Might offending Muslims actually strengthen their faith, you dimwits?

Sunday, February 05, 2006
Prospero:

...Nor does putting ourselves (as conservative judeo-christians who would be offended by...) in the others shoes seem to take us very far here: once we say the obvious, that we wouldn't threaten to blow up the museum showing "Piss Christ," etc., what's really left of the analogy? And by now, aren't conservative Christians sufficiently intellectually armed so that, rather than taking offense, they can demonstrate to the satisfaction of any serious observer that works of art or arguments that depend upon cheap shots against basic Christian beliefs are vapid and simply discredit those who produce them? Now, how did Christians get to be somewhat better armed, intellectually, than they were, say, in 1975? Shouldn't the argument be that the best thing for Muslims would be to be compelled to argue for their faith in a skeptical world? It seems to me that Hewitt's real fear is that if "moderate Muslims," held to rigorous intellectual standards, tried to argue that the cartoon showing Mohammed with a bomb in his turban was really a gross slander against the Islamic faith they might not be able to pull it off. This is why I associate his anxieties with the more legalistic approach to terrorism--it vainly hopes to contain events within a formalistic framework which depends upon a supportive, stable environment: police can carry out a months or years long investigation of some drug cartel because they know the basic social parameters are not going to be upended in the meantime--police forces in other cities are not going to go over to the cartel's side. But war is not like that--you can't plan anything on the assumption that for the next 6 months we can count on the press being "responsible....

Moderate Muslims need to be on our side because they think it's the right side, because they want to live in freer societies--not because they are continually assured that our actions have sufficiently taken into account the full range of their sensibilities. And because they are sure that we are determined to win."

Prospero

43 comments:

Promethea said...

I'd like to hear from Muslims as to why they think their religion is better than Judaism or Christianity or Buddhism.

Mohammadans--please give a short explanation of your beliefs. Maybe I'll be convinced. And maybe not. Take a chance.

Re Judaism--it can be summed up in the words of the Prophet Michah--"Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God."

Mohammadans--what do you have to offer the world that we don't ALREADY have???

chuck said...

Perhaps we should apply the code duello. It has a whole procedure for dealing with insults, insults returned in response to the first insult, first apologies, second apologies, etc., etc. If we are dealing with honor we should resort to the experts. Indeed, I think the first rule has some application in this case:

Rule 1. The first offense requires the first apology, though the retort may have been more offensive than the insult. Example: A tells B he is impertinent, etc. B retorts that he lies; yet A must make the first apology because he gave the first offense, and then (after one fire) B may explain away the retort by a subsequent apology.

Hmmm... who should represent the parties? Perhaps every corporation and government should keep champions on hand, the UN could supply seconds, and the networks could bid on the coverage.

MeaninglessHotAir said...

Promethea,

In case you don't get any takers.... According to the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, Christianity went astray by incorporating Greek thought into its system and thereby elevating Man to a position he is unworthy of in the universe. Islam is superior, he said, because it brings Man back to his proper place, submission before the almighty, humble in the face of God. This is what Islam has to offer.

Syl said...

Seems to me rather than making muslims love their faith more, the overreaction only brings shame to Islam. Protesting with fiery words is in the Islamic tradition, but burning embassies is not.

Knucklehead said...

Prospero does make a point that does not seem to be raised in the general discussion about what to do about "radical" Islam.

The argument, such as it is, that we conduct among ourselves in the "west" is framed in terms either of engagement or disengagement.

The idea of disengagement suggests that we can somehow reorder and reconstruct our western lives in some way that allows us to refrain from contact with "the Islamic world" and leave them to themselves. This idea does not hold much promise because we cannot reorder and reconstruct our western lives without becoming that which those who would have us do so seem to believe the Islamic world would be if we would just "leave them alone". A rather severe isolationism, a withdrawal from large geographic segments of the planet as well as from enormous numbers of people, culture, and resources would be required and we just have no idea how to go about that. The west had its Dark Ages and we really have no way to recover them.

The idea of disengagement, however, fails because there is absolutely no evidence that the Islamic world would allow for such disengagement. It is an expansionist world that is always in engagment with the world around it. It is not realistically possible to disengage with that which is relentlessly, and violently, aggressive. The choice to disengage is no more available to us today than it was to indigenous peoples of the past.

Engagement is the only choice available to us and it is this area where the only meaningful portion of the debate within the west is being conducted. The question is, of course, how to go about engaging the Islamic world.

The engagement debate is framed within the spectrum that ranges for absorption to total war. Although I doubt any who put forth the "absorption" notion of how to properly engage it is, essentially, a "rope-a-dope" methodology without the strike back and defeat the opponent end game.

This argument, as far as I can make it out, is the west is strong enough to absorb the worst the radicals in the Islamic world can dish out and that eventually they will spend their fury and succumb to the charms and advantages of the west. Personally I find this idea a bit Vichy.

The other end of the spectrum for engagement is, essentially, nuke 'em till they glow.

Along the engagement spectrum there are various combinations of "talk to them" and "agressive defense". It would be enormously helpful if there was some strong base within the Islamic world that was actively interested in non-violent engagement with the west and with itself. If, however, Islam is all about submission it seems quite understandable that there is no such base within it. There are, instead, only those who submit and those who define the terms and conditions of submission.

Rick Ballard said...

Knuck,

Exploration of the term 'inshallah' roughly translated as "if Allah wills" or "as Allah wills" has to be combined with the submission aspect (in my view) in order to understand the apathetic response of the "moderate" Muslims to the headchoppers actions and words.

If all is written before it occurs, then volitional personal action is both unnecessary and potentialy a sin. There is no theological "duty to act" on a personal basis unless it conforms to a specific teaching - as interpreted by a "trained scholar".

The reasoning forms a solipsistic theology without escape through personal exegesis. Very cool if you're a bandit leader generating a rationale for doing what you damn well please. And it's very difficult to argue its "success" as the underpinning of a system of governance.

