Sunday, January 3, 2010

Insensitive?

I bought a copy of Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali for my fiancée over Christmas break from a local Borders bookstore, because she had read a previous blog post and was interested in the book.  She began reading it, and found a small post-it note inserted, with the message:

GET YOUR FREE QURAN
www.YourMuslimNeighbor.com

I went to the site, and its the standard "We want you to become a Muslim so you can share our joy" kind of nonsense.  I actually signed up for one.  I've been meaning to read the Quran anyway, and getting a free copy costs these people some money that they could be using on other people, who may be less adept at thinking critically. 

At first, I just thought it was funny.  It's obvious the person who put it there had no idea what the book was about (or was too stupid to think it through thoroughly).  Imagine reading about the treatment of Ms. Ali at the hands of her Muslim family and community as a child, and her need for protection from Islamists today in the Netherlands, of all places.  Then imagine finding this note in the middle of the book and thinking "Yeah, I should give Islam a try!"  I'm sure the person who put the note there practices a more benign, peaceful version of Islam, but its certainly not the best place to convince your audience that it's worth a shot.

But thinking about it, I'm starting feel a little bit angry about it.  What would you think if you were reading a copy of Night by Elie Weisel, or Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, and you found a note that said something like:

DID THE HOLOCAUST REALLY HAPPEN?
www.MyIdioticTheoryAboutTheHolocaust.com

I think most would find this genuinely offensive.  Think about the people who might read her book.  Certainly there would be people who went through what Ali experienced, or have some other emotional connection with her plight.  And you're trying to convince them that Islam is A-OK?  It's one thing to advertise your own idiotic theory in general, but to hide it in a place like this seems in poor taste.   I certainly support free speech, even when its insensitive and obviously not well thought out.  But I can still be annoyed by it.

Of course if the person didn't know the subject matter of Infidel, they didn't mean to be offensive.  But shouldn't you at least get a passing familiarity with the subject matter of the book before blindly putting your own advertisement in it?  They at least thought about it, since they were obviously targeting infidels, given the title of the book.  I doubt those notes were in books having nothing to do with religion, or in any of the Christian Bibles.  (Could you imagine the uproar if some zealous Christian found that note in one of their precious Bibles?)

Then again, sometimes I tend to over-think these things, and I have periods where I feel like I might be overreacting.  Am I being too sensitive here?

19 comments:

  1. I dont think theres a good reason to get upset about this. I agree that if a note like that was in a Bible, there would be an uproar. But I think that would be funny, and I think you would find it funny too. Youll never know who left that note, and youll never be able to stop things like that, so might as well sit back and laugh well everyone else plays that game.

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  2. im a Muslim myself, and I have read the book "infidel" - its filled with alot of inaccuracies about the religion of Islam. There might be true stories about her life in the book, but the information about Islam is very tainted, and biased. Perhaps the note was put in the book to show people "true Islam from the Source, ie the Quran".

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  3. @JDowns

    After thinking about it, I know that I'm not upset personally, that its vicarious for people who might be upset by it themselves. I don't know if that's necessarily wrong. I think being annoyed with people like John Edward is acceptable, even though I'm not being hurt by his nonsense personally. But this seems more benign, so perhaps you're right. The again, its possible that John Edward thinks he's doing a good thing to, so it stil gives me pause.


    @billyzibby1

    You can't deny that there are Islamic fundamentalists out there, and their beliefs are defendable via both the Quran and hadith. Being biased towards the fundamentalists doesn't mean they don't exist, or that her arguments are irrelevant. Just like any other holy book, the Quran can justify both the good and bad actions of its followers. If there are true inaccuracies, than I'd be interested in hearing them specifically. But facts are facts, even if they don't apply to ALL Muslims.

    My position is that belief based on faith is dangerous, regardless of where that faith is placed (Quran, Bible, Dianetics, etc.). Without the checks of evidence and logic, you can justify any belief you want. I certainly don't single out Islam here, all religions are fair game.

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  4. people that are extremists, are certainly not defendable within the Quran and Hadith. Let me give you an example, a very simple one: The Quran and Hadith forbid, emphatically - honor killings. Extremist A commits an honor killing. Extremist A happens to be a Muslim. Therefore, the Quran and hadith support or defend honor killings? No way! That argument becomes refuted by logic very easily. Let me give you another one, The Quran and Hadith forbid killing women, children, elderly, and non combatants. Extremist B goes and kills people in those categories. Extremist B is a 'Muslim'. Therefore the Quran and hadith defends and supports extremist B? No way! When Muslims deviate from the Quran and teachings of Prophet Muhammad - the Quran and the Prophet Muhammad, cannot be blamed for their deviance. Just like the the criminals in U.S. Jails cannot be defended by the U.S. Constitution that they violated. I hope that made sense.

