|Subject: Are we At War with Islam? Check Your Premises!|
Some conservatives, Objectivists, and 'right-wing' libertarians in the years since 9-11 have taken the position that we should use force against muslim institutions and civilians such as clerics and mosques and madrassas.
The implementations they have advocated vary from one instance: prevent a mosque from being built near ground zero to many instances: bomb madrassas, hunt down and kill clerics overseas (or nuke a major enemy city, killing the ringleaders along with millions of civilians).
Their argument would not be possible without a single crucial proposition, whether explicitly stated or implied: "We are at war with Islam."
This is a misleading statement. There are two words in this proposition which should be examined. And they are not "at" and "with".
First, "Islam". If one has read a book on the Middle East and Islam, one quickly learns that there is a difference between the religion and a tiny minority of its most extreme adherents, the Islamists or Islamofascists. The Islamofascists want to impose theocracy, to declare jihad and fatwas, to murder their opponents both in their home countries and in the West. And with the terrorists among them and some of the Wahhabi sect in particular, we have clearly seen - even before 9-11 - that they mean it.
Islamofascism or "Islamism" is strongest in the Middle East from the Arab world through Iran and into Afghanistan and Pakistan. And in a number of expatriate communities. But Islamofasism is not identical to Islam, nor do more than a tiny minority of muslims subscribe to it. Never in history have one billion people been of a single mind about anything.
Nor have they been willing to follow a single intellectual path, even when clothed in the respected garb of the church.
Even in Iran, the overwhelming majority of its population hates and resents theocracy, especially now that they live under one and have direct experience of what it does to their lives. After 9-11, the country in which there was the greatest number of citizens who expressed sympathy for the United States, who left massive flowers on the steps of the U.S. Embassy was: Iran.
And Al Qaeda and Bin Laden and their allies have been steadily losing support as they have murdered innocent people in their own countries, as thugs and murderers have terrorized those who violate religious strictures and as it has become clear what 'sharia' means. MOreover, elsewhere in the Middle East (with the possible exceptions of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan) from Morocco in the West to Turkey in the East plus Iraq and Indonesia - the largest muslim country in the world, the forces of secularism and modernization are very much at war with, and disgusted by, the bands of would-be religious totalitarians.
So those who seek to use force against us, to use terror or weapons of mass destruction are not represented by the word 'Islam', but by Islamic terrorists, by Al Qaeda and like groups, by Islamic fascists.
So the doctrine 'we are at war with Islam' is false if you mean a war involving physical attacks.
Second, this brings us to the concept of "war". To say that we are at war with Islam and thus, as in any war, we must use force against their supporting institutions is to equivocate on two meanings of the word "war". Equivocation consists in employing the same word in two or more senses and either implicitly or explicitly switching between them in some unacknowledged way within one argument. Say to someone with a Christian or anti-Islamic or secular view that we are "at war" with Islam and they will often nod their heads, yes, it's an implacable religion which wants its doctrines and theology to expand and conquer. But that is *a war of ideas* as it is against socialism or other ideas advocating expanding the power of governments at the expense of individual rights.
The use of the word war is to equivocate, to blur and eradicate the vital philosophical distinction between two very different kinds: between a war of ideas, persuasion, and role models on the one hand --- and a war of bullets and bombs and coercion on the other.
A war of ideas is not (except for the extreme group mentioned in the previous paragraph) a war in which the enemy religion and its billions of adherents is trying to use force, to develop and employ weapons of mass destruction - as opposed to ideas against the unbelievers. Persuasion is its dominant mode of advance. Whether or not there are suras and passages in the Koran which advocate such force, here is the key principle: The billions of muslims are not enlisted and are not participating in any way in jihad. They are not (except for a handful) trying to fund or hide those who have declared jihad. Most of their jihads and conflicts and strongest resentments are local and internal: Sunnis and Shiites. Pashtuns against other groups. The oppressiveness of their own government. Groups such as the powerful and corrupt vs. the poor or downtrodden.
And it is surprising and dismaying to observe some of those who claim to be against the initiation of force and who believe it is the single greatest political evil and who believe that, only in the absence of force can new ideas, the best ideas advance, and can man advance out of barbarism and into civilization. It is surprising and dismaying to see such people arguing that coercion and force, not persuasion and ideas and reasons and positive values and the hope for the future, should be used against a religion or its advocates and leadership as such.
To kill someone or blow up their church convinces no one and permanently intimidates no observer or neighbor or relative.
Rather the opposite.
Added to this there is a lesson from history which further undercuts the idea that one billion muslims today are an implacably hostile military enemy (or filled to the rooftops with nascent terrorists itching to be unleashed).
There are indeed statements in the Koran which advocate holy war and advocate the fusion of church and state. And in many ways the religion as currently practiced is more hostile to civil society, and peace, and rights than is the Christian or Buddhist or Confucian world. But those muslim scriptures existed and were studied and learned across the Islamic world during the Middle Ages. And yet, the muslim world was the peaceful world, the civilized world, the world which had great respect for the Greeks and reason and science and which revered, respected, and preserved the works of Aristotle and of science and enlightenment for those very reasons. If the muslim religion as such were the implacable problem, what about it made it more so than the Christian world of the time: The Christian world was the world of barbarism and force and an intellectual, moral, economic, epistemological dark ages. The Islamic world was the world of order, rule of law, trade, science, reason.
So, it's possible to accept the religion of Islam and not be trying to exterminate the West or progress or reason or civilization. It's possible to be a practicing muslim and not be an enemy of modernity. Just like as it is possible for those who adhere to -- in full or in part, in terms of deep understanding and committment or in terms of 'lip service' -- any other religion.