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It's Not Islamophobia When There Really Is Something To Fear:

The striking thing about the Abdul Rahman prosecution — in which an Afghanistan court is considering whether to execute Rahman because he converted from Islam to Christianity — is how Establishment the prosecution is. The case is before an official Afghani court. The death sentence is, to my knowlege, authorized by official Afghani law. The New York Times reports that the prosecutor, an Afghan government official, "called Mr. Rahman 'a microbe' who 'should be killed.'" The case is in a country which is close to the West, and is presumably under at least some special influence from Western principles (whether as a matter of conviction or of governmental self-interest).

We're not talking about some rogue terrorist group, or even the government of Iran, which is deliberately and strongly oppositional to the West. We're talking about a country that we're trying to set up as something of a model of democracy and liberty for the Islamic world. And yet the legal system is apparently seriously considering executing someone for nothing more than changing his religion.

This is telling evidence, it seems to me, that there is something very wrong in Islam today, and not just in some lunatic terrorist fringe. Doubtless many, I would hope most, Muslims would not endorse executing converts. But a strand of the religion, and a strand that is not far from the levers of political power in at least some countries, does seem to endorse such a position. This is deeply dangerous, most obviously to residents of countries in which radical Islamism has broad support, but also to residents of Western countries as well.

Nor can this easily be dismissed as an aberration that's not reflective of Real Islam. Real Islam, as I've argued before, is not a coherent whole, but a collection of many strands. Yet some of those strands, and not unimportant strands, represent an ideology that is deeply antithetical to freedom.

Given this, what should the West do? Believing as I do in religious freedom, I emphatically do not think that the bad views of some Muslim movements should lead us to restrict the ideas that Muslims generally — whether moderate Muslims or Islamists — teach in the West.

But neither can we ignore such teachings, when they aim at spreading fundamentally illiberal ideas. We need to criticize those teachings, both ourselves and, when effective, through our own influential institutions. We need to defend those who are getting into trouble for criticizing those teachings (consider the cartoons affair).

We need to call on moderate Muslims to criticize those teachings (just as I have called and would call on moderate Christians to criticize the harmful teachings of Christian radicals). If there's reason to think that some of the extremist Muslim organizations are going beyond teaching to criminal action, we need to keep those organizations under close lawful surveillance. And of course we need to do what we can to protect those outside the West, as well as ourselves, from the sometimes lethal excesses of those teachings.

I was particularly put in mind of this point by the juxtaposition of the Rahman trial and the report by UN special rapporteur [on racism and xenophobia] Doudou Diéne criticizing the publishers of the Mohammed cartoons, and the Danish government for allowing the cartoons' publication. The report says, among other things (some paragraph breaks added):

[T]hree of [the Mohammed] caricatures show: the head of the Prophet wearing a turban in the shape of a bomb with a lit wick, the Prophet in the likeness of a devil holding in his hand a grenade, and the Prophet offering virgin girls to committers of suicide bombings. This constitutes an illustration of three significant tendencies at the heart of the recrudescence of islamophobia.

The publication of the caricatures is, in its chronology, its initial motivation and with regards to the public concerned, revealing of the vulgarizing of defamation of religions. The caricatures published are the result of a contest launched by the newspaper in answer to allegations according to which the Danish cartoonists were so frightened by fundamentalist Moslems that they wouldn’t illustrate a biographical work on Muhammed. Thus the original motivation of the contest is the expression of a challenge and of an opposition to a group, the fundamentalist Moslems, suspected of causing an atmosphere of self-censorship. The identity of the public aimed at by the biographical work, children, reveals a concern for influencing the perception of a religion by a particularly significant and vulnerable age group. The object of the publication, a biography, showed the intention to present not a fiction but the life of the Prophet.

The dominating message of the caricatures was therefore to associate Islam with terrorism. The caricature relating to the sexual gratification of suicide bombers with virgin women suggests the return of a age-old historical islamophobic Western imagery: the association of Islam and its prophet with sexual depravity. The way in which these caricatures defames Islam has now been defined....

On the political level and with regards to the ethics of international relations, the Danish Government has not shown in this question, in the alarming context of the recrudescence of the defamation of religions, in particular of islamophobia as well as anti-semitism and christianophobie, the engagement and vigilance which it usually shows with regards to counter-acting religious intolerance, counter-acting religious hatred and promoting religious harmony. These values are precisely those which give direction, legitimacy and opportunity to the recent launching by the Secretary General of the initiative for an “Alliance of civilizations”.

The accusations of "islamophobia," "defam[ation]," "religious intolerance," and promotion of "religious hatred" strike me as quite damaging to serious, sensible Western consideration of the threat that some strands of Islam in fact pose. There really is something to be afraid of. There are true, not false, criticisms being made of important strands of Islam. Religious tolerance and a desire for religious harmony does not require silence about the dangers that those strands pose. And substantive criticism of an ideology (even criticism that I have argued is in some instances unfair, albeit in a way that is probably inevitable in heated public debate) shouldn't be tarred with the charge of "religious hatred."

I would say exactly the same, of course, about the need to criticize and be wary of radical Christian/Jewish/Hindu/etc. groups that preach death to infidels. And of course some centuries ago Christian religious extremism of the sort that we see among some Muslims today was regrettably commonplace. Fortunately, though, it has been some time since Christian governments have threatened to execute apostates. Unfortunately, one cannot say the same about modern Islam.

UPDATE: The New York Times reports:

Afghan clerics used Friday Prayers at mosques across the capital to call for death for an Afghan man who converted to Christianity, despite widespread protest in the West.
Thanks to Michelle Malkin for the pointer.

Justin (mail):
There's doubtlessly something wrong with Islamic fundamentalists today - these are the people we put in charge, because it was more convenient than creating a stable government that had a broader appeal. The rank and file Muslim probably does not care one way or another about this man, and that's in Afghanistan - the country who lived under dictatorial propoganda supporting Wahabbism for many years.

