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October 11, 2007

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georges

Quick reaction to the debate:

Best speaker - Ibn Warraq. He values every second he's allowed to speak. There's no boilerplate with him.

The flaw in the motion is the word "Western". What's really meant is "liberal, secular". "Eastern" India, Japan, South Korea embrace liberal, democratic, secular values. "Western" societies like Franco's Spain, Greece under the Colonels, Hitler etc clearly did not. Most of Glass & Dalrymple's contributions dissolve once this distinction is made. They don't actually advocate illiberal, Theocratic values. They simply point to examples of Western badness (Glass) and Eastern goodness (Dalrymple). All good points, but irrelevant.

This is also why Islam - rather than Confucianism, Buddhism etc - dominates the discussion. In 2007 it's really only in Islam that significant figures argue loudly and directly that illiberal, Theocratic values are inherently superior to liberal, secular ones. I've heard several Islamist spokesmen in Britain say there is a fundamental problem with "man-made laws", as opposed to the allegedly "God-made laws" of Sharia, and that democracy is inherently ungodly. There are plenty of other anti-democrats in the world, of course, but none is as brazen.

Tariq Ramadan - I just don't know. At times I think he's trying that most difficult of manoeuvres - to turn Islamic societies around 180 degrees while pretending he's not changing anything. If that's what he's about, I have some sympathy. Sometimes reformers have to play that game. Gorbachev's Perestroika was like that. And maybe that is really what he's doing. I wonder...

David

Georges,

“Best speaker - Ibn Warraq.”

Agreed. And Douglas Murray is very good too.

“The flaw in the motion is the word ‘Western’.”

Well, the term “Western” is addressed during the debate. It’s also been addressed at length here in much the same way. To call the values in question “Western” (which I generally avoid, except in quotation marks) is perhaps misleading; but once suitably defined it’s just a shorthand of sorts. These ideals may have been codified and pursued most vigorously by Western societies, often with dramatic results, but they’re really a synthesis of what works well and are ultimately drawn from a number of cultures and precedents. Indeed, as Ibn Warraq says, this synthesis, curiosity and critical re-evaluation are among the values being debated.

David

Georges,

As for Ramadan’s “most difficult of manoeuvres”, I can only suggest you read his lectures and statements to Muslim-only audiences and see how they contradict his statements to non-Muslim audiences. (See below.)

http://davidthompson.typepad.com/davidthompson/2007/03/squinting_at_ex.html

If one gives Ramadan the benefit of the doubt, which I wouldn’t, he’s simply a careerist opportunist, stringing out a mannered rhetorical fudge that can never really be resolved, while basking in the limelight. And the basic question remains. What does Ramadan’s use of two distinct and contradictory narratives say about the compatibility of his two - apparently distinct and contradictory – audiences?

georges

Do you think it would have been a more interesting discussion if they had invited, say, a member of Hizb ut Tahir to argue that a Caliphate based on Koranic literalism would be superior to liberal democracy? Would that, perhaps, have thrown the issues into starker relief?

D.J. Grothe

Excellent debate. I know Ibn Warraq personally, so I am biased, but I find his arguments incredibly compelling. Islam (but not only Islam) is a violent religion from its origins, and is incompatible with Western values as a result.

David

Georges,

Well, having debated at length with a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir, I can’t say the experience was rewarding. Talking to fantasist bigots rarely is. Dissembling, evasion and barefaced dishonesty were a large part of the exchange, and other exchanges I’ve seen suggest this isn’t at all unusual. It would, I think, be unwise to assume that a member of Hizb would be willing to debate in good faith or alter his position. Though the attempt might reveal to an audience what one is dealing with.

Ophelia Benson

What D.J. said. I too know Ibn Warraq (slightly) so I too am biased, but all the same, he rocks.

georges

Now I'm thinking. Of course democracy is better than tyranny. But it does have to fit local circumstances. The bloody partition of India was prompted by the imminent arrival of democracy. Suddenly the Muslims of India faced the prospect of being a permanently out-votable minority, and they didn't fancy it much. Ireland, Cyprus and Yugoslavia all show how the arrival of greater democracy can prompt panic and violence.

Democracy only works where there is a realistic possibility that people will not vote tribally, and may change their vote from one election to the next. In heavily sectarian societies every election is merely a census - it tells you how many Protestants and Catholics, Greeks and Turks, or Muslims and Hindus there are, and nothing else. It's obvious that Iraq is that kind of a society.

