Derbyshire on Islam, 2011

Daniel S. writes:

John Derbyshire writes in his latest article that Muslim don’t belong in the West, and that Muslim immigration should be halted and reversed:

Here are my honest opinions about Muslims in the generality:

Islam is an ancient and respectable religion which has provided consolation to innumerable persons and has served as an ordering principle for several notable civilizations. Its tenets are no more or less preposterous than those of any other thought system embracing the supernatural. It has inspired much fine art, architecture, and literature. I am happy to share the planet with Muslims. I wish them well, or at least no harm, and I would not try to dissuade them from their faith.

However, many past and present examples show that large cohorts of Muslims living among non-Muslims generate problems for the host society, problems that governments would be wise to avoid. Mass immigration of Muslims into non-Muslim nations is a bad idea. There is no reason for it. Muslims have 57 nations of their own. May they wander among them in liberty and peace!

Large-scale Muslim settlement in Western nations should not be allowed. Where foolish policies have allowed it, those policies should be discontinued. Muslim immigrants and native converts willing to leave our countries and settle in Muslim homelands should be encouraged to do so—for example, with bribes from the public fisc.

Putting aside Derbyshire’s religious relativism (i.e. his comments indicating that Islam is no less true or more true than Christianity or Zoroastrianism), he does come out and say that large-scale Muslim immigration and settlement should be stopped and reversed. I don’t know if this is the first time he has clearly advocated this, but I would hope he expands on this in the future.

LA replies:

In the past Derbyshire has both dismissed separationism and reluctantly endorsed it, while dismissing actual Islam critics as tiresome neurotics who “need to get a life.” When he supported separationism, it was not not because he regards Islam as dangerous,—he make it clear that he does not—but because in the present world there just happen to be a lot of Islamic terrorists and fanatics and therefore it would be prudent to keep them away from us for the time being. As in the present column, he never has anything critical to say about Islam itself, except that it is as false as all other religions, and he also says that informing oneself about Islam is a waste of time.

Given that Derbyshire’s only stable concept is the falsity of all stable concepts, how reliable and meaningful is his current statement supporting the removal of Muslims, especially given his continuing attacks on Islam critics, which is where his real passion lies? He is like a liberal during the Cold War who would admit that Communism was a threat, while adding that anti-Communism was a worse threat than Communism.

On the subject of Derbyshire’s anti-intellectualism, here is a long comment by me in a July 2007 thread where I discussed his article dismissing separationism and Islam critics:

Derbyshire in his essay “Islamophobia” embraces pure anti-intellectualism. He tells us that he doesn’t have to learn anything about Islam, because it is “stupifyingly dull stuff.” Everything that is said about Islam by Islam scholars is just nonsense, the fumings of disordered minds. Using one of the standard put-downs popular in our degraded culture, he describes a person who has written a scholarly book about Islam as “someone who really needs to get a life.” Derbyshire doesn’t need to learn anything about Islamic scriptures because “great swathes of Islamia can’t understand [them] anyway, not being able to speak Arabic.” The notion that the Koran can only be understood in Arabic is not true. Many millions of Muslims do not know Arabic but read and study the Koran, and there are many books written by first-rate scholars of Islam that are available to anyone who wants to read them.But Derbyshire repeats as though it were true the third rate rumor that Islam is unintelligible (except to people who know Arabic), and this in his mind excuses him and everyone else from learning anything about Islam.

But since he ignores Islamic teachings, what then does he find objectionable about Islam?

Derbyshire: “I’ll certainly agree that Islamia contains a dismayingly high proportion of violent lunatics, and an even more dismayingly high proportion of non-violent non-lunatics who don’t mind the violent lunatics as much as they ought (or who do, but are too scared to say so).”

Islam according to Derbyshire is not an entity that has any characteristics of its own, it’s just a collection of humans who are disproportionately violent and crazy.

Derbyshire: “I’ll agree, too, that it was very dumb of countries like Britain and France to permit the settlement of ethnocentric Muslims in such numbers they could form their own unassimilated communities. I think it’s dumb of any country to permit that, with any highly ethnocentric group.”

So the only problem with Islam is that Muslims are ethnocentric, in other words, Muslims are just like any other ethnic group, only a bit more so. There is nothing distinct about Islam that matters.