It's also a very good rationale for kicking their butts until they holler "uncle". After all, it is written....

Knucklehead said...

Rick,

Very cool if you're a bandit leader generating a rationale for doing what you damn well please. And it's very difficult to argue its "success" as the underpinning of a system of governance.

There is a bit of John Dillinger Slept Here going on in all this, isn't there.

Buddy Larsen said...

Too, more than one false Christian has rationalized whatever personal behavior seems fun, as, "Well, since God controls all, it must be okay!" What is a misunderstanding of 'free will' in western theology is apparently something quite elsae in fundie Islam. Not a misunderstanding but rather a 'complete' understanding. That is, an understanding without irony or mystery or an ability to accept the incomplete 'godliness' of mankind. IOW, the child's 'understanding' of the world; whole, relentlessly tautological, utterly self-referential--and in great need of discipline.

Eric Blair said...

It could be that all this flag burning (and cross burning--curious that) might go and remind Europeans just what this is ultimately all about.

I have an aquaintance in Copenhagen and he, although pretty much a standard line liberal thinker, is coming around to the idea that not only does this need to be stood up to, but needs to be dealt with proactively.

Never thought I'd see that out of him.

flenser said...

truepeers

Shouldn't the argument be that the best thing for Muslims would be to be compelled to argue for their faith in a skeptical world?

Unfortunately, I get the impression that this is meant as a rhetorical question, and not as an open issue.

Clearly, this would not be the “best thing for Muslims” or for any other set of believers. The nature of belief is that it cannot withstand skeptical scrutiny, which is why “believers” always devise mechanisms to marginalize skeptics.

The Western belief system(s) are themselves based on ideas which are no more or less arbitrary than any others. Within the West these ideas are sufficiently secure that their adherents do not feel the need to use violence in their defense. But viewed in a global context Western ideas are neither common nor popular. It’s useful to recognize that basic fact as it leads to more clarity in discussing what ought to be done about it.

One school of thought, represented here by Hewitt, holds that we in the West are not entirely without fault and that we might find it easier to come to an accommodation with the “moderates” in the non-West if we could tone down the worst excesses of our own culture.

Another school holds that the “worst excesses” above are precisely what our culture is designed to produce and are the zenith of its achievement.

As I’ve said before, the West is hardly monolithic, and there is an ongoing “culture war” in the West precisely because we don’t have an agreement about who and what we are.


Moderate Muslims need to be on our side because they think it's the right side, because they want to live in freer societies..

I’m sure they do want to live in a free society, but their definition of that term is likely to be quite different from that of most Westerners. I should say “most modern Westerners”, as the contemporary Western understanding of freedom and liberty is quite different from what it was fifty, a hundred, or two hundred years ago. (And is also no doubt different than it will be fifty or a hundred years from now)

Perhaps there was some subtle point to Prospero’s article which I missed, but what I took away from it was that he feels we ought to offer “moderate Muslims” the choice of embracing either OBL and radical Islamism on the one hand, or a radial liberalism which regards them and their religion with contempt on the other. Depending on what your goal is, that may or may not be a useful offer to make.

Syl said...

flenser

there is an ongoing “culture war” in the West precisely because we don’t have an agreement about who and what we are.

And may it always be so. It is the strength of our society that we have and express such differing views.

If we were to stick to one view of who and what we are, we would get stuck in the century in which we reached that consensus.

Oh, say, like the subjects of whom we are speaking.

terrye said...

I think a lot of Muslims are ashamed of this kind of reaction but lack the courage to stand up. They are torn.

The West is proud of its diversity but it seems to me that Muslims are intimidated by light of day and so they keep themselves in darkness. Just look at how many Muslims in the ME are illiterate and depend on the teachings of a cleric or imam to know what is in the Koran.

What we are seeing is not only the violent collision of Islam and the West, but the collision of the past and the future in the Islamic world.

Rick Ballard said...

Terrye,

The other little tickler for "moderate" Muslims is the fatwa, they are subject to having a license to kill issued with their name and picture on it whenever they poke their heads up.

That returns us to who gets to "appoint" the "Islamic scholars" who can issue the license. Like say, the King in the KSA, the mad mullahs in Iran, and Assad in Syria (although the Allawi are not big on fatwas, to my knowledge). And, oh yeah, - whoever is running the Hamas or the PLO.

It's a theology of thugs and it always has been. A despot's delight.

truepeers said...

Flenser's comments call for a lengthy reply...

Unfortunately, I get the impression that this is meant as a rhetorical question, and not as an open issue.

-no, I think Prospero/Adam really means that Islam should be put fully to the test of reason, as should other faiths. Reason and faith are not at odds, in the sense that the strongest reason calls out for the strongest faith; a reason that does not understand its need for faith is a reason that is burying important questions in a way that will mitigate against it taking either an active or a relatively non-violent role in the world. And a faith that thinks it can survive without changing according to the call of reason is going to die, sooner or later. I know Prospero believes that faith is essential to life in the modern world, and that while he would reject many Muslim beliefs, he seems to think some kind of Islamic faith could survive the rejection of certain beliefs. At least he believes that this proposition must be duly tested in the laboratory of history; if it turns out, in the end, that no Islamic faith can survive the demands of human freedom, then it is Islam, not freedom, that must fade away. In other words, he believes there are some things fundamental to all human beings – like free will - that precede their specific, historically-defined faiths. If their faith is in conflict with the nature of this minimal or fundamental humanity, then it must either be able to mediate this conflict and change, or it must go.

Clearly, this would not be the “best thing for Muslims” or for any other set of believers. The nature of belief is that it cannot withstand skeptical scrutiny, which is why “believers” always devise mechanisms to marginalize skeptics.

well here we again have to make a distinction between belief and faith, and note that Prospero used the word faith. A belief, such as that the Koran is the eternal and uncreated word, can surely be threatened by skepticism; but perhaps the larger faith that comes out of the Islamic tradition need not ultimately be threatened by the erosion of specific beliefs - if the most fundamental beliefs could be shown by Islamic scholars to be true in a light different from that in which both the present uncritical believer and skeptic see them - just as there are very faithful Christians who don’t take everything in the Bible literally – or at least not like the most literal believers - yet are able to see the fundamental human and historical truths in the book nonetheless.

