Chances of being Killed in a Jihad Attack

The Cato Institute has presented helpful data estimating the annual chance of being killed by jihadists in Belgium, France, Germany, Sweden and the United Kingdom, as compared to in the United States. Though I think these analysts are a bit blasé about Islamic terrorism being a “manageable threat”, I agree that it’s important to keep perspective. Even in the highest-risk country (the UK), according to this analysis, your annual chances of being killed by a jihadist are woefully slim.

Over a year ago I explained the opposite problem, how the media downplays the jihad threat by misusing statistics and making pseudo-comparisons to other forms of terrorism to create a false impression that there is some ideological movement and threat equivalent to that of Islamic jihad. In fact there is no global “right-wing extremist,” “white male Christian”, or such equivalent threat in the same numbers or backed by a mainstream ideology. The reason why there are so many jihad terrorists is because their activities are required by Islamic law which derives in turn from very plausible readings of the Qur’an, Sira, and Hadith. And yet for all the routinely active jihadists, we should take some consolation from the following statistics from Cato, and not fall into fear-mongering.


Table 1: Fatalities and Annual Chance of Dying in a Terrorist Attack, 1975–June 20th, 2017


Annual Chance of Dying

United Kingdom


1 in 964,531



1 in 6,936,545



1 in 4,984,301



1 in 19,001,835



1 in 23,234,378

United States


1 in 3,241,363


Table 2: Annual Chance of Dying in a Terrorist Attack by Period

Annual Chance of Dying in a Terrorist Attack



United States

1 in 19,767,153

1 in 1,602,021


1 in 6,059,061

1 in 4,006,878


1 in 9,611,873

1 in 4,373,511

United Kingdom

1 in 590,389

1 in 8,796,562


1 in 22,145,655

1 in 15,858,016

United States (exc. 9/11)

1 in 19,767,153

1 in 19,772,468


1 in 17,338,091

1 in 47,429,484

“The Five Ways Donald Trump is Wrong about Islam”

Foreign Policy magazine has an article called The Five Ways Donald Trump is Wrong about Islam. Granting that Trump is awful on the subject, this article has a few problems of its own. Let’s go through the five points, all of which are aimed at refuting the idea that the Muslim world poses a threat to the United States.

(1) The Balance of Power is Overwhelmingly in Our Favor. The Muslim world is weaker than we are. This is why foreign powers have intervened in Muslim-majority countries repeatedly over the past couple of centuries, while the reverse hasn’t occurred since the siege of Vienna in 1529. Not once.

Agreed. No problem here.

(2) Islam is Deeply Divided. The Islamic world is more disunited today than at any time in recent memory. It is divided among many different states, and many of those states (e.g., Iran and Saudi Arabia, or Turkey and Syria) don’t get along. There are vast geographic and cultural differences between Indonesia and countries like Yemen or Morocco or Saudi Arabia. There’s also the core division between the Sunnis and the Shiites, not to mention a number of other minor schisms between various Islamic offshoots.

This is mostly a non-sequitur. Islam has been deeply divided since time immemorial, and even in times of fragmentation the Islamic world has waged war abroad as they carry out sectarian strife. So no, this isn’t really a good argument.

(3) Terrorism is not that Big a Threat. We live in a world where lots of bad things can happen. You might get into a car accident. You could get cancer. You could mishandle a power tool and injure yourself severely. You may fall off a ladder, slip in a bathtub, or be in the wrong place at the wrong time and end up stopping a stray bullet. Or maybe, just maybe, you might find yourself imperiled by a radical Islamic extremist. You wouldn’t know it if you listened to Trump, to CNN, to Fox News, or to most of our politicians, but that last danger is miniscule. Not zero, but really, really small. We’ve been obsessed with terrorism ever since 9/11 but the reality is that the risk it poses is way, way, way down the list of possible harms that might befall us.

Agreed. Or as I said in last year’s post, “Even though I am more likely to get killed by a jihadist than a Christian extremist, I am still, for example, 1904 times more likely to get killed in a car accident driving to work in the morning, 452 times more likely to die from risky sexual behavior, and just as likely to be crushed to death by moving heavy furniture around my home.” Risk is built into our everyday lives. It’s true that jihad terrorists exist in numbers that are more disproportionate than Leftists acknowledge, and they are routinely active by the thousands on a daily basis. But your odds of being nailed by a jihadist (in America) are still woefully slim. From that perspective, Trump and Bannon are fear-mongers.

(4) “Creeping Sharia” is a Fairy Tale. The supposed danger is the slow infiltration of our society by foreigners who refuse to assimilate and who will eventually try to impose their alien values on us. If we’re not ceaselessly vigilant, we are told, someday our daughters will be wearing hijabs and we’ll all be praying to Mecca. This anxiety almost sounds right out of Dr. Strangelove. There is simply no evidence of “creeping Sharia” here in the United States, and no risk of it occurring in the future.

Creeping sharia is actually quite real, as the case of Europe has been proving, and there could be a risk of the U.S. becoming more problematic as time goes on. Admittedly I don’t see this happening in the near future, so I can concede the point. But this is a poorly stated opinion.

(5) The “Clash of Civilizations” is a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy. The final reason to reject Bannon and company’s depiction of a vast and looming Muslim threat to us is that this worldview encourages us to act in ways that make the problem worse instead of better. If U.S. leaders keep (a) demonizing an entire religion, (b) impose ill-considered bans on Muslim refugees, and most important of all, (c) continue to intervene throughout the Arab and Islamic world with military force, they will convince more and more people that Osama bin Laden, Khalid Sheikh Muhammed and Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi were right when they claimed the West had “declared war” on their religion. The mountain of evidence shows that anti-Americanism in the Muslim world is overwhelmingly a response to U.S. policy, and not because they “hate our freedoms”.

