Monday, August 15, 2005

Game Time

It's time for everyone's favorite game: Textual Analysis!

Our subject today is that endless source of ill-thought-out ideas: letters to the editor. I must admit that the letters to the editor of the Economist are always witty and urbane, but they are a rare exception. Here it is:

"By calling [terrorists] Muslim or Islamic, we foster hatred of these religions. They are not religious; no true reading of their holy texts allows killing of innocent people."

The first independent clause in the second sentence says that they are not religious. The second clause provides the rationale, which, one can assume, is that religious people do not kill the innocent. However, this is problematic because there have been religions that advocated killing the innocent (sacrificing children to Moloch, and all that). Therefore, "religious", in this context, must refer to the first sentence, meaning that terrorists are not true Muslims. The justification for this is that "no true reading of their holy texts allow killing of innocent people". Essentially, the author is arguing that the terrorists are heretics, but how does he come to this conclusion? How can we know that it is heresy to kill innocent people? Because heretics do so. And how do we know that they are heretics? Because they kill innocent people. His definition is self-referention, a.k.a., circular. Therefore it does not prove that the killing of innocent people is heresy. I'm saying that it is, but that this argument fails to prove that it is not.

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