Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Thinking outside the sandbox

Sam Harris, whose brilliant book, The End of Faith, I highly recommend, has written an editorial for the LA Times that condemns “head-in-the-sand” liberals for being soft on terrorism (Be sure to also check out True Ancestor’s post on this editorial). LA Times:
Given the degree to which religious ideas are still sheltered from criticism in every society, it is actually possible for a person to have the economic and intellectual resources to build a nuclear bomb — and to believe that he will get 72 virgins in paradise. And yet, despite abundant evidence to the contrary, liberals continue to imagine that Muslim terrorism springs from economic despair, lack of education and American militarism.
His assertion that liberals believe what he says they do seems to be rooted in the reactions he got from liberals to his book, which spends a great deal of time discussing the dangers of the Muslim faith.

Let’s not go into how he arrived at his conclusions about liberals, however flawed I think they may be.

As a liberal, I will say that I find fundamentalists of many faiths to be dangerous, and I find Islamic fundamentalists to be particularly scary. But, those people that are religious and who are tolerant of other cultures and religions, are tolerant precisely because they ignore many of the tenets of their faiths (“kill unbelievers” comes to mind), and I think that is a paradox about the positive side of religion or religious people that is generally ignored, at least in the U.S.

But Islamic fundamentalists have existed since the time of Mohammed, so what makes them so dangerous now, particularly? What motivates a moderate Muslim to become a jihadi?

That is the question that I think liberals focus on, and the question that Harris fails to address in his article.

The jihadis have a variety of motivations, I’m sure, but we cannot ignore the fact that one of them is US foreign policy. Certainly they use our ignorance and bullying in the Middle East to bolster their numbers and assist in conversions to their point of view.

Can that really be in question, Mr. Harris?

But let’s look at a concrete example of support for jihadis on the decline.

Holy shit, you say, where in the hell is that happening? And can I move my liberal ass on over there?

It’s happening in Indonesia:

AMID last week’s September 11 anniversary soul-searching about the tenacity of al-Qaeda and the dire state of the Middle East, one theatre of the war on terror was forgotten: the only one where the terrorists are in retreat.

Indonesia gets little attention with Baghdad and Afghanistan in flames, yet it is perhaps the only nation which has come close to beating its own jihadis. It has done so with a radically different strategy to the one pursued by the US...

...The Indonesians, facing criticism from the US and Australia that they had allowed terrorism to fester, ignored much of the unsolicited Western advice to crack down hard. Instead, the sympathisers and hangers-on were allowed to rant and rave in the streets of Jakarta – while the danger men were methodically tracked down by security forces. Around 30 key JI militants have been arrested and tried and three Bali bombers are on death row.

Instead of detainees disappearing into detention centres, the police put one of the key bombers, Amrozi bin Nurhasyim, on TV where he laughed and boasted. Sceptical Indonesians could see the suspects had not been framed or coerced, and much of JI’s support melted away.

JI sympathisers began helping police, who also had success with suspects they befriended in prison. Instead of torture , detainees were treated humanely. Detectives even prayed with them.

The approach worked. Police were able to penetrate the tight clan-based JI networks and root out more terrorists.

Hm. It also seems that the PKS, the Islamic political party in Indonesia, is on the decline.

The trend line shows an unmistakable and steady decline for the PKS, running from a January, 2005 high of 10.1% to a dismal 2.7% by year's end, the second-lowest rating for any major political party. The quantitative results are eye-opening, particularly considering the still prevalent impression among Jakarta's political pundits that the PKS is actually growing in numbers.
Why? Because they stopped focusing on solving the rampant, entrenched, corruption of the Indonesian government, and started pushing an agenda rooted in sharia law. And the people of Indonesia, including, apparently, moderate Muslims, didn’t care for it.

Sooooo, we in the U.S. might want to take an itty-bitty look at what’s going on in Indonesia, and…I dunno, maybe think about what most Muslims really want.

But what do I know? I’m just a head-in-the-sand liberal.

(Many thanks to Harry Shearer’s Le Show for the tip on the Glasgow piece.)


david said...

Thanks for the shout. Points very well taken.

Another hopeful sign, of moderate Islam speaking up, is here:


vikkitikkitavi said...

That guy better watch out with that "women are equal" stuff, or he's going to get a big fatwa on his head.

Pops said...

I think Islam creates terrorists the way vaccines "cause" autism. Out of an entire population of world Muslims (what is it, like a billion people?) some become terrorists, probably around the same percentage of children who recieve western vaccine injections who come down with autism. Focusing on the terrorists and saying "this is what Islam gets you" is like finding an autistic child and saying "this is from vaccines," completely--deliberately--ignoring the vast, overwhelming majority of non-terrorist Muslims or non-autistic people who also don't have polio. I guess the point is you can find any result you're looking for if you are willing to squint hard enough.

Phil said...

Gandi freed a country through nonviolent resistence. Thanks for the reminder.

vikkitikkitavi said...

Pops: Excellent point. In the words of George Carlin, "Mother's milk leads to everything."

Phil: He did, although even the Indian people have pretty much eschewed that pussy approach these days.

Grant Miller said...

I'm reading Harris' book now. Just started it last night, actually. Don't give the ending!