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“Thank you, but . . . “?

My French brother-in-law recently sent me links to videos of two young French Muslims of North African descent inveighing against crimes committed in the name of religion. They were unmistakably angry and sincere. Interestingly, they said it was up to us—that is to say, we, the Muslims of France—to counteract the evil that was besmirching the name and reputation of millions of our coreligionists.

It was a brave performance, because neither of them disguised himself. They probably know many people who—to put it mildly—disagree with them. One could easily imagine them being targeted by extremists. My brother-in-law (whose son was in the Stade de France on the day of the attacks) saw grounds for optimism in these videos.

It is only right and just that we should applaud these two young men whose actions were very courageous (they had families to protect, as well as themselves). It took some brass, as we say in England, to tell their peers that if they didn’t like it in France, they should go back to their villages of origin in Morocco or Algeria, and try life there. One of them even compared the French police, no doubt the objects of visceral hatred among many of the young men whom they were addressing, with those of Morocco, and asked them whether they would really prefer to be at the mercy of the Moroccan police.

The videos raised two questions, however, neither of which I could answer fully.

First, let us suppose that the great majority of the Muslims of France agreed with the two men who posted their video disquisitions. Is that majority more significant than the remaining minority? We are, after all, not talking of a peaceful election in which majority opinion triumphs by constitutional means (and even proper elections may result in the establishment of the most terrible dictatorships). Nor is the question a static one: for it involves weighing which tendency, integration or violent rejection, is in the ascendant. And in fact the two can grow simultaneously. Where terrorism is concerned, small numbers can have huge effects. (It is the very purpose of terrorism, come to that.)

The second question concerns the importance of elementary historical truth. The two French Muslims who made the videos were believers. They both said that the perpetrators of the crimes were not really Muslim at all because Islam is a religion of peace. There are, of course, Muslims who choose to interpret it peacefully, and we should be grateful for that; but Islam in fact has a very violent history, even according to its own sources, which may be expected to paint such violence in a favorable light, a fact so obvious as to hardly be worth pointing out. This is so whether or not other religions and doctrines have also had violent histories. Islam (in the words of Edward Gibbon, in the context of the spread of another religion) did not spread merely by the convincing evidence of the doctrine.

Not long ago I had a conversation with a charming, cultivated, and intelligent Egyptian who called himself a liberal believer. I quizzed him on two points that I thought were essential stumbling blocks to Islam’s accommodation with the modern world: the first was that of equality before the law, and the second was the freedom openly and publicly to apostatize and argue in opposition to the religion. On these questions he was completely sound (at least from my point of view): he accepted equality before the law and apostasy without legal penalty as being perfectly normal, acceptable, and indeed desirable. Moreover, he was honest enough to admit that his views were held by a small, but he hoped growing, minority of Muslims.

On the question of jihad, he was also sound, but for a historical reason that rather took me aback. Jihad, he said, was no longer justified because there was no legal prohibition anywhere against the preaching of the Muslim message. Jihad had been justified in the past because there had been such prohibition.

It seemed to me an extraordinary reading of history: that the expansion of Islam by force had been only to secure freedom of preaching. Was he claiming that freedom to preach a religious message was a universal right enforceable by violence (in which case, an attack on Saudi Arabia, say, or on Iran, to enforce it would be entirely justified)? Or was he saying that Islam was the only religion that had that right—in which case, we find ourselves in what would have to be called the intellectual antechamber of extremism.

As this was a social occasion, I did not push our discussion further. In any case, it was obvious that my interlocutor was a decent, peace-loving man who would never ordinarily be a terrorist or personally intolerant. So did it really matter if he held an opinion that was mistaken or even absurd? No doubt we all have a tendency to believe six impossible things before breakfast.

If people are peaceful and law-abiding in the belief, say, that Islam is a religion of peace (or indeed in any other belief), should one strive to correct it merely because one holds it to be not merely mistaken, but grossly mistaken? The answer does not seem straightforward.

On the one hand, we do not want so to antagonize such people by dogmatically insisting on what we see as the truth or rubbing their noses in their own errors, lest we drive them into the arms of extremists. On the other hand, not only do we have a basic attachment to historic truth as a value in itself, but there are obvious dangers in accepting historical myth.

So should we just say to the two young men who made the videos, “Thank you,” and leave it at that—or should we say, “Thank you, but . . . ”?              ”

Reader Discussion

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on December 04, 2015 at 09:04:12 am

Was he claiming that freedom to preach a religious message was a universal right enforceable by violence (in which case, an attack on Saudi Arabia, say, or on Iran, to enforce it would be entirely justified)?

Does this really follow in the context of modern post-Westphalian politics?

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Juan
on December 04, 2015 at 09:38:02 am

"On the question of jihad, he was also sound, but for a historical reason that rather took me aback. Jihad, he said, was no longer justified because there was no legal prohibition anywhere against the preaching of the Muslim message. Jihad had been justified in the past because there had been such prohibition."

Really? - sounds like self serving justification for the centuries long abuses of his co-religionists.
The only prohibitions against "preaching" seems to have been the one the Islamists enforced against the Jews (and to a lesser extent, Christians).
I would recommend the works of Bat Ye'Or to the readers of this blog. she does a rather fine job of putting this in historical perspective.

