Tag Archives: Islamic totalitarianism

Defying the Islamic Totalitarians—
Follow-up

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.  

Religion, Freedom
and the “Moderate Muslim”

 

[This is a longer version of the article published by Huffington Post on Feb. 3, 2015. The additional material consists mainly of elaborations on the issue of faith and force.]

Is there a causal connection between religion and the use of force? Yes. In that connection, is there a significant difference between Christianity and Islam? Yes—but it lies in the distinction, not between the Bible and the Koran, but between today’s Christians and Muslims.

In the Medieval era, when the authority of the Catholic Church was virtually unquestioned, those who questioned it were put to death. The Church recognized no freedom of thought—indeed, it recognized no concept of freedom as such. Freedom is a state of personal autonomy, in which each individual decides, without outside coercion, what ideas to accept and what actions to take. The underlying premise is that everyone is entitled to his own life and to the pursuit of his own happiness. This premise, however, was anathema to the Church, which held that the individual has no autonomy—that he has no right to arrogate to himself the decision of how to lead his lifethat he must follow the will of God—that he has no right to form his own views. Thus, the Church eagerly carried out the Biblical command to kill blasphemers, using such tools as the Crusades and the Inquisition to wage a Christian Holy War against the faithless.

Because freedom essentially means freedom of the mind, people lose their freedom whenever religion holds political power. Religion requires you to subordinate reason to faith. And faith means belief without—or in defiance of—rational evidence. It means that you must follow commandments, not when you think they make sense, but precisely when you think they don’t.  Religion demands the surrender of the intellect. It instructs you to yield to an authority higher than your independent mind. It orders you to act not on what you understand, but on what others tell you to believe. Instead of the freedom to think, there is only the duty to obey.

There is no way, therefore, to deal with disagreements except by force. There is no way to point to facts, to use logic, to persuade. Is there any means of proving that one person’s religion is true and another’s is false? “True” and “false” have no meaning when the standard is not reason, but blind faith in divine decrees. If one person devoutly believes that we must all follow the word of the Pope, while another believes just as devoutly that we must all follow the word of the Archbishop of Canterbury—or of a supreme ayatollah or of a chief rabbi–how can the conflict be settled except by force?  Can each party grant the other the freedom to follow his own viewpoint? That is precisely what religion forbids. Religion contends that everyone exists to serve God. And a servant who defies his master’s orders must be compelled to submit. He has no right to refuse any demand made by whoever speaks in God’s name. So medieval heretics were burned at the stake for the glory of God—an act no different from today’s machine-gunning of infidels to the chants of “Allahu akbar.”

Only with the flowering of the Renaissance and then the Enlightenment did the Church’s authority wane. Reason came to be elevated above dogma, a development that affected all institutions of the West, even religion. Reason was allowed to temper the worst irrationalities of faith, and religious dissent came to be tolerated. The advice offered by Thomas Jefferson became the accepted approach: “Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.” The Biblical commandments to kill blasphemers—and witches and homosexuals and violators of the Sabbath—were no longer taken seriously. In time, political freedom took root, culminating in the founding of the United States with its radical idea of separating church from state.

But the Islamic world did not go through an Enlightenment. That world still clings to its dogmas the way it did many centuries ago. This is the central fact distinguishing Muslims from Christians. The Koran is taken more seriously and more literally by its followers than is the Bible by its followers. In the West, even the religious retain a certain respect for reason. They generally understand that religion should be a private, not political, concern (though that understanding has been unfortunately weakening). They would oppose, say, making the Bible America’s official Constitution—as the Koran is officially Saudi Arabia’s. This is why there are no Christian theocracies today, while there are numerous Islamic ones.  

(Of course, secularism is only a necessary, not a sufficient, condition for freedom. Religion is one manifestation of mysticism, but there are secular ones as well. Marxism, for example, which claims that the individual is a mindless entity whose ideas are determined by the material means of production, and that there is no objective logic but only a “proletarian logic” and a “bourgeois logic,” dismisses reason as man’s means of knowledge—and thereby ushers in its own system of enslavement.)

