Peekholes Into Terrorism: Boston, Apostates and 'Argo'

04/23/2013 06:28 pm ET | Updated Jun 23, 2013

In the aftermath of this month's Boston Marathon bombings, many are left scratching their heads. Why such "senseless violence"? What gain could equal the pain brought upon innocent people and ultimately the suspects themselves?

As it becomes clearer that neither a maniac loner nor an Internet game "vidiot" was responsible, we search to gain insight that will help us make a safer future. And we look to explain away what might mirror a potential in us all.

Before the suspects were identified to be of Chechen Muslim descent, and even now after, there has been reluctance to implicate Islamic terrorism as integral to the bombings.

"Metaphilosophy," the study of how philosophies are made, shows that we all have "control beliefs." These are deeply seated beliefs that control the way we reason and perceive events. They determine our worldview.

To truly understand a situation, we need to confront and think beyond the envelope of our control beliefs. This is not easy.

Could "control beliefs" be hindering our understanding of terrorism and how to reduce it?

A common control belief is that every religion is the same. General arguments can be proposed to support this, but the view quickly becomes problematic when we look at specifics. For example, reincarnation with the transmigration of souls is not the same as a single life followed by judgment. Around the world, most people seem to accept that political systems are not all the same. To be sure, there is a common thread of ambitious leaders manipulating any system for their own ends; but there remains an understanding that democracy is not identical to tyranny, and so on. Not so with religions. If we hold the control belief that all religions are the same, it becomes difficult for us to closely examine differences that might contribute to how a religion impacts the world. I believe that three control beliefs hinder our abilities to investigate and manage causes of terrorism. These beliefs are:

  • All religions are the same. They have potential for good but can be misused for evil.
  • Political frustration and the desire for power underlie all misdeeds performed in the name of religion.
  • If we admit that religions differ in their values, we can't be tolerant.
Certain aspects of these beliefs appeal to most of us, including me. But when they keep us from looking at the facts, they are "defeater beliefs" -- beliefs which preclude us from accepting other evidence. The film "Argo," recently released on DVD, presents one aspect of the Iran hostage situation which began in 1979. Being old enough to recall the joy of Americans and the exultation of Canadians after six American Embassy employees escaped, I really enjoyed its behind the scenes view of classified events unknown to us at the time. Violence is usual in any revolution, and its depiction in "Argo" was no greater than you would expect. What disturbed me was a single Arabic word. In the scene from where a revolutionary interviews an Iranian domestic worker for the Canadian Ambassador, Sura 48:29 from the Quran is cited (a verse I discuss in this blog). Sincere Muslims are kind to its believers, the subtitles explained, translating all with the exception of one word. Rather than being told that sincere Muslims are hard against unbelievers, the Arabic word kufari was used untranslated. Who knows what kufari means? Only Arabic speakers, Muslims, and students of Islam, such as myself -- hardly a significant percentage of the film's audience. But all English speakers understand "unbelievers." So then, why was that one particular word left in Arabic? Was it decided that the film's viewers shouldn't see what the Qyran says about the treatment of unbelievers? I don't know the motivation behind this apparent cover-up, but its result supported a common control belief. Love and tolerance do not mean approving of everything someone says or does. Ask any mom. Personally, I love Muslims, and show it by how I live. Many of my friends and acquaintances are Muslim. But this does not blind me to the unpleasant teachings of the source documents of their faith. To relate to them better, in 1999, I started reading and studying what their religion teaches. I was surprised with what I discovered. In attempting to understand Islamic terrorism, we must not rely on control beliefs. We can't assume that Islamic sources teach what we hope they teach. We must start analysis with a clean slate. I am pleading with leaders, teachers, and educated Americans: before denying Islam's violent teachings, please read the foundational writings of Islam. I'm not talking about what Muslim evangelists present on university campuses, or books marketed to make Islam palatable to the West. Read the Quran itself, especially Suras 9 and 2, and the hadiths -- written traditions about the Prophet Muhammad and his companions. Some American Muslims deny the place of hadiths, but the major branches of Islam still hold that you can not be a true believer without following the authentic hadiths of their sect because they are what show how to live. I recommend reading, or at least surveying, a full collection of the authentic Sunni Hadiths, such as Sahih al Bukhari or Sahih Muslim -- not simply excerpted "beautiful hadiths." These latter omit exhortations to violence. (Note: Shiite hadiths are more difficult to find, such as al Kafi or Nahj al Bulagha.) Although one might point to incidents of violence perpetrated by followers of Moses, Buddha and Jesus, an examination of their founding documents does not reveal a manifesto for violent takeover of the world. I'm not saying there is no good in Islam, but I am truly sorry to say that its founding documents encourage promoting the faith through violence. Recovery groups like Alcoholics Anonymous make clear that the first step in addressing a problem is to admit that it exists. Without that you can't move on.

Until we overcome control beliefs that prevent investigation into the non-political causes of violence, i.e. religious teachings, we can't effectively find approaches to stop it.

I suggest an approach to the study of Islam and terror based on inquiry rather than presupposition, such as:

  • do not assume and deny
  • read accurately translated source documents of Islam (i.e. not softened)
  • admit the early teachings of Islam promote violence
  • encourage abandonment, not denial, of those teachings, either by 1) encouraging Islam to find a way to relegate violent promotion of the faith to the past and vigorously promote this view among the faithful (through "Secondary Precepts") or 2) accept that apostasy, leaving Islam, is a valid alternative
  • continue to assure fair treatment of Muslims in the West, and work for the fair treatment of religious minorities in Muslim countries
Over the past nine months, seven Saudis of my acquaintances have left Islam. Their reasons are very interesting. One of them applies here:

"Islam is all about violence," two Saudis friends told me, "We used to argue with you that it wasn't, but inside we knew it was. Now we feel peace."

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