Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Defending the West

David Warren is probably the best journalist writing regularly in Canada today. Almost everything he writes, especially on contemporary Canada and on the war against Islamic terrorism, is fresh, thoughtful, and full of good sense. One of the few times I’ve found myself disagreeing with him is in the most recent essayin his “Essays on our Times” series. After laying out how Muslims should be culturally assimilated in Canada and very nicely describing some of the ways in which Islam differs fundamentally from our Western notions, he concludes as follows:


“This is a different worldview, from our Western one. It is not less rational – it works from different premises about man and God. We cannot dismiss it, on its own terms. We can say, however, that our premises are incompatible, and insist that in Canada, ours will prevail.”


Although Warren is discussing Canada, this conclusion appears to be widely believed in many Western countries. Unless I misunderstand something, it is very dangerous. It is true that Islam works from very different premises than we in the West do; and it may be true that we cannot dismiss Islam on its own terms – how many Westerners know Islam well enough to say whether or not it has important internal contradictions? But can we really expect to prevail in our struggle with radical Islam if we admit that its worldview is “not less rational” than our own and so believe that all we can do is “insist” that in our backyard Muslims must adopt our worldview?


If that is all we have say to the radical Muslim, why should he give up his views and adapt to our ways? We tell him that his view is just as rational as ours, but in addition to that, he believes he is following the commands of God: neither reason, then, nor faith tells him he should adapt to us. What then is to make him do it?


Even more fundamentally, perhaps, why should we cling to our own ways, believing them to be no more rational than those of the radical Muslim’s? It seems that one of the West’s fundamental claims is precisely that its worldview is more rational than the alternatives, many of which are founded on some form of revelation. It is true that Christians still survive in the West, but the public articulation of our primary ideas and principles, while not perhaps incompatible with Christianity, are also not specifically Christian. We claim that the West is hospitable to all sorts of people, good Hindus, for example. If we abandon that claim to superior rationality and concede to our enemies an equal right to possess the compelling character that belongs to reason, we have already lost the war.


When Warren says that Islam is no less rational than the Western worldview, he means that once you accept certain premises, Islam is a consistently worked out system. Our worldview is equally rational in this sense, only we start from different premises. The real difference, then, lies in the premises; and Warren appears to suggest that our premises are no more defensible than the Islamic ones; this is why all we can do is insist on our premises. What we really need, however, is not so much an act of insistence, that is, of pure will, as it is a real defense of our premises – a defense that shows why our premises are truer or better than the Islamic ones.

Discussions - 8 Comments

Our premises are better than Islamic premises because they are open to reason, that is to say they can be falsfied.

In some ways Islam behaves even worse than the straw man Plato in Karl Popper’s "The Open Society and its enemies" to this extent and as a result the "system" shares many of the same flaws?

David--do you think that the difference stems from the central fact that Koran is believed to be the actual word of Allah (i.e., handed down written by him) whereas the Torah and the Bible are understood to be the divinely inspired word of God, written by man? Doesn’t the former seem to shut reason out at the door? I have not seen a hopeful explanation of how Islam can overcome this problem--although I ardently hope/wish to see one. Great post, by the way.


Re: assimilation, it depends on a number of things. One that gets little mention is the sheer size of the group in question. Even if there were a will in the West to demand assimilation of Muslim immigrants, it seems that in some European countries there are simply too many of them to realistically make assimilation work.
If I’m right about that, assimilation is only a band-aid in such countries. A good preliminary step, then, might be to expel all radical Islamists and those who claim any affinity for them.
Which would be a good step not only for assimilation, but for national security.

In response to Mr. Foster’s last paragraph:

Reason is all well and good, but it stands a better chance when it is backed up by will, including a will to violent self-defense by the West when necessary. These are among the necessary indicators that we believe both in ourselves and our culture.
Absent such will on our part, no adversary or potential adversary is likely to care about the rational basis of our culture.

I refuse to discuss the Islamists demands that their culture and beliefs be respected. They have zero respect for any other religion, or even common civilized behavior. Suicide bombings, beheadings, terrorist attacks on civilians are sheer unadulterated savagery.
I found it instructive that in Turkey, a country which has petitioned for admission to the European Union, the government found no difficulty with keeping the idiotic, ’Arab Street’ in check.
In Syria, Iran, Pakistan, Kashmir, Indonesia, etc., Islamic fundamentalists were allowed to burn embassies and riot in the streets, promising to commit atrocities. No U.S. embassies were burned or attacked. Is this because those governments felt the U.S., with the means to respond, might take such actions as an act of war, and respond accordingly?
Theoretically, NATO is still a viable organization. The Danes could have requested assistance on the premise they have been attacked. It’s too bad they didn’t do so. It would have been interesting to see the U.S., Canadian, and European response.

The most offensive part of the piece was this:

"Islam does not accept the Western and Christian distinction between what is "objectively a sin", and what is “actually” one. For them, "ignorance of the law is no excuse", ever. Whereas we hold that in the eye of God, or even of a court, it might well be an excuse. Likewise, we recognize compulsion as an excuse; whereas, in the Islamic tradition, this is a non-starter.

That is why, to use an extreme case, a strict Shariah court might sentence a woman to death for adultery, who has been raped. For she is, objectively, an adulteress. The sentence might not seem fair, but that very “fairness” is a Western notion. A good Shariah judge is a "strict constructionist", like a good American Supreme Court judge. He cannot rewrite his Constitution. He can be merciful, however."

