Sunday, February 05, 2006
Islam: Good, Evil, and the Clash of Cultures
Is totalitarianism and the initiation of aggressive violence against peaceful people inherent in some forms of Islam?
The texts of revealed religions are obscure and vague. Even taken literally, they are open to such extremes of interpretation that one may reasonably claim them to be compatible with ethical standards that range from pure libertarianism to complete totalitarianism. No revealed religion will survive a rigorous test for logical consistency or evidence (see George Smith’s “Atheism: The Case Against God” and Thomas Paine’s “The Age of Reason”). Regardless, these are obviously important sources for humans’ beliefs. And given that we don’t reject them as illogical and empirically falsified, i.e. given that we pay attention to what they say, they can be reasonably interpreted to include a wide range of beliefs.
Consider Christianity, for example. Some who take the Bible literally believe that all of the Old Testament laws should be enforced – e.g. gays and nonbelievers stoned to death, textiles that use mixed fibers banned, etc. Do a Google search on Dominion Theology if you doubt anyone would go that far. I’ve met plenty of Christians who have told me that gays, pagans, atheists, and similar non-believers should be put to death.
Simultaneously, people who take the Bible literally can be the most civilized, tolerant people imaginable. I knew a woman, a Christian fundamentalist, who took the Bible completely literally. She knew I am an atheist, but treated me with the greatest kindness and respect, was a good friend, and we had great debates on religion. I am sure she saw her friendship with me as completely compatible with her religion. I can’t imagine her stoning me, nor stoning the open lesbians and bisexual women on the women’s basketball team she coached (one of them told me they all thought she was a really fine person and friend).
The same goes for Islam. I have tried reading the Quran, and can’t make any sense of it. (Supposedly it must be read in Arabic, which is worse than Greek to me, but as Thomas Paine pointed out, the idea that God is limited by the constraints of human language is, well, genuine blasphemy.) But I have met a number of well-read, well-educated, thoughtful Muslims, and it is obvious to me from their wide variety of Islams that the Quran is every bit as obscure and open-to-interpretation as the Bible.
Consider Dean Ahmad, an American of Arab descent, Ph.D. in Astronomy, and Islamic cleric, and former Secretary of the Libertarian Party of the U.S. While at a conference I had the good fortune to spend an evening talking with him about Islam. He explained to me why, properly understood, Islam is a religion of reason, tolerance, and liberty. Afterwards I read his book “Signs in the Heavens.” While it is written for Muslims, and thus in places obscure to a non-Muslim such as me, it made a case that reminded me of Rose Wilder Lane’s “Discovery of Freedom” and Henry Grady Weaver’s “Mainspring of Human Progress:” real Islam is pro-reason and libertarian. Similarly, Dr. Taras Verakov, a Russian Arabic scholar and convert to Islam (who also happened to be my chess partner when I taught in Moscow) told me that Islam, properly understood, is inherently libertarian, and therefore Muslims should honor America as the society that is as close to ideal as humans have yet been able to come. (I almost felt I was speaking with Ayn Rand when I talked with him, although he was unfamiliar with Rand.) Both Ahmad and Verakov have deep understandings of the Quran and Islam; both are extremely well educated, both have read the Quran in Arabic, and both believe it is fundamentally pro-reason and libertarian. This is the good Islam. It is pro-freedom, pre-reason, and pro-human. Bottom line: there is a libertarian Islam.
Simultaneously, there is a perfectly reasonable interpretation of Islam that is utterly incompatible with freedom. I had the good luck a number of years ago to spend an evening discussing religion with a Pakistani economist, a devout Muslim who was head of the Muslim Students’ Organization at Montana State University. He was clearly very devout, and a genuinely honest and moral man. I really like him. And if I had $100,000 in cash that needed safekeeping, I would trust it to him, without hesitation. But I also would trust him to cut off my head if I tried to kiss one of his daughters. I asked him about dating in Pakistan – he assured me that in proper society it isn’t done. “And if a boy and girl did meet, without permission, just to talk?” “Usually their fathers would get together and agree to put both of the children to death. And then they would kill them. The children were immoral, after all.” “And would the fathers get away with this?” “There’s a good chance that they might spend a couple of months in prison, as this is technically illegal. But then they’d go free, it would not be a big deal.” He thought that this was appropriate. His Islam, which he assured me is well-founded in the Koran, is utterly totalitarian and authorizes violence against peaceful people.
