Monday, April 15, 2013

The liberal/progressive "ruinous self-deception" about radical Islam

One of the Danish Mohammed cartoons

The dither by a lot of well-intentioned folks in SF caused by Pamela Geller's anti-Jihad ads would be comical if the issue wasn't so serious. (On second thought, that the issue is so serious makes for better comedy: people so befuddled by ideology that they can't understand that there really are people who want to kill them! See this and this.) It's another massive intellectual failure by San Francisco progressives. I've written about others---homelessness and the bicycle fantasy, to mention a few---but the lame, submissive progressive/liberal reaction to violent, radical Islam is really of national and international significance.
Below is an excerpt from an exchange between philosopher and atheist Sam Harris and Glenn Greenwald explaining the issues and what's at stake: "At this moment in history, there is only one religion that systematically stifles free expression with credible threats of violence. The truth is, we have already lost our First Amendment rights with respect to Islam—and because they brand any observation of this fact a symptom of Islamophobia, Muslim apologists like Greenwald are largely to blame." How so? Harris cites the hit musical, The Book of Mormon, as an example: "Can any reader of this page imagine the staging of a similar play about Islam in the United States, or anywhere else, in the year 2013?" Nope, it can't/won't be done.

What's happening is a form of prior restraint and pre-emptive censorship. Islamic fanatics intimidated editors all over the country during the cartoon riots, including the Bay Guardian and other city publications (The Danish cartoons---tame by US standards---have only been published locally on District 5 Diary). The Islamists even bullied Comedy Central into censoring an episode of South Park, which only Phil Bronstein and I wrote about here in Progressive Land.

Sam Harris:
...The meaning of “Islamophobia” is not at all like the meanings of those other terms[racism, sexism, antisemitism]. It is simply not easy to differentiate prejudice against Muslims from ordinary racism and xenophobia directed at Arabs, Pakistanis, Somalis, and other people who happen to be Muslim. Of course, there is no question that such bigotry exists, and it is as odious as Greenwald believes. But inventing a new term does not give us license to say that there is a new form of hatred in the world.
How does the term “anti-Semitism” differ? Well, we have a 2000-year-old tradition of religiously inspired hatred against Jews, conceived as a distinct race of people, both by those who hate them and by Jews themselves. Anti-Semitism is, therefore, a specific form of racism that, as everyone knows, has taken many terrible turns over the years (and is now especially prevalent among Muslims, for reasons that can be explicitly traced not merely to recent conflicts over land in the Middle East, but to the doctrine of Islam).
“Sexism,” generally speaking, is a bias against women, not because of any doctrines they might espouse, but because they were born without a Y chromosome. The meanings of these terms are clear, and each names a form of hatred and exclusion directed at people, as people, not because of their behavior or beliefs, but because of the mere circumstances of their birth.
Islamophobia is something else entirely. It is, Greenwald tells us in his three points, an “irrational” and “disproportionate” and “unjustified” focus on Muslims. But the only way that Muslims can reasonably be said to exist as a group is in terms of their adherence to the doctrine of Islam. There is no race of Muslims. They are not united by any physical traits or a diaspora. Unlike Judaism, Islam is a vast, missionary faith. The only thing that defines the class of All Muslims—and the only thing that could make this group the possible target of anyone’s “irrational” fear, “disproportionate” focus, or “unjustified” criticism—is their adherence to a set of beliefs and the behaviors that these beliefs inspire.
And, unlike a person’s racial characteristics or gender, beliefs can be argued for, tested, criticized, and changed. In fact, wherever the norms of rational conversation are allowed to do their work, beliefs must earn respect. More important, beliefs are claims about reality and about how human beings should live within it—so they necessarily lead to behavior, and to values, laws, and public institutions that affect the lives of all people, whether they share these beliefs or not. Beliefs end marriages and start wars.
So “Islamophobia” must be—it really can only be—an irrational, disproportionate, and unjustified fear of certain people, regardless of their ethnicity or any other accidental trait, because of what they believe and to the degree to which they believe it. Thus the relevant question to ask is whether a special concern about people who are deeply committed to the actual doctrines of Islam, in the aftermath of September 11th, 2001, is irrational, disproportionate, and unjustified.
Contrary to Greenwald’s assertion, my condemnation of Islam does not apply to “all members of a group or the group itself based on the bad acts of specific individuals in that group.” My condemnation applies to the doctrines of Islam and to the ways in which they reliably produce these “bad acts.” Unfortunately, in the case of Islam, the bad acts of the worst individuals—the jihadists, the murderers of apostates, and the men who treat their wives and daughters like chattel—are the best examples of the doctrine in practice. Those who adhere most strictly to the actual teachings of Islam, those who expound its timeless dogma most honestly, are precisely the people whom Greenwald and other obscurantists want us to believe least represent the faith.
Well, this is a very easy difference of opinion to resolve: One need only study the doctrine of Islam—not merely as it existed in the 7th century, but as it exists today—and ask some very basic questions. What, for instance, is the penalty for apostasy? Interestingly, it isn’t spelled out in the Koran—there, apostates are merely promised their just deserts in hell—but it is made painfully clear in the hadith, and in the opinions of Muslim jurists and Muslim mobs everywhere.
The year is 2013, and the penalty for apostasy, everywhere under Islam, is death. I have yet to meet an apologist for the religion, however evasive, who could lie about this fact with a straight face. (Perhaps Greenwald would like to be the first.) Needless to say, I receive emails from former Muslims who are all too aware of what it means to be a former Muslim. Depending on where they live, these people run a real risk of being murdered, perhaps even by members of their own families, for having lost their faith...  
Is it true to say that the religiously inspired affronts to reason and civility that I criticize among Muslims (who are, again, discernible as a group only on the basis of their religious beliefs and resulting practices) are “committed at least to an equal extent by many other groups”?
Let’s take a trip to the real world. Consider: Anyone who wants to draw a cartoon, write a novel, or stage a Broadway play that denigrates Mormonism is free to do it. In the United States, this freedom is ostensibly guaranteed by the First Amendment—but that is not, in fact, what guarantees it. The freedom to poke fun at Mormonism is guaranteed by the fact that Mormons do not dispatch assassins to silence their critics or summon murderous hordes in response to satire.
As I have pointed out before, when The Book of Mormon became the most celebrated musical of the year, the LDS Church protested by placing ads for the faith in Playbill. A wasted effort, perhaps: but this was a genuinely charming sign of good humor, given the alternatives. What are the alternatives? Can any reader of this page imagine the staging of a similar play about Islam in the United States, or anywhere else, in the year 2013? No you cannot—unless you also imagine the creators of this play being hunted for the rest of their lives by religious maniacs.
Yes, there are crazy people in every faith—and I often hear from them. But what is true of Mormonism is true of every other faith, with a single exception. At this moment in history, there is only one religion that systematically stifles free expression with credible threats of violence. The truth is, we have already lost our First Amendment rights with respect to Islam—and because they brand any observation of this fact a symptom of Islamophobia, Muslim apologists like Greenwald are largely to blame.
It is depressing to quote from one’s own work, but it is even more depressing to struggle to find new ways to say something that shouldn’t have needed saying in the first place. Here is how I put it in the immediate aftermath of the Innocence of Muslims debacle, in an article entitled “On the Freedom to Offend an Imaginary God”:
Consider what is actually happening: Some percentage of the world’s Muslims—Five percent? Fifteen? Fifty? It’s not yet clear—are demanding that all non-Muslims conform to the strictures of Islamic law. And where they do not immediately resort to violence in their protests, they threaten it. Carrying a sign that reads “Behead Those Who Insult the Prophet” may still count as an example of peaceful protest, but it is also an assurance that infidel blood would be shed if the imbecile holding the placard only had more power. This grotesque promise is, of course, fulfilled in nearly every Muslim society. To make a film like Innocence of Muslims anywhere in the Middle East would be as sure a method of suicide as the laws of physics allow.
What exactly was in the film? Who made it? What were their motives? Was Muhammad really depicted? Was that a Qur’an burning, or some other book? Questions of this kind are obscene. Here is where the line must be drawn and defended without apology: We are free to burn the Qur’an or any other book, and to criticize Muhammad or any other human being. Let no one forget it
At moments like this, we inevitably hear—from people who don’t know what it’s like to believe in paradise—that religion is just a way of channeling popular unrest. The true source of the problem can be found in the history of Western aggression in the region. It is our policies, rather than our freedoms, that they hate. I believe that the future of liberalism—and much else—depends on our overcoming this ruinous self-deception. Religion only works as a pretext for political violence because many millions of people actually believe what they say they believe: that imaginary crimes like blasphemy and apostasy are killing offenses.
I stand by these words and by everything else I have said or written about Islam. And I maintain that anyone who considers my views to be a symptom of irrational fear is ignorant, dishonest, or insane. (I recently suggested to Greenwald on Twitter that we settle our dispute by holding simultaneous cartoon contests. He could use his Guardian blog to solicit cartoons about Islam, and I’d use my website to run a similar contest for any other faith on earth. As will come as no surprise, the man immediately started sputtering non-sequiturs)...



