The unreformable Islamitude of Muslims, and why Melanie Phillips doesn’t get it

In this article, I solve the mystery of Melanie Phillips’s contradictory position on Islam which I’ve written about so often.

David Cameron, leader of Britain’s Conservative Party, set up the Conservative Muslim Forum to advise the party on Muslim issues. To Cameron’s great but entirely predictable embarrassment, this group of Tory Muslims in a recently released document has, as the Telegraph reports, “criticised the Government’s relationship with Israel and concluded that Iran has ‘legitimate’ reasons for wanting nuclear weapons;” it “wants the compulsory history curriculum in schools changed to give ‘full recognition to the massive contribution that Islam has made to the development of Western civilisation’”; and it “argues that preachers who advocate a rejection of democracy and its institutions should not be denied entry into Britain.” As I point out in the previous entry, the fact that so-called Conservative Muslims take such positions should be enough to end forever the notion of a moderate Islam in Britain.

However, as revealed by Melanie Phillips who quotes the document at more length, the Tory Muslims’ report is far more radical than Andrew Porter of the Telegraph let on. For one thing, it insists that the Tory party drop its “Zionist” position as offensive to Muslims, even as it makes explicitly clear that “Zionism” simply means support for the existence of Israel. So, to satisfy these Tory Muslims, the Tory party must stop supporting the existence of a sovereign state, sit back, and let its would-be destroyers destroy it.

The document also says “that the Conservative Party should not explicitly or implicitly link terrorism with Islam as, similar to other major religions, Islam forbids terrorism.” Meaning that Tories must never speak of Islamic terrorism. When Islamic suicide bombers acting in the name of Islam mass murder people, and are cheered by other Muslims who see the terrorism as a glorious Islamic “martyrdom” bringing the suicide bombers to heaven, non-Muslims cannot describe this as Islamic terrorism.

Also, as Phillips points out, the document defends the Muslim Council of Britain, even though the spokesman of that organization says he is committed to the Islamization of Britain.

In short, the Tory Muslims demand complete surrender to the Muslim program and to the Muslim view of the world, in which Muslims by definition can never do anything wrong, even as they use every stratagem and act of intimidation and violence to subjugate non-Muslims to the power of Islam.

From the Muslim Tory document, Melanie Phillips grasps the fact that there really are no moderate Muslims in Britain to speak of. “These extremist attitudes are mainstream among British Muslims,” she writes (italics added). Yet in her ongoing “mental lock” which I have documented at such length, she draws no larger conclusions about the nature of Islam and what ought to be done about it. Partly this is because of the way she conceives of the Muslims’ objectionable attitudes. Her censure of the document and of another recent Muslim pronouncement is expressed in highly emotional, morally judgmental language: “diabolical,” “vile,” “shocking,” “treacherous, bigoted and lethal.” The problem with such language is that it condemns the Muslims for immoral attitudes, when, from the point of view of the Muslims, their attitudes are not immoral but simply Islamic. For example, that Muslims oppose the existence of Israel is not “diabolical,” as Phillips calls it, but Islamic, since serious Muslims cannot accept non-Islamic sovereignty in formerly Muslim lands. Similarly, that Muslims threaten the Christian church is not “treacherous, bigoted and lethal,” as she calls it (in reference to another recent statement by 138 Muslim religious leaders), but simply what is commanded by the Koran and Islamic law.

Thus the conceptual framework Phillips uses for understanding Islam remains resolutely Western and non-Islamic. As she sees it, the Muslims in Britain are violating common moral standards, and this is “vile,” “shocking,” and “bigoted.” The implication is that Muslims must change their behavior and start to conform to the liberal Western moral code. And she holds out the hope that the Muslims will do that, if only Britain’s government and opinion-forming elite insist that they do so. This hope has always been at the heart of Phillips’s writings on Islam (and it’s the reason why, as I show below, she doesn’t feel that Islamic immigration must be terminated or reduced). British leaders and institutions must stop approving of the Muslims’ immoral attitudes and require that Muslims conform themselves to Western morality. The problem with this idea is that Muslims cannot conform to Western morality without ceasing to be Muslims, and therefore the change of heart Phillips expects and hopes for can never come about. She doesn’t get this.

