Posts Tagged ‘ISIS’


(This is an update of a post I wrote about 18 months ago, and have updated a couple of times since.)

No, I’m not kidding. Trump has actually done a number of good things.

First, let’s list only the unalloyed positives:

  • Trump has armed the Kurdish YPG (People’s Protection Units) fighting ISIS in northern Syria, much to the annoyance of Turkish Islamist would-be dictator and ISIS enabler Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (Update: As of January 2018, the U.S. is planning to keep 30,000 troops in northern Syria — the Kurdish part of Syria — and is promising to help the Kurds builda protective border wall on the Syrian-Turkish border, where for once a wall will be a good thing.)

As for the Kurds themselves, the YPG, a major part of the Syrian Democratic Forces, is the most effective military entity fighting ISIS in Syria. It’s also the only secular, democratic, libertarian (with a small “l”) force in the region in which gender equality is actively promoted. (There are all-women YPG units.)

It’s worth noting that to appease Islamist thug Erdogan, Hillary Clinton, had she won, would probably not have armed the YPG. All of the facts noted above have been obvious for years, yet Obama refused to arm the YPG. It’s a good bet that former Obama Secretary of State Clinton wouldn’t have, either.

Update 12-23-18: Trump, as was predictable, just betrayed the Kurds by announcing a US pullout from Syria. There were only 2,000 US troops there, but they served as a trip-wire preventing invasion by Ergoghan’s, Assad’s, Putin’s, and the Iranian ayatollah’s thugs. Trump just betrayed the only real allies the U.S. has in the region, the only ones effectively fighting ISIS. God help the Kurds. And god help the people in the region once ISIS comes surging back, like a virulent case of syphilis after an inadequate course of antibiotics.

(For more info, see “The Anarchists vs. the Islamic State.“)

  • Trump killed the TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a “free trade” pact and mutant descendant of NAFTA. (I won’t even get started on NAFTA here; for now, suffice it to say that it screwed American industrial workers and Mexican small farmers — spurring a wave of jobless workers across the border,  desperate to provide for their families — while vastly benefiting transnational corporations.) Among other things, the TPP would have a allowed commercial “courts” to overrule U.S. laws, would have made the already atrocious copyright situation even worse, strengthening the hold of the media conglomerates, would have allowed U.S. pharmaceutical firms to force companies in signatory nations to stop producing affordable versions of life-saving drugs, and would have allowed foreign firms to sue the U.S. and U.S. state governments over “loss” of projected profits caused by environmental regulations.

Clinton was in favor of the TPP abomination, calling it the “gold standard” of trade agreements. Until she wasn’t in favor of it. If she’d won, there’d likely have been a few cosmetic changes to it which would have made it “acceptable” to her. And we’d have been further screwed. Trump just did her one better by denouncing NAFTA and then delivering . . . . . NAFTA.

Update: Trump just delivered the rather gay-sounding USMCA. (He even mimed “YMCA” in celebrating it.) It’s essentially NAFTA with minor tweaks and a few minor provisions thrown in from the TPP.  Its $16-an-hour provision might, might, serve as a very minor brake to the export of jobs overseas. (Check out what just happened with GM if you believe this.) At the same time, it contained a provision screwing Canadian and Mexican patients in favor of big pharma by increasing the length of time before generic drugs are available.

  • Trump is reportedly going to crack down on H-1B visa abuse. This type of visa allows employers to hire foreign workers for jobs for which there supposedly aren’t enough qualified American applicants. In practice, this program provides employers with indentured servants working for half the prevailing wages (often in the computer industry). Even worse, some “employers” have been more slave traders than job creators, hiring H-1B workers and then renting them to actual employers while taking part of their wages. (Ironically, in 2017 Trump took advantage of the closely related H-2B program to hire 70 low-skilled workers [cooks, maids, food servers] for his Mar-a-Lago resort.)

Update: Nothing has changed.

