Previous posts in this series:
1. Glenn Greenwald talks about the New Atheists
2. Sam Harris: Intellectual Coward or Misrepresented Victim?
3. Why the War between New Atheists and Other (“Progressive”) Atheists?
Following completes my notes on the Glenn Greenwald-Kyle Kulinski discussion that was a response to the above points raised by Kyle. Indented paragraphs are direct transcripts; the remainder is generally paraphrase.
I’ve copied the video link again at the end of this post.
The minutes/seconds markers are approximate.
Glenn G refers to the New Atheist’s toxic way of talking about the world. Harris is not just saying Islam is bad but that it is “the worst of all”.
No such thing as an “atheist agenda”?
GG: New Atheists may say that as atheists they have “no beliefs” as such and therefore plead that they have no “atheist agenda” but someone like Sam Harris clearly does have an identifiable and well-thought out agenda on a whole range of topics, including political ones.
Very serious radical fundamental differences in world views
There is this quote from Sam Harris that to me illustrates the crux of the disagreement. He said, Look, liberals think Dick Cheney is a really bad person who did a lot of really bad things, and that’s fine, you can think that. But what liberals need to understand in order for them to be rational is that there are tens of millions of Muslims in the world who are “far scarier than Dick Cheney”. — That world view is very familiar and very common. It is essentially saying, Yes, the United States maybe does some bad things in the world, but they don’t really rise to the level of evil; if you want to know true evil look to the adversaries of the United States — which is not just al Qaeda, which is not just ISIS, but “tens of millions” of human beings who identify as Muslims.
And in the recent exchange Sam Harris had with Noam Chomsky he identified the United States as what he called a “well-intentioned giant” [9:30]. And he said very much the same thing about Israel before. — (saying in effect:) Yes the United States and Israel might do some bad things but we’re morally superior to the adversaries of the United States and Israel.
So when I look at Sam Harris what I see is a person who is an American, who is a Westerner, who is a self-identified Jew, who runs around making the argument that the United States and Israel are morally superior to its adversaries. And to me this is kind of pure primitive tribalism. It’s the nub of what has driven the “war on terror” the last fifteen years. — the idea that sure, we do some bad acts but we do it by accident, we do it because we’re really well intentioned, but the true evil “is them”.
I think the reason it’s gotten so much negative attention is because unlike, say, Bill Crystal or Dick Cheney or actual hardcore neocons who you can look at and know exactly what they are and what they think — The way that this particular set of beliefs is lending support to this agenda is much more subtle and insidious and kind of disguised. — And I think therefore it is more pernicious, it is more deserving of attention.
Whatever else is true I think there are very serious radical fundamental differences in world views that this debate has largely been about.
[This reminded me of a book I read some time ago, Against Paranoid Nationalism, and that I discussed in one of my first posts. I wrote of one of the main messages of that book:
“Well even if we make a few mistakes we are ‘fundamentally’ good at heart, by our nature or character” and thus gloss over our outrages as out of character, unfortunate ‘human’ aberrations. This is true of all fundamentalist mindsets, whether religious or other nationalisms.]
The single worst invented format for debates
And the last point I want to make — and this is all in response to your video that I hope people will watch first because I think it lays the context really well — I do think that the reason these debates tend to be so acrimonious is because they are playing out largely on Twitter. [11:00] Twitter is pretty much the single worst invented format that human beings have ever invented for debates to take place. It’s a totally new frontier. There’s all kinds of ambiguities about how you would interpret what people say on Twitter. e.g. if you link to someone’s article then you (are thought to) become responsible for every sentence in that article … is it fair to attribute every sentence in that article then because you have linked to it. If you re-tweet something does it mean you are doing it with approval or with ironic disapproval or are you doing it because you think it’s interesting and agree with some parts but not others …. There is no convention for how these Twitter statements are to be interpreted. So when you have an adversary you can interpret it in the least generous way possible and do nothing but inflame the fire…
Why Sam Harris is the trigger for acrimony
I do think that Sam Harris is much more of a trigger for a lot of the acrimony than even say Richard Dawkins or other New Atheist figures because he tends not to have the courage of his convictions and likes to say provocative things and then objects ‘how dare you be offended and provoked by the provocative thing I purposely said’ …
Cheney’s violence was because of the beliefs he had regarding the relative value of human life, the superiority and inferiority of certain kinds of human beings, the justification of torture etc …. and he acted on those beliefs.