This Islam, the evil Islam, is very common. How many Muslims demonstrated in protest when Daniel Pearl or Nicholas Berg were beheaded in the name of Islam? How many Muslims demonstrated in protest when fellow Muslims committed mass murder of grade school children in Beslan? How many Muslims demonstrated in protest when a pair of sociopaths from Hamas (may they rot in hell) blew to bits a bunch of teenagers on the Ben-Yehuda mall? Add up all the Muslims who publicly protested these savage murders done in the name of Allah, and you’ll find they are far outnumbered by those who publicly call for the deaths of some European cartoonists and editors. This is evil Islam, and we damn well better confront it, without regard for political correctness or politeness or the feelings of its adherents. Better that we do it now, with cartoons and ridicule, than later with guns and bombs. If you don’t understand that there are Muslims who are seriously working to impose totalitarian Islam on us all, then you have not been paying attention (reading “Foreign Affairs” is sufficient attention). At a practical level, this Islam is the equivalent of Nazism.
But at the same time, consider again my Pakistani fundamentalist friend. His vision of Islam is totalitarian and intolerant. But this is only a part of his Islam, and within him is also great good. He explained to me about the crucial importance of doing good to people, without regard for who they might be – “forgive your fellow man his sins, and do him well. It is your duty.”
A contradiction? Sure. Clearly, a large part of the Islam of my Pakistani friend is pure evil. But there’s the part that is good. In my view, he’s a good man, caught in a bad set of ideas. What do I wish for him? Enlightenment, and liberation. I cannot imagine how this could be done, without offending him and shocking the hell out of him. I hope that he sees the Danish cartoons, especially “Stop, stop, we’ve run out of virgins” and “relax folks, it’s just a sketch…” and the turban bomb. These will shock him horribly and offend him. But he’s an intelligent and thoughtful man. I hope that after the initial shock wears off he’ll realize that the world hasn’t collapsed simply because these were published. And then just maybe he will suddenly say “what was I thinking? That could be me, offering a bomb and a scimitar in the name of Islam, rather than the good works I was lecturing that foolish guy in Montana about.” And then, I hope, he will begin to acknowledge liberty.
We who are pro-liberty and pro-West must not worry about offending Muslims. We must attack their false ideas and shock the hell out of them. It is preferable to fighting them to the death in a struggle for reason and liberty (which we must do if it comes to it). And we should recognize that Islam is like most broad bodies of human thought: it contains not only falsehoods, but also good things from which we can learn, and some of its adherents are among the best people among us.
It may be a war of civilizations, but waged properly, it can be a positive sum game.
While I enjoy talking to moderates who believe Islam is or can be compatible with a liberal order, I always ask: is this scalable and sustainable? Or does Islam have baggage (more than other belief systems) that interferes with a creation of a sustainable consensus that accepts a liberal order? Individual exceptions are not proof-of-concept unless they can become and remain dominant.
I remember Tom Palmer, among others, who point to classical Islamic philosophers, like Al Farabi, who tried to reconcile Islam with Greek philosophy. But Farabi was responding to Al Razi who said Islam and reason can’t be reconciled … and reason is the right path. If Islam can be reformed, I believe there has to be some people like me saying it can’t! Until, they accept the debate (and you’ve met several who have) they won’t be challenged. So whether you and Pipes are correct or if I’m right, they have to deal with criticism until the moderates realize the fundamentalists are not only an embarrassment but are a danger to their values and lives.
I agree emphatically with what you said: “Better that we do it now, with cartoons and ridicule, than later with guns and bombs.” I’ve said that a few times (such as here) and I can’t get much traction in arguments with others. Some say we can’t hurt their feelings … but if we have to fight, so be it!! Others say it is hopeless to try so just wait until another attack comes and then we’ll strike back. I find both of these viewpoints undesirable (to say the least.)
I agree with you, let’s fight with words. It doesn’t matter too much if one is saying be moderate by changing Islam or be moderate by abandoning Islam … both challenge the fundamentalists. Some of us can be Al Razi and others can be Al Farabi. But, as I argue in the above link and as an ex-Muslim (also in that link) agrees: shame them and hurt their pride if you must but don’t fail to exert moral pressure. I believe they will respond—at first defensively with anger (as you suggest)—but eventually they’ll caucus and debate. In a sense I’m optimistic that with rare exceptions humans can respond to moral pressure if we’re firm and it’s a broad effort. I see less harm by some of us going too far than by many of us staying silent.
