Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Know Your Enemy

Any sane, decent human being can only find this appalling:

Zilla Huma Usman, the minister for social welfare in Punjab province and an ally of President Pervez Musharraf, was killed as she was about to deliver a speech to dozens of party activists, by a “fanatic”, who believed that she was dressed inappropriately and that women should not be involved in politics, officials said today.

Ms Usman, 35, was wearing the shalwar kameez worn by many professional women in Pakistan, but did not cover her head.

Perhaps even more terrifying is the calm demeanor and warped pride this nut displayed afterwards:

Mr Sarwar appeared relaxed and calm when he told a television channel that he had carried out God’s order to kill women who sinned. “I have no regrets. I just obeyed Allah’s commandment,” he said, adding that Islam did not allow women to hold positions of leadership. “I will kill all those women who do not follow the right path, if I am freed again,” he said.

This is yet another example, as though we should need one, of the extraordinary threat posed by Islamic radicalism in the world today. This isn’t a clash of civilizations, it is a clash for civilization itself. It is the sane, rational, modern world against a mindset so irrational and warped that it simply cannot be reasoned with. And unfortunately, there are an untold number of people in the world just like him.


  1. #1 kehrsam
    February 23, 2007

    From the article:

    The gunman, Mohammad Sarwar, was overpowered by the minister’s driver and arrested by police. A stone mason in his mid 40s, he is not thought to belong to any radical group but is known for his fanaticism. He was previously held in 2002 in connection with the killing and mutilation of four prostitutes, but was never convicted due to lack of evidence.

    No, we wouldn’t want to keep a guy like that under surveillance.

    To change gears, I think we in the west have a huge perceptual problem when dealing with Third World cultures, in that we forget how cheap life has been for most of human history. We are shocked at the assassination of a single person; Iraqis watched the killing of tens of thousands of Marsh Arabs under Saddam and took it in stride.

    We have developed a cult of individualism in the west. Part of that is ideological, but most of it is based on material prosperity: They don’t hate us for our freedom, they hate us for our stuff. If we can expand prosperity to the Third World, our values will surely follow. If we cannot, we risk being overwhelmed by demographics.

    So, is prosperity sustainable? I really don’t know. I do know my lines of analysis are more likely to lead to answers than D’Souza’s blather.

  2. #2 Prup aka Jim Benton
    February 23, 2007

    I certainly agree that this is appalling. I also agree that the Islamic mindset is just that warped. (One problem with discussing it is that, between the LGFers and Bush on one side — who are anti-Muslim but have no idea what the Qur’an is like, and too many atheists and rationalists who are worried about attacking Islam because doing so makes Christianity, even Fundamentalist Christianity look sane in comparison, it becomes hard to look closely at it.)

    That having been said, this story has a number of additional wrinkles. The killer is a confessed serial killer who murdered at least four prostitutes and wounded at least four more. Which, to a certain extent, takes Islam off the hook, since a system of thought cannot be blamed for the fact that a crazy uses it — we don’t condemn Christianity because a serial killer claims to have heard the voice of God or Jesus ordering him to kill.

    EXCEPT there’s a further wrinkle. Why is a confessed serial killer walking around loose in Gujranwala? Because Islamic Law permits a family to ‘accept reparation’ and drop prosecution. And the families of the girls didn’t want to testify to their daughters’ prostitution because of the ‘shame’ it brought on them, so they accepted money raised by local religious leaders.

    There’s more.
    “A rickshaw driver who used to drive the prostitutes around initially told police he saw Sarwar shooting one of the women, “but backed down, apparently under pressure from local clergy in Gujranwala who supported Sarwar.”

    Eventually Sarwar — a father of nine who had been educated at a madrassa or Islamic seminary in Gujranwala and later taught local children the Koran — withdrew his confession.

    His lawyer, Liaqat Sindhu, said he “knew that Sarwar was guilty of the killings” but that he was acquitted because there was no firm evidence and the case was mishandled.

    Psychiatric tests on Sarwar in 2003 showed that he was “not deranged”, said Saud Aziz, who is now police chief of Rawalpindi, near Islamabad.

