Friday, March 31, 2006

A Must Read: Serge Trifkovic

Serge Trifkovic, the author of The Sword of the Prophet, gives an interview on Front Page Magazine in which he discusses the enemy we refuse to name. Here are a few key passages:

“We need a comprehensive strategy of defense, not merely against a small jihadist elite, but against an inherently aggressive, demographically vibrant, and ideologically rigid Islamic movement - and please, no more 'Islamist' red herrings! … New immigration legislation is badly needed. Islamic activism should be treated as the grounds for the exclusion or deportation of any alien, … “ as we had in the past. “It is essential, let me repeat, to define and understand the enemy. … We need to know if terrorism is an aberration of Islam's alleged peace and tolerance, or a predictable consequence of the ideology of Jihad.”

The victory in the war on terrorism ultimately has to be won in the domain of morals and culture. It can be won only by an America - and Britain, and France, and Italy. - that has regained its awareness of its moral, spiritual, and civilizational roots.

“The trouble with those [Danish] cartoons was not that they offended fervent Muslims - that sort are offended by our very existence - but that by their placid humor they humanized a man with a hugely problematic legacy, and thereby offended the memory of untold millions of victims of Jihad through the ages.” … “The simple preacher [Mohammad] eventually morphed into a vengeful warlord, who jubilantly exclaimed that the spectacle of severed enemy heads pleased him better than 'the choicest camel in Arabia.'” … “His pogroms culminated in the attack the last Jewish tribe in Medina, Banu Qurayzah. Up to 900 men were decapitated in a ditch, in front of their women and children.”

“Muhammad's progression from a marginalized outsider to a master of life and death produced a transformation of his personality in the decade preceding his death in 633 AD. Allah was invoked as the authority supporting the prophet's daily political objectives and his personal needs.” “[His] traditions are morally abhorrent and criminal not only by the standards of our time, but even in the context of 7th century Arabia! They were often considered repugnant by Muhammad's contemporaries. He had to resort to 'revelations' as a means of justifying his actions and suppressing the prevalent moral code of his own society.”

“Our judgment on Muhammad rests on evidence of his followers and faithful admirers. Even on such evidence, the verdict of the civilized world goes against the 'prophet.' That verdict, once it is passed - and it will be passed - will make the gentle mockery of Muhammad in those cartoons appear as inappropriate as it would be inappropriate today to lampoon Hitler for his out-of-wedlock liaison with Eva Braun, …”

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Dhimmitude at NYU

New York University is putting pressure on a student group that intends to display the Danish Cartoons at a debate on free speech. Amit Ghate, of Thurch, urges us to send NYU e-mails of protest. Let’s do it. Ghate has several other updates to the story.

If I remember correctly, the talk/discussion/debate is in the old student center building right next door to the Islamic studies building … right in the heart of Greenwich Village. From bohemians to Burqas in one generation! The event is tonight at 7pm ... for those who can't get in there should be lively demonstrations outside. After all, it's on Washington Square Park.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

What's the Reason?

Last month I argued that not all speech is equal even if it should be legal--that the outrage of Muslims over a portrayal of a violent Mohammad (which he was) isn’t the same as the vicious lies about Jews in the Arab press. Andre Glucksmann, the French philosopher, makes the same point:
“This is where two philosophies clash. The one says yes, these are equivalent "beliefs" which have been equally scorned. There is no difference between factual truth and professed faith; the conviction that the [Nazi] genocide took place and the certitude that Muhammad was illuminated by Archangel Gabriel are on a par. The others say no, the reality of the death camps is a matter of historical fact, whereas the sacredness of the prophets is a matter of personal belief. This distinction between fact and belief is at the heart of Western thought. …” (Hat tip Pastorious.)
Thinking back to the Cold War, the threat of communism made it imperative that we define the essential difference between the free world and the collectivist world. Today, the resurgence of Islam, and its threat to the West, prompts a similar comparison. What makes us different?

Why has human achievement been the exception during most of human history with an occasional spark amidst the smothering oppression of authority while during the last three hundred years a compounding of knowledge from generation to generation has created an exponential cascade of human innovations in the West and everywhere in the world that has welcomed Western culture? What makes oil-poor South Korea, Japan, Israel and India more hopeful than Egypt or Iran?