The question remains of course whether there can be a strong Islamic faith once all the questionable beliefs are marginalized or re-interpreted. First of all, this would require putting faith in both some fundamental anthropological truths underlying the religion, and in some kind of historical evolution in Muslim self-understanding of these truths. But it is of course the belief – and the essential point of contention in their sectarian divides - that the Muslim must adhere to the Islamic tradition that is the true heir of the original word, as given to Mohammed, that puts in question the ability for any strong faith in an unfolding, open-ended future. I am not a Muslim, and cannot have much of a sense of what the faith might or might not become in future. All I can say is that Islam will eventually collapse if they can have no faith in the future beyond the terms of radical Jihadist ideology. The idea of everyone on earth being converted by the sword and bowing down together in harmony to the one God is utopian and completely unrealistic about human nature. But perhaps a strong faith could unfold from some more humble and realistic interpretation of Jihad. It's not for me to know or say. We can only demand that the Moderate Muslims pursue this point.

The Western belief system(s) are themselves based on ideas which are no more or less arbitrary than any others

-you think our ideas are simply the product of some arbitrary will to power? I hope not; heavens no they're not. Ideas are tested against a reality that is out there and in all human beings whether we recognize it or not. That’s not to say any idea is entirely true or untrue. The test of any mode of thought is simply whether it is better than what came before, whether it allows us relatively more self-understanding and freedom than what came before.

I’m sure they do want to live in a free society, but their definition of that term is likely to be quite different from that of most Westerners. I should say “most modern Westerners”, as the contemporary Western understanding of freedom and liberty is quite different from what it was fifty, a hundred, or two hundred years ago...

Perhaps there was some subtle point to Prospero’s article which I missed, but what I took away from it was that he feels we ought to offer “moderate Muslims” the choice of embracing either OBL and radical Islamism on the one hand, or a radial liberalism which regards them and their religion with contempt on the other. Depending on what your goal is, that may or may not be a useful offer to make.


I think Prospero’s essential point, subtle or not, is his last: “Moderate Muslims need to be on our side because they think it's the right side, because they want to live in freer societies... And because they are sure that we are determined to win."
In other words, a moderate Muslim is someone who recognizes positive things in western society that the west is both willing and able to defend. MMs are people able to put their faith in some kind of reciprocal relationship with self-affirming westerners. They don’t dream or feel the need for all of us to be killed or converted. They want us to win against OBL; and they need to think we’re going to win. That is, they are able to make an act of faith that goes beyond any specific Islamic belief, a faith that will contradict some more radical interpretations of Jihad. So the MM must face the question of whether a radical religion that would disable such an act of faith on their part is worth a damn and say no.

The terms of free society are of course something we will always all need to argue about. Freedoms can be destructive and we can only mitigate this danger by having the freedom to develop both the reason and faith that can allow us to survive together in freedom the dangers of freedom. As long as we agree to this, we can have a common basis for some shared faith and decision-making processes, and we don’t have to worry endlessly about the specific freedoms we personally would choose or reject, because we can agree not to let our differences rip us apart.

But the question of shared faith comes down ultimately to a question of war, not policing. In the final analysis, one has to decide which side are you on. Is it the side of the larger, or less accommodating act of human faith? Prospero argues that the larger act of faith in a common humanity is not presently equivalent to belief in some one world utopia or tranzi liberalism. It is clear that Prospero is not offering OBL or radical liberalism. He is asking do you want OBL and the utopian dream of global caliphacism, or rather a commitment to minimizing the political violence that threatens a global system of trade? He thinks we should combine global trade with a political order that divides the world among competing, self-interested, democratic nations which will have their different values beyond their common faith in building a minimal international order to mediate their differences through the least violent means. In other words, it is a vision in which nations will recognize that they are in conflict with each other, and so these will be nations that will reject tyranny or utopian violence as a means of dealing with internal or external conflict, because they will admit that tyranny and utopian thinking is not only a question for “their own people” but a threat to everyone else in the global village. Tyrannies inevitably need external scapegoats.

Prospero’s idea is that it is better to believe in a world of democratic nations, where nations may get into violent conflicts with each other because of their differences – one nation might continually elect theocrats, another atheists - than a world in which we put our faith in one world government and thus risk global civil wars without an inter-national order to mediate our differences.

The Bush plan to democratize the ME can seem rather unrealistic sometimes, given present conditions with Hamas, etc.; but whatever the short-term exigencies, in the long run it is surely necessary for the survival of humanity that we embrace democracy over tyranny, and (inter)national differences and a minimal level of conflict over caliphacism or western utopianism.

RogerA said...

Great comments--a couple of disjointed thoughts: is there such a thing as a moderate Muslim?
I have seen NO evidence to support that terminology; and as Rick Ballard points out, you honestly cannot understand islam until you understand exactly what einshalla (as god wills) means--it characterizes Islamic fatalism; it forgives any actions that the caliphate might take, and if they are overturned or changed, then they werent wrong to start with; it comes as close as I can think of as being the universal moral solvent. Until we in the West understand the true implications of einshalla, we will NEVER understand Moslem.

Rick Ballard said...

In my mind a moderate Muslim would have to be close to a nominal Christian in nature. Someone who darkens the door of a mosque as often as a nominal Christian darkens the door of a church.

Certainly, secular moderates exist in the Arab world, as do agnostics and atheists. But the culture is shaped by religion and they don't carry much weight (although they have in the not too distant past). I'm not too excited about moderate Muslims at any rate - Saddam was certainly moderate in his religious life for most of it.

How can one speak as a moderate when heresy and conversion are capital offenses? When the clerisy are the judges? Are moderates noted for risking death in any religion?

truepeers said...