Iran and Saudi Arabia are also governments ruled by fundamentalists with too much cultural power. But to say the same thing about Turkey, much of the Middle East, India, or even Pakistan is pushing it. Certainly we are in a conflict with radical fundamentalist Islam, but that's not the same thing as being in a war with Islam, even if (and it doesn't) that made up a majority of the Muslim world. To blame Islam the way its practiced in most parts of the country, and almost entirely in the West, is at best guilt by association and at worst fearmongering and bigotry.
3.24.2006 4:14pm
Per Son:
Everyone needs to wake up about Afghanistan. The only place where there is even a smidgen of democracy is Kabul. The Taliban has already taken back over half of the country. Reagan was so smart to arm and train those loyal anti-Pinko patrols in the 1980s. Look how great they are now!!
3.24.2006 4:19pm
lee (mail):
Sure, I agree. The problem of course is this is an instruction from Mohammad himself. It is not a matter of interpretation. It represents an impossible obstacle to Islamic incorporation into the civilized world.
3.24.2006 4:21pm
JJV (mail):
"Democracy" means doing what the demos wants. In Afghanistan that means killing apostates. In this country we are allowed to kill traitors. In Islam betraying your religion is worse than betraying your country. We merely have hundreds of years of the nation state and the fact that Christianity is different ab initio from Islam so has led to different political forms. Democracy is not the same thing as a Western, liberal Republic approved by the ACLU (who, lets face it, doesn't really approve of ours). Where is the Moslem scholar who can come up with a reason not to kill apostates? Does Ann Coulter's converting them by the sword, seem so bad now?
3.24.2006 4:24pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
JJV: As to your last question, how about "Yes"? Converting Rahman from Christianity by the sword: Bad. Converting Muslims to Christianity by the sword: Bad. I'm willing to defend that.
3.24.2006 4:29pm
pst314 (mail):
"The rank and file Muslim probably does not care one way or another about this man"

What is your evidence for that belief? I fear that tolerance is a minority position in Islam. First, every Muslim I have personally met (and they were all educated) would, out of the blue, express bigoted opinions about other religions. Second, we see very few reports of Muslims speaking and acting for the rights of non-Muslims, but we see innumerable reports of Muslims killing dissenters, as well as vast numbers of Muslims calling for such violence.
3.24.2006 4:33pm
Per Son:
Democracy means a little more than majority rules.
3.24.2006 4:33pm
Hoosier:
EV--

You'd better stop giving such clear and unambiguous anwers. The laymen at this site might start doubting that you're really a lawyer.

This issue raises a question with which I wrestle, but can't answer. I'm not at all crazy about the idea of exporting ideas and values to radically different cultures. And it doesn't get more radically different than Afghanistan. I'm a Burkean/Oakeshottian conservative, and especially so in this sense: Cultures arise organically, and change must be slow and evolutionary if it is to "take." Ideas like religious tolerance and pluralism are senseless to many rural, illiterate Muslims. They are also unconvincing to a large percentage of educated Muslims in the Middle East, South Asia, and Europe.

So . . . do I take the intellectually consistent view? Killing apostates is unacceptable in western liberal culture, and I'm glad I'm here. But this has no application in Afghanistan. No, try as I might. I'm enough of a liberal to think that killing people for their beliefs is downright rude.

I suppose I part comapny with the so-called neoconservatives in two ways: (1)My lack of optimism for the democratization project; and (2)My lack of willingness to use American force to democratize. Frank Fukuyama's pieve in the NYT Magazine used an important but overlooked word: "opportunistic." My thinking is that Wilsonian policies *may* in fact make the world safer. But we can only adopt this approach when the chances for success are high, and the commitment is relatively low. So: Build civil society through funding websites in Minsk? Sure. Build representative democracy by chasing fanatics though Baghdad? No.

Where does this leave Mr. Rahman? Dead, probably. Which is why I don't sleep well at night these days.

Any thoughts from the highly intelligent VC crowd would be much appreaciated.
3.24.2006 4:49pm
Porkchop (mail):
Per Son wrote:


Democracy means a little more than majority rules.


Actually, it means only that. You are confusing "democracy" with "liberal democracy." (That may be the crux of the problem with U.S. foreign policy today, as well.) "Democracy" does not necessarily entail universal suffrage, minority rights, or due process of any kind. Athens was a democracy of a sort, but it still limited the franchise to a small group of "citizens," exiled citizens and former leaders by majority vote on a political whim, executed philosophers as public dangers, practiced slavery, and treated women as chattels.
3.24.2006 4:49pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Righto, Porkchop. It is one of my hobbyhorses that democracy *follows upon* the rule of law, civil rights, etc., etc. -- those do not *flow from* democracy.

Re: EV's excellent post, many Muslims do not enjoy the relaxed scepticism that Westerners, even religious ones, have about their own religion. They take it dead-seriously. That is a problem for their relations with we post-Reformation folk.
3.24.2006 4:52pm
sbw (mail) (www):
Sorry, deomcracy means much more than majority rules. It codifies humility, the process of peaceful change, and consideration of others.

-- First: Society is too important to leave to religion. That means people have to learn what the minimum requirements of society are and why.
-- Second: Even if one does not at the outset agree with the first point, it should be easy to see that persuasion is ineffective against those who do not believe, so religion cannot successfully convince others to participate under religious rules.
It's time for a change of mind. The idea that someone can claim control over the life of another by virtue of magic is bankrupt. We need to realize we are in a race to describe the simplist, compelling explanations for an abstract, minimal society. See Turning point and Why Democracy and explain to me what does not make sense.
3.24.2006 4:54pm
dunno:
The fact that the persecuters here are government prosecutors performing their Constitutional role in a moderate Islamic nation says diddley about Islam in general. Afghanistan is a client state of the US, which had veto power over every clause in the Afghani Constitution. That Afghanistan has a Constitution which enshrines Sharia only means that the Administration thought that such a conceptualization of human rights was not problematic from the Western point of view.