This statement is true and false. Let’s break it down into the three parts:

(a) First is the question of Islam as a religion, which this article gets wrong. It’s not the religion of Islam that we should be trying to protect from being demonized. No idea or philosophy or religion is beyond being put through the shredder if it deserves to be. It is Muslim people, rather, whom we should not demonize. (That’s why “Islamophobia” is a propagandist term; the proper term is anti-Muslim bigotry.) We should be criticizing Islam with integrity and without apology, as Muslim reformers like Maajid Nawaz and Asra Nomani are doing. It is Leftists and members of the Muslim community who demonize these proactive heroes who belong in the hall of shame.

(b) Second is the question of the Muslim bans, which this article gets right. Trump’s moratoriums (“bans”) are ill-considered, counter-productive, and not justifiable in the interest of security. He should never have signed them.

(c) Third is the question of our military interventions, which this article gets half-right and half-wrong. It’s true that our war-mongering in the Middle-East is much to blame in exacerbating the problem of jihad terror and turning the jihadist ire on us. In that sense, the anti-Americanism in the Muslim world owes to our interventionist policies. Unfortunately this fuels the myth that jihadist terror wouldn’t exist if not for western war-mongering and/or imperialism. That’s not true. The Islamic world has been expansionist and war-driven since the seventh century, and Muhammad is the jihad exemplar. Thomas Jefferson found this out when the Barbary States attacked innocent American ships and took slaves — in the days long before “American foreign policy” existed. When he asked the Muslims why they attacked, the response of the Barbary pirates was the same as that of al-Qaeda leaders today: Muhammad’s eternal command is to wage war on infidels, and to bring them under caliphate rule. In other words, while our misadventures in the Muslim world have made us a hot target for jihad — and irresponsibly so — the jihad imperative exists regardless of what any nation does to provoke it. The command for Muslims to wage war remains mandatory in all four schools of Islamic jurisprudence, and that’s why Islam needs a reform.

“God is all for immigration”: A fundamentalist-Bible proof

hqdefaultOver ten years ago, Pastor Steven Anderson proved from the bible that God is all for immigration (May 7, 2006). It’s interesting that this sermon is being recirculated online in view of the current “Muslim ban”, which deserves a few comments before getting to Anderson’s argument.

Some are defending Trump’s executive order by noting that it isn’t really a ban on Muslims entering the country, but only a moratorium (temporary halt) on immigration from seven particular jihadist hotspots. While that is correct, it’s not the most compelling justification, given that Saudia Arabia isn’t on the list, even though it spends millions of dollars promoting jihadist warfare all over the world, and even though most of the 9/11 hijackers came from there. Not a single American has been killed by a citizen of any of the seven banned countries in 40 years, so the question is why do we need a moratorium for proper vetting to occur?

On the other hand, Trump’s critics aren’t always on the ball. Their claim that places like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Lebanon were excluded from the order because of Trump’s business interests is highly questionable. The list of seven countries was established in laws signed by Obama in the last two years, and Trump’s executive order does not even list the seven countries by name except (obviously) Syria. It simply refers to the “countries referred to in section 217(a)(12) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1187(a)(12).” All Trump did was lift a preexisting template. I’m not saying it’s a good one, and I don’t support a moratorium in any case — not even against a place like Saudi Arabia. It’s just not a proper way of dealing with refugee plights, and I believe it’s also an ineffective counter to the (very real) jihad threat. But let’s not spin-doctor Trump’s motives either.

On to Anderson’s sermon…

The sermon is noteworthy because Anderson is a renowned hate-preacher (at least when it comes to gay people) and he is so hardcore in his fundamentalist beliefs that he has been disowned by most other fundies. So when he goes out of his way to condemn Donald Trump as an “abomination to the Lord”, and that anyone who supports Donald Trump is “wicked as hell” (see here), and on top of that defends the rights of immigrants in the eyes of God, with assertions that Muslims or anyone else should be able to come and practice their religion in the U.S. without any governmental interference — well, that’s rather saying something.

Here is his biblical proof:

**** God is all for immigration****. “Everyone in America is an immigrant,” says Anderson, “except for the Native American Indians,” and so anyone opposing immigration sets themselves against God’s will. Against those who say that the less people we have, the better off we are, God’s wisdom says that the more people we have, the better off we are (Proverbs 14:28). God, moreover, specifically tells his followers to welcome and love the immigrant:

  • “The stranger (immigrant) that dwells with you shall be as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:34).
  • “You shall neither vex a stranger nor oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 22:21; cf.23:9; Leviticus 19:33).
  • Ruth wondered why she should receive grace, given that she was an immigrant from Moab. Yet Boaz took care of her anyway, and told others to treat her well. (Ruth 2:10-16)

Anderson offers the following caveats:

1. Immigrants must obey the laws of the land. God, in other words, doesn’t approve illegal immigration. Natives and immigrants are bound by the same laws: “You shall have one manner of law, as well for the stranger as for one of your own country” (Leviticus 24:22). No double standards are allowed.

2. Immigrants must learn the language of the land. Anderson appeals to the example of Nehemiah, who went ballistic over immigrants who couldn’t speak native Hebrew: “I saw Jews who had married women of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab; and half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod, and they could not speak the language of Judah. And I contended with them and cursed them and beat some of them and pulled out their hair; and I made them take oath in the name of God, saying, ‘You shall not give your daughters to their sons, or take their daughters for your sons or for yourselves.'” (Nehemiah 13:23-25)

3. Immigrants can practice their religion, but they must respect the religion of the land. Anderson is a staunch libertarian: “Immigrants should have freedom of religion, and to practice whatever religion they want. If they want to be a Muslim, that’s fine. God bless them, I don’t want them to be forced to be a Christian, I’m totally against that. I’m 100% for religious freedom.” But he also believes they must respect Christianity in the way immigrants had to respect the Israelite faith in Old Testament times: “When they start blaspheming the religion of the land, they cross the line (Leviticus 24:16). They can practice whatever religion they want, but they have no right to come here and badmouth the religion of the land, or to try and change it.”

