I was talking to my made-up friend, Cimals, after he posted on Facebook,

“If you can differentiate between white Christians and the KKK/Westboro (Baptist Church) (WBC), then you can differentiate between Muslims and ISIS”.

I said, “Cimals, ISIS is Islamic!”

Let’s first make the implicit explicit:  This meme asks us to not tar all members of a group with an accusation that only applies to some members of the group.   Not all policemen are brutal, even when some are and people call for a reduction in police brutality. Fair enough that is the “easy” implicit argument.  The more veiled request, no pun intended, is “Don’t go calling ISIS an Islamic movement.  ISIS isn’t Islamic.”

  1. ISIS is Islamic, and the KKK/WBC are Christian organizations.

While I can agree that not all people claiming to be Christian act like WBC, or the KKK, those groups draw their motivation from their interpretation of Christian text. (More often they draw from “accepted” older texts of the Old Testament, which is technically Jewish… but let’s not quibble.)  Likewise with ISIS (or ISIL, or Daesh… “a rose by any other name,” and all that…), if you compare their writings and actions against the Koran and Hadith, you will also see that they are purely motivated be extant text.

“But they’re interpreting it wrong.  That doesn’t represent what I believe my religion teaches.” The dissonance arising is one of identity protection.  Surely I don’t have to review the unending evolution of religious sects, splitting over ever-more picayune disagreements, until we have thousands of Christian sects and (depending on which sects claim you believe) either 71,72, or 73 Islamic sects.  How “meta” that we have sectarian dispute even about the number of sects.  (If you’d like to take a diversion down that path, then Chuck D’s “Evolution of the Specious” video is nice, and Emo Phillips’ award winning, ‘Best Religious Joke of All Time’ are worthy time investments.)

For a Christian to admit WBC or KKK are motivated by the same book that motivates them, they either have to consider that they are wrong, or that their purportedly inspired book is ripe for misinterpretation.  Whether you consider their interpretation wrong or not is moot.  The source for their motivation is Christian text.  The inspiration for ISIS is the Koran/Hadith.

  1. Teaching textual divinity or infallibility is the problem.

The problem moderates have, as Sam Harris sees it, is that they simply cannot believe that radical proponents “actually believe what they say they believe”. Even when they are killing abortion doctors to protect life, or cutting the heads off of infidels, the moderate replies, “But that’s not religion.   That’s’ political ideology.”

No, it’s literal belief and action based on scripture.  The texts are in the books.

I understand the concern of the meme:  We must not overgeneralize.  But the meme at its heart asks us to ignore reality.

Let’s flip Cimal’s meme on its head: If we admit that not all members of a group are radical, what can we say the radicals have in common?  I believe we CAN say “ISIS, the KKK and WBC all claim to be justified by the truth of the books they have been indoctrinated to believe are divinely inspired.  They believe the texts to such a degree that they act them out in the world?”

It seems to me the moderate should be able to agree that if we want to undercut radical behavior, we must stop teaching that a book is infallible, sole recourse for truth, final arbiter in disputes, unimprovable, etc.  It is this self-sealing, circular logic that allows a radical to act on scriptures that a moderate has chosen to ignore.

But the moderate can’t make this leap easily because it is partial identity suicide, and few are willing to take on the remodeling project that comes align with admitting a foundation of one’s identity must be replaced.

Sam Harris writes in “The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason”

“To speak plainly and truthfully about the state of our world — to say, for instance, that the Bible and the Koran both contain mountains of life-destroying gibberish — is antithetical to tolerance as moderates currently conceive it. But we can no longer afford the luxury of such political correctness. We must finally recognize the price we are paying to maintain the iconography of our ignorance.”

While you may get a moderate to agree with the meme as stated initially, he or she will not accede easily to the proposed fix Harris and I would offer.  Treat the Bible and Koran as books. Period.

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2 thoughts on “

  1. By what standard? The I stands for “Islamic”. I know that the local name, “Daesh,” overcomes this claim. 🙂

    If I bring back 20 specific instances in which ISIS justifies its actions based on tenets of Islam, that wouldn’t change your mind, would it? Would your response be “Well, they’re not the TRUE Muslims,” or “They’re interpreting the text wrong”? I suspect something like the “No True Scotsman” fallacy is heading my way.

    ISIS explicitly states they they are acting based on Islamic (koranic, or Q’uranic, + Hadith) tenets. Ergo: Islamic.
    Are you Islamic? Sunni or Shia? would you also say that the other faction, whichever one you are not, is not truly Islamic?

    Also, “Most Muslims agree…” is not an argument.

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