Six Scenes of My Interactions with Muslims: The Good, the (Mostly) Bad, and the Ugly

I’m an equal opportunity critic of religions. But when it comes to human rights, I’m far more concerned about Islam.

I’m a liberal, but not a knee-jerk one. I’m an atheist, but not one who thinks all religions are equally problematic or that they should be judged by the violent behavior of religious extremists. I think the Bible and Quran both contain ridiculous passages and reasonable passages. Religious fundamentalists can quote portions of their holy books to justify loving their neighbor or killing their (infidel) neighbor.

But at the risk of being called Islamophobic, I think Islam is the worst and most dangerous religion by all human rights standards.

I’ve been more critical of Christians than Muslims because I live in South Carolina, where politicians try to meld public policy with Christianity and worry about sharia law being used in our legal system. If I lived in a Muslim country, I’d be more openly critical of Islam and sharia law — unless I had good reason to fear for my life. The threat of death is part of the problem, but it’s not what I think is the root of the problem — the real issue is their pervasive commitment to reading the Quran literally.

I’ll illustrate with six memorable events in my direct and indirect dealings with Muslims and ex-Muslims:

1. In 1987, a math colleague from India asked me for a letter recommending him to teach at a university in Saudi Arabia. Though the school’s math department recommended him, its administration said no. He later learned that he was rejected because of my Jewish name. He didn’t even know I am Jewish.

2. In 1990, I visited Egypt and met with a math colleague. When he took me to his home, his wife ran from the room because her face was uncovered. After she served us tea, he suggested that we go sightseeing. When I asked if his now-covered wife would join us, he said no because he feared people might throw rocks at her for being outside with two men. (Egypt was one of the more secular Middle Eastern countries at the time).

3. After meeting Dr. Taslima Nasrin at an atheist conference in 2002, I invited her to give a couple of talks in Charleston sponsored by the College of Charleston and the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry. Since 1994, this courageous human rights activist has been living under a fatwa issued by Bangladeshi Muslim clerics calling for her death because she criticized Islam’s repression of women in her novel, Shame. Our secular humanist group roundly applauded Taslima. However, College of Charleston officials, primarily some members in the Religious Studies program, criticized me for recommending her as a speaker because she was so negative about Muslims. My response was, “Duh! What did you expect from someone under a fatwa?” I understood their post-9/11 concerns because of harassment of Muslim students on campus — I, too, want to avoid stereotyping, but not by hiding the truth.

4. At a 2007 Atheist Alliance International convention, I had the honor of introducing Ayaan Hirsi Ali, also under a fatwa because of her criticism of Islam. She had recently published her remarkable book, Infidel. Everyone went through metal detectors just to enter the hotel ballroom. Since there had been death threats against her, she needed bodyguards all the time. Recently, she has been in the news because Brandeis University cancelled its plan to award her an honorary degree after protests from some students and Muslim organizations. She apparently committed a crime against multiculturalism by her uncompromising anti-Islam views.

5. In 2007, I invited a local imam and two other Muslims to speak at a meeting of our secular humanist group. I told them we are mostly atheists interested in learning about different religions, but I don’t think the imam understood his audience. He focused on how reasonable Muslims are since they have the same prophets (Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses) as Jews and Christians. When he painted sharia law as a benign and peace-loving way of life, we pointed out the many atrocities committed in the name of Islam. The imam told us that the perpetrators aren’t “true” Muslims.

6. On May 17, 2014, I accepted an invitation to an open house at the Central Mosque in Charleston. The guest speaker was Dr. Sabeel Ahmed, Director of Gain Peace in Chicago. His two-part talk was on misconceptions of shariah law and on science in the Quran. Ahmed made sharia law sound appealing — he mentioned that it supports freedom of religion — and he blamed the media for distorting Islam. He said one thing with which I agree completely: “Don’t believe everything you hear on Fox News.” (They don’t much care for atheists, either.) During the question period, I cited a Pew Research Center finding that 64% of Muslims in Egypt and Pakistan support the death penalty for leaving Islam and 75% support stoning people to death for adultery. He replied to this and similar comments by saying those aren’t true Muslims. (That reminded me of a joke from a lawyer friend: “It’s those 98% of lawyers who give the rest of us a bad name.”) The imam also cited passages to show why the “infallible and perfect” Quran is a science book.

Most Christians and Jews don’t believe the Bible literally. The root of the problem with Muslims is that they do take the Quran literally. I’ve talked to many well educated Muslims and imams, but have yet to find one who says Muslims can accept some but not all of the Quran.

Of course, Muslims will often interpret the Quran to make sense out of nonsense, much like people of other faiths frequently do with their holy books. For instance, Dr. Ahmed justified issuing a fatwa only against a person at war with Islam, but of course some interpretations of “war” include displaying cartoons of Muhammad. Interestingly, a brochure at the mosque quoted American Muslim, Yusuf Islam, formerly known as British pop star Cat Stevens: “Everything made so much sense. This is the beauty of the Quran. It asks you to reflect and reason.” Yusuf’s reflection led him to say about those who were burning an effigy of Salman Rushdie (under a fatwa for 25 years), ”I would have hoped that it’d be the real thing.”

I prefer judging people by how they treat others rather than by their religious beliefs. But we’ve seen countless incidents where religious absolutism justified violence. If Muslims want their religion to be viewed more favorably, they must forcefully and publicly condemn without qualification any violent strain of Islam regardless of what the Quran says.

To close on a positive note, I must say that every Muslim I met at the open house was warm and friendly. They provided information about their local free clinic that gives medical care to the uninsured and indigent regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, or national origin. And the food at the open house was terrific.

The opinions expressed in this piece belong to the author.

Image via Shutterstock.

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  • Ed Buckner

    Good for Herb Silverman. We must thoughtfully, consciously, carefully distinguish between people who adopt or stay in a religion and those who do outrageous things in the name of that religion. And all the religions I know anything about have been claimed as the basis for horrific, inhumane, anti-freedom acts. But Islam today is plainly the most dangerous religion world-wide. Of the 1 to 2 billion Muslims, only a genuinely small minority carry out or heartily approve of the worst of these acts–but that’s still way too many people–and it’s apparently enough to intimidate more reasonable Muslims who don’t want their religion destroyed by these fundamentalist, literalist fanatics. Islam must change from within, for its sake and for freedom’s sake for everyone.

  • Yvonne Davis

    Thank God most of us recognized the value of free religious expression long before the introduction of it’s more politically correct counterpart human rights. Human rights get in the way of real justice. If someone commits an act which we collectively agree is a crime that is worthy of some punishment which we have collectively decided is appropriate, what difference does it make if the guilty one is guided—or misguided—by religious belief? Religion allows the guilty to believe that he will ultimately answer to God for his wrongdoing, even if no man on earth brings him to justice. Human rights allows us to believe that we fly so high above all else that we don’t need laws to condemn a man. We are simply more enlightened than he is. We know it; we condemn him without reservation.

    Human rights claims are merely a facade for religious intolerance. Where is there a law that forbids rejecting Jewish names? (An act of bigotry to be sure but is it truly among the worst and most dangerous of human behaviors? How might we punish the guilty?) And then there is the covering of the face by women, a woman’s unwillingness to be seen walking with two men, and rejection of Ayaan Hursi Ali, who says she’s a Muslim but hates Islam. Worst and most dangerous human behaviors?

    Despite the sometimes troubled efforts of today’s Muslims to build community here on earth, each one of us will stand before God alone. Yes, many have been led astray by the Holy Qur’an but only those in whose hearts is a disease anyway. And as smart as you think you are, you are not smart enough to read and criticize a message that was clearly sent to Believers.

