A Philosopher's Blog

Motives for Terror

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on May 6, 2013
MQ-1L Predator UAV armed with AGM-114 Hellfire...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After the evil and senseless bombing in Boston, there was considerable speculation about the motives of the bombers. Not surprisingly, some folks blamed their preferred demons: some on the left leaped to conclusions involving right-wingers while those on the right leaped to conclusions involving Islam.  As it turns out, the alleged murderers have a connection to Islam.

While some hold the view that there is a strong causal connection between being a Muslim and being a terrorist, the connection obviously cannot be that strong. After all, the vast majority of Muslims do not engage in terrorism. As such, beginning and ending the discussion of the motive for terror with Islam is not adequate.

When it comes to terrorist attacks against the United States, the stock explanation is that the terrorists are motivated by a hatred of our freedom. A common variation on that is that they hate democracy. Another explanation is that they simply hate the United States and other countries.

The explanation that terrorists are motivated by a hatred of our freedom (or democracy) does two main things. The first is that it casts the terrorists as enemies of freedom and democracy, thus presenting them as having evil motives. The second is that it casts the United States and its allies as being attacked because of their virtues. Crudely put, the bad guys are attacking us because they hate what is good.

The explanation that the terrorists simply hate the United States and its allies also does two main things. The first is that it casts the terrorists as simply being haters without any justification for their hate. The second is that it casts the United States and its allies as innocent targets. Crudely put, the haters are attacking us because they are haters.

In both of these approaches, the United States and its allies are presented as innocent victims who are being attacked for wicked or irrational reasons. What certainly helps support this narrative is that the terrorists engage in acts that are wicked and certainly seem irrational. After all, the people who are killed and injured are usually just random innocents who simply happen to be in the blast area at the time. Because of this, it is correct to condemn such terrorists as morally wicked on the grounds that they engage in indiscriminate violence. However, the fact that the direct victims of the terrorists are generally innocent victims of wicked deeds does not entail that the terrorists are motivated to attack innocent countries because they hate us, our freedom or our democracy.

One significant source of evidence regarding the motivation of terrorists is the statements terrorists make regarding their own reasons. In the case of the alleged Boston bomber, he claims that he was motivated by the United States’ wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  In the case of other terrorists, they have generally claimed they are motivated by the actions of the United States and its allies.

My point here is not to justify the actions of the terrorists. Rather, the point is that the terrorists do not claim to be motivated by the reasons that have been attributed to them. That is, they do not regard themselves as being driven to attack us because they hate our freedom or democracy. They do often claim to hate us, but for rather specific reasons involving our foreign policy. As such, these stock explanations seem to be in error.

It might be countered that the terrorists are lying about their motivations. That is, that they are really driven by a hatred of our freedom or democracy and are just claiming that they are motivated by our foreign policy and associated actions (like invading countries and assassinating people with drones) for some devious reason.

The obvious reply to this is that if terrorists were motivated by a hatred of freedom or democracy, they would presumably attack countries based on their degree of freedom or democracy. Also, a non-stupid terrorist would take into account the ease of attacking a country and what the country could and would do in response. Hitting the United States to strike against freedom or democracy would thus be a poor choice, given our capabilities and how we respond to such attacks (invasions, drone strikes and so on).  To use an analogy, if someone hated athletes, it would not be very sensible to get into a fist fight with a professional mixed martial artist when one could go beat up a marathon runner (who is not also a martial artist).

It might be countered that the United States is the symbol for freedom and democracy, hence the terrorists want to attack the United States even though they know that this will result in retaliation of the sort that many other democratic states cannot or would not engage in.

While this is not impossible, the more plausible explanation is that the terrorists are motivated by their hatred of our foreign policy. After all, invasions, assassinations and such tend to motivate people to engage in violence far more so than some sort of hatred of freedom or democracy.

It might, of course, be wondered why the motivation of terrorists matter. What matters is not why they try to murder people at a marathon but that they try to do such things.