In the morass of multi-cultural moral equivalency, these questions are forbidden. They should, however, be center stage.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Appeasement Only Emboldens Them

Victor Davis Hanson gives lucid commentary in the face of glib European criticism. For example:

Now things are starting to come to a crisis, and the Europeans are learning belatedly — after the French riots, the bombings in Madrid and London, the murders in the Netherlands, and the craziness over the Danish cartoons — that their appeasement failed and the radical Islamists hate them even more than they hate us.

Edward Cline is a powerful voice on the same issue:
Europe is reaping the perilous harvest of its decades-long experiment in multiculturalism and tolerance of the irrational, and there is no reason to think that the endemic Muslim violence there will not be emulated in the U.S. Many European countries, especially France, are experiencing a spike in gang rapes of “unveiled” European and “apostate” Mideast women by Muslim men and teens as a form of jihad. European politicians, artists and writers who have spoken out against the dangers of Islamofascism or who have been critical of Islam must have police protection. Many Muslim sections of European cities are “no go” areas to the police. A Turkish Muslim proclaimed in 2003 that Paris, Rome and Madrid were now components of the Islamic world because so many mosques have been erected in those capitals.

Wolfgang Scheide notes:

This then is the logic of appeasement. We now see new demands are made. In France some Muslims now demand that Voltaire be censored ironically over his drama about religious fanaticism where Mohammad is portrayed as a tyrant.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Two Methods of Attack

Civilization faces the threat of a resurgent Islam, a vast growing movement to revive the jihadist ideals exemplified by Islam’s founder, Mohammad, and the imperialist warrior ideology of the early Caliphate. Amidst the vast denial of Islam’s inherent threat to civilization, there are two distinct but related intellectual camps that are able to face the harsh reality of this vicious ideology. One camp fights Islam under the banner of the Enlightenment while the other waves the flag of the Judeo-Christian tradition. The purpose of this article is to describe these two different approaches, how they grapple with the jihadist ideology, and how they arrive at much the same conclusion but organize their knowledge around different conceptual centers.

The Enlightenment Viewpoint

The Enlightenment camp is a broad group that includes secular classical liberals and modern left-liberals. In both sub-groups there is an emphasis on Islam as a religious reductio ad absurdum that rejects reason for blind faith, disparages reality for an after-life in another realm, banishes independent thought in submission to a dogmatic tradition, and prohibits individual liberty to establish religious theocracy. Islam is an example of a full and consistent rejection of the core virtue of Western culture whose roots go back to Ancient Greece: rationality. The Enlightenment critique centers the analysis on process: reason, empiricism, skepticism, and liberty—the high points of the Anglo-American Enlightenment and shared to some extent by the Continental Enlightenment before its decent into the collectivist/relativist decay of the 19th and 20th century.

The spirit is captured by Thomas Jefferson: “Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because, if there be one, he must more approve the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear." The Enlightenment camp, as a very broad group, advocates the primacy of reason as the means to understand nature, both natural and social. The origin of reason to human affairs originated in Ancient Greece after philosophy moved from the cosmological period to the anthropological period; Socrates countered the relativists of his day, the Sophists, by arguing that philosophy can establish ethical knowledge to govern human affairs. Aristotle wrote the first treatise on ethics in human history; he applied Hellenic rationalism to natural observations of human flourishing and character excellence.

The Latin Christian tradition absorbed Hellenic rationalism in a fundamental manner that Orthodox Christians failed to do. Thomas Aquinas championed Aristotle thereby setting the foundation for a transformation of Western thought. Aristotle’s potent empiricism (for example Darwin admired his biological studies) was at times little understood as his work was unfairly associated with the faults of the Catholic Church. However, in human affairs, the founding fathers were arduous students of political history in a manner reminiscent of Aristotle exhaustive study of the constitutions of his day.

In ethical and political thought, the Anglo-American tradition’s empirical disposition, while not without its faults, remained grounded in a reality-based practice that avoided the extremes of continental collectivist ideology. The privatization of religion leaves the common ground of social affairs within the realm of rational discourse. Even America’s traditionalist conservatives speak of religion as a disposition. Talking about religion at the time of the American Revolution, Paul Johnson, in A History of the American People, says it was a “specifically American form of Christianity – undogmatic, moralistic rather than creedal, tolerant but strong … an ecumenical and American type of religious devotion …”

Today, we see the Enlightenment critique of Islam in books by Sam Harris and Ibn Warraq; and in articles by David Kelley and Peter Schwartz. It is common in Europe where Pim Fortuyn, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and Oriana Fallaci attack Islam from a secular perspective.