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  5. Of course there are PIECES of the Quran and Hadith that forbid extremist actions, but there are other pieces that can be cited:

    The prophet, prayer and peace be upon him, said: The time [of judgment] will not come until Muslims will fight the Jews and kill them; until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: O Muslim! There is a Jew hiding behind me, come on and kill him!” (Sahih Muslim book 41, no. 6985)

    "The only reward of those who make war upon Allah and His messenger ... will be that they will be killed or crucified, or have their hands and feet on alternate sides cut off, or will be expelled out of the land. Such will be their degradation in the world, and in the Hereafter theirs will be an awful doom." (Quran 5:33)

    As for honor killings:

    Sahi Bukhari: 8:6814:
    Narrated Jabir bin Abdullah al-Ansari: “A man from the tribe of Bani Aslam came to Allah’s Messenger [Muhammad] and informed him that he had committed illegal sexual intercourse; and he bore witness four times against himself. Allah’s Messenger ordered him to be stoned to death as he was a married person.”

    You can pick and choose from these writing to believe whatever you want. Even if there was no justification of what the extremists do in the Quran, I still think you're mistaken. These extremists would use their religion as justification, regardless of what the texts say. And the fact that its a RELIGIOUS belief gives it gets special treatment, being above rational criticism.

    Of course we condemn blatant violence, but not its precursors, or at least not as much as we would if it weren't based on religion. Bigotry and misogyny are disregarded as "their culture." (This of course occurs within other religions as well, not just Islam) Religion belief which is not subject to evidence is the problem.

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  6. I forgot to mention another argument regarding honor killings that I found compelling in my last comment:

    http://www.faithfreedom.org/oped/sina50128.htm

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  7. thanks for writing back,

    Let me begin with a few points: The verse you quoted, is missing a large portion of it. Please go to,

    http://www.theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/quran_533_commentary/

    Please do read that before making any other inferences on the verse. In the future, if your going to post a verse from the Quran, or any other book - please post the entire verse, not leaving out a large sentence from the middle of the text. Aside from that particular point, it does say "the reward for those who WAGE WAR AGAINST..." Implying, that the following repercussions are a response, and reaction to an instigation of war. It is not starting, or instigating war - rather, it is responding to an impending declaration of war by an outside party. Furthermore, the narrations (hadith) you have listed - How have you ascertained their authenticity? Do you know what hadith analysts have said about their authenticity, or weakness if so be? Do you know anything about it's chain of narrators?

    Furthermore, honor killings and legal punishments are two different things. Legal punishments are only given by legal authorities (not family members) - and by either confession, or testimony of witnesses. According to Shariah (Islamic Law) - in the case of adultery or fornication, 4 witnesses must see penetration in order to be considered valid evidence worthy of punishment. 3 witnesses are not enough, and actually - if less than 4 witnesses testify, they are liable to disciplinary action because they would be considered slanderers. A womans reputation is very important, and if people went around accusing women of being 'ho's/sluts/whores/ etc' then that would be very negative for a decent woman. Even if a woman has intercourse that 3 people witness, they cannot testify against her according to Sharia. Only 4 or more, for legal punitive action. As you can imagine, it would be very hard for such a conviction. Throughout Islamic history, very few people have been convicted based on such circumstances. Seriously, if you have intercourse that 4 people saw with their naked eye, *penetration - legal punishment sounds very necessary. And even in a provable case with 4 witnesses, the uncle, the father, the brother, etc - cannot do anything. It is us to the state and legal authorities to convict and carry out any legal action. That goes for all crimes. Honor killings on the other hand, are lawless brothers/fathers/uncles, who take matters into their own hands - and carry out punishments contrary to the Shariah punishments?! In Islamic law, if some guy and gal get it on, and 4 wtinesses see the penetration - the proven fornication yields 100 stripes for each person, by state authorities. Honor killings on the other hand, defy the Quranic injunction - and the relative would kill the guy/gal. It is totally unislamic.

