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2011 March 21 Monday
Secular Right 2 Million Strong

Inspired by a New York Times article about Razib Khan and the blog Secular Right Audacious Epigone used GSS (General Social Survey) data to calculate that conservative atheists and conservative agnostics together make up only 0.67% of the American population. Wow, I've always felt like a statistical outlier. But 0.67%?

I wondered what percentage of people in the US could be categorized as such. Turning to the GSS, I found the percentage of respondents who indicated they were either "conservative" or "extremely conservative" and who said in response to the question on belief in God that they either "do not believe in God" (functionally atheist) or that they "don't know whether there is a God and [they] don't believe there is any way to find out" (functionally agnostic). For contemporary relevance, only data from 2000 onward were considered.

The constituency constitutes a whopping 0.67%, or 1 in 150 people, or two million people in a country of 310 million.

I'd love to see a bigger data set that breaks the numbers out by IQ. My expectation is that at higher IQ levels the secular right, while still a minority, might even hit 10% of the smart population.

If you are a secular rightist you can just forget about getting the majority of the population to adopt your views. Expect to go thru life at best trying to influence the views of larger groups who have different moral compasses and assumptions.

Update: The mysterious "hbd chick" (with an even stronger aversion to capital letters than Razib) finds 2.1% of those with perfect 10 GSS wordsum scores are solidly conservative and agnostic or atheist.

of those who scored a perfect 10 on the wordsum test, something like 25% 2.1% of those were either “conservative” or “extremely conservative” and were either atheists or agnostics.

So once IVF with pre-implantation genetic selection of embryos for intelligence becomes cheap and easy the resulting rise in IQs will select for some pretty rational and skeptical conservatives. But a meaningful lift of adult IQs from IVF combined with genetic testing is still a few decades in the future.

By Randall Parker    2011 March 21 11:25 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (9)
2009 February 23 Monday
Richard Perle Tries To Distance Himself From Iraq Debacle

Formerly chief of George W. Bush's Defense Policy Board in the run-up to the Iraq war, a huge supporter for the war, and leading neoconservative figure Richard Perle is trying to waltz away from his responsibility for the Iraq debacle. Cheeky devil. Dana Milbank is amazed.

In real life, Perle was the ideological architect of the Iraq war and of the Bush doctrine of preemptive attack. But at yesterday's forum of foreign policy intellectuals, he created a fantastic world in which:

1. Perle is not a neoconservative.

2. Neoconservatives do not exist.

3. Even if neoconservatives did exist, they certainly couldn't be blamed for the disasters of the past eight years.

"There is no such thing as a neoconservative foreign policy," Perle informed the gathering, hosted by National Interest magazine. "It is a left critique of what is believed by the commentator to be a right-wing policy."

Back in 2006 Richard Perle argued that the Iraq invasion could have turned out well if only Bush wasn't incompetent. Not the fault of Richard Perle. Only the fault of Dubya. He even says in retrospect he wouldn't advocate invasion seeing how things turned out. Geez, Bush wasn't an adequate implementer of Perle's policy and so Bush shouldn't have been entrusted with carrying it out. If only we knew in advance.

As soon as the term neocon became a dirty word some of the neocons started trying to disavow any knowledge or membership in the neocon circle of foreign policy intellectual activists. Yet, a history of the fight between paleoconservatives and neoconservatives shows that neocons are a real faction. Check out Scott McConnell's 2003 essay on the battles of these ideologues with other factions on the Right. They made a huge mistake in Iraq though, and some of them are trying very hard to distance themselves from it and from the very existence of their faction. They are trying to claim all of conservatism for their faction. What audacity.

Neoconservatism exists and Irving Kristol, one of its founders, acknowledges it as an ideology. But the ideological America of neocon imaginings is an enemy of the real America.

Update: Some of the neocons are going back into the Democratic Party. Is there some way to persuade all of them to make this switch?

Might there be a reunion, this time with the neocons courting the liberal hawks rather than the liberal hawks trying to court the neocons? The more conciliatory neocons have begun to send up signal flares. It isn’t simply David Brooks’s paeans to Obama. Robert Kagan has praised what he calls “Obama the Interventionist” in his Washington Post column: “Obama believes the world yearns to follow us, if only we restore our worthiness to lead. Personally, I like it.” Even the Weekly Standard has begun to reassess its seemingly intractable hostility to all things Clinton. Vigilant neocon-spotters will have noticed that the Standard featured not one but two items praising the idea of Hillary as secretary of state. The tone of both seemed to be “yes, we should.” Under the heading “Hail Clinton,” Michael Goldfarb, McCain’s deputy communications director during the campaign, blogged that she is “likely to be a nuisance to Obama whether she is inside or outside of his administration, but as our top diplomat she could reprise a role that made Powell a kingmaker in this year’s election. And perhaps she could even present the case for war with Iran to an insubordinate United Nations in the event that Obama’s personal diplomacy somehow fails to deter the mullahs from their present course.”

The Standard’s Noemie Emery went even further. In her view, “For the moment, Hillary Clinton will be the conservatives’ Woman in Washington, more attuned to their concerns on these issues than to those of the get-the-troops-home-now wing of her party, a strange turn of events for a woman whose husband was impeached by Republicans just ten years ago, and whose ascent that party had dreaded since she went to the Senate two years after that.” Indeed.

Maybe they'll succeed in making both of America's political parties nutty.

By Randall Parker    2009 February 23 10:00 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (4)
2009 February 10 Tuesday
Mormons Most Morally Absolutist

Audacious Epigone takes a look at who believes in right and wrong. The Mormons are convinced that absolute right and wrong exist. Other groups, not so much.

- Below is a moral absolution index, computed by looking at responses to the question of whether or not there are "clear and absolute standards for what is right and wrong". The percentage of an affiliation's members who completely agree is counted as two points, the percentage that mostly agrees is counted as one point, that don't know or refused to answer as zero points, that mostly disagree as a negative one point, and that completely disagree as negative two points. The higher the score, the more morally absolutist an affiliation is. Conversely, the lower the score, the more morally relativistic it is:

AffiliationMA score
1. Mormon121
2. Jehovah's Witness119
3. Evangelical117
4. Historically black94
5. Catholic91
All religious89
6. Mainline Protestant83
7. Muslim79
8. Orthodox73
9. Other Christian69
10. Unaffiliated55
11. Hindu51
12. Jewish38
13. Other non-Christian28
14. Buddhist4

Some non-religious folks see religion as an obstacle to a more rational society. I think we need to look more closely at the net effect of each religion rather than paint with such a broad brush.

What I wonder: how much of the effect above is a result of the sect or denomination's teachings versus people of a particular tendency being attracted to a religious faith that more closely matches their sense of life.

By Randall Parker    2009 February 10 12:27 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
2006 January 11 Wednesday
Who Believes Bush Democracy Doctrine?

Leslie Gelb thinks most top Bushies do not believe the Bush Administration's doctrine of democracy as cure-all to end the threat of Islamic terrorism.

First of all, the real policymakers in the administration come down to six people, and while President Bush might well believe his new doctrine, he has no track record on the subject before entering the White House. Nor did he say much on this subject broadly during his first term. Vice President Cheney, on the other hand, is a hard-headed conservative pragmatist whose history would suggest great skepticism about policies designed to transform the world. Secretary of State Rice spent most of the Clinton years calling that administration dangerously naive for fomenting notions like human rights and democracy. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld delights in debating doctrines, not advancing them. Stephen Hadley, the national security advisor and consummate policy lawyer, never met a generalization, let alone a high-falutin' idea, he liked. Karl Rove, the key White House political strategist, probably doesn't object to promoting democracy abroad as long as it helps Mr. Bush and hurts the Democrats at home. (And who could be surprised to find such noble motives in American politics?) One other, now departed, was present in the Pentagon at the creation of the democracy doctrine-Paul Wolfowitz, who almost certainly believed it then.

Before Mr. Wolfowitz and many other top officials left the administration, they wedged hordes of neoconservative acolytes into the bureaucracy. They remain true believers. As for the throngs of career underlings throughout the government, they generally convey careful reserve, bordering on insouciance, about the doctrine.

So, we can say with confidence that at least one senior member of the administration is devoted to the doctrine, namely, Mr. Bush himself. His adherence to his own doctrine is no trivial matter. It means that he will insist on repeating it and that the secretary of state will join in regularly. The doctrine will not be discarded as was the anti-nation-building doctrine.

So Bush and some neocons are true believers. But most of Bush's top people probably do not believe the doctrine will work.

Gelb points out that Bush is not trying to spread democracy in Saudi Arabia. Now why would that be? Of course Al Qaeda's core comes from Saudi Arabia. Also, to my knowledge no Iraqi flew into skyscrapers. So why target Iraq rather than Saudi Arabia?

By Randall Parker    2006 January 11 10:55 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (21)
2004 May 03 Monday
Wahhabi Terrorists Biting The Saudi Hands That Fed Them

Writing in the Jerusalem Post Paris-based Iranian writer Amir Taheri describes the battles within Saudi Arabia between the government and Islamic insurgents.

According to Saudi sources, the kingdom's security forces have clashed with terrorists on no fewer than 80 occasions since last November. Some of these seem to have been fairly large-scale battles, including at least one fought on the edge of the Empty Quarter six weeks ago. There have been hundreds of casualties on both sides. More than 1,000 alleged terrorists have been captured. The security forces have also uncovered arms caches that could supply fairly large terror units. Losses by the security forces are not reported, but a recent meeting between the interior minister and families of the "heroes slain by deviants" attracted a large turnout.

Oil money has funded the educational system that has done so much to promote the radical Wahhabi Islam that has turned so many Muslims toward violence.

In 1960 the kingdom did not have enough money for a single state-sponsored school of theology. Today there are hundreds, including three universities producing tens of thousands of Islam "experts" each year.

Who paid for all those Islamic religious fundamentalist schools? We did, every time we pulled up to a gas pump to fill it up. We are still doing it.

Oil money is also flowing from Gulf oil states into Iraq to promote Wahhabism there as well.

But Mohammed Mohammed Ali, a moderate Shiite scholar propagating interfaith harmony as the only possible means to bring peace to Iraq, does not see things that way.

"In the last 10 years there have been huge transfers of funds to Iraq to make Muslims convert from their own sect to extreme Wahhabism," he said. "This happened with the support from politicians in the Gulf states and many other Arab countries."

At the risk of boring my regular readers with repetition: Energy policy is national security policy. By failing to try harder to develop technologies to obsolesce oil we are failing to address a serious national security problem.

Update: Attacks within Saudi Arabia that are killing Saudis are not dulling the enthusiasm of the Saudi citizenry for attacks against Americans elsewhere. Even as they cheer Jihadis who attack Americans most Saudis are disgusted by the Jihadis who kill Saudi Arabians.

"When people see Israeli operations in Palestine and the American cruelty in Iraq, they feel angry and frustrated," said Abdullah Bejad al-Oteibi, a former fundamentalist now working as a legal researcher. "They cannot control their anger and they admire bin Laden, so that is why many people volunteer for jihad. But when there are operations here, people feel angry and betrayed."

The Saudi problem is not going to go away. Hence the need to treat energy policy as natioanl security policy. We can accelerate the rate of advance of science and technology as a way to greatly lessen the problem that Saudi Arabia will continue to pose for many years to come.

By Randall Parker    2004 May 03 02:41 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2004 April 15 Thursday
Fundamentalism Is More Than A Mood About Religion

Writing over on National Review's blog The Corner Andrew Stuttaford makes the excellent point that religious fundamentalists of different religions should not all be lumped together because the basics of various religions differ in substantial and important ways.

