Melanie Phillips’s incoherent call for war

Melanie Phillips continues to wage war against Britain’s refusal to wage war against jihadist Islam. Unfortunately, because she herself hasn’t the slightest idea of what such a war would consist of, her position is as incoherent as that of the British government (and the American government) that she criticizes.

She starts a column in USA Today with the words: “Britain is now fighting a war it dares not name.” What she actually means is that the people she calls “Islamists,” i.e., radical Muslims, are fighting a war against Britain, and that Britain is not fighting back, but is retreating and even refusing to name the enemy.

Then she says that the real problem is that

the British government is pandering to the refusal by most British Muslims to acknowledge that Islamist terrorism is rooted in their religion and that this is a problem with which they must themselves deal.

Because it is not enough for them to condemn terrorism. They must also repudiate, publicly and authoritatively, those parts of their religion that mandate hatred of the unbeliever and holy war.

Let’s analyze this:

  1. Phillips wants Britain to wage a war against its enemy, radical Islam.

  2. But then it turns out that this war she wants Britain to fight consists in telling British Muslims that they must acknowledge that terrorism is rooted in Islam and that they must reject those parts of Islam that justify terrorism.

  3. So she wants Britain to fight a war that consists in telling other people that they “must” fight a war.

  4. Further, the war that these other people, the British Muslim moderates, “must” fight, consists in “publicly and authoritatively [repudiating] those parts of their religion that mandate hatred of the unbeliever and holy war.”

  5. But, of course, as Robert Spencer has shown over and over, there is no authoritative basis in Islam for repudiating the parts of Islam that mandate hatred of the unbeliever and holy war, because those parts of Islam are based in the authoritative sharia law, which in turn is closely based on the authoritative Koran and the authoritative Hadiths. Yes, there are individual Muslims who don’t like those teachings, but there is no authoritative school or teaching in Islam that rejects those teachings.

  6. The upshot is that Phillips is telling the British government to tell the British Muslims that they “must” do something that is literally impossible. This is Melanie’s idea of war.

  7. It is the same deadly logical fallacy as in the Iraq “war.” A war that consists in trying to persuade other people to reform themselves is not a war, but social engineering. If, moreover, the change we are trying to persuade those other people to make goes against their entire tradition and customs, our “war” is not only social engineering, but doomed social engineering. These realities made our Iraq involvement self-defeating from the start, and they make Phillips’s own call for a war self-defeating from the start.

So, if war does not mean asking other people to do something for you, especially when the thing you’re asking them to do is something that they have no will to do, and that would not be in their power to do even if they had the will to do it, what then would a real war against radical Islam mean?

A real war by Britain against radical Islam would mean that the British defend themselves from radical Islam, not depend on British Muslims to do it for them. At a minimum (I won’t insist on Khudayr Taher’s extreme proposal that the West remove all Muslims from the West), such a war would consist of: shutting down all pro-radical mosques; ending all further Muslim immigration into Britain; and removing from Britain all Muslims who support radical Islam, regardless of their citizenship status. How the British are to determine which Muslims support radical Islam, and how large a percentage of the Muslim community such supporters would add up to (opinion polls indicate the percentage is quite large), are details that we do not need to address at the moment. What I am providing here is the outline of an actual war by Britain against radical Islam. If Phillips is not willing to call for at least this much, then she should have the honesty to stop advocating “war” and instead speak of her fond desire that the Muslims in Britain reform themselves, even as the radical Muslims, with the passive or active support of a large percentage of the British Muslim population, continue to wage war on Britain.

- end of initial entry -

Jeff in England forwarded the above article to Melanie Phillips, and, amazingly, he received the honor of a reply:

I have no intention of entering into any “debate” with this man.

Best wishes


Ben W. writes:

You write:

“But then it turns out that this war she wants Britain to fight consists in telling British Muslims that they must acknowledge that terrorism is rooted in Islam and that they must reject those parts of Islam that justify terrorism.”

