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Regarding the evidence of an evidence-free mindset in the Middle East

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    Rocket shells are left on the grass outside a house where civilians and soldiers were killed by Hamas militants days earlier, Oct. 11, 2023 in Be’eri, Israel. (Credit: Alexi J. Rosenfeld/Getty Images)

    Evidence continues to accumulate that the Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital in Gaza City was not bombed on October 17th by Israel’s Defense Forces (IDF), but was hit by a misfired, faulty Palestinian rocket, most likely coming from the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). Multiple videos of the rocket’s trajectory, the initial explosion in the air, followed by the one outside the Hospital, have been geolocated to show that the missile did not come from Israel. In addition, there is the embarrassing revelation of the intercepted phone conversation between two Hamas operatives. “Is this from us?” asks one operative. “It looks like it,” a second operative replies. The two are then heard recognizing that the shrapnel of the missile “are local pieces, and not Israeli shrapnel,” the former coming from rockets fired from the “cemetery behind the hospital.”

    Have there been any mea culpas expressed by the Palestinian or other Arab media that they were mistaken in unanimously reporting that the fault was Israel’s, echoed in some Western newspapers’ headlines such as: “Israel blast kills 500 at Gaza Hospital”? Those false reports generated massive protests in Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

    There haven’t been any apologies because, to a large segment of the Muslim Arab population, evidence does not matter. Consider the statement by Hamas deputy secretary-general Saleh al-Arouri after the October 7th slaughter in Israel that “the truth is that our mujahideen do not target civilians… It is inconceivable that they would perpetrate the kind of crimes mentioned by the occupation, like rape, killing children, or killing civilians.”

    But what about the footage recovered from multiple Hamas body cameras showing the terrorists doing precisely what al-Arouri denies – and celebrating it? There is also an audio recording of one of the Hamas killers calling his parents in Gaza, bragging that he had “killed at least ten Jews with my bare hands.” “Your son killed so many Jews,” he exclaimed. “Mum, your son is a hero.”

    Closer to home, Farhan Siddiqi, the imam of Washington D.C. area mosque Dar Al-Hijrah, said in an October 13, 2023 Friday sermon: “I don’t know what Hamas is doing. I’m shown video clips and then I’m also told that they’re beheading babies. I’m also told that they’re raping women…when I go and I investigate those specific reports I find out they’re all lies.”

    Even better, in an October 25, 2023, address, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei claimed that “America is completely complicit in all the crimes. America’s arms are soaked up to their elbows with the blood of the oppressed, the sick, the children, and the women in this atrocity. In reality, [America] is in some respects orchestrating this atrocity in Gaza. America is orchestrating this.”

    In light of the abundant evidence, so much of it provided by Hamas itself, these bald-faced denials could come right out of a Groucho Marx movie. In Duck Soup, when Chico is caught in a bald-faced lie, he responds: “Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?”

    In this case, it would be: “Who are you going to believe, me or my own videos?”

    One must understand that this kind of denial in the face of stark reality has a long history, especially in Sunni Islam. For example, the more evidence that surfaced that Osama bin Laden and his Saudi accomplices were responsible for 9/11, the more Muslim Arabs denied that he or any other Arabs were involved. Results from the July 21, 2011, Pew Research Center report, titled “Muslim-Western Tensions Persist,” found the following:

    Nearly a decade after September 11, 2001, skepticism about the events of that day persists among Muslim publics. When asked whether they think groups of Arabs carried out the 9/11 attacks on the U.S., most Muslims in the nations surveyed say they do not believe this. There is no Muslim public in which even 30% accept that Arabs conducted the attacks. Indeed, Muslims in Jordan, Egypt, and Turkey are less likely to accept this today than in 2006.

    Indeed, in Egypt 75 percent of Muslims said they did not believe that Arabs were responsible, and so said 73 percent of Muslim respondents in Turkey. Go figure.

    Actually, this imperviousness to reality can be easily explained by reference to Sunni Ash‘arite theology, which is espoused by a large majority of Sunni Muslims. Within Ash‘arite theology, the existence of natural law is repeatedly and explicitly denied as a flagrant and impermissible constriction of God’s absolute power. (Gravity does not make the rock fall; God does.)

    Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (1058-1111), considered by many Muslims to be second only to Muhammed in the Islamic pantheon and certainly the most important Ash‘arite theologian, made this explicitly clear in his teaching: there is no causal connection between “the quenching of thirst and drinking, satiety and eating, burning and contact with fire. Light and the appearance of the sun, death and decapitation, healing and the drinking of medicine, the purging of the bowls and the using of a purgative, and so on to [include] all [that is] observable among connected things in medicine, astronomy, arts, and crafts.” Allah does or doesn’t do all these things. It’s solely up to him.

    An example of how this teaching has been applied in more contemporary times may be helpful. The founder of Boko Haram, Mohammed Yusuf (1970–2009), whose group’s slang name loosely translates as “Western [non-Islamic] education is sacrilege,” gave an illuminating interview to the BBC just before being killed by Nigerian forces in 2009. Yusuf said that “there are prominent Islamic preachers who have seen and understood that the present Western-style education is mixed with issues that run contrary to our beliefs in Islam. Like rain. We believe it is a creation of God rather than an evaporation caused by the sun that condenses and becomes rain. Like saying the world is a sphere. If it runs contrary to the teachings of Allah, we reject it.”

    In this statement, Yusuf demonstrated that he was completely familiar with the scientific explanation for rain but had to reject it for religious reasons. Of course, his denial goes back to the Ash‘arite conception of God’s omnipotence and the problem of causality in the natural world.

    Here is the dilemma: If God is not the cause of everything, can he be omnipotent? In other words, if God does not directly cause the rain, but it is caused by intervening natural forces, are not those natural forces in competition with God? If A must cause B in the physical world (as in condensation causing rain), does this not exclude God or at least limit his freedom? Ash’arite theology concluded that, if God is to be omnipotent, no other thing can even be so much as potent. There can be no secondary causes, and there is no such thing as natural law or cause and effect in the natural world. Consequently, everything that happens becomes the equivalent of a miracle because God does it directly, which is why it can’t be understood.

    Evidence only matters in a world of cause and effect. Outside of it, evidence does not matter, which is why so much of the Middle East is afflicted with an evidence-free mentality. So, don’t think you’ll anytime soon hear an admission that Israel didn’t fire on the Gaza hospital, even as the evidence grows that the Palestinians did it themselves.

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