What about so-called moderate Muslims? They exist, but let’s first define that term. It cannot refer merely to those who refrain from beheading infidels. In today’s context, there is a simple way to distinguish a moderate Muslim: he is someone who acknowledges the categorical right to repudiate Islam. And as a logical corollary, he regards Osama bin Laden and his ilk as monsters who deserve to be executed. The crucial point is that he disavows the essence of jihadism: the idea that Islam is to be imposed by force.

There are such people today. For example, Zuhdi Jasser, author of A Battle for the Soul of Islam, is a self-proclaimed Muslim, but a staunch advocate of the total separation of mosque and state. He does not uncritically accept the Koran. Instead, he recognizes the danger posed by Islamic jihadism and wants to eliminate it. Whatever contradictions he has between his religious and political views, he is much more of an ally in this war than are many non-religionists who refuse to grasp the danger.

But in the Muslim world such people are the exceptions. Look at the governments of Muslim nations. In Egypt, Kuwait, Pakistan, Algeria, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran, blasphemers are put to death. Other Muslim countries impose prison sentences or public floggings. In Saudi Arabia, the law defines as terrorists all atheists and anyone “calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based.” What are such policies if not legalized jihadism—that is, the forcible imposition of Islam upon unwilling victims, simply done under the sanction of law?

And these policies have popular support. In the famous Pew poll of 2013, which asked Muslims whether apostates should be put to death, a majority of respondents in Egypt, Jordan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Palestinian territories said yes.

We see numerous protests in the name of Islam against critics of Islam—where are the protests in the name of Islam against the savage killers of the critics? The religious leaders of Islam readily issue fatwas against the ridiculers of Muhammed—where are the fatwas against the people who abduct schoolchildren, firebomb synagogues, make sex-slaves of girls, decapitate journalists and otherwise fail to practice a “religion of peace”? (Let me note that an excellent source of information about the pervasiveness of the jihadist mindset among Muslims, although I don’t agree with her proposed solution to the problem, is Pamela Geller; her website is PamelaGeller.com.)

America’s enemies are those who seek to institute Islamic totalitarianism—and those who support them. People should be free to pray to Allah and praise the Koran. But if they act to abet the users of force in any way—from contributing to "charities" that fund the terrorist training camps, to designing jihadist websites, to using mosques as recruiting centers for ISIS—they then become "immoderate" Muslims and are part of the threat. All who make the Islamic totalitarians possible—particularly the states, mainly Iran, that sponsor them—should be regarded as America’s enemies.

Philosophically, one can show that the demands of religion are incompatible with the principle of freedom. Philosophically, one can show that when reason is replaced by faith, disagreements can be dealt with only by brute force. Philosophically, one can show that the jihadists are consistently implementing the dictates of Islam. But politically—i.e., with respect to the action that government should takeit does not matter whether they are practicing a "true" or a “false” religion. What matters is that millions of Muslims accept the ideology of Islamic totalitarianism and that it is a demonstrable threat to us. There are those, like President Obama and former President Bush, who insist that "authentic" Islam does not countenance violence. Fine. Let them call it pseudo-Islamic totalitarianism. Nonetheless, it remains the driving ideology of the people who want to impose their religion—whether "true" or "false"on the rest of us by force. The followers of that ideology, from the aggressive beheaders to the milder abettors, are the enemy—and our government must stop them.♦♦

ISIS and “Non-Interventionism”

I’ve written on Libertarians’ use of “non-interventionism” as a deceptive term to disguise their tacit kinship with anarchists. An article last month by a senior fellow at the Cato Institute provides a good illustration.

In “Will America Ever Learn From Its Middle East Mistakes,” Ted Galen Carpenter argues against taking any military action against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). He writes: “The principal reason to avoid rushing into another Middle East war is the dismal record of our previous interventions. Each time the United States has meddled in that turbulent region, it seems to have made the situation a bit worse (and sometimes a lot worse) than it was before.”

