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“Hey look, there’s Elvis!”

April 7, 2010

I heard another infuriating public lecture on Islam today. It went like this:

The Qur’an has a lot of violent stuff in it

Of course, so does the Bible. But what’s different about Jews and Christians on the one hand, and Muslims on the other hand, is this: “we” (of course the lecturer used “we”) have evolved beyond our violent past whereas “they” have not.

Okay, here goes:

Fallacy #1: What it says in a text has some direct connection with the behavior of the people who hold it as authoritative.

Fallacy #2: Muslims are intrinsically more violent than Jews and Christians today.

This sort of lecture is, in my opinion, an exercise in distraction; it is the “academic” version of “Hey look, there’s Elvis!” —a line always delivered in films just before the protagonist runs away in the midst of her opponent turning to look.

Hey look, there are violent Muslims! Pay no attention to the American capitalist empire behind me.

It makes me sick to my stomach that this guy is teaching college courses.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. April 8, 2010 10:28 am

    I wish I could say that this type of lecture doesn’t happen at my school, but frankly, I have argued with several profs who have tried to promote similar ideas… either about religion, or about feminists or communists. Some horrific things have been said in student led discussions and some profs don’t bother so much as mentioning other viewpoints when a sexist, racist, or ethnocentric comment is made. It is very sad.

    I think my favorite was a prof saying that communism would necessitate our returning to living without technology… because I agree with Marxist theory, I should throw away my television and computer now and go back to the “stone ages.” How many teenagers and young adults would be scared away from socialism if they believe they’d have to give up their laptops and ipods?

    And then there is admin going into student webmail inboxes and systematically deleting e-mails promoting events for Israeli Apartheid Week.

  2. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    April 8, 2010 10:33 am

    Wow, I’ve never heard of administration messing about with student’s emails. That’s so 1984.

  3. Smokestack Lightning permalink
    April 14, 2010 1:13 am

    “Pay no attention to the American capitalist empire behind me.”

    I’m curious about this comment, since you’ve made it often enough and I don’t think you’ve ever gone into why. I realise this is probably because it should be more or less intuitive but nevertheless I’d like to get it out into the open. Full disclosure: I’m an atheist, albeit one empathetic to religiosity in general, and I think the study of it is important as a practice that many people take very seriously. Furthermore, I am not a religious studies student so I’m sorry if what I say is ignorant of basic disciplinary knowledge.

    Is this comment based on the fact that often people take for granted that capitalism is the structure by which our society operates and so criticism of it is less likely to occur? Despite the observation that, on balance, capitalism has done more bad things than religion but is not as culpable because there is not some tangible organisation to point to as being demonstrably bad — as there might be for religion. To further complicate this, the implication of capitalism as something that might be detrimental to groups of people suggests a far more complex picture of how things hang together (in a bad way) than saying something so simplistic as ‘religion is to blame for x’ — for this also casts doubt upon how society is structured and enacted on such principles.

    If it is something like what I’ve sketched out above, then I think this is very reasonable. If your views on the matter are not that, of course, feel free to correct and educate me!

  4. April 16, 2010 12:03 pm

    This is pure Sam Harris (“The End of Faith”) talk . He is such a tool. In the near future, I’m going to be taking down one of his recent “scientific” papers in which he images the brains of the faithful, looking for evidence that faith originates in the limbic system and therefore cannot be rational. You will find it at Genealogy of Religion.

  5. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    April 16, 2010 12:35 pm

    Hi Cris, I just recently discovered Genealogy of Religion a few weeks ago and have been following it!

    Smokestack lightning: sorry I’ve been slow to respond. It’s because I’ve been super busy.

    I’m not sure I entirely follow your reading of my line, so I’ll just try to elaborate on what I meant there (you can let me know if it fits with what you were saying or not).

    Some of what I am assuming is this. 1) Those institutions/traditions we call “religious” have produced a lot less violence in the last 100 years that those institutions/traditions we call secular nation states. 2) The violence of those secular nation states has in most cases been linked in some way to economic interests, and usually of the capitalist variety. 3) I don’t want to reify religion or capitalism, but I do think that “capitalism” produces more violence than “religion” these days—although it would be more precise to say that capitalist practices motivate violence and capitalist discourses justify said violence.

    This relates to the lecture I attended in this way: the lecturer attributed Muslim violence (such as that of 9/11) to the message of the Qur’an or some sort of core values of Islam, whereas I would be much more likely to attribute the violence of 9/11 to the presence of the American military in the Middle East, a military presence that has American economic interests at its root.

    To point to the Qur’an is, in my opinion, to redirect attention away from a fuller picture of the conditions that led to the formation and military actions of Al Qaeda.

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