Alternatives to the Virgins?

December 2nd, 2008

It’s nice to hear that some Muslim clerics have had unkind words for the swine who committed the atrocities in Mumbai (and elsewhere), but I’d like to hear something more specific.

We’ve all been told that these murderous, 8th-century throwbacks have been promised  by their own clerics that their reward for killing women and children will be an eternity in paradise, surrounded by presumably eager virgins.  Well, I’d like to know what other Islamic clerics believe is the post-life fate of those who kill the innocent.  Are they pressed perpetually beneath a large stone at the bottom of a lake of raw sewage?  Eaten by rats for eternity?  Do they spend forever with a set of earphones epoxied to their heads playing Engelbert Humperdick at top volume?

And why isn’t this being talked about?   Why aren’t these clerics spelling out in no uncertain terms that an eternity of razor-sharp bird beaks awaits?  (Or whatever it is?)

My interest isn’t purely informational.  If these ignorant, soulless, illiterate ghouls are encouraged to massacre the innocent in exchange for the right to defile virgins in perpetuum, maybe a few billion years of being flayed would serve as a deterrent.

You’d think it would at least be mentioned.

26 Responses to “Alternatives to the Virgins?”

  1. Lisa Kenney Says:

    Good questions, all. And since they’ve introduced female suicide bombers into the mix, what is their heavenly reward? I have to tell you that as much as I can almost buy that a sexually repressed teenage boy might think eternity with 72 virgins would be worth dying for, I can’t imagine any woman alive would think an eternal orgy would be the ultimate reward.

    I always figured if there was a heaven, I’d end up like that Twilight Zone episode where the bookwormy guy finds himself alone in a massive library — and then he drops his glasses and steps on them 🙂

  2. Cynthia Mueller Says:

    If I were a Muslim woman living under the authority of one of these hateful “clerics”, I think I’d lose my virginity in a big hurry. Can you just imagine the prize for maintaining your virginity in that situation, eternity spent with some idiot who thought God actually wanted him to strap on an explosive-laden vest and blow up a marketplace full of innocent victims!

    Back to the factory for re-programming for these fools!

    PS: Tim, I like the writing prompt generator below the comment window. I must now write a scene featuring the two words: Silver Piprahwa

    Young Silver Piprahwa lived at the end of a country lane . . .

  3. Thomas Says:


    As usual, great questions. My thought on this is that if you take away the obvious “PR-opportunity” for the hardcore Muslim world to demonstrate that the religion itself does not promote this kind of mindless violence, you are left with the conclusion that these acts are being carried out by people who embody the very definition of religious indoctrination, a lack of education, and a meager outlook on the future. Keep in mind that there are places in the world where pictures of suicide bombers are traded like baseball cards and where mothers, with la-la-la shrieks, express their happiness and pride over the son who chose to blow himself up while killing a few infidels. The world outside of these primitive societies are moving at a rapid pace and the world is getting smaller. An airplane will take you anywhere in the world within a day and news reach your Blackberry before the events are even played out.

    For Abdul in the Punjab Province, raised on rice and the flawed interpretation of the Koran by the village cleric, there is little else to do but develop an unquestioning religious fervor. Perhaps he moves to the big city, where he sees his first phone and Britney Spears video, and finds likeminded that get together to discuss scripture and get each other worked up about the moral decay or the education of women (did anyone see the story about the Afghan school girls getting their faces destroyed with acid) or those darn Sunnis or Shiites, depending on which side Abdul is on. It becomes a hooligan mentality, us versus them, I dare you, let’s bomb the f’ers, the virgins are waiting for us in heaven. Certainly none of this excuses despicable acts or the murders of innocents but I think we have to try to understand why they do what they do and realize that the Mumbai incident won’t be the last. It’s just a matter of time before it explodes again. I sure hope Secretary Clinton knows what she’s getting herself into. No one has yet managed to fix the problem.

    Why don’t the local clerics express more outrage over this? Two reasons. First, many of them support it. Second, clerics in that area are as much politicians as they are religious leaders. There is not always a clear distinction between the two and, as we know, politicians like the popular vote and the idea of getting re-elected. They, too, support the idea of kicking the westerners where it hurts. It was no coincidence they hit the Oberoi and the Taj Mahal, both upscale hotels where westerners stay.

    I do like the Engelbert Humperdick idea though. Oh, the horror. However, that would be the first circle of hell. I believe even Dante mentioned something about Michael Bolton sitting frozen in the lake at the bottom circle, belting, squealing, moaning. Send them there!

  4. Thomas Says:

    By the way, I just had to comment that both Lisa and Cynthia are on to something. You two should get together and write the short story about Silver Piprahwa, who lived at the end of a country lane. I picture something like this…

    Silver Piprahwa, the son of Indian immigrants, a former New England carpenter who made every Timberland shirt look good, now works as the village librarian. He is rugged yet cultivated, with a hard jaw and a broad smile, with traces of calluses in the hands that carry his favorites by Yeats and D.H. Lawrence. His bespectacled face looks at you through irises with a blue deeper than cobalt and when he speaks in that hushed librarian voice, you know he means it. The day that the young maiden Lisa arrived in the village to spend the summer with her uncle and aunt, away from the sinful ways of the outside world, everything changed. An avid reader, with the curiosity of a child, needs of a woman, and a thirst for more, Lisa one day finds herself and her spotless dress outside the library doors. She opens them ever so slowly…

    Now, if this is not Harlequin material, I don’t know what is. Anyway, please forgive my tawdry attempts but I couldn’t resist. Lisa and Cynthia – go!

