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.