Sunday, 10 July 2005

Condemning a culture

Berlin Bear and Mark have been disagreeing as to whether any Muslims have condemned the atrocities in London, and I have to note in response to both of them that the BBC World Service did speak to plenty of British Muslims who did so in no uncertain terms. I have no doubt at all that they were genuine condemnations, and good on them for doing so.

There are secular Muslims about who do condemn bombing innocent people, for sure, but I'd suggest however that just as there are few Muslims who actively campaign against clitorectomies or the compulsory wearing of veils, there are few who are active in seeking to remove the stain of violent jihad from their culture, and many -- including western intellectuals and commentators -- that apologise for it. (Irfan Khawaja points the finger at Tariq Ali, for example, over here. Sir Humphrey's posts Christopher Hitchens's response to Ron Reagan Jr over here.) And one of the imams who condemned violence yesterday on the BBC represented the mosque in which was recruited the British-born Muslim that tried two years ago to blow up a US passenger airline with explosives in his shoe. This is not condemnation so much as tacit acceptance of the evil in one's midst.

So, to answer another of Simon's questions, I don't by any means condemn 1.4 billion Muslims -- I don't even know most of them for goodness' sake. As Simon says (insert obvious punchlines here) , "much as I despise the bastards who did this, I despair when I hear comments that imply that the whole of Islam is responsible for this sort of thing." Clearly 'the whole of Islam' did not bomb London, or Madrid, or Istanbul, or Jakarta, or Bali, or New York. But there is a world-wide trend there, don't you think, that we should not ignore. One that needs to be taken seriously, and one that needs to be condemned.

In my opinion it is the culture of Islam fundamentalism that needs to be condemned, as I argued here briefly just the other day before all this happened, and here some weeks ago. And in answer to criticisms that this attitude is racist, or that cultures themselves are beyond criticism, nonsense. Culture and race are two different things. One can condemn a culture without necessarily condemning those within it :
The fact is that cultures are not beyond criticism (a point made last week by Wellington probation officer Josie Bullock), and nor should they be. We should judge Islamic culture, and indeed all cultures, according to how well they work for those within them. Thomas Sowell made exactly that point in his book Conquest and Cultures:
Cultures are not museum-pieces. They are the working machinery of everyday life. Unlike objects of aesthetic contemplation, working machinery is judged by how well it works, compared to the alternatives.
Islamic culture does not work for those dirt poor people scraping a living across the globe in Muslim theocracies, and it sure as hell ain't working for those killed by Islamic bombs in the cities across the world to which many of those dirt poor have themselves escaped in search of a better life. A culture that encourages murder and martyrdom and theocratic dictatorship is not a culture that reveres human life. It must be condemned and it must be defended against.
As long as the Islamic world harbours within it those have declared and carried out jihadic murder in the west, then the war of self-defence must be entered, both on the ground and in the battlefield of ideas.

It's not enough to just condemn it, however. Islam must be reformed, and the hate-success, clitorectomies-for-everybody, kill-the-west culture that has fomented nothing but hatred and poverty across the Muslim world firmly rejected. Witness the effect that the sisters of Robert McCartney (pictured left) had in speaking out against Irish violence -- in saying "NO MORE!" they brought the hope of an end to what once seemed unending. Only such a rejection from within is ever going to change the culture of Islam.

Second, Islam needs a Reformation. Urgently. As I pointed out here and here four years ago to noisy dissent, unlike the West, Islam never had a Reformation, and 1.4 billion Muslims and at least 750 Londoners are the poorer for that today. Islam never had a Renaissance. It never had an Aquinas to liberate science, thought and life from its religious shackles. Crikey, Islam doesn't even have a New Testament saying that all the God-awful and God-ordained killing in that earlier collection of papyrus is no longer necessary. Islamic culture needs to embrace Enlightenment values, and it needs to do so damn quickly.

It needs its own McCartney sisters and its own Aquinas. Until it gets them the culture stands condemned, with smoking ruins and a trail of corpses across the west as sad monuments to its destructive power.


  1. Islam did have some big reformers and famous scientists, but the Salafis always persecuted them for contradicting the Word of God, as revealed by the one true prophet Mohammed.

  2. Also - the West has had several major wars which arguably have reduced the percentage of violent idiots prevalent in the population. Evolution, in other words, whether by genetic or social development means.

  3. In your list of areas "not bombed by the whole of Islam" I find it curious that you neglected to mention Israel, which has, in terms of casualties to population, suffered a greater loss than New York on 9/11. As far as the whole of your post is concerned, you have succinctly summed up what I could not in a few short words allotted to the comments space. My main grievance with the likes of Berlin Bear is that they presume to know exactly what one stands for and refuse to read between the lines or seek out informmation on those they attack for what they perceive to be the antithesis of their "world view".

