The ultimate mystery about liberals: given Islam’s history, how can Westerners go on believing that it is just a religion like other religions?

An Indian living in the West writes:

Please watch this about Tony Blair when you have time. It opened new insights for me.

LA replies:

Can you give me a little hint what it says?

ILW replies:

Tony Blair’s justifications for Iraq and Afghanistan. His views on Iran. He talks about the global struggle and how the Middle East is right in the middle of it.

I realised that he is deep down an unapologetic neo-conservative (without necessarily beating the drums as loudly as the self-proclaimed neocons do).

But this is the thing: in the neo-conservative view, the Muslims are at heart good people (like us) who can start electing “progressive” regimes (like us!). I realised that what he is saying is so insane, I find it mind boggling that any intelligent person could believe this nonsense. He really believes that not only can the West reform the entire Muslim world and transplant democracy in it, but it is morally obliged to do so!

His arguments for war in Iraq and Afghanistan are not ultimately based on national interest but on humanitarian universalism!

These liberals and neocons are no less insane than the Iranian mullahs.

You have to watch the interview to really get the gist of this. I am not surprised that he got along so well with Bush. Their insane views of the world were identical.

LA replies:

Thank you for this. I understand what you’re saying.

Before I make my main point, I just want to say again that when it comes to Islam, look at how little, at bottom, separates the neocons (right-liberals) from the left-liberals. They both believe that Islam is a religion like other religions and can be assimilated to the tolerant liberal society. Compared to this commonality, the differences between them (the neocons believe that there is one small part of Islam that is bad, the left-liberals believe that there are no parts of Islam that are bad) are minor. Thus, when it comes to the consuming issue of the Ground Zero Mosque, the neocons believe a big mosque and Islamic center should not be built right next to the destroyed World Trade Center, because that is an example of the bad Islam, but that all other mosques are fine and the ongoing Islamization of America is fine. The left-liberals believe that a big mosque and Islamic center should be built right next to the destroyed World Trade Center, because there is not such thing as bad Islam, and, of course, that all other mosques are fine and the ongoing Islamization of America is fine.

Now to my point. Just today I was saying to a friend, how can the aggressive defenders of the Ground Zero mosque hold that position? And the answer was that they hold it on the basis that Islam is just a religion like other religions. Therefore to expect the Muslims to move the mosque, is unacceptable.

But then the question became: HOW, given the facts about Islam—which are not secret, not esoteric, not unavailable to ordinary people, but a part of the common knowledge of the world for over a thousand years—NOT be known by so many Westerners today? How can they believe the very opposite of the truth to be the truth?

Now, I myself have gone pretty far in getting at the psychology of liberals and how they excuse Islam, but even I do not know the ultimate answer to that question. To find the answer, I would have to have a long, one-on-one conversation with a liberal about Islam. I would have to lay out the facts for him about Islam, and then let him raise every argument he has against those facts, and then I would have to show him, one by one, why those arguments were wrong. And then, at the end of this laborious process, when I had refuted every one of his false positions by which he defended Islam, and he had no reasonable excuse to go on defending Islam, and he would nevertheless go on defending it, at that point I might—might—come to understand what drove him to believe the gross illusions he believes.

Dean E. writes:

Maybe Ken Hechtman could explain the mystery of the liberal belief in the “religion of peace”?

Aaron S. writes:

You asked:

HOW, given the facts about Islam—which are not secret, not esoteric, not unavailable to ordinary people, but a part of the common knowledge of the world for over a thousand years—NOT be known by so many Westerners today? How can they believe the very opposite of the truth to be the truth?

Maybe the answer here is that for liberals, the nature of Islam—or of ANY religion—is not an empirical proposition. It is therefore not subject to disproof. Because religion to liberals is entirely about belief, its nature is fully nominal and arbitrary from moment to moment. To say otherwise would be to throw out one of the most cherished liberal principles: complete and entire autonomy of the will.

In other words, “Yes,” the liberal would say, “there may be 1400 years of bloodshed and killing, but if people chose otherwise tomorrow, all would shift.”

Your question brought to mind an interesting parallel between Islam and liberalism. Liberalism ascribes to the human will much the same power that Islam ascribes to the divine one. In Islam, Allah creates the world whole-cloth at each new instant through an arbitrary act of will. The same holds under liberalism for the human will and its beliefs, impulses, choices.

To his great credit, Benedict noted this rather early in his papacy. To his great discredit, he dropped the ball when this insight was met with howls of protest.

LA replies:

You wrote:

In other words, “Yes,” the liberal would say, “there may be 1400 years of bloodshed and killing, but if people chose otherwise tomorrow, all would shift.”

