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Tsarnaev In Cloud-Cuckoo Land

From The New York Times [1]:

Elmirza Khozhugov, 26, the ex-husband of Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s younger sister, Ailina, said that Tamerlan Tsarnaev had been enamored of conspiracy theories, and that he was also concerned by the wars in the Middle East.

“He was looking for connections between the wars in the Middle East and oppression of Muslim population around the globe,” Mr. Khozhugov said in an e-mail. “It was very hard to argue with him on themes somehow connected to religion. On the other hand, he did not hate Christians. He respected their faith. Never said anything bad about other religions. But he was angry that the world pictures Islam as a violent religion.”

Naturally, he blew the legs and arms off of hundreds of people, injured hundreds, and killed three innocents, including an eight-year-old boy, to show people that his was a religion of peace. Got it.

Look, if all Muslims, or even most Muslims, were Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the world would look a lot different, and be far bloodier. They aren’t, and it doesn’t. But that doesn’t change the fact that there is, in the world today, a not-insignificant number of Muslims who believe what Tsarnaev believed, and who are prepared to act on it. They are not exactly turned away from his Boston mosque, either. From USA Today [2]:

The mosque attended by the two brothers accused in the Boston Marathon double bombing has been associated with other terrorism suspects, has invited radical speakers to a sister mosque in Boston and is affiliated with a Muslim group that critics say nurses grievances that can lead to extremism.

Several people who attended the Islamic Society of Boston mosque in Cambridge, Mass., have been investigated for Islamic terrorism, including a conviction of the mosque’s first president, Abdulrahman Alamoudi, in connection with an assassination plot against a Saudi prince.

Its sister mosque in Boston, known as the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, has invited guests who have defended terrorism suspects. A former trustee appears in a series of videos in which he advocates treating gays as criminals, says husbands should sometimes beat their wives and calls on Allah (God) to kill Zionists and Jews, according to Americans for Peace and Tolerance, an interfaith group that has investigated the mosques.


The head of the group is among critics who say the two mosques teach a brand of Islamic thought that encourages grievances against the West, distrust of law enforcement and opposition to Western forms of government, dress and social values.

“We don’t know where these boys were radicalized, but this mosque has a curriculum that radicalizes people. Other people have been radicalized there,” said the head of the group, Charles Jacobs.

It is more important for many Americans to shame people into averting their eyes from the role American mosques may — may — play in radicalizing Muslims than into looking squarely at what gets said in those mosques. This is an old, old game. When I was at The Dallas Morning News, we had local Muslim leaders constantly harping on the “Islamophobia” in my columns, because I asked hard and legitimate questions about the radicalism taught at the local mosques, and the connections local Muslim organizations had with radicals. Their idea was that to ask the questions was to reveal yourself as an anti-Muslim bigot. The leader of this group admitted to me and fellow journalists that he believed men had the right to beat their wives, and that homosexuals and adulteresses ought to be killed, because that’s what sharia prescribes.

But if you found that objectionable, you found yourself denounced as a bigot. It happened to me all the time. You’d be surprised by how effective that tactic is, though. Or maybe you wouldn’t be.

Sufis are not Wahhabis, and not all Sunnis are Wahhabis. But the militant Sunnis associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, and funded largely by the Saudis, have massive dominance over the teaching and propagation of Islam in the United States. Read Husain Haqqani, a prominent Muslim academic (and a former Islamic radical himself), on how this happened.  [3] This is a problem. It has long been a problem, and one that the US media, and the US government, are unwilling to face. Part of the campaign, often unwitting and well meaning, to obscure a clear view of these radical organizations and their influence is to turn almost any objection to Islam and Islamism (note the distinction) as a set of ideas that influence conduct into an expression of prejudice.

But this is silly. Consider: is it really anti-Semitic to explore the ideology behind the radical settler movement in Israel and the West Bank, and to look into its theological roots in the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible? The settlers are by and large religious Jews who draw much of their fervor and their justification for their settlement from their reading of Hebrew history, and God’s promise to the Jewish people. Not all Jews believe as the settlers do, of course, but if you want to understand why the settlers are doing what they’re doing, you can’t separate religion out. It’s not a total explanation, but it’s part of the explanation.

Do you want to understand the Holocaust? Part of the explanation lies in Christian anti-Semitism. It’s not the whole explanation, or even the greater part of the explanation. But even though it may hurt the feelings of some Christians, this must be confronted.

I don’t see why Muslims should be spared the same questions when it comes to Muslims committing atrocities in the name of their religion, and according to a particular understanding of their religion which may not be universal within the Islamic community, but which is supported by more than a tiny fringe.

Noah Millman says Andrew Sullivan and I are wrong [4] to point to the religious roots of the Tsarnaev’s rage, at least in the way that we’re doing (e.g., by saying that Islamic scripture and tradition is a lot more prescriptive of violence than Christianity, and therefore more easily lends itself to the instrumental uses of the violent). I want to focus on this claim:

Dreher and Sullivan alike are Christians. I’m not. They assume that Jesus’s call to “turn the other cheek” means that Christianity has acted as a historic brake on violence. As a Jew, I have to question that assumption. After all, the number of Christian countries in history that have been governed according to principles of non-violence is exactly zero. Someone from a religious tradition whose founding texts articulated rules about when violence is justified or permitted might look at the long history of Christian violence – not just violence by Christians, but violence undertaken with the Church’s encouragement and undertaken in the name of Jesus – and say: gee, maybe saying “turn the other cheek” backfires, makes all violence seem equally sinful, and therefore opens the gate to truly horrific behavior?