While what they do obviously matters, why they do it also matters. While I obviously believe that terrorism of the sort that took place in Boston is evil, this does not entail that there are no legitimate grievances against the United States and its allies in regards to our foreign policies. To use an analogy, if Bob blows up Sam’s whole family because Sam killed Bob’s son, then Bob has acted wrongly. But this does not prove that Sam acted rightly in killing Bob’s son. In the case of the United States, the fact that we have been attacked by terrorists does not thus make our invasions or drone assassinations right. Now, it might turn out that our actions are right, but we cannot infer that they are just because terrorists do terrible things.

Sorting out what motivates terrorists is also rather useful in trying to prevent terrorism. If we assume they are motivated by their hatred of our freedom or democracy, then we would have to abandon our freedom or democracy to remove their motivation. This is obviously something that should not be done.

However, if some terrorists are motivated by specific aspects of our foreign policy (such as drone strikes that kill civilians), then it seems well worth considering whether we should change these policies. To use an analogy, if someone keeps trying to attack me because I am virtuous, then I obviously should not abandon my virtues just to stop these attacks. But if someone keeps trying to attack me because I keep provoking him, then I should consider whether or not I should be doing those things. It might turn out that I am in the right, but it might turn out that I am in the wrong. If I am in the wrong, then I should change. But if he is in the wrong, then I would be warranted in not changing (but I would need to be honest about why he is attacking me). For example, if he goes after me because I am stealing his newspaper and dumping leaves in his yard, then I should probably stop doing that. As another example, if he is going after me because I run past his house, then he should stop doing that.

The same would seem to apply to terrorists. If we are engaged in unjust actions that provoke people, then we should stop those actions. If, however, we are acting justly and this provokes people, then we should continue to the degree those actions are warranted and necessary. But we should be honest about why they area attacking us.

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War on Religion?

Posted in Philosophy, Religion by Michael LaBossiere on December 13, 2011
Fair & Balanced graphic used in 2005

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Ricky Perry recently claimed that Obama is attacking religion. Fox News is already revving up its yearly war on Christmas fantasy. However, there do seem to be actual attacks on religion. One obvious example is the attempt to convince voters that Mormonism is a cult. Another example is FFA’s movement to get advertisers to pull advertisements from All American Muslim.

America is based on a principle of religious tolerance and, as such, these sorts of things should be condemned as going against one of our core principles. Naturally, the right to free speech allows people to say such things and for companies to remove their advertisements. But there is much to be said for being civil with faiths that differ from one’s own and also in not yielding to religious bigotry when making business decisions.

While these matters are well worth considering, the United States is still a very tolerant country in regards to religion. While there have been attempts to equate Islam with terrorism and thus infringe on religious freedoms in the name of security, we have largely resisted this urge. Other countries have not been so restrained in their treatment of non-dominant faiths and this, of course, includes the very real mistreatment of Christians in certain parts of the world. This should not, of course, be taken to justify abandoning our hard earned tolerance. Rather, it should show us exactly why the Christian majority in America should treat the religious minorities as they would wish to be treated if they were the minority.

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Tea Partiers and Muslims

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Politics, Reasoning/Logic by Michael LaBossiere on August 23, 2011
Description: A Ku Klux Klan meeting in Gainesv...

A racist group.

I recently had an interesting discussion about the Tea Party and Muslims. It began with a Tea Party person being upset about the accusations of racism against the Tea Party. I think I surprised him a bit when I agreed that the Tea Party folks are often accused of being racist on the basis of a very visible fringe element-the sort of folks who carry signs depicting Obama as witch doctor. I also made the point that a group should not be defined by its fringe element or by the worst of those who claim to belong to the group. Rather, a group should be assessed on its actual values and the general behavior of its core. So, for example, the various Tea Party groups are not racist groups. In contrast, something like the KKK would be a paradigm of a racist group. That said, there are some grounds for being concerned about what seem to be racist elements in individual Tea Partiers. Of course, the same can be said about Democrats.

The conversation then switched to the matter of Muslims and how they pose a threat to the United States. I did the obvious move and pointed out that he had just agreed that a group should not be judged by its fringe or worst elements. To be consistent, what applies to the Tea Party should also apply to Muslims. After all, just as the fact that there are racists in the Tea Party does not make the Tea Party a racist movement, the fact that there are Muslim terrorists does not make Islam a terrorist faith.