The reality is that, while all forms of fundamentalism may share certain psychological causes, they also differ very greatly. More than that, to regard all fundamentalisms as the same is to ignore the fact that what someone believes is as important as how they believe. Fundamentalist Christianity is very different from fundamentalist Islam, and to deny that is a blind, idiotic fundamentalism all of its own.

The problem with fundamentalist Islam is not simply that it is a fundamentalism. The problem is that the base texts of Islam contain messages that make fundamentalist Muslims hostile to non-believers and to liberal democracy. Contra George W. Bush, the Islamic terrorists didn't hijack a peaceful religion. The Islamists find plenty of support for their political views in the Koran and other base texts from the early period of Islam.

There is a strain of anti-religious thinking in Western countries which holds that all religions are equally bad. This view is appealing in part because it treats all religions equally and hence is seen as a sign of belief in human equality. Some fail to discriminate properly between the different religions due to a general ignorance about how the religions differ. However, some who take the position that all religions are equally bad are motivated by a desire to make it easier to show that they are not singling out any particular group or religious belief. The only discrimination they are making is against religious beliefs in general. This more general discrimination against religious beliefs is seen by those who engage in it as preferable precisely because it makes fewer distinctions. The problem with this view, of course, is that just as secular non-religious belief systems differ from each other in important ways so do religious belief systems. There are more or less liberal (or entirely illiberal) secular ideologies and philosophies. The same is the case with religious belief systems.

The tendency by some secularists to view all religions as equal is matched by the pronouncements of ecumenically minded believers who would have us belief that spirituality is innately good regardless of what religious beliefs it is tied to. One motivation for this ecumenism in the West is that as religiosity dwindles those who are of any particular faith sense their shrunken numbers and desire to make common cause with those of other religions in order to cut a larger combined figure in politics and society.

This tendency toward ecumenism also seems to be in part a consequence of the quite laudable drive to stamp out unfair forms of discrimination against people on the basis of race. This drive has gradually transmogrified into a more general prohibition against any attempts to discern differences between people (i.e. to discriminate) whether those differences be innate or on matters of beliefs and values. The term "discriminate" has come to be used most often in its pejorative meaning where differences which are noted are considered to be inessential in judging individuals or groups. Yet the large sized Random House dictionary includes a number of non-pejorative definitions for discrimination such as (and my bold emphasis added) "to note or observe a difference; distinguish accurately: to distinguish between things". The idea that discrimination between people on any basis can be done accurately is contrary to the spirit of our times. Yet such discrimination is both possible and necessary. There are differences between people that matter and among those differences are differences in religious belief.

The liberal view that all people should be judged individually and that all should be free is colliding with religious beliefs which are quite hostile to that view. Liberals who have shrunk from the act of mental discrimination of differences between people because of their fear that the discernment of differences will lead to unfair behavior toward others have taken their reaction to unfair discrimination too far. Liberals need to do a better job of recognizing their enemies or liberalism will be defeated in the long term. This recognition of enemies can only be done if we become willing to discern threatening differences in beliefs that are inherent to specific belief systems.

An assortment of previous posts provide pieces of evidence that, in my view, support the analysis above. See these posts: Theodore Dalrymple On Muslim Immigrants In Britain, Prospect Of Democracy Breeding Ethnic Hatred In Iraq, William H. McNeill On Samuel P. Huntington, What Osama Bin Laden Doesn't Like About America, Jeffrey Goldberg on Islamic contempt and anger, Steven Waldman On 7 Myths About The Religious Right, On Christianity, Islam, Utopianism, And Tyrannies, Apologists For Islam Say Religious States Are Okay, David Klinghoffer on Islam and Non-Believers, and David Warren On The Nature Of Islam, Rise Of Islamism.

Update: Irfan Khawaja makes some excellent points in an essay about Koranic interpretation and terrorism.

Some have argued (though Pipes does not) that the Koran is irrelevant to understanding terrorism because terrorists tend to be inept interpreters of its texts. In other words, what difference does the correct interpretation of the Koran make if Islamic terrorism is being driven by heretical interpretations of the Koran like those of Ayman al Zwahiri or Osama bin Laden? They are not, after all, accredited Koranic scholars. But it makes all the difference. If the Zwahiris and bin Ladens are interpreting the Koran correctly--or even plausibly--then the Koran might very well be an important source of terrorism. That's worth knowing by itself. If they are misinterpreting it, we need to ask why their misinterpretations have come to acquire whatever legitimacy and popularity they have. And if both things are true, then both conclusions apply in different ways.

Update II: Spengler contrasts the Jewish and Christian views of prayer with those of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani who, as Spengler notes, is a great hope of the Bush Administration for better government in Iraq.

"It prays to be able to pray - and this is already given to the soul in the assurance of Divine Love," wrote the Jewish theologian Franz Rosenzweig, believing that Jews and Christians are infatuated with God, and prayer is their opportunity to exchange lovers' intimacies. They never tire of talking about talking to their beloved, that is, about the nature of prayer.

...

Less important than the differences in content - "audience" rather than "dialogue", "submission" rather than "love" - is the difference in emphasis. With this perfunctory preface, Sistani begins a lengthy treatise on when, where, with what clothing, and in what bodily positions prayers may be said. His concern is not the spiritual experience of prayer, but establishing communal norms for prayer. Where the Christians and Jews gush with loquacity on the subject, Muslims have remarkably little to say about the experience of prayer. Reading through Muslim sources, I am at loss to find anything remotely resembling Ratzinger's quite typical discourse on prayer.

The major religions differ from each other in ways that translate into large long-term differences the kinds of political outcomes their believers produce in politics.

By Randall Parker    2004 April 15 02:30 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2003 November 07 Friday
Munich Jewish Leader Confused About Religion And Totalitarianism

Charlotte Knobloch is very confused.

In Germany, the number of Jewish immigrants, mainly from Eastern Europe, has tripled in the last 10 years, corresponding to a backlash against anti-Semitism, Charlotte Knobloch, leader of Munich's Jewish community, told the gathering.

Referring to the debate over Europe's new constitution, Knobloch called reference to God ``essential to avoid the rebirth of totalitarian regimes.''

Ms. Knobloch is looking backward toward the 20th century when totalitarian regimes were almost all atheistic and hostile toward religions. The totalitarian impulse of today flows mostly from religious fundamentalists who see God as their source of legitimacy to justify harsh totalitarian rule. Did reference to God inspire the Taliban to make Afghanistan a tolerant free place? No, of course not. The opposite is the case.

Secular ideologies have no monopoly on causing repressive political systems.

Ms. Knobloch would do better to pay attention to Mark Steyn and worry less about constitutions and more about demographics.

Given the rate of Islamic immigration to Europe, those anti-Israeli numbers are heading in only one direction. At present demographic rates, by 2020 the majority of children in Holland — i.e., the population under 18 — will be Muslim. What do you figure that 74 per cent will be up to by then? Eighty-five per cent? Ninety-six per cent? If Americans think it’s difficult getting the Continentals on side now, wait another decade. In that sense, the Israelis are the canaries in the coalmine.

Oh come on Mark, tell us what you really think:

Europe is dying. As I’ve pointed out here before, it can’t square rising welfare costs, a collapsed birthrate and a manpower dependent on the world’s least skilled, least assimilable immigrants.

Suggestion to Dutch Jews: Time to move.

Suggestion to Mark Steyn and to all Americans: Start paying attention to our own dismal demographics of massive unskilled immigration and plunging reproduction of the most sharp and educated. Austin Minnesota is our future.

By Randall Parker    2003 November 07 03:07 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 October 13 Monday
Steven Waldman On 7 Myths About The Religious Right

Steven Waldman makes some great points about religion and politics in his Slate article subtitled Debunking myths about the religious right.

Myth 6: Hispanics are conservative. The perception of Hispanics as conservative is misshapen by the political behavior of Florida's Cubans, who are indeed overwhelmingly Republican. But on the question of gay marriage, for instance, Hispanics were at the national average (54 percent opposed). Professor Green has found a big difference between Hispanic Catholics and Hispanic Protestants, with the latter group more conservative than the former. American Hispanic Catholics, it turns out, aren't that religious. Professors Louis Bolce and Gerald De Maio put voters into three groups according to religious intensity—"traditionalists," "moderates," and "secularists." Only 10 percent of Hispanics turned out to be traditionalists—this fraction in the African-American community was much larger. So, Republicans shouldn't assume that issues like abortion will lure large numbers of Hispanic Catholics.

It has long been obvious to me that a lot of secular people on the political Left are so scared by and opposed to the politics of religious people on the political Right that the Lefties have created caricatures of those religious folks that have prevented the Lefties from understanding the religious folks on the Right or people motivated by religious feelings (e.g. Islamists) in general. A single article can make only a small dent in the caricatures and stereotypes but every little bit helps.

Of course, myth number 6 excerpted above is one that is more widely believed by Republicans who think the Hispanic immigrants are natural future members of the GOP coalition. That this is so obviously not the case shows that myths about religious beliefs are not only a problem on the Left in America. The rhetoric coming from the Bush Administration about Islam betrays another myth held by some (by no means all) religious folks: that all embrace of any kind of old established religious belief is like some kind of tonic that can only make people better. In reality secular ideologies have no monopoly on bad ideas and religious ideologies can be just as dangerous.

I'm a little suspicious of some of the figures that Waldman cites. Polls that ask people if they are religious, what religion they are, and what political views they have are not terribly useful unless the polls explore the intensity of the religious belief and the extent to which it is practiced. There are plenty of people who will self-identify as, for instance, Catholics who haven't been to a Mass or confession in decades. Even if questions about church attendance are asked a significant portion of the population lies because they think it sounds nice to say that they go to church or they feel guilty to admit they haven't. In the case of Catholics real practicing Catholics vote majority Republican while lapsed Catholics vote majority Democrat. So are the evangelicals that Waldman mentions who vote for the Democrats more or less likely to show up at church on Sunday or to pray than the Evangelicals who vote Republican?

By Randall Parker    2003 October 13 02:07 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
Europe Seen As Less Religious Due To Lack Of Competition

Frank Bruni has an interesting report in the New York Times about the decline of religious belief in Europe.

But in the United States, to name one country, many of the same dynamics have not prompted a similarly pronounced estrangement. Some experts say that in Europe, suspicion of major denominations may run higher because religious leaders directly wielded political power in the past. Others say the unchallenged supremacy of state-blessed faiths in Europe — like the Lutherans in Scandinavia and Anglicans in Britain — perhaps turned out to be a curse.

"Monopolies damage religion," said Massimo Introvigne, the director of the Center for Studies on New Religions in Turin and a proponent of the relatively new theory of religious economy. "In a free market, people get more interested in the product. It is true for religion just as it is true for cars."

Is it coincidental that Europe has a larger government sector than the United States and also has a history of more monopolistic state religions?

By Randall Parker    2003 October 13 11:12 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 September 29 Monday
Why Dennis Miller Moved Rightward

The American Enterprise has an interesting interview with comedian Dennis Miller.

TAE: You’ve become more conservative over the years. How do you explain this shift?

