Tag Archives: Islam

Via Media

Cathy Young wonders,

Which is the more serious problem today: Islamic extremism or anti-Islamic bigotry?

In her even-handedness she admits that both are serious. But guess who doesn't? That's right. The Left. Young argues that Liberals have spent ample energy railing against anti-Islamic bigotry, but have failed to also take seriously the threat of Islamic extremism: 

Yet nowhere in The Nation will one find recognition that extremism in Islam is a particularly serious problem. 

Young has beef with the Muslim-lovers at The Nation for failing to call out the bad stuff Muslims believe and do. Unfortunately, her evidence is rather weak: 

One author dismisses the issue by stating that "every group has its loonies." Another writes that while misogyny and religious repression in some Muslim countries should be denounced, it can be done without generalizing about Islam.

These authors are apparently not serious enough! We need to generalize…

Evidence against her assertion, on the other hand, is rather strong (see here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and…you get the point). 

Instead of letting basic internet research get in the way of her argument, Young paints a picture of left-wing political discourse as biased in favor of protecting the good name of Islam while failing to face up to the very real threat of what she considers a particularly dangerous religion. Young contends that, "for complex historical and cultural reasons, radicalism in Islam is far closer to the mainstream than in other major religions right now." What evidence does she provide? 

There is no country today where a Christian government executes people for blasphemy, apostasy or illicit sex.

(Except for here. Also, while the few places that do have death penalties are Islamic, many other non-Islamic countries have severe penalties for homosexuality)


Freedom House, an esteemed human rights organization, reports that many U.S. mosques carry extremist literature. Supposedly moderate Muslim groups such as the Islamic Circle of North America have hosted speakers with extreme ideas.

So, there must be some truth to all this anti-Islamic sentiment (except from you, Pam Geller!). Get serious. It is entirely disingenuous for Young to write that, "Concerns about bigotry are justified. But they should not deter legitimate debate about problems in modern Islam." Legitimate debate about problems in modern Islam are not necessarily separate from concerns about anti-muslim bigotry. Indeed, one of the main causes of extremism in Islam is the West's callous abuse of Islamic peoples over the last century. Further, there is no evidence that the Left's anti-bigotry writings have come anywhere near the level of debate-killing as shouts of "anti-Semitism" have done in discussions of extremism in Israel. Young provides no real evidence that the Left has confused legitimate criticism of Islam with bigotry. Rather, Young has created a false narrative in the guise of being even-handed in order to both attack the Left and keep open the door for continued abuse of Muslims around the world. 

War, Hypocrites, and Islam

Tu quoque arguments are posited on finding a contradiction or tension in the other side's position with regard to the matter at issue, and then holding on that basis that the other side is wrong or at least not qualified to speak to the issue.  I've argued elsewhere ("Tu quoque arguments and the significance of Hypocrisy" and "The truth about hypocrisy," with Robert Talisse) that sometimes these arguments are acceptable — e.g., if someone keeps contradicting himself, that's evidence he doesn't know what he's talking about.  Other times, the inconsistency of the other side is simply irrelevant to the issue (the classic example: even if your father smokes, he's right that you shouldn't smoke, and the fact that he is a smoker is at best irrelevant to the issue, and perhaps actually improves his case, as he, himself, is a testament to how addictive it is).

The tu quoque comes in a variety of forms.  The most significant differentiation to make is between the inconsistencies of speech and speech and speech and act.  The first is about a person who can't keep his story straight.  The second is about hypocrites.  Often the hypocrisy is actual — the person really says "do X" and they turn around and do not-X.  But sometimes, the inconsistency of the other side isn't something that's an actual inconsistency, just one that's likely.  One that would happen….  That is, sometimes the other side may not now be inconsistent, but if things were a little different, the other side would be singing a different tune.  So you say, "You say that now, under these circumstances, but were the shoe on the other foot…"  Colin called this phenomenon subjunctive tu quoque.