Anderson says, “I’m probably the most non-racist person you’ve ever laid eyes on in your life. I’m not racist at all. If half of this nation was Hispanic, or if 75% of this nation was Hispanic, or if 99% was Hispanic, or black, or anything, I would be thrilled. But what I’m against is when they say, ‘I don’t want to be like an American with freedom. I want to bring my culture and my language and change your country, so it can be like the hell-hole that I came from.'”

That last may not be the most diplomatic way of putting it, but for a fundamentalist of Anderson’s stripe, his biblical case for immigration is, on whole, rather impressive. I certainly wouldn’t object to hearing it preached from more pulpits across the nation.

Robert Spencer’s manufactured dispute with Sam Harris

spencer-harrisRobert Spencer of Jihad Watch claims that Sam Harris has “lost his nerve” and is no longer opposed to Islamic supremacism in any meaningful way. This is frankly bullshit, and Harris has responded appropriately, to which Spencer replied in turn. Read the interchange here.

Spencer is not impressed by Harris’s association with Maajid Nawaz (in the photo to the right), which is unfortunate since Nawaz is just what we need today: a Muslim believer who has been pushing for reform in the Islamic world. But the part I want to focus on is the presidential election. Spencer grounds much of his grievance in Harris’ support for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. This despite the fact that Harris (as  mentioned in his reply to Spencer) has called out Hillary for her (and Obama’s) woefully inadequate policies which enable jihad.

But it’s worse than that. Not only does Sam Harris agree more than disagree with Robert Spencer on the subject of Hillary Clinton, Robert Spencer agrees more than disagrees with Sam Harris on the subject of Donald Trump. Or at least he used to. In the past he has excoriated Trump as strongly as Harris has. This, for example, is what he said last December:

“I will never support Trump for President, even were he to knock on my door, get on one knee, and ask for my vote. I could never support a candidate who advocates kowtowing to violent intimidation and submitting to the Islamic supremacist war against the freedom of speech, as he did after the jihad attack on our event in Garland, Texas.” (Robert Spencer, Jihad Watch.)

Here’s another:

“Donald Trump shows here that he is a very, very frightening candidate: he would restrict the freedom of speech as part of some attempt to deal with the jihad threat: in other words, he would have us give up our freedom in exchange for security… Trump is just the sort of shoot-from-the-hip blowhard demagogue who could administer the coup de grace to a system of freedom that is already staggering under body blows given to it for nearly seven years by Barack Obama.” (Robert Spencer, Jihad Watch)

Please note that I’m not faulting Spencer for changing his mind and voting for Trump. Anyone can change their mind. I changed my mind. I had intended to vote third party, but in the week before the election made a Facebook call advising everyone to vote for Hillary Clinton, given how close Trump was closing in on the polls. Anyone can change their mind, and that’s fine. Again: I am not criticizing Spencer for changing his mind.

My point is rather that for someone who said only last year that he would “never support Trump for President, even were he to knock on my door, get on one knee, and ask for my vote”, and then now decides to make a big issue over Sam Harris’s decision to not vote for Donald Trump (as Spencer himself said he wouldn’t) — that’s a fucking hypocrisy way off the scales.

It’s even worse than that. Not only has Harris called out Hillary Clinton (and Obama) repeatedly for their inadequacies, he went so far as to say that he could have conceivably voted for Donald Trump, if essentially he were a single-issue voter. This is what he said in an interview on the Rubin Report:

“If I was just concerned about terrorism, and then I saw Clinton and Obama not making any sense in the aftermath of something like Orlando, and then defending that obscurantism with a sanctimonious and bullying speech [Obama’s speech, in which he refused to acknowledge Islam as the major factor which drove the Orlando shooter]… If I just had that to go on, then I could see voting for Trump.” (Sam Harris, “Liberals have made Trump possible”, (3:53-5:17))

So not only do we have (a) Robert Spencer swearing he will never vote for Trump, but then does, we have (b) Sam Harris admitting that if he screened out all other issues he weighs in assessing presidential candidates, and just focused on Islam and the problem of global jihad, he could conceivably vote for Trump. The difference is that Sam Harris (like me) isn’t a single-issue voter. Robert Spencer is.

It’s clear that Spencer has manufactured a dispute with Harris, and they are far more alike than different. It’s bad enough that we have to move mountains in order to convince leftists how wrong they are on this subject. Fabricating disagreements like this doesn’t help. Harris’ reply to Spencer is bang-on. At the same time, I commend both Robert Spencer and Sam Harris equally for debating cordially with each other. This is how discussions should proceed between the right and left.

Reading Roundup: 2016

This was a really good year for books. Read all of these if you can make time.

mythandalusianparadise_frontcover_final1. The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise, Dario Fernandez-Morera. If you can only make time for one book on my list, pick this one. It’s a milestone in putting to bed the biggest academic myth of our time, and comes from a Harvard scholar, the last place you’d expect on this subject. We’ve been taught that Muslims, Christians, and Jews co-existed fruitfully under an enlightened Islamic hegemony in medieval Spain, where the reality is the opposite. Christians and Jews were treated horribly under Islam. As dhimmis they were subject to degrading laws that made life barely tolerable. Medieval Spain was a society in which the abuse of non-Muslims, slaves, and women was written into law and sanctified by holy writ. Even at its most prosperous the Caliphate of Cordoba was never a tolerant or humane society. None of this should be controversial, but university presses are a bit paralyzed; they want to avoid the charge of “Islamophobia” and so present Islamic domination (of even centuries ago) as relatively benign. The idea of Christian dhimmis being content under Islamic rule is as much a fantasy as that of American blacks happy as slaves in the antebellum south since their masters made them “part of their family”. Had there been no Islamic conquest, and Visigoth Spain was left to grow and interact with eastern Christianity, the Renaissance would have happened much sooner.