And the reason she doesn’t get it is that she doesn’t get religion. She reveals her incomprehension of religion when she says that we must “distinguish those who derive merely spiritual solace from the faith from those who use the religion of Islam to wage war upon the non-Islamic world.” Her idea of a good Muslim is a person who “derives merely spiritual solace” from the faith. This unwittingly condescending language is precisely the language that non-believing and weakly believing people always use about religion and religious people. Secularists and the superficially religious think that religion is about “comfort,” “consolation,” and “solace” in a harsh world. They reduce religion to therapy and uplifting feelings and a sense of community. But that’s not what religion is, and it’s not what Islam is. Religion is about following God, and Islam is a religion at the core of which is God-commanded eternal war upon non-Muslims, a fact made numbingly clear on almost every page of the Koran, and confirmed by innumerable jihad warriors and Islamic thinkers over the centuries.

So now we understand better where Phillips is coming from, and why all her articles about Islam are filled with the same endlessly repeated, overcharged judgmental expressions such as “diabolical,” “vile,” “shocking,” “treacherous,” “bigoted,” “lethal.” She doesn’t see the Muslims’ attitudes as Islamic. She sees the Muslims’ attitudes as an immoral rejection of morality. And this is the source of her idea that the Muslim threat to Britain can be removed without removing the Muslims from Britain. If people have immoral attitudes, those attitudes can be changed, and that is Phillips’s constant hope. But the hope for moral reform assumes that the people to be reformed share the moral framework according to which their current attitudes are seen as immoral. But Muslims do not share that moral framework. They have an Islamic framework. And the Islamic framework demands the destruction of Israel, the Islamization of Britain, the defeat of Christianity, and the removal of any moral condemnation of Islam, including Islamic terrorism.

In short, Phillips sees Islamic extremism as immoral, rather than Islamic, for the same reason that the neocons refer to Islamic extremism as “Islamo-fascist,” rather than as Islamic. In both cases the motivating impulse is to preserve the belief that Islam itself is not the problem, and therefore that Muslims can be assimilated into our societies and into a democratic global culture.

* * *

The above considerations solve the mystery of Melanie Phillips’s seemingly contradictory position on Islam about which I have been obsessing for the last couple of years. How can it be, I’ve asked a hundred times, that a person who is constantly condemning in the most virulent and alarmist terms the steady growth in Britain of Islamic extremism, and who also says that most Muslims in Britain support the extremism, refuses to call for the reduction or cessation of Islamic immigration? And the answer is that it’s not a contradiction. As it turns out, Phillips’s passionate denunciations of Muslims, and her firm commitment to continuing Muslim immigration, stem from the same source: her belief that Islamic extremism is a moral sin—a sin that, while ugly, horrible, and threatening, is not inherent, and therefore can be removed. Thus the very thing that makes her hate Islamic extremism so much, is also the thing that tells her that Islam itself is not the problem. Because she sees extremist Islam as a hideous violation of morality, rather than as a normal expression of Islam, she believes the extremism can be reformed by authoritative moral suasion, and therefore she does not feel any need to stop or reverse the Islamic immigration into Britain.

- end of initial entry -

The Phillips article was sent to me by Jeff in England, who wrote:

Here’s Melanie again, warning us for the one millionth time of the danger of Islam and Muslims in the West, and for the one millionth time, failing to offer any significant solution to deal with that danger.

Imagine a mathematician writing about a mathematical puzzle and not thinking to offer his readers a solution; he would soon be looking for a new profession. Yet Melanie and the other Suspects not only keep the day job (writing their columns and blogs) but keep getting called to be on tv and radio, spinning the same warnings about the Muslim menace.

I don’t want to hear one more word of warning about the dangers of Islam and Muslims from Melanie (or any of the other Suspects). Not one more word. I want her (and them) to sit down, take a deep breath and repeat the same phrase 100 times: “I will suggest a solution to the Islamic problem.” Then put her hands on the keyboard and do just that. Then over the next year repeat that solution (whatever it may be) in all the columns and blogs she (and the other Suspects) will write and on all the radio and tv shows in which she (and the other Suspects) participate.

Jeff C. writes:

Great post on Melanie Phillips. I would love to see you address in more detail your point that weakly religious people and non religious people can’t put themselves into the mental framework of a true believer. This is a very powerful observation that I myself have had, and I am constantly puzzled by their shocking lack of ability. Is it just intellectual laziness and weakness, being not able to shift one’s framework to view the world through the eyes of the Other?