I'd imagine that an administration that shared the classical liberal notion that natural rights should be respected might have been able to head off something like the Abdul Rahman affair, but I never fooled myself to think that this was such an administration.
3.24.2006 5:00pm
Cornellian (mail):
Could it be that it might be a good idea for Afghanistan to look at international norms of civilized conduct? Oh the heresy. Perhaps we should send them a speech or two by Justice Ginsburg.
3.24.2006 5:07pm
Vovan:
I'd imagine that an administration that shared the classical liberal notion that natural rights should be respected might have been able to head off something like the Abdul Rahman affair, but I never fooled myself to think that this was such an administration.

Well that's a little bit harsh, after all they will probably release the man - they'll call him insane, but release him nonetheless.

For me personally it comes as no surprise that the current govenrnment chose to literally interpret Shari'a. After all how else to do you expect to maintain consensus in a country that has 50-something different ethnic groups, that until a couple of years ago were perfectly fine with killing each other off. And they have been doing that for the past 20 years.

So to expect Karzai to instill western democratic values into a polity that shares very few cultural characteristics besides Islam, and on top of that impoverished and under attack, is to me shortsighted.
3.24.2006 5:08pm
dunno:
Vovan:

So to expect Karzai to instill western democratic values

I never said I expected Karzai to do any such thing. I said that the designees of the President of the United States had full veto power over all portions of the proposed constitution, before it was ever put to a vote by the Afghanis. Since the Bush Administration has been rather underwhelming on the respect for human rights front, the fact that it failed to excise the Sharia Trojan Horse from the Afghani Constitution seems par for the course.

But no, I have only the greatest respect for Karzai. He's playing William Tell against AK-47s, and getting precious little support from us.
3.24.2006 5:20pm
dunno:
Cornellian:
I think that that's the preferred position of most Libertarians: Kennedy and Ginsburg should be banished to the third world.
3.24.2006 5:25pm
Elliot123 (mail):
Lee: "Sure, I agree. The problem of course is this is an instruction from Mohammad himself. It is not a matter of interpretation. It represents an impossible obstacle to Islamic incorporation into the civilized world."

I doubt it is an impossible obstacle because many Muslim countries don't kill the apostate. It is a bit like the Catholic ban on birth control. Nobody pays attention. Populations easily find ways around religious instructions when they want.
3.24.2006 5:44pm
IrishEi (mail):
Nor can this easily be dismissed as an aberration that's not reflective of Real Islam. Real Islam, as I've argued before, is not a coherent whole, but a collection of many strands. Yet some of those strands, and not unimportant strands, represent an ideology that is deeply antithetical to freedom.

I fear the biggest problem that we have is Islam itself. Since 9/11, Americans have been told that we are in a War on Terror against Islamic extremists. We have waited more than four years to hear words of condemnation from moderate Muslim leaders; but aside from a few isolated and thoroughly westernized Muslims, that has not happened. In spite of the fact that this supposed majority of peaceful Muslims have not expressed outrage at the heinous deeds committed in the name of Allah, we are still being force-fed the idea that Islam is a religion of peace.

Not wanting to jump to irrational and emotional conclusions, I have undertaken the mind-numbing task of reading English translations of the Koran online in search of evidence that Islam is truly a peace-loving religion. I have found none; in fact, what my reading of the Koran has revealed to me is just the opposite. Islam is fraught with violent and reprehensible dicta that reasonable people are compelled to reject.

If my admittedly limited research is correct, then I am truly terrorized. But, this is not a War on Terror, it is a Crusade against more than a billion Islamists whose legions have infiltrated every corner of the globe
3.24.2006 5:44pm
John Herbison (mail):

[S]ome centuries ago Christian religious extremism of the sort that we see among some Muslims today was regrettably commonplace. Fortunately, though, it has been some time since Christian governments have threatened to execute apostates.


For governmental authorities to urge courts to write into law the religious precepts of the majority faction of the governing party is not so remote as the above quote suggests. While execution based expressly upon religious affiliation remains beyond the pale in this country, the difference between the Afghan successors to the Taliban and the Pat Robertson wing of the Republican Party is one of degree rather than one of kind--both groups worship a deity whom they perceive to be such a weenie that He needs Caeser's help.

Doctor Frist, can you say Schiavo? Senator Santorum, can you say "recognition of a right of privacy will lead to man on dog" encouners? Reverend Falwell, can you say "God didn't create Adam and Steve"? This kind of advocacy of government as God's enforcer helps to explain why Mr. Rahman will likely meet the same fate in Afghanistan as his fellow Christian Karla Faye Tucker did in Texas.
3.24.2006 5:45pm
Bpbatista (mail):
BRAVO!!!!!! Finally, people are waking up to the fact that Islam is not a "religion of peace." It is an aggressive, oppressive, violent religion and has always been so. Mohammed was a warrior and the Koran is full of injunctions to make war on and kill infidels. This is not the "lunatic fringe" of Islam -- for Islam the "fringe" is mainstream. The sooner that we realize that Islam is the problem the better off we will all be.
3.24.2006 5:45pm
Elliot123 (mail):
Eugene Volokh wrote: "Real Islam, as I've argued before, is not a coherent whole, but a collection of many strands."
AND
"Fortunately, though, it has been some time since Christian governments have threatened to execute apostates. Unfortunately, one cannot say the same about modern Islam."


