Many of you may not be aware of the raging debate between the Liberal Left and the Democratic Libertarians in the U.S. over the issue of ISIS or more specifically, the degree to which Islam is responsible for ISIS; but it’s a debate that I suggest a sometimes over-tolerant Britain, should pay much more attention to.
The debate came to the fore after this exchange between Sam Harris and Ben Affleck on Bill Maher’s show Real Time a few months ago. After David Cameron’s comments yesterday about Islamic communities needing to take much more responsibility for those among their ranks who are being radicalised, it’s important for the country to get a head start on the real issue raised here; in short, that Islam itself needs to be at the centre of our criticism if we are to actually tackle this social problem properly.
The exchange is typical of the self-flagellation Liberals commit upon themselves over this issue; they deep down know that it’s incredulous to truly believe that Islam as doctrine bares no responsibility for the existence of an ‘Islamic State’, but the obligatory outrage kicks in before they can surrender to this logic. To break it down:
On the one side; the Afflecks of this world, a.k.a those who know enough to believe that “ISIS couldn’t fill a ball park in West Virginia”, argue that Islam cannot be criticized because it tars with the same brush those moderate Muslims who, like us, abhor the morality and existence of ISIS. While of course this should be avoided, this defence of moderate Muslims is at best naive about the impact moderates have on an anything-but monolithic faith; and more likely, a complete misunderstanding of the argument being made by the Libertarian wing.
Essentially, the argument of Harris and Maher here is this, Islam is an idea and ideas should be criticised when they are bad; in the words of Harris, Islam is the “motherlode of bad ideas”. The point to make here is that from a Libertarian perspective it is perfectly possible to criticise and idea without criticising the people the subscribe to it; it is possible to criticize Islam without demonising Muslims.
I have a theory for why Liberals, as opposed to Libertarians find this concept so hard to understand; firstly, that it is actually they who cannot disassociate ideas they hate from those who hold them. Hatred of Tories in this country for example, or more specifically where Liberals would refuse to share a room with one, or wash their hand after a traditional western greeting come to mind. This is why whenever they hear criticism of Islam, they see it as an analogous criticism of Muslims as people.
However, I also think that it comes from a different reading of what Liberalism is actually about. What is Liberalism if not Voltaire’s quote:
“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
While Libertarians look at that and read “I’ll happily criticise your ideas, but I would never tell you that you CANT believe them”, it seems to me that Liberals read it as “You’re wrong and if you criticise other peoples’ beliefs you are doubly wrong, because they should be able to believe them no matter what!”. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it explains a great deal of Liberal behaviour; tacitly ‘letting off’ Islamic inspired atrocities, as they are more interested in patronisingly defending people that aren’t even being attacked.
However, it is how Bill Maher opened his critique that is the greatest irony that Liberals need to appreciate. When Libertarians criticise Islam and its cultural inheritance for being antithetical to Liberal principles; Freedom of Speech; Freedom of Religion (particularly the freedom to leave them); Freedom of Association; Equality; the ire of Liberals is not directed at that injustice, but at those pointing out something demonstrably true, Islam is heavily responsible for Islamic fundementalist voilence, and decrying them as ‘Islamophobic’.
A further irony, the moderate Muslims who are no fans of fundamentalism either, are the ones who already no longer believe in many of the aspects of the religion that lead to these violent ends; they have in order to fit into western society, already moderated these beliefs out of their doctrine. If you make an intelligent enough criticism of Islam as an idea there is no reason they, our ‘allies’ against ISIS and the like, should be offended. However frankly, even if they were, if we are serious about finding a way to dismantle an ‘Islamic State’ ideologically, it is a logical absurdity to remove critique of Islam itself from the table.
While the full on critique of Islam can wait for another time, I will leave it here, having hopefully increased the willingness to ‘open the door’, so that criticism of Islam as an idea and emphatically NOT Muslims as people, is accepted as necessary in this argument.