But did they mean it?

Did these men mean to justify rape with their religion? Or are they just crazy? The FreeThinker recently reported  on a UK case of a gr...

Did these men mean to justify rape with their religion?
Or are they just crazy?
The FreeThinker recently reported on a UK case of a group of "Muslim child abusers.” The piece reports about the investigation and trial, and the convictions resulting, as well as the sentences passed on the guilty men.

I am concerned, however, with a small bit of text in the lead to the story. It reads, “...[two of the convicted men] shouted ‘Allahu Akbar’ (‘God is great’) when they were sentenced in Sheffield Crown Court this week for their involvement in the sexual abuse of two girls....” It concerns me because it draws a direct causal line between the crimes of the six deviants and Islam, but the article doesn’t explain that causality at all.

The impact of the lead is immediately evident in the very first comment on the piece: "No regrets then from this loathsome pair. I wonder what kind of God they think is great.” The commenter was clearly influenced by the lead of the story, regardless of lack of supporting evidence in the story itself. All the other comments (as of this writing at least) share that perspective.

There is no question that Islam may be used to develop the twisted logic often used by extremists to justify atrocities; this is not in dispute here. The evidence is abundant and ubiquitous: from stoning women for adultery to claims that driving causes deformation of ovaries, to terrorism by ISIS and Al Qaeda.

The question is whether one can legitimately use this story as a data point to support that claim. That is, did the two convicted child molesters actually mean to connect their god to their horrible acts? This is what one would naturally infer - as is evident from the comments.

The answer must be an unequivocal “No.” There is absolutely no support rendered in the story for the inference.

Indeed, the indisputable fact is that the vast majority of Muslims are perfectly normal people. Clearly, something else is at work here, especially since any religion (even the lack of religion) may be used to motivate hate and violence.

I think a much more likely (and parsimonious) explanation is that the six convicts are insane, and that the nature of their illness caused them to develop an utterly irrational justification for their acts by drawing on the more repugnant aspects of Islamic dogma. I also think that the way they were raised and their life experiences contributed to foster their insanity. This in no way connects directly to Islam, but it does show that, under the right circumstances, a religion can be used for hate and violence. Why exactly religious adherents and leaders remain far too silent and unwilling to change their beliefs to address these obvious shortcomings is another matter that doesn't bear on my point here.

And my point is this: we must be extremely careful to check our assumptions and inferences whenever we take in new information. We must be “healthily skeptical” of claims, and we must consider carefully the way* in which information is presented as much as we consider the information itself. Especially these days, we must make a particular effort to consider what we read and hear carefully, because so much of it is, quite frankly, tripe.

I like the FreeThinker. I think it does the world a great service by reporting news from a neutral, secular point of view. But everyone screws up sooner or later. And this story is a pretty huge screw-up.

* To find out more about the impact of how information is presented on how it is received, see Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow. It is, IMHO, brilliant work.

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The Trouble with Normal...: But did they mean it?
But did they mean it?
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The Trouble with Normal...
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