  5. usman Says:

    The lone voice from Punjab is here. I am a Punjabi and as most of you above know a Pakistani Muslim.

    The question I think Tim asked is: Why don’t the clerics speak out?
    In Pakistan the real Islamic scholars have unequivocally said that suicide attacks, or any other attacks on innocent lives is sacrilegious. This has been part of a media campaign here on National TV, and print for well over a year. Unfortunately, it isnt scandalous, and doesnt make for good stories. Even for passing sarcastic remarks about the ‘so-called’ 72 virgins myth. I’ll have to look up the exact source in the Quran which speaks of Paradise and its bounties.
    The point being, we, you, all of us, want the spicy and derogatory — not the bland and real stuff of everyday life. And that is what the real clerics say. But if one village cleric stands up and gives a fatwa against — say, me–now that sells.
    Thomas makes a good point about religion and politics. The nexus is real and sharp. And it is a great business. Do I know about that? Yessir.
    But isnt that true for all religions and sects.
    It is too convenient to pigeonhole all of Islam into one nice package. But terrorism has been part of history, even before Muslims decided to brand themselves with the label. IRA, Tamil Tigers, The Jewish holocaust. And in India look at Kashmir. 7million army to look over a population the same size. Or the Muslim massacres of Gujrat 2002, under the guidance of Mr Modi the BJP State Governer, who is still to be bought to trial.
    The other hard reality for me is that there is a real Terrorism problem that exists in Islamic countries; not in Islam. Unfortunately that cannot be handled by the current method that the War on Terror has adopted. This War itself has morphed into a Terror.
    If Abdul in Punjab is ignorant, it is because he has no education. the corruption that pervades society gives him no opportunity to rise above his condition in life. He sees his family starve, and he might not know about Britney Spears, but he does see the cities of Pakistan with cars and people with jobs. He is fodder for the village cleric who in turn gets his funding from somewhere else to get good recruits.
    So the cycle goes.
    I am guilty of being the Haves of Pakistan. And unless we get our act togather. This violence cannot be limited.
    This is too long: BUT, i do not believe Westerners were the target of the Mumbai attacks. If they were, they could have been kept hostage and killed off one by one. More people died at the Railway station and on the roads of Mumbai.
    Most westerners were released.
    I guess it is time for the West to get off the pristine high ground. If help is needed, I can send data on how many attacks have been carried out in Pakistan by US drones and the number of people killed.
    I can also tell you that this year alone we have over 2000 civilian deaths in pakistan. I don’t see that many westerners being killed. And I am glad for it. but I also want peace for myself. Don’t we all.
    If I am a bit angry, excuse me. I am tired of being a victim in more ways than one. That would need a novel, which I’ll probably write some day.

    PS: Right now candles are being lit in Islamabad by a group to which I belong, in sympathy for the innocent lives taken in Mumbai. Turn CNN on. I bet they won’t show that. Better yet, I hope I am wrong.

  6. Thomas Says:

    Thank you, Usman, for a great post. It helps to hear from a guy on “the inside”. Your comment about 2000 civilians being killed in Pakistan this year is especially enlightening, and frightening, to me. I also think you are perfectly right about our fixation on ourselves and anything that concerns us. It is true that a relatively small number of westerners get killed in the India/Pakistan region every year but that a much larger number of locals loose their lives. But it doesn’t take that many westerners dying before you get days of news reporting on CNN. Of course they wouldn’t cover “local deaths” to the same extent. There wouldn’t be enough time. It is curious how geographic proximity plays a role in our empathy. In other words, we give a bigger damn the closer to home it hits. The farther away it is, the less we care. It’s downright exponential.

    Maybe I’m naïve and tell me if that’s the case, but I would still claim that hitting the Taj Mahal and the Oberoi were not random. These people went out on a suicide mission (only one of them survived and is now allegedly being pumped full with truth serum) with the intention of killing people and getting attention for it. And attention they got. If they just wanted to kill people – period – then why not hit just any gathering of westerners or Hindus or Sikhs or any other group these deranged people see as enemies? I suppose it’s all rather speculative at this point, exactly what the purpose was. One thing is for sure though, the main thing they managed to do was bring negative attention to their religion. That’s not something we need any more of. There are too many ignorant people around us for that. After all, this is the place where Obama is referred to by some as “an Arab”. Say what?

  7. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Well, I’m no expert, as my original post demonstrates, but here goes.

