So, does Islam lead to terrorism?


by Sunny
22nd August, 2008 at 9:00 am    

People want simple answers to the dilemmas posed by life. Unfortunately simple answers rarely exist. With the leaked MI5 report blowing a hole in many of the popular theories bandied about, we come back to the basic question – what does drive so many of these people to terrorism in the UK?

They may not be kids. They may not be Pakistani, they might not even be brown or black. The 72 virgins theory is a no-go, and neither is the ‘deprived neighbourhood’ idea. In other words, there are no easy answers. The other point about this report should be obvious: profiling doesn’t work, and could be counter-productive.

In the meantime, the lack of simple answers inevitably makes simpletons turn around and say: ‘well, the unifying factor among all these terrorists is that they’re Muslim, so undoubtedly the problem must be Islam itself‘. There’s various problems with this theory too.

For a start, as the MI5 reports points out and as has been said before, these people don’t actually know much about their professed religion. So when some Muslim groups say ‘we need more Islamic education, not less, to tackle extremism’, they may have a point.

Secondly, if Islam was the unifying factor, then these terrorists would spend less time killing other Muslims. But most attacks by Al-Qaeda and their anger is directed at other ‘moderate’ Muslims, who they see as heretical or standing in the way of their power grab.

Thirdly, religion is no indicator of suicidal terrorism since the Sri Lankan Tamils (Hindus) have the biggest numbers of dead people in a conflict under their belt. Similarly, some of the suicidal terrorists against Israel’s occupation of Lebanon were Christian and even atheists.

Which brings us no closer to knowing what makes young Muslim men to become violent extremists. Maybe the question is wrong. Instead of trying to find the path to extremism, when there are so many, maybe we should ask what social circumstances allow extreme actions such as suicidal terrorism to become acceptable. Rather than stopping people getting into terrorism, maybe we should be asking how such extreme actions gain such wider acceptance. If social pressure (into terrorism) is the problem, maybe social pressure away from terrorism is the answer?


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  1. Gege — on 22nd August, 2008 at 9:55 am  

    The answer is simple;

    There are many vulnerable people in our country. They tend to have poor relationships with their parents or lack self confidence.

    They meet a group of people who offer them unconditional love and respect. That’s how they get hooked.

  2. salim — on 22nd August, 2008 at 10:13 am  

    SImple answer…Abrahamic religions are all fundamentally flawed.

  3. Random Guy — on 22nd August, 2008 at 10:43 am  

    Simple answer: agressive military action (read: the murder of innocents for fun and profit) encourages people to take part in asymmetric warfare (read: the murder of innocents for what they view as a retaliatory attack).

    War causes war. How to solve it? Stop going to war, especially if its illegal or just a resource-grab.

  4. Sid — on 22nd August, 2008 at 10:44 am  

    Not that sponsors of Hinduism and Buddhism have not also added to their share of terror tactics.

  5. soru — on 22nd August, 2008 at 10:57 am  

    Thirdly, religion is no indicator of suicidal terrorism since the Sri Lankan Tamils (Hindus) have the biggest numbers of dead people in a conflict under their belt.

    The distinctive thing about _suicide_ terrorism is that it always come from an organisation that has both religious and political bases covered. Persuading someone to volunteer their life to futilely kill the innocent requires the highest possible level of group commitment, one not every group can command.

    The Tamil Tigers are Marxist atheists, so they don’t have any clerics hanging round their camps saying ‘the politics stuff is not my business, but some things are simply wrong’. This makes them more like Hamas, AQ, and Aum Shirenko, where the clerics are, or work for, the political leaders, so never send out a moral message that might constrain the current political or military plan.

    This is in contrast with the IRA, the PLO, ETA, kurdish groups and so on, all of whom coexist with religious authorities who are not members of the group.

    Separation of Church and State requires the Church to exist as much as it requires it to be something other than a wannabe-State.

  6. Squanderer — on 22nd August, 2008 at 11:42 am  

    Simple.
    Foreign policy is the key to not alienating people. If we hadn’t (illegally)invaded certain countries, then we wouldn’t have created the condition from where people have a cause against their country. This is the trigger point (ie not the only reason).Socio-econ conditions are secondary causes too.

    The report also stated
    “Far from being religious zealots, a large number of those involved in terrorism do not practise their faith regularly, MI5 says there is evidence that a well-established religious identity actually protects against violent radicalisation..”

  7. soru — on 22nd August, 2008 at 12:49 pm  

    we wouldn’t have created the condition from where people have a cause against their country

    Actually, noticeably absent in the list of ethnicities that have supplied terrorism suspects are Iraqis and Afghans.

    The ideal candidate for membership of a terrorist group knows nothing about the situation they claim as motivation, has no external sources of information (family, friends or personal experience) that contradicts or complicates the story the group is telling.

    This is also why Chechnya, Kashmir and other conflicts that are hardly ever mentioned in the mainstream media are far more commonly used in internal propaganda than things that are more likely to lead a BBC bulletin.

  8. Roger — on 22nd August, 2008 at 3:28 pm  

    Someone who has been “islamically educated” has actually been educated in other things than the quran; they interpret it in the light of history, science, philosophy, whereas the terrorists “know what they fight for and they love what they know” and see no need to know more. It’s worth noticing that christianity’s most murderous period came about when people studied the bible without accretions. That’s also why terrorists are enthusiastic about killing other muslims- they aren’t muslims but people who misinterpret god’s word and so worse than unbelievers.

  9. Muhamad — on 22nd August, 2008 at 4:02 pm  

    You’ll want a simple answer? Can you handle a simple answer?
    Religion does lead to terrorism; find a religion that’s free of any sense of terror.
    As for Tamil Tigers, they’re just another creed without a godhead. Marxism is full of terror.

