked in the above paragraphs. Most of them are paraphrased, but a few are direct quotes.

The arguments:

1. Even though some Muslims claim religious justification for violence, their interpretation is illegitimate and wrong, and the majority of Muslims reject their reasoning. People invoke religion to promote personal goals, like Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army, but this doesn't reflect the nature of religion, just the individual. They hijack the name of faith for their own desires. We must distinguish the imperfect individual Muslim from Islam the religion. Terrorism is the result of political disagreement, not religious theology. Theological experts decry suicide bombing and killing civilians. We true Muslims are campaigning against Islamic terrorism in the name of Islam.

Two questions worth considering when hearing this kind of no-true-Scotsman fallacy are the following:

1. Who counts as a 'true Muslim'?
2. Who speaks for Islam?

I count it as a point of unacknowledged irony that Handley, a non-Muslim college student who presumably has approximately the level of religious training and education as anyone else in the room, is claiming to speak for all Muslims. This is always a double-standard one can count on seeing at these kinds of debates.

This whole point is rather cynical though. When suicide-bombers, or abortion-clinic bombers for that matter, commit the crimes they do, they tend to be fairly up front about why they do them. One could say "in my opinion, I think they have their theology wrong," but to say that they don't actually believe what they say they believe--and insist on repeating ad nauseum--is an exercise in wishful thinking and self-delusion. Ideas can and do change the world, and sometimes urban skylines. It isn't through selfishness or narcissism that people are willing to blow themselves up, but sincere belief in their cause.

It is true that politics lie at the root of much terrorism and violence. I might even go so far as to say that nationalism is more dangerous than supernatural beliefs, but the line being drawn between politics and theology is illusionary. One need only look at British history (shame on these Oxford students and alumni) or modern American politics to see the constant interaction between the two. Sam Harris is right to point out similar crimes against people in other parts of the world to those suffered by those in the Middle East, and the notable lack of violent retribution. With the exception of Sri Lanka (the sad beneficiary of its own set of superstitions), the Middle East is the only home in the world to the practice of suicide bombing, and contrary to the image we may have painted in our heads, Arabs are not the only people who have been attacked and oppressed, but the everlasting rancor and instant recourse to violence is relatively unique to the region. In Tibet, by contrast, many tortured victims were primarily concerned with losing compassion for their captors.

In short, religion influences politics, just like all other ideas. To say that it's politics, not religion, that is causing this violence is akin to saying it was the spoon, not the poison, that made Jim sick. The question isn't "is it the spoon or is it the poison?" as the argument implies, but rather "which poison is causing this illness?"

On this vein, I tend to accept Voltaire's contention that "those who believe in absurdities will commit monstrosities." It is difficult for liberal-minded, secular Westerners to imagine what it might be like to actually believe what terrorists say they believe, particularly when they say things like "We love death more than you love life." But we have much less difficulty finding socio-economic excuses for Christian scientists, for example, whose false beliefs often cause the painful deaths of their own children from easily curable illnesses. Children whom they love, it should be noted. Such is the consequences of absolute devotion and faith. Now listen to Anwar al-Awlaki speak about life and death.

If it seems that I've chosen an extremist as an example here, as indeed I have, I should add that I've heard the same message given somewhat less eloquently to children (to children!) of my own so-called "moderate" Christian youth group.

Is it really so difficult to see how such a belief would allow one to kill himself for faith? The non-theists and Westernized, moderate theists who raise these points often time have a difficult time empathizing with such genuine and abject faith, and so they play bad psychology games and search for ulterior motives in murky corners, even when the ones carrying out the bombings and attacks are practically screaming (or literally screaming, in some cases) their motives for the world to hear. More on violence in the Quran that might inspire such acts later.

2. The post-9/11 media deliberately distorts and sensationalizes Islam, and they characterized the Woolwich attackers as "Muslims" before "fanatics" and "maniacs." #Muslim was trending on twitter before the facts were known, and the racist English Defense League attempted to torch mosques. British Muslims are social victims of these attacks, and are hatefully cast as violent.

In line with my answer to the previous point, anyone who saw the video of the Woolwich attackers explaining themselves on camera after the attack should have noticed how lucid and intelligible, if not exactly calm after killing someone, the attackers were. As of this writing, there is no reason to believe the two attackers were insane or deranged. Calling them "maniacs" or "fanatics" as a primary descriptor would have missed the actual reasons and motivations behind their crime. Wish-thinking strikes again.