    Hatred begets violence which in turn begets hatred which begets revenge which begets violence which begets hatred . . . and on and on and on and on. And I’m no fan of George W, Bush, but when he was handed the fait accompli of 9/11, he had to take some kind of action. It’s easy to day he took the wrong action; in fact, I’m one of the people who says that. But it’s much more difficult to say what the right action would have been. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, the American response was automatic — hit Japan. But, of course, we knew where Japan was, which is not the case when a country faces a stateless enemy. Should we — by which I mean America — have turned the other cheek? Well, no. Should we have threatened to nuke Afghanistan unless it turned over bin Laden? Well, no. What the hell should we have done? I think it’s terrible that blameless Pakistanis are dying in a “war on terror” that has itself become terror, and I don’t doubt the truth of that statement. But what should we do? Should we abandon the effort to prosecute murderers? Should we attempt, as we have attempted, to encourage the Pakistani government to turn over the terrorists? Should we believe that these people are impossible to locate?

    I don’t know the answers to these questions. But I do know that there are organized pockets of people who present themselves as Muslims who are literally insane, and there are places where these lunatics have significant power. The Afghani schoolgirls who had acid thrown on them for going to school; the thirteen-year old girl in Somalia who was buried up to her neck in a stadium and then stoned to death in front of a thousand people for the crime of getting raped, while her rapists weren’t even given parking tickets. The assault in Mumbai, which I have to say was clearly designed to target Westerners and Jews.

    These are crimes in any sane person’s book. The only thing I can admire about the people who committed them is their astonishing intensity of purpose. And my original question was essentially, where is the corresponding intensity in the response of Muslim clerics and other leaders in condemning these acts of sadism and butchery? You say that a fatwa against you would get CNN’s attention. Where’s the fatwa against these thugs and killers? Where are the rewards for their capture? Where are the gallows being built for them in the Muslim world? Where’s the anti-terrorist invective on Al-Jazeera?

    I think this is an Islamic problem, and that Islam needs to demonstrate that it accepts more of the responsibility for dealing with it. I know it’s a gigantic misrepresentation of fact to say that Islam is monolithic, when in fact it’s riven by internal divisions, but the cycle of hatred needs to be broken somehow, and I think that Islam is in a unique position to take the first steps. And, to tell the truth, I don’t think any other group in the world is.

    And, please, Usman, don’t think for a moment that I don’t believe that the vast majority of Muslims — 99.99999 percent — want nothing more than to live and worship in peace. And don’t think that I hold the West blameless. But where is the healing supposed to start?

  8. Greg Says:

    Anyone read Updike’s ‘Terrorist’?
    I thought it was a pretty good job of showing how an eighteen year old kid could get sucked into the extremist version of a religion.
    The kid was susceptable for a number of reasons, mostly early developmental stuff: Muslim father taking off early on, mother acting like a 60’s hippie and sleeping around. Dad was gone so he could be glamorized; mom was on the scene and obviously deeply flawed. The kid was a pushover for the local Imam- cum-terrorist who merely amplified the decadence of the West for a kid who had already judged the living daylights out of a mother who had succumbed to the Godless ways of the United States. Well, that’s my mini synopsis at any rate.
    I heard a tautology which stated, “People believe what they want to believe.” It’s complicated and has very little to do with the thinking process. Someone else said that a belief is that thing you are so certain of that you don’t need to examine it. And it can easily be one hundred percent wrong. But if it’s the only information available, it’s almost certain to become the prevailing belief system and, in the case of religion, dogma.
    If we could just introduce streams of constant information across the globe
    offering countless other points of view, that might be our best shot at reaching people frozen in destructive and hateful ideologies.
    Hey, don’t we already have that with
    the internet? I think we’re on the right track using it as a means of exposing the world to the world. I think that’s where the healing could begin.
    There is, I grant you, a huge problem with the media. It’s shibboleth “If it bleeds,it leads” has never been more in vogue. It’s true, we don’t get to hear about the peaceloving clerics in Pakistan, and the small kindnesses bestowed by so many good people. We get chaos, murder, mayhem, hate, divisiveness, muckraking and worse and that’s just the Disney Channel.
    I think I can safely say the bulk of the world’s media wants trouble and is not above stirring it up. That’s a pretty screwed up belief system in itself so we have a lot of housecleaning to do here at home if we want to start propagating the right kind of message about ourselves to the rest of the world. Then maybe we can start to be perceived by other countries and faiths as something more than a hedonistic culture of self- serving bullies set on corrupting the rest of the planet.
    I am hopeful the tide will begin to turn with our new president. Sure, he’s a politician and not a philosopher-king.
    He will need to play the game accordingly but he has alreeady shown that he is not afraid of new and different points of view. I loved what he said in his acceptance speech: “I will listen to you, especially when we disagree.” If he promotes that sort of thinking within his administration and extends it to the world through his emissaries, it could be huge.
    Like it or not, I’m afraid the USA will need to continue to lead the way. Our best shot at amplifying the voice of peaceloving Muslims is probably on our home turf. If we could get that kind of voiciferous solidarity into our media, it could go a long way towards debunking a lot of wrongheaded notions about Muslim beliefs and sentiments. I agree. We need to hear that voice and it needs to be really loud in it’s condemnation of the atrocities the world is suffering at the hands of terrorists.

  9. usman Says:

    You make some astute observations regarding the attacks. The Taj mahal and Oberoi were hit to get attention. If this were a slum area, the world would’ve cared less (as a relative term.)
    The problem is the claim for the attack was made by a group called The Deccan Mujahedeen. No one knows who they are.
    India is blaming LET, a banned organization with military links in Pakistan.
    Let me add to the speculation. IMO, the aim of the attacks was to derail the Pak India, peace plans. Only last week Pakistan said that they wanted a level of peace with India whereby we should not have visas to travel across borders. Trade was obviously a big part of this plan.
    Our Foreign Minister had also arrived in India on the same day to carry forward these ideas and discuss them with the Indian side.