    “He said he killed the girls after he got divine revelations,” he said.”


  3. #3 Troublesome Frog
    February 23, 2007

    All the talk about morality and mandates from God leads me to thinking only one thing: It seems profoundly selfish to kill other people for a reward, even a divine reward. Perhaps my lack of a religious moral compass confuses me.

  4. #4 James
    February 23, 2007

    kersham: I think you are right that prosperity is the only way out of this. The 21st century Middle-East looks to me a lot like medieval Europe: mass ignorance, intolerance and a deadly struggle between tyrants wearing crowns and tyrants wearing mitres.

    The point is that Eurpoe got out of it eventually and the Middle-East will as well, as long as they grow and develop. I actually think all that oil works against them, it encourages feudal client-master power structures rather than more equal contractual relationships.

    The best thing we can do is trade freely with them, and wait for things to improve.

  5. #5 Sastra
    February 23, 2007

    If prosperity is the way out of terrorism, how come many terrorists — including the men who flew the planes into the World Trade Center — seem to be educated, and come mostly from the middle class?

  6. #6 Jason
    February 23, 2007

    If prosperity is the way out of terrorism, how come many terrorists — including the men who flew the planes into the World Trade Center — seem to be educated, and come mostly from the middle class?

    Exactly. The cause of Islamist terrorism is not poverty but religious fanaticism. And religious fanaticism is what you’re likely to get in a culture that encourages people to think they are justified in holding strong convictions about how we ought to treat one another on the basis of religious faith and sacred writings. Poverty matters to the extent that it helps to foster and support that kind of religious culture.

  7. #7 mysh
    February 23, 2007

    My personal pet hypothesis on the current state of Islam is the following (entirely unsupported by evidence, or the like):
    Every religion must go through a process of maturing. Islam has had 500-600 years less than Christianity, so look at the state of Christianity 500-600 years ago. Only, the Muslim countries today have more far-reaching weapons than the Christians did then.

    Of course, Xian fundies disprove my hypothesis single-handedly. But still. I was told it by the voices in my head (maybe God? I’m certainly not deranged), so it must be true.

    If you really want to be scared of what may come, read this:
    (I have no idea how credible the author of this piece is).

    Personally, I think one of the problems in the West’s dealing with the Islamic world is that we tend to apply moral relativism. We accept when they use capital punishment and other forms of corporal punishment because “we can’t hold them to our standards”. This, to me, is utter rubbish. Killing someone is wrong, no matter what. Letting a murderer get away with it is wrong, no matter where. Once you start with saying it’s ok for one group and not the other, nothing but problems can ensue. And it’s bloody patronising, to boot!

  8. #8 Ted
    February 23, 2007

    Sastra said:

    If prosperity is the way out of terrorism, how come many terrorists — including the men who flew the planes into the World Trade Center — seem to be educated, and come mostly from the middle class?

    Who said terrorism? You’re the first one in this thread to explicitly equate cultural differences to terrorism. Unless you’re linking his “They don’t hate us for our freedom, they hate us for our stuff” as being directed at terrorism, (which coincidentally is some of the weakest political propaganda that this administration has the chutzpah to spew).

    To me it sounded like kehrsam was talking about a way of elevating people out of religious fanaticism.

    I thought it was established that either this guy was a nut, or that he was acting under religious delusions that the clergy was feeding. Is it terrorism that drove him to kill and maim prostitutes?

  9. #9 decrepitoldfool
    February 23, 2007

    I have the feeling that poverty, while not necessarily making an individual into a terrorist (most poor people aren’t) predisposes a society to producing terrorists. The way smoking cigarettes increases your chances of getting cancer. (Overwrought second-hand smoke analogies, anyone?)

    Is there a sociologist in the house?

  10. #10 raj
    February 24, 2007

    Whatever. Pakistan has been going downhill since their military tossed out Benazir Bhutto a number of years ago. They have turned over their western provinces to the local warlords allowing al Qaeda to regroup there as a base for operating not only there, but also in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Pakistan is a failed state and should be recognized as such. I’m not sure what to do about it, but it is rather frightening to know that a failed state has a nuclear bomb.

