Sunday, January 31, 2010

Portrait of a Jihadist

Andrea Elliott in the New York Times has this troubling story about Omar Hammami, a college boy turned Muslim extremist. It's definitely worth reading.

Clearly the path that took Hammami from Alabama, where he was raised, to Somalia, where he leads a rebel movement, is complicated and formed from multiple incidents in his life. But it is interesting to see the role played by religion, and in particular, Christianity.

Raised by a Christian mother and a Muslim father in the deep South, Hammami clearly felt conflicted. But, according to the story, he was indoctrinated in "Perdido Baptist Church, a tiny congregation whose preacher warned of hellfire and damnation" and induced to attend Bible camp. He found it hard to reconcile the claims of fundamentalist religion with science: he wrote “Sometimes I get confused because the Bible says one thing and our textbooks and Darwin say another" in his journal at age 12. Well, of course, if you feed your child religious lies, they're going to be confused when they learn about science.

We can see in the article the corrosive influence of the particular brand of Islam that Hammami adopted. After his conversion, he swore at a former teacher, "assailing her for being Jewish". He dropped out of studying computers because he couldn't tolerate the presence of women. "He began subscribing to conspiracy theories about 9/11", the article explains.

Now he participates and leads troops in an extremist Somali movement that does things like publicly stoning to death a 13-year-old girl accursed of adultery. How did his mind get so warped?

Part of the answer, it seems to me, is the credulity induced by his religious upbringing and his failure to regard religious and other kinds of claims skeptically. There is a direct path from the claims of fundamentalist Christianity to the claims of 9/11 truthers and the claims of radical Islam. All spin an elaborate tale with no evidentiary justification.

We don't serve our children's or society's best interest by indoctrinating them with these kinds of claims at an early age. We need to teach kids to think more skeptically and give them the tools to analyze and decide between conflicting claims. And somehow we need to make sure kids aren't threatened with hellfire if they don't adopt the views of their minister. That's just a form of psychological terrorism, which in this case led to tragic consequences.

40 comments:

der_hammerman said...

Thanks for bringing this to our attention. This is the first I've heard of him.

I'm a former Southern Baptist--raised in a similar fashion. However, my questioning of Christianity led me away from religion rather than to another as with him.

Miranda said...

"Clearly the path that took Hammami from Alabama, where he was raided,"

I'd hate to be raided in Alabama.

(no need to post this...)

Miranda said...

"Part of the answer, it seems to me, is the credulity induced by his religious upbringing and his failure to regard religious and other kinds of claims skeptically. There is a direct path from the claims of fundamentalist Christianity to the claims of 9/11 truthers and the claims of radical Islam."

1. What percentage of the answer is this "part of the answer"?
2. Is it "induced by his RELIGIOUS upbringing" or "induced by HIS religious upbringing"?
3. Can you draw out this direct path?
4. Do you have stats concerning the percentage of atheists vs religious Christians who are 9-11 truthers?

Takis Konstantopoulos said...

Jesus Christ [sic]! This is incredible. Well, if Christian fundamentalist upbringing doesn't make you a jihadist then it certainly screws up your personality big time. I've experienced Christian fundamentalists in the US and was really disgusted. It's revolting to see all this religious hype, the unreason of fundamentalism!

As for the 9-11 truthers, maybe there is a direct path from Christian fundamentalism to it, but I don't think it's the only path to it. Neither do I think that Christian fundamentalists form a subset of 9-11 truthers. The intersection is nonempty, but how big is it? I don't know.

paul01 said...

I happened to be in Ottawa last year on 9-11, and visited the parliament buildings while a large truthers demonstratioin was going on (I still have my souvenir "Deception Dollar"). My impression was it was largely counter-culture. Didn't hear any fundamentalist sentiments expressed (And the expression was continuous, believe me)

Pseudonym said...

It's very hard to shake the fundamentalist attitude if that's been a large part of your upbringing. Even some who become atheists never manage it completely.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Thanks for the typo correction.

People seem to have misunderstood my remark that "There is a direct path from the claims of fundamentalist Christianity to the claims of 9/11 truthers and the claims of radical Islam." I'm not saying that all truthers are fundamentalist Christians or vice versa. People choose their causes for all sorts of reasons, and truthers draw a lot of support from the far Left.