    I think there are enough hardliners in Pak and India who do not want to see this rapprochement.
    In Pakistan, groups like the LET and others.
    In India the RSS, and the SanghParivar.
    Also there are Indian Muslim militant groups like SIMI;Kashmir; and Assam militants.

    The other thing is this was a professional attack. I believe the Indians are lying or hiding something when they say only 10 or 11 people were involved. The gunmen were ten. But I think there was a lot of logistic support in Mumbai these guys had. The Indian government is not talking about that. I do not know why, unless it is to score points.
    The losers are the people of the region.


    This is what I said to a friend of mine when the US was preparing to attack Afghanistan post 9/11:
    That the real option was not military.

    The solution was a covert intelligence operation of the like never seen before in the world. Find OBL, and the others through spies and take them out. Thus causing a power vacuum in the Talibaan ranks.
    Then create conditions for other political players, some of them ex fighters from the Soviet war to come in as allies. BUT do not attack Afghanistan. The US will never win.
    Today that point is moot.
    The results are obvious, as the terrorism has spread from Afghanistan to pakistan and now to India.

    You ask valid questions about the state of affairs in a lot of Islamic countries. I can point the finger and say the US is responsible for supporting rogue regimes, dictators [in Pakistan’s case], tyranists and kings in others. But i would rather accept the blame in Pakistan’s case on ourselves.
    Ultimately we, the people are responsible. If our leaders have turned US sycophants they should be thrown out and hung. If our rulers allow tyranny, we should come out onto the roads.

    See, the above paragraph is the difference. For me, the best interests of Pakistan are different from America’s. I am not advocating enmity, rather that Pakistan needs to throw off the Big Brother yoke of USA. This shall be good for both countries. We shall hold ourselves responsible for what we do. And the good thing for US is that the anti US sentiment shall go down. They shall be seen as world leaders, not super bullies.

    One point you mention is that Islamic countries should be at the forefront. Totally agreed. But we need your help, your training and technology to help our forces outsmart the terrorists.

    We are not getting that. Pakistan has been repeatedly asking for surveillance planes to monitor the long mountainous border with Afghanistan. the US has refused to sell them, to appease India. so the co-operation has to be mutual, and as allies. I think the trust factor is sorely missing.

    Truly the realities are complex. Even what we have spoken above is an over simplification of what is happening. I read and talk about terrorism everyday. But what we are now seeing is scary, and never seen before. And Pakistan and Pakistanis are in they eye of the storm. The world governments need to forget realpolitik if they are serious about Terrorism. That I think shall not happen.

  10. Suzanna Says:

    I’ve been reading this blog with great interest but feel reluctant to respond. This topic is so delicate and I am woefully incapable of speaking to these issues in the manner that it requires but I will say I for one am hoping that we all continue to reach out to each other, keep talking, and remembering that what is presented to us in the mainstream media in America is with very few exceptions loaded with half-truths, and misinformation so keep looking for people and sources outside of CNN, MSNBC, etc., for perspectives that get completely lost or untold in the Britney Spears obsessed press of today.

  11. Thomas Says:

    Suzanna, I couldn’t agree more with what you say and I wish that was the way of the world. But it isn’t. As you surely recall, right after 9/11 the United States was a lynch mob, controlled by its rat brain. Whether right or wrong, that is just the way it is. The need to strike back is so strong that any rational thinking is left behind. What if Bush had said, what Usman correctly suggests, that the best strategy would be to go in behind enemy lines and break the terrorist engine (i.e. Bin Laden and company) rather than attack a whole nation, which by extension means attacking a whole geographic region and its major religion? There would have been a populist firestorm much worse than what we see these days, but for the opposite reason. That is, Bush would have been perceived as weak and unpatriotic. It would be political suicide, without virgins. Instead, these days he is perceived by many as weak for not stopping this madness sooner.

    I suppose the ugly truth is that John Smith doesn’t read; he watches Monday night football, gulps Bud, and votes the way his Ma and Pa did. Jane Smith doesn’t form an opinion of her own based on independent sources; she watches brief moments of CNN or Fox on her way to Bravo for the latest episode of Real Housewives, and picks up a few talking points along the way. Individuals may be intelligent and questioning, people are not. Unfortunately we live in a shallow world destroyed by ADHD-inducing MTV-style media editing, where no one is ever allowed to finish a sentence before “we’re running out of time.” As has been noted above, news media works according to the quick in, quick out policy. Report as little as possible, talk in circles around the same issue, and only comment on things that directly impact the United States. What average person on the street do you think can tell you who the chancellor of Germany is? What is the capital of Kazakhstan? Thailand (Tim excluded)? State of Alabama? Silly questions, sure, but scarily enlightening of the level of ignorance among, so called, normal people. These same people are not interested in analysis or fact finding; they want quick results, action, and a bumper sticker that tells everyone that they, indeed, support our troops.

