This is point of inquiry for Friday, March 16th, 2007.
Welcome to Point of inquiry, I’m DJ Grothe fee point of inquiries, the radio show, the podcast of the Center for Inquiry, a think tank collaborating with the State University of New York CFI has branches in Manhattan, Tampa, Hollywood, Washington, DC, and Toronto, Ontario, Canada, in addition to 14 other cities around the world. A couple of weekends ago, the Center for Inquiry sponsored in St. Petersburg, Florida, the Secular Islam Summit, an international forum for secularists of Islamic societies. The purpose of this summit was to bring together thinkers and activists to share new practical strategies to disseminate secularism and the values of the enlightenment and modernity to the public and opinion makers worldwide, especially in the Islamic world.
One of the highlights of the conference was when CFI I’s own IBN Work read a declaration in support of these ideals. Before we get to this week’s guest here, is it been work reading that declaration?
We are secular Muslims and secular persons of Muslim societies. We are believers, doubters and unbelievers brought together by a great struggle not between the West and Islam, but between the free and the unfree. We affirm the inviolable freedom of the individual conscience. We believe in the equality of all all human persons. We insist upon the separation of religion from state and the observance of universal human rights. We find traditions of liberal liberty, rationality and tolerance in the rich histories of pre Islamic and Islamic societies. These values do not belong to the West or the east. They are the common moral heritage of humankind. We see no colonialism, racism or so-called Islamophobia in submitting Islamic practices to criticism or condemnation when they violate human reason or rights. We call on the governments of the world to reject Sharia law, fatwa, courts, clerical rule and state sanctioned religion in all their forms. Oppose all penalties for blasphemy and apostasy in accordance with Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Eliminate practices such as female circumcision, honor killing, forced veiling and forced marriage. That further, the oppression of women protect sexual and gender minorities from persecution and violence reform. Sectarian education that teaches intolerance and bigotry towards non-Muslims, and foster an open public sphere in which all matters may be discussed without coercion or intimidation. We demand the release of Islam from his captivity to the totalitarian ambitions of power hungry men and the rigid strictures of orthodoxy. We enjoin academics and thinkers everywhere to embark on a fearless examination of the origins and sources of Islam and to promulgate the ideals of free scientific and spiritual inquiry through cross cultural translation, publishing and the mass media. We say to Muslim believers, there is a noble future for Islam as a personal faith, not a political doctrine. For Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, buys and all members of non Muslim faith communities. We stand with you as free and equal citizens and to nonbelievers. We defend your unqualified liberty to question and dissent before any of us is a member of the Ohmar, the body of Christ or the chosen people. We are all members of the community of conscience, the people who must choose for themselves. Thank you.
The world is under assault today by religious extremists to invoke their particular notion of God to try and control what others think can do. One magazine is dedicated to keeping you up to date with analysis that cuts through the noise and the surprising courage to appear politically incorrect. That magazine is Free Inquiry, the world’s leading journal of secular humanist opinion and commentary. Regular contributors include Richard Dawkins, Wendy Kaminer, Christopher Hitchens, Peter Singer and Sam Harris. Their views are reasoned, thought provoking and to some, unpardonable, infuriating. Subscribe to a free inquiry today. One year, six controversial issues for nineteen ninety five. Call one 800 four five eight one three six six. Or visit us on the web at Secular Humanism, Dawg.
I’m pleased to have this week’s guest from the Secular Islam Summit on point of inquiry, Tawfik Hamid, as a youth. Dr. Hameed was trained to be an anti Christian debater by a terrorist group, an al-Qaeda affiliated organization. Eventually, Dr Hamid questioned the feelings of hatred and the impulses, the violence that his involvement with this organization fomented in him. He became a physician and a scholar of Islamic texts from his insider experience with terrorism. The terrorist mentality, Toffy predicted the September 11th and Madrid and London attacks. And now his mission is to speak out against radical Islam, what he calls a cancer spreading with frightening rapidity across the globe. Dr Hamid is author of the book The Roots of Jihad, and he joins me on a point of inquiry to talk about the secular Islam summit, radical Islam, the question of moderate Islam and the future of Islamic fundamentalism and jihadism around the world. Welcome to Point of Inquiry, Dr Hamid.
