Mankind’s most dangerous foe ever … and Sowell thinks his motive is envy

Paul Nachman writes: “Thomas Sowell describes the threat correctly, but wouldn’t agree with you on the causes. I’m with you … I think the humiliation idea is overrated.”

Mr. Nachman knows me well.

Here’s Sowell’s opening:

It is hard to think of a time when a nation—and a whole civilization—has drifted more futilely toward a bigger catastrophe than that looming over the United States and western civilization today.

Nuclear weapons in the hands of Iran and North Korea mean that it is only a matter of time before there are nuclear weapons in the hands of international terrorist organizations. North Korea needs money and Iran has brazenly stated its aim as the destruction of Israel—and both its actions and its rhetoric suggest aims that extend even beyond a second Holocaust.

But having started off on this serious apocalyptic note, Sowell dribbles it away with a lot of fatuous psychologizing about Muslims:

The endlessly futile efforts to bring peace to the Middle East with concessions fundamentally misconceive what forces are at work.

Hate and humiliation are key forces that cannot be bought off by “trading land for peace,” by a “Palestinian homeland” or by other such concessions that might have worked in other times and places….

Humiliation and hate go together. Why humiliation? Because a once-proud, dynamic culture in the forefront of world civilizations, and still carrying a message of their own superiority to “infidels” today, is painfully visible to the whole world as a poverty-stricken and backward region, lagging far behind in virtually every field of human endeavor.

Tom doesn’t just make this point once and move on, He keeps repeating it, treating it as the main idea of the article:

Their treatment of hostages, some of whom have been humanitarians serving the people of the Middle East, shows that what the terrorists want is to inflict the maximum pain and psychic anguish on their victims before killing them.

Yes, Tom, they want to cause us serious harm, but not because they’re poor and backward and we’re rich and advanced, but because that’s what the Koran tells them to do. Have you not perused Muhammad’s little green book, even a little? You don’t have to look far in that charming work to find verse after verse threatening maximum pain, psychic anguish, and death on the enemies of Islam, and then more maximum pain and psychic anguish after death, forever. You don’t know this?

Also, envy and revenge are universal human impulses. Why then do the Muslims take these instincts to world-shattering extremes? Obviously it’s something about Islam.

Sowell is spectacularly wrong on another point Far from feeling backward and inferior to us, the Muslims feel superior to us. They feel their numbers and power rising; they see us as decadent, weak, receding, and contemptible. And the more full of themselves they feel, the more they lust to harm us.

However, I must add a qualification. Humiliation is indeed a key part of the Muslims’ motivation, but not in the sense Sowell thinks. All through the Koran you run into the theme that non-believers, by virtue of not believing in Allah and his Prophet, have insulted, betrayed, and shamed Allah and his Prophet. Therefore, Allah and the Islamic community are dishonored, until they have wreaked punishment upon those who have shamed them. This heightened, cosmic notion of humiliation is not generic to the human race, and it is not the result of Islam’s having fallen economically behind the West during the last 400 years. It comes from a man who lived 1,400 years ago, from the book in which he imprinted his insatiably vengeful personality, and from the authoritative laws and traditions based on that book, which, God help us, now govern the minds and conduct of a fifth of the human race.

So, Sowell and I agree that we face a dangerous and remorseless foe. But I have a policy, based on the real and unchanging nature of Islam: push the Muslims back inside their own lands; deny them any opportunity to wage jihad on us (which will demoralize them and rob them further of any will to fight); destroy the occasional regime that threatens us with WMDs or terrorism; and otherwise leave them alone. What is Sowell’s policy? Despite all his anguish and alarm at the threat of global destruction posed by Islam, he doesn’t say. That is no surprise. Given Sowell’s theory that a sense of economic inferiority drives the Muslims to destroy us, what policy could he have, other than raising them up economically? But that, of course, is what President Bush’s democratization and modernization campaign is about, and that has failed. So Sowell’s thinking leads to a dead end. The truth does not lead to a dead end. Once we understand the real character of Islam, once we see that Muslim vengefulness comes not from weakness but from strength, not from inferiority but superiority, not from despair and self-pity but from rising hope and élan, then the solution is clear: we return the Muslims to a condition of powerlessness and deprive them of any hope that they can ever defeat us.