Also, I know why these supposedly great intellectuals rarely respond to your criticisms, because they are like a surgeon’s scalpel of truth, but I also wonder what their underlying motivation is. Shouldn’t their intellectual beliefs be challenged and honed? Why won’t they even debate their false assumptions? Is it arrogance that drives them, an inability to think and see? Is that arrogance ultimately borne of stupidity?

One minor quibble. You write: “The implication is that Muslims must change their behavior and start to conform to our moral code.” Not our moral code, Liberal’s moral code.

LA replies:

Thank you. A brief answer to your first question is that to speak of the consolations of religion is the way that people who don’t believe in God can still speak respectfully of religion.

As for why non-believers cannot put themselves in the mental framework of a believer, doesn’t the question answer itself? However, let me expand on it slightly. To me, the great division of humanity is not between those who believe in God and those who don’t. It is between those who believe in something higher and those who don’t. People who have the experience of something higher, even if they don’t believe specifically in God, can still have a sympathetic understanding of people who believe in God. But for people who have no experience of something higher, God makes no sense. Among this latter group are (1) those who want to be respectful of religion or at least not hostile to religion, and who also see its social utility, so they speak of it as a project to “console” people and to provide basic social morality and stability; and (2) those who despise religion and see no value in it at all.

Thanks for that last suggestion. I’ve changed the wording.

Alan Roebuck writes:

This article provides another vital insight. And although you did not explicitly say so, I believe that this insight also applies, at least in general, to many of the Usual Suspects. They do not acknowledge the reality of Islam, so they think that we can solve the problem by applying enough moral outrage, in the same way we “solved” the problem of white bigotry starting in the 1950s.

As for why they keep saying the same old things: it’s because they are saying what most Westerners want to hear: that the problem is not a fundamental one, that it can be handled without fundamental changes in how we think or act. They are like politicians in this regard: they are successful to the extent that they articulate the views of a large enough constituency.

And that’s reason number 4,216 why we need a whole new approach to arguing against liberalism, as is done every day at VFR.

LA replies:

Mr. Roebuck is correct. My analysis applies not just to Melanie Phillips but to the entire range of Islam critics who in the fiercest and most worrying tones are constantly condemning Islamic radicalism and warning against the danger of the Islamization of our society, but who remain weirdly silent on what to do about this threat. Their refusal to suggest solutions to the Islamic radicalism growing in our midst results from the same cause as their intense condemnations of it: they see Islamic radicalism (as they see white racism and bigotry generally) as a violation of liberal morality. As a violation of liberal morality, it outrages and frightens them. But as a violation of liberal morality, it can also be ended through the assimilation of Muslims to prevailing liberal standards. When these Islam critics look at Islam, they don’t see an unassimilable religion and culture eternally opposed to our own; they see people who are failing to be liberal but who can be reformed, just as white racists could be reformed.

SR writes from England:

May I offer an additional analysis of Melanie Phillips’s failure to tell it like it is?

It is true: as a secular Jewish liberal Phillips sees the role of religion as you describe it—as a namby pamby “comfort,” a sentimental wash over the harsh realities of life, not as a rational and appropriate way to order society. But there are other factors.

First of all, she writes for The Daily Mail which liberals regard as as a “right wing, Little-Englander hysterical tabloid” (the words of a friend with whom I am always arguing). She writes for a newspaper that is regarded by “right-thinking” people as suburban—“Suburban” is a word at which middle class English Liberals love to sneer. For them, suburban sentiments are laughable as they belong to “narrow-minded Little Englanders” that is to say, English people who believe in and adhere to traditional values. Phillips is sneered at by middle class liberals for her “hysteria” (she is known amongst Guardinista-BBC types as “Mad Mel”—and you have to realise that she was once a Guardian journalist). So she probably feels she is already too outre by just doing the Cassandra bit, let alone prescribing the correct remedy.

Secondly, in a society that is becoming increasingly anti-Semitic (under the rubric of anti-Zionism), she must be experiencing a certain amount of fear and so is worried about seeming too hawk-like because it must seem to her that calling a spade a spade will be bad for the Jews. One of the main reasons for Jewish support of multiculturalism and immigration has probably always been that there is safety in numbers—the more non-Anglo-Saxons there are the better it is for the Jews—it deflects attention from the Jews as the only “other.” This is indeed a suicidal policy and one which never ceases to amaze me as a person of Jewish background. [LA adds: in this connection see my article, “Why Jews Welcome Moslems.”]