Engaging in rank tribalism
I think that one of the most odious and destructive human attributes in political life is tribalism — the idea that we look at the world through our own tribal prism; we see people in our tribe as inherently superior and people outside of our tribe as inherently inferior, that we think that our tribalistic subjectivity is actually rational objectivity because we’re inculcated to view the world in certain ways that we automatically equate as being the correct one.
New Atheists are engaging in rank tribalism …. — like evangelical christians, americans, jews…. seeing themselves as belonging to their tribe and therefore see the Muslims as the greatest threat — and therefore dedicate their intellectual life to depicting it as the supreme evil, to argue Islam is the worst idea in the world —
This is not intellectually creative, innovative, courageous, or an exercise in extreme rationalism …. it’s just pure tribalism. It’s boring yet destructive.
Ethical obligations as public intellectuals
No faction has a monopoly on liberal values…. Often those who embrace liberal values most rhetorically embrace them lease in actions. Context is so crucial …. Sometimes New Atheists will ask me why don’t I spend more time denouncing sharia law (Glenn G himself is gay, aware that ISIS throwing homosexuals from roof tops etc) …. As an American I’m not on a platform to reform Islam — If I attack Islam I’m only feeding my own government with support for its propaganda that the supreme threat is not imperialism etc but is Islam…. If I were to criticize Islam within Egypt, say, I’d have a much more positive impact on efforts to reform Islam.
And so I do think we have the moral and ethical obligation as public intellectuals, as writers, as citizens, not only to think about not only what ideas do we believe in but to think about the impact of devoting ourselves to those ideas and that impact changes dramatically based upon the context in which we’re doing it.
Where the difficulty starts
Kyle Kulinski raised his view that it is right to be attacking religion as a dangerous thing because it means sacrificing rationality to a holy book’s dictates .. and it has some potentially dangerous ideas in there.
[Here is where I have a different perspective as I have begun to try to explain elsewhere. As I said in the previous post,
Do people really study a sacred text (or several of them) and then, contrary to the way millions of their peers study and believe those same texts, decide that God is commanding them through those very texts to go out and kill others — all in the absence of any other motivating or dispositional factors? Surely that does not sound like the way normal humans work.]
Glenn Greenwald – totally agrees — all forms of fundamentalism and extremism can be dangerous — nihilist or imperialist — but New Atheists are not attacking all religions — e.g. Judaism …. The bulk of attention is on Muslims while “coincidentally” our foreign policy is predicated on and fuelled by demonization of Muslims.
That’s where the difficulty starts to arise.
The same tactics demonize Jews
Glenn Greenwald defended neoNazis in a free-speech case. He has seen how such an extremist group works. The neoNazis were into the Talmud — the read the Talmud thoroughly to use it to depict the Jews as savages.
We find these claims offensive because we know most Jews don’t live by those dictates they found in the Talmud.
The same tactic is being used a lot by New Atheists and others to demonize Muslims.
Glenn is confronted regularly by critics asking him why he defends Muslims because, they remind him, they’d throw him off the roof for being gay. . . .
I’m always mystified by that because I think people who say that actually don’t know any Muslims. There are extremists in Islam and in Judaism and in Christianity but the vast majority aren’t. So I think it’s a kind of very anti-intellectual exercise and it’s one that tends to be applied exclusively to Islam and not across the board in an equal opportunity anti-religion way.
Is there a spectrum of motivations for terrorism?
Kyle responds — but some religious ideas are purely ideologically evil — Wahhabism is prior to imperialism so we cannot blame the West in any way for that. It’s a spectrum — on the one end we have many who are terrorists for “this worldly” grievances, but at the other end we have plenty who are raised in religious households and taught that they should kill others because they are evil… Asks Glenn if he agrees there is such a spectrum.
Glenn responds that no-one would dispute that there are those who are primarily if not entirely by religious beliefs — e.g. those who shoot apostates or a girl going to school — these acts are religious in nature and not geo-political… but many also say they are doing it for reasons we can recognize as rational geopolitical reasons. — Not justified but it does mean there is a cause and effect you can trace.
— We know what happens when foreigners bring violence into your homes since we saw how the US responded to this in 9/11 – with fifteen years of war in response. Such a reaction is what we ought to expect. Refers to Pentagon studies confirming this as the motive for terrorism.
Is the violence against us because of religious ideology (they hate us because of our freedoms) or for geopolitical reasons? — Rumsfeld commissioned the Rand Corp in 2003/4 to answer this question. The answer was the latter — it was because of our policies.
