Shooting Down Flying Carpets: Let’s stay on topic about Islamic terrorism

There are two major fallacies defenders of Islam make when addressing the problem of Islamic terror. In the wake of yesterday’s terror attack in Paris, I’ve seen these employed with fervor. These are the magic get-out-of-jail-free cards that can be used quite brilliantly against unsuspecting people. But these fallacies are just that: Fallacies. They don’t get us any closer to a solution to the problem, and they actually hinder our progress by pretending there’s nothing wrong at all. Let me be the final authority here:

There’s a serious problem with your religion if its teachings are routinely used to murder people in order to silence the critics! And no amount of fallacious reasoning is going to change that fact.

Fallacy 1: The Reverse-Toupée Fallacy

The toupée fallacy is often used by American rednecks who say things like, “Every time there’s a terrorist attack in the news it’s by Muslims. Therefore, only Muslims are terrorists.” Or even worse: “Therefore, all Muslims are terrorists.” These statements are just plain wrong and are nothing more than using stereotypes to affirm the consequent.

But some people have this uncanny ability to change the entire meaning of the discussion about Islamic terrorism by making hasty assumptions about people that are equally as wrong. They might say, “Not all Muslims are terrorists.” In this case they’ve reversed the toupée fallacy by stating the glaringly obvious. Of course not all Muslims are terrorists, but so what? What does that have to do with the problem of Islamic terrorism?! The answer is: Nothing. By stating this obvious fact the entire conversation is shifted, and the person trying to have a reasonable discussion about Islamic terror must now backpedal and defend against making a hasty generalization they never even made. At best the discussion risks turning into one about Islamic terror statistics. At worst the discussion collapses and zero progress has been made. And this is very similar to:

Fallacy 2: The Flying Carpet Fallacy

In discussions about Islamic terror this is one of the best known malicious devices defenders of Islam can employ to ensure there’s no discussion about Islamic terrorism. Imagine the following discussion:

Person A: Did you hear on the news about the Islamic terrorists who murdered 12 people in France?

Person B: That’s nothing. What about all the US soldiers in the Middle East and around the world murdering innocent women, children, and babies?

A: Of course that’s awful, but…

B: What those soldiers are doing is a genocide compared to the Charlie Hebdo attacks.

A: Well, yes, but…

B: The West can’t point fingers at Islam until they stop murdering innocent people.

Person A tried to have a reasonable discussion about the Charlie Hebdo attacks, but Person B whisked A away on a magical flying carpet to a foreign land that had nothing to do with the Charlie Hebdo attacks. Furthermore, he prevented A from getting back to the main discussion and shifted the entire conversation into an accusation against the US. Instead of discussing the problem with Islamic terror in a reasonable way, many people use it as an opportunity to criticize something completely unrelated. In the end we’ve learned nothing. In the end the problem with Islamic terror is still a problem.

So what?!

The problem is these kinds of logical fallacies aren’t used merely in everyday conversations between neighbors and friends; they’re used at every level of the discussion, all the way up to heads of state. If we can’t trust our presidents and prime ministers to look at the issues objectively, then we’re no closer to a solution than we were yesterday.

On the other hand, if we can’t trust our friends and neighbors to look at the issues objectively either, then there’s no point in convincing anyone else to.

It would be my wish that whenever you’re trying to have a reasonable discussion about Islamic terrorism, don’t let anyone shift the conversation away from Islamic terrorism. Don’t let anyone try to state the obvious in an attempt to put you on the defensive. If they say, “Not all Muslims are terrorists,” just say, “Yes, I know,” and move on. The discussion is too important to let anyone sidetrack it.

About Rayan Zehn

I'm a political scientist.
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