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I recently got an e-mail inviting me to submit a piece to a site howtodothings.com. After a good deal of back-and-forth involving extremely intelligent argument on their editor’s side, they decided not to post it. Yet I liked their format, and thought the piece was pretty sensible. So here we go:
We are focused on defeating Islamic terrorism militarily. Yet the logic that underpins it is so faulty that simply exposing its fallacies would greatly reduce the desire to fight for the terrorist cause. Here is what we can and should do:
1. Remember that Islamic terrorists are not irrational. Not only do they think, but they are quite logical in their thinking. According to their logic, one must obey God's will, because it is a sin to disobey it. And because God's will is recorded in the Koran, to obey God is to obey precepts of the Koran.
But what does obeying the Koran mean? Koran mandates virtue and forbids sin; therefore, sin must be eliminated. Yet sin manifests itself in not following the Koran, which is the record of God's will. It follows that to fulfill God's will, everyone must follow the Koran. Those who don’t must either be forced to follow it, or be exterminated. Terrorism serves both purposes: it intimidates Koran-ignoring infidels into converting to Islam, and physically eliminates them.
2. Realize that this reasoning hinges on one premise that is not spelled out explicitly, and of which the terrorists are unaware. This assumed key premise states that a terrorist has the ability to determine that Koran is God's word. In the absence of that ability terrorist's entire logic collapses, because -- irrespective of whether Koran was, or was not in fact narrated by God -- the terrorist would only be justified in making statements like "Koran may be God's word" or "Koran appeals to me," neither one of which is translatable into "Koran is God's word," but means "Koran may not be God's word." The certainty of the divine authorship of the Koran no longer a given, the entire logic of terrorist’s justification falls apart.
3. Understand that Islamic terrorist’s ability to ascertain the divine origin of the Koran is none-existent. There is absolutely no way for an Islamic terrorist to know whether God spoke to Mohammed, no matter how appealing he finds the Koran. From the fact of Koran's appeal he deduces the fact that Koran was narrated by God. This is a gross error, which results in what the religious call "idol-worship." In religious terms, Islamic terrorist is an idolater.
4. Keep in mind that as a result, there can be no “true believers” and no “infidels.” Dismiss accusations of being an “infidel” as ravings of an idolater, who in the absence of real ability to know makes an assumption of his own infallibility and worships the god of his own making. There can be no “true faith,” only the faith that is appealing. There can be no “infidels,” but merely people who find that different notions of God appeal to them. One view of God, or the other may happen to be representing God’s intentions correctly, but it is impossible to know which one it is -- if any at all. As Mark Twain put it, “The easy confidence with which I know another man’s religion is folly teaches me to suspect that my own is also.”
5. Stress that Islamic terrorist does not, and can not, know what he is talking about. This statement should cause no insult -- neither to the Koran, nor to Mohammed, nor even to the terrorist himself. The terrorist should not feel insulted because his inability to know whether Koran is God's word is just a fact of life, like the fact that he does not have wings and tail; Mohammed is not being insulted because no one discusses him: the problem is with the terrorist, not with Mohammed. It really does not matter whether Mohammed was a prophet or whether he wasn't, given that this cannot be determined one way or another; nor, for the same reason, is any insult done to the Koran, even if it was, in fact, narrated by God.
6. Be aware that just as there is no way of knowing whether Koran is God’s word, there is no way of knowing what exactly does the Koran mean. While Mohammed was alive, at least the intended meaning of Koran’s injunctions could be verified by simply asking him a question and getting his answer (although their divine origins were not ascertainable even then). But the moment he died, the ability to know what they meant disappeared, too, opening doors to a wide variety of interpretations, each one perfectly convincing – to a person who advances it. It is highly significant that Islam’s split into the Sunny and Shiah factions occurred precisely as the point of Mohammed’s death, in an argument over his appointment of a successor. Some heard him say it should be his son-in law Ali, others present at that conversation thought he appointed his father-in-law Abu Bark. The bloody feud ensued over the proper interpretation of Mohammed’s words that lasts to this day.
Just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, the proper meaning of the Koran is in the mind of its reader. Do you feel that Koran advocates peace? Your Islam is peaceful. Do you feel that it advocates violence? Your Islam is violent. Because each reader is perfectly satisfied with his reading, and because there can be no “right” reading after the death of Mohammed, we should not rely too much on the debates between those who feel that Islam is peaceful, and their violence-endorsing opponents, nor hope that the former will convince the latter. Few, if any, minds will be changed by pointing to verses of the Koran and claiming that those properly represent Islam, since the opponents will be ready to reply with their own set of, to them, equally authoritative verses.
7. Do not dismiss non-religious causes of terrorism, such as poverty, political frustrations, and poor education. All of those may be fuelling the fire of terrorism, yet it the banner of “true religion” that draws in those who are happy to kill and even happier to be killed, feeling sure that a heavenly reward awaits them. Those killing themselves in God’s service in exchange for six dozen “pure virgins” in heaven have other aims than effecting political changes in their countries and improving living standards of their countrymen. We should not rely too much on a hope that people would abandon expectations of heavenly bliss in exchange for a decent minimum wage and the ability to vote. As we know, 9/11 hijackers we all well-to-do and well-educated; and Osama bin Laden is a multi-millionaire. Religious motivations for terrorism need to be addressed and defused on their own, not in conjunction with efforts to improve political and social climate in the Middle East.
8. Know that Islamic terrorists are wrong -- not just morally wrong in committing horrific acts, but are factually wrong because their picture of reality has nothing to do with actual reality. It is therefore imperative to alter their mindset, to confront them not just physically, but intellectually, by pointing out to them that there is no religious value at all to their sacrifice, which is nothing more than just one other manifestation of humanity's eagerness to sacrifice to the idols.
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