Where to start? I can’t speak for Andrew, of course, but I would never claim that Christendom has been a utopia of peace and love. Anybody with even a passing historical awareness knows that Christians have, over the centuries, acted with great bloody-mindedness, against non-Christians and against each other. Violence is inherent in the human condition. At best we can hope to restrain it or channel it, but we will always have it with us. The instinct to violence, like the instinct to sin, is only overcome with enormous and sustained effort. Human nature resists the call to peaceability, to forgiveness, to forswearing vengeance. In fact, many cultures — the ancient Greeks, for one — found warfare to be not a sometimes-necessary evil (as Christian tradition would define it), but as a stage for man’s glory. This is why Nietzsche despised Christianity: he called it a religion of slaves, or the weak, because it extolled the humble and the powerless.

The ideas at the heart of the Christian religion have been at best imperfectly realized in our world, and can never be fully realized, given human nature, and our finitude. The point is not that Christianity makes men into angels; the point is that by following the teachings of Jesus Christ, one becomes a more compassionate and peaceful person than one is likely to have been otherwise. To be a Christian and kill your neighbor because he has become an apostate from Christianity is to violate Christ’s teachings — even if it is done with the approval of Christian authorities, as was done in the past. You cannot find warrant in the New Testament, or in the spirit of Christ’s teachings, for murdering apostates. You can find this in the Quran and the hadith [5], though there are conflicting interpretations in various schools of Islamic jurisprudence.

Did Christians murder Jews in the past, with the explicit approval of Church authorities, or at least their implicit approval? Yes, they — we — did. It is impossible for me to see in Scripture or Tradition a justification for this; anti-Semitism is a terrible sin for which we Christians ought to repent, and to guard against. But as historians rightly remind us, Christian anti-Semitism had grave historical consequences; ideas tend to do that. Similarly, on a far smaller scale — but stay with me, I’m trying to illustrate a point — what are we to make of a rabbi — Jesus of Nazareth — who confronted a mob of the righteous who was planning to stone an adulteress, but who stopped them by confronting them with their own sinfulness, even as he told the adulteress that she was in sin, and commanded her to repent? That is an extraordinary thing, a revolutionary thing. This is how the new religion of Christianity appeared within the Greco-Roman world: as deliverance from oppression for slaves, women, and the poor, and an overturning of the old values.

It would be nonsense to argue that Christianity eliminated violence, cruelty, or prejudice. But it would be foolish to argue that the Christian revolution in values didn’t have tremendous effects on what the societies who absorbed Christianity believed, and how they behaved. We can’t know for sure what would have happened to them had they never heard of Christianity, and in any case Christianity, like Islam, is a creed and an ethos that is lived out by flawed human beings, not angels. It always gets bent through the prism of our brokenness. The cause of Christianity has been allied to the cause of power — state power and otherwise — and thus deformed. But Christianity will always be deformed, because Christians are human beings, and human beings are not angels. Nevertheless, I think we are better off living in a world in which Christian values — especially Christianity’s teachings about the dignity of the human person, and our responsibility to the poorest and weakest among us — are central than any alternative on offer. Besides, Christian power has at times been used to restrain violence. As David Bentley Hart writes in Atheist Delusions [6]:

Every age, obviously, has known wars and rumors of wars, and cruelty, injustice, oppression, murderous zeal, and murderous indifference; and men will obviously kill for any cause or for none. But, for the sheer scale of its violences, the modern period is quite unsurpassed. The Thirty Years’ War, with its appalling toll of civilian causalities, was a scandal to the consciences of the nations of Europe; but midway through the twentieth century, Western society had become so inured to the idea of war as a total conflict between one entire people and another that even liberal democracies did not scruple to bomb open cities from the air, or to use incendiary or nuclear devices to incinerate tens of thousands of civilians, sometimes for only the vagues of military objectives. Perhaps this is the price of “progress” or “liberation.” From the late tenth through the mid-eleventh centuries, various church synods in France had instituted the convention called the “Peace Of God,” which used the threat of excommunication to prevent private wars and attacks upon women, peasants, merchants, clergy, and other noncombatants, and which required every house, high and low, to pledge itself to preserving the peace. Other synods, over the course of the eleventh century, instituted the “Truce of God,” which forbade armed aggression on so many days of the year — penitential periods, feasts, fasts, harvests, from Wednesday evening to Monday morning, and so on — that ultimately more than three-quarters of the calendar consisted in periods of mandatory tranquility; in the twelfth century, the Truce’s prohibitions became fixed in civil law. The reason such conventions could actually serve (even partially) to limit aggression is that they proceeded from a spiritual authority that no baptized person, however powerful or rapacious, could entirely ignore.

Of course it all fell apart. Everything human eventually does. As Hart writes elsewhere in the book, periods of religiously-associated violence often accompany the decay of political and social order. People get scared. People are weak. People are violent.

I’ve been working on this post for a couple of hours now, and keep getting pulled away to do various things, so I’m going to finish it, and not polish it, because I’ll be here all afternoon if so. I just want to say that I’m not interested in getting in a tit-for-tat over which religion’s followers have committed more atrocities, Islam’s or Christianity’s. Both religions have a shameful historical record on this count. I maintain that it’s true to say there are fewer theological resources within Islam to counter violence committed in the name of Islam than within Christianity, and that this distinction is intrinsic to both Islam and Christianity. It is perfectly fair (and even necessary) to criticize Christians for failing to live up to the teachings of our faith. But I think we Christians have more to work with in that the founder of our faith showed mercy to the adulteress (John, Chapter 8 [7]), driving away the righteous men who tried to kill her by stoning, versus this hadith [8] in which the Prophet dealt with an adulteress in his way:

A woman from Juhaynah came to Allah’s Messenger (saws) and she had become pregnant because of adultery. She said: ‘O Messenger of Allah (saws), I have done something for which (prescribed punishment) must be imposed upon me, so impose that.’  Allah’s Messenger (saws) called her guardian and said: ‘Treat her well, and when she gives birth bring her to me.’ He did accordingly. Then Allah’s Messenger (saws) pronounced judgment on her. Her clothes were tied around her and then he gave the order and she was stoned to death. He then prayed over her (dead body).  Thereupon Hadrat Umar (r.a.) said to him (saws): ‘O Messenger of Allah (saws), you offer prayer for her although she had committed adultery!’  Thereupon he (saws) said: ‘She has made such a repentance that if it were to be divided among seventy men of Medina, it would be enough! Have you found any repentance better than that she sacrificed her life for Allah, the Majestic?’

