Steven Pinker on Islamic Terrorism

Steven Pinker’s book The Better Angels of Our Nature makes for interesting and informative reading. He answers the question, “Why violence has declined?”, which is the subtitle of the book. It does come as somewhat of a surprise that violence has historically declined in most of the world. The book provokes many “Aha!” moments. Read it for fun and profit, as they say. Here I post an extended excerpt. It’s a bit that will enlighten and delight the pseudo-secularists in India. (I am kidding. The p-secs would rather have red-hot nails hammered into their privates than admit the truth of what Pinker writes in this bit of his book.)

So here is the extended excerpt. What it conveys is the idea that while the rest of the world has seen a reduction in violence, the Islamic world is rife with the horrors of violence. Pinker does not trace this to the Islamic holy book explicitly (which of course would invite murderous violence from the adherents of the Religion of Peace™) but the message is clear. Islam is not compatible with peace. When you inquire into the roots of that worldview — another word for roots is radical — you cannot but conclude that Islam is the most violent of the three monotheistic faiths.

The more this truth is acknowledged, the sooner the world will be rid of it. Anyhow, here’s the eloquent Pinker, for the record:

The impression that the Muslim world indulges kinds of violence that the West has outgrown is not a symptom of Islamophobia or Orientalism but is borne out by the numbers. Though about a fifth of the world’s population is Muslim, and about a quarter of the world’s countries have a Muslim majority, more than half of the armed conflicts in 2008 embroiled Muslim countries or insurgencies. Muslim countries force a greater proportion of their citizens into their armies than non-Muslim countries do, holding other factors constant. Muslim groups held two-thirds of the slots on the U.S. State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations, and (as mentioned) in 2008 Sunni terrorists killed nearly two-thirds of the world’s victims of terrorism whose perpetrators could be identified.

In defiance of the rising tide of democracy, only about a quarter of Islamic countries elect their governments, and most of them are only dubiously democratic. Their leaders receive farcically high percentages of the vote, and they exercise the power to jail opponents, outlaw opposition parties, suspend parliament, and cancel elections. It’s not just that Islamic countries happen to have risk factors for autocracy, such as being larger, poorer, or richer in oil. Even in a regression analysis that holds these factors constant, countries with larger proportions of Muslims have fewer political rights. Political rights are very much a matter of violence, of course, since they amount to being able to speak, write, and assemble without being dragged off to jail.

The laws and practices of many Muslim countries seem to have missed out on the Humanitarian Revolution. According to Amnesty International, almost three-quarters of Muslim countries execute their criminals, compared to a third of non-Muslim countries, and many use cruel punishments such as stoning, branding, blinding, amputation of tongues or hands, and even crucifixion. More than a hundred million females in Islamic countries have had their genitals mutilated, and many Muslim women have been disfigured with acid or killed outright if they displease their fathers, their brothers, or the husbands who had been forced upon them. Islamic countries were the last to abolish slavery (as recently as 1962 in Saudi Arabia and 1980 in Mauritania), and a majority of the countries in which people continue to be trafficked are Muslim. In many Muslim countries, witchcraft is not just on the books as a crime but is commonly prosecuted. In 2009, for example, Saudi Arabia convicted a man for carrying a phone booklet with characters in an alphabet from his native Eritrea, which the police interpreted as occult symbols. He was lashed three hundred times and imprisoned for more than three years.

Violence is sanctioned in the Islamic world not just by religious superstition but by a hyperdeveloped culture of honor. The political scientists Khaled Fattah and K. M. Fierke have documented how a “discourse of humiliation” runs through the ideology of Islamist organizations. A sweeping litany of affronts—the Crusades, the history of Western colonization, the existence of Israel, the presence of American troops on Arabian soil, the underperformance of Islamic countries—are taken as insults to Islam and used to license indiscriminate vengeance against members of the civilization they hold responsible, together with Muslim leaders of insufficient ideological purity. The radical fringe of Islam harbors an ideology that is classically genocidal: history is seen as a violent struggle that will culminate in the glorious subjugation of an irredeemably evil class of people. Spokesmen for Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Iranian regime have demonized enemy groups (Zionists, infidels, crusaders, polytheists), spoken of a millennial cataclysm that would usher in a utopia, and justified the killing of entire categories of people such as Jews, Americans, and those felt to insult Islam.