As I expected, the counter was that Islam is inherently a religion of terror while the Tea Party is about taxes and not about race. This is a reasonable counter in the sense that it is based on the principle of relevant difference: if being a terrorist is part of being a Muslim and being a racist is not part of being a Tea Partier, then all Muslims would be terrorists while Tea Party members need not be racists.

While I do agree that most Tea Party folks are not racists, I do not agree that all Muslims are terrorists. While people do point to quotes from the Koran, people also point to some rather bad stuff in the bible. Just as I would not infer that all Christians are pro-slavery based on what the bible says, I would not infer that all Muslims are pro-terror based on what the Koran says about jihad.  Fortunately enough, most people do not follow their holy books to the letter.

My considered view is that labeling the entire Tea Party as racist is just as unfair and unjust as labeling all Muslims as terrorists. As such, the Tea Party folks who resent being called racists should extend the same courtesy to Muslims and refrain from labeling them all as terrorists. Sure, there are Muslims who are terrorists-just as there are Tea Partiers who are racists.

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Religion and Violence

Posted in Law, Philosophy, Politics, Relationships/Dating by Michael LaBossiere on July 30, 2011
Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...

Image via Wikipedia

When it comes to Islam and terror, the fine folks at Fox have generally taken the view that Muslim terrorists are representative of Islam as a whole. However, when it turned out that Breivik (the person allegedly responsible for the terrible murders in Norway) claimed to be a Christian, the fine folks at Fox rushed to argue that he is not a Christian.

The main argument put forth by the fine folks at Fox is that a person who truly accepts Jesus would not engage in such horrible behavior. Naturally, Muslims who are not terrorists have argued that true Muslims would not engage in terrorist behavior. On the face of it, if the argument holds in the case of Christianity, then it should also hold in the case of Islam.

The obvious reply is to argue that while a true Christian would never do such things, such horrible acts are perfectly consistent with true Islam. The challenge is, obviously enough, to prove both of these things.

It will not do to point to the actions of those who profess the faiths. After all, people professing to be Christians have done terrible things as those who have claimed to be exemplars of Islam.

Turning to the holy books as evidence is a better approach, but not without its flaws. While the writings of Islam seem to allow and even endorse terrible things, the same is true of the Christian texts. As such, turning to the texts hardly seems to achieve the goal in question.

It can be argued that the violent content in the bible is either not an expression of the true essence of Christianity or that (to steal a bit from True Lies) true Christians only harm bad people (and thus are justified in doing so). In contrast, it must be argued that violent content in the Islamic writings is an expression of the true essence of Islam and that harming the good and the innocent is perfectly consistent with Islam. If this can be done, then the fine folks at Fox can consistently brand Muslims as terrorists while insisting that no Christian can be a terrorist.

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Iran’s Fashion Police

Posted in Law, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on June 19, 2011
President of Iran @ Columbia University.

Apparently ties are also banned.

It is often the little things that reveal the big things. Iran is currently cranking out laws that are intended (supposedly) to fight Western and un-Islamic influences. These laws, at first glance, seem like little things. In fact, these laws seem like parodies of law. However, they are quite serious and reveal some significant truths about Iran.

The current laws include rules against men wearing necklaces and women wearing scarves that are too loose, overcoats that are too tight, and pants that are too short. These rules are, of course, reminiscent of the dress codes of some strict schools and, as such, the laws treat the citizens of Iran as if they were bad children.

There is even a law planned to ban dog ownership dogs apparently present a dire cultural threat to Iran. As the Iranian leadership seems to see it, Iranians want dogs not because humans like dogs and have partnered with dogs almost since humans have been around. Rather, they want dogs so they can imitate Westerners. While this might be true in some cases, I am reasonably confident in my claim that dog ownership is not an exclusively Western thing and that it dates back long before the rise of the West. I am also fairly confident in claiming that people often own dogs simply because they like them. Then again, maybe I am saying this merely because I am part of the Western Dog Conspiracy to spread western canine (preferably husky) dominance throughout the world.

Oddly enough, there are no laws aimed at ridding Iran of Western inventions such as the automobile, the airplane, computers, vaccines, phones, television, machine guns, or nuclear weapons. This seems to be a serious oversight. After all, if Western necklaces are a grave threat to Iran, one can only imagine the dangers posed by all that Western technology.