By the way, it is important to focus on the ideas and not attack the people as a whole. As you put it: “We who are pro-liberty and pro-West must not worry about offending Muslims. We must attack their false ideas and shock the hell out of them. It is preferable to fighting them to the death in a struggle for reason and liberty (which we must do if it comes to it). “
I think one of the main points of the debate we had earlier on your blog is that I see all brands of revealed religion as being extremely flexible doctrines, because they require enormous amounts of subjective interpretation. If, for example, Muslim clerics the world over began trumpeting strict Lockeian individual rights, and claiming this is what the Quran really means, then that would become mainstream Islam, and all current baggage would be left behind. Religion is particularly suject to doublethink.
For readers who aren't aware, the ex-Muslim to whom Jason refers is author Ibn Warraq, a free-thinker who has written some very interesting stuff on what's wrong with Islam, and who works to on projects to show Muslims that humanism and rationality are a superior choice to religious faith. He's worth reading.
Recent events have seen me purchase many texts surrounding Islam for the purpose of coming to a sound and independant judgement of Islam. I would advise others to do the same.
I have now enough knowledge to hold an educated stance and view of which I would challenge anyone to contadict, that is that Islam is a vicious wicked and intollerant faith!
Never again will I converse with a Muslim on any platform!
I say that Islam is NOT a "vicious wicked and intollerant faith!"
I challenge you to prove otherwise. Let's debate!
In the meantime, I do need to correct your confusions: racism is absolutely irrelevant here, since we are discussing religious ideas, not race.
Also, having a negative view of any faith isn't the issue. I have a negative view of all faiths. All revealed religion is based on false epistemological standards. But having a negative view of them (saying they are false) is quite different from saying they are viscious, wicked, etc.
I agree with you 100%. But, there is one problem that I see. This problem is, how do we convince Muslims, moderate and radical, that it is the Islamists ideology behind the terror and not the Islamic faith that we are debating?
Second, ultimately any "battle for the soul of Islam" is primarily a battle for Muslims. All we can do is work at the margins. But we should not do it by threatening all Islam or condemning it as our real enemy -- such a condemnation is hyperbole, not reality. But it convinces moderates that we are threatening them as well.
The Islamist position will largely discredit itself, IF we don't convince Muslims that Islamism is their best defense against non-Muslims who are out to get them.
If you don't see it.... open your eyes
The Agenda of Islam - A War Between Civilization Professor Moshe Sharon- Wednesday 24th Dec 2003
The war has started a long time ago between two civilizations - between the civilization based on the Bible and between the civilization based on the Koran. And this must be clear.
There is no fundamental Islam.
"Fundamentalism" is a word that came from the heart of the Christian religion. It means faith that goes by the word of the Bible. Fundamental Christianity, or going with the Bible, does not mean going around and killing people. There is no fundamental Islam. There is only Islam full stop. The question is how the Koran is interpreted.
All of a sudden we see that the greatest interpreters of Islam are politicians in the western world. They know better than all the speakers in the mosques, all those who deliver terrible sermons against anything that is either Christian or Jewish. These western politicians know that there is good Islam and bad Islam. They know even how to differentiate between the two, except that none of them know how to read a word of Arabic.
The Language of Islam
You see, so much is covered by politically correct language that, in fact, the truth has been lost. For example, when we speak about Islam in the west, we try to use our own language and terminology. We speak about Islam in terms of democracy and fundamentalism, in terms of parliamentarism and all kinds of terms, which we take from our own dictionary. One of my professors and one of the greatest orientalists in the world says that doing this is like a cricket reporter describing a cricket game in baseball terms. We cannot use for one culture or civilization the language of another. For Islam, you've got to use the language of Islam.
Driving Principles of Islam
Let me explain the principles that are driving the religion of Islam. Of course, every Moslem has to acknowledge the fact that there is only one God. But it's not enough to say that there is only one God. A Moslem has to acknowledge the fact that there is one God and Mohammed is his prophet. These are the fundamentals of the religion that without them, one cannot be a Moslem.
