Some thoughts on Terrorism.

Why would anyone deliberately target children?

It is a particularly despicable act to detonate a bomb where you know people will be harmed but it’s even worse when the majority of those in the area are children.

But the act of terror committed in Manchester Arena was meant to cause the maximum horror and outrage amongst ordinary people, that was the whole point of it.  It was meant to provoke a reaction.

There is a vicious circle here which must be broken if we are to have peace, but I can see no way to break it.

It goes like this.

Acts of terror are meant to provoke a reaction.  When some idiot in Syria makes the demand that America should cease all hostilities in the Middle East or they are going to behead an aid worker or journalist they do not expect their demands to be met, in fact it would be very disruptive for them if America did meet their demands.  They don’t want their demands met.  The demand is just there to give them an excuse to commit a horrific act.

The reaction to these horrific acts is the whole point, that is why they do them, to provoke a reaction.

The purpose of the acts is to provoke a military response so they can portray themselves as being in a legitimate military struggle with the forces of western democracy (or Christianity depending on which set of propaganda you read).

When western political leaders say that they are at war with IS or Daesh they give them legitimacy, when they carry out air strikes against Daesh (IS, ISIS, ISIL or whatever) in Syria or Iraq they give them legitimacy, which is what Daesh want.  Daesh want the Jihadi cause to be seen as legitimate by Muslim communities both in the Middle East and here in Europe and Great Britain.  Donald Trump with his stupid ill thought out verbal attacks and his travel ban has been great for Daesh recruitment.

Western political leaders are playing to the crowd, their response is meant for their home audience, with one eye on the next election they feel that they must be seen to be doing something, but this is exactly what the Daesh terrorists want.

Daesh recruit young men (almost always young men) to blow themselves up or drive a truck along a crowded pavement to further the cause of global Jihad, but what does it achieve ?  Nothing except a lot of pain and misery.  The young men they recruit are as much the victims as the people they slaughter.  They have been tricked into killing themselves by perfidious promises of rewards in heaven after they die.  Living in paradise with a number of virgins at their disposal (the number varies), but this is not what is written in the Quran which promises a reward beyond man’s comprehension without actually saying what it is.  The virgins are just Daesh’s misogynistic interpretation of these ambiguous verses.

The acts of random terror in Europe or Great Britain are designed to cause alienation of the Islamic communities.  To drive wedges between people and between communities, to cause suspicion and doubt.  From their point of view it would be even better if there is a backlash against Muslims after the atrocity in Manchester.

Alienation leads to radicalisation, not of the many but of a few vulnerable individuals who are susceptible to the message of the radicals, people who are seeking certainty in their lives.  People who feel that they have no future, people who have lost hope, these are the ones who are most vulnerable to the brain washing of radical Islam.  The radical message promises them that a certainty but it is a specious message.

Global Jihad uses the Internet as the main method for communication and ideological advancement. Western media feeds on the events terrorists create.  Daesh understands this and have become more sophisticated in the way they carry out their recruiting activities and targeting.

And so there are more recruits to the cause and they commit acts of terror both here in the west and in the Middle East and this provokes a reaction and so the whole bloody cycle repeats over and over again.





Images of the Prophet and Freedom of Speech

The ban on images of the prophet muhammed

This blog post contains an image of the Prophet Muhammed and criticisms of religion (religion in general, not just Islam) if this offends you then stop reading this article now!

Almost all Muslims say that images of the Prophet Muhammed are forbidden but actually there is no verse in the Koran which explicitly forbids such images.  The ban actually came about because of the Hadiths, the stories about the life of prophet Muhammed written after his death.

If all images of the Prophet are totally forbidden then someone should have a word with the Iranian government.  There are historical scriptures from the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries with images depicting the prophet and drawn by Muslim artists.  The majority of these images relate to one particular Night Journey and the alleged ascension to Heaven.  The prophet is depicted as being on horseback.