Help me out here, but if the author is correct that this viewpoint allowing no distinctions between "objective" and "actual" is strict constructionist, then no one who is sane should ever trumpet the notion. How can a judge be merciful to a rape victim by staying execution? This is both a mockery to mercy and justice.

There is nothing rational about Sharia courts.

In responce to David Frisk, I would say that will should be proportioned to reason(which doesn’t mean not agressively). Obviously the Islamic extremists have no problem backing unreason with willpower. The problem to a degree is rooting out the extremists, but unless we are prepared to kill a billion people i.e. all muslims I don’t think that this will be anything but a bandaid. Islamic extremism is a career move, or a calling depending on perspective. It is a way to advance, to gain status, praise, respect and intellectual credentials, and power. The Islamic extremists are seen as taking the "higher" ground. Poll after poll in Iraq and elsewhere in the middle east will show you that more than half of the people believe terrorist attacks against U.S. troops are justified. Now you could be surprised by this number, I think it is just the wording.... How can some of these people still claim to support the U.S? The perception is that there is an inalienable religious "right" grounded in the Qu’ran to wage war on infidels, if you have the personal conviction to do so and can find an Imam to support you in it. Thus while many muslims might believe it is "actually" bad to kill american troops, all they can say is: Hey, I don’t like it, but he has a right, or he is justified in killing you.

Hey, me like Americans. America good! Osama Bin Laden a bad person, but Osama Bin Laden justified in carrying out 9/11.

In other words I think the crux of the problem is that most Muslims actually love america, they love western movies(they have new DVD’s copied here before they ever come out in the States) they like porn(you can get it), they like alcohol(it is a dry country but for a price anything is possible)... In other words most Muslims live double lives, the austere public life, and a more liberal experimental private life. Because of this they do not believe themselves pure enougth to speak out on right and wrong, they recognize themselves as sinners, according to the Qu’aran and because of this do not feel that they have the necessary moral capital to tell the brave, bold, and noble (complete fucking idiots) extremists that they do not have an "objective" right to kill americans and jews.

My guess is that 95% of the nation(Iraq) is actually to some degree or another "sinners" which is to say they do what they think or feel is "actually" right, while knowing that what is right is what is right "objectively". Because of this they will always acquiesce to the moral leadership, which includes only the most "pure", most vigilant, the saints and extremists.

Julie,

You may have something there, but it seems that there have been Islamic philosophers in the past who did not think the Islamic revelation altogether precluded reason; it would be good to know what approach they took. I think another problem is the idea that Islam, at least in some interpretations, apparently conceives of God as responsible for everything at every moment of time. In other words, everything that happens is, at every moment, an immediate manifestation of God’s power. This idea appears to leave no room (if that is the right metaphor) at all for nature or reason.

The cure to what ails Islam is more fundamental than simple seperation of church and state. The cure to what ails Islam will always be seen within Islam as an admixture of food(the holy word of Allah) with poison(the ideas of the west). In my way of seeing things, Islam is the poison and the west is the food. No compromise is possible. But perhaps eventually the puritans within Islam will lose the stranglehold, and some admixture of poison and food will be created. Eventually perhaps people in Islamic countries will say that they do not believe that some of the actions they take that are now considered objectively wrong are wrong. When this happens it will mean that other moral authorities are in place, that are persuasive other than Islam. Ultimately perhaps there will be a rebellion against these moral strictures. And perhaps with time people will see themselves as the final decision makers concerning what is good, provided the good they choose for themselves does not hinder the scope of the good available to others. Then we can enter into another long debate, like the one in the United States where the liberals echo this view and the conservatives view it with repulsion. When this happens then we will have a liberal Iraq and perhaps middle east. Which is better than a democratic theocracy. But until then the moral authority rests with the Qu’aran which guilts the everyman into believing that any thug who shows his purity by enforcing the objectivity of the word of God, regardless of context is the highest of the moral.

One could also argue perhaps that a democratic theocracy is the first step in combining food and poison, in that the vote of the people is the source of power instead of the Philosopher King and his guardians of purity. I dislike this because any democracy that isn’t liberal, is simply mob rule with all the attending power to pass moral judgement given to the majority without discretion. On the other hand a democracy puts presure on the theocrats to deliver something more than the same old rhetoric. So I support Bush in his effort to mix food and poison, I just wish there wasn’t so much poison mixed in. I guess on the bright side if only fifty percent of Iraq thinks attacks against the U.S. are justified, then the theocrats wish there was less poison mixed in as well.

I think that David Warren is objectively wrong to say that the west is not rationally superior to Islam. But in undermining rationality he presumes to better complete the admixture of poison and food, by tempering the possibility of any such analogy. Such a thing is based on faith, and could only be good if we believe that food will win out in the end. For he believes that it is impossible to temper Islam if Islam is not given an equal right to possess the compelling character that belongs to reason. So in order to do this we must destroy the edge of western rationality in order to allow it to be reborn in a new synthesis. Rather than kill a billion Muslims David Warren is proposing to allow them to assimilate within a new intellectual framework that makes this possible. In exchange it is hoped on both sides that the vivacity of the old gods will die off.

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