Liberty and Culture, Culture and Liberty…

Liberty and Culture Statue of Liberty Barbie.jpg
What Greater Example of Liberty
and Culture than Barbie?

I mentioned below Anders Monsen’s blog on Liberty and Culture, but I have overlooked (to my shame) another smart and sharp blog of the same name, i.e., Liberty and Culture, which is where Jason Pappas shares his wisdom with the masses. Also definitely worth a look.

18 Responses to “Liberty and Culture, Culture and Liberty…”

  1. Adam Allouba

    I don’t know, Tom. I had a look and this is what he had to say about Michael Graham:

    “Michael Graham is proud of speaking the truth about Islam. ABC fired Graham after pressured by the Saudi-front Islamist group, CAIR. Apparently, critical remarks about the ideology of Islam are not allowed on ABC talk radio. ABC demanded that Graham apologize like a good dhimmi. Graham, to his credit (and unlike our elected leaders) choose honor over job security. We’re with you Michael — keep it up!”

    Michael Graham is the man who called Islam a “terrorist organization.” I don’t know how much credibility we can give someone who supports calling an entire religion one big terrorist organization. Shouldn’t that mean that all Muslims should be locked up for membership in such a group? Whatever CAIR’s merits generally, they were right on this one. The man should have apologized and when he did not, he deserved to be fired.

    Most of his posts generally seem to be about the “threat from Islam” – not terrorism or fanatics, but Islam in general. The first of his articles is titled “Is Islam evil?” One of the references he has on his list of sources about Islam is a virulently racist polemic that argues Muhammad was guilty of every sin and perversion imaginable. Actually, they’re all pretty much in that vein – they tell “the truth” about Islam, i.e. that it’s an inherently demonic religion.

    This man appears to be a racist bigot.

    – Adam

  2. I make a clear distinction between the philosophy of Islam and the demographic group, Muslims. The vast majority of Muslims are peaceful people who want to live decent lives and go about their business like everyone else. But when it comes to an ideology, I focus on the doctrines and the founder of that ideology. I have severe reservations about the ideology.

    I’ve talked about the importance of not vilifying Muslims but criticizing the ideology often.
    And I suggest that people underestimate the ability of Muslims to marginalize their religion and modernize:

    I have grave doubts about the neo-conservative goal of creating a Moderate Islam but not about Muslims being moderate and I explain that in detail quite often. Many will insist using the term “fundamentalist Islam” and no doubt that is what I’m talking about. But, following Ibn Warraq, I hold the ideology to be inherently flawed — with Muslims as Islam’s greatest victims. Finally, and I often have to repeat this, the rights of advocates of any ideology — religious or secular — will always be an important concern.

    Please read more. You may disagree but my views are not as you suggest.

  3. In defense of Jason Pappas — I have been arguing with him over his position on Islam. I strongly disagree with his argument that Islam is inherently totalitarian, but I’ve seen nothing in his comments that is racist.

    Adam — being critical of Islam (or any other religious doctrine) is not evidence of racism nor of bigotry. Pappas employs rational arguments against Islam. I don’t think his arguments are very good (I particularly disagree with his conclusions) but that’s quite a different matter.

  4. Adam Allouba

    I’m sorry, Jason. I am firmly of the view that anyone who argues that Islam is a totalitarian religion is almost certainly bigoted. Just as anyone who denies the Holocaust is effectively an anti-Semite. It is theoretically *possible* to hold these views without being prejudiced, but it’s pretty unlikely.

    There is simply no way that Islam could have endured 1400 years if it were an inherently aggressive, violent, controlling ideology. No more than the Third Reich could have lasted 1000 years, or that the Soviet Union could have become an eternal workers’ paradise. Eventually, they were going to burn themselves out because a program built on violence cannot sustain itself. The fact that Islam has flourished in so many places is demonstrates that it is NOT totalitarian. In fact, is the *the* most diverse religion in the world in terms of ethnicity: it is a major religion in countries composed of Arabs, Persians, South Asians, South East Asians, black Africans, Central Asians… not even Christianity managed to implant itself in such a variety of places. That’s not to say Islam is “better” than Christianity (as if that could be measured – it would make no sense). It’s just meant to show how many different people have adopted Islam. Incidentally, the fact that Muslims are implicated in a lot more inter-faith violence than others is, at least in part, a by-product of this fact. You don’t get many Christians clashing with Buddhists or Hindus because they don’t share borders.

    As for the idea of conquest, sure, Islam was spread by the sword to some extent (most obviously in Arabia), but also by commerce and trading contacts. I’m no expert on the spread of Islam but I do know that it’s not all violence and blood. Do you really think that the Europeans and North Americans who convert to Islam because the religion appeals to them – and manifestly not due to force – are the latter-day equivalent of Stalinist dupes?