Are there many strands to Islam, or is there a single "Modern Islam?"
3.24.2006 5:49pm
Elliot123 (mail):
...Or is modern Islam one of those strands?
3.24.2006 5:50pm
jvarisco:
I'm not sure what this has to do with Islam itself. Are you suggesting Christians have no history of executing converts? What about the inquisition? If you want to look back even less, what about Mary Dyer? Afghanistan has problems, but I don't see that Islam itself is one.
3.24.2006 5:54pm
IrishEi (mail):
I doubt there is a modern Islam. The religion cult has not changed in hundreds of years.
3.24.2006 5:56pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

For governmental authorities to urge courts to write into law the religious precepts of the majority faction of the governing party is not so remote as the above quote suggests. While execution based expressly upon religious affiliation remains beyond the pale in this country, the difference between the Afghan successors to the Taliban and the Pat Robertson wing of the Republican Party is one of degree rather than one of kind--both groups worship a deity whom they perceive to be such a weenie that He needs Caeser's help.
As distinguished from those factions in American politics who don't believe in a Deity of any sort, but are prepared to pass laws telling people who they must hire, with whom they must do business (or not do business at all), effectively prohbiting self-defense by banning guns, requiring people to pay taxes to support public schools, welfare systems, and art projects such as "Piss Christ." Does government become somehow more acceptable to you because the motivation for passing laws isn't religious in nature?

Government, by its nature, imposes moral values. Argue for anarchy if you want. Argue for some sort of supermajority or consensus requirement on what moral laws the government imposes. But to suggest that there is some bright line that distinguishes conservatives from liberals in this area is silly.
3.24.2006 5:57pm
Bottomfish (mail):
I hope everyone on this thread will read, if he or she has not read already, "The Middle East and the Powers" by Elie Kedourie. He saw the future, fifty years ago.
3.24.2006 5:59pm
IrishEi (mail):
Jvarisco:

Christianity and Judaism have evolved over the centuries particularly as a result of the Enlightenment. Islam has not; somehow it missed the Enlightenment.
3.24.2006 6:09pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

I'm a Burkean/Oakeshottian conservative, and especially so in this sense: Cultures arise organically, and change must be slow and evolutionary if it is to "take." Ideas like religious tolerance and pluralism are senseless to many rural, illiterate Muslims.
Slow and evolutionary doesn't necessarily mean uncoerced. Islam, remember, isn't a million years old. It arrived in much of the Arab world at the point of a sword. The combination of a 2.5% tax on ASSETS (not income) on non-Muslims and laws that both privileged Muslims and humiliated non-Muslims (for example, prohibiting non-Muslims from riding horses or bearing arms) are part of why Jewish, Christian, and animist peoples of the region changed religions.

The religious wars of the seventeenth century (which were about more than just religion--take a look at who was on each side of the Thirty Years War) have a lot to do with why Protestantism developed toleration (in the strict sense of allowing other beliefs, without necessarily full equality). Protestant Europe didn't lose a belief in the importance of religion--it just recognized that trying to suppress different religious beliefs was like Robert Heinlein's famous aphorism: "Never try to teach a pig to sing. It doesn't work, and it annoys the pig."

My wife is skeptical that liberal democracy--or even illiberal democracy--is possible in the Islamic world. It hasn't gone through a sufficiently exhausting struggle with no positive results. I suspect that we could reform the intolerant strands of Islam, but it would require something as oppressive as the way in which Muslim goverments oppressed non-Muslims for centuries. The will simply doesn't exist, and short of using absolutely savage and brutal methods, I don't see any easy way to humble Islam sufficiently that it starts to go through the re-evaluation that Protestants went through in the seventeenth century, and that Catholics went through in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
3.24.2006 6:10pm
IrishEi (mail):
C E C:

Well said. I'm afraid I'm in complete agreement with your wife. And, as horrifying as it is to admit, there is no easy solution short of another barbaric Crusade, which no sane person could stomach.
3.24.2006 6:24pm
mwayne (mail):
Democracy: Two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.

Representative democracy: Two thousand wolves and one thousand sheep electing two wolves and a sheep who vote on what to have for dinner.

Constitutional republic: Two thousand wolves and one thousand sheep electing two wolves and a sheep who vote on what to have for dinner, but are restricted by a Constitution that says they cannot eat sheep. The Supreme Court then votes 5 wolves to 4 sheep that mutton does not count as sheep.

Liberty: Well-armed sheep contesting the above votes
3.24.2006 6:27pm
IrishEi (mail):
President Bush said the other day that the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq will be a decision for a future President to make. But this is so much bigger than Iraq. So much bigger than even the entire Middle East. We are in this for the long haul--decades at least.
3.24.2006 6:28pm
Agricola (mail):
One important thing we can do is to limit, to the extent possible in a free society (opinions will differ on this) the number of immigrants from Muslim countries we allow into the U.S. Otherwise we will constantly be facing decisions about free speech and freedom of religion which risk either setting terrible precedents or caving in to extremism.
3.24.2006 6:29pm
IrishEi (mail):

facing decisions about free speech and freedom of religion which risk either setting terrible precedents or caving in to extremism


Just like most of Europe has been doing...
3.24.2006 6:32pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Elliot123 writes:
Eugene Volokh wrote: "Real Islam, as I've argued before, is not a coherent whole, but a collection of many strands."

AND

"Fortunately, though, it has been some time since Christian governments have threatened to execute apostates. Unfortunately, one cannot say the same about modern Islam."

Are there many strands to Islam, or is there a single "Modern Islam?"
It has been some time since Christian governments — of any of the strands of Christianity — have threatened to execute apostates. The powerful branches of modern Christianity are unanimous on this (at least in practice, and generally in theory). This cannot be said about modern Islam; at least one Islamic government is threatening to execute apostates.
3.24.2006 6:58pm
IrishEi (mail):
Not only is the government of Afghanistan threatening to execute the apostate, but the populace are determined to kill him if the courts let him off on an insanity loophole.
3.24.2006 7:08pm
Justin (mail):
"It has been some time since Christian governments — of any of the strands of Christianity — have threatened to execute apostates."

It's been THAT long since Milosovec? Didn't he just die?
3.24.2006 9:26pm
Elliot123 (mail):
Eugene Volokh wrote:
"It has been some time since Christian governments — of any of the strands of Christianity — have threatened to execute apostates. The powerful branches of modern Christianity are unanimous on this (at least in practice, and generally in theory). This cannot be said about modern Islam; at least one Islamic government is threatening to execute apostates."


