The Ideology of Violence

The incidence of ideologically motivated violence is growing. From campus talks to political rallies, the conveyors of certain viewpoints are being met with physical force. Why? Because of the tacit approval by many of our intellectual leaders. People are being taught that such a response is not only morally acceptable, but morally desirable. That is, they are being taught that the distinction between thought and action needs to be denied.

Consider the pseudo-concept of “microagression.” College students are told that statements which offend members of various groups are equivalent to acts of violence. In this category, as cited by the University of California, are such statements as: “America is the land of opportunity“; “I believe the most qualified person should get the job”; and “Affirmative action is racist.”

Or consider the assertion that “misgendering a transgendered person”—according to a speaker at the University of Maryland—is “an act of violence.” In fact, you can be in violation of New York City law for “repeatedly calling a transgender woman ‘him’ or ‘Mr.’ after she has made clear which pronouns and titles [including ‘ze’ and ‘hir’] she uses.”

Or consider this claim by author Toni Morrison, in accepting the Nobel Prize in literature: “Oppressive speech does more than represent violence. It is violence.”

And if there is no difference between words and action—if communicating certain “wrong” ideas is subject to punishment—there is a corollary: the actual use of force can be exonerated if done in the name of the “right” ideas. So when Berkeley students last February rioted to stop a scheduled speaker from addressing his audience, one professor there proclaimed approvingly: “They attacked property but they attacked it very sparingly, destroying just enough University property to obtain the cancellation order.”

After the Charlottesville episode in August, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights properly condemned the white supremacists for their violence, but refused to also condemn the violence by Antifa (which presumably was using force for the “right” reasons).

When people are exposed to ideas they find objectionable, they are supposedly being “silenced” and their “freedom” curtailed. As one NYU professor maintained, riots that prevent certain views from being heard “should be understood as an attempt to ensure the conditions of free speech for a greater group of people, rather than censorship.”

What these examples illustrate is that if an argument is as bad as a fist, then a fist can be as good as an argument.

This lethal outlook is rooted in a certain philosophy. The actual distinction between thought and action, with respect to the use of force, arises from man’s nature as a rational being. There is a world out there, which we need to understand. The human, conceptual mind is the tool for doing so. Unlike automatic activities of the body, such as blood circulation or digestion, thinking must be performed volitionally. You judge whether God exists, whether there is a law of causality, whether the earth is flat, whether 2+2=4. The conclusions you reach are reached by choice. You can be convinced to change your mind, but you cannot be compelled to do so.

Someone who disagrees with you, then, can deal with you by either persuasion or coercion, by words or fists. Words obviously pose no danger to you, since you are free to accept or reject them; they cannot make you act against your will. Physical force, however, can.

Only the use of force—or the threat of it—can make you act contrary to your own judgment. Only the use of force bypasses and negates the victim’s mind. Only the use of force violates rights. For a rational being, reason and force are polar opposites.

Today, though, we’re taught that the rational mind is a myth. Our intellectuals tell us that there is no objective reality—no truths to be discovered, only “truths” to be invented. Our ideas, they declare, are the product of our class or race or gender. That is, our views are not volitionally arrived at, but are implanted in us as a result of our membership in some tribe.

To those who accept this deterministic notion, there is no fundamental difference between expressing disagreement by words or by fists. If there is no such thing as self-generated thinking, but only passive, conditioned responses, then there is no difference between aiming an argument at someone’s mind or a gun at his brain. It’s all “compulsion.”

If reason is out, what’s left is brute emotion. Which means that the truth or falsehood of any viewpoint becomes irrelevant. If you say affirmative action is merely another form of racism, it doesn’t matter whether you’re right—all that matters is whether you’re offending someone. And if you are, he is entitled to stop you from engaging in such “aggression.”

“This is valid because I can logically prove it” is replaced by “This is valid because I feel strongly about it.” Or, more precisely, “This is valid because my collective feels strongly about it.” Indeed, logic is regularly dismissed as the oppressive, and biased, tool of “white privilege.”

Rationality is the method of an individual committed to knowing what is true. Emotionalism is the method of a mob seeking to escape the responsibility of judging right and wrong. When reason is disparaged, people will subordinate themselves to some collective and follow its dictates. The individual’s core identity and his basic values will be molded by the group.

This kind of “identity politics” has long been preached by the left, and now the “alt-right” embraces it too. The left, including groups like Antifa, hates the profit-seeking businessman and wants an all-powerful socialist state, ruled by the “proletariat.” The “alt-right” hates immigrants and racial minorities and wants an all-powerful fascist state, ruled by white nationalists. Both hate capitalism, the system based on the primacy of the individual and of individual rights—the system that opposes all forms of collectivism—the system that denounces any initiation of force, for whatever motive, by both private citizens and the government—the only system to which the label “right,” if it is to stand for a viewpoint opposite that of the left, legitimately belongs.

If the evil of force is to be categorically repudiated, the value of reason must be categorically upheld. ♦♦

[This blog was published in HuffPost on 9/15/17]

Defying the Islamic Totalitarians—

The argument with Bosch Fawstin (and others) over the use of such terminology as “Islamic totalitarianism” is one I’m actually pleased to engage in. This is an unusual instance of a strong dispute that stems from a fundamental agreement on the underlying issue.

Let me try one more time to name what I think is the source of the conflict. We’re in accord on the basic idea that Islam entails jihadism. If a Muslim consistently practices his religious tenets, he will want to forcibly impose them on others. To someone who follows commands on blind faith, the concept “rights”—the concept that would make a more rational person refrain from using force against others—has no meaning. People don’t have rights, according to Islam—they have only duties, of which the primary one is to obey Allah and his self-declared spokesmen. And if some refuse to obey, why should they not be compelled to? After all, it is for their own “good,” and they will be grateful in the next world.