  • Trump, almost certainly out of personal pique against CNN, has opposed the ATT-Time-Warner merger, which would have further consolidated media control into fewer and fewer hands.

Update: The merger went through.

  • Trump, through his defeat of Clinton, has partially broken the hold of the corporate Democrats on the Democratic Party — the Republicans’ junior partner in the looting of the American working class — and made it at least possible that the “democratic wing of the Democratic Party” will ascend.

For decades, the corporate Dems have had a stranglehold on the party as they’ve catered to the corporate elite (e.g., Obama’s refusal to prosecute any of the banksters responsible for the financial crash), taken massive amounts of money from the corporate elite, and refused to advance policies (most notably “Medicare for all”) favored by a large majority of Americans, and an even larger majority of Democrats.

At the same time, the corporate Democrats have been chasing the chimera of the “center” (the maybe 10% of eligible voters who are so poorly informed that they can’t make up their minds until the last minute) while ignoring the vastly higher number of those eligible to vote who don’t even bother to do it (41% in 2016), largely because of disillusionment, largely because they can’t see any real differences between the parties (at least in terms of economics).

Next, a mixed but overall positive move:

  • Trump has been pressuring U.S. allies to increase their military spending to bring it more in line with U.S. spending and thus, in theory, relieve financial pressure on U.S. taxpayers. Thus far he seems to have had some success with Canada, which will increase its military spending by 70% over the coming decade. This would be far more impressive if the U.S. didn’t already account for 43% of world military spending, and if Trump didn’t want to drastically increase that spending.
  • Trump recently signed a judicial sentencing-reform bill. It doesn’t go nearly far enough but it’s a good first step in ending America’s mass-incarceration nightmare (under 5% of world population; 25% of the world’s prisoners).

As for other good things Trump has done deliberately, none come to mind. But he has also inadvertently done some good:

  • He’s laid bare the hypocrisy of the Republican Party on healthcare. Republicans had seven years in which to prepare a replacement for Obamacare, and, after they unexpectedly won the presidency in 2016 (plus both houses of Congress), they had to scramble to come up with a nightmarish mishmash of cuts and half-measures that would have cost 23 million Americans healthcare coverage.
  • Trump has laid bare the hypocrisy of American foreign policy rhetoric. For decades, American “leaders” have been spewing the same line about “defending democracy,” while they’ve been supporting many of the world’s most barbaric dictators and authoritarian regimes. Trump’s praise for Putin, Erdogan, mass murderer Duterte, and our war-criminal, Islamist Saudi “allies” brings out in the open America’s support for dictators and authoritarianism.
  • He’s laid bare the racism of the Republican Party. For half a century Republicans have catered to racists — restricting voting rights of blacks and latinos, persecuting undocumented immigrants, promoting the war on drugs that has devastated black and latino communities, promoting “tough on crime” (tough on poor people) laws, and promoting outright slavery of the incarcerated — while at the same time hypocritically hiding behind code words and insisting that they aren’t racist. Under Trump, Republican racism is out in the open. (Unfortunately, that racism sometimes takes physical form; the assaults and murders it produces are a hideous byproduct of it.)
  • By acting as an apologist for neo-Nazis in the wake of Charlottesville, and by pointing out that Washington and Jefferson were slaveholders, he’s put a spotlight on a seamy side of American “revolutionary” history that virtually no one talks about. (For more info on this see “A People’s History of the United States, by Howard Zinn.)
  • Trump, by announcing the move of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, has ended the sick charade of the U.S. government’s pretensions of being an “honest broker” in the Middle East. In regard to Middle East policy, for decades the government has been hostage to the extreme right wingers in AIPAC, and to a lesser extent the religious right (some of whom want Armageddon), and has actively aided, abetted, and financed the Israeli oppression of the Palestinians. Trump just tore away the “honest broker” mask.
  • Trump has interrupted the creeping fascism that has been strangling America since at least the time of Truman, in favor of galloping fascism. The good news is that Trump is so repulsive and so inept — good only at manipulating and swindling the fearful, desperate, uninformed, and angry — that he likely won’t succeed in destroying what’s left of our freedoms.