Why do you fight with these guys? I like you both
Glenn Greenwald could not understand for so long how people could say they agreed with him AND with Harris, Dawkins etc when Glenn sees those people as contributing to an agenda he has spent his life opposing. People who liked reading Harris and Dawkins tell him they could not understand how Glenn could fight with Dawkins, Harris and would say they are fans of both GG and them….
GG thinks Dawkins etc are contributing to an agenda he has dedicated his life to opposing.
The more he thinks about it the more he does understand it — He compares the situation in the 1980s — growing up gay at a time when the dominant political movement of the time was the Moral Majority. It was the era of Pat Robertson and Jerry Fallwell. At that time left-wing politics and progressive values were understandably about opposing religion and especially organized religion. So can understand how one who is of the left and is anti-imperialist etc also rails against the organized religions that had been oppressing them.
At this point the discussion moves to focus in particular on Sam Harris — see Sam Harris: Intellectual Coward or Misrepresented Victim?
Latest posts by Neil Godfrey (see all)
- Where Did Israel – and David – Come From? Some Archaeological Evidence - 2023-03-31 07:24:02 GMT+0000
- Another Angle on Paul - 2023-03-20 05:40:12 GMT+0000
- Jesus’ Unheroic Moment in Gethsemane – and a return to Vridar/Vardis Fisher - 2023-03-17 09:12:36 GMT+0000
If you enjoyed this post, please consider donating to Vridar. Thanks!
41 thoughts on “Glenn Greenwald Responds to Call for Ceasefire with New Atheists”
-The same tactic is being used by a lot of whiners and others in order to demonize New Atheists. But, seriously:
“The bulk of attention is on Muslims while “coincidentally” our foreign policy is predicated on and fuelled by demonization of Muslims.”
-Saudis in Yemen? Openly CIA-half-backed Islamists in Syria?
And, as I’ve repeated, New Atheism isn’t tribalism -it’s anti-tribalistic.
http://vridar.org/2013/04/13/damned-lies-statistics-and-muslims/ — Jerry’s ability to read statistics is jaundiced by his tribalist mindset.
You are quite correct. Glenn Greenwald was quite wrong to say that US foreign policy is predicated on demonization of Muslims. Look at its policy towards Australia. And China. And Japan. and North and South Korea. And Saudi Arabia. And Palau! US policy is by no means fueled by demonization of Muslims. An absurd claim. It is only true when and if it serves the pursuit of their primary goals.
Did you address the “homosexuality is immoral” and the “death penalty for leaving Islam” ones?
Nothing will change your mind so why do you ask? I presume the question was rhetorical.
In one Muslim country I was visiting not very long ago — Muslims all around me — in a market area I saw about five lady-boys walking down the street. Full gear, makeup, colourful — they turned heads. Muslim heads. I asked one of the lady-boys, in front of all these Muslims, if I could take a photo but was told they would charge me for it.
As they passed I looked at the Muslim bystanders around me and they were smiling. One of them joked with me about them.
You won’t believe me and will probably suggest they were not Muslims anyway, but not a single person expressed any hatred, disgust, — I could not imagine a more accepting scene. They were Muslims.
If you asked them what they believed should happen to homosexuals they would probably have given you the standard correct answer according to their religious teachings. But in real life, in actual practice, that’s not what they would actually carry out.
I have pointed out so often here the difference between cognitive and behavioural extremists. Not quite the same thing but it illustrates the point. It’s a fundamental fact of human nature.
I am quite sure many Christians will tell you homosexuality is immoral and apostates in divine eyes deserve hell. That does not mean they do not accept and respect the secular and tolerant society we all live in.
I find Indonesia to be quite mysterious. There do not seem to be as many hijab-wearers there as in Pakistan and the Arab world. SE Asians seem to answer all the questions of doctrine just as conservatively as Arabs, but Indonesia still seems like a less militant and more religiously tolerant country than any Arab one (besides maybe Lebanon). Not sure what to make of it. I can’t make any sound conclusions on it until I have more information.
I have no idea where you get the statistic that Pakistan has a lot of hijab-wearers. Hijab isn’t part of traditional Pakistani clothing, they have the “dupatta” in South Asia, and most women in the cities in Pakistan have a dupatta around their (neck but aren’t actually wearing it outside) – hijab seems to be very uncommon in Pakistan.