Yes, that’s the Daniel Pipes position. And in my long analysis of him in 2005 (“The Search for Moderate Islam, Part One”), I reached the conclusion, based on his own words, that for him Islam either is a nice religion now, or it must be reformable into a nice religion, because the only alternative is to regard Islam as our permanent enemy, a prospect he finds totally unacceptable. And that may be as good an answer as there is. So maybe in this entry I’m going over ground I’ve already gone over. However, I think it’s worth looking into it more deeply. Also, Pipes is a neocon and thus believes that one small part of Islam is bad. The main focus of my question is the left-liberals who believe that no part of Islam is bad.

Thus Pipes takes the mainstream anti-mosque position. He writes:

While Muslims have every legal right to build a mosque near Ground Zero, this initiative carries the unmistakable odor of Islamic triumphalism. More importantly, Abdul Rauf’s dubious background and associations give reason to worry that his center will spread Islamist ideology. Therefore, it should be barred from opening.

Albert S. writes:

.” that point I might—might—come to understand what drove him to believe the gross illusions he believes.”

I apologize Mr. Auster, I can’t help myself in this case. The words of Dana Carvey’s “Churchlady” from Saturday Night Live keep singing out …

.”..Could it be … SATAN!!!??”

Saint Augustine and Plato both said that if at this point in the argument, once logic and reason had been utterly banished or evicted, if the flawed and defeated argument were still advanced by the advocate, then the realm of true evil had been entered.

Paul Nachman writes:

Striking! Your commenter Aaron S. wrote:

In Islam, Allah creates the world whole-cloth at each new instant through an arbitrary act of will.

Now look at this, especially the sentence I highlight, from a current article, “Why Islamic Moderates Are So Scarce,” at NRO:

What makes Closing so compelling is Reilly’s ability to tie seemingly arcane questions of Islamic theology to many of the characteristics of Islamic civilization that we in the West find so hard to fathom. Fundamentally, Ash’arism was a rejection of “natural law” and reason in favor of an all-powerful God of pure will and power. The idea of an ordered universe that behaves according to certain ordained laws—whether moral or physical—would have been understood by the Mu’tazilites. For the Ash’arites, this was blasphemy, an outrage against God’s omnipotence.

In the language of philosophy, this way of looking at the world is known, somewhat confusingly, as “voluntarism.” To quote Reilly, it “holds that God is the primary cause of everything and there are no secondary causes. There is no causal mediation. Therefore, what may seem to be ‘natural laws,’ such as the laws of gravity, physics, etc. are really nothing more than God’s customs or habits, which He is at complete liberty to break or change at any moment.”

While Christianity recognizes the possibility of miracles, when God intervenes to supersede natural law, in Islam every nanosecond is the functional equivalent of a miracle, the result of God’s divine act. Thus there is no law of gravity, only God’s will, determining moment by moment that the apple will fall from the tree. Neither is there any morality, no objective good and evil as we in the West would see it, only the arbitrary decrees of an all-powerful God. There is no “truth that is written in our hearts,” only the truths that are written in the Koran, which could just as well be otherwise if such were the whim of God. As Ibn Hazm pronounced in the 11th century, “He judges as He pleases, and whatever He judges is just…. If God the Exalted had informed us that He would punish us for the acts of others … all that would have been right and just.”

It’s nice to have independent corroboration for Aaron’s very striking idea.

September 3

James N. writes:

I think you are quite right that right-liberals regard Islam as “a religion like any other”, which can be assimilated into the tolerant liberal society. They are able to believe this because they believe that religion isn’t very important anyway. The Christians and Jews that they know don’t really believe all that God stuff, if, somehow, they do, they believe God wants free healthcare and lots of sex.

But the left-liberal position remains a mystery. The leftists who defend Islamic religious freedom just discovered religious freedom yesterday. They have consistently and vigorously opposed the free exercise of religion in the United States since 1947. They oppose ANY church. They oppose ALL worship. In Newton, MA where I used to live, they have an Orthodox congregation tied up in an arcane zoning/parking dispute to make sure there isn’t any orthodox Jewish worship going on in a convenient place for walking (in a majority-Jewish town, no less). Before that, the left-liberal Jews of Brookline, MA went to the wall to prevent the formation of an eruv in their town.

Left liberals HATE religion. They are opposed to it everywhere, and always—except for Islam.

THAT remains a bit of a mystery.

Bruce B. writes:

Being Hydra-of-Lerna-like, I think they have multiple tactics to elevate the alien and undermine “us.” In addition to what you and your correspondents discuss, they bring up the dirty laundry of Christians. So if Islam was violent, Christians had the Inquisitions, the pogroms, digging up and burning poor Wycliffe’s bones, burning Salem witches, the violence in the Old Testament, etc. So Islam is a religion just like Christianity (and both are probably worse than all those nice peaceful Eastern religions like Buddhism and those nice nature-worshipping religions like animism).

