Is it possible to combine Separationism with Islamic reform?

Sage McLaughlin writes:

Oftentimes when I read your objections to the pseudo-tough-talkers on the Islam problem, I’m struck by a curious thought. Suppose there really is some way for Islam to reform itself. Obviously this isn’t going to happen merely because we want it to, and for us plaintively to plead for it to happen, as we’re doing now, can only produce feelings of contempt for us on the part of the Muslims. So the question becomes, what do the Usual Suspects say we should do to encourage Muslims to reform themselves?

Most of the time, it would seem the answer is, “Pray and wait.” Some neoconservative analysts seem to suggest that this can be done with just the right combination of smart bombs and economic incentives, but the details on how this will all work out are always left murky. Just ram enough voting machines down enough people’s throats and all we’ll get the Islam we want in the end. Obviously, these are unsatisfactory responses to the problem at hand, since we can’t make another religion reform itself.

But let us assume for a second that we don’t have to reject the premise that it is possible to induce Muslims to become less annoyingly Muslim. If we absolutely HAD to cook up such a strategy, what would it look like? I think Separationism actually offers the best way forward.

I can think of nothing that would so clearly and unequivocally communicate our unwillingness to tolerate Islam’s imperialistic pretensions than a policy of separation and containment. Muslims desperate enough to stay in the prosperous environs of the Western democracies, and those Muslim governments determined to keep the flow of people and capital open, will probably fall all over themselves in an attempt to convince themselves and the rest of the world that being Muslim does not have to mean being insatiably hostile to all things un-Islamic. This connects back to a recent observation by one of your readers: it is the powerful forces of discrimination that induce immigrants to assimilate, that is, to abandon their former identity and submit themselves to the rule of the majority in their new homes. The fact is that the Islamic world, for all its chest-thumping, is weak and desperate, and it very badly wants to be included in the generalized growth and progress that globalization seems to offer. The threat and the actuality of being left in the cold, sent home to enjoy their purely Islamic (and therefore perfectly destitute) existence, may hold the promise of an actual Islamic Reformation.

I know it seems like a long shot, but it’s the closest thing I can think of to any reconciliation between Separationism and the “Islam must reform itself” position. In short, if we want Islam to reform itself, we have to give it some real incentive, consisting of a real carrot—full participation in modern life—and a real stick—permanent exclusion for modern life. Otherwise, we are forced either to say “pretty please” or to flail around with force and bribes. (Right now we’re doing a sorry combination of the two.)

Also, let me add that as a strategy, Separationism has an added bonus. If it fails to produce the desired effect among Muslims—that, is, self-reform—it will have succeeded in isolating what will have proven to be an intractable problem.

LA replies:

From the time I began proposing the rollback, isolation, and containment of the Muslim world, I have said that Islamic self-reform might result from it, which would be an added benefit, but that such result must not be our object, because then we’d be caught up once again in trying to reform the Muslims (which we cannot do) rather than taking care of ourselves (which we can do). So my first answer is to reject Mr. McLaughlin’s proposal.

Consider what would happen if we mixed the isolation strategy with the reform strategy. The Muslims, according to Mr. M., would start to say, “Look, don’t roll us back and isolate us, we’re reforming!” And that would require us to let up on the stick of isolation and give them the carrot of inclusion. Which would leave the Muslims where they are, amongst us. And they will inevitably revert. And then we’re back where we started.

However, if they didn’t merely say that they had become moderate Muslims (from which they might revert to being serious Muslims), but had ceased being Muslims altogether, then perhaps the possibility of regression would be eliminated. That is the only grounds on which Mr. M.’s idea seems reasonable. But even then I would still oppose it, as it still gets us involved in a dynamic of trying to make people be something they don’t want to be, and it also gets the Muslims changing themselves, not because they want to change themselves, but because they want something from us, which means the change would not be genuine or lasting..