David

Georges & Ophelia,

In his article, Douglas Murray says: “Today we assume that any assertion of superiority must lead to assertion by force. But it need not be so. Rights are spread as much by confident example as by force.” What concerns me is that we have conflicting ideas on the same turf here at home. For that conflict to be resolved, at least in terms of law and broad cultural propriety, ideas may have to be tested quite vigorously. That’s how progress usually happens. Ideas collide and bits may break off in the process. Some ideas – bad ones – will not survive. But, like many others, Ramadan lays out preconditions on how a hypothetical “dialogue” might proceed – what cannot be said, what will cause umbrage, what is “arrogant”, etc. This is often done to suggest some ignorance or hubris on the part of those who are willing to actually test ideas, if necessary to destruction, or at least widespread disrepute.

During the debate Douglas Murray asks how Ramadan’s dialogue might realistically begin, and no answer is forthcoming. Evidently, films, novels, articles, scholarly lectures and cartoons aren’t promising avenues, and statements of historical fact can be a wee bit dicey too. And the “interfaith dialogue” of which we hear so much is very often an empty and dishonest endeavour, lagged as it usually is with polite fictions and endless careful omissions. But serious dialogue (as opposed to Ramadan’s bavardage) would, practically by definition, have to include points like those outlined by Andrew Bostom in the article linked below:

http://tinyurl.com/3yq3vh

AntiCitizenOne

Democracy only works, with a demos (a group of people who share a culture).

That's why multi-culturalism is such a threat to the country.

Chris Wallis

Ophelia-
Indeed- Democracy and Tribalism don't mix. Anyone got a better idea for governing a tribal society?

Dr.Dawg

I am inclined to be slightly more charitable to Ramadan than others here. It's my trade union background. I think he's genuinely trying to mediate between two antagonistic parties.

I know how mediators work. Of course they talk differently to the employer than to the union. With us, he'd come in. looking grim, tell us we were being unrealistic here, and here, and here, and that the employer would never go for this, and that, and the other. And to the employer, I'm informed, he'd say that the union will never accept this, isn't too keen on that, and will go to the wall on the other. Eventually, we settled.

This is only an imperfect analogy. But I think that there may, as noted, be a more benign interpretation for his audience-specific discourses. Incidentally, someone expressed displeasure that Ramadan has stated he shook women's hands. That's hardly worth articulating to us, but it's a big deal for some of the Believers. And this is how mediation works--a little bit at a time.

Who appointed him mediator? Why, no one, which may account for some of the wrath against him. (What is the Islamic side saying? Do they like him, or do they doubt his bona fides?) But maybe--just maybe--he's trying to get a dialogue going. I hope one might be possible. Some here think it's impossible. But where does the latter lead?

EBD

"Some here think (debate is) impossible."

Names, please. Otherwise everyone's left wondering which of the previous eleven posts you are referring to.

I agree with Tariq Ramadan on one thing: asserting the superiority of our values to others abroad is counterproductive. If we're going to assert our values, we'd best assert them where we can: at home, where we have every right to -- you'd think -- and to assert them in the, uhh, transitive verb sense, as in, asserting authority jurisdictionally, as opposed to asserting a point in a negotiative debate with those from other jurisdictions who question our right to have jurisdictional authority in our area over, say, the right to draw editorial cartoons without being murdered.

On that very note, when Ramadan says, in that royal *we* western proponents of Islam tend to use when they're talking to us on our own soil, that 'we' are scared of something, that 'we' are losing something of our identity, he's frankly and openly chastising us for our ill-informed conceit that there even is a 'we'. Yet you just know that there's a 'we' inherent in the Muslim faith -- it's kinda the whole point -- and that Ramadan himself would certainly use the word 'we' when he's addressing a Muslim-only audience. So when asks us in a chastising tone "Who is this 'we' we are talking about?" it should be considered not a reasonable point, let alone an applause-worthy one, but rather a pointed object-lesson for any westerner who feels unprepared to cede western freedoms -- cartoons, did I mention cartoons? -- in order to assuage Islamists' feelings.

Debate is always possible, but certain demands -- a ninety-five percent wage rollback, say, with a twenty-hour workday, I'm sure you understand, Dawg -- are not debatable.

David

Dr Dawg,

“I am inclined to be slightly more charitable to Ramadan than others here… I think he's genuinely trying to mediate between two antagonistic parties.”

If that’s the case - and I very much doubt it – Ramadan’s approach and criticism is strangely loaded and unilateral. And it doesn’t seem to be achieving much in the way of changing minds on the side of the argument where minds need changing most.