I do not expect that Jihadi gunmen to go storming into the museum to burn the books and shoot the curator.  The Iranians, Shia Muslims, seem more relaxed about images of the prophet than their Sunni counterparts.

So when did this ban on the images arise?

It is hard to say when exactly the ban came into existence, it seems to have been a gradual process moving from disapproval during the sixteenth century to an explicit ban during the eighteenth century.  The driving force behind this was probably the invasion and colonisation of some Muslim countries by Europeans during this time.

One of the reactions of the Muslim religious community was to emphasise the differences between Islam and Christianity.  The iconography of Christianity was denounced as being improper and that is when depictions of the prophet within Islam were purged.

For a proportion of Muslims the antipathy to these images has extended to the image of any living being, human or animal.  One of the main factors in this comes from the teachings of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab an Arab scholar.  His teachings were an effort to purify Islam by returning Muslims to what, he believed, were the original principles of that religion.  He denounced the veneration of anything other than God, including the Prophet Muhammed.

Should the ban on images of the Prophet Muhammed apply to non Muslims?

If images of the Prophet Muhammed are prohibited to Muslims does that prohibition also forbid non Muslims from showing or looking upon images of the Prophet?  I don’t think it should.  An image of the Prophet has no special significance to me as I am an Atheist.

There is a tradition in most western democracies that people have the freedom to express their opinions even if their opinions are offensive to others as long as they do not break the law (by for example committing slander or libel or by exposing state secrets).  Most of the advances in western society have come about because of someone offending the hegemony and most of the failures of social democracy have been preceded by a curtailment of the right to express views which deviate from the orthodox.

I may not agree with the views expressed in Charlie Hebdo but I would defend their right to express their views freely.  If people preparing articles for newspapers or magazines, blog posts, songs and writing books are afraid to express themselves freely for fear of reprisals by religious extremists then the extremists have achieved what they set out to achieve.

Nobody is forcing Muslims to buy Charlie Hebdo, if they don’t like the images in the magazine then they should boycott it.

Respect for religious beliefs?

The following comments apply to all religions, not just Islam.

There is a wider question here.  People often say that we should respect other peoples religious beliefs but I would ask the question “Are religions worthy of respect?”  I am not advocating that we should go out of our way to be offensive to people but if their beliefs have an impact on our lives then should we be forced to change our behaviours in order to respect their views?

In my opinion peoples religious beliefs should command no more respect than their choice of political party or their choice of which football club to support.  It would be silly to demand that a political party be shown respect merely because it is a political party.  So why are religions considered special?

I do not believe that we should give people special treatment or any kind of immunity because they have a religious faith.  Let’s be clear what faith is.  Faith is belief without any proof, as simple as that.  In religious circles faith is treated as if it were a virtue, it is not, it is ignorance.

There are two ways of saying that you don’t know how the universe was created, the first is by saying that we don’t know, but we are working to find out.  The second is to say that a fairy godfather created it all and that’s all you need to know.  At which point all scientific discovery stops.

Faith does not provide any answers, that is not it’s purpose.  It’s purpose is to stop you from asking questions.

Of course everyone should be free to believe what they want to believe, provided that they do not try to force their beliefs on others or harm or kill others because of their beliefs.  Nobody should have the right to impose their own choice of morality or practice on those who do not share their beliefs.

People who have religious beliefs might counter this argument by saying that they have the immoral views of the general population thrust upon them in on the internet, on television, in advertising and on the magazine stands, but these are optional, you can switch the television to a different channel, you can ignore the advertising, you don’t have to browse those websites which offend you, and if a picture of your favourite prophet appears on the cover of a satirical magazine then don’t buy it!

Those people who say that they are offended by criticism or ridicule by people who do not share their views and who try to silence these criticisms by violence are wrong.  They seek to undermine the fundamental values of free speech.  No other civil liberties are possible without free speech.

These people would claim special treatment on the grounds that they have chosen one particular set of religious beliefs which do not have any proof and would insist they everyone who does not share their beliefs treats them in ways that inherently accept their beliefs as being true.

