Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Conservatives and Reason

There is misconception, repeatedly resurfacing in conservative circles, which holds that naturalism in ethics implies a view of man as a barren valueless mechanistic being – only a supernaturalism can supply ethics and the concept of rights. On today’s editorial page of the New York Sun there is a quote by Ronald Reagan:

“Without God, there is no virtue because there is no prompting of the conscience. Without God we are mired in the material, that flat world that tells us only what the senses perceive. Without God there is a coarsening of the society. Without God democracy will not and cannot long endure. And that, simply, is the heart of my message: if we ever forget that we are One Nation Under God, then we will be a nation gone under."

The conflation of naturalism with Hobbesian materialism is so common place in conservative circles that few conservatives can even imagine any other type of secular or naturalistic ethics. In Ancient Hellenic thought, the naturalism of Aristotle was teleological to a fault. He wrote the first treatise on ethics in human history; constructed on naturalistic grounds, it is a major pillar in the foundation of Western Civilization. But conservative intellectuals, when I try to remind them of this, look at me and say with a straight face that Aristotle must have believed in transcendent values (actually, guys that was Plato) and not the mere expedient nor in arbitrary convention (correct boys and girls, that was the Sophists).

Two recent authors who comment on this mistaken notion of naturalism are Tibor Machan and Robert Tracinski. I’ve written about this as part of my assessment of the conservative response to the Islamic threat.

I respect that many of my conservative friends cherish religion and turn to their religion for solace to deal with stressful issues of human mortality, etc. However, we’ll have common ground if we share a commitment to deal with the challenges of living this life by the use of our rational faculty. Since Aquinas, some Christians have found a way to accept reason as a potent tool to understand secular matters. I cheer my conservative friends when they find that liberty is in harmony with their religious beliefs. However, when religion is used to push aside reason and claim for religion what only reason can support, I must protest this dishonest turf grab. There is a growing hostility among conservatives against the core values of Western Civilization (as I discuss in my link above).

It’s time for our conservative friends to accept the heroic achievement of our secular/rational/scientific humanist tradition. If they can do that we have common ground. In the face of the theocratic Islamic threat, we need to take stock in the contributions of our tradition – on which rests our cultural achievements.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Fighting for reason and liberty.

Ed Hudgins points to the importance of speaking out critically in the face of the horrors of foreign cultures, especially as these cultures are imported to America. “[I]t is imperative to discuss openly and without concern for political correctness of irrational sensitivities that obscure the truth, the moral and cultural foundations of a free society.”

Ed is right. Free Speech is a powerful tool but we must use it! We cannot remain silent about the savagery of foreign religious practices; we cannot lie and pretend there is a moral equivalence between our culture and others; we cannot silently sanction the irrational – primitive or post-modern – in our culture or in the world. We must speak out and make moral judgments.

Speaking of the primitive and post-modern threats to our Enlightenment heritage, David Kelley, has an excellent introduction to the subject and the false alternative between pre-modern faith-based philosophy and secular irrational post-modernism. Most importantly, he defends modernity – reason, science, individualism, liberty, and capitalism. “Who speaks for those values? Who provides the intellectual defense? Who carries the banner of modernity in the culture wars? Among popular writers, Ayn Rand was far and away the most articulate advocate. At the center of her Objectivist philosophy, which she explicitly aligned with the Enlightenment, was a morality of rational individualism.”

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Iraqis had enough?

Are terrorists losing their ability to strike fear in normal Iraqis? We noted before, the rise in self-confidence. Unfortunately, few reports reveal the Iraqi viewpoint on the Islamic threat. It is worth remembering that in the late 1950s Iraq had 1 million communists (if I remember the number correctly). Communism is not exactly a religion-friendly ideology. Thus, the ability of Iraqis to dispense with Islam is not unprecedented.

Devout jihadists attack innocent civilians for as slight infraction as having a Western-style haircut. This is not exactly a heart-winning strategy. In the West Bank and Lebanon, Islamists usually bribe the populace with welfare measures. Even that hasn’t completely stopped the Lebanese from wanting their freedom.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Ideology vs. Pragmatism ... again!

