Friday, September 14, 2012

Why Most Terrorists Are Muslims

_Why Most Terrorists are Muslims_

You might have noticed that most terrorists are also Muslims. That means that, per capita, the group that produces the most terrorists is Muslims. Why is this the case? It boils down to differences in tradition. The cultures where Islam is dominant have traditions that promote terrorism where other cultures have different traditions that don’t do that. I’ll discuss these traditions in detail.

Traditions are ideas that are commonly known among the vast majority of a culture. People learn these traditions generation after generation. In some cultures the traditions change quickly – we call these dynamic societies – while in other cultures, their traditions don't change quickly – we call these static societies. This raises the question: what is the thing that makes a society dynamic instead of static?

Static vs Dynamic Societies

Consider all the dynamic societies you know – what do they have in common? And the static societies? In dynamic societies there exists a tradition of criticism – it is seen as something good – while in static society’s there exists the opposite tradition – that criticism is bad and thus frowned upon.

So why do the static societies have this bad tradition? Well, human societies started out with this bad tradition. In the beginning, when people had disagreements, they used physical force to resolve their disputes. So the default state of a society is this bad tradition that sees criticism as something bad.

Let's look back at history. The tradition of criticism that we have today dates back to the beginning of the Enlightenment and more specifically, the Scientific Revolution. Actually even before that, there was one society in history that had a tradition of criticism but lost it. It was the ancient Greeks. Interestingly, it was the ancient Greeks that created the Scientific Method -- which is a method of negative hypothesis elimination where the elimination happens by criticism.

In ancient Greek society, even children were encouraged to question the ideas of their teachers. Criticism was a good thing because it was seen as something that helps people learn to think critically. It helps correct mistakes from teachers.

Then the Greeks lost this dynamic feature when they became an empire and fell to the Romans. After the Greeks, the next dynamic society was the Italians in the 16th century and that resulted in the phenomenon we now know as the Enlightenment. What happened was that society regained the tradition of criticism by studying the ancient Greek texts.

The West today is still a dynamic society because it has sustained the tradition of criticism since the Enlightenment that started over 500 years ago. And many other cultures in our modern world have acquired this dynamic feature by adopting this tradition of criticism. How did this happen?

The Tradition of Criticism

The tradition of criticism became widely adopted because it is part of the process known as the Scientific Method. In this method, people hypothesize testable theories about physical reality and then they, and others, create experiments designed to falsify those theories. With each new hypothesis, a scientist is guessing a new theory. And with each successful experiment, a theory is refuted. Then scientists create new guesses for theories and again they design experiments to try to refute the new theories. Note that the experiments are criticism – criticism that uses physical evidence.

In the 20th century, Karl Popper examined the history of science and discovered that all scientific knowledge is created by guesses and criticism. And he realized that all knowledge is created this way, not just scientific knowledge. He realized that all knowledge evolves – step-by-step, one guess at a time, one criticism at a time.

Now imagine a society that doesn’t have this tradition of criticism. The people in authority don’t like it when other people criticize their ideas. Religious leaders tell people not to think for themselves and to just believe what the scholars say. Parents and teachers tell kids to do what they say without question. And when people do question these authorities, the authorities get offended and often this leads to anger and sometimes it’s followed by physical retaliation, like spanking and raising a city.

So in these static societies people learn that questioning authority leads to anger and retaliation. They learn to shy away from criticism because they see it as confrontational – because that's the way the authorities see it. This affects kids the most because they can’t yet defend themselves from their parents. So kids develop a method of thinking that is void of criticism and void of creativity. They learn to judge ideas by justifying them by the authorities instead of criticizing those ideas themselves using their own reasoning. And these kids grow up to be adults that do the same – they don’t think for themselves.

What does it mean to judge ideas without criticism? Note that everybody has mistaken ideas – no one is perfect. So by adopting ideas from the authorities without your own criticism, then you are adopting all their mistaken ideas too – i.e. without any possibility of correcting those mistakes. A society that does this cannot correct its own mistaken ideas. So its mistaken ideas go on indefinitely without any mode of error correction; hence it is a static society, it doesn't change for the better.

Now imagine a society that does have a tradition of criticism. People are encouraged to criticize the authorities. Children are encouraged to ask their parents critical questions. Children sometimes correct their parents' mistaken ideas. So when they have their own children, they don’t make all the same mistakes that their own parents made. Similarly, scientists are encouraged to criticize each others' theories in an effort to discover mistakes and correct them thus getting ever closer to the truth. In this way, criticism is seen as a good thing.