Derbyshire: “We have a problem for sure; but what would the people who publish these books like us to do about it? Separationism—expel our own Muslims and seal ourselves off from the Moslem world? For goodness’ sake: We can’t even muster the will to expel illegal immigrants from next door. You want us to expel citizens? To half-way round the world?”

Of course, none of the people who have written these books have advocated separationism. Separationism is a radical proposal that I have put forth, and I have listed a handful of writers who seem to have similar ideas but have not called themselves separationists. Derbyshire acts as though separationism is an accepted idea.

He dismisses the possibility of a rollback of Islam from the West, because we are not currently expelling illegal aliens, therefore we cannot make Muslims leave either. But isn’t that putting the cart before the horse? Of course at present we cannot and are not doing those things. Separationism is a radical idea that can only come into effect after great changes have taken place in the thinking of our society. Yet Derbyshire acts as if, because society is not ready to do this now, it can never do it.

Derbyshire: “In any case, when I once called one of these folk a separationist, he hotly denied it, and told me, and the rest of the world, that I am an idiot. So whadda they want? Beats me.”

He’s referring to the extremely touchy Hugh Fitzgerald, who never called himself a separationist, and who furiously attacked Derbyshire (and me) for considering him one. At the same time, Derbyshire is not without some basis for what he is saying here, since Fitzgerald has certainly taken positions that fit within what I have described as separationism, yet Fitzgerald angrily denied that he had said any such things. But still, why go to someone who has never called himself a separationist? Why not go to someone who has? Indeed, why not go to the person who wrote what Derbyshire calls the “Ur-separationist article,” myself? Or, if not me, since there’s been so much argument between us, why not to someone else who, even if he does not embrace the separationist label, since the number of people who have done so is almost non-existent, is at least less touchy and more accessible than Fitzgerald, like, say, Serge Trifkovic?

Derbyshire: “If finding out the answer involves reading books as boring as this one (let alone as wrist-slittingly boring as the Koran), I’ll stay ignorant, thanks all the same.”

No one ever said to read boring books, or just to plow through the Koran. There are many intelligent, accessible articles that have been written about Islamic teachings in recent years, by Robert Spencer, Andrew Bostom, and others, including myself, showing among other things the connections between the beliefs of present-day jihadists and the sacred Islamic texts. That is the most fascinating thing about Islam, how Muslims through the ages in pronouncing on jihad and related matters are always just quoting and paraphrasing the Koran and the Hadiths, how Islam is a machine, replicating itself, generation after generation, century after century. That is the unique nature of Islam as an unchangeable divinely authoritative belief system forming the mind and conduct of Muslims over the centuries, unaltered in any essentials from the eighth century up to this moment. Derbyshire if he had any curiosity could with some reading (the kind of reading that many people have engaged in over the last six years) learn something about the subject. He refuses to do so. He refuses even to look for interesting articles and would rather complain about boring books. The whole matter is beneath him. He boasts of his ignorance of the most important issue facing our world. He makes the narcissistic drama of his own individualist personality refusing to learn about Islam more important than learning about Islam.

Derbyshire: “Idiocy is not a state I aspire to; but if the alternative is plowing through books filled with the ruminations of 7th-century desert mystics, decorated with comments thereon by 21st-century monomaniacs—well, at that point, idiocy starts to look pretty good.”

So, all scholarship about Islam is the work of monomaniacs.

Then he moves into further know-nothingism: “Fundamentally (if you’ll pardon the expression) I can’t take religion that seriously. I see it the way Marx saw it, as an epiphenomenon, part of the “superstructure” of human society.”

Well, that’s a convenient idea for someone who doesn’t want to know anything. Islam is a religion. All religions are epiphenomena of human society. Therefore Islam is an epiphenomenon of human society, and as such is like all other religions. There’s nothing distinct about Islam that one needs to know.

To write an article bragging of one’s ignorance of this important and extremely interesting subject, to mock and dismiss and deride the very possibility of meaningful knowledge about this subject, and, worst of all, to seek to influence other minds with one’s contempt for the possibility of knowledge about this subject: that is the mark of a sick, nihilist mind.

And this anti-intellectual screed was published at National Review Online.