    • anamericanundernogods

      It is in Quran that says “Girls inherit half the boys.”
      It is in Quran that says “Man can beat up his wife (Ayeh 34 of Sourah AlNessah).
      It is in Quran that says “Cut the right hand and left foot” or “Cut the left hand the right foot.”
      It is in Quran that says “Non-Muslim in a Muslim society should pay more taxes than the Muslims.”
      It is in Quran that numerous Killing (Ghataloo) orders are given.
      And many more.
      I am not Islam bashing, I have similar problems with other religions as well.

    • Herb Silverman

      Are you saying that the Qu’ran was sent only to those who already believe everything in the Qu’ran? If its message isn’t good enough for outsiders to understand and accept, then it sounds like a fallible message to me.

    • Jon Benson

      // And as smart as you think you are, you are not smart enough to read and criticize a message that was clearly sent to Believers. //

      I used to say things like that as a child. “You can’t see my invisible friend Scott because only believers in Scott can see him!”

      Draw a circle. Write the word “reasoning” inside of it.

      That’s the story.

    • Arturis Dentalis

      Ayaan Hirsi Ali certainly does not consider herself a Muslim, she’s an ex-Muslim and now an atheist.

      As others have said, there is a problem with the idea of the Qur’an as the most perfect guide for humanity when most of humanity (including Muslims) can’t agree on the same interpretations.

      If the author of the Qur’an was truly omniscient, then he should have known that humans would have so many disagreements over it (hence the considerable number of Islamic sects) and altered the book accordingly to avoid said disagreements.

      A perfect guide would require no interpretations, no scholars and no imams to understand it. The Qur’an is simply an imperfect guide.

    • pboyfloyd

      “Human rights allows us to believe that we fly so high above all else that we don’t need laws to condemn a man.”
      This is nonsense and it’s why you don’t belong in a free country.

    • Robert Eckert

      The Qur’an says (12:2) “We sent you this Qur’an in the Arabic language so that you may understand it.” Of course, to anyone whose native language is not Arabic, it is an impediment to understanding that it is in Arabic, and the Qur’an is notorious for not translating well. For that matter, people who speak “Arabic” nowadays are speaking a language very different from what was spoken in 7th century Arabia, and have difficulty understanding the classical language. That verse is a plain indication that the Qur’an was only intended for a particular people at a particular time. It is not meant for people outside Arabia, or even for Arabs of the present day.

    • nevilleross

      Spoken like a true Muslim convert who can’t see the truth.

  • William Dusenberry

    A few years ago, a “recovering Muslim” came out of the closet, as an atheist, on the front page of the Tulsa World (Oklahoma).

    He lost his job, money was raised to have his wife sent back to the Middle East — and Tulsa’s Muslim community completely shunned this Muslim who had abandoned his former faith.

    “The Interfaith Alliance of Tulsa,” with a Muslim on the board, refused to even discuss this “shunning” — even though this shunning was a terrible experience for this “recovering Muslim” and his wife.

    And most of these shunning Tulsa Muslims had lived in Oklahoma for more than 20 years.

    Until rank-and-file Muslims, begin to aggressively promote “freedom of religion,” and the “separation of church and state,” the entire Muslim community will be as dangerous to USA multiculturalism, as Republican Tea Party members.

    Dr. Silverman has correctly noted that both the Bible and the Qur’an promote religious intolerance, bigotry, and misogyny.

    • Andrew Westerman

      I’m not sure what you seek to prove with this anecdote. Something about Islam? I grew up under Brethren-ism and this is exactly the exclusivity they employed against anyone who left. So, this shows only that certain religious communities are exclusive. But not all, in either Islam or Christianity.

      I could easily raise the anecdote that my sister-in-law comes from a Moslem country and family, is a Catholic and loved by her family and my brother, an atheist is also totally accept by the family. Anecdotes don’t prove anything really.

      Neither “freedom of religion,” and the “separation of church and state” are compatible with Islam as it stands. It is easy for us to criticise Islam post Christian Reformation. Islam is experiencing Reformation but it won’t look like the Christian one.

      I would argue that separation of church and state has hardly been successful in keeping religion in check, as the USA and Brazil demonstrate. It is held up as some sort of silver bullet, but it has failed. What seems more urgent to me is to have religious folk act decently.

    • Pray Hard

      “Until rank-and-file Muslims, begin to aggressively promote “freedom of religion,” and the “separation of church and state,” the entire Muslim community will be as dangerous to USA multiculturalism, as Republican Tea Party members.”

      If they did that, they would no longer be Muslims, would they?

      • Sam


  • anamericanundernogods

    I don’t understand what some of us mean by saying “not following
    the holly books literally”!

    A Muslim should follow Quran, a Christian should follow
    Bible and a Jew should follow Torah. If they don’t follow their holly books
    literally, then who decides which part needs to be followed and how?

    If I am free to decide for myself, then, as a Christian, I decide
    not to literally believe in that part of Bible that says “Christ is the Son of
    God” and, as a Muslim, I decide not to literally believe in that part of Quran
    that orders I not should drink alcoholic beverages.

    In my opinion the root cause of the problem is the religion
    itself. The followers of the religion are the symptoms.

    • Herb Silverman

      Christians and Jews can and have written books criticizing passages of the Bible, without negative consequences. I would like Muslims to be able to do likewise about the Quran.

      • anamericanundernogods


        You are right. Islam the worst of the worst.
        Yes, if anyone, Muslim or Non-Muslim raises a question about Quran, Mohammad, or Islam, the order is “Kill.”

        The logic is the more nonsense you hide the less intolerant of criticism you are.

        In Quran there are tons of nonsense anti-human and war mongering versus (along with some loving versus).

        Allah, the Muslim God, has made a good use of Stick and Carrot.

        A few of those anti-human versus that I remember are:

        Quran says “Girls inherit half the boys.”
        Quran says “Man can beat up his wife (Ayeh 34 of Sourah AL-Nessah).
        Quran says “A man catching his wife cheating must lock her in the home until she dies.”
        Quran says “Cut the right hand and left foot” or “Cut the left hand the right foot.”
        Quran endorses “Stoning.”
        Quran “Non-Muslim in a Muslim society should pay more taxes than the Muslims.”
        It is in Quran that numerous Killing (Ghataloo) orders are given.

  • Mike Zuberi

    Herb, the problem is education. 90-95 % of most Muslims are uneducated. Out the remaining % few know beyond the basics of islam. Like prayer, fasting etc. Now out this minority we have people Suhaib Webb, Yousuf Estes, Dr. Sherman Jackson etc. These people are scholarly and engaged with world outside as well. Then you the idiot mullahs who are self proclaimed experts from places equivalent Bob Jones or Liberty & Oral Roberts Universities, Then you have totally uneducated people who know nothing of Islam but are using it because that is the ONLY tool they have. Then you people like me – who really couldn’t give rats ass about whats happening Africa or wherever. It’s not my problem, not brother or sister or anyone I know or even care to know.

    Guys a fucking loon. Just because a jackass said he said his the King of England doesn’t make him so until a larger majority of Englishmen accept him. Why the fuck are you accepting these jackasses as muslims? We Muslims didn’t but NO you hypocrites do for us and then blame all of us – and put all us in collective punishment. Now all the media attention goes to the self proclaimed idiots
    and the truly psychos which by their birth and geography are using Islam
    for their self aggrandizement. When so called Christians doing fucking stupid things like kill abortion doctors or kill blacks, gays etc. its neo-nazis not Christians. Aren’t neo-nazi Christian? Its the fucking NUTS.

    Most western countries have better control of their citizens and most citizens are trained to fear the FBI, CIA in the US, DGSE in France, MI5,6 in the UK etc. On the other hand in Muslim & and other 3rd world countries; they do not have hard gun control or citizen control. You can get away with murder very easily; NO trained police or forensics and accounting inventory etc. People are born and dead with out the government ever knowing about it. If they were need anything with an id card;; they will buy fakes. And 3rd world countries which are mostly Muslim have a deep and thriving black markets.