Maybe Islam is true. Maybe, as I believe, Christianity is true. Maybe neither is true. But I would rather live in a world informed by the moral embedded within the Christian story than one within the Islamic story. And so would you. Anyway, women have been badly done over the centuries by male believers within both religions, but which of these two religions offers more resources with which to oppose violence against women? Doesn’t make one more true than the other, but I’m not asking about truth, I’m asking a sociological question.

Incidentally, Noah is right to say that it’s not quite, um, kosher for non-Muslims to tell Muslims how to interpret their own religion. But it seems to me perfectly reasonable for non-Muslims, when confronted by Muslims who believe in an interpretation of  their religion that compels them to commit violence against non-Muslims, to respond by making it hard for them to live among us in peace and respect. We non-Muslims have little or no influence over how world Islam (or rather, world Islams, because there is not just one kind of Islam) understands itself, but we do have a lot more control over what kind of Islam we find socially acceptable in our own country. Mosques that tolerate or encourage Salafists and their fellow travelers do not deserve normalization.

85 Comments (Open | Close)

85 Comments To "Tsarnaev In Cloud-Cuckoo Land"

#1 Comment By Andrew Burton On April 24, 2013 @ 11:33 pm

Unless I’m profoundly mistaken, Anders Breivik characterized himself as a Christian dedicated to protecting his society from the danger of Muslim encroachment. He decided that the best way to advance his aim was to set off a large bomb then shoot a large number of young people. Naturally, we ought to conclude that Christianity leads to…..

[The rest of the exercise is left to the reader].

I mean, good Lord, what on Earth can you conclude from looking at the Tsarnaev and Breivik cases? The Tsarnaevs, honest to God, are not the brightest bulbs in the chandelier. Breivik might score a few points higher on an IQ test, but I’m not standing on a chair going “yeah, that’s that old time religion.”

The Tsarnaevs succeeded in doing something heinous and wrong, but they don’t represent anything – boxers, stoners, Muslims, immigrants, Czechs, Chechens or the Youth Of Today. They’re just dumb young losers.

#2 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On April 24, 2013 @ 11:50 pm

So, we should understand the sincere religious roots of the thinking of West Bank Jewish settlers, but anyone who tires to explain the religious thinking of a homicidal Muslim is in cloud cukoo land?

I think they are both reprehensible, neither is a reflection of the inherent qualities of their respective faiths, and understanding what makes them tick is extremely important.

It does not further thorough inquiry to have any presentation of “what were they thinking” tagged as some kind of nuttiness or apology for terror.

#3 Comment By Richard M On April 25, 2013 @ 12:01 am

Hello Rod,

For the most part, a thoughtful and perceptive effort. Thanks for posting this, unpopular as it might be in some quarters.

Mosques that tolerate or encourage Salafists and their fellow travelers do not deserve normalization.

No, they don’t. And political correctness should not keep us from reaching that conclusion.

Religious liberty deserves a broad definition and vigorous protection. But it reaches its limits when it faces religiously dictated physical violence.

#4 Comment By Richard M On April 25, 2013 @ 12:04 am


You cannot be serious about rooting out salafism in one post and then argue that non-profit hospitals who take Federal funds can hide themselves under the cloak of “religious freedom” to avoid paying for contraception for their non-Catholic employees.

No, Rod is merely ignorant of the fact that the Church requires its hospitals to stone to death women employees that it discovers using contraceptives.

But if we’re patient with him, he’ll figure it out.

#5 Comment By Richard M On April 25, 2013 @ 12:11 am


Mr. Dreher, the opportunities women have in the “Christian” world are not there because of Christianity — they are there in spite of it.

And yet women were given unprecedented rights in Roman law once the Empire Christianized.

#6 Comment By Richard M On April 25, 2013 @ 12:18 am

Hello Erin,

But the claim that the Church at one time officially encouraged anti-Semitism and then “changed” that “teaching” after Vatican II is actually the product of some of these crazy vocal Trads of a certain stripe (note: not ALL Trads) who ignore Trent and similar writings in order to claim that “true Catholics” can hate Jews with the Church’s blessing, or something.

Thanks for making that point.

Yes, there were many instances of Catholics, even priests and bishops, acting on anti-Semitic prejudice, and even claiming Church authority for it. (And yes, the Papal States maintained a ghetto for Jews in Rome – although that was as much for their own protection as anything else.) But Church doctrine down through the ages is a lot more congruent with what Vatican II said in Nostra Aetate than people like to think.

#7 Comment By surly On April 25, 2013 @ 1:25 am

No, I don’t want to. The first amendment is very clear–there shall be no establishment of religion by the state.

If you defend the right of a hospital or a university, who employs all sorts of people, who takes government money, to claim religious belief to deny their secular employees something that is mandated by law, then you open the door to Muslim organizations demanding that their employees be governed by Sharia. What would you say to a Muslim hospital demanding that all female employees, patients and visitors covered themselves in a naqib? What if a female patient bled out and died because the hospital refused to let a male doctor treat a victim of an accident?

Now, if you want to have an argument about whether the secular government should be able to mandate that birth control and abortion MUST be covered by insurance, that is a legitimate question. Demanding insurance coverage for what is essentially a lifestyle choice opens the door to all kinds of crazy.