  10. Muhamad — on 22nd August, 2008 at 4:07 pm  

    Furthermore, it’s “because of” religion and not “despite” or “in spite of” or “instead of” religion that we’re confronted with terrorists like Bin Laden, Bush, Blair, etc. Let’s not forget, it was Blair who told us that only “God” can be his ultimate judge! He isn’t accountable to us!

  11. marvin — on 22nd August, 2008 at 4:30 pm  

    War causes war. How to solve it? Stop going to war

    You twit. So we shouldn’t have saved those Muslims from genocide in Kosovo, then? Get a grip! Perhaps you think we should have left the Al-Qaeda supporting Taliban regime in place in Afghanistan, along with all the terror training camps?

    profiling doesn’t work

    With respect; that’s bollocks. :P

    How many grannies have self-detonated on the public transport system lately? Oh but they could say the left! Yes they could, but empirically speaking, what’s the likelyhood?

    and could be counter-productive

    This is a seperate issue. The left like to pretend that something is or isn’t true based upon whether they think it leads to a positive outcome or not.

    You would have to be insane not to have some kind of low-key profiling mechanism, or a real penchant for wasting tax payers money.

    It’s the police’s job to profile crminials (and yes terrorists too). They should hopefully be able to spot things the general public would not.

    Yes, blatant and unfair ‘profiling’ would be counter-productive.

    But you are in cloud cuckoo land, my friend, if you think that you cannot build a profile of terrorist in this country at this point in history

    * Male, very probably
    * Self-declared Muslim. Almost certainly.
    * Possibly a recent convert to Islam
    * May appear to be acting more religious recently
    * Likely to be from an ethnic group, and in this category either of North African or South Asian origin (less so with a convert)
    * May express particularly strong grievances with certain social constructs, possilbly ‘the West’ or ‘the Americans’ or ‘zionist supporters’ etc

    Anybody disagree with my basic points here?

  12. Ms_Xtreme — on 22nd August, 2008 at 4:43 pm  

    Which brings us no closer to knowing what makes young Muslim men to become violent extremists. Maybe the question is wrong. Instead of trying to find the path to extremism, when there are so many, maybe we should ask what social circumstances allow extreme actions such as suicidal terrorism to become acceptable.

    We already know what makes young Muslim men to become violent – manipulation and brain-washing by certain religious leaders who are recruiting them young and shaping them to be what they become. Lets not forget, most of the suicide bombers are from middle-class or well-off families. They’ve got everything they want – except a purpose – which some crooked maulana somewhere will give them.

    No, I don’t think the question should be changed. Until the Muslim communities themselves don’t oust the extreme teachers along with their extreme teachings – there’ll be someone out there to exploit young Muslim boys.

    The issue goes even deeper than that into the secondary religious text – the hadith – and its interpretation. But I won’t go there.

  13. Boyo — on 22nd August, 2008 at 6:02 pm  

    “Secondly, if Islam was the unifying factor, then these terrorists would spend less time killing other Muslims”

    What rubbish, although it’s amusing watching the hoops you will jump through to make the facts fit your agenda.

    The unifying factor IN THE UK is Islam. Before that terrorists tended to be Irish, until the issues involved were resolved.

    You may not like it, but this is the reality. Plenty of causes turn people into terrorists, but in the UK the one common factor is Islam.

    You’re right – we need to resolve the issues, but pretending terrorism is being committed by deep sea monsters won’t help.

  14. Avi Cohen — on 22nd August, 2008 at 6:34 pm  

    It’s quite simple they are detached from society and feel people are not listening to them.

    Their voice isn’t being heard and thye have an affinity to people of their faith who they think are not being treated fairly.

    In some peoplethis then drives them to commit acts of terror.

    In order to address this means the Muslim community opening up and explainign what Islam is to Muslims and non-Muslims thus building community cohension and government listening to people genuinely. It doesn’t mean they have to act upon what they listen to but they need to listen.

    Where young Muslims have tried to interact with government then ministers are often aloof to what they hear.

    In addition Muslims organisations have to work towards the betterment of their community.

    Last and no least is that government can’t keep trying to push their own brand of Islam using the likes of Quilliam. This is simply self-deafting and infers that government isn’t listening and is trying to change the religion which in turn leads to mistrust.

    The most important thing is bridge building so these people begin to come into society rather than stay out of it.

    Government is driven by the rantings of a minority of neo-conservative thinkers and this can’t possibly connect society as their philosiphy is different.

    It isn’t rocket science but the will isn’t there in either government or Muslim organisations. Most thinsg done are done for window dressing.

    Also the policy of siding with creeds is defeating the purpose of cohesion.

  15. Boyo — on 22nd August, 2008 at 6:35 pm  

    If you’re looking for the why, then you’re at fault looking for any one single reason, but here’s my stab:

    1. The end of the Cold War, and the conditions created by it – ie, the CIA funded Al Qaida because my enemy’s enemy etc.
    2. Human society is one defined by (a kind of Hegelian) conflict. Al Qaida filled the gap left by Marxism – they had the only violent universal revolutionary idea available at the time (and all true revolutions are violent and universal) so by acting quickly were able (9/11) to corner the market.
    3. This ideology, almost accidentally, was based in Islam, just as Soviet Communism was drawn from Marxism (quite a nice idea) and Nazism from nationalism (actually not necessarily bad, in so much as the nation state is the most successful form of government).
    4. Today’s “violent revolutionaries” fit much the same profile as yesterdays – they are all post-Christian “utopians”, pace John Gray. People who don’t believe in utopias don’t tend to believe in revolutions – which is why previous Christian/ Islam action had tended to be under the auspices of states (and states do not like revolutionaries). Al Qaida are indeed very modern, embracing not just Islam but Westernism – which is rather ironic really. They are certainly not “pure” Muslims!
    5. We are not likely to defeat the Islamist terrorist until we have a face-off with an Islamist superpower, which then convincingly self-destructs (like the USSR – in doing so exposing the inherent failure of the IDEA, which of course some still cling to).
    6. So don’t expect progress any time soon!