Had Clinton won in 2016, creeping fascism would have continued; nothing would have fundamentally changed; popular discontent and resentment would have continued to fester; even while they controlled both the House and Senate, Republicans would have blamed everything that’s going wrong on the “liberal” (she isn’t) Clinton; and an overt, more competent Republican theofascist would probably have taken power in 2020, which, had Clinton won in 2016, could have meant “game over” for American democracy.

  • Without intending to do it, Trump has spurred a wave of political activism in the U.S., the like of which hasn’t been seen in nearly half a century. This is a good thing for American democracy.

Contrary to popular belief, Trump’s victory in 2016 hasn’t been a total disaster, and in the end might turn out to be a good thing — assuming he doesn’t start a nuclear war or crash the economy. In the long run, a Clinton victory could (in my view would) have turned out a whole lot worse.

Of course, things could and probably will, for now, get worse under Trump. He and his minions will continue to degrade the environment, abet the banksters and other corporate thugs in the looting of the economy, and will continue to impose the evangelical theofascist social agenda on all of us.

Still, they’re probably too inept to stage a Reichstag Fire and get away with it. But god help us if there’s a major terrorist attack. Naomi Klein at The Intercept offers a cogent analysis of this possibility in “The worst of Donald Trump’s toxic agenda lies in wait — a major U.S. crisis will unleash it.”

For now, just be glad that Hillary Clinton isn’t in the White House, and let’s hope for a wave of new social movements; let’s also hope that in the meantime the “democratic wing of the Democratic Party” will at least temporarily stave off the corporate-lackey Democrats and the theofascist Republicans until there’s an opening for real social change.


For the last few months we’ve been running the best posts from years past, posts that will be new to most of our subscribers. This is a slightly revised and expanded post from January 2015.

Given the spate of near-daily Islamic-fanatic atrocities, and the wholesale pandering of the Trump administration to its deranged theofascist base, this post seems especially relevant now. Indeed, who today can’t be wondering, “Which is worse, Christianity or Islam?”

Let’s take a look at some of the worst structures and practices in both Islamic and Christian lands, both current and historic:

Slavery

Slavery is still practiced in many Islamic nations. The most notorious recent example is the enslavement of thousands of Yazidis by ISIS in Iraq. The Nigerian fundamentalist group Boko Haram is also notorious for enslavement of its victims.

At the same time, slavery persisted in widespread form in Christian lands until 1888 (Brazil) and in perhaps its most brutal form ever in the most religiously devout part of the United States until 1865. And enslavement of prisoners in the United States is still very widespread, currently involving at minimum hundreds of thousands of prisoners “paid” a few pennies per hour by for-profit corporations.

There is plenty of justification for slavery in both the Bible and the Koran, and not one word against it in either book.  (If you doubt this, run a search on Google or Bing. In fact, you’ll find justification for all of the horrors listed in this post.)

So, which is worse in regard to slavery, Christianity or Islam?

Islam “wins” this one based on the sheer brutality of some current Islamist groups.

Terrorism

At present, the most vicious and most active terrorist groups are Islamic (ISIS, Boko Haram, Al Qaeda, Taliban, and MILF — this is for real: the acronym stands for Moro Islamic Liberation Front). These groups are responsible for the murder of uncounted thousands of innocent people across the globe in recent years.

But Christian terrorism also exists, though in more subdued form.  In the United States, the Ku Klux Klan is a proudly Christian organization. As well, “right to life” Christian fanatics occasionally murder abortion providers and bomb abortion clinics; and they routinely stalk and anonymously threaten abortion providers, providing a dictionary definition of terrorism: they’re trying to frighten and intimidate — terrorize — abortion providers into no longer providing this constitutionally protected medical procedure.

Still, there’s no question that at present Islam “wins” this one hands down.

