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Ch. 1 - Reason in Exile 
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Post Ch. 1 - Reason in Exile
Ch. 1 - Reason in Exile


Use this thread to discuss Chapter 1 - Reason in Exile, or create and use your own threads. ::44




Wed Mar 29, 2006 12:57 am
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Post Re: Ch. 1 - Reason in Exile
I will break my thoughts down into two parts. The first section will be a briefer Executive Summary of my main thoughts and opinions regarding Chapter 1 with occasional commentary on what Harris wrote. The second section will include detailed analysis and interesting quotes I really enjoyed or took issue with. Please read section one but feel free to skip section two if you are not interested in further thoughts and opinion. Enjoy!

Executive Summary

The central theme Harris seems to be identifying in the first chapter is that there are dangerous ideas born of various religious faiths and we should no longer excuse these various dangerous religious customs as a show of religious tolerance. Indeed, Harris seems to point towards a future absence of Faith without, as Harris puts it, people killing each other over books. I think a preferable stance would be a push towards a future without organized religion and sacred texts. I do not see any problem with people questioning the so called "meaning of life" or pursuing meta-physical answers through belief in a deity. The problem becomes organizing around a dogmatic belief system laid out by a text supposedly delivered from a Supreme Being which stresses some very bad things. Literal interpretation is an especially terrible way to perceive these texts as so many fundamentalists do. There is no way to refute a book that claims to be delivered by the hand of god which claims all non-believers are evil. Only reason can rectify that situation and strong headed folks of faith are hardly willing to listen to reason as most freethinkers are aware. Essentially, Harris suggests a troubling picture of the future in which we are doomed to repeat the past unless we address dogmatic faith and belief in literal translation of books that are mere mythology. Harris goes too far in laying the foundations to suggest an elimination of all faith is needed for humans to survive. While I am an atheist, I disagree that religion must be eliminated or continued pandering from the religiously moderate to the fundamental will enable them to destroy civilization, which Harris seems to suggest.




Wed Mar 29, 2006 6:30 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 1 - Reason in Exile
Thoughts in Detail

p11 introduces the text with a story regarding a suicide bomber who's parents feel "tremendous pride" that their son has killed other people in a suicide attack. Most notably, the reason for the pride is based on the religious principle that people are rewarded for carrying out a holy war and in particular dieing for the cause. This sets up the most fundamental problem on modern religion in my mind: inevitably people praying to different gods potentially going to war against each other for the same exact reason: for their particular god's favor. Striking. Also interesting is the honor attached to this style of killing. We could learn something from the imaginary Klingon code of honor from Star Trek fame about honor in this regard.


p14 Harris interestingly links in sentence structure the "metaphysics of martyrdom" (which I interpret to mean Radical Islamism) and literal belief in the Book of Revelation and labels them both "fantastic notions." While I appreciate the linkage of both beliefs being fantastical notions, I must point out that at least Christian Fundamentalists are not conducting suicide bombings to further their belief. However, I guess it could be argued that they need to be here when Armageddon strikes in order to "be saved," so they do not have the motive. Perhaps with motive this distinction between these two radical beliefs might be different. But it should be noted that a religion that once conducted a religious crusade no longer kills in the name of their god, which argues against Harris stance that all faith needs to be elimited for the human race to safely progress.

p15 "I hope to show that the very ideal of religious tolerance



Wed Mar 29, 2006 6:44 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 1 - Reason in Exile
Riverc0il

Nice start to what will probably be a very vibrant discussion. ::80 Would you like to take the role of discussion leader for this book? It would be nice to have two discussion leaders tag-teaming this quarter.




Wed Mar 29, 2006 6:48 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 1 - Reason in Exile
I am enjoying the reading and think we could have some good discussion as members get started on this title. A few points already come to mind, but much of the first two chapters is kinda "preaching to the choir," for lack of a better proverb (oops, did it again!). Folks who have already come to question organized religion will be doing much head nodding. Though I suspect the big issues will be in regards to Harris apparent thesis that all faith needs to be eliminated, what to do about terrorism, terrorist links to fundamentalist religion, and comparisons between fundamentalist religions that are known to be violent vs. those that are not. Suffice to say more than enough discussion matter after only two chapters despite the head nodding that should likely occur. I accept the offer to participate as a discussion leader, I will do my best to stir the coals of discussion as best I can. :)