He proceeds to list a number of such “meddlings,” starting from the early 1980s in Lebanon, to the two wars against Iraq, to Libya, to Syria—all of which, he says, demonstrate the futility of American military action. Those who now advocate fighting ISIS, he contends, must first “defend the record of the previous applications of that strategy. Otherwise, we face the prospect of expending even more blood and treasure while further destabilizing the region and creating more enemies.”

Now, it is true that those actions were largely failures. But the obvious question is: Why? What was the wrong principle we were following? What in the nature of the policy we adopted caused it to fail?

A proper foreign policy is based on securing America’s self-interest—which means: protecting against threats to the freedom of American citizens, nothing more and nothing less. If no such threat from abroad exists, our government should take no action. But if a demonstrable threat does exist, the government must take whatever measures are necessary to eliminate it—not to “contain” it, not to “degrade” it, but to eliminate it.

This is precisely what has not been guiding our Middle East policy. Some of our actions, such as in Libya, were entirely devoid of self-interest and were instead “humanitarian” endeavors, designed to introduce freedom by the permission of cultures that were steeped in tribalism and statism. Others, such as in Afghanistan, did have a definite element of self-interest, but were infected by altruistic motivations and quickly devolved into the same self-sacrificial, “nation-building” efforts on our part. Not a single undertaking represented a foreign policy based strictly on American self-interest.

Here, as illustration, is part of an op-ed I wrote, in the fall of 2003, several months after the U.S. invasion of Iraq:

We are inviting failure in Iraq, and in our overall war on terrorism, by conducting a campaign that is hopelessly apologetic and appeasing.

The Iraqis have long produced despotism. But instead of being morally confident in our right to establish a government that is no longer a threat to anyone—Iraqi or American—we are deferentially asking the Iraqis for permission to proceed. Afraid to offend them, we are reluctant to defend our interests and to uphold our values.

For example, we did not appoint the members of Iraq’s Governing Council based on their commitment to freedom; instead, we sought ethnic and religious “diversity” in order to placate the tribal and political factions that dominate Iraq. The 25 members include: the secretary of the Iraqi Communist Party; the founder of the Kurdish Socialist Party; a member of Iraq’s Hezbollah; and a leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution–a group, funded by and partly founded by Iran, advocating an Islamic theocracy. . . .

On the military front . . . we started by apologizing for our presence, when our invading soldiers were ordered to jeopardize their lives rather than risk harming civilians or damaging mosques.       . . . Our soldiers face continuing attacks, but political considerations prevent us from disarming the populace. . . . We are at war, but our military planners apparently believe that a methodical, house-to-house search for guns—let alone a disarming of private “militias” in Fallujah and elsewhere–would be too “intrusive.” Iraqis–again, brandishing automatic weapons—stage public demonstrations designed to incite violence against us. Yet none are arrested, presumably because we don’t want to be regarded as overly assertive.

This same, self-effacing policy is being practiced in Afghanistan, where the problem of “offended local sensibilities” —as a recent N.Y. Times article describes it—has led our policymakers to transform our soldiers into goodwill ambassadors, “whose focus is less on capturing terrorists than on winning public support.”

Is it surprising that the Taliban appears to be successfully regrouping?

In logic and in justice, there is only one means of “winning public support,” in Afghanistan or Iraq: eradicating every trace of the former enslavers. If that is not sufficient, then the support is not worth gaining. Our only concern should be toward those who value freedom enough to recognize the inestimable benefit our troops have given them. As to all the others–they need not like us, only fear us. . . .

Upon ousting the governments of Germany and Japan in World War II, we did not proceed on tiptoe. We did not express regret at having to stop traffic, search homes and shoot fleeing suspects. We were morally certain—certain that their system was wrong and ours right, certain that their system threatened us and needed to be eliminated. As a result, the enemy was eventually demoralized, allowing freedom to take root. The identical approach should be adopted now.