Internecine Warfare

By far the worst current example of internecine warfare is the Sunni-Shia mass bloodletting in Syria and Yemen, with thousands of casualties every single month.

But historically, Islamic internecine warfare has nothing on Christian internecine warfare. Just go back a few hundred years. Consider the Beziers massacre of 10,000 to 20,000 Albigensian heretics in 1209 by a crusader army commanded by papal legate Arnaud Amalric. Justifying the mass murder of helpless prisoners, Amalric famously said, “Kill them all. God will recognize his own.”

Then go forward just over 400 years to the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) for religiously motivated (Catholic vs. Protestant)  murder and mayhem on a mass scale. Then if you add in all of the nonreligiously motivated internecine warfare between Christian nations (Hundred Years War, U.S. Civil War, World War I, World War II, etc.), Christianity “wins” this one going away.

Subjugation of Women

The situation of women is unquestionably worse in Islamic lands than Christian lands. In some Islamic countries, the barbaric practices of female genital mutilation and child marriage are still very common, with the number of victims up in the tens, probably hundreds of millions. In far more Islamic countries, women are still very much second class citizens. Their testimony in court is accorded less weight than that of men, Islamic fanatics seek (sometimes successfully) to deny them education, they’re forced to wear head-to-toe coverings, they’re forced into arranged marriages, and “honor” killings are common and culturally accepted.

In the West, women still earn less than men, face street harassment and domestic violence, face a glass ceiling in employment, and rape is still a major and under-acknowledged problem. Go back a few hundred years, and you’ll find religiously inspired witch burnings all over Europe. And nearer to the present, denial of property rights, denial of the rights to contraception and abortion, and systematic denial of employment in many, many professions.

But bad as all this is, the situation of women in Islamic countries has been and is far worse than in Western lands. Islam “wins” here.

Persecution of Nonbelievers

In Islamic countries, it is simply unsafe (often deathly unsafe) for Muslims to abandon Islam. Many of their fellow Muslims will feel completely justified in murdering those who abandon the faith, and far more will condone such killings. Going beyond this, as the Charlies Hebdo atrocity in Paris demonstrates, Islamists feel entirely justified in murdering nonbelievers who were never Muslims, simply for criticizing Islam. And it’s not just unofficial Islamic thugs doing the killing. In Saudi Arabia, it’s a capital offense to be an atheist or an apostate, and the Saudi authorities are notorious for imprisoning and brutally whipping atheists and apostates, and threatening them with execution.

In the Western countries, it’s been several hundred years since the torture and murder of apostates and heretics was commonplace. There are still unconstitutional laws on the books in several U.S. states denying atheists the right to hold elected office or serve on juries, and high-profile atheists are sometimes stalked and threatened, but the situation of nonbelievers in Muslim countries is undeniably far worse. Islam “wins” again.

In Sum

At present, there’s no denying that Islam, which Bill Maher calls “the mother lode of bad ideas,”  is worse than Christianity. But why should this be so? Consider the above: the worst examples of Islamic barbarism are current, and the worst examples of Christian barbarism are in the past, mostly centuries in the past.

What happened? In a word, science. In the West, science with its question-test-and-logically-analyze attitude has flourished and has eaten away at traditional religious beliefs. This has resulted in a good majority of “believers” being “cafeteria Christians” who pick and choose their “beliefs,” and reject those which are too ridiculous or too inhumane.  Hence the slow but fairly steady social progress over the last few centuries. This social evolution never happened in Muslim lands.

To put this another way, religions are toxic to the extent that their basic tents are toxic and to the extent that their members follow their teachings literally.

Many of the teachings in  the Bible are every bit as barbaric as those in the Koran. But a hell of a lot more Muslims than Christians take those teachings literally.