MILLER: I’m not as sure of my guesswork anymore. To be on the Left, you have to be amazingly certain about things you’re guessing at, and I felt like a phony. I was looking for ideas, and all I was getting from liberals was, “We’d like a little more of your money, and we’re kind of reticent to protect you from bad guys.” Really? That’s all you’re offering? I gotta go! I can’t stay anymore. Also, when I kept hearing liberals equating Giuliani with Hitler—that’s when I really left the reservation. Even before 9/11, I’d travel to New York and say, “Wow, this city certainly seems to be running better.” Giuliani is the kind of leader I admire. When it’s five degrees below zero and you arrest somebody to get him inside and off the street—that’s not something Hitler would do. It made me realize that I was with the wrong group if that’s what Hitler looked like to them.

Intellectually the Left looks like it is becoming loonier and more vacuous. The empirical evidence really runs counter to ideologies that leftists embrace. But does that mean the appeal of the leftward-leaning parties will decline? I think not for a simple reason: the Robin Hood voters. People who feel poor will vote for hand-outs.

By Randall Parker    2003 September 29 08:06 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 August 27 Wednesday
Muslim Hijab Worn To Protect Females As Property

Razib of the Gene Expression blog has written an important article that examines the real reason why Muslim women wear the hijab and the buka to veil themselves.

“And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what must ordinarily appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands' fathers, their sons, their husbands' sons, their brothers, or their brothers' sons or their sisters' sons….” (Quran 24:31).”

This is closer to the spirit of how wearing hijab has been justified by Muslims in my experience. Raised within the Islamic community, I have been privy to many opinions and statements not manufactured for mainstream consumption, and American Muslims do not generally express views informed by the rights of women. Rather, rationalizations of their customs are rooted in non-Western premises. American Muslim women may assert in public that the hijab liberates them, but the practice comes from societies where women are viewed as property by male relatives.

By Randall Parker    2003 August 27 09:09 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (16)
2003 August 23 Saturday
Paul Cella On Chesterton, Belloc, And Islam As Dangerous Heresy

Paul J. Cella of Cella's Review has an excellent article on Tech Central Station quoting Catholic thinkers Hilaire Belloc (lived 1870-1953) and G.K. Chesterton (lived 1874-1936) on the nature of Islam. Cellas first quotes Chesterton on Islam:

A void is made in the heart of Islam which has to be filled up again and again by a mere repetition of the revolution that founded it. There are no sacraments; the only thing that can happen is a sort of apocalypse, as unique as the end of the world; so the apocalypse can only be repeated and the world end again and again. There are no priests; and this equality can only breed a multitude of lawless prophets almost as numerous as priests. The very dogma that there is only one Mohamet produces an endless procession of Mohamets.

Cella also quotes an excerpt from Belloc. After some Google digging I was able to find the full text of the chapter of a Belloc book from which Cella excerpted. Belloc's book The Great Heresies is available online. See chapter 4 The Great and Enduring Heresy of Mohammed for Belloc's view of Islam as a simplifying Catholic heresy.

Mohammedanism was a heresy: that is the essential point to grasp before going any further. It began as a heresy, not as a new religion. It was not a pagan contrast with the Church; it was not an alien enemy. It was a perversion of Christian doctrine. It vitality and endurance soon gave it the appearance of a new religion, but those who were contemporary with its rise saw it for what it was_not a denial, but an adaptation and a misuse, of the Christian thing. It differed from most (not from all) heresies in this, that it did not arise within the bounds of the Christian Church. The chief heresiarch, Mohammed himself, was not, like most heresiarchs, a man of Catholic birth and doctrine to begin with. He sprang from pagans. But that which he taught was in the main Catholic doctrine, oversimplified. It was the great Catholic world_on the frontiers of which he lived, whose influence was all around him and whose territories he had known by travel_which inspired his convictions. He came of, and mixed with, the degraded idolaters of the Arabian wilderness, the conquest of which had never seemed worth the Romans' while.

He took over very few of those old pagan ideas which might have been native to him from his descent. On the contrary, he preached and insisted upon a whole group of ideas which were peculiar to the Catholic Church and distinguished it from the paganism which it had conquered in the Greek and Roman civilization. Thus the very foundation of his teaching was that prime Catholic doctrine, the unity and omnipotence of God. The attributes of God he also took over in the main from Catholic doctrine: the personal nature, the all-goodness, the timelessness, the providence of God, His creative power as the origin of all things, and His sustenance of all things by His power alone. The world of good spirits and angels and of evil spirits in rebellion against God was a part of the teaching, with a chief evil spirit, such as Christendom had recognized. Mohammed preached with insistence that prime Catholic doctrine, on the human side_the immortality of the soul and its responsibility for actions in this life, coupled with the consequent doctrine of punishment and reward after death.

If anyone sets down those points that orthodox Catholicism has in common with Mohammedanism, and those points only, one might imagine if one went no further that there should have been no cause of quarrel. Mohammed would almost seem in this aspect to be a sort of missionary, preaching and spreading by the energy of his character the chief and fundamental doctrines of the Catholic Church among those who had hitherto been degraded pagans of the Desert. He gave to Our Lord the highest reverence, and to Our Lady also, for that matter. On the day of judgment (another Catholic idea which he taught) it was Our Lord, according to Mohammed, who would be the judge of mankind, not he, Mohammed. The Mother of Christ, Our Lady, "the Lady Miriam" was ever for him the first of womankind. His followers even got from the early fathers some vague hint of her Immaculate Conception.[1]

Here is a larger excerpt the portion of Belloc's The Great Heresies that Cella excerpted (my bold emphases added):

But can we be certain it is so decided? I doubt it very much. It has always seemed to me possible, and even probable, that there would be a resurrection of Islam and that our sons or our grandsons would see the renewal of that tremendous struggle between the Christian culture and what has been for more than a thousand years its greatest opponent.

Why this conviction should have arisen in the minds of certain observers and travellers, such as myself, I will now consider. It is indeed a vital question, "May not Islam arise again?"

In a sense the question is already answered because Islam has never departed. It still commands the fixed loyalty and unquestioning adhesion of all the millions between the Atlantic and the Indus and further afield throughout scattered communities of further Asia. But I ask the question in the sense "Will not perhaps the temporal power of Islam return and with it the menace of an armed Mohammedan world which will shake off the domination of Europeans_still nominally Christian_and reappear again as the prime enemy of our civilization?" The future always comes as a surprise but political wisdom consists in attempting at least some partial judgment of what that surprise may be. And for my part I cannot but believe that a main unexpected thing of the future is the return of Islam. Since religion is at the root of all political movements and changes and since we have here a very great religion physically paralysed but morally intensely alive, we are in the presence of an unstable equilibrium which cannot remain permanently unstable. Let us then examine the position.

I have said throughout these pages that the particular quality of Mohammedanism, regarded as a heresy, was its vitality. Alone of all the great heresies Mohammedanism struck permanent roots, developing a life of its own, and became at last something like a new religion. So true is this that today very few men, even among those who are highly instructed in history, recall the truth that Mohammedanism was essentially in its origins not a new religion, but a heresy.

Like all heresies, Mohammedanism lived by the Catholic truths which it had retained. Its insistence on personal immortality, on the Unity and Infinite Majesty of God, on His Justice and Mercy, its insistence on the equality of human souls in the sight of their Creator_these are its strength.

Cella concludes about Chesterton, Belloc and Islam:

It is foolish to overlook them, as it was foolish to overlook it. They provide a window into a mind that still grasped what it means to men to be alive to a religious orthodoxy, to a tradition of moral obedience and ritual. This liveliness of faith is obscured from our view in large part because of the modern rejection of its power. It is obscured by a deliberate narrowing of the intellect. And it is precisely that huge and terrible portion of the intellect which we need most to heed right now, for it is that, in other men, which threatens us.

He's saying it takes men who believe in one faith to appreciate the intensely powerful effects that belief in another faith has on a different group of people. He's arguing that secular people lack the understanding and experience needed to appreciate the danger that Islam poses. This may well be the case. However, it is worth noting that not a few rather foolish religious Catholics and other Christians are willing to play the roles of apologists to Islam in order to defend faith in general and their own faith in particular.

By Randall Parker    2003 August 23 06:17 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
Irving Kristol Is An Ideologue

Irving Kristol has written an essay recently that has attracted a fair amount of attention entitled The Neoconservative Persuasion (or see here) (my bold emphasis added below)

Finally, for a great power, the "national interest" is not a geographical term, except for fairly prosaic matters like trade and environmental regulation. A smaller nation might appropriately feel that its national interest begins and ends at its borders, so that its foreign policy is almost always in a defensive mode. A larger nation has more extensive interests. And large nations, whose identity is ideological, like the Soviet Union of yesteryear and the United States of today, inevitably have ideological interests in addition to more material concerns. Barring extraordinary events, the United States will always feel obliged to defend, if possible, a democratic nation under attack from nondemocratic forces, external or internal. That is why it was in our national interest to come to the defense of France and Britain in World War II. That is why we feel it necessary to defend Israel today, when its survival is threatened. No complicated geopolitical calculations of national interest are necessary.

Note his defense of the ideological. Kristol doesn't oppose communism because it is an ideology. He opposes it because he thinks it is the wrong ideology. While he travelled from the Left to the Right and rejected communism his continued love of abstract systems of political belief causes him to miss an incredibly important point: all ideologies are wrong. Ideologies can be thought of as abstract philosophies translated into systems of political mythology to provide guidance for political decision making. An ideology is constructed from a set of simplifying assumptions about humans as political, social, and economic actors. Simplifying assumptions are frequently necessary to make because we can't know enough to model the world in our minds as it really is. But we must constantly remind ourselves that simplifying assumptions are not Truths. We have to be alert to situations where our simplifying assumptions just will not work and we shouldn't try to hang on them in the face of empirical evidence that contradicts them.

The problem with ideologies is that no ideological system of belief even begins to approach the complexity needed to provide correct answers for all political decision making. For the same reason that central planning is impossible (the models can never be complex enough or have enough of the relevant information to be sufficiently predictive) any ideology is going to be wrong too much of the time and should not be followed dogmatically.

People who embrace neoconservatism or libertarianism or liberalism as an ideology are all making the same kind of mental mistake as communists make but they are doing it with a different set of wrong simplifying assumptions. Each ideological belief system, built from its own unique set of simplifying assumptions, will lead to wrong decisions under a variety of circumstances.

How often or how badly any given ideological system will fail and lead to wrong political choices depends on how often reality deviates from its assumptions. An analogy can be seen in clasical mechanics vs relativistic mechanics in physics. If one travels at very high speeds the simplifying assumptions underlying classical mechanics will cause greater problems than if one travels at much slower speeds. The same sort of thing happens with humans. The sorts of political decisions that work in a homogeneous society can start failing to work if a society becomes racially or culturally or in some other way more varied. Or a given set of decisions about law and order flowing from some assumptions about how the level of natural propensity to be law-abiding can work in a society which has strong marriages and other institutions but those same prescriptions can become inadequate or even counterproductive when those institutions deteriorate.

Because the world is so complex we must allow ourselves to constantly be guided by empirical results. As Steve Sailer pointed out in his essay "The Unexpected Uselessness of Philosophy" it was the anti-abstract British tradition that produced the incredibly valuable empirical political philosophers of the Scottish and English Enlightenment period.

Fortunately, one school of philosophy has actually taught us some valuable lessons over the centuries: the anti-abstract British tradition of Roger Bacon, Francis Bacon and David Hume, with its emphasis on realism, common sense and the scientific method.