marginal2. A Marginal Jew: Probing the Authenticity of the Parables, John Meier. If Meier is right, and unfortunately I think he is, then the parables aren’t the guaranteed voice of Jesus. Of the 32 stories, we can salvage perhaps four — yes, only four — with confidence: The Mustard Seed (God’s rule was already at work in human activity, and however small that seemed now, it would bear fruit on a huge scale in the end), the Great Supper (a warning that one’s place in the kingdom can be taken by those who never had any right to it), the Talents (along with sovereign grace and reward comes the possibility of being condemned in hell for refusing God’s demands contained in his gifts), and the Wicked Tenants (Jesus knew what awaited him if he confronted the Jerusalem authorities, and he accepted a destiny of irreversible martyrdom). All other parables, even the long-standing cherished ones — The Good Samaritan, The Prodigal Son, The Leaven, The Sower, The Seed Growing Secretly, The Laborers in the Vineyard, The Unmerciful Servant, The Shrewd Manager, The Pharisee and the Toll Collector, The Unjust Judge, The Friend at Midnight, The Rich Fool, The Rich Man and Lazarus — either shout a later creation, or can at best be judged indeterminate. Meier shows that the dominant view is a house of cards: there is no warrant for giving the parables pride of place in the teachings of Jesus. Full review here.

moh_and_cha_revisited3. Mohammed and Charlemagne Revisited: The History of a Controversy, Emmet Scott. The premise of this book is that without Muhammad, Charlemagne would have been inconceivable. Meaning that if not for the Islamic invasions of the seventh century, the medieval world as we know it would not have appeared. There would have been no “Holy” Roman Empire, and Western Europe would have remained fairly Roman under the continued influence and communication from Constantinople. The Viking raids wouldn’t have occurred, nor would there have been crusades or inquisitions. Without the Islamic example of slavery, contact with Indians in the new world may have unfolded differently, not to mention Europe’s relations with sub-Saharan Africa. That was Henri Pirenne’s thesis 80 years ago, and Scott improves on it with special attention to the archaeological record. It’s clear that the barbarian invaders weren’t mindless destroyers or ineffectual hold-outs, but rather they adopted Roman civilization to the extent that classical culture not only thrived but revived over against the deterioration of the third-fifth centuries. This state of affairs wouldn’t change until the second quarter of the seventh century, with the jihad invasions of the East, Middle-East, and North Africa. And from the ravages of Islam would rise Charlemagne’s Holy Roman Empire in response. This is essential reading for understanding the genesis of medieval Christendom. Full review here.

night-comes4. Night Comes: Death, Imagination, and the Last Things, Dale Allison. I make a point of reading everything by Dale Allison, even when it goes outside my comfort zone. He’s a solid historical critic and well-rounded thinker that makes him equipped to tackle big theological questions. This book is about death and how we cope with the idea of it. The first chapter is a meditation on the fear of death, how we push for longevity, and how our increased longevity has effected our perception. In the days of Jesus, for example, life would have looked different if you could only hope to make it to 30 instead of 80. (Imagine, says Allison, how Jesus’ prohibition against divorce will look to a 500-year old Christian, if science ever gets us that far.) The second chapter deals with the resurrection, suggesting that no matter how physical (like the gospels) or spiritual (like Paul) we favor the idea, there’s no neat answer to the objections against both, though Allison leans more in favor of Pauline discontinuity between the old and new bodies. Modern cremation and organ donation, not to mention our increased detachment to the physical remains of loved ones, means that corpse-like resurrection becomes less important to modern Christians. The next chapter is about judgment, with a fascinating discussion of near death experiences and “life reviews”, which according to survivors forced them to watch the replay of their entire lives in an instant, and to grasp the consequences of everything they’ve done. Then there are chapters on the question of an afterlife. Like many of Allison’s books, Night Comes unnerves you no matter what you believe.

atheist-muslim5. The Atheist Muslim, Ali Rizvi. This book is the best example I know of how to criticize religion — and with a razor when necessary — without attacking people in the process. Rizvi begins with Thomas Jefferson who launched the first U.S. international war against Islamic jihadists who were for no apparent reason attacking U.S. ships sailing into the Mediterranean. Jefferson wanted to know why, and in the words of the Muslim ambassador, they were simply doing as Muhammad commanded, that it was the Muslim right to wage war on all nations who didn’t acknowledge Islamic rule, and to make slaves of all they could take as prisoners, and that every Muslim who died in battle for this cause would go to paradise. This was two centuries ago, long before ISIS or Al-Qaeda, the Iranian revolution, modern drone strikes — and long before any established “U.S. foreign policy”, which is not what calls forth jihadist warfare in any case. Rizvi refutes false dichotomies (with zingers like “saying that culture is the problem and not religion is like saying, ‘It’s not falling out of the airplane that kills you, it’s the ground.’”), and suggests that what makes the Qur’an so dangerous is that it combines the worldly violence of the Old Testament with the afterlife violence of the New. His chapter on free speech, and the necessity of defending even hate speech, is unassailable. This is a book that anyone can and should learn from, even if you don’t particularly identify with atheism (as I don’t). Full review here.

chaos6. Harnessing Chaos: The Bible in English Political Discourse since 1968, James Crossley. I like the use of 1968 as a benchmark. I was born that year and it probably says something about me. Crossley calls it “the key moment of historical chaos” that triggered huge cultural shifts worldwide. Fury over Vietnam. Flower power. Hippies and drugs. And the backlash to all of this. Crossley focuses on the impact of this chaos in the U.K. and on four evolving English views of the bible: (1) the Cultural Bible of western heritage and literature, (2) the Liberal Bible of democratic thought (freedom of conscience, rights, and consensus against tyranny), (3) the Neoliberal Bible of Margaret Thatcher (individualism, free trade, the priority of the market and individual responsibility against state power for the common good and elimination of poverty), and (4) the Radical Bible of liberation theology (socialism and revolutionary transformation). It’s an excellent chronicle of how politicians and public figures use the bible, and confirms my long-standing opinion that the Judeo-Christian tradition is saturated with ideas that lend themselves to both socialistic and individualistic values in almost equal measure. Be sure to get the revised (2016) version, which improves on the 2014 with a chapter covering the past two years, especially David Cameron’s speeches upholding the Neoliberal Bible while Jeremy Corbyn’s invoke the Radical Bible. I’d love to see Crossley write a book like this focused on American politics.