 


To mark his first year in office, this week we’re reposting last year’s best posts on Donald Trump. Here’s our very slightly updated post from May 20, 2017:


It’s official. Donald Trump is now, undeniably, in bed with radical Islamists: the Saudi government. That government is essentially ISIS with oil. (Not incidentally, rich Saudis, including members of the Saudi royal family, provided essential funding to ISIS during its initial years.)

Following his love fest with Turkish president and Islamo-fascist thug Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Donald Trump just approved one of the biggest arms deals in history with the Saudi Islamo-fascists. He just approved a $110 billion arms deal with the Saudi regime.

So, what will the arms be used for, what purposes? Exactly what kind of policies does our “ally”pursue?

Under Saudi Sharia law, Human Rights Watch reports that “adult women must obtain permission from a male guardian—usually a husband, father, brother, or son—to travel, marry, or exit prison.” Under the Saudi regime, women couldn’t even drive until very recently.

Of course, given the regime’s radical Islamist (Wahhabi) orientation, there is no freedom of speech in Saudi Arabia; mere criticism of the theo-fascist regime can, and does, land people in prison for more than a decade.

Nor is there freedom of conscience in Saudi Arabia. Merely being an atheist is grounds for execution, though the more usual punishments are imprisonment and/or torture (flogging) that can result in permanent physical damage.

And, yes, Saudi Arabia judicially murders a large number of people; it has one of the highest execution rates in the world.

Saudi crimes extend beyond Saudi Arabia’s borders. In addition to helping to finance ISIS and providing 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers, the Saudis currently commit war crimes in Yemen, including bombing funerals, hospitals, and other civilian targets, and “double tap” bombing, in which the Saudis bomb the same target shortly after first hitting it, in order to kill and maim rescue workers.

These are the Islamist monsters Trump just armed to the teeth.

Actions speak louder than words, and despite Trump’s anti-Islamist rhetoric, his actions betray him. He’ll stir up hatred against powerless refugees, but he kisses the cheeks (both upper and lower) of oil-rich Islamists.

If you oppose radical Islam, you oppose it. And you support those who Islamists oppress. You don’t sell $110 billion in arms to one of the worst Islamist human rights violators on earth.

Donald Trump is an utter hypocrite.

(Of course, all recent U.S. presidents and their administrations have been equally hypocritical. Here’s a rogues gallery of some of the guilty.)

Barack Obama, who sold the Saudis $60 billion worth of arms.

 George W. Bush, who allowed approximately 50 members of the Bin Laden family to leave the U.S. immediately after 9/11, without allowing the FBI to question them.

Bill Clinton, whose foundation received more than $10 million of Saudi money.


Anyone who reads this blog should be well aware that I have no great love for Islam — nor for any other religion — and I consider Islam a graver threat to human freedom than the other major religions combined.

Islam itself is bad enough, but the current administration is poking an Islamic hornets’ nest with a stick.

Its approach to Islamic peoples in the Middle East is extremely dangerous, as Donald Trump seems to be doing everything he can, via foreign policy, to encourage violence by radical Islamists, and seems to be doing everything he can to drive the young, impressionable, and desperate into the arms of violent extremists.

Trump is siding with the worst, most repressive regimes in the Middle East, most importantly Islamic extremist Saudi Arabia, but also the brutal military regime in Egypt, and the extreme right in Israel, which is turning Israel/Palestine into an apartheid state.

None of this plays well with the oppressed in those lands, nor with those in other countries who care about the oppression of their brothers and sisters.

Trump’s (and Obama’s, and Bush the Lesser’s, and Clinton’s, and their predecessors’) interventionist policies in the Middle East have created a situation that’s a festering sore, and that will remain one until the U.S. stops supporting oppression.

Just getting the hell out of the Middle East entirely would be a huge improvement on past and current U.S. policy. Even better, the U.S. could begin supporting democratic, secular elements in the region — shockingly enough, this is now happening in one very limited instance, with the Kurds fighting ISIS — and spending money on development aid.