As far as the big things behind these little things, these laws give the regime an excuse to send over 70,000 “moral police” into action. This enables the regime to launch a campaign of intimidation under the guise of defending the citizens from Western influences. This strongly suggests that the rulers of Iran are rather worried that their hold is weakening and that they believe they need to crack down on the people, so as to prolong their time in power.

History shows that the boot can keep some people in line all the time. It can keep all of the people in line some of the time. But it cannot keep all the people in line all the time. At some point, the people grow weary of that boot pushing their faces into the ground and they rise up against their “leaders.” It is, I suspect, merely a matter of time before Iran has another revolution. It will probably be bloody and awful-tyrants do not yield their thrones lightly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“It’s not only about clamping down on clothing, but they are spreading panic and fear by sending out this much of police into the streets under the name of this plan, to control the society. It’s unbelievable to see a regime that is not only concerned about its own survival, but it goes into your personal life and interferes in that,” one resident told the paper.

 

 

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France’s Burqa Ban

Posted in Ethics, Law, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on April 12, 2011
Women wearing burqas in the street

Image via Wikipedia

France imposed its “burqa ban” yesterday. This law does not, of course, specifically ban burqas. Rather, it bans people from covering their faces (presumably mimes get a special exemption). However, it is understood that the law is, in fact, specifically targeting Muslim women.  Interestingly enough, Muslim women in France generally do not wear burqas. Rather, they tend to wear the niqab. There are also relative few Muslim women in France who engage in the practice at all.

The main motivation for the law seems to be Sarkozy’s desire to do something to improve his dismal approval ratings. By appearing tough on Muslims he, perhaps, can counter the growing appeal of the right. His military adventures in Libya also seem calculated to that end.  Obviously enough, this reason hardly justifies the law.

The main stated justification for the law is that it is intended to protect Muslim women from oppression. The idea seems to be that Muslim men in France force women to wear the veil. As such, it is a sign of male oppression. This line of reasoning has been used to win over support on the left in France.

This does have some appeal. After all, Islam does not have the best track record when it comes to the treatment of women. It is also the case that some Muslim women are forced to cover themselves against their wills.

However, the law does not  merely forbid forcing women to cover up. Rather, it also outlaws appearing in public while covered. While the fine and jail sentences for forcing someone to cover up are greater than those to be imposed on those who are caught covered up, it seems reasonable to question the claim that this law is aimed at protecting women from oppression. A law aimed at protecting women would, it seem, only punish those who forced women to cover up. Women who freely chose to cover themselves should, one would imagine, be exempt from such punishment. After all, a person who chooses to dress in a certain way would not seem to be the victim of oppression-even if others might not approve of her choice.

While many Westerners probably assume that Muslim women must all be forced to cover up, this is not the case. Some women apparently do this by choice and regard the right to do so as protected by the Western notion of freedom. While some might be skeptical about whether the choice is actually free, it does not seem unreasonable that some women would, in fact, freely decide to cover up in this way. After all, if some women are willing to freely expose lots of flesh in public, then it seems no less unusual that some woman would want to cover up much more.

Some people might argue that women who cover up too much and those that cover up too little are all victims of male oppression and are not really making free choices. While it is reasonable to believe that social and cultural factors impact dressing behavior, it seems unreasonably to claim that all these women are incapable of choice and are mere victims of the patriarchy. In any case, to force someone to dress or not dress a certain way because of some ideology about the patriarchy would also seem to be oppressive as well.

It might also be argued that just as there are laws against being completely naked in public, there should also be laws against being completely covered. After all, a woman cannot walk the streets of France with only her eyes covered, so why should a woman be allowed to do so with only her eyes exposed? Both, it could be argued, create public distractions and violate the general sense of proper dress.

While this might have some appeal, this justification would require having laws against anything that created a distraction and anything that went against the general sense of proper dress. This, one might suspect, would justify a far too broad range of laws.

As a final point, there is also the religious aspect. While many scholars of Islam contend that covering up is not actually required by the faith, this mode of dress does seem to be an expression of faith. To ban it would thus seem on par with banning Orthodox Jews and Catholic nuns from wearing their distinctive clothing in public. Such bans would clearly be attacks on religious freedom and hence the ban in France should also be regarded as such.