At 3:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You hit the nail on the head, "Consider what is actually happening: Some percentage of the world’s Muslims—Five percent? Fifteen? Fifty? It’s not yet clear—are demanding that all non-Muslims conform to the strictures of Islamic law."

I am Jewish, and we have roughly three factions (Reform, Conservative, Orthodox)and each can pretty much practice the way they choose and don't much bug each other. I would not presume to demand/force the others to do as I do...frankly I don't care if they call me a 'watered down Jew" which is what I have been called. It is just much easier to be accepting of others. So what is the answer? Time for a song perhaps?

From "South Pacific"

"You've got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You've got to be taught
From year to year,
It's got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You've got to be carefully taught.

At 6:15 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Your quotation in the first paragraph is not me but from Sam Harris's piece, which surely does hit the nail on the head.

I posted this before I heard about the Boston bombings, which follow the jihadist MO: plant bombs in crowded public places to cause the most casualties. And in their maniacal minds, there are no innocents. If you aren't a Moslem---a Moslem of the jihadist brand, that is---you are merely infidel scum.

Yes, they particularly enjoy killing Jews and Americans. I'm nominally a Protestant, too, though I've been an atheist as long as I've known that I could be an atheist. These distinctions, like those among Jews, are of little significance to the fanatical Moslem.

At 6:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I posted this before I heard about the Boston bombings,"

Bullshit. Time stamp says 3:30, the bombings happened before noon. You are capitalizing on pain to push your racist agenda. Just own up to it.

At 9:35 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Islam is not a race, moron. Sam Harris went over that terrain carefully in his piece, which of course you didn't read. Islam is a religion adhered to by people of all races.

I'm not the kind of news junkie that needs to always be connected to the news/info grid. I read the papers in the morning, then check my email, check the few sites and blogs that I like, work on my blog---I just have a desktop computer, no cellphone, no tablet, etc---and only turn the TV news on in the evening. Yesterday I followed the same routine.

Besides, how would I "capitalize" on the coincidence of my post and the Boston bombing? I've done more than 100 posts with the "Islamic Fascism" tag, the first one way back in 2006 about the Danish Mohammed cartoons.

In any event, we don't know yet who did the bombing, but Islamic extremists have to be high on the list of suspects, though there are always the right-wing, militia, Timothy McVeigh/Eric Rudolph-types that could also be responsible.


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