A Continuation

We’ve been having a discussion in the thread following my post, Extremists Seek to Divide Us. As it is has now dropped of the page (or will do when I press “post”), I thought I might keep the argument going, because it has been a good one.

Morgoth says:

The difference is, however, that whereas Atzmon, WJ are attacking people for who they *are*, i.e. racism, my objections is with what people *believe*. And as you well know, I have never had truck with racism. I have consistently lauded, for example, non-muslim arabs in the United States. If tomorrow for example, there was a mass conversion in Judea and Samaria away from Islam to either atheism or (tolerable for now), other religions, then I would call for an immediate conference to solve the problem once and for all, and for a new Marshall plan to aid the area in settling down. People can no more change their skin colour than grow a new arm, but belief systems are transitory and a choice.
David T: …My argument is that Islamism is a political philosophy, which is not shared by many many muslims, and that it simply doesn’t do insist that any muslim who says that he does not accept the arguments of the Islamists is a liar or a fake.

Your point would be valid if it wasn’t for the fact that in Islam there is no difference between the political and the religious, there is no “render unto Caesar” quote to provide even a oft-ignored figleaf of justification for secularism. All the Islamists actually do is to follow the tenets of their faith, as laid out in the Qu’ran. There is no history of abjoration of texts like in the other major Abrahamic religions.

David T: The point of this post is to talk about the glee which extremists feel in knifing the middle ground. What they want is for all muslims to feel as if they have to stay true to their beleaguered bretheren, and for otherwise temperate two staters to feel gleeful at every misfortune to befall a Palestinian or muslim.

I do not share your optimism for the middle-ground, simply because experience has shown that the middle-ground is largely a fiction of westerners such as yourself projecting your own rationality where none exists. It works for Christianity or Judiasm, but alas it doesn’t work for Islam, simply because of the way that the Saudification of Islam has worked. Again, your argument would have been sound and apt in c. 1900, but nowadays, alas, I feel that it doesn’t. Now, if you are telling me that you know people that fit this “middle-ground”, then in the same-way that someone who doesn’t follow the Nicene creed isn’t a Christian, then they aren’t muslims. And if they don’t follow the Quran etc, then I have little problem with them other than the same I would have with any theist religion.

Now additionally, I feel you’re indulging in the classic arts technique of triangulation, i.e. when there are two positions, therefore the middle-ground between them must be more valid. However, I come from a scientific background, where there is simply one position, supported by the facts, and anything else is wrong. (I have for a long time been involved in the fight against Creationism, to the extent where I actually have articles published on the talkorigins.org archive, and I’ve seen how triangulation works) And that is how the world operates.

This is my response:

Ok, briefly:

1. Don’t mistake this for triangulation. I’m not making a hackneyed plea for the middle ground. I’m arguing in part about definitions, and in part about attidudes and methods.

Now, if you are telling me that you know people that fit this “middle-ground”, then in the same-way that someone who doesn’t follow the Nicene creed isn’t a Christian, then they aren’t muslims.

2. On definitions: I don’t think that religions have an essential nature at all. I was talking to a friend this weekend who was recounting the thesis that Christianity was essentially a gnostic religion, which had then eschewed gnosticism and replaced it with literalism, while maintaining the gnostic texts. If this is so, then Christianity is a religion which has changed in essence fundamentally, without changing its outward appearance. The same is true of Islam, which manifests in a range of forms, from the mystical to the puritan to the political. The essential truth of Islam is the oneness of god and the finality of Mohammed in a succession of prophets. That is its Nicene creed. Everything else is up for grabs.

Now, if you’re saying: “but look, the version of political Islam is becoming dominant in significant parts of the muslim world, including but not limited to the arab world”, I’d agree. If you’re also saying “it can make a plausible claim to Islamic authenticity, because it draws on ancient religious texts which appear to boster its central argument about jihad and death”, I’d also agree.

It is, however, a mistake to think that this is all Islam ever has, is or could be. The reason that Qutbism rings a bell with so many muslims, is that it has fifty years of proslytising, and that is long enough to start an intellectual tradition. It is long enough for that tradition to become factionalised, too. And the tradition stretches back before Qutb: ideas do not spring out of a vacuum, and Qutbism draws on other muslim thinkers.

You think that the nature of the conflict is such that it will only be stopped if it is defeated spectacularly. That is not the only possible story of Islamism’s demise. You could be right, certainly. Or, alternatively, Islamism could run out of steam, and mutate into something rather different. Nearly thirty years into the Iranian Islamist revolution, and there is a weariness to it. Look at pan-Arabism as a precedent, too. Or, indeed, Communism

Now, what might come may be catastrophic: a maze of Hamas-like failed states peppering the Middle East, punctuated by warlordism, with the middle classes in flight and dispersed all over the world. Or it might not be.

We might not be able to predict what will happen, but we do need to be both diverse in our approaches to planning for what is to come, as we always must be; and decisive when we need to be.

Which brings me onto my final point.

3. The methods which we use need to be imaginative. We lose if we polarise into two or more camps. I think that there is nothing more destructive to our hopes – apart perhaps from sly cynicism – than this. I do genuinely believe that the nutters of the far left and far green know this, and are determined to force a conflict. If they do not, it is nevertheless its effect.

On religion, race, and identity: what I’d say is this. Race defined in terms of skin colour and so on is immutable, certainly without chemical intervention. But the meaning which people import into these physical characteristics is far from fixed. Race, in this sense, is culture.

I have a clear understanding of Englishness, for example, which is not premised on genetics; ditto the SNP and Scottishness. Not everybody will agree, certainly. But remember that people have changed their race over time. Egyptians regard themselves as members of the Arab family, for example.

Religion, by contrast, could also be said to be fixed. Religious identity may not identify everybody wholly, but to many people – particularly when they are under attack – religion may be impossible to change. Religion is culture. Could I stop being English? Not without an enormous rift, probably. Or, at least, many years of gradual and gentle cultural acclimatisation. Alternatively, I might have suddenly adopted a religious or a political identity, and might be able to leave it behind me with ease. It depends, doesn’t it?

I think that WJ is in a class of his own, because he is a “race realist”, and so believes that a person can never leave their “race” behind them because race is not culture, but rather a transcendent truth which guides our every move.

Islam-baiters are not racists. I think they are perverse about the mutability of culture, and wholly partisan and essentialist in their vision of Islam; in a way which mirrors not WJ but rather Gilad Atzmon’s concept of “jewishness” (Shamir, I think, has a rather more race-based vision of the issue).

However, what I find most offensive about the Islam-baiters is the charge of “Taqqiyah.” It isn’t the routine accusation of double speak I find so offensive: although it does have the effect of undermining attempts to point out, for example, the lesson to be learnt from the studied obscurity of Tariq Ramadan. It is the conspiracism: the assumption that all muslims are either dupes or con-men; infidels or liars. There’s no arguing against that position, really, is there?