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September 17, 2010



Given that I'm Egyptian,..

That's odd. You don't walk like an Egyptian.

I don't really understand the dispute here. It seems that we agree that a bunch of Muslim-majority countries did a bunch of things that caused Jews to leave. Many of these countries were run by secular Arab nationalists that were hostile to Islamism in general. So what exactly does this tell us about Islam per se?

Nothing. I never actually said it did. Still, I would use a broader definition of "Muslim countries and authorities" than you do.

Let us review.

My first comment on this matter was a response to John Spragge:

John Spragge: If you have recent cases of Muslim authorities aiming to eliminate a religious minority within their jurisdiction, please post it here.

Me: I don't know how you define "recent," but certainly the authorities in some Muslim countries drove out Jews in the aftermath of the creation of Israel. Indeed, some Muslim leaders - notably Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem - provoked considerable anti-Jewish violence and allied themselves with Hitler during WWII.

My intent was simply to provide an example of what John was asking for. Now, it seems I misunderstood John's question. He was looking for something analogous to the North American situation, and this was not the same thing - a point I agreed with in a later comment (9:38 PM, Sep 18). Still, the communities were "eliminated" by the Muslim authorities in a reasonable sense of the word, so I don't think my initial response was incorrect.

Next, I was trying to deal with a simple matter of fact. No more. I do not draw any broad conclusions about Islam from these events, but these things did happen at that time.

Anyone who thinks I endorse anti-Muslim bigotry has not read my comments on this site. Tangentially, I am certainly pro-Israel, (I will not respond to any comments on this here) but that should by no means be interpreted as a blanket endorsement of current Israeli policies, or anything close.

Finally, to bobbyp, I incorrectly took your 7:33 PM comment as a justification of the behavior under discussion. My apologies.

Hatmut, I agree that the severe Iranian reaction to Bahai comes closest to the kind of eliminationism First Nations religions suffered in the Americas. But I have yet to see a report of, say, a comprehensive government program in Iran or any other Muslim-majority country to seize all of the children of a religious minority, isolate them from their families, and eliminate all memory of their religious heritage. Unfortunately, our ancestors set a very high standard for religious intolerance.

I have yet to see any evidence that would validate the claim that we can or should suppress Islam on the basis that Muslims tend to practice a particularly dangerous brand of intolerance. I still reject the arguments in Ms. Moon's linked article.


Accepted. My apologies for an overly sharp reply. It is always amazing to see people (including me) take themselves into logical cul-de-sacs and subsequently twist themselves into pretzels over the "justifications" for their particular tribe's use of political violence (tribe = up to and including the nation state) to get out of from under these logical paradoxes.

That old "all is permitted" is still a big, "narly", and utterly unresolved issue since that crazy Russian novelist wrote it up back in the 19th century. I think I'm going to dig up, yet again, my dusty copy of Camus on this one.

@Bernard: I understand what you mean; on the other hand, if you just leave hanging the statement that yes, citizens of several Muslim-majority countries drove out their Jewish neighbours, I don't see how you can avoid the implication that these actions had something to do with an intrinsic feature of Islam. Unless we acknowledge that Jewish communities enjoyed greater peace and tolerance from Muslim society than from European Christian society for much of history, and that Muslim aggression against Jewish communities took place in the context of colonialism and Zionism, we misplace the blame for it. Of course, it doesn't do to forget that the aggressive colonizing aspect of Zionism developed in response to increasingly aggressive intolerance in European society.


I don't see how you can avoid the implication that these actions had something to do with an intrinsic feature of Islam. Unless we acknowledge that Jewish communities enjoyed greater peace and tolerance from Muslim society than from European Christian society for much of history, and that Muslim aggression against Jewish communities took place in the context of colonialism and Zionism, we misplace the blame for it.

I don't believe much in great overarching theories. I do not think that what happened had something to do with some intrinsic feature of Islam. That would be particularly stupid of me since I know very little of Islamic religious beliefs. At the same time I think that use of the phrase "Muslim-majority countries" is disingenuous. That majority was overwhelming, and even in ostensibly secularly governed countries Islam surely informed the morality of a large number of the citizens. In this case it failed, just as other sources of moral teaching have often failed in other times and places.

You are correct that Jews often enjoyed greater peace and tolerance in Muslim societies than in Christian ones, though this is sometimes overstated. I think Bernard Lewis once said that the Jewish life under Islam was never as good as it was at its best under Christianity, and never as bad as it was at its worst under Christianity. That seems right to me.

But you are wrong, dead wrong, to say that we should acknowledge "that Muslim aggression against Jewish communities took place in the context of colonialism and Zionism," lest "we misplace the blame for it."

Whatever injustices Zionism may have visited on Palestinian Arabs, the Jewish merchant in Baghdad was not to blame for them. The beating, or expropriation and expulsion, of that merchant cannot be blamed on Zionism. The blame is on the perpetrators.