    There are certainly elements to criticize in Islam. What was appropriate for 7th century Arabia is clearly not necessarily so today. Critical study of the Qur’an and treating Muhammad as though he were a flawed human being (instead of some kind of untouchable divine example) would be a good start. Frankly, Muslims just need to chill out. Discovering that, say, the Qur’an has not always been as it is today or having someone attack the prophet is not the end of the world. I definitely agree on that point.

    Christians have managed to shed some of their religion’s less relevant aspects (most people feel OK about mixing fibres these days) and humanize many of its more repulsive practices (I’ve never met a Christian who believes that homosexuality should be a capital offense). Muslims can and should do the same, but that doesn’t mean that the religion itself is rotten to its core. There are plenty of Muslims who manage to adhere to their faith without being bad people. They’re just not incompatible.

    Criticizing a religion is one thing, but you go well beyond that. I’m afraid that the notion that “the problem with Muslims is Islam” (or the claim that “Islam is a terrorist organization”) is indeed bigotry. At least in my own humble opinion.

    – Adam

  5. Adam, you make a great case for why one of Jason’s main contentions re Islam is wrong, but where’s your evidence of bigotry?

    To be blunt about it, I think all revealed religions are idiotic nonsense, and that we’d be better off without them. And I often say so. But almost all of my family and friends believe in one or another of these sets of ideas, often devoutly, and yet I love & respect them. There’s a difference between attacking Islam or any other religion and being a bigot.

  6. Adam Allouba

    The evidence of bigotry I’d point to is that the argument that Islam is inherently evil is so manifestly absurd that to maintain it can *only* be motivated by bigotry. It can’t possibly be the result of logical, reasoned argument. Just like denying the Holocaust (and calling EVERY piece of evidence a forgery) just has to be the result of anti-Semitism, because it’s so plainly untrue.

    I appreciate the distinction you’re trying to draw, Charles. You’re absolutely right. But there’s a line between criticism and wholesale smearing, which I believe Jason crosses (by several miles).

    – Adam

  7. One more for Adam: You state “I am firmly of the view that anyone who argues that Islam is a totalitarian religion is almost certainly bigoted.”

    Well, what if Jason’s contention re Islam were true? It wouldn’t still be a sign of bigotry to make the contention, would it?

    But you and I believe that his contention is false — but then isn’t this then evidence only of flaws in his argument, rather than bigotry?

  8. Adam Allouba

    “Well, what if Jason’s contention re Islam were true? It wouldn’t still be a sign of bigotry to make the contention, would it?”

    You’re absolutely right, Charles – I agree completely. But my contention is that is so utterly and clearly NOT the case that he’s right that maintaining this belief can ONLY be the result of wilful blindness motivated by bigotry.

    Again, to get back to the Holocaust analogy: of course, if it never happened, then denying it wouldn’t be bigoted. But it is so manifestly the case that the Holocaust DID happen that the only way you can outright deny it is to be so blinded by racism that you refuse to look facts in the face. That’s what I’m saying is the case with a belief that Islam is inherently totalitarian.

    – Adam

  9. Charles wrote:
    “isn’t this then evidence only of flaws in his argument, rather than bigotry?”

    Isn’t it also possible that those flaws are due to bigotry? Bias easily leads to fallacial reasoning. For the record, I haven’t read any of Jason Pappas arguments, other than his post above, but the suggestion that Islam is inherently flawed, more so than, say, Christianity or Hinduism, seems pretty radical on the face of it.

  10. Tom G. Palmer

    I think that one of the issues that is in the background is who gets to define what Islam is. It seems that Mr. Pappas takes Islam to “really” mean the interpretation advanced by the Taliban and al Qaeda. Mr. Allouba points out that there are millions and millions of Muslims who differ and who live lives characterized by honesty and respect for others. The debate over the meaning of Islam is between such people. A rather similar debate went on a among both Jews and Christians (and in odd little corners is still going on). I sincerely hope that those who interpret Islam in terms of peace, justice, and toleration win the debate — for all our sakes, theirs included.

  11. Henri: yes, bias could also lead to flawed argument. But since many other things could lead to flawed argument, observing a flawed argument isn’t evidence of bias.

    To play devil’s advocate — maybe Pappas is correct that Islam tends to be worse than, say, Christianity, owing to frequent statements in the Qur’an about warring with unbelievers. It might not be such a radical statement. And it isn’t radical at all if we’re refring to these religions as currently practiced. I cannot think of a “Christian” country today where voicing mildly “heretical” ideas would get you punished. A Pakistani Muslim friend of mine assures my that were he to publically discuss some of his liberal interpretations of the Qur’an in his hometown, he’d surely be beaten.

  12. No doubt, some of the practices in contemporary Islamic nations are revolting. The sexual mutilation of young women is another particularly nasty example.

    As a counterobservation, Christianity has its own share of skeletons in the closet that easily eclipses those of Islam. Salem, 1620; Spain, 1481; and Jerusalem, 1099 comes to mind.

    Even in modern times, some repressive practices could be attributed to Christianity, such as the luddite Amish, the misogynistic Mormons, and even some white supremacy groups that claim inspiration from the bible.