When Thomas Jefferson was sending books back from Paris to James Madison about the great republics in history to help Madison formulate ideas on how to construct a republic in the American colonies Jefferson and Madison were largely motivated by this belief that political ideas must be founded on empirical experience and that one's political beliefs must be open to correction by empirical results. This willingness to embrace empirical results led to some great decisions on the part of Jefferson and Madison. But since they had empirical minds so mindful of local conditions (e.g. Jefferson thought democracy could work much better in an agricultural society of landowners) they likely wouldn't view those decisions as universally workable in as many societies and cultures as many of their modern neoconservative fans hold them to be.

Many neocons hold a triumphalist belief in the inevitable spread of freedom, democracies, and free markets. By contrast, a rather more empircally minded Arnold Kling, in his own response to Kristol's essay, warns that events could develop in ways that cause a blacklash against freedom and markets.

The assumption that people will appreciate the benefits of economic growth is a risky one to make. Economic growth requires change. Old jobs must be destroyed in order for new ones to be created. Incumbents will be threatened. And, as Ronald Bailey points out, "opponents of technological progress often want decisions about new technologies to be made in political arenas. Opponents of a given new technology believe that they will have more luck by lobbying their local congressperson or member of parliament to vote to prohibit its development."

One can argue that the disruption unleashed by rapid economic growth helped produce fascism and Communism. Brink Lindsey argues persuasively that the dead hand of collectivist ideology still influences policy in our country today. The political appeal of denunciations of outsourcing indicates that the support for free markets is fragile and tenuous.

Kling cites the example of many European countries where the welfare state has gotten too large and yet it is not politically possible to roll it back. In my view mass immigration (which many ideological libertarians support uncritically) may lead to that same outcome in the United States as a growing number of poor immigrants demand ever more government help. Humans compare themselves to those around them and feel it is unfair if they do not do as well. Poor immigrants and their advocates provide powerful support for the extension of the welfare state.

Rather than simply arguing for less goverment or more freedom a more nuanced and empirical view asks whether there are policies that nomimally seem to increase freedom but may lead to more state involvement in private lives and less freedom. In Kling's article he brings up the possibility that foreign involvements may cause Americans to become so weary of the world that more of them will support world government. In Kling's blog post others in the comments section discuss whether recreational drug legalizaton will create support for a larger welfare state to take care of drug addicts. These kinds of questions are motivated by a non-ideological and empirical attitude toward governance.

Update: While I can't agree with Lawrence Auster's conclusion about the exact goals of the neocons Auster's analysis also recognizes the importance of Kristol's embrace of ideology.

Notice once again the dichotomy Kristol has set up: either a country is ideological (i.e. believing in world-wide democracy), which is good, or else it is small-minded and parochial, which is bad. It’s as though our only choices were either the neocons’ global democratic empire or some angry, self-absorbed, little America, with no other alternatives in between. Thus Kristol suggests that only an ideological country would come to the aid of other, mortally threatened countries, because the only basis for friendship between nations is ideological similarity, not cultural or civilizational or religious similarity or simply cooperation against a common enemy.

Paul Cella also likes Michael Tennant's critique of Kristol. But I found Auster's analysis to hit closer to the core of the underlying flaw in neoconservative thinking.

Update II: Josh Cherniss provides yet another analysis of Kristol's essay and of neoconservatism as a whole.

Ok, now first of all, note the comparison -- nay, the analogy, even the equivalence -- between the USSR and the US. And this from a critic of Cold War moral equivalence! This sort of talk tends to confirm the critical suspicion that many neo-cons are as ideological as their former Soviet antagonists. Of course, their ideology is much better -- I think only a loon of the Chomskyian persuasion would deny it (and I won't bother to engage with such a view at present). But even if they're essentially right in the values that their ideology embraces -- I think we can for the moment take it for granted that liberal democracy is a good thing -- there's something worrying about their willingness to define the US and US foreign policy in such ideological terms, without also addressing the limits and dangers of ideological thinking. As Benjamin Constant said, more or less, it isn't that the hand bearing the sword is evil, it's that some swords are too heavy for the human hand: while foreign policy should be informed by morality, too ardent a commitment to the furtherance of an ideological mission or blueprint is blinding, and leads to abuses of power and disastrous over-stepping. And an abundance of power brings with a responsibility to be self-restrained -- a responsibility many neo-cons seem to under-appreciate.

The problem is that those who really are convinced by their ideology have the kind of certainty that characterises some forms of religious faith. However, while Christianity counsels its believers to have humility this sort of counsel is typically absent from the belief structures that make up most secular ideologies.

By Randall Parker    2003 August 23 01:28 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2003 July 25 Friday
Newsweek Article About Christoph Luxenberg On Koran Banned In Pakistan

You have to go read this article "Challenging the Qur’an" about the Koran because it is the reason the current issue of an international edition of Newsweek is banned in Pakistan.

ARGUING THAT TODAY’S version of the Qur’an has been mistranscribed from the original text, scholar Christoph Luxenberg says that what are described as “houris” with “swelling breasts” refer to nothing more than “white raisins” and “juicy fruits.”

Luxenberg—a pseudonym—is one of a small but growing group of scholars, most of them working in non-Muslim countries, studying the language and history of the Qur’an.

Here's a report on the banning in Pakistan of the issue of International Newsweek that contains this article entitled "Challenging the Qur’an".

Pakistan has banned the latest issue of Newsweek's international edition, saying an article on new interpretations of the Quran, the Islamic equivalent of the Bible, is offensive to Islam.

Note that such is the level of intolerance of many Muslim believers that the German scholar who calls himself Christoph Luxenberg has to use a pseudonym.

In the Forward the Philologos columnist indicates Christoph Luxenberg isn't the only Western scholar of Islam writing under a pseudonym.

That Western scholars discussing Islam and the Koran have to publish under pseudonyms to ensure their physical safety is, of course, a sad commentary not only on the intolerance of the Islamic world, but — even after the American action in Afghanistan — on the West's weak posture in the face of this.

Alexander Stille writing for The New York Times points out that Muslims can see from history that textual criticism opens up a religion to a general weakening of its power.

While scriptural interpretation may seem like a remote and innocuous activity, close textual study of Jewish and Christian scripture played no small role in loosening the Church's domination on the intellectual and cultural life of Europe, and paving the way for unfettered secular thought. "The Muslims have the benefit of hindsight of the European experience, and they know very well that once you start questioning the holy scriptures, you don't know where it will stop," the scholar explained.

Luxenberg is the author of The Syro-Aramaic Reading of the Koran which is considered a major work in the field. However, he had a hard time finding a publisher and to date it is available only in German as Die Syro- Aramäische Lesart des Koran. Ein Beitrag zur Entschlüsselung der Koransprache and its availability is limited. The Newsweek article says the English language version will be available some time this fall and I'll post an update here when it becomes available.

The Institute for the Secularisation of Islamic Society (possibly Ibn Warriq) has a brief preliminary review from when the book first came out in German.

If sound in its methodology, Luxenberg’s study will prove the single most important book to be written on the Koran in the last hundred years. Even if his conclusions are only 50% correct, they will totally demolish all the previous Western scholarship on the Koran. The impact on Islamic belief will be profound.

Ibn Warriq (also a pseudonym) briefly reviewed Luxenberg's book for The Guardian.

Luxenberg tries to show that many obscurities of the Koran disappear if we read certain words as being Syriac and not Arabic. We cannot go into the technical details of his methodology but it allows Luxenberg, to the probable horror of all Muslim males dreaming of sexual bliss in the Muslim hereafter, to conjure away the wide-eyed houris promised to the faithful in suras XLIV.54; LII.20, LV.72, and LVI.22. Luxenberg 's new analysis, leaning on the Hymns of Ephrem the Syrian, yields "white raisins" of "crystal clarity" rather than doe-eyed, and ever willing virgins - the houris. Luxenberg claims that the context makes it clear that it is food and drink that is being offerred, and not unsullied maidens or houris.

Writing in Hugoye: Journal Of Syriac Studies Robert R. Phenix Jr and Cornelia B. Horn of the University of St. Thomas Department of Theology have written the most scholarly and in-depth review that I found on this book.

In the Foreword, Luxenberg summarizes the cultural and linguistic importance of written Syriac for the Arabs and for the Qur’ān. At the time of Muhammad, Arabic was not a written language. Syro-Aramaic or Syriac was the language of written communication in the Near East from the second to the seventh centuries A.D. Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic, was the language of Edessa, a city-state in upper Mesopotamia. While Edessa ceased to be a political entity, its language became the vehicle of Christianity and culture, spreading throughout Asia as far as Malabar and eastern China. Until the rise of the Qur’ān, Syriac was the medium of wider communication and cultural dissemination for Arameans, Arabs, and to a lesser extent Persians. It produced the richest literary expression in the Near East from the fourth century (Aphrahat and Ephraem) until it was replaced by Arabic in the seventh and eighth centuries. Of importance is that the Syriac – Aramaic literature and the cultural matrix in which that literature existed was almost exclusively Christian. Part of Luxenberg’s study shows that Syriac influence on those who created written Arabic was transmitted through a Christian medium, the influence of which was fundamental.

German scholars, apparently less under the influence of Wahhabi money and political correctness, have been actively looking at the orgins of the Koran for a number of years. In January 1999 The Atlantic Monthly published an excellent 3-part article by Toby Lester on critical scholarship on the origins of the Koran entitled "What Is The Koran?"

Some of the parchment pages in the Yemeni hoard seemed to date back to the seventh and eighth centuries A.D., or Islam's first two centuries -- they were fragments, in other words, of perhaps the oldest Korans in existence. What's more, some of these fragments revealed small but intriguing aberrations from the standard Koranic text. Such aberrations, though not surprising to textual historians, are troublingly at odds with the orthodox Muslim belief that the Koran as it has reached us today is quite simply the perfect, timeless, and unchanging Word of God.

As some of these articles I'm linking to point out, Muslim scholars who question Islam end up fleeing Muslim lands or being attacked.

For a while Abu Zaid remained in Egypt and sought to refute the charges of apostasy, but in the face of death threats and relentless public harassment he fled with his wife from Cairo to Holland, calling the whole affair "a macabre farce." Sheikh Youssef al-Badri, the cleric whose preachings inspired much of the opposition to Abu Zaid, was exultant. "We are not terrorists; we have not used bullets or machine guns, but we have stopped an enemy of Islam from poking fun at our religion.... No one will even dare to think about harming Islam again."

Critical scholarship on the Koran apparently started with British scholar John Wansbrough.

The person who more than anyone else has shaken up Koranic studies in the past few decades is John Wansbrough, formerly of the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies. Puin is "re-reading him now" as he prepares to analyze the Yemeni fragments. Patricia Crone says that she and Michael Cook "did not say much about the Koran in Hagarism that was not based on Wansbrough."

Update: The Daily Star of Lebanon has an interesting report on a workshop of Koranic scholars recently held in Beirut.

A professor of literature and human science at Sousse University in Tunis, Abdeljelil heads a team of scholars compiling a critical edition of the Koran. The book will publish a number of alternative readings found in a collection of Koranic mashaf (mas-Haf, or manuscripts) ­ some dating from the first Islamic century ­ that had been stockpiled in the Grand Mosque in Sanaa and uncovered three decades ago.

Abdeljelil and his colleagues were in Beirut recently attending a Koranic studies workshop, Modernity and Islam, sponsored by the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung ­ the foundation of the German-Christian Democratic Party. The conference brought together scholars from as far afield as Yemen and Germany and approaches ranging from the traditional to the radical ­ the latter potentially quite upsetting to devout Muslims.