In contrast, when I see Indonesians, I see that many women cover their heads … with hijab.
Therefore, I am pretty certain that Indonesia has more hijab-wearers than Pakistan, although as I haven’t been to either countries and am forming my opinion based on what I have seen in the media, I am willing to stand corrected.
I said “Pakistan and the Arab world”, so I don’t think I said anything technically wrong. But, you’re right, I think I did have a mistaken impression
Indonesia has areas of Islamist extremism — pockets hiding in Suluwesi, for example, and near Solo on Java (the experience I described happened at Jogjakarta also on Java). There are more conservative Muslims in Aceh whose religion helps define their distinct “national/ethnic” identity and the Indonesian government has long been at pains to “subdue” them and bring them into line — a process involving armed conflict from time to time.
There have been incidents where some of the Muslim extremists have savagely attacked Christian churches and Christians themselves. And we know about the two Bali terrorist bombings.
But the “average Muslim Indonesian” deplores those extremists as much as anyone. They are embarrassed and apologetic over them. The Muslim government has shot several of these extremists and jailed others and is well-known for their relatively successful deradicalisation programs — both in and out of the prisons.
A devout Muslim architecture student I met there while visiting some historic ruins offered to show me around some other places of less well known interest and as we were talking the subject of religion came up. It pained me a little to have to honestly confess to him that I did not even believe in any god at all, that I was an atheist. He looked shocked and a little pained himself for a moment (or was he just mirroring my awkwardness at the moment?), and I wondered if I was the first person who had admitted as much to him. But he did not let it affect our developing friendship and he invited me to his home city of Solo from where he could show me other sites well off the most common tourist trails.
From there he took me out to a remote ancient Hindu temple site that was an apparent embarrassment to the Indonesian tourist industry — statues and relief carvings were explicitly sexual.
He is still a friend and we maintain occasional online contact.
I have described meeting some of the normal average Muslims in Indonesia. (I could tell similar stories of Malaysia, Brunei and Turkey and of Muslims in Singapore.) Their mosques are everywhere, their prayers are broadcast horribly through very loud speakers way too early in the morning.
No doubt other Muslim countries have different histories and cultural traditions and political dictates. And once we see that there are differences — as you suggest there are between different Muslim countries — then we have evidence that religious beliefs do not make everybody the same. People cannot be judged by what we outsiders read and interpret in their holy books. And what people say in response to questionnaires that address their official religious beliefs does not tell us what and how they actually act.
And how they act is clearly adaptable. On Friday a Sydney mufti in his Friday sermon denounced anyone was interested in radicalisation, ordering them to respect the values of the nation that had given them safe sanctuary — or leave the country.
The results of surveys of opinions of homosexuality, the place of women, etc — they remind me of just how our Christian society was when I was a boy and teenager. Our societies have made fantastic progress since in recent decades though many Christian groups resist those changes, we well know. It is not impossible to imagine others catching up in time.
We should not airbrush from memory the massacres by “Muslims” of “Leftists” in Indonesia 1965-67.
It’s an horrible feeling standing in the car park that I know covers a mass grave of those victims.
But it’s not about airbrushing anything from memory. It’s about understanding people that we are engaging with today. Sometimes certain memories are preserved and applied in such a way as to maintain a kind of war; other times memories are preserved and applied in ways that do not perpetuate war.
Concerning the killings, I prefer to speak of santri Muslim political groups and not Muslims in general since many of their leftist victims were also Muslims. The purges were a classic illustration of what groups are capable of to maintain power when they feel threatened by rival groups. It’s been this way as far back as our evolutionary roots. There’s nothing special about Muslims in this respect. We are witnessing something very similar by Buddhists against Muslims in Burma right now. And it is monotonous to repeat our memories of massacres by Christians and Jews and other groupings defined by ethnicity, ideology, class-economics……
And where did you get the ideas that nothing will change my mind or that the question was rhetorical? I certainly don’t agree with both of these impressions of yours.
I apologize. I was out of line and my comment was uncalled for.
Well I am sure Glenn wasn’t saying all American foreign policy is predicated on and fuelled by the demonisation of Muslims – I am sure that Glenn realises that US foreign policy is one of an Empire, and if this required the US to be friendly with and treat Muslims as the good guys, then the US would be friendly with and treat Muslims as the good guys.
