BookReview: The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason
by Sam Harris, Norton, 2004, 0-39303515-8
Develops evidence that moderation in religion gives way to extremism. If we deny the existence of the supernatural, we give no room for extremism. Islam is worse than Western culture, because it promotes the death of infidels, much as Christianity does. However, Islam still implements its edicts (honor killings). Last chapters lost me. Especially on torture so I wrote him this note:
Thanks for the incredibly deep and rich book. Possibly the most eye-opening question for me was: Can we say that Middle Eastern men who are murderously obsessed with female sexual purity actually love their wives, daughters, and sisters less than American or European men do? The book made me think differently, thanks.
I was, however, disappointed by your treatment of torture. To me, the use of force -- physical or mental -- is an ethical question that must be resolved within the context. There are two questions: is force ethical and what force should I apply?
In war, force is generally ethical. However, this is predicated on the fact that the war itself is ethical. Some simple "facts" about our intention to go to war in Iraq have yet to be proven true. This puts into question whether the U.S. Government's choice to use force was ethical. Unlike your news anchorman on p. 94 (who works for Fox or NPR, btw?), the U.S. Government's credibility depends on its ability to prove its accusations. It hasn't, and as such, makes the entire case for the use of force in Iraq, and thusly Guantanamo, built on shifting sands.
You furthermore make some interesting leaps of faith in the following statement: "There, after all, no infants interned at Guantanamo Bay, just rather scrofulous young men, many of whom were caught in the very act of trying to kill our soldiers." We actually don't know who they are holding in Guantanamo. What is missing is that these folks (male or female, young or old?) were captured in foreign countries, which we attacked, and none of those countries citizens had actually attacked ours; it was 19 Saudis who killed 3,000 people on our soil. One could argue those folks had an ethical right to defend their country. If someone walks into your house with a gun, do you have the ethical right to attack first? Yes. Furthermore, we haven't even bothered to take Osama Bin Laden to court in absentia.
My doubts are not that Islam is a violent religion, or that we have forced terrorism on us. Rather, we have failed to prove the case for the use of force, and thusly torture.
Leaving the yes/no question aside. How much force should we apply? Torture is but one means to an end. Deception is another -- as your escapade in Prague suggests. The question of the ticking time bomb is posed too narrowly. We can use deception and other forceful means of extracting information from the unwilling, including simulating torture of the unwilling's family. I would argue that simulating physical torture is better than actually inflicting it.
When someone attacks you, you feel anger. Torture is as much a means to extract information as it is a way to extract vengeance. Capital punishment is a form of legalized torture in the U.S. It is implemented after the information is extracted, and its victim has been proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. It's primary purpose is for vengeance. The U.S. military in Afghanistan, Iraq, Cuba, and ??? are not above anger, and likely have been using torture as a means of vengeance.
Finally, there is a relativist dimension to force. It comes down to "Lord of the Flies" ethics, if you will. If you use force, you bet others will against you. Moreover, if you use force on an innocent, you may have created an enemy, a new convert to the faith of hate. That may be strategically inept. For if you do use force on an innocent, and you indeed find out he is innocent. You must let them go -- in my ethics. If the force has made them psychotic -- an unfortunate and unpredictable side-effect of torture -- and that person clever and resourceful, you may end up creating an even bigger disaster on your hands.
If you analyze the situation in Iraq, you may find that this is precisely what has happened. Many otherwise peaceful and innocent and non-extremist Muslims are now taking up arms. This is not an ethical problem, but a strategic one caused by extremely poor tactics. Force is a tactic, not a strategy, and the U.S. Government seems not to have a strategy at all in its recent wars.
One last comment on your comment on a cold war with Islam. Pakistan has nuclear weapons and is Muslim and is in a cold war with India. One distinguishing feature of Islamic leadership is a strong sense of self-preservation as Al Sadr -- among others -- has clearly demonstrated. They don't "eat their own dog food" as much as you think they do.
Again, thanks for a book that changed the way I think about things.
Cheers, Rob Nagler
Via Rob 2004
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