Tuesday, July 29, 2014

William Kilpatrick on Exempting Islam from Criticism

William Kilpatrick
Crisis Magazine

My friend Bill Vallicella posted on an article by William Kilpatrick about "Islam's Religious Exemption From Criticism" (Crisis Magazine, July 23, 2014), and since the article reflects some of my own thinking, I'm excerpting it here:
[The defense of Islam by non-Muslims] comes in the form of "vouchers" for Islam's good character: assurances by world leaders that Islam is a peaceful religion, assurances by religious leaders that it is a model of interfaith tolerance, and assurances by educators that "jihad" is an interior spiritual struggle . . . . Western critics of Islam often find themselves facing fines or even jail time. In most of Europe, you can safely wave a "Behead Those Who Insult Islam" poster in the face of a policeman, but if you are a non-Muslim and you observe that Islamic law allows for beheadings, you'll be standing before a magistrate the next day on hate crime charges . . . . One of the primary arguments . . . [in defense of] Islam is that it's a stabilizing force in the Middle East and elsewhere. But if that's not the case, should we still want Islam to succeed? If Islam is a destabilizing force, wouldn't the world be better off without it? And since Muslims are the primary victims of Islamic violence, wouldn't they also be better off without it? . . . Islam is looking more and more like a world-threatening ideology, but it is . . . immune to criticism . . . because it is a recognized and long-established religion. To challenge it is to court charges of anti-religious bigotry. In addition, something in our conscience makes us . . . . conditioned to have a favorable view of religion -- especially other people's religion . . . . [T]o contemplate Islam's failure ["somehow doesn't seem right"] . . . . [S]ome critics of Islam contend that it is nothing but a political ideology and ought to be labeled as such. But this rebranding effort is a difficult sell because, by most standard definitions of the term, Islam does qualify as a religion. To most people, moreover, it certainly looks like a religion . . . . [with] centuries-old observances . . . . When people prostrate themselves in prayer five times a day, . . . [a critic can hardly] make the case that what they're doing is nothing more than a power play . . . . [In fact,] Islam is a hybrid: it's both a political ideology and a religion . . . . [T]he religious side provides considerable protection from criticism. Because of its religious nature, it seems improper to engage Islam in . . . ideological warfare . . . . Yet the threat to the West and to the rest of the world is, by all appearances, increasing . . . . Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has proclaimed the creation of a new caliphate state, declared himself caliph, and has called on Muslims worldwide to join him in waging war against infidels . . . . [T]he idea of the caliphate is that there should be only one unified Islam . . . . [T]he caliphate is intended to be a borderless community -- a trans-national and ever-expanding empire of true believers . . . . Islam aspires to be a universal belief system . . . . Islam has the advantage of conducting its proselytizing activities under the banner of religion . . . . [But] Mosques are not just places of worship; they are often centers of political activity and, not infrequently, of jihad activity. As a popular Muslim poem puts it, "The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets, and the faithful our soldiers" . . . . Of course, for a non-Muslim to even hint at the possibility that mosques might serve such purposes is to invite accusations of Islamophobia and bigotry . . . . Which goes to prove the point: Islam's religious status puts it beyond criticism. You can criticize very radical Islamic radicals and very extreme Islamic extremists -- just as long as you add that, of course, their activities have nothing to do with the religion of Islam . . . . [T]he theology/ideology of Islam has some very large weak spots. But our sense of propriety, which is nowadays governed by the rules of political correctness, won't allow us to even talk about them. In effect, the sensitive areas are protected by a large sign that reads "religion -- do not touch."
I've long recognized Islam as both religious and political. That dual nature confuses modern people, who usually expect religion to stay in the private realm as a personal piety that doesn't seek to influence politics. Even in its own founding years -- or should I say especially in its founding years -- Islam was deeply involved in politics, as well as in war -- politics by other means, as Clausewitz observed.

In fact, I would argue that Islam -- in its synthesis of religion, politics, and war within an all-encompassing legal system for the total regulation of society -- is a throwback to one of the earliest forms of organized religion: a theonomic state in which the leader combined the roles of priest and king . . . and, of course, of military general.

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