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Can we have an intelligent conversation about Islam?

By Lorenzo

My recent post about “green on blue” killings in Afghanistan provoked the sort of comments that indicate we have, in the modern West, a real problem having an intelligent conversation about Islam. Not the to-and-fro about the geo-strategic issues regarding Afghanistan, but comments about beliefs within Islam and their possible consequences.

The sort of comments which indicate this are the “yes, but in the history of Christianity …” comments and the “don’t be so nasty about Muslims” comments which are pretty standard responses when Islam and Islamic belief is discussed.

Conspicuous about both types of responses is that the reverse is almost never applied. Critiques of Christianity or varieties thereof (such as the role of Christian conservatism in US politics and culture) are almost never confronted with the “but in Islam …” response. It is as if Christians are Real People, so are expected to take any criticism on the chin, but Muslims are Morally Protected Personages, so one has to bend over backwards to make it clear that one is not singling out Islam and Muslims.

Similarly, criticisms of Christianity, or political manifestations of Christianity (such as the role of Christian conservatism in US politics and culture) are almost never confronted with “but don’t be so nasty about Christians” responses. Once again, it is as if Christians are Real People, and so have to wear any negative implications of their belief systems, but Muslims are a Morally Protected Personages, so criticism which might in any way imply anything bad about Muslims is not permissible.

Ideas and consequences
Folks, ideas have consequences. It does not matter if the believers of particular ideas are white, black, brown or brindle; ideas have consequences. It is perfectly legitimate to explore those ideas and their possible (or demonstrable) consequences.

There are, of course, many complexities in this. One of which is not every believer buys into every set of ideas associated with their religion. Even if they do accept particular ideas or doctrines, the extent that they do in practice can vary wildly. Perhaps part of the problem is we are more culturally familiar with Christianity and so are much more aware of the reality of that among Christians.

So, the issue about the doctrine of taqiyya or permitted deception is not whether Muslims are trustworthy as some personal characteristic. The issue is about religiously-sanctioned opting out of some basic norms of social life.

Just as the issue about high-trust and low-trust societies is not about whether individual members of such societies are good or bad people, it is whether social dynamics are such that trust is such a precious commodity that it is applied extremely narrowly. One of the basic reasons for Western success is that Western societies evolved to be high-trust societies (and the more high trust, the generally more successful). One of the issues with large-scale migration is that it does seem to lower the trust level; likely largely because of lower levels of mutual knowledge and fewer common preferences or shared signals.

Discouraging history
As for the ”yes, but in the history of Christianity …”  response, I completely fail to see how it is reassuring. In the history of Christianity, thousands of people were burnt or hanged as witches, millions of people were killed or starved to death in religious strife precisely because people took the reigning doctrines of their religion very seriously. The obvious spectacle of Muslims willing to kill in large numbers in the name of their religion may well invoke aspects of Christian (or, for that matter, Jewish) history, but they are not reassuring aspects. Particularly given the technological possibilities of mass destruction in our era.

Muhammad presiding over Ali beheading Nadir Ibn harith, a member of the Meccan Council who criticised and insulted the Prophet.

If one is pointing to the fact that Jews and Christians eventually (mostly) got over doing that; well, they did, but not without huge amounts of human misery along the way.

And examining how they got over it is not particularly reassuring either. Consider the difficulties the Jews gave the Romans. It was precisely because so many Jews thought their God’s authority overrode that of Roman law or Roman authority (sound familiar?) that the relationship was so fraught. How was Judaism “tamed”?  By a process of appalling brutality. The Romans brutally smashed Jewish revolts, and then brutally dispersed the Jewish population, so that Jews became a permanent minority without any real possibility of secular power. Deprived of any possible claims to territorial authority, Yahwehism completed its evolution into Rabbinical Judaism, which accepted that God’s full legal strictures only applied to the Chosen People and only in a form that submission to gentile authority would permit (so no death penalties, for example), a process that had begun with the Babylonian Captivity.