My comments above could have used an editor, sorry.

Moderate Muslims do exist, but like Rick I suspect they are mostly on the road to a largely secular life, living in mixed company in the west.

Nonetheless, when push comes to shove, when it becomes clearer that the choice is between a radical Islam that is incompatible with modernity, and a modernity that is incompatible with faithlessness (a lesson I think more and more in the west are learning and will continue to learn), then it is plausible that a Moderate Muslim Movement will more clearly emerge. It seems to be part of the Bush strategy to provoke such a movement. So far, there is little evidence beyond marginal figures among the small numbers of educated western Moslems.

But this is not to give up hope, as per Rick's question:

How can one speak as a moderate when heresy and conversion are capital offenses? When the clerisy are the judges? Are moderates noted for risking death in any religion?

i don't think these understandable doubts disprove Prospero's argument that we would only expect moderates to emerge when their choice is clearly stated and forced on them in terms of choosing sides in an unavoidable war, and not when they think they can continue in their safe silence (liking things about the west, but fearing their radical cousins) implicitly playing western liberalism and white guilt off against the crazies.

Many in the west are not yet seeing the present war as an occasion to specify the terms of a Moderate Muslim, so why should we expect many Moslems to join in such a, for them, dangerous debate? But the present sitution really is some kind of war, and when we and potential moderates fully admit it, then the right to apostasy, conversion, missionary activity, etc, will all have to be asserted as war aims, in the Global war against radical Islam, and people will have to choose sides accordingly. Even if only ten percent of Moslems chooose our side, don't you want them to choose so it can be a war against radical Islam, not a war against all of Islam? If Islam must eventually die out, wouldn't it be best if Muslims found that out for themselves by testing their faith in intellectually demanding ways and finding it wanting? And if they do, and they find a viable Moderate Islam for modern times, then we don't want in future to live with the bad conscience if we now call for the faith to be totally wiped out.

None of htis is to suggest we shouldn't be doing all we can to fight "radical Islam" now, wherever it crosses the line of acceptable conduct as it does in so many places, whatever high percentage of Moslems it involves.

Rick Ballard said...

Can we project the same Western attitudes upon a Muslim moderate that we hold (as members of the Anglosphere) in the belief that he will embrace common law beliefs and custom basically inculcated from the cradle? He knew no such cradle and to do so is liable to open us to unwelcome surprise.

I can go anywhere in the Anglosphere and rely upon a semblance of order derived from English common law and English custom. South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Canada and even (to a great extent) India and Singapore are places where law and custom would be as familiar to me as if I were in the mother country - that small island from which the land mass to the east is isolated.

In that same sense, a moderate Muslim will turn toward the comfort of law and custom derived from Mecca and a book written to under gird the rule of tyrants.

I will not resort to "ne'er the twain shall meet" argument for they have - in India and in Singapore (and in Kenya and Tanzania and Zimbabwe, until the ascendance of Islam or return to savagery in those countries).

Let us watch for a bit to see whether "democracy" will flourish or be subsumed when conjoined with a theology of slavery before we take many steps to meet our moderate Muslim at some midpoint.

Having watched Europe (and even the mother country) bow its neck to accept the peasants yoke of servitude over the past fifty years I feel no urge to rush to meet another form of slavery at some undetermined point in the middle of nothing.

Buddy Larsen said...

Moderate Muslims could use a hand, alright. Here's one place to start.

Buddy Larsen said...

sorry, try

http://www.freemuslims.org/

Guy was on O'Reilly tonite and he's real.

Rick Ballard said...

From the site:

"Free Muslims promotes a modern secular interpretation of Islam which is peace-loving, democracy-loving and compatible with other faiths and beliefs."

Great link, Buddy - you ought to write them up.

truepeers said...

Rick, the recent bowing of Europe to a form of slavery, thanks to the nihilism of its elites and their immersion in victimary politics, might well be a reason to move very cautiously with any talk of accomodating the Moslem world. But insisting on the need for Moderate Muslims to emerge strikes me less as any call to compromise - what are we giving up beyond reserving the ultimate possibility of banishing all Moslems from our sight? - than a recognition that those Muslims who live among us, or who live in Muslim lands but would wish to be full members of some international community, must now make a new choice, once the old choice of representing themelves as victims of the west in need of doting concern for any possible offence given, is no longer given the time of day (which implies that our greater war is within the west itself). Then, one either integrates and becomes moderate, or one is shown to be at war with the west. It seems to me it is more a question of a necessary polarizing in a time of war than of meeting half way. Either we westernize, especially those in the west, and to some practical degree those in the east, or we create the most awful wall in history.

truepeers said...

I'm not saying we can or should force anyone to be moderate; but we are compelled to portray present circumstances in a way that makes all of our increasingly stark choices clearer.

Rick Ballard said...

TP,

I agree that we should support those who appear capable of the 'westernization' necessary. I believe that the ITM brothers are at that point and I believe that there are millions of other who would like to be at that point - but many more millions who simply cannot conceive of 'freedom' as it has developed through western custom.

I don't think that they are too dumb - I think that their exposure to debased western culture has caused them to place 'license' in liberty's place when they think of the West. They have good reason for doing so based upon what they have seen or experienced.

As long as no one asks me to meet on a middle ground concerning liberty - not license but liberty - then I have no problem. But it's a very delicate concept to put through to those who have never experienced it and who look with horror at the decadence that the West casually accepts.

truepeers said...

Yes, as one of the recent London placards said, "Europe is the cancer, Islam is the answer"

Prospero, or the home of the Generative Thought Ex said...

To some extent, it does seem as if the "moderate Muslim" is a kind of theoretical fiction, an "x" we use to complete our equations. But to the extent that we see something like that actually emerge today, it is in those places where the West (the U.S. in particular) most directly confront totalitarian Islam (maybe in some cases a distinction between totalitarian and authoritarian Islam would be helpful)--in Iraq, where we have seen remarkably restrained and mature political behavior on the part of the Shiites for several years now, and in Iran, where the majority of the population has made its disdain for the mullahs clear.