What I am saying is that the inability to evaluate truth claims on the basis of evidence is a shared characteristic of the two groups, so we shouldn't be surprised if people jump from one form of non-evidence-based belief to another.

Takis Konstantopoulos said...

Jeffrey Shallit said...
What I am saying is that the inability to evaluate truth claims on the basis of evidence is a shared characteristic of the two groups, so we shouldn't be surprised if people jump from one form of non-evidence-based belief to another.

Absolutely correct. Religious fundamentalism leads to the inability of judgment and from there the path to any kind of claim or action is possible. In fact, since religion itself is based on ad hoc beliefs it is potentially very dangerous. It doesn't have to be of fundamentalist kind.

Miranda said...

According to:

http://religions.pewforum.org/pdf/report2religious-landscape-study-key-findings.pdf

"Nearly all
adults (92%) say they believe in God or a universal spirit, including seven-in-ten of the unaffiliated.
Indeed, one-in-five people who identify themselves as atheist (21%) and a majority of those who
identify themselves as agnostic (55%) express a belief in God or a universal spirit."

If there is indeed a "god-gene"
www.time.com/time/covers/1101041025
then some proportion of atheists would have it, too. But instead of leaning toward belief in G/god, they would have a different outlet, and thus likely lean towards other far-out beliefs.

Anonymous said...

There are a lot of atheists out there that will say "God is a metaphor for love/altruism/awe of the universe/etc" in an attempt to justify the fact that so many people believe in something that is, if you think about it, so crazy. I used to be one of those atheists until I discovered that people who actually do believe in God find that sort of thing condescending and patronizing (and rightly so). Perhaps many of those 21% of atheists you cite as believing in a "universal spirit" are falling into a similar trap.

Miranda said...

That last stat sounds a bit bizarre, though it does come from Pew, which I think has a good reputation. The following quote might surprise you."

"Not
surprisingly, science majors knew (slightly) more science than non-science
majors did. I then asked them to rate their belief in a series of paranormal
phenomena, from voodoo to astrology, from water dowsing to haunted houses,
and so on. The results (Figure 1) indicate no significant difference between
genders, but, astoundingly and contrary to expectations, the science majors
held more strongly to paranormal beliefs than the non-science students!"

-

MCGILL JOURNAL OF EDUCATION • VOL. 42 NO 2 SPRING 2007
The Evolution-Creation Wars
293

http://mje.mcgill.ca/article/view/2224/1694

Perhaps the "direct path" isn't the way it seems...

Gingerbaker said...

"Religious fundamentalism leads to the inability of judgment and from there the path to any kind of claim or action is possible."

"And somehow we need to make sure kids aren't threatened with hellfire if they don't adopt the views of their minister. That's just a form of psychological terrorism, which in this case led to tragic consequences."


If we truly believe this sort of argument, which borders on hyperbole, then should we not be arguing for the abolition of religious training for children?

Religious inculcation would appear to be as dangerous as being on a PCP drip, a mindworm too dangerous to society to leave unregulated.

Whether this should actually be an atheist position would make for an interesting discussion about Overton windows. :D

Frank Pettit said...

Jeffrey, I think trying to pin the blame on fundamentalist Islamic terrorists on fundamentalist Christians is a bit of a stretch. This is the sort of "lump-em-all-together" type argument the Fundamentalists use when they lump together Darwin, Nazism and Communism.

Let's blame people for what they do and for what they directly instruct and specifically teach.

Fundamentalist Christians may support all kinds of violence (Biblical genocides), modern day warmaking and provocation (against Muslims, Palestinians, and Iran), but they don't support terrorism of the NGO, Al Qaeda type.

Christian fundamentalists may have all kinds of sexual anxieties, leading to a fixation with homosexuality and premarital sex, that has little to do with morality and is sometimes anti-moral. But they're not going to stone feminists to death, or stone women for learning to read.

I'm not saying you can't criticize Christian fundamentalists. I'm just against Lump-Em-All-Together overgeneralizations. Creationists deserve contempt for lumping together evolution and Nazism, but we're not helping the issue if we fight back with our own overgeneralizations.

Takis Konstantopoulos said...