    We all have a chance to speak out on others' blogs. I think the discourse would be more constructive if one's first reaction was to attempt to understand each other rather than condemn one another with a complete lack of knowledge of that person's political leanings, religious persuasion or open-mindedness. And we all speak in generalisations. Attacking one for "generalizing" is a cheap trick of debate that many use to portray their opponent as "biased" or "closed-minded".

  4. Correction - I meant "suffered a greater loss than the US", not New York. Which actually points up the distress Israel has endured from terrorism even more.

  5. PC -

    But sadly, Irshad Manji was all too prescient when she wrote:

    The London transit bombings happened on a Thursday. Islam's holiest day of the week is Friday. That's when the most important sermons -- known as khutbas -- are delivered in mosques everywhere.

    And that's why Muslims everywhere face a test in the next several hours. Assuming we're serious that Islam means peace, we must demand that our Friday khutbas denounce the London terrorist explosions in unambiguous and unqualified terms.

    Here's what I predict will happen instead. The preachers will express condolences for the victims and condemnations of the criminals. Then they'll add, "But Britain should have never invited this kind of response by joining America in the invasion of Iraq."

    I'm hearing from too many Muslim acquaintance that despite what's being said in public, too many Muslim leaders are singing a more muted tune behind closed doors.

    But, having said that, every Muslim voice raised against the Islamofascists and death cultists is a welcome one.

  6. BTW, anyone who thinks it's time for an Islamic Reformation should take a look at

    Irshad Manil - the author of 'The Trouble with Islam Today - agree with you, and I don't think she's going to give up her religion without a hell of a fight.

    More power to her, I say.

  7. "But, having said that, every Muslim voice raised against the Islamofascists and death cultists is a welcome one."

    Absolutely right.

    "BTW, anyone who thinks it's time for an Islamic Reformation should take a look at"

    I will be. That looks interesting.

    BTW, I should say just to make it absolutely clear that condemning a culture does not mean breaking the windows of mosques, scrawling graffiti across their walls and threatening or abusing innocent Muslims. Doing so is not dending civilisation, it is just being a thug. A cowardly one.

  8. PC -

    Your last point is absolutely correct. As I've said on NZPundit, that's playing the Islamofascist game according to their twisted, hateful and cowardly rules. It also wins the death cultists sympathy and 'victim' status, both within and outside Islam, they wouldn't otherwise have - and certainly don't deserve.

    So what did the people who made these cowardly attacks on other's property achieve? I believe 'own goal' is the technical term, if they thought they were "defending civilization".

    I hope these bastards are caught and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. And then the Prime Minister goes to the Muslim community and has the guts to say, "This happened because you are citizens of an open, tolerant and pluralistic Western democracy. You have rights under the rule of law — not selective interpretation of a religious text. They aren't qualified by your religion, gender or sexual orientation. Think about that. Ask yourself if you're truly willing to extend the same courtesy to others. And if the answer is no, tell me why. Now."

    It won't happen, but I can dream.

  9. Good post PC. Cool headed, calm, well argued. I don't agree with everything you've said here, but I certainly agree with much of it. I don't share your apparent optimism regarding the progress that the McCartney sisters' stand has brought about, for one thing. I need to see much more evidence of change before I'll buy "hope of an end to what once seemed unending". I admire their stand, and I think it was important and has helped, but I'm not convinced it has (yet) brought about.

    At one point above, you wrote: "In my opinion it is the culture of Islam fundamentalism that needs to be condemned". That, I think, is crucial. It's essential that people, including (or rather especially) non-fundamentalist Muslims, focus on condemning the culture of Islamic/Islamist fundamentalism, rather than Islam in general. That is the distinction that I felt was missing from your earlier post, and which Mark failed to make (though he may have meant to make) in his comments. I'm pleased to see the distinction made carefully here.

    The spectre you raise of a Muslim Reformation is an interesting one. I'm not quite ure what to think of that. Certainly, that would not be something which could come from outside the Muslim Community, but would have to be from within. So, it seems to me, that one is a bit out of our hands. If it doesn happen, I hope it doesn't bring the same sorts of wars with it that the Protestant reformation did.

    Anyway, nuff said. Interesting post.

  10. Spectre? Interesting choice of words, but I strongly recommend you read Irshad Manil's 'The Trouble with Islam Today'. She argues that a liberal Islamic reformation isn't only necessary it's vital for Islam's spiritual and social survival. But she would disagree with you on one point: Those of us in the West have a responsibility to assert that values of pluralism and tolerance aren't only about 'rights' they're also about responsibilities. Some on the left have to stop being apologists for Islamic bigotry, harassment and intimidation they would roundly condemn coming out of the mouths of Christian fundamentalists like Brian Tamiki. (Having said that, some on the right also need to stop making over-broad - and frankly ignorant - generalisations about Muslims they would find grossly offensive if made about Christians or Jews. I've also been disgusted by some right-wing bloggers who've tacitly or explicitly condoned the vandalism of mosques in Auckland over the last few days.)