    To accept that Islam is inherently more aggressive, a trend should be visible where practicing Muslims are more violent than Christians — and other religions, as well. A brief review of history does not lead to this conclusion. Jerusalem, in particular, is an interesting example: When Saladin reconquered it in 1187, the Christian population were spared, unlike the poor muslims that were slaughtered in 1099.

    As Charles points out, a flawed argument is not evidence, in itself, of bias. To use Adam’s example, it is also theoretically possible to be a Holocaust denier without being anti-semitic. Still, when we meet a self-proclaimed Holocaust denier, it is difficult not to be suspicious.

    I guess I feel the same way about Mr. Pappas and his stance.

  13. I’m sorry, I had hoped people would move on but this ad hominem attack is obscene. The idea that I’m a racist bigot holocaust denier because I allegedly believe that Islam is inherently totalitarian is absurd. I won’t go into my exact position as you can read about it on my website. But give me a break! It’s true that I did suggest reading Ibn Warraq’s book — which does see Islam as totalitarian. By the way, here is a review by Andrew Flew who has no problem with Warraq’s characterization:

    Is Flew a racist bigot holocaust denier? If so, then here is another one:
    “Bolshevism combines the characteristics of the French Revolution with those of the rise of Islam… Among religions, Bolshevism is to be reckoned with Mohammedanism rather than with Christianity and Buddhism. Christianity and Buddhism are primarily personal religions, with mystical doctrines and a love of contemplation. Mohammedanism and Bolshevism are practical, social, unspiritual, concerned to win the empire of this world.” — Bertrand Russell 1921

    Now, these fellows may be one to something and maybe they are not but to conclude prior to examination is what is called a prejudice. To resort to name-calling is cheep intimidation intended to stifle inquiry. Can we move on?

  14. Henri, two main points:

    1. I think that Islam as it tends to be practiced today is generally much less liberal than Christianity as it exists today. You correctly point out that in previous eras this was reversed, which is a part of my reasoning as I’ve debated Jason as to whether Islam is inherently illiberal, or whether it is qualitatively different from other religions in some inherent and dangerous respect. Religions aren’t fixed sets of ideas, they evolve.

    2.The more I argue with Jason, the more obvious it becomes to me that the charge of bigotry is completely mistaken. Let me summarize what I think his position is:

    First, he’s clear that he’s attacking Islam (a set of ideas), not Muslims.

    Second, he clearly recognizes that there are many Muslims who are moderates or liberals and seems to have no complaint against them.

    As I understand his primary point, true Islam is fundamentalist Islam, as endorsed by bin Laden, the Taliban, etc. The moderates who practice other variants are actually lapsed Muslims, or Muslims who are ignoring a part of there religion. While that may seem strained, it fits perfectly with something a Pakistani Muslim once told me, that there’s really no such thing as a fundamentalist Muslim — instead, believers differ in how much Islam they adopt. Jason also believes, rightly or wrongly, that “fundamentalist” Islam necessarily leads the believer to jihad against the West. (My “fundamentalist” Pakistani acquaintance disgreed.)

    At any rate, Jason argues that Islam is therefore the most dangerous ideology we face today; it’s the idee fixe of his website. I can’t say I agree, but it’s not bigotry (he might even be right) and he responds to rational arguments (I believe he’s even retracted ‘Islam is inherently totalitarian’ with ‘the Islam that pedominates today is dangerously illiberal and moving in the wrong direction’ but he can speak for himself on this).

  15. P.S. Earlier I stated that I did not find Jason’s arguments to be very good; I am less inclined to say that now. I think there was a good deal of talking past each other initially. Now that I have better understanding of his positions, he makes more sense to me, even when I disagree.

    While readers of Tom’s blog may not care, I don’t want to have the “not very good” comment hanging out there without mentioning this.

  16. I haven’t read the Koran, so maybe you Islamic scholars can bottom-line it for me: Does the Koran, the fundamental text of Islam, advocate attacking the infidel, and forcing submission to its doctrines, or not? If it does, then it’s at least a religion of tyranny, if not totalitarianism.

    Posted by: Bilwick1 at October 3, 2005 01:07 PM (Reposted 10/6)

  17. Mr Pappas:

    Who called you a Holocaust denier, and where? Which comments do you consider ad hominem?


    Points taken, and I’m inclined to accept your judgement about Mr. Pappas, given your effort.

    One final point: Your Pakistani friend’s description of Islam doesn’t really distinguish it from Christianity — fundamentalist Christians often criticize moderate Christians of cherry-picking the parts of the bible they find agreeable.

    That said, you are most likely correct that the bigotry charge is mistaken. If I interpret the position correctly, Mr. Pappas thinks that Palestinians, for instance, would not have blown up creches if they had been Christians instead of Muslims. That may or may not be correct, but it is not bigotry.

    Posted by: Henri Hein at October 3, 2005 09:07 PM (Reposted 10/6)