#8 Comment By M_Young On April 25, 2013 @ 1:51 am

Joe McFaul

Is that all you’ve got?

Perhaps you should have a look at the recent posts on this website concerning

1) a Jewish sect’s destruction of the public education system in a town they have come to dominate

2) Ron Unz’s work which at least suggests Jewish ethnic networking being responsible for the over -over representation of Jewish students at elite Universities

And then maybe look into fraud at [9]

It seems to me a good possibility that the Church’s actions were defensive in nature, a reaction to a highly ethnocentric group who thought nothing of defrauding the Christians among whom they lived, much as some ultra-Orthodox do today.

#9 Comment By cecelia On April 25, 2013 @ 2:27 am

having heard from first hand observors what life with the Taliban is like I do not doubt that extremists Islamists are a danger and that their understanding of how society should be organized is deeply disturbing to us westerners. Something which struck me was that in Afghanistan women must speak softly, not laugh in the presence of men and that they must wear soft soled shoes. This apparently comes from strictures in the Koran which say that a man should never be disturbed by the sound of a woman’s voice, her footsteps or her laughter. What struck me about this is that – to my mind – the sound of laughter from those we love – their footsteps as they come to us and of course the sound of their voice is a source of pleasure. An upside down way in which each culture understands some things. It also seems to me that to deny so many things that have been a part of human expression for our whole history – secular music for example – requires a serious level of brutal ruthless oppression to stamp out. Hence beheadings etc.

So I do acknowledge that there is much that is deeply disturbing about fundamentalist Islam. Rod is totally right to point out the role that the Saudi’s play in financing the spread of more extreme forms of Islam. But this is where I think we need to dig deeper – why do we support the Saudi’s? Is it because our government is unaware? I doubt that – I’d say that despite their awareness they continue to support the Saudi’s because of the willingness of the Saudi’s to keep oil prices in a range which doesn’t crash our economy and because of their hostility to Iran. Obviously – this just emphasizes the need to get off middle east oil. If the Saudi’s weren’t important to us for geostrategic reasons – I suspect our government would be less lenient with their funding of radical Islam in America.

Of course the mosques are the source of this radicalization – they also play a role in recruiting young men to go fight jihadi wars in places like Afghanistan and now Syria. Certainly western intelligence services know this. Doctors without Borders – hardly a right wing organization – recently noted that most of the Syrian rebels they treat are not even from Syria – they are Europeans recruited in the mosques. So why is this tolerated in Europe? Because it suits the purposes of the elites – it provides cheap labor, keeps wages low etc.

We are understandably outraged by the Boston attack but every day in countries like Iraq Muslim against Muslim violence kills dozens of people – today a car bomb killed 50 people in Iraq. Extremist muslim violence hurts other muslims more than us.

So while it is true that extremist Islam is violent and dangerous – it seems to me that there is a collaboration that exists between Islamic jihadist violence and the perceived needs of those in power in the West. We finance their violence and we know it.

So in the face of all these geopolitical considerations, in the face of the numbers we have killed in unjustified invasion of Iraq and now the drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan – I am not so sure that what the Koran says is really the big issue here. Islam may be an inherently more aggressive religion than Christianity – but we sure have managed to do plenty of killing.

#10 Comment By Fran Macadam On April 25, 2013 @ 3:35 am

Aquinas and Augustine for the torture and execution of “heretics” to the faith?

Well, no wonder – as great intellects as they were and as great defenders of the State/Church unholy marriage of cross and sword to consummate political imperial violent power – they found themselves apologists for The Great Heresy, Constantine’s co-opting of the Christian Church. Like today’s partisans for the American Enterprise Institute, they were their own time’s version of intellectuals prostituting and suborning their talents for mere political ideology, while doing severe theological damage to the truth.

No surprise that such compromised pundits of their time would craft contorted legalistic exercises supposedly proving war to be just, in opposition to the purported head of the church, Christ. But wait – Christ had abdicated earthly power to their head, at Rome and then the Papacy – and its military and political intrigues. No wonder they were more like our own John Woo, crafting his jesuitical Just War memos that justified torture and provided vague license for committing warfare. No surprise that their Just War Theory has never prevented one single war in history, right up to being invoked by evangelical George W. Bush. Nor did it stop Christendom fighting the bloodiest single war in human history to that point, the American Civil War, or prevent supposed Christian Harry Truman from losing a single night’s sleep when he vaporized two cities of civilians with atomic weapons. Even though the murderers in Boston deployed two pressure cookers of ball bearings, nails and BBs, for which the remaining maimed one is charged with using those “Weapons of Mass Destruction,” Christendom’s Just War apparently gives leave to minimize to insignificance any genocidal crimes committed under the rubric of white midwestern church steeples. Tamerlane slew his three, Harry his three hundred thousands. I suppose since you can only die once for your sins, one might as well be in for three hundred thousand as three.

What of the Irgun and Stern Gang terrorists in Israel, among them future peacemaker Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin? How many innocents, including British, since they count more to us in our scheme of things, did they murder? Does the Holocaust legitimize future terrorism by its former victims or their children, because wrong was done to them? What can the Reverend Hagee
think The Day of The Lord has to do with him, when he backs his terrorism of choice?

No wonder Ghandi observed, “I like your Christ – but not your Christians.” Pretty damning of how those claiming His name have betrayed Him, while a saint like Ghandi without wrapping himself in His name, did His deeds, while others mouthing His words, did the opposite.

#11 Comment By Neildsmith On April 25, 2013 @ 5:20 am

To watch people go off the Islamophobia deep end is to watch the process of “radicalization” in real time. There must be a common thread between Christians who hate Muslims who hate Jews who hate…. What could it be?

#12 Comment By JonF On April 25, 2013 @ 5:59 am

Re: Which of the two religions we’re discussing — Christianity and Islam — had been banning women from owning property up until the XVIII century?