    Hold on, I just slipped off my soapbox. Let me get back up again…

  12. suzanna Says:

    Greg, While I appreciate your viewpoint and in some ways share the view that many people simply aren’t interested in finding out the truth I wanted to share a couple of things in response. One is that the obligation our media has to investigate news, inform the American public has been hijacked by a handful of corporations and that the mainstream media has not given the American public a chance to form more educated views about the most pressing issues today. The reasons for this are many but I would urge you to read an article I found at the Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting website about how things began to go south for the media during the late 80s thanks to none other than Ronald Reagan who repealed the Fairness Doctrine. Here’s a link to the article: One last thing, saw RFK Jr. speak at our local high school auditorium ( he didn’t want to cross the picket line at the university where he was originally scheduled to speak) and he inspired my thinking about this whole media thing during his talk. He said that he speaks in primarily red states 30 – 40 times a year, where people only receive the dregs of reporting, he is struck by the fact that after he speaks scores of people thank him for sharing what he knows about the environment since they don’t hear about this on the news. He said he’s realized that 80% of Republicans are just misinformed Democrats.

  13. suzanna Says:

    Thomas, sorry I addressed you incorrectly!

  14. Thomas Says:

    I think we are basically saying the same thing, which is that the media is not fair and balanced (something Sean Hannity claims to be, by the way – now, if that’s not standup comedy I don’t know what is). My argument is that with new forms of media widely available, such as the Internet, people still lack the curiosity about the outside world to even bother learning the facts or forming an opinion that doesn’t come from one of the “experts” on the major cable networks. Unless Americans are directly involved, we don’t hear about anything outside our borders. The only place on my TV at home where I have found anything consistently covering non-US issues is BBC News, which comes on in the late afternoon right after my kids are done with Curious George. BBC is a glorious network that lacks much of the American self-centeredness. But people don’t watch it. Nor do they read the international section in their newspaper. Where do people go first in a newspaper? The comics is a common answer, followed by the entertainment section, followed by the obituaries, followed by the sports. They browse through the headlines, which are almost invariably concerned with US interests, either at home or abroad. There are many of these types of surveys out there and they are all equally scary.

    Which brings us back, full circle, to the original topic of Islam and crazies doing things in the name of religion. As has been noted in previous posts above, people are typically not interested in the facts and don’t bother to find out for themselves. A recent survey by the National Geographic Society among college age Americans revealed that only a third of them could find Iraq on a world map and only half could find the state of New York on a US map. More than two thirds thought English was the most spoken language in the world. Many people think “Arab” and “Muslim” are synonyms. I don’t think this means these people are stupid, but they lack the resources and interest to find these things out. Perhaps we can blame our media or perhaps we can blame the educational system? I’m not sure. Either way, the facts are what they are. We are as a people overwhelmingly ignorant and that is the ideal breeding ground for xenophobia and bias. Has anyone wondered why bumper stickers and presidents both hope God will bless America, not the entire world?

  15. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    First, thanks to Usman for stepping up to these issues and giving us a look from the other side of the world. I don’t agree with everything he says, but I don’t agree with everything (or much of anything) the American government says, either.

    I think the terrorist attacks are the tragic result of primitive thinking, and I think much of the response has been, too. If we (by which I mean a government led by a president I don’t support) had decided to mount an all-out intelligence effort, as Usman suggests, there would have been three problems. First, our intelligence organizations were largely asleep at the wheel. Second, on 9/11, the NSA had (I think) four analysts who spoke Arabic. Third, the terrorist organizations are extraordinarily tightly knit, and penetrating them is no easy thing.

    I agree that most news (broadcast news, at any rate) is focused on bloodshed, sex, and “gotcha” stories that make the media themselves look intrepid. For anything like nuanced reporting, you have to turn to three or four good newspapers or BBC coverage, if you can get it. It amazes me that, with the expansion of news coverage to 24 hours a day, and it frequently seems longer than that, that there’s been no commensurate increase in the depth of the coverage. Just run the bloodspot every twenty minutes until the next bloodspot comes along.

    And Usman, I’m wondering whether the media in Pakistan covers the breadth of dissent in America regarding the “War on Terror.” We don’t hear much about different opinions in Pakistan, and I’d like to know whether your media is any better.

  16. usman Says:

    i,m wondering if i should say something now regarding the media question or respond later.

    what i do want to say is, that this particular post of yours has made me think on certain issues.
    i mean the whole post and the comments from everyone.
    At the end we may disagree on the tactics or semantics, but we can help each other understand two different point of views.

    I’ll soon do a few posts on my blog and hopefully we can talk about these issues there also.
    But Hey, Eid Mubarik.

  17. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Hi, Usman —

    By all means, let us know about the media. Say anything that comes to mind. Your participation in this thread has turned it from a shallow, one-sided rant into a real discussion. I wanted to make sure I told you how much I appreciate your participation in all of this. I think everyone has had to think through some assumptions they had been carrying around unquestioned.

  18. Cynthia Mueller Says:

    WOW…I think it was about a year ago when I first stumbled across Tim’s blog in my search for wisdom for writers. I never imagined that I would be learning about so many other topics,too.

    What a great place to visit, Tim! I thank you for hosting such great discussions.