Still, it’s your big generous heart that makes us love you so.

EBD,

“Debate is always possible, but certain demands… are not debatable.”

Indeed. I’m not exactly sure how some have arrived at the idea that, domestically, there’s anything to be bartered or negotiated. What do people imagine they might give up in order to coexist under British law (or Dutch law, or Swedish) and with a broadly shared culture? When did free enquiry, on which progress tends to depend, become a bargaining chip?

mr.shifter

Fabian Tassano has a very interesting take over at Mediocracy.
I think you all should take a peek...

http://inversions-and-deceptions.blogspot.com/2007/10/values-what-values.html

David

Mr Shifter,

Thanks for that. From the above:

“Self-criticism of a specific kind is popular in the West, but it is confined to questioning capitalism and bourgeois concepts. The real cultural hegemony (leftist anti-bourgeois ideology) is not criticised to any significant extent.”

Indeed. We’ll have to work on that.

Vitruvius

Here's an excellent criticism of leftist anti-bourgeois ideology, though it's a few hour's read:

Gees' First Case
http://www.munseys.com/diskfive/geesfirst.htm

Dr.Dawg

EBD:

"Debate is always possible, but certain demands -- a ninety-five percent wage rollback, say, with a twenty-hour workday, I'm sure you understand, Dawg -- are not debatable."

As I said, it was an imperfect analogy--I was getting at the notion of mediation. But to continue the analogy, I might suggest that the 100,000 or more Iraqi dead thanks to the invasion, not to mention large numbers of chuldren dead because of prior sanctions ("It was worth it" said Madeleine Albright) could be seen as unacceptable concessions. And then some commentators I have seen demand that the other side renounce violence.

Look, I don't know if Ramadan is practising taqqiya or not. But I'm not troubled that he says different things to different audiences. It all depends on his motives.

David:

"And it doesn’t seem to be achieving much in the way of changing minds on the side of the argument where minds need changing most."

That was my earlier question: what do Muslims think of Ramadan? Is he popular or suspect? Indeed, were it the latter, I'd be inclined to push my hypothesis a little more than I'm prepared to do at the moment.

"Still, it’s your big generous heart that makes us love you so."

Gosh. I'm touched. But perhaps in this discussion we should stick to heads.

"I’m not exactly sure how some have arrived at the idea that, domestically, there’s anything to be bartered or negotiated. What do people imagine they might give up in order to coexist under British law (or Dutch law, or Swedish) and with a broadly shared culture? When did free enquiry, on which progress tends to depend, become a bargaining chip?"

I don't see mediation in this case as an aid to "bargaining" in the union sense, but to mutual understanding. Rather than asserting the "superiority" of this or that, why not find a less offensive starting-point--better vocabulary? That doesn't entail giving up anything.

"The real cultural hegemony (leftist anti-bourgeois ideology) is not criticised to any significant extent."

The author should look up "hegemony." Oh yes, and "cultural."

David

Dr Dawg,

As far as I’m aware, Ramadan has fairly strong support among many European Muslims, particularly in France, and among several Islamist movements - for perhaps obvious reasons, given his ancestry. His admirers among some UK Muslim groups and the left-leaning media have been noted in earlier posts. And, again, the contradictions between Ramadan’s exchanges with, say, the Guardian and his lectures to Muslim audiences raises a fundamental problem. Given the contradictions, which Ramadan narrative should we assume is the ‘authentic’ one, assuming one exists?

“I don't see mediation in this case as an aid to ‘bargaining’ in the union sense, but to mutual understanding.”

Then why are we so often being asked to make concessions in one sphere or another, or being told to make concessions in no uncertain terms? Why, then, are we regularly having debates about free speech, or multiculturalism, or the open testing of ideas? Why have we heard veiled threats from the MCB’s past and present Secretaries General? For example, Mr Bari’s claim that “negative attitudes” towards Muslims would result in Britain being faced with “two million Muslim terrorists — 700,000 of them in London.” It seems to me we’re very much being expected to trade *something* for a quiet life. And some of us already have a fairly workable understanding of orthodox Islamic belief and its political connotations. Regarding bargaining, mutual understanding and “better vocabulary”, I refer you to Andrew Bostom’s article linked above. His wording is hardly inflammatory and is suitably direct.

georges

As I trust everyone here appreciates, there's a distinction to be made between Islam and Muslims. If we're debating Islam, David is absolutely right to raise the question of the violent injunctions in the Koran, and Muhammad's own reported violent actions. But there are plenty of individual Muslims who are model UK citizens. I have Iranian and Turkish friends for whom being Muslim simply means not drinking alcohol (though ecstasy and other narcotics unknown in the 7th century are fine!). When I see Sarfraz Manzoor on the telly, he seems about as integrated as anyone could ask him to be. He thinks deeply about the issues, and recently made an excellent radio programme arguing against Muslim faith schools.