  16. Gurpreet2 — on 22nd August, 2008 at 6:37 pm  

    When someone feels that their community or ‘people’ are being attacked, oppressed or treated as second class it can lead to a powerful resentment against those who they view to be the culprits, and some of this resentment leads to the path of retaliation.

    Often community leaders are in positions of power where they can create such a hype (as described above) amoung the community, (perhaps with reasonable justification or not). Then when governments think that can shift blame onto community leaders TOTALLY and portray themselves as angels, many can see through their hypocrisy which just intensifies feelings of resentment.

    Im not saying people who commit these acts are innocent, all im saying is actions do have reactions, not always as one-sided as it seems.

  17. Boyo — on 22nd August, 2008 at 6:39 pm  

    Oh, and so our home-grown bombers bomb for the same reasons revolutionaries always have.

    Read the Secret Agent…

  18. Boyo — on 22nd August, 2008 at 6:42 pm  

    Perhaps it’s symptomatic of our ME culture that we’re even asking ourselves – why do these people do this terrible stuff? Is it because they’re deprived?!

    Revolutionaries always have done terrible things, these just happen to be drawn (as their idea is) from the Muslim community. Frankly I doubt there is anything anybody can do, except keep checking those bags…

  19. Avi Cohen — on 22nd August, 2008 at 6:52 pm  

    Marvin – “May appear to be acting more religious recently”

    How would you define this?

    “May express particularly strong grievances with certain social constructs, possilbly ‘the West’ or ‘the Americans’ or ‘zionist supporters’ etc”

    Many Muslims disagree with the west, america and zionism so should they all be profiled?

    I mean heck many Jews do too so maybe they should be called self-hating and profiled as well!!!!

  20. Muhamad — on 22nd August, 2008 at 7:05 pm  

    marvin @ 11
    If Islam has Islamists, Judaism has Zionists.
    You’d have to be a bit thick to think that an anti-Zionist with a Muslim connection is going to be an incendiary. It’s preposterous!

  21. Avi Cohen — on 22nd August, 2008 at 7:11 pm  

    Muhamad – “marvin @ 11
    If Islam has Islamists, Judaism has Zionists.
    You’d have to be a bit thick to think that an anti-Zionist with a Muslim connection is going to be an incendiary. It’s preposterous!”

    Yeah but he doesn’t think there is anything wrong with Zionists! I often wonder if Marvin is Hazel Blears in disguise or son of Hazel Blears ;-)

  22. Ms_Xtreme — on 22nd August, 2008 at 7:20 pm  

    Revolutionaries always have done terrible things

    I hardly think people see suicide bombers as “revolutionaries.”

    In fact, very few revolutionists have been violent.

  23. douglas clark — on 22nd August, 2008 at 9:48 pm  

    Can I make a somewhat different point here?

    Folk tend to forget that there was another terrorist organisation floating around in the UK, only a year or two ago. These were animal rights activists, who were gearing up to make a splash. Fortunately, they were caught early enough and stopped.

    It seems to me that a belief in any cause can be enough to addle the brain. I’m no psychologist but the model I’m most attracted to to explain this sort of thing is a group psychosis. Where the belief is more important than any sort of understanding of consequences.

    “Because our belief is pure, we can do whatever horrific act we like.”

    You can trace that false reality back in time from the 7/7 bombers, to Baader Meinhof to European Anarchists to the Spanish Inquisitors, and so on ad infinitum.

    It is the dark side of being human. It is, almost always, counter productive.

    Short term gain, inevitable defeat.

  24. Desi Italiana — on 22nd August, 2008 at 10:59 pm  

    Marvin #11:

    “* Male, very probably
    * Self-declared Muslim. Almost certainly.
    * Possibly a recent convert to Islam
    * May appear to be acting more religious recently
    * Likely to be from an ethnic group, and in this category either of North African or South Asian origin (less so with a convert)
    * May express particularly strong grievances with certain social constructs, possilbly ‘the West’ or ‘the Americans’ or ‘zionist supporters’ etc

    Anybody disagree with my basic points here?”

    The M15 report partly does.

    “The MI5 authors stress that the most pressing current threat is from Islamist extremist groups who justify the use of violence “in defence of Islam” but that there are also violent extremists involved in non-Islamist movements .”

    “British-based terrorists are as ethnically diverse as the UK Muslim population, with individuals from Pakistani, Middle Eastern and Caucasian backgrounds. MI5 says assumptions cannot be made about suspects based on skin colour, ethnic heritage or nationality.”

    “• Far from being religious zealots, a large number of those involved in terrorism do not practise their faith regularly. Many lack religious literacy and could actually be regarded as religious novices. Very few have been brought up in strongly religious households, and there is a higher than average proportion of converts. Some are involved in drug-taking, drinking alcohol and visiting prostitutes. MI5 says there is evidence that a well-established religious identity actually protects against violent radicalisation.”

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2008/aug/20/uksecurity.terrorism1

  25. Don — on 22nd August, 2008 at 11:03 pm  

    Boyo,

    You make some interesting points, but you’re stretching others way further than they can go.

  26. douglas clark — on 22nd August, 2008 at 11:13 pm  

    Desi,

    Many lack religious literacy and could actually be regarded as religious novices. Very few have been brought up in strongly religious households, and there is a higher than average proportion of converts. Some are involved in drug-taking, drinking alcohol and visiting prostitutes. MI5 says there is evidence that a well-established religious identity actually protects against violent radicalisation.

    Just an idea, but is it not always the case that zealots have no understanding of religious tolerance? I am thinking here about Oliver Cromwell, but there are thousands of other examples, are there not?

  27. Ala — on 22nd August, 2008 at 11:27 pm  

    random guy was spot on. Terrorism is just newspeak for guerilla warfare. The only difference between Bush and Bin Laden is resources and official endorsement.