Pleasure to be with you today.
Well, let’s begin by talking about your amazing story, your background. You joined an Islamic group in in medical school. It was the same group that produced al-Zawahiri.
Yes. Jemaah Islamiya in the Middle East.
Well, to take me back before that, you grew up as a devout Muslim or. No?
No, I actually was born for a very secular family in Cairo, Egypt. My father was an orthopedic surgeon who was practically an atheist. My mother was a very liberal French teacher. At the age of 16, I started to think about the concept of God and the creation via studying this, plucked out of the DNA molecule. And that’s what attracted me to the most cells.
And I developed desire to serve God when I was in the medical school. I joined the G.I. Joe, my islamiyya, aiming at serving God. My real dream was just to serve him. And is this desire and motivation was directed by them in just a few months. I change it dramatically from an innocent child to a beast to become ready to kill and die and do many crimes in the name of Jim Underdown.
Dr. Hami, let me ask you, did your desire to know God and to search out the meaning of life as a as a teenager, do you think that was a natural development into this extremist kind of Islam, or was it because of this organization, this al-Qaida affiliated organization? Did they take your interest in religion and turn it into this violent version of it?
It was a mix because the traditional teaching of Islam till now teaches very violent things. I’m talking here about the mainstream Islam. I’m not talking about extremist form.
So you’re saying mainstream Islam teaches violent things?
It’s actually not an opinion. It is a fact and a reality. You can go and open any Islamic book. And this is approved by us hard or by opposed by Saudi Arabia. And you will see clearly that they all agreed on certain violent concepts like killing them off, beating woman, calling just pigs and monkeys, declaring she had you wars to spread religion, enslaving female prisoners and taking them as concubines and raping them.
A concept goodbye, Monica, that you Manickam killing gays and killing all Jews before the end of days. Polygamy. Some of them accept pedophilia. So I’m talking here about a common belief that infiltrated nearly all and every Islamic book that is approved by these top universities.
And this is mainstream Islam. Absolutely.
If someone wanted to disprove this, let him all of them, show us one single approved Islamic book in these universities, all of this in Islamic institutions that teaches opposite.
But, Dr. Hameed, I know many Muslims. I have good friends who are Muslims who certainly don’t believe any of those things you just mentioned. What you just mentioned seems to me as a Westerner, as an American, as an extremist form of Islam, not the kind of Islam that most Muslims I know would ever practice.
Actually, we need to go a bit deeper when we discuss this issue, because if you accepted violence, even if you didn’t practice it, you should be considered contributing to the overall violence. So what I am saying here, there is a concept that I call called passive federative when you will believe in violent acts. You don’t practice them, but you support the belief and you become silent against the active terrorists. So what I want to say here is that that is a dynamic relationship between the Muslim majority.
Well, till now did not diminish threat for a single time with. And in great number again is bin Laden himself. We haven’t seen them burdening his photo. When he announced in September the 11th they haven’t done this. We haven’t seen a single fatwah for to consider bin Laden an apostate. Compare this to the fatwa against Solomon Rushdie for writing and all that they consider an apostate in few days after his book became famous. So what you want to say here is you don’t need to do the act to be criminals. Just proving it, just being passive against it is unacceptable.
I want to talk more about passive terrorism, as you’re calling it, in a moment. Let’s still talk about your biography, because your history is, as I mentioned before. It’s absolutely amazing. You joined this organization. You actually heard al-Zawahiri preach, but you never yourself perpetrated any violence. What kept you from being violent yourself?
No, I was a I be a change. And I became more ready to do violent acts.
I started to think it was just the thinking level. I started to think to burn churches, to burn mosques for people who do not follow my my radical beliefs.
How do you know that wasn’t just you? How do you know you were unique in thinking these beliefs?