Unfortunately such people aren't the whole story. "Undercover Mosque", and other sources highlighted at this blog, reveal a more worrying side to the attitudes of some Muslims in the UK. My question is, what do we do about it? Do we simply write critical anonymous comments at Comment Is Free for each of their two or three daily Islamist blogs? Do we simply hope that in the long run the seductions of western materialism will trump Islamic piety? This, as I read it, is Michel Houellebecq's view in his novel, "Platform". He thinks decadence is ultimately more powerful than asceticism. I like a bit of decadence myself, but I wouldn't bet the farm on it.

I wonder if the answer might be more immigration, but from more diversified sources - genuine "Benetton advert" multi-culturalism as the antidote to Western/Muslim bi-culturalism. It's harder to ride an Islamic supremacist wave if you're competing with east European and Mexican Catholics, Burmese Buddhists and Zimbabwean Christians to be the most self-important minority. Just a thought...

Dr.Dawg

"My question is, what do we do about it?"

Excellent question--goes right to the heart of the matter. I think dialogue is important, and I don't think such dialogue requires concessions, other than respect for differences. But I also believe that disaffected young people latch on to confrontational theories of everything all the time. They grab the nearest one at hand, and feed their magnificent marginality. Kid stuff, unless you get your hands on explosives--or, on this side of the water, serious automatic weapons. Or unless some guru shows up to turn them into robots. It's not always about Islam, in other words, but Islam does admittedly offer marvellous excuses for all sorts of mayhem. Maybe doing something about the disaffection would be a longer-term solution. If such a solution exists, though, it will not be arrived at by simply being reactive. (I might reference Martin Amis here, despite his admirers claiming he was deliberately misunderstood.)

On a more benign note (and I may have mentioned this before) I see various niqabi walking around swathed head to toe in black cloth during an Ottawa summer, and say to myself, "Their kids won't go for that." And I've seen young women with the khumar--and thigh-high boots. Give this all time. There is no fixed "culture." Perhaps I'm being Panglossian, given the bombing incidents in London, but I continue to believe that there is nothing at the core of Islam--or any other religion--that absolutely requires violence and intolerance. There is plenty of violence in the Koran, of course, but also in the Bible. It's a question of which passages are taken seriously and which are ignored. That's a cultural decision. And a social one.

So--what is to be done? Talk. Get to the kids before the mad mullahs do. Build bridges. And by all means, enforce anti-hate laws.

EBD

George, re your 18:52 comment, there's absolutely no doubt that a lot of Muslims privately disagree with their more violent and crusading bretheren. The question is, are moderate Muslims in a position to freely and safely oppose the sort of Muslims spokesmen exposed in the "Undercover Mosque" documentary? The evidence suggests that they are not, and that they are less free to do so, and that it would not be safe.

Dr. Dawg: "I think dialogue is important, and I don't think such dialogue requires concessions."

Well no, no concessions are required when you're already making the same point that the violent Islamists were making about the Danish cartoons -- that the cartoonists crossed the line, and shouldn'a done it.

You made that point repeatedly in comments, Dawg, I'm not sure if it was here or elsewhere (SDA?); I just remember how you stuck to that point.

"And by all means, enforce anti-hate laws."

When you say "by all means" -- is that phrase declarative, or an elision? If it's declarative, what enforcement mechanisms and penalties do you propose for those who, say, publicly scream for the murder of the head of another religion (the Pope)? Please be specific.

David

EBD & Dr Dawg,

“I think dialogue is important, and I don't think such dialogue requires concessions, other than respect for differences.”

But “respect for differences” is the tricky part, as Ramadan’s manoeuvres demonstrate. I’m all in favour of civil debate, as I hope is clear, but realistic debate cannot be had without addressing the fundamental issues. As I said in the original post:

“I’ve lost count of how many people seem to imagine that it’s somehow possible to challenge jihadist ideology and related horrors without mentioning Muhammad’s rather central role in the origination, sanctioning and perpetuation of those horrors, and without offending an apparently endless menu of other ‘sensitivities’. But if one cannot – dare not – draw attention to the link between sacralised atrocity and the exhortations of Islam’s founder, then what kind of dialogue is likely to be had?”

