Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Why Islamic Extremists Kill Their Critics

The other day I was seriously wondering how Taliban leaders including Osama bin Laden have been able to hide in Pakistan for so long. The Taliban are waging war on Pakistan, trying to overthrow the legitimate government, so why do the Pakistanis support and hide them?

Well, today I got my answer. This is the same country that imposes the death penalty for blasphemy. The Taliban supporters put Islam first, and their country second.

Any country that has a law imposing the death penalty for blasphemy is still in the dark ages. Their Muslim fundamentalism is so extreme that they are blinded to what's happening. They'd rather foster terrorism than make their country a civilized place. They'd rather have war and murder than let some random nobody say something bad about their religion.

I really don't understand how anyone can care about blasphemy. If some random guy I've never met before stopped me on the street and told me "You're ugly!", I'd just walk on by. Why do I care what he thinks? The guy is nobody.

If instead I took his insult seriously, I'd be doing two stupid things. First, I would be showing him that I cared about his opinion. And second, I'd be lending credibility to his authority to make such a claim.

Sociologists have a term called "signalling" which is the non-verbal actions we take to show others what's really important. I can say I believe a stock will go up, but if I buy the stock myself, you believe me more. I can say I support the San Diego Padres baseball team, but if I go to the game every week, it becomes more than empty words. I can say I'm deeply religious, but if I go to church three times a week, you're far more likely to believe me.

When Pakistan passed laws against blasphemy, they signalled us that they're not secure in their beliefs. You can say whatever you like about my atheism, and it's not going to shake my convictions one bit. But apparently if I insult Islam, it makes Pakistani Muslims afraid. They're signaling us that their faith is not strong.

How afraid are they? They're so afraid that they have to kill their critics.

That's a mighty frail set of beliefs if you ask me.

If Muslims really want to show us how strong their faith is, they should be able to scoff at their critics. They should laugh at those who insult their beliefs. Or even better, if their faith is as strong as they claim, they should ignore their critics.

After all, there's no insult worse than being completely ignored.


  1. Craig,
    if you understand religion as a mind-virus, you should understand better than anybody else how they (religions) defend themselves from those who might represent anti-viruses. It's not about how importantly someone should take a blasphemer's word. What matters is that the blasphemer might influence minds and divert them from the original mind-virus, in this case: Islam. Muslims don't kill blasphemers consciously. It's just their mind-virus's immune system acting through its host's actions.
    Good article anyways. Keep up the good work.
    Ciro Galli,

  2. I think Ciro is right and your book explained why theocracies do this. It is the religion memeplex protecting itself.

    Sometimes I worry that the evolved idea of religion is going to overwhelm free thinking society because free thinking doesn't have the same tricks and heady mix of confidence and fear that religion spreads. One might argue that this intolerance is what is growing Islam as a religion while American Christianity stagnates. Tolerance, as you mentioned in your own book, doesn't keep a religion (or any other worldview) afloat forever.

  3. I don't think you've quite got it right. While the underlying reason for killing "blasphemers" might be specifically what you typed, the reason they will give is because of their religious teachings. Taken to an extreme, their religion dictates that anyone that is not Muslim should be put to death (therefore, anyone that speaks against Islam should be killed). Pakistan has taken the extreme path as written in their religion.


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