Friday, May 13, 2016

This is my response to an Atlantic article criticizing Bill Maher’s and Sam Harris’s positions on certain aspects of Islam. The article is at 

This article is plagued by a great deal of confusion, and in addition contains many half-truths (plus some out right baloney).

Taking Maher and Harris together, it is not so much that they want Americans to “denounce” Islam, as to have a critical discussion of it, hoping to eventually improve the lot of the muslim’s lives. In particular, they do want “liberals” in the west to denounce many of the cruel and rights-violating aspects of Sharia (such as stoning of adulteresses). And they also make a call for humans everywhere to stop believing and acting on words written in “sacred” texts long ago by people who through no fault of their own were ignorant. In his writings, Harris often makes the point that the West, where Christianity still has a significant foothold, the 18th century Enlightenment has today greatly reduced acceptance of the Old Testament’s brutal injunctions.

Then to mention the infamous Ben Affleck appearance on Maher’s show as if it were some rational discussion is absurd. Anyone who watches that show (and it can still be seen on youtube) will be astonished by the idiotic, illogical ranting of Affleck. He in fact make no serious contributions whatsoever, he just rants loudly and offensively as some spoiled child might do. My suspicion is that, were it not for the undue respect Americans accord physically attractive actors, the vast majority of people would be disgusted by his behavior on the show.

The article uncritically bandies about the terms “democracy” and “Islamophobia”. Americans today, on both the left and the right, are largely ignorant regarding the distinction between a “democracy” and a “republic”. In the US, we have the latter. A strict version of the former would lead to a “tyranny of the majority”. “Islamophobia” is a bogus term that should be dropped from any discussion of Islam, because implies that those who criticize Islam are somehow “afraid” of it, or are actually bigoted against muslims, whereas usually the criticism is motivated by a desire to actually improve the lives of muslims living under theocracies that still implement Sharia. As the article actually points out in one place, Schlesinger’s term “doughfaces” could be applied to many on the American left who are quick to ridicule and reject any thing that hints of a negative attitude toward Islam, much as they did in the 19th century on the subject of balck slavery in the American south.

To say “After all, other Muslim-majority countries have elected female heads of state”, as if this shows that women’s rights are not being violated in many Islamic countries is disingenuous. Surely the author knows that women politicians can be involved in laws that violate otehr women’s rights just as much as men politicians can. 

Another dubious thread in this essay is that, whereas one is justified in vilifying certain implementations of communism, one cannot condemn the concept itself. I take issue with that. Surely anyone who has the slightest insight into human nature can see that joint ownership of all property is a sure road to disaster. Mr. Orwell has presented convincing fictional visions of this in Animal Farm and in 1984. Of course, in a free market, free society, people who want to live in a communal way can always do so in small voluntary enclaves.


hitaakademi said...

thanks for it. Cool! geoteknik

Rufus Otis said...

First amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...". Of course, we should discuss and examine. I'm suspicious of every religion... and it's good to recall that Islam is not the first ism that has struck fear into our hearts.

Though I don't know that Mormons have performed anything close to terrorism -- unless dressing up in white shirts and ties, and riding bicycles around the neighborhood is terrorizing -- they have certainly be the target of vicious attacks, entirely based upon irrational fear of their religious practices and beliefs.

However, we have to trust that our system of laws will abide. Laws that are based upon Christian precepts such as "sanctity of marriage", or "right to life", should be rejected. They weaken the ability to argue against implementation of Sharia concepts. (Keep in mind, that stoning of the adulteress was not an Islamic innovation.)

I think the problem is that intellectual blanket objections to religious belief are too easily morphed into self-justified bigotry and mindless hatred in those not capable of the philosophical argument.

I'm suspicious of all religions and dogmas. I like this quote from Robert Ingersoll, one of the voices of 19th century agnosticism and liberalism:

"Whenever a man believes that he has the exact truth from God, there is in that man no spirit of compromise. He has not the modesty born of the imperfections of human nature; he has the arrogance of theological certainty and the tyranny born of ignorant assurance. Believeing himself to be the slave of God, he imitates his master and of all tyrants, the worst is a slave in power." --Robert Ingersoll

Tom said...

Thank you for your comment Rufus. I agree with much of what you say. I am sure you know that I agree with you about separation of church and state.

