Islamism, Mental Illness & Inbreeding

Introduction

I wrote this after following a series of tweets between Dean Obeidallah and the Co-Founder of Ex-Muslims of North America Sarah Haider, where the below tweets came from. I had my own conversation with someone about the topic, which caused me to research inbreeding in the Muslim world.

 

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Notice the trap Obeidallah is lumbering mindlessly towards. If I had of compared the mind of God and the prophet Muhammad to the mentally ill; I dare say, I might find myself in a wee-bit-o-trouble. Of course, Obeidallah won’t willingly fall into this trap, but alas the trapping pit is not nearly as thinly veiled to him, as his attempt at apologetics is to me. Obeidallah claims that he just “can’t trust people who at one time advocated woman have no rights, and gays and apostates should be killed”, and said of Maajid Nawaz, “once an Islamist always an Islamist”, because in his unapologetic view, “Islamism is a mental disorder”, an “incurable” one. The trap should be, becoming clearer now, albeit too late for Obeidallah to prevent his fall. Although it would be comical–which is apparently his forte–to see the attempt.

Obeidallah suggests we shouldn’t trust former Islamists–who according to him, are mentally ill–because of their grotesque beliefs about homosexuality and apostasy. Well, it’s not difficult to find Hadith or Quranic verses advocating these ideas. One hadith narrated by Abdullah ibn Abbas, Muhammad’s cousin and early quranic scholar wrote, “The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: If you find anyone doing as Lot’s people did, kill the one who does it, and the one to whom it is done.” So what were Lot’s people doing? “do ye commit lewdness such as no people in creation (ever) committed before you?…for ye practice your lusts on men in preference to women, ye are indeed a people transgressing beyond bounds…and we rained down on them a shower (of brimstone): Then see, what was the end of those who indulged in sin and crime!” verses 7:80-84. Also on apostasy, a hadith from one of the three most trusted sources in Sunni Islam: “Ali burnt some people and this news reached Ibn ‘Abbas, who said, “Had I been in his place I would not have burnt them, as the Prophet said, ‘don’t punish (anybody) with Allah’s Punishment.’ No doubt, I would have killed them, for the Prophet said, ‘If somebody (a Muslim) discards his religion, kill him.” Need I continue with Muhammad’s record on women’s rights? Thus, it appears that these grotesque beliefs come from God, and were believed and promoted by Muhammad. Therefore, in Obeidallah’s view, Muhammad must be mentally ill and irredeemable. After all Muhammad is said to have received the revelation from the angel Gabriel, over some twenty-three years. Talk about schizophrenia!

Also notice, because the ideas Obeidallah finds so disgusting are available in the quran and hadiths; claiming one is mentally ill for taking them seriously, does not at all exonerate Islamic scripture. Rather it suggests, that access to the texts, is akin to leaving a pair of sharp scissors on a table in a mental health ward, someone’s bound to get hurt! Besides, it seems to me, if Islamists do indeed suffer from mental illness, they’re worthy of more of our compassion, not less. Mental illness reduces culpability for ones actions. Is a paranoid schizophrenic, who killed his wife because voices in his head told him she had been taken over by demonic forces, as culpable as a man who murdered his wife to collect the life insurance policy? Of course not. Moreover, we know that Islamism is “curable”, due to the people who have renounced the Islamist ideology (despite Obeidallah’s idiotic skepticism of Maajid Nawaz). The fact is, Islamism, or any ideology that promotes barbaric ideas, and the horrific acts that follow–however unconscionable–need not, have anything to do with mental illness, even when grounded in superstitious beliefs. Humans evolved a propensity for violence and a credulous mind, which lends itself to believing all kinds of nonsense, making normal people capable of all kinds of evil deeds.

If Obeidallah would like to play his faith card by claiming that Muhammad did in fact get the revelation, and therefore wasn’t hearing voices–a claim for which he has no evidence–then I would evoke the philosopher David Hume, and ask him, what is more likely, that Muhammad was a charismatic schizophrenic or liar, or that he really did receive the final revelation from a perfect deity, who didn’t get it right on the preceding two occasions, with the Jews and Christians? I would also point out what a cheap move invoking faith would be for a man in his position; and that it doesn’t explain the quran and hadiths promotion of the very ideas he finds so abhorrent; and he should be quiet, and it rubs the lotion on its skin!

