Monday, September 19, 2005

Oh, That Islam!

This article in the Washington Post claims the problem is Salafi Islam – which the author implies is an esoteric distortion of Islam. Actually, Salafi Islam is the original Islam of Mohammad and the 1st four rightly guided caliphs. It’s a bona fide Islamic tradition. What other Islam is there? The author believes he knows: its “traditional” Islam. But is he actually aware this tradition? After four years, it’s time for writers in the Washington Post to learn about the enemy’s ideology. Here’s some suggested reading.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

he even mentions Qaradawi. Does he bother to read what these people have said. Qaradawi is an open supporter of suicide bombers and other jihadi activites. is it any wonder most westerners,unless avide internet readers, don't really understand the real issues regarding Islam(I was one of them)

9/19/05, 9:20 PM  
Blogger Charles N. Steele said...

I don't think that Islam is an ideology comparable to naziism or communism. The latter two are inherently totalitarian. Islam, on the other hand, isn't -- or so I've been told by libertarian muslims.

Islam is similar to Christianity in that it is interpreted to say what the interpreter wants it to say. There's no doubt that there are Muslim leaders who indeed desire and campaign for world domination; but there are similar (if currently less threatening) forces among Christians. It's inaccurate to label all of Islam according to the behavior of one (admittedly important) subset.

9/20/05, 9:14 PM  
Blogger Always On Watch said...

The article says, These Islamic leaders sense that their religion is being kidnapped by Salafist radicals with a grab-bag theology, and they are finally beginning to push back. Notice the word "sense"--not a hint that the murder of infidels is morally wrong.

The fight to "take back" Islam has waited for some 1200 years. Color me skeptical as to how such a taking back will happen.

The writer of the commentary to which this blog article is linked has bought into the pr and is prejudiced in favor of what he perceives to be the true Islam. He needs to read a bit of what Ibn Warraq has written.

9/20/05, 9:19 PM  
Blogger Jason Pappas said...

I believe you’ve been misinformed Charles. Islam is first and foremost a political ideology for conquest and rule. It is very different that original Christianity which had no political program. Recently, my reading of Islam's first few hundred years show it to be a state religion concerned more with rituals of loyalty rather that beliefs – a least compared with the Jewish religion and Christianity. Thus we don’t see the intense doctrinal splits as we did in Christianity in the 3rd century to the 16th century and even until today. The differences, for Muslims, tend to be in terms of rituals, political succession (Sunni vs. Shiites), etc.

The libertarian writers, unfortunately in too many cases, tend to confirm their pre-conceived notions. As a person in the libertarian camp for over three decades, I would love to believe that live-and-let-live would be the simple answer. But I can’t evade the evidence of my eyes.

As an aside, more than one libertarian writer tells me Muslims are pro-free market because Mohammad was a merchant. This kind of deduction is a poor substitute for a study of history. It’s true he was a merchant before he was a Muslim. However, when he rose to power in Medina he funded his ambitions by plunder, slaughter, and conquest. Expecting Muslims to have a fondness for merchants is like believe Christians have a special fondness to carpenters. You can’t deduce these things.

Here are some books to read. And here’s another list from another libertarian-leaning writer who calls himself George Mason.

9/20/05, 9:58 PM  
Blogger Always On Watch said...

Jesus Himself made the point of separating matters of faith from political agenda, as in Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar's, and unto God the things which be God's. Islam is theocratic, from its inception. In fact, the case can be made that establishing Islamic theocracy was Mohammed's basic goal.

Also, Christianity emphasizes free will. Islam doesn't.

"Libertarian Muslims" worship in the same mosque as do fundamentalists. Without a definitive split, all have the same theological teachings, and the history of Islam (over 13 centuries) shows where those teachings lead.

9/21/05, 7:23 AM  
Blogger Charles N. Steele said...

Jason, I still have to disagree. I am basing my argument on evidence: there are libertarian muslims. They argue that Islam, properly understood, is genuinely compatible with libertarianism.

I am neither a Muslim anor a Christian, and have little interest in trying to decipher what the "proper understanding" of these -- what God "really meant." I simply note that with both religions, adherents have differing views, and some of the views are compatible with individual liberty and some antithetical to it. Current views of the majority of Muslims may be less libertarian than those of Christians; but I don't think that this has historically been the case.

Regardless, my above arguments lead me to the concluion that Islam isn't inherently totalitarian.

9/21/05, 2:28 PM  
Blogger Jason Pappas said...

I’m sure there are libertarians Muslims. As a matter of fact, there are atheist Muslims. My almanac says that 98.8% of Turkey is Muslim and it is one of the most secular countries in Asia. You are talking about a demographic group – not the religion.

To understand whether a Muslim is lax, lapsed, selective in their practice, or perfunctory in their practice, you have to define the religion first. How else can you tell if so-and-so practices the religion unless you know what the religion is? To say that Islam is whatever Muslims do is to make it a meaningless nominalist label. I talk about it somewhat here.

Since Islam is defined by Mohammad, some might say we need only look at how Mohammad ruled. Actually, we can also look at what Islam is like on paper. If you do, it is totalitarian as it is extremely secular in the sense that it proscribes or prescribes actions in excruciating detail for living this life and ruling over others.

I’m glad your friends, like my Muslim friends, don’t want to practice core aspects of Islam. Take the shell of the religion, go through the motions of some of the rituals, and add some Sufi poetry, and you have something benign. But you have little of the vibrant religion defined by Mohammad and the first two centuries of caliphs.

Now, is this benign Islam viable? Can it sustain a liberal order over a long period without charges of hypocrisy and violent revival movements? That’s the question. I argue else where that its not but secularization is far more likely and viable. Take a look at some of the posts.