Pretending that something is true does not make it so.

Prophet Muhammed

This is a picture of the ascension of the Prophet Muhammed, it is taken from a historical scripture from the sixteenth century.  It was drawan by an Islamic artist.

The god of ignorance

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
  Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
  Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
  Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
  Then why call him God?

    Epicurus, Greek Philosopher, circa 341-270 BC

Religion thrives on ignorance and whithers under the illumination of knowledge.

In ancient times man needed god in order to explain all the things he did not understand.

So why did the sun rise each morning?  Because god made it come up.  Why are there so many animals all different from each other?  Because god made them that way.

In modern times we have more knowledge so there is less that people can give god credit for but some people still try.  For example, they might say they don’t understand how the wide variety of species came about, thus they say it is intelligent design, ignoring the evidence for evolution.  They might not understand what caused the big bang, therefore god made it happen.  This is a common enough belief held by many people but one that has flaws.

By definition, the god of ignorance is a shrinking god.  As we learn more, we understand more and there is less to give god credit for.  Thousands of years ago people praised god every morning for making the sun come up again.  Today we understand celestial mechanics and so god doesn’t get credit for making it come up.  His role has been progressively reduced until now all we could plausibly give god credit for is the initial bang which started things.

If there is something we don’t understand then saying that “god did it” is lazy and fails to push the boundaries of human knowledge.

Evolution seems to be a natural consequence of the way things work.  When something arises that works better than the current system it is more successful and therefore it proliferates.  Even the big bang has theorists doing research on what happened before the big bang.  These are not impossible questions that will never be answered.

These are not guesses, they are theories backed by observation.

I have often wondered why religious people object so strenuously to the theory of evolution?  The theory of evolution has a simple elegance which makes you think ‘yes I can see why this has to be true’ but many religious people say ‘oh it’s just a theory, it has never been proved’ the implication being that because it is only a theory it is in some way invalid.  Saying that ‘theory is not fact’, is correct but religious dogma is not fact either.

The terminology used in scientific circles is confusing to many members of the general public and does science no favours but it is necessary.

A hypothesis is a theory which has no supporting evidence.  Once it has some supporting evidence then it becomes a theory.  If there is a lot of experimental or other evidence to support the theory it is still called a theory, even when it is generally accepted as being true.  Scientists try to keep an open mind and to say that something is proven closes ones mind to the possibility of ever changing ones views on that subject in the future and so in science everything is a theory.

For instance Newtonian mechanics was a well accepted theory for three centuries and it had huge quantities of supporting evidence but it was still just a theory.  It is a good thing that scientists didn’t close their minds on this subject because it turns out that Newtonian mechanics is incomplete, it accurately describes the motion of bodies traveling at slow velocities but if they travel very fast then Relativity starts to change the way they behave.

For the religious dogmatist to dismiss something as just a theory strikes me as being very strange because what they are trying to entice people to believe in is less than a theory, the religious texts I have seen do not have any supporting evidence whatsoever therefore they fall into the classification of hypothesis and speculation, not theory.  However we are expected to accept them on faith (belief without proof).  The people who put forward these hypotheses are so certain that they are correct that they need no proof.

On a superficial level it seems that a very old planet Earth, and constantly changing species, any one of which might become the dominant species is at odds with their literal interpretation of the Bible, so religious people object to it on those grounds.

But I think there’s more to it than that, evolution argues for a universe of flexible rules and constant change, whereas religion argues for a universe of fixed rules with no change.   I think that this is the basic reason why religion’s followers have not appropriated evolution as being the mechanism by which god shaped life on Earth.  They find change extremely disagreeable.  However pretending that something is the way you want it to be does not make it so.

The god of ignorance will always be there.  As we discover new knowledge, we will also discover new questions.  The god of ignorance will always occupy that unknown place.  He will never completely vanish.  However he will continue to get smaller and smaller and less important.

Why would I even want to believe in a god whose importance shrinks daily?