Ideas, not Marching Orders

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Daniel Pipes offers his post mortem of the latest wave of Moslem savagery to use the exercise of free speech by a Westerner as a pretext. His analysis is mostly spot-on, but I found myself momentarily perplexed about and wanting to comment on the following point:

The movie really did matter: The Obama administration dishonestly skirted responsibility for the murder of four Americans in Libya by claiming that the attack was a protest that got unpredictably out of hand against the "Innocence of Muslims" video. In response, leading analysts have concluded that the video hardly mattered anywhere. Barry Rubin scorns the video as a "phony excuse for the demonstration" in Egypt. ... Lee Smith speculates that "blaming the video is part of some complex public diplomacy campaign." Cliff Kinkaid flatly calls the video "a diversion intended to save Obama's presidency."
I had to regain my bearings after reading the first line, since I do not regard someone else's mere words as an excuse to harm others, much less commit murder. But do note the oddball interpretations in this paragraph. Pipes has a point, on which he elaborates further after admitting that some cynical elements in the Moslem world probably did use the video to fan discontent:
The person of Muhammad has acquired a saint-like quality among Muslims and may not be criticized, much less mocked. German orientalist Annemarie Schimmel pointed out (in her 1985 study on the veneration of Muhammad) that his personality is, other than the Koran, "the center of the Muslims' life." Outrage among Muslims over insults to his person is sincere; note, for example, the notorious section 295-B of Pakistan's Criminal Code, which punishes any defamation of Muhammad, even if unintentional, with execution. These regulations have so much support that two prominent politicians, Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, were assassinated in 2011 merely for voicing opposition to Pakistan's blasphemy laws. Their murders had nothing to do with the West and certainly were not diversions in a U.S. presidential campaign. 
I hardly think Pipes is excusing the kind of savage behavior we keep seeing any time someone makes a critical comment about Mohammed and some Moslem feels like the "prophet" is thereby being defamed. (I will also add that even out-and-out mockery of Mohammed does not justify any of that.) Nevertheless, I think Pipes narrowly misses something here: Why have so many otherwise thoughtful commentators twisted themselves into contortions to see a conspiracy where none exists?

I can see two things at play. One, many people are blind to the role of ideas in motivating actions. Many Moslems not only regard Mohammed as above judgement, they regard speaking ill of him as worse than (and justifying) the murders and other crimes they commit in response. They feel this way because they have internalized the teachings of Islam, without any moderating influence, such as Enlightenment values. This conclusion -- when anyone draws it -- necessarily impugns Islam. (Many Westerners, steeped more in relativism than in the values of the Enlightenment, will be loath to make such a judgement.) Two -- and feeding off both the relativism and the success of religious pluralism in the West -- many Westerners have a reflexive reluctance to criticize the religion of another. Regarding how pluralism plays into this, religious Westerners, used to ignoring the teachings of their religions that would cause them to harass or harm "blasphemers", are too quick to assume that Moslems will generally do the same, when they are even aware that religions generally call for such behavior.

I think these things not only help explain how so many missed (or tried to tiptoe around) how the movie was used as an excuse for barbarity this time; they also help explain the timidity of Western political leaders that Pipes notes as an overall trend.

-- CAV


: Corrected a misspelling and a typo.


Steve D said...

'Why have so many otherwise thoughtful commentators twisted themselves into contortions to see a conspiracy where none exists?'
When everyone acts alike due to their deepest heartfelt beliefs, it may not be a conspiracy but it sure feels like it.
It also occurs to me that if the Muslims are treating their prophet (a mere man even according to them, correct?) as a god then, technically then it is they who are committing blasphemy (but against their own god)

Anonymous said...

Hi Gus,

I think that Mark Steyn outlines the proper approach in this NRO comment from 18 months ago.

When I’m speaking on this subject, I often get asked to reprise the words I quote in my book, from Gen. Sir Charles Napier in India explaining to the locals his position on suttee — the tradition of burning widows on the funeral pyres of their husbands. General Napier was impeccably multicultural:

You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: when men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows.You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours.

In the absence of cultural confidence overseas, we are expending blood and treasure building an Afghanistan fit only for pederasts, tribal heroin cartels, and the blood-soaked savages of Mazar e-Sharif. In the absence of cultural confidence at home, we are sending the message that the bedrock principles of free, pluralist societies will bend and crumble in a vain race to keep up with the ever touchier sensitivities of the perpetually aggrieved. Claire Berlinski has it right: The real “racists” here are not this no-name pastor and his minimal flock but Reid, Graham, and the Times — for they assume that a significant proportion of Muslims are not responsible human beings but animals no more capable of rational behavior than the tiger who mauled Siegfried’s Roy. If that is true, certain consequences follow therefrom. The abandonment of the First Amendment is not one of them.

In Trafalgar Square, there is a statue of General Napier. I would urge any visitors to London to see it before it’s taken down, as it surely will be one day soon. Imagine what our world would look like if it were Lindsey Graham up on that plinth. A society led by such “men” cannot survive, and does not deserve to.

Obviously, the analog to General Napier in our situation is to arm our embassies so that they can standoff such attacks and when a sufficient crowd has gathered, bent on killing the infidel, we have a drone drop a large number of cluster bombs on the gathering. I'd lay odds we'd not have to do it very often to change their behavior.

c. andrew

Gus Van Horn said...


Your comment about the Moslems technically being blasphemers reminds me of a movie I saw as a child (perhaps it was Not Without My Daughter). An intelligent woman succinctly and irrefutably shows a male relative that he is violating his own religion. She gets struck in the face by that "man" for her trouble. They may be blasphemers according to their own religion, but their approach to ideas -- their deep-seat irrationality -- makes them unable to appreciate such observations, much less introspect or seek to improve themselves upon hearing them. There is a point at which some people are irredeemable, and I think many Moslems cross it.


That is a wonderful stuff. Thanks for posting it here.


Steve D said...

It strikes me though, that the majority of Muslims (90% perhaps?) are peaceful. Why is that? But it also means that all we need to do is add another 10% to that total and we can emasculate Islam, just as we did all the other religions and then at least for us, problem solved.
On the other hand, a religion named for submission doesn’t inspire confidence that it can be changed, quickly. Islam is a religion’s religion; a real religion, one that from its basic principles demands that its adherents take it seriously. It’s going to be a harder nut to crack than the wimpier Hinduism or Christianity.

Jennifer Snow said...

Erm . . . judgment has only 1 e, and you meant "loath" there--with an e on the end it's a different word: you loathe someone/something, you are loath to do something.

IIRC it's pronounced slightly differently, too: loathe uses a hard TH while loath is soft th.

Gus Van Horn said...


I think a combination of things accounts for the fact that most Moslems are not a problem. Many have some exposure to/respect for Western values, many figure out on their own that constantly fighting over religion is a miserable way to live, some are decent on a deep level and choose to remain so when push comes to shove. Many are second-handers who are Moslem by default, and likewise lack strong-enough conviction to do anything to rock a boat. The last class of people also do nothing to stop the militants.

How to emasculate Islam? I think some variant of the strategy suggested in the passage cited by C. Andrew is how. (India was a much ore barbaric place before the British, for their many mistakes and, often their own barbarities, stamped out such things as the practice of Sati and the Thugees. We must show zero tolerance for lots of things we tolerate today and are even encouraged from some non-Moslem quarters.


Thanks for the catch on "loath/loathe". Regarding how I spell "judgement", that is an accepted variant. (Scroll down.)