In the meantime, Thomas Sowell the economist should remember this:

It’s the Koran, Mr. Sowell.

- end of initial entry -

Carl Simpson writes:

Maybe it’s me at the end of a long day reading your critique of Sowell’s latest, but (at least to me) your post has illustrated to me the utter failure of liberalism to face the truth about Islam. Sowell is a classical liberal who has fiercely defended classical liberalism from endless encroachment from the left—to his credit. He’s even delved somewhat into the mindset and psychosis of modern liberalism in his excellent book “The Vision of the Anointed.”

Yet, in this article, Sowell is unable to grasp the truth about the nature of Islam. Instead, he resorts to a psychological explanation for jihad—placing Islam into a western box (of psychology). It will never fit that box, no matter how hard he, Jorge Busheron, the Busheviks, the neo-Jacobin punditry, the Wall Street Journal and the ruling business elites like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet try to make it fit. Liberalism cannot even comprehend Islam, much less face it in battle and defeat it.

Osama and his pals have called liberalism’s bluff. They sense the total emptiness at the core of liberalism and will inevitably go in for the kill, as any predator would.

LA writes:

Isn’t that something, that Sowell, with all his famous skepticism about conventional wisdom, is so utterly conventional on this point?

Carl replies:

Sowell is a serious writer who has delivered many devastating criticisms of modern liberalism over the years. This reaction to jihad—along with those of various “right-wing” politicians and commentators has really been eye-opening. It’s a tremendous revelation of how deeply-held liberal dogmas are present even among those who are typically regarded as “hard-core conservatives.”

Thus Sowell, the guy whose challenges of “conventional wisdom” (modern liberal dogma) is nearly legendary, finds himself completely unable to explain the behavior of Muslims without resorting to liberal dogma (conventional wisdom)—“envy” in this case. I think this is one of the finest examples of the ultimate futility of liberal thinking—even in the pure classical form exemplified by Thomas Sowell. Liberalism has failed. We need an altogether different way of thinking and viewing the world around us. Sorry to say it, but Sowell’s thoughts on this issue are merely a tiresome re-hash of conventional liberal truisms and platitudes.

LA replies:

Great observations. Looks like you’ve had your Sowell epiphany.

Thucydides writes:

You make the point (in regard to Sowell) that it is not the sense of inferiority or the envy but the Koran that is the problem, as if it must be exclusively the one or the other. But why does that 7th century document have resonance with Muslims today? Surely it is because of a deep sense of inferiority and envy growing out of failure and a sense of helplessness. It is not as if some written words alone would have such magical power as to cause the malignant grandiosity seen among the fanatics.

The Koran reads like thrown-together quasi-religious pastiche that is just what one would expect an ambitious tribal leader of the 7th century, seeking to develop a rationale for expanding tribal culture to a universal level, to create from the whole cloth. Its cultic and “historic” aspects consist largely of transparent borrowings from other faiths. Just as in tribal culture, where humanity stops with the kin group, in Islam, the obligations of humanity stop with the limits of the ummah, or those who hold the faith. Islam furnished the ideology with which tribes could be united and proceed from a culture of local plunder to plunder on a universal scale. Pursuant to it, Islam spread rapidly across the Mediterranean and into Europe.

Today, updated with a generous admixture of Western progressive theory, Islam serves as an ideology with which to do battle with the modern world which has so conspicuously demonstrated the inferiorities of the Muslim world. Were it not for its new usefulness as a source of consolatory and compensatory phantasms, Islam would have remained quiescent, and would be in our eyes little more than a source of the picturesque for 19th century composers and artists – “in the steppes,” odalisques, and all that business.

There may be a parallel in the way my liberal friends blame various historic crimes upon Christianity, or upon “religion.” But is it the religion that causes the crime, or is it human failing? Indeed, to turn to another faith community, were the crimes against humanity of the Enlightenment French revolutionaries, or the crimes of their communist intellectual descendants, the result of scribblings of the philosophes, or did those scribblings, and those of successors like Marx, merely furnish the ideological cover under which natural human evil could make itself manifest?