Inbreeding insufficient to explain Islamism

It was suggested to me that mental illness could indeed, explain Islamism, due to the prevalence of consanguineous relationships in the Muslim world, going back to the time of Muhammad. In other words, the adverse effects on the offspring of blood relatives–first cousins being the usual focus. I don’t know if Obeidallah subscribes to this view, so I’ll leave him to wallow in his trap. But if he thinks he’s using consanguinity as a rope to climb out, he’s mistaken. Muhammad married his first cousin and the quran lists relatives one cannot marry, but luckily for Muhammad, no such prohibition on cousin fuckin’ exists; given there seems to be a few issues with the offspring of consanguineous relations, you’d think the creator of the universe might have prohibited it, another opportunity lost, it appears. Most experts in this area don’t call for a ban on the practice either. Instead, they call for education about the risks, and advocate genetic screening for consanguineous couples. It’s true that the potential health risks are double that of the general population, but the overall risk remains small. In a nutshell, relatives have more genes in common than people that are unrelated. If both parents carry the same recessive gene, then their offspring have a higher risk of getting the genetic disorder associated with that gene. The overall risk for non-consanguineous couples is around 2.5% compared to approximately 5% among consanguineous couples (first cousins). However, if there is consanguinity going back generations–which will be the case for many Muslims–the risk can be higher, how much higher is unclear.

In 2011, a veritable who’s who of geneticists and researches working in this area met in Geneva, Switzerland, to discuss “Consanguineous marriages, pearls and perils” and went on to produce the “Geneva International Consanguinity Workshop Report.” They concluded that the adverse effects of consanguinity on offspring, predominately relates to autosomal recessive genetic disorders. The authors suggest that although there is some evidence of the effects of consanguinity on IQ–possibly a result of most consanguineous couples coming from rural, poor, uneducated areas–Down Syndrome, Schizophrenia, Bi-Polar Disorder, Autism and Alzheimer’s, the evidence is often “vague and inconsistent”. Moreover, the authors’ of the report suggest–in relation to autosomal recessive genetic disorders–approximately “92% of first cousin couples will not be at increased risk of the birth of an affected child”. Of course, we would have to increase the percentage of risk among Muslims due to the history of consanguinity. Regardless, if evidence for mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bi-polar or low IQ are better controlled for, and their results are more consistent, I have no reason to suspect that similar approximations like the above, wouldn’t be true in that case, namely the majority of offspring being born without problems.

Some believe we just have to look at the Muslim world and conclude Islamists are mentally ill, or suffer from poor education or low IQ, “just look at the case of Farkhunda, tell me that’s not insane”. According to this article, one of her most “fervent” attackers, a young man named Mohammad Yaqoub heard people shouting “if someone doesn’t hit her, he is an infidel.’ That was when I got emotional and hit her twice…my third punch hit the road, and my hand got injured.” Maybe the dim-witted boy felt intimidated and feared the mob might turn on him, if he didn’t participate. Except, when he went back to his shop and wrapped up his injured hand, he could still hear the commotion outside, and decided to go back for more. When he returned, he picked up a stone to pulverize Farkhunda’s lifeless body, it was so large, “he could barely lift it.” Without knowing if Mohammed Yaqoub is schizophrenic–the voices he heard that day were certainly real, including the screams of his victim–whatever affliction he may suffer, as the article puts it “Mr. Yaqoub was hardly an illiterate day laborer. He had completed 11th grade and, when interviewed in prison, said he was 18. He explained his fury by saying, “The Quran is like our honor: It is our personal honor and the honor of the prophet.”

Ghazi O. Tadmouri et al. interestingly point out that consanguinity is also practiced among Lebanese, Jordanian, and Palestinian Christians, albeit to a lesser degree than their Muslim neighbors. However, they do often suffer the same injustices as their neighbors, and one wonders if they’re driven to a Christian form of Islamism that causes them to fight the West by turning to the Old Testament (or even the New Testament) to express their mental corruption. Such Christians appear rare, which again suggests that it’s not the illness that’s the problem, it’s the texts, but I digress. Tadmouri et al. point out other limitations; most researchers break their studies into two groups: consanguineous verses non-consanguineous, even when the type of consanguinity is unknown or undisclosed. For example, stating that 30.3% to 39.8% of Syrians are in a consanguineous relationship doesn’t indicate whether they’re all first, second or third cousins, which is important, as the less gene’s in common the lower the risk. However, they do concede that “the risk of birth defects in first-cousin marriages may be estimated to be 2-2.5 times the general population rate, mainly due to the expression of autosomal recessive disorders”. But again they conclude; “studies on the association of consanguinity with chromosomal abnormalities such as Down syndrome and association with non-communicable disorders such as diabetes, hypertension, and psychiatric disorders [Italics mine] among Arabs are presently non conclusive…likewise, studies on the association of consanguinity with traits such as intelligence quotient and stature are scanty among Arabs and results of studies performed in Western countries cannot be applied directly to societies with high consanguinity rates such as the Arab society.”

