Monday, August 07, 2006

But Before We're Banned ...

Thanks to my past readers and those who link to my blog, I now get about half of my traffic from search engines. For example, someone in Egypt found my article on Danish Cartoons by doing this search. Welcome and enjoy the cartoons. If you’re a Copt (10% of the population) I wouldn’t read this from the local library.

Some one in Malaysia wants to know my opinion about the feasibility of moderate Islam. I wish you luck, especially if you’re a Buddhist.

In Kuwait, a request for the “Islamic Revival” led to my blog entry explaining that Muslims don’t refer to the renewed interest in Islam as fundamentalism, radicalism, militancy, or any other Western term but just plain old simple Islam: it’s an Islamic Revival.

Enjoy Mo, Fatima, and Ahmed. We’re glad you know what we think about your religion. While you’re at it check out my most popular request: Root Cause.


Blogger Always On Watch said...

Sixth Column switched to Typepad. I wonder if that switch has helped with traffic over at that site.

8/7/06, 10:22 PM  
Blogger FreeCyprus said...

Breaking news:

Hizbollah fighter tells Israel he trained in Iran

-- FreeCyprus
Hellenic Reporter

8/8/06, 2:18 PM  
Blogger Charles N. Steele said...

I'll beat my old drum: of course there's moderate Islam. I know a number of moderate Muslims. And claims that moderate Islam isn't really Islam are pointless -- religious "truths" are not objective, they are simply matters of interpretation.

All religion, including Islam, is based on nonsensical epistemology, so its all a matter of interpretation.

This doesn't get Islam off the hook for being nonsense, but to claim Islam is inherently extremist or violent or totalitarian is wrong, because Islam, like all religion, is whatever its adherents decide it is.

The Koran has numerous verses that inspire believers to aggressive acts, but I have had other believers explain to me why this is clearly a complete misinterpretation of the verses.

Which view is right? Neither one. Like all religion, it's unscientific mystical rambling with no objective meaning.

8/10/06, 10:51 PM  
Blogger Jason Pappas said...

We disagree, of course, on how to differentiate a philosophy (including a religion) and sociology (the demographic practice of a nominal ethnic/national/religious group.) However, we are both cognitive of the fact that a distinction has to be made so it is best to leave it at that. Robert Bidinotto takes your viewpoint and I’ve debated him at one point until it was clear our views weren’t going to converge. Daniel Pipes, also, takes that viewpoint in his debate with Lawrence Auster. You, Bidinotto, and Pipes are not blinded to the problem that we face today and that’s the most important point.

8/11/06, 8:45 AM  
Blogger Charles N. Steele said...

One more related matter (I *think* it is related)... it's important to understand that there are numerous differences among Muslims, even very big differences among militant Islamist viewpoints and groups. Neglecting this means we'll develop a single approach to dealing with Muslims, or radical Muslims, when the facts of the matter may require different approaches.

As an example of differences among militant Muslims, according to the Free Muslims Against Terrorism (I'm on the mailing list for their op-eds) in much of the Muslim world al Qaeda is becoming increasingly disliked, and the growing popularity of Hezbollah has further contributed to this.

I haven't digested this yet and am not about to say what it might entail for policy, but if true it certainly is something to take note of.

8/11/06, 3:42 PM  
Blogger Allen Weingarten said...

I would summarize Charles Steele’s views as: there is moderate Islam; religion has no inherent meaning, but is whatever its adherents decide; Koranic aggression is a complete misinterpretation of its verses; religion, being unscientific and mystical, has no objective meaning.

My views are diametrically opposed. Given that there were millennia when virtually the only views were religious, I find it incoherent that they had no objective meaning. I do not see how we can begin to understand ancient Egypt, China, or Israel, without ascertaining the meaning of their respective outlooks. *The fact that there are mystical and non-scientific beliefs cannot deprive them of objective meaning, for they motivate people and guide their actions.* Not only do religionists find objective meaning in their beliefs, but so do atheists, or they could not debate them. Moreover, if Charles truly believes that religion has no objective meaning, how can he claim that “Koranic aggression is a complete misinterpretation of its verses”? Can there be a proper interpretation when there is no objective meaning?