Having been involved with student journalism and having done a reasonable amount of research on news history, the economic incentives of the media and propaganda techniques, I would be the first to grant that the post-9/11 media deliberately distorts and sensationalizes it distorts and sensationalizes anti-Islamists. And Democrats. And Republicans. As did the pre-9/11 media.

The fact is that sensationalism sells. It isn't the news media's fault that the easiest things to sensationalize happen to be consistently provided by one religion in particular. What's really more interesting; the new park opening up next week, or the fact that 12 people got blown up in some part of the world or other? We could say that it's their fault for following through on their yellow-journalism habits, but it would be dishonest to say they do this exclusively or especially with Muslims, or even that they don't do it equally or more so of the factions most critical of Islam. The Huffington Post, Salon, The Nation, and MSNBC (and countless others) have all spoken out against "Islamophobia" as a kind of bigotry, as though critiquing an idea that happens to be a religion were on par with racism or sexism. These tend to be far more slanted against the critics of Islam than the rather bare-bones fact recitations of the latest holy warfare tend to slander the faithful, as perhaps they ought to.

Having seen the media clip of the attack now, it should be interesting to note that this particular one (the first result when I YouTube searched "Woolwich attack"), clearly omits any religious reference other than the arguably indirect label "terrorist." In the debate, however, the religious influence, or at the very least justification, of the attack remained an unchallenged fact established at the onset. Is the media really so biased against Islam?

On a similar note, the point about the Muslim community being an equal victim to the actual injured party by backlash is a point that much of the mainstream media has happily accepted and repeated. Not that it's true of course. Since Mehdi Hasan brought up Hitler and the Nazis, I think I'll make an analogy I've made before between people pleading the no-true-Scotsman message being made: good, kind, ordinary, everyday Nazis (the German population) were victims of Nazism through a horrendous backlash against their own violence. Douglas Murray, who was originally slated to take the place of Daniel Johnson and would have made the debate much closer, in my opinion, has said on a number of occasions that "Germans have good reason to be 'coy' in matters of human rights." Is it unjustified and victimizing backlash to demonize Nazism for the mere crimes of a small minority of Nazis? At the very least, we must acknowledge that the nature of victimhood of Nazis is fundamentally different than that of Jews, yet this is the sort of twisted equivocation being offered in the name of Islam.

3. "We must not allow a monopoly to be given to the voices of fear and violence who seek to further racist and hateful aims."

Little danger of that. Far from being "racist" or hateful, the opposition to the motion are, by and large, staunch defenders of free speech, even of religious speech. They usually confine themselves to condemning violations of these freedoms, or condemning acts of violence, and their critiques of Islam tend to harp on Islam's tendency to violence and silencing critics. The exceptions to this trend, usually far-right conservatives looking to block Muslim immigration and censor the Quran, are not secular civil libertarians, but Christians. One could say they are another facet of the same religious problem.

There is a very real danger, however, of a monopoly being given to the other side, and in more than a mere emotional-rhetorical sense (as was the case with the affirmative). Legally, it is a punishable crime to criticize Islam in many countries, and the head of the UN expressed his support for a recent effort by 57 Islamic nations to pass an international binding "blasphemy law," obliging member nations to make criticizing religion a criminal offense. Christopher Hitchens, Nick Cohen, Douglas Murray, Sam Harris, and Lars Heddegard have all spoken out against this trend, but perhaps the most damning bit of evidence is inadvertently provided by Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the co-creators of South Park. After making fun of just about everyone, their episode featuring Mohammed in the wake of the Danish Cartoon incident was heavily censored and almost not played at all. Even comedy isn't free from the censor's dark pen.

I don't even think I need to speak in depth about Salmon Rushdie.

We must not allow a monopoly to be given to the voices of fear and violence? Yes certainly; I agree 100%, but outside the fantastical persecution-complex of the religious mind, this would be a point against, not for, the affirmative in this debate. The gall and audacity of saying it's the other way makes Islam pleading for a voice against a hateful majority a legitimate challenge to the traditional story of the boy who murders his parents and then asks for pity for being an orphan as the best definition of "chutzpah."

4. In order to cast Islam as non-peaceful, the opposition can't just cite scripture and individual actions; they must prove that the fundamental tenants of Islam prevent it from being able to be practiced peacefully; they must prove it is diametrically opposed to peace. The opposition must prove that Islam cannot be peaceful in practice, whereas the affirmative must merely prove that there is nothing inherent to Islam that prevents it from being peaceful. It's okay to set the bar high because a quarter of the planet believes in Islam, and the opposition is trying to tell them what their religion cannot be and to essentialize fundamentally negative and violent characteristics of those people.