Everyone around you in the malls think in the same manner and accepted the same thing, but or more the same thing. And you find it promoted every word in the Jemaah Islamiyah and admin. And it only amazes me, actually. You wrote an ordinary mosque after the Friday prayer. The Nortman thing was to raise your hands to God or Allah and ask him to do courtesies as Jews and the Christians and all the congregation saying, I mean, this was part of the prayer. How does that, until recently was practiced in most mosques and just a year ago or something like that? It was not at the level off, which is an important Islamic organization in Egypt. Stop the mullahs and imams from saying this girl every Friday prayer. My God. Yeah, exactly. So it’s something that was obvious for anyone who follow their traditional Islamic teachings. So what’s happened inside that mosque of the year? Most of us were interested in jihad. Many of us already went to Afghanistan. I was invited to war with them, but I was invited actually in time when I started to visit it. It’s actually when I I thought about taking to the theoretical violence into practice. Then I felt that if something goes wrong and I started to back down or hesitate or retreat.
Jim Underdown, what do you think made you hesitate?
One of the main factors that made me hesitate was that political thinking that my father and mother taught me when I was young. And even though I was brainwashed, they admitted for some period of time. But in the last moments when I felt I’m going to hurt that human being and this political thinking, it helped me a lot to to get out of it. And honestly, also, there were some verses I read when I was young. I was criticizing the Bible, trying actually to criticize the Bible as a method of debates with my fellow Christians in the country. But I learned many good and soft meanings from it. So and meanings of love. And so this affected also my mind a lot. Plus probably my personality that I was not in in my upbringing. My my father and mother were not supportive of using violence. They used to support thinking the prophets saw the integration of these factors. Probably helped me a lot to to to not to continue in this path.
You have a message that’s not just to radical Muslims or jihadists, but you you have a message for all Muslims and even for non-Muslims what they should know about jihad. I want to talk to you about that. And I really want to get back to that subject of call it liberal Muslims who don’t speak up. They are passive terrorists.
Let’s first that I didn’t say liberal Muslims. I’m saying Muslims who do not speak up clearly and in an unambiguous manner, again, as the terrorists should be considered passive devils because they actually send a message of support to these terrorists by being passive Jim Underdown.
Let’s get in to the real roots of jihad. Some people, especially on the left in the United States and Europe. They blame jihadism. This violent form of Islam. They say that it’s caused by failed U.S. foreign policy. Not that it’s coming from the religion of Islam, but that it’s coming from.
That America is somewhat to blame, like the political and socio economic situation that you mean. Yes.
In the Middle East. Let me just put it in simple words. Is the socio economic and political factors. The men? Because of this sort, the violence against the West and the United States. And let me ask one question, why then it did not affect the Palestinians who live in the Middle East. Millions of them live under the same socio economic and political circumstances, exactly like the fellow Muslims. Why the problem only occurs in Muslim if the socio economic and political circumstances. What is the cause of this problem? We would have seen many Christians contributing to this violence in the Middle East. But this never happened. So we we need to think here about this selective involvement of Muslims in the process. It’s obviously not a factor of a political end when you see many terrorists were were not for like bin Laden. And a billion out Ayman al-Zawahiri from a very wealthy family in Egypt.
I was from a relatively wealthy family as well. So. And I never suffered from lack of education or near that. Neither of them saw these concepts. When you will go to the statistics and see most of the terrorists with highly educated people. Just still, you know, it doesn’t work that way, as you think here in the West. There’s very important issue here, which is a lack of democracy, for example. You go to that home grown terrorism in London. Don’t tell me London and UK don’t have democracy. They practice democracy here. Tom Wood on terrorism developing them. It is not the war in Iraq. See, Canada, there was Mesia of plot against Canada to kill the prime minister, to behead him and explode the parliament and many broadcasting buildings while Canada was against the war in Iraq. And let me add something extremely important also here, which is the Arab-Israeli conflict. I don’t think any sane person on this globe can convince me that killing more than 150000 Algerians, innocent Algerians by the hand of the Islamists, killing their kids in front of them and beheading them and burdening the faces of their wives if they don’t wear the hijab or a killing thousands of Buddhists in Thailand or the Sunni killing cars and burning their mosques in many places in the world, I don’t think this could be related in any way to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
So where is it coming from? This is a paradox in Muslim extremism. You mentioned the wealth and the kind of the benefits of the West that many of the jihadists experienced. They know there’s such an antipathy for the West, for Western values. But many of the hijackers on 9/11 were educated in the West. They were trained in the sciences. They were wealthy. As as you mentioned, you were bin Laden, al Zawahiri. Help me wrap my head around where it’s coming from. If it’s not coming from this, you know, the left’s explanation that it’s because America’s done bad things, therefore, jihadism exists.