    And to top of the most Muslim countries have something(oil) or geographically placed with geopolitical importance.
    The Western companies and Western government wants some one to keep the pipeline open cheap and without affecting your geopolitical needs. Who are such people; craven money grabbing murderous people who fuck their people. Those locals say America is evil. Kill all Americans. Why because West and America (the western representative and only remaining superpower) continual fucks them over by working against the leaders the people want and economically screwing them over with IMF. They see the Western approved leaders living luxury and they cant afford to feed their families.

    Now they also have no idea that average American or Britisher or Frenchmen etc is being screwed by those same media, governments and corporations. I live here in North America and am not a media idiot so I know. And I know you Herb; that you know better too. You’re fucking hack like the rest of them. Liars and lies they tell. But I don’t care. Lie all you want. I’m going do my 9 to 5 and I will rest easy in my grave. Cause I can not do shit. And if any one says they can; I say prove it. I’ll be watching your dead body on the news,.

    • Arturis Dentalis

      I sense you’re a bit angry :).

    • truly worried

      bullshit! Osama bin Laden was from a rich Saudi Arabiaen family and was university educated. and this is just one example out of many.

    • tsering dolker

      Baloney! Most of the hijackers who rammed those planes into the twin towers were highly educated, most having masters degrees and some even doctorates. Osama bin Laden is well educated and a multi-millionaire. It is Islam that is the problem, not people. There are poor people everywhere but they don’t create nearly the level of insanity as the Muslims do in every country that touch. That is a fact.

  • RichardSRussell

    I would delve deeper than merely holy-book literalism for the basic problem with Islam, which it shares with Christianity, Judaism, and all other religions, namely their basis in faith — the idea that you can somehow or other “know” something without a shred of evidence in support of it, and frequently in the fact of substantial evidence to the contrary. Faith is the root process behind not only religion (which even I, an atheist, admit is generally benign, if foolish) but also other fanaticisms and delusions (homeopathy, astrology, objectivism, ufology, conspiracy theories, climate-change denial, false accusations of ritual satanic child abuse, anti-vax movements, a host of superstitions, personality cults, jingoism, imperialism, racism, quackery, Chinese traditional “medicine”, feng shui, and the insidious brain parasite that leads people to endlessly obsess over anyone named Kardashian).

    Faith is the real culprit here. Religion is just one of its many unfortunate consequences. The sooner we all recognize faith for the awful, horrible, misbegotten thing it is, instead of blindly singing its praises, the sooner we will have taken the next stage of our journey to becoming a sane society.

    • Herb Silverman

      I don’t disagree about the dangers that can come from those who have deeply held beliefs without a scintilla of evidence. I was distinguishing between people whose beliefs don’t directly harm others (wearing crystals to ward off evil spirits, waiting patiently for the messiah of your choice to return, etc.) and people whose beliefs lead people to kill those infidels who don’t share their beliefs. Muslims are the biggest culprits today, as Christians were 1000 years ago.

      • RichardSRussell

        I totally agree. But they get a certain amount of sympathy and support from the more benign believers, who come up with such absurd rationalizations as “Well, at least they’re sincere. And they have faith. Faith is important.” Yes, it is important, the same way mosquitoes are important — as spreaders of one of humanity’s deadliest plagues.

      • Andrew Westerman

        Bill Gates and Rotary are attempting to eradicate polio from the earth, just the second disease in history to be totally eradicated. The remaining spots are in failed states where the final vaccinations will be difficult to administer.

        But the anti-vax movement may well bring us the point where we have another epidemic. Let’s get perspective here. The real enemy is ignorance and denial of science (strongest in your country), not religion.

        • Breath of Fresh Science

          Polio is still endemic to 3 countries: Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria. Care to guess what these 3 countries have in common? Islam is the dominant religion. Why are vaccinations difficult to administer in these countries? Same answer: Islam.

          • Salanor

            Bollocks. Nigeria is about 50:50 Christian / Islam. These countries have more in common in low HDI (Human Development Index) and inter-ethnic and inter-tribal conflict. Blaming religion is about as superficial a judgement as you can make. And does nothing to explain why the world’s biggest Moslem nation, Indonesia, is Polio free and open to vaccination.

            Maybe a little research would stop you embarrassing yourself with ignorance.

    • nevilleross

      Faith is the root process behind not only religion (which even I, an atheist, admit is generally benign, if foolish) but also other fanaticisms and delusions (homeopathy, astrology, objectivism, ufology, conspiracy theories, climate-change denial, false accusations of ritual satanic child abuse, anti-vax movements, a host of superstitions, personality cults, jingoism, imperialism, racism, quackery, Chinese traditional “medicine”, feng shui, and the insidious brain parasite that leads people to endlessly obsess over anyone named Kardashian).

      To that list, I’ll add environmentalism and any spin-off that objects to nuclear power ‘just because’.

      • RichardSRussell

        I think that scientifically supported environmentalism is a boon to humanity, but I agree that a lot of folx on my (left) end of the political spectrum display unwonted irrationality with respect to various technologies like nuclear power, guns, and genetically modified organisms. Superstitious behavior is not well correlated with politics.

  • Dumez Gracy

    Read This. i Gracy try so many of this spell casters when my husbands tends to divorce me because he thought i keep a secret from him before we get married. they all ask of different thing with money and i provide to each because my husband is my life and i love him so much but they all disappoint me till the court finally sign our divorce document so we go apart last 3years 2012 march 15 i packed to my new house……one day while i was alone( within February ) i just decide to get some knowledge on how to cope with divorce and forget the memories of my past husband because i thought he had marry another woman. while i was reading online i saw how Dr ( help some men and women get all they desired including healing the sick one. i just decide to contact oshogum also and just ask him how much his work cost but replied and said it free but i most tell the word how he solved my problem if he can do it. so i promised and he sent me the name of materials that his great god demand to get man back. my friend in Norway help me get the items because i could not get the materials here in Germany and she also send it to him. after two days he told me to call my husband but his number was disconnected but he direct me to call my husband work phone that i did, once my husband heard my voice he was very happy, he asked me were i was, i told him my new house. i was so surprise to him in my house. i never believe he can ever come back again. he beg for forgiveness and true love. We both go the same court to terminate the divorce agreement. Still like i am dreaming to see Davidson came back and we live together now even expecting our first kid soon. Thanks to Well you can contact him case you suffer any problem.

    • RichardSRussell

      The flag icon is at the far right end of the author-name line.

  • JJF

    Reform Islam? There’s a TINY problem here- koran is the literal word of allah, for ALL TIME. Talk of reformation is utter nonsense because Islam would be destroyed in the process. Oh that it were possible!

  • John Childs

    Herb’s is a very informative article. Personally I benefited from reading it. In one of the commentaries below, a fairly strong rant, the writer makes an excellent point about the percentage of Muslims without an education. To me there in lies the problem, and our nation seems to want to emulate that particular model. In the past thirty years we have witnessed a degrading of public education while a small percentage of our citizens who can afford it choose religious schools. Defunded and under attack from the religious radical right our general public, the masses, become less informed in areas of modern science and literature and the religious right teaches to a curriculum that is suspect of all knowledge gained since the enlightenment. The greatest threat to our’s or any civilization is lack of knowledge. There seems to be a very strong movement in our nation to undermine the general publics acquisition of knowledge. Each day that passes where liberally educated people don’t stand up to those who are working tirelessly to undermine the education of Americas youth takes us a step closer to third world status. Hopefully there are enough concerned citizens like Herb and many others who can stem the tide of ignorance that threatens to engulf our nation. But there is no hope in the rant I read below where the author states “I’m going do my 9 to 5 and I will rest easy in my grave. Cause I can not do shit. And if any one says they can; I say prove it. I’ll be watching your dead body on the news,.” There is hope where there is a productive life that works while not in the grave to make the world a better place. Kudos to those who carry the torch. It might be dampened and dimmed periodically down through the millennia but more often serves to enlighten. We are better than we have been and there is hope that we will be better than we are.