If they reject parts of Islam, then this would be the foundation for rejecting all of it. For by what authority does a Muslim have to reject parts—and which parts? To cast out certain parts means that the Muslim sets himself over and above the Koran and can pick and choose which sections to follow. This projects the individual above the book.

Rejecting any parts of the book puts the whole book under suspicion. That makes an individual Muslim a judge and critic of Mohammed—in essence elevating the Muslim individual over and above the founder (who claimed divine inspiration). This act of reform would transfer the authority of the prophet from the originator to the follower.

I can hardly see this being done voluntarily…

Steven Warshawsky writes:

Must say, excellent analysis of Melanie Phillips’ latest piece. Your critical skills strike me as positively “Marxian” in their sophistication and insight!

LA replies:

I hope that’s a compliment. :-)

Is Marx known for especially good criticism of others’ positions? Other than the Communist Manifesto, I’ve never really read anything of his.

Mr. Warshawky replies:

In my estimation, former Marxists seem to have the finest honed analytical skills, which I assume is a product of their “dialectical” training and their insistence that surface images mask hidden meanings. At least this is true for areas of society and culture. (I say former, because not until they are freed from their own ideological blinders does their true analytical ability show.) I think free market economists and public choice theorists have the stronger grasp on economic and politics. As for Marx, based on my altogether too frequent encounters with him in college, I’d say he is widely recognized as an extremely trenchant critic of other thinkers’ writings.

LA replies:

I’ve never been a Marxist, never been on the left, except in a vague sort of way very briefly in college years. The notion of Marxian dialectics is alien to me, as it leads people not to look at the truth of things, but only to see them as a stage in some dialectical process. My analytical approach doesn’t come from an ideological view that one must unmask hidden meanings, but simply from the desire to understand what people are saying. And key to this is the attempt to understand what the real tendency of an argument is. What are its unstated premises? And where, if the argument were followed consistently, would it ultimately lead? Writers, particularly liberals, do not make their assumptions and their ends clear. (That’s why I like someone like Sayyid Qutb, though he is an enemy; he tells you exactly where’s he’s coming from and where he’s heading.) Also, the great majority of readers accept nice-sounding slogans without asking where these slogans are heading.

For example, when people say that we should not object to illegal aliens, because they are only coming here to make money and support their families, the real meaning of that slogan is that we should have no border at all. But the people emitting that slogan don’t say, “We should have no border at all.” This is why the key to effective intellectual confrontation with liberals (which of course includes neoconservatives) is to bring out their unstated assumptions and ends. But again my approach to this does not come from any ideology or training. It is simply part of the attempt to understand what people are really saying.

However, I was influenced by James Burnham’s important argument, in The Machiavellians, concerning the “formal” meaning of political statements versus their “real” meaning. And since Burnham was a former Marxist, I suppose I have been indirectly influenced by Marxist thought.

Ari H. writes:

The West isn’t doing a good job defending and explaining its core values. The Muslims perceive us as either stupid (Bush) or secular hedonists and that is part of the problem. The government funded BBC doesn’t exactly help either with their anti-West approach.

While we can’t expect to convert Muslims, we should at least be able to mitigate their rage. Talk of deportation will increase their rage, the policy will never be realized and you’ll just be left with a lot of angry Muslims that won’t be going anywhere.

I’m from an area where religious Jews and Muslims live together in peace. Nobody is throwing rocks at each other. Muslims choose to live in these areas because they like the fact that everyone dresses modestly, even in the summer. They will respect those who have core values.

Our society needs to strengthen its core values and the rest of the world has to see this. Instead, they are only seeing anti American propaganda plus our popular culture and they are not impressed.

LA replies:

You’re coming from a completely different set of perceptions and assumptions than I am. You think the integration of Muslims in our society is possible. You base it on one neighborhood. You don’t see the larger picture of what Islam is. I can’t reiterate for you arguments that I and others have been making at great length for several years. If you don’t agree with those who see Islam as fundamentally incompatible with and dangerous to the West, then you don’t agree. If you don’t see the reality of what Islam is, then you don’t see it.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at July 12, 2007 02:45 PM | Send

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