The Global Secular Humanist Movement (GSHM) Facebook page recently posted this drivel from Ayaan Hirsi Ali:
To back this claim, GSHM linked to a 2007 MSNBC article with the propagandistic title of Some young U.S. Muslims approve suicide hits, which in turn cited a Pew study that found that “[o]ne in four younger U.S. Muslims say suicide bombings to defend their religion are acceptable at least in some circumstances.”
This Facebook post is now making its rounds around the internet. Seeing as how LoonWatch monitors anti-Muslim loons–and Ayaan Hirsi Ali is among the best of them–I thought a response would be worthwhile.
First of all, it should be noted that suicide bombing by itself is not illegal under international law. In a section entitled “Suicide Attacks and International Law”, Human Rights Watch (HRW) notes that “[s]uicide attacks are a method of warfare that in themselves do not violate the laws of war.” This is the case if the tactic is used by legitimate combatants against purely military targets in a time and place of war.
In fact, HRW finds that “as weapons [suicide attacks] are very discriminate: a suicide bomber is able to detonate with an accuracy that exceeds that of the most sophisticated guided weapon.” An Iraqi resistance fighter would inflict far fewer civilian casualties from a suicide attack against a U.S. military installation than a U.S. bomber would inflict from carpet bombing Iraqi cities. But because U.S. soldiers are the victims of suicide bombing and not carpet bombing, Americans hold the former as the epitome of evil and the latter as perfectly acceptable: hey, it’s war!
The American mentality is very easy to understand: they suicide attack our soldiers, so it’s terrorism and morally atrocious. We carpet bomb them, so it’s perfectly acceptable: what do you expect in a time of a war?
Forget just carpet bombing: “A Gallup poll in August [of 1945] revealed that 85 percent [of Americans] approved of the use of the atomic bomb against Japanese cities.” In fact, a poll for Fortune magazine found that another “22.7 percent of respondents agreed with the sentiment: ‘We should have quickly used many more of the [atomic] bombs before Japan had a chance to surrender.'” Worse yet, a “December 1944 Gallup poll found that 13 percent of respondents favored the killing of all Japanese” after the war: men, women, and children; or, in the words of the chairman of the U.S. government agency the War Manpower Commission, “[t]he extermination of the Japanese in toto.” (All quotes in this paragraph taken from pp.13-14 of Prof. Sahr Conway-Lanz’s Collateral Damage.)
This is not just some sentiment of a bygone era. To this day, a “majority of Americans surveyed think dropping atomic bombs on Japan during World War II was the right thing to do.” I guarantee you that a sizable portion of Americans, if polled today, would agree with nuking Mecca, Medina, and/or Tehran. Even more would be comfortable with carpet bombing Muslim cities, which is what our military already does.
That such sizable percentages of Americans support carpet and atomic bombings should really cause us to understand Pew’s poll results–and Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s rantings–with some much-needed perspective.
What MSNBC’s article, Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s quote, and the Global Secular Humanist Movement’s posting, fail to mention is that an even greater percentage of Americans–of many different religions or no religion at all–justify the targeting and killing of civilians. This is something I pointed out in an earlier article of mine: Gallup Poll: Jews and Christians Way More Likely than Muslims to Justify Killing Civilians. This showed that an overwhelming majority of U.S. Muslims (78%) stated that it is never morally justifiable to target and kill civilians, compared to only 38% of Protestants, 39% of Catholics, 43% of Jews, 33% of Mormons, and 56% of people with no religion/atheists/agnostics:
The wily Islamophobes feebly argued back, saying:
The survey is of American Muslims, who are unlikely to be representative of Muslims in Muslim countries or of Muslims in Europe.
To this, I published a follow-up article: Surveys Show Muslims in Every Country Less Likely to Justify Killing Civilians than Americans and Israelis. In it, we saw the following results:
Percentage of people who said it is sometimes justifiable to target and kill civilians:
Israeli Jews 52%
No religion/Atheists/Agnostics (U.S.A.) 43%
Spanish Muslims 31%
German Muslims 17%
French Muslims 16%
British Muslims 16%
*refers to Muslims only
Of course, the Global Secular Humanist Movement will quickly put up its hands and say: “But, we’re atheists!” To this, I point out that U.S. Muslims were much more likely to say attacks against civilians are never justifiable (78% vs. 56%). Aren’t these “secular humanists” beholden to scientific means? Why then don’t they mention in their posting the results from the control group(s)? Doing so would of course nullify their thesis. The fact that U.S. Muslims are more likely to condemn attacks aimed against civilians completely negates their argument that wow, look at how many Moozlums support suicide attacks!
Anti-Muslim ideologues always link present day Muslim violence to Islamic scripture: the implication is that such a sizable percentage of young Muslims believe in suicide bombing because of their religion. In fact, the opposite holds true: these young Muslims believe in suicide bombing in spite of their religion.