With a tradition of criticism comes the freedom of dissent. People know that it’s ok for everyone to have their own opinions. Sometimes people might get offended by other peoples' opinions, but resorting to physical retaliation is not part of the tradition. Instead, people learn to debate – to hash out their differences with peaceful discussion. And with each discussion, both parties go into the discussion realizing that each of them will learn something new. Their mistakes are being exposed and so they have the opportunity to correct those mistakes, and they regularly do. This is how knowledge evolves – within each one of us and as a society as a whole.

So dynamic societies have this tradition of criticism that promotes error correction while static societies don’t. Our knowledge is not perfect. And it’s the imperfections that cause human suffering. In order to lesson our suffering, we must improve our knowledge. And the only way to improve our knowledge is to discover our mistaken ideas (using criticism) and to correct those mistakes (using creativity and more criticism).

Islamic Societies are Static Societies

Now getting back to Muslims and terrorism, Islamic societies are static societies. These societies have not yet adopted the tradition of criticism. They see criticism as something bad and so criticism is frowned upon. Questioning your parents is bad. Questioning Allah is bad. This is what causes their knowledge to be static – it halts the evolution of knowledge.

Ironically, the Quran explicitly states that it will not be changed. That Allah is protecting it from man-made changes. So it doesn’t evolve. And Muslims claim this as their proof that Islam is right and all other religions are wrong. But knowledge evolution is good, because it corrects mistakes. So, other religions like Christianity have evolved, which means that their knowledge has improved, namely their morality.

What is Terrorism?

What does all this have to do with terrorism? Well what is terrorism? It’s an act of fear mongering – of trying to instill fear in other people. And what is the goal of fear mongering? It’s to try to prevent people from doing a certain behavior. Consider how some parents use physical punishment with their kids, like spanking. What is the purpose of that? To teach their kids that if they do a certain behavior, they’ll receive physical pain. And their purpose is to instill fear in their kids – fear of what would follow, punishment and the associated physical pain.

And why is it that parents respond with punishment? In other words, what can the child do for the parent to choose to punish him? The child must have disagreed with the parent. He must have criticized his parent’s idea. He must have questioned his authority. So the parent reacts with punishment. This is analogous to terrorism. Muslim terrorists respond to the criticism coming from non-Muslims, like videos mocking their prophet, by physically punishing them. Clearly terrorists see criticism as something that is bad and they believe that the moral way to react to criticism is with physical force. And this is a tradition that pervades all Islamic societies today.

How Do We Stop Terrorism?

This raises the question, how will terrorism stop? Well we need an agent of change, one that will change Islamic cultures everywhere. That agent of change will play a role in their societies adopting a tradition of criticism. I don’t know how this will happen. I don’t know what things must fall into place for this to happen. What I do know is that by adopting a tradition of criticism, a society will enter a golden age, its own Enlightenment. And if it can sustain its tradition of criticism, then it will continue to be a dynamic society indefinitely.

In this sort of society, people would not turn to terrorism when their values are criticized. They would not see criticism as a bad thing. They would know that criticism is a necessary part of evolving our knowledge and so criticism is good! When people criticize our mistakes, they are providing explanations of flaws that they see in our ideas. This means that each one of us has multiple sources of criticism in which to discover our mistakes, not just ourselves. So exposing one’s mistakes is seen as a good thing because doing so means that we have more opportunities to correct our mistakes. So when our mistakes are exposed through criticism, we get ecstatic! We are happy to find our mistakes and to correct them because we know that that means we are improving!

It’s important to note that terrorism is not just a weird phenomenon born out of having a tradition of shunning criticism. The act of terrorism is directly encouraged in the Quran. So how could Islamic societies adopt a tradition of criticism while their holy book explicitly states that terrorism is encouraged? The answer may lie in the other societies who have done similar things. Consider that there are some bad morals in the religion of Christianity too, and Western societies have evolved their moral knowledge – they've corrected some of the Christian moral knowledge. The same sort of thing could happen with Islam.

Then there is the idea that the Quran cannot change. It’s questionable whether Muslims will accept the idea of changing the Quran such that its moral knowledge can be improved upon. Again the answer may lie in other societies who have done similar things. The Bible has changed, but some of its bad morals are still in there. And still, Western societies have evolved their moral knowledge and no longer believe in all the bad morals that still exist in the Bible. The same sort of thing could happen with Islam. Muslims of the future might see the Quran the same way that Christians see their Bible today, a book about God and morals and some other weird symbolic stories that only the people of previous centuries thought to be real.


Check out my article on _Why atheists fail to persuade theists_:

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