If you are saying women could not own property in Europe, that’s completely false. They could and did, in every era from the Roman Empire on down to the present. (You are probably confusing the fact that when a woman married her husband gained joint ownership of anything she owned– but women who were not married– celibate or widowed– could and did own their own property)
By the way, even in the Crusader era, Muslim moralists were complaining about the excess license enjoyed by European women.

#13 Comment By Alexander Valenzuela On April 25, 2013 @ 7:03 am

Islam does have a more combative or aggressive nature than Christianity, rooted in Scripture. Again, I don’t see how this would be very controversial.

Islam, like Judaism, was revealed as a legal as well as a spiritual reality. Thus, its Scripture must needs not only deal with private life (ritual, morality governing individual relationships, etc.) but with public life as well (which, as you acknowledge, must always include violence). Christianity, however, clearly does not dismiss the need for laws which govern public life. Christians simply could not find them explicitly laid out and dealt with in the New Testament (they must accept that such laws can and have been revealed by God, however, since they do accept the reality of the Old Testament.)

It is disingenous at best, therefore, to contrast Christ’s pardoning of the adulteress with the Hadith which you mention. Most telling should be the end of the Hadith, when the Prophet of Islam clearly states that her repentance is accepted. Thus, spiritually speaking, the reality is the same. The Prophet of Islam, however, was not only called to represent the interior, spiritual reality, but to maintain legal and social equilibrium and outward justice.

Every religion will have, necessarily, its particular emphases. Since one cannot emphasize everything at once to the same degree or in the same manner, to emphasize one point will mean that another point is less clearly emphasized.

You emphasize the peaceful spirit of Christ’s teachings in contrast to the Prophet’s vocation as a ‘law-bearer’ and military leader, comparable to Moses. Please simply turn this emphasis around. The social decay, moral confusion and loss of religious faith and understanding which you seem to be quite aware of in Western society is, in this same sense, to a great extent simply the abuse of the characteristically Christian emphases and de-emphases. You don’t see movements to legalize gay marriage in Muslim countries, abortion is rarely if ever legal, marriage and the family are quite strong as institutions, regular mosque attendance is entirely the norm, religion, God, prayer and morality and public and acknowledged realities which are considered by almost everyone to be foundational for society, etc., etc.

Look at how many Christian churches as a whole have turned away from traditional Christian doctrine and morality. Look at the whole issue of theodicy, which you just wrote about, and the great loss of faith for many on precisely this basis. It is, perhaps, of interest that there was very little in the way of a theodicy in Islam and very little loss of faith on that basis.

None of this is intended as an apology for Islam; the point is that it is what it is and what it was meant to be, with its characteristic strengths and its corresponding human weaknesses. Christianity as well, however, has its characteristic strengths and its corresponding human weaknesses. Again, the crux of the issue (pun intended) is whether the religion is revealed and saves souls. The rest is just talk about epiphenomena, never breaking free of the passionately human.

One point which I don’t understand entirely: you are Eastern Orthodox, you inveigh against much of the breakdown of Christianity in the West, yet you seem to applaud Judaism for ‘historical development’ and desire the same from Islam. It looks as though, perhaps, you also laud Christianity for its loss of Christendom and reversion to a ‘private faith’. Ultimately, true religion is supposedly from God. Following your line of thought, is it possible that the teachings of the Orthodox Church will and should simply develop over time (perhaps eventually to a stance of absolute pacifism and sexual promiscuity taken as a virtue)? Again, if you simply mean that, because you believe post-Christian Judaism and Islam are not revealed and are hence merely human, we should simply hope for them to be as innocuous and similar to Christianity as possible, then one might wish you’d simply say so.

Finally, I think the problem you are running into about ‘asking Muslims questions’ is, in part, that you are mixing up different levels and categories of things. Sufis and Sunnis and Wahhabis are, of course, three different categories (although overlapping), but all three of them accept that, in principle, there are divinely-sanctioned punishments for adultery and homosexual acts. Thus, when you attack Muslims on such a basis, you alienate everyone except the most avowedly progressivist, modernist Muslims, who constitute an even smaller (and less respected) minority than the Salafis. Most American Muslims are aware that most non-Muslim Americans have no idea of the actual differences between these names and distinctions, so they are rightly wary of calls to toss out the Salafi extremists (all the more, Salafis as a whole). This almost always comes down, in practice, to a desire to toss out anyone who actually believes in the Qur’an as the Word of God, which is about 99.999% of Muslims.

#14 Comment By VikingLS On April 25, 2013 @ 8:00 am

Bill Maher had a guy on that was supposed to be an expert on radicals. When he went into the Christianity is just as bad as Islam spiel Maher interupted him and called that liberal BS. When he continued Maher said “yes but we’re not living in history, we’re living now.” (At which pointing his guest compared Maher to Pam Geller)

#15 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On April 25, 2013 @ 8:53 am

Re: You cannot be serious about rooting out salafism in one post and then argue that non-profit hospitals who take Federal funds can hide themselves under the cloak of “religious freedom” to avoid paying for contraception for their non-Catholic employees.


No, forcing people *to do something* in the name of your religion (e.g. wear headscarves, convert to Islam, etc.) is different than *choosing not to do something* (pay for contraception) for religious purposes.

Re: Which of the two religions we’re discussing — Christianity and Islam — had been banning women from owning property up until the XVIII century?

As JonF points out, unmarried women weren’t banned from owning anything, and the status of women was *always* higher in Europe than in the Muslim world..