While I am not religious, I do recognize the importance of the freedom of faith and its expression. While there can be legitimate grounds for limiting such expressions (like banning human sacrifices), when a practice does not create harm, then there seems to be no real ground for banning it. As such, the ban in France seems to be completely unjustified and also an infringement of both the freedom of choice and the freedom of religion.

While some might point out that some Muslim countries do not allow such freedoms, my easy and obvious reply is that these countries are in the wrong and we should certainly not want to be like them.

(Shameless self promotion: 42 Fallacies)

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A Threat or Not?

Posted in Philosophy, Politics, Reasoning/Logic by Michael LaBossiere on September 14, 2010
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld answers a...
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Feisal Rauf recently appeared on Larry King Live to discuss the matter of the “Ground Zero Mosque.” In the course of the interview he noted that “if you don’t do this right, anger will explode in the Muslim world.” Some folks are taking this as a threat of violence. Not surprisingly, this is the view being pushed by the fine folks at Fox. However, it is reasonable to ask whether or not this is a threat.

Since some folks use fear as a tool it is tempting to question their sincerity in taking his remarks as threats. However, whether people see something as a threat or not can be a rather subjective matter. As such, let it be assumed that these claims are sincere: the folks who see it is a threat actually believe they are being threatened. Of course, feeling threatened and actually being threatened are too different things. This is similar to situations involving offense-a person might regard himself as offended when no offense was intended and it would be unreasonable to be offended.

To determine whether Rauf was making a threat or not involves considering what he actually said and what it reasonably implied. This is rather similar to analyzing an explanation that some people take as a justification. An explanation merely provides an account of how and why something occurred. A justification, in contrast, actually involves contending that it was good or at least acceptable. For example, someone might explain why 9/11 occurred in terms of factors such as religion, history, and politics without defending the attack. This might be seen by the uncritical as an attempt at  justification, but it would not, in fact, be such a thing.

Returning to the main topic of whether his remark was a threat or not, the most reasonable interpretation is that he was issuing a warning rather than a threat. Of course, it is easy to confuse the two since both share a common form. To be specific, a threat and a warning both involve saying that if X occurs, then something bad will happen because of X. However, the difference lies in the intent. When someone is warned, the intent is a positive one-to help the person avoid a harm. A warning implies a degree of concern for those warned and the main intent is not to prevent X but to prevent the harm. After all, if I were to warn you not to touch a wire because you would get zapped, but you informed me you had turned off the power, then I would have no worry about you touching the wire.

When a threat is made, the intent is a negative one-to use fear to persuade others not to take the action. The main goal is not to prevent the harm but to deter others from doing X. As such, the person making the threat is not concerned with the well being of those being threatened but with getting them to do (or not do) what he wants on the basis of the threat.

In the case of Rauf’s remark, it does not seem to be a threat. Rather, he seems to be presenting a warning that if the community center is stopped, then this will have a negative impact on American relations and interests. As such, he seems to be motivated by a desire that America and Americans avoid a potential harm. It does not appear that he is presenting a potential harm in order to coerce people into doing what he wants.

It might be argued that Rauf is cleverly masking his threat behind the mask of warning and that he secretly wishes America ill. However, an appeal to secret motivations is hardly an effective basis for proof.

Giving what Rauf has actually said, he seems to be presenting a warning that is aimed at protecting America from potential harm rather than making a threat to get what he wants.

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Burning Books & Building Mosques

Posted in Law, Philosophy, Politics, Religion by Michael LaBossiere on September 11, 2010
Front of the Quran
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9/11 marks the anniversary of the most destructive terrorist attack on America.  While this date is often marked with solemn events in memory of the dead, a pastor in my adopted state of Florida (I’m from Maine) had planned to hold a Quaran burning on this day. Oddly enough, he has also claimed that only the radicals would be against burning the Quran.

Government and military officials in the United States had tried to encourage the pastor to cancel his event. The main reasons were that this action will harm America’s relationship with Muslims and that it will put American forces in danger. Of course, the officials do agree that the pastor had the right to take this action on the basis of the right to free expression.