The historian Bernard Lewis is not the only one who has asked, “What went wrong?” In 2002 a committee of Arab intellectuals under the auspices of the United Nations published the candid Arab Human Development Report, said to be “written by Arabs for Arabs.” The authors documented that Arab nations were plagued by political repression, economic backwardness, oppression of women, widespread illiteracy, and a self-imposed isolation from the world of ideas. At the time of the report, the entire Arab world exported fewer manufactured goods than the Philippines, had poorer Internet connectivity than sub-Saharan Africa, registered 2 percent as many patents per year as South Korea, and translated about a fifth as many books into Arabic as Greece translates into Greek.

Lewis notes:

In most tests of tolerance, Islam, both in theory and in practice, compares unfavorably with the Western democracies as they have developed during the last two or three centuries, but very favorably with most other Christian and post-Christian societies and regimes. There is nothing in Islamic history to compare with the emancipation, acceptance, and integration of otherbelievers and non-believers in the West; but equally, there is nothing in Islamic history to compare with the Spanish expulsion of Jews and Muslims, the Inquisition, the Auto da fé’s, the wars of religion, not to speak of more recent crimes of commission and acquiescence.

Why did Islam blow its lead and fail to have an Age of Reason, an Enlightenment, and a Humanitarian Revolution? Some historians point to bellicose passages in the Koran, but compared to our own genocidal scriptures, they are nothing that some clever exegesis and evolving norms couldn’t spindoctor away.

Lewis points instead to the historical lack of separation between mosque and state. Muhammad was not just a spiritual leader but a political and military one, and only recently have any Islamic states had the concept of a distinction between the secular and the sacred. With every potential intellectual contribution filtered through religious spectacles, opportunities for absorbing and combining new ideas were lost. Lewis recounts that while works in philosophy and mathematics had been translated from classical Greek into Arabic, works of poetry, drama, and history were not. And while Muslims had a richly developed history of their own civilization, they were incurious about their Asian, African, and European neighbors and about their own pagan ancestors. The Ottoman heirs to classical Islamic civilization resisted the adoption of mechanical clocks, standardized weights and measures, experimental science, modern philosophy, translations of poetry and fiction, the financial instruments of capitalism, and perhaps most importantly, the printing press. (Arabic was the language in which the Koran was written, so printing it was considered an act of desecration.) In chapter 4 I speculated that the Humanitarian Revolution in Europe was catalyzed by a literate cosmopolitanism, which expanded people’s circle of empathy and set up a marketplace of ideas from which a liberal humanism could emerge. Perhaps the dead hand of religion impeded the flow of new ideas into the centers of Islamic civilization, locking it into a relatively illiberal stage of development. As if to prove the speculation correct, in 2010 the Iranian government restricted the number of university students who would be admitted to programs in the humanities, because, according to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini, study of the humanities “promotes skepticism and doubt in religious principles and beliefs.”

[The emphasis in the above quoted text is not in the original.]

Islam is the greatest curse on humanity. Muslims are, of course, the primary victims of Islam but they are also the vector for the transmission of the horrors of Islam to non-Muslims. Certainly Islam will go extinct just like the other inhumane ideologies did. But it will not end until the world realizes what it is. I recommend the mandatory reading of the Islam holy book.

Author: Atanu Dey


One thought on “Steven Pinker on Islamic Terrorism”

  1. I liked what I read here. If one group or one country who ought to know the nature of islam, it should be Indians and India. We have seven hundred years of onslaught of middle-east generated violence with no positve outcome to show. We have become so jaded, we now have to learn about it from Western writers.

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