    I think in a post cold war globalised world, the new frontiers are quite scary. It’s no longer nation versus nation, empire vs empire, but ideology vs ideology. The distortion of space and geography will explain the rise of guerilla warefare. People can more easily move from place to place to commit individual acts of violent resistance against big governments; or because of increased migration and newer identities, the lack of the old fealty to the nation state can make it easier for people to turn on their own governments (the so called home grown terrorist).

    As for the word terrorist, it’s stupid and meaningless (nothing is more terrifying than aerial bombardment), but is symptomatic of the draconian way governments are dealing with these new and strange frontiers: playing mind games and retracting civil liberties.

  28. Random Guy — on 22nd August, 2008 at 11:29 pm  

    In response to whoever posted this: “You twit. So we shouldn’t have saved those Muslims from genocide in Kosovo, then? Get a grip! Perhaps you think we should have left the Al-Qaeda supporting Taliban regime in place in Afghanistan, along with all the terror training camps?”

    If you are too dimwitted to see the difference between the Iraq war and Kosovo, then you should hardly bother to reply. Scrutinise the actions of your own government before making rabid comments.

  29. Desi Italiana — on 23rd August, 2008 at 3:10 am  

    Douglas,

    “Just an idea, but is it not always the case that zealots have no understanding of religious tolerance?”

    Zealots have no understanding of anything except how to fearmonger and come up with visceral excuses to drive a lot of nasty stuff, never mind religious tolerance.

  30. Desi Italiana — on 23rd August, 2008 at 3:15 am  

    “As for the word terrorist, it’s stupid and meaningless (nothing is more terrifying than aerial bombardment), but is symptomatic of the draconian way governments are dealing with these new and strange frontiers: playing mind games and retracting civil liberties.”

    I partially disagree. I think the words ‘terrorist’ and ‘terrorism’ are not equally applied, all around the board. Some people/groups/government get classified as such when it is convenient to us, while others can go on and engage in terrorism, but have it called under a different name. This is what I have a problem with, not necessarily the word, but how it is selectively applied.

    “I think in a post cold war globalised world, the new frontiers are quite scary. It’s no longer nation versus nation, empire vs empire, but ideology vs ideology.”

    No longer nation vs. nation, empire vs. empire??? I think many people would disagree with you.

    And please, there aren’t any ‘strange and new frontiers’, and there’s always been ideology vs. ideology.

    Same game, different name.

  31. Roger — on 23rd August, 2008 at 5:11 am  

    Random Guy: you can see the difference between the Iraq war and Kosovo now. There can’t be much doubt that before the invasions of Iraq and Kosovo Tony Blair couldn’t see the moral difference between them or the other military interventions he had ordered. It’s something he has in common with many muslims and especially terrorists- the belief that motives are more important than the actions they inspire. Indeed, if the Iraq war had not been a war but the deposition of a murderous dictator and the introduction of liberal democracy that the invaders fantasised about, would it still have been wrong? If so, why was intervention in Kosovo justified?

  32. Rumbold — on 23rd August, 2008 at 10:37 am  

    Douglas:

    “Just an idea, but is it not always the case that zealots have no understanding of religious tolerance? I am thinking here about Oliver Cromwell.”

    What?! Oliver Cromwell did more than anyone in British history to ensure that we have religious tolerance in our society.

  33. Sunny — on 23rd August, 2008 at 5:42 pm  

    Oliver Cromwell did more than anyone in British history to ensure that we have religious tolerance in our society.

    Erm… which is why he massacred the Irish?

    Marvin:How many grannies have self-detonated on the public transport system lately? Oh but they could say the left! Yes they could, but empirically speaking, what’s the likelyhood?

    With respect, Marvin, the choice here isn’t between a granny and an Asian youth :)
    Its a choice between profiling white youths and profiling brown youths. The MI5 report says that sort of profiling doesn’t work any more.

    I have no problem with letting grannies go where they want to without trouble.

    Muhamad:
    Furthermore, it’s “because of” religion and not “despite” or “in spite of” or “instead of” religion that we’re confronted with terrorists like Bin Laden, Bush, Blair, etc. Let’s not forget, it was Blair who told us that only “God” can be his ultimate judge! He isn’t accountable to us!

    I don’t buy that – history has shown any group, including agnostics and atheists, to get involved in terrorism. Its the circumstances that create terrorism, not the ideology. The ideology needs something to feed from.

    Boyo:
    The unifying factor IN THE UK is Islam. Before that terrorists tended to be Irish, until the issues involved were resolved.

    You may not like it, but this is the reality. Plenty of causes turn people into terrorists, but in the UK the one common factor is Islam.

    I don’t think you’re getting my point here. I’m not denying that Islam is a unifying factor – the question is whether its the factor responsible. There’s a difference between those questions.

    Secondly, from a security point of view, locking up all Muslims just to deal with terrorism isn’t clearly going to happen.

    So there have to be other, softer approaches to dealing with terrorism. Identifying those is my aim.

  34. Rumbold — on 23rd August, 2008 at 5:56 pm  

    Sunny:

    “Erm… which is why he massacred the Irish?”

    Sorry, in which battle did he violate the norms of war as practicised at that time? How many Catholic priests were executed on the British mainland during the Protectorate (clue: the answer is one, and that was because he wanted to die)? Who protected the dissenting sects, and allowed the Jews to officially return to England? Whose overwhelming desire was to see ‘liberty of conscience’ extended throughout Britain?

    Please present some counter-evidence.

  35. sonia — on 23rd August, 2008 at 6:50 pm  

    boyo . no. 15. – pretty good..