  11. #11 Prup aka Jim Benton
    February 24, 2007

    Can’t agree with you on this. Both Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif were robbing the coutry blind and playing up to the Muslim extremists. Musharraf is not great — and his ideas on women have gotten him into trouble — but those Pakistanis I have known say that the country is unmistakably better under him — including at least two members of a prominent band who I had a chance to talk with, one of whom was a non-Muslim from Brooklyn and had a different angle to compare the two. It bothers me to support a dictator, but democracy doesn’t always work, and I can assure you that with either of the two kleptocrats still in power, Al Qaeda would still be untouched not only in Afghanistan but in the NWFP.

  12. #12 Prup aka Jim Benton
    February 24, 2007

    Jason: (apologies, this is going to be long, even for me and will take a couple of posts)
    It is too easy to equate Islam with other religions, as easy and as wrong as to pick some horrible verses from the Qur’an and damn all Muslims as terrorists — there are plenty of awful verses in the O.T. and some in the N.T. as well. (I am pro-Muslim and anti-Islam, unlike the LGFers.)
    The problems with Islam, and why it can lead to the sort of violence we see here and in the cartoon riots, etc. has to do with the Qur’an and the ‘core belief’ of Islam.
    Every religion has a ‘core belief.’ For Jews it is the covenant with Abraham, for Christians it is the resurrection. Both groups have a ‘sacred text,’ yes, but there is a wide latitude in the way they view it, with only a relatively small group accepting it as ‘literally true.’ (Most Jews are not ultra-orthodox, most Christians — which includes Catholics, remember — are not fundamentalists or literalists, despite the noisiness that Protestant Fundamentalists make in America.)

    Many Christians and Jews DO “hold strong convictions about how we ought to treat one another on the basis of religious faith and sacred writings” but for most of them, they try to pick the passages thta streess ‘social justice’ for Jews, and ‘love one another’ for Christians.

    Islam is different, because it’s ‘core belief’ is that the Qur’an was dictated to Mohammed by an Angel, directly transmitted from God. (The other religions may believe that God ‘inspired’ their sacred texts, but they also realize that they were the work of man, and can interpret them allegorically, or see parts of them as myth, or argue that the differences in the gospels are ‘nothing more than the way two witnesses at a trial have somewhat different accounts of the same event.’)

    Muslims DO NOT have this ‘out.’ When people were blaming terrorism on ‘Islamic Fundamentalism,’ Muslims were right to argue that this was wrong because ‘we are all fundamentalists.’ (In fact, there ARE as many secular Muslims, probably, as there are secular Christians or Jews, but strictly speaking there ‘shouldn’t’ be, and I have seen repeated accounts of secular Muslims answering the ‘call to Islam’ and becoming even more fanatical than the group as a whole.)

    The trouble is, as I’ll discuss in my next comment, in the Qur’an itself, which is NOT like the Bible, and which causes — I’ll argue — a psychological conflict that, for many Muslims, is so difficult to bear with that the violence is a result.

    But that will be after cat feeding.

  13. #13 Prup aka Jim Benton
    February 24, 2007

    btw, wrote that last to fast, apologies for the typos.

  14. #14 Prup aka Jim Benton
    February 24, 2007

    To explain where I am going with this, all of you are familiar with the situation of someone who is both gay and a Fundamentalist, and who, to avoid the ‘disconnect’ in his head between these two things, lashes out and becomes a ‘gay basher’ in the literal, physical, bat-wielding sense. And you can see similar ‘disconnects’ in the Christian-themed serial killer who kills women to hide from himself his strong sex drive.

    My argument is that many Muslims suffer a whole series of similar ‘disconnects’ between what they ‘must believe is true’ and what they perceive — in themselves but more in the world around them — and these disconnects can be seen as the cause of the extreme violence that many Muslims show when they feel their worldview is threatened. (“Many” is not most, and most Muslims can deal with these problems, but the proportion of those who can’t is much higher than for other religions, because the problems are so much more obvious.)