Bad ideology blinds one to reality. But so does having no ideology or philosophy. During the first 30 years of communism, intellectuals in the West were in denial about the nature of this ideology and the horror that was unfolding before their eyes. At first you might think that those opposed to ideology would be critical of the Marxist-Leninist state. Think again! Anti-ideology played a role in the willful blindness of communism in Russia. In America, the philosophy of anti-ideology was Pragmatism and its foremost public advocate, John Dewey. By the 1920s and 1930s this anti-ideology ideology was in full bloom.

John Dewey, himself return from the Stalin’s USSR with praise for the Russian experiment – ‘the most interesting one going on upon our globe.’” [from John Dewey, Impressions of Soviet Russia (New York, 1929), pp.114-16] “A new type of human nature was being created, Dewey said, cooperative instead of individualistic and selfish. A ‘collective mentality’ was replacing ‘the individualistic psychology.’” [from Liberals and Communism: The “Red Decade” Revisited Frank A. Warren III Indiana University Press, Bloomington & London 1966 P64] Dewey, however, came to his senses during the mid-30s; most others did not.

Frank A Warren explains the viewpoint as follows: “One important consideration is the traditional liberal antipathy toward Trotsky and [left] liberal sympathy for Stalin. In the twenties the editors of The New Republic had regarded Trotsky as a fanatical dogmatist and Stalin as a pragmatic and flexible leader, capable of adjusting his ideas to changing circumstances. This difference was reemphasized in the early thirties by the view of Stalin as an activist, the man who got things done. Trotsky remained, ironic as it may seem, the ineffectual intellectual trapped by his theoretical dogma. The attitude of The New Republic mirrored the resentment against Trotsky’s theoretical brilliance found among many Russian sympathizers.” [ibid P188]

Today, we face a similar problem. The ideology of Islam is dismissed as irrelevant. Our foreign policy is governed by the parliamentary dialectic. “If only they had a legislature, even Hamas and Hezbollah would morph into civil clubs”! The idea that ideas matter is dismissed. Institutions and an innate drive for liberty will change the Middle East, we are told. Fortunately, there’s Daniel Pipes, to pour rain on this fairy tale and remind us of the folly of appeasement when we welcome our ideological enemies to the table.

The problem remains: conservatives believe that Muslims can ignore their religion and act like rational members of a secular society … just like most Christians do. Such an anti-ideological stance blinds our leaders to the immensity of the cultural change required and the consequences of the current ideology of Islam.

Speaking of appeasement, John Lewis charges the Bush administration with the appeasement of Iran. His arguments are persuasive.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Hope: Real or Mirage?

It is important to appreciate the recent events in the Middle East starting with the Iraqi election. It doesn’t matter if you are for or against military action, if you believe this will solve the religion’s problems or believe it will make no difference in the long run. The hopeful spirit, while embryonic and uncertain, still deserves our respect. Let’s examine why.

Since the toppling of Saddam’s regime, terrorist attacks occurred on a daily basis with Iraqis as the primary target. The aim is simple: terrorize the Iraqi people into submission. Both Baathist fascists and jihadists seek power to establish the traditional repressive government that is typical of the region. From the day Saddam was removed, Iraqis were fearful of stepping forward and winding on the wrong side of the next dictatorship. Any flicker of hope for a civil society required confidence in their fellow Arabs that was non-existent. Resignation and cynicism suggested waiting for a clear victor before aligning one’s interest with the new regime.

If you remember, prior to the Iraqi election there were doubts that holding the elections as scheduled could produce a meaningful result given chaos and threats of violence. The result, however, was quite meaningful … to the “Arab Street”. What was shocking to the Arab world was seeing their fellow Arabs braving terrorist attacks to vote! How often have you wondered about the value of voting? Imagine having to vote when your life is threatened! Why did they do it? Could one vote matter that much?

Most explanations seek either a compelling concrete payback or chalk it up to some innate drive. Let me propose another explanation. The act of voting itself is a transformational act. It says that one wants to be worthy of living in a civilized society. By voting one acts like a member of a community where arguments are settled at the ballot box and under the protection of the rule of law. When Arabs saw that their fellow Arabs could act in such a manner they gained a confidence in a new future. And it sparked a sympathetic surge for democratic change in other Arab nations.

Of course, this is an aspiration that is emotional in nature. This isn’t an explicit understanding of what liberty is, what makes it important and how to secure it. However, there is a sense that the liberal societal model provides hope; there is, on some level, an awareness that living in a free society brings the good life. Despite all the propaganda and ethnic pride, the West still inspires hope.