An Israeli living in Britain recently told me that “we are uncomfortable and resentful of British Jews who complain about anti-Semitism but are unwilling to draw any realistic conclusions or do anything about it. We are the ones left to do the work for them—if anything happens here they will just go elsewhere. They are unwilling to stand up and be counted in Britain, but they expect Israelis to take all the flack and do all the work.”

So that’s it. Phillips is basically a liberal which means as you point out that she is unwilling to diverge from the secular mantra that “all religions are the same.” Secondly she is held in contempt by the very people amongst whom she emerged—the left liberal establishment. And thirdly she is a secular Jew who worries about persecution (and she is not paranoid but realistic in that regard), so she is unwilling to call more attention to an already beleaguered Jewish community in Britain. Understandable but not very admirable in the end.

Jeff C. writes:

You write: “To me, the great division of humanity is not between those who believe in God and those who don’t. It is between those who believe in something higher and those who don’t.”

That’s very powerful and I never thought of it that way. As a theist who believes in universal truth (even though it can’t be grasped in full) seeing differences between religions was easy for me, as was seeing that following God was a primary motivator for wide swaths of populations.

How, without perhaps another major attack on U.S. soil, can we demonstrate the differences among religions to people who blindly lump them together and fear and hate them?

Dimitri K. writes:

I really like your explanations. It also follows that if Islam is not a problem but radicalism is, the solution is education, assimilation and socialization. More (good) mosques, more reach-out and social help. Those who don’t believe that Islam itself is a problem, don’t need to do more than what is already done by the government.

LA writes (10/21):

Yesterday Jeff in England wrote a very nice, respectful, and sincere e-mail to Melanie Phillips asking her, almost pleading with her, to tell what are her proposed solutions to the Islam problem about which she is constantly warning us. He also asked her to explain what she thinks about the option, which Jeff favors, of reducing Muslim immigration. He received a 12 word reply from Phillips in which she told him that all the views she wants to express appear in print.

But, of course, since she never mentions in her published writings the option of immigration reduction, even to explain to her readers why she never mentions it, her reply to Jeff is tantamount to a total refusal to engage the immigration reduction issue at all or even to acknowledge it as an issue.

Jeff now feels that dialogue with Melanie has reached a dead end and this disappoints him.

Donna E. writes:

There are many volumns written about religion but only one written about the One who wrote it. Matthew 15 talks about the wheat and the weeds. There are many weeds in/out of the organized church. Over the centuries wars have been fought in the name of religion but only the wars of the heart are fought in the name of Jesus Christ.

There will never be a religious answer to the cry of the heart that doesn’t include the Name so the religionists will continue their arguing and fighting and in your face diatribe until He returns.

LA replies:

Thanks, but I’m not sure what this has to do with the growing power of Islam in the West and what we should do about it. Unless you’re saying that absent the second coming of Jesus Christ, nothing can be done about it. In which case we must, until that happens, just sit here and let ourselves be taken over by Muslims.

Terry Morris writes:

This is a great article.

One thing I’ve taken from it is that people like Melanie Phillips and President Bush seem to believe they can simply form a conception of something (moderate Islam), and then speak it into existence.

LA writes:

By the way, the reason for the word “Islamitude” in the title of this article, a word I made up, was that I needed a noun that conveyed the condition of believing in and following the religion of Islam. The only word I could think of was “Islamism,” and in draft form I titled the article, “The unreformable Islamism of Muslims.” But “Islamism,” thanks to the neocons, has been hopelessly distorted to mean something other than the condition of following Islam, namely it means a modern political movement formed of a mixture of Western totalitarian ideologies and “hijacked” elements of Islam. So I had to cast about for a new word to convey my meaning.

In fact, Muslim writers occasionally use the word “Islamism,” sometimes to convey the idea of a more activist and committed type of Islam, but most of the time simply as a synonym for Islam or, uh, Islamitude.

M. Mason writes:

This is an excellent analysis. I will simply add here that all people—even atheists—have faith in something, and Melanie Phillips is no different. Therefore, it’s important to define what she does believe in to understand why she will not openly and strongly advocate for the removal of Muslims from Britain.. So let me restate your point from a somewhat different angle with a bit of further clarification. When you said that “the reason [Phillips] doesn’t get it is that she doesn’t get religion’, I believe it would be more accurate to say there (as, in fact, you later pointed out) that she doesn’t get it because she doesn’t understand—and apparently doesn’t want to understand—the imperatives of literal, fundamentalist religion.