However, I must correct one misconception you seem to have about this post. Please note that nowhere in my post is there any mention at all of Islamic terrorism. So your paragraph stating there are "no Mormon terrorists" seems to suggest that you think I was referring, at least in part, to that. No, not at all, that is a separate issue. The point here was that Sharia is widely approved of by MAINSTREAM Muslims, but it mostly hurts the Muslims themselves, especially women and gays who live in the Sharia-practicing theocracies.

And your opening paragraph suggesting Islam "has struck fear into our hearts" might be true about the terrorist component of Islam, but that only involves a tiny fraction of Muslims, and in any case was not the point of my post. Take a more careful look, and you will see that to be the case. I am not criticizing these Islamic ideas out of fear--rather, mostly out of sympathy for the Muslims themselves. Presumably the widespread misconception that any criticism of the religion of Islam stems from fear of terrorism is the origin of the bogus term "Islamophobia".

It is really a bit discouraging that otherwise quite intelligent people cannot seem to make the distinction between (a) criticizing the IDEAS of Islam, hoping to improve the lot of Muslims everywhere through the power of ideas, as well as staving off any eventual Islam-secular conflicts here at home and in the West, and (b) trying to analyze and derive solutions to the threat of terrorism. These are two different issues!

Rufus Otis said...

I actually didn't say "no Mormon terrorist", but rather that Mormons did not commit acts of terror, but were subjected to terrorism, themselves. I simply contend that many who object to other's religious beliefs manifest this, not by intellectual critique, but rather, by violence. This has, as a matter of fact, resulted in the bitter fights between Protestants and Catholics in Ireland... even between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. It reminds me of the cartoon with the two philosophers in a barroom fist fight and the bystander explaining that one believes in philosophy A, the other in B (fill in A and B as desired.) My point was summed up by the paragraph that follows, that is "...intellectual blanket objections to religious belief are too easily morphed into self-justified bigotry and mindless hatred in those not capable of the philosophical argument."

I would hope that Islam continues a progression away from authoritarian intolerance. Christianity certainly has moved in a somewhat more rational direction, particularly since the persecution of heretics. I'm sure you realize that you and I both would have been drawn and quartered for our dangerous and heretical writing in earlier times.

Tom said...

Well, I do not think that objecting to many of the aspects of Sharia is simply "objecting to others religious beliefs". The objection is based on deeming such things as stoning of adulteresses, beating of disobedient wives, and killing gays and apostates as crimes that we in the West cannot and should not accept on the basis of "that is their religious belief".

I can summarize in three points, at the risk of some simplification, my ideas about Islam and Muslims:

1. I am doubtful that Islamic terrorism has anything at all to do with the religion of Islam. I think here I probably agree with Noam Chomsky, Robert Pape, and Karen Armstrong. My guess here (admittedly based on limited knowledge) is that this violence (e.g., ISIL) is really primarily political and/or tribal. Similar to the cause of the (more limited) violence in Northern Ireland of 1969-1998, where it appears that the IRA was not really Catholic/Christian at all, but rather Marxist and theistic. And perhaps the Sunni-Shiite violence is tribal too. Can one really go out and kill people who have different views on how the Caliphate is passed on from Mohammed?

2. The practice of Sharia violates the human rights of the Muslims themselves. Most conspicuously, those of Muslim women and Gays living in Islamic theocracies (or enclaves). It is wrong-headed to brand critics of Sharia as "bigots", "Islamophobes", and/or "racists", just as it would have been, in the mid 19th century, to brand critics of plantation slavery as "Negro-phobes". The critic in both cases is arguing on behalf of the shackled people, fervently wanting to help them regain their human rights. It is exasperating that the left fails to recognize that (not that I am calling you a leftist here, Rufus).

3. If Muslim immigrants come to US soil and attempt to dole out capital punishment under Sharia, under our laws that will constitute murder, and the Islamic perpetrators will be punished as such. "Multi-culturalism" be damned. It is wonderful for music and the arts generally, but not for protection of human rights.

To be sure, Christians did a lot of bad things based on their literal interpretations of the Bible, but that is mostly long in the past. People such as myself would like to see the Islamic world leapfrog into a more tolerant and enlightened view of their holy scriptures, and accord full human rights to everyone.

Tom said...

In the previous comment, I meant to write "....the IRA was not really Catholic/Christian at all, but rather Marxist and atheistic".