• An incredibly popular logical fallacy among defenders of Islam

    "Tu quoque". n. The act of seeing an inquisition picture and screaming "Stalin".
    “Tu quoque”. n. The act of hearing an atheist discuss inquisition and screaming “Stalin”.

    It is frustrating when you speak to defenders of Islam who thinks there is nothing wrong with Sharia rules such as flogging for extramarital sex or beheading apostates. It is mind numbing to see how anyone in the age of open communications can say a good word about such barbarism, given how easily facts can be searched. Likewise, finding people who defend the human rights records of some of today’s most repressive dictatorships, like those in North Korea or Zimbabwe,  is stunning. As it happens, those two groups have quite a few things in common, and it is worth highlighting this, as they should be called out on the flawed arguments that they use to fool others, and likely even themselves. I will point out a few such actual quotes, and then lay out the fallacy behind them.

    Here is an example of how this works. Suppose you point out to an Islamist that they cannot expect us to stop drawing cartoons of prophet Mohammad, because of that minor nuisance called freedom of expression. Aside from other laughable objections, such as “freedom of expression is not freedom to insult” (it is, actually), or “you have freedom of expression and we have freedom of religion” (as if drawing the cartoons somehow gets in the way of their prostrating themselves while facing Mecca), you are likely to hear a response similar to what follows. (Again, this is from an Islamist website that I won’t link to, but similar examples are very easy to find by spending a few minutes on Google.)

    Some newspapers and other forms of media have spread hurtful, vicious information that could only emanate from the jealous, arrogant enemies of Islam and its Prophet (may Allah raise his rank and grant him peace).

    That conduct comprises a calumniation of Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah and a distortion of his message by jealous individuals and Christian organizations, as well as envious and irresponsible columnists, like those who write for the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten.

    As for you O Westerners, claimants of civilization, you have constitutions and statutes that destroy upright moral character and permit all kinds of forbidden acts, the likes of fornication and homosexuality, as well as usury which destroys the economies of entire nations, and the eating of improperly slaughtered animals (dead meats) and pork, something that causes the loss of concern for women’s values, and thus a man does not feel protective of his wife, sister, or daughter, and thus she fornicates with or intimately befriends whomever she pleases. These are some of the means which lead to ruin, and they have been prohibited in all of the prophetic messages.

    As for bombs and all other weapons of destruction, war planes, tanks, and long-range missiles, you are the ones who engineered and manufactured them with your satanic minds that only think about transgression, animosity, oppression, attacking, tyranny, conquering entire races of people and enslaving them, spilling their blood, and usurping their natural resources. You think only about annihilating those who oppose you and stand in the way of your greedy aspirations, your oppression and spreading of hatred. All this wrapped up in the name of civilization, human rights, freedom, and justice!

    Aside from talking about the horror of horrors, namely, there are still places in this world where Sharia is not the law of the land, the author is telling us is that we are in no position to invoke human rights (including freedom of expression) because of war planes, long range missiles, etc, etc that are made in western nations. How dare we speak of those pesky ideas like speaking your mind, while we have Hiroshima on our record?

    Here is another example: a number of comments left on a post right here on this blog by a troll. The post was about the late Venezuelan head of state Hugo Chavez, and his close friendship with terrorists such as Carlos the Jackal, and mass murderers such as Robert Mugabe and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The troll had this to say:

    Isn’t it always nice to hear members of so called Western Civilized Countries looking for the splinters in someone else’s eyes complaining about their human rights records, while conveniently forgetting the atrocities their own soldiers are and were involved in from torturing Vietnamese to torturing Iraqis or training to torture El Salvadorians or advising Pinochet’s regime of how to deal with opponents, and even running a specialized school for the Americas.

    Or is it that America can do no wrong – but everybody else always is wrong? Or is it that human rights violations because are done for the defense of freedom and the greater good (whose, by the way) is completely justified and therefore are non atrocities?
    Or is it that whatever is done in the US name never can be called an atrocity because Americans don’t do atrocities – apparently neither do the English, but what is a good relationship for if one cannot violate human rights without mutual support.
    And yes – surely only the Russians, the Chines, the unwashed South Americans do torture, but when helped and instructed by US contractors we do not call it that, that is then counter insurgency.