It comes from certain mind set changes that happen in individuals gradually beginning from teaching you to be involved onto others. Then they teach you to hate them. Then the teaching teaches you to suppress your conscience in many situations, and then they teach you to use violence. And when you teach someone that killing an apostate is gay or beating a woman is fine. This teaches him the sort of violence that began later on develop into this sort of jihad. But let me have a very important issue here, which is that when the concept of jihad has changed in the last 50 years from declaring jihadi war on non-Muslims to stop, you give them to Islam. This was at a national level or nation level. The whole Islamic nation or Ummah should declared war. According to that, that additional mainstream Islam should declare war on non-Muslims to subjugate them to Islam.
And that’s the older view.
This is a as a Protestant view. And you can see it clearly in the flag of Saudi Arabia. You can see the a sword and above it the word of no God but Allah. And Mohammed is the prophet, which is simply symbolize this, meaning that to are coming to you with the sword, to subjugate you all to Islam. But what’s happened in the last 50 years, the concept of jihad has changed for me. Nation live in to an individual level. So instead of fight waiting for the whole nation, Islam or Islamic nation to do the job, people have started to take it at the individual level. And this is the origin of this terrorism. And this was based on a verse in the Koran that says, well, fuck off if he said CBT lay Letterkenny left and F Stuka fired for the cause of Allah, you are only responsible for thyself. So the prophets happened exactly like this when Saudi Arabia became rich in the late 70s. We started the. Like in the Arab peninsula, that form of Islam that was there was Salafi Islam, extremely violent form of Islam. And we used to have this sort of Sufi Islam or a mix of Islam or Judeo-Christian culture. So we used to have some form of Islam that tolerated Jews and the Christians to live with us.
And that was the Sufi Islam. Kind of a more of a mystical tolerance.
Exactly. And it allows art and the music. But you see that Salafi Islam in Saudi Arabia. It didn’t allow one Christian or one Jew to survive in Saudi Arabia. It was dominant form as that destroyed any other believe for ideology beside it. You can’t have one single Saudi Christian as you while thousands of of them used to live there. I’m talking about one single note, too. So this floatable of Islam suppressed women, put them in this Blackbaud or suppress the music and the many arts. And you can see this form of Islam, but just destructive. It does not allow any ideology to survive beside it. What’s happened when Saudi Arabia became rich in the late 70s? They started to export to this form of Islam, support it via the Wahhabism religious authority. And not only that, we started to say to each other, look how Allah bless the Saudi Arabia by wealth and betrayal, because they practice this form or they have this form of Salafi Islam. So gradually we adopted it. And this violent form of Islam, and it plays out previously relatively moderate form of Islam. So this is what happened. Exactly. And now the world is facing the Salafi Islam that does not allow or to proliferate any form of ideology or belief decided because it immigrated to us. And then from us was your wonderful immigration policies. You invited it to Europe and you, the United States. And here is the problem that was look alive in Saudi Arabia or the cancer has metastasized to our parts of the world, in the Middle East and then to USA and Europe and other parts of the world.
Dr. Hamid, Salafi Islam, this kind of violent Islam that has taken over Saudi Arabia, the Arabian Peninsula, as you just mentioned. That doesn’t seem to be the kind of Islam as practiced in all the Muslims that I know or the Muslims that we would consider moderates, the Muslims who would consider themselves, say, Muslim, American. So how is it still having such an impact on Islam as a world religion?