The Judeo-Christian Critique of Islam.

While the secular Enlightenment camp rightly points to a vast difference—of degree—between Western religions and Islam, the critics of Judeo-Christian camp will insist there is a difference in kind. If the secular camp critiques Islam’s backwardness based on process—a faith fully consuming and preempting rational reality-based thought—the Judeo-Christian critic immediate zooms in on the content: the ethical doctrines and myths of the Islamic faith.

Islam’s origin and its key figure are unique: rarely in history does one find a religion founded by a warrior and dominated by that example. Mohammad set a very different example than Jesus. Mohammad was a man of war who committed atrocities in his quest to create a culture of domination, submission and servitude. This is clearly not a moral man by any stretch of the imagination.

The Judeo-Christian camp sees the West’s moral base derived from the Bible; and religion as the only foundation for morality. Modern secularism is dominated by relativism and materialism, which holds that human nature, lacking volition, needs no code of ethics; nature or nurture determines individual character. This no-fault worldview is a nihilistic attack on traditional American values. In the Judeo-Christian camp is Lawrence Auster, Joseph Farah, Robert Spencer, Paul M. Weyrich, Don Feder, etc.

The Western tradition, however, is Greco-Roman as well as Judeo-Christian. It is far from trivial to do an attribution analysis. St. Paul, whose writing comprises 40% of the New Testament, was an educated Hellenistic Jew. Augustine was educated in Greek and Roman philosophy. Aquinas is one of history’s foremost scholars of Aristotle. Traditionalists tend to respect the totality under the banner of Western Civilization. But by doing so they have often been the standard bearers, by default, of much of the Hellenic inheritance as post-modern intellectuals exhibit a hostility to the Aristotelian worldview—and the American ideals.

Content vs. Process

Both camps correctly see Islam as an outlier. For the Enlightenment camp, Islam differs from modernity by being religious and Islam differs from today’s Christianity by a vast difference in degree. For the Judeo-Christian camp, Islam differs from Christianity by being a different kind of a religious ideology inspired by a completely different kind of prophet. These two camps differ on how they’d describe the core nature of the West: reason based on our Greco-Roman secular heritage or religious morality based on our Judeo-Christian heritage.

The differences between Islam and Christianity, in content, create extra hurdles for Islam that prohibit any significant integration with reason and modernity. Moderation in Arab and Muslim nations in the past has come with Islam’s marginalization. Islam is inherently an illiberal political ideology. In terms of doctrine, it has far less play to allow the emergence of a large-scale sustainable moderate yet profoundly religious practice. However, the relationship between the intractable illiberal oppressiveness of Islam and its extreme practice of intellectual submission to dogma and authority are intimately related. Such oppressive backwardness, given what mankind has achieved in every sphere of human activity, requires a mind closed to reason, pumped-up with irrational hate, and frozen by fear.

Islam requires extreme blind faith and obedience because of the extent that its teachings are at odds with living a full life in a free society. If Islam is to be practiced in full, and not merely perfunctory or selectively practiced, it will lead to continued impoverishment, oppression, war, and death. It is interesting that the post-modern left, to retain its dream of socialism after all the evidence of its failure and capitalism’s success, needs to maintain the epistemologically nihilistic doctrine of postmodernism that denounces the very concept of truth. Both flee from reality to hold on to cherish dogma. And they are united by a common enemy: America.

The Challenges for Each Camp.

Secular critics need to avoid a conflation of Islam and Christianity that is achieved by ignoring the vast differences of degree. This is common with the multi-cultural left that either claims Christianity is no better or that Islam is no worse. This absurdly ignores reality: Christians today aren’t driven by a religious fervor to fly planes into buildings, killing peaceful members of civilization, in an attempt to take the world back to the Dark Ages. And Islamic nations have not established tolerance societies that respect individual rights, reason and science except for transitory isolated exceptions. Furthermore, to claim that Islam has the potentiality to reform like Christianity can not be asserted a priori. Upon investigation there are severe barriers due to the specific content of Islam that makes such prospects a pipedream. To ignore the vast differences between the religions of Islam and Christianity obliterates crucial distinctions that serve no other purpose but to drive a needless wedge between secular and Christian opponents of Islam.