    Fuck you all. [The guy had quite a mouth, got to give him that-No Cross No Crescent]

    And later on, he added this (aside from a few more insults):

    I have a problem wit other nations critiquing the violations of other countries especially citizens of a country that invaded other countries without respect of international law, created torture schools in other countries and in their own, supported and created a host of dictators that are were the bane of their citizens, that invented new methods of torture (check out the US in Vietnam), that indiscriminately used carpet bombing – oh yeah, others did it,so we have the right to – that still supports the practice of land mining, that used extradition to black prisons for torture and “vanishing” acts, that creates special status for combatants to evade the Geneva conventions of POW’s, that exempts its own citizens from prosecution by the Hague but expects everybody else to fall under that jurisdiction…no, you and the majority of the US citizens have lost my respect long ago, very long ago, and I see in you nothing but the hypocrite you are.

    So…what the US government has done means I am not allowed to criticize other countries and if I do so I am a hypocrite, correct?

    (Interestingly, as furious as he obviously was with me, he didn’t point out a single example of an error in my actual post. So I have to assume he found none.)

    Let’s look at another example: this is from my own co-blogger, Arizona Atheist. On one occasion (among many) while we were arguing about the drone war, I pointed that Pakistanis were failing to capture terrorists, not just in their lawless areas but biggest cities, or even stopping them from speaking to huge numbers of supporters, and thus leaving drone strikes as the only option to stop them from killing even more people. The response:

    Since we’re on the subject, I could just as easily accuse the US of the same kind of negligence. The US has harbored a number of terrorists and refuse to hand them over for prosecution in other countries. One example is Luis Posada Carriles,
    who Venezuela and Cuba have been seeking for more than three decades for blowing up a Cuban airliner in 1976, killing 73 innocent civilians. A second example is in 1990, President George Bush pardoned Orlando Bosch, another terrorist, who was also implicated in the Cubana de Aviación plane crash and served jail time with Posada in Venezuela, where the bombing plot was hatched.

    So the US has harbored individual terrorists (granting that for the sake of discussion). It means entire terrorist camps in North Waziristan should be allowed to churn out more and more “graduates” every year unless Pakistanis act (which they won’t), correct?

    The three example cited above have one thing in common. They are completely irrelevant to the subject being discussed. Rather than countering the accusations, Islamists, my troll, and Arizona Atheist try to deflect criticism by accusing the other side of hypocrisy. There is a definition for this kind of sophistry: “Tu quoque”.

    Tu quoque /tuːˈkwoʊkwiː/, (Latin for “you, too” or “you, also”) or the appeal to hypocrisy, is a logical fallacy that attempts to discredit the opponent’s position by asserting the opponent’s failure to act consistently in accordance with that position; it attempts to show that a criticism or objection applies equally to the person making it. This dismisses someone’s point of view based on criticism of the person’s inconsistency and not the position presented whereas a person’s inconsistency should not discredit the position. Thus, it is a form of the ad hominem argument.To clarify, although the person being attacked might indeed be acting inconsistently or hypocritically, this does not invalidate their argument.

    And here is a rather famous example of how it was used in the 20th century:

    And you are lynching Negroes” (Russian: А у вас негров линчуют, “but at your place Negroes are being lynched”) is an anecdotal counter-argument phrase, which epitomizes the tu quoque arguments used by the Soviet Union in response to allegations that it had violated human rights. The phrase refers to the racial discrimination and lynching in the United States.

    The use of the phrase as a reference to demagoguery and hypocrisy is traced to a Russian political joke, about a dispute between an American and a Soviet man. There were numerous versions of the quip. In a 1962 version, an American and a Soviet car salesman argue which country makes better cars. Finally, the American asks: “How many decades does it take an average Soviet man to earn enough money to buy a Soviet car?” After a thoughtful pause, the Soviet replies: “And you are lynching Negroes!”

    The joke is intended to expose the logical fallacy of citing a single boilerplate tu quoque counter-criticism as a general defense against completely unrelated forms of legitimate critique; in the original joke, the American car dealer’s argument about the failure of the Soviet system to produce high-quality automobiles or enough of them to equip their middle class is a legitimate criticism that is not effectively diminished or countered by the (equally legitimate, but utterly irrelevant) counter-point from the Soviet car dealer that the United States has a history of unfair race relations with African-Americans.

    Now, how similar does this sound to the examples I mentioned above (particularly the second one)?

    Those who haven’t spent much time debating Sharia apologists or defenders of human rights records in countries such as China and Iran will be surprised to see how often this line surfaces during such debates. Because that is all the defenders of the indefensible have to offer. Familiarity with this fallacy can help disarm about the only arrow they have in their quiver.


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