But an emotional sense is not an articulated principle, program, or ideology. By itself, it cannot lead to clear and certain progress. At most, by mimicking the success of advanced societies a modicum of progress is possible. By osmosis, trial and error, feeling one’s way in the dark, one can take a few steps toward modernity. However, fear and cynicism are competing emotions. One ultimately needs explicit principles to secure that which is implicitly sensed, to guide specific actions and to defend against the enemies of liberty.

Standing in the wings are the devout Islamists, they have declared the liberal Arabs the enemy and their moral claims – backed by 1400 years of Islam – remains unchallenged. A liberal society will never be secure, if by some accident it is established, as long as these ideas are given respect.

I recently read a poignant example the captures the dilemma in the lives of today’s Muslims. An Iraqi father sent his son to live with relatives in Saudi Arabia in anticipation of the war. During that time he was taught about the Islamic tradition, became devout and adopted a strict puritan lifestyle. When he returned home, the father was saddened to see his joyous boy had become an angry dogmatic stern young man. There was nothing the father could say. His son knew the religion thoroughly and could refute his father’s notions of how a young Muslim should live his life. The only thing the father could do was hope that his son would wake-up from this horrible nightmare. The boy’s childhood friends were called in the hope that he would recall his more joyous days. With temptations and examples, slowly the boy started to soften. One only hopes he makes it back.

How far can emotion overcome dogma? Not for long. Sooner or later Arabs will have to explicitly attack and reject Islamic doctrine. The Islamists aren’t going away of their own free will; they will attack secularized Arabs (or any opponents of theocracy) as Infidels and that is exactly what they have been doing in Iraq. Eventually, if Iraqis ever hope to secure a free and modern society, they will have to aim for the heart of Islam and slay this vicious beast. Unless they do, they will not be able to maintain the joyous optimism of this post-election period. It will have been a fleeting moment – lost to the cynicism and fatalism so familiar in Arab and Islamic culture.

Friday, March 18, 2005

"It’s the result of foreign policy"

The blame-America first crowd claims that Islamic terrorism is the result of America’s foreign policy. However, the jihadists have been waging a religious war around the world and they have for some time. It’s with good reason that Samuel Huntington says that Islam has “bloody borders.” This website documents the daily killings motivated and underwritten by Islam. Is this the “blowback” of a foreign policy? Whose? Are Muslims the aggrieved victims of the foreign policy of Indians, Filipinos, Siamese, Nigerians, Jews, Americans, Spanish, Australians, Buddhists, Dutch, Greeks, Russians, etc?

Actually, foreign policy is the problem – it’s the foreign policy of Islam that seeks to conquer and oppress others. This has been the founding ethos of this political religious ideology. Islam is a worldly religion, imperialist in nature, and warrior-like. It is simply a supremacist movement. Once again, I suggest everyone should read about this ideology. It’s a religion but it’s not like contemporary Christianity or Judaism. It's very different from religions familiar to people in the West.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

The Myth of Islamic Tolerance

“Islam is a totalitarian ideology that aims to control the religious, social, and political life of mankind in all its aspects.” This is the first statement of Ibn Warraq’s forward to “The Myth of Islamic Tolerance” edited by Robert Spencer. Warraq shows how the myth developed in the West and what purpose it served those who propagated this lie. The romantic fantasy of the “noble savage,” the relative ignorance of Islam, the selective focus on an atypical time and place, the willful evasion of evidence of Islamic barbarity – all themes covered in just the forward. Then read the rest of the book!

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Suggested reading

Yesterday’s article on the growth of Islamism in Germany was originally published in the Middle East Quarterly. The same issue also has an expose of Tablighi Jamaat, a Islamist sect that promotes violent jihad against the West. This movement originated in India and Pakistan, but with Saudi financing, it has spread worldwide including America. Indeed you’ll notice names of familiar Islamic terrorists and jihadists.

Dale C. Eikmeier’s article, “How to Beat the Global Islamist Insurgency,” has much to recommend. Here’s a few quotes:
“From a military perspective, … planners have not based their strategy on a detailed threat analysis of the enemy, its objectives, and its strategies. A coherent approach is not only necessary to achieve military goals but also to rally the public support needed for a sustainable long-term struggle in the defense of freedom.”