    These disconnects are, I’ll try to show, the result of the Qur’an, and the way they are ‘supposed’ to believe in it. They are much more frequent for Muslims — and I am talking not about ‘poor villagers’ but much more about people who are middle class, urban Muslims — than for Christians because it is easier to hide the problems Christians have, and because Christians are much freer to treat the Bible as allegorical or simply not read troubling passages.

    People who haven’t read the Qur’an, I suspect, expect it to be ‘like’ the Bible (or the Book of Mormon, or the Ramayan, or other collections of mythology that are considered to be ‘sacred texts’). That is, mostly narratives, with different voices, with some parables or allegories included, maybe some preaching mixed in.

    In fact, what it is — to the unbeliever, at least — is a collection of sermons, delivered during a war or right afterwards, with references that made sense, presumably, to the people who heard them but which are incomprehensible without footnotes to later readers. (“Sermons” may be too polite. In some cases they can be better called ‘rants’ wildly incoherent, incredibly repetitious, with the only narratives being extremely simplified versions of familiar Biblical stories, and not many of them. There is one exception that keeps getting mentioned, a story about a ham-strung she-camel that I have never been able to get a Muslim to explain. Again, a contemporary story, but one mostly lost in time.)

    The sermons weren’t written down until decades after Mohammed’s death — ironic given the fact that they are supposed to include God’s final message to mankind, after previous attempts to tell the (to Muslims) exact same message by earlier prophets — Moses, Adam, Noah and Issa (Jesus) — had been botched by the hearers.

    And here we hit the first ‘disconnect.’ ANY moderately sophisticated Muslim knows — it is not hidden — that the compilation was so late that it was impossible to put the texts in any sort of order except — as was done — by arranging them according to length, the longest first. Most know that during the compilation, some verses were misplaced. (“We know he said it, but was it part of this Sura or that one? Let’s just put it in Sura 23” or whatever.)

    At the same time, Muslims know they are required to believe that this is the ‘perfect book’ the exact rendering of the message of God. Some even believe that the Qur’an we have is an exact copy of one resting on a table in Paradise. It is so perfect in its Arabic original that translations of it are not called THE Qur’an but ‘The meaning of the Qur’an’ (There is a debate whether the original Arabic, which leaves out vowels, as did many Semitic languages, is the only acceptable one, or whether it is permissible to use the later ‘pointed’ (i.e., with vowels recorded) Arabic.)

    This sort of disconnect does not seem to be a problem for most believers. Even then, for a moment imagine having to reconcile this in your own head, knowing, as I should have stressed earlier, that Hell is not a place for sinners, but for unbelievers. Christians and Jews accept that most people have periods of doubt that, ideally to believers, will be worked throught. But doubt, for a Muslim, is grounds for damnation.

    The other disconnects are far more serious, but I am trying to keep these comments of bearable length — and have non-net duties and needs to handle. So I’ll take a break and, hopefully wrap this up in one final post later.

  15. #15 Prup aka Jim Benton
    February 24, 2007

    Okay, I’ll finish up here — and thanx to anyone who had the patience to read this. As I’ve been saying, it is the series of disconnects between what a Muslim knows to be true and what he is forced to accept as true because it is in the Qur’an that, I believe, is a major factor in the internal pressure that causes Muslims to be so violent in their reaction to any perceived threat to their religion. That, and another thing which I haven’t mentioned, simple sexual frustration. Islam is even more puritanical than most of Christianity, barring masturbation, any sort of premarital sex play, prohibiting — in its strictest versions — unmarried women to be in contact with any male other than a relative. (Yes, it regrets co-education, and some hyper-fanatical web sites even discourage a man from riding on mixed public transport — “Do it if you have to, but if you find yourself having improper thoughts, get off and walk. Which is more important, missing an appointment or emperiling your soul.”) True, many Muslims are as sexually active as Christians, but for the believer, again the pressure builds.
    But it is the ‘disconnects’ that I am discussing. Again, the Muslim MUST believe the Qur’an is not just divinely inspired, but divinely dictated. It is a ‘perfect’ errorless book.
    Yet, at at least one place, Mohammed says that MARY is the third person of the Trinity. A Muslim who gets to know Christians learns that this isn’t so, but it is in the Qur’an. He learns that Adam and Noah were prophets — and then hears about evolution. There is even a story about a man who travels first to the place on Earth where the Sun rises, and then to where it sets. (And we laugh at Christian geocentrism.)