    • Finn Jacobsen

      Religious indoctrination of children is child abuse. Whether it be the stories of an allmighty old man living in heaven, seeing, hearing and noting everything you do, even looking into your most private thoughts, or being forced to use great efforts to learn the Koran by heart, it will produce religious stupidity which is readily and freely being demonstrated among spokesmen for various Christian and Jewish communities and from “mullahs” and “imams” of all qualities. Experience indicates that a child with successful religious brainwash will need most of its adult life to get rid of superstitions and delusions, if they ever manage.
      Allowing religious schools to take over education of children is a liberal human value. But maybe there should be restrictions in what they were allowed to teach? Or put an age limit on religious teaching? “Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over”. After a couple of generations with such limitations, we should be rid of most religious superstition, and God, Jahveh and Allah would find their place among other outdated gods like Zeus, Odin and Baal.
      I admit this is wishful thinking, but it’s Saturday, it’s springtime, the sun is shining and life shows its beauty everywhere. And there is not a God around anywhere.

      • Andrew Westerman

        Finn. That’s pretty much unadulterated bullocks. The fact that religion has emerged at all is evidence that we have an inherited propensity to create explanations of natural events that refer to a supernatural domain. You don’t get rid of that by simply slicing off this expression or that (as in religions) of that propensity.

        The fact is, we construct narratives, religious or otherwise, as an attempt to make our experience coherent. When you slice that out, you slice out humanity in all its blessed messiness. Personally, I don’t want your style of genocide.

        I am a child of religious indoctrination. One of your abused. Yes, it took me decades to be free. But getting free has taught me that people do things for many reasons and that religion is most often a post-rationalisation of position, not its driver.

        • Finn Jacobsen

          I see I found an expert who rates my opinion as “unadulterated bullocks” in a well documented argument. But even so, I dare to offer some views on your expert opinions. You claim that religion started as a way to fill in the holes in our understanding of life. Religion has always been part of human life, no one knows why it arose as none of the vast number of constructed Gods ever showed up in real life. The divine messages were always delivered as audible or visual hallucinations, a function well known to be a general brain function which today is mostly treated as an illness. The human mind seems to be endlessly capable of creating fantasies of all kinds and to literally create beliefs in them. There was probably survival value in creating coherence by filling the gaps of knowledge with religious phantasies. And it is still a great way to get access to wealth, power and women being the earthly representative and spokesman of various religious inventions. To secure your position of power, you will have to educate your audience to accept your phantasies, and the only way to do this, is to get them young, isolate them from “harmful” influences and break down their independence and self confidence. All religions try to do this, that is why I call religious education of children monstrous child abuse and an eternal way of creating conflict, terror, intolerance and racism. As our knowledge of nature and the human brain increases, there is less need for religion to fill the blank holes to create a coherent feeling of existence. This is probably scary for all those living the good life on top of religious pyramids, and they give alternative ways to expand the holes and fill them with content of their own imaginations, like Intelligent Design or claiming that the “holy” Khoran has all the answers to all human questions.

          • Andrew Westerman

            Finn. Do mind the adjectives, as they help interpret the tone. In my country, “pretty much” is a gentler way of suggesting you think again. What I wrote was not expert opinion, since I am neither psychologist nor neuroscientist, but a reflection on my experience.

            I don’t entirely agree with your ‘potted history of religion’. This doesn’t actually account for the spread of Christianity across Europe, nor Constantine’s adoption of Christianity because it conveniently served his political ends (One God, One Empire, One Emperor).

            As for child abuse, I think it’s far too easy to label and much more difficult to properly account for how religion is used with children. Should I label my parents as abusers? They were decent people, serving their community, working hard, raising decent children, paying taxes. So why did they indoctrinate. I think the best answer comes in their upbringing, which was the tough environment of the Great Depression, where having ‘tough’ attitudes was necessary. Religion just provided a convenient rationale for many conservative attitudes.

            The real devil was in the social norms and the response to social ills. My parents forbid us from alcohol because of alcoholism observed in others (yet every one of the eight children ignored that ban). It was a silly way of dealing with alcoholism, but they knew no other way. It was easy to quote this or that Bible verse to cement our guilt (and it didn’t work).

            If we label this as child abuse, once we protect the victims of the ‘child abuse’, we are left with the ‘abusers’ and the residual guilt of the abused. What then? The labeling is simply unhelpful. It is more ‘healing’ for me to say that my parents were well-meaning, but seriously deluded, than to accuse them of something horrific.

            The point remains that you can’t scrub religion from people, just as you can’t, nor would want to, scrub their voices because they speak hate speech.

          • Finn Jacobsen

            Surely you can scrub off religion. I have done it, and it seems you have also. English is not my mother tongue, so it may well be that the nuances in the adjectives get lost in my understanding. When I use “indoctrination”, I hope it has a different content from a “mildly religious educating”, telling you to be kind to all people, say your prayers and thank the Lord for all the good things in life. You raise a fundamental problem when you ask if your parents should be labeled abusers. All parents want the best for their children, so even if we can blame them for not seeing their superstitions, we cannot blame them for trying to raise their children in the “right” faith. Even if the result is homophobia, martyrs, intolerance, racism and all the other products of superstition. That is why religion must be kept away from children, making it a choice for adults. Being an apostate, I do not consider myself a lesser human being and my moral values do not need a religious foundation. All good moral is based on secular human values, most bad moral comes from religion.
            In my “potted” view on history, access to “wealth, power and women” does fully explain the spread of Christianity when you add it was introduced by force. In my country, people would either convert to Christianity or have their heads chopped off. Easy choice. Add the general brain function of auto-hypnosis, and you can pave the way for any religious superstition, like the muslims did a few hundred years after the spread of Christianity in Europe.

          • John Childs

            Once the Roman Empire became the Holy Roman Empire it pretty much was evident that the ruling classes from various regions could much more effectively consolidate their rule. It’s all about control and that pretty much is the way it has been since Shamans didn’t have to work for their meals. Really just like today. Why should Priests, Pastors, Imams, sweat to earn a wage when they can con people into filling envelops full of their hard earned wages. Or, these days get the voters to vote for politicians who have the working mans wages garnished as taxes then diverted to the deep pockets of the ruling churches in their districts. David Hannam said it well “There’s a sucker born every minute”. The church learned that lesson well from P.T. Barnum and the magic show and entertainment nature of religion is second to none in the endeavor of separating the sucker from his money.

      • babby660

        no, not til tomorrow 🙂

  • Cecil Bothwell

    It’s baffling that someone who wrote “Peace Train” could become so twisted by religious faith. And frightening. Faithful Muslims don’t seem to listen much to Cat Stevens’ songs, I think they prefer Dylan. “Everybody must get stoned.”

    • Herb Silverman

      I think this is an example of what Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg said: “With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”

      • Andrew Westerman

        “But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.” Which is pretty much a doctrinal statement. Good people do evil things because they are human and have heritable propensities to act deceitfully for social advantage. I don’t need a hocus pocus explanation of this from Weinberg.

        • tsering dolker

          If they are doing evil things, then they are not good by definition. We are not talking about a little fib here or a altercation or cheating on your wife sort of bad, but fundamental evil like ISLAM. And his pedophile prophet Mohammed, whose example most muslims would choose to follow. There is no escaping that with fancy definition.

          • Andrew Westerman

            ‘Fancy definition’? Its evolution. We are social animals. We jostle for social positioning. We crave social belonging. That’s why we behave the way we do. If you want to label people good and bad, go back to religion. There’s no science there to challenge that ignorant view. And, btw, you know f&#& all about Moslems. “most muslims would choose to follow”. How many pedophiles are there in Indonesia, the world’s largest Moslem nation? You don’t know. Your statement is hollow rhetoric, designed to inflame. When you have a few facts, maybe you’ll be in a position to argue intelligently.