If we are taking such history seriously, what it suggests is that (1) Muslim migration should be limited and (2) it should be made very clear that we are secular societies and so Sharia is not going to become any part of the laws of the land or have any superceding claim over or against them. Which is a much less fraught approach than the Romans actually took. But if one suggests limits to Muslim migration, that is somehow beyond the pale, while clear statements about Sharia not having any claim to be part of the law of the land or authority against the law of the land get criticised and sneered at by the usual suspects. (Who, naturally, are typically very keen to have the last bits of Christian doctrine purged from the law.)  Yet, if the hope of a Muslim majority (either nationally or locally) is held out, especially along with hope that Sharia will be able to carve out a place against or over the laws of the land, why would any evolution within Islam be expected to take place into forms more amenable to peaceful co-existence?

We know such evolution is eminently possible within Islam, because the Ismailis, for example, have gone there. But they went there for exactly the same reason Judaism did — they are a permanent minority with no possibility of territorial power. So, if we are taking history seriously, then Muslim migration should be limited and that Western societies are, and are going to remain, secular should be made very clear (with the former being a necessary corollary of the latter).

But, of course, the “yes, but in the history of Christianity …”  response is generally not about taking history seriously.

As for how Christianity (mostly) got over killing in the name of religion (it has not entirely got over oppressing in the name of religion), that was a reaction and revulsion over slaughter and massive social disruption. Preserving social order came to be deemed to be more important than the niceties of religious doctrine. Both in intellectual life – Thomas Hobbes shifting the central political question from God and Man to Man in the World — and in political life.

But this was in a civilisation in the grip of the Commercial Revolution and the Scientific Revolution where law had always been regarded as a human institution. Knowledge was dramatically expanding, as were economic possibilities, in societies where law had independent existence and a rich variety of political forms had long existed. Modern Islam may live in the world created by those revolutions, and the Industrial Revolution which grew out of them, but none of those things are of Islam, where autocracy was effectively the universal political form. (While the period of Islam being a scientific leader is a long time ago now.) They are all outside forces impeding on Islam where the notion that law is rightfully a human thing is still deeply contested with autocracy still being very much the dominant political form.

Divergent patterns
Assuming that Christian patterns apply in Islam can be problematic, especially in matters such as the nature and role of law and of religious authority. For example, Christ and Muhammad may both be religious figures who preached monotheism, with lives taken as exemplary in their respective faiths, but they led very different lives and acted in quite different ways.

There is a lot of evidence that democracy has genuine appeal to most Muslims. But pandering to Islamic obscurantism in the name of cultural sensitivity is, to put it mildly, not helpful. (Ask oneself whether Christian doctrine and clerical authority was always helpful to the process of democratisation; remembering that the legal-social-political role of Islam is much more embedded in its theology than the equivalent is in Christianity.) Particularly when there is evidence that second-generation male Muslims are likely to identify more strongly with Islam as a way of differentiating from their host country than their parents (who know why they migrated to the West in the first place).

Even granting Sharia status as “community mediation” is deeply problematic. Not only because Sharia is wildly misogynist but because it originated as an imperial legal system. There is no “natural” resting point for it as mere community mediation. Any social authority granted to it is likely to be merely taken as a basis for its further extension of its ambit — either openly or surreptitiously.

So, I am all for taking history seriously. Things reveal their nature in their history. But that history does not have quite the implications that the “yes, but” folk typically want it to have.

And if creating a common society means anything, it means abandoning any explicit or implicit special treatment as Morally Protected Personages. The same critical apparatus that we might apply to Christianity and Christian belief applies equally to Islam and Islamic belief. We are not going to adopt the nonsense term of “Christianophobia” so the equally nonsense term of “Islamophobia”, and the mindset that goes with it, needs to be abandoned as well.

51 Comments

  1. Posted September 17, 2012 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    As quite often, I agree with the general thrust of Lorenzo’s argument, with a few differences, which you can see in my own post of today.

  2. kvd
    Posted September 17, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    It seems not.

  3. Posted September 17, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    DA@1 I don’t know that they are substantive differences as much as differences in focus, as I agree with what you have to say in your post.

  4. Posted September 17, 2012 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    Fair enough!

  5. Posted September 17, 2012 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    Islam is a religion for dummies, for people who can’t organise their life, and who need to be told what to do in every circumstance.
    It lays down rules for every last piece of one’s life, heck it even lays down which order to clip your toenails!

    On top of that it has no command structure. There is no pope, it is more like the Prebyterian or Baptist church, without the cohesion.