Indeed, such a large percentage of Muslims abhor the targeting and killing of civilians because of their religious canon, which–unlike the Jewish and Christian counterparts–condemns such a thing. Whereas Moses in the Bible orders his soldiers to “kill all the boys and kill every woman” (Numbers 31:17), Muhammad explicitly forbade targeting civilians on numerous occasions, saying: “Do not kill an infirm old man, an infant, a child, or a woman.” (Sunan Abu Dawood, book 14, #2608)
The Quran also forbids suicide, which is why the overwhelming majority of Muslims oppose suicide bombing, even against purely military targets. Admittedly, it is true that there exists a debate in some Muslim circles about the morality of suicide attacks against both soldiers and civilians. However, it is very simplistic to draw the following conclusion:
X percent of Muslims say suicide bombing is sometimes justifiable. If there exist Y number of Muslims, then that’s a lot of suicide bombers!
This is an erroneous and hasty conclusion. Rather, X percent of Muslims stating that suicide bombing is sometimes morally justifiable is often simply a manifestation of their sympathies and solidarity with Muslims fighting occupation, specifically Palestinians. The MSNBC article reads:
…Radwan Masmoudi, president of the Washington-based Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy…said most supporters of the attacks likely assumed the context was a fight against occupation — a term Muslims often use to describe the conflict with Israel.
Many of these Muslims may fear that condemning such tactics entirely would rob the resistance fighters of their moral high-ground. It does not mean that they themselves will go out and suicide bomb, no more than it would mean based on the poll results above that an average American would go out and start shooting Muslim civilians.
That a small but sizable portion of Muslims would justify Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians in the Occupied Territories may sound horrifying, but it ought to be understood in perspective: American and Israeli Jews are more likely to justify targeting and killing civilians (see results above). Disturbingly, a survey conducted by Haifa University’s Center for the Study of National Security found that a majority of Israeli Jews support a policy of ethnic cleansing against Palestinians.
To this day, Americans debate the morality of the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, with an unsettling majority of them thinking these attacks to be justified. It would not surprise me if some American readers of our site would go on to justify atomic bombing of Japan in the comments section below.
To be perfectly clear, I find both suicide bombing and atomic bombing to be morally repugnant. But, atomic bombing is more atrocious by an order of magnitude: it is the ultimate indiscriminate weapon of mass destruction. A minority of Muslims thinking that suicide bombing is sometimes morally justifiable is hardly as worrisome as a majority of Americans thinking that atomic bombing is perfectly morally justifiable.
* * * * *
Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s quote can be further criticized for focusing on Muslims in only one decade of life (aged 18 to 29). One could easily inflate the number of Christian, Jewish, or atheist/agnostic Americans who believe that targeting and killing civilians is permissible by focusing on that demographic with the highest results. For example, older Americans are more likely to think this way, meaning those percentages would be even higher.
As the MSNBC article itself notes, “nearly 80 percent of U.S. Muslims say suicide bombings of civilians to defend Islam can not be justified, 13 percent say they can be, at least rarely.” That 13% pales in front of the 58% of Protestants, 58% of Catholics, 52% of Jews, 64% of Mormons, and 43% of people with no religion/atheists/agnostics who argue that it is sometimes morally acceptable for the military to target and kill civilians.
As I wrote in my earlier article:
Of course, it would be worthwhile to consider actual results on the ground: we Americans have (at minimum, using conservative numbers) killed 30 times as many Muslim civilians as Muslims have killed of ours, whereas Israelis have killed many-fold the number of civilians as Palestinians have killed of theirs. Clearly, what people and states do is far more relevant than what they merely believe.
Lastly, I would like to close with a message to the Global Secular Humanist Movement: shame on you for promoting an anti-Muslim demagogue and hatemonger like Ayaan Hirsi Ali. It is the equivalent of posting up a quote by David Duke on Judaism. But of course, the GSHM would find it very easy to levy attacks against an embattled minority in the U.S. (Muslims), but would never dare upset Jewish people in the same way. Muslims are easy targets; GSHM knows that if it did the same thing to Jews, it “would get f*@king buried.”
Religious tolerance is a key feature of secular, liberal democracy in the American tradition. Although I am not one to engage in nationalistic tribalism, I do deeply admire my country’s legacy of religion-friendly secularism, which stands in stark contrast to the religion-hostile (and un-American) French-style secularism. Indeed, this latter style of secularism was born out of, and led to, an orgy of violence. Intolerant secularists like Ayaan Hirsi Ali and the Global Secularist Humanist Movement emulate the religious intolerance they supposedly decry. One can hardly tell the difference between the rantings of “secularist” Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Christian Islamophobes; in fact, one will find the two routinely sharing notes and being very cozy with one another. Case in point: GSHM’s quote of Ayaan Hirsi Ali has become very popular among Christian Islamophobic circles. New Atheists like Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens lost all their credibility by jumping on the Islamophobic bandwagon; GSHM loses its credibility by posting Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s hateful screed.
Perhaps GSHM has taken up Ayaan Hirsi Ali because, as noted in yesterday’s featured article, “Ayaan Hirsi Ali (an exmuslim) has replaced Hitchens as the one of the Four Horsemen of New Atheism.” The truth is that she can hardly be considered a horseman: she’s just an ass. Ironically but unsurprisingly, it is asses like Ayaan Hirsi Ali who do more to undermine the cause of secularism and liberal democracy in the Muslim majority world than anybody else. But more on that another time.