          • umme hani

            U all are nonsense agin note that I am a child

  • Dangerous Talk

    I’m going to have to disagree with you about Islam being the most dangerous religion. Islam is probably the most violent religion, but I think Christianity gets the honor of most dangerous. Imagine you are in a bar and there is a guy running around telling everyone that he will kill them if they look at him funny. He is certainly dangerous and violent. But at most he could maybe kill 2 or 3 people. Then there is the business man sitting next to you quietly. He owns a multinational corporation that pollutes nearby lakes and streams. As a result of this, hundreds of people die and thousands more become ill. Which of these two men is more dangerous? Christianity has far more global influence and as a result is more like the businessman, but Islam is more like the violent drunk threatening to kill anyone who looks at him funny. Both are dangerous, but it is Christianity that will kill more people and negatively impact our way of life more. Just my opinion; I could be wrong.

    • Arturis Dentalis

      I don’t see the connection between the big polluters of the world and Christianity though, at least not overtly. The owners of these companies may often be from a Christian nation or background, but I don’t think it informs their damaging actions.

      Islam on the other hand is very clearly the motivation for many acts of violence committed by Muslim extremists and Islamic states. Just look at Syria, a country that seems screwed no matter who wins.

      • Dangerous Talk

        It’s an analogy!!! Muslims don’t drink either, but that isn’t the point of the analogy. The point is that Christians are in greater positions of control because the western world is more developed than the middle eastern world.

        • Arturis Dentalis

          I know, and I’m saying that Christianity doesn’t necessarily inform the decisions of those Christians in control, whereas with Islam the followers tend to adhere to it a lot more closely since it’s meant to be a guide for ALL aspects of a Muslim’s life.

          • Dangerous Talk

            This is a debatable point. I think Christianity does inform these decisions, but in a much subtler way. While these Christians aren’t always quoting their holy books to support their actions (although sometimes they do), their religious worldview colors their decision process. God is looking out for them. God is rewarding them. God wants them to be successful. God gave them dominion over the Earth. Etc.

    • NeoTechni

      ” Islam is probably the most violent religion”

      Then you arent really disagreeing

      • Dangerous Talk

        Not really, only slightly. I see a difference between “violent” and “dangerous.” My point is that the most violent person may not actually be the most dangerous person. Ultimately both are dangerous, it is just a matter of degrees.

        • NeoTechni

          “I see a difference between “violent” and “dangerous.”

          The dictionary doesn’t. You can’t use words, then use a different definition. Pick the word that matches the definition you want, but don’t expect us to accept your made up ones.

          ” My point is that the most violent person may not actually be the most dangerous person”

          My point is you’re wrong.

          • Dangerous Talk

            This really is a minor point, but if you really want to argue over it, I’ll entertain it. However, I really do have better things to do so if this conversation doesn’t go anywhere fast, I will abandon it.

            The dictionary is a reference book; not a bible. However, even in the dictionary these two words “Violent” and “Dangerous” have difference (yet similar) definitions.
            “acting with or characterized by uncontrolled, strong, rough force:.”
            “full of danger or risk; causing danger; perilous; risky; hazardous; unsafe.”

            The way I understand it, someone can be violent but not necessarily dangerous and vice versa. Violence involves physical force and is usually more aggressive. Dangerous just means that something has the potential to cause harm. It doesn’t necessarily have to be through physical force and it may or may not be aggressive in nature. Muslims are more violent because they threaten physical force. Christians are more dangerous because they threaten more lives and livelihoods due to their positions of power. This is a point that reasonable people can argue about, but I think there is a case here to be made. I think there is a real distinction between the dangers that Christianity represents vs. the violence that Islam represents. I certainly see Islam as more in-your-face aggressive, but a the end of the day, I think Christianity has more blood on its hands. .

          • Dangerous Talk

            My comment didn’t show up for some reason. Let me try again. First this really is an academic debate and so while I will entertain it, I will only entertain it so far.

            Second, the dictionary actually does support what I am saying here. “Violent” and “Dangerous” have different definitions. Here they are:
            acting with or characterized by uncontrolled, strong, rough force

            full of danger or risk; causing danger; perilous; risky; hazardous; unsafe.

            Violent is more aggressive. A violent person might not actually be a dangerous person and vice versa. Again, the person who is most violent may not be the person who is most dangerous. A violent person may stab someone, but a dangerous person might just push a button and kill 100 people. There is a difference here.

          • Dangerous Talk

            These definitions were taken from dictionary.reference. com

    • NeverAgain

      There is much more pollution, littering, deforestation, etc. in islamic countries than in christian countries.

      • Dangerous Talk

        It’s an ANALOGY!

    • Guest

      Religions aren’t violent. People are. No religion has served time for violent crime. The most violent and dangerous people live in the USA and Brasil (CHristian countries) and kill their countrymen with guns. The least violent and dangerous live in Indonesia, a Moslem country. Here is the graph.

    • Andrew Westerman

      Religions aren’t violent. People are. No religion has served time for violent crime. The most violent and dangerous people live in the USA and Brasil (Christian countries) and kill their countrymen with guns. The least violent and dangerous live in Indonesia, a Moslem country. Here is the graph to demonstrate that.

  • Loretta Haskell

    Why is it that more moderate Muslims will not speak out against more fundamentalist Muslims? I agree that Islam seems to be one of the most dangerous religions and it is in large part because of the self-protection it receives from its more moderate believers not speaking out against atrocities committed in its name. Dr. Silverman is correct.

    • Arturis Dentalis

      One word: fear. Fear of being called a heretic, a blasphemer or even an apostate, and we all know the consequences of that.

      • Loretta Haskell

        That is also true in other religions and yet some leaders find a way.

    • NeoTechni

      Cause they arent moderate. They agree with the fundamentalists

    • tsering dolker

      There are no such thing as moderate in Islam. Either you are a muslim and follow the Quran as the defacto word of God and accept Mohammed as the perfect example of a human being, OR you leave the religion and risk your life for being an apostate.

  • Maggie Ardiente

    I really liked these stories, Herb. Thanks for sharing.

  • Arturis Dentalis

    I hate this BS term Islamophobia. A phobia is an irrational fear of something. We have every reason to be fearful of and guarded against an ideology that demands apostates, homosexuals and adulterers be murdered. Seeing as Islam preaches that the Qur’an is the direct and unchanging word of god, these demands will exist as long as Islam exists.
    The only solution I can see is education, specifically the education of Muslim women. Give them freedom to think and they will realise that they are in charge of their own minds and bodies. The desire for independence will surely follow.

    • NeoTechni


    • mikecrosby

      Thanks for defining phobia, and therefore Islamphobia. What you write makes a lot of sense and clears things up for me.

    • mikecrosby

      Thanks for defining phobia, and therefore Islamphobia. What you write makes a lot of sense and clears things up for me.

      • John Childs

        Could be just a strong fear but the primary definition does support the idea that people are trying to make it sound irrational. To close for comfort so I agree it’s rational fear and well earned.

    • Andrew Westerman

      Islamophobia is not a sensible description because most of the anti-Islamic rhetoric is not from fear, but bigotry. To tell the truth about a minority in order to defame the whole group is bigotry, plain and simple.

      I never use the word.

      • Arturis Dentalis

        “most of the anti-Islamic rhetoric is not from fear, but bigotry”

        I’m sorry but this is simply incorrect. Islam is an ideology. To be opposed to an ideology is not bigotry.

        I am opposed to communism, Islam, Christianity, Judaism and other harmful ideologies. That does not make me in the least bit bigoted towards North Koreans, Muslims, Christians or Jews.

        People =/= ideologies. It is very important to note the difference between being against an ideology and being against a group of people who adhere to an ideology.

        There are of course many people who are against Muslims themselves and so are bigoted. Bigotry against ANY type of group, be it religious, racial, regional etc. should always be opposed in the strongest possible terms.