    Islam is inflexible in how it views non-adherents of the faith. In their eyes we are all born muslim, and if we are not muslim, then that is a conscious choice made by each one of us.

    I’m personally somewhat put out by the number of carte blanche death sentences passed upon various groups of non-muslims. I’m under about 4 death sentences, just by existing.

  6. Mel
    Posted September 17, 2012 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

    LE @6- A reasonable point of view. But what should we do from a public policy perspective? Currently Muslims are about 2% of our population. Shouldn’t we make sure this doesn’t rise given the problems we’ve seen in the European countries that have much higher percentages of Muslims?

    I’ve had nice Muslim friends and even a Muslim partner in the past but I’m trying not to allow sentiment to overwhelm the self evident problem of Muslim behaviour in the West.

    ***

    “So, for example, I don’t much like a nude chocolate Jesus …”

    I wonder if this inspired Tom Waits’ best ever song?

  7. kvd
    Posted September 17, 2012 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

    I tend to think of this sort of thing as a simple Venn diagram: there’s ‘unknowable spiritual stuff’; there’s ‘society’; and there’s ‘me’.

    As long as the intersection of all three does not intrude too much upon ‘me’ then I’m happy to go along. But when ‘society’ takes it upon itself to comment upon, regulate, or control either ‘me’ or (more ridiculously) the ‘spiritual stuff’ then I start getting an itch to understand just what particular benefit I might gain from such interference.

    As far as I can see, there is no benefit – and more’s the pity that such intelligent people as Dawkins, Hitchens et al wasted a moment of their time trying to reduce the unknowable to a laughing stock. Their efforts are as much a waste of intellect as the Pope faffing on about triumvirates, infallibility, and small boys.

    Islam has good and bad points – shock horrors – much like just about any human invention/endeavour I can think of. And like everything else involving humans, it seems to comply faithfully (no pun) with Sturgeon’s Law.

    (ps: ‘me’ refers to me and the people I care about)

  8. John H.
    Posted September 17, 2012 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

    I’m not a particular supporter of deliberately offending people to make a point. I support the right of others to do so if they so wish (there’s no way I believe that the video should be taken off YouTube) but it’s not my way personally, and it makes me uncomfortable and anxious, regardless of what religion it is. So, for example, I don’t much like a nude chocolate Jesus (as I’ve outlined here) or a crucifix in urine, for that matter. I’m not saying that people can’t display such images – just saying that it’s polite to warn people and to give them an option of whether they want to see it in a pluralist society with diverse beliefs. With this video – surely there’s a choice as to whether or not to see it? If Muslims don’t like it – don’t watch it, period.

    The irony there is that people often claim to do this as a public good when what they are doing is trying to annoy people. Free speech is not a gift that endorses pissing other people off. Like any gift you should use it wisely and to make the world a happier place. Ridicule does not change belief, if anything it tends to reinforce it, there is very little if any utility is ridicule, especially when it is poorly done. With notable exceptions: Animal Farm. Be classy about it! So if people wish to use the gift of Free Speech to ridicule others so be it but let’s be clear: if you want to be shit stirrer you are doing for it yourself and not society. Narcissistic trouble maker. Be otherwise, on occasion we all need to be trouble makers but remember: bees to honey.

  9. John H.
    Posted September 17, 2012 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

    LE:

    That video was deliberately designed to create outrage. Ridicule like Dem’s is more a poke in the ribs than a stab in the heart. There’s a big difference. When people know you are trying to make them angry they are more likely to get angry.

    As for the violence. Human beings often need little excuse. Last week I was discussing with a friend the idea that social media will eventually harm all ideological groups because the emerging generations will be exposed too so many different points of view embracing any one view with fervour will become increasingly rare. I hope … .

  10. Posted September 17, 2012 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

    A few observations:

    1. Orientalism was a very bad book, light on evidence, full of windy assertions, and overwritten. Why it got taken so seriously is a mystery to me.

    2. Its malign influence has let to exactly the problem Lorenzo identifies: Muslims are not treated as moral adults, capable of reasoned debate and disagreement, but as a collectivity of specially protected persons.