Actually, Salafi Islam constitutes the only theologically based form of Islam. You know, Sufi Islam does not have a powerful theological base. You will not find it does see it of the Koran or explanation of the Koran. That is not Salafi in multifocal stances. It will be Salafi. And so Salafi Islam, it creates that theoretical base for violence. It might be practiced and might not be practiced depending on the situation. Like, for example, even in Saudi Arabia, the royal family themselves are not very religious.
So you can say that that that that this is even many people see it as a violent form of Islam that’s practiced there. But for people like bin Laden, they are the ones who practice that true Salafi form of Islam. This was in Taliban. So different representations can happen for the same disease here in any country like Egypt. People believe in Salafi Islam, but that government is secular. If, you know, implemented like sort of democracy all of a sudden like this and the people are choosing, they will choose people like bin Laden and this kind of people to lead them.
So democracy is not necessarily the right goal for some parts of the Muslim world. You need secularism first.
Absolutely. Because Islamism is an obstacle for democracy. You need secularism first and then democracy can be there. Long term strategic goal, but immediate and instant application of democracy without proper preparation for it will just end in a catastrophe like what happened in the in than West Bank when they chose Hamas. The same will happen in Egypt. They choose Islamic Brotherhood and many other parts of the world. It’s happened in Algeria in the 90s. They also choose the Salafi groups because the Salafi Islamic groups goals. But in watching for people, the promised them paradise as they tell them they will. If they followed them, they will not go to hell forever. And they use sutin brainwashing tactics that’s effective.
Dr. Ahmed, I want to talk to you about a couple other things before we finish up care. The Council of American Islamic Relations. It’s considered by many a moderate push group for Muslim Americans, these Muslim. Though, would differ from you. You’re not a rationalist Muslim, you’re not a skeptical Muslim, you’re still a Muslim, you believe, but you believe, unlike care, that Islam needs to be reformed.
I have no doubt about this. And the one you mentioned, coward and the word moderate. I just need the American people and the whole world to define. What do they mean by the word moderate?
Well, moderate. They’re not blowing up buildings.
This is not moderate because I explained to you the phenomena of. That’s if you support the terrorists by being passive. And when you teach someone like let me be very frank, kid organization till now did not denounce bin Laden by name. If you don’t denounce the terrorists by name. This is a hidden message in our culture to support him.
So you’re saying care. There are terrorists in value and belief, but not in practice.
Absolutely. And when you accept this and we when you don’t know of bin Laden, you don’t usually fuck one on bin Laden, like the fatwa on Salaman Rushdie. Then you are actually deceiving the West and telling the terrorists, we are just playing with the words, telling this with our people, we are against terrorism and all such things. But we support people by being passive, by not demonstrating against them. We’re scared. Like in the last five years, I’ve arranged it for a huge demonstration, again, of bin Laden. But you repeat again and again, is bin Laden not against terrorism? And we have seen them issuing a fatwa against him or stating clearly on their Web site. This is what I’m asking them to do. If they were truly moderate, let them put clearly on their Web site that the application of that or killing the apostate that is happening in Saudi Arabia now is the accept that is wrong. Let them see that accepting beating women in Shariah law that is applied in Iran and Saudi Arabia in many parts and accept it is wrong. Let them see clearly that Jews are not big on monkeys. Let them see clearly that declaring jihad to spread Islam and force people on Islam or being a humiliating back support jizya or to be killed. Is it wrong the concept or should not be applied to any more? So let them be clear about these violent aspects. Let them be clear about the countries that apply the Shariah law and and their polygamy and pedophilia or such things. We need clarity here and unambiguous statements. It is very easy to say ambiguous statements like we love B if we support a democracy, we don’t like terrorism, but they mean something else. It could mean something else undermined by terrorism. So it is vital in our culture. When they do a crime, you denounce me by name, not just denounce the act. When you denounce the act, I will immediately understand it that you are supporting me and you just don’t want to expose yourself.
So last question before we finish up. You say Islam needs to be reformed, but we hear from all quarters that Islam is a religion of peace. Don’t just the violent Muslims need to be reformed. Surely you don’t mean all of Islam needs to be reformed?