That is why I say we should simply act for our own defense and protection, without any consideration of how this might affect internal Muslim attitudes and behavior. However, if, as a result of our actions, the Muslims over time actually gave up Islam, fine, great, we could then re-evaluate them and see if they are people we can deal with. But this would not have happened as a result of our trying to encourage it to happen; it would have happened purely as a result of a movement within the Islamic world, something that came from themselves, something that had nothing to do with us, and nothing to do with anything they wanted from us.

In other words, we should do what we do for our reasons, and let them do what they do for their reasons. If over time we find that they have become people who do not present a threat to us, then we could choose to deal with them, but for our reasons and on our terms, not for their reasons and on their terms. The fact that they have given up Islam wouldn’t mean that we should suddenly become liberals again and rush to “include” them. They would still be a different people from us, and our relations with them should be cautious, not embracing.

LA continues:

Or we could put it like this. When we inaugurate the Separationist policy, we would announce to the Muslims:

“We are doing this not because we have ill-will toward you as human beings, but because your religion objectively represents a mortal threat to our civilization. At the same time, we are not trying to tell you how to be or what to believe. Our sole purpose is to defend ourselves—permanently—from the religion of Islam which commands its followers to subjugate all non-Muslims to the tyrannical sharia law, and to use every means, including lies, deceit, demographic penetration, and terrorism, to achieve that end.

“Therefore we will only consider letting you into our world again if you give up Islam. We hasten to assure you that this does not mean that we are telling you to give up Islam. You are completely free to do what seems best to you. But we are also free to do what seems best to us. And we are simply telling you that for our own safety and freedom we will never again admit significant numbers of Muslims into our world.”

Sage M. writes:

Yes, I think you’re probably right. If we pursue a strategy of isolation and containment, we have to do it for our own purposes. The mainstream of conservative thought, though, tries to make the push for a moderate Islam into a kind of “idealist realism.” The idea is that it’s in our best interests that Islam be liberal, since that’s supposedly the only thing that can save us.

My position is essentially like yours—that if Islam is going to moderate itself, it will only do so because we do those things under our power to completely isolate the Muslim world. If I simply had to come up with a strategy for influencing the development of Islamic theology—which, to be clear, I think is something we have no idea how to do—I would say Separationism is still the best course, since it alone focuses on things that are within practical reach.

Terry Morris writes:

It seems to me that the principles of separationism find their basis in Islam’s incompatibility with the West. In other words, if Islam is thought to be compatible with Western thought and culture, or reformable within it, then the principles of separationism (for anyone who believes this) crumble because there’s no basis for them.

We accept that we can’t reform Muslims, our laws and institutions can’t reform them, our customs can’t reform them, and we can’t convince them that they need to be reformed; they have to reform themselves which means they have to come to these realizations for themselves.

Since we can’t control what Muslims do or decide to do, but we can control what we do or decide to do, I wonder if there’s a strategy available to us which would help us to win more converts to the principles of separationism? It seems like we’re trying to get people to believe what they don’t want to believe about Islam, namely that it is wholly incompatible with Western civilization. Is there a way to make them understand what they apparently don’t want to understand about Islam?

LA replies:

The need for separationism is premised on several other realizations: that Islam represents a mortal danger, that we can’t democratize it, that we can’t or wouldn’t destroy it (Kristor L. and others contest that idea, but we can’t go into it now), and that we can’t assimilate it. Therefore the only thing to do is to separate it from ourselves. Thus separationism is really for people who are already familiar with the issue, who have thought through or been disillusioned by the conventional ideas.

At the same time, Terry M. is right that we can’t simply wait for people to come to that point. Since it is the belief in Muslim assimilability that is the main problem preventing a solution, this argument needs to be made more aggressively.

I suggest that people on our side point to the no-brainers, for example, Muslim foot washing. There is no way that large numbers of people washing their feet in the sinks of public restrooms in places of employment or university dorms, or else requiring special facilities for the foot-washing in each restroom, fit in our culture. However, the horror is that what I just said is not necessarily a no-brainer for many people, who would say that this is perfectly compatible with our way of life. There is thus no shortcut to the resolution of the issue that Mr. Morris seeks. We have to wrestle with the reality, and make the arguments as best we can.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at October 15, 2007 11:57 AM | Send

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