Were Iraqis unhappy over Zionism? OK. But that is no excuse. Not even close.

@Bernard: The question here has to do with motive, not blame. Canadians and Americans who turned on their fellow citizens of Japanese descent after Pearl Harbor, and resident of Baghdad or Cairo who attacked their Jewish neighbours acted on a roughly similar blend of motives: rage at perceived betrayals, a sense of threat, a desire to eliminate a possible security threat, or "fifth column". In many cases, thieves stoked the hysteria; when a community panics and expels a group of people, someone usually finds a way to profit. I do not consider that behaviour moral, whoever does it.

If religious intolerance had motivated the Arab and Muslim communities that expelled their Jewish neighbours, they would not have done it all at the same time, and at the same time as a conflict between Arab states and an emerging state that claimed to represent the Jewish people as a whole.

The persecution of First Nations religions, on the other hand, had different motives. For much of the history of the First Nations residential schools program, First Nations posed no threat whatever to the Canadian or American state. The effort to destroy a specific religious and cultural heritage had a number of motives, but they included a conviction that those people should not believe what they believed. In other words, it arose from pure religious intolerance.

If you want to argue that Muslims do bad things from time to time, I've now conceded that point, by my count, four times in this discussion. But their motives predict their future behaviour. If Muslims generally had a worse than usual history of trying to convert people by force, you could argue that made them a threat to religious liberty. But in fact, the historical evidence shows that while Muslims commit terrible crimes in response to a perceived threat or betrayal, they do not have as bad a track record of coolly deciding to erase a culture and religion as the Christians who make up a majority of the North American population today do. Thus, I conclude that the arguments for intolerance of Muslims on the grounds that Islamic doctrine poses some kind of unique threat do not hold.

@Bernard: Sorry, I said motive not blame, and I believe that, but I don't believe you can separate them. If you create a motive for someone to behave badly, it seems to me that you share some portion of the blame. The disgraceful treatment of persons of Japanese origin in the United States, and their even more disgraceful treatment in Canada had a lot to do with racism in both countries, but if General Tojo and Admiral Yamamoto bore none of the blame, the "evacuation" of Canadians and Americans of Japanese descent would probably not have happened right after Pearl Harbor.

Likewise, individual Israeli commanders made specific decisions in regard to the treatment of the Palestinians, but they did so in circumstances created by others. It seems unfair to blame David Ben-Gurion and Ze'ev Jabotinsky for the expulsion of the Palestinians without taking the murderous record of European anti-Jewish persecutions into account. And in the same spirit, it seems unreasonable to blame Arab and Muslim leaders and ordinary citizens without some reference to the double dealing of Arthur Balfour or the behaviour of the Zionist movement before and after the founding of Israel.

Google are now expanding its "hobbies" to every expect.


To some degree we are talking past each other. Just as you have conceded that Muslims do bad things from time time, I have said that I am not aware and do not believe that there is some intrinsically evil aspect of Islam that necessarily induces these outbreaks.

Figuring out motives is difficult. Sure, some was an irrational reaction to the establishment of Israel. I also don't think it contradicts my previous statement to say that, however peaceful the society, there tends to be at least some tension between differing religious groups, some bigots, some number of extremists, and that can certainly help matters along, so to speak. Thugs are not an indistinguishable mass. Theft, rage, politics, personal vendettas, suspicion, bigotry, religious extremism, can all play a part. It's a nasty stew.

If you create a motive for someone to behave badly, it seems to me that you share some portion of the blame.

I'm not so sure. We generally reject the notion of personal revenge – the most extreme case - as just. If you beat me up, and I return the favor a week later, there would be considerable sentiment that you had it coming, but from a legal point of view I have still committed a crime. How much more tenuous it is when the victim of the revenge is not the perpetrator of the initial offense.

Of course it’s natural to make that connection. Suppose someone swindled out of his life savings by Bernie Madoff decides to attack me. After all, I’m Jewish too, and have the same first name. Being human, I’m probably going to be angry at Madoff (actually, I am anyway) but is it rational to blame him, rather than the perpetrator, for the attack? I don’t think so. If you disagree, then how about the hypothetical case where Madoff’s operation was perfectly legitimate, but failed due to the financial crisis, or bad luck? There might well be no difference in some of his clients’ minds. Would it then be Madoff’s fault if I were attacked?

Is predictability important? Are you saying that the Zionists knew that Jews in Arab lands would suffer as a result of their activities, and thus are partly responsible? That seems to make us hostage to any sort of threat of violence to innocent third parties.

It would be nice to have some insight from some smart person who has spent many years thinking about and studying ethical questions, if only someone like that ever came around here.