By Randall Parker    2003 July 25 05:35 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (51)
2003 July 15 Tuesday
Islamic Tablighi Jamaat Recruiting Ground For Al Qaeda

Muslim Tablighi Jamaat missionaries proclaim their apolitical views and separation from politics and political causes. Yet Al Qaeda finds the organization's associates a ripe recruiting ground for members.

"We have a significant presence of Tablighi Jamaat in the United States, and we have found that Al Qaeda used them for recruiting, now and in the past," said Michael J. Heimbach, the deputy chief of the F.B.I.'s international terrorism section.

..

By way of illustration, Farad Esack, a South African Islamic scholar who says he spent 12 years with the group in Pakistan, recounted a favorite Tablighi Jamaat analogy that equates individual Muslims to the electricians who work to light up a village. Each person lays wire until one day, the mayor comes to switch on the lights.

"For many people in Tablighi Jamaat," he said, "the Taliban represented God switching the lights on."

Islam is a deeply political religion. It should not be surprising that a fraction of the people who are converted to Islam with the help of Tablighi Jamaat missionaries decide to move on to join Muslim groups which pursue violent Jihad.

By Randall Parker    2003 July 15 12:55 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (53)
2003 July 01 Tuesday
On Christianity, Islam, Utopianism, And Tyrannies

Samuel P. Schlorff, apparently writing to give advice to Christian missionaries who try to convert Muslims, has written an interesting essay comparing Christianity and Islam entitled Muslim Ideology and Christian Apologetics.

2. Human Goodness

Closely related to this is a second assumption concerning human nature. Islam holds that people are essentially "good" and "pure" (cf. Sura 95:4), although "weak" and "forgetful" (Sura 4:28; 20:115). In the qur'anic account of Adam and Eve, they did not intend to disobey; they simply "forgot" God's command. And after Adam sinned, God "relented" and "forgave" him, promised him "guidance," and assured him he had "nothing to fear" provided he followed that guidance (Sura 20:115-127).

Islam categorically rejects the biblical doctrine of a moral fall. Muslims insist that our present separation from God is due essentially to God's transcendence, not sinful human nature. Although we do sin, this is attributed, e.g., to "ethical misperception" rather than to sinfulness (al-Faruqi 1968:64). We have the moral power not to sin; we can do the good. Indeed, Islam teaches, on the strength of a rather obscure passage in the Qur'an (Sura 30:30), that man is born "Muslim," i.e., submissive to God by nature (Kateregga and Shenk 1980:18; al-Faruqi 1976:395ff.). What we need then is not salvation from sin, but "guidance." With guidance from God we are able to live a life of submission that pleases God (al-Faruqi 1976:398-401).

For the Muslim, then, our present situation is the normal human condition. According to the Bible, it is abnormal. God did not create us as we now are, nor does he intend that we stay that way. In Christ, we have the hope of one day being "liberated" from the creation's present "bondage to decay" and experiencing the "redemption of our bodies" (Romans 8:21-23). Islamic eschatology does not offer such a hope.

This difference in the Muslim view of human nature goes a long way, in my view, in explaining why a core belief of Islam is that a highly religious state ruled by humans is possible in this life.

Here is where Islam becomes highly ideological. That first community at Medina is considered to be the model "community of submission" of all time - the exemplar which Muslims must thereafter strive to emulate. It is said to be superior to other types of social organization (e.g., capitalism, communism, or socialism) because it is based on divine law, not man-made law (see, e.g., Esposito 1983:67-98). This is thought to make for a greater degree of submission than exists outside Islam. The model requires a Muslim government to provide the legal and social framework necessary to facilitate submission to the law. There is no separation between the sacred and the secular, between church and state. This community is one, universal, and cohesive, representing for Muslims the kingdom of God on earth.

Contrast the Muslim view of human nature with the Christian view. Because Christians view humans as fallen, sinful, and imperfect this leads to an expectation that humans can not create governments that will govern according to God's wishes.

Only a Society Ruled by God Can Be Considered a Divine Order

The biblical concept is based on the premise that only a society in which the executive, legislative, and judicial functions of government are all under the direct control of God may be considered a divine order. Anything less, e.g., where any of these functions are in human hands, is ipso facto not a divine order, even though it may possess a religious law.

Christians have a more pessimistic view of human nature. Biblical prophecies are consistent with this pessimistic view. Humans are not expected to achieve perfect justice or utopia on this Earth by themselves. In Christian teachings it literally requires God to return in order to be able to create an ideal society. Jewish beliefs about a returning Messiah are similar to Christian teachings in this respect.

A belief in the possibility of creating a "this world" utopia can serve as a powerful motivator of human behavior. The biggest danger that utopians (religious or secular) present for the rest of the human race is that they often believe that they are pursuing the realization of such an enormously desirable goal that their desired ends tend, in their own minds, to justify means that leave the rest of us either dead, dying, or living under an oppressive tyranny.

By Randall Parker    2003 July 01 09:03 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2003 June 30 Monday
Saudi Critics Of Wahhabism Do Exist

Mansour al-Nougaidan started out as a self-appointed cleric and condemned the Saudi regime as not being sufficiently Islamist. But when he was thrown in jail after his supporters bombed a Riyadh video store in a strange twist he learned less intolerant strains of Islam in a Saudi prison.

During several stints in prison, he was exposed to different interpretations of Islam than the Wahhabi doctrine that has dominated Saudi Arabia for more than 70 years. Al-Nougaidan says his prison readings turned him into one of Wahhabism's fiercest critics.

In the West we face the opposite problem: people go into prison, get exposed to rather harsh versions of Islam, and come out radicalised. But in Saudi Arabia they have schools and mosques that already are teaching ideas that produce a radical and intolerant populace. So there you apparently have to go to prison to learn religious views that are not so dangerous. Go figure.

Al-Nougaidan gets a lot of threats in Saudi Arabia:

"Many of today's radical groups draw at least part of their religious justifications from Wahhabi ideology," said al-Nougaidan, who rarely goes out in public and does not answer his cell phone because of the numerous death threats he has received. "For too long, Saudi society has been exposed to only one school of religious thought. It teaches hatred of Jews, Christians and even other Muslims who are deemed too liberal."

Go read the full article. Other Saudis are quoted offering a number of opinions about Wahhabi Islam that are less than flattering.

Update: The senior religious leader of Saudi Arabia has made a particularly revealing admission.

Yet there are signs that even the religious establishment may be ready to move. Last month, the nation's senior religious leader, Sheik Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah al Sheik, declared that charging other Muslims with disbelief — essentially, the official attitude toward Shiism until now — is not permitted under Islam.

"Charging other Muslims with whom one may differ as disbelievers results in murdering innocent people, destroying facilities, disorder and instability," said the revered, white-bearded mufti, whose word on religion is nearly as important as is the Saudi monarch's on secular policy..

Think about that. Sounds good at first. He wants to extend the definition of Muslim to include non-Wahhabis so that the Wahhabis will not think it is okay to kill non-Wahhabis. But wait a second. Isn't this an acknowledgement that there are Wahhabis walking around who think it is okay to kill non-Muslims? His proclamation doesn't extend any protection to people who really are non-Muslims (i.e. most of the human race).

By Randall Parker    2003 June 30 02:19 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2003 June 26 Thursday
Apologists For Islam Say Religious States Are Okay

Writing in The National Interest Kenneth Minogue states what I think is a popular and misleading fallacy.

What I have been emphasizing, however, is that Third World religious conflicts that now look to be unavoidable are terrifying enough without gratuitously politicizing them. Neither Islam nor Christianity will do much to improve the world unless they operate as real religions, turning attention away from projects of transforming social systems toward an innerness focused on duty and goodness. Something like this was how medieval Christendom generated the moral stabilities out of which the modern world emerged. Politics today is notoriously impatient, while patience is one of the great religious virtues.

One of the biggest handicaps that many commentators and analysts have when they try to look at Islam is that they bring with them their own beliefs about what are the characteristics of an ideal religion and assume that anyone who is going to be religious in good faith will come to agree to the same list of ideal religious beliefs. But religions vary a great deal from each other. One can not speak of, on one hand, the secular mind and, on the other hand, the religious mind. Political conflicts in the Middle East are not the result of religions getting distracted and caught up in political questions that are not core to religious belief.

Islam was not designed to discourage people from using religious beliefs in shaping political and social systems. In fact, the Koran places many specific demands on believers about society and government. It does not instruct its believers to turn away from the outer world and focus on the inner self or the supernatural realm.

On the bright side, there are certainly beliefs in each religion that can be appealed to in order to encourage believers in that religion to try to get along with and accept those who are not believers. For instance, the Koran does have some verses that encourage patience in some circumstances.

The Quran clearly advises patience and forbearance when a Muslim’s beliefs are being flouted by a non-believer.

“Allah is with those who restrain themselves.” (Quran 16:128)

“Have patience with what they say, and leave them with noble (dignity).” (Quran 73:10)

“And when ye hear the signs of Allah held in defiance and ridicule, ye are not to sit with them unless they turn to a different theme.” (Quran 4:140)

Still, Islam is explicitly a political religion that encourages its believers to rule as Muslims over Muslims and non-Muslims. One can not find much in it to support a separation of mosque and state.

While one can fault Minogue for his seeming naivete about the nature of religions in general there is an even worse attitude that a non-Muslim can take toward Islam and politics. Noah Feldman, one of the advisors to the occupation administration in Iraq, actually embraces the idea of using the ballot box to join together mosque and state.

If his new book is any guide, Feldman is a serious thinker who has grappled with the fundamental issues surrounding the coexistence of Islam and democracy. As he argues in "After Jihad: America and the Struggle for Islamic Democracy," instead of insisting that religion and democracy must be separate, Americans must recognize that Islam is a possible carrier of democracy ññ and that encouraging this relationship is in our country's long-term foreign policy interest.

Amitai Etzioni sounds like he agrees with Feldman.

The 1st Amendment’s separation of church and state is not a foreign policy tool; it’s a peculiar American conception. Just because the American government is banned from promoting religion within the US does not mean that it cannot promote it as part of a civil society in Iraq or Afghanistan

Let us be clear here. Etzioni does not favor the separation of mosque and state. America's embrace of the separation of church and state is "peculiar". With friends like these the West does not need enemies.

In contrast, reformist Muslim scholar Bassam Tibi offers a more realistic view of the nature of the conflict between the West and Islam.

"Blessed be those who are being lied to", read the headline of an alarming article by reformist Muslim scholar Bassam Tibi in the German weekly, Die Zeit. Syrian-born Tibi, who teaches political science at Goettingen University, labeled well-meaning Christians "inexcusably naïve" in their dealings with their Islamic interlocutors.

He also accused fellow Muslims as being "dishonest to the highest degree" in claiming that Sept. 11 had nothing to do with Islam. According to Tibi, the current Christian-Islamic dialogue is based on deception, merely producing wishful thinking in the West.

I'm suspicious of people who try to talk their way out of seeing a fundamental conflict between civilizations. If it is okay for Musims to have Muslim states in the Middle East because to do so is somehow inherently Islamic then why should Muslims be allowed to move to and settle in the West? If we accept the logic of the arguments of Etzioni and Feldman then it seems clear that Muslims embrace beliefs that are not compatible with secular democracy.

By Randall Parker    2003 June 26 03:33 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 April 01 Tuesday
Islamic Textbooks In America Attack Christians, Jews

The New York Daily News conducted an investigation of textbooks used by Islamic grade schools and high schools in America. Of course the Islamic textbooks say unnice things about Christians and Jews.