        However most of the opposition is to the ideology of Islam itself, NOT to its primary victims – its adherents (the overwhelming majority of whom didn’t even have a choice in following Islam, being as they were indoctrinated as children).

        • tsering dolker

          He is just reaching.

      • Pray Hard

        Bigotry? Well, then, they’ve earned it and richly deserve it.

  • tsering dolker

    It is the most virulent out of the three Abrahaimic religions. If you have people pouring battery acid on young women’s face for walking around without the veil , and poisoning the water supply for little school children, not withstanding the shooting of Malala recently and the absurd amount of suicide bombing going on every day, it is time to acknowledge the severity of the problem with Islam. The more we cover it up, the worse it will get.

    • Andrew Westerman

      A Hindu mob burned a Christian missionary from my hometown alive, along with his two teenage sons in India. Are we running a score chart on religions?

      People do atrocious things for many reasons. Religion only justifies them.

      • tsering dolker

        That is just one afternoon in the muslim world. lets keep this 80 Million HIndus killed by Muslims in perspective here and you will understand the magnitude of the problem. The same old convert or die policy was employed by all Muslim invaders, quoting Quran which was pretty clear on Infidels and Mohammed’s example. It is the most intolerant religion of all times, next to the other two, from the same place and origin. The problem with Islam is that they have reformed themselves like Judiasm or Christainity and still insist that it is the direct word of God and Mohammed is the perfect example of a human being. Until that perspective is changed, no matter however changed a person might become, as soon as he reads the demonic proclamation in the Quran, further elucidated by the Hadiths and the life of Mohammed and backed strongly by the Islamic jurisprudence at this TIME, he has no choice but to accept it or reject it. There is the main problem. Islam is the our last backward thinking and ideas that needs to be changed or destroyed if humanity wants to evolve and become a global community.

        • Andrew Westerman


          • tsering dolker

            Just one example. During the invasion of India by Timur the lame, not withstanding many thousands that actually perished in the battlefield, Timur had 100,000 Hindus slaves slaughtered in fear that they might rebel. Later when he won the battle and his army has looted, pillaged and raped all the women before killing them (as was the nature of Muslims following the great example of Muhammed) He was able to replenish the lost slaves by distributing captured Hindus to his warriors. it is said even pious religious man had at least 15 slaves. Now calculate what how many years Muslims hordes have been invading and looting India and eventually settling down to rule and colonize the natives. do the math. By the way, don’t forget the people and cultures destroyed by Mohammed and his followers in Arabia where once it enjoyed plurality before Mohammed.

            Even before that, during the Muslim raids against Hindus who lived all over the Afganistan, present day Pakistan, Sind area were simply massacred mostly because they put up a fierce fight and refuse to convert to Islam. Some Sultans enjoyed making mountains of Hindu Skulls, which even included the so called liberal Akbar. His sons were even worse. Forget about past history, Muslims Pakistan military has to still answer for the 2.4 Million Hindu Bangaladeshi they killed in 9 months of gore and systematic killing designed to kick out Hindus out of Bangladesh (which succeeded in 8 Millions Hindus along with 2 Million Muslims who sought refuge in India). What shall we say about the HIndus in Pakistan who have actually decreased in population since the partition while the rest of the Muslim population increased astronomically in Pakistan? Why do you think that is?

          • tsering dolker

            I forgot to mention Timur killed them all in one day.

          • Andrew Westerman

            This is evidence only of the kind of uncivilised behaviour typical of warfare prior to the bombing of Dresden. 3rd Crusade – “Saladin tried to negotiate with Richard for the release of the captured Muslim soldier garrison, which included their women and children. On 20 August, however, Richard thought Saladin had delayed too much and had 2,700 of the Muslim prisoners decapitated in full view of Saladin’s army, which tried unsuccessfully to rescue them. Saladin responded by killing all of the Christian prisoners he had captured.”

            And Timur adopted Islam just as Constantine adopted Christianity. He modeled himself more on Genghis Khan than Mohammed. You would hardly put Pol Pot’s actions under ‘religious’. The fact is there are far more fundamental drivers of conflict than religion which simply acts as a glue to keep the ‘tribe’ together. Essentially, laying blame on the religion, as you do, shows an agenda beyond simply criticising a religion. It indicates a hate agenda.

          • tsering dolker

            It is deeply religious and if you can’t understand that, then you will never understand the psychology of their conquest and the persisting conflicts around the world while dealing with Islam. Here are the quotes of Muslim writers recording the deeds of their kings.

            Here is your model king TImur and his reasons for attacking India IN HIS OWN WORDS and his scribes.

            AMlR TIMUR

            The climax came during the invasion of Timur in 1399 AD. He starts by quoting the Quran in his Tuzk-i-Timuri: “O Prophet, make war upon the infidels and unbelievers, and treat them severely.”

            He continues: “My great object in invading Hindustan had been to wage a religious war against the infidel Hindus…[so that] the army of Islam might gain something by plundering the wealth and valuables of the Hindus.” To start with he stormed the fort of Kator on the border of Kashmir. He ordered his soldiers “to kill all the men, to make prisoners of women and children, and to plunder and lay waste all their property”. Next, he “directed towers to be built on the mountain of the skulls of those obstinate unbelievers”. Soon after, he laid siege to Bhatnir defended by Rajputs. They surrendered after some fight, and were pardoned. But Islam did not bind Timur to keep his word given to the “unbelievers”. His Tuzk-i-Timuri records:

            “In a short space of time all the people in the fort were put to the sword, and in the course of one hour the heads of 10,000 infidels were cut off. The sword of Islam was washed in the blood of the infidels, and all the goods and effects, the treasure and the grain which for many a long year had been stored in the fort became the spoil of my soldiers. They set fire to the houses and reduced them to ashes, and they razed the buildings and the fort to the ground.”

            At Sarsuti, the next city to be sacked, “all these infidel Hindus were slain, their wives and children were made prisoners and their property and goods became the spoil of the victors”. Timur was now moving through (modern day) Haryana, the land of the Jats. He directed his soldiers to “plunder and destroy and kill every one whom they met”. And so the soldiers “plundered every village, killed the men, and carried a number of Hindu prisoners, both male and female”.

            Loni which was captured before he arrived at Delhi was predominantly a Hindu town. But some Muslim inhabitants were also taken prisoners. Timur ordered that “the Musulman prisoners should be separated and saved, but the infidels should all be dispatched to hell with the proselytizing sword”.

            By now Timur had captured 100,000 Hindus. As he prepared for battle against the Tughlaq army after crossing the Yamuna, his Amirs advised him “that on the great day of battle these 100,000 prisoners could not be left with the baggage, and that it would be entirely opposed to the rules of war to set these idolators and enemies of Islam at liberty”. Therefore, “no other course remained but that of making them all food for the sword”.

            Tuzk-i-Timuri continues:

            “I proclaimed throughout the camp that every man who had infidel prisoners should put them to death, and whoever neglected to do so should himself be executed and his property given to the informer. When this order became known to the ghazis of Islam, they drew their swords and put their prisoners to death. One hundred thousand infidels, impious idolators, were on that day slain. Maulana Nasiruddin Umar, a counselor and man of learning, who, in all his life, had never killed a sparrow, now, in execution of my order, slew with his sword fifteen idolatrous Hindus, who were his captives.”

            The Tughlaq army was defeated in the battle that ensued next day. Timur entered Delhi and learnt that a “great number of Hindus with their wives and children, and goods and valuables, had come into the city from all the country round”.