This was one of the framing arguments made by Matthew Handley in his opening arguments, and in my opinion it says a lot not only about the religious mind, but about the minds of those who defend religion.

I would immediately reject the reasoning given by Handley as to why he's set the goal-posts so high, though not the framework itself. Imagine by analogy one were to say, as a 12th century philosopher (or more aptly, theologian):

"The vast majority of the people on the planet believe the sun orbits the earth. To say it's the other way around, showing that the evidence points unmistakably to that conclusion isn't must prove that it would be completely and theoretically impossible for a sun to orbit a planet. This standard of evidence is justified because by telling all of these people they're wrong is essentializing and denigrating their intellect, basically calling them all stupid know-nothings."
The fallacy really is that similar. A religion is an idea, not an essential characteristic of an individual, except by their own choice (in the same way that a Nazi could make their political affiliation the essential nature of their character...which would make them more wrong, not more impervious to criticism). The argument slurs the line between critiquing an idea and insulting an individual and thus evades the normal procedures, standards, burden of proof and gauntlet of criticism every other kind of belief is subjected to in science and politics, the two fields in which religion generally and Islam specifically has attempted to monopolize the most.

So why do I accept Handley's high bar? Certainly not because it's demanded of me; it's more because I can. The religious claims made by the core doctrines of Islam have not met their burden of proof--in other words, they are false, for all intents and purposes--and yet they portray reality as a very different place than what science tells us. Acting on false beliefs produces bad and violent results as surely as acting on the belief that drinking bleach is an effective cure for the common cold.

I would again yield the chair to Anwar Al-Awlaki, not as a paragon of the average Muslim, but as an example of a sane, intelligent individual who sincerely believes in the truth of life after death, let alone the orders from God to kill adulterers, apostates and gays, to beat your wife and to not eat pork (for whatever reason).

The same thing can happen to ordinary, peaceful individuals. In my own experience, a Muslim student at a college I attended told me that she thought that in the near future, something would be discovered that would prove that homosexuality really WAS harmful to society. This is not as illogical a conclusion as it may at first appear, given her beliefs: the infallible word of God says that homosexuality is evil. By human (read "fallible") evidence, nothing is wrong with homosexuality. Here we have a to get out of it? Hers isn't the only example, and is certainly not as directly and violently harmful as Mr. Awlaki's, but we already have something of a taste of what presuming homosexuality to be harmful looks like in the United States. Is her belief harmful?

The answer, of course is yes, and this is without essentializing her as an individual, let alone as a violent or evil one, just one who is factually incorrect. It isn't new information that the proverbial road to hell is paved with good intentions, and wrong information is a one-way train down that road. Claiming that this knowledge is infallible, that nothing can change your mind, is to metaphorically rip out the brakes from this train.

Unhealthy and uncompromising views on reality are the natural result of claims to perfect knowledge, which is what the Quran claims to be. This is especially true when the message of the Quran is itself both violent and false.

5. War-like rhetoric in texts is non-unique to Islam, and ignores context of time of writing and greater scope of Quran.

You won't see me defending the Bible, a book with equally violent verses and stories and written in a similarly barbaric time. Perhaps all the more reason not to take either book seriously, no?

That aside, there is one key differences between Christianity and Islam.

What the Bible has in its favor is incredible incoherence. It has so many contradictions that even some of the fundamental principles, like God's omnipotence, are contested (Genesis 18:14, Job 42:1-2, Jeremiah 32:17, Jeremiah 32:27, and 5 other verses say he is, while Judges 1:19, Mark 6:5, and Hebrews 6:18 say there are some exceptions). Some of these contradictions appear in the same book, even within the same chapter, or on the same page. Within such a flurry of conflicting messages, it is very easy for Christians to find the verses that they agree with the most and ignore the bad ones, even the ones that there is very little disagreement within the Bible about, such as slavery.

