Education, Politics and Economics, Religion

How can we tackle Islamic terrorism?

Islam came out of the xenophobic and violent Arab / Bedu culture of Saudi Arabia. It was then spread violently by conquest throughout the Middle East, Far East, North Africa and into Southern Europe.   The sword on Saudi Arabia’s flag celebrates this fact.

We used to say that there was nothing more dangerous than a fool with a cause. But a fool with a cause who believes they are carrying out God’s will is literally capable of anything. Any genocide, any atrocity, any sacrifice.

In Britain we have three pillars of the State – The Monarchy, The Church and Parliament and they are all largely independent.  The Church and Monarchy have been suitable neutered and liberal parliamentary democracy rules supreme.

Islam is not just a religion. In Islamic countries it is not part of the state, it is the state. It is also an ideology that seeks total control over its citizens in their personal life, their economic life and their political life.  In Saudi Arabia, Iran, Qatar, Yemen, Sudan, Pakistan Somalia and Afghanistan Sharia is the only source of legal decisions. Stoning to death, beheading and amputation of limbs remain a legal form of punishment for such crimes as apostasy, blasphemy, adultery, theft and homosexuality.

In the West we value rational, evidence-based debate, democracy and the rule of law.  Much of Islam values only irrational religious doctrine written down over 1000 years ago for goat herders living in a different age.

The problems of the Middle East can be summarised into a series of failed nation states.  The only stable Middle East countries have autocratic leaders and they quickly dissolve into chaos if they are deposed (Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt…).  The national borders are contrived and their populations have more loyalty to their tribe and their Islamic religious sect (Sunni, Shia, Wahibists, Aliists…) than they do to their nation state.

The same will be true of many Muslims in the UK.  Some would rather fight and die for their fellow religious sects in Syria and Iraq than their own country.  There is also a deafening silence from the many moderate Muslims who will not criticise their religion’s extremists. A few meager conciliatory words from a couple of media contrived Muslim “leaders” but where are the marches and mass participation campaigns on social media – either in the West or the war ravaged Middle East?  Again they have more loyalty to their religion than their community.

Clearly these values are incompatible with liberal Western values and our idea of the Nation State.

Worse still, these poisonous views have now infested our Western cities where they are passionately held by legitimate Western citizens.

So what is our solution?

Western liberal values and the fear of further provoking these evil extremist groups prevents us from isolating Islam for particular attention. We are a society that is comfortable making “The Life of Brian” but would recoil from considering making the Islamic equivalent.

However we have a long history of neutering the power of religion in order to achieve peace and build our Western democracies.  By religion we meant Christianity, but from now on it must mean all religion.  i.e. any form of irrational, unsubstantiated, superstitious belief.

We can criticise and defeat the generic ideas behind Islam without inflaming and offending one particular religious group.

All religions must pay the price for peaceably neutering the power of extremist Islam, because if we accept the philosophy of one religion we must accept them all.

Firstly we must protect our children from this evil.  Any religious indoctrination should be seen as a form of child abuse.

We do not have ”Conservative children” or “Labour children” or “Socialist Workers children”.  We accept that a child does not have the maturity and knowledge to give their consent to a political ideology.  We do not allow political activity in our schools, do not allow children to join a political party and we do not allow them to vote in a general election.

We believe the same is true of sexual activity.  We do not have “gay children” or “heterosexual children”.  Children cannot give consent to sexual activity until 16.

Restrictions on political and sexual activity is intended to protect naïve impressionable minds from the sinister manipulation of predatory adults.

We should have similar policies towards religion.

How can we have a “Jewish child”, a “Muslim child” or a “Christian child”?  Have they made an informed choice? Given their consent?  The sinister power of indoctrination over young and impressionable minds has been known to Catholics for centuries.  Their priests claiming, “if you give me a child, I will give you the man”.

No child should be forced to adopt any form of religious activity in schools until they are old enough to give their informed consent.  This would eliminate faith schools and the form of religious apartheid that exists in Northern Ireland and Glasgow.  It would starve extreme religions of their future brainwashed, indoctrinated disciples.  All Jewish and Muslim schools would be banned and all forms of religious clothing and adornment could not be worn in schools until the child is old enough to give informed consent.

