Wednesday, November 28, 2007

How to end Islamic terrorism by engineering a violent revolution

Books can be dangerous things. They can be more mind altering than any illegal drug. Consider Thomas Paine and the most influential pamphlet of the American Revolution, Common Sense.

Now consider that a Turkish prosecutor has launched a probe into whether Richard Dawkins' book, The God Delusion, is an attack on religious values. It could lead to the prosecution of the book's Turkish publisher and translator, Erol Karaaslan.

It's precisely this type of repression that inspires books like The God Delusion to be written in the first place and it highlights the very weakness of these Islamic states that attempt such repression by law and force. It means they find Dawkins' ideas and arguments threatening.

Would it be possible to print copies of the atheist books in all the common Muslim languages and smuggle them into places like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran, etc.. Perhaps Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Hitchens could waive copyright for all Muslim language editions of their books (or something similar to encourage black market printing and distribution in certain languages) and encourage black market smuggling of them.

Turkish law couldn't touch a publisher in England, Sweden, the U.S. or Canada.

However, if you're going to do something like that you might consider writing a new book that's especially written for Muslims, that addresses what is wrong with such laws, and maybe getting help from Ibn Warraq, Rushdie and others who know Islam better.

How far could you push that book? Could you suggest violent revolution against such laws?

But let's go farther. A guy like me, or even a guy like Dawkins, really can't know how effective their writing is without just putting it out there and seeing how people react. That is not what I mean by "engineering a violent revolution." Hollywood came up with a test so that they wouldn't spend millions marketing a movie that had a high probability of being a "Turkey." It's called "test screening."

Today there are a lot of out of work Muslims, from every Arab nation, all over Europe who could be hired as test readers and questioned afterwards. They could be used as test cases for various arguments. Once you start doing stuff like that, you're not just writing, you're engineering.

But go farther, Hollywood test screenings still dump dogs into the movie market. It's still more art than science -- and it's the worst kind of art, it's art by committee. There are other people who study religion, for example, there is the Journal of Religion and Society, a US academic journal that publishes papers on such subjects. There are all kinds of psychologists who study religion who could help a writer get through the psychological blocks you will encounter.

When I write I can only base my arguments on those which were effective on me. Obviously, judging from the comments I sometimes get on this blog these arguments don't work on others -- some of the people posting comments here seem far more screwed up than I ever was (yes, I mean you Marian Paroo, mountain king, Amicus and you-know-who-you-are). It's also obvious that Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens haven't turned the country into a bunch of atheists. In the end I think we all just recycle the guy who got to us, Bertrand Russel. And none of us were raised as Muslims.

Maybe it's time to look into the possibility of engineering arguments that can go beyond the ones that worked for us. Once done, we might have a revolutionary new tool.


Anonymous said...

I've been reading Jennifer Michael Hecht's "Doubt: A History" and it is amazing how much material from Harris and Hitchens, (less so from Dawkins) is directly lifted from Bertrand Russell.

One example, the "Everyone's an atheist, I just take it one god further" is a paraphrase of a Russell statement.

Anonymous said...

Russell had a lot of good one-liners :)

I think a lot of the things the "New Atheists" say (I hate that term but it seems to have stuck) has probably been said in one way or another in the past. Let's face it, there are a finite number of arguments for or against religion regardless of their validity, and there are only so many ways those arguments can be made. Given we live in a relatively sophisticated society, it's not all that surprising that some of the arguments being expressed today will sound derivative of those made in the past to anyone who has been paying attention to the debate.

I think the most original anti-theist argument I have heard recently is Dawkins' "There are no Christian/Muslim/Democrat/etc children", although it may have been stated by someone else in a different way in the past. I'm not a scholar, so I don't know.

I think one of the reasons it seems like a lot of the same arguments are being made over and over by atheists/anti-theists is because theists don't have any new arguments or evidence in favor of their position to bring to the table :)

Anonymous said...

By the way, I completely forgot to comment on the actual blog post.

While I think it is an interesting idea to surreptitiously distribute "subversive" (read: atheist) literature in places that are currently stuck in the dark ages of reason (read: most Islamic nations), I'm not sure if it would really have any effect or not.

In order for it to work, there would have to be:

a) Literate people who are yearning for some kind of message to get behind other than the Qu'ran.

b) The means for those people to organize themselves and effect change in their communities and government without the fear of being persecuted...or at least the courage to face such likely persecution in significant numbers.

Unfortunately, I think many places in the undeveloped world, the Middle East especially, lack both of these at this time. Many of the people in these countries are undereducated and/or brainwashed by their society, religion and government. Those who are not and who may be sympathetic to progressive change generally live in constant fear of their sympathies and opinions being revealed, lest they and their families be imprisoned for sedition or heresy (or much much worse).

I think it's going to take some kind of radical awakening akin to the European renaissance to bring many of these countries into the modern world, and I fear that a lot of violence is going to have to occur before that happens. I hope I'm wrong.

This is not a critique of the idea itself, just my opinion of the obstacles facing it.

apostate said...

I was raised as a Muslim and old Bertie is my hero.

Theologically, the tools that work against Christianity are the same ones that work against Islam as well -- the three Abrahamic faiths are pretty similar.

The Saudis (I grew up in Saudi Arabia) didn't know that just banning anti-Islam stuff wasn't enough; they should've also banned anti-Christian stuff, because it has the same level of effectiveness.

I think former Muslims need to do with Islam what Dawkins has done with Christianity: the core arguments would not be very different, but it will be more immediate for Muslims to read about Allah rather than Jesus.