“Any effort that lacks an ideological component will fall short.” … “In the military struggle against Islamism, winning the war of ideas is crucial. This is nothing new. The Cold War was a struggle of ideologies. The United States did not rely on military action alone to counter the Soviet threat.”

Monday, March 14, 2005

Germany in denial

Yesterday, I wrote that fundamental Islam grows well in a democracy. In particular, I gave the example of the 9/11 terrorists who renewed their Islamic faith in Germany. Today, on Front Page Magazine, there is an expose of the Islamist movement in Germany: its rise, its power, and the denial that allows this to happen.

The revolution will be blogged.

Wolfgang Bruno has studied the nature of jihad and summarizes his finding here. It’s interesting to see disparate writers independently coming to the same conclusion: original Islam was a warrior ideology designed for conquest and subjugation. Last week, Amber Pawlik, merely by reading the Koran, categorized Islam is the same manner. Indeed, writers all over the Internet who consider both sides, and the evidence, are forming a consensus.

There are many excellent books written on Islam; here are my suggestions. There are really no excuses for anyone being ignorant about the Islamic threat.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Islam and its Denial – Part III

Are we making progress in this war? Despite many achievements the main problem is not being addressed. Here’s the score card.

We are reforming two countries by changing their governments. We have decimated the ranks of one terrorist organization. One Arab dictator has revealed his nuclear program and ended it. Crowds in several Arab countries are demanding democratic rights. These are all signs of progress and hope for many living under Islamic oppression or fascist rule.

The problem, however, are a minority of jihadists whose aim is the destruction of the West. Do the above achievements have any bearing on this movement? We can certainly say that what we’ve done is disheartening for the jihadists and the rounding-up of Al Qaeda members is a great setback for one particular jihadist organization. The movement, however, is ideological. The actions taken so far do not address the reasons this movement exists and continue to attrack new members.

This is hard for many people to understand particularly Americans. Our culture is stridently anti-ideological. This is true across the political spectrum. The left looks for material causes (ex. poverty, military intervention, economic trade, etc.). Ideas, philosophy, ideology and religion are dismissed as epiphenomena – side effects of the “root causes.” The right believes that ideology leads to “isms” like communism. Instead they favor traditional sentiment embodied in century-old practices and proven institutions. Today, Republicans believe if you change the institutions, like government, you will remove the cause of terrorism.

Neither of these approaches deals with the reality. The 9/11 terrorists came from well-to-do families and studied in the democratic West. It is in the UK, USA, and Germany that many terrorists are learning their hate philosophy. Neither wealth nor liberty stopped these terrorists from learning jihadist hate or planning attacks like 9/11 and Madrid. In Holland the hope was that tolerance would win Muslims over to the ethos of Europe’s most open and accepting society. It hasn’t worked. The Europeans have tried this approach and it has failed miserably. Jihadist movements are on the rise in some of the most democratic and materially prosperous countries in history.

Thus, while I cheer the gains that are made, we still aren’t addressing the real problem.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Iraqi coalition rejects Islamic Theocracy

This is good news; let's hope there is a strong commitment to maintain this line of thought.

Iraq adopted the requirement of supermajority approval for a new constitution. This has forced the Shiites to join in coalition with the Kurds. The Kurds have had semi-autonomous rule during the last 10 years with the help of the no-fly zone enforced by America. They are concerned about any loss of freedom.

There is also anecdotal evidence that the Shiites have heard from Persian visitors to the Iraqi holy sites that the theocracy in Iran has lost the respect of the younger generation. Perhaps this will encourage the Shiites to a more modest position with respect to introducing religion into government via Islamic law. This is a small step down a long road but it is still positive.

Fatwa issued against bin Laden

It is possible that this is good news. However, let’s consider the other possibilities.

1. This cleric is in Spain (or occupied Andalusia as Islamists think of it). The rules of a Muslim living in a non-Muslim-ruled land are very different. Mohammad’s life illustrates how to behave. In the first half of his religious career, he was in Mecca trying to preach his religion in a hostile setting. During this period he talked about tolerance. During his second period, in Medina, he became repressive, bellicose, and strident as time progressed. Dissenters were silenced by death. Medina, a town originally founded by Jews, had an agricultural economy. Unwilling to do honest work, he plundered the caravans traveling to Mecca even the in holy month (if it’s for Islam, exceptions are allowed). He ethnically cleansed Medina of Jews and established a totalitarian type rule with imperialist aims. In less that a century, his follows conquered most of what was believed to be the world.