Not surprisingly, the people who are opposed to the mosque that is supposed to be constructed near ground zero were quick to argue that the two situations are analogous. The gist of the analogy is that while people have a right to build a mosque near ground zero (just as they have a right to burn the Quran), they should not do so (just as people should not burn the Quran).  This does have a certain appeal. After all, if the fact that burning the Quran will antagonize Muslims means that it should not be burned, then it would seem to also be the case that the mosque should not be built because it will antagonize people. Some might even go so far as to say that the mosque should not be built so as to avoid violence against Muslims (just as the Quran should not be burned to avoid an increase in violence against American soldiers).

Perhaps the two situations are analogous and both fall under a single principle: actions should not be taken that will damage relations and lead to increased violence. In the case of burning the Quran, this would certainly seem to damage relations with Muslims and also incite some Muslims to seek vengeance by attacking people (most likely those who have no significant connection to those burning the books). In the case of the mosque, its construction will damage relations between some Americans and Muslims and might well lead to violence against Muslims. As such, if the Quran should not be burned, then the mosque should not be built near ground zero (and vice versa).

Of course, accepting a principle that we should be, in effect, hostage to those who are willing to engage in violence in response to what they do not like does not seem very appealing (whether the violence is in response to a book burning or a mosque building).

However, perhaps the two situations are different in a key way that breaks the analogy. In both cases, people are (or will be) very angry. In both cases, people wish to act on the basis of established freedoms (religion in one case, expression in the other). However, there seems to be an important distinction between building a mosque and burning the Quran. To be specific, building the mosque does not seem to be intended as an insult against the victims of 9/11 (some of whom were Muslim). After all, the Pentagon has a non-denominational chapel (dedicated to those killed at the Pentagon and on the plane that hit it) where Muslims hold prayer services and this was never taken as an insult. As such, it seems odd to take the mosque as an intentional insult against those who feel insulted. In contrast, burning the Quran as part of a 9/11 event can really only be taken as an insult and an attack on the faith. It would also be especially insulting to the Muslims who were murdered in the attack.

It might be replied that the builders of the mosque secretly intend to insult those who are insulted by its construction. However, this claim would seem to be based on equally secret evidence. Obviously enough, the fact that some people feel insulted by it hardly counts as evidence for such an intention on the part of those who plan to build the mosque. Until evidence of such intent is forthcoming, it seems reasonable to accept that the builders did not intend to insult anyone.

There is also the question of who the mosque is supposed to be insulting. After all, it cannot be an insult against the Muslims who were murdered by their fellow Muslims. It also cannot be an insult against the victims who believed in freedom of religion. Overall, it seems mainly to be an insult against those who see themselves as insulted by it. However, they seem to have little right to be insulted by this mosque.

Thus, there seems to be a possible relevant difference between the two situations. In the case of the mosque, those behind the project seem to have no intent to insult anyone and these seems to be no clearly defined victim of the alleged insult, other than those who see themselves as insulted. In the case of the book burning, that seems to involve a clear intent to attack the faith and it seems reasonable for people to consider such an action as an insult and an attack. This does not, however, mean that they would be justified in responding with violence.

To use another analogy, the mosque situation seems to be like a case in which someone is rationally talking about a subject that some might take issue with (such as arguing for or against same sex marriage) and the Quran burning situation seems to be like a white person repeatedly saying the N-word to African Americans. While both are covered by the freedom expression, it is unreasonable to take offense with the first situation but quite reasonable to take offense in the second. It also seems reasonable to think that people should not say racist things, even though they have the right to do so.

If this line of reasoning is plausible, then the mosque should be allowed while the Pastor should not engage in his book burning (despite having the right to do so). As such, it is good that he decided to cancel the event.

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Burning the Quran

Posted in Ethics, Law, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on September 8, 2010

With 9/11 approaching, it is hardly surprising that there has been an increase in anti-Muslim sentiments. In some cases, specific events have been planned to express this view. As one example, a pastor in Florida has been considering burning Qurans. As one might expect, the government and the military are encouraging people to not engage in such activities. After all, these incidents seem to provide groups like the Taliban with propaganda gold and can lead directly to an upswing in violence against American troops.

Obviously enough, people have the legal and moral right to express their dislike of Islam and Muslims, provided that such expressions do not extend to actual violence. As such, the pastor is well within his rights to burn Qurans. He can even BBQ pork over the burning books, should he so desire. Likewise, people who dislike Christianity have the right to burn bibles.