Jonathan W. writes:

In reply to James N.’s comment, I actually don’t think it’s a mystery at all. Left-liberals don’t hate religion; they hate the traditional West. Since both Christianity and Judaism are representative of historic Western civilization, while Islam is not Western and is in fact at war with the West, this position makes perfect sense.

Kristor writes:

It seems simple to me. My hypothesis about this is based upon my experience of my own feelings about the matter, back when I was a right-liberal. NB: “feelings.” Not thoughts. I desperately wanted it to be true, as I did indeed also think it was true, that liberal democratic capitalism would correct the other cultures on the planet (without deleting their charming idiosyncrasies) and lead to Fukuyama’s End of History. The theory was logical, simple, parsimonious, elegant, attractive. And in the aftermath of the Soviet collapse and the burgeoning prosperity and good cheer of the Reagan Revolution, it had the odor of historical inevitability. How very Marxist it was, in retrospect. When 9/11 happened, I was totally bewildered, for a while. Now that Communism was dead, and everyone was adopting capitalism and democracy, how could anyone so hate the U.S., the apotheosis of these two beneficent doctrines? I didn’t want to surrender the attractive Fukuyaman vision of our future, and I certainly didn’t want to embrace the notion that we were now willy nilly engaged in a World War with Islam. So I fell back on the Marxist explanation that poverty and tyranny were to blame for Muslim terror. The terror wasn’t about Islam at all, but about economic oppression. So all we would need to do to fix the problem would be to introduce the Arabs and Persians to capitalism and democracy, and everything would be OK: they’d get rid of the corruption and tyranny, and then they would get prosperous, and busy themselves with arguing about public policy and selling each other insurance and stuff, and terrorism would seem less attractive than humdrum, retail politics and business. But if this plan was to work, Muslim terror couldn’t be entailed in Islam per se. Because if it was, that would mean that the whole lovely comfortable Fukuyaman paradigm was wrong. If jihad was essential to Islam, then we would be confronted with a dire enemy, implacable as the Soviets, but also wealthy and insane. In that case, history was not over, but rather had resumed after a 200 year hiatus of European hegemony and internecine squabbling. If Islam was our enemy, then history was not really about left versus right at all. It was about Islam versus everything.

I didn’t want that to be true, and I resisted it for a while. Not for long; by the time I discovered VFR in 2007, I was already far to your right vis-a-vis Islam: in your words, “a Mongol warlord coolly prepared to send millions to their deaths.”

The question remains: why did I so want to hang on to the Fukuyaman vision? Why was I not prepared to jettison that vision, as soon as it presented me with a major cognitive dissonance? Because humans hate uncertainty almost more than they hate believing falsehoods. They will hang on to an idea that has worked for them for as long as they can, even when they suspect it is wrong. They’ll hang onto it until doing so becomes intolerably painful. They do this because the alternative is to plunge into the cold chaotic waters of confusion, doubt and uncertainty about the structure and order of the world, and thus into fear about their capacity to understand, control, and survive it. And that’s a terrifying thing to do.

Why is it so terrifying? Because it carries with it implicitly the obligation to fight—victory being the only way, finally, to control the risks that enemies entail. The predicament of the liberal is neatly exemplified by the fellow who suspected a few years ago that the man in the seat ahead of him on the plane, who turned out to be the shoe bomber, was a terrorist, but did nothing, because that would be to betray his own civil libertarian ideals. He clung to his false ideals even though his intuition told him they put him at risk of imminent death. If he were to admit that the fellow in the seat in front of him really was an enemy, he would then immediately have to recognize and act upon his duty to do combat with that enemy, right there and then, in his own defense, and in defense of the innocents who surrounded him. If the liberal admits to an enemy, he must admit to a duty to make war, and implicitly to hazard his own body, or those of his sons. He must fight. To do that, he must master his fear of death. And it is hard for liberals to master their fear of death, for they are mostly nominalists, and thus implicitly atheists and materialists, so that they have no philosophical warrant for believing that there is anything more important than their own lives. Liberal nominalists lack the philosophical equipment that would enable them to surmount their fears by the operations of their intellects. They are endemically timorous.

And this is where we get back to Albert S.’s point about Satan. CS Lewis pointed out that courage is the form of all the virtues. Cowardice, then, is the form of all the vices. Aristotle defines courage as the will to act upon the basis of a recognition of the moral truth of a situation. Liberals believe there is no such truth. So they are prevented from courage, and stuck in fear.

