Can we Blame Islam for Boston?


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It’s been a weird few days, hasn’t it?

Every time a new atrocity occurs it acts as a stark reminder about just how rapidly the news and media landscape is changing. On 9/11 we were watching streaming video in the office (the only place with a fast enough connection) and helping people check on friends and relatives by connecting over IM and IRC.

Madrid and the 7/7 bombings in London were transformed by the prevalence of cellphone video and images and places like Moblog became hugely important in working out what was going on and seeing what was occurring.

Now in 2013 – which always seemed like the distant future to me growing up – we have an atrocity at a marathon caught on multiple (civilian!) cameras from multiple angles, online vigilantes and the news media being totally outstripped by Twitter, Facebook and so on despite throwing aside their advantage (authority and objectivity) in a desperate attempt to keep up with the pace.

Speculation early on was, of course, about the brown faces in the crowd and that could have potentially gotten very dangerous. In a bizarre twist however, it turned out that the bombers were, quite literally Caucasian. It did, of course, also turn out that they were Muslim but I’m sure the concept of a white Muslim has someone like Ann Coulter’s head exploding in incomprehension.

There’s a couple of things I found particularly interesting and timely in the speculation we saw going on, things I hadn’t seen before.

  1. Some people were trying to pin the blame for the bombing on atheists, rather than religious or political fanaticism.
  2. Only very recently Harris, Dawkins etc have been coming under fire under the presumption that questioning Islam is racism.

Number 1 is interesting in that it shows that the rise of atheism (or more accurately the decline of theism) has some people spooked and many of them don’t know what atheism actually is.

Number two is a godsend (ha, ha) for those of us repeatedly making the point that having a problem with Islam is a matter of the religion and what it says, encourages and inspires. It’s not having a problem with Arabs, Pakistanis or whatever other ethnicities are most strongly linked with Islam. Here we have the perfect example to counter that argument. Two white Islamic terrorists.

Is it fair to blame Islam?

Yes, I think it is. The older brother at least seems to have been pious and increasingly militant and while the younger brother was a drinker he seems to have been caught in his brother’s shadow and tugged along by the weight of his growing fanaticism. Various excuses are already being made to try and distance the brother’s actions from their religion and amongst these is the suggestion of ‘white privilege’ that white mass murderers and terrorists, like, say Tim McVeigh, are not seen as part of a movement as a problem, but as individuals.

That is not entirely true. American gun culture, right wing paranoia, conspiracy theory, distrust of government and fanatically extreme individualism and Christianity have played a big role in a lot of American domestic terrorism and massacres and quite rightly this toxic mix should be held to blame for inspiring those individuals. It is much less of a unified belief system and set of grudges than Islamic fundamentalists have  but it is there. Of course there are also violent individuals, sometimes working together as in Columbine, perhaps the event that most closely mirrors Boston in many ways. Those events are individual though, they are not unified by anything more than disaffection, mental illness and isolation.

Moderate Muslims will say that the religion does not condone the killing of civilians or excuse violence and they are to be applauded for exercising their own personal morality to reject the morality present in the Koran, but the fact remains that it is full of passages that speak to violence, particularly against non-believers and that it has inspired much of the terrible violence in this century in the same way political ideology did in the 20th (both are articles of faith).



It is not racist to criticise and to honestly examine Islam any more than it is to criticise and honestly examine Christianity. One seems to be inspiring violence on a global level and even on the Christian side of the aisle one sees ‘Crusader’ rhetoric in the war against terror and a similar level of extremism leading to attacks on abortion doctors.

Faith provides the capacity for a level of fanaticism in religion (and ideology) that makes appalling actions seem justified, excusable, even correct. It is worth taking a stand against that way of thinking, both in Islam and more generally.


9 responses to “Can we Blame Islam for Boston?

  1. It’s fairly well thought out but all I have to say is this, every passage that speaks of violence in Islam is qualified. Every passage. There is always an if or a but put somewhere, the permission to fight is granted only against those who are directly oppressing you, once they offer peace, the Quran obligates the believer accept Peace. Even if it be a white peace with no advantage to either side.
    Further to that, the Prophet Muhammad gave proclamation that it is not permissible to harm men of God of any religion, the women or child, the elderly, those who do not fight you, (infact some imams have argued unless they are directly attacking you, you can strike at them) and it is not permissible to use any poisoned weapon, cut down trees, spike wells or damage any civilian property. Restricted enough? Well, just to add to the mixer, should the person you are fighting surrender, you must escort that person to a safe place off the battlefield and keep them unbound.
    That is the reality of Islamic law on war.
    The people that try to justify their actions in religion are more often then not those not very well versed in religion and rely on dishonest and foul people that take advantage of them.

    • Herein lies the problem with scripture. Its so vague and self-contradictory as to be able to say anything. Congratulations on using your own morality to filter that of the Koran, the next step is to cast it off altogether. You say these people have it ‘wrong’. They would say the same of you. Both of you will claim passages to support your position. Who is right? Who is wrong? Its not like science, you can’t test for it. Both of you will call each other incorrect and ‘not proper Muslims’. Both of you will engage in a ‘No True Scotsman’ fallacy.

      • I am sorry, I have several translations of the Quran and though I prefer the Pickthall version I can catergorically state there is no such passage that promotes indiscriminate violence against anybody. They will call me incorrect as I will they, they will do so because they are ill-educated fools who have never read a translated copy of the Quran and use second hand information for village preachers. It’s not a no true scotsman fallacy if the facts back my position.

      • And again. They will say the same of you. There are plenty of passages advocating violence. You reject or moderate them (applying your own selective morality) while others embrace and enact them. They will also call you foolish and uneducated and give that the material is self-contradictory, who is right? Who is wrong?

        There are no facts in this instance, only opinions and in most Islamic countries the majority opinion seems to be that violence is fine and dandy.

  2. There is what the scripture says in black or white, it cannot be misrepresented only cut. That is what these people do. They cut a line, I have seen it countless times and I will see it again. They will try to cut out parts of a verse which are uncomfortable, often the part that qualifies violence. Every part of the violence is qualified. I have read the Quran time and time again, in different lights using different interpretations and guides and every time, the violence is qualified. There is no margin of error, no ifs no buts no room for error, to fight is permissible only in certain circumstances. Any real scholar of the Quran, be they Muslim or non-Muslim would tell you that.

    • And yet again, this is what they would say of you. Plus they are egged on and encouraged by self-professed scholars and holy men. Sorry, but this IS ‘No True Scotsman’ again. I’m glad you reject the worse parts of the Koran, I wish you would reject it all.

      • I don’t reject it. I accept the Quran in it’s entirity because I seek to understand it.
        It is not hard to understand, the Quran speaks in verses, to understand the verse you look at the whole thing, not portions, you then look at the verses around it and the chapter which contains it. That is the accepted practise and has been for centuries.
        What these extremists do is speak to someone who pushes them down a path by editing and cutting sections off, usually it is the qualifiers.
        Say Winston Churchill said “It is the duty of every Englishman to slay the German where he finds them on the battlefield.”
        If you were speaking to an Islamic extremist, that sentence would become “It is the duty of every Englishman to slay the German where finds them.”
        Do you understand what I am saying now?

  3. Pingback: Can't Blame Us for Boston | Quality Social Service

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