It is proper for a Muslim to use lies and deception in the cause of advancing Islam (taqqiya). Can we believe this fatwa or is it tactical? If this fatwa was issued by leading clerics in Islamic countries it would be far more significant – especially if issued simultaneously by religious leaders in several countries. The doctrine of ijma holds that a consensus of learned leaders of the community (ummah) will never be wrong.

2. Bin Laden is no Mohammad. After 9/11 there were street rallies for bin Laden in several Islamic countries. However, after he and his cronies were routed from Afghanistan in weeks, these rallies ceased. His actions have caused the loss of two major territories to American hegemony. He has since to regain power or execute another major terrorist attack against America.

Let’s remember, Mohammad wasn’t the guy who died on a cross but a warrior who conquered Arabia and left a military to conquer what seemed like the world. Muslims don’t like losers. Jesus never ruled and his followers lived in persecution during the 1st three hundred years of Christianity. During Islam’s 1400 years Christians lived in oppression as second class citizens groveling for favors from Muslims. Now bin Laden is on the run living in caves like the early Christians. What could more humiliating by Muslim standards?

Thus, maybe the fatwa is real – not because of a change of heart or moderation among Muslims – but because bin Laden is a loser.

I give just two possibilities for your consideration. I could give many more. We won’t know until there is a pattern of such rulings – in Islamic countries.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Blame the Russian Mob

A few weeks back my wife noticed an odd pattern. Three of the weekly crime shows on prime time TV found the criminals to be members of Russian immigrant crime families. Apparently, this is now the fashion; the Mafia is passé. I asked her if the criminals were ever Muslims. “Oh, no, sometimes they start the show with Muslims as suspects only to show how unfair it is to think such things,” she informed me.

In the aftermath of 9/11, in a North Carolina college – a public university – freshmen were given an abridged version of the Koran to read. The selected passages where from Mohammad’s early Meccan period when he was preaching tolerance – a tolerance he needed as an outsider trying to get acceptance. Left out were the harsh Medinan warrior passages showing Mohammed's mature ideology. To the student, Mohammad resembled Jesus. If this was the Bible, the ACLU would be on the case.

Recently, a widely used high school text propagandizes for Islam. “Across the Centuries,” put out by a major textbook publisher, presents a “Sunday School” or perhaps we should say “Friday School” version of Islam. In general, students are taught to be sympathetic to the teachings of Islam.

Why is Islam given such respect? Why are people teaching lies about Islam? Why is there a taboo against being critical of Islam?

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Islam and its Denial – Part II

A conservative gives up on liberal democracy

After a heartening show of bravery by Iraqis voters, in the face of continuous terrorist attacks, some of our conservative friends are ready to surrender Iraq to Islamic theocrats. As I say again and again that democracy is not enough. However, one notable conservative, Andrew Apostolou of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, has this to say about a prospective Islamic theocracy:

“But to bewail the victory of the UIA as a triumph for Islamic fundamentalism and Iranian influence, to eulogize an Iraqi liberalism that never was, is to misunderstand the US role in Iraqi domestic politics. By removing the strategic threat of Saddam Hussein, the US gave Iraqis the right of self-determination that the dictator and his Ba'ath Party had denied them. That right means allowing Iraqis to elect Shi'a Islamists, not the US picking winners.” link

This sounds oddly familiar. Flash back to the 1960s, it’s the Vietnam War, and Lyndon Baines Johnson is President. His left-liberal supporters said something very similar: we are fighting for the self-determination of the South Vietnamese; if they vote in the communists – so be it. This is what Ayn Rand said at the time:

“They tell us that we must defend South Vietnam’s right to hold a ‘democratic’ election, and to vote itself into communism, if it wishes, provided it does so by vote – which means that we are not fighting for any political ideal or any principle of justice, but only for unlimited majority rule, and that the goal for which American soldiers are dying is to be determined by somebody else’s vote.” from Capitalism: the Unknown Ideal”