But this is pure fantasy. I’d be more than happy with simple U.S. military withdrawal from the Middle East and the end of U.S. military and financial support for repressive regimes there. That alone would do more than all the bombs ever dropped to end Islamic radicalism.

To make matters worse, Trump also seems to be doing everything he can, via domestic policy, to promote radical Islam and violence by radical Islamists. While he supports repressive Islamist regimes abroad (our Saudi “allies” et al.), he’s targeting powerless, desperate refugees at home, and his hateful rhetoric inspires violence against them.

Again, this drives impressionable, angry Muslim teenagers and young adults into the arms of ISIS and other Islamic death cults.

It also isolates the Muslim community, producing an us-versus-them mentality. This is what Trump, his goose-stepping alt-right supporters, ISIS, and Al Qaeda want, but it is not what the rest of us should want.

Tolerance and communication will reduce Islamic extremism, isolation won’t.

If you want to fight Islamic extremism, don’t harass Muslims. It might make you feel better to harass them, but it’s cowardly and it’ll ultimately backfire. Leave them alone. If you want to drive them into the arms of the fundamentalists and the terrorists, you won’t find a better way to do it than to harass them on the street.

Think about it. How would you react to being harassed (or worse, physically attacked) simply because of your appearance? Your perceived religious beliefs? Would you be more sympathetic to your attackers or to those who present themselves as fighting your attackers?

How would you feel if someone attacked your family because of their appearance or perceived beliefs?

Harassment and physical attacks increase the isolation and fear level of Muslims in the U.S. — precisely the conditions under which extremism flourishes.

If we believe in religious freedom, let’s act like it. Treat people with respect no matter who they are or what their perceived beliefs.

And let’s exercise our freedom of speech. Islam (and Christianity and religious Judaism and Hinduism for that matter) cannot stand up to scrutiny and ridicule.

Give that to them in spades, subject those religions — but not their individual adherents — to scrutiny and ridicule at every opportunity. The best antidote to Islamic and Christian authoritarianism is freedom of speech and freedom of belief.

Our ideas are better than theirs. Let’s start acting like we believe it. Let them express their noxious beliefs: they won’t stand up to scrutiny.

Let’s start acting like we have respect for human rights and individual human beings.

And let’s start acting like we’re serious about defeating Islamic fundamentalism, and stop harassing Muslims.

 


It’s official. Donald Trump is now, undeniably, in bed with radical Islamists: the Saudi government. That government is essentially ISIS with oil. (Not incidentally, rich Saudis, including members of the Saudi royal family, provided essential funding to ISIS during its initial years.)

Following his love fest with Turkish president and Islamo-fascist thug Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Donald Trump just approved one of the biggest arms deals in history with the Saudi Islamo-fascists. He just approved a $110 billion arms deal with the Saudi regime.

So, what will the arms be used for, what purposes? Exactly what kind of policies does our “ally”pursue?

Under Saudi Sharia law, Human Rights Watch reports that “adult women must obtain permission from a male guardian—usually a husband, father, brother, or son—to travel, marry, or exit prison.” Under the Saudi regime, women couldn’t even drive until very recently.

Of course, given the regime’s radical Islamist (Wahabi) orientation, there is no freedom of speech in Saudi Arabia; mere criticism of the theo-fascist regime can, and does, land people in prison for more than a decade.

Nor is there freedom of conscience in Saudi Arabia. Merely being an atheist is grounds for execution, though the more usual punishments are imprisonment and/or torture (flogging) that can result in permanent physical damage.

And, yes, Saudi Arabia judicially murders a large number of people; it has one of the highest execution rates in the world.

Saudi crimes extend beyond Saudi Arabia’s borders. In addition to helping to finance ISIS and providing 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers, the Saudis currently commit war crimes in Yemen, including bombing funerals, hospitals, and other civilian targets, and “double tap” bombing, in which the Saudis bomb the same target shortly after first hitting it, in order to kill and maim rescue workers.

These are the Islamist monsters Trump just armed to the teeth.