I repeat that Derbyshire’s presence at that magazine is a disgrace. Indeed, the presence at any respectable publication of this lover of ignorance, this embracer of obscurantism, would be a disgrace.

[end of July 2007 comment]

In that same 2007 column already linked Derbyshire replied to the charge that he is a nihilist by repeating his disdain for Islam critics:

A part of it is my dislike of narrow-minded ideological boosterism, of which there is a lot in the Islamophobe business. Many of the noisiest Islamophobes are committed Christians of one kind or another, usually of the angry kind—the same people, I suspect, who e-mail in to tell me that I am a “nihilist” with no morals.

First: this is so typical of him. Because he rejects ideas, and is only interested in personalities, he responds, not to the substance of what Islam critics have to say, but to the excessive rhetoric of some Islam critics, and on that basis rejects Islam criticism itself.

Second: Unfortunately for Derbyshire, the assertion that he is a nihilist is not about “anger,” it is about the meaning of the word nihilism, which is the rejection of moral truth, and about the actual content of his own ideas. He is indeed a nihilist, as I have demonstreated by in several articles, such as this:

Having suggested that the combination of ethno-religious-national consciousness and individual conscience was the source of Britain’s historic national strength, Derbyshire turns around and derides that synthesis as sheerest nonsense, as a lie that one can affirm only through Orwellian doublethink. There’s the John Derbyshire view of British glory for you! Exactly as I said at the start, Derbyshire does not believe in any moral truth, and therefore he does not believe that the British nation was or ever could have been based even in part on moral truth, and therefore he has no moral ground on which to defend the British nation from the forces that would destroy it. As he has written elsewhere, the only thing in human life that he thinks is true is Darwinian random mutations naturally selected.

The nihilo-conservative believes in nothing but genes, violence, and racial contempt, and has nothing to offer the West in its mortal crisis except despair. The traditional conservative believes in spiritual truth, country, and peoplehood, and offers a way of fighting for them.

All of which reminds me. T.S. Eliot famously said:

I believe that a right tradition for us must also be a Christian tradition….

Stability is obviously necessary…. The population should be homogeneous; where two or more cultures exist in the same place they are likely either to be fiercely self-conscious or both to become adulterate. What is still more important is unity of religious background, and reasons of race and religion combine to make any large number of free-thinking Jews undesirable.

I agree with Eliot, and add that there is nothing anti-Semitic or bigoted in his statement. If you want a Christian society, a large number of secular Jews will change the society, and therefore is not desirable; in the same way that if you want a Jewish society, a large number of believing Christians or Muslims will change it into a different society, and therefore is not desirable.

But I would also add this. Just as a large number of free-thinking Jews is undesirable, a large number of free-thinking Englishmen is also undesirable. And because there are so many more Englishmen than Jews, and because the English are the most outspokenly and aggressively atheistic people in the world, and because Americans automatically abase themselves before anyone with an English accent, free-thinking Englishmen are a greater danger to our culture than free-thinking Jews.

Stan writes:

Respectfully, I happen to think the T.S. Eliot quote expresses the sentiment of a bullying bigot. For one thing, there’s no such thing as “pure” cultures and “adulterate” cultures. For another, I don’t understand what either the “race” of Jewish freethinkers, or their “religious background,” as opposed to their actual beliefs, has to do with culture …

If I may say so, there are plenty of Jewish atheists who are T.S. Eliot’s contemporaries, whom I would take over T.S. Eliot in a heartbeat: a few that come to mind would be Vladimir Jabotinsky (arguably the greatest figure in Zionism), the short-story writer Isaac Babel (his Communism, and even his closeness with Stalin’s inner circle, notwithstanding), and some of the literally dozens of scientists and mathematicians from all over Europe (including the U.S.S.R.) who are household names, many of whom took part in the Manhattan Project.

As your own commentary on the quote suggests, if T.S. Eliot were consistent he would direct his hostility toward English atheists, or all atheists for that matter—not that he would be right in doing that, either, since one doesn’t criminalize ideas. Compare the approach of C.S. Lewis, who labored to convert unbelievers with good-faith argument, instead of declaring war on people who he knew would not be in a position to fight back.