  36. sonia — on 23rd August, 2008 at 6:54 pm  

    “It seems to me that a belief in any cause can be enough to addle the brain. I’m no psychologist but the model I’m most attracted to to explain this sort of thing is a group psychosis. Where the belief is more important than any sort of understanding of consequences.”

    yep – absolutely douglas.

    a few people have already pointed out earlier, that ‘creeds’ without a god are no different in their ideologies of social control and obedience. YOu must believe in what WE as a group think! and NO questioning it and putting about that there might be some other Truth(whether that’s a god in the sky, ruling over “us” from heavens, or a ruler on the earth, party leader who knows whats good for YOU) its all the same sycophantic, control your mind + individuality stuff.

    die in the name of your country/cause/religion/group/x – it is honorable and loyal! is a line we have heard in many guises.

    It all comes down to Group Supremacy over individual in that ‘group’ and about defining that Group, ( and rules of that group) very tightly.

  37. douglas clark — on 23rd August, 2008 at 8:05 pm  

    Sonia @ 36,

    Last three paragraphs. I agree completely. It is this group think that is the bane of our existence. We are into some sort of hive mentality where social acceptance to a group, however you define it, is the only criteria that seems to matter to most folk.

    It is a sort of zombie march. Something I am grateful to you, and others, for pointing out the utter fruitlessness of.

  38. douglas clark — on 23rd August, 2008 at 8:17 pm  

    Rumbold,

    You are being very clever in what you said in 34. He, or more exactly his armies killed quite a few clerics in Ireland did they not? On the British Mainland indeed!

    http://www.irelandseye.com/aarticles/history/events/dates/cromwell.shtm

    My recollection, flawed as it may be, was that the actions of Cromwell reverberated throughout Ireland until modern times.

    Correct me if I am wrong.

  39. Rumbold — on 23rd August, 2008 at 8:37 pm  

    Douglas:

    As the article points out, there was a war going on in Ireland (or a rebellion if you prefer), so deaths are hardly suprising. Oliver Cromwell has remained a very unpopular figure in Ireland, but that is partly because half-truths have grown up around him.

    As Professor John Morrill, himself a Catholic and the greatest living authority on Cromwell, pointed out:

    “For the most part he followed up the ferocity at Drogheda and Wexford by startling generous surrender terms (as at Mallow, Fethard and Kilkenny)…He followed the laws of war [at Drogheda] as they had operated in Ireland for the previous century.”

    (John Morrill, Oliver Cromwell, Oxford University Press, 2007, pp. 60-61).

    At Wexford meanwhile:

    “The fact that as the assault [by Cromwell] began the defenders sank a hulk in the harbour, drowning 150 protestant prisoners-of-war, and that the Cromwellians found the bodies of more prisoners starved to death in a locked chapel, heightened their fury. Cromwell neither ordered nor sought to halt the indiscriminate killing that followed.”

    (pp. 61-62).

    Please provide some evidence, any evidence, that Cromwell was religiously intolerant by the standards of the time.

  40. sonia — on 23rd August, 2008 at 8:41 pm  

    as you say douglas. for me, what is problematic with many forms of organised religion is that they encourage orthodoxy and some, more than, others, actively discourage free thinking, disagreement, dissent. any organised social unit/instution which does the same – and we see this in many a State apparatus – or non-State social insitution (e.g. the traditional family unit) gets the same crtique from me.

    Dictatorship is a problem, whether attributed to god, some other fairy in the sky, or some bloke in “Government”

  41. sonia — on 23rd August, 2008 at 8:42 pm  

    “Please provide some evidence, any evidence, that Cromwell was religiously intolerant by the standards of the time.”

    rumbold, perhaps that’s the very thing – those times were religiously intolerant! they were intolerant, full stop. or by our standards anyway.

  42. Rumbold — on 23rd August, 2008 at 8:56 pm  

    Sonia:

    You can only really assess historical figures by the standards of their time. And by the standards of his time, Oliver Cromwell was very religiously tolerant.

  43. Roger — on 23rd August, 2008 at 9:15 pm  

    “You can only really assess historical figures by the standards of their time.”

    Hardly. There are two sets of measures- absolute and comparative. By absolute standards Cromwell was religiously intolerant. By those same standards most of his comtemporaries were even more intolerant. Therefore Cromwell was comparativelt tolerant by the standards of his time.
    There’s the further complication in the Irish Wars that there were powerful racial elements involved in the attitudes of both sides as well as the religious ones. Both Charles I and James II probably did more harm to their causes by bringing Irish armies to England than could br outweighed by hypothetical military advantages.

  44. douglas clark — on 23rd August, 2008 at 9:38 pm  

    Rumbold,

    I fear I have trod on the toes of your hero, or some such.

    I am not really interested in proving that Cromwell was a bastard. There are enough Irish folk that can do that, quite nicely if they ever discover this site.

    My point was that zealots do bad stuff. Zealots are a waste of space. That contemprory idiots are allowed to write laws, play God and get away with it.

    I’d like to assume that you would hesitate before you took on Sonia. Comprehensive defeat cannot be your ambition.

    You also said this:

    You can only really assess historical figures by the standards of their time. And by the standards of his time, Oliver Cromwell was very religiously tolerant.

    How ridiculous is that? You claim that we should not measure historical figures by our own morality, rather we should be pretendy medievalists who judge by the standards of the day.

    Fair enough.

    How’s about that you, in your pretendy world, are a Catholic in, say Drogheda?

    That’s realistic, and contemporary, is it not?

  45. Sunny — on 23rd August, 2008 at 9:43 pm  

    Sorry, in which battle did he violate the norms of war as practicised at that time?

    This is a rather bizarre statement to make, but it doesn’t contradict what I said earlier, does it? Did he kill large numbers of Irish or not?

    This is from Wikipedia:

    Cromwell’s hostility to the Irish was religious as well as political. He was passionately opposed to the Roman Catholic Church, which he saw as denying the primacy of the Bible in favour of papal and clerical authority, and which he blamed for tyranny and persecution of Protestants in Europe.[27] Cromwell’s association of Catholicism with persecution was deepened with the Irish Rebellion of 1641. This rebellion was marked by massacres of English and Scottish Protestant settlers by native Irish Catholics in Ireland. These factors contributed to Cromwell’s harshness in his military campaign in Ireland.