As an aside, I hold with Karl Popper that there is an issue of demarcation, wherein science is differentiated from what is non-science (by its means of verification). However, this does not deny that non-scientific approaches have objective meaning, or are merely the preferences of its adherents. (Popper’s theories of meaning and falsification are in themselves non-scientific.)

Nor is it pertinent that adherents hold different interpretations, for *in all schools of thought there have been different interpretations*. How could there be different interpretations, if there weren’t some base to interpret? It is true that some people interpret our Constitution as “a living document”, where they give it whatever interpretation they deem advisable. Yet that doesn’t show that the Constitution lacked inherent meaning, but only that its ‘adherents’ prefer to misrepresent it. Even in science, there have been differences in interpretation since the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans. In more modern times: Berkeley disputed Newton; mathematical schools and prominent individuals decried Cantor’s views; physicists denied Einstein; Einstein denied Quantum Theory; and String Theory is currently viewed by some physicists as unsupportable in principle.

How can we ascertain the true meaning of a doctrine, given that there are different interpretations? This is largely a matter of determining its essential characteristics. (Of course if someone denies that there is any inherent meaning, he would deny that there are any essential characteristics.) Consider Marxism. Some claim that it seeks peace and harmony, while others aver that it is a doctrine of war. Contained, are not only economic elements, and social guides, but the whole panoply of a Weltanschauung. Yet the base could not exist without the notion of ‘class warfare’. Unless there is the ‘morality’ of the bad capitalists who mistreat the good proletariat, no insight into Marxism can exist.

If we consider Taoism, there is a cogent position of non-intervention, or Wu Wei. The thrust of the Tao Te Ching is compelling, and strongly supports the freedom of the individual. Yet many practitioners treat it as a system of magic, with potions, amulets and the like. To view these superstitions as disproving the themes of the Tao Te Ching, is to view astrology and the flat-earth theory as if they were science.

What is the essence of the Koran? It is the doctrine that the way to salvation, and to improving the world, is by destroying the evil doers. The world is divided between Dar al Islam (the true believers) and Dar al Harb (the outside world that must be subjugated). It is true that there is a Sufi branch that is pacifist and poetic, but it has no more authenticity regarding the Koran, than does astrology to science. (As an aside, I recommend “Religions of the World Made Simple” by John Lewis, for a simplified contrast of religions.)

Now there are those who defend the Koran by listing some nice sounding passages (which happened to be made for political purposes, and were then discarded). However, just ask the defenders if they can accept the doctrine of the non-initiation of force. They will hem and haw, but never do so. One simply cannot be a true Muslim, while rejecting the imperative of the ‘sword’.
Of course, defenders will quickly refer to the Crusades, where Christianity focused on violence (while disregarding that the aggression was initiated by the Moslems). The Christians overlooked the preaching of love by Jesus, and pretended that their religion was one of vengeance and violence. That however was never the objective meaning of Christianity, nor of the Judaism from which it was derived. In no way could there be denial of “Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit, saith the Lord of Hosts.” (Such a phrase has no counterpart in Islam.) It is not simply a coincidence that the predominant view of Christians today, is that they share an aspiration of love & forgiveness, and not of vengeance.