No, jihad is, was, and will continue to be the Sword of Islam. The only question is whether we will, like our early European and North African forebears allow the sword to once again cut huge swaths of destruction across the landscape.

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gabe
on December 04, 2015 at 11:42:40 am

"the expansion of Islam by force had been only to secure freedom of preaching"

In wording of the constitution for the USA, this topic is freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is a civic provision. "Civic" refers the ineluctable connections because persons occupy the same space-time rather than preferential or class connections generally known as "social" associations.

While the preamble (1787) is acceptable, the ratified constitution for the USA (1791) is flawed with clauses that protect religion, and undeniable institution, instead of thought, a civic duty. America, wherein the original free inhabitants were almost 100% Christian with 6% able to vote has evolved to 70% Christian with 100% of free citizens able to vote. Therefore, it is time to revise the religion clauses to protect thought and in the process, assert that religion is a personal pursuit and proselytizing should not be conducted as a civic function. In this regard, the USA needs reform.

Candid dialog would encourage Muslims and all the other inhabitants to assimilate--to separate their personal pursuits from their civic obligations--and invite each other into physics-based collaboration. (Physics demands that civic people not lie to themselves or each other.)

I worked with a PhD chemical engineer who was Muslim. We walked together at lunchtime for heart-health. He said, "Phil, sooner or later you will submit to Allah, and that's all I will share with you about god." (He may have voiced the capital G, but I did not hear it.)

I have discussed that statement with many Muslims without perceiving collaboration. However, I interpret it to mean that sooner or later I will die, and that meaning does not bother me. Also, I do not require a single Muslim to agree with me. I am still pleased with my interpretation. I am willing to occupy the same space-time with Muslims who collaborate to enforce laws derived from the preamble to the constitution for the USA and derived by physics-based ethics. Together we may amend any opinion-based laws that conflict with physics.

These are difficult concepts for the American tradition, as we have experienced in this forum. However, they are not difficult for the handfuls of people who advise me and the few who monitor the blog. There are now two groups: A Civic People of the United States and A Civic People of Baton Rouge.

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Phil Beaver
on December 06, 2015 at 13:35:42 pm

Frontal release signs are primitive reflexes hard-wired into the brains of infants which allow them to interact with the environment in limited ways while more sophisticated neurologic function develops. These reflexes are suppressed by the maturing brain, and ususally remain inapparent unless there is some damage or dysfunction of the frontal lobes, as occurs with dementia, injury, drugs, etc. Violence is a social and cultural frontal release sign. It is inherent in human interactions, unavoidably primitive, and inhibited by social and cultural maturity. In re-emerges in the setting of social and cultural dysfunction.

The Islamic world is currently producing lots and lots of refugees. They are fleeing social and cultural dysfunction that Islamic principles did not prevent (and in some cases even caused). Islam produces violence largely because its interactions with modernity produce social and cultural dysfunction, and this is not simply due to passages from medieval arabic literature; it is due to the incompatibility of seventh century thought with modernity. It is due to the disruption that occurs when adherents of a doctrine find not only that theirs is not a superior doctrine, but that many have no need for such doctrines at all.

The violence of radical Islam is oddly parasitic, relying as it does on western technology, western mores and western conceptions of decency. It is strangely ineffectual, much to the dismay of Israel's detractors. Sure, it produces momentary eruptions of grief, anxiety and outrage, all, to be noted are emotions, and emotions tend to be temporary. The modern world was not made by emotion; it did not result from blind faith. It is much more the result of human reason and human nature, neither of which excludes faith, and neither of which perish before it. Neither emotions, nor the violence that provokes them, will undue reason over the long term.
Islam is neither a religion of peace nor a religion of violence. It has not survived 1300 years because it is either one or the other, and like most human institutions adapts whichever course is most useful to it at a particular time. Obviously Islam contains some truths, or it would not have survived as it did, but this is not enough. Orthodox Islam is tribal in a world that is becoming less tribal, it is superstitious in a world that is becoming less superstitious, it is bigoted in a world that is less approving of bigotry, and it is chauvinistic in a world that will not recognize superiority on the mere confession of a faith. The history of Islam contains violence, as does human history in general. But as the primitive reflexes of infants are inhibited by a healthy forebrain, violence is inhibited by healthy social and cultural institutions. Islam will either promote these, or wither.

The current violence in Islam is a symptom of disease. It is a sign that medieval beliefs and medieval customs are mortal in the modern world. Wahabbi and Salafist Islam is under strain, because the modern world will not stop for ancient grievances, or ancient prejudices, or discredited beliefs on just how much people are willing to allow religious dogmas to control everyday life. The violence of radical Islam is a response to the anomalies that occur when certain people believe in the superiority of people who are not superior, in the endurance of things that do not endure, in the honor of people who are not honorable, and in the virtue of people who are not virtuous. Historical Islam taught organized violence because the world was violent. The modern Islamist is violent because civilzation is less violent, and yet more relentless. The modern world is destroying the old ways.
Modern violence in Islam is sustained by the supremacist fantasy. That fantasy will not survive because it is contrary to reason, anti-human, and obnoxious to civilized thought. It will be abandoned eventually; history is pretty ruthless in having its way.

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z9z99

Law & Liberty welcomes civil and lively discussion of its articles. Abusive comments will not be tolerated. We reserve the right to delete comments - or ban users - without notification or explanation.