    Frankly, I don’t care much for Cromwell, but it seems to me that you’re whitewashing history somewhat in denying what he did in Ireland.

    You think they hate him for no good reason? All a conspiracy against the English is it?

  46. douglas clark — on 23rd August, 2008 at 9:59 pm  

    Look, Rumbold is obviously wrong here. He is just playing Imperialist games.

    You said:

    You think they hate him for no good reason? All a conspiracy against the English is it?

    It is all a conspiracy is it, Rumbold?

    Black and Tan from another era? I’d have said the Irish were the next fucked up to the Scots pro the Empires’ bloodlust. Rorkes Drift?

    The whole era stuck, did it not?

  47. sonia — on 23rd August, 2008 at 11:37 pm  

    i suppose rumbold is talking ‘assess’ in a different sense, dear Douglas. along the lines of writing ‘objective’ historical accounts of these figures. so in that sense, he has a point.

    of course, that’s totally different to me assessing him (or anyone else in the past) by my standards today, for my own sake, for my ‘own learning’, if you see what i mean.

    its the sort of argument people use for Mohammed. By the standards of his time blah blah. Yes, they have a point. By the standards of his time, he was no mean vicious bastard, he was a normal #alpha male# leader-wannabe, who became a leader.

    well that’s all very well and good, my interest in historical figures is not just in them for the sake of it, but in the influence they have today, or might have. So that’s why I evaluate Mohammed’s actions by my morality standards, because he is felt to be relevant today.

  48. sonia — on 23rd August, 2008 at 11:45 pm  

    anyway, never mind cromwell.back to Islam, i was enjoying myself there for a moment.

    I have wanted to publish a series of edifying articles on Islam for some time now , i feel slighly paranoid though.

  49. douglas clark — on 24th August, 2008 at 7:49 am  

    Sonia @ 48,

    You should just go for it, I’d have thought. We could all do with a bit of edification.

  50. Rumbold — on 24th August, 2008 at 10:26 am  

    Roger:

    “Hardly. There are two sets of measures- absolute and comparative. By absolute standards Cromwell was religiously intolerant.”

    But absolute judgements are pointless for historical exercises. The question is, was he religiously tolerant by standards of the time?

    “Both Charles I and James II probably did more harm to their causes by bringing Irish armies to England than could br outweighed by hypothetical military advantages.”

    True.

    Douglas:

    “I fear I have trod on the toes of your hero, or some such.

    I am not really interested in proving that Cromwell was a bastard. There are enough Irish folk that can do that, quite nicely if they ever discover this site.

    My point was that zealots do bad stuff. Zealots are a waste of space. That contemprory idiots are allowed to write laws, play God and get away with it.”

    He’s not my hero. I just wanted you to produce evidence that he was a religiously intolerant bigot. And you failed to do so.

    “How ridiculous is that? You claim that we should not measure historical figures by our own morality, rather we should be pretendy medievalists who judge by the standards of the day.”

    This has got nothing to do with the medieval period. Cromwell came several hundred years after. Perhaps you are getting confused with a different Cromwell, which would explain a lot.

    “How’s about that you, in your pretendy world, are a Catholic in, say Drogheda?”

    How about you are a German soldier in World War Two. Does that make the Allied forces evil?

    “Look, Rumbold is obviously wrong here.”

    Which you have deftly proved by deploying zero evidence in your defence, apart from the baffling suggestion that he must be religiously intolerant by the standards of the day because he killed some people during a war.

    Sunny:

    “Did he kill large numbers of Irish or not?”

    Yes, he did. It is called a war Sunny. By your measure a number of the Sikh Gurus must be intolerant bigots, as they also killed people of a different religion while fighting.

    “Frankly, I don’t care much for Cromwell, but it seems to me that you’re whitewashing history somewhat in denying what he did in Ireland.

    You think they hate him for no good reason? All a conspiracy against the English is it?”

    They hate him because his military successes in Ireland led to the repressive Act of Settlement in 1652. I am not saying that they don’t have good reason to hate him for his military victories, but to pretend he is some intolerant bigot by the standards of the time is just wrong. Yes, he didn’t like the Roman Catholic Church, but how many Protestants did (and vice versa)? Which English/British ruler in the 17th century was more religiously tolerant than Oliver Cromwell?

    Sonia:

    Morality is only relevant when people claim that a historical figure’s behaviour should be copied. What Sunny and Douglas tried to do, and failed, was to prove that Cromwell was religiously intolerant by the standards of the time.

  51. kalle — on 24th August, 2008 at 12:30 pm  

    What is terorist?
    This is the question we should ask our self.
    Why this people do what colld suicide.
    We have to look at the causes to uderstand why they doit.
    Try to imagin that we liv in gaza for one day.and se how they suffer from occupation,and sankions from every were,what do we excpect from these people.
    should we let them die.???Their is 1,5 milion, we have to think again befor we call them terorist.

  52. Don — on 24th August, 2008 at 3:24 pm  

    I’m no fan of Cromwell, but I think Rumbold has a point. As repressive military dictators go he was no more than averagely brutal and ruthless for the time, or indeed our time.

  53. Sunny — on 24th August, 2008 at 3:31 pm  

    The point about ‘he did well for his time’ is that it can be used subjectively. I’m not saying I don’t buy into that idea, but I wonder if he’d be as willing to gloss over Cromwell’s actions if, say, he committed a lot of honour killings. After all, they too were acceptable at a time.

    Yes, he did. It is called a war Sunny. By your measure a number of the Sikh Gurus must be intolerant bigots, as they also killed people of a different religion while fighting.