For example: secularism for Muslims.
prospects for Moderate Islam

9/21/05, 5:17 PM  
Blogger Charles N. Steele said...

I'm not refering to non-observant Muslims, if there can be such a thing. (Atheist Muslim? One who whom?)

Dean Ahmad, for example, was an imam and secretary of the Libertarian Party at the same time. On what grounds can you question his credentials as either a Muslim or a libertarian?

Everything you say about Islam being totalitarian holds equally true for Judaism and Christianity -- the prohibitions and capital offenses outlined in the Old testament make the USSR look relatively benign. So are these religions totalitarian? Shall we dismiss Jews and Christians who don't subscribe to these doctrines as simply a "demographic group" and unrepresentative of the the actual religions?

Yes, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are simply whatever Christians, Jews, and Muslims do, regardless of whatever their old books might say.

9/21/05, 9:41 PM  
Blogger Jason Pappas said...

You’re being very silly, Charles. You refuse to read about Islam and believe Islam is anything and everything anyone who calls themselves a Muslim wants it to be.

Your anecdotal experience with someone who calls themselves a Muslim means nothing. I know Communists (from China) who claim that communism is compatible with free markets and private enterprise. Does this change communism? Don’t be silly. Concepts have meaning required to distinguish thesis from antithesis.

The term Muslim is use in many senses from demographic designation, to practitioner of a religion in part or in full. When used as a demographic label is means virtually nothing – only a nominal association, perhaps by the religion of ones ancestors. This is why my Almanac can describe Turkey as 99.8% Muslim (The World Almanac and Book of Facts 2004). You can equivocate all you want to play silly word games but without making solid distinctions and defining your terms you do not have knowledge.

I suggest doing research and I’ve given you a link to books. You can rely on your feel-good friends. Thirty years ago, I had communist friends and guess what? They make communism sound pleasant. Surprised? Of course, I knew about communism from reputable literature on the subject and I wasn’t tempted by pleasant feel-good descriptions from the devotee.

You seem adamant about being ignorant. You don’t need a PhD to learn about Islam, it isn’t that difficult. The sociology of Muslims is quite difficult as they vary considerably. But the religion itself has not changed very much over 14 centuries unlike others. But if you want to make silly deductive inferences out of thin air based on flimsy heresy from anecdotal encounters, suit yourself.

9/21/05, 11:20 PM  
Blogger Charles N. Steele said...

Jason, first of all, don't be rude. Nothing I have said is silly, and I have been civil in this discussion. Please respond accordingly.

Concepts have meaning, of course, but what is the hard concept behind any revealed religion? There is none. A religion is indeed whatever its adherents maintain it is.

You entirely avoided my question about Judaism and Christianity. Christianity and Judaism are every bit as vulnerable to the argument you make about Islam.

In fact, all of these religious traditions are amorphous and evolve. Islam has the potential to be compatible with civilized behavior, just as Christianity and Judaism do -- and a piece of evidence for this is the example of civilized, tolerant Muslims I've mentioned.

I am curious about the policy consequences of your alternative view of Islam -- isn't the implication of your view that Islam should be outlawed, or that we need to fight a religious war to exterminate the religion?

9/25/05, 4:45 AM  
Blogger Jason Pappas said...

Charles, our main disagreement is epistemological. I wrote about it in more detail in my post Intellectual Surrender. I have the suspicion that in the end as long as there is one person who calls themselves a Muslim and embraces a libertarian viewpoint or as long as you can imagine such a thing without internal contradiction, you’ll disagree with me. It doesn’t seem fruitful to debate, if that is the case.

I make a significant distinction between the demographic group and the ideology. I’ve talked about this is my blog many times. (Search demographic group.) I have a suspicion that we’d agree on the facts of reality but categorize them differently. There’s not much to do but say we speak different languages in a very important sense.

Policy? Your suggestions are absurd and nothing I've said makes them intelligible. I’m talking about ideology and culture. Neither is the province of legislative policy. As with communism, the ideology of Islam (essentially an illiberal political ideology) is covered by the First Amendment. The First Amendment allows the expression of harmful ideas and at the same time creates a solemn moral responsibility to refute, condemn, and oppose these ideas. That’s what I’m asking people to do. That’s how a culture inoculates itself against harmful ideas.

Also, as with communism, when adherents become violent, incite violence, or conspire to commit a violent act, the government has an obligation to act. That’s a criminal matter and when that violence comes from abroad, it is a matter of defense and foreign policy – neither which I address in any detail (there’s no shortage of people who give advice on this matter and I have nothing to add.)

9/26/05, 9:14 AM  
Blogger Charles N. Steele said...

Re policy -- fair enough; I agree, but wondered what implications you derive from seeing Islam as inherently totalitarian.

You've still completely sidestepped my question regarding other religious traditions -- Christianity and Judaism are equally vulnerable to the "totalitarianism" charge, and Islam is equally capable of not being totalitarian.

This is not a matter of epitemological or conceptual imprecision or confusion. Rather, it's based on the recognition that religious doctrines necessarily entail vagueness and contradiction, and inherently nebulous.

I guess our conversation is at an impasse, for the time being. But I'll continue to listen.

9/26/05, 1:54 PM  
Blogger Jason Pappas said...

I’m glad I could dispel some of your worries. Your feedback in valuable as misinterpretations or miss-implications tell me I’ve failed to some degree. I’ve talked about Christianity in comparison to Islam here. And I’ve recently had to explain myself on another website. I do apologize if I was less than a gracious host.

9/26/05, 2:10 PM  

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