Fri Mar 31, 2006 8:07 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 1 - Reason in Exile - religious suicide bombings?
Harris' argument that only religious extremists perform suicide bombing is not convincing. (In the main text he goes even further by trying to imply that Islamic fundamentalists are the only real problem). In the notes he suggest that the Tamil Tigers' motivations are some kind of suppressed Hindu fundamentalism. This is highly dubious, Shea in the the Boston Globe states that the Tigers are: "decidedly non-fundamentalist, quasi-Marxist", and gives hard data to show that 57% of suicide bombings have not had religious motivations. Also, in the Lebanese civil war 70% of suicide attackers were Christian.
Also, suicide bombings work very well on the secular level of the state. The United States and Israel left Lebanon; Sri Lanka gave the Tamils a semiautonomous state. So you would expect secular movements that put the state before the individual to use suicide bombing. Is it the state-first Marxism of the Tamils that lead them to suicide bombing, or their residual Hinduism?

Of course, not all secular groups with a high motivation to a collective cause generate suicide bombers. Some can't find them, others have rejected offers from members to do it. "FARC, the Columbian rebel group, once hatched a plan to fly a plane into that country's presidential palace but could find no willing pilot, even after dangling an offer of $2 million for the pilot's family. In addition, the Basque group ETA has rejected offers from its members to blow themselves up."

The IRA did not have suicide bombers, but did engage in hunger strikes to the death. Their motivations were secular.




Mon Apr 03, 2006 3:55 am
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Post Re: Ch. 1 - Reason in Exile - religious suicide bombings?
An interesting point, mal4mac! Harris does seem to have over looked secular suicide bombings. However, it would seem like most secular suicide bombings generally occur during periods of war when nationalistic jingoism runs highest. One could imply extreme "faith" in one's government at this point, but that may be using the word out of context as even humanists could see the benefit of putting an entire society above one life to strike a decisive blow in a time of war.

Are there any examples of secular suicide bombings that are more parallel to the motivations of the current islamic fundamentalists? The way I see these bombings, there is no uniting secular drive to these individualistic bombings. Some occured on the suggestions of organized groups such as Hamas, but the suicide bombings certainly were not part of a nationalistic campaign such as a war.

I am proposing we need to keep denote a difference between nationalistic and war time suicide "missions" and suicide bombings that are individualistic in nature driven by personal reasons, such as belief in an afterlife or doing a deity's will. The motivations, reasoning, and rational are certainly different, especially in a war time bombing




Mon Apr 03, 2006 5:39 am
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Post Re: Ch. 1 - Reason in Exile - religious suicide bombings?
All the suicide bombers have a secular grievance. For instance, Hamas followers believe Israelis are occupying their country. Looking through the index, I don't think Harris provides an adequate account of the Israeli-Palestine conflict. This looks like a reasonably balanced account:

www.cactus48.com/truth.html

Every Brit. should read this! Yet another part of the world we screwed up. I like Gandhi's summary (1938) :

"Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French...What is going on in Palestine today cannot be justified by any moral code of conduct...If they [the Jews] must look to the Palestine of geography as their national home, it is wrong to enter it under the shadow of the British gun. A religious act cannot be performed with the aid of the bayonet or the bomb. They can settle in Palestine only by the goodwill of the Arabs... As it is, they are co-sharers with the British in despoiling a people who have done no wrong to them. I am not defending the Arab excesses. I wish they had chosen the way of non-violence in resisting what they rightly regard as an unacceptable encroachment upon their country. But according to the accepted canons of right and wrong, nothing can be said against the Arab resistance in the face of overwhelming odds."

This seems as true today as in 1938, except the shadow of the US gun became larger than the UK gun, since Truman forced through the partition in 1947.

So Hamas and Bin Laden have a secular justification for their actions, though wise and moderate people should surely wish that they would follow Gandhi's path of non-violence. There is also a possible psychological explanation for the observed extremism of Hamas:

"You have to remember that 90 percent of children two years old or more have experienced - some many, many times - the [Israeli] army breaking into the home, beating relatives, destroying things. Many were beaten themselves, had bones broken, were shot, tear gassed, or had these things happen to siblings and neighbors...The emotional aspect of the child is affected by the [lack of] security. He needs to feel safe. We see the consequences later if he does not. In our research, we have found that children who are exposed to trauma tend to be more extreme in their behaviors and, later, in their political beliefs." Dr Samir Quota, director of research for the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, quoted in "The Journal of Palestine Studies," Summer 1996, p.84

Why do you seldom hear about these issues in the UK (and US?) media:

"It is simply extraordinary and without precedent that Israel's history, its record - from the fact that it..is a state built on conquest, that it has invaded surrounding countries, bombed and destroyed at will, to the fact that it currently occupies Lebanese, Syrian, and Palestinian territory against international law - is simply never cited, never subjected to scrutiny in the U.S. media or in official discourse...never addressed as playing any role at all in provoking 'Islamic terror.'" Edward Said in "The Progressive." May 30, 1996.

