Wednesday, February 23, 2005

life after surgery

repair of a partially shredded right bicep muscle - cut off the bad part and reattach- plus slice and dice on my right ring finger - trigger finger syndrome - has me slowly getting back to normal.

i'm getting everything done with my left arm and hand - so away with capital letters for now - also anything fancy.

sitting on the sofa over the weekend with my march issue of scientific american magazine and the tube turned on to a three day book tv session gave me plenty to think about.

the articles on common misconceptions about big bang cosmology and about new analyses of the huge amount of data related to global ice age cycles, natural greenhouse gas cycles, and the prevention of new ice age by the invention of agriculture were the creme de la creme.

also enjoyed the interview with michael mann - u of va - who has been under continual attack since his alarming hockey stick plot of global deviations from expected global average temps. you would enjoy his blog site at .

the highlight of the long book tv weekend was sam harris talking about his book - the end of faith - religion, terror, and the future of reason. check out his website at

harris was talking in front of an evening audience at a synagogue in irvine, ca - a very progressive audience and yet harris pointed out that religious moderates are part of the problem - since their token appreciation for parts of their holy books of choice undercuts their ability to confront the really crazy conclusions which fundamentalists of every stripe get from their holy book of choice.

harris' critique of fundamentalist islam, and islam in general, is devastating. if you are a true believer in the koran, the only sure way to spend eternity in paradise is to kill an infidel - ie someone who is not a true believer in the koran.

in an interview on the website, harris responds to a number of questions about his concerns -this is only a sample to whet your interest.

6. But isn’t our conflict just with Muslim fundamentalists?

The distinction between “fundamentalists” and “moderates” has not really emerged in the Muslim world. Most Muslims are “fundamentalist” in the sense that they really appear to believe that the Koran is the literal and inerrant word of God. In any case, Islamic fundamentalism is only a problem for us because the fundamentals of Islam are a problem for us. There is a pervasive piece of wishful thinking circulating among religious moderates, and it could get a lot of us killed. The idea is that all religions, at their core, teach the same thing. This is myth. The principal tenet of Jainism is non-harming. Observant Jains will literally not harm a fly. Fundamentalist Jainism and fundamentalist Islam do not have the same consequences, neither logically nor behaviorally. Read the Koran. Osama bin Laden is playing it more or less by the book. Anyone who says that there is no basis for his worldview in the doctrine of Islam is either dangerously ignorant or just dangerous.

We must hope that the Muslim world is full of moderates who abhor the worldview of Osama bin Laden. But where are they? We cannot just assume that they exist. And the horrible truth is that if they do exist, they will be easily marginalized by their coreligionists.

7. But we’ve all seen moderate Muslims in the news, disavowing the actions of Islamic militants.

Have we? We’ve seen the occasional Muslim disavow the actions of Osama bin Laden, saying things like “Islam is a religion of peace,” but this is not a sign of Muslim moderation. We’ll know there are Muslim moderates in this world when they get on television and say things like: “There is much in the doctrine of Islam that should not be taken literally. It is, for instance, unacceptable to believe that people can get into Paradise by killing infidels and dying in the process. In fact, we’re not even sure Paradise exists. Nor are we sure that the Koran was written by the Creator of the universe. The Koran is an ancient book of religious wisdom, some of it applies to our modern circumstance and some of it does not.” Find a Muslim who can talk this way, and you will have found a Muslim moderate. You will also have found someone who is guilty of blasphemy and liable to be killed in almost any Muslim community on this earth. This is the problem with Islam.

8. This is all pretty inflammatory.

Yes. There really is a deal-breaker lurking here, and there is no use denying it. We should all be genuinely shaken by the knowledge that an entire civilization appears to think that the Koran is the wisest book ever written. How we have a conversation with 1.3 billion people about the dangerousness and illegitimacy of their core beliefs is a problem for which there may be no easy answer. But we must come to terms with the fact that the spread of technology has moved us to a crisis point. There is no possibility at all of our having a cold war with an Islamist regime that has acquired long-range nuclear weapons. More importantly, moderate Muslims, wherever they are, must come to terms with this. And they must find some way of marginalizing and containing the cult of death and martyrdom that has emerged in the Muslim world.

9. But some would say that it is not religion, but history, that explains Muslim—and specifically Arab—intolerance. Doesn’t the Israeli occupation play a role here?

You cannot deny that the Israeli occupation is at least part of the problem. The Israelis settlers are themselves religious extremists who are putting us all in danger. Their notion of God as some omniscient real-estate broker is one of the principal sources of conflict between the West and Islam. But anyone who thinks western or Israeli imperialism solves the riddle of Muslim violence must explain why we don’t see Tibetan suicide bombers killing Chinese children. The Tibetans have suffered every bit as much as the Palestinians. Over a million of them died as a direct result of the Chinese occupation of their country. Where are the Tibetan suicide bombers? Where is their cult of martyrdom? Where are the throngs of Tibetans seething with hatred, calling for the deaths of the Chinese? They are not likely to exist. What is the difference that makes the difference? Religion.


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