“Without God, I Am No One”—Bullshit That Needs Our Attention

Fundamentalism kills. In more ways than one.

NBC News has reported that an American—a 33-year-old who was born in Illinois, raised in Minnesota, and studied in California—has now died in Syria, as a fighter for the barbaric jihadist group, ISIL. He was killed by another group of anti-Assad fighters, the Free Syrian Army.

Douglas McAuthur McCain, according to those who knew him, was a “a good guy who loved his family and friends,” a smiling joker who loved music, liked to dance and play basketball. “He was a goofball in high school,” one of his classmates told NBC.

Sometime in 2004, though, Douglas McCain apparently started taking religion seriously, as many Americans do. He posted on Twitter in May: “I reverted to Islam 10 years ago and I must say In sha Allah I will never look back the best thing that ever happen to me.”In sha’Allah” essentially means “God willing.” Lots and lots of people, especially Christian people, say “God willing” and say that their faith is “the best thing that ever happened” to them. It’s pretty common and not all that radical, unfortunately.

McCain also posted a picture of himself holding a Quran, with the caption,

The quran is all I need in this life of sin.

If you replace “quran” with “Bible,” then you have a typical statement from many American Christians, a statement I have heard countless times in one form or another. Again, although it is unfortunate, there is nothing all that radical about someone claiming that an old, old book is all they need in this life, of sin or otherwise.

Another social media posting from McCain expressed what he believed was the source of his existence:

Allah keeps me going day and night. Without Allah, I am no one.

Let’s remember that “Allah” is simply the Arabic word for “God.” In other words, what McCain posted was this:

God keeps me going day and night. Without God, I am no one.

Again, I have heard that same idea expressed numerous times by Christians I have known. Right now you can check out your own Facebook page, if you have one, and probably see a version of it someone has posted. It is all too common to hear people, people who live in your neighborhood and share space in your community, say such things. As I said, it is unfortunate that such sentiments are so prevalent among us.

It isn’t exactly clear how Douglas McCain went from expressing such things, such things that a lot of people express on any given day in America, to actually joining a group of bloodthirsty jihadist killers in Syria. It’s not clear Image: A Facebook profile photo of man identified by NBC News as Douglas McAuthur McCainhow he became “Duale ThaslaveofAllah,” which reportedly was his Facebook name. We will probably never know the mechanics of how that transformation happened, even though it would help us all to know.

Fortunately, the overwhelming majority of people who say the things that Douglas McCain said don’t end up either killing for, or dying for, their deity. Those who think their religion is the best thing that ever happened to them, or who believe an ancient book is all they need to guide them, or who believe that they are nothing without God—a being they have never seen and can’t possibly “know”—most of the time live their lives relatively peacefully, many of them even doing a lot of good in the world.

But I have come to believe that we, those of us who have not utterly surrendered our minds to an unseen—and presumably unseeable—deity, those of us who maintain that any religious views should be accompanied by some degree of doubt and uncertainty, must call out those who say things like Douglas McCain said.

It is time that we make people—especially our young people—uncomfortable when they say things like, “Without God, I am no one.” It’s time we call bullshit on such sentiments. It is time we take on parents who teach their children that they are nothing without God. Or teach them that an ancient, pre-scientific book is an infallible source of information, especially about God, or history, or morals. It is time we stop being afraid of criticizing people’s religious beliefs, if those religious beliefs include offering up their minds, or the minds of their children, as slaves to some Bible- or Quran-revealed divine being.

Because even though we don’t know what exactly led to Douglas McAuthur McCain giving his body to a radicalized and militarized incarnation of Islam, we know that it began with him seriously surrendering his mind to Allah, to God, to a bloodthirsty being first brought to us by ancient and ignorant people who told us their God once murdered “every living thing on the face of the earth” (the Bible) and who told us that God will punish unbelievers “with terrible agony in this world and in the Hereafter” (Quran).

We should do our best to make sure that people understand what it means to completely turn their lives over to the very flawed star of a faith that first came into being in the Bronze Age. Perhaps, and only perhaps, we may be able to prevent more Douglas McCains from wanting to kill and die in the name of God.

Why Afghanistan War Strategy Must Change

As day three of the killing frenzy over an American Christian zealot’s Quran-burning unfolded, it has become increasingly clear to me—after agonizing over it for several months—that those who argue for an expedited drawdown leading to a pullout of combat troops in Afghanistan are right. That seems to be the wisest course to take, despite the fact that there are good, but not sufficient, reasons to stay.

The latest deadly unrest highlights two arguments for a swifter withdrawal than President Obama has outlined:

1) Hamid Karzai will never be a reliable partner.

2) General David Petraeus’ “winning hearts and minds” strategy won’t work in Afghanistan.

In addition to the many problems we’ve had with him in the past, the latest outrage is partly Karzai’s responsibility. As has been reported, most Afghans did not even know about the burning of the Quran in Florida—which happened on March 20—until Karzai tried to politicize it. From the New York Times:

Both Afghan and international news media had initially played down or ignored the actions of Mr. Jones, the Florida pastor. On Thursday, however, President Karzai made a speech and issued statements condemning the Koran burning and calling for the arrest of Mr. Jones for his actions. On Friday, that theme was picked up in mosques throughout Afghanistan.