This is why science is absolutely necessary. If we can prove that the reason people believe in gods is because it's part of their biology then is yet another argument for the non-existence of deities: they are products of one's imagination.

Thus, thinking rationally, we can overcome this sickness.

jason said...

The best line in the whole story comes from the guy's parents:


“You take solace in knowing that it’s in God’s hands,” said Shafik, sunken in his armchair, as Debra nodded. “And there is nothing you could have done to change it."


The idea that being devout encourages people to take responsibility for their actions becomes less tenable for me every time I hear that old dodge.

Miranda said...

Takis, it's not that one's biology makes him believe in G/god. That's not the claim. The claim is that it gives him a proclivity to believe in G/god. I don't know whether or not we have this gene, but if we do, I'm afraid it's a terribly weak argument that God doesn't exist. There are much better arguments.

Miranda said...

Jason writes: "The idea that being devout encourages people to take responsibility for their actions becomes less tenable for me every time I hear that old dodge."

There's more than one religion out there with devout followers, y'know.

Takis Konstantopoulos said...

Miranda,

There is no reason to believe or not believe in god. It's totally irrelevant. Actually, belief in something that has caused so much trouble is silly. On top of that, religion does, generally speaking, make smart people stupid. Evidence is that religion is man-made concept.

Your claim is that biology gives man a proclivity to believe in gods. This is part of the disease.

Filipe Calvario (from Brazil) said...

Wow, the article Miranda has indicated is really nice (http://mje.mcgill.ca/article/view/2224/1694)! Its author gives an useful group of solutions to combat the lack of critical thinking among the so-called educated people.

Regarging to the survey that shows that "science majors actually
show more belief in the paranormal than non-science majors", I should show you this part:

"The diagram on the left shows that – surprisingly – science majors actually show more belief in the paranormal than non-science (mostly philosophy) majors."

Mostly Philosophy. Why on Earth most Philosophy??? I can say that being aware of it changed my impression of the results of this survey.

Miranda said...

"Your claim is that biology gives man a proclivity to believe in gods. This is part of the disease."

I never made that claim. (Review the posts above.) Some scientists in that Time article did.

"On top of that, religion does, generally speaking, make smart people stupid."

How would the before and after be determined?

Miranda said...

One data source does not a counterproof make, (including the fact that other factors might contribute to the results) but this story surely doesn't help Takis' claim:

http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1147174.html

Felipe, thanks for letting me know you liked the article. Since you shared one line from the article, I'll share one, too: "It seems that there is little evidence for the ideas that better knowledge of
science facts leads to better understanding of the nature of science, or to a
lower degree of belief in the paranormal. ... The most revealing thing was that most of
the non-science students in the first survey (those with a lower belief in the
paranormal) were in fact philosophy or psychology majors, who actually take
courses on the scientific method and on critical thinking
."

Takis Konstantopoulos said...

"On top of that, religion does, generally speaking, make smart people stupid."

How would the before and after be determined?


The majority of religious folk are a bit (or a lot) stupid. I don't run (or care to run) scientific experiments to determine this. But, say, just stand outside a church after a Sunday service (in, Texas, say, or Mississipi) and talk to people... And if you have the stamina to converse with them for more than 5 minutes then you'll feel like vomiting from the stupidities they utter.

In any case, either religion takes smart people and makes them stupid or attracts stupid ones to start with. In general.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

The study Miranda refers to is familiar to most skeptics. (In this she is continuing her record as being the most boring commentator here.)

The kind of critical thinking training I am envisioning has to come much earlier. By university, and even by high school, it is much too late. As far as I know, nobody has even seriously tried this on a large scale, let alone studied if it works.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Frank:

I think trying to pin the blame on fundamentalist Islamic terrorists on fundamentalist Christians is a bit of a stretch.

It would be, if that's what I said. But it isn't.

Fundamentalist Christians may support all kinds of violence (Biblical genocides), modern day warmaking and provocation (against Muslims, Palestinians, and Iran), but they don't support terrorism of the NGO, Al Qaeda type.

Oh, dear, you seem to be quite uninformed. Do the names Jim Adkisson and Eric Rudolph - just to name two - mean nothing to you?

Miranda said...