Before we ask whether the Arab/Muslim world can embrace democracy, we need to ask whether they can engage reality, or, share a common reality with the rest of the world. This means, very broadly, certain rules of engagement. A dictatorial regime like China seeks to determine the policy of other states, and even how it is represented; it is concerned with things like its dignity and honor--but it uses traditional, known and therefore reasonably predictable means to pressure others. And this is because the Chinese government seems to have a rather high sense of responsibility for managing the future of its people (which, of course, doesn't legitimate their rule in the slightest).

Part of our engagement in Iraq is to establish the rules of the game--here's what we will insist upon, here's who can count on us as an ally, or as an enemy, here's how far we're willing to commit. The "moderate" Muslims will be first of all those who prefer us as allies, for their own reasons, and then will be those who, amongst our allies, find each other as allies--and then, if we are genuinely supporting the right things and stick to it, the rest might (we can't speak of certainty here) take care of itself. That, at least, seems to me both the most honorable and the most reasonable and realistic course. It also happens to be a rather difficult one. And in this context, the cartoon wars are really about our will--"apologizing" or agreeing that the cartoons are, "of course," offensive, signal that for the sake of short term peace we are willing to abandon borader principles, and we therefore make ourselves less trusted as allies.

Rick Ballard said...

Prospero,

Thanks for an excellent comment. I can only add that in addition to the positive points that you bring forth, the concept of inshallah enters in. That's a huge point to which Westerners are mostly blind.

A Muslim looks at success and strength as being derived from the will of Allah - if you are on top, it is because Allah willed it. So get on top and you are likely to stay on top - for who would oppose one who Allah obviously favors?

Theology holds the trump on reason in the Islamic world and it is best to keep that concept on a front burner.

Buddy Larsen said...

Long-term, the current Islamic hysteria may well prove to've been a last gasp. Modernization is relentless--it's part of 'time' after all.

truepeers said...

Prospero, thanks for your comment. Your focus on rules of engagement reminds me of Thomas Barnett. Are you going to blog about him?

Rick, you might be interested in David Warren's latest

Buddy, I think you may be somehow right, but can you imagine a modernization that forever does away with religion, let alone hysteria?

Knucklehead said...

I'd like to join the others in thanking you for an excellent comment, Prospero.

I would like to read and expansion of TP's point regarding the similarity, if any, between your point and Barnett's work. I'm still undecided about Barnett overall but I think his "Core and Gap" thesis is a useful way to look at the problem.

The notion of arriving at rules of engagement is a good one. It touches on a topic raised over at Roger's Place by a commenter named David Kline. He wonders how the "Iraq mess" helps move the ball forward toward helping moderate moslems get on "our side". Presenting them the Rules of Engagement with the west, to which few of them have ever been exposed, is one possibility.

flenser said...

truepeers, et al.

My apologies for the delay in my response.


First, "moderate Muslims". Who we define as being in this category will affect everything that follows. By "moderate Muslims" I am referring to the great majority of people in Iraq and Afghanistan who are currently either working with us, or are at least sitting on the fence. For example, the Iraqi police chief in this post by Michael Yon.

It seems clear to me that we need to keep these people neutral or on our side, and prevent them from slipping over to the other sde. This is what we mean by winning "hearts and minds".

If you accept the above proposition then it seems to follow that we need to refrain from actions which are likely to make it more dfficult to win the aforesaid hearts and minds. Clearly, denigrating the religion of the Iraqi police chief in the article, and that of all our other Muslim allies in the region, is not a productive action.

Accordingly I cannot accept that criticism of Islam qua Islam is a good idea, as a practical war winning matter, and as this war is currently configured.

Next, it certainly appears that the cartoon issue has been hyped by extremist factions in the Middle East, including the governments of Iran and Syria.

They clearly hope to rally support to their cause by depicting the West as activly hostile to Islam. I believe this to be a very shrewd move on their part, and one that needs to be matched by an equally intelligent response on ours. Our actual response, of rubbing the Arab world's noses in the cartoons, might have been scripted by the mullahs themselves.

Of course, there exist factions in the West which share the interest of the mullahs in plunging the world into a long and bloody war. But I'm not part of those factions.
I'll respond in more detail to the philosophical points later on.

flenser said...

tp

I just saw this;

Moderate Muslims do exist, but like Rick I suspect they are mostly on the road to a largely secular life, living in mixed company in the west.

I regard these people as almost irrelevent. The key people in this struggle are the "moderate Muslims" living in the Middle East. To be sure, they are not at all "moderate" if by that is meant "they accept the basic premises of liberalism".

In which case I suggest a more sensible definition is in order.

By "moderate Muslims" I mean those Mulsims who reject the desire of the extremists to establish a new Caliphate runing from the Atlanic to the Pacific, and who are not interested in military confrontation with us.

I take it for granted that they will not accept Western ideas of free speech. If we intend to make that a deal breaker then we should institute a draft and place twenty million men under arms. We'll need them.

Buddy Larsen said...

Hirsi Ali speaks to many of the questions here (both in her words and in her being).

truepeers said...

Flenser,

I take it for granted that they will not accept Western ideas of free speech.

You are right to remind me that we need be more concerned to seek out moderate Muslims in the east than west. But if our would-be military allies are only interestd in allying with the west in the present circumstances, calculating some short-term tactical advantage, but having no long-term strategic loyalties to the west as a historical entity with its own freedoms and democratic traditions, then i think they should fail our definition of moderate. And while I might be willing to admit them some limits on blaspheming the prophet in Muslim countries, I cannot admit them as much in the west. We should ignore stupid provocateurs, most of the time. But if freedom of speech does not include the freedom to criticize what others hold sacred, then there is no freedom as we have historically practiced it. And to reduce the degree of freedom in our society is a sure recipe for many deaths.