At the Muslim Center Elementary School on Geranium Ave. in Flushing, Queens, a textbook for grades 6 through 8 teaches that Jews "subscribe to a belief in racial superiority. … Their religion even teaches them to call down curses upon the worship places of non-Jews whenever they pass by them! They arrogantly refer to anyone who is not Jewish as 'gentiles,' equating them with sin."

The book "What Islam Is All About" states that, "The Christians also worship statues."

It is important to know what it is about something that one finds objectionable if one is going to object to it.

And Eugene Fisher, associate director for interreligious affairs for the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, commented, "Give me a break. We don't worship statues. That's teaching their children misunderstandings about Christianity that will lead them to grow up thinking all that stuff in the Koran about idolaters refers to us, their neighbors."

Eugene Fisher isn't exactly being helpful here. Are we supposed to believe that there are non-Christian statue-woshippers that the Koran is really criticising and that Muslims should direct their hostility toward those statue-worshippers instead of toward Christians? I mean, if the Muslims did that would that then make Islam okay?

Isn't the Koran's even harsher judgement of people who are not "people of the book" (i.e. not Christians or Jews - though I think there is one other group - Zoroastrians? - who are also considered "people of the book" by Muslims) an even bigger reason to object to Islam?

Here's the problem with Islam: It contains core beliefs that are incompatible with a classically liberal society that strives to respect the choices of individuals as long as those choices do not violate the rights of others. These Islamic textbooks are just one more manifestation of that incompatibility.

By Randall Parker    2003 April 01 04:14 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (4)
2003 January 29 Wednesday
Robert Spencer on the Nature of Islam

In an article entitled "Muslim Disinformation Campaign" Robert Spencer examines the arguments that Muslims make in defense of Islam. Spencer points out that while Muslim apologists point to verses in the Koran that sound tolerant and peaceful these citations are misleading about the true nature of Islam. Muslim theologians accord less weight to those verses because they mainly come from the early career of the prophet Muhammed. The Islamic theory of abrogation or naskh holds that earlier verses that contradict later verses are cancelled and replaced by the later verses.

There is no universally accepted chronology of the revelations of the Qur’an, but the broad outlines of the prophet’s life make it clear that the bellicose verses were revealed later than the peaceful ones. His more conciliatory revelations come from his early prophetic career in Mecca, when he still had high hopes of winning over Arabian Jews and Christians. Later, however, when it became abundantly clear that Jews and Christians would not accept him as a prophet, Allah’s messenger became bellicose: revelations from the latter part of his career in Medina are considerably more hard-edged. Hence, according to the idea of naskh, the peaceful verses are abrogated but the violent ones are still in effect. Muslim extremists are fully aware of this. It is another reason why they feel free to quote the Qur’an in support of their violent actions today: they clearly believe that when they do so, they are using the book properly and "in context."

By Randall Parker    2003 January 29 01:18 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 January 27 Monday
Islam is a Totalitarian Doctrine

Writer Chua Lee Hoong reviews the arguments that Roger Scruton has made in The West And The Rest about the totalitarian nature of Islam.

The other chilling point from Prof Scruton is that unlike Western individualist secularism, Islam is in a very fundamental sense a totalitarian doctrine: It seeks to embrace and subordinate to its dictates the totality of life. The ulama ('those with knowledge') have their authority directly from God. The syariah, the revealed will of God, is the only sanction for law.

The point is affirmed by Iraq-born Islamic scholar Majid Khadduri, who wrote in The Islamic Conception Of Justice that Muslims took for granted that political justice was 'an expression of God's will as interpreted and put into practice by the Prophet', and, after the Prophet's death, by his legitimate successors.

By Randall Parker    2003 January 27 10:43 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2003 January 06 Monday
The Origin of the Modern Left's Anti-Americanism

Lee Harris, writing an essay entitled "The Intellectual Origins of America-Bashing" in Policy Review, traces the Left's anti-Americanism to Marxist theorist Paul Baran's theory of how the United States caused Third World poverty.

Yet those who still claim to derive their heritage from Marx are mostly unwilling to acknowledge that their political aims are merely utopian, not scientific. How is that possible?

There might be several reasons advanced for this, but certainly one of them is Paul Baran. A Polish born American economist and a Marxist, Baran is the author of The Political Economy of Growth (Monthly Review Press, 1957). In it, for the first time in Marxist literature, Baran propounded a causal connection between the prosperity of the advanced capitalist countries and the impoverishment of the Third World. It was no longer the case, as it was for Marx, that poverty — as well as idiocy — was the natural condition of man living in an agricultural mode of production. Rather, poverty had been introduced into the Third World by the capitalist system. The colonies no longer served the purpose of consuming overstocked inventories, but were now the positive victims of capitalism.

What needs to be stressed here is that, prior to Baran, no Marxist had ever suspected that capitalism was the cause of the poverty of the rest of the world. Not only had Marx and Engels failed to notice this momentous fact, but neither had any of their followers. Yet this omission was certainly not due to Marx’s lack of knowledge about, or interest in, the question of European colonies. In his writing on India, Marx shows himself under no illusions concerning the brutal and mercenary nature of British rule. He is also aware of the “misery and degradation” effected by the impact of British industry’s “devastating effects” on India. Yet all of this is considered by Marx to be a dialectical necessity; that is to say, these effects were the unavoidable precondition of India’s progress and advance — an example of the “creative destruction” that Schumpeter spoke of as the essence of capitalist dynamics. Or, as Marx put it in On Colonialism: “[T]he English bourgeoisie . . . will neither emancipate nor materially mend the social condition of the mass of the [Indian] people . . . but . . . what they will not fail to do is to lay down the material premises for both” the emancipation and the mending of this social condition.

Baran's theory became widely accepted among Marxists in spite of its flimsy construction. There are numerous obvious reasons why it is wrong. The Third World was poor before the United States became a major factor in world trade. Countries which have economically isolated their economies from the world economy (parenthetically, the Arab non-oil producing countries are notable for their high tariffs, low levels of trade, and few are members of the World Trade Organisation) have done very poorly economically. Therefore world trade could not have been a means whereby their wealth was drained from them into the Western countries. Countries that were actively hostile to the US and united in rival blocs did not prosper. When the absence of the proposed mechanism of impoverishment still led to impoverishment was obviously time to look for another cause for economic failure. But even with the real world evidence running against them the true believers in Marxism had such an emotional investment in their ideology that they were not about to give up their faith. Rationalisation became the order of the day.

The Marxist theoretical construction of why companies would need to impoverish their workers is also obviously wrong. If profits were dropping due to excessive amounts of competition then salary decreases would be accompanied by dropping prices. The capitalists and the workers could not simultaneously be economically harmed.

That the argument that America increases third world poverty is used as a justification for Anti-Americanism on the Left can be seen as an accidental result of the Left's desperate need to fix Marxist theory in order to maintain its appeal. As the 20th century progressed so much empirical evidence was building up against Marxism that the Marxists urgently needed to find a way to maintain the viability of their intellectual and political movement. The tragedy is that even though Marxism belongs in the trashbin of history its latter 20th century neo-Marxist formulations are still used to justify anti-Americanism and to explain the failure of many economies and political systems. These formulations are harmful to both the West and to the impoverished of the world. In the era of catastrophic terrorism enabled by the spread of ever more powerful technologies of mass destruction the encouragement of resentments toward more affluent countries helps to put hundreds of millions of people at risk of terrorist attack. At the same time an explanation for political and economic failure that shifts the blame away from local conditions also delays the day when the local causes of economic failure are addressed.

Update: Writing in the Times of London in an essay entitled "The hatred of America is the socialism of fools" Michael Gove examines the harm of leftist anti-Americanism and the use of anti-Americanism as a proxy for anti-capitalism.

The widespread prevalence of anti-Americanism, the cachet accorded to its advocates, the reflexive sniggering triggered by any favourable mention of America’s President, all make opposition to this trend unpopular. But vitally necessary. For Yankee-phobia is, at heart, a dark thing, a prejudice with ugly antecedents which creates unholy alliances. And, like all prejudices, it thrives on myths which will end up only serving evil ends.

It is a myth that America is a trigger-happy cowboy state over-eager to throw its weight around, a myth that America seeks to use its undoubted military power to establish an exploitative empire, and a myth that America thrives by impoverishing and oppressing other nations.

By Randall Parker    2003 January 06 10:04 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
2002 December 20 Friday
David Klinghoffer on Islam and Non-Believers

David Klinghoffer has a different take on the meaning of the Koran's "the People of the Book" phrase. He argues that it is not meant as a friendly reference to religions that are close to Islam.

Referring to Christians as well as Jews, that famous phrase, "the People of the Book," comes up whenever someone is trying to paint a friendly face on Islam. The truth is that Muhammad typically means it not in praise but as an expression of bitter irony, as if to say: These people have Scripture, yet they reject me!

The Koran does not encourage a benevolent view of non-Muslims even if they are Christians or Jews.

God is quoted by prophet as saying, "The unbelievers among the People of the Book and the pagans shall burn forever in the fire of Hell. They are the vilest of all creatures." "…those that disbelieve Our revelations and deny them are the heirs of Hell." Of the Jews in particular: "God has cursed them in their unbelief."

You can check out this contention for yourself by trying the USC Koran search engine. What is nice about the USC engine is that it has 3 translations (Pickthal, Yusufali, and Shakir) and returns each verse in all 3 translations. It even searches all 3 translations. So, for instance, "disbelieve" will be used in the Pickthal translation in some locations but "deny Allah" or some other phrasing in the other two. Or Shakir will use "disbelieve" where Yusufali uses "reject". So it is easier to find the relevant verses when all the translations are searched.

Here is an example verse I turned by by searching on "unbelievers". There are a lot of verses in the Koran about warfare against unbelievers.

047.004
YUSUFALI: Therefore, when ye meet the Unbelievers (in fight), smite at their necks; At length, when ye have thoroughly subdued them, bind a bond firmly (on them): thereafter (is the time for) either generosity or ransom: Until the war lays down its burdens. Thus (are ye commanded): but if it had been Allah's Will, He could certainly have exacted retribution from them (Himself); but (He lets you fight) in order to test you, some with others. But those who are slain in the Way of Allah,- He will never let their deeds be lost.
PICKTHAL: Now when ye meet in battle those who disbelieve, then it is smiting of the necks until, when ye have routed them, then making fast of bonds; and afterward either grace or ransom till the war lay down its burdens. That (is the ordinance). And if Allah willed He could have punished them (without you) but (thus it is ordained) that He may try some of you by means of others. And those who are slain in the way of Allah, He rendereth not their actions vain.
SHAKIR: So when you meet in battle those who disbelieve, then smite the necks until when you have overcome them, then make (them) prisoners, and afterwards either set them free as a favor or let them ransom (themselves) until the war terminates. That (shall be so); and if Allah had pleased He would certainly have exacted what is due from them, but that He may try some of you by means of others; and (as for) those who are slain in the way of Allah, He will by no means allow their deeds to perish.

Here s an example of the Koranic view of Pagans, Christians and Jews. This is a tolerant religion?

009.028
YUSUFALI: O ye who believe! Truly the Pagans are unclean; so let them not, after this year of theirs, approach the Sacred Mosque. And if ye fear poverty, soon will Allah enrich you, if He wills, out of His bounty, for Allah is All-knowing, All-wise.
PICKTHAL: O ye who believe! The idolaters only are unclean. So let them not come near the Inviolable Place of Worship after this their year. If ye fear poverty (from the loss of their merchandise) Allah shall preserve you of His bounty if He will. Lo! Allah is Knower, Wise.
SHAKIR: O you who believe! the idolaters are nothing but unclean, so they shall not approach the Sacred Mosque after this year; and if you fear poverty then Allah will enrich you out of His grace if He please; surely Allah is Knowing Wise.