Of course, having the right to do something does not entail that it should be done. It even does not entail that the action is morally right. For example, a person has the right to say mean things to other people. However, this does not entail that we should say mean things nor does it entail that it is morally right.

As the government and military spokespeople have pointed out, these sort of incidents do not help our relations with Muslims and do put American soldiers in greater danger. As such, people who intend to take such actions should consider the practical consequences as well as the moral implications. Since it seems that no real good can come from burning Qurans, it seems reasonable to think that people should not do this, even though they have the right to do so.

There is also the matter of treating others as we would like to be treated, as per the Golden Rule. I infer that the pastor would not be pleased with people burning bibles on the anniversaries  of various misdeeds committed in the name of Christianity. As such, he should consider how Muslims will feel and what they will think when they hear that their holy book is being burned.

It might be replied that as Americans we should not be held hostage by how people in other countries will react. For example, the fact that American women are allowed to go around with their skin exposed and are allowed to drive and go to school no doubt upsets and angers some people. However, it hardly follows that we should change our behavior to suit them-even if this means that we are at greater risk of attack.

That is, of course, a reasonable reply. However, there seems to be an important distinction between these sorts of cases. To expect us to oppress our women to appease certain people is to expect us to engage in immoral actions. To expect us to not burn Qurans is simply to expect us to show a reasonable degree of respect to the religion and hardly seems to be too much to ask.

But, someone might reply, those people who will be angry about Americans lighting up the Quran probably include people who burn American flags. So, we should burn their book.

The obvious reply is that two wrongs do not make a right. If burning our flag is wrong, then it would seem that burning their book would be wrong as well. Also, of course, there are American Muslims-so we would be burning our own book. In any case, burning things that are important to people hardly seems to be an effective way of making the world a better place.

My overall view is that people have the right to burn Qurans (or bibles). However, they should consider the consequences of their actions and also consider what they would think about someone burning something important to them.

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The Belief Obama is a Muslim

Posted in Philosophy, Politics, Reasoning/Logic by Michael LaBossiere on August 26, 2010

Belief is an interesting thing. When people are being rational, they believe in proportion to the evidence and in accord with its strength. When people are being irrational, they believe whatever they happen to feel strongly about. Good reasons and bad reasons matter not, all one needs is to feel it strongly enough.

One excellent example of this is shown by a recent Pew Research center poll. While there has been no new evidence for the claim that Obama is a Muslin, there has been a significant change in the percentage of people who believe that he is a Muslim and not a Christian. As shown in the Pew results (above) only 34% of those polled think he is Christian while 18% think he is Muslim. 43% now claim to not know his religion.

Another interesting bit of information is the fact that 31% of Republicans apparently believe that Obama is a Muslim.

As far as his faith goes, only he truly knows what he believes. However, as far as external evidence, there seems to be about as much evidence to believe that he is a Christian as there is for most people who claim to be Christians. After all, he goes to church occasionally, he claims to be a Christian, and he mentions God from time to time. He is clearly not, as some might say, a “Super Jesus” Christian.

As far as his being a Muslim, there seems to be no real evidence for this claim. No evidence of his being a member of a mosque, no profession of belief, no following of specific Muslim doctrines, and so on. While he has said nice things about Islam and has acted in ways to improve relations between the United States and Muslim countries, this hardly counts as evidence that he is a Muslim. After all, many Christians have said nice things about Islam and have worked to improve relations between the faiths. So, if he is a Muslim, then he is certainly a very secret Muslim.

Of course, that might be exactly what some people believe-that Obama is concealing his true faith under the guise of Christianity. The obvious concern is, of course, how did such people pierce his disguise and what evidence do they have of his true faith?

What I suspect is that they have nothing that would pass muster as evidence. Instead, the change in what people think is based on how they feel about Obama rather than any plausible evidence that supports the claim that he is a Muslim. As noted above, 31% of Republicans believe Obama is a Muslim. This seems to indicate that the belief is not based on evidence but on the political views of the believers. Of course, it could be countered that the Democrats fail to see evidence because of their own bias. But, then how does one explain that fact that most Republicans do not believe that he is Muslim? The best explanation, I think, is that he is not a Muslim.

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