US-FBI-ShadedSealI’ve complained before about pseudohistory in many venues. Most of the time it’s merely annoying, and rarely does it have any serious, direct consequences. But recently, Wired magazine’s Danger Room blog revealed that there’s more than a little pseudohistory lurking deep in the heart of the FBI’s counter-terrorism training program: (WebCite cached article):

The FBI is teaching its counterterrorism agents that “main stream” [sic] American Muslims are likely to be terrorist sympathizers; that the Prophet Mohammed was a “cult leader”; and that the Islamic practice of giving charity is no more than a “funding mechanism for combat.”

Note that all three of these notions are typical “talking points” which comprise part of the continuous mantra of the Religious Right’s Neocrusade against Islam. More specifically, though:

At the Bureau’s training ground in Quantico, Virginia, agents are shown a chart contending that the more “devout” a Muslim, the more likely he is to be “violent.” Those destructive tendencies cannot be reversed, an FBI instructional presentation adds: “Any war against non-believers is justified” under Muslim law; a “moderating process cannot happen if the Koran continues to be regarded as the unalterable word of Allah.”

These are, of course, completely unlike all those fundamentalist Christians here in the US who claim their Bible is the “unalterable word” of their own Christian God. Got it. Personally I don’t see any real difference between the two, but there must be one, because the FBI’s counter-terrorism trainer, William Gawthrop, says it, so it simply must be the case! Somehow. Some way.

Wired snagged a printed copy of some Powerpoint slides that purport to show that, from their birth to the present, both Christianity and Judaism have become steadily more peaceful and less militant, while Islam has never been peaceful and remains nearly as militant as it was in its first decades (cached). The whole thing contains a number of historical lies, nearly all of which are evident in this one slide:

Printed copy of slide 10 from Powerpoint presentation 'Militancy Considerations' / FBI training materials via Wired

Printed copy of slide 10 from Powerpoint presentation 'Militancy Considerations' / FBI training materials via Wired

Here are a few of the historical untruths contained in this slide:

  1. The Torah was not written in 1,400 BCE. Its sources were written during the period of the two kingdoms, and it was compiled into something near its present form, sometime around the middle of the last millennium BCE.
  2. The Christian Bible was not written in 3 BCE. Its Old Testament already existed, to be sure, but the earliest New Testament books — the 7 “genuine” Pauline epistles — weren’t written until the middle of the first century CE. The rest of the NT books weren’t written until decades later, starting with Mark in the early 70s CE.
  3. Neither Judaism nor Christianity began in states of “maximum militancy & violence.” In particular, the very first Christians were decidedly non-violent; violence didn’t really creep into that faith — as far as we know — until Christological conflicts arose in the late 2nd century.
  4. Neither Judaism nor Christianity went steadily from maximum militancy to non-militancy. Their levels of violence and extremism rose and fell along with their environments and as they progressed.
  5. The Christian graph line should instead look like a very large wave, with a long plateau at maximum violence, stretching from the late 11th century through the 16th.
  6. The Islam graph line should also be different; Islam did experience some periods of lower violence; it has not remained steadily violent as this graph suggests.

Lastly, I’ll point out something I’ve said before. Within all religious traditions — Judaism and Christianity included! — it is always the case that the militant extremists at the fringes of a faith are accommodated, to one degree or another, by more “mainstream” and less violent adherents. Militant adherents generally find it easy to intimidate and bully their co-believers. The reasons for this are myriad. Sometimes it’s because the militants will go after anyone who opposes them and “mainstreamers” are, basically, afraid of them. Other times it’s because the “mainstream” adherents have some sympathy for the extremists. Still other times it’s because even the “mainstreamers” would secretly like to see the extremists succeed. To assume this is only true of Islam and not of Judaism or Christianity, is foolish in the extreme. The political successes of the Christian Right in the US and ultraconservative Orthodox Jews in Israel, clearly demonstrate this is so.

At any rate, there are a number of demonstrable factual errors in this Powerpoint presentation, and there’s no reason the FBI should be relying on it. Yet apparently — to the country’s detriment — they are.

Hat tip: Unreasonable Faith.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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