Past experience suggests that mentioning such things, however politely, is likely to meet with protestation, indignation and / or dishonesty. Again, I question what kind of “dialogue” Ramadan has in mind. It is, I think, significant that Ramadan takes it upon himself to dictate the terms on which this “dialogue” is supposed to take place.

Dr.Dawg

EBD:

I don't advocate using "all means" if that's what you're getting at. I support hate-crime and hate-speech legislation (and you, if I recall correctly, do not). So the same law that punishes the homophobe should be used against Islamist purveyors of hatred. I thought I was being clear, but perhaps this further clarification was necessary.

As to your earlier point, I think publishing the cartoons was a deliberate and unnecessary provocation. It was meant to be offensive, and offence was taken. So European Muslims demonstrated: again if I recall correctly, they did so peacefully. What happened in the ME is another story, but that place is a powder keg as you know.

If it's too much of a concession to avoid deliberately offending people's religious sensibilities, then I'm not certain what acceptable social discourse is becoming, but plainly not civil.

Dr.Dawg

David:

Your point is a good one. But perhaps the earlier Suras might be emphasized instead:

In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful
Say, "O you disbelievers.
"I do not worship what you worship.
"Nor do you worship what I worship.
"Nor will I ever worship what you worship.
"Nor will you ever worship what I worship.
"To you is your religion, and to me is my religion."
(Sura 109)

EBD

Your recollection is mostly correct, Dawg. I am opposed to laws that punish people for their opinions, but I am in favour of laws against death threats, menacing behaviour, etc. You can call those behaviours hate crimes, I just call them crimes.

But yes, I'm very much opposed to criminalizing speech. The west's tradition of free speech and free expression of ideas is our engine-room, and I don't think we should throw a spanner in the works in the supposed interests of being civil to those who oppose criticism and free speech.

Hate-speech laws have way more of a downside than an upside. Some might consider "Piss Christ" hate speech, others might think the Danish cartoons are hate speech. Who decides? If we prosecute people because someone else self-reports emotional injury or outrage, we are in effect allowing the most emotionally incontinent among us to determine the limits of free speech. The problems with that Faustian bargain are obvious.

I'm not going to derail this thread by revisiting the cartoon debate, but in response to your suggestion that the cartoonists should not have commented on certain matters *in the interests of civility*, I would just say, if I draw an editorial cartoon, and then someone threatens to kill me for it, who is being the most uncivil, realistically?

I believe different cultures, including European ones, are entitled to their own beliefs. That's why I think the west should put a stop to the conceit that a foreign audience wishes to hear us gas on about the superiority of our values, and should start focusing on defending the proverbial home front.

Douglas Murray's question "If we do not assert our values, who will?" is apt, and stirring, in the context of protecting enlightenment values in our own backyard, but when he marches on, as if it's the same point, with "...who will assert them across the Muslim world?" he's being a bit uncivil in the same way that Muslims who attempt to Muzzle free speech in the west are being uncivil.

David

Dr Dawg,

“Perhaps the earlier Suras might be emphasized instead.”

Unfortunately, jurists generally resolve the contradictions of the Qur’an by means of abrogation, as outlined in the Qur’an itself and in Sahih Muslim, whereby earlier, Meccan, verses are rescinded by later, Medinan, ones. From the viewpoint of tolerance and pluralism - and acceptance of criticism - this isn’t exactly good news. Verses like those you quote are often regarded as abrogated by exhortations from Muhammad’s more, um, assertive period as a political and military leader.

There is, of course, much dispute in this area, but largely concerning abrogation between the Qur’an and various Hadith. Simply citing ‘revelations’ from a time when Muhammad was in a position of political and military weakness - and thus *obliged* to compromise - doesn’t achieve very much. Jihadists, Islamists and many mainstream scholars will simply argue that the less belligerent verses are invalidated by ‘revelations’ from the period when Muhammad and Islam were strong and, as they see it, uncompromised and “pure”.

Any meaningful dialogue would have to address these issues, along with those mentioned earlier by Andrew Bostom. And it’s extremely difficult even to begin a discussion that alludes to Muhammad’s less flattering proclamations and behaviour, let alone his narcissism, sadism and supremacist fantasies, all of which have bearing on modern jihad. How, exactly, does one raise these things with those who threaten anyone who impugns the “exemplary” life of Muhammad – i.e. those who need to hear it most? Even among many self-defined ‘moderate’ believers, statements of the obvious can provoke extraordinary irrationalism and dishonesty, possibly due to the dissonance between what is being claimed and what is actually the case.