    3. This looks superficially ‘nice’ and ‘non-judgmental’, but is a version of the deeply patronising view that we ought to expect less from brown people or black people or women because brown people or black people or women. It is like the smartest kid in the school patting the intellectually disabled kid on the head and saying ‘you did your best’. We simply have to stop it, and treat people as individuals capable of reason, only drawing conclusions contrary to that when we have evidence.

  11. Posted September 17, 2012 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

    It’s a fundamental aspect of most religions, with very few exceptions as far as I can see. Some religions get tamed, in the same way that some pathogens become “tamed” so the host is more likely to either (a) not die, and (b) not fight the pathogen too much.

    I /do/ like the Zoroastrian rule “no proselytes” … I would wager proselytes correlate with trouble any religion causes.

    One /could/ say the same about political philosphies that are more religious than evidence based.

    Sure, science has proselytes, but it /is/ evidence based – there are corrective mechanisms in place that no religion has (apart from forks).

    Does the rule for trouble and intolerance from a belief system correspond to whether there is an error-correction mechanism, or a feedback loop that accentuates errors over time? To what extent to fundies of any belief system remove corrective mechanisms that had evolved (such as the protestant fundies of today rejecting the “softening” of protestantism over a few centuries). Indeed, can we predict development of radicalism and turmoil created by belief system within a sect based on the presence of corrective mechanisms … could the Jensenists in the Anglicans make it turn into something that increases homophobic violence, for example?

  12. Posted September 18, 2012 at 3:18 am | Permalink

    It’s funny, all this talk about ‘the Other’ and Orientalism, yet I really can’t think of a more typical pattern of behaviour to explain these riots.

    Young, egoist men with a victim-mentality and a narrative (Islam) through which to gain public attention and legitimise violence. We have seen all this before haven’t we?

    So yer, Islam is the problem much in the same way Christianity is the problem in the US bible-belt.

    @Lorenzo I think your critique holds for the kind of organised “Islamism” we are seeing rising up in certain parts of the world, however for the Sydney riots, I think you’re giving the protestors too much credit.

  13. TerjeP
    Posted September 18, 2012 at 7:07 am | Permalink

    My wife had a Muslim friend back in the 1990′s and he was fun and witty and very likeable. However I have got to say all the other encounters I have had with Muslims have been pretty bad. My first boss after uni was a Muslim and he had some abhorrent beliefs and behaviours. He actively bullied people and actually tried to teach me bullying as some sort of useful life skill. He later employed his brother who was even worse. The brother once punched a guy uncounsious on a whim. In Britian I shared house with a Muslim and we hung out socially. However he had some abhorrent and extreme views about Jews and homosexuals and women and he was also very dishonest with people. We argued a lot. Later on in business I had a Muslim client who I ended up taking to court (I won). He was extremely dishonest. On each occassion I regarded these character failings as individual aborations. And a string of anecdotes don’t prove a thing. But with hindsight I must say I now regard the Muslim culture as quite tainted and approach practitioners with caution. I have to intellectualise my way around such prejudices when it comes to views on public policy but you can’t endlessly ignore empiricle evidence.

  14. Graham Nicholson
    Posted September 18, 2012 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    Lets face it, all the great religions have been distorted by fanatics who deliberately adopt literalist interpretations to suit their own prejudices, hatreds and self-interests. In doing so they have lost the spirit behind their faith and have become obsessed with that which divides rather than that which unites, that which leads to hate rather than with love, that which leads to intolerance and violence rather than that which leads to tolerance and compassion and peace. This is the abuse of religion, not true religion. Islam is not alone in this. Its time we recaptured the true spirit of religion, the divine virtues, so that we can unite this planet under one supreme God of all humanity, the true remedy for the many ills of the world. Anti religion can be just as fanatical as fanatical religion. Both are wrong and dangerous. Not all religionists are fanatics.

  15. jtfsoon
    Posted September 18, 2012 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    Terje
    Dare I make a generalisation and guess that none of the people you mention were Southeast Asian Muslim?

    Maybe things have gotten worse since but I lived among Malaysian Muslims till early teens and can’t really think of an unpleasant experience associated with a Muslim per se. Nor did I ever hear of or read about such abhorrent things as FGM and honour killing. I think FGM seems to be a peculiarly North African thing and honour killings tend to be associated with cultures of machismo which Malay culture generally is not.