But beyond that, Islam is a civilization. It is a religion that gave first and foremost a wide and unique legal system that engulfs the individual, society and nations with rules of behaviour. If you are Moslem, you have to behave according to the rules of Islam which are set down in the Koran and which are very different than the teachings of the Bible.
Let me explain the difference.
The Bible is the creation of the spirit of a nation over a very, very long period, if we talk from the point of view of the scholar, and let me remain scholarly. But there is one thing that is important in the Bible. It leads to salvation. It leads to salvation in two ways.
In Judaism, it leads to national salvation - not just a nation that wants to have a state, but a nation that wants to serve God. That's the idea behind the Hebrew text of the Bible.
The New Testament that took the Hebrew Bible moves us toward personal salvation. So we have got these two kinds of salvation, which, from time to time, meet each other.
But the key word is salvation. Personal salvation means that each individual is looked after by God, Himself, who leads a person through His word to salvation. This is the idea in the Bible, whether we are talking about the Old or the New Testament. All of the laws in the Bible, even to the minutest ones, are, in fact directed toward this fact of salvation.
Secondly, there is another point in the Bible, which is highly important. This is the idea that man was created in the image of God. Therefore, you don't just walk around and obliterate the image of God. Many people, of course, used Biblical rules and turned them upside down. History has seen a lot of massacres in the name of God and in the name of Jesus. But as religions, both Judaism and Christianity in their fundamentals speak about honouring the image of God and the hope of salvation. These are the two basic fundamentals.
The Essence of Islam
Now let's move to the essence of Islam. Islam was born with the idea that it should rule the world.
Let's look, then, at the difference between these three religions. Judaism speaks about national salvation - namely that at the end of the story, when the world becomes a better place, Israel will be in its own land, ruled by its own king and serving God. Christianity speaks about the idea that every single person in the world can be saved from his sings, while Islam speaks about ruling the world. I can quote here in Arabic, but there is no point in quoting Arabic, so let me quote a verse in English. "Allah sent Mohammed with the true religion so that it should rule over all the religions."
The idea, then, is not that the whole world would become a Moslem world at this time, but that the whole world would be subdued under the rule of Islam.
When the Islamic empire was established in 634 AD, within seven years - 640 - the core of the empire was created. The rules that were taken from the Koran and from the tradition that was ascribed to the prophet Mohammed, were translated into a real legal system. Jews and Christians could live under Islam provided they paid poll tax and accepted Islamic superiority. Of course, they had to be humiliated. And Jews and Christians living under Islam are humiliated to this very day.
Mohammed Held That All the Biblical Prophets Were Moslems
Mohammed did accept the existence of all the Biblical prophets before him. However he also said that all these prophets were Moslems. Abraham was a Moslem. In fact, Adam himself was the first Moslem. Isaac and Jacob and David and Solomon and Moses and Jesus were all Moslems, and all of them had writings similar to the Koran. Therefore, world history is Islamic history because all the heroes of history were Moslems.
Furthermore, Moslems accept the fact that each of these prophets brought with him some kind of a revelation. Moses, brought the Taurat, which is the Torah, and Jesus brought the Ingeel, which is the Evangelion or Gospel - namely the New Testament.
The Bible vs. the Koran
Why then is the Bible not similar to the Koran?
Mohammed explains that the Jews and Christians forged their books. Had they not been changed and forged, they would have been identical to the Koran. But because Christians and Jews do have some truth, Islam concedes that they cannot be completely destroyed by war [for now].
Nevertheless, the laws a very clear - Jews and Christians have no rights whatsoever to independent existence. They can live under Islamic rule provided they keep to the rules that Islam promulgates for them.
Islamic Rule and Jihad
What happens if Jews and Christians don't want to live under the rules of Islam? Then Islam has to fight them and this fighting is called Jihad. Jihad means war against those people who don't want to accept the Islamic superior rule. That's jihad. They may be Jews; they may be Christians; they may be Polytheists. But since we don't have too many Polytheists left, at least not in the Middle East - their war is against the Jews and Christians.
A few days ago, I received a pamphlet that was distributed in the world by bin Laden. He calls for jihad against America as the leader of the Christian world, not because America is the supporter of Israel, but because Americans are desecrating Arabia with their filthy feet. There are Americans in Arabia were no Christians should be. In this pamphlet there is not a single word about Israel. Only that Americans are desecrating the home of the prophet.