It is unclear if you see "modern Islam" as some single entity. You tell us it is not a coherent whole, but a collection of many strands. It appears one of the strands is threatening to execute apostates. Other strands do not execute apostates. So, what do you mean by "modern Islam?"
3.24.2006 9:32pm
amliebsch:
It's been THAT long since Milosovec? Didn't he just die?

http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/national/1103AP_Milosevic.html

POZAREVAC, Serbia-Montenegro -- Slobodan Milosevic was laid to rest Saturday beneath a tree at the family estate in his hometown....
...
No priest officiated at the interment because Milosevic was an avowed atheist.
3.24.2006 10:10pm
Pete Blackwell (mail) (www):
The problem isn't with Islam in general, it's with Afghanistan, one of the most ass-backwards countries on the face of the planet. Remember the black humor about how we were bombing them out of the Stone Age? They still have a few dozen centuries to go.

Is there a Muslim country with a more tragic history than Afghanistan? I can't think of one. To hold it up as somehow representative of Islam or of Muslim society is absurd and is to argue, if you will, in bad faith.
3.24.2006 10:28pm
Justin (mail):
Milosovec, an athiest, presided over a Christian government.
3.24.2006 10:39pm
Justin (mail):
If you need a history lesson about exactly why the Serbian genocide took place, this was the first link on Google that is descriptive.

Strangely, the religious non-Muslims were spared
3.24.2006 10:44pm
Taimyoboi:
"It's been THAT long since Milosovec? Didn't he just die?"

I think a distinction should be made between killing for geo-political gain where religion happens to be incidental to the conflict, and killing because of one's religion is a primary cause of the conflict.
3.24.2006 10:52pm
Lars Mylad (mail):
re Democracy: remember that even the Greeks didn't think this was an ideal form of government, just one that was rather more resistent to tyranny than most of the others.

re Treason: treason to one's faith may, under certain circumstances, be "just as bad" as treason to one's country - but - converting to another religion is not the equivalent of treason; it's the equivalent of expatriation.

re "moderate Islam": as the late and unlamented Mao Zedong observed, fighters are like fish but people are like the ocean. Terrorists cannot exist without a lot of passive support. Where you have clerics praying for murder, you do not have a significant moderate population.

re Christian violence: A lot of historical figures have shed blood in the name of Christ, but none of them could ever point to the place in the Gospels where Jesus told them to do it.
3.24.2006 11:11pm
Matt22191 (mail):
Justin,

I think it's pretty clear that what Eugene was saying was that no major strand of Christianity today sanctions the killing of apostates. The individual members of the government of Serbia may have been nominally (Serbian) Orthodox, but did they act with the sanction of the Patriarch of Serbia? I honestly don't know the answer to this, so perhaps you can enlighten me (and probably many other readers). If not, then perhaps it would be fairer to conclude that they acted against their supposed faith than to blame it for their actions.

And let's not forget that we're talking about the Balkans, where seemingly any excuse will do when it comes to slaughtering one's neighbors.
3.24.2006 11:25pm
Elliot123 (mail):
Lars,

Muslims will quickly flip through the Old Testament citing orders from God to kill one group or another, stone kids for cursing parents, or kill folks for picking up sticks on the sabbath.

When Christians say those rules no longer apply, Muslims ask why Christians insist everything in the Quran applies yesterday, today, tomorrow, in all places and circumstances, yet Christians can pick and choose from among God's rules.

That's the trouble with documentation.
3.24.2006 11:46pm
Bezuhov (mail):
"Milosovec, an athiest, presided over a Christian government."

My God, Justin, leave some koolaid for the rest of us, would you?

For a bright kid like you, your writing betrays a consistency that would make a hobgoblin blush.

My take is all this strictly Islamic jurisprudence is an effort to refute all those alleging that the Afghan government is a mere puppet of the West, including our ever-so-helpful leftist "dissenters". As if.
3.24.2006 11:47pm
Bezuhov (mail):
"Muslims ask why Christians insist everything in the Quran applies yesterday, today, tomorrow, in all places and circumstances, yet Christians can pick and choose from among God's rules."

The debate would markedly improve if Muslims would do just that. I don't detect much in the way of curiousity on that count myself - YMMV.
3.24.2006 11:50pm
Justin (mail):
It shouldn't take me more than 5 minutes to do a google search:

http://www.religioustolerance.org/war_koso.htm

http://www.religioustolerance.org/genocide4.htm

I should also not fail to mention the Ugandan Christian subgovernment who has killed over 2,000 muslims in the name of setting up a Christian theocracy. I'm not doing a google search for that. And the 100,000 or so Muslims that George Bush has killed because he "knows Jesus's heart" is probably too touchy a topic for most of you.


Depressing as it is to have to say, I'm not being anti-Christian for pointing to the obvious fact that religious populist extremism is bad regardless of the religion. Right now, the problem is worst in the Islamic world for a variety of reasons, including economic and political.
3.24.2006 11:50pm
Justin (mail):
And I'm sure all the dead muslims in Serbia, in Iraq, and in Afghanistan are all happy to know that they died for purely nonreligous reasons, being, you know, dead and all and able to appreciate that stuff.

(Yes, yes, 9/11, 9/11, 9/11, if most of you weren't a bunch of nationalistic xenophobes we could have a rational discourse and I could explain my actual position, which blames primarily Asian (muslim) political leaders for manipulating their populaces, but also involves the inequality and suffering this world has not only tolerated but flaunted and ignored, along with America's complete apathy towards the deaths of nonwhite nonAmericans, giving almost no public aid to the Tsunami and ignoring the fact that the deaths of 9/11 have now been paid almost 100 times over. But since you're willing to tie the death of one Christian in Afghanistan to the Dearborn Muslim community, you can live with sharing some responsibility for the criminal human rights tragedy that we so triumphly refer with terms like "Shock and Awe")
3.24.2006 11:58pm
David Timothy Beito (mail) (www):
I'm like a broken record but let me ask again: what does this latest incident say about the neocon/neolibertarian belief in nation building and spreading democracy that through U.S. force of arms that has pretty much been unchallenged at Volokh for the last five years? A lot of American blood and treasure has been devoted to these twin goals, but do we have anything to show for it other than blowback and other unintended consquences?
3.25.2006 12:03am
abb3w:
I suspect a blindspot in any discussion of such issues is that Islam is a religion, which touches off certain predetermined reactions and associated ideas -- freedom of religon, persecution concerns, and so forth.