            He directed his soldiers to seize these Hindus and their property. Tuzk-i-Timuri concludes:

            “Many of them (Hindus) drew their swords and resisted…The flames of strife were thus lighted and spread through the whole city from Jahanpanah and Siri to Old Delhi, burning up all it reached. The Hindus set fire to their houses with their own hands, burned their wives and children in them and rushed into the fight and were killed…On that day, Thursday, and all the night of Friday, nearly 15,000 Turks were engaged in slaying, plundering and destroying. When morning broke on Friday, all my army …went off to the city and thought of nothing but killing, plundering and making prisoners….The following day, Saturday the 17th, all passed in the same way, and the spoil was so great.that each man secured from fifty to a hundred prisoners, men, women, and children. There was no man who took less than twenty. The other booty was immense in rubies, diamonds, garnets, pearls, and other gems and jewels; ashrafis, tankas of gold and silver of the celebrated Alai coinage: vessels of gold and silver; and brocades and silks of great value. Gold and silver ornaments of Hindu women were obtained in such quantities as to exceed all account. Excepting the quarter of the Saiyids, the Ulama and the other Musulmans, the whole city was sacked.”

            ANOTHER KING for COMPARISION: Mohammud Ghouri

            Hasan Nizami rejoices that “in Benares which is the centre of the country of Hind, they destroyed one thousand temples and raised mosques on their foundations”.

            According the Taj-ul-Ma’sir of Hasan Nizami, “While the Sultan remained at Ajmer, he destroyed the pillars and foundations of the idol temples and built in their stead mosques and colleges and precepts of Islam, and the customs of the law were divulged and established.”

            In 1194 AD Aibak destroyed 27 Hindu temples at Delhi and built the Quwwat-ul-lslam mosque with their debris. According to Nizami, Aibak “adorned it with the stones and gold obtained from the temples which had been demolished by elephants”.

            Conquest of Kalinjar in 1202 AD was Aibak’s crowning achievement. Nizami concludes: “The temples were converted into mosques… Fifty thousand men came under the collar of slavery and the plain became black as pitch with Hindus.”

            A free-lance adventurer, Muhammad Bakhtyar Khalji, was moving further east. In 1200 AD he sacked the undefended university town of Odantpuri in Bihar and massacred the Buddhist monks in the monasteries. In 1202 AD he took Nadiya by surprise. Badauni records in his Muntakhab-ut-Tawarikh that “property and booty beyond computation fell into the hands of the Muslims and Muhammad Bakhtyar having destroyed the places of worship and idol temples of the infidels founded mosques and Khanqahs”.

            Another small number for you to digest under the Tuglags in central India. I hope you look at the number of NOT enemy fighters but civilians being slaughtered, including women and children.

            After the sack of the temples in Orissa, Firoz Shah Tughlaq attacked an island on the sea-coast where “nearly 100,000 men of Jajnagar had taken refuge with their women, children, kinsmen and relations”. The swordsmen of Islam turned “the island into a basin of blood by the massacre of the unbelievers”.

            A worse fate overtook the Hindu women. Sirat-i-Firuz Shahs records: “Women with babies and pregnant ladies were haltered, manacled, fettered and enchained, and pressed as slaves into service in the house of every soldier.”

            Still more horrible scenes were enacted by Firuz Shah Tughlaq at Nagarkot (Kangra) where he sacked the shrine of Jvalamukhi. Firishta records that the Sultan “broke the idols of Jvalamukhi, mixed their fragments with the flesh of cows and hung them in nose bags round the necks of Brahmins. He sent the principal idol as trophy to Medina.

  • NeoTechni

    I’ve asked every muslim I work with if they support the attempts to kill the danish cartoonist and his grand daughter. They’ve all said yes

    That scares the shit out of me.

    • Andrew Westerman

      Then next day they came to work and had a cup of tea with you. Not one killed anyone.

      So, scientifically, you have just proved that what people believe or say they believe has almost 0 bearing on what they do. Most behavioral scientists agree with you.

      On the other hand, men who routinely beat their wives pretty much say they believe in love and so do their wives. Mmm.

      • NeoTechni

        Being OK with murder is just as bad as committing it. Scientifically I proved they’re monsters. Your final paragraph is irrelevant

        • Andrew Westerman

          Well, actually, most jurisdictions in civilised countries disagree and require someone to commit a crime before condemning them. It’s called “presumption of innocence”.

          How many murders are you OK with? The problem is you justify your murders, whether done in the name of the state or by acquiescence with immoral trade imbalances that ensure some countries never rise above failed state status.

          • NeoTechni

            Actually no. In most places death threats are also crimes. And I wasn’t talking about crimes but that I don’t want to be around people who are fine with murder

            I’m fine with and justify NO murders. You’re barking up the wrong made up tree. I didn’t even like that the US handed Saddam Hussein over to be executed. They knew how that was going to end. It was no better than doing it themselves

          • Andrew Westerman

            So why didn’t you report them for death threats? Is that because death threats and people’s agreement are different things and they didn’t actually make the threats?

            As I said, most people don’t behave according to their beliefs. If you have some science to support that they do, perhaps you could reference it. Meanwhile, what you say is just rhetoric and fear-mongering.

          • NeoTechni

            Because it needs to be recorded. But you’re avoiding the point. I don’t want to be around monsters.

            Most people don’t lie to make themselves seen like evil people.

            And you defending monsters tells me you’re just as bad

          • Andrew Westerman

            That’s lame. If you were truly worried, they would be reported. But, of course, you only asked to get an inevitable reaction. It proves nothing.

            I wonder if you could quote where I am defending their beliefs. Their beliefs are stupid. I wasn’t defending their beliefs. Just pointing out that most people don’t act on their beliefs, especially religious one. Mostly we act on other drivers, like desire to be included in a group. This is what behavioral scientists say. You can disagree if you wish, which makes you sound just as dogmatic as a fundamentalist religious person.

            Perhaps if you would like to judge them, judge them on what they actually do, not figments of their fantasy.

          • NeoTechni

            You can’t deny defending them WHILE defending them. I don’t give a shit what you think about the disconnect between their actions and them saying they’re fine with murder. They’re one in the same. You don’t need to act on it to be a monster. And saying people who are fine with murder are as bad as murderers is not dogmatic. You can avoid the point all you want but I dont want to be around monsters

          • Andrew Westerman

            I presume then, the logical outcome of your absurd ideology is to pre-emptively kill all Moslems (join forces with Brevik), as they are quite likely to harbor thoughts that may lend support to terrorists. If you only see monsters, there are good psychiatrists for that. Meanwhile, the rest of us will go about our business living with people of all persuasions.

          • NeoTechni

            “the logical outcome of your absurd ideology is to pre-emptively kill all Moslems ”

            Only if by logical, you mean “I’ve paid absolutely zero attention to anything you said”. Which explains a lot.

            ” there are good psychiatrists for that.”

            Psychologists agree that if you are fine with murder, that makes you a monster.

          • Andrew Westerman

            Whatever. This is where your inability to be intellectually honest just makes the conversation boring. Cheers.

          • NeoTechni

            I find your inability to be honest period, annoying.

      • De Doc

        Tacit approval is not a crime, but may well encourage others to commit an act, knowing that so many are in favor. Not everyone has the capacity for violence, but everyone has a capacity for approving or disapproving it. Why are honor killings an issue in parts of the Islamic world? Because the culture fosters a sense of approval, a necessary evil, even though the act of murder itself is viewed as bad behavior. And when there is outrage it is usually reactive and after the fact.

        I don’t get your comment about wife beating and love. Are you condoning/dismissing the act by your words, because both parties profess love?

        • Andrew Westerman

          The point of the wife-beating illustration was to make NewTechni realise that acting on beliefs is not a common human attribute (I was wasting my time illustrating that to him), not to approve of anything.

          Tacit approval is socially driven. Most of us are not bold enough to speak out in our in-group – that’s part of being a social animal. The fact that actions don’t follow thoughts means the drivers against actions are stronger than most ideologies. Which is what keeps us alive and civilisation, mostly, in place.

          Honour killings (and a whole variety of killings) are part of many emerging cultures. Head hunters lived in Borneo only one generation ago. The process of civilising is patchy and incomplete. Hence the residual attitudes in many countries that one might consider barbaric.