Absolutely. Certain elements in the Salafis like teaching the ones they mentioned killing that Boston beating women, putting just the monkeys as you hope to spread religion, all these things and others. This all of the elements that need to be will be reformed. There is no need to reform things that are not violent, like praying or fasting. This is not violent.
So the I’m talking here about selective violent aspects. And instead of talking like people talk forever about that issue. It is just one simple thing to do. Let the university or Saudi Arabia or kid organization show us one single approved Islamic text that clearly banned again, killing the apples or beating woman or killing calling Jews pigs and monkeys or declaring jihad to spread their religion or enslaving Simmen water. But isn’t as to rape them or to polygamy or to pedophilia or killing gays. I’m sorry, it’s long. It’s a long list, but let them show us one single approved book to say that these things are wrong. Then I will tell you there is no need to reform it. Then, if these things are right and the only stood, again, these violent aspects, clearly, because let me ask you a question. Do you think that people who follow these beliefs or accept them could be considered moderate? That is the question. Do you define moderate only by doing good terrorism? So how about the homegrown terrorists? One day before doing that back, do you consider them moderates? What do you consider the society that supported these violent beliefs until it materialized? Do you consider this culture moderate? How would you define the word moderate? Is it either by killing or of those who support the process in any way should be criminalized as well?
So if if you’re only going to reform the violent aspects and have approved texts from universities that denounced those violent aspects, are are you talking about rewriting the Koran?
No, there is no changing one letter in the Koran. You can’t change the Koran. The Koran is the Koran, but you will understand it if you change only the understanding of the violent aspect of the Koran. This is all what is needed. So if it is, I’m not talking here. I believe that the Koran is the Koran. You cannot change even the world or the letter. But certainly we can change the understanding. And this what is needed and there are many things like, for example, the concept of giving the Uphoff that. All of that. That concept of stoning woman to death or the concept of killing gays. But what if the Koran says to do that’s that our way is in Arabic language and based on relating the verses together or understanding the verses in relation to each other and putting that certain historical and contextual end and language issues in the explanation to change the understanding to make it different. Like I would like. I can give you an example, like the concept of human rights.
It may seem contradicting too many things in Shariah because the Shariah says polygamy is allow it. Killing gays is fine, for example. But when you see in that in the in the in the court itself, that is a verse that says Hosie life.
Well, what moldable automotive means commanded the believers to football. What is commonly accepted by humans which could demean. Now you can take it further and say this could mean human rights. So you can have equal unagi justification for human rights. And this is a command from God. So Muslims can follow it and do not feel that the problem of doing something again is God. They feel by following the human rights, they are applying the Koran. So you can really understand the verses. Actually, I worked on this for the last 20 years in my life and more, and I developed a complete devotion of a new understanding of the Koran without changing a little.
Basically what you’re saying is interpret the Koran nonviolently. What Christians did with their holy text. What others did with their sacred books. Read out of or read into the holy text. Nonviolence. If the Bible says Stone, a homosexual. Well, understand that that you know, that was from a nomadic tribe and we don’t really need to do that. Now you’re saying don’t take it literally, but interpret it nonviolently. That sounds very controversial for a devout Muslim.
Absolutely. Because the idea was to take it literally. So the way of understanding the Koran can go from the literature to concept delivered of understanding, which can make huge change and impact in the Islamic world.
That sounds like a liberal Muslim. It sounds like it’s a hard sell in the Muslim world. Tell me about the secular Islam summit.
This was the second or third conference of its kind, but really the first of its kind in its magnitude and attention worldwide. The first secularism conference along these lines was held in Cairo, Egypt. Paul Kurts helped organize this with allies in Muslim countries that was held in 1994 and was called secularism and enlightenment in Islamic countries. This summit in St. Petersburg, Florida, was along the same lines and was really groundbreaking.
Yes, absolutely. It was a wonderful, amazing step that I was really honored to show in it. And it was a great thing to be done in this time of history. And I thought his youth, all of those who organized such a great event and I believe it is the first step, but it is the most critical one because it will open the gate for many other steps for peace.
Thank you very much for joining me on point of inquiry. Toughie. Come in. Thank you.
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