My neighbor down the road back in Michigan was an immigrant from Jordan, driven here by religious intolerance. A Jew? No, a Christian. I'm assuming this had something to do with Zionism? Couldn't have been the Gulf war, anyway, since they immigrated here long before that.

The truth is that a lot of Muslim states DO make a considerable effort to rid themselves of religious minorities. It's not 100% effective, not quite the stuff of a "Final Solution", but "Interim Solutions" don't count for anything? Criminal penalties for proselytizing and conversion mean nothing?

Sure, they're trying. They're also trying to avoid the world dusting off that courtroom in Nuremberg, too. Kind of limits how far they can go...

Bernard: no, I did not and do not say that the Zionists should have predicted violence against Jewish communities in Muslim countries. I said that Muslims do not have a record of persecution driven by pure intolerance. Look, the argument made by Ms. Moon and her ilk (if you want to dignify their venting with that word) include the proposition that Muslims make bad citizens because Islam has an unusual history of intolerance. The facts simply do not back up that theory. Some Muslims, like a fraction of most ethnic or religious groups on this planet, have a bad habit of accepting the argument that goes roughly thus: people like Mr. Schwartz beat up on people like me, so now I should go beat up on Mr. Schwartz. I consider this unethical, whether Mr. Brown did it to Mr. Nakamura in 1941, or Mr. Ahmed did it to Mr. Cohen in 1948. But it doesn't mean the same thing, it doesn't pose the same objective danger, as Mr. Brown deciding Mr. White Sky believes something wrong, and therefore he will take Mr. White Sky's kids away and send them to a residential school so Mr. White Sky cannot pass on any of his traditions, with especially severe punishment available if Mr. White Sky's kids try to learn their religious heritage. Some members of almost any religious group will commit the first type of moral lapse in a conflict situation, and I simply see no evidence that Muslims will do the second.

@Brett: Please go back and read the discussion. I have already explained why hauling Muslim countries into Nuremberg (or the Hague) would constitute gross hypocrisy unless those courts had already dealt harshly with Canada and the United States four our objectively much worse offences.

Yes, John, you've explained that the US has committed, in some cases within the lives of existing centenarians, offenses as bad or worse than some other nations are committing at this very moment.

And Genghis Khan did some really nasty stuff, too. Perhaps if we develop time machines, we can haul him off to Nuremberg.

In the meantime, my point it that a number of majority Muslim nations did not achieve demographics approaching 99% Muslim by NOT doing what they could, short of marching people into gas chambers, to get rid of religious minorities. Let's not pretend that they're all sweetness and light just because they haven't set up death camps, ok?

The Great Khan was very intolerant of religious intolerance. Unfortunately his religious liberalism did nothing to improve his human rights record.

One doesn't have to go back very far to find Christians, Jews, and Muslims committing war crimes and changing demographics in the Mideast. There are more Muslims there, so they get more opportunities to commit crimes, but Brett clearly doesn't know or care what Christians have done in Lebanon or what Israel has done in various places (sometimes allied with the Lebanese Christians).

And the US obviously doesn't care about its own war crimes. But we all know that for Brett a modern day Nuremberg should focus mostly on the religions and ethnic groups he despises the most. What other function could it possibly have?

John--I don't disagree with most of what you say, but the problem with establishing who is worst in the evil Olympics is that the judges usually choose rules that allow them to crown the winner they want. Usually when people here do that (see Brett) they pick some criteria that allow them to say Muslims are the worst, and it's a nice change of pace to see this applied to Christians, but (to me anyway), it's a pointless argument. Most religions and most ideologies produce people who commit terrible crimes in the name of their ideals--showing that Christianity might have inspired its own unique form of cultural genocide against Native American religions doesn't prove anything about Christianity in general.

" religions doesn't prove anything about Christianity in general."

Um, not that you're necessarily trying to do that. It came across that way to me because I'm used to the way Islamophobes think.

@Brett: Give it up: I did peacemaking work related to the illegal harassment of First Nations spirituality and the illegal desecration of a major First nations sacred site in 2006. The last residential schools closed in the 1970s. If you bother counting, that comes in well short of a century.

And Brett, this makes the fifth time I have said this: I know that Muslims, individually and collectively, have done bad things. I have never denied this, right from the beginning. But I do deny the relevance of it. This discussion does not concern any claim to superior morality on behalf of Islam, nor that Muslims behave as well as other people. I merely want to refute the ridiculous (given the historical facts) argument that we should fear Muslims because Islam has some unique and intrinsic propensity to intolerance. You can only believe that by ignoring pretty well all of the facts.

@Donald: I don't want to put my own culture and religion into the "evil Olympics". The argument made by Ms. Moon, the subject of this discussion, suggests that Muslims should not enjoy the freedom of religion the rest of us take for granted, or that they enjoy it only by the grace and favour of the majority, because Islam has a unique history of intolerance. I consider that the history decisively refutes this claim.

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