The relativist left buckles under the weight of its moral skepticism and inability to trumpet our superiority over barbaric cultures like Islam. Their approach is a dead end both figuratively and literally. Those approaching the Islamic threat from a secular perspective have to rely on the certainly of moral absolutes that were standard in secular philosophic thought before the subjectivism of the last two centuries. Tolerance of rights isn’t based on moral skepticism. Nothing follows from wholesale skepticism.

The religious camp faces a challenge it has assiduously hoped to avoid: the examination of the doctrines of different religions. Traditionalists once Anglo-American culture was described as Protestant (with a Calvinist emphasis), then Christian (to include Catholics) and finally Judeo-Christian (to include Jews.) The ecumenical spirit required glossing over differences in content. This general disposition embodied the notion that all long-established religions held the equally valid moral traditions. Communism helped convince many that this was true. The resurgence of Islam threatens the ecumenical spirit. To delve into the content of this religion opens a Pandora’s Box that conservatives instinctively fear may revive religious disharmony.

However, the ecumenical spirit is unnecessary if religion is a private matter. If public disputes are subject to reality-checks applying reason to human history and appreciating the ethical principles that make civilization possible, we can settle disputes and live in harmony. Private matters, like religion, remain private. Thus, the secularization of society protected by individual rights makes a natural diversity possible. Islam, being inherently a political ideology, is incompatible with a pluralistic secular society of equal rights and mutual respect.

In Summary

A worldview isn’t created or altered by simple arguments; it is an integrating philosophy that spans a lifetime. The threat of Islam, like the threat of communism for previous generations, will encourage us to take stock of our cultural resources and strengths. The first order of business is to fact the fact that there is a vast difference between them and us; then we can move on to the question of what has made our culture great. The latter should be an enjoyable and ongoing debate. Taking inventory at this stage shows core groups in every camp are up to the challenge but we have a majority of people who are still in denial about the severity of the problem—for several reasons some of which were mentioned above.

In summary, the two approaches emphasize two aspects of the same problem, process and content. Blind faith is required to support an oppressive religious ideology. The nature of Islam requires this methodology. Religion in the West has accepted the coin of reason in everyday affairs while the Greco-Roman tradition, which dominated secular thought before the rise of relativism, provided a solid foundation for the ethical truths that were once widely accepted. Islam fails to fit with neither contemporary tolerant Christianity nor traditional Enlightenment rationality. Islam is the odd man out. As we avoid secular relativism, promiscuous religious ecumenicalism, and religious dogmatism, we can unite against the common threat.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Boldly Exercising Our Freedoms

The moral premises shared by any group tells you whether it's a society seeking mutual benefits for members based on respect and voluntary exchanges or a criminal gang. The message from the 200 politicians from 16 countries in the Arab Inter- Parliamentary Union -- a message that screams like Islamic mobs protesting the Danish cartoons of Mohammad -- is that their organization, the governments they represent and the cultures on which they are based still remain beyond the bounds of civilized principles. Those politicians have called on “Arab and Muslim governments to spare no effort to pressure the UN to issue a resolution banning the slandering of religions.”

- says Edward Hudgins of the Objectivist Center (emphasis mine.) He continues:

it's most appropriate that they turn to the UN. This is a case of like attracting like. … The declaration of Arab and Muslim politicians should make clear -- as if it weren't clear already -- that we face not just the unruly mobs that are protesting the Mohammad cartoons but also the governments of most Arab and Islamic countries that would make censorship of whatever offends their prejudices a worldwide standard. Those who hold to the civilized principle that individuals should be free to do, say and live as they please as long as they don't initiate force against others must boldly exercise those freedoms in defense of freedom lest intimidation from those who oppose our freedoms further erode them.

Speaking of “boldly exercising those freedoms,” Yaron Brook and Onkar Ghate, of the Ayn Rand Institute, will be talking about (and boldly displaying) the Danish cartoons of Mohammad at John Hopkins University on Monday … or they plan to!

However, I still maintain that my position is the toughest no-nonsense stance on this issue. We are not just fighting for free speech; we are fighting for the truth and the freedom to speak the truth. As long as we ignore the content and merely focus on the process, we’ve conceded half the territory to the enemy.

PS. If you think intimidation, censorship, and the outright elimination of Islam’s critics is a recent phenomena, consider the original example that inspires this behavior: read James M. Arlandson’s article, “Muhammad’s Dead Poets Society” at The American Thinker.

Update: Enter the Asma Marwan Poetry contest or the Islamic Cartoon Contest.