Yet what strikes me about Steele’s view is not his thinking that religious doctrines lack objective meaning, or that adherents can give it any meaning they prefer. Rather it is why he believes that Islam isn’t a threat (which is reminiscent of his view that China isn’t a threat). Here, when we are threatened by monstrous types, motivated by dedication to the Koran, Steele chooses to blunt any recognition of the pernicious and vicious doctrines advocated. Perhaps, were he around in 1933, he would have denied any objective meaning to the ramblings of ‘Mein Kampf’, while suggesting that its adherents could give it any meaning; perhaps, were he around in 1946, he would have denied any objective meaning to the ‘Communist Manifesto’, while suggesting that its adherents could give it any meaning; perhaps, were he around in 1949, he would have denied any objective meaning to ‘Chairman Mao’s Teachings’, while suggesting that its adherents could give it any meaning. I strongly recommend to all, reading the Koran, or at least skimming it, because after doing so, it is difficult to treat it as non-violent. To view Islam in the framework of all religions is about as sensible as viewing Caligula in the framework of all human beings.

How can an intelligent and well informed man like Charles Steele, fail to recognize the evident (that religion has objective meaning, rather than whatever its adherents choose to believe, and that Islam is evil)? I presume it is because he holds to a religious dogma. Previously, I have written that there is a bias of wishful thinking, where some exaggerate the good will of others (except for those who try to defend against evil). If someone will not acknowledge the wickedness of those who are inspired by the Koran, he will have an unperturbed existence -- at least until those barbarians come for him.

8/11/06, 4:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jason: Are there any reasons to believe that you're being banned?

(Just had to ask...)

8/11/06, 5:41 PM  
Blogger Charles N. Steele said...

Weingarten, thanks for the reply. I have addressed some of these points in a reply to Amplify under the "War with Islamic Facists" post, so take a look at that in addition to the following.

First, to be clear, I didn't mean to suggest that *I* believe "Koranic aggression is a complete misinterpretation." I point out that moderate Muslims believe this.

Also, I don't deny militant Islam is a dangerous threat that must be dealt with, and that military and police responses are among the appropriate means of doing so.

Now to business: you write "I find it incoherent that [religious views have] no objective meaning... *The fact that there are mystical and non-scientific beliefs cannot deprive them of objective meaning, for they motivate people and guide their actions.*"

I may have been insufficiently precise, so I'll restate my position. Religious texts such as the Bible and the Koran are not coherent, are full of symbolism and parable, and require (or permit) substantial interpretation on the part of the believer. I can figure out what Jefferson or Madison or Hitler meant in their writings, because they stated clearly what they meant. In some cases I can even figure out what Marx meant. But I can't decipher the will of Allah/Yaweh, first, because he's mythical and second, because the books his scribes wrote are cryptic.

This is not at all equivalent to saying that particular religious doctrines have no content or meaning or concrete implications. Instead, it is saying that these religious texts can be used to establish all sorts of contradictory religious doctrines -- militant vs. moderate Islam, or Orthodox vs. Catholic vs. Protestant Chrsitianity for examples -- and that there's no way of ascertaining which version of the religion is "correct." Which one is really the "correct" one isn't even a meaningful question -- there's no objective standard by which to judge.

You also state: "Now there are those who defend the Koran by listing some nice sounding passages (which happened to be made for political purposes, and were then discarded)."

I think you've just conceded my point -- you are interpreting certain Koranic verses as having been inserted simply for show, and others (the violent ones) as the real ones.

And you continue: "However, just ask the defenders if they can accept the doctrine of the non-initiation of force. They will hem and haw, but never do so. One simply cannot be a true Muslim, while rejecting the imperative of the ‘sword’."

Imam Dean Ahmad, former secretary of the Libertarian Party, disagrees -- he explained to me why Islam and libertarianism (defined as non-aggression) are completely compatible. I have had other Muslims tell me the same thing.

I hasten to add that this isn't *my* view. I simply note that there are violent totalitarian Muslims, peaceful libertarian Muslims, all sorts of Muslims in between, and each thinks their religious and political views are entirely compatible.

Hence, I conclude that there is indeed such a thing as moderate Islam, and even libertarian Islam, in addition to militant Islam.

8/12/06, 3:37 PM  
Blogger Allen Weingarten said...

