Falling into the Islamist trap

Unlike the recent senseless massacre of children in Pakistan, the attack on Charlie Hebdo is a calculated ploy. Considering the reactions to the attack, the ploy has succeeded.

The perpetrators of these attacks are on a mission to establish a totalitarian Islamic State. A mission not shared by most followers of Islam. They are forced to operate in secrecy and take on the might of most governments. The only way they can succeed is to enlist broader support for their murderous ideology and foment a mass movement.

Most men are too busy living their own lives to bother establishing any kind of state – Islamic or otherwise. Most men are actually just ballast, too confused about the issues at hand to participate in any radical action. Mass movements do not take birth in an atmosphere of peace. Men take up arms only when they are convinced that they are under attack, that they must act immediately to defend their values.

The ploy of the Islamic State is to create an environment where Islam is seen to be under attack. And all the well-intentioned but clueless defenders of free speech, in re-publishing the offensive cartoons, are creating exactly such an environment, achieving for the Islamists what they could not have achieved by themselves.

Most men have little interest in offending others. Even less in ridiculing an abstract idea like religion. But this attack has succeeded in getting people who might never have known of Charlie Hebdo or their offensive cartoons into proclaiming “je suis charlie”.

The issue here is not the right to the freedom of expression. That right is sacred but using it to express what one would not normally express is self-defeating and silly.

The issue here is not the validity of Islam – or any other religion. All religions are fallacious, but ridiculing people’s beliefs is not the way to win them over.

The issue here is how to make the Islamist trap fail, how to prevent the Islamist desperadoes from gaining influence over the majority of Muslims. The key to that is to recognize that men are individuals. They represent themselves, not any community, and certainly not any abstract idea like religion. The actions of individuals professing a particular religion cannot be directly used to judge that religion, and certainly cannot be used to judge other individuals professing the same religion. Attacking the religion merely serves to confuse the judgement of the people professing it, people who would never resort to violence under normal circumstances.

Whether Islam deserves to be ridiculed or not is irrelevant. The murderous pawns of the Islamist State do not represent Islam any more than a peaceful Muslim going about his own life represents Islam. They are all individuals, with their own ideas, responsible for their own actions. Islam stands on its own. As does every religion and every abstract idea.

5 Responses

  1. “Islam stands on its own.” Islam is a set of ideas created by men. It does not “stand on its own.” It is not some Platonic conception. If no men took action in its name, it would cease to exist. Those who foster its existence by their support of it have no sympathy from me. Those who undermine it and ridicule it have all my sympathy. You say “all religions are fallacious,” and what do you mean by that? That we should dismiss them, tolerate them, pat them on the head? Even if every religion in the world had 100% peaceful practitioners (which isn’t possible because peace requires mindfulness and faith breeds mindlessness), then even in the midst of that peace, we should seek to undermine them. Ridicule, by the way, is not meant to change the minds of those being ridiculed. It’s meant to encourage opponents of the thing being ridiculed, and to help sway the fence-sitters. Ridicule is one tool of persuasion, and it is a valid one, especially because it’s offensive. So, the issue IS freedom of expression, and the issue IS the validity Islam. I am not concerned with “radical” (read: “true”) Muslims winning over the–what?–peaceful majority? I am instead concerned with freedom of expression–in all its offensive formations–being upheld, and the INvalidity of Islam being revealed at every opportunity. Any other day, I’d dismiss Charlie Hebdo as a silly, inconsequential magazine. I still dismiss it as such. The right principal that lets it stand, however, has been attacked, and today, therefore, Je Suis Charlie.

  2. Evil ideas are destructive. That is what it means for an idea to be evil.
    The Islamists are following their evil ideas consistently. They will self-destruct. Unless they get much broader support from those who follow the same ideas but far more inconsistently. It is our job to ensure that they do not get that support.

    Rational ideas cannot prevail in the mad confusion of a civil war. Peace is a pre-condition of thought. The enemy is small, very wrong and very weak. We cannot afford to give it strength by letting a civil war erupt.