Britain would still have complete religious freedom of expression, exactly the same as we have political freedom of expression and sexual freedom of expression.  But only when the person is old enough to give informed consent.

Secondly all religious activity must be viewed with suspicion and prevented from spreading its ideas using the machinery of State. No State sponsorship or tax breaks for religious activity.No special treatment for religious groups in our democracy (e.g. no automatic right to bishops in the House of Lords). Furthermore religious belief should have no privileges when drafting laws. No automatic right to Halal or Kosher food and no special exemptions from employment law based purely on religious doctrine. No pandering to religious belief when setting our national curriculum. No politesses when teaching our children the realities of evolution. No laws that hinder free speech for fear of causing offence.

Finally there must be more education and open debate about the dangers of irrational, illogical, superstitious belief.  We should be free to criticise these generic religious beliefs and ridicule and hopefully dissuade all those people that follow them.

This is very unfair on the moderate religions. It is also not a perfect solution but the best available solution.  But we let this evil into our societies and extreme measures must now be taken to keep it under control whilst protecting our liberal Western ideals.

Islam cannot be tackled head on without provoking more violence. But its fundamental tenets can be demolished with allegory, analogy, comedy and satire.  This should be further backed up with an insistence on logical, evidence based debate, democracy and the rule of law.

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Religion

Does terrorism have anything to do with Islam?

This argument boils down to defining the single, true and pure meaning of a particular religion.  This is an impossible task.  Muslims are as unlikely to agree on the true meaning of Islam as any other religion.  This is despite having a text, written in the original language that they all agree is the word of God.  Shias, Sunnis, Sufis (and at least 8 other sects of Islam) all disagree on its interpretation and within each sect there are many sub-sects.

And even individuals in each sub-sect will disagree on the correct interpretation of any particular passage in the Koran.  I was recently having dinner with a group of 8 Muslim friends (4 men and 4 women) and we discussed a passage in the Koran that allows a man to take up to 4 wives, so long as he treats them all equally.  Bear in mind that polygamy (only for men of course) is legal in all Muslim Countries.  So it seems that this interpretation of the Koran has been universally accepted.  However the next passage in the Koran states “but of course he can never treat them all equally”.  To the women in the group and at least one of the men this changed the meaning to the opposite view i.e. that a man cannot have more than one wife.

The point about anything as irrational, superstitious and unsubstantiated as religious belief is that you can infer anything you want from their ancient texts and then justify your actions by claiming God’s will.  They would not be alone in cherry picking convenient facts to support an entrenched view of the world.  Followers of political and social movements do the same. “In the messenger of God you have a beautiful model of behaviour” states the Koran. It matters just as much to jihadists and “moderate” Muslims who would never contemplate violence that validation for what they do is indeed to be found in biographies of Muhammad. Politicians and journalists who take it on themselves to define what is and is not “authentic Islam” are buying into the notion that such a thing actually exists. Unless one is a fundamentalist believer, it does not.  The concept of accepting that there is a single authentic interpretation of Islam plays into the hands of violent extremists who want the world to believe just that.

In any case, what Islam was meant to be is irrelevant.  I remember having a discussion about the practice of communism in the former Soviet Union with my parents during my philosophically idealistic youth. I felt that it was unfair to dump the extreme human rights abuses of the Soviets on the doorstep of Communism because they weren’t actually following “proper” communism.  It was called the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) after all.  However my parents dismissed this argument saying that what we saw in Russia and Eastern Europe was practical Communism.  Whatever it was meant to be, this is what you got.

A review of the Muslim world of the last decade or so makes lamentable reading: 9/11 trade center attack; 7/11 tube bombings; Madrid train bombings; genocide, public executions and public beheadings in Syria and Iraq; mass slaughter of Pakistani school children; murder of non-Muslims in shopping malls in Muslim Africa; ethnic cleansing, kidnapping and sex-slavery of school girls in Nigeria; Malaysian nightclub bombings; Bali nightclub bombings; US embassy bombings; USS Cole; Lee Rigby; Russian airline bombing; 2 Paris massacres, massacre at a Kenyan University…..

It seems that Islam is currently more open to a violent interpretation than other mass religions.