What do Bright Jews themselves think of all this? I'll leave you to read the comments by famous Jewish writers Albert Einstein, Erich Fromm, Martin Buber, etc., in the above cited publication.

Finally, Chomsky writes in his Peace in the Middle East?, "In the American Jewish community, there is little willingness to face the fact that the Palestinian Arabs have suffered a monstrous historical injustice, whatever one may think of the competing claims. Until this is recognized, discussion of the Middle East crisis cannot even begin."




Mon Apr 03, 2006 1:10 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 1 - Reason in Exile - religious suicide bombings?
Indeed, there is a Secular Reasoning behind many bombings, but what is the ultimate motivation for the bomber? I think you underestimate the influence of going straight to heaven with 35 (or however many) of your choosen people and having lots of virgins waiting for you and all that crap that Harris cites as being in the Koran. There seems to be a rewarded greater than self sacrifice for those willing to become martyrs. Secularist ideas could be the motivation, but Islamic tradition could be the deciding factor in whether the bombings are actually carried out. And I think it is hard to seperate out Secular Issues from Non-Secular Issues in Fundamentalist cultures that desire Islam to be part of the government. Governments condoning officially santioned state religion (or factions pushing for such solutions) are amongst the most dangerous parties in the world currently.




Mon Apr 03, 2006 4:15 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 1 - Reason in Exile - religious suicide bombings?
Can't comment on Harris' words as I'm not reading the book (...yet; if the discussion becomes appealing enough, I may check the book out just to be involved in a good conversation), but given what you guys have said so far, it's interesting to me that no one has brought up the Kamikaze pilots from WWII Japan. Their motivation was both nationalistic and religious (cf. Ruth Benedict, "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword") so it doesn't really fly as an example of purely secular extremist violence, but I do think it has some bearing on a topic broached by rivercoil. Because the interesting thing about Kamikaze is that, so far as I know, there was no proferred reward for a successful divebomb, at least not in terms of an afterlife. Kamikaze drove their planes into warships not in order to gain entrance into heaven and access to a passel of virgins, but rather for honor and the Emperor.

This, I think, points to a more general point: that one's willingness to die for a cause -- and moreover, to persue death in the name of a cause -- is likely connected to a more general eagerness to die. If an atheist is willing to commit suicide out of sheer malaise, then what prevents a atheist from directing that suicidal impulse to an act of aggression that will confer some, at least, social meaning on an act that would otherwise demonstrate only the futility of that person's life?

I would even go so far as to say that it's dubious to assume that an Islamic suicide bomber is willing to plunge headlong into death simply for the promise of paradise. There may be some who are so certain of their religion and the war they fight in its name that they do not entertain any doubts as to the reward for death in jihad, but I'm not convinced that they make up the majority of jihadists, even of suicide bombers. As E.M.W. Tillyard has pointed out, those who are most vocal about the tenants of their belief often raise their voices to combat their own doubt. There's something besides faith at play here, I think. It may not be an outright deathwish, but I do think Eric Hoffer is onto something when he says that the member of a mass movement is so convinced of the injustice or futility of his present circumstances that they must be done away with in one way or another. If a change of circumstances can be achieved in his lifetime, so be it. If not, then he may choose to die in the name of a better world -- a terrestrial one, that is -- rather than continue to live a life that is hateful to him. Hoffer's no apologist, but he makes it clear that this pattern is as true of secular movements as it is of religious movements.




Mon Apr 03, 2006 5:09 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 1 - Reason in Exile - religious suicide bombings?
Good points all Mad. I thought about the Japanese suicide bombers of WWII as well, but I did not include them in my discussion as I think them seperate since it was during war time. The nationalistic spirit and pride runs so so so high during war time, I think it could equate to faith itself in a sense. So I think it an uneven comparison to compare secular suicide bombers during war time with those during a non-war time. Though it could be argued that the Islamic Suicide Bombers of today likely think they are at war, so that could be a factor as well.