    Regarding the opinion that the US intelligence service was “asleep at the wheel.” That comment strikes a chord in my heart. I served as an Intelligence Analyst for several years in the US Army during the Cold War, and stayed connected with that world for another 14 years as a contractor doing …. um…lots of things.

    The military concept of “intelligence” is broken down into several disciplines: Imagery Intelligence, Signals Intelligence, Human Intelligence, and others I won’t mention. Without dissembling into a discussion of inter-service and inter-agency rivalries and the detrimental effect on intelligence production and dissemination, let me cut to the heart of the issue. When technology exploded into the military world a few decades ago, everyone was gaga about the capabilities of “overhead” assets. So gaga that TPTB decimated the human intelligence component. (OK, there were several reasons why this happened, but a major reason was that “overhead” stuff was just so damn cool!) Why spend years training some geek from Nebraska (or Wisconsin or Alabama) to speak-think-act Russian (or insert your country of choice here), and then send them thousands of miles away to risk their lives and the lives of others to maybe convince some local guy to commit treason? Why do all that and wait maybe years for just the slightest possibility of a payoff, when you can just hit a few keystrokes and press print and be holding the proof in your hands?


    Go to the website for CBS: The Unit and watch last Sunday’s episode to see exactly why we shouldn’t have done away with boots on the ground. On the off chance that someone may not be as big a fan of Max Martini as I am, I will tell you that the episode shows some Uber-Secretary of Something Important sending a team of highly-trained operators into a remote lab where bad guys are making weapons-grade anthrax to kill US Soldiers and they’ve just installed a seismic intrusion detection system that will alert these bad guys to the presence of intruders (like US operators). The operators are looking at the O/H photos, asking questions, trying to understand who/what threats they may face, and the Secretary guy just keeps shoving the O/H photos at them — proof positive! Needless to say, the building turned out to be a drug lab and the super-duper seismic intrusion system was really a lawn sprinkler system. From X miles up, details can be tricky, I guess.

    I didn’t get into a discussion of what happened with Signals intel because … well, the folks we’re “targeting” here just didn’t have access to the type of equipment to make the effort worthwhile.

    My point (in case anyone actually makes it this far into my rant) is that we’re never sure what anyone else is doing or thinking or what their intentions are. No matter what fancy systems we have in place, or how deep a covert source is, you can’t be sure. How sure do you have to be? When you’re committing troops into battle, volunteering to spill their blood, you’d better be absolutely sure. Pretty sure just doesn’t meet the standard.

    If George Bush had sent operators in to Afghanistan immediately after 9/11 (and I’m sure he did), we wouldn’t know about it. He did declare war on terror and those who support terrorists. But, as Tim and others have already said, how can you tell who the terrorists are before they’ve snatched the controls of the plane and have departed from the approved flight plan?

    Racial profiling doesn’t work.
    Blaming Muslims doesn’t work.
    Blaming Arabs doesn’t work.
    Blaming Jews doesn’t work.
    Blaming (insert any group name here) doesn’t work.

    Blaming countries, races, or religions only inspires hate. If we concentrate on who benefits from all this hate, we may find out who’s guilty.

    I grew up in the middle of America in the 60s and 70s waiting for the command to “duck and cover”, to hide underneath my schooldesk from Soviet missiles launched from Cuba. I grew up afraid of an entire country, millions of “godless evil communists”, and their bombs. I was sure that I’d recognize the Soviets coming across our neighbor’s cornfields in their T-55 and T-64 tanks bearing the hammer and sickle. I went to sleep at night praying that when they came over the hill in their tanks, they wouldn’t run over my dog Sam.

    When I pledged allegiance to our flag every morning before homeroom, I felt honored to be growing up in America. We’re the best country in the world! How little I knew. When I watched the end of the evening news, waiting for The Brady Bunch or The Partridge Family to begin, I saw the casualty statistics from the “conflict in Viet Nam.” I thought the numbers were something to do with sports. I didn’t know what a conflict was, or Viet Nam for that matter.

    Since the fall of the Soviet Union and the Berlin Wall, and the resultant domino effect throughout the former communist world, I’ve again thought about how lucky I am to live in the middle of this huge country, with our miles of ocean buffering us from the tribulations of the rest of the world. I didn’t have to worry about ducking and covering or surveilling Mr. Skinner’s cornfields anymore!

    Ever wonder just how naive can a girl from Wisconsin get?

    PS: My prompt for the day is: lows mostly….Now that’s a prompt I can sink my ink into.

  19. Pia Says:

    Thinking of how we see terror groups hide behind the ideology and teachings of Islam I can’t help but think it’s a nice convenient excuse, just like the crusades against Jerusalem was, or the Christians abusing and raping the new world in their conquest for resources and control, the hunts of Jews for centuries. Religion has always been used to further non-religious interests, always been used as an excuse to get rid of people, conquest, control and what not. It’s a flaw in religion mostly, since you’re not ‘allowed’ to question the authorities in it. If you question the authorities, you get sent to hell (or any equivalent).

    That said, religion has a whole bunch of good sides when power hungry idiots don’t use it to satisfy their own needs and desires. The rules makes a society more stable, it gives tools and methods to deal with crisis and big changes in life, it gives a purpose to those who can’t find one on their own and so on. Lots of good stuff as well.