We must remember that Islam came out of the xenophobic and violent Arab / Bedu culture of Saudi Arabia. It was then spread violently by conquest throughout the Middle East, Far East, North Africa and into Southern Europe.   The sword on Saudi Arabia’s flag celebrates this fact.  The prophet Muhammad is said to have owned a sword whose name can be translated as “Cleaver of Vertebrae”. We used to say that there was nothing more dangerous than a fool with a cause. Well, a fool with a cause who believes they are carrying out God’s will is literally capable of anything. Any genocide, any atrocity, any sacrifice.

Conversely, the violence we are seeing in the Muslim world may well be against the true meaning of Islam for most of its followers.  But so what?  They don’t have a monopoly on the true meaning any more than their violent, murderous, Jihadi brethren.

What we have around the word is practical Islam.  Whatever Islam was meant to be, this is what you get.

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Genetic Explanations, Liberty, Politics and Economics, Religion

Why homosexuality is natural – an evolutionary explanation

Since Aristotle, we have philosophised a scientific and moral order to the world.  A “natural order” or “utopia” to creation.  A way things were meant to be.  If we acted against this order then nature would be disrupted and chaos would ensue.  This pre-supposition was incorporated into the major religions where it is assumed that God had a plan for creation and that His plan was “designed” to be harmonious.  If we could only understand what God intended for the world then we would know how to behave. But only religion knew how we ought to behave according to God’s design, because only religion knew God’s mind. Religion therefore got involved with “moral teaching”, which was a code of behaviour that God had intended and endorsed.

So religion expropriated moral behaviour based on a belief in a “purpose” or “design” of nature.  Men were men, and women were women, and they were meant to marry and have children.

However, unlike Aristotle’s assertion and accepted religious doctrine, evolution does not provide an “ought” for nature.   There is no intention in evolution.  Genes have no intelligence or sentience.  They are inert, self-replicating, complex molecules that have evolved over 3,500,000,000 years to build intricate life-support machines around them (living organisms) that help them replicate themselves.  We humans are a disposable container to further the interest of our genes.  We die, they don’t.

Evolution works by natural selection.  Each generation of genes has small random variations and mutations (some beneficial, most harmful) from which nature chooses the best characteristics using natural selection.  The beneficial behaviours survive and are amplified in future generations and the unbeneficial behaviours dwindle or die out.

Genes merely cover their options by providing random variation to ensure that whatever the future environment may be, some of them will be adapted to take advantage of it.

Without this evolution could not occur and we would still be living primordial slime.

So massive climate change, asteroid attacks, disease and any number of previous natural disasters has not wiped out life on our planet.  It just changes which genes (and therefore which species) are best adapted for the new environment.

So there is no “ought” in evolution.  There is no “intent” or a way things were meant to be.

So nature naturally provides variation in human characteristics and behaviour.  We have variations in skin colour, variations in hair colour, variations in aggressive behaviour and variations in intelligence.  And yes, variations is sexuality.  Some people are gay, some are heterosexual, and some can be anywhere on the spectrum in between.  So homosexuality is as natural as red hair or black skin or blue eyes.

Studies have shown that homosexuality runs in families, leading most researchers to presume a genetic underpinning of sexual preference. However, no major gene for homosexuality has yet been found.   But whilst much variation is directly caused by genes, we know that some variation is only indirectly caused by genes.  Recent studies in epigenetics have found a plausible mechanism for human homosexuality.  Epi-marks constitute an extra layer of information attached to our genes’ backbones that regulates their expression. While genes hold the instructions, epi-marks direct how those instructions are carried out – when, where and how much a gene is expressed during development.

Sex-specific epi-marks produced in early foetal development protect each sex from the substantial natural variation in testosterone that occurs during later foetal development. Sex-specific epi-marks stop girl foetuses from being masculinised when they experience atypically high testosterone and vice versa for boy fetuses. Different epi-marks protect different sex-specific traits from being masculinised or feminised – some affect the genitals, others sexual identity, and yet others affect sexual partner preference.

Epi-marks are usually erased and produced anew each generation, but recent evidence demonstrates that they sometimes carry over between generations and thus can contribute to similarity among relatives, resembling the effect of shared genes.  When sex-specific epi-marks are transmitted across generations from fathers to daughters or mothers to sons, they may cause reversed effects, such as the feminisation of some traits in sons and similarly a partial masculinisation of daughters.