Charles, I simply cannot fathom how you maintain that religions have no inherent or objective meaning. I stated that they motivate people and guide their actions. Here, you did not respond by saying that is true or false, but stated that they are not ‘coherent’. Yet that raises more questions than it answers. Do you mean that a religious doctrine has no meaning whatsoever? If not, *what is the meaning of a religious doctrine?* Or do you mean that a doctrine can be given any meaning whatsoever, in which case why do followers accept it at all? *Perhaps you would give me your definition of “meaning” so that I could follow your reasoning?* Right now, you appear to be saying that a religion that advocates human sacrifice is no different from one that claims that life is sacred.

Next, you clarify that religious texts are not ‘coherent’ because they are full of symbolism and parable. Well if that is what you mean, then even if myths have a clear meaning, they are incoherent. For example, when Prometheus is punished by the gods for helping man, the story states the opposite of the fable where a man is rewarded for taking a stone out of the path of travelers. To mythologists and religionists, and most of us, the contrast in meaning is clear, but you appear to be stating that even if there is a clear symbolic guide, it is incoherent.

Your next comment is that religions involve substantial interpretation. Yet to most of us, that does not deny meaning. I can think of little that is more meaningful than “Thou shalt not kill” where surely there is a need to allow for self-defense and other qualifications. On the other hand, suppose you believe that religious texts can be given any meaning. Then the fact that a Muslim interprets the Koran as being libertarian would make no more sense than if he interprets it as atheism. There would simply be nothing inherent or objective about it. *Do you really mean that viewing the Koran as requiring submission to Allah is no more grounded than viewing it as the right of an individual to do anything he pleases?*

By my saying that certain Koranic verses were for show, while others were real, I did not concede that there was no clear meaning. In each case the intent was to defeat the enemy, which is not a particular verse, but a foundational doctrine. More pertinent was that my emphasis was not on verses, but on ”essential characteristics”.

This is not to deny that in some religions there are considerable differences in interpretation. Within Christianity and Judaism, there are great differences in interpretation. However, they share common fundamentals, both within their schools, and between these religions.

As an aside, you stated that you can figure out what Jefferson meant. It is true that as we go from theology to religion, to ethics, to politics, to social studies, and to science, things become less ambiguous (as well as less meaningful). However, on the periphery, Jefferson’s views require interpretation. For example, his view of limited government would appear to preclude the Louisiana Purchase, which went in the direction of his rival Hamilton for a strong government; his view of the need for the common man to rebel against tyranny, at first led him to support the French Revolution. Yet in time he interpreted that Revolution as fundamentally mistaken, and took the view of his onetime opponent Adams. (Others have emphasized his different views on race.)

As to the ‘moderates’ of whom you speak, you will note that they do not begin with acknowledging the aggression and massacres of the Arabs, as the cause of the conflict with Israel. In contrast with Germans and Russians who decried the horrors brought on by their governments, these moderates find the need for Israel to make concessions (which they view as being fair to both sides). What is striking is not that there are a few Muslims who sound moderate, but that there is a negligible number in comparison with other peoples.

For those who understand the motives of the Arabs and Muslims, it is clear that the ‘moderates’ recommendations (on one nation and economy for Arabs and Israelis) would be suicidal for Israel. The extent to which the non-Jews would be influential, would result in the destruction of Israel, its military, and its economy. To combine the nation of Israel with what now constitutes ‘Palestine’ would be more destructive than combining America with Mexico, or Germany with Czechoslovakia. What is viewed as ‘half way’ would be a boon to the Palestinians, at the expense of Israel. The reality is and has been, that if the Arabs ever wanted peace, they would merely have to stop attacking. They never had any desire for ‘Palestine’ save to destroy it for the Jews.

Of course, it one believes that the problems in Israel do not stem from Arab aggression, but from their legitimate concern for justice, then all that needs to happen is for Israel to acquiesce to their plan.

My final question is would you have directed our efforts during WWII and the Cold War to finding ways to deal with the ‘moderate’ Germans and Russians, both of whom had pacifist supporters in America?

8/14/06, 3:52 PM  

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