I've been on the lookout for it and for a few varieties, and I've found an interesting one in Sam Harris's The End of Faith (Norton, 2004).  Harris makes the case that we (in the West) shouldn't be too hard on ourselves for all the just war norms that we bend when we fight against Muslims.  His reasoning is perfectly subjunctive tu quoque.  First, in defending the way Israel deals with Palestinian aggression:

Ask yourself, what are the chances that the Palestinians would show the same restraint in killing Jews were a powerless minority living under their occupation and disposed to acts of suicidal terrorism? (2004, 135)

Harris uses the same form of reasoning when mitigating blame for disproportionate use of force in Iraq:

If the situation had been reversed, what are the chances that the Iraqi Revolutionary Guard, attempting to execute a regime change on the Potomac, would have taken the same degree of care to minimize civilian casualties? What are the chances that Iraqi forces would have been deterred by our use of human shields? (2004, 146)

The reasoning is appealing, but it doesn't support the conclusion that it's OK to be more cavalier in war with Muslims.  Jus in bello isn't affected by how the other side would be treating you, if they had the upper hand.  If it's unjust to wage war indiscriminately, it's unjust; and the fact that the other side has a clear inclination toward injustice may be a good reason to be at war with them, but it is not a reason to break the rules of war.

This said, I do want to retrieve what's appealing about the reasoning.  It does seem wrong for someone to insist on the rules of war when it's also clear that they, themselves, would not feel bound by them were they the dominant power.  It seems, first, dishonest.  And second, it seems like the use of moral argument is strictly strategic, instead of moral.  The most that would follow from the Harris arguments would be that there is a member of the discussion who is not an honest arbiter. 

One final thing is that these subjunctive moves carry a weird burden of proof, that it seems, is difficult to satisfy.  It's one thing to show that someone's a hypocrite — all you need to show is that he said "Do X" and then show that he did not-X.  But how do you show that the person, after having said "Do X" would nevertheless would, if circumstances were different, would do not X?


Another reason to fear an Obama presidency.  It's not that he's a secret Muslim (madrassa madrassa), it's that by Islamic law he actually is a Muslim:

As the son of the Muslim father, Senator Obama was born a Muslim under Muslim law as it is universally understood. It makes no difference that, as Senator Obama has written, his father said he renounced his religion. Likewise, under Muslim law based on the Koran his mother’s Christian background is irrelevant.

Of course, as most Americans understand it, Senator Obama is not a Muslim. He chose to become a Christian, and indeed has written convincingly to explain how he arrived at his choice and how important his Christian faith is to him.

"Convincingly" is an odd choice of term–is there some suggestion it's not true?  But don't get the idea that the author of these words thinks this is a problem for American Christians (although I can almost hear the dog whistle), it's going to be a problem for the world's Muslims:

With few exceptions, the jurists of all Sunni and Shiite schools prescribe execution for all adults who leave the faith not under duress; the recommended punishment is beheading at the hands of a cleric, although in recent years there have been both stonings and hangings. (Some may point to cases in which lesser punishments were ordered — as with some Egyptian intellectuals who have been punished for writings that were construed as apostasy — but those were really instances of supposed heresy, not explicitly declared apostasy as in Senator Obama’s case.)

The case for Obama's being a Muslim seems kind of tenuous (he was born to a Muslim father who had renounced (when?) his religion).  Had Obama ever been considered a Muslim by his father? I suppose under the notion that you can never stop being a Muslim, if that's true, then Obama will always be one.  All of this adds up to serious concerns for Obama's saftey:

Because no government is likely to allow the prosecution of a President Obama — not even those of Iran and Saudi Arabia, the only two countries where Islamic religious courts dominate over secular law — another provision of Muslim law is perhaps more relevant: it prohibits punishment for any Muslim who kills any apostate, and effectively prohibits interference with such a killing.

At the very least, that would complicate the security planning of state visits by President Obama to Muslim countries, because the very act of protecting him would be sinful for Islamic security guards. More broadly, most citizens of the Islamic world would be horrified by the fact of Senator Obama’s conversion to Christianity once it became widely known — as it would, no doubt, should he win the White House. This would compromise the ability of governments in Muslim nations to cooperate with the United States in the fight against terrorism, as well as American efforts to export democracy and human rights abroad.

I doubt our efforts to fight the war on terrorism and export democracy and human rights (he must be kidding about that, really) could get any more "complicated" than they are.