Whenever there is an intra-party debate on the right, you’re likely to see prominently placed stories in major media outlets. You’ll rarely hear of a similar debate on the left unless you peruse their own websites and blogs but I happened to stumble across one today at Salon.com while satisfying my masochistic desire to see what they are saying.

Prominent liberal atheist Sam Harris wrote a heretical blog post titled “Sleepwalking Toward Armageddon” in which he responds to President Obama’s claim that “ISIL is not Islamic.” He covers some of the same ground I did last week while also managing to castigate Christianity – and all religions for that matter – in the process.
This didn’t sit well with a gentleman named CJ Werleman, who responded with an incredibly misleading and dishonest blog post of his own. I’ll start with the misleading and move on to the dishonest.
The first two words in Werleman’s piece are “Christopher Hitchens.” He then paraphrases a Hitchens’ quote in order to take a swipe at Harris. It’s an interesting choice because Hitchens was an outspoken critic of Islam, supporter of Salman Rushdie, and advocate for the Iraq War. Hitchens would, no doubt, have agreed with much of what Harris wrote in his blog post.
Werleman moves on, “Like Harris, I believed religious fanaticism had to be the driving force for such hateful and vengeful atrocities. But maturing counter-terrorism analysis has brought new information to light.” What is this evidence? Werleman performs some sleight of hand here and if you’re not reading carefully you’ll miss it.
Harris never mentions “suicide bombing” in his blog post, yet Werleman drills down to this specific tactic and uses data from a suicide terrorism database and the work of Robert A. Pape to justify the assertion that “90 percent of suicide attacks are directed at an occupying force.” Werleman’s link to Pape is broken, but here is a good paper. I’ve taken a look at Pape’s analysis before, much of which rests on the fact that the Marxist-Leninist Tamil Tigers are “the world leader in suicide terrorism.”
Werleman is deliberately changing the subject from “terrorism” to “suicide bombing” because that data support his preferred analysis. He doubles down on this mistake in talking about the 9/11 hijackers, who “made their intent clear; they wanted the U.S. out of Saudi Arabia.”
Yes, they did. But why?
Werleman misleads by omission and doesn’t quote anywhere in his piece the greatest terrorist leader of the last quarter century and until his death the most hunted man in the world – Osama bin Laden. Read through even a small sample of his writings (a compilation can be found here) and bin Laden’s religious motivation is impossible to miss. For example:
Your brothers in the land of the two holy mosques and Palestine seek your help and ask you to participate with them in their jihad against their enemies and yours, the Israelis and the Americans, with everything that would drive them out of the Islamic holy places.
Sure, bin Laden wanted the US out of Saudi Arabia. For religious reasons.
Werleman goes on to argue that “Western-targeted terrorism coincides with the period post oil being discovered…and the establishment of the Jewish state on Arab Palestinian land.” Note his construction – Arab Palestinian land. Werleman cites American foreign policy with respect to oil and “support of oppressive regimes,” etc., etc., all of which might be interesting if the world economy didn’t run on oil and had the US not toppled two oppressive regimes in the last 15 years and continued to be the primary supporter of the only liberal democracy in the region, Israel.
Let’s hear what an actual scholar on the Middle East, Bernard Lewis, has to say. In The Crisis of Islam he argues, according to this analysis, that “Muslim fundamentalist movements, most notably Wahhabism…blame all of these ills on whatever modernization and Western influence the Islamic world has already embraced…This rejection includes violence against Western countries and interests, and most especially violence against ‘impious’ Muslim rulers who have adopted ‘Western’ ways. The fundamentalists seek the establishment of states and societies based on Islamic Law.”
I’ll give Werleman the benefit of the doubt so far and simply say he’s being misleading, but from here on out he goes full-on dishonest, starting with his discussion of Anwas al-Awlaki. “Harris is unable to explain,” Werleman writes, “the transformation of U.S.-born terrorist Anwas al-Awlaki’s views in the decades before his death, because there is no evidence to suggest that a religious awakening led to his adoption of a radically different theology.”
Werleman cites a couple quotes from 2001 and one longer one from 2010, but completely fails to mention the essay al-Awlaki wrote in early 2002 praising Palestinian suicide bombers titled, “Why Muslims Love Death.” Nor does he mention al-Awlaki’s arrest in Yemen in 2006 “on charges of kidnapping a Shiite teenager for ransom, and participating in an al-Qaeda plot to kidnap a US military attache.” He read Sayyid Qutb in prison, the same person whose writings inspired Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda.
Read through any part of his lecture series “Constants on The Path of Jihad” and then try to make an argument that al-Awlaki and the terrorists he inspired, including the Ft. Hood shooter, weren’t motivated by religion.
Werleman moves on to discuss what he asserts are the terrorists’ real motivations. “Towns like Luton, England, which is now a South Asian ghetto, have youth unemployment rates higher than 50 percent. People don’t join violent gangs because it’s a wise career choice, they join because in some cities, gang life is the only career choice, and ISIS is a gang that profits from racketeering, prostitution, drug running, kidnap ransoms, and extortion.”
The drug running charge here is incredible. Werleman doesn’t cite any sources for this and an internet search turned up nothing. Drug use and smuggling is common in Afghanistan, but people are harshly punished in the Middle East for similar behavior. I’ve recommended this Vice TV documentary before, and in it you can clearly see drug users incarcerated by ISIS for their crimes. I’d be very shocked if ISIS were indeed running drugs, something anathema to their interpretation of Islam.
Going beyond the drug running charge, Werleman claims in this passage that economic conditions are driving British Muslims to join ISIS. That’s interesting because the people Vice TV filmed don’t appear to be all that concerned with money. In fact their primary concern appears to be religion, but perhaps Werleman has an insight into their motivations that he doesn’t share with the reader.
Werleman then goes completely off the rails by asserting that the US “killed more than 150,000 innocent Iraqi civilians during the seven-year occupation.” I’ve seen similar assertions from the far left before and it’s complete hogwash. Here’s the background. His number likely comes from a website called iraqbodycount.org. As of today, their range for “Documented civilian deaths from violence” is illustrated below.
Digging into the numbers you find that the total “deaths from violence” are the sum of the deaths resulting from (1) Coalition military action alone, (2) Joint Coalition/Iraqi military action, (3) Iraqi state forces alone, (4) terrorists/insurgents, and (5) Unknown actors.
If you only look at civilian deaths resulting from US military action alone, the total number in the iraqbodycount.org database is 14,295, and half of those occur in the first two months of the war, March and April 2003.
This isn’t just an error. He quotes a number that’s an order of magnitude larger than the ‘real’ number (the word is in quotes because I don’t have all that much faith in their characterization of a civilian coupled with the very high number of deaths attributed to unknown actors).
Werleman knows better, and he can make the same point without resorting to a lie as big as this. 14,295 innocent civilians dead is 14,295 too many.
In the end, I’ll side with Harris in this internecine struggle. If Werleman has to resort to this many distortions and lies to make his point, he likely didn’t have much of a point to begin with.
On a related note, can anyone recommend a good therapist? I need to do something about this unhealthy habit of clicking over to Salon…