seven myths7. Seven Myths of the Crusades, Alfred Andrea & Andrew Holt (editors). This was published in 2015 but I read it this year. If you want to know what specialists say about the crusades without reading dense tomes this is exactly the book for you. It’s easily accessible and grounded in peer-reviewed scholarship. It corrects longstanding myths about the crusades, like being greedy unprovoked attacks on a benign Muslim world (the Christian holy wars were defensive responses to Muslim conquests of Christian land, and they were economically suicidal expeditions), anti-Jewish (the church never preached a crusade against the Jews, though some crusaders turned things in this direction), or the western equivalent of the Islamic jihad (jihad is a permanent state of being, tied to the warlord example of Muhammad; the crusades were unique events requiring the papal approval, voluntary, tailored for medieval knights whose profession was sinful to begin with, and they were never seen as essential to Christianity). It’s an economical book that packs useful information in short space, and to my surprise, many people have thanked me for recommending it. Further notes about the book here.

paul-behaving-badly8. Paul Behaving Badly: Was the Apostle a Racist, Chauvinist Jerk?, E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien. For an evangelical book I have to admit it handles Paul pretty evenly. The authors apply the idea of a “trajectory hermeneutic”, where biblical principles that initially have little effect produce significant change over time. So if Paul required women to be submissive and dress appropriately in certain contexts, he also considered women to be his missionary colleagues, not to mention deaconesses, which means that his teaching was at least in a direction of liberating women. Same with slavery: in antiquity it was the natural backbone of society, with rigid lines between slaves and masters, and Paul could never have condemned the institution and be taken seriously. But he did teach that slaves and masters were brothers on equal footing in the Christian family, and because of that, masters can’t assault their slaves with impunity. Paul at least pushes in a direction of protection and liberation of slaves. On the subject of homosexuality, Paul’s trajectory is in the negative direction. In Roman culture homoerotic sex may have shamed the passive male, but it celebrated the dominant (penetrating) one. Paul condemned both active and passive roles, pushing in a direction of more restriction rather than liberation, even concluding — though the authors frankly avoid this unpleasant point — that sodomites are “worthy of death”. On whole this is a balanced treatment that helps one understand the importance of trajectory hermeneutics, and why it’s not the case that scriptures are malleable to the same degree, or in the same direction, on any issue.

assholes.jpg9. Assholes: A Theory of Donald Trump, Aaron James. Now that Trump has been elected, this book is more sobering than entertaining. On the one hand, it’s true that much of Trump’s success owes to American anger with the establishment, income inequality, leftists who make honest discussions (about free speech, Islam, etc.) difficult, and other things. That’s understandable; he’s an outsider to a system that has failed us. But he isn’t a competent or humane outsider. He’s an asshole, and recognized as such even by his fans. How does an ass win the presidency? “To sum up my answer,” says James, “he flashes between different asshole types, boorish one moment, self-aggrandizing the next, then bullshitting, all while managing to be very entertaining. Trump is a stunning, even likable showman. His display of the asshole arts — as schoolyard bully, or cutdown boxer — is unrivaled, and its own spectacle. The question is then why enough of us are not flatly revolted. My answer is that we — most of us — really like an ass-clown. We are drawn to him even in revulsion, and his supporters forgive or overlook his transgressions. Our pleasure in the spectacle leaves us unsettled in our feelings and him free to do pretty much as he likes.” He’s about to plant his worthless ass in the Oval Office, so get ready for the worst next month. Full review here.

A Muslim’s Journey: Islam, Freedom, White Privilege, and other reflections

bookIn his new book Ali Rizvi advocates for both secularism and Islamic reform, around reflections on his personal life experiences from the Middle-East to Canada. It’s the best account I’ve read that shows, from the inside, how to criticize Islam without demonizing or hurting Muslim people in the process.

In his chapter on “letting go” he makes the helpful point that it’s one thing to grasp, on an intellectual level, the difference between criticizing a religion and being bigoted to a group of people, while quite another to “let go” of that guilty feeling that comes with taking a razor to religion for fear that you are doing the other.

“An attack on a religion — which is not a person but simply a set of ideas like any other [existentialism, structuralism, capitalism, communism, fascism, etc.] — comes across to people as a personal attack. When you put their religious beliefs under scrutiny, you’re prodding at their entire sense of being. You’re rocking the boat, criticizing and satirizing that one thing they need to cling to in order to keep their lives intact, their families together, and — in some cases — their heads attached to their bodies. Does this mean you should not criticize or satirize religious beliefs? No, quite the opposite — it’s the only way to break the spell. But in order to do it effectively, it is important to first acknowledge what you’re dealing with.” (p 67)

Religious ideas are precious in ways that other ideas aren’t, and striking at those ideas can be easily misconstrued as disrespecting people. However, that’s usually not an obstacle these days with Christianity. When an artist submerged a crucifix in a jar of urine, photographed it and showed it in New York, it was praised and given a cash award and commendations from the National Endowment of the Arts. Christians who were offended by the urine-soaked crucifix were censured for being narrow-minded and against free speech, and rightly so. American culture has reinforced the right to criticize and ridicule religions, and if people’s feelings are hurt by it, then too bad.