So this mechanism can affect a developing foetus’ response to hormones in the womb which may affect brain development and sexuality.  But how can a genetic trait that causes sexual preferences which will not result in pregnancy and children survive generation after generation?   The reason that many people think homosexuality is “unnatural” is because it denotes behaviour which does not result in any future generations.  Natural selection should ensure that genes for homosexuality will die out.  Many believe the fear of persecution caused many homosexuals to marry and have children in order to fit into society, thus propagating these genes into future generations.  However,  mathematical modeling demonstrates that genes coding for these epi-marks can easily spread in the population because they only rarely escape erasure causing homosexuality in the offspring.  Genetic transmission of epi-marks between generations is the most plausible evolutionary mechanism of the phenomenon of human homosexuality.

So our knowledge that homosexuality has a genetic basis, which is subject to evolution by natural selection, would lead us to predict that homosexuality would be rare.  This is verified by the  results of the third National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles recently published in The Lancet.   It shows that 7% of men have had some sort of same-sex “sexual experience” and only 4% had physical sex with a man.  The percentage of females who say they have had a sexual “experience”, including kissing, with another woman was 16% and the number admitting to having sex with another woman was 8%.  However there are good evolutionary reasons why we would predict that homosexual behaviour in women would be greater than in men.  (See blog:  Is there a bit of lesbianism in all women? )

Now that homosexuality is accepted in modern societies there is less pressure on homosexuals to marry and have children in order to “fit in” and avoid persecution.  This could mean that there will be less homosexuality in the future because if there are genes which code for homosexual behaviour they would become even less common.  However the recent research into epi-marks suggests that homosexuality will never disappear.  It will just remain rare.

Gay Marriage and Liberty

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Genetic Explanations, Liberty, Religion

From where do we get our moral behaviour?

Since Aristotle, we have philosophised a scientific and moral order to the world.  A “natural order” or  “utopia” to creation.  A way things were meant to be.  If we acted against this order then nature would be disrupted and chaos would ensue.  This pre-supposition was incorporated into the major religions where it is assumed that God had a plan for creation and that plan was “designed” to be harmonious.  If we could only understand what He intended for the world then we would know how to behave. But only religion knew how we ought to behave according to God’s design, because only religion knew God’s mind. Religion therefore got involved with “moral teaching”, which was a code of behaviour that God had intended and endorsed.

It was consequently assumed that if we did not believe in God then our moral behaviour could not be guaranteed.   If we don’t believe in God what is to stop us murdering and raping?  If there is no retribution after death what is to ensure we live a good life?  Non- religious people were feared, excluded, subjected to violence and sometimes death.  Religious belief was considered the default position.  The term “atheist” is a strange word construct that confirms this thinking.  We are not normally described as something we are not.  We are not non-socialists, or non-Manchester United supporters.  Only non-believers.  In past times atheists would have been advised to play the game, go to church and pretend to believe in order to avoid persecution.

So religion expropriated moral behaviour.

But mankind is moral and ethical in the absence of religious belief.  There is no evidence that religious people are more moral than atheists. Or that they are more law abiding. In recent polls, 65% of British people said they weren’t religious and weekly church attendance in the UK is down to less than 2%.  No massive crime wave has ensued.  Violent crime is at a 30 year low.

So if it not religion, where do our morals come from?

Interestingly there are a number of psychological tests which can elucidate our moral compass i.e. establish what moral beliefs we all hold.  These tests can be applied to people from all different cultures and belief systems.  From these tests we can demonstrate that mankind shares an innate moral code, independent of religious indoctrination or cultural teaching.  This moral code is hardwired in the same way as much animal behaviour is hardwired.  It is part of human nature.

Most humans would feel bad about causing harm to another person. We would generally feel revulsion at seeing a child raped or an innocent murdered.  We feel compassion towards small, vulnerable children.  We look after our sick and dying.  We evolved as an emotional, social, altruistic species (but who admittedly can turn violent if threatened).  These behaviours of nurture, collaboration, teamwork, empathy and compassion have led to our success as a species.  Altruism works in evolutionary terms if an individual of a species has a reasonable chance of it being reciprocated.  This is the “is” of human nature.