Re: [Note from Rod: Judaism is not a violent religion, at least not anymore, because of long historical development. Islam might develop in the same way, in time. It’s not there yet, apparently. — RD]

Rod, I don’t agree with this, and I’ve really never understood why you seem to want to whitewash Judaism. The formation of the state of Israel and its territorial expansion- which involved mass murder, expulsion of Arabs, and eventually resulted in an apartheid state not too dissimilar from South Africa- was explicitly justified on religious grounds. The state of Israel today is increasingly less full of secular, liberal, socialist Jews and more and more full of extremely right-wing ones who boast about how many Arabs they killed in their military service. And let’s not forget how the Hasidim in New York are trying to sabotage the public school system (and, I’d add, throwing tomatoes at women who walk their streets without being ‘adequately’ covered up). Honestly, Judaism and Islam have much more in common than either one has with Christianity.

I strongly doubt that the average Palestinian would agree that ‘Judaism is not a violent religion’, any more than Noah Millman would say the same of Christianity.

#16 Comment By Joe the Plutocrat On April 25, 2013 @ 10:36 am

I realize this site/blog/publication concerns public policy and not law enforcement/jurisprudence; but perhaps we need to play down the jihad/religion angle and analyze/prosecute these cases for what they are; crimes. the law says you cannot detonate a homemade bomb at sporting event; period. the law says you cannot kill and maim other citizens; period. the law says you cannot shoot up a movie theatre, elementary school, or university campus; period. the how and why is just speculation; which leads to further speculation as to “motive”; which will then be used by either or both prosecution and defense; when/if the case goes to trial. as Sgt. Friday used to emplore; “…just the facts man’am.” ironically; this habit has religious untertones (“why?” “how?”). again, mere speculation steeped with heavy cultural/tribal influence. ultimately; the rhetoric about the essential nature of any faith (violent or not violent) is not germane; anymore than Americans advocating or rejecting the idea that “the United States is a Christian nation.”

#17 Comment By AndrewH On April 25, 2013 @ 11:45 am

It seems to me a good possibility that the Church’s actions were defensive in nature, a reaction to a highly ethnocentric group who thought nothing of defrauding the Christians among whom they lived

Well said. As American hegemony fades the history of anti-Semitism will be looked at again. I’m confident that as that happens most, but not all, Christian/Muslim “anti-Semitism” will be seen as a defensive reaction to aggression. The US with its Puritan founding mythology, and its overrepresentation of Evangelical Protestants and Jews at almost every level of society is uniquely philo-Semitic, and if you pay attention to the Rev. Hagees of the world is downright maniacal when it comes to Israel. (You can read more criticism of Netanyahu and West Bank policies in the Israeli press than in the main liberal press organs of the USA!)

[Note from Rod: That’s a dangerous line of thinking, the idea that to hate someone on the basis of their ethnicity or religion is a matter of self-defense. If that is true, how much more justifiable would Jewish hate of Gentiles be in the wake of the Holocaust?! And is racism against black people justifiable as a “defensive reaction” to disproportionate crime rates among blacks? By your logic, it would seem to be. I reject that. — RD]

#18 Comment By Paul Emmons On April 25, 2013 @ 12:23 pm

K writes:

>the New Testament, alone, does not present any system under which a society of nation could organize and live. It does not even attempt to; it seems to assume either that its adherents will be living under Jewish law or under Roman rule or some other thing. The words of Jesus do not provide working or coherent system for how to manage a society of various people in relating to other populations. …

>Islam, like Judaism, is actually a religious government system.

Bingo. This corresponds to what I was trying to say above. It is always a relief to find important points of agreement between people who seem to disagree in other ways.

However, you imply that this is a weakness of Christianity and a strength of Islam. Why and how? The United States and other Western countries have done just fine with morals informed by ancient Judea and politics informed by ancient Greece. Islamic countries are doing just fine… where, again? At least, I’d much rather live here, where I was born and raised, than there. And if admitting Muslims into my country = admitting people with a recalcitrantly alien outlook as to how we should be governed, I’m very leery of doing it. I’m sorry, but the more one hears, the more one is tempted to look for another Joe McCarthy type to purge us of these influences.

#19 Comment By alkali On April 25, 2013 @ 12:29 pm

There’s nothing wrong with calling out Islamic radicalism, but I think the relationship between the Marathon bombers and the actual Muslim community in the Boston area is at this point more asserted than proved. These guys were not down at the mosque praying and studying Arabic. The older brother had been kicked out of the mosque on at least one occasion. I think Andrew Burton has it right — they were dumb young losers who were looking for a reason to be violent.

#20 Comment By Jon R On April 25, 2013 @ 12:36 pm

Andrew Burton – I think the point was that nowhere in the Bible, certainly not in the New Testament which is basis for Christianity, are the actions of Breivik condoned. Christianity cannot look to its own scriptures and find recommendations to commit violence of any sort. The Quran does contain numerous verses that condone and mandate violence. For illustration we should compare the number of Breivik/Tsarnaev type incidents committed in the name of Christ as opposed to those committed in the name of Allah. And don’t mention the Crusades unless you also mention the elder Tsarnaev’s namesake Tamerlane, a Muslim who enjoyed constructing large pyramids from the skulls of his victims.

So the Tsarnaevs attend a mosque known for promoting a radical agenda or at the least turning a blind eye to the radicals in it’s midst, they construct semi-sophisticated explosive devices with which they kill and maim people, carjack someone but let him live ‘because he isn’t American’… One would have to be an idiot not to put 2 and 2 together and at least consider where the sum is pointing.

When one sees pictures of bleeding people and a smoke filled sky the first assumption is not ‘those crazy Presbyterians’ or even ‘those crazy Tea Party people’ it’s ‘another Islamic terrorist’. And 99% of the time, unfortunately, the assumption seems to be correct.

#21 Comment By PDGM On April 25, 2013 @ 12:40 pm

Rod, Thanks for this:
“Sufis are not Wahhabis, and not all Sunnis are Wahhabis. But the militant Sunnis associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, and funded largely by the Saudis, have massive dominance over the teaching and propagation of Islam in the United States. ”

It shows a willingness to reign in what I’ve taken in the past as your willingness to tar the whole of Islam with a simplistic brush.