Except when it comes to Islam, in which case Rizvi’s above statements take full force. When artists draw cartoons of Muhammad, they are attacked by the same western media that praises artists who defile crucifixes. Cartoonists of Muhammad are, we are told, bigoted and racist. What makes this doubly offensive is that unlike the adherents of other religions, religious Muslims kill cartoonists for engaging in artistic blasphemy. In a perverse moral backwardness, leftists align themselves with jihadists by unwittingly enforcing Islamic blasphemy laws instead of the First Amendment.

More generally, people shield Islam from criticism by claiming that the doctrines of jihad, sharia, and subjugation of non-Muslims are distortions — or hijackings, or politicizations, or fringe-interpretations — of Islam, even though people like Rizvi know they are integral to Islamic faith, just as the resurrection is to Christianity. The desire to protect Muslim feelings is understandable, but as Rizvi says, this sort of strategy only ends up perverting the message of multiculturalism. By all means we must stand up for Muslim people and fight bigotry, but not by patronizing the religion of Islam.

“Widely cited as the foundational element of secularism in America, Article 11 of the Treaty of Tripoli was a direct result of the United States’ first-ever brush with Islamic jihadists.”

Rizvi considers Thomas Jefferson, who eventually launched the first U.S. international war against jihadists in 1801. The origin of that conflict was sixteen years prior, at the end of the Revolutionary War, when American trade ships sailing into the Mediterranean no longer had the protection of the British navy and were suddenly assaulted by Muslim pirates. Those taken hostage were tortured and wrote letters home begging the U.S. government and family members to pay the ransoms.

barbary-coast-piratesJefferson (at that time a delegate to Europe, before his presidency) was flabbergasted at the unprovoked attacks, and wanted to know why the Barbary States were doing this. Tripoli’s (Libya’s) response came from Ambassador Sidi Haji Abdul Rahman Adja in 1786, when he met with Jefferson and Adams in London. Adja said that they were doing as Muhammad commanded; that it was the Muslim right to wage war on all nations who didn’t acknowledge Islamic rule, and to make slaves of all they could take as prisoners; and that every Muslim who died in battle for this cause would go to paradise. All of those reasons sound like modern ISIS or Al-Qaeda manifestos, but as Rizvi points out, this was over two centuries ago — long before ISIS or Al-Qaeda, long before the creation of Israel or the Arab-Israeli conflict, long before Ayatollah Khomeini and the Iranian revolution, long before Saudi Arabia and Taliban drone strikes and the Cold War and — most importantly — long before any established “U.S. foreign policy”.

The common claim that Islamists are motivated by political grievances is meaningless in any case, for as Rizvi says, Islam is inherently political. Warfare (jihad), terms of law and order (sharia), and territorial claims (to subjugate the world and bring all nations under Islamic rule) are at the root of what makes something political (p 42). By definition, groups like ISIS cry out against foreign policies, but those grievances, however sincerely articulated, have nothing to do with things like enslaving underage Yazidi girls, killing Turkmen Shias, throwing gays off rooftops, and executing Muslim apostates. It’s not even necessarily the case that Islamic governments want their grievances solved. Rizvi knows this firsthand from living in the Muslim world (p 137): Islamic supremacists use leftist narratives about oppression to their advantage, to deflect criticism and to further justify oppressing their own people. They thrive on grievances, which embolden them, open more avenues to paradise, and provide their raison d’etre.

“Saying that culture is the problem and not religion is like saying, ‘It’s not falling out of the airplane that kills you, it’s the ground.'”

When a Saudi court in 2008 refused to grant an eight-year old girl a divorce from her fifty-eight-year old husband, the leftist apologetics were predictable: this was simply a horrible cultural practice that had nothing to do with Islam. Except that it has everything to do with Islam. It’s grounded in the highest authoritative example of Muhammad, who married Aisha when she was six, and had sex with her when she was nine. As Rizvi says, this isn’t depicted in a one-off hadith. There are over twenty references to Muhammad’s pedophilia, in both the Qur’an and hadiths, and with further instructions on how to divorce women who have not yet menstruated. This is precisely why Saudi Arabia has no formal age limit on marriages, and why the Ayatollah lowered the age of marriage for girls from eighteen to nine when he reinstated Islamic law in Iran. Religion has everything to do with issues like this. They are inseparable from culture, indeed as Rizvi says, the separation between religion and culture is even more spurious than between religion and politics (p 48).

Rizvi also puts to bed claims about poverty and lack of education (p 91). The American-based terrorists — the 9/11 airplane hijackers, the Boston Marathon bombers, the San Bernardino shooters, Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan, Orlando shooter Omar Mateen, American born Al-Qaeda mastermind Anwar Al-Awlaki, and the list goes on and on — were all well-off people, with no lack of opportunity. Some of them left prestigious careers for jihadist glory. Some had doctorates. In Europe too, many jihadists come from comfortable lives, decent jobs and middle-class incomes. It’s true that American income inequality and French unemployment are serious problems that are only getting worse, but one thing they are not responsible for is creating jihadists.

“What makes the Qur’an so dangerous is that it combines the worldly violence of the Old Testament with the afterlife violence of the New.”

It’s well known that Islam borrowed heavily from Judaism and Christianity, but how precisely Islam originated remains controversial. The proto-Islam movement may have been a sect of Judaism, a Jewish sect of Christianity, or some kind of umbrella monotheistic group which saw itself as encompassing true forms of the two monotheistic movements. Whatever the case, certain ideas from both religions became relevant as Muhammad legitimated his holy wars: the militarism and warmongering of the (pre-exilic) Israelite period; the abstract New Testament ideas like submission (being slaves to Christ) and martyrdom (dying with Christ, who in turn died for one’s sins), and the promises and threats of eternal salvation and damnation. Combined, says Rizvi, they all yield the concept of jihad.