As Rand continues she eloquently blasts the altruistic notion that we serve without judgment for whatever values the others wish to pursue. She notes that the idea that we should be concerned with our defense, first and foremost, was smeared as nationalist, isolationist, and dictatorial. Now, we have conservatives who will declare victory even if the most virulent supremacist ideology – Islam – assumes power. Islam is the antithesis of everything we stand for and an imperialist ideology bent on our destruction. And in the process, women, secularists, and other opponents in Iraq, will be dispensed with in a manner we’ve seen before. Mr. Apostolou apparently doesn’t realize that conservatives are supposed to stand for individual rights – not mob rule. Perhaps he might re-read Tocqueville and discover what “tyranny of the majority” means.

During the heyday of communism, apologists and fellow travelers used to say that communism was a different kind of democracy – not a multi-party bourgeois democracy – put a proletarian democracy. Now we have Mr. Apostolou telling us that “Democracy, unlike dictatorship, has no single mold.” So what might we expect, Mr. Apostolou? It “is unlikely to resemble anything out of the Federalist Papers. Rather, a federal Iraq will have a strong ethnic and religious flavor.”

But maybe Mr. Apostolou isn’t really sad at this prospect. He says, “We have no right to ask Iraqis to cast off the very ethnic and religious heritage that Iraqis want participatory politics to preserve for no other reason than that it does not fit our paradigm of democracy. Intellectuals may wish to live in a pure republic where ethnicity and religion do not matter, but most Iraqis do not.”

So individual rights and constitutional protection of these rights are just “our paradigm of democracy?” And we apparently value them “for no other reason” save a subjective “wish to live in a pure republic where ethnicity and religion do not matter?” A multi-cultural conservative! Or perhaps he’s the kind of conservative that believes religion should be the law of the land. And, of course, Islam is just their religion.

Some conservatives are just in denial about Islam as many left-liberals were in denial about communism. Or perhaps they aren’t.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Democracy for what?

Daniel Pipes has an article today that echos what I said last week: democracy isn't enough. The threat of Islam (or Islamism in Pipes' terminology) has not gone away but may only have found a peaceful way of comming to power. Is this what the Neo-Conservatives what ... the so-called self-determination (as the left sees it) to establish an Islamic theocracy? Pipes warns that we can't stop here.

This is an ideological war, first and foremost. And we have yet to start on that front. Instead we hope that by osmosis and mimicry they will establish a liberal order. Might we not tell them what reason and liberty are? And how are they to understand if we don't contrast that with Islam, jihad, faith, duty and submission?

Monday, March 07, 2005

What's happened to Columbia University?

“Atlas” reports from the one-day conference at Columbia University concerning the oppressive academic atmosphere. It’s gotten so bad that apparently even some professors with tenure are afraid to stand up and speak out. I can’t do justice to what was said at the conference but I urge you to read the three part report by one outstanding intrepid reporter and impassioned commentator: Part I Part II Part III

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Islam is losing ...

Two interesting news items today:

1) Persian woman feel embolden enough to want to enjoy life and flout the rules; Islam just doesn’t have the clout it once had. link (hat tip Tracinski)

2) A network news report showed that Iraqi jihadists were targeting Iraqi barbers. Yes, Iraqi barbers! Several have been killed in recent months, for shaving men’s faces. Yes, oppression will make enemies – but it’s the jihadists that are seen as the oppressors, now. See, also, this report on Iraqi protests.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Three Card Mohammad

During the last decade Muslims have been involved in violence in virtually every corner of the world: Manhattan, Madrid, Israel, India, Russia, Holland, Nigeria, Sudan, Cyprus, Kosovo, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, East Timor, and the Philippines – just to name a few off the top of my head. Islam plays a role in this violence in almost all cases. Yet, the level of discourse remains on the superficial level with an absurd banality that makes it more than obscene. “You can’t blame that on Islam because it’s only a few bad apples.” “Not all Muslims are terrorists.” “What about the violent people who aren’t Muslims?”

These kinds of remarks roll off people’s tongue as if they were profound self-evident truths known by even the simplest-minded everyday Joe. But what if someone said the following: “Sixty years ago, not all Nazis killed Jews, don’t over generalize.” “A hundred years ago, not all southern racists lynched blacks – it’s only a few bad applies.” That’s different, you say? “Nazism preaches such things. Racists harbor vicious hate that makes possible the atmosphere of lynching.” And, of course, it would be right to point that out.

