Posts in: August 2015

Islamic State of Mind

Yesterday morning began inauspiciously, with me reading of an awful op-ed that attempted to divorce ISIS’s horrific pattern of sexual enslavement from the Islamic faith. Among other defenses, the author, Boston University assistant professor of religion Kecia Ali, pulls out a couple of old chestnuts: that the Qur’an “arose” in a world where slavery was a given, that ISIS’s fundamentalism is “superficial and selective” (unlike those who choose to ignore the pro-slavery, pro-rape passages in the Qur’an?), and that the west, not Islam, is to blame for all of this.

I’d like to dissect that a little bit, but first, let me tell you how the day closed: with the news that ISIS blew up a 2000-year-old religious temple in Palmyra. This news comes less than a week after the news that 81-year-old Syrian archaeologist Khaled al-Asaad, who spent four decades in charge of the Palmyra excavation, was interrogated, tortured, and beheaded by ISIS. Afterward, they strung his body up from a lamppost and placed the head below.

Early reports stated that they were looking for gold, but over the past week, it has come to light that the true agenda of the militants is to “purge paganism” from the world. They believed al-Asaad had secretly buried antiquities. Since they overtook Palmyra in May, it has been reported that ISIS has destroyed several other religious artifacts, including the first-century Lion of al-Lat, believed to be the “consort” of the pre-Islamic Arabian goddess of Mecca. Now, they’ve destroyed a temple to Baalshamin, alternately a god and a title for other gods, including famed Yahweh competitor Ba’al.

These actions beg an obvious question: is this about religion, or isn’t it? Apologists like Kecia Ali would have us believe that the violence perpetuated by ISIS might use scripture as justification, but it is not really religion driving the behavior. If it was, then why don’t all Muslims behave this way? The simplest answer is that social attitudes progress in spite of religion. Ali criticizes the “superficial and selective” interpretation of the Qur’an, but as I love saying of any holy book: all that bad shit is still in there. If you “choose” to interpret the horrible passages as the inerrant word of God, how can anyone tell you that you’re religiously wrong? It’s right there.

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Gun Control

Here’s the deal, guys: gun violence doesn’t only matter on the days high-profile shootings get endless media coverage. I’ve seen an uncomfortable number of posts today suggesting the shootings of Alison Parker and Adam Ward have shed new light on the gun control debate. This is not true; the only difference between it and any other shooting is the fact that it happened live on television.

In Chicago alone, nearly 300 people have been shot dead so far this year. Over 1600 people have “merely” been wounded in a shooting. Just in Chicago. Just this year. This is a problem every single day, everywhere in this country. When a violent shooting saturates the media for a day or two, I would ask that you pause and reflect on the fact that such shootings happen so often, the media views them as mundane. It’s only when there’s a “sexy” angle that they pretends to care, and a new angle on a mundane problem doesn’t make it different or more important or more urgent. It makes it frightening—frightening that the thousands of others murdered by guns in a given year aren’t acknowledged by the media until an “interesting” or “compelling” shooting occurs.

Now, for those of you who are less than sympathetic to the endlessly expanding list of shooting victims: the Second Amendment, in its vagueness, is not a tacit endorsement of anyone who chooses to collect a dozen assault rifles to store in a secret floor vault along with some gold doubloons and a package of Food Insurance. I agree with the spirit of the Second Amendment, in its original historical context: a new nation, with a new view of personal and political freedom, surrounded by European colonies and Indian settlements with uncertain allegiances, having recently fought and won its freedom from a powerful empire’s formidable military, believed that to prevent the reemergence of tyranny, the only rational way to protect both citizen and nation was to empower the individual to arm him or herself. History shows this belief was not exactly incorrect, but the framers failed to anticipate a time and place when guns would outnumber men, and the need of guns to fight for freedom would be outweighed by the want of guns to murder people for really, really lame reasons.

“But wait!” you’re bellowing. “What about the need of a well regulated militia for the security of a free state?” You’re looking at the American military, the most powerful force the world has ever known, and you’re cowering in your makeshift bunker, surrounded on all sides with chalkboards scrawled with paranoid nonsense, and you’re ascared of what will happen if the wrong person(s) gain responsibility for that force.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t also worry about that, sometimes. But remember the following: A ragtag group of untrained civilians, led by nerdy political philosophers, won their independence from the British Empire, which boasted the most powerful military the world had ever seen. History is rife with examples of small forces defeating enormous, well-organized military powers, from the Greeks at Thermopylae to, unfortunately, ISIS in the Middle East.

You don’t need to be Goliath to beat Goliath. So relax, and learn to embrace a world where you’ll maybe get to keep one handgun and one hunting rifle, registered and plugged into a national law enforcement database. When the time comes to rise up against the government, at least they’ll know the names of the people coming after them.

What’s that? You’re a lifetime member of the NRA worried about how this will hurt your beloved arms-manufacturing industry? Relax; the federal government spends $600 billion a year on “defense,” and they sell a shit-ton of American arms to foreign militaries. The arms trade won’t go anywhere, so neither will your limited, well regulated number of personal weapons.

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