Can any one think of any Suicide Bombers of Western Descent? I am trying but can not come up with any. Tim McVey bombed a building but not suicide, same with Ted the Unabomber, both bombers but neither suicide. Those are the most famous bombers I can think of from the United States.

Perhaps we could also draw into the dicsussion the unfortunate events of columbine and other such shootings that eventually turn suicide. Though they are for vastly different reasons and seemingly completely non-faith based, I think they might be interesting to consider in comparison as they are essentially mass murder suicides.

Seems like we have a lot of evidence against Harris's harsh critique of fundamentalist faiths due to their believers who become suicide killers. And if that is Harris's main premise for advocating an "End of Faith," it could be a shakey proposition for more reasons than I have already addressed in the other thread. Good food for thought here!




Mon Apr 03, 2006 5:53 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 1 - Reason in Exile
Quote:
Nope. None of that had anything to do with it. Why did the Palestinian kill himself and all those people?

Because of his religion.

To play Devil's Advocate in defense of Harris (who has clearly oversimplified issues to support his points), I think we could make a distinction between "reasons" for someone wanting to kill people and the "decision" to actually do it. Any one can have a reason to do something but realizes it is wrong, so they decide not to. I think Harris over simplifies the point that religious texts give someone a reason/explanation/validation/excuse to do what is normally unthinkable to support their idea. Would these people be performing suicide bombings without the religious aspect and influence? I asked in another thread for examples in recent Western History of suicide bombings and I don't see anything on the scale of what is happening currently in the middle east and being attempted (carried out in the case of 9/11 and madrid) around the world by people from the Middle East. Are religion and religious texts providing the spark to ignite the dynamite that was created by other grevences (often times legitiment despite the illegitiment violence sparked in retaliation)?

I think a more in depth look into Islam would be warrented. I suddenly feel like I do not know enough about that religion nor why followers of Islam see themselves, their religion, and how their religion motivates them. Is it different than Western Religion in these senses and how? Further reading on this subject will definitely be a prioriety for me and I am open to suggestions. A quick scan of Amazon sees a lot of titles but VERY polarizing reviews in both directions. Seems like a widely agreed upon authroitative text on the subject is hard to find (I suspect because of the very nature of the subject).




Tue Apr 04, 2006 4:38 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 1 - Reason in Exile
Are there other Israel-Palestine situations? Maybe it is the almost unique POLITICAL parameters of this situation that have led to suicide bombing. The nearest parallel I can think of is the China-Tibet situation. So it might be informative to look at the Tibetan response to Chinese aggression. Dr Haider Abdel-Shafi, once a top negotiator of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation has said: "The suicide attacks have been very, very damaging to us. They deprived us of the sympathy of the world." I think this is correct, people feel much more sympathetic towards the Tibetan cause largely because they have used non-violence.

Why did no countries try suicide bombing against Nazi Germany? If someone in the French resistance, say, had decided to cross over to Germany and blow up German civilians on a bus then Hitler would have had no qualms at unleashing geniocide on the French civilians. So it may be Isreali restraint that leads to suicde bombings!

Why didn't Moslem Indians use suicide bombing against the British Raj? That fact they did not indicates that suicide is a modern political act rather than an act inspired by the Koran.




Wed Apr 05, 2006 6:51 am
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Post Re: Ch. 1 - Reason in Exile
The problems in the area of the middle east are highly religious in nature...and it is not necessarily the Muslims or Palistinians that are the problem IMO. It is the insistance that the "Holy Land" somehow BELONGS to the Jewish people, because of some fictional shit mentioned in the bible, that is causing much of the problems IMO.

I am not anti-semetic...so I hope not to hear that crap. It is the plain fact that the Holy land has been contested for...how long? The ignorance of Faith is still sith us...no matter who tries to play it down. Is it now the ONLY factor. No...but it is an underlying one. One that has laid the foundation for the problems we are seeing today.


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Post Re: Ch. 1 - Reason in Exile
riverc0il: I think Harris over simplifies the point that religious texts give someone a reason/explanation/validation/excuse to do what is normally unthinkable to support their idea.

You have a point, and then, you don't. I think you're probably right that, in a lot of cases, religion is playing a crucial part in the conscious decision to take a particular mode of action. But where did we get the idea that these acts you be "normally unthinkable"? Suicide and mass destruction have been elements in civilization for as long as history can demonstrate. What's fairly novel in the instance of suicide bombing is their combination. And I'm not even sure it's all that novel -- soldiers have almost always been willing to march obediently to their deaths so long as it served a tactical purpose. The refinement here, so far as I can tell, is its particular adaptation as a kind of message and its modus operandi in attacking specifically civilian populations.