But to point to Islam’s nature – its doctrines and history – leaves most people uncomfortable. Most would rather recede to the level of superficial blather. You’ll hear that Islam is just like Christianity, by people who’ve never read a book on Islam. You’ll be told that poverty, psychology, imperialism, male dominance, arid climate and a host of other standard factors are the real or “root causes” - religion being only a cover. Religious ideas – or any ideas – don’t really matter; this principle we are assured is the right … idea on the matter.

One tires of explaining the obvious. However, there is one subtle trick that traps many who try to discuss Islam’s inherent problems. This is a bait-and-switch game. One that moves the focus from the ideology of Islam to the demographic group: Muslims. Islam is understood by analyzing the belief system and asking what would that mean in practice? Muslims, as a nominal demographic group, includes those who practice the religion but it also includes those who merely label themselves “Muslim” out of tradition, respect for family, or fear of being killed as an apostate. Those who are lax or lapsed don’t embody the jihadist practice. And that’s good, of course.

Thus, when you point out that the life of Mohammad – a man who slaughtered, plundered, terrorized, conquered and oppressed – is a harmful example that inspires some Muslims to violence and viciousness, beware of the bait-and-switch: “But not all Muslims are like that.” Now we are focused on the nominal group – not the ideology and its effect when practiced.

If you read about the irrational hate taught in Saudi schools, spewed by religious authorities in Egypt’s mosques, or shouted by religious fanatics in Iran, be ready for the bait-and-switch: “I had an Arab taxi driver the other day who was very helpful.” Don’t laugh. I get this all the time. People mention individual Muslims, who they’ve met, and of course they find they’re normal everyday human beings. By the way, the majority of Arab-Americans are Christian.

The bait-and-switch is an attempt to make you look silly by turning your attention from vicious ideologies to innocuous members of a nominal demographic group. If you remain in the attack mode, you’ll just look stupid. And that’s the hope! By singling out harmless people unfairly, you’ll discredit your analysis. “You can’t say that about 1.2 billion people,” you’ll be told. Of course, there’s virtually nothing you can say about a billion people that goes beyond the superficial.

This game is not new. It was done with communism. “Oh, don’t judge by Stalin; he’s just one bad apple that’s hijacked communism.” After Mao, Brezhnev, Pol Pot, and others, this line wore thin. Over 100 million people died because of communism and a billion more enslaved. It wasn’t an accident. It goes to the very core of the collectivist philosophy that individuals can be disposed of for the greater good of the whole; the ends justify the means.

During the days when intellectuals were in denial about communism you could read the apologetics in magazines like The New Republic (Jan 1940) that denied that Stalin was a reflection of communism. It was “absurd to identify 170,000,000 people with one man,” referring to the people within Russia living under communism and the vicious dictator who ruled over them. But such a demographic observation doesn’t address the failures of communism. Indeed, the editors remained respectful of what they believed were economic progress and positive changes under communism’s first 23 years.

During the 1950s, it was the communists and their fellow travelers who wanted the focus to turn from the ideology and its practice to the individuals – some who were naïve. The idea was to make accusations of “communist” look stupid. Thus, when it turned out that Lucy Ball, as a young woman, enrolled in the Communist Party to please her grandmother (or aunt), the notion that this beloved women could be harmful made it seem silly to even raise questions about communism. Hollywood still uses this tactic to this very day.

However, communism has turned out to be the most destructive social movement in human history. Looking at individuals who may not embody the evil doesn’t change the nature of the horrors of the twentieth century under communist rule.

We need to do two things. We must face the threat of Islam but we must not allow ourselves to demonize a nominal demographic group. Justice requires that we give what is due: to expose what is vicious and praise what is benevolent. Moral integrity requires that we speak out to warn of the dangers that are and respect those who are harmless.

If we fail to face evil, we will suffer. If we exceed our mark and attack the innocent, we become fools and discredit our cause. Don’t fall for the bait-and-switch. Focus on the ideology and its meaning and those that actually put evil idea in practice. There’s much to discuss and learn and we must prepare ourselves to fight this war effectively.