    Heh, nice try but the Gurus had strict rules, they didn’t believe in conspiracy theories, neither were they religiously intolerant.

    The question isn’t whether people get killed during war, but why the wars started and whether a certain version of history is being promoted to gloss over Cromwell’s nature.

    We he the worst guy around? Probably not. We weren’t around to judge and given the relative lack of heroes from that time, I’m sure British historians have (like historians around the world) glossed over certain parts. I just don’t agree with the hero worship.

  54. Don — on 24th August, 2008 at 4:00 pm  

    The most relevant part of this odd Cromwell digression is surely sonia’s #47.

    It’s fair enough to look back at legendary military/leader figures such as Moses, Alexander, Mohammed, Saladin, Henry V (Part 2) or Cromwell etc and say that by the standards of the time they were acting unexceptionally and probably better than their contemporaries were used to.

    But (other than Saladin, as far as I know) they all carried out acts which most of us would now consider morally abhorrent and which would mark them out as war criminals at the very least. So to present them as contemporary models seems at odds with the claim that they should be judged only by the standards of the time.

    (Not that Rumbold was doing this with Cromwell.)

  55. Rumbold — on 24th August, 2008 at 5:17 pm  

    Sunny:

    “Heh, nice try but the Gurus had strict rules, they didn’t believe in conspiracy theories, neither were they religiously intolerant.”

    By the Hundal-Clark measure they were intolerant, because Sikhs under Guru Gobind Singh (amongst others) killed Mughals.

    “The question isn’t whether people get killed during war, but why the wars started and whether a certain version of history is being promoted to gloss over Cromwell’s nature.”

    And what was Cromwell’s nature? In simple terms, he was a military dictator who destroyed much of this nation’s constitutional heritage while searching for a system that would ensure liberty of conscience and a godly commonwealth. He was far more interested in the end than the means. Laws and institutions to him were “dross and dung compared to the glory of Christ”. A constable of a parish was how he saw himself, and in that sense he was right.

    “We he the worst guy around? Probably not. We weren’t around to judge and given the relative lack of heroes from that time, I’m sure British historians have (like historians around the world) glossed over certain parts. I just don’t agree with the hero worship.”

    I don’t know where you and Douglas got the ‘hero’ angle from, this is (or was) a debate about whether there was any evidence that Cromwell was religiously intolerant by the standards of the time. And since no evidence has been produced, the debate is over.

    Don and Sonia are right that the problem comes not from judging people by the standards of their time, but doing so why telling people in the present day to follow their example.

  56. soru — on 24th August, 2008 at 7:10 pm  

    . And since no evidence has been produced, the debate is over.

    There was a piece in the Observer today about Cromwell that could have been written by someone reading this thread:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2008/aug/24/history

    Cromwell’s resort to extreme violence was not a reaction to the conditions of the actual conflict he was engaged in, but a predetermined exercise in religious and ethnic vengeance.



    The arguments of apologists that this was within the laws of war at the time are contradicted by the evidence in Cromwell’s own account that he himself understood the scale of the massacre to be exceptional. It would, he admitted, have prompted ‘remorse and regret’ were it not intended to have exemplary effect as both collective punishment and a warning for the future. Contemporaries fully understood the atrocity, and its repetition at Wexford a month later, to be shocking, terrible events.

    Obviously, there is some value in judging by the standards of the day, instead of modern ones. On the other hand, you want to avoid judging by some fantastic a-historical standard, where just because in any given decade there would likely be a massacre somewhere in Europe, they were a routine and uncontroversial part of war.

  57. muhamad — on 24th August, 2008 at 8:04 pm  

    Sunny @ 33
    “The ideology needs something to feed from.”
    Yes. Thanks for pointing it out.
    Isn’t it in the nature of ideologues to feed from an economical, social, political situation, i.e., use any given situation to justify their violence?
    Agnosticism and atheism doesn’t necessarily cancel out susceptibility to demagoguery.

  58. douglas clark — on 24th August, 2008 at 11:52 pm  

    Rumbold,

    I stand alongside Sorus’ comment at 56. He was, contrary to what you thunk, here:

    I just wanted you to produce evidence that he was a religiously intolerant bigot. And you failed to do so.

    Well, if you hang around here long enough there are three buses that come together.

    The arguments of apologists that this was within the laws of war at the time are contradicted by the evidence in Cromwell’s own account that he himself understood the scale of the massacre to be exceptional. It would, he admitted, have prompted ‘remorse and regret’ were it not intended to have exemplary effect as both collective punishment and a warning for the future. Contemporaries fully understood the atrocity, and its repetition at Wexford a month later, to be shocking, terrible events.

    Damned out of his own words, I’d have thought. You do realise he didn’t really like Catholics? At least of the Irish persuasion.

  59. Rumbold — on 25th August, 2008 at 10:21 am  

    Cromwell did indeed admit that one of the reasons for the brutal attack was to end the war quickly in Ireland by scaring the other rebels into submission. And in that sense it worked well. The reviewer doesn’t seem to have read anything about the conflict, as he lumps Drogheda and Wexford in together. Similarly, it is pretty obvious that Cromwell didn’t like Catholics, as this was a time of great religious hatred.

    I am going to make these my last words on the subject:

    - Please produce some evidence that Cromwell was an intolerant ruler by the standards of the time. If you cannot, there is nothing more to say.

  60. Boyo — on 25th August, 2008 at 12:22 pm  

    Sunny, I think @ 15 I answered your point re Islam – OF COURSE they draw on it for terror, just as the Young Stalin (he of the excellent recent biography) drew on Marx as inspiration for his very similar acts of terrorism in Georgia at the turn of the 19C. Does that mean Islam is inherently “terroristic”? No.

    Oliver Cromwell though, bit off topic?

  61. soru — on 25th August, 2008 at 1:21 pm  

    The point is, by the general standards of the day, he was judged, and found wanting. Hence the fact we live in a monarchy, not a protectorate.