I'm not an expert; I have no relevant degrees. However, I have been told I have a knack for asking interesting questions by some who do. So, I present a different perspective (brought on by some thought, some mediocre SF, and a nightcap): religion should be thought of as just another social organization, like a country or a corporation; the distinctions are of degree, not of kind. Each has rules, beliefs, and humans who identify with, share and/or uphold them to some extent that defines them. When the organization is a country, we call the rules Laws. When it's a corporation, it is called (in part) Operating Policy. When it's a religion, it may be called Commandments, Sharia, Doctrine... or, well, I'm not a sociologist, so I don't know what all "proper" terminology may be, but anyone can recognize it when they see it. And considering each of these type of structure separately, rather than as particulars of some general case, may be misleading to the point of constituting a fallacy of false category.

Social groupings are almost always non-exclusive to some extent (leaving aside certain attempts in Soviets Union and China). You may be part of a family, a local parish, a city, a nation, a faith, and a corporation. Some groupings subsume others, as the US subsumes the 50 states, or as the IT department is subsumed within a corporation.

Some social groupings are explicitly exclusionary of others. National citizenship is generally one such. Consider the Rosenbergs, who changed "faiths" during the Cold War from the US to the USSR. In part for that, the US executed them for it. I also recall having seen somewhere (perhaps here, perhaps elsewhere) a claim that one of the main cultural disconnects between the "Caliphate" and the West is that they do not understand the idea (or perhaps, accept the validity) of a distinction between secular and religious law. We found our law in social theory, and "the will of the people"; they found theirs in the Will of God. In my contemplation of each, I find both to have set their conceptual foundations in a disturbingly insubstantial medium a long ways from the bedrock.

Now, please don't take this to mean I condone the Islamic position that Rahman deserves to die; I don't. I merely see an interesting parallel to the conflict between other "law"-invoking social entities: nations in an international community.

So, consider Islam a nation without borders, allowing some forms of dual citizenship (such as with bordered nations) but prohibiting others. (Hm... "my kingdom is not of this world"?) Consider al-Qaeda as a state within the nation, as are more moderate strains of Islam. Islam may be viewed a nation intolerant of meddling within its sovereignty and unwilling to provide effective restraint of its own. So, my "interesting question": might the principles of international law provide any insight as to how to address the resulting problems?

I'm not a legal scholar, so I can't say. As far as I know there unfortunately is only one legal principle of International Law that has so far withstood the ultimate test of time: Ultima Ratio Regum and the Right of Conquest. And alas, when dealing with fanatics, Will Rogers' epigram is the main thing that springs to my mind: "Diplomacy is the art of saying "Nice doggie" until you can find a rock." I hope someone out there is smarter than I am....

My prejudice in the matter is that Islam is an inexorable predator in the ecology of ideas. I believe that it has fundamentally entangled counterfactual tenets that in present form obstruct and/or preclude intellectual advancement and adaptabilty of its members, and useful complexity of its own social structures and those social stuctures with which it intertwines. While noting much of Christianity shares many of these flaws, Christianity seems to have more institutional familiarity with humility... at least recently. I have an additional insufficiently relevant prejudice that we face in a historically short timeframe immenent Malthusian collapse that is unlikely to be averted; more relevant, I believe these aspects of Islam will tend to make any such collapse less avertable and worse when it happens. (Not that it's the only such social structure with that failing....)

Presuming my prejudice is accurate, it would be desirable to induce a change in Islam... or, more precisely, induce it to evolve into something (for a start) less overtly hostile to competing ideas and the social institutions thereto related. The simplest mechanism and evolution to conceive would be applying the mechanism of Ultima Ratio to evolve it to being "extinct". Of course, that brings in either Menken or Einstein: "For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong." (Google attributes variously, I don't recall, and it's not too important who said it, anyway.)

It would be nice if someone clever could come up with a mechanism to apply evolution-inducing pressure to Islam that doesn't share Menken's pitfall. It would be nicer if it was a mechanism resistant to being turned against more functionally advantageous social institutions in turn.

However... my nightcap is now finished. I'm off to bed.
3.25.2006 12:31am
JohnAnnArbor:
Just taking one point of your fact-free screed:

giving almost no public aid to the Tsunami

Um, that's a lie. Did you notice the carrier group that went there immediately? The American military rescue teams spent a lot of time and resources there and were on the scene while the UN was calling us "stingy," scouting out 5-star hotels in the area, and not actually helping anyone; their reaction was a study of incompetence.

And I notice you included the word "public" to make sure you could ignore the benevolence of the American people, who traditionally give very generously through non-government channels, something that many other nations with more socialist outlooks just can't grasp.
3.25.2006 12:40am
JohnAnnArbor:
I should also not fail to mention the Ugandan Christian subgovernment who has killed over 2,000 muslims in the name of setting up a Christian theocracy. I'm not doing a google search for that

"Lord's Resistance Army." Complete psychopathic nutballs. See if you can find a Christian organization that won't condemn them.

Compare to Islamic reaction to, say, Darfur ("Nothing happening here, move along...").
3.25.2006 12:44am
Defending the Indefensible:
abb3w:

Your analysis is excellent. As I see it, the militant "Christians" and the Muslim Jihadists are preparing to go to war with one another. Indeed, that war may be considered already begun. As to who started it, who escalated, and by what justifications it continues to spiral out of control, is a matter for the history books.