Readers misunderstand Phillips if they think of her merely as a writer existing in some sort of detached, neutral or uncommitted state herself with regard to religion. Whatever her nominal religious affiliation or lack thereof, it is clear that her writing is animated by a set of deeply-held personal beliefs. In that sense, she has her own religion, all right—the question is: what is it? In the final analysis, it is her liberal belief in what might be called the Religion of Man (i.e., faith in man and belief in the perfectibility of man apart from the grace of God and regeneration in Christ), a religion whose conceptual origin can be traced all the way back to Nimrod, and which under its various aliases today cuts across all denominational and even philosophical lines, and is now the de facto religion of the West.

The reason why Phillips still clings to the fictitious construct of an extremist “Islamism” and condemns it as a “moral sin” [LA notes: “moral sin” was my way of characterizing Phillips’s view of Islamic extremism, she herself didn’t use those words] in such passionate terms, yet at the same time cannot bring herself to call for the expulsion of Muslims from her country is because both those things violate crucial tenets of that Faith. She is committed to the dialectic of the Religion of Man (regardless of whether she would call it that or not), and must therefore continue to believe in the possibility of humanistic reform of Islam itself into a more acceptable, syncretized form that can be integrated into the existing liberal order. This same commitment is also the explanation for President Bush’s spiritual blindness (rooted in his aberrant Methodist theology) that made him vulnerable to the deception that Islam is somehow similar to Judaism and Christianity—a “religion of peace” and “a noble faith” as he called it—while he continues to pursue a misguided concept of “freedom” as a universal value with missionary zeal to Muslim lands in his foreign policy.

Faith-based humanists like Bush, Phillips and multitudes of others like them today either see no real distinction between foundational religious texts or they don’t care. For them, the Bible and the Qur’an are incidental matters, open to interpretation and represent neither absolute truth nor absolute falsehood. They are merely bridges to a broader universal understanding of the diverse and colorful mosaic that makes up the ecumenical Global Family. That is their faith. But the true nature of things is distorted through the lens of this illusory, humanistic world-view, and particularly so when it comes to the followers of Mohammed. Even now, despite 1,400 years of Muslim history and the mounting, manifest evidence confronting them daily, these people still can’t seem to figure out which Islam is the true Islam. Yet in classic, irrational postmodern style, they continue in the delusional belief that the Islam they hope for will be the Islam they get.

LA writes:

I’ve been informed by a correspondent that Melanie Phillips has returned to Judaism and is now “quite devout,” and that this new fact requires me to modify my argument and to group Phillips with “pious Christians” like Michael Novak who like Phillips refuse to understand Islam.

Of course without specific knowledge we have no way of knowing the actual content of another person’s religious life and beliefs. Certainly a very high number of observant Jews are primarily into the rules and customs of Judaism and the Jewish sense of community and family, and I think that many such Jews would tend to be in sympathy with the idea that religion is primarily a source of “spiritual solace,” not an assertion of divinely authoritative truth. And such people, as I’ve pointed out, would tend to fail to grasp the Allah-mandated program of Islam and the mortal danger it poses to our civilization. Also, being a religious Jew or Christian is no guarantee against being a liberal Jew or liberal Christian. As I wrote about Novak last year in a blog entry entitled “Derb Agonistes”:

But never fear. One official Christian conservative at NRO warmly approves of Derbyshire’s confession of materialistic, non-Christian belief: the increasingly unfocused Michael Novak, who gave Heather Mac Donald an avuncular ok on her much more offensive attack on Christianity and who also has not a word to offer about how the West can defend itself from Islam.

M. Mason’s above comment comes in most handy, as it powerfully backs up my point that being a “devout Jew” or a “pious Christian,” even a “pious conservative Christian,” is no guarantee against having a liberal universalist understanding of religion and therefore being unable to comprehend the specific nature of Islam.

Donna E. replies
Thanks for trying. I guess I’m having trouble communicating. Muslims have been a threat to the stability of the world since Mohammed invented the religion. The world has (up until recently) been able to contain them by force and will. The world as it is now doesn’t seem to have the will to confront a threat. Thomas Jefferson sent the Marines to Tripoli (thus the reason he had possession of a Koran because he was doing his homework). We in the West need to see the enemy for what he is. If we fail to do that then, yes, we will fall to the will of the Muslims.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at October 20, 2007 06:03 AM | Send

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