Glenn is speaking within the context of the Middle East and Muslim countries, what he is saying is that the US Empire has over the past 40 years needed to constantly interfere and be at war with Muslim countries, and to justify these wars, they have had to demonise Muslims.
I am asking only for information, not as a critic: in what respects has US imperialism required warfare with Muslim countries during the past 40 years? Oil access? Support for Israel? Or what? Which countries and for precisely what reasons?
Support for Israel, oil access, having governments that support US policy, bases close to Russia and China, excuse to keep the defence budge extortionate …
Synchronicity: Mano Singham has just posted Sam Harris on killing people for thought crimes
Check out CJ Werleman’s latest podcast with Luke Savage. http://www.stitcher.com/podcast/cj-werleman-foreign-object and the article Savage wrote last year https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/12/new-atheism-old-empire/.
It is possible that our predispositions play some part (as individuals) in how toxic beliefs effect us—one person exposed to toxicity may pick up a gun and kill others—while another person may not…..But when toxic beliefs are partnered with power—then it can lead to systems and patterns of toxicity that might effect not just the individual but groups…For example—the toxicity of the Burmese nationalist 969 movement may partly be because of the implicit acceptance by the “powers”/authority figures such as monks, officials, state….etc….
…so…maybe the harm from toxic beliefs comes not from the belief itself but from how much “power” (structures/apparatus of power) supports such toxicity….?…..
Are the situations you are describing mainly about the way groups fear for their status/safety vis a vis other groups?
In America Dylan Roof picked up a gun and killed Black Americans…visiting a white supremacist site on the net may have been a contributing factor…..White supremacy is toxic—but not everyone exposed to it immediately picks up a gun and goes about killing non-whites—–it seems likely that among the various factors involved, ones predisposition may be a contributing factor…..
But…perhaps toxic group behavior has other factors involved? —in particular, how power enables or legitimizes toxicity?….
Christianity may have demonized Jews for centuries, but the ghettoization, expulsions, pogrom, (and holocaust) of Jews from Europe/Russia could not have happened without the power structures enabling/legitimizing it….
The racial problems in the U.S. also, are not simply rhetorical but are systemic–the police, state policies, judiciary etc are all involved in some way in it….
…as is the case of the extremists Burmese Buddhists and the Hindu extremists in India….
The article below shows how extreme exclusive identity formation partnered with power structures can lead to very harmful situation—-
I came across this Ted talks about beheadings in history—and how in some places this was a public, even festive “event”….
(In the U.S. some public lynchings were also festive events….)
It made me wonder what makes an event horrible and wrong at an individual level but acceptable in a group?—could group dynamics contribute to making toxicity ok somehow?
Roof kills black Americans and its wrongness is clear—but when U.S. police kill Black Americans —it seems controversial…How authority/power works in group situations may be a factor that needs to be explored?
Issues of safety/security, justice, etc would create group tensions—but such tensions in turn might be exploited by power for strategic/political purposes?…..in particular, turning our natural individual predisposition against toxicity/harm into indifference—or even acceptance?
also…could it be that group dynamics, in those groups that oppose power and those groups that are exploited by power, might work differently?
….just some reflections and questions generated by both the posts and the comments…..
Well, I think Harris just confirmed that he is a whining baby.
So Sam Harris thinks just about everyone else is a narcissistic, psychopathic, slandering liar deliberately going out of their to destroy him?
And in defence of his statements about torture he helpfully explains to us that torture is defined as “making others uncomfortable” (sic!) to encourage them to answer your questions!
Do you know where I can see the Greenwald-Harris email exchange he mentions here? And what/where is the article written by Murtaza Hussain and retweeted by Glenn Greenwald that Sam Harris is talking about early in the discussion?
I don’t think I’ve seen a single critic of Harris’ views who he hasn’t been accused of misrepresenting him.
Making others uncomfortable? An interesting way of describing waterboarding.
I think this is what Harris was moaning about:
Harris should look in a mirror.
Around 4 minutes after the first hour Sam Harris objects to suggestions that he does not criticise Jews and Judaism. But Judaism must be compared with Islam (sic — Islam, not Islamism). The comparison is this: The craziest Jews believe their hands are tied until the Messiah returns so they can do no violence compared with the beliefs of Islam (sic) — that declare they must conquer the world. I haven’t heard the rest of the interview but at that point it is clear that Majid Nawaz’s efforts have failed to make any lasting impression on Harris’s thinking (Nawaz for a moment had Harris acknowledging that Islam is not at all Islamism and the two stand opposed to each other). Harris has also in that remark confirmed Greenwald’s point and Harris and the neocon agenda — Harris is blind to the teachings of the Bible that motivate Zionism and illegal Jewish settlements, some members of whom murder Palestinians in those beliefs.