    Things were obviously not perfect in Malaysia, which is why we left (generally pro-Malay supremacy policies in education and the economy) and there were racial riots in 1969 but I submit this had nothing to do with religious belief as such but because of clear differences in the ability of Chinese vs Malays in better adapting to and performing in an urban economy e.g. no different from tensions between Indians and Arricans in Uganda or Jews and Poles in Poland.

  16. jtfsoon
    Posted September 18, 2012 at 8:16 am | Permalink

    Also it would be interesting to see the breakdown in ancestry among the people who participated in the violent riots in Sydney if available – my guess would be under representation of Muslims who trace their origins back to southeast Asia, Turkey and Bosnia for instance.

  17. jtfsoon
    Posted September 18, 2012 at 8:24 am | Permalink

    My final generalisation of the day:

    Because Islam was basically founded by a warrior, when you combine Islam with a culture of machismo and don’t temper it with something like Sufi mysticism or a pre-existing rich cultural heritage which wasn’t completely destroyed by Islam, that’s when you get the worst results.

  18. John Turner
    Posted September 18, 2012 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    I have two problems with each of the ‘religions of the book’.
    1. The concept of original sin. In African Genesis fifty years ago Robert Ardrey made the point that due to evolution we are risen apes not fallen angles. He repeated the same argument as a quote in The Hunting Hypothesis and I have not seen a better comment on that aspect of our evolution. A few years ago Andrew Denton in his Diary article in the SMH included the quote.
    2. Religions utilize indoctrination on vulnerable children rather than developing each child’s ability to seek and evaluate evidence.
    Someone has previously written, “Where does god exist except in a person’s own mind?”
    The Ardrey quotes follow;
    “Toward the close of African Genesis I wrote:
    Had man been born of a fallen angel, then the contem¬porary predicament would lie as far beyond solution as it would lie beyond explanation. Our wars and our atrocities, our crimes and our quarrels, our tyrannies and our injustices could be ascribed to nothing other than singular human achievement. And we should be left with a clear-cut portrait of man as a degenerate being endowed at birth with virtue’s treasury whose only notable talent had been to squander it. But we were born of risen apes, not fallen angels, and the apes were armed killers besides. And so what shall we won¬der at? Our murders and massacres and missiles, and our irreconcilable regiments? Or our treaties whatever they may be worth; our symphonies however seldom they may be played; our peaceful acres however fre-quently they may be converted into battlefields; our dreams however rarely they may be accomplished? The miracle of man is not how far he has sunk but how magnificently he has risen. We are known among the stars by our poems, not our corpses.”
    “Much has happened in the sciences since I published those lines, for it has been a time of discovery and controversy. Just as in the time of Darwin himself, the evolutionist has been drawn, quartered, boiled in oil, burned at blithe stakes. We are pessimists; we endanger the human future. Yet I can today no more discover pessimism in those lines than I could when I wrote them in 1961.
    Man is a marvel—yet not so marvelous as to demand mi¬raculous explanation. Man is a mystery transcending all our arithmetic, and will remain so, I have little doubt, whatever the revelations of our future sciences”.
    Robert Ardrey, The Hunting Hypothesis, 1976, Chpt1, p6, Atheneum edn

    And finally we must know that the territorial imperative – just, one it is true of the evolutionary forces playing upon our lives – is the biological law on which we have founded our edifices of human morality. Our capacities for sacrifice, for altruism, for sympathy, for trust, for responsibilities to other than self-interest, for honesty, for charity, for friendship and love, for social amity and mutual interdependence have evolved just as surely as the flatness of our feet, the muscularity of our buttocks, and the enlargement of our brain; out of the encounter on ancient African savannahs between the primate potential and the hominid circumstance.
    Robert Ardrey, The Territorial Imperative,1966, chpt9, p.377-8.
    Fortune paperback edn.

  19. jtfsoon
    Posted September 18, 2012 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    On a lighter note, look at pictures 2 and 9 from this

    http://www.smh.com.au/photogallery/national/sydney-cbd-protest-20120915-25yxf.html?selectedImage=1

    For an anti-American protest it looks like ads for particular clothing brands …

  20. Will
    Posted September 18, 2012 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    The reason Sharia law moral panic is sneered at is because its loudest champions are invariably ignorant panic merchants steeped in xenophobic pronunciations of “Eurabia” and crusades against Islam-o-fascism and other such nonsense.