009.029
YUSUFALI: Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.
PICKTHAL: Fight against such of those who have been given the Scripture as believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, and forbid not that which Allah hath forbidden by His messenger, and follow not the Religion of Truth, until they pay the tribute readily, being brought low.
SHAKIR: Fight those who do not believe in Allah, nor in the latter day, nor do they prohibit what Allah and His Messenger have prohibited, nor follow the religion of truth, out of those who have been given the Book, until they pay the tax in acknowledgment of superiority and they are in a state of subjection.

009.030
YUSUFALI: The Jews call 'Uzair a son of Allah, and the Christians call Christ the son of Allah. That is a saying from their mouth; (in this) they but imitate what the unbelievers of old used to say. Allah's curse be on them: how they are deluded away from the Truth!
PICKTHAL: And the Jews say: Ezra is the son of Allah, and the Christians say: The Messiah is the son of Allah. That is their saying with their mouths. They imitate the saying of those who disbelieved of old. Allah (Himself) fighteth against them. How perverse are they!
SHAKIR: And the Jews say: Uzair is the son of Allah; and the Christians say: The Messiah is the son of Allah; these are the words of their mouths; they imitate the saying of those who disbelieved before; may Allah destroy them; how they are turned away!

009.031
YUSUFALI: They take their priests and their anchorites to be their lords in derogation of Allah, and (they take as their Lord) Christ the son of Mary; yet they were commanded to worship but One Allah: there is no god but He. Praise and glory to Him: (Far is He) from having the partners they associate (with Him).
PICKTHAL: They have taken as lords beside Allah their rabbis and their monks and the Messiah son of Mary, when they were bidden to worship only One Allah. There is no Allah save Him. Be He Glorified from all that they ascribe as partner (unto Him)!
SHAKIR: They have taken their doctors of law and their monks for lords besides Allah, and (also) the Messiah son of Marium and they were enjoined that they should serve one Allah only, there is no god but He; far from His glory be what they set up (with Him).

009.032
YUSUFALI: Fain would they extinguish Allah's light with their mouths, but Allah will not allow but that His light should be perfected, even though the Unbelievers may detest (it).
PICKTHAL: Fain would they put out the light of Allah with their mouths, but Allah disdaineth (aught) save that He shall perfect His light, however much the disbelievers are averse.
SHAKIR: They desire to put out the light of Allah with their mouths, and Allah will not consent save to perfect His light, though the unbelievers are averse.

According to this excerpt the Muslims are supposed to fight the Jews and Christians until the latter two groups submit to Muslim rule and agree to pay special higher taxes aimed at them. This is explicitly specified in the Koran.

Update: Robert Spencer, author of Islam Unveiled: Disturbing Questions About the World's Fastest Growing Faith by Robert Spencer, also examines the PBS documentary Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet which was the occasion for David Klinghoffer's article on the nature of Islam. Spencer asks if Islam does not support terrorism then why have terrorist organizations found it so easy to recruit members from Muslim societies around the world?

But here the producers of Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet had a real opportunity. Instead of flatly stating that terrorism cannot be justified by Islam, they could have explained why misunderstanding jihad isn't a faux pas restricted to the benighted Falwells and Robertsons of the world. They could have informed viewers why millions of Muslims endorse the violent jihad preached by Islamic organizations spanning the globe — from Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad to the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, Jemaah Islamiah in Southeast Asia, Al-Gamaa al-Islamiyya in Egypt, the Armed Islamic Group in Algeria, Al-Ummah in India, the Abu Sayyaf group in the Philippines, and so many others.

The documentary reports the views of Mohamed Zakariya, who is described by another Muslim as being among "the mildest people in our community." Zakariya states that "revenge, suicide bombing, things of that kind, they have no place in Islam." This is simply stated as fact. The producers pass up the opportunity to clarify opposing views held by quite prominent figures in the Islamic world, such as Sheikh Muhammad Sayyed Tantawi, the prestigious and respected Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar University in Cairo. Tantawi was quoted by President Bush last Fall at the United Nations as saying that "terrorism is a disease, and that Islam prohibits killing innocent civilians." But according to the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), last spring the same sheikh declared that suicide bombing was "the highest form of Jihad operations," and that "every martyrdom operation against any Israeli, including children, women, and teenagers, is a legitimate act according to [Islamic] religious law, and an Islamic commandment."

By Randall Parker    2002 December 20 01:53 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2002 December 10 Tuesday
David Warren On The Nature Of Islam, Rise Of Islamism

David Warren has written a long and multifaceted essay on the differences between the West and the Islamic societies. Warren argues (and I think correctly) that Islams's emphasis is different than that of Christianity.

The moral order of Islam, while it overlaps with Judaism, Christianity, and all of the world's "great religions" in many crucial respects, is nevertheless unique in its emphases. Building upon such essentially tribal values as trust, honour, manliness, loyalty, the duty of hospitality, it builds a moral order in which, I will dare to say, justice is the pre-eminent value. And it is justice, beyond all other values, that is demanded in the confrontation between the Muslim and the world, between the insiders of the Islamic family and the outsiders -- the people who still live beyond the Islamic "realm of peace".

How radically different from the Christian worldview, itself deriving from the Jewish, in which, from its own Gospel beginnings, the worldly virtues are presented as written into the natural order, accessible to all whether Christian or not, so that it is quite possible for a non-Christian to be a good and worthy man. Or, turning this over, in its full universal implications, Christ proclaims that there can be no justice in this world -- only in heaven. Every single one of Christ's parables hinges not on justice but on truth, and at the center of the Christian revelation is this uncanny statement, "That you shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall make you free."

Notice the juxtaposition of these two Christian keywords: "liberty" and "truth". Compare the word "Islam" itself, which means "submission" -- in the deepest sense of submission to the will of Allah, but necessarily including Allah's detailed instructions for everyday life, delivered not through the life-example but through the actual Book "transcribed" by Muhammad. Whereas St. Paul made a point of overthrowing all the old Jewish dietary customs

Warren also argues that Islam supports the idea of an extended tribe emcompassing all believers against all non-believers. Is this a result the tribal origins of Islam? I think Stanley Kurtz's contention that cousin marriage is at the root of the political problems of the Middle East is an essential component in any explanation to explain Muslim hostility toward the US and the West. Then an obvious question to ask is whether Islam effectively encourages (either directly or indirectly) cousin marriage.

Another one of David Warren's arguments is that the literary form of the personal narrative invented during the European Enlightenment encouraged the development of sympathy for others that are unlike oneself. He argues that this influence hasn't spread as far into Muslim societies. This may be so. But don't people in the Middle East read novels, diaries, and biographies? Do they read them but only about people in their own cultures? If the latter is the case then why? Do they have such hostility or lack of interest toward people who are outside of their culture that they don't want to read about them? If so, is this hostility or lack of interest caused by Islam?

By Randall Parker    2002 December 10 01:43 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2002 December 03 Tuesday
Fukuyama's Critics On Modernizing Islam

In the Commentary Magazine there are responses to an earlier article by Francis Fukuyama and Nadav Samin entitled “Can Any Good Come of Radical Islam?”. You can find the original article republished on the WSJ site and also at this URL as well.

Here are a couple of excerpts of responses published in the Commentary December 2002 issue:

Martin Kramer:

In “Can Any Good Come of Radical Islam?” [September], Mr. Fukuyama and his co-author Nadav Samin concur that Islamism is a destructive force that warrants comparison with Communism and fascism. But, they write, it might also be a modernizing one—it might, despite itself, strip away the traditional constraints that have prevented Muslims from modernizing. And if Islamism, in turn, can be stripped of its ideology, then perhaps it might turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

If. And if only. In Francis Fukuyama, Hegel springs eternal, and it was Hegel who passed this judgment early in the 19th century: “Islam has long vanished from the stage of history, and has retreated into oriental ease and repose.” The persistent refusal of Islam to do just that remains one of the principal flaws of “endism,” from Hegel to this day—that is, for as long as the modern West has rubbed shoulders with Islam.

After some two centuries, the evidence is compelling. Islam has been an inexhaustible power cell for scores of movements that have defied the values of modern liberalism. From Mahdism to bin Ladenism, from the Muslim Brotherhood to the Taliban, Islam continues to generate new and potent antidotes to the infection of the West. All of which suggests that the power of radical Islam (like Islam itself) is its ability to mutate—to adapt itself to ever-changing circumstances. Today it ingeniously exploits the very modernism that it seeks to thwart. Just when you think it is outmoded—as many analysts thought 30 years ago—it suddenly reappears in some completely new (and often more virulent) form.

The only mechanism by which Islamism could strip away the old order in the Middle East would involve revolutions, decades of repressive Islamic regimes ala Iran, and likely a war (or series of wars) of such proportion that millions or even tens or hundreds of millions would die. Even if revolution followed by Islamist rule could be gauranteed to eventually produce a liberal secular backlash we can not afford to wait that long. If more Islamist governments came to power the likely result would be more regimes working to develop WMD while supporting terrorist attacks on Western targets. The threat of growing WMD proliferation should be an argument against the idea of allowing Islamists to take over more countries. We can not afford to allow Islamists to play out some big Hegelian learning experience to cause Muslim people to see that repressive Islamic rule is a bad idea.

Stanley Kurtz:

This seeming resignation about the prospects for Islamic societies also points to a problem with Mr. Fukuyama’s famous thesis, in “The End of History?” (1989), that the world is moving inexorably toward liberal democracy. By conceding that modernization among Muslims is far in the future, Mr. Fukuyama implies a measure of agreement with one of his key critics, Samuel Huntington, who argued—presciently, many believe—that the end of the cold war would bring about a “clash of civilizations” based on religion and culture. Huntington has advised restraint in America’s efforts to spread democracy.

Huntington was right about the sources of our current conflict, but he failed to take account of technological advance, especially with respect to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. This has made it much more difficult for America to tolerate undemocratic regimes based on non- or anti-Western cultural assumptions. Mr. Fukuyama, for his part, did not foresee this particular turn of the wheel, but he has long argued that the “mechanism of modern natural science” would bring about global democracy.

The question we face today, and which neither thinker has fully addressed, is what will happen when the irresistible force of Western conquest and democratization bangs up against the immovable object of Islamic social and cultural tradition.

The problem is that technological advance steadily increases the amount of damage that smaller countries and groups can do to the rest of the world.

As part of their rebuttal Fukuyama and Samin say:

No one knows whether this will in fact happen, but there is some reason to expect that the political wheel will turn again. While Islamism may be a highly effective tool of political mobilization, it has been a disaster as a governing ideology in the three countries where it has come to power: Iran, Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia. None of our respondents save Larry Diamond has acknowledged the real prospects for liberalization present in a country like Iran that has had to endure Islamist theocracy—the backlash to the backlash, so to speak.

Their inclusion of Saudi Arabia in their list of countries that have been governed by Islamic ideology ought to show them an error in their argument. Unlike the case of Iran we do not see large street demonstrations and growing calls for secular government in Saudi Arabia. The people in Saudi Arabia have lived under a strict religious system of government for decades longer than the case of Iran and yet there is little in the way of a secular backlash in Saudi Arabia and in fact quite a few Saudi Arabians are radicalized and willing to join terrorist groups.