    In order to make him something other than a bad guy, you’d have to invent an artificial standard that is neither contemporary nor modern. I’ve no idea why you would do that, but it sounds a pretty dubious thing to do.

    The fact that religious wars and massacres happened didn’t mean that either people in general, or the relevant elites, approved of them. They happened, just as they happen in the modern third world: sporadically. If you looked out the window and saw one happening, you would be shocked, not treat it like rain in Manchester: ‘turned out a bit massacry today, better stay indoors’.

    Most kings got through their entire reign without killing more than a few hundred non-combatants: killing thousands on a day may not have been a world record, but it was still exceptional. The times something comparable happened in the UK over 600+ years can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

    Ivan the Terrible, Vlad the Impaler, and Timur the Lame might well have judged him to be a girly wimp when it came to butchery. But I’m not sure those are the right people to be taking as a baseline.

    I do think some modern Irish Catholics tend to put him in that category of Great Villains from history, which is at least an exaggeration. He was a routine bad ruler, killed a few thousand unnecessarily, a Pinochet rather than a Saddam.

    Cromwell _was_ quite strong on building unity and tolerance amongst mainstream Protestant groups (if only in order to better band together and smash the Catholics and Anglicans).

    But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t on the more brutal and intolerant side of average when compared to his contemporary peers.

  62. fugstar — on 25th August, 2008 at 2:42 pm  

    Western powers and eastern oppressing forces should thank their lucky stars that the group they are acting upon and hegemonising are muslims and mainly ‘do sabr’. Any other group, political or whatever would go ape on the next scale.

    thank your lucky lucky stars we arent malicious.

  63. Don — on 25th August, 2008 at 3:04 pm  

    Forebearance and patience are unique to islam?

    Thanks for the information.

  64. sonia — on 26th August, 2008 at 12:21 am  

    oliver cromwell is off topic! :-)
    thanks douglas, your support is much appreciated..i know that last hadith thread ran into many comments, with a lot of controversy being stirred. islam is a very touchy topic to write about at the moment certainly.

  65. douglas clark — on 26th August, 2008 at 12:58 am  

    Rumbold,

    You said this @ 32:

    What?! Oliver Cromwell did more than anyone in British history to ensure that we have religious tolerance in our society.

    and then you said this @ 59:

    Similarly, it is pretty obvious that Cromwell didn’t like Catholics, as this was a time of great religious hatred.

    My, somewhat minor historical point, is that he didn’t just dislike them, he killed them. Especially the Irish ones.

    Unless your point is that – by exterminating the opposition – you reduce religious hatred, I am at a loss to understand where you are coming from.

  66. bananabrain — on 26th August, 2008 at 1:34 pm  

    If Islam has Islamists, Judaism has Zionists.

    oi!!!!

    …and science has scientists.

    because two words end in “ist” it does not mean they are connected. it’s called a “suffix”.

    islamists are, as i understand it, committed to bringing about the domination of islam through the political process and using a variety of means. zionists, by contrast, are people who, by and large, not unlike myself, support the right of the jewish people to self-determination in their homeland, rather like people who, say, support the right of the palestinian people to self-determination in their homeland. not unlike myself.

    the reason i say “by and large” is that beyond that, it’s a hyphenated identity. there are left-wing and right-wing zionists, there are cultural zionists and secular zionists. there are religious zionists and anti-religious zionists. there are labour, territorialist, revisionist and post-modern zionists. zionists don’t have global designs like islamists. they are interested in israel and the middle east and, in the vast majority of cases, are only interested in more or less the same area currently involved. i’m a zionist and both a political and religious one. by some people’s standards (the arab-hating, land-grabbing brigade) i am a bleeding-heart liberal. by others’ (e.g. secularist) standards i am a religious nutter. you really can’t win. it doesn’t stop people from using the word “zionist” as if it were a catch-all term of abuse, for some reason.

    b’shalom

    bananabrain

  67. Muhamad — on 26th August, 2008 at 3:45 pm  

    bananabrain @ 66
    “zionists don’t have global designs like islamists.”
    Sure! Sure!

    As for telling me what’s a ‘suffix’, well, how typical…

  68. bananabrain — on 26th August, 2008 at 5:00 pm  

    ok, muhamad, if you’re such an expert on zionism, suppose you tell me how zionism aims to take over, say, south america?

    b’shalom

    bananabrain

  69. Muhamad — on 26th August, 2008 at 11:49 pm  

    No. They all just want to live in an exclusive country like Israel, and legislate against Jews marrying gentiles. Where’s the harm in that?

    Where in South America?

  70. bananabrain — on 27th August, 2008 at 11:45 am  

    so tell me, muhamad, what’s the rule about muslim women marrying non-muslims, then? and don’t get me started about arabs, muslims and prejudice. i’m a zionist and i don’t particularly want to live in israel at this particular moment. however, i do think that jews should be allowed to live anywhere, including hebron and baghdad. i also think arabs should be allowed to live anywhere, including tel aviv and jerusalem. the idea of nation-states is the issue here, not whether one form of nationalism is worse than all the others. that’s actually the difference between islamism and zionism – islamism doesn’t recognise the nation-state, only the ‘ummah – which, of course, has no borders, so the islam of the islamists must reign from venezuela to patagonia just as it must for them in the hejaz. zionism, by contrast, is a nationalism, with all the drawbacks thereof, of which i am abundantly aware, so stop wasting everyone’s time.

    b’shalom

    bananabrain

  71. null — on 27th August, 2008 at 12:30 pm  

    sonia
    well that’s all very well and good, my interest in historical figures is not just in them for the sake of it, but in the influence they have today, or might have. So that’s why I evaluate Mohammed’s actions by my morality standards, because he is felt to be relevant today.
    since your morality standards are flawed your evaluation will ofcourse be false

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