Reading Sam Harris always gets me thinking. I’m trying to figure out if Islam poses a unique threat, and what chances there for them to change. So here’s an imaginary debate I staged to help me get things straight in my own mind. There’s Person A and Person B with my own thoughts after each question. Is A a hopelessly naïve liberal, or is B an Islamophobic racist? Or both!

Tell me if I’m straw-manning anyone.

Why are Muslims doing rotten things?

A: Because they’ve lived with pre-Enlightenment values, they feel aggrieved by Western imperialism, and to compound it all, they have a religion which tolerates violence.

B: Because Islam is a uniquely violent faith, and when they engage in violence, they’re really just taking their faith seriously. This is not a bug; it’s a feature.

Me: I’m with A. Islam is definitely a contributing factor, but I think it can be domesticated, as we’ve seen with other religions.

Is there any way around it?

A: Sure. Once Muslims become educated and affluent, and join the world community, they’ll mellow out and act normal, just like violent Christians did.

B: No. This kind of behaviour is an inextricable part of Islam. It’s naive to imagine that education is going to help. The bombers and terrorists that we’ve seen have actually come from the more highly-educated groups.

Me: Christians and Jews have violent scriptures, and they’ve chilled out. Never underestimate the ability of religionists to throw core doctrines under the bus when it suits them. The trick is getting it to suit them.

What about moderate Muslims?

A: Even now we see that some Muslims are disavowing the violence that comes from their own people. They need to be encouraged so they become the norm.

B: So-called moderate Muslims will never be able to disavow the violence inherent in their religion, no matter how many disapproving noises they make. It’s moderates’ interpretation of Islam which is deviant, not the radicals’.

Me: No freakin’ clue.

What do we do about this as progressives?

A: Promote education and Enlightenment values, hoping that they’ll take. Speak out against Islam, but don’t be discriminatory against Muslims themselves.

B: Don’t let them in. They are having a radicalising effect on each other. The new generation of European Muslims are more radical than their parents.

Me: I think the current generation of Muslim immigrants are going to be the next generation of ex-Muslim atheists. Yes, some Muslims are radicalising, but I think this is a blip. I have no way of proving this, but it seems likely that these shocking cases would take up space in our minds out of proportion to their actual incidence, as they typically do. It’s normal for the first generation of immigrants to be more conservative than their parents, but over time, this changes. I hope.

Help me out, people. Your comments in comments. Religion bashing is fine, but no racism allowed.