Therefore, it seems to me that mental illness, whether caused by consanguineous relationships or otherwise, is insufficient to explain Islamism.

Islamism, Mental Illness & Inbreeding

A Review of Islam and the Future of Tolerance

Caveat: I know Maajid is not an apostate! I say it tongue and cheek.

Islam and the Future of Tolerance gives readers something which feels almost alien – a cordial, open, honest conversation about the challenges of reforming Islam. As I turned each page I found myself anticipating (perhaps wanting?) to see a cataclysmic locking of horns (Infidel vs. Apostate). This epic cage match never eventuated. In fact the only part in the book remotely resembling an impasse, pertained to the reading of Islamic history in the sections ‘Nature of Islam’ and ‘Finding the Way Forward’. The disagreement was of little consequence to the overall discussion. What was particularly gratifying was seeing Sam’s eagerness to learn from Maajid, demonstrating again – unlike some of his opponents – just how open he is to new ideas. Initially Sam took the backseat in the conversation, and adopted more of an interviewers’ style, seeking clarification around the concepts and definitions on offer. When one reads the book you come to understand Sam’s admission that he was the one most changed by their conversation, which makes the suggestion that Maajid is Sam’s lapdog, simply absurd.

The conversation becomes more even-handed as you read on. Still – although I didn’t do a word count – it seemed Maajid got the bigger slice of the dialogue. I was quite happy about that, I read Sam all the time, and I know his views fairly well. Maajid has one other book – Radical, a memoir which I highly recommend – and his public appearances and articles, provide a pretty clear picture of his own views. However, the depth and nuances of those views really come to the fore in this book and it was all the more gripping for that reason. There is a feeling throughout that Sam is being cautious, as if he’s half expecting a backlash of the sort he has become accustomed. He rather amusingly even “bends over backwards” to articulate a position held by his detractors to gauge Maajid’s reaction (surely, Maajid must, at the least, agree with his opponents here, this conversation is going too well, with a little too much agreement!). If that is indeed what Sam was doing, I certainly can’t fault him for it. Too often people appear liberal and interested in honest discussion and turn out to be just another religious apologist. I too found myself reading Maajid, waiting for something to object to on those grounds. Thankfully that moment never came to pass.

Maajid does a great job demonstrating the nuances in scriptural interpretation and how literalism doesn’t necessarily equate to bad (a view Sam understands as his Jainism example shows). As an example he used the stance of the Hanafi School – which were closest to the time of prophet – regarding the prohibition of khamr (alcohol). In essence the word khamr relates to alcohol derived from grapes, so the prohibition therefore, only relates to wine. Maajid points out this is a literalist argument, making the blanket ban on alcohol an interpretation that was successful in supplanting the traditional view. In regards to the murder of infidels he asks, does “smite their necks” translate to “smite their necks today?” Good point, however, I would ask, if God thought it permissible during the war against infidels of the period – and clearly many Muslims feel history is repeating itself – what are the chances an omniscient deity would have a different view in 2015? Do we really need another prophet to tell us whether that edict is applicable today? It’s when you start tying scripture to actual concepts of God – what He is and what powers He possesses – that you run into problems. A better way to allow reform to grow, would be to divorce the two, which sadly can’t be done.

The alcohol example actually indicates both a solution and a problem. The solution being there is wiggle room here. The problem being that it hinges on arguing for interpretations which, whether scripturally viable or not, have to, at least, be better argued than current interpretations enabling the problems we see, and will need to be argued for as long as Islam permeates the religious landscape. Whatever one takes away from the alcohol example, one point has to be that the interpretation which bans all alcohol won over many Muslim communities. Also, Sam rightly points out that some interpretations are more plausible than others, and even if reform was achieved; if someone or some group in the future reads the texts uncritically, and is anchored to the concept of God and the belief that the Quran is the inerrant, eternal word of God – in line with the Asha’ira school – then religious barbarism can be renewed again and again. So whilst I agree it’s certainly unrealistic to apostatize 1.6 billion Muslims; can even Maajid deny that it would be a hell of a lot easier? Again it comes back to what people believe is at stake. The interpretations that get you a more liberal Islam are not just difficult because the cases are not well argued, or there isn’t scriptural justifications for them. It also has something to do with the consequences of getting it wrong. If you believe in God and read the Quran and Hadith, it is understandable why you may conduct yourself in a way that doesn’t dovetail with modern society. Whereas if you misinterpret Shakespeare – unless you’re an academic and have written a patently ridiculous interpretation of Shakespeare’s works, that draws ridicule from your peers – then there is not much at stake.

