The fight for civilization has to be first and foremost intellectual. Without powerful language, we are defeated. Without potent concepts, we are blind. We are not being defeated on the battlefield. Nor do we lack facts to justify our actions. However, we are surrendering in the field of ideas without much of a fight. Our unilateral disarmament is first and foremost intellectual.
We start by giving up on any attempt to understand the enemy and judge them appropriately. This leaves us ignorant of key aspects of their ideology and motivation. The first pitfall is the doctrine of nominalism. Words are treated as mere labels, without potent meaning, used only as conveniences for vague resemblances; they are not to be taken too seriously. Thus, we are told, Islam is anything Muslims want it to mean. Immediately, this removes the ideology from criticism. If you don’t know what it is, if they still haven’t decided what it entails (after 14 centuries), how can you be so unfair as to dismiss it – are you prejudiced? Or so it goes.
This was a common tactic during the rise of communism. Russian communism was called a “noble experiment” of which we should withhold judgment until we see what it means in practice. Pragmatism, the dominant philosophy in early 20th century America, is rife with the nominalist’s fluid contortions of word-labels in search of a reality. And, as we’ve seen, it was the pragmatists, whose agnosticism helped blind us to the threat of communism during the 1930s. Today, nominalist blinders undercut our ability to make solid judgment required to vigorously maintain our resolve.
In domestic politics, we see nominalism in attempts to redefine the word racism. Pervious attacks on our language have confused people about concepts such as rights, democracy, liberty, etc. The attack is an epistemological one – take away a man’s concepts and he is blind. Muddy them and he is uncertain. Trivialize them and he knows little.
Coupled with nominialism, is the sterile word games that reduce concepts to their key attribute. For example, Islam we are told, means nothing more that submission to God; that’s the definition of the word and the word means just its defining attribute. According to this line of thinking, you can’t say anything more with certainty. Any attempt to say more is met with spurious counter-examples that are allowable given broad meaning - the word now excludes next to nothing. Presumably, Islam goes with everything: individual liberty, communism, pluralism, supremacy, peace, war, etc. A Muslim, in good standing, can define the rest of his religion as he sees fit.
You may not hear this view too often unless you argue with academics as I recently did in another thread. Once again, this is an attempt to squash further critical examination of Islam by making you feel unfair about asserting anything more than a tautology. Of course, you’re quickly told it’s only unfair to assert negative attributes about Islam: “How dare you say a Muslim can’t favor democracy. There’s nothing about submission to God that prevents that.” But say a good Muslim can be a terrorist and you’ll be told that that is bigotry - derived from a few malcontents who hijacked a religion!
A religion is far more than the acceptance of God (for a monotheistic religion.) It necessarily involves a view of God, his role in the world, and his demands on human behavior that results in a society with distinctive ethical and political mores. The question of God’s existence is minor in comparison to the question of God’s identity. What do you think God wants you to do? That’s the crux of the matter. The God that wants you to love your neighbor has a very different identity than the God that wants to you wage jihad and subjugate others. For those of us who are not religious, we still need to ask that question when trying to understand the character of our neighbors.
Nominalism is common with demographers and it has some usages in that regard. My Almanac says that 99.8% of Turks are Muslims. But what does this mean? Turkey is the most secular country in the Middle East after Israel. The Kamalist revolution decimated the Islamic religion. At this point, calling Turks Muslims means the word has become so broad as to mean nothing more than at sometime one’s ancestors practiced the Islamic religion. Note that this virtually makes it a racial-type label. Thus, criticism of Muslims thus becomes racism.
If the word Muslim is to mean practitioner of a religion, one has to know what Islam is before you can tell if someone is a Muslim. Self-proclamations are not automatically true. Demographic Muslims don’t define Islam. It’s the ideology of Islam that defines who is a Muslim, if we are talking about actual practitioners of the religion. There are no grounds to treat religious ideologies different from secular ideologies in regards to the ascertaining of the content and scope of its definition. Would you rush to the local meeting of the Communist Party to get an answer to the question: what is communism? Likewise, it is intellectually bankrupt to take a nominal-Muslim and ask him to define the religion. The religion is a historical fact created and defined by Mohammad 14 centuries ago, according to the mythology. If you want to learn about Islam consult some well-written books.
Once again, you see the same silliness that we saw with communism. Does Communism, mean nothing else but community? Of course, not! It never meant a community of individuals. It was a collectivist doctrine where individuals can be sacrificed for the good of the whole. And after 100 million lives were so sacrificed, the evil is clear to all people who have their eyes open. Then, we are told, that Communism was never tried since Marx says a country has to become capitalist first and the 20th century examples skipped that step. This is another attempt at silly word games that academics play.
Islam, too, has a specific nature. The doctrines of the religion are found by a study of the Koran and Hadith. Their cash value is clear from Islam’s history once you properly analyze the influence of the religion amidst other influences. When the religion is practiced, as Mohammad illustrated in Medina, it is a supremacist ideology of conquest, plunder and oppression. When it is marginalized and philosophical influences have an effect, we see some semblance of creativity resulting in narrow scientific achievements and periods of reprieve from the pervasive oppression.
Thus, the effect of nominalism is to reduce concepts to thin emaciated shadows of themselves, where only tautological certainty is found by the association of the label with the essential attribute - all other inferences are completely undercut. Real people (i.e. non-academics), of course, don’t think like this. A far more natural description of human thought is one that holds concepts to be judgments – not stipulations. By grouping objects as similar in kind and abstracting what is essential, one grasps reality in the most efficient way. In the course one has to sort out what is central from the peripheral, what is significant from the trivial, and establish the breath and scope of our knowledge.
We understand communism when we see how individuals can be sacrificed for the collective in the name of the good of the whole. This attempt at collectivism is total, in its control of the population in an attempt to defy human nature in the creation of a “new man” that conforms to utopian notions of altruism. In the name of the health of the whole, any amputation of the population is acceptable. Classical liberalism, which upholds the sovereignty of the individual in his person and property, is the antithesis of communism.
Islam, as we’ve noted, is a political philosophy in religious garb that is a supremacist ideology of conquest, plunder and oppression. This is the example Mohammad set. Without Mohammad there is no Islam. The Koran, uttered by Mohammad, is augmented by the Hadith – his sayings and deeds. The central idea, once abstracted, is the essence that organizes and makes intelligible the documents and, when operative in Muslim societies, the results in practice.
This is a substantial approach that we owe to Greco-Roman heritage. It seeks to see matters in proportion by putting them in context, establishing centrality, and ordering the rest relative to the core foundation of our knowledge. Being rational (derive from the word ratio) involves such proportional thinking.
Ref: see Leonard Peikoff’s “The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy” for a technical discussion of related problems in academic philosophy.