    But unfortunately, religion is abused by a few power hungry control freaks.

    On the training of terrorists. I can’t help but think of the methods the Germans used. The way you train a terrorist, an SS-soldier, a KZ-camp attendant, a holy warrior and what not, it’s all the same. It’s the same type of brain-washing, it’s the same type of people who get caught up in it at first. Once enough are caught up, it can just as well be you and I who get into these things and become those people, supporting and aiding those committing all the crimes.

    There’s some interesting experiments out there about all this that shows very nasty sides of human nature and mentality, even in ordinary good people. and comes to mind – there’s lots of sites out there discussing these experiments. They show very clearly why and how ordinary people gets wrapped up in stuff like terrorism, torture and extremist groups.

    Food for thought.


  20. Cynthia Mueller Says:

    Oooh, Pia! I agree! Your reference to the Stanford prison experiment made me think of the Stanley Milgram experiments of the early 60s (and when I read to the bottom of the wiki entry, it actually references the Milgram work.) Milgram wanted to determine the limits of human depravity, and their obedience to authority. He took a “random” sample of people and assigned them the role of Teacher or Learner. The Teacher works for the Experimenter. The Learner must correctly answer the questions or the Teacher must administer a shock to the Learner. The intensity of the shocks went from quite mild (as the Experimenter demonstrates on the Teacher before beginning the actual test) to unbearably painful, growing in intensity for each mistake.

    Throughout the experiment, the Learner makes mistakes and the Teacher must administer the shock. The Learner screams in pain, writhing on the floor, begging not to be shocked again. The Experimenter acts indifferent, repeating the rules to the Teacher. “If he makes a mistake, you must shock him.”

    In reality, the Learner is a confederate, he’s not really getting shocked, and is just faking the reaction. The experiment sets up a situation where a relatively normal person will go to great lengths to hurt another person, just to please the Experimenter. Trials varied the physical arrangement from the Experimenter being in the room, wearing a white coat, etc., to being a disembodied voice coming through a speaker. The results were stunning and quite sickening. As humans, we shed the veneer of socialization and civilization in a matter of minutes if we feel the situation demands it. The Milgram experiments were used to try to explain the behavior of Germans in the Nazi camps, the normal soldiers who committed atrocities because of their orders.

    Having been in the military, it’s easy to see how it works. The authorities break down your individual will by changing your environment, using sleep deprivation and aggressive behaviors (constant shouting and threats) to make that environment seem normal. Then they reward “positive” behavior in front of the group until the entire group is performing the activity they normally would not even consider performing (bayonette training comes to mind), and also depersonalizing the target through the use of derogatory names (Gook, Charlie, Hagi, Skinny, etc.).

    Personally, I’d have to stop and think before killing a Pia or a Thomas or a Lisa or Tim, unless I perceived an impending threat. But get me fired up in a roomful of my buddies, shouting at me that that group of [skinnies or hagis or whatever] out there are [mention some vague threat] and I just might find myself charging at our enemy with my group of new buddies. It’s much easier to kill a member of a group of [insert bad name here], especially if they look-speak-act differently than I do.

    In Basic Training, I was ready to kill “charlie” because he was my enemy. Mind you, I’d never been to Viet Nam, never met a member of the Viet Cong, never been to a jungle, but the marching cadence drilled into my head that “charlie” needed killing and I think I may have been ready to take care of business. Thankfully, I never had to put myself to the test.

    Interesting searches on this topic:

    The banality of evil
    Man’s inhumanity to man

    My psychology degree comes in handy when I least expect it!

  21. Lisa Kenney Says:

    What a lot of great comments and Usman, I really appreciate you weighing in with a Pakistani perspective. As so many others have said, it’s frustrating to live in a place with so many news outlets, yet so little information or analysis of any substance.

    I agree with much of what Tim said about the lack of any effective response to 9/11. I was always opposed to our actual response. Whether it was the US launching attacks into Afghanistan or the more recent attacks on Syria and Pakistan in order to target terrorists, I can see no rationale for the collateral damage, a nice term for the incidental killing and maiming of innocents.

    I have never been able to come to grips with how I feel about the covert parts of our government. On the one hand, their very nature dictates that we allow them the budget and the autonomy to operate in secret and consciously supporting that kind of secret government within the government requires us to trust them. As we all know, this seems to have resulted in the past in our interference with and support of a lot of the wrong leaders.

    On the other hand, our efforts to use conventional military forces to deal with groups that are non nation states seems destined to failure and we still don’t seem to know which horse to bet on as we proved when we invaded Iraq and. I could envision a much more effective management of the complexities of international terrorism if we had much larger and much better equipped intelligence organizations deployed throughout the world and working cooperatively with other intelligence organizations. Surely, it is much more likely that Muslim countries would work more cooperatively with the west to eradicate terrorism in their countries if they could do it more covertly.

    I find it interesting that Usman mentioned that one of the Mumbai terrorists was interrogated after some kind of truth serum had been administered. That freaks me out. What a concept.

    I was always astounded that our government backed the use of torture when there is no evidence to indicate it is effective — don’t even get me started on its morality — and in fact, evidence suggests that information gained as a result of torture is unreliable.