I do not understand your purpose in trying to argue that it is the Muslim faith alone that is the problem, unless it is to try to overcome the political correctness of liberals who pursuant to some misguided notion of moral neutrality would exclude the Muslim faith as any part of the problem, or of politicians who are prudentially trying to avoid falling into the fanatics’ trap of responding in such a way as to position the matter as a religious war (which it is), and thereby enable the fanatics to stir up the whole Muslim world (which they are anyway). Or, if you are religious, perhaps you are falling into Pelagianism, the denial of the doctrine of original sin, in order to try to preserve a vision of God’s creation as unqualifiedly good. This would make a fetish of the evil as being entirely due to Muslim scripture, and thus enable some vision of the essential reasonableness and rationality of man to be preserved. (The parallel is liberal gun control – it is not human evil that causes shootings, it is the presence of guns).

Clearly, the Muslim faith (and the associated progressive ideological admixture) is serving as the vehicle for the expression of hatred and envy, but I don’t see it as the exclusive source of the problem. I believe this position best reflects the classical view of man as deeply flawed and just as prone to evil as to good, or in religious terms, it reflects an adequate recognition of the doctrine of original sin.

LA replies:

First, I didn’t say that Islam is the exclusive cause of Islamic aggression. I’ve said over and over that there may be all kinds of aggravating causes, which explain why jihadism remains relatively quiescent in one place or time, then becomes active in another place and time. But Islam, the teachings of Islam, remains the decisive cause of Islamic aggression, through the centuries.

I’m astonished at Thucydides’ not seeing the importance of this. If Islamic extremism is due to some social or other extraneous factor apart from Islam itself, such as alienation, despotism, or economic backwardness, then the solution to Muslim extremism is to be nicer to the Muslims, to give them democracy, to improve their economies, and so on. In other words, the solution is the whole set of liberal ameliorationist measures that the current Western establishment already thinks is the answer, leading to the endless search for Muslim improvement in which we, the improvers, are trapped in an interminable psychodrama wondering why the latest election, the latest bout of economic assistance, the latest effusion of disaster relief, the latest subsidized mosque, the latest invitation of terror-supporting Muslim leaders to the White House, has not resulted in the Muslims’ giving up their support for terrorism and becoming nice Americans.

Thucydides writes: “There may be a parallel in the way my liberal friends blame various historic crimes upon Christianity, or upon ‘religion.’ But is it the religion that causes the crime, or is it human failing?”

In making this parallel between Christianity and Islam, Thucydides shows that he is not aware that Islam, unlike Christianity, commands holy war to spread the political domination of the faith over the whole earth. Not only does it command it, but such holy war is the very means by which the Muslim comes into complete harmony with Allah’s will and experiences joy and blessedness. Thucydides does not seem to have taken in the most basic facts about Islam that have been developed at great length at this website and elsewhere over the last few years. Apparently he has no awareness of the fact that Islam is a warrior religion the mission of which is to gain political control over the whole earth and subject everyone to Islamic sharia law which dictates every aspect of life. He tries to understand Islam as if it were just another religion. He has not understood Islam in its uniqueness and particularity .

As for whether it’s the religion or a human moral failing that makes Muslims do bad things, Muslims don’t execute apostates because it is their own choice to do so. Muslim don’t subject non-Muslims to dhimmitude because they’re mean. Muslims don’t wage jihad war because of their personal moral failings. They do these things because they are required by their god to do these things, because to fail to do them means that one is failing to be a good Muslim.

Also, Thucydides’ notion that but for Islam’s ability to provide consolations for Muslims’ inferior place in the world, Islam would have remained quiescent, simply ignores the entire history of Islam. While there have been pockets of quiescence, jihad war has been virtually continuous from the 7th century to today. Jihad war was being conducted while Islam was powerful and had a vast empire. A feeling of inferiority had nothing to do with it.

Carl Simpson writes:

In reading his response to your criticism of Sowell, the thing that strikes me is how Thucydides is doing something very similar to Sowell was doing in the article. He’s attempting to explain Muslim behavior in Western terms—in this case the Judeo-Christian concept of man’s fallen nature. Under this scenario, a murderous Muslim, filled with hatred and rage uses Islam as a kind of cover or excuse for the lusts which emanate from his fallen nature. The flaw in this argument, as I see it, lies in the failure to understand that there is nothing present in Islam that would act to constrain such lusts. On the contrary, such lusts are actually inflamed and encouraged under the rubric of jihad.