Actions speak louder than words, and despite Trump’s anti-Islamist rhetoric, his actions betray him. He’ll stir up hatred against powerless refugees, but he kisses the cheeks (both kinds) of oil-rich Islamists.

If you oppose radical Islam, you oppose it. And you support those who Islamists oppress. You don’t sell $110 billion in arms to one of the worst Islamist human rights violators on earth.

Donald Trump is an utter hypocrite.

(Of course, all recent U.S. presidents and their administrations have been equally hypocritical. Here’s a rogues gallery of some of the guilty.)

Barack Obama, who sold the Saudis $60 billion worth of arms.

 George W. Bush, who allowed approximately 50 members of the Bin Laden family to leave the U.S. immediately after 9/11, without allowing the FBI to question them.

Bill Clinton, whose foundation received more than $10 million of Saudi money.


QADIYA, Iraq — In the moments before he raped the 12-year-old girl, the Islamic State fighter took the time to explain that what he was about to do was not a sin. Because the preteen girl practiced a religion other than Islam, the Quran not only gave him the right to rape her — it condoned and encouraged it, he insisted.

He bound her hands and gagged her. Then he knelt beside the bed and prostrated himself in prayer before getting on top of her.

When it was over, he knelt to pray again, bookending the rape with acts of religious devotion.

“I kept telling him it hurts — please stop,” said the girl, whose body is so small an adult could circle her waist with two hands. “He told me that according to Islam he is allowed to rape an unbeliever. He said that by raping me, he is drawing closer to God,” she said in an interview alongside her family in a refugee camp here, to which she escaped after 11 months of captivity.

–Mauricio Lima, “ISIS Enshrines a Theology of Rape,” New York Times 8-13-15

* * *

Before you begin spouting your canned response, “ISIS is a perversion of Islam” or it’s a “misinterpretation” of Islam,  please think about this: What kind of religious scriptures lend themselves to such “perversion” and “misinterpretation” on a mass scale?

And before you Christians start feeling too self-righteous about this, please consider that slavery flourished for over 1,500 years in Christian lands, with Christian scripture supporting the practice. Of course, Christian apologists use the same excuses as Muslim apologists: the practice of slavery resulted from “perversion” or “misinterpretation” of scripture (in this case Romans 13:1-2, Colossians 3:22, Titus 2:9-10, Exocus 21:2-6, Exodus 21:20-21, Leviticus 25:44-46, 1 Peter 2:18, 1 Timothy 6:1). Again, what kind of religious scriptures lend themselves to such “perversion” and “misinterpretation” on a mass scale?

Is this systemic “perversion” and “misinterpretation” evidence that Christian and Muslim scriptures “encourage morality,” or is it evidence that they encourage the worst types of immorality?

Is this mass “perversion” and “misinterpretation” evidence that Christian and Muslim scriptures were divinely inspired, or is it evidence that they were written by all-too-human savages?



Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult or Cure? front cover
(This is a slightly revised version of material from Chapter 9 of Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult or Cure?)

* * *

 

There are almost as many definitions of the world “cult” as there are experts on the subject. One thing virtually all definitions of the word have in common is that they’re quite broad.

Two of the definitions given by the Random House Unabridged Dictionary are fairly typical: “a group of sect bound together by devotion to or veneration of the same thing, person, ideal, etc.”; and “a group having a sacred ideology and a set of rites centering around their sacred symbols.”

Such definitions–as opposed to lists of attributes–could well apply to a great number of groups, many of which most people would never consider cults. Thus, the crucial question becomes what are the specific characteristics that distinguish cults, especially cults that are dangerous both to their own members and to society?