It is not a question of rubbing the cartoons in their faces; no one is walking the streets of the ME with the cartoons; they only know about it because of their own provocateurs, or perhaps because a few have courage to surf the web freely.

The mass reproduction of the cartoons in Euro papers - and to call it massive is really stretching it - has only occurred once this game of calling for western confession and pennance has dragged on for months. And the reproduction has been simply given as a sign of the impossibility of many westerns to so bow down in such games.

If our would-be allies can't grant us our traditional freedoms and admire us for defending them, then we are simply in tough straits and had better get used to it. In any case, as you know, there is always going to be a large contingent of westerners bowing down in apologetics. And if that is not enough, then we had really better get used to the idea of toughing it out.

If the only thing our would-be allies offer us is a fight against some extreme form of Caliphascism, well, that's really not very much since there seems little likelihood of political unity in the Muslim world anyway. At the very least, our allies must be committed against those who would do us violence, and the current game of blackmailing the west for "victimizing" Islam, threatening violence if we don't bow down, is simply unacceptable.

Yes, the situation is polarizing. Can it really be otherwise? It is not simply a question of making allies but knowing for what we stand. And if we can't speak freely about religion (a freedom that from a pragmatic perspective is already limited - we censor ourselves a lot of the time for understandable reasons), we can't speak freely about ourselves, about humanity, and that is not something I'm going to give up without a fight to the death. If all the Muslims want to live in spiritual slavery, ok we'll put up some walls around their countries and let them terrorize each other. But not here, no way. The prophet butchered my people as part of his Jihadi doctrine; if i can't speak that truth, what do i have?

truepeers said...

Of course, Flenser, if you think we can play a double-faced game, showing the Muslims what we think they want to see, all the while maintaining our free spirits and harboring our future victory, then perhaps we should. But how can we? isn't the present situation part of a concerted and logical strategy to destroy our western spirit, a war conducted from both within and without? What is your strategy? does it include bowing down to every Islamic provocateur in the name of respecting the prophet?

flenser said...

But if our would-be military allies are only interestd in allying with the west in the present circumstances, calculating some short-term tactical advantage, but having no long-term strategic loyalties to the west as a historical entity with its own freedoms and democratic traditions, then i think they should fail our definition of moderate.


It sounds like you want vassals, not allies. Countries routinely make common cause with other countries based on some very narrow range of common interests. It's understood that they may differ widely in other areas.

WWII hardly ended before the "Allies" fell out with each other. I don't expect our Muslim allies to adapt wholesale to our way of thinking. If you are expecting that then I'm afraid you will likely be disappointed.

Reading your latest comments, I'd say that you regard the conversion of the Islamic world to a Western style skepticism towards religion to be achievable within a fairly short timespan. Let me say that I am skeptical.:)

As for my strategy, it's an old one, of punishing the elements in the Muslim world which are dangerous to us and rewarding and assisting the more "moderate" elements, while recognising that the moderates are not likely to share all Western values.

That is not a problem to me because they are not in fact Westerners. Huge numbers of people in Asia and Africa do not share Western values either, and we can get along with them because they are not trying to kill us. That is the non-negotiable point.

As for Muslims in the West, you already know my response. They should not be here. If they are going to be here, they cannot be Muslims.


if freedom of speech does not include the freedom to criticize what others hold sacred, then there is no freedom as we have historically practiced it.

That seems a little overwrought. Of course our own society has its own sacred cows which none dare criticize. Ask Larry Summers, or the poor slob who used the word "niggerdly" in a report.

I've seen this formulation of freedom on some blogs and find it unconvincing. Is it really the case that the distilled essence of our freedom is the ability to criticize what others hold sacred? And that we are little more than slaves if deprived of this right?

I think I'm fairly familiar with the thoughts of the American Founding Fathers, as well as with Western philosophy in general, and I'm hard pressed to think of anyone who ever made such an argument.

In fact, if you had the nerve to criticize what Hamilton or the other founders regarded as sacred they would likely have challenged you to a duel.

truepeers said...

Do I want vassals or allies? it's not entirely a fair question if i want my allies to be freer than they are now and that is my demand. Now of course they might not see it this way, but we should be able to agree that this is simply one of the latest twists on the paradoxical demands that Christianity brought into the world and that we have been negotiating in countless Christian and "post-Christian" ways the last two millenia. What do we have a right to do to encourage others to a greater freedom?

We may have allied with the COmmunists in WWII, but that's not to say many of us entirely gave up our criticism of Communism or totalitarian movements more generally. And if the COmmunists had demanded we shut up their critics on the homefront, would we have? of course not.

But the question of whether we should limit ourselves to some kind of real politic with the Muslim world is fair enough. And i think it depends on where we see ourselves in world history. The more we think we - all of humanity - are inescapably drawn to a world of greater connectivity, the more we have to expect of our would-be allies in the way of some shared understanding or faith. We may soon have to go on the defensive if our more ambitious plans for spreading freedom in the ME run up against impossible obstacles. But i don't think we're there yet.
And in any case, it cannot be a long-term strategy to do nothing in the way of encouraging a greater capacity for freedom among peoples of hte world.

What you need to show me is how we can imagine an acceptable future in which the Muslim world is in large part isolated and our contact with them is limited to playing one slightly better warlord and oil contract off against another. i can't imagine any stability in such a world; i imagine it would only encourage the Muslim world to further demonize us as their nasty gatekeepers. So i'm not sure how we can hold both to your strategy and to your bottom line of not negotiating with those who would do us violence. I don't expect our allies to adapt wholesale to western ways, but i expect some nods in this direction, some kind of modernized Islam to emerge.

As for our sacred cows, of course we have them, but also of course a lot of people have criticized the Summers affair, and have not had their lives threatened for it. Career politics in a pc world is of course a nasty, potentially very costly business, in which those most devoted to the truth often lose out, but not usually at the expense of their lives or lonely voices that might be redeemed in future. This of course is not to make any excuses for the reigning ideology which we should find the courage and means to condemn, whatever pragmatic compromises we have to make.

