Thursday, January 4, 2007

The Unheralded War

Every now and then we catch a glimpse of the war against Islamic terrorists that doesn't get much play in the media. Bill Roggio calls attention to our military's involvement in the war being waged by Ethiopia against the Islamic Courts forces in Somalia.

In the course of describing the latest developments in that conflict Roggio states:

The United States has publicly stated its naval forces are actively blockading the Somali coast with assets from Combined Task Force (CTF) 150. "Coalition naval forces are performing boardings on a number of vessels to deter individuals with links to al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations the use of the sea as a potential escape route," notes a CENTCOM press release. The USS Bunker Hill, a Ticonderoga class cruiser which wields the AEGIS Combat System, and the destroyer USS Ramage are engaged in the blockade.

U.S. Special Forces have been rumored to be accompanying Ethiopian and Somali forces on the ground, hunting for senior members of the Islamic Courts, including the three al-Qaeda operatives involved in the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.

The dedicated jihadi in Somalia, as elsewhere, enjoys neither ease nor length of life.


Ten Myths About Atheism (Pt. II)

With this post we continue our critique of Sam Harris' Ten Myths About Atheism with his second alleged myth. Harris claims the following is not just mythical but also false:

Atheism is responsible for the greatest crimes in human history.

People of faith often claim that the crimes of Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot were the inevitable product of unbelief. The problem with fascism and communism, however, is not that they are too critical of religion; the problem is that they are too much like religions. Such regimes are dogmatic to the core and generally give rise to personality cults that are indistinguishable from cults of religious hero worship. Auschwitz, the gulag and the killing fields were not examples of what happens when human beings reject religious dogma; they are examples of political, racial and nationalistic dogma run amok. There is no society in human history that ever suffered because its people became too reasonable.

Harris is playing a bit of a shell game here. He slides in the first two sentences from an allegation against atheism and individual atheists to the evils of fascism and communism. He tries to shift the onus away from atheism and onto the nature of political ideology. It's true that these ideologies were very religious but that's irrelevant. It's not fascism which led to the holocaust and not communism that perpetrated the Killing Fields and the crimes committed against humanity in the Soviet Union. Neither ideologies nor religions do anything. It is individual fascists and communists who committed the horrific crimes or the twentieth century and in doing so they were simply carrying to its logical conclusion the basic assumption of atheism.

They believed there was no God and that meant that there is no moral right nor wrong, no eternal consequence for what one does, no reason not to adopt the ethic of might makes right, and no reason to consider others as having dignity and worth. Since they disdained the belief that other people are made in the image of God and loved by God, they therefore concluded that those people have no more rights than do cattle in an abattoir. If one has the power and the wish to kill them there is no moral reason why one should not.

That Hitler, et al. committed the greatest crimes of the century is beyond dispute. That these men were atheists is beyond dispute. That their deeds were wholly consistent with their atheism is also beyond dispute. Thus the myth is not a myth at all. It's a historical reality.

Moreover, even if we were to grant Harris' premise that the responsible agent for the evils of the twentieth century was a kind of religion (fascism and communism), the salient point about this is that these were atheistic religions. Not all religions are bad, but those two were and it could be argued that they were bad precisely because they were, implicitly in one case and explicitly in the other, anti-theistic. Harris, though, clearly seems to think that because some religions are bad therefore they all are, but this is such obvious nonsense that one wonders how an intelligent man could hold that view.

You can read our comment on the first of Harris' ten myths here.


Post-secular Holland

Who would have thought it? It seems that there may be a religious revival taking place, in Holland of all places, and the revival is not among Holland's Muslims but amongst its Christians. Indeed, Mohammed seems to be having trouble holding on to his followers in the land of tulips:

In spite of this decline of the old religious establishment, however, the century-long wave of secularization seems to have crested, and may even have begun to recede. The Dutch Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) finds that the number of self-described Christians stopped declining as early as the beginning of the 1990s. Among the under-20s, the number has started to increase in recent years. If the CBS figures are to be believed, in 2005 a small majority of the Dutch population (52 percent) still called itself Christian. The figures are disputed, however, by another major government research body, the Social and Cultural Planning Agency (SCP).

The SCP uses a stricter definition of religiosity, allowing only those who not only describe themselves as Christians but also belong to a particular church to be counted as "real" Christians. The others, the so-called "fringe Christians," are not attached to a particular church and are excluded from the official head count. Even by the SCP's strict standards, Christians still form a 40 percent plurality among the wider population. Much like the CBS statistic, the SCP's 40 percent figure hasn't changed since the early 1990s.

From both sets of figures, it seems clear that something of a high-water mark for secularization in Holland was set in the last decade.

Islam is already finding itself in a difficult position fighting off another threat, namely that of apostasy. Traditional approaches--honor killings and fatwas--have caused outrage among Holland's general public and political class. That doesn't mean these intimidation tactics won't be effective in the short term--in a recent article in a Dutch political magazine about Islamic converts to Christianity, most sources would talk only on condition of anonymity. But in the long term, they won't work if they don't have the full force of the law behind them (as they do in most Islamic countries). Inevitably, Christian evangelists will try to develop ways of communicating with the Islamic community with a view to converting its members.

Read the whole thing. It's a very interesting article.