With all that said this book was a thrilling read and – if you will allow me this cliché – a breath of fresh air. They cover a lot of ground from the role of foreign policy to the Regressive left and the differences between Islamism, Jihadism, and conservatism among the world’s Muslims. They touch on belief as drivers of behavior, the challenges of having this conversation in other contexts and locations, what it means for women to have this conversation and so on. You won’t read this book and come away with all the answers to your questions or a blueprint of how to reform Islam. Rather you will go away with a better understanding of the issues, a renewed hope in civil discourse, and the knowledge that you were a small part of what will be seen as the kick starter, for the reform of Islam. Not to take anything away from the many men and women – in some cases children – (Muslim and non-Muslim), who have been working on this front, but I would not be too begrudging if these two gentlemen were most remembered as the founding fathers of this effort.

Two asides:

  • Maajid says in the book that doctrines are the construct of human beings which is true. However, one of those human beings is thought to be a prophet. This legitimizes his interpretation of the word of God more than any ensuing theologian. And if God came down tomorrow and said “hey, ISIS has the right of it, stop bastardizing my words with your liberal interpretation”. What then? This may seem like an insincere question but I assure you I am wholly sincere. After all people readily buy into the idea that God has come down from the heavens on different occasions to deliver his word to the people, utilizing prophets like Moses and Mohammed. If it were to happen again, and that was his message, would we or would Maajid as a Muslim, tell him to go fuck himself. Or would, or rather should we be joining ISIS to defeat the infidels and re-establish the caliphate?
  • Maajid highlights what I consider to be a loophole that gets Muslims out of some the more undesirable edicts in Islam. He mentioned that in one tradition, the prophet Mohammed channeled the word of God and addressed believers stating “Oh, my people if you don’t sin and repent, I will bring a people more blessed than you who will sin and who do repent, because I want your repentance”. This he says led some schools within Islam to advocate for their right to sin. Well one could simply appease Him here. Sure I will drink and attend a strip club in the infidel’s homeland and for this I will repent. Then tomorrow, I and eighteen of my brothers will wage Jihad against the infidel, and if my interpretation of scripture is wrong in this regard, well then I may simply repent for that too. Of course, if God did indeed say that, well what is he playing at? This is another reason why I can’t bring myself to believe in Him. He seems such a contradictory, inconsistent, emotional, reactionary character!
A Review of Islam and the Future of Tolerance

The Delegitimization of Maajid Nawaz by Islamists, Regressive Left, and Atheists?

Caveats: Islamism = Islamist’s, Jihadists, conservatives. Atheists = anti-theists and atheists for brevity. I am aware of the nuances and Maajid’s definitions. I recognize the kinds of atheists herein are the minority. This is not about agreeing with liberal interpretations of Islamic scripture, it’s about delegitimizing those that do and taking focus away from reform.

The terror attacks in the US during 2001 has muddied the waters – of an age old problem – referred to herein as Islamism. From this slimy swamp the wretched dregs of liberalism emerged to form a maleficent subsection, newly and aptly labelled the Regressive Left. While others attempt honest dialogue, they aim to undermine and distort. Years on, the victors in the court of public opinion are the Regressives, who invariably view the world via the narrow lenses of colonialism and modern Western imperialism, and deny non-whites their human agency. Their patronizing logic boils down to this “Behavior of brown people is dependent on the behaviors of white people”, which is itself racist. When a member of the “hapless browns” challenge their uncritical support for the victim-hood narrative – and refuse to fit their brown angry profile – they short-circuit, and ironically fling bigoted pejoratives like “House Muslim”, to quash dissent.