As for Hamilton, he would challenge someone who offended his personal honour with a slander, but you can't take from this that questions of the sacred were not open to discussion in some more general context. Many of the founding fathers were not orthodox Christians, but Deists, etc. Did they fight duels over the doctrine of the Trinity? Perhaps occasionally, but i'm not aware of it. Theirs was a time of religious speculation. The first political parties in the US were in large part drawn on Masonic/anti-Masonic lines. Hamilton was a Mason, which made him heretical in many people's eyes, practioner of a somewhat Gnostic and syncretic religion. But did he call them to account for this by duelling? No, he politicked instead, as it should be.

The ability to separate a man's honour from larger discussions of theological and political questions is the essence of the Judeo-Christian tradition which separates questions of personal morality from historically-shifting ethics. Of course the separation has not always been perfect, but if you want an example of someone defending our right to criticize the sacred, how about Jesus and his doctrine of distinguishing what is owed to Caesar and to God? Duels fought over a slander to one's honor must have been more often about questioning whether a man was doing his duty by his God, friends, and family, not by his worldly lord. In any case, you won't find a lot of philosophy that tackles this question well, because western philosophy has avoided anthropological dicussion of hte sacred as the founding principle of its metaphysics.

flenser said...

truepeers

Wandering slightly off topic here. First, skepticism and nihilism.

The test of any mode of thought is simply whether it is better than what came before, whether it allows us relatively more self-understanding and freedom than what came before.


This sounds very much like utilitarianism, which I would not expect from you. The problem with utilitariansm is that the definition of "better than what came before" is largely subjecive. Large numbers of people do not accept that the ideas of the West actually allow them more self-understanding and freedom, which is precisely why they resist those ideas so strenously. Come to think of it, there is hardly a consensus in the West as to which ideas are good and which are bad.

I don't know about "arbitary will to power", but clearly the public policies of any society tend to reflect the individual viewpoints of all the members of that society. All those members make their decisions based on some combination of instinct and reason. They also draw on a stock of ideas which are the "intellectual currency" of their own time and place. In our case we have absorbed certain ideas about human rights and freedoms with our mothers milk.

There is a good case to be made that the origins of liberalism lie in the development of skepticism by Locke and other thinkers in the seventeenth century. They intended it as a means of undermining religion and stemming the sectarian conflict which had torn Britain and Europe apart. They were highly successful in this. But even before the foundations of Lockean liberalim were dry other people started to cast a skeptics eye on liberalism itself. It was found that liberalism, when you come right down to it, is just as much an arbitrary construct as any religion or other belief system. That is, it bootstraps itself into existence on the basis of certain axioms, which everyone is to take as being "self-evident". The American Declaration of Independence is a fine example. Precious few people then or now really believe(d) that "all men are created equal", and nobody has ever managed to come up with a defence of those ideals which can withstand skeptical scrutiny.

We feel that these ideas have been successful for us, for the most part,and that they are part of us. But that is a conservative justification, one which liberalism by definition regards as unacceptable and non-scientific.

A succesion of philosophers and political thinkers over the past two hundred and fifty years have turned a skeptics eye on Enlightenment liberalism and found it hollow on its own terms, starting with Hume's Human Understanding. People did not just jump up one day and decide to be moral relativists and nihilists; these things flowed naturally from looking at the world with a "liberal" or skeptical eye. The problem with liberalism is that it can only view the world in terms of "will to power". Once you rule out the transcendent what else is left?

Within our own culture we draw a Burkean veil over the the messy underpinnings of our system. But it should not be a shock to discover that to outsiders, the whole thing looks very much like self-interest in ideological garb.





Freedom;

The word is bandied about a good deal but no two people give it the same meaning. It's still unclear to me what you are referring to when you use the term. Here is an observation from (I think) Jonah Goldberg, who is hardly an enemy of freedom.

. But let's keep in mind lots of people use "freedom" as a stand-in for "not being treated unfairly or unjustly." How many popmpous college kids talk about "freedom" when they really mean "I don't want to be required to take math"?

Also, the idea of freedom as a personal concept as opposed to a collective one is fairly recent, historically. When Mel Gibson gets disemboweled at the end of Braveheart in the name of "freedom," he wasn't talking about individual liberty. He was talking about letting the Scots determine their own illiberal laws consistent with their own culture and tradition. Woodrow Wilson's "self-determination" was a collective one (Serbs, Poles etc), not an individual one. Lord knows Wilson didn't care much about civil liberties.

I think this gets to the heart of the matter. Some ideas of freedom and liberty currently in vogue in the West are of quite recent vintage and would have been regarded as absurd by most Americans within living memory. I think many of the current ideas being promoted under the "freedom" banner were pushed in the past as 'equality". I'd don't understand what you mean when you use the term, but at present I see "freedom" as an emotive and content free word. In contemporary America it seems to mean "I want to be able to do whatever I want."


Returning to the topic of Muslims, I don't think we are the possessors of "the way" which others must adapt. What they are doing isn't working and they need to adjust, but as I believe you have noted before, other non-Western cultures manage to do quite well on their own. I don't think there is any reason to believe that Western ideas of freedom and skepticism are a panacea. Their record in the West has been mixed and their impact in a different culture is unknown.

truepeers said...

That last point needs to be clarified: the sacred attends both our relationships with God and Caesar. If I can find myself in a duel for criticizing a man's sacred relationship with God, it's because I'm criticizing him, not God. In other contexts, i can criticize theology and human prophets without the same consequences and of course i can criticize Caesar once political freedom is established. But it is much less easy for a Muslim to draw these distinctions, because the word of God is not simply the basis for a man's core morality that informs but does not determine historically shifting social and legal relationships but rather is taken to entail a specific and unchanging set of social and legal relationships in this world.

truepeers said...

