"Religion is a hypothesis about the world: the hypothesis that things are the way they are, at least in part, because of supernatural entities or forces acting on the natural world. And there's no good reason to treat it any differently from any other hypothesis. Which includes pointing out its flaws and inconsistencies, asking its adherents to back it up with solid evidence, making jokes about it when it's just being silly, offering arguments and evidence for our own competing hypotheses...and trying to persuade people out of it if we think it's mistaken. It's persuasion. It's the marketplace of ideas. Why should religion get a free ride"

Greta Christina

Monday, 15 September 2014

Muslims or monsters?

Over the weekend David Cameron made a statement following a COBRA meeting in response to the appalling murder of British aid worker David Haines. The takeaway sound bite was ”ISIS are not Muslims but monsters”.
Now I understand the realpolitik behind such statements but in this instance and in the way this was phrased it is less than helpful .
Not Muslims?
To start with who is David Cameron to determine who is or isn’t a Muslim and why does he think himself sufficiently theologically equipped to declare Islam necessarily a religion of peace? It’s just vacuous rhetoric with no other purpose than to pander to the sensibilities of moderate Muslims and even on this measure I suspect it will fail. Moderates will only feel patronised.
It’s also self-evidently wrong. Whether or not ISIS conform to Cameron’s view of what Muslims should be the Jihadists self-identify as Muslims and moreover consider themselves to be the true face of Islam. Also, trivially, if they are not Muslims what are they? Perhaps Anglican heretics or lapsed Catholics or maybe they kill to the glory of L. Ron Hubbard and we’ve just mistaken their battered copies of Dianetics for the Qur’an.
“Muslim or monster” is a puerile and dangerous juxtaposition to make. They are not mutually exclusive any more than Christian and monster or Hindu and monster are as it is perfectly possible to be both a follower of a faith and a monster. It plays into the false idea that to be religious is to be moral and that the truly devout cannot behave immorally
All religions are religions of peace to those who follow them peacefully and all are capable of being justifications of violence to those who would be violent (although I maintain that Islam has peculiarities which make radicalism easier to justify). The extent to which the majority of Muslims are “good” is, I suggest, precisely the extent to which people in general are “good”. I would expect most human beings to find moral outrage in the behaviour of ISIS regardless of their religious allegiances and I would expect the majority of Muslims to condemn them as not being representative of Islam. But to suggest ISIS are not Muslims is absurd and a blatant use of the No True Scotsman logical fallacy.
I get that western politicians are anxious not to demonise Muslims in general and they are right to do this. Muslims in general are not demons or any other kind of monster but pretending that radical islamists are not Muslims at all is to neglect a great deal of the ideology that motivates them. Neither will a white Middle England Anglican telling a potential British jihadist that they are doing Islam wrong persuade them from heading to Syria. If anything it will be a greater motivation.