          The fact is, honour killings in Moslem countries like Indonesia are miniscule in comparison to the open bloodbaths of US and Brazil in terms of gun deaths. Let’s just get perspective, even if we abhor honour killings and gun deaths alike.

      • tsering dolker

        you must be out of your mind to think that there approval means nothing!!! It goes to point out that while many muslims won’t commit the crime themselves but they will tacitly support it and maybe even enjoy it. If there was no general approval toward such dastardly act like killing Vag Gogh in Holland and stabbing a note to his note as a warning to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, these sort of people will be less reluctant to carry out such attacks. I think you are simply out of your muslim mind. Holy crap!

  • Steve Leathers

    don’t follow holy books at all, burn them. cherrypicking is the rule, not the exception.

    • Herb Silverman

      Burning books is not the direction to go. Reading and trying to understand the various mythologies is worth doing. Would you want to burn the Iliad and Odyssey? Zeus was once considered a god by many. Not so much anymore.

  • Ilene King

    Islam, unlike Christianity and Judaism, has never gone through a successful reform movement. Fundamentalist and Orthodox varieties of Christianity and Judaism persist but both of these religions have spawned non-literalistic branches through liberalizing, modernizing, popular reform movements. Faith based fundamentalism is dangerous in any form. Successful religious reform movements eject the baggage, focus on a deeper meaning, and foster secular coexistence. Until there is a widespread, successful, popular Islamic reform movement, I fear that Professor Silverman’s anecdotes are, sadly, likely to remain the norm.

    • Finn Jacobsen

      We have had some 600 years more to civilize the Christian faith. But still, if you leave the Mormon church and denies the existence of the Holy Spirit, you’re in for eternal torture in Hell and breaking of all contacts with family and friends. Same goes for Jehovas Witnesses and probably for most other fundamentalist variations of the Christian religion.

  • Dr. Abhijeet Safai

    Thanks sir for wonderful article. I can resonate with your frustrations as I have completed BAMS course from India. Ayurvedic doctors also belive everything written in the holy books 1000 BC about human body! You can imagine the kind of cheos it creates, and the kind of risk indians are taking by allowing these courses to run. Thanks.

  • Ben Yoke

    Pretty much up until the 1960’s Islam, like virtually all of the world’s other great religions, was becoming more tolerant. I think that if we want the trend towards increasing fundamentalism and scriptural literalism to be reversed we need to understand what started it. Part of understanding the conservative trend towards fundamentalist religion comes with the realization that it was concurrent with trends towards increasing liberal new age credulity and liberal secular hedonism. And all of those trends, I think, are due to humanity’s collective response to the disrepute that reasonable enlightenment thinking fell into due to the disastrous early to mid 20th century supposedly “scientific” social experiments of communism, social Darwinistic capitalism, and fascism which resulted in 2 world wars, the holocaust, and humanity coming to the very brink of global nuclear war.
    For liberals to complain about conservative Islamic craziness without evidence of an alternative worldview, beyond our secular society’s rampant consumerist and pharmaceutical or illegal drug addled civilization and biosphere endangering hedonism, won’t crack the nut. I think we have no choice but to return hopefully to promoting enlightenment principals, but with more humility, less hubris, and much more scientific awareness about natural morality and existential Meaning (with a capital M) then we had 60 years ago and before. . .

  • Andrew Westerman

    Herb, perhaps you could mention how the shocking number of people shot by their countryman in USA and Brazil is a direct result of a dangerous religion called Christianity, whereas the lowest number of gun murders is in the largest Moslem country, Indonesia. Your critique of Islam is flawed and bigoted. You choose to ignore those cultural mores and attitudes that actually kill hundreds of thousands and focus on a tiny number of terrorist incidents, most explainable as inter-ethnic violence, that are supposed to be faith driven.

    At worst, belief sets your mind to accept lies about the “other tribe”, making it easy to kill them. You ought to say that.

  • Amy

    I’ve read both of Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s books, and her courage is amazing. Calling for someone’s death for simply leaving and speaking out against a religion is insane. If religion is so wonderful, it should be able to stand on its own merits and believers should not feel threatened by criticism.

  • Yvonne Davis

    The Holy Qur’an was sent to those who believe and those whose hearts are open to belief. It goes without saying, for me, that a prerequisite for understanding any way of believing is that you begin by accepting the basic tenets of belief and then build from there.

    • tsering dolker

      You also accept that Mohammed is a pedophile, murderer, a rapist, intolerant bigot who destroyed pretty much every other cultures in the middle east and in Africa? Women cover their faces because Mo couldn’t control his penis and he believed nobody else could. That is pretty much it.

      • Yvonne Davis

        It’s easy to condemn someone for something that, if it happened, happened so long ago you can excuse yourself from the requirement of due process.

        • tsering dolker

          Not if that person was a so called Prophet that Millions of people follow and try to emulate in their daily lives. That is the problem with your religion, it started from a man as wretched as Mohammed and you still pretend it is a religion of peace. It is the most intolerant religion in human history. The carnage and destruction in the name of Allah is astoundingly abhorrent. 80 Million Hindus were either killed or died under Islamic conquest and their call for Allah. I bet you didn’t know that, did you?

        • tsering dolker

          It is not because he was supposed to be a prophet who is still the perfect example of a man to Muslims worldwide. If your perfect guy is a rapist, pedophile, owns slaves, distribute slaves as booty, kills and murders, and then goes on to destroy all the other diverse cultures that existed in Middleeast at that time, then we don’t have to wonder much why the Muslims behave the way they do and are impervious to logic and basic truth.

  • De Doc

    A thoughtfully written article. Herb touches on a theme that I’ve heard from others on Islam, namely its adherence to scriptural infallibility. Critical examination of the Quran and other sacred writings is pretty much absent from the Muslim POV, so most of what they get is the traditional Islamic interpretation that is locked into hundreds of years of archaic and ossified thought. Meaningful reform will have to come from within for Islam to join the 21st century.

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  • Yvonne Davis

    If Ayaan Hirsi Ali finally stopped presenting herself as one with insider knowledge of Islam, good for her. God has a special place in hell reserved for hypocrites.

    • tsering dolker

      She hasn’t stopped. Maybe you should instead of berating her, speak on her behalf against those who threaten her life and have already killed one of her friends with a warning message stabbed on his chest.

      • Yvonne Davis

        Let me know if you find that spreading hate raises the dead.

        • tsering dolker

          Let me know if Intolerant bigots who can handle the truth about their own religion stabbing people help the ‘religion of Peace’.

          • Yvonne Davis

            Religions don’t stab people! But I see your dilemma; it’s difficult to find the words to condemn so many for the actions of so few without looking like a bigot.

          • tsering dolker

            The religion of Islam does. Your prophet was doing a great job killing people left and right and destroying the rich diverse culture of Middleeast with this abhorrent religion.


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  • Pray Hard

    “But at the risk of being called Islamophobic, I think Islam is the worst and most dangerous religion by all human rights standards.”

    Why do you care if you’re called “Islamophobic”? “Islamophobia” is nothing but a contrived, nonsense label used by CAIR and other such totalitarian organizations and individuals to elicit even more guilt and angst in the already guilt/angst-ridden.

    Christopher Hitchens said it best … Islamophobia …“a word created by fascists, and used by cowards, to manipulate morons.”

    If you can ever get past equivocating Islam with Christianity and Judaism, you’re eyes will begin to clear.

  • Sam

    In 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold murdered a total of 12 students and one teacher and injured 24 additional students. Harris shot a girl in the face for saying she believed in God.

    The Soviet Union enforced atheism amongst it’s population, murdering and persecuting anyone who did not agree.

    North Korea does the same.

    There are three examples of murder committed by atheist. No one can disagree with that. But what would be irrational is to extrapolate that all atheists are like that. Cuz, you know, they’re not.