Jeffrey writes: "The study Miranda refers to is familiar to most skeptics. (In this she is continuing her record as being the most boring commentator here.) "

Your dismissing this study shows that you are continuing your record of brushing off inconvenient facts.


Takis writes: "either religion takes smart people and makes them stupid"

If they headed towards a religion, why do you think they're smart?

I'm trying to say that your claim is horribly not-thought-out.

Takis, I've been to a Mensa meeting and found the exact same experience you felt outside churches.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Your dismissing this study shows that you are continuing your record of brushing off inconvenient facts.

If you have anything original or interesting to say, why not present it? Instead your style of argumentation seems to consist of doing a web search and presenting it as something novel. Get a clue - the rest of us know the literature, and not from doing web searches alone.

Did you read what I wrote? The kind of critical thinking training I am envisioning has to come much earlier ... As far as I know, nobody has even seriously tried this on a large scale, let alone studied if it works.

Miranda said...

"The study Miranda refers to is familiar to most skeptics. "

It appeared new to Felipe. So, Jeff, just pretend I submitted it for his sake and not yours.

"Oh, dear, you seem to be quite uninformed. Do the names Jim Adkisson and Eric Rudolph - just to name two - mean nothing to you?"

Wow!! In your classes, do you create trend analyses based on two data points?

Takis Konstantopoulos said...

Miranda:
"Takis, I've been to a Mensa meeting and found the exact same experience you felt outside churches."

SO?

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Wow!! In your classes, do you create trend analyses based on two data points?

Boring and stupid.

I was addressing the claim made by Frank, which was a universal claim about Christian fundamentalists not supporting terrorism. To falsify a universal claim only one example is necessary. I provided two.

I could have mentioned many more, such as the groups Covenant, Sword, and Arm of the Law, and The Order.

Tell me, do you have to work hard to be this boring, or does it come naturally?

Miranda said...

"I was addressing the claim made by Frank, which was a universal claim about Christian fundamentalists not supporting terrorism. To falsify a universal claim only one example is necessary."

No, you made the universal claim. Frank didn't. When he wrote that "Fundamentalist Christians... don't support terrorism" -- that was in the context of being "against Lump-Em-All-Together overgeneralizations." In other words, he was talking about the vast majority of Fundamentalist Christians.

The following statement, on the other hand was a universal claim: "There is a direct path from the claims of fundamentalist Christianity to the claims of 9/11 truthers and the claims of radical Islam."

(And Takis, your "SO?" applies to your Texan church scenario, too.)

Jeffrey Shallit said...

The following statement, on the other hand was a universal claim:

No, it wasn't. The "direct path" comment was clearly in the context of one particular person's journey. And, if you've bothered to read my follow-up comment, at 6:38 AM, you would know this. I can only conclude that you're either lazy or have poor reading comprehension.

As for the links between Christian fundamentalism and violence, they are well-established and well-documented and go back to organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan. As another data point, white evangelical Protestants are much more likely to say torture against terrorist suspects can often or sometimes be justified than other religious groups.

But it's clear that no amount of evidence will convince you.

Takis Konstantopoulos said...

Miranda: Great response. Thanks.

I have no clue what you are saying, whereas what I said is absolutely clear: Religious folk are unbearable, stupid, and, in general, sick. This could apply to Mensa freaks too as well as to ultra-nationalist Kyrgyzis. The point is (and, as you said, we agree on that) that religion is an uncontrollable force, an addiction that can lead to violence, hate, self-righteousness, and stupidity--just to mention a few consequences.

Miranda said...

Takis, adding the word "can" in your analysis sure makes for a powerful statement. snort. You should've also stuck "can be" in the sentence "Religious folk are unbearable, stupid, and, in general, sick" in place of the word "are."

Did I ever "agree" with you that religion is an uncontrollable force?

Takis Konstantopoulos said...

Miranda: Of course you did. You seem to be an intelligent person, and intelligent people don't fall for religious stupidities.

Frank Pettit said...

Jeff,
OK, you represent my view as making a "universal claim" about fundamentalists not supporting terrorism. Granted, I should qualify that and say MOST fundamentalists do not support terrorism of the killing-innocents type. Here were my exact words:

"I'm not saying you can't criticize Christian fundamentalists. I'm just against Lump-Em-All-Together overgeneralizations. Creationists deserve contempt for lumping together evolution and Nazism, but we're not helping the issue if we fight back with our own overgeneralizations."