    It’s not that there aren’t proper issues to consider here about Sharia dispute resolution. But that is a wide issue that involves looking at the whole area of cultural dispute resolution objectively – ie. in terms of the general appropriateness of contractual frameworks which import religious norms into private civil and family dispute resolution.

    But obviously that would include a big focus on the long tradition of Rabbinical Councils in the West, and not just the comparative recent issue of Sharia, and there is zero interest from the usual suspects in looking at that with a dispassionate lens.

    Instead, the movement is dishonestly trying to conjure a non-existent threat that there is a genuine threat of sharia being incorporated into the main canon of western law through parliamentary sovereignty through lack of vigilance against political correctness. This view is so obviously asinine and contemptible it warrants every sneer it receives.

    The ban Sharia movement also has a bad track record through its association with citizen driven ballot initiatives which attempt to ban “foreign law” and international law in the United States as part of the response to this threat.

    These initiatives are objectively stupid – as even conservative international law scholar Julian Ku is happy to admit.
    http://opiniojuris.org/2010/06/15/oklahomas-unnecessary-law-to-ban-reliance-on-sharia-and-foreign-law/

    As for Christians being politically correct targets. I think there is certainly some truth to this. Though I think it is possible to overstate it by virtue of the fact that people don’t generalise as easily from extremist dispensationalists nutters preaching the end times and mainline Christians. So there is usually a charitable assumption that hostile comments don’t apply to mainstream Christians. A lot of the people who have Islam as their bet noire are communicating to an audience who don’t have such a charitable assumption about mainline Islam cf. Islamists, and the omission of qualifiers and nuance is thus more problematic.

    I firmly believe in the charitable principle – but I won’t bend over backwards to find nuance where none is intended .

  21. kvd
    Posted September 18, 2012 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    people don’t generalise as easily from extremist dispensationalists nutters preaching the end times and mainline Christians. So there is usually a charitable assumption that hostile comments don’t apply to mainstream Christians. A lot of the people who have Islam as their bet noire are communicating to an audience who don’t have such a charitable assumption about mainline Islam

    Most insightful comment I’ve read for a while. Thank you Will.

  22. Mel
    Posted September 18, 2012 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    jtfsoon @22:

    Actually FGM is practiced in Indonesia and Malaysia although only by a minority.

    Note this comment:

    “Malaysia went through this period when conservatism and getting closer to the Middle East was what a lot of people wanted and they believed genital cutting was appropriate,” he confirmed.

    Malaysia and Indonesia are influenced by ME Islam in numerous ways.

  23. jtfsoon
    Posted September 18, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    Mel – and your article suggests it is a relatively recent development.

    Mind you, I left Malaysia in 1990. A lot more petrodollars from Saudi Arabia may have found their way into Malaysian educational institutions since then.

    My previous point still stands. In Malaysia and Indonesia, conversion was actually peaceful, through contact with Arab merchants (some of whom married into Malay royal families, hence the high nose bridge among some of the Malay elite). Before that the people were Hindu-Buddhist.. By contrast in its place of origin, it spread by conquest and ruthlessly wiped out its cultural predecessors.

  24. jtfsoon
    Posted September 18, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    I regard this man as close to a liberal saint

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/theguardian/2010/jan/03/abdurrahman-wahid-obituary

    It took a Muslim cleric President in Indonesia to lift the repression of minority rights there. It’s sad to see (according to mel’s link) that the organisation he once headed is now tolerating the practice of FGM

  25. derrida derider
    Posted September 18, 2012 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    Bits in the post I agree with, bits I don’t. I still reckon the fundamentalist mindset is the same whatever the religion but agree conditions make it more prevalent among certain societies. They all reckon “error has no rights” (LE can probably provide the correct Latin tag and its source).

    My main practical disagreement is about Muslim immigration. Are you afraid of “our” culture being swamped? If so I’d suggest you’re seriously innumerate (not to mention reifying culture in a way you’d decry if some French postmodernist did it). Or do you believe adherence to Islam automatically makes you unfit to be a citizen of a secular democracy? If so that seems a bit hard on all those Muslims who accept the laws of the country that took them in (in Oz they’re mostly refugees) and are busy just trying to build a new life. And I’m not sure that its good for Anglos either – Australia was a terribly insular place before we started taking non-anglos in.