The fact is – despite stubborn denial – beliefs matter, and Islamic scripture (historically and presently) enables beliefs that wreak havoc across the globe. Commentators who point out what should be an uncontroversial connection, are often shouted down, defamed and denounced as bigots. This month the former Islamist turned liberal Muslim Maajid Nawaz and reason advocate and atheist Sam Harris, released their collaborative effort titled “Islam and the Future of Tolerance”. The easily predicted attacks on Maajid’s character were personal and vitriolic from both Islamist’s and Regressives seeking to delegitimize him. Sadly, another group is now delegitimizing Maajid’s voice – albeit not in that fashion – my fellow atheists! We’ve long bemoaned the fact that not enough Muslims acknowledge the link between scripture and harmful behaviors. Well Maajid is one of our most important allies in this respect. I’m dismayed by the tone of atheists who argue Maajid isn’t sufficiently Muslim because his liberalism doesn’t conform to their perception of Islamic scripture. This should be music to our ears. Instead, in recent times it’s been met with harsh criticisms of his intellectual integrity.

However, as an atheist I understand the impulse. Surely, if one truly believes the creator of the universe revealed the one true faith to the prophet Muhammad, then all of the edicts in the quran and hadith are valid – to the letter. The prospect of gods’ wrath and awaiting hell-fire makes scriptural literalism a reasonable strategy to avoid damnation. Unfortunately for us, Islamic scripture has much to say about infidels, which is set out in alarming detail – ad nauseam. Additionally, an omniscient and omnipotent deity could have provided clarification in ensuing centuries when it became clear his followers had misunderstood jihad, or at the very least, inform them that murdering infidels only applied to a specific period – alas, clarification hasn’t been offered us. Moreover, an omniscient deity should have anticipated these issues! Therefore, atheists, including Sam Harris (and myself), view ISIS, not as perverters of Islamic doctrine, but rather – given what is prescribed in the text(s) – a very logical and inevitable manifestation among those that truly believe Muhammed was privy to, and tasked with the dissemination of, the perfect word of god. And because Maajid’s interpretation is light years away from scriptural literalism, well he might as well not be Muslim at all, right?

Amusingly this is what Islamist’s believe, “he is non-Muslim, a kafir”. It appears Maajid is not just a “native Informant” as Regressives would have us believe, he’s an undercover agent as well. Of course he isn’t the only believer to be accused of this. Bill Maher – far from an Islamist – uses similar tones when he claims the seemingly liberal positions held by Pope Francis indicate covert atheism (a clandestine atheist Pope is unlikely given the failures of the Vatican’s PR campaign to date). Regardless, such claims fuel the idea that believers who unshackle themselves from scriptural literalism – and are best placed to reform the faith – cease being legitimate. This method is often applied by Islamist’s to silence calls for reform, and on the other hand, pernicious Regressives deny the agency of reformers by branding them the puppets of privileged white men (talking monkey anyone?). We needn’t compound this kind of delegitimization just because we find moderate interpretations of Islamic scripture (or any other) logically incoherent.

Some atheists do applaud reform efforts, but would much rather debate Maajid on the existence of god. Whilst an interesting conversation to have. In the current climate, our priority should be reform. After all, belief in god when detached from harmful doctrines, is significantly less detrimental than the current state of affairs. Further, I’ll preemptively parry likely counters about creationists bastardising science, by noting that creationism, also stems from scriptural literalism, and I’d include this in my definition of harmful doctrines. Therefore, on this score I can only appeal to the infinite wisdom of our savior. The late Christopher Hitchens (drinks be upon him). During the rewarding conversation between the famed Four Horsemen, Hitchens stunned Richard Dawkins when he remarked “would I want this argument [god/religion] to end? …no I want the argument to go on”. In other words, given the chance to eradicate belief, he wouldn’t do it. In keeping with this sentiment, if there is one person’s faith I’d be happy to leave intact, it would be Maajid’s.

Lastly, the term “new atheism” is a misnomer. Modern atheists belong to a long tradition of critical and secular thinkers. It’s our patience and willingness to keep silent that is at record lows, and – thanks to freedom of speech (don’t get me started), and social media – outspoken atheists are at record highs. We’re also more attuned to the plight of atheists abroad who are risking their lives just to be heard, this is an inspiring time. But what can we do to help those living under the yoke of Islamism? Is it even possible to reason religion from the world? Probably not, and even if possible, many would have perished in the interim. It’s more practical, at this time, to form alliances with religious moderates that are honest about the problems with their faith, and it is important not to continuously undermine them to the glee of our basest opposition. In order for atheists worldwide to challenge Islam in a safe environment, let alone debate the existence of god, reformation needs to occur. We won’t get there by delegitimizing our most valuable allies. ~ Blogidarity!

The Delegitimization of Maajid Nawaz by Islamists, Regressive Left, and Atheists?