The post linked below, and the exchange of comments following it, is a fairly typical example of the kind of non-dialogue I’m talking about:

http://davidthompson.typepad.com/davidthompson/2007/06/empty_gestures.html

There’s a good outline of abrogation here:

http://www.meforum.org/article/1754

mr.shifter

EBD
im with you on all counts,
but..
"he's being a bit uncivil in the same way that Muslims who attempt to Muzzle free speech in the west are being uncivil."

is there an equivalence here?
perhaps it is a morally sound position to "interfere" with oppressive cultures, and be a bit uncivil on behalf of those oppressed.
do the oppressors have a moral right to continue as they please without intervention?

Dr.Dawg

EBD:

"I think the west should put a stop to the conceit that a foreign audience wishes to hear us gas on about the superiority of our values." Amen. Bingo.

David:

Many thanks for that link. It is indeed an interesting discussion of abrogation, although I saw nothing in it that claimed Sura 109 was abrogated in its totality. What a neat little dodge it is, though, having one's perfect cake and eating it too. I would only say that the author, while fair-mindedly pointing out the controversies that rage over the nature and scope of abrogation, concludes rather tendentiously, I feel. I think it is relevant to point out the provenance of this article, as well.

I think it's fair to be direct in dialogue, and I hope I didn't give the opposite impression. I think tact and civility are also essential components. But I see nothing wrong (for example) in asking, flat-out, whether the Islam of one's interlocutor would ideally permit the practice of other religions and secular state administration.

David

Dr Dawg,

“What a neat little dodge it is, though, having one’s perfect cake and eating it too.”

It’s important to understand that abrogation isn’t some fringe aberration; it’s part of normative Islamic theology. While there’s debate about which texts abrogate others, the progress from ‘compromised and tolerant (out of necessity)’ to ‘dominant, intolerant and pure’ is a widely held idea and is based on Muhammad’s own rise to power, his tactical compromises and the ‘revelatory’ claims made to justify each stage of his ambitions. The pattern of Muhammad’s political life subsequently influenced the pattern of historical Islamic conquest and vast swathes of Islamic jurisprudence. Endless, tedious, tracts are devoted to this issue and its legal codification. For those who hold this view, tolerance and equality with non-Muslims is a temporary inconvenience, not an ideal.

In light of this supremacist urge, it’s worth revisiting Tariq Ramadan’s repeated shouting fits about the supposed “arrogance” of Warraq and Murray and his own alleged “humility”. A humility he expressed, loudly, by rewriting history, sidestepping direct questions and then presuming to dictate the terms of the “dialogue” to which he endlessly alludes but never quite begins. A sceptical soul might wonder if Ramadan was simply too accustomed to flattery and struggling to contain his real feelings. How *dare* Ibn Warraq, an apostate, make The Great Ramadan, a Muslim, look inept, temperamental and dishonest? Oh, the indignity.

EBD

Mr. shifter, I was a bit ineloquent. I didn't mean to suggest that it's not morally sound to 'interfere' in cases of brutal oppression -- I think is IS morally sound -- I just don't think such actions should be undertaken with any concomitant assertion that "our culture is better than yours".

I strongly share Murray's take on western values, I just feel his case was weakened, slightly, or maybe more like sidetracked, when he asked "If we do not assert our values...who *will* assert them across the Muslim world?"

It seems to me that the Spectator debate and the larger debate surrounding it is driven by a rumbling realization that western values are being encroached-upon at home. This concern, unfortunately, remains merely a subtext to the discussion, because that within the current context of western values it would be considered rude/racist/fascist to talk openly about that issue, so instead, we talk of our superiority to other cultures and about spreading our values around the world.

It's a Maginot line defense. The primary weapon that the west's opponents -- certain Guardian writers, say -- use to justify taking the west down at the ankles is the claim of western arrogance and interference abroad. So to the extent that pro-enlightenment forces push for cultural expansionism they ensure that any argument in favour of the -- eminently reasonable -- right to defend enlightenment culture on our own soil will be thrown face-first into the wheelhouse of unreasonable opponents. It lets guys like Dalyrymple -- whose voice gives me the unshakable impression that he secretly wishes to be bound uncomfortable head-to-foot and strapped upside-down to a camel, en route to places unknown -- to unleash a mindless litany of homilies about the Aztecs, the Incas, etc etc etc, as an apparently reasonable justification for taking domestic action against western values, and for supporting foreign soldiers-for-the-cause who wish to do the same.