The militarism of the Hebrew Bible isn’t expansionist like it is in the Qur’an; it’s confined to keeping the land of Israel free of pagans and idolatry. But Jesus’ pacifistic commands to proselytize beyond Israel into the Gentile world certainly are expansionist. Nowhere in the Old Testament are believers told to subjugate unbelievers and force Judaism on pagans. But the messages of Jesus and Paul are strongly evangelical. There’s not much about the afterlife in the Old Testament, aside from the book of Daniel. But the New Testament is replete with ideas of suffering for the cross of Christ, and the necessity of being tribulated — persecuted, oppressed, robbed, starved, slaughtered — to have one’s faith put to the test in horrendous ways and be compensated in the hereafter. (The rapture was never understood to avoid this; it was the reward that came after.) Combine the worst elements from the two parts of the Bible, and there you have Islam, with a uniquely deadly means of propagating the faith (p 85).

“I grew up in countries where simply speaking our mind could get you sent to prison, flogged, or even executed. Early on, I promised myself that when I got to a place where I had the freedom to speak, I would. And I wouldn’t take my freedom of speech for granted, for even a day. But when I finally arrived in North America, I saw that things weren’t that simple.”

Rizvi’s chapter defending free speech is one of the best I’ve read, and I’ve read many. Against objections that “freedom of speech does not mean the freedom to offend”, he counters that is exactly what freedom of speech is, and always has been. Without the freedom too offend, there’s no point to free speech, and the most reformative revolutionaries throughout history could never have achieved the progress they did. Against claims that hate speech should be excluded, he points out the impossibility of letting the government determine what is hateful, let alone apply the standard objectively or consistently.

It has reached the (frankly unbelievable) point where human rights activists like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and religious reformers like Maajid Nawaz, are being branded hateful, instead of being given the medals of honor they deserve. That’s beyond outrageous, and it’s all the proof anyone should need to oppose hate speech laws. But you can even throw all that out. There’s a more basic point relating to academic integrity, as Rizvi says. Criminalizing any speech infantalizes people: “It doesn’t just take away someone’s right to speak; it takes away your right to form your own opinions and response to them. By supporting a ban on hate speech, you’re allowing your government to regulate not just what someone an say, but what you can hear” (p 132).

Perhaps even more obviously: if we were to ban hate speech on the criteria urged by today’s leftists, the Qur’an, and for that matter the Bible, as Rizvi points out, would have to be the first to go. They are responsible for far more damage and suffering than crackpot theories like Holocaust denial (which is criminalized in places like Canada and Europe). Name the last time Jews suffered in any way because a book was published “proving” that the Holocaust never happened. Then think of the hundreds of jihad murders committed every day because the Qur’an requires it, or the entrenched homophobia in western culture on account of attitudes channeled by Leviticus and Romans. Seriously.

“If Obama had addressed the problem of Islamic terrorism honestly, from a position of moral strength, the likes of Donald Trump and Marie Le Pen would have been less able to jump in and channel it from a position of xenophobic bigotry.”

Rizvi wrote this book before the election and so he only touches on this point. Like the rest of us presumably, he assumed that Trump wouldn’t ultimately win. But now that Trump has taken the presidency, it’s worth lingering on the failures of the left, and the failures of the more centrist Democrats like Obama who have pandered to the left with their obscurantism.

Trump got one third of the Hispanic vote, and that’s a serious a wake-up call. It’s not just rural uneducated white men who were willing to overlook Trump’s bigotry. Even the feminist Muslim reformer Asra Nomani, whom I have always admired, voted for Trump, and this is one of her stated reasons:

“As a liberal Muslim who has experienced, first-hand, Islamic extremism in this world, I have been opposed to the decision by President Obama and the Democratic Party to tap dance around the ‘Islam’ in Islamic State. Of course, Trump’s rhetoric has been far more than indelicate and folks can have policy differences with his recommendations, but, to me, it has been exaggerated and demonized by the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, their media channels, such as Al Jazeera, and their proxies in the West, in a convenient distraction from the issue that most worries me: Islamists.” (Asra Nomani: A liberal Muslim immigrant who voted for Trump)

Rizvi is right, and this is a point Sam Harris made about Brexit: that when we stop listening to truth and go out of our way to excuse the inexcusable, people retaliate in the voting booth — including the very minorities disrespected by Trump. Plenty of those minorities see him as the lesser evil, and I’m afraid we as liberals have largely ourselves to blame for this.

That damned Richard Dawkins. Checking our white privilege.

I confess I can’t stand Dawkins. Whenever I see a news piece about him online or in my Facebook feed, I ignore it as clickbait. It’s not that what Dawkins says is necessarily wrong; it’s that he goes out of his way to be inflammatory and contemptuous of those who dare disagree with him. Rizvi, however, makes a point I have to acknowledge. The aggressive in-your-face approaches of Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens are applauded by many Muslims who can only dream of speaking in this way. They are silenced in the oppression they receive at the hands of their governments and communities, and even families, all in the name of Islam. They are angry — and they are even more angry at the conciliatory and “respectful” approach that our leftists take towards an inherently oppressive religion.

Put bluntly, the patronizing respect for Islam is a luxury affordable only to those of us who live in free open societies. Liberals like to talk about white people “checking their privilege”, but that’s actually what they need to start doing — to stop patronizing Islam in the name of cultural tolerance. It may make us feel good or alleviate our white guilt complexes, or make us feel like we’re actually doing something good when we’re not. The real heavy-lifting is coming from people like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Maajid Nawaz, Asra Nomani, Sam Harris, Robert Spencer — and yes, even odious personalities like Richard Dawkins — who speak against Islam itself on behalf of those who know too well what it does to people.


A solid 9/10, this book is entirely a pleasure to read. I would recommend it for anyone who wants a critique of Islam that upholds the importance of the dignity of Muslim people. It also has sections explaining why Rizvi became an atheist, which were less interesting to me, but will be of value to others.