    But perhaps you think we could contain migrants from such groups to ghettos where we would not have to be offended by their different ways; there are precedents.

    Me, I’d prefer to treat people according to their individual behaviour rather than their group membership – I thought that’s part of what being a liberal was supposed to be about.

  26. Posted September 18, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    Jason, I’d be interested in your observations of Malaysia next time you visit, if you’ve a mind to write something. I had a relative stationed at Butterworth and so probably only ever saw the inside of a bubble, ’tis all.

  27. derrida derider
    Posted September 18, 2012 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    PS – what Will said @27 re the bulldust about Sharia law in the West. It’s really hard to avoid the view that a lot of this sort of panic is just simple ignorant bigotry, akin to that stuff about the “mosque”near the World Trade Centre.

  28. Posted September 18, 2012 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

    Well, the short answer to the question posed in the blog post seems to be “well, we can at Skepticlawyer”. So, thanks to people for their thoughtful comments.

    On the Sharia issue; well no, Sharia is not going to become part of the law of the land. So why is there any problem with being upfront about that? The point is about sending clear signals — both regarding expectations for Muslim communities in the West and in reassuring the more nervous non-Muslim folk.

    The Rabbinical Courts are, alas, a dubious analogue precisely because Jewish law has had a long evolution of accepting that it has no, and can have no, territorial authority. Sharia, not so much. The notion of creating local outposts of “Dar al Islam” within the West still lives. Hence the need to clearly signal that is not on.

    As for limiting Muslim immigration, that is more or less a natural outcome of the Australian and American migration systems, so the issue does not arise — apart from normal caveats about intelligent vetting and clear expectations.

    It is a much bigger issue in Europe. And, precisely because of territorial claims which are so embedded in Islam (in its extreme form, outright jihadism), the scale of Muslim migration makes a difference. Again, it is childish to pretend that is not so, nor that it does not have implications for public policy.

    One can be clever about these things. The Danish law requiring a minimum age for both foreign and Danish spouse of 24 does block attempts to use foreign arranged marriages to teenage daughters to stop said daughters becoming “Westernised”. (Though recent changes seem to over-egg the pudding.)

  29. Posted September 18, 2012 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    To put it another way, limiting Muslim migration is precisely about not creating ghettoes. The creation of localities within Europe where the officers of the state (including emergency service personnel such as firefighters and ambulances) have to have serious escorts to even enter is a massive failure of public policy.

  30. Mel
    Posted September 18, 2012 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

    DD @32:

    “Me, I’d prefer to treat people according to their individual behaviour rather than their group membership – I thought that’s part of what being a liberal was supposed to be about.”

    We should be able to walk and chew gum at the same time; that is to say, we can treat individuals as individuals regardless of group affiliation while realising that culture is real, so accordingly if you bring in large numbers of people from culture X, Y or Z it may have material and lasting consequences that go beyond perceptions of the niceness of particular individuals.

    I would like to see figures on:

    (a) How many Western Muslims are in jail or awaiting trial for terror related offences, or have died during the commission of such offences

    (b) How many homosexuals, intersex persons etc have been killed or assaulted by Western Muslims

    (c) The extent of Western Muslim attacks on Jews

    (d) The number of Western Muslim honour killings and forced marriages

    (e) The costs of beefed up security measures post 9/11.

    I suspect the numbers would be startling. Does this suspicion make me an illiberal Islamophobe? As Lorenzo suggests, can’t we discuss these things without glib comments about how we’re all individuals or how we shouldn’t judge others by our own standards?

  31. Conrad
    Posted September 18, 2012 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

    “(c) The extent of Western Muslim attacks on ”
    Jews”

    At least in France, which I suspect is one of the worst countries for it, about 400 reported cases.
    (so about 1 in 100,000 Jews gets attacked physically).

    http://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/2985/jihad-in-france

  32. John H.
    Posted September 18, 2012 at 11:07 pm | Permalink

    we can treat individuals as individuals regardless of group affiliation while realising that culture is real

    That’s the beauty of our legal system. I have my beefs with it but it is an outstanding cultural achievement that encourages me to think more carefully about Robert Wright(the atheist) and his views espoused in The Evolution of God wherein towards the end argues there evidence of moral evolution over time. Pinker addresses this from another angle, I was wrong to question his position earlier, the evidence is good.