Fran MacAdam: I think reading Aquinas as a suborned neocon intellectual is simplistic in the extreme. Remember that the early modern nation state routinely engaged in absolutely horrifying tortures leading to death of those judged of treason. Read about what Henry VIII and Elizabeth got up to (not to ignore Mary; but that part fits into your explanatory scheme). The simple fact is, that prior to very recently (the last 100 to 200 years), violence against those who did thought crimes (treason, for example) was common, and through the early modern period it was normal. In this, Aquinas is simply reflecting, in a way filtered through religion, the cultural norms of punishment prior to quite recently. Because of these facts, I think your comparison of Aquinas to a pet “intellectual” of the AEI is forced.

This is of course not to disagree with your claims about Constantine and the corruption or cooptation of Christianity. I wonder, if there were some God’s eye view metric between the evil (which you are quite aware of) and the good that came out of this state–church accommodation (which you seem to think does not exist, but that I suspect does in fact exist). If such a metric exists, we’ll only experience it posthumously, and then only if us believers are correct in our theologies of the afterlife.

#22 Comment By Paul Emmons On April 25, 2013 @ 1:54 pm

Aikali writes:

>I think Andrew Burton has it right — they were dumb young losers who were looking for a reason to be violent.

I tend to agree that we should guard against getting cause and effect backward (without voicing complacency over such exploitative post-hoc rationales being so readily available to anyone susceptible). And no, I’m trying not to forget the song “Gee, Officer Krupke” in West Side Story, about how cynical young punks can play “empathetic” authorities like violins. But we’re saying this in retrospect, aren’t we? If we had looked at either of them a few years or even months ago, would we have called them dumb or losers? They seemed to be fairly well-adjusted, sociable young men with good prospects. The younger brother was in college. Presumably, then, he was less dumb than the average person his age (quite a few of whom either can’t get into college or don’t even try). It also meant that he was relatively privileged and on track for a life with many fulfilling possibilities. This status by no means precludes serious psychological problems or self-doubts (I toyed with the thought of suicide once or twice myself in those years). But, without further investigation, merely to attribute what they did to dumbness or loserhood seems so unrealistic as to be a mere cop-out.

Tamerlan’s mother got the religious bug first and encouraged him into it; then he ran a lot further with it than she ever intended. It reminds me of the joke about the Catholic girl in love with a Protestant boy. First week happy: “He went to mass with me!” Second week happier: “He wants to be confirmed!” Third week coming home in tears: “He’s going to be a priest!” Meanwhile, where was the father? Some reading the story thought that it sounded like one of paternal abandonment, psychological if not physical. This was not a happy family.

#23 Comment By k On April 25, 2013 @ 2:34 pm

@ Paul

I don’t mean to imply that I think Islam is stronger than or superior to Christianity. Whatever country I would live in, I am so thankful for as full religious freedom as possible.

Where my trouble lies is in the attempt to compare the scriptures or religions of Islam to Christianity one to another, especially Muhammad to Jesus rather than Muhammad to Moses or Joshua or David, who are more comparable to him. Alexander Valenzuela above, this morning, comments better on the differences than I do.

Christianity exists as it does in the world today BECAUSE for centuries it used violence/threat and no freedom of religion to spread and maintain itself, but we sit on this foundation of power now and pretend as if superior to others, merely because Jesus, whom most Christians functionally ignore and always have, was gentle and forgiving and was not yet a Judge upon us.

The reasons I believe and cherish the truth I find in Christianity are not because Muhammad was mean or because Islam would in this life call me to account for my sins. Parts of Christianity have developed to nullify the fear of God and dilute the acknowledgement of a final judgment, and there are Christians who find it very offensive to see in Islam any presentation of a God that does lay down the law, because Christians have been promised by our churches such easy rewards and so little asked of us.

#24 Comment By Joe the Plutocrat On April 25, 2013 @ 3:15 pm

@Paul Emmons – good points. this seems to be more Columbine, VA Tech, or Newton; as opposed to 9/11, Madrid train station, or London bus. I guess we may never know, but it seems like these two (particularly the older criminal) simply donned the “radical Muslim pissed off at U.S. foreign policy” suit in an effort to resolve whatever “mommy didn’t love me and/or daddy left me” issues were bouncing around in his noggin. I suspect most criminals; be they sane or insane benefit from a decent ‘cover story’. again, these two are criminals; plain and simple. the fact that they are Muslims, or immigrants is an adjective at best. I am not dismissing the “radicalization” card; but simply that teenagers and young adults make “bad decisions” all the time. sometimes they are influenced/directed and encouraged by film, TV, literature, the internet; etc.; but at the end of the day; I see these two as directionless, stupid “teenagers”. they stakes were higher, and their actions certainly grabbed the attention of the media, the government, and the general public; but they were simply morons with access to explosives in my book.

#25 Comment By VikingLS On April 25, 2013 @ 3:54 pm

Bringing up Christian history in a discussion about Islam is a sure-fire way to divert the discussion. Unless you’re specifically discussing episodes of Christian atrocities against Muslims it really isn’t helpful.

Discussing whether or not Wahabbi mosques might be facilitating radicalization is not passing judgement on Islam, so it’s not necessary to play the moral equivalency game.

If we can’t speak openly and realistically about Islam because it might encourage Islamophobia then maybe there really is something in Islam to be phobic about.

#26 Comment By Andrew On April 25, 2013 @ 5:51 pm

Tamerlan’s mother got the religious bug first and encouraged him into it; then he ran a lot further with it than she ever intended. It reminds me of the joke about the Catholic girl in love with a Protestant boy. First week happy: “He went to mass with me!” Second week happier: “He wants to be confirmed!” Third week coming home in tears: “He’s going to be a priest!” Meanwhile, where was the father? Some reading the story thought that it sounded like one of paternal abandonment, psychological if not physical. This was not a happy family.