Judaism and Christianity maintain that even the faithful—because of our fallen nature—are to be ever watchful of their personal desires and ambitions, constantly judging them against scripture, apostolic and rabbinical teaching. Islam by contrast requires no such introspection from the male believer, who is evidently free to indulge in any sort of behavior as long as he prays the requisite number of times per day and pursues the path of jihad. While it is commonly thought that Islam harshly punishes sexual immorality, a jihadi is apparently quite free to indulge in any type of sexual behavior. A married jihadi, for example, is free to keep infidel slave females to satiate his desires at whim—even though it would be considered adultery if he slept with a fellow Muslim’s wife. This also explains why there was no condemnation of the 19 hijackers going to have lap dances at strip joints from the Imams, nor even a mention of it.

Also, consider these little gems of religious teaching from the late Ayatollah Khomeini: “If one commits the act of sodomy with a cow, a ewe, or a camel,” Khomeini added, “their urine and their excrement become impure, and even their milk may no longer be consumed. The animal must then be killed and as quickly as possible and burned.”

“A man can have sex with animals such as sheep, cows, camels and so on. However he should kill the animal after he has his orgasm. He should not sell the meat to the people in his own village, however selling the meat to the next door village should be fine.”

Thucydides also states:

“Today, updated with a generous admixture of Western progressive theory, Islam serves as an ideology with which to do battle with the modern world which has so conspicuously demonstrated the inferiorities of the Muslim world.”

As I see it, any Western progressive theories spouted by various Islamic groups like CAIR are merely being used as weapons of jihad against the West, rather than grafting themselves onto Islamic doctrine in any way.

Ben writes:

What I find humorous about the constant talk of the Middle Eastern world being inferior is that Islam since 1979 has come back alive because they are beginning to smell the inferiority and weakness of the West. It’s the other way around.

They see liberalism. Liberalism is weak and hence they see a time coming when they will conquer the West and they see it as very soon. They no longer look at the West and tremble in their boots at our power and might. They don’t envy our power, our narcissistic culture, or want to join us in our hedonistic lifestyles because they believe very soon they will dominate and subdue it.

This was not possible until the advance of modern liberalism. Islam before that had no way to affect the West as they had in the distant past when the West was technologically inferior to them and unorganized.

We are still superior to them in every way except they don’t have liberalism in their culture as the ruling ideology of the day.

What they fear is a Charles Martel-like leader rising in the West but since they see no signs of this as liberalism will prevent a man like this from ever being created, they believe the time is now.

LA replies:

It just occurred to me, the people who subscribe to Western-centric theories of Muslim extremism are making the West superior to Islam in two senses. First, they are making the West superior to Islam in that Islam is only seen through a Western lens, as though Islam had no independent existence apart from Western concepts. Second, they are making the West superior to Islam in that most of these Western-centric theories posit that Islam is failing according to some Western standard. Thus Islam is rife with medieval-style despotism, and so needs modern democracy. Or Islam treats women with primitive inequality, and so needs feminism. Or Islam is economically behind the West (hey, Islam is economically behind the dark side of the moon!), and so needs economic modernization. Or Islam is too tribalistic, and needs Western style universalism. Or Islam believes in irrationalism, and so needs Western-style reason. Or Muslims in the West are alienated, and what is required is greater efforts by the West to assimilate them to our ways. All these theories assume that Islamic extremism is a symptom of a failed or inadequate adjustment of Islam to Western society or Western standards. Therefore the West must become the teacher and improver of Islam.

But when we understand that Islam’s formative concepts have nothing to do with Western concepts, because they are Islamic concepts, and that it is these Islamic concepts that are the cause of Islamic extremism, then we realize that, short of the Ann Coulter solution (invade them, kill their leaders, and forcibly convert them), we have nothing to teach the Muslims, except for the minimalist Hobbesian lesson that they must not mess with us or we will kill them.

In conclusion, while the false, Western-centric theories of Islamic extremism all lead to some form of Western-guided reform of Islam, the correct understanding of Islamic extremism (as an organic result of Islam itself) leads either to Western destruction of Islam (inconceivable unless they are threatening us with mass destruction), or Western conquest and direct rule over Islam (impossible by any scenario I can imagine), or Western rollback, isolation, and containment of Islam.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at August 22, 2006 01:20 AM | Send

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