The Koran sees the world as divided into two - one part which has come under Islamic rule and one part which is supposed to come under Islamic rule in the future. There is a division of the world which is very clear. Every single person who starts studying Islam knows it. The world is described as Dar al-Islam (the house of Islam) - that's the place where Islam rules - and the other part which is called Dar al-Harb - the house of war. Not the "house of non-Muslims," but the "house of war." It is this house of war which as to be, at the end of time, conquered. The world will continue to be in the house of war until it comes under Islamic rule.
This is the norm. Why? Because Allah says it's so in the Koran. God has sent Mohammed with the true religion in order that the truth will overcome all other religions.
Within the Islamic vision of this world, there are rules that govern the lives of the Moslems themselves, and these rules are very strict. In fundamentals, there are no differences between schools of law.
However, there are four streams of factions within Islam with differences between them concerning the minutiae of the laws. All over the Islamic world, countries have favored one or another of these schools of laws.
The strictest school of law is called Hanbali, mainly coming out of Saudi Arabia. There are no games there, no playing around with the meanings of words. If the Koran speaks about war, then it's war.
There are various perspectives in Islam with different interpretations over the centuries. There were good people that were very enlightened in Islam that tried to understand things differently. They even brought traditions from the mouth of the prophet that women and children should not be killed in war.
These more liberal streams do exist, but there is one thing that is very important for us to remember. The Hanbali school of law is extremely strict, and today this is the school that is behind most of the terrorist powers. Even if we talk about the existence of other schools of Islamic law, when we're talking about fighting against the Jews, or fighting against the Christian world led by America, it is the Hanbali school of law that is being followed.
Islam and Territory
This civilization created one very important, fundamental rule about territory. Any territory that comes under Islamic rule cannot be de-Islamized. Even if at one time or another, the [non-Moslem] enemy takes over the territory that was under Islamic rule, it is considered to be perpetually Islamic.
This is why whenever you hear about the Arab/Israeli conflict, you hear - territory, territory, territory. There are other aspects to the conflict, but territory is highly important.
The Christian civilization has not only been seen as a religious opponent, but as a dam stopping Islam from achieving its final goal for which it was created.
Islam was created to be the army of God, the army of Allah. Every single Moslem is a soldier in this army. Every single Moslem that dies in fighting for the spread of Islam is a shaheed (martyr) no matter how he dies, because - and this is very important - this is an eternal word between the two civilizations. It's not a war that stops. This was is there because it was created by Allah. Islam must be the ruler. This is a war that will not end.
Islam and Peace
Peace in Islam can exist only within the Islamic world; peace can only be between Moslem and Moslem.
With the non-Moslem world or non-Moslem opponents, there can be only one solution - a cease fire until Moslems can gain more power. It is an eternal war until the end of days. Peace can only come if the Islamic side wins.
The two civilizations can only have periods of cease-fires. And this idea of cease-fire is based on a very important historical precedent, which, incidentally, Yasser Arafat referred to when he spoke in Johannesburg after he signed the Oslo agreement with Israel.
Let me remind you that the document speaks of peace - you wouldn't believe that you are reading! You would think that you were reading some science fiction piece. I mean when you read it, you can't believe that this was signed by Israelis who are actually acquainted with Islamic policies and civilization.
A few weeks after the Oslo agreement was signed, Arafat went to Johannesburg, and in a mosque there he made a speech in which he apologized, saying, "Do you think I signed something with the Jews which is contrary to the rules of Islam?" (I have obtained a copy of Arafat's recorded speech so I heard it from his own mouth.) Arafat continued, "That's not so. I'm doing exactly what the prophet Mohammed did."
Whatever the prophet is supposed have done becomes a precedent. What Arafat was saying was, "Remember the story of Hodaybiya." The prophet had made an agreement there with the tribe of Kuraish for 10 years. But then he trained 10,000 soldiers and within two years marched on their city of Mecca. He, of course, found some kind of pretext.
Thus, in Islamic jurisdiction, it became a legal precedent which states that you are only allowed to make peace for a maximum of 10 years.
Secondly, at the first instance that you are able, you must renew the jihad [thus breaking the "peace" agreement].