Flenser, my attitude to the truth isn't strictly utilitarian, if only because there are some truths that are pragmatic, others that we hold at a social or economic cost because they speak to some higher truth we can't deny.

My point, above, was simply a recognition that we can never know the whole truth. There is always mystery in human existence, always a need for faith. But at the same time, that's not to say that over time we aren't learning more about ourselves. There is clearly some kind of progress in human self-understanding. So the test of an account of the human is whether it tells us more than what came before, not whether it has the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

you are right that so much of thought results from bootstrapping operations on initial axioms, or paradoxes, revelations, epigrams, etc. Nonetheless, some ideas and systems fail, while others are proven, for a time, in the laboratory of history; and so we try to explain why they work, what they might tell us about some fundamental human truths.

For example, we try to explain equality. You say re the founders "..."all men are created equal", and nobody has ever managed to come up with a defence of those ideals which can withstand skeptical scrutiny."

But this means you have not been following up on my suggestion to read Eric Gans who has come up with an explanation for our intuition that there is a basis to recognize a fundamental human equality, an explanation that I think will withstand skeptical scrutiny, as it has to date. We are created equal because humanity is created at the moment when our language is first created and our language can only work if all humans share equally in its signs. The world cannot be divided into speakers and listeners; everyone is potentially both.

As for freedom, I think i use the word more in the Braveheart sense than in the modern libertine one, but you must allow for different uses depending on context. Sticking ot the Braveheart, Freedom is all that a society is collectively capable of doing. In other words, we can speak of it as being a measure of the total possibilities for human expression and exchange in a given time and place. At the dawn of our species, freedom must have been limited. Beyond sociobiological hard-wiring, specifically human behaviour would have been largely limited to a few ritualistic acts that were slowly eroded, supplemented, transformed, in a slow progression towards greater freedom. The archaeological record of the stone age suggests very slow evolution in technologies - little creativity, little freedom. But all of humanity has evolved towards greater freedom - some cultures more slowly than others, but no culture can exist unchanged, fixed in a ritualistic straightjacket. All cultures must battle against the limits that they would put on their members' behaviours and desires because of our human freedom to love and resent the status quo. If they didn't allow for some freedom, they would never survive the resentments they create, and/or they would lose out militarily and be subsumed by rival societies. SOldiers may talk up freedom and new nations being born in war, because they are aware that freer societies generally do better at war.

Western ideas of freedom are not simply western ideas. They speak to something that is universal, if not realized or represented in the same way in every time and place.

flenser said...

western philosophy has avoided anthropological dicussion of the sacred as the founding principle of its metaphysics.

Good point. I wonder why that is.

Re Hamilton - my point stands I think, being that people find certain things off limits from criticizm or even discussion. There was a time in America when you could mock somebodies race, but not their religion. That has reversed itself over time to the point that mocking religion is acceptable, especially Christianity, but making fun of ethnic or racial characteristics can lead to the modern version of the duel; the lawsuit. In other parts of the world the older rules still apply. It has always been understood that certain things constitute "fighting words".

I think you would agree that part of the problem we face is that for many in the West, nothing is sufficient provocation. Maybe it would be a good thing if we regained a little of that ability to be outraged.

Muslim world, warlords, gatekeepers, etc. I feel that you are painting an unneccessarily bleak picture of the situation. There are roughly a billion people in the Muslim world, and less than ten percent live in countries which are seriously dysfunctional. I'm thinking of Syria, Iran, and Saudia Arabia in particular. Countries like Turkey, Kuwait, Jordan, UAE, or even Indonesia, are hardly a menace. This leads me to reject the notion that the problem is Islam as such. Everything I have read on the subject suggests that the problems we face are the result of extremism being financed and supported by a handful of states.

So I don't see a reason to consider "an acceptable future in which the Muslim world is in large part isolated". Lets work to isolate Iran and knock over the Syrians and get the Saudis to stop setting up madrassas. None of these strike me as being unrealistic or unattainable goals. Not if the Western left would get on board.

Your contention seems to be that the nature of the problem is inherent to Islam. I disagree, although I'd allow that Muslim states are more than usually susceptible to extremist ideologies. However, assuming that Isalm is inherently bad and leads to trouble, what is your proposal? If we intend to instill Western style democracy across the Mualim world we have a colossal task ahead of us. And even that would be insufficient; we'd need to convert them to some other religion.

I just saw your latest post as I got ready to post this.

Western ideas of freedom are not simply western ideas. They speak to something that is universal, ..

That sounds remarkably like an expression of religious faith. Not that there's anything wrong with that. :)

Good night, truepeers. I'll try to check in tomorrow.

truepeers said...

Flenser, it is as much an expression of anthropological as religious faith. Maybe because of this faith I retain some hope for Islam to grow into something more conducive to supporting its followers in our modern world with its demanding global marketplace. If Islam is generally to be blamed for anything, it is less for the radicals' violence, that is perhaps more a symptom of the problem, than the underlying dynamic: the difficulty Muslims everywhere have in reconciling their faith with the demands of a secular world dominated by a marketplace whose representation and valuation of what is sacred - from Pepsi to porn - is not easily reconciled with a faith that does not readily distinguish or insulate a religious domain and personal morality from a larger economic, political, and social life.

It is the desire, variously pursued to different degrees, to bring Islamic concerns and practices into all arenas, that is the general problem. ANd I can't help but think that your present argument lends itself to those who would defend the imposition of Islamic imperatives in ways that would mitigate against the western separation of church and state, God and Caesar.

We must remember that no Moslem country does very well in the global marketplace; some squeak by and some are complete disasters, breeding the political violence that is our present concern.

truepeers said...

Flenser, and co.,
Prospero has put up one of the cartoons on his blog and asked: "If you are opposed to the argument made by this cartoon, well, then, why, exactly? (Please, without general references to offering propaganda to the enemy, or our being offended by the burning of the American flag or whatever--why shouldn't this cartoon be published and publicly discussed? Which allies would that alienate, and what kind of allies are they?)"