The Quran, by contrast, is crystalline in its message. There is little to no self-contradiction going on there; in fact, what contradiction there is within the Islamic tradition is between its more moderate adherents and the text itself. To illustrate, again by personal anecdote, I was at a Muslim Student Association and asked one of the students what they thought should be done with apostates. Should they be killed? I never actually received a straight answer from them; all of the responses were something along the lines of "well, Allah is merciful," "it's up to Allah," or simply, "I don't know." The Hadith (specifically, the section of the Hadith held to be the most reliable), says not once, but twice, that apostates--those who reject the teachings of Islam after once accepting them--are to be killed. It is telling and terrifying that the best that good, honest, loving Muslims can muster is coy avoidance. The young lady in the blue hijab gives a response very similar to what I've experienced, but they are taught, in turn, by people like the terse but at least honest cleric in this clip with Richard Dawkins:

6. Islam in its totality is peaceful. God is described as just, loving, merciful, etc. Islam is not pacifist, but it is peace-loving.The ideal Quranic society is Dar Al-Salam: the "House of Peace." Islam encourages good deeds and kindness to your fellow man. Most violent verses in the Quran have caveats and exhortations to prefer the peaceful path. Islam promotes philosophical "positive peace" through justice and cultivating virtue in its adherents, even though it is not pacifist.

If it weren't enough to read the Quran itself and note the warlike actions of the prophet as well as the forceful and very often hateful mood of the God (who is notably NOT all-loving, as he is thought to be in some sects of Christianity), I hope my points about Islam's false beliefs make this point moot.

A minor point of history--the counterpart of Dar al-Islam (the "House of Islam," apparently also known as the house of peace), is Dar al-Harb, the "House of War." This would be the regions of the world not yet converted to Islam. The ideal Quranic society is not a peaceful society in the traditionally understood way of thinking; a kind of utopia of tolerance, diversity and compassion. It is a society completely controlled by the faith, in which non-believers either do not exist or live as second-class citizens or slaves. If we are to accept Handling's reference of Martin Luther King Jr.'s definition of peace, of it not merely being the absence of violence, but the presence of justice, the point of Dar al-Islam is self-imploding. A totalitarian theocracy is not the face of justice, let alone the absence of violence. Even Buddhist theocracy had its instances of eye-gouging, slavery, and various forms of injustice and violence.

What Islam promotes isn't "positive peace" through justice, but what we might call "default peace" through conformity and strict punishment of those who think and believe differently, at least in its logical conclusion. Again, this is not a point about individual Muslims, but about the core beliefs of Islam and its Platonic political implications. Islam in its totality is just that: totalitarian.

7. Islam seeks to inspire on an individual level. It teaches good virtues and qualities, and provides inner peace through clarity and certainty. In a confusing, consumerist world, we shouldn't take this away.

First of all, no one's talking about taking anything away (a sharply and darkly ironic slippage of meaning as to how debates work). Deciding for yourself that this particular religion is not a religion of peace doesn't take away anyone else's right or ability to continue to follow it; it is merely an opinion, and one that we should perhaps make. By analogy, a time period equally confusing and scary, perhaps even more so to ours, was the 1930's in Europe. Would anyone doubt that a Nationalist movement lifting one's nation out of abject poverty and the sense of failure after losing a war would give its people a sense of clarity and certainty? Shouldn't we not take this away?

Nazism is not the same as Islam; in many ways they aren't even comparable...BUT, the point to be demonstrated is that the fact that a certain belief makes others feel good doesn't morally oblige us to accept it or to not be critical of it. If this were the case, heroin death rates might be a bit higher than they are now. People do not have a right not do have their beliefs challenged. They could, if they so choose, decide not to answer these challenges, but in doing so they forgo the privilege of having their beliefs and views respected. Do I respect the belief that an archangel shouted out repetitive and bible-borrowed verses to an illiterate businessman in a cave somewhere in the Middle East? No, not really. Not at all, actually. Do I think this belief has caused and will continue to cause suffering and violence and ignorance around the world? Yes, it seems pretty clear that this is the case. Is my stating this taking something away from believers? Certainly not; I hope it will convince some, but it isn't forcing anyone to do anything. That is the beauty of a liberal-democratic society with a constitutionally limited government, something that cannot be equally said of the regions of the world in which the forces claiming the name of Islam have risen to power.

8. We must allow Islam to define itself.


9. Violent verses in the Quran don't make Islam a religion of violence because that line of thinking presupposes pacifism, which is morally indefensible. Aversion to violence is a virtue in Islam, but every moral person knows that there is a time when fighting is necessary. The violence advocated in the Quran is just and generally defensive in nature.

Agreed that pacifism is morally indefensible, and perhaps even that aversion to violence may be generally preferred in the Quran. It is a debatable point, to be sure, but I feel safe in granting it in this case.