    I am concerned with the freedom of expression too – in the concrete. In the actual ability to express thoughts without fear. An environment of strife does not provide that ability. The courage of those who try to uphold that freedom by fanning the fire is misdirected and wasted.

    I am interested in creating a world where courage is not required to express ideas.

    As to encouragement, ridiculing an idea does not encourage any rational opponents of it. Rational men need a positive.

  3. I do not see how they will self destruct? Islam is not a minority religion in the world. They have a large number of active followers. Since the religion came into being for custom benefit of people in the dessert, it is rather difficult to adapt it to agragarian or more plentiful societies. Islam even though like christanity has an active head of the religion who has the ability to make it more relevant and peaceful with recent times has neither the full reach nor the inclination to change and be inclusive of other societies. From simple math and physics, Islam and followers of Islam do constitute a large section of people and as they identify with their faith they will not accept anyone undermining it and being a big section they cannot possibly self destruct. Therefore it is rightly a state of chaos.
    As for freedom of expression, there is no place in todays world or the world before where it did not require great courage and determination to express an idea that is significantly different from the existing. Copernicus was burnt at stake. Galileo under house arrest. Einstein thrown out of the country. Alan turing condemned. John nash schizophrenic. Robert Langer faced years of poverty and lack of support. Bertrand Russell faced madness. Ramanujan died of typhoid. Christopher Columbus mutinied against. Van Gogh died and many many more. These are all examples where the people had some supporting evidence of their claims and ideas from the physical mathematical biological world. Obviously condition of people who are attempting to freely express their ideas without any material evidence will be worse. Even in history only those who got away with expressing different ideas are those with excessive power meaning they already had a lot of people who had significant interest and continued existence of the person so much that even if the new idea was radical it would benefit them to not oppose it. Such as raja ram mohan ray, Akbar, possibly newton, the king of england, jean paul Sartre, possibly stephen hawking, possibly watson and crick, possibly schrodinger, salman Rushdie.
    I personally think the world has become too large for anyone to hold much influence on a large section of people anymore in a way that if there is a truly radical new (and thus potentially offensive) idea then even with enough connections they will be able to survive to tell the tale as was the case with Charlie hebdo who was supported by nicholas Sarkozy and the french people.

  4. Also after some thought .. its not only size of the community that determines whether or not people in that community will take serious offence to and do something drastic as murdering people. For example, gender and sexual orientation are aspects of people that differentiate them, but offensive actions/speech on these topics do not cause murder. Similary with health issues such as being obese, having cancer, etc. people who have these issues do not murder people who may say something offensive on these topics. Even skin color probably is a low trigger for someone to murder someone else.. But nationality and religion seem to be something people are willing to kill for. I wonder why?

  5. It is true that a fairly peaceful majority can be push into the arms of a violent gang if the majority perceives themselves to be under physical threat, and the gang seems like a defense. [E.g. Partition violence in India or Catholic terrorism in Northern Ireland]

    However, if the majority does not feel threatened in an existential way: i.e. physically threatened or treated very unfairly — e.g. being fired from their jobs for being muslim — then I do not think they are typically driven into the hands of the gang. Rather, they seek to distance themselves from the gang. They see the gang as troublemakers who are given everyone a bad name.

    It is important for rational people to stress that they are not anti-Muslim (at least not any more than they are — say — anti-christian). However, it is also important to highlight the evils of the less rational streams of Islam, and ridicule can be a toll in that approach.

    Today, when ISIS is scaring Muslims, the time is ripe for them to rethink how they should deal with the craziest branches. Consider Al Sisi’s recent New Year’s day speech. he does not react merely to the crazies, but specifically points to the poor opinion the world is forming of the Muslim world, and why muslim intellectuals need to combat it.

    Sometimes stirring the pot is the only way people will wake up and do something. The only solution to the problematic branches of Islam if for the other branches to distance themselves. The only way they can do so is to actually re-visit and change their own interpretations about their religion… not merely (as they do now) refuse to act too extreme.

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