This is a recent 10 minute debate I saw on Youtube that annoyed me. In summary, Ben Affleck and the guys to the right of Bill Maher argue that it’s unethical to ostracize an entire religion because of the insane actions of a few people. Bill Maher and Sam Harris are the ones who are arguing against them by saying that a large group of Muslims, even though not extremist, hold extremely immoral stances on issues like homosexuality, abortion, and women.
What bothered me was that they weren’t arguing about the same thing. Affleck was expressing a good point, you should never condemn an entire religion because of the actions of a few of its members. That would be like condemning the practice of medicine because of the malpractice of a few doctors. But there is fundamentally a growing problem, and that is extremism. It’s growing rapidly and powerfully in the Middle East, and as someone who was living there, I’ve seen just how wide spread it’s become.
The reasons are many, and many political commentators will have their own justifications for this rise of terrorism, but the fundamental issue is that there is something that needs to urgently be addressed. Maher and Harris have built careers by criticizing religion. It’s their job. They don’t like what religion stands for, and they don’t like that it’s a dominating and influential force today. Any event or story that exhibits the dangers of religious extremism comes as another argument for their case. It’s a classical case of selection bias. These guys prey on these events, but their comments can be somewhat misleading.
While Islamic fundamentalism is a problem, Islam isn’t. There are many Islamic countries that do not engage in violence, and that is really a case in point. Extremism is created by religious leaders in a region abrupt with turmoil and violence, in a region that is the perfect melting pot for fundamentalism to thrive and grow.
Say you have two chemicals, the first is called ‘chemical A’ and the second, ‘chemical B’. If you pour chemical A into a container, nothing will happen. If you then pour chemical B on top of it, you’ll get an explosion equivalent to that of a nuclear bomb. The metaphor here is obvious.
Harris explained that if you think of Islam in terms of overlapping circles, you’d get the guys blowing themselves up in the core, the guys who think that’s cool but won’t do it themselves just outside the core, and the guys who aren’t cool with the blowing up bit, but love to discriminate against women and homosexuals. I think what he’s saying is mostly true, but he also said that these factions combined make up around 20 percent of the Islamic population, and that’s probably accurate as well.
So what does this all mean? You’ve got 20 percent of an entire religion that’s the second largest in the world (a few hundred million people) who are to most people’s standards, immoral. Should we condemn the entire religion? In other words, if I said that 1 in 5 police officers accepted bribes at some points during their careers, would that mean that all cops are corrupt? Obviously not.
And I suspect that Maher and Harris know that, yet they side step the issue as if they’re answering a completely different question. In summary, yes, there is a growing problem in the world and it’s religious extremism, and a lot of innocent people will lose their lives because of it. Does this mean that we should condemn all Muslims? Of course not, and I doubt any sane person would argue that.