My words were a warning agains overgeneralization without qualification, and especially against implied collective responsibility. I am no fan of the religious right, but let's describe them accurately, and not hold all of them accountable for actions they haven't done nor supported.

You accuse me of ignorance of the cases of Eric Rudolph and Adkisson. I assure you, I'm aware and disgusted by both of those fellows, and the specific gurus who indoctrinated them. But let's not hold all fundamentalists accountable for actions they haven't supported and which MOST of them oppose.

As for Adkisson, he was not, so far as I know, motivated by religion, but by right-wing talk-radio eliminationists like Michael Savage. His reading list included Savage, O'Reilly, Coulter and Sean Hannity. I fully agree that since Hannity wrote a book called "The War against Liberalism", and Adkisson took him literally and made war on liberals, Hannity's partially responsible.

Blondofascist Ann Coulter pioneered the idea of super-overgeneralizing about everything liberals do, so if one liberal does not condemn bestiality, therefore all liberals enjoy bestiality, says Coulter. As he read her books too, she's partially responsible also for Adkisson's actions.

I fully support holding people responsible for what they individually do and what actions they individually support. But, let's not overgeneralize. Hannity and O'Reilly are Catholics, Savage is a Jew. You can't pin Adkisson on the Born Again right.

Most fundamentalists oppose killing liberals and abortion doctors. As for the murderer of Dr. Tiller in Kansas, I have no problem with holding accountable Prayer & Action, David Leach, the Army of God, Reason magazine, etc., arguably Wiley ('die Obama die') Drake who cheered after the fact.

But there are tens of millions of fundamentalists in this country, and most of them oppose terrorist murders of this type. Of course if just 2% support it, that's still many thousands of violent nuts.

But let's not hold huge groups of people collectively accountable. I loathe that blondofascist Coulter for her super-overgeneralizations about liberals, but it is not mature if we respond by making ourselves mirror images of Coulter, making super-overgeneralizations about fundamentalists.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

You can't pin Adkisson on the Born Again right.

Sure I can. It's the Christian rightists who have endlessly bullied people about abortion for 30 years. Without that bullying, George Tiller would still be alive.

Most fundamentalists oppose killing liberals and abortion doctors.

Wow, I feel so ... comforted by that. Just think - most fundamentalists don't support me being killed.

But let's not hold huge groups of people collectively accountable.

It depends. How many of those Christian fundamentalists have sent condolences or donations to George Tiller's family? How many of them have spoken out again his murder?

Frank Pettit said...

'You can't pin Adkisson on the Born Again right.'

Sure I can. It's the Christian rightists who have endlessly bullied people about abortion for 30 years. Without that bullying, George Tiller would still be alive.


Adkisson killed the Unitarians in Knoxville, not abortionists. He read Savage, Hannity, Coulter et al. and hated liberals for secular reasons. Dr. Tiller was killed by Scott Roeder.

How many of those Christian fundamentalists have sent condolences or donations to George Tiller's family? How many of them have spoken out again his murder?

According to Wikipedia: U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Family Research Council, National Right to Life Committee, Kansans for Life, and Operation Rescue. True, in case of OR, it is hypocritical and I personally doubt their sincerity.

Again, I'm not defending the religious right's overall theology or practice. I'm in favor of INDIVIDUAL accountability, and against collective accountability.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Frank:

Sorry, that's just my stupidity. I kept writing Adkisson when I meant Roeder. Please accept my apologies.

Frank Pettit said...

No problemo. So many nuts, it's hard to tell them apart.

Jim Lippard said...

There have been a number of studies (several published in the _Skeptical Inquirer_) which show that Christian fundamentalism inoculates against a broad class of paranormal beliefs, while secularists are more susceptible to believing in them--e.g., astrology and New Age beliefs. A tolerance for uncertainty probably both helps one avoid fundamentalism but be open to a wide range of alternatives besides scientific naturalism.

Contra Gingerbaker, I think teaching world religions is a better inoculation against religious fundamentalism than not teaching anything about religion.