    People like Manil have to lead and shape any movement to reform Islam. But we in the West can't just wash our hands of any responsibility for challenging Islamofascism. it's a cop out.

  11. "BTW, I should say just to make it absolutely clear that condemning a culture does not mean breaking the windows of mosques, scrawling graffiti across their walls and threatening or abusing innocent Muslims. Doing so is not dending (sic) civilisation, it is just being a thug. A cowardly one."

    I agree wholeheartedly. The use of the word "condemn" conjures up all sorts of nasty images, when it merely means (for me, in this case) to renounce precepts of Islam that allow the slaughter of innocents, the abuse of women, ad nauseum. Ms. Manji does not bend over backwards to make the distinction between Islam at large and "fundamentalist" Islam, nor do I. As she explains in her book, the Islamic religion has a pervasive attitude of looking the other way with regard to the worst aspects of the religion, (including the cult of death that arises from literal interpretation of the Qu'ran as the absolute word of Allah), and it is this attitude that must change across the board. If you haven't read her book, BB, do so before continuing to excoriate me for what you perceive to be a "wrong" point of view on my part. I would also suggest that you start reading the Qu'ran, as have I, in order to ascertain the truth about the basis for the so-called "religion of peace".

    And, by the way, Mark D. Firestone really is my name, easily ascertained by a Google search especially since I own a construction business and ran for local public office last year in Sonoma County, California.

  12. Craig,
    There was no particular implication behind my choice of the word spectre. Perhaps "prospect" would have been a better choice. I was not trying to making any sort of a point with that.

    You make a fair point about the role to be played by non-Muslims in encouraging or pressing for an Islamic reformation. I accept that. I most certainly was not attempting to "wash our hands of any responsibility for challenging Islamofascism". Rather, I was trying to stress that, in order to be effective and Islamic reformation would have to be principally driven from within by Muslims who are fed up and want real change. It cannot effectively be imposed from without by non-Muslims. That was my point.

    I share your dismay about aspects of both the left and the right in response to this issue. I would add to that my own dismay at elements of the right who seek to shut down debate on this issue by screaming "terrorist lover" etc. when people do not accept their, as you put it, overbroad generalisations about Muslims.

  13. "I would add to that my own dismay at elements of the right who seek to shut down debate on this issue by screaming "terrorist lover" etc. when people do not accept their, as you put it, overbroad generalisations about Muslims."

    In fact, there was no "screaming", and it was terrorist apologist, not lover. Two different things entirely.

    Admittedly, my referring to Berlin Bear as a terrorist apologist was a below-the-belt shot, and I am not above admitting that it was out of line. I think it is important to note, however, that it came after BB's persistent, and completely wrong and unjustified characterizations of me and steadfast refusal to engage in a fair debate on a subject on which he is hardly the definitive source. As I said elsewhere, accusing your opponents of generalisations as proof of their bias is a cheap trick of debate.

  14. Interesting that you assume I was talking about you Mark. There are other forums where this issue is being discussed you know. But as they say, if the cap fits, wear it.

  15. Ya know, Berlin Bear, you could yake a minute, step back, and realize that we are essentially coming from the same place here. Our disagreement so far has, in it's basest avatar, centered only around whether one is talking about all of Islam or those Muslims who engage in, and do not condewmn terror. It has become a quarrel about semantics, and I am trying to put that aside by owning my transgressions and taking a conciliatory tone with regard to my previous remarks.
    On the other hand, you have shown yourself to be an arrogant prick with an undeserved and smug self-righteousness. Do they make a cap for that head?

  16. Mark,
    One more point of clarification. You wrote: "I think it is important to note, however, that it [terrorist apologist comment] came after BB's persistent, and completely wrong and unjustified characterizations of me and steadfast refusal to engage in a fair debate on a subject on which he is hardly the definitive source."

    If you go back and read the comments thread to which you are referring, you will find that 1) I explained very carefully what led me to make my assumptions about where you were coming from *and* added an apology if those were wrong asumptions; 2) I never at any stage claimed to be a definitive source on this subject; 3) my "steadfast refusal to engage in a fair debate" took the form of addressing in turn every single point that you raised, explaining my contrary point of view and explaining how I reached that point of view. In addition I expressed an assumption about what your reaction to my comment would be which, while presumptuous on my part, turned out to be exactly correct. With the exception of the last part (which I accept would have been much better left off) that, to me, is exactly how engaging in a fair debate looks. The *only* thing I refused to do is agree with you. I'm sorry that that bothers you, but I was not convinced by your arguments. That's how debate works: you have to convince the other side, and if you don't, you part without agreement.