Stan continues:

Lest you take me to be including you in my characterization of Eliot’s statement (with which, after all, you’ve agreed), I might add that no statement carries a truth that is wholly independent of the circumstances under which it is expressed. The world of T.S. Eliot was in many ways different from ours. In his time, beliefs in Jewish racial otherness and inferiority, not to mention all kinds of Jewish plots to control the world, were commonplace in the West. Decisions by politicians and institution in every European country used to be influenced by such beliefs. T.S. Eliot’s opinion was popular and safe then. Now it would at least take some courage. More importantly, it contributed to a great ongoing evil then, while the evil today tends to lie in a different direction.

LA replies:

Eliot was not singling out Jews, he was singling out “Jewish free-thinkers,” and he was not saying that any Jewish free-thinker was a problem, but too great a number of them. I understand that in the context of the 1930s any remark that Jews are a problem for a society can be linked with Nazism, and could be fairly criticized on that basis. But the way I was relating to the Eliot quotation is simply as follows. If you want to maintain a society of a certain tradition and culture, then bringing in a large number of people of different tradition and culture, people, moreover who will actively agitate against the host society’s tradition and culture (which is what Eliot is alluding to with “free-thinkers”), is self-evidently a bad idea.

American Jewish neoconservatives constantly vent about the bad things done by Jewish leftists. While the two positions are obviously not identical, is attacking the influence of Jewish leftists on society all that different from attacking the influence of “Jewish free-thinkers” on society?

While I am of Jewish background, I have consistently defended the national quota acts of 1921 and 1924, which had the intention and effect of drastically reducing the mass immigration from southern and eastern Europe that had been going on for 40 years, including its Jewish component of about four million Jewish immigrants. Americans realized that there was too much immigration of culturally and ethnically distinct peoples, that many cities now had majority immigrant populations, and that it was changing the country too much, and they stopped it.

Just one example of the effect of this immigration: New York City public schools once were Christian, with assemblies and school events organized around Christian themes. As a result of the presence of Jewish children, Christianity was largely removed from the New York public schools. Did people who wanted to maintain America as a Christian society have a valid reason for being concerned about the effect on American culture of the vast Jewish immigration? Yes.

And, a fortiori, the post 1965 mass non-Western immigration has profoundly and radically changed our culture, and it is legitimate to call for its cessation—not that there is any sign that we are going to do that in the foreseeable future, since legal immigration is not remotely a political topic. And one of the major reasons for that silence is that American Jews—the descendants of the 1880-1920 immigration—have played a leading role in turning mass diverse immigration into the sacred essence of America that cannot be questioned.

LA continues:

As for free-thinking Englishmen, English atheism in the 1930s, while significant, had not become the poisonous, widespread, culturally dominant phenomenon that it became toward the end of the 20th century. And anyway, all of Eliot’s poetry is, in one sense or another, a radical critique of secularism in general and of secularizing England in particular.

I might also add that American free-thinkers, mostly of Protestant descent themselves, welcomed the Jewish immigration and influence, because they saw the Jews as allies in their campaign to end America’s Protestant ascendancy. An example of this thinking is David Hollinger’s 1996 book, Science, Jews, and Secular Culture, in which he admits that Jews helped de-Christianize America, and argues that this was a good thing.

Here’s the opening of a review from

Friday, August 9, 1996

Jews dethroned Protestant culture, says U.C. scholar

by BARRY LANK, Bulletin Correspondent

Discussing the influence of secular Jews on American culture, U.C. Berkeley history Professor David Hollinger repeats T.S. Eliot’s warning:

“`Any large number of free-thinking Jews’ is `undesirable’ if one wants to maintain or develop a society in which a Christian tradition can flourish.”

Hollinger, himself a descendent of Protestant clergymen, adds, “He was right.”

Jews, says Hollinger, forever altered a racially and religiously homogeneous society in which Protestantism held a central and uncontested position.

But Hollinger said Jews broadened America’s outlook.

The role Jewish intellectuals of the 1940s through the 1960s played in dethroning Protestantism is the subject of Hollinger’s latest book, “Science, Jews, and Secular Culture,” a collection of essays on mid-20th-century American intellectual history. [cont.]

Posted by Lawrence Auster at December 30, 2011 01:14 PM | Send

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