For myself, when I contemplate the Armageddon they desire and are setting forth to create, I shall pray for the remnant, and seek peace with others of like mind.
3.25.2006 12:51am
John Boyle:
Benedict XVI, a serious and deeply thoughtful expert in comparative religions, does not believe Islam is suseptible to reform for a very practical, historical and non-ideological reason. Unlike Judaism or Christianity, which acknowledge that their holy books were written by men upon God's inspiration, the Koran is not Mohammed's interpretation or presentation of God's will . . . it is literally the word of God/Allah himself. Mohammed was merely the transcriber ("messenger"). As such, its dicta are not arguable nor are they subject to interpretation. This is why the Koran is so extremely sensitive to Muslims - it is literally a manifestation of Allah himself.

Unfortunately, the man, the human being, who is the actual author of the Koran, was a 7th century warlord. It is his version of governance, and his ruthless tactics for creating adherents, that has persisted unchanged - and unchangeable - into the 21st century Muslim worldview.

Globalization and modern communication has taken Islam by the scruff of the neck and pushed its nose into modernity, with all its cynicism and doubts about everything, and Islam is pushing back, as it has no other choice but to do. It is not Islam or Muslims whom they see challenged by the West . . . it is Allah himself.

What Islam is, is an anti-modern, anti-democratic totalitarian political system. Those in the liberal West who accord it the civil protcetions of a religion (and exceptions to the rule of law) will be overwhelmed by it, abetted by their own suicidal myopia.

While some among us may not think Western civilization in its present form is worth saving, one would hope they would at least oppose this particular end game, applications of which have been recently available for all to behold, and wait for a better enemy to support in the future.

All that we can do about it now is hope that as many as are needed for the fight will awaken in time.
3.25.2006 12:52am
Matt22191 (mail):
Justin,

If those two links of yours were directed at me, I'm afraid they didn't answer my question. Perhaps five minutes with Google isn't enough.

You also said, "And I'm sure all the dead muslims in Serbia, in Iraq, and in Afghanistan are all happy to know that they died for purely nonreligous reasons, being, you know, dead and all and able to appreciate that stuff."

Are you implying that someone here believes senseless killing is OK if it's for nonreligious reasons? If so, please point to the specific comment that supports that claim.
3.25.2006 1:31am
Challenge:
"Does Ann Coulter's converting them by the sword, seem so bad now?"

Without wishing to defend her comment, that's not what she said.
3.25.2006 8:32am
Challenge:
"I'm not being anti-Christian for pointing to the obvious fact that religious populist extremism is bad regardless of the religion. Right now, the problem is worst in the Islamic world for a variety of reasons, including economic and political."

Is it unthinkable that the holy book, history, and traditions of Islam are more conducive to violence and intolerance than those of Christianity? While one may view both fundamentalist Christians and Muslims as intolerant, are they equally intolerant? If the dreaded Pat Robertson were a Muslim, is there any doubt he would be among those approvingly labeled "moderates"?

It is apparent that the extremes of Christianity and Islam are worlds apart. Might at least some of this, probably a lot of this, have to do with the foundational texts and traditions of each religion? Isn't that, well, obvious?
3.25.2006 8:49am
Justin (mail):
Challenge,

When you compare the percentage of the world's population at the time which were killed by Christians under the name of Christianity to the percentage of the world's population at the time killed by Muslims by the name of Islam, then to the degree its obvious, I'd say its not the Islamic traditions you should be worried about.

John,

the question wasn't whether they were nutballs, its whether they existed. Eugene Volokh posed a particular question and I answered it. If you want to limit the question to which religion has a higher percentage of its people living in authoritarian regimes ruled by abject poverty, and thus more prone to violence, I think the answer to the question is obvious. I've seen no evidence (in Africa, where N is highest) that Christian nations with equal percentages of abject poverty and authoritarianism are any less (or more) violent than Muslim nations with the same characteristics.

Matt,

My response was simply stating that IF a "Christian worldview" focuses on nonreligious principles (such as capitalism, freedom, and hating the French), and still manages to kill outsiders at equal rates, then it should be equally condemned.
3.25.2006 11:17am
Justin (mail):
Oh and John,

The amount of public aid the United States gave Tsunami victims was zero, or close to it. The United States gave 950 million in private aid, or close to $4 per person, IIRC correctly. The total aid given by the West was $4 billion.

In comparison, the total aid the United States has given to the Iraqi war effort is approaching $600 billion, or nearly $2,000 per person. The aid for Katrina has been $40 billion so far and is not nearly enough.
3.25.2006 11:23am
Brother Bark (mail):
It is interesting to contemplate a possible near future (within twenty years) in which it has been made a capital offense in many Christian countries for someone to convert to Mohammedianism from Christianity, or from any other religion for that matter. Doubtless in such countries it would also be a serious crime for a Mohammedian to show disrespect to Christianity either directly or by implication, or to otherwise "mock Christianity" by practicing Mohammedianism openly, such crime meriting public flogging and asset confiscation.

Majority Christian countries generally have a practice of tolerance (in modern times) for other religions, but this could change fairly quickly if the vicious, homicidal hypocrisy of radical Mohammedians continues without abatement. The United States, for instance, really isn't that far historically from the mass internments of Japanese-ancestry residents and citizens, who were distinctly a peaceful lot and *not* in the habit of screaming for the murders of people who drew or published mocking cartoons or who converted to Christianity from, say, Shintoism or Buddhism.
3.25.2006 12:30pm
Elliot123 (mail):
John Boyle,

The argument that Islam cannot reform runs aground in Indonesia. Indonesia is the largest Muslim nation, but its culture and attitudes have little in common with those of the Arabs. If we can see such divergence between populations that both say they embrace Islam, then I'd say Muslim populations can take any number of shapes.

We have to acknowledge the difference between the attitudes and values of a population and the official teachings of a religion. It's easy to read the teachings, and make an academic case that a religion cannot reform. However, it is a mistake to conclude that all the populations embrace the official teachings. It's also much harder to gain an understanding of the various cultures and populations which are self-described Muslims.