Having listened to the rest of the interview, 6 points:
1. Sam Harris leaves no room for doubt that his picture of U.S. foreign policy is that of a well-meaning giant who unfortunately bumbles from time to time in attempting to spread his well intentioned vision of a better life to the world.
2. The Chomsky model is not understood or somehow got lost by both participants in the discussion. It was confused with the idea of making moral judgements in accordance with the numbers of deaths as opposed to intentions. Chomsky’s point in his exchange with Harris was not about absolute numbers but rather about the immorality of not caring about the potential human toll of one’s actions. That point got buried in the discussion, unfortunately.
3. Sam Harris continues to have an essentialist view of religions and unfortunately even Kyle at one point confuses religion with ideology. Islamism is an ideology, not a religion, and is opposed to Muslims insofar as they do not share their ideology but do practice Islam as a religion only — as a relationship with God, prayers, good works, piety, etc.
4. Moreover, that ideology is not fully understood by Sam Harris despite his time with Majid Nawaz. Sam continues to view the ideology as an entirely “religious” factor and forgets the various steps and motivations and influences that go into the making of an Islamist and what that ideology is about in its broadest sense — as indicated by his refusal to accept the Boston bombing had any relationship to geopolitical grievances whatsoever.
5. Yes there are hideous practices among too many Muslims but these need to be addressed in a constructive manner. What needs targeting are those practices and the reasons for them, which means working with a lot of cultural baggage unfortunately. Leverage and support in these efforts needs to be given to Muslims who do not practice and also reject those practices.
6. By speaking vaguely about “left radicals” and not naming particular authors or referencing their specific words the two sides are leaving it open to be talking past each other: they can in reality be appearing to agree when in fact they may well be having quite different stances in mind.
What does one call the condition where one is opposed to and fearful of Islamism? Islamismophobia?
I am an Islamismphobe. I read the book put out by Majid Nawaz and Sam Harris a few days ago but before writing anything up here I decided to find out a bit more about this Nawaz fellow so read is bio, Radical. There he speaks of a friend and some time partner Ed Husain, so I then wanted to get his side of the story and have almost finished his story, The Islamist. Coincidentally last night while in the middle of Husain’s book who should suddenly appear in an interview on TV but Ed Husain himself — being interviewed over jihadists in Australia in the wake of a steady trickle of information coming out in the wake of that 15 year old boy’s action last fortnight.
Interesting: everything I read by Atran in Talking With the Enemy, and everything I read in Friction (a current ongoing series here), and everything I read by other political scientists, sociologists, and Islamic leaders and terrorist specialists finds dramatic first-hand account illustration in Nawaz’s and Husain’s biographical accounts of their time in Islamist movements.
It is painfully evident that Sam Harris has no interest in studying any of these works for understanding of what he’s talking about but has already dismissed them as leftie loons.
Sometimes it does seem that Nawaz is too quick to agree for the sake of finding agreement and he does let slide some points that I think people like Harris need to be pulled up on. Harris may not be a bigot but he certainly does subscribe to the clash of civilizations perspective and does have a naive essentialist lack of understanding of the nature of religion(s).
Maajid was in jail in Egypt alongside Reza Pankhurst – I believe Reza is still an Islamist, and there was a witch-hunt over him a few years ago.
I personally am not an Islamistphobe, I believe we should have dialogue with those people who believe in political Islam, at the moment, here in the UK, if someone believes in political Islam, they automatically get labelled all sorts of things – Islamism is the new Communism.
Islamism is certainly a political ideology. The programs advised by the likes of Maajid Nawaz, Ed Husain, Scott Atran et al (including the Indonesian deradicalization program) make the most sense to me. Education at all levels is a necessary component of an effective response.
The Indonesian approach makes sense. But I’m not sure if this is what Quilliam have advocated. One of the reasons why Quilliam get so much criticism is because they argue for the ‘conveyor belt theory’ of radicalization, which many specialist have argued is just wrong. Because Quilliam hold the ‘non violent extremism is a conveyor belt to violent extremism view’, they’ve targeted several Muslim organisations and individuals they deem to be ‘Islamists’.