    I’ve never understood why suspected terrorists aren’t treated more like the way police treat suspects — why there isn’t a friendly (even Muslim) interrogator approach used.

    Rambling — too much, but great dialogue and food for thought.

  22. Lisa Kenney Says:

    I also want to mention that we have our own (admittedly smaller) religious extremists in this country. I believe the neoconservatives took complete advantage of the possibilities this voting block offered and starting in the mid-nineties, they had a lot of momentum going and were growing this group. I think the neocons created the anti-abortion issue/crusade as their own form of jihad within the US. The Christian Nationalists have proven themselves willing and capable of bombing abortion clinics and acting in a ways very similar to the Muslim extremists. Fortunately, the far right politicians appear to have lost a lot of the confidence of this group, but I found (and still find) them to be pretty frightening.

  23. usman Says:

    Thanks for the opportunity to comment on what is close to my heart: This is bridging the gap between people.
    I have never been a proponent of Clash of the Civilizations theory. The clash can happen without us making sure it does.

    As to the media: In 2000, Pakistan got true fair media, by allowing the private satellite channels on the air. As it turns out, the News channels are today the biggest money spinners, not the Soaps and dramas etc. a sign of hunger that we as a nation have for news and for the cynical, conspiracy theories.
    So the TV media, which I believe, is far more effective than print is evolving. I can say that the premier channels are really worthy. Of course, they have limits about being politically correct; however there is very little tabloid journalism evident as eg on FOX News. I normally tune into Pakistani, BBC and CNN for international news. To get a more nuanced feel.
    I feel that the dissent has been mentioned in the media here. However they focus more on the US govt and not so much on the public. This is where things go wrong for the US. The US govt as of today is not a real indicator of the American people. In fact at times the jargon from the State deptt is downright condescending: especially when translated.
    This raises a counter question: How many Americans have vociferously condemned Pakistani innocents being killed by US aggression. None as far as I know. Like Lisa says, ‘the hateful term’ collateral damage dehumanizes people to things.

    I am no Intelligence expert. But how did the US and Pakistan bleed the soviets in Afghanistan. How many Afghan translators did you have in CIA then. I would guess zero.
    You relied on the Pakistan ISI. Funded them, used their sources on the land, which were extensive then, even more so now. BUT then we were all fighting the Evil Empire.
    Thsi time America didn’t want Pakistani Intelligence or the Army as the forward block. They themselves with their troops were to be the forward block.
    That is why I disagree, with you once again. Had the Americans, decided for an intel op; used the ISI; and trusted and worked with them, the plan would have succeeded.
    The US aggression has made them occupiers; while in fact OBL was a foreign occupier at the time who was using the Afghans land.
    He was the stoneblock between peace and war. Today it is the Americans.
    The only way out even now, is intelligence. Good solid, real ground intelligence that the Pakistanis have.

    There is so much more wrong with the War. That I can go on. But I feel that I would change the discussion away from it’s real intent.
    If my inputs have been of any use, it is only because all of you have put up with me.
    And Cindy, stop tapping my phone.

  24. usman Says:

    Lisa I gave a reply to well your thought out reply.

    I agree with most of what you say. Suspects are suspects…till proven guilty. If we subvert this law; we are headed on the road to madness.

  25. Steve Wylder Says:

    A lot of interesting commentary here.
    About the virgins–the following is from a Wikipedia article about Christoph Luxenberg’s book, “The Syro-Aramaic Reading of the Koran:”

    “The word huri, casually interpreted by generations of readers as white-eyed virgins (who will serve the faithful in Paradise; Qur’an 44:54, 52:20, 55:72, 56:22) actually means white grapes. He says that many Christian descriptions of Paradise describe it as abounding in pure white grapes. This sparked much joking in the Western press; suicide bombers would be expecting beautiful women and getting grapes. It erroneously assumed by some that this unintentional side-effect (The Syro-Aramaic Reading of the Koran was conceived and published well before suicide attacks reached public attention in the West) is a relevant element in the evaluation of Luxenberg’s findings.”

    More seriously, one of the threads I’ve picked up here is the question of whether the 9/11 attacks should have been treated as a crime and not an act of war. I leaned toward crime, but I did support our invasion of Afghanistan. But in retrospect, the crime analogy made more sense–we would be fighting a band of thugs, not a nation. I suspect we would have had continued world support had we gone after al-Qaeda as criminals. We probably would have had to go into Afghanistan, but it would have been solely for the purpose of defeating the terrorist, rather than trying to create a Western democracy there.

    So far, at least as far as I can tell, cooler heads have prevailed in the response to the Bombay terror.

    When my daughter met her future husband, Vainateya “Desh” Deshpande, (from near Bombay) on a train, Desh was traveling to Cincinnati with a friend to see a cricket match. The friend was from Bangladesh. On a personal level, Hindus and Muslims can be friends.
    Nobody (except perhaps some of the terrorists) want another war between India and Pakistan.

    I’m hoping that Barack Obama can transform Bush’s War on Terror into hunt for terrorists. The war metaphor has clearly failed. It’s time to treat terrorists as the criminals they are, rather than dignifying them with a war declaration.

  26. Kat Says:

    wonder what Bush would’ve done in Barack’s place… -kat

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