Am I relieving Muslims of moral accountability for their actions?

Lydia McGrew writes:

I notice that you have revisited a theme that you’ve touched on before:

I said in an entry a few days ago that it’s pointless and counterproductive to get personally angry at Muslims over their horrifying beliefs and actions, because such anger implies that the Muslims are guilty of some moral failing, and therefore that they can change and become better people and stop supporting sharia and jihad. But of course, short of utterly renouncing their own religion, they cannot change …

This has always baffled me, and I have always been strongly inclined to disagree with it, because it implies a kind of religious determinism. It seems to imply that if your religion requires you to perform any act, however heinous, then you cannot be held personally responsible for performing that act. When you go so far to apply this to Muslim suicide bombers and the like, that seems to mean that we should apply it to anything at all—say, torturing small children: If one belongs to a religion that requires one to torture five-year-olds to death, then one is not “guilty of some moral failing” for torturing five-year-olds to death.

It seems to me that this must be wrong. One is not literally coerced by one’s religion to perform heinous acts. The Apostle Paul says in Romans 1 that we have the law written on our hearts. If what you yourself call horrifying actions (e.g., blowing up whole buildings full of civilians) are not contrary to the law written on our hearts, I do not know what is.

The same point seems to me clear from the fact that it is legitimate to punish Muslims for their actions. But if they are not personally and individually responsible for those actions, then we should think of them as robots or even animals who cannot help what they do. It might perhaps be legitimate in that case to cage them, but any retributive notion of justice in punishing them would be out the window. Nidal Hassan then, would not be “guilty of a moral failing” for gunning people down.

I realize that your practical concern here is that people not hold out hope, vainly, for a “reform” of Muslims and particularly for a reform of Islam. I agree with you wholeheartedly that this should not be something we expect or look for. While I believe in missionary work, an expectation of its success among Muslims cannot be the basis of foreign or domestic policy. As for the hope for a kinder, gentler version of Islam itself, that is folly.

But it is entirely possible to hold Muslims morally responsible for their actions while harboring no illusions on this score.

LA replies:

The issues you’re focused on—moral responsibility, punishment, retribution—have nothing to do with what I’m talking about. You see Muslims as people who are failing to behave morally, and who should be held to account for their bad behavior, and you’re concerned that I seem to be rejecting that idea and denying that Muslims are human beings with a moral dimension who must be held accountable for their acts. But when I say that we should not see Muslims as people who are behaving immorally, I’m not talking about moral responsibility or accountability, I’m talking about the mistake of thinking that Muslims can, as a group, be reformed. They can’t be reformed, because they don’t share our moral framework, they don’t even share it enough to reject it. What they’re doing is following Islam, which is a radically different moral framework from ours and has nothing to do with ours. So long as we see them as people who are behaving immorally (that is, immorally according to our moral framework), and who therefore can be persuaded to reform themselves and behave better, we are failing to see what they are and why they do the things they do. From their point of view, their behavior is not a failure to conform to our moral framework. They don’t care about our moral framework, it’s nothing to them. They care about Islam. In killing infidels and funding jihad and immigrating into infidel societies and deceiving the infidels who welcome them and doing all the other wicked things their religion commands them to do, they are simply being good Muslims.

I’m not saying that Muslims are automatons or animals. I am saying that they are human beings who believe in Islam, who believe Islam is the highest truth. Because they believe Islam is the highest truth, they do the things that Islam tells them to do.

I think the reason you have difficulty seeing this is that you have not yet taken in the reality that (1) Islam is indeed a religion, and speaks to men’s sense of the sacred and divine, but that (2) at the same time it is a perverted and wicked religion. To understand Islam, we must keep both thoughts in our head simultaneously: that it is a religion, and that it is a religion in which the highest fulfillment, the greatest holiness, is killing non-Muslims. When we understand that Islam is a religion, though a perverted one, then we understand that Muslims are not people who are failing to follow our morality; they are people who are following their morality.

This is not to say that individual Muslims cannot be converted out of their horrible faith. But it is outside our power to convert Muslims as a whole. Yes, it could happen by a miracle. But a miracle is outside our power. Since Muslims deeply believe in their religion which commands them to make war on us, to try to change them as a group by converting them to our point of view and our morality cannot succeed and leaves us helpless before them.

So, again, this is not about moral responsibility and accountability. Of course a Muslim living in our society who commits crimes in the name of Islam must be condemned and punished according to our moral standards. Of course we should condemn Muslims for the evil they wish on us and do to us. But I’m not concerned about condemning and punishing Muslims. I’m concerned about rescuing our society from Islam. And as long as we think that we can save ourselves from their religion by holding them to the standards of our morality and converting them from their morality to ours, we are blinding ourselves to that which makes them behave as they do. As long as they are Muslims, they are our enemies, and therefore the only thing for us to do is disempower them and remove them from our society so that they will have no ability or opportunity to act against us.

See my critique of Melanei Phillips’s position on Islam: “The unreformable Islamitude of Muslims, and why Melanie Phillips doesn’t get it,” as she sees the Islam problem as a moral problem subject to reform.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at May 22, 2010 11:10 AM | Send

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