    Furthermore, it is important to always take information from the correct sources - qualified sources. I am not a doctor - and because of that, I will not open a Medical textbook, and prescribe myself, or others, medicine. That would be hazardous to myself, and others. When it comes to Islamic law, please refer to people specialized in the sciences of Shariah and Islamic law. Peer reviewed information is important in all fields and schools of thought. It seems like everyone today is an expert in Islam, and can post quotes from all different sources - quoting, and misquoting, and its all okay? No its not, its false - and no one takes it seriously. So please, do proper research before delving into discourse - whatever it may be. It looks like your a PHD in comp sci - and I respect that. You went to school for years to become proficient in what you do. Islam is not different in the academic sense, it deserves to be studied well - and under properly qualified specialists, who, like others - have dedicated their lives to become proficient in what they do. Thanks

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  8. I don't need to be a doctor to see a growth on someone's face and know that there is something wrong. I don't need to be an Islamic scholar to know that fundamentalist use these holy books as justification. I apologize for leaving out part of the Quran verse, but I'm still convinced a fundamentalist could interpret that verse to meet their extremist needs. The problem is that not enough people are questioning the holiness of the book, and thus the ability for the religious to defend their beliefs/actions based on that book, becuase its considered a faux pas in polite circles. It should be questioned, because there is no evidence that the Quran, or any holy book, should be held sacred.

    You're argument for qualified specialists falls apart anyway, becuase there are plenty of Islamic scholars who disagree with you. There are plenty of people who have devoted their lives to the Quran who are fundamentalists, or who have left Islam because they believe the Quran leads to fundamentalism, such as Ibn Warraq.

    I believe that practice trumps theory in most cases. And in this case, the practice of fundamentalist Islam based on selected reading of the Quran trumps whatever the Quran can be interpreted to say.

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  9. The first thing you may want to consider, is that you have acknowledged the fact that you have not read the Quran yet. So how then are you going to pass judgment upon it's worthiness or otherwise - in terms of being sacred? If you go into an experiment with a decision youve already made - then you are not a scientist, your an idealogue. There are not "plenty of Islamic Scholars who disagree with me". Please reference the plenty that you are speaking of.

    Furthermore, the "reward of those who make war upon" - is clear. If anybody is to "make war upon" anyone - wouldnt the response be a response, and not an initiation? Isnt that a logical conclusion - to say that the result of aggression, is a response to that aggression? Of course, Islamic law is not chaotic. If someone attacks my home, it is not Islamic to go to some shopping mall and start beating down some shoppers! Extremists do not represent Islam... nor do G.W. Bush and his right wing extremists (in terms of representing America). You cant open your MP3 player instruction manual, take an isolated sentence - and exptect to operate your unit correctly. Likewise, you don't open the Quran - take 10 words out of the middle of a verse - and expect to issue rulings and become an authority in Islamic Jurisprudence. Context, collectivity, at the very least - are instruments in interpreting and applying Islamic Law. If extremists do otherwise, then they are wrong - and not representative of the law they allegedly claim to represent. Islam is innocent against such attributions. Thank you for reading.

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  10. There are plenty of Muslims who would consider criticizing Islam, or drawing a cartoon of the prophet Mohammed as "making war upon" Islam. Extremists have been very clear about being at war with the West.

    I don't need to read the Quran to know that it is not sacred because no idea is, or should be, scared. It is a basic premise of scientific thinking that all ideas should be supported by evidence. Any idea immune from criticism (i.e., sacred), is the antithesis of science. It is not ideological to demand evidence for any belief. That is why I can dismiss the sacredness of the Quran, or any other book, regardless of its contents.

    I'm not making a judgment about whose interpretation of the Quran is correct or better. But there is no doubt that the extremists justification comes from the Quran. And it is nearly impossible to reasonably argue that their faith is wrong, when others is right. (That goes for all religious faith, not just Islam) Moderate religion fosters fundamentalism by accepting faith as a virtue (see Chap. 8 of The God Delusion by Dawkins, or this post: http://hambydammit.wordpress.com/2009/01/25/moderate-religion-two-lies-in-one/)


    As for scholars of Islam who disagree:
    Ibn Warraq (already mentioned)
    Gerd R. Puin (German scholar of the Qu'ran and Qu'ranic history)
    Sayyid Qutb
    Ayatollah Khomeini (along with several other of the Ayatollahs, who are supposedly experts in Islamic studies)

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  11. Again, legal repercussions are dealt with by state authority. A young group of American college students cant go to tibet - and try to "free tibet", and be considered as doing so as official American policy. There is a Commander-Chief, Deputies, Generals, Soldiers etc. There is a chain of command that stretches forth as a state-entity. College students that act on their own, are not state authority!