A motion asserting, straight-up, that we have a right to our own values at home would be more more apt, but alas, it's unmentionable. So instead, it's off to conquer the world, using our words. Oops.

georges

David

Is the violence of Muhammad so exceptional? Wasn't Mohammed taking Moses as a role model? I don't know if you know Numbers 31 - there's a reference here (http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/num/31.html). Moses instructs his followers to massacre all of the Midianites, except for the female virgins, who they can rape. According to the bible his instructions were carried out and God was well pleased. Wonderful chap, God, eh?

Yet today I have absolutely no fear that any British Jews are going to imitate Moses, thank goodness. Somehow or other they've gotten over it.

I'd like to add one thought to Dr Dawg. In the 80s it felt as if every second black person I met in London was a Rastafarian. Loads of people chose to present themselves like that. Now the look has largely faded away. I suspect that a lot of younger black men in the 80s were attracted to the rasta thing not because they seriously believed in the wilder notions of Rastafarianism, but becaue it was a way of asserting themselves against the dominant culture. Once they'd made their point they moved on. Maybe burqas are the modern version of the same phenomenon?

David

Georges,

“Is the violence of Muhammad so exceptional?”

In terms of its historical, political and contemporary influence, yes, definitely. Moses doesn’t have anything like the same kind of ideological and political significance for modern believers. To the best of my knowledge, Moses isn’t regarded as having been granted a divine mandate for his followers to wage war against *all* unbelievers on an indefinite *open-ended* basis - say, until all of humanity shares his beliefs or is suitably subjugated. Among millions of Muslims, Muhammad remains an ideal figure and role model to be emulated today. Given Muhammad’s rather alarming shortcomings, this is a bit of a problem.

Dr.Dawg

"To the best of my knowledge, Moses isn’t regarded as having been granted a divine mandate for his followers to wage war against *all* unbelievers on an indefinite *open-ended* basis - say, until all of humanity shares his beliefs or is suitably subjugated."

And yet one can't help wondering what Moses might have done had he had access to modern communications, technology--and explosives. The Midianites, and let's not forget the first recorded ethnic cleansing, that of the Canaanites who were benighted enough to be living in the Promised Land, wouldn't have been a patch on what might have happened to all non-Chosen People within reach.

The fact is, of course, that no Jew (other than the Kachniks and Judea/Samaria irredentists) thinks that way any more, as georges pointed out. Too many Muslims are still sounding like Christians from the Middle Ages, though, or from the more backward parts of the Red States. That's a concern, of course, and no one here is minimizing it. But there are also grounds for optimism in the long run.

georges

I think the "optimism in the long run" requires us to argue, politely but firmly, against Islamist ideas. Many people publicly hold opinions they doubt in private - British politics is filled with examples, as David has highlighted with the left in the 1970s. They're waiting for that moment when they can say, phew, we don't have to go along with that any more. Ambitious Muslims, who want to make a go of it in British society, will be particularly keen to move on. We can help, but not in the way the Guardian thinks.

Dr.Dawg

"I think the "optimism in the long run" requires us to argue, politely but firmly, against Islamist ideas."

I agree. But we can't do that in a socio-political vacuum. We must also argue against those things that breed Islamist ideas--wars of intervention with horrendous casualties well into the six-figure range, mass confiscation of land in the ME, uncritical defence of Israel, and so on. These are real grievances, on a scale that we in the West cannot (or will not) imagine, and they breed despair and hatred and the ideology to match.

georges

Dr Dawg

I don't agree with you there. I think the Iraq war is a disaster, and I think Israel is a bully in the Middle East.

BUT. The people who flew planes into the Twin Towers were spoilt-rotten Saudi playboys and well-off middle-class Egyptians. Saudi Arabia and Egypt are the two Middle Eastern countries which have benefitted most from American largesse. Egypt is, after Israel, the largest recipient of US aid. These people were not driven by their own experience of suffering - that much is certain.

The 7/7 bombers in the UK were also middle class, and also NOT from the Middle East. Their origins were mostly Pakistani, plus a Carribbean convert. I fail to see how ny of them were driven by any personal feeling of injustice.

One of the worst injustices of the 20th century was the (Muslim) Indonesian annexation of (Christian) East Timor. They are widely believed to have murdered around a third of the population. I mention this because the people behind the Bali bombing specifically mention East Timor as a "real grievance" motivating their terror attack. They say that once a country has been conquered for Islam it can never be allowed to fall back out of Muslim control. Basically, they object to the ending of the massacres, and want them to continue.

Would you like the Indonesian government to resume the massacres, as a way of placating the "real grievances" of the Bali bombers?

