Tuesday, October 30, 2007
In the course of foraging for blogging material, I decided to look at Dennis Prager's column about his experience as a speaker for the conservative "Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week" campaign when I saw a link to it for the third time. I give it a mixed review.
... [T]hey saw a decent man, a sometimes funny guy, and heard a low-keyed, intellectual speech that contained not one word of gratuitous hatred.Prager here demonstrates the power of politeness, an issue I once touched on here, but in a way I hadn't considered at the time: Why play the part your opponents want to assign to you when simply by acting benevolent and civilized you demonstrate to the people who count -- thinking adults -- that you are likely a man of substance?
First, I found his experience as a campus lecturer instructive: It is worth mentioning that following my lecture, the student who wrote the column comparing me to a Ku Klux Klanner came over to me and said he was writing a column of apology to me and asked to be photographed with me. This is not surprising. Students at most universities are almost brainwashed into being leftist -- and the way they are taught to disagree with their political opponents is by using ad hominem attacks. Conservatives are described over and over as mean-spirited, war-loving, greedy, bigoted, racist, xenophobic, Islamophobic, homophobic, sexist, intolerant and oblivious to human suffering.
Such ad hominem labels are the left's primary rhetorical weapons. So when leftist students are actually confronted with even one articulate conservative, many enter a world of cognitive dissonance. That is one reason why universities rarely invite conservatives to speak: they might change some students' minds. [bold added]
Having said that, it's too bad that conservatives are increasingly becoming indistinguishable in their political goals from the left, as Cal Thomas and Newt Gingrich so openly admit. The chief difference between left and right these days would appear to be whether we should allow Islamists to establish a theocracy or establish a Christian one ourselves. And yet, clearly, there is a market for a real alternative. I guess I'll work to help fill that void.
But back to Prager....
Toward the end end of his column, he discusses the validity of the term "Islamo-Fascism". I think the term Islamic totalitarianism is better because fascism is only a specific kind of totalitarianism (and not really the right one at that), but that is beside the point:
First, the term is not anti-Muslim. One may object to the term on factual grounds, i.e., one may claim that there are no fascistic behaviors among people acting in the name of Islam -- but such a claim is a denial of the obvious.So far so good.
So once one acknowledges the obvious, that there is fascistic behavior among a core of Muslims -- specifically, a cult of violence and the wanton use of physical force to impose an ideology on others -- the term "Islamo-Fascism" is entirely appropriate. [bold added]
Second, the question then arises as to whether that term is anti-Muslim in that it besmirches the name of Islam and attempts to describe all Muslims as fascist. This objection, too, has a clear response.I have no problem with wanting not to label all individual Moslems as totalitarians. To do so would be just as wrong-headed as to pretend that there is not an Islamic totalitarian movement. It is with the notion that the term is good because it does not "besmirch Islam" I take issue.
The term no more implies all Muslims or Islam is fascistic than the term "German fascism" implied all Germans were fascists or "Italian fascism" or "Japanese fascism" implied that all Italians or all Japanese were fascists. Indeed, even religious groups have been labeled as fascist. During World War II, for example, Croatian Catholic fascists were called Catholic Fascists, and no one argued that the term was invalid because it purportedly labeled all Catholics or Catholicism fascist. [bold added]
Prager's analogy between ethnicity and religion obscures essential differences between the two behind superficial similarities. Certainly, one's personal development can be shaped by the ethnic background or religious milieu in which he was raised by accident of birth, but of the two, it is only religion -- and not ethnicity -- that offers a comprehensive (quasi-philosophic) view of the universe and ethical guidance along with it. And the epistemological influence of religion, along with its ethical guidance shapes the political views of the adherents of a religion.
Thus Islam, unlike "German-ness" or Italian ethnicity, is a system of thought and as such, it is fair game to ask whether its premises, cognitive methods, and teachings lead to totalitarianism when applied consistently or not. And if they do, then it does not "besmirch" Islam to say so: It renders justice to Islam and invites us to examine other religions critically in turn.
Furthermore, because Islam demands unquestioning obedience to its authorities in every aspect of life, including the political, I think that it is fair to say that the religion does strongly promote totalitarianism, especially given that, unlike for Christianity and Judaism, it has no strong rational tradition as a counterweight to this blind obedience.
But this is not especially to defend any religion. To the extent that a religion quashes one's independent judgement, it promotes tyranny. Islam is simply the "purest" religion in terms of its epistemological methods and how seriously its followers take it. And it, along with Christianity, is trending away from whatever rational influence has acted upon it in the past.
Prager is right. There are rational Moslems here and there. Indeed, I suspect that few of these would take offense at the term "Islamo-Fasciscm", even without Prager's hand-holding. So why take so much care not to "besmirch" Islam? I suspect that it is because Prager, religious himself, would regard a critical (i.e., rational) evaluation of any religion as unacceptable.
That is too bad, for faith and force are corollaries, as Ayn Rand once pointed out, and to give religion a free pass is to give tyranny a head start at establishing itself. One may wish that religion were a good thing, but wishing doesn't make it so.
11-8-07: Corrected a typo.