But here again we run into the problem of the beliefs themselves. Even within a solid moral framework (don't instigate violence, fight in self defense, etc), false beliefs can corrupt good intentions into bad and even violent outcomes. Is it really so difficult to believe, after watching Awlaki give his speech twice now, as you have (right?), that some people might view the opening of their children's minds to the belief that God might be a myth as more terrible a crime than assault, rape, or even murder? Similarly, might someone who believes in heaven and a perfect judge care rather less about killing or being killed than someone who is convinced that this life is all we've got? Our daily news headlines indicate that this is precisely what is happening. The HAMAS fighter who says that he loves death more than we love life isn't engaging in hyperbole or calculating to elicit a reaction; he is being honest, and he goes on to prove it by blowing himself up.

Alternately, one could look at the history of Islamic civilization for evidence of this. The history of Islam is a history of steady and violent empire-building, of piracy, of foreign invasions and more or less forced conversions. The Roman Empire is often looked at as the pinnacle of the empire-building tradition. The Ottoman empire, however, was nearly the size of the Roman empire, lasted longer (more than 6 centuries), and to boot, had a rather nasty reputation for cruelty and violence. Many today are talking about and politically supporting the reestablishment the caliphate--the Ottoman empire, in other words.

In a debate with Tariq Ramadan (incidentally on the same question as the debate this post is about, "is Islam a religion of peace?" well worth watching here), Christopher Hitchens opened with the referencing of a Christian historian who had asked the question, "whatever happened to the term 'Christendom?'" For most of the middle ages, and even into the Renaissance, there was a "Christian empire" of sorts, that region of the world in which "the word of Jesus Christ reigned...supreme." The answer to the question, as it turned out, was the first world war, in which a number of powerful Christian nations very nearly annihilated each other in a massive orgy of violence. There are Christian countries now, or at least predominantly Christian ones, but no empire.

The caliphate, the Ottoman empire, isn't unlike the old "christendom." If you look at the spread of Islam and think of it as a comprehensive Islamic empire, as the term "Dar al-Islam" would have us do, the Islamic empire rose to its size and prestige through the same method as the Mongol, Roman, Macedonian, Chinese and Christian empires before it--military conquest. "Jihad" is a debated and disputed term, even within the Islamic intelligensia, but there is little doubt that many in history viewed it in its most literal sense, not an uncommon practice in interpreting scripture or literature in general (especially orders from the all-powerful creator of the universe). Mohammed established the empire he did not through persuasion and through "peace," as the motion in debate would have us believe, but at spearpoint. Here is an illustrative map showing, in green, the spread of Islam over the centuries.

Is this spread truly defensive in nature? Is it really a demonstration of a fundamental aversion to violence? I contend that Islam did not inspire an aversion to violence in its prophet and figurehead, Mohammed, and has similarly failed to do so in its followers. In reading the Quran, I myself failed to see the underlying admonition to abhor and shun violence when spreading the faith was in order. It is nothing like defensive or "just-war" doctrine, as Adam Deen contends, that is advocated or enacted by Islam and its adherents. It's the crazed and self-righteous rampage of those who claim access to absolute truth that is advocated, and results, from the pages of the Quran.

10. Islam brought algebra and algorithms to the modern world. There would have been no Renaissance or Reformation without Muslim theologians and philosophers bringing Greek texts to Europe.

Somewhat suspicious, isn't it, that the affirmative will claim as "Islamic" the fruits of individual labor from particularly brilliant Muslims, yet shun as merely individualistic or political the efforts of Muslims whose inspiration for violence is somewhat more explicitly theological. Eat your cake or have it, Mr. Hasan, but you can't do both.

During the Middle Ages, a christian monk named Mendel conducted a series of experiments with bean-plants that ultimately lay the foundation for modern genetics. Christianity didn't do this, Mendel did. We would not say, "without Christianity, genetics would never have happened!" Such a claim would rightly be viewed as preposterous.