In Israel, it has taken over 50 years in this country for our people to understand that they cannot speak about [permanent] peace with Moslems. It will take another 50 years for the western world to understand that they have got a state of war with the Islamic civilization that is virile and strong. This should be understood: When we talk about war and peace, we are not talking in Belgium, French, English, or German terms. We are talking about war and peace in Islamic terms.
Cease-fire as a Tactical Choice
What makes Islam accept cease-fire? Only one thing - when the enemy is too strong. It is a tactical choice.
Sometimes, he may have to agree to a cease-fire in the most humiliating conditions. It's allowed because Mohammed accepted a cease-fire under humiliating conditions. That's what Arafat said to them in Johannesburg.
When western policy makers hear these things, they answer, "What are you talking about? You are in the Middle Ages. You don't understand the mechanisms of politics."
Which mechanisms of politics? There are no mechanisms of politics where power is. And I want to tell you one thing - we haven't seen the end of it, because the minute a radical Moslem power has atomic, chemical or biological weapons, they will use it. I have no doubt about that.
Now, since we face war and we know that we cannot get more than an impermanent cease-fire, one has to ask himself what is the major component of an Israeli/Arab cease-fire. It is that the Islamic side is weak and your side is strong. The relations between Israel and the Arab world in the last 50 years since the establishment of our State has been based only on this idea, the deterrent power.
Wherever You Have Islam, You Will Have War
The reason that we have what we have in Yugoslavia and other places is because Islam succeeded into entering these countries. Wherever you have Islam, you will have war. It grows out of the attitude of Islamic civilization.
What are the poor people in the Philippines being killed for? What's happening between Pakistan and India?
Furthermore, there is another fact that must be remembered. The Islamic world has not only the attitude of open war, but there's also war by infiltration.
One of the things which the western world is not paying enough attention to is the tremendous growth of Islamic power in the western world. What happened in America and the Twin Towers is not something that came from the outside. And if America doesn't wake up, one day the Americans will find themselves in a chemical war and most likely in an atomic war - inside the U.S.
End of Days
It is highly important to understand how a civilization sees the end of days. In Christianity and in Judaism, we know exactly what is the vision of the end of days.
In Judaism, it is going to be as in Isaiah - peace between nations, not just one nation, but between all nations. People will not have any more need for weapons and nature will be changed - a beautiful end of days and the kingdom of God on earth.
Christianity goes as far as Revelation to see a day that Satan himself is obliterated. There are no more powers of evil. That's the vision.
I'm speaking now as a historian. I try to understand how Islam sees the end of days. In the end of days, Islam sees a world that is totally Moslem, completely Moslem under the rule of Islam. Complete and final victory.
Christians will not exist, because according to many Islamic traditions, the Moslems who are in hell will have to be replaced by somebody and they'll be replaced by the Christians.
The Jews will no longer exist, because before the coming of the end of days, there is going to be a war against the Jews where all Jews should be killed. I'm quoting now from the heart of Islamic tradition, from the books that are read by every child in school. They Jews will all be killed. They'll be running away and they'll be hiding behind trees and rocks, and on that day Allah will give mouths to the rocks and trees and they will say, "Oh Moslem come here, there is a Jew behind me, kill him." Without this, the end of days cannot come. This is a fundamental of Islam.
Is There a Possibility to End This Dance of War?
The question which we in Israel are asking ourselves is what will happen to our country? Is there a possibility to end this dance of war?
The answer is, "No. Not in the foreseeable future." What we can do is reach a situation where for a few years we may have relative quiet.
But for Islam, the establishment of the state of Israel was a reverse of Islamic history. First, Islamic territory was taken away from Islam by Jews. You know by now that this can never be accepted, not even one meter. So everyone who thinks Tel Aviv is safe is making a grave mistake. Territory, which at one time was dominated by Islamic rule, now has become non-Moslem. Non-Moslems are independent of Islamic rule; Jews have created their own independent state. It is anathema.
And (this is the worse) Israel, a non-Moslem state, is ruling over Moslems. It is unthinkable that non-Moslems should rule over Moslems.
I believe that Western civilization should hold together and support each other. Whether this will happen or not, I don't know. Israel finds itself on the front lines of this war. It needs the help of its sister civilization. It needs the help of America and Europe. It needs the help of the Christian world. One thing I am sure about, this help can be given by individual Christians who see this as the road to salvation.