Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Dishonest Arguments 101

Over at TNR's Plank, Isaac Chotiner makes the following statement...
That Pew poll [PDF] about Muslim attitudes in America has been getting a lot of press for the fact that 13 percent of those surveyed think that suicide bombings can be justified "often/sometimes" or "rarely" to "defend Islam." On its surface this seems disturbing, although I wonder how many Christians or Jews would say that similar actions are justified to "defend" their faith.
Chotiner goes on to make the eminently reasonable point that it's distressing that in another part of the same poll, only 40% of Muslims think that Arabs carried out the 9/11 attacks. I agree with him here.

But let's step back and take a look at the comment he makes at the end of the first paragraph, shall we? He "wonders" how many Christians or Jews would say that suicide bombings may be justified to "defend" their faith.

I hate pathetic statements like that. Chotiner effectively uses his wondering to imply that one might reasonably find a percentage of Christians or Jews in the U.S. who think the same way as Muslims with regard to suicide bombing, and that percentage is similar to the 13% of Muslims in the Pew poll. Of course, he has no evidence of that.

Look, I'm not a Christian. I'm not a Jew. Full disclosure, I am married to a Christian (Catholic, to be exact), and I have a number of friends who are Christian. I also have a number of friends who are Jewish, not to mention friends who are Muslim. Clearly, I would be pretty shocked if any of them, of any faith, thought this way.

But let's look at this on a larger scale. There are plenty of Muslims in the Middle East who have employed suicide bombings as a tactic that they believe is in defense of their faith. We have empirical evidence that there are a large number of Muslims in the Middle East, though by no means a majority, who carry out, support and celebrate this tactic and see it as justified in "defense" of their faith. It's not hard to imagine that there may be a much smaller contingent of Muslims in the Western world who might believe these actions are justified in some circumstances as well, although we can still find it distressing as well.

Now, let's see -- when's the last time I saw a Christian or Jewish suicide bomber?

Still waiting.

Look, this isn't so say that there aren't Christians or Jews who might approve of this tactic. There are certainly Christians in other parts of the world -- see Northern Ireland -- who committed terrorist actions that are similar to suicide bombings. But I don't really see where there's evidence to speculate that Christians in the U.S. approve of those tactics, let alone suicide bombing. That's why I find Chotiner's throwaway line intellectually dishonest. It's a bit like asking if there are writers at the Plank who might approve of child molestation. There might be, but what evidence do I have to leave that question hanging out there?

Look, if Chotiner wants to make a point that religious extremism may lead to violence, and that the history of other religions and of practicioners of their faith demonstrate that Islam may not be unique, go ahead. But his manner of leaving that question out there is demeaning and insulting.


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