    But these are minor points. Try dealing with contradictions, and learning that God sends a verse that can overrule what was written before. (And because of the sloppy compilation, even Muslims don’t agree when some Suras were delivered, even whether they were in Mecca or Medina — the Meccan ones are the later ones.)

    Even these are not the real trouble. Allah has promised his believers success, rule, and prosperity. But Islamic countries are among the poorest, at least the ones without oil. It is only Western technology, and capitalism that has permitted some of them to begin to grow — and capitalism requires lending money at interest, totally prohibited by Mohammed. And in Islamic countries, the believers might be moderately successful, but the truly successful are usually quite secular — but Allah promises success and prosperity to believers on Earth.
    What about success in battle? Allah says that a group of believers can defeat an army a hundred times its size — but when was the last time a Muslim Army won anything in battle, even when it had numerical superiority?
    Good government? Mohammed set up an empire, but even Muslims concede that after the first four ‘rightly guided’ caliphs, the empire was riddled with corruption, nepotism, and other evils.
    Prosperity? Many Islamic countries only survive because many of their people work abroad in the infidel West and send money home.

    And all the time, there are the infidels, the Christians, the Jews, the total non-believers, flaunting their wealth, their ‘immorality,’ and most of all their success.

    The disconnects continue between what HAS TO BE TRUE — because it’s in the Qur’an, because Allah said it directly — and what he sees around him. Some do become secular — but always with the guilt buried from what they learned as children. Some become more religious — ‘the trouble is we aren’t Islamic ENOUGH.’ (Even returning from secularism.)
    And some go crazy, violently crazy, needing to smash these things that can’t be possibly true, that must be satanic, these evil, Western, un-Islamic ideas that keep encroaching on them.

    Understanding is not forgiveness or acceptance. And what i said doesn’t imply that I have a solution to the problem. I don’t. (It certainly isn’t a ratification of D’Souza’s ideas, which are not merely horrible but wouldn’t work even if tried. The rot in the Qur’an was put there by reality, not by us.) My only solution is to have the faith of a humanist, that people will find a way to solve this, and that the solution won’t cost too much. But what it is, I couldn’t say.

    But I believe understanding helps any problem, and I hope these posts help towards that.

  16. #16 kehrsam
    February 24, 2007

    Prup: Thanks for the primer.I’m not sure all of it agrees with my understanding of Islam, but i would be the first to admit my limited knowledge. Very provocative stuff.

  17. #17 Prup aka Jim Benton
    February 25, 2007

    My knowledge is equally limited — and any generalizations about a religion with about 1 billion adherents are going to have many exceptions.

    If anyone can plow through my ponderousness and correct me on things, they’ll be doing me a favor. “Being wrong is inescapable, staying wrong when better facts are available, inexcusable.”

  18. #18 Jason
    February 25, 2007


    You address your posts to me, but I can’t tell if you’re agreeing with me, disagreeing with me, or just saying something different. I don’t know what a statement like “the series of disconnects between what a Muslim knows to be true and what he is forced to accept as true because it is in the Qur’an” is really supposed to mean. I don’t understand the sense in which someone could be “forced to accept” that something is true without also “knowing” that it is true.

  19. #19 raj
    February 25, 2007

    Prup aka Jim Benton | February 24, 2007 11:29 AM

    Can’t agree with you on this. Both Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif were robbing the coutry blind and playing up to the Muslim extremists.

    That may be, but at least Bhutto was democratically elected–or at least constitutionally elected. In a democratic election, people are entitled to select whatever tyrants they want. Look who’s the pResident of the USA now and what he has done, and it isn’t even clear that he was initially elected.

    Regardless, you would be hard-pressed to deny that Musharraf has turned over the country’s western provinces to the regional warlords, increasing the probability of a resurgence of jihadism in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

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