For example, Catholicism bans artificial birth control. That's the official teaching of the religion. But, who would say that Catholics shun artificial birth control? The religion says one thing, yet we see the population embracing another. Catholicism hasn't changed, so how do we account for all those Catholic families with two kids? I'd suggest the same mechanism is available to Islam.
3.25.2006 1:25pm
John Boyle:
At the present time, there are no significant numbers of adherents to Christianity - or any belief system other than Islam - dedicated to the destruction of Western civilization. I am not impressed by arguments that misrepresent religious tenents as the motives for the cynical depredations of despotic political operatives in primitive political settings.

I fail to see the relevance of the line of argument which asserts a relativistic pox on all the houses of faith, and on the only society on earth (ours) with the capacity, the will and the history of helping other peoples in a significant way. If it is not "enough" by some calculus of petulant ingratitude, then prod the Saudis and the other emirates flush with gold to help their fellow muslims in need. They have billions for subversive madrassas all over the world, and nothing for suffering masses. Yes, they will stand in to help the Palestinians, but only after the oft bitten hand of the West has been withdrawn.

And I'm sure the recipients of aid for natural disasters took great note that the money and the goods came from the American people via NGOs rather than via the U.S. treasury, and that only 1/4 of all the West gave came from the uncaring and stingy U.S., delivered in large part by the U.S. military.
3.25.2006 1:36pm
John Boyle:
Elliot123

As to your example of birth contol among Catholics, I would say that this is an example of a teaching of the Church, now subject to the Reformationist tendency finally seeping into mainstream Catholicism, that every man can form his own conscience. This is another way of saying that the absolutist strain in Catholicism has been discredited and it now openly opposed without much effective sanction available for its defense. This is quite different from saying that the aspects of Islam that threaten us are merely tenets of the religion - my argument is that such elemets are the religion. And the absolutist strain is not only still dominant, but is aggressively (perhaps defensively) resurgent.

But your point is well taken. Turkey is another example. It is a hopeful view. But at what cost will it come, and does the West have enough courage and conviction left to bear the cost? It seems to me the tremites of the Left have prepared us for a collapse, not into the hands of their God-State as they planned, but into the hands of an unanticipated alternate foe, Allah's Prophet.

This seems to argue Buchananesque isolationism as a solution, except the forces of history now dominant (economic, primarily) will not allow such an option.

My perception is that the masses in Islamic countries are not as decisive as whoever takes and holds power by force and coercion, which is the entire premise and modus operandi of Islamic proselytization (dawa). And what if the more militant ones acquire state power and nuclear weapons? Pakistan is as much a threat as Iran, depending on from which direction the winds of change come that blow away the current regime. Iran is a current example of a largely westernized and modernized population chafing impotently under a despotic Muslim theocracy. The necessary reform can only take place if, not just basic tenets of Islam, but the basic assumptions of Islam, are put aside. The history of the religion does not bode well for the cost such a transformation may exact. And, in a sense, our current fix is the result of leaders in Islam seeing the impetus for this transformation (they would call it apostasy or treason) emanating from Western ideas and practices, when they should be looking inward (the real "jihad") for the source of their failures . . . which failures are only highlighted by the successes of the West, which intensify their hatred and seem to them to justify their argument.

Your position is basically the American Democratic Party position, I think. It is not so big a threat, and time will cure all ills; Islam will grow up. My position is more in line with the neo-con view that this is an intractable, potentially fatal threat to the West, and it must be pre-empted, undermined and confronted by every means possible.

It is not really a question of which view is correct. It is a question of which view will prevail. And regardless of which view prevails, what then follows could be unprecedented disaster. Since the enemy is not likely to desist any time soon, I think it depends on the magnitude and timing of the next attack.
3.25.2006 2:29pm
Elliot123 (mail):
John Boyle,

The notion that time will cure the ills of some Islamic populations has little basis. My point is there are models of benign Muslim cultures, and it is a mistake to think Islam is the single monolith the radical Islamists tell us it is.

I agree the enemy is an intractable, potentially fatal threat to the West. And I agree the most important task we face is seeing that the favorable model of Islam prevails. That's why it is essential that we know and understand the complexities of the various populations that are self identified Muslims.

Regarding Catholicism, I hope you are right and the common sense of the laity will prevail. To date, I have seen no cracks in the Vatican position.
3.25.2006 3:01pm
AST (mail):
A paid clergy is a dangerous thing.

The instigators of violence based on religious differences are nearly always clergy. Islam claims that no one is better than anyone else. It has nothing like a priesthood, where individuals are ordained and authorized to represent the religion. Yet it has allowed "learned" men to become Imams, and given them power of life and death over other people.

These radical imams are demagogues and they need to be dealt with harshly. Since most of these radicals are funded by Saudi Arabians and other Wahhabists, I think they should be deported there. They are part of an effort to hijack Islam around the world and turn it to their apocalyptic purposes.
3.25.2006 5:53pm
Bezuhov (mail):
"if most of you weren't a bunch of nationalistic xenophobes"

You're in luck - we're not! Who knew?
3.26.2006 3:11am
Anomolous (www):
Elliot123 wrote:
Muslims will quickly flip through the Old Testament citing orders from God to kill one group or another, stone kids for cursing parents, or kill folks for picking up sticks on the sabbath.

When Christians say those rules no longer apply, Muslims ask why Christians insist everything in the Quran applies yesterday, today, tomorrow, in all places and circumstances, yet Christians can pick and choose from among God's rules.


Why do Christians get to pick and choose? Err, they don't. That's because parts of the New Testament invalidate parts of the Old Testament. Exactly like the 21st Amendment replaces the 18th Amendment. The whole point of the teachings of Jesus and his apostles was to specifically confront the inhumanities of the Old Testament and usher in a new covenant between God and his people. An "eye for and eye"? No, that was replaced by "turn the other cheek". No working on the Sabbath? Changed to allow the performance of miracles, etc. Dietary restrictions? Circumcision? Animal sacrifices? Repealed.
3.27.2006 12:47pm