Oxford’s utilitarian bioethicist Julian Savulescu, with others, has proposed what they call moral bioenhancement – achieving moral outcomes with the help of drugs, genetic engineering and other technologies. As he wrote in 2012:
“Our moral shortcomings are preventing our political institutions from acting effectively. Enhancing our moral motivation would enable us to act better for distant people, future generations, and non-human animals.”
While this idea has not been greeted with great enthusiasm by most governments, there is one which may be taking it seriously – the Islamic State. Obviously, though, these gentlemen have a somewhat different view of what constitutes “acting better”.
According to reports in the French media, the terrorists who killed 130 people in Paris on November 13 were high on Captagon, a black-market amphetamine. Witnesses said that the killers were almost zombie-like. “I saw a man shoot,” one witness told French TV. “I saw a man who was peaceful, composed, with a face that was almost serene, contemplative, advance towards the bar. He sprayed the terrace [with bullets] as anyone else would spray their lawn with a garden hose.”
The main market for captagon is the Middle East, where organised crime, ISIS and other players manage a market worth hundreds of millions of dollars. A Saudi prince was arrested in Beirut this month after he was caught smuggling 40 suitcases of Captagon and cocaine back to Riyadh.
Masood Karimipour, of the United Nations’ office for drugs and crime, says that the drug gives fighters “chemical courage”, making them feel invincible. “Certainly it is not consistent with any interpretation of Islam,” he says. However, the Islamic State seem “to be reading a different book from other Muslims in the world .. so I don’t think they’re going to draw the line at the use or distribution of drugs.”
Moral bioenhancement to achieve a global caliphate: it’s an ambitious goal, but if anyone can do, it’s these guys. It’s probably not the vision of a better world that Professor Savulescu had in mind.
The Islamic State may be pumping its fighters full of a black-market amphetamine.
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