Alan Roebuck writes:

Yes, the “ultimate mystery about liberals,” that they refuse to acknowledge the manifest truth about Islam, is a worthy subject of discussion.

And let’s observe that liberals refuse to acknowledge the truth about any religion. They refuse to acknowledge that Christianity is true, or at the least very vital to the health of the West, and they refuse to acknowledge that Islam is a threat.

Liberals, in general, refuse to acknowledge reality. In the case of Christianity, the Founding Fathers of liberalism were Western atheists, so the religion they crafted was based on opposition to Christianity. Other religions were unimportant except as weapons against Christianity and the rest of the traditional order.

Liberalism, then, is intrinsically uninterested in the truth about Islam, or any other religion. In their worldview, religion (other than theirs, which they generally don’t acknowledge to be religion) cannot be true, only beneficial or harmful. As long as the intellectual and spiritual leaders of the left believe that Islam is a net positive for them, they will continue to direct their underlings to continue portraying Islam as good and opposition to Islam as bigotry.

Andrea C. writes:

Aaron gets right to the kernel of the problem with Islam. “Liberalism ascribes to the human will much the same power that Islam ascribes to the divine one. In Islam, Allah creates the world whole-cloth at each new instant through an arbitrary act of will. The same holds under liberalism for the human will and its beliefs, impulses, choices.” Bingo. That is precisely the insight into Islam that led scholars over the centuries to conclude that Islam is a purely made-up religion. That constant creation at each new instant is identical to the cognitive process of adherents of liberalism (and its sister totalitarian faiths) who “believe in everything and nothing, think that everything is possible and nothing is true.”

Behold St John of Damascus exposing the poor and crude arguments of Islam in defense of the capriciousness of a God who “recreates the universe at every nanosecond,” a God who told Muhammad to accept the Prophets and yet reject the Prophesies (and St John gives a wonderful simple insight into the mystery of the Trinity to boot):

“Moreover, they call us Hetaeriasts, or Associators, because, they say, we introduce an associate with God by declaring Christ to the Son of God and God. We say to them in rejoinder: ‘The Prophets and the Scriptures have delivered this to us, and you, as you persistently maintain, accept the Prophets. So, if we wrongly declare Christ to be the Son of God, it is they who taught this and handed it on to us.’ But some of them say that it is by misinterpretation that we have represented the Prophets as saying such things, while others say that the Hebrews hated us and deceived us by writing in the name of the Prophets so that we might be lost. And again we say to them: ‘As long as you say that Christ is the Word of God and Spirit, why do you accuse us of being Hetaeriasts? For the word, and the spirit, is inseparable from that in which it naturally has existence. Therefore, if the Word of God is in God, then it is obvious that He is God. If, however, He is outside of God, then, according to you, God is without word and without spirit. Consequently, by avoiding the introduction of an associate with God you have mutilated Him. It would be far better for you to say that He has an associate than to mutilate Him, as if you were dealing with a stone or a piece of wood or some other inanimate object. Thus, you speak untruly when you call us Hetaeriasts; we retort by calling you Mutilators of God.’

They furthermore accuse us of being idolaters, because we venerate the cross, which they abominate. And we answer them: ‘How is it, then, that you rub yourselves against a stone in your Ka’ba [107] and kiss and embrace it?’ Then some of them say that Abraham had relations with Agar upon it, but others say that he tied the camel to it, when he was going to sacrifice Isaac. And we answer them: ‘Since Scripture says that the mountain was wooded and had trees from which Abraham cut wood for the holocaust and laid it upon Isaac, [108] and then he left the asses behind with the two young men, why talk nonsense? For in that place neither is it thick with trees nor is there passage for asses.’ And they are embarrassed, but they still assert that the stone is Abraham’s. Then we say: ‘Let it be Abraham’s, as you so foolishly say. Then, just because Abraham had relations with a woman on it or tied a camel to it, you are not ashamed to kiss it, yet you blame us for venerating the cross of Christ by which the power of the demons and the deceit of the Devil was destroyed.’ This stone that they talk about is a head of that Aphrodite whom they used to worship and whom they called Khabár. Even to the present day, traces of the carving are visible on it to careful observers.”

Liberalism and Islam both mutilate God because they are both manifest, in Aaron’s phrase “the complete and entire autonomy of the will.” Islam is also often compared to Communism for the same reason. God is absent from Liberalism and Islam, so Man is merely “the most intelligent of the animals,” a beast. This is the guilt of Liberalism and Islam, they are a “crime against the human spirit.” A Muslim convert to Christianity described it well when he wrote, “one day while praying to Allah I suddenly had the overwhelming awareness that no one was there.”

Posted by Lawrence Auster at September 02, 2010 09:28 PM | Send

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