Accommodation or resistance? A reply to Ron Radosh
Elsewhere at Pajamas Media, my friend Ron Radosh has posted a long and thoughtful “Message to Conservatives” on the question “Is Islam Really our Enemy?”
Now, you don’t nail up an open-letter, 39-Articles question like that — savor the force of the word “really” — unless you intend to pose what Latinists call a “num” question, i.e., a question that expects the answer “no.” “Is Johnny really such a bad person/paragon of virtue/excellent tennis player/etc.” Answer: “No, he isn’t.”
So it was only to be expected that Ron argues that the problem for the West is not Islam, not really. He also argues — and here we get the “message” part of his title — that conservatives, or at least some conservatives, don’t understand that. They, mistaken souls, think that Islam is the enemy. Ron’s post is an effort to show them the error of their ways.
By “them” I include myself, since I — along with Andrew McCarthy, David Horowitz, and a few others — are put forward as exemplary offenders, folks who go about “demonizing Islam” and hence impede genuine understanding of the problem and hence progress at battling terrorism.
I won’t try to compete with Ron in length. But since I believe there is some rhetorical slippage in Ron’s argument — he begins by saying one sort of thing, illustrates it with quite a different sort of thing, then concludes with a third sort of thing — I thought I should respond.
The first movement in Ron’s argument is that conservatives like me believe that Islam itself is the problem. There is an important sense in which this is true. See, for example, the piece I wrote called “Islam vs. the West: What you Need to Know.” In that column I cite, with approval, a piece by Andy McCarthy warning that “Islam is not merely a religious doctrine, but a comprehensive socio-economic and political system” whose tenets are fundamentally, essentially, inextricably at odds with Western, liberal, democratic, secular society. In another column, I elaborate on this point:
“It is part of the genius of the West — part of what distinguishes the West from the rest — that it has, almost from the beginning, tempered the binding claims of religion by acknowledging the legitimacy of secular institutions. This acknowledgment is not only a political decision, it is an existential dispensation, clearing a space for freedom and the claims of individual liberty. Islam, in principle and as a matter of historical fact, refuses to acknowledge any separate place for civil society or the exercise of individual liberty. Its byword is not 'Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s' but rather submission of everything to the will of Allah. 'Like the Communist Party in its Leninist construction,' [the philosopher Roger] Scruton observes, 'Islam aims to control the state without being a subject of the state.' If you want to know what that looks like in practice, contemplate the behavior of the Taliban, the Iranian Mullahs, or the followers of al Qaeda and its offshoots.”
Bottom line: Ron is correct that I believe Islam, not just “radical Islam,” is the problem. It’s a position, incidentally, that has a long and distinguished pedigree. For example, in his book Judgments on History and Historians, Jacob Burckhardt, observed that
“All religions are exclusive, but Islam is quite notably so, and immediately it developed into a state which seemed to be all of a piece with the religion. The Koran is its spiritual and secular book of law. Its statutes embrace all areas of life…and remain set and rigid; the very narrow Arab mind imposes this nature on many nationalities and thus remolds them for all time (a profound, extensive spiritual bondage!) This is the power of Islam in itself. At the same time, the form of the world empire as well as of the states gradually detaching themselves from it cannot be anything but a despotic monarchy. The very reason and excuse for existence, the holy war, and the possible world conquest, do not brook any other form.
The strongest proof of real, extremely despotic power in Islam is the fact that it has been able to invalidate, in such large measure, the entire history (customs, religion, previous way of looking at things, earlier imagination) of the peoples converted to it.”