In postwar Japan it was Gen. Douglas MacArthur who unilaterally drafted a new constitution—over the objections of many Japanese—and paved the way for a radical shift from tyranny to liberty. Emulating MacArthur, by imposing upon Iraq a U.S.-written constitution that champions the principle of individual rights, including the separation of mosque and state, would be an ideal means of asserting our interests—along with the interests of those Iraqis who genuinely value freedom.

The conclusion to be drawn is that our military measures in the Middle East failed because they were based on a wrong philosophy. And that we need a radically different one in order to succeed. If our policymakers were on the premise of self-interest, our military would not be unleashed until an objective danger to America exists—and then it would be unleashed decisively. We have failed because when force was in fact justified, too little, not too much, was used. Our soldiers died, in retrospect, for nothing. They died so that the Taliban could eventually retake Afghanistan and so that Iraq could eventually become a satellite of Iran. They served as sacrificial fodder for the creed of altruism.

But to the “non-interventionists,” the problem is simply our “meddling.” The problem is “intervention”—and the solution therefore is “non-intervention.” This is equivalent to declaring that because intervening in the health care system has been harmful, the government should also stop “intervening” in robberies and murders. While such a declaration would be too blatant an embrace of anarchism, the call for a “non-interventionist” foreign policy has a semi-respectable veneer. But beneath that veneer is the lunacy of regarding two very opposite actions—the use of force against innocent, non-threatening parties and the use of force in retaliation against those who have initiated it—as identical. This is why the very term “interventionism” is a duplicitous “anti-concept,” deliberately designed to blur the distinction between those two types of action.

As to ISIS, it is certainly a threat to Americans. It has openly declared its enmity toward us. It is willing and able to physically harm us. It has beheaded two U.S. citizens, and announced its intention to destroy us on its way to establishing an Islamic caliphate. But this means nothing to the “non-interventionists.” Despite their seeming interest in intellectual issues, they are actually dismissive of the role of ideas in the life of an individual and an organization.

They refuse to see that there is an ideology of Islamic totalitarianism that poses an armed threat to the Western world. To them, the threat comes only from America’s desire to “meddle.” Our “interventions” in the Middle East, according to Carpenter, “intensified Muslim animosity towards the United States.” He sees the jihadists as people who have no motive and no desire to harm us. Indeed, he says, “U.S. intelligence agencies contend there is no evidence the organization [ISIS] has formulated plans to attack the American homeland.” (These are, presumably, the same myopic agencies—now suddenly to be trusted—that saw no evidence of possible attacks by al Qaeda on, say, September 10, 2001.)

Ron Paul, a former Libertarian Party presidential candidate, condemned America’s overthrow of the Taliban government in Afghanistan. That government—which shielded and provided a haven for al Qaeda—is not our enemy, according to Paul. The only reason they are fighting us, he says, is because we invaded their country—just as we would fight any invader of our country: “The Taliban just says, ‘We don’t want foreigners.’ We need to understand that, or we can’t resolve this problem in the Middle East.”

So Islamic totalitarianism is not the root of the problem; American “interventionism” is. Only “hawkish types,” according to Carpenter, believe that ISIS poses a threat to us. And if we just leave ISIS alone—he claims—it will leave us alone.

This is the lethal mindlessness of “non-interventionism.”

What then should be done with respect to ISIS? It should be militarily destroyed. (More importantly, the regime in Iran—the source of Islamic totalitarianism—should be forcibly ousted.) Unfortunately, that is a hopeless goal under the current administration. President Obama, driven by a need to appear decisive before the November elections, has launched a perfunctory bombing campaign against ISIS. If that is our only alternative, we’d be far better off doing nothing. At present, therefore, we can only hope that some future administration will grasp the urgent need to take appropriate action in defense of America.♦♦