The following list of 23 cult characteristics are based in part on Robert Jay Lifton’s list in Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism (see Some Notes on Cults for the full list), to a much lesser extent on Margaret Singer’s list in Cults in Our Midst, and to a large extent on my own research into cults preparatory to writing this book, direct contact with several cults (Church of Scientology, Unification Church, Kerista Village, and the chameleon-like Larouche political cult), and considerable contact with ex-members of cults (primarily ex-members of the Church of Scientology and Transcendental Meditation). I would note, though, that not even the most obviously dangerous cults always exhibit all of the following characteristics, though a few do. (The most dangerous cults typically exhibit roughly 80% to 95% of these characteristics.)

1. Religious Orientation. Cults are usually centered around belief in a higher power; they often have elaborate religious rituals and emphasize prayer. Current and recent religious cults include the People’s Temple, Branch Davidians, International Society for Krishna Consciousness (Hare Krishnas), Church of Scientology (which is primarily a therapy cult), The Way International, Children of God, Unification Church (Moonies), Jehovah’s Witnesses, the numerous Mormon polygamist cults (Church of the Blood of the Lamb of God, Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, etc.), arguably the Mormon Church itself, Islamic religious cults, such as ISIS (ISIL), Al Nusra, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Al Shabab, the Moro Islamic Libertion Front, and arguably Islam itself.

While secular cults also exist, they are not as numerous as religious cults. The most obvious example of a secular cult is the Larouche organization (the group which in 2010 was responsible for the Obama/Hitler photo during the turmoil leading up to the Affordable Care Act; the oft-renamed group goes back to the 1970s). Another obvious example is the puritanical, dictatorially controlled Revolutionary Communist Party. Other examples include, arguably, multi-level marketing (MLM) organizations, though some, notably Amway, are religious and have a specifically Christian-conservative orientation. (Whether Amway, Herbalife, and other similar  MLM companies are commercial cults, pyramid schemes, or legitimate businesses is an open question.)

2. Irrationality. Cults discourage skepticism and rational thought. As James and Marcia Rudin note in Prison or Paradise: The New Religious Cults:

The groups are anti-intellectual, placing all emphasis on intuition or emotional experience. “Knowledge” is redefined as those  ideas or experiences dispensed by the group or its leader. One can only attain knowledge by joining the group and submitting to its doctrine. One cannot question this “knowledge.” If a follower shows signs of doubting he is made to feel that the fault lies within himself, not with the ideas… (p. 20)

It’s also common for cult leaders to tell their followers that doubt is the work of the devil. The Unification Church in particular has institutionalized the practices of equating doubt with sinfulness and satanic influence, and of attempting to stamp out independent thought. Some of the Church’s most common slogans (for internal use) are “Your Mind Is Fallen,” “Stamp Out Doubt,” and “No More Concepts” (cited in Crazy for God, by Christopher Edwards).

If members of cults persist in having doubts, they’re accused of being under satanic influence and excommunicated or, in extreme instances, murdered, as in Ervil LeBaron’s Lambs of God.

3. Dogmatism. Cults invariably have The Truth and are highly antagonistic to to those who question it. The Truth is invariably revealed in a cult’s sacred texts or in the pronouncements of its leader(s). It is beyond question, and to voice doubts is seen as, at best, a sign of being under satanic influence. This is clearly the case in the Unification Church, where doubts invariably come directly from Satan, and it’s common in secular cults. In Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism, Robert Jay Lifton notes that Chinese Communist true believers attribute deviation from revealed Truth to “bourgeois influence.” (p. 432).

4. A Chosen-People Mentality. Given that cultists are alone in possessing a very precious commodity, The Truth, they almost always view themselves as better than other people, which means that nonbelievers and members of rival sects are frequently seen as less than human, if not outright tools of the devil. This attitude of superiority often manifests itself in an “ends justify the means” mentality and in the use of violence against outsiders or against heretics within the group. The most lurid examples of such violence are currently provided by Islamic cults such as Boko Haram and ISIS, though violence also occurs in both Christian and Mormon cults, such as The Church of the Blood of the Lamb of God.

 

All Posts in this Series

  • Characteristics of Cults (part 1)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 2)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 3)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 4)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 5)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 6)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 7)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 8)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 9)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 10)