“Karzai brought this issue back to life, and he has to take some responsibility for starting this up,” said a prominent Afghan businessman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution if he was identified as a critic of the president.

“Karzai’s speech itself provoked people to take such actions,” said Qayum Baabak, a political analyst in Mazar-i-Sharif. “Karzai should have called on people to be patient rather than making people more angry.”

Karzai, through education and experience with American culture, knows perfectly well that Pastor Terry Jones cannot be arrested. Stupidity is legal in the United States, after all. But Karzai’s irresponsibility continued today, as Reuters reported:

Afghan President Hamid Karzai called on Sunday for the U.S. Congress to condemn the burning of a Koran by a radical fundamentalist U.S. pastor and prevent it from happening again, his office said in a statement.

Karzai made the request at a meeting with U.S. ambassador Karl Eikenberry and General David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, the statement said.

Echoing this nonsense, the Taliban released a statement today:

The U.S. government should have punished the perpetrators, but the American authorities and those in other countries not only did not have a serious reaction, but defended (the burning) to some extent in the name of freedom of religion and speech.

One report included this paragraph:

The Taliban said in a statement emailed to media outlets that the U.S. and other Western countries have wrongly excused the burning a Quran by the pastor of a Florida church on March 20 as freedom of speech and that Afghans “cannot accept this un-Islamic act.”

That last phrase, Afghans “cannot accept this un-Islamic act,” leads to the other persuasive argument against our Afghanistan war policy: Petraeus’ strategy. There are just too many things in this war that the Taliban can exploit as “un-Islamic acts,” as the Washington Post suggests:

The protests, which began Friday, also appear to be fueled more broadly by the resentment that has been building for years in Afghanistan over the operations of Western military forces, blamed for killing and mistreating civilians, and international contractors, seen by many as enriching themselves and fueling corruption at the expense of ordinary Afghans.

General Petraeus is doing his best. Our troops are, of course, fighting admirably, despite the occasional horrific stories about “kill teams” and other atrocities.

The problem is that the strategy—winning the hearts and minds of the Afghans—is so tenuous that a combination of an idiotic American evangelical extremist pastor and a stupidly opportunistic Afghan president can, wittingly or unwittingly, conspire to cripple that delicate strategy in just a few days and undo much of the good our soldiers have done.

Another strategy, perhaps along the lines originally proposed by Vice President Joe Biden, is in order. From the New York Times in September of 2009:

…Mr. Biden proposed scaling back the overall American military presence. Rather than trying to protect the Afghan population from the Taliban, American forces would concentrate on strikes against Qaeda cells, primarily in Pakistan, using special forces, Predator missile attacks and other surgical tactics.

Oddly, whatever it was that Pastor Jones and President Karzai were trying to accomplish, news reports inform us of the results:                                             

“Death to America” and “Death to Karzai” chanted the demonstrators.

 

Can’t Get A Tee Time? Blame It On The Muslims

I couldn’t let this pass without saying something.

Wednesday’s Joplin Globe “featured” a column by Byron York, who blamed President Obama himself for people’s (mostly Republican people’s) “confusion” over Obama’s religious identity.  

This is the kind of stuff that local conservatives are fed day after day on local talk radio and, sadly, frequently in our local paper.

Managing to mention—all in one column—Obama’s connection to Jeremiah Wright, his Muslim grandfather, his Muslim-raised father-who-turned atheist, his Muslim step-father, his Muslim half sister, his “two years in a Muslim school in Indonesia,” his fondness for the “Arabic call to prayer“—York helpfully added, “the beginning of which is recited by heart“—our efficient conservative columnist summed up the situation with,

Given all that, it is entirely accurate and fair to describe Obama as having Muslim roots.

But he wasn’t done.  He mentioned Obama’s “speech to the Muslim world,” which was “laced with references to the Quran and his Muslim roots,” quoting USA Today.  He then, of course, tossed in a reference to Obama’s “White House Ramadan iftar dinner.”

Now, that’s quite a day’s work for a columnist. But the glittering jewel of hokum was yet to come:

Pew asked respondents how they learned about Obama’s religion. Most who believe Obama is a Muslim say they learned it through the media. But 11 percent say they learned it through Obama’s “own words and behavior.” Perhaps they read the White House press pool reports, which often describe Obama heading out Sunday morning to play basketball or golf.

Forget for a moment that “most” people said they “learned” that Obama was a Muslim “through the media.”  I wonder what media?  MSNBC? Forget that salient fact and just focus on the whopping 11% who said Obama taught them through his “own words and behavior” that he was a Muslim.

Yes, forget everything else and focus on that last sentence:

Perhaps they read the White House press pool reports, which often describe Obama heading out Sunday morning to play basketball or golf.

Famously, Ronald Reagan didn’t spend too many of his valuable Sundays attending church. Neither did W. Bush. And neither do many faith-professing Americans.

But Obama’s penchant for playing basketball and golf, instead of listening to a droning preacher—the non-droning ones like Reverend Wright are off-limits these days—somehow betrays his Muslim faith, according to York. 

Maybe he’s right.  I know I get pissed on Sundays when I try to get a tee time and the guy at the golf course says, “All the damn Muslims have us backed up until 1:30.”

Oh, well. I can always spend my Sundays reading insightful White House press pool reports.  A guy can a learn a lot from those things.

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