    These people running around in airports and shopping malls are acting under their own, individual action - not the Islamic state. And mind you, they are a small minority - extremely small. The majority of Muslims, do not "interpret" the primary sources of their faith in such a way that allows for chaos and terrorism. With that said, the Majority of Muslims are under the instruction and help of the Majority of scholars, who again - do not condone such actions. Ibn Waraq is not an Islamic scholar! Sayyid Qutb, is not an Islamic Scholar. Just because they write books - which any of us can legally do... doesnt make them scholars. And no , it is not reasonably impossible to argue that their interpretation is wrong. You have a criterion that distinguishes the false from the true. Again, returning to the aforementioned example: If the Quran says 100 stripes, with 4 witnesses - and Uncle B says "death, no witnesses" - then in that case, you dont need a specialist to see who is in the right in such a scenario. Muslim scholars have been criticising Sayyid Qutb's work for quite some time. No one has ever acknowledged him to be an Islamic Scholar. A freelance writer, yes - but a scholar? Peer reviewed knowledge is extremely important in any field, and the people you have named - stand short of that.

    Furthermore, the idea of something being 'sacred' is not the antithesis of anything. For example, The relationship you have with your mother, is sacred - and should always remain so. You dont have to put that relationship under a microscope (which you cant) to realize that not everything is observable (empirically). Logic is a human enterprise, and the rules and bounds - are set by our own minds. Dawkins is not a walking science lab - he is a very 'religious' person himself - in that he is extremely convinced of his own beliefs, which are not empirically observable truths. Furthermore, your 'plenty' of Islamic scholars looks more like 2 peas in a pod. Thanks for your effort anyway

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  12. billyzibby1, stop moving the goal posts.

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  13. Your ad hominem against Dawkins is a logical fallacy, and proves nothing. I didn't bring him up because I think he's a demigod and lean on his every word (that would also be a fallacy: argument from authority). I brought up the chapter because I didn't feel like rehashing the entire argument regarding moderate religious belief, which you failed to address. He covered it well, as did the post I cited. Attacking his "religious beliefs" has nothing to do with the argument.

    You're argument that my relationship with my mother is sacred is also lacking. My relationship is based on natural instinct and reasonable principles. Natural instinct because humans, like other animals, are dependent on their parents during childhood and we have evolved an attachment to make dependence work. Reasonable principles come in when I'm older and able to think for myself: my mom took care of me for the first X years of my life, I'm appreciative, she's a good person, etc. Why would you expect that I not have a relationship with her? Where exactly does the sacredness come in?

    Sacredness is necessary for holy books because its very difficult to find evidence which support factual statements, and their moral judgments are spotty at best. Many of my relationships are certainly wonderful and numinous, but there's no need for a magical explanation.

    This "science can't explain love" trope comes up very often, and it is complete nonsense. Science can explain it in a myriad of ways. We can talk about how neurotransmitters in the brain change when we're with people we love and trust (chemistry), or why we evolved to trust our parents as children (biology), or emotional needs we develop through our childhood, adolescence and adulthood (psychology), or how groups of people tend to interact and form relationships on a larger scale (sociology). These topics' surfaces have only been scratched by science so far, but we know more about these things because of science than we ever have. That's what science is all about. To say that you can't explain X with science is usually a bad bet.

    You also denounce logic itself. Logical rules are set by our own minds, because they have been proven to be incredibly useful, because when used correctly it guarantees truth. For example, if we already know that the following axioms are true:

    1. The ideas in the Quran are held sacred by person X

    2. If an idea Y is held sacred by any person Z, then person Z cannot be convinced that Y is false, regardless of evidence

    then I can prove that the following must be true:

    C. Person X cannot be convinced that any idea in the Quran is false, regardless of the evidence presented. (by Modus ponens)

    If you're really suggesting that the rules of logic don't apply, than we can't even have a real discussion. If you're not willing to follow the basic rules that we all agree upon in an argument, then it is absolutely pointless. I have no way of convincing you of anything, because there is no course of events that can convince you that my argument and reasoning is better than yours.