Just as in much of the Christian world, the inventions and innovations emanating from the Islamic world were the result of individual effort, not the religion that dominated the politics of the respective region. Had Michelangelo been born in India, it's a perfectly valid daydream to wonder if we might see a picture-perfect statue of Arjuna instead of David. If anything, the works of Pythagoras and other Greek philosophers (which the Arab intellectuals of the time brought to Europe) would have been a stronger influence on the astronomical and mathematical works than the religion. It is quite plausible that the Iranian poet Omar Khayyam wasn't alone in achieving his success in spite of, and not because of or tangential to, the religious fervor of his time.
"The Koran! Well, come put me to the test--Lovely old book in hideous error drest--Believe me, I can quote the Koran too,The unbeliever knows his Koran best."
--Omar Khayyam, "The Rubaiyat"
The claim that without Islam we wouldn't have Algebra, the Renaissance, the history we rediscovered through the Greek texts, is fatuous. A closer claim might be that we wouldn't have had all these things without the particular individuals who did these things, but that is mere historical speculation.

10. Anti-Semitism is Judeo-Christian in origin, not Islamic. This is not to say that Judaism and Christianity are evil, they're not, but Islam isn't in any way worse than other religions. All religions are founded on love and compassion and faith, but two can play the muck-raking.
Au contraire, I would take the point and run with it in the other direction. The anti-Semitism of Christianity is no small thing, and neither is the self-righteous land-obsession of conservative Judaism. As previously stated, Islam is not the same thing as Christianity. Sam Harris goes so far as to say that religions are like sports in that they sometimes share nothing more in common than the umbrella designation and breathing. This isn't quite the case with Islam and Christianity, but they are founded on different principles, despite sharing some history. As a point of fact neither are "founded on love and compassion." Faith, on the other hand, is accurate. Specifically, faith in the existence of an all-powerful God and his revelation of himself to humans through books that describe his will, and at least in part describe how we should live our lives. That is very, very different from love and compassion, especially when you love on command instead of loving out of... love. Compassion by compulsion is no such thing, nor is love born of fear.

Christianity is self-contradictory and, frankly, pretty ridiculous (burning bushes? walls of water? talking snakes? are you kidding?). Islam doesn't have this saving grace at its disposal, and so it is harder for followers to find ways out of the violent or absurd regulations within their text. While both are guilty of far more than their fair share of crimes, how they are practiced in the modern age isn't comparable, and Islam really is more violent and more dangerous than any other mainstream religion today.

11. The opposition theologically agrees with the terrorists! 99.99% of Muslims don't, but the opposition has everything in common with Osama bin Laden and his followers! If religion is responsible for these crimes, then why are the 1.6 billion other Muslims not doing it too? Voting against the motion essentializes and marginalizes Muslims. Don't vote with hate, vote with love! People who think Islam is a religion of violence are "phobes" and bigots who want to divide civilization. To vote no is to say that Muslims are violent people. Do you really think that?

Hasan actually said, of the other side, "they're just like the terrorists!" I would say this is the most subversive and evasive and manipulative argument from the other side, in that it is not an argument about whether our perceptions are correct based on fact, but an argument about how we should perceive Islam based on emotional blackmail and wish-thinking; as if voting against the motion would alienate all Muslims and that this in turn would be the fault of the voters, not those who blow up the voters friends and loved ones in the name of Islam.

On that note, a "no" vote is NOT to say that Muslims are a violent people. Again, the line is being blurred between critiquing an idea and attacking the adherents of the idea, which is not, of course, what the motion is about. There could be 5 billion Muslims, or there could be 10 Muslims, or only one, or maybe none at all, and the motion's points and counterpoints should not be significantly different. Rather than voting with either hate or love, how about a vote for reason? How about a vote based on evidence? It is based on the evidence that I myself believe the divisive and bigoted "phobes" are the theocrats in Iran and Iraq and Saudi Arabia, the ones who kill people for apostasy, for adultery, for homosexuality, or for simply not covering up thoroughly enough. If you want intolerance, go there, but don't call me intolerant for not tolerating the crazed and intolerant minds of fanatical Islamic Fascists. I won't say that their ideas are peaceful, and conjuring the image of good, honest Muslims who behave normally shows the innate goodness of their individual human nature in spite of, and not because of, their religion (though the polling of British Muslim youth show that even these good, rational people might not be quite as rational or peaceful underneath as we observe).

Believing falsehoods is not a path to peace. Believing that you or someone else has access to absolute truth isn't merely not a path to peace; in addition to being reliably false, it is the groundwork for self-righteous violence in the imposition of one's truth upon others. Islam is not the only ideology that does this, nor was it the first, but it is current and it is strong. It is man-made, it is false, it is at times destructive, it is in many ways totalitarian, and is in no way, shape or form a "religion of peace." No honest, thinking person could say such a thing.