Further reading on this subject will definitely be a prioriety for me and I am open to suggestions. A quick scan of Amazon sees a lot of titles but VERY polarizing reviews in both directions.

Polarization can be, in a topic like this, a good thing, so long as you're up to the task of navigating that polarization and not buying to quickly into any particular point of view. To my knowledge, Bernard Lewis and Edward Said have long been admired as writers on the current state of Islam, although Lewis has recently been criticized for an apparantly Janus-faced view of Islam.

mal4mac: Why didn't Moslem Indians use suicide bombing against the British Raj? That fact they did not indicates that suicide is a modern political act rather than an act inspired by the Koran.

This doesn't particular relate to the situation of British Imperialism in India, but I might also point out that the technique of suicide bombing is also characteristic of a certain amount of technological and economic change. First of all, you must consider that past generations had limited access to the sorts of explosives needed to carry off a legitimate suicide bombing, both because of the limitations of explosive technology of the time and because of the cost involved in procuring and using demolitions of that sort. The rapidity with which 20th century nations converted industry towards the war machine has resulted in the rapid growth of that technology as well as a surplus of weapons, which means that basic demolitions can be bought at a relatively low price. The second consideration, stemming from the first, is that it is often more economical for a rebel party to buy cheap demolitions than it is for them to buy up-to-date weapons. The insurgents in places like Afghanistan are mostly using, for instance, outmoded and second-hand Russian weapons to face Western enemies who have had the benefit of developing weapons technology. And thirdly, when the theater of war is densely packed urban areas, and the rebel party has very few resources -- especially in terms of well-trained soldiers -- it may be more economical to use the untrained as weapons while conserving the trained for more tactically demanding situations.

I think that third point is particularly illuminating. For an operation like the infiltration of American airspace, a certain amount of expertise was needed, but far more often these suicide bombings tend to depend upon untrained civilians, mostly because that is what's available. What I'm saying is that, it looks to me as thought the demands of the conflict have determined the mode, rather than any particular religious influence. If there were a way to isolate the combat to unpopulated areas, or simply to cut the militants off from a sympathetic civilian population, I doubt you'd see their elite strapping on bombs and running into the opposing army's camps. They've found a tactic that is effective so long as they can use it to draw dissaffected and already suicide-prone civilians into their tactical plans.

To that end, I would say that religion likely is playing a role, but it's a different role than most people suggest. What it has allowed is an outlet for suicide in a society that otherwise imposes a strict moral injunction against suicide. It plays on a conflict in the culture: the civilians who make the best candidates for suicide bombings are people who already feel crushed by the demands of their society; given a more permissive moral code, they might resort to suicide on their own; but one of the elements of their culture is an injunction against suicide. The militants have played on a kind of loophole in Islamic law -- you can commit suicide so long as, in doing so, you achieve something for Islam. Take away the desire for suicide that already exists in these societies, and I think you'd see a precipitous decline in the number of people willing to strap on bombs in the name of Allah. That might go some measure towards explaining why another culture, like that of Indian Muslims under the British Raj, never ventured into the realm of tactical suicide bombings: some aspect of Indian/British culture at the time -- perhaps identifiable in the British educational system or some aspect of Indian culture -- imposed an injunction against suicide or failed to generate enough potential suicides to meet the sort of demand needed.

misterpessimistic: The problems in the area of the middle east are highly religious in nature...and it is not necessarily the Muslims or Palistinians that are the problem IMO. It is the insistance that the "Holy Land" somehow BELONGS to the Jewish people, because of some fictional shit mentioned in the bible, that is causing much of the problems IMO.

I think that's a pretty common answer to the question of why the situation is so volatile these days, but I don't know that there's as much evidence to support it as people think. Zionism was not so much a religious movement as it was a political response to the ongoing persecution of Jews, culminating with the Holocaust. Modern Jews have staked a claim on Palestine not so much because they feel they have a contractual claim to it, but because the rise of nationalism in Europe over the last several hundred years has made cultural groups who have no nationalistic homeland particularly vulnerable to persecution.

It is the plain fact that the Holy land has been contested for...how long?

Not so much by Jews, though. Most of the contests over the Holy Land have been between gentile and secular Europe and the groups of people loosely referred to as Arab or Levant.




Wed Apr 05, 2006 4:53 pm
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