Asra Nomani: A liberal Muslim immigrant voted for Trump, and explains why

asraI’ve respected Asra Nomani for a long time. She’s a liberal Muslim reformer who has spoken about Islam as a toxic religion, and like her fellow activists and reformers, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Maajid Nawaz, has taken heaps of leftist abuse for her efforts. We need many more like her.

She voted for Donald Trump. I think that’s a terribly bad choice, but I respect her reasons published in The Washington Post, which are a further wake-up call to understanding why not only rural minorities, but educated ones like Nomani, voted for Trump.

A lot is being said now about the “silent secret Trump supporters.”

This is my confession — and explanation: I — a 51-year-old, a Muslim, an immigrant woman “of color” — am one of those silent voters for Donald Trump. And I’m not a “bigot,” “racist,” “chauvinist” or “white supremacist,” as Trump voters are being called, nor part of some “whitelash.”

In the winter of 2008, as a lifelong liberal and proud daughter of West Virginia, a state born on the correct side of history on slavery, I moved to historically conservative Virginia only because the state had helped elect Barack Obama as the first African American president of the United States.

But, then, for much of this past year, I have kept my electoral preference secret: I was leaning toward Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Tuesday evening, just minutes before the polls closed at Forestville Elementary School in mostly Democratic Fairfax County, I slipped between the cardboard partitions in the polling booth, a pen balanced carefully between my fingers, to mark my ballot for president, coloring in the circle beside the names of Trump and his running mate, Mike Pence.

After Hillary Clinton called Trump to concede, making him America’s president-elect, a friend on Twitter wrote a message of apology to the world, saying there are millions of Americans who don’t share Trump’s “hatred/division/ignorance.” She ended: “Ashamed of millions that do.”

That would presumably include me — but it doesn’t, and that is where the dismissal of voter concerns about Clinton led to her defeat. I most certainly reject the trifecta of “hatred/division/ignorance.” I support the Democratic Party’s position on abortion, same-sex marriage and climate change.

But I am a single mother who can’t afford health insurance under Obamacare. The president’s mortgage-loan modification program, “HOPE NOW,” didn’t help me. Tuesday, I drove into Virginia from my hometown of Morgantown, W.Va., where I see rural America and ordinary Americans, like me, still struggling to make ends meet, after eight years of the Obama administration.

Finally, as a liberal Muslim who has experienced, first-hand, Islamic extremism in this world, I have been opposed to the decision by President Obama and the Democratic Party to tap dance around the “Islam” in Islamic State. Of course, Trump’s rhetoric has been far more than indelicate and folks can have policy differences with his recommendations, but, to me, it has been exaggerated and demonized by the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, their media channels, such as Al Jazeera, and their proxies in the West, in a convenient distraction from the issue that most worries me as a human being on this earth: extremist Islam of the kind that has spilled blood from the hallways of the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai to the dance floor of the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

In mid-June, after the tragic shooting at Pulse, Trump tweeted out a message, delivered in his typical subtle style: “Is President Obama going to finally mention the words radical Islamic terrorism? If he doesn’t he should immediately resign in disgrace!”

Around then, on CNN’s “New Day,” Democratic candidate Clinton seemed to do the Obama dance, saying, “From my perspective, it matters what we do more than what we say. And it mattered we got bin Laden, not what name we called him. I have clearly said we — whether you call it radical jihadism or radical Islamism, I’m happy to say either. I think they mean the same thing.”

By mid-October, it was one Aug. 17, 2014, email from the WikiLeaks treasure trove of Clinton emails that poisoned the well for me. In it, Clinton told aide John Podesta: “We need to use our diplomatic and more traditional intelligence assets to bring pressure on the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which are providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL,” the politically correct name for the Islamic State, “and other radical Sunni groups in the region.”

The revelations of multimillion-dollar donations to the Clinton Foundation from Qatar and Saudi Arabia killed my support for Clinton. Yes, I want equal pay. No, I reject Trump’s “locker room” banter, the idea of a “wall” between the United States and Mexico and a plan to “ban” Muslims. But I trust the United States and don’t buy the political hyperbole — agenda-driven identity politics of its own — that demonized Trump and his supporters.

I gently tried to express my thoughts on Twitter but the “Pantsuit revolution” was like a steamroller to any nuanced discourse. If you supported Trump, you had to be a redneck.

Days before the election, a journalist from India emailed me, asking: What are your thoughts being a Muslim in “Trump’s America”?

I wrote that as a child of India, arriving in the United States at the age of 4 in the summer of 1969, I have absolutely no fears about being a Muslim in a “Trump America.” The checks and balances in America and our rich history of social justice and civil rights will never allow the fear-mongering that has been attached to candidate Trump’s rhetoric to come to fruition.

What worried me the most were my concerns about the influence of theocratic Muslim dictatorships, including Qatar and Saudi Arabia, in a Hillary Clinton America. These dictatorships are no shining examples of progressive society with their failure to offer fundamental human rights and pathways to citizenship to immigrants from India, refugees from Syria and the entire class of de facto slaves that live in those dictatorships.

We have to stand up with moral courage against not just hate against Muslims, but hate by Muslims, so that everyone can live with sukhun, or peace of mind, I finished in my reflections to the journalist in India.

He didn’t get the email. I didn’t resend it, afraid of the wrath I’d receive. But, then, I voted.

We’d better start listening to people like Nomani, and to each other. Stop unfriending people on Facebook whose views you can’t handle. Stop reading news from your safety bubbles that only confirm what you already believe. I always make a point to check into sites like Fox news and Salon, at least occasionally, so I can know what right-wingers and the regressive left are actually saying. If you’re on the far left, get out of your Salon-net and feed your mind. Stop smearing people like Steve Bannon as anti-Semites; they’re bad enough without the supplements of bogus charges. A degenerate Republican party made someone like Trump possible. A deafened Democratic party, and toxic agendas on the far left, helped ensure his victory.