    So that creates a dilemma with multiculturalism. Why am I obligated to respect cultures? Bollocks, I respect specific behaviors in individuals and individuals, cultures are something I observe with interest but recognise as a subtle form of stereotyping. Perhaps the principal reason most ideological groups fragment is precisely because there aren’t enough round pegs for round holes in any given group of people. I think encouraging people to identify themselves with a culture is nutsville, old school crap that needs to be thrown in the dustbin of history and kumbaya won’t it be wonderful?!

  33. Posted September 19, 2012 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    A contrast in perspectives. First, Paul Berman on the murderous threat of Islamism which is forcing a subset of intellectuals to have permanent bodyguards:

    Salman Rushdie has metastasized into an entire social class, a subset of the European intelligentsia–its Muslim wing especially–who survive only because of their bodyguards and their own precautions.

    Then there is Diana West claiming that the problem is endemic to Islam:

    It’s important to realize sharia’s prohibition of criticism of Islam is basic Islam: There is nothing “radical” about it. Indeed, it is this basic Islamic censorship that is at the crux of why Islam itself — not “Islamism,” not “radical Islam,” not “Islamists,” but Islam — is an existential threat to the survival of any free society. It is why free societies, once penetrated by a Muslim demographic over 1 percent, begin to lose their liberties as a means of “accommodating” — appeasing — their new Islamic populations.

    A lot hinges on which is correct.

  34. Posted September 19, 2012 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    Put me down for Diana West being correct.

  35. Posted September 19, 2012 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

    It is why free societies, once penetrated by a Muslim demographic over 1 percent, begin to lose their liberties as a means of “accommodating”

    I’m curious about what liberties we’ve lost here in Australia, since we’ve been over the doom threshold of 1% for almost two decades. I’m really not sure how much sense one can expect from someone who is trying to out-bigot the tea party…

  36. Mel
    Posted September 19, 2012 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

    Conrad @39:

    A French Muslim killed 7 people including 4 Jews including 3 children for politically motivated reasons 6 months ago.

    Jewish schools in France are almost invariably armed and fortified against Muslim and neo-Nazi attack.

    There are numerous reports of Jews leaving France because of the intimidation they face from Muslims (and the far right) in that country. I rather doubt the 400 attacks claim.

    D @44:

    “I’m curious about what liberties we’ve lost here in Australia …”

    What about self censorship? Try making a film called The Life of Mahmoud along the lines of Python’s The Life of Brian and see what happens. We aren’t the US but remember how South Park had to replace Mahmoud with a bear for safety reasons.

    The other liberty lost is reduced freedom due to beefed up security.

  37. Posted September 19, 2012 at 9:34 pm | Permalink

    Mel, I think that threat would exist regardless of the proportion of the population that is Islamic. It’s an international threat that won’t go away by just removing all Muslims from Australia. However, we might get to see what happens as it is anyway.

  38. Posted September 20, 2012 at 6:58 am | Permalink

    Mel: You perhaps can add the Sweden-Israel Davis Cup matches in Sweden, which had to be played in an empty stadium due to adherents of a certain religion becoming incandescent at the thought of Israeli athletes competing in Sweden.

  39. kvd
    Posted September 20, 2012 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

    There’s a link in Lorenzo’s post which I was hoping somebody else would point out wasn’t working – just so I didn’t have to. Underlying some of the following text: “but they led very different lives and acted in quite different ways.”

    I ask because I’d be quite interested to read what the particular link had to say about the particular point being made. Thanks.

  40. Posted September 20, 2012 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

    kvd@49 The original site is down, so i cannot fix the link.

    Meanwhile, in Norway, the Breivik trial seems to be used in an attempt to close down criticism of Islam or trends within Muslim communities.

  41. Ken Miles
    Posted September 21, 2012 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    Mel @ 45

    “What about self censorship? Try making a film called The Life of Mahmoud along the lines of Python’s The Life of Brian and see what happens. We aren’t the US but remember how South Park had to replace Mahmoud with a bear for safety reasons.”

    Australian shows have taken the piss out of Mohammed in the past without incident.

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