God, how simple and why this idiot Tolstoy was writing about differential of history. He also wrote about unhappy families–that is how Anna Karenina starts. I am also puzzled–why study wars?? The immediate thing which comes to mind is epistolary between Freud and Einstein about war. Then, of course, Branislaw Malinowski and his “An Anthropological Analysis Of War” (1941) comes to mind: “Another interesting point in the study of aggression is that, like charity, it begins at home”(c). I wonder (I truly do) how many people who posted here can tell anything of value about Chechen “home”, or, in general, about any home in Caucasus?? Or in Arab world??

Disclaimer: reports by Christian Amanpour and CNN correspondents are disqualifiers, or, quoting Bill Maher–” A liberal Bullsh.t”(c)

#27 Comment By Andrew On April 25, 2013 @ 5:54 pm

Bringing up Christian history in a discussion about Islam is a sure-fire way to divert the discussion. Unless you’re specifically discussing episodes of Christian atrocities against Muslims it really isn’t helpful.

They have nothing more to counter a valid point with. It is always a comparison between a chariot and a BMW of latest model.

#28 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On April 25, 2013 @ 10:15 pm

I think the point was that nowhere in the Bible, certainly not in the New Testament which is basis for Christianity, are the actions of Breivik condoned.

Well, yes, the Bible doesn’t mention Norwegians. But Breivik may have thought he was killing Amalekite analogues, or was militantly shaking the dust off his feel.

#29 Comment By JonF On April 26, 2013 @ 6:14 am

Re: And don’t mention the Crusades unless you also mention the elder Tsarnaev’s namesake Tamerlane, a Muslim who enjoyed constructing large pyramids from the skulls of his victims.

Tamerlane was trying to best his claimed ancestor, Genghis Khan, who was neither Muslim nor Christian nor much of anything else. I am always leery of portraying secular rulers’ atrocities as being about religion when the usual motives of greed and power lust suffice. Most of Tamerlane’s victims were fellow Muslims after all.

#30 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On April 26, 2013 @ 1:47 pm

Re: Tamerlane was trying to best his claimed ancestor, Genghis Khan, who was neither Muslim nor Christian nor much of anything else. I am always leery of portraying secular rulers’ atrocities as being about religion when the usual motives of greed and power lust suffice.

Tamerlane was probably personally motivated by greed and power as much as anything else, but at least in public he did portray his invasion of India as a crusade against idolatry (and he may have justified his wars against other Muslim countries on religious grounds as well).

From his autobiography:

“When I heard these words, I found them to be in accordance with the rules of war, and I immediately directed the commanders to proclaim throughout the camp that every man who had infidel prisoners was to put them to death, and that whoever neglected to do so, should himself be executed and his property given to the informer. When this order became known to the champions of Islam, they drew their swords and put their prisoners to death. One hundred thousand infidels, impious idolaters, were slain on that day. Maulana Nasir-ad-din Omar, a counsellor and man of learning, who had never killed a sparrow in all his life, now, in execution of my order, killed fifteen idolatrous Hindus, who were his captives.

“After spending fifteen days at Delhi, passing my time in pleasure and enjoyment, and in holding royal courts and giving great feasts, I reflected that I had come to Hindustan to war against infidels, and that my enterprise had been so blessed that wherever I had gone I had been victorious. I had triumphed over my adversaries, I had put to death hundreds of thousands of infidels and idolaters, I had dyed my proselyting sword with the blood of the enemies of the Faith, and now that I had gained this crowning victory, I felt that I ought not to indulge in ease, but rather to exert myself still further in warring against the infidels of Hindustan. Having made these reflections, on the twenty-second of Rabi’-al-akhir, 800 Anno Hegirae.”

#31 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On April 26, 2013 @ 3:50 pm

Genghis Khan is reported to have taken the pulpit in a mosque to lecture the newly conquered populace that it was a great error to pray facing Mecca, because God is not located in any one place. He is also reported to have denounced the Pope as a heretic. Its true that secular rulers’ atrocities are seldom inspired BY religion. More often religion is poisoned by the secular ambitions of rulers, not excluding the rulers of the Papal States and the imperial protectors of the patriarchs.

#32 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On April 27, 2013 @ 10:32 am

Siarlys Jenkins,

That may be so, but the fact remains that Tamerlane’s atrocities were largely done in the name of Islam (or at least, this was the justification given for public consumption.)

#33 Comment By JonF On April 27, 2013 @ 2:44 pm

Which is odd, as most of the lands Tamerlane conquered were already majority Islamic in population. Even the Sultanate of Delhi had a Muslim ruler and elite. Was Tamerlane of some variant sect of Islam that had a beef with the mainstream sects?

#34 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On April 27, 2013 @ 11:55 pm

Tamerlane was building an empire. The Mongols took on a number of faiths from those they conquered, including some Persian Il-Khans who married Christian wives. The oppressed Hazara minority in Afghanistan are descended from the Mongols according to some anthropological sources, and they are Shia Muslims. Spanish conquistadors used to make an announcement in Spanish to Mayan villages giving them until morning to submit to the true faith, then march in at dawn to slaughter every man woman and child.

“There is none righteous, no, not one.” Particularly among monarchs, except in Narnia and Archenland.

#35 Comment By Charlieford On April 28, 2013 @ 1:26 am

VikingLS says: “Bringing up Christian history in a discussion about Islam is a sure-fire way to divert the discussion. Unless you’re specifically discussing episodes of Christian atrocities against Muslims it really isn’t helpful.”

Why do you specify “atrocities,” and not just “wars” or, better, “deaths”?

I suspect you’re trying to skew the data, frankly.