David

Dr Dawg,

“We must also argue against those things that breed Islamist ideas--wars of intervention with horrendous casualties well into the six-figure range, mass confiscation of land in the ME, uncritical defence of Israel, and so on.”

That’s a rather tendentious comment, given how the spread of Islamist ideas, even in their modern incarnation, *predate* almost all of their supposed external or “Western” causes, including the existence of Israel and US foreign policy. One might certainly argue that events in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq have been used, dishonestly, by Islamists as propaganda to spread their influence, and one might view events in Iraq with circumspection for any number of reasons; but that doesn’t in itself constitute a reason for not intervening on humanitarian grounds or not defending one’s geopolitical interests.

Islamist ideology is not, as some imply, simply reactive; it has a lineage, a psychology and a momentum of its own. Hence the rise of Islamist groups and jihadist atrocities in a dozen or so countries with no obvious connection to Israel, the US, Afghanistan or Iraq. I don’t doubt the actions of the West – whether appalling bungles, or acts of rescue, or necessary self-defence – will be reacted against with more outrages, very often against other Muslims, and with endless threats thereof. But one has to bear in mind that’s what Islamist movements do.

“These are real grievances, on a scale that we in the West cannot (or will not) imagine, and they breed despair and hatred and the ideology to match.”

It seems to me plenty of people “imagine” much as you do. Indeed, some imagine more.

Dr.Dawg

georges:

I was referring to the etiology of Islamism as an ideology. The fact that alienated Saudis or Britons latch onto the ideology doesn't say anything about the origins of that ideology. And, speaking as someone favoured enough to have been raised in comfortable circumstances, I can only note that one doesn't have to have injustice visited upon oneself to get concerned or even angry about it.

David:

Islamist ideas have, as you state, had their currency before Iraq and so on. But this currency was local. We didn't have jihadists attacking the London transport system or flying planes into tall buildings. There has been an escalation, and I suggest that this escalation has indeed been reactive to a large extent.

"It seems to me plenty of people “imagine” much as you do. Indeed, some imagine more."

I'm not certain what you're getting at. Suppose, though, that the geopolitical situation were reversed. The Iraqis invade the US after managing somehow to inflict grievous sanctions upon that country for a decade. The casualty rate is simply enormous--half a million children dead due to sanctions, and deaths during and following the invasion of hundreds of thousands more. The pretext was a US attack on some buildings in Baghdad killing three thousand people--in comparison, a flesh wound.

Or suppose Israel captured two Hezbollah soldiers in a border skirmish and was attacked by Lebanese forces, with hundreds of Israeli civilians killed in the process, and Israel's infrastructure crippled?

I submit that it doesn't take much imagination to see why Americans would be driven to murderous rage in such circumstances. Or Israelis. But somehow those Others--Muslims--are simply supposed to suck it up and stay sane. They won't. People go crazy under far less stress and provocation.

That doesn't excuse atrocities, and nothing I have said should be taken that way. I am simply arguing that we need to look at the whole picture.

David

Dr Dawg,

The scenarios you suggest are, again, somewhat loaded in terms of implied agency and culpability. But I’m not about to become embroiled in another debate about Iraq. The subject has been covered in detail and at tremendous length elsewhere. My point is simply that one cannot limit one’s actions to whatever is hoped will not “provoke” Islamist ideologues. By definition, Islamists can be “provoked” by pretty much anything that suits. That’s the default dynamic of a supremacist, Manichaean, non-reciprocal belief system devoid of the Golden Rule. That’s the nature of Islamism.

Dr.Dawg

"My point is simply that one cannot limit one’s actions to whatever is hoped will not “provoke” Islamist ideologues."

And on that, we agree. I will go on eating pork, drinking like a fish, and reading Winnie the Pooh when conversations of this kind become too challenging for me.

(I'd watch "Manichaean" though. Arguably sherk, if I'm not mistaken.)

David

Incidentally, does anyone else here think the threads are often much more interesting than the posts that start them? I mention this because when I first planned the site I mulled whether or not to enable comments at all. Some people warned me that enabling comments would invite trolls, stalkers and assorted lunatics*. In fact, the exchanges are for the most part remarkably civil and high-minded, and often prompt further posts.

* I know. Don’t say it.

Dr.Dawg

You set the tone, David. That's the secret.

David

Well, I do try to keep the fart jokes tucked away in the ephemera section.

Vitruvius

I think it's something you put in the cake. At first I thought it was laudanum, but the lab tests came back negative.

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