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.

What’s in a name?

Shobha De writes

…Ten days ago, i received a call from a Muslim friend. She sounded a little concerned. Her anxiety had to do with her nephew’s admission into one of Mumbai’s better colleges. His marks were good, his conduct exemplary. He had been a prefect at school and participated in several extracurricular activities. I asked what the hitch was. She sounded almost embarrassed as she said, “Well, we are Muslims and that seems to be the problem in a lot of colleges.”

There is no getting away from the current polarization. … At the time (post- 26/11), we believed it was a passing phase that would disappear once everything ‘settled down’. Except that nobody quite knew what was meant to settle down or whether it would ever happen. … Two years down the line, there are no alibis, no screens to hide behind. Positions have obviously hardened to such a degree that now city colleges have begun to follow their own quota system and turn down eligible students because they are Muslims. … That awful attack was the work of hardcore terrorists. What we are doing may be much worse — we are killing the spirit of innocents. The latter crime may have far more lethal repercussions!

Ten years ago, I might have fully agreed with De. Today I know better. Religion is not like race or caste. It is not something you are born with or into. It is a label for a system of beliefs. Those beliefs can be chosen or rejected. When an overwhelming majority of terrorist activities are carried out by Muslims, it is clear that there is something about belief in Islam that incites people to violence. Religious profiling is hardly comparable to discrimination on the basis of race or caste.

On the other hand, it is also a fact that there are many, many Muslims who are just as rational (or irrational) as people of other religions. These people do not deserve to be profiled out just because they have a Muslim name. What are they to do? There is a simple solution. They can change their names. What’s in a name anyway?

One of my father’s PhD students suspected that her research papers were being discounted because of her gender. She simply resorted to using her initials and surname instead of her full name. Problem solved.

However, this solution only works for those who really do not care about their religion. And that is as it should be. Those Muslims who are irrational enough to believe that they are really losing something by adopting a non-Muslim sounding name get to live in a world filled with people just like them. In other words, they deserve what they get.

NYC mosque and symbolism

Ari Armstrong has a thorough post on the controversial NYC mosque. Here are some good excerpts

…the building of Cordoba House represents a symbolic victory for America’s enemies, and blocking it would constitute a symbolic victory for America’s self-defense.
The question, then, is whether a symbolic display may ever properly be proscribed legally. My initial reaction is to say no; the First Amendment properly protects symbolic expression, and only actions (including active provocation of violence) properly may be criminalized.

I submit that it is precisely this obsessive agonizing over Cordoba House that reflects a posture of defeat and surrender. Why would people spend one minute of their time trying to get rid of some damned prayer center, when they could spend that minute urging the United States government to take decisive action against America’s true enemies? What exactly are our priorities, here?

As disgusting as the idea of a mosque being built in the vicinity of what was once the WTC is, it remains a symbolic victory for Islamists. Leonard Peikoff – in his podcast (transcript) – and Amy Peikoff – in her post – seem to suggest that this symbol represents an existential threat to America. Had someone other than Peikoff taken this position, I would have ignored it. But on more thought, there is something to it. As a rational person driven by logic rather than emotion, I do not attach much significance to symbols. But the same certainly cannot be said about the radical or even moderate Islamists. If a symbol can inspire radical Islamists to further violence – and a mosque on property that was destroyed by Islamic terrorists is certainly a powerful symbol – does it still remain “just a symbol”? I hold that the state cannot legitimately curtail a merely symbolic expression because a symbolic expression is an expression of ideas and not of action. Does that principle still hold when one deals with enemies who do not make that distinction? I am not really sure.

Here is an excerpt from Steve Simpson’s post on NoodleFood.

There’s an odd sort of contradiction at the heart of the argument in favor of cajoling a zoning board into denying the land owners the right to build. It consists in saying that the government will not use legitimate anti-terror laws to prosecute the owners if they support terrorism, but it will use illegitimate, non-objective laws and processes to accomplish the same ends. But if officials lack the will to use legitimate means to go after terrorists, why would they possess the will to use illegitimate means? Supporting this effort seems destined to fail, in which case those who have done so have thrown away principle for nothing at all. And if government is willing to go after the terrorists, why would we ever support using illegitimate means when we could support using legitimate means? Trusting the government with arbitrary power is always a bad bet.

It is clear that trying to prevent the construction of the mosque by taking recourse to bad zoning laws is a bad idea. But I don’t think that is the point of contention. The real question is – Is this really an issue of the right to property or the right to free expression? As Peikoff notes in his podcast, property rights are contextual. They presume a context of a mostly rational, freedom respecting society. It would be impossible to apply them in a society where people do not respect even the right to life. When one is dealing with precisely such enemies, does the context remain unchanged?

Sexual Anarchy!

I have been writing about anarchy in my last two posts and debating it. Meanwhile other people are worried about anarchy too. Sexual anarchy! Apparantly Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind (some Islamic organization) is worried that “the repeal of the section [section 377 of the Indian constitution which criminalizes homosexuality] would create ‘sexual anarchy’ in the society”. (via The Rational Fool)

Exposing Moderate Islam

In a recent article in the Indian Express, columnist Tavleen Singh writes how the film “Khuda Kay Liye” (For God’s sake) inadvertently exposes the myth of moderate Islam. She writes

“…The message of the film, in its essence, is that Islam is a great religion that has been misunderstood and that the United States is a bad, bad country and all talk of freedom and democracy is nonsense. Alas, this is not how we infidels see things.

What interested me most about the film was that in seeking to show Islam in a good light, it accidentally exposes the prejudices that make moderate Muslims the ideological partners of jihadis…”

and in conclusion

“If ‘moderate’ Muslims believe that the West is the real enemy of Islam and that the free societies of modern times compare poorly with the greatness of Muslim rule in earlier times, then there is little difference between them and the jihadis. As we infidels see it, the problem is that Islam refuses to accept that in the 21st century there is no room for religion—any religion—in the public square. Other religions have accepted this and retreated to a more private space. Islam has not.”

This analysis of religion in general and Islam in particular is as refreshing as it is rare. The ‘moderate’ followers of any religion are those who do not follow the religion in all aspects of their life. To the extent that they still believe in the sanctity of their religion, its prophets and its scriptures, they must sympathise with those who follow their religion fully and consistently. That is what makes them ideological partners of the religious fundamentalists.

Disclaimer: I have not watched the film and cannot say whether the message of the film is indeed what Tavleen Singh says it is.

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