However, unlike Aristotle’s assertion and accepted religious doctrine, evolution does no provide an “ought” to human behaviour.   There is no intention in evolution.  The Universe was not meant to be a certain way.  There are just random behaviours encoded by our genes that lead to us to be more or less successful in propagating our genes into the next generation.

Evolution occurs by the process of natural selection.  The beneficial behaviours survive and are amplified in future generations and the unbeneficial behaviours die out.

So it seems that our moral code actually has a Darwinist origin, not a religious origin!

Combine this force of nature with our intelligence as a species and our ability to learn, anticipate and interpret our environment and we have very complex “human” behaviour (a “culture”), which in developed countries now includes evidence based debate, democracy and the rule of law.  This is where we must derive our “ought” of human behaviour i.e. how we should behave.

If we combine our innate moral code with rational, evidence based debate, democracy and the rule of law we have a functioning society. A “civilization” that can even accommodate a few immoral miscreants that the variation component of the mechanism of evolution by natural selection throws up. Our intelligence as a species has allowed us to plan and control our own society.  Most of us have the ability to see how things would be if we allowed anarchy to predominate, so we work hard to create order, security and welfare.

So, we have an inbuilt, genetic, emotional behavioural code and a derived behavioural code from our experience and interaction with our environment.  Some things just feel wrong. Some things we rationalise as wrong.  Some of these emotional and rational codes we choose to call “morals”.

Religion was once beneficial.  It was a good way of creating social control through its teaching and threats of social exclusion and eternal damnation for those that misbehaved.  But now we have the ability to collect real evidence through scientific methods for our evidence-based debates.  We now have good-enough democracy and adequate rule of law.  We have superseded religion.

The negatives of religion are now outweighing the positives:  Illogical, irrational thinking; superstition; religious discrimination; the sinister underpinnings of Islamic Jihad and the barbaric treatment of women are all part of the same belief system.  The same irrational belief system underpins extreme Islam and the benign Church of England. If we condone one version, we must condone them all.  We can no longer claim that we should believe in an untruth (religion) because it is beneficial.  The balance has changed.  We must now free ourselves from the shackles of religious indoctrination.  As Steven Weinburg famously 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.”

We are right to challenge religious beliefs in order to create a better, more moral, more rational, fairer and more equal world.

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Religion

An Argument Against Faith Schools

If we accept the concept of “faith schools”, whatever the religion, we must also accept (by the same logic) Muslim schools that force young women to wear face veils or teach violent jihad. Consequently any extreme religion has permission to indoctrinate our children with any twisted ideology they can justify from their ancient religious texts.

When the British Government got behind the concept of “faith schools” they doubtless imagined a quaint Church of England primary school, with a form of Christianity bordering on the agnostic and staffed by benign well meaning vicars and Miss Jean Brodies in their prime.

In fact any religious indoctrination is a form of child abuse.

We do not have ”Conservative children” or “Labour children” or “Socialist Workers children”.  We accept that a child does not have the maturity and knowledge to give their consent to a political ideology.  We do not allow political activity in our schools, do not allow children to join a political party and we do not allow them to vote in a general election.

We believe the same is true of sexual activity.  We do not have “gay children” or “heterosexual children”.  Children cannot give consent to sexual activity until 16.

Restrictions on political and sexual activity is intended to protect naïve impressionable minds from the sinister manipulation of predatory adults.

We should have similar policies towards religion.

How can we have a “Jewish child”, a “Muslim child” or a “Christian child”?  Have they made an informed choice? Given their consent?  The sinister power of indoctrination over young and impressionable minds has been known to Catholics for centuries.  Their priests claiming, “if you give me a child, I will give you the man”.

No child should be forced to adopt any form of religious activity in schools until they are old enough to give their informed consent.  This would eliminate faith schools and the form of religious apartheid that exists in Northern Ireland and Glasgow.  It would starve extreme religions of their future brainwashed, indoctrinated disciples.  All Jewish and Muslim schools would be banned and all forms of religious clothing and adornment could not be worn in schools until the child is old enough to give informed consent.

Britain would still have complete religious freedom of expression, exactly the same as we have political freedom of expression and sexual freedom of expression.  But only when the person is old enough to give informed consent.

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