Where are the signs of an Islamic Reformation that would parallel Protestant Reformation? Moderate Muslim voices are frightened into silence. Even in the US they are threatened.

See my previous post on Fukuyama, Samuel P. Huntington, and Stanley Kurtz.

By Randall Parker    2002 December 03 12:52 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2002 November 13 Wednesday
James Lileks On The Religious Right As Boogeymen

To be clear: I used the term "boogeymen", he didn't. But in an excellent blog post that is worth reading in full he sums up nicely a view that I share.

As for the “religious right,” they are utterly irrelevant to me. I’ve been told for 20 years that they will bring a miserable double-knit Pat Boone theocracy, but the evidence seems lacking. There is nothing I want to hear, read, or see that I cannot hear, read, or see. Now and again they get a book banned from a school, just as the Grievance-American community succeeds in banishing Twain because he uses the N word, but no one can look at the American popular culture in the last 20 years and tell me it’s been moving in a direction that gladdens the heart of Jerry Falwell. I have my hell-in-a-handbasket moments, but they’re not about sex or bad language or violence. They’re about the vulgar, grunting, brainless way in which these subjects are handled. I lament the loss of the gentle innuendo, the graceful aspects of old pop culture, but would I want to live in a society that put the screws on so tight that artistic invention was the only way to express certain human necessities? No. It’s a matter of degrees, of context, of intelligence. I can applaud the Victoria’s Secret catalog that shows up in the mailbox, and decry a culture that wants to tart up 12-year olds and sell thongs to little girls. There’s no contradiction. It’s not an either-or. If the religious right has any effect, it’s prodding people like myself to stand up and get pissed instead of letting it roll over us without comment. And if I find common ground with them on nipple-piercing parental notification laws, then that’s how it works. If they’re on the other side of the barricade when it comes anti-sodomy laws, then that’s how it works.

The Religious Right are portrayed by many on the Left as a evil malignant force that is about to crush liberty in America and bring on a society that looks like Margaret Atwood's A Handmaiden's Tale. Perhaps this sort of rhetoric is useful as a Democratic Party fund-raising device. But this view is deeply disrespectful of and shows an ignorance of most Christians who are conservatives. My own experience with Christian conservatives is that the vast bulk of them strongly support a free society and are in no way a threat to liberty. This isn't meant as a defense of "my kind". I say this as an agnostic on all matters religious who really hopes there is a supernatural and that we have spirits that will continue to exist after we die but who fears that we are just physical entities with only short mortal existences.

By Randall Parker    2002 November 13 12:00 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (4)
2002 November 11 Monday
Saudis Funding Their Version Of Islam In Turkey?

If Saudi Arabia is sending money is into Turkey to spread its more fundamentalist Wahhabi version of Islam then this does not bode well for the likelihood that Turkey will maintain a secular government:

Furthermore, though Islam in Turkey is distinctly more tolerant and moderate than that of other Islamic societies, it does exist in the broader context of growing Islamic radical fundamentalism everywhere else. The popular growth of Islamic adherence in Turkey during the past two decades, for example, has largely been financed from both Iranian and Saudi sources.

By Randall Parker    2002 November 11 01:19 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2002 November 08 Friday
John Jay Ray On Religions and Political Decentralization

In a blog essay entitled "Historic German Origins Of Conservatism" blogger and FrontPage Magazine writer John Jay Ray argues that Protestantism has been a decentralizing force in politics as it was born out of distrust of central religious authority:

Nonetheless, even in a weakened form, the Catholic church offers a model of “top down” social organization that must make it easier for Catholics to accept political arrangements of a “top down” sort. If you look up to the Pope as an essential part of your salvation in the spiritual sphere, to look up to the government as an essential agency in securing your material wellbeing is surely only a small step. So the fact that the vast majority of Europeans are still Catholic (even if the Catholicism is much watered down from what it was) should make Europeans more accepting of all-pervasive government than Anglo-Saxons would ever be. And so, of course, it has come to pass. In Bismarck, Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Salazar and Papadopoulos Europe has had authoritarianism in government on a scale unknown in the English-speaking world.

Of course, Papadopoulos, being Greek, was raised in the Greek Orthodox culture. But the Orthodox are similar to the Catholics in terms of having a hierarchically structured church with high priests who are the interpreters and authorities on spiritual matters. So the argument can be extended to state that Catholic and Orthodox Europe have a longer tradition of top-down authoritarian religious rule than does Protestant Europe. But the real interesting twist to Ray's argument is not that Protestantism encouraged political decentralization (though perhaps it did). Its that the areas that went Protestant had existing cultures that were more decentralized in their social and political structures even before the Protestant Reformation. Now is this true? I don't know enough Middle Ages cultural history to say. But it reminds me of something John Derbyshire has written about the feudal era and the men who went off on the Crusades:.

That is what they were like, these men of Western Europe. Brutish, coarse, ignorant, often insanely cruel — yes: but peer into their inner lives, their thoughts, their talk among themselves, so far as it is possible to do so, and what do we find? What were their notions, their obsessions? Faith, of course, and honor, and then: vassalage, homage, fealty, allegiance, duties and obligations, genealogies and inheritances, councils and "parlements," rights and liberties. The feudal order is easy to underestimate. In part this is because feudal society was so at odds with many modern ideals — the ideal of human equality, for example. In part, also, I believe, because the sheer complexity of it, and of its laws and customs, deters study and sometimes confounds analysis. (Define and differentiate the following: champerty, maintenance, embracery.) A certain dogged application is required to get to grips with feudal society, and few who are not professional historians are up to the task, Karl Marx being one honorable exception. Yet it is in this knotty tangle of heartfelt abstractions spelled out in Old French that can be found, in embryo, so much of what we cherish in our own civilization today.

If John Jay Ray's argument is correct then in the writings from the Middle Ages one would expect to find more talk of rights and a different slant on obligations and duties among those who were living in areas that later became Protestant. One might also expect to find different rules for property ownership (perhaps less tilted toward elites and with wider access to property law courts) in the areas that became Protestant. Anyone know enough history to comment on this?

By Randall Parker    2002 November 08 02:38 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2002 October 26 Saturday
The DC Snipers And Religious Bigotry

Dave Trowbridge takes exception to the reaction that many bloggers are having to the news that the older DC sniper, John Allen Muhammad, was a convert to Islam. Trowbridge especially has a problem with what he calls the "(militant) Islam delenda est" crowd. Trowbridge quotes Max Sawicky:

...even fundamentalist Islam provides no basis for driving around the Maryland and Virginia suburbs, shooting people at random. It has to require a special mental process to transition from a religious faith to spree killing. Otherwise we would see much more of the latter. This fact points to the salience of factors in the killers' makeup that are prior to their religious views. The latter merely provide a way to organize an underlying psychosis. [emphasis added by Dave]

Is this meant as a reason to dismiss the idea that something core to Islam is the cause of Islamic terrorism? If Islam provides a way to organize an underlying psychosis which other religions don't seem to provide - or at least not anywhere nearly as well - then isn't that a very powerful criticism of Islam? After all, any large population has some psychotics in it. Aren't their psychoses best left politically unorganized?

I think of each religion as having something akin to a Bell Curve of effects upon people. Each religion has its own unique center of effect on belief and behavior in how the minds of largest number of its adherents are affected by it. Then there is a tapering off with smaller fractions of believers on various axes in terms of types of behavior and attitudes that the religion fosters. The curve might not be a Bell. It could be some other distribution shape. In fact, any religion has many affects on belief and behavior. There are a number of separate variables (eg motivations about whether to be honest in different situations, motives about obeying government laws, motives about how to treat spouses and children, and so on) and each variable has its own distribution for the believer population for a given religion.

The point is that the Islamic extremists do not exist separate from the rest of the believers. They are on a continuum with them but further out on the continuum in some effect that Islam has upon believers. Furthermore, extremists draw support from less extremist members of Islam. There are fewer people who are willing to die for Islam than are willing to kill for it. There are fewer who are willing to directly kill for it than are willing to train or provide logistical support (eg fake passports, safe houses or bomb manufacture or gun smuggling) for those who do. And there are fewer who are willing to provide direct support with their physical presence than are willing to send money or to look the other way or cheer on the killers in a street demonstration.

Attempts to define away the problem of Islamic extremists as being something entirely separate from the core require that one ignore a continuum of behaviors and attitudes in the larger Islamic population that help support the most active terrorist cell members. These attempts also require that one ignore the unique distribution of effects caused by each religion. Plus, they miss the fundamental importance of this idea that for some people religious belief systems can provide a structure and purpose for how to interpret and respond to their own existing feelings of hostility and anger.

By Randall Parker    2002 October 26 11:25 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2002 October 01 Tuesday
Robert Spencer's Islam Unveiled

A new book is out that argues the very pessimistic view of Islam that I already agree with: Islam Unveiled: Disturbing Questions About the World's Fastest Growing Faith by Robert Spencer.

Rod Dreher on National Review quotes from the book in his own fairly positive review of it:

"It would be too pessimistic to say that there are no peaceful strains of Islam, but it would be imprudent to ignore the fact that deeply imbedded in the central documents of the religion is an all-encompassing vision of a theocratic state that is fundamentally different from and opposed to the post-Enlightenment Christian values of the West."

From the Booklist review quoted on Amazon:

Besides the facts Spencer presents, his citations of the Qur'an; the hadiths, or sayings and deeds of Muhammad; and Islamic authorities across the liberal-to-fundamentalist spectrum verify attitudes and practices that secular Westerners and present-day Jews and Christians don't think of as peaceable, just, or decent. For instance, slavery and polygamy may be waning in Islamic societies, but they aren't disapproved of or banned because the Qur'an and hadiths endorse them. Islam hasn't adapted to change nearly as much as Judaism and Christianity have, and that accounts for its savage relations with the West. Spencer doesn't see either Islam moderating or the West regarding Islam realistically any time soon. Barring "some wondrous intervention from the Merciful One," he concludes, the immediate future "will be difficult." Alarmingly cogent.

From the Amazon book description:

In "Islam Unveiled," Robert Spencer dares to face the hard questions about what the Islamic religion actually teaches--and the potentially ominous implications of those teachings for the future of both the Muslim world and the West. Going beyond the shallow distinction between a "true" peaceful Islam and the "hijacked" Islam of terrorist groups, Spencer probes the Koran and Islamic traditions (as well as the history and present-day situation of the Muslim world) as part of his inquiry into why the world's fastest growing faith tends to arouse fanaticism.

"Islam Unveiled" evaluates the relationship between Islamic fundamentalism and "mainstream" Islam; the fixation with violence and jihad; the reasons for Muslims' disturbing treatment of women; and devastating effects of Muslim polygamy and Islamic divorce laws. Spencer explores other daunting questions--why the human rights record of Islamic countries is so unrelievedly grim and how the root causes of this record exist in basic Muslim beliefs; why science and high culture died out in the Muslim world--and why this is a root cause of modern Muslim resentment. He evaluates what Muslims learn from the life of Muhammad, the man that Islam hails as the supreme model of human behavior. Above all, this provocative work grapples with the question that most preoccupies us today: can Islam create successful secularized societies that will coexist peacefully with the West's multicultural mosaic?

About the Author
Robert Spencer is an adjunct fellow of the Free Congress Foundation and a Board member of the Christian-Islamic Forum. His articles on Islam and a wide variety of other topics have appeared in "Human Events," CNSNews.com, National Review Online, "Chronicles," and "Crisis." He has studied Islam for over twenty years.

By Randall Parker    2002 October 01 01:52 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
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