    And finally, you've raised this twice now: "As I said elsewhere, accusing your opponents of generalisations as proof of their bias is a cheap trick of debate."
    This is a red herring. While I don't accept your premise that pointing out generalisation as proof of bias is not an acceptable argument, it is completely irrelevant here. The reason it is irrelevant is that, unless I am very much mistaken, I at no point did that in the previous comments thread. In fact, I'm not sure I even used the words generalisation or the word bias at any stage.

    (I see that while I've been writing this, you've made another comment, which I shall read and address shortly.)

  17. Mark,
    I see you were busy while I was typing that last response. Goodness. I will not be addressing or returning your personal abuse. It does strike me that we must have a very different idea of what a conciliatory tone must sound like.
    "BB's persistent, and completely wrong and unjustified characterizations of me and steadfast refusal to engage in a fair debate on a subject on which he is hardly the definitive source"
    does not fit into my definition of conciliatory.

    I shall now arrogantly, self-righteously and smugly go and see if I can find a cap to fit my head. Tata.

  18. Ah, I've reread the comments thread in question in detail and I've found where you came up with the dismissing generalisation thing from Mark. (I've also found that I did use the word generalisations once, so I was wrong in my previous comment - beg pardon). But it was Simon, not me, who accused you of generalising, so my assertion that it is a red herring in your dispute with me stands.

  19. Mark, this debate became about semantics when you chose to ignore the point-blank, irrefutible evidence that was presented to you by Berlin Bear. His retort was straight forward (as opposed to condescending) and gave you EXACTLY what you asked for and yet you demonstrated that your ego would not allow you to admit that in your passion to make a point, you engaged in generalizing of the kind that starts the bloody tiffs we now find ourselves in. It's not accurate, it's not careful and it's the same patriotic drivel that leads to the tragic loss of life we endure in this moment.

    I am fully impressed with just how strongly your ego enters your points of contention. Who gives a flying fart in space what your full name is. My first name is PaperMoon, my last name is CardboardSky. Don't believe me? Look up. And before a person of your noteworthy esteem and presence as a pillar of strength in the community bothers to head over to my blog to see what 'makes me tick' - don't waste your time. You'll find nothing but introspective babble and blather aboard as I do not run political comment there. I'm what some politcal activists may call 'the common people' - you know, the less engaged that many politically involved people love to argue they are more in touch with, and ironically have absolutely no idea how far off they are. If you have it in you to set your ego aside, you may see the bigger picture Berlin Bear was trying to paint before you resorted to pathetic name calling. Try getting over yourself and your more meaningful points may reach more ears.

  20. Papermoon, Cardboard Sky:

    Thanks. Glad you set me straight on all that.

    You can fuck right off as well.

  21. You seem like thoughtful intelligent people. I'd like to invite you to read, and perhaps discuss what you think of their politcal leanings and understanding.

  22. Dearest Mark, I do indeed hope to see you take a high profile spot in the political arena some day. At that juncture, my own ego would relish the opportunity to point out just how much of a farce it would be for you to ever represent anyone at any level. Enjoy the view from up there. It must be awfully lonely.

  23. Papermoon - At this juncture it has become painfully obvious that no matter what I say I will be taken to task for it by Berlin Bear and his fellow brown nosing fans such as yourself. So I might as well get a few jabs in myself. As they say, those who matter don't mind, and those who mind don't matter. Do have a nice life.

  24. In Bear's summation of his debate with Mark in the other thread, he forgot to mention that when rational debate became too much for him, Mark tucked his tail between his legs and ran away crying. I sense it's getting to that point now.

  25. Okay, anyone else want to take a cheap shot? FYI, "Secret Samurai", reaching a point where you realize that your opponent in a debate is interested only in attacking you for the sake of attacking you, and desiding it isn't worth pursuing can hardly be construed as "running away crying". This makes two supporters of Berlin Bear's that have had absolutely nothing of substance to add to the dialogue, and are merely standing on the sidelines cheering on a loser. Come back when you have a point to make.

  26. MY point, which you seem to want to claim as your own, was that you have had nothing of substance to say since the Bear trounced you in a blow-by-blow review of the debate above. Perhaps I'm cheering him on, but that's because

    1. I agree with him.

    2. He seems to have rebutted all your points, as well as defending his own.

    3. Based on previous experience I predict you'll just give up when you recognise a superior argument.

    There's nothing particularly new in what I'm saying, I'll agree, but nor is there anyhting particularly original in your comments either.

  27. My, what an interesting way of 'not pursuing'...


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