    (Please note I don't mean to sound arrogant, as if I know that my argument is certainly fool proof and it's foolish to not believe me. I'm absolutely open to the possibility that I could be wrong, that's why I write this blog in the first place. My point is simply that regardless of an argument's merit, without logical rules it is impossible to convince anyone of anything, at least on purpose. In fact merit a useless concept for an argument. I also hope that I not being patronizing when I discuss logic, that isn't my intention. I just want to make sure we are on the same page, since my interpretation of what you said about logic suggests that either I misunderstood what you meant, or you misunderstand something about logic.)

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  14. As far as the scholars go, what exactly is the criteria now for begin an Islamic scholar? Just because the Majority (your capitalization) doesn't agree with them doesn't make them not scholars. These are people who have spent significant portions of their life studying both the Quran and Islamic history. And "Ayatollah" is a title given to Islamic clerics and philosophers.

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  15. I will begin backwards with your points - Ayatollah, is not a title given to Islamic clerics and philosophers. It is a title given to a limited number of 'leaders' of the minority shia sect. Again, the Majority of Muslims, and Majority of Muslim Scholars - dont recognize them. The criteria for being a scholar, is much like any other degree... Peer review, peer review, peer review. A PHD in secular academics, and Scholarship in Islamic Jurisprudence - are both reached in similar ways - namely, that the larger body of specialists of that field - recognize your credentials and now 'authorize' you in that field. Furthermore, you stated before- that logic is set in our own mind - and that it can guarantee truth. Are you acknowledging that something that takes place within ones mind - can guarantee truth? What happened to empirical evidence? Logic is argumentation, not science. So your saying something outside of science can yield and guarantee truth?

    If you don't see the mother-child relationship as being sacred, and if you dont see love as being more than an issue of 'neuro-transmitters' - then I dont think you can accept the concept of "ghayb" (Islamic terminology that denotes all those things that are unseen, or beyond our temporary physical perception). Without accepting that major concept - there will be nothing but confusion, and conjecture. If you confine yourself exclusively to the lab, and the human mind (logic) - then you will not appreciate or accept Revelation, which puts you at a huge disadvantage. God has been telling us the answers to 'the big questions' - yet amongst us are people who turn away. The message and 'creed' has always been the same "God is One, He created us - is testing us, and we will return to Him for Judgment". You could serve Him in this lifetime, and get eternity in Paradise - or you could serve yourself, and deny Him...which could only result in the other eternity, which is hell. If you read the Scriptures - whether they be The Quran, The Gospel, or The Torah, or The Psalsm, etc etc - this is the main theme. If you are not convinced of that, or of the fact that there is an 'unseen' - then there is nothing I personally can do to convince you of that. For many 'unreligious' people - truth must be ascertained according to their standards - namely, the limited fields of the sciences they know. The truth is obvious and apparent. At the end of the day, "to each their own" in the sense of freedom to accept to reject. As Muslims, we invite people to the first path "serve God". If people choose otherwise, then that is their choice - and they will be responsible for their own actions.

    I appreciate your time, and I appreciate your attentive ear.

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  16. I do however, suggest that you apply the "Reasonable principles that come in when im older and able to think for myself" - when it comes to God. That is sincere advice I give to myself, and others - without any intent of arrogance. Thanks again,

    -Billyzibby1

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  17. I find it disturbing that no one here has questioned billyzibby1's whole concept of a "decent woman." I won't assign blame to anyone for not challenging him, since reading that line makes me so angry I cannot formulate a proper argument.

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  18. Well it goes without saying, that by the context of that sentence - a decent woman is the opposite of the previous words would indicate... let me copy and paste the post your speaking of,

    " A woman's reputation is very important, and if people went around accusing women of being 'ho's/sluts/whores/ etc' then that would be very negative for a decent woman."

    A decent woman is neither a slut, ho, or whore. Do you really feel the need to challenge that? If a pimp is convicted by the court as being a pimp, he would not be considered a decent man. And if a woman was literally, a whore - a prostitute, and convicted by the court as being a prostitute (4 witnesses being a prerequisite) then she would not be considered a decent woman. ..not untill she repents, and reforms herself - completely abandoning the practice.

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  19. I think there could have been confusion regarding the intended meaning of decent. In Islam, everyone is decent until PROVEN otherwise. Similar to the concept of "innocent till proven guilty". So yes, unless a man or woman is seen by four witnesses having intercourse - they are considered decent people. If they are caught out by 4 eye witnesses, then they are not considered decent until they repent and reform

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