So it is the wielders of force—the members of al Qaeda and ISIS, along with their abettorswho are being true to Islam. We are in agreement on this (though I don’t know whether Mr. Fawstin agrees that this applies to all doctrines based on faith).  

The disagreement arises, I believe, out of a difference in purpose. If one’s purpose is to demonstrate the true nature of Islam—if one’s purpose is to refute the widespread view that Islam is a “religion of peace” that has been hijacked and misinterpreted by some radical gangs—then one will stress the inherent connection between Islam and jihadism, and will reject the notion that the jihadists are practicing some special or illegitimate form of Islam. This, I believe, is Mr. Fawstin’s perspective—and it is perfectly valid. The source of Islamic totalitarianism or militant Islam or Islamic jihadism is indeed Islam.

If, however, one’s purpose is to formulate a policy that the government should adopt—if one’s purpose is to urge our government to take action to eliminate the danger we face—then one will stress, not the intellectual threat, but the physical threat. One will stress the need to destroy those who want to forcibly impose their religious views upon us. One will differentiate between the Muslims who endorse the use of violence, and the Muslims who don’t. One will urge the government to eliminate the former and ignore the latter. The fact that any peaceful Muslims are guilty of a philosophical contradiction is not a problem that should concern the state. This was my perspective, and is the reason I name the enemy as Islamic totalitarianism, rather than Islam per se.

To draw a parallel, one can trace the intellectual roots of Nazism to Kantianism (in its embrace of unreason and self-sacrifice). One can show that Nazism is the consistent implementation of Kant’s philosophy. But the enemies we were fighting militarily during World War II were the Nazis, not the Kantians. And if we found a Kantian who repudiated Nazism, he was an ally in that battle, not an enemy. The same applies here.  

Defying the Islamic Totalitarians

Last week’s “Draw Mohammed” contest in Garland, Texas, which two Islamic gunmen tried to attack, is eliciting much criticism. Pamela Geller, the event’s organizer, is being accused of provoking the violence. Critics are saying that the event was staged as a gratuitous insult.

But it was not gratuitous, nor was its purpose to convey an insult. The target is too contemptible to warrant an insult—one does not slap the face of a mass murderer. Rather, the event was intended as an act of defiance, a declaration that we refuse to submit to the demands of Islamic totalitarians. It was a repudiation of their strictures on the ideas we are permitted to express. It was a loud “no,” hurled in the face of those who insist that we defer to the dictates of their religion. Indeed, this was the very theme of the winning cartoon—the need to draw Mohammed precisely because of his command, backed by a brandished sword, not to draw him.

While I don’t agree with all of Pamela Geller’s views on how to deal with the Islamist threat, she was 100% correct in sponsoring this event. There should be hundreds of events like it. They are necessary, for the same reason that the rebuilding of the World Trade Center was necessary: to assert that America’s values will not be undermined by medieval terrorists.

The fact that their efforts at intimidation are partly succeeding makes a defiant response all the more urgent. They are already subjecting us to de facto censorship. Prospective books and plays critical of Islam have been altered, or entirely aborted, for fear of Islamic violence.  And our government—which refuses even to name the enemy and its ideology of Islamic totalitarianism—has done woefully little to safeguard us against this danger.

So we need courageous people, such as Pamela Geller and the winning cartoonist, Bosch Fawstin (both of whom now face death threats from ISIS). We need people who are willing to stand up for our rights and for the ideals upon which America was founded.

Although it is true that any form of mysticism, including religion, is philosophically an enemy of freedom, what is at issue here is a political enemy—an enemy who is willing and able to use force against us. The act of drawing figures of Mohammed was directed against the Islamic jihadists. It is they who want to forcibly impose their religious beliefs upon others. It is they who kill infidels and seek to establish a global caliphate. And it is they who must be publicly denounced and resisted.

The so-called moderate Muslim—if that term is to have any real meaning—is someone who renounces force. He practices his religion but acknowledges everyone’s right to reject or ridicule it. Such a person is no threat to our freedom; he can, in fact, be an ally in this conflict. But anyone who believes that the denigration of Islam must not be allowed is in the camp of the jihadists.  That camp consists of not only the people who perform the beheadings and the machine-gunnings of non-believers, but also their tacit supporters. This includes all the Muslim states that have penalties for any type of blasphemy or apostasy—i.e., the practitioners of legalized jihadismalong with all the people who endorse such penalties. The jihadists and the jihadist-sanctioners are the enemy we need to stand up to.

The “Draw Mohammed” event did just that.

Was the peaceful Muslim offended by the Mohammed cartoons? Perhaps. His response, however, should be, first, thankfulness that he lives in a free, secular society, in which one is allowed to praise or to condemn Allah because the government neither inhibits nor promotes religion; second, anger against the jihadists, who are a threat to his rights as well; and third, enthusiastic support for the imperative of confronting that threat.

The essence of freedom is the freedom to think for oneself. And that is intolerable to the jihadist. From the fatwa issued against author Salman Rushdie by Iran’s ayatollahs, to the recent Charlie Hebdo slaughter in Paris, the jihadist allows no dissent from religious dogma. He regards such dissent as a “provocation” and as grounds for violent retaliation. Those who choose to exercise their independent minds become targets of barbaric killers.

To protect the freedom of the independent mind is why the barbarians must be defied—and why our government must unequivocally support and defend the defiers.♦♦