Kalb vs. Conservative Swede on Islam, with Auster taking a middle position

Jim Kalb said in 2004 at his website Turnabout that he preferred Islam to modern liberalism, and that he preferred Protestantism and Catholicism to Islam. After he came upon that quote recently, Conservative Swede, initially posting at VFR and then writing at his own website, called Mr. Kalb Jim “D’Souza” Kalb (meaning that he is some kind of Christian apologist for Islam like Dinesh D’Souza), and went on to argue that Islam is a system of sexual perversion.

Kalb then said to Conservative Swede (either online or in an e-mail exchange):

Took a look and am unpersuaded. Years ago, before the various revolutions, civil wars and foreign interventions began there, I spent two years teaching mathematics in a high school in provincial Afghanistan. I speak one of their languages (Persian) and used it in the classroom. I’ve also read some about Islam and reflected on it as an overall system.

None of that makes me an expert but it does give me some impressions of Islam that I’m inclined to stick with in preference to what you say.

My impression, then, is that the basic appeal of Islam is the absolute power, presence and transcendence of God, and the possibility of knowing his will and aligning with it by entering into his service.

Those beliefs give life a center, justification and dignity based on connection to something infinite, and they make one part of a universal brotherhood that includes all those who share them.

I agree with this. I’ve picked up the same, not from living in a Muslim country as Jim Kalb has done, but from my readings in the Koran. But there’s something crucial that Kalb has missed. The chief way that this aligning oneself with the divine will is attained is through the total devotion of oneself in war for Allah. Killing and destroying the enemies of Islam in battle, and dying oneself in the process if necessary, is the path to the highest spiritual experience for the Muslim. That is what is left out of Jim Kalb’s benign-sounding description of Islamic spiritual experience.

Thus Islam is certainly a religion, but it is a religion that at its core is inseparable from the conquest, destruction, and subjugation of non-Muslims, whether this conquest is carried out through outright military war, or its variants and substitutes such as terrorism, support for terrorism, or demographic infiltration.

I agree with Mr. Kalb that we need to try to understand what makes other people’s belief systems “work” for them. Describing Islam as a system of sexual perversion, as ConSwede has done, is untrue and unhelpful. It makes Muslims sound like monsters, rather than like human beings who are pursuing their own (highly defective and mortally dangerous to us) form of spiritual truth. On the other hand, describing Islam as simply an experience of “the absolute power, presence and transcendence of God,” without specifying that war against non-Muslims is the most important component in this spiritual experience, is also untrue and most dangerous to ourselves because it would lure us into sleep about the Islamic menace.

What then are we to do? On one hand, pace Conservative Swede, Muslims are not monsters, but people doing what their god has told them to do; therefore we cannot simply kill them all, as more than a few commenters in the neocon blogs have advocated from time to time. On the other hand, pace Mr. Kalb, Islam is not simply a belief in an absolute and spiritual god but a belief in an absolute and spiritual god who commands the holy destruction of non-Muslims; therefore we cannot form a common society with or indeed safely share any common space with Muslims where they exist in large enough numbers to make their presence felt as Muslims. Since we cannot morally destroy them, and we cannot live safely with them, the only thing to do is to isolate them permanently from ourselves. That is the only response to the Islamic challenge that will preserve our civilizational existence and our liberty.

- end of initial entry -

David G. writes:

The Kalb-Auster-Conservative Swede post is one of the most remarkable pieces that I have read on VFR. First off, the West in any incarnation is a liberal threat to Islam. For Jim Kalb to say that he would prefer Islam to advanced liberalism is simply overwrought, pessimistic thinking. It is self-loathing, albeit on a futuristic scale. The need for a transcendent ideal as a guide, no matter how corrupt, no matter how outre, is to enter the realm of the religious fanatic.

Has not Jim Kalb defined himself as a fifth columnist waiting to happen? That is far more disheartening than the possibility inherent in the ruddy optimism of the good, a-religious, secular man. (William James in The Varieties of Religious Experience describes a few examples of this type.) At least out of the latter there is room for deliberation, creativity and the reinvention of god. For isn’t Kalb really saying that when the going gets extraordinarily tough, end of the road tough, he’s embracing Islam? Good luck, fella. I would take (in the parlance of the day) a post-Christian, post-Nietzschean tumble of the Western dice any day, over the resignation of Jim Kalb.

LA replies:

David’s comment is powerful, and powerfully written, but I think he may be slightly unfair to Jim Kalb. Kalb’s position is not exactly what David is suggesting it is. Check out the initial replies to CS where the fuller context of Kalb’s statement was given, or maybe Kalb himself replied somewhere, I forget (no link at the moment). But Kalb’s point was, Islam in theory would tolerate Christianity, while advanced liberalism in theory cannot tolerate Christianity at all.

We may not go along with that whole argument and its implications, in particular, the argument does not free Kalb of the possible imputation of being willing to surrender to Islam in order to escape from liberalism. But my point is, it is not religious fanaticism or pessimistic defeatism that is driving Kalb’s position, but his analysis of Islam and liberalism.

LA continues:

Jim Kalb’s position certainly raises interesting considerations, and even possible plots for a futuristic movie that may well happen some day. Let us imagine a community of Christians living in a city in a Europe in which Christianity has been effectively banned. This Europe has homosexual marriage, and requires churches to perform homosexual marriages, so that the still-believing, orthodox churches have officially shut their doors to escape this requirement. Meanwhile the Moslems are outside the city gates, trying to take over. They promise the Christians within the walls dhimmi status, freedom to follow their religion (with of course, all the dhimmi restrictions such as not being allowed to ring church bells, not being allowed to repair churches, having to pay jizya and get slapped on the face while paying it, and so on and so on), if the Christians will open the gates and help the Moslems take over. What should the Christians do? If Jim Kalb were their leader, what would he do? If I or David G. were their leader, what would we do?

Posted by Lawrence Auster at June 25, 2007 08:48 PM | Send

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