Quilliam also backed Prevent as an approach to counter counterrorism. In 2009 Quilliam were critcised after it was discovered that Prevent was being used to spy on innocent people not suspected of involvement in terrorism. Ed Hussein defended these measures, saying they were morally right.
I am trying to gather as much information as I reasonably can to learn the details. I do have some material on the points you raise but I am aware there is much, much more and I am far from having a complete picture yet, so would appreciate any links/sources to each point you make.
Good summary of Chomsky Harris here:
Definition from Wiki—-Islamism (Urdu: اسلام پرستی; Arabic: إسلاموية), also known as Political Islam, utilizes certain Muslim “doctrines, beliefs and values as the foundation of a political structure that supporters of that ideology have called ‘the Islamic State.'” Islamists can have varying interpretations on various Quranic suras and ayahs. Islamist views emphasize the implementation of Sharia (Islamic law); of pan-Islamic political unity; and of the selective removal of non-Muslim, particularly Western military, economic, political, social, or cultural influences in the Muslim world that they believe to be incompatible with Islam.
….to put another way—If “Islamism”(political Islam) means that ethico-moral values are debated more openly so that (a plurality of) systems are developed in which ethico-moral considerations play a major part, where people of similar values can freely practice those values in a global society, and where toxic influences (of whatever geo-political persuasion) are minimized or removed…..then I—as a Muslim—-might be an Islamist!. (I oppose the whole “Islamic state” nonsense though)
Some Muslim thinkers and scholars who looked at Colonialism and Modernity (and these two often went hand-in-hand in the non-western “world”)…found it dissatisfactory or lacking because the whole system or enterprise of modernity was based on the entitlements of a privileged few at the expense and exploitation of the many—and the economic, political, philosophical, judicial and international institutions and systems are ALL based on this model/paradigm. (I tend to not view the world as binary—so for me, Modernity has been both good and bad)
For example—Capitalism has brought benefits—but it has also brought poverty, exploitation, and global wealth imbalance. “Success” in such an economic system is based on consumption (GDP). The more products/things are made and consumed/used and discarded….the more successful or developed that nation is…..but such a system is not sustainable without the cheap labor and resources provided by the “underdeveloped”(exploitation)….
If, as a Muslim, I am contemplating an ethico-moral solution…I might naturally want to explore what my tradition has to say about it. The Prophet was a trader after all….but this would mean looking at Sharia as that is traditionally where Muslim scholars and thinkers have debated ethico-moral considerations….which then leads to things such as Sharia compliant banking/economics….But the paradigm may be different if western capitalism is based on a win-lose model and the Islamic/Sharia system is based on a win-win model….if this is the case—then the purpose of economics—as well as the rules and regulations that govern economic systems have to be changed. This then, makes it a political project.
Any contemplation of the question “what kind of society/world do we want to live in?” inevitably brings together politics and values….
Where “Islamism” may become toxic is if it falls into what some Muslim scholars are calling “Takfirism”(exclusivists) combined with power—this is when an ideology imagines itself to be the only right/civilized/superior way and everyone must follow it because all other ways are wrong/primitive/inferior. With power–such an ideology has the means to impose itself on others.
(Definition—An ideology is a set of opinions or beliefs of a group or an individual. Very often ideology refers to a set of political beliefs or a set of ideas that characterize a particular culture. Capitalism, communism, socialism, and Marxism are ideologies.)
When addressing “Islamism” is may be helpful to distinguish between legitimate alternative ideas and toxic ideologies. Some Muslim political/philosophical ideas may be worth discussing while others may merit condemnation.
Islamism as used by Maajid Nawaz and, I believe, Ed Husain, is of two types: one believes in attempting to establish a Muslim state or Muslim law over society by violence; the other believes in gradualism through the democratic process of elections.
The end goal of both is incompatible with secular democracy. It is secular democracy is guarantees the freedom of all to practice their own religions on the sole condition that they do not break any other laws. So if practising a particular religion means adherents cause serious physical harm to another then the State has the responsibility to intervene and enforce laws designed to protect the well-being of all citizens.
If a secular democracy allows religious parties whose fundamental beliefs and long-term aspirations are antithetical to the system and values of secular democracy then it is setting out on a road to its own demise. State and Church — or Religion of any kind — have to be kept separate. That’s the only guarantee of a stable democracy and freedom of all religions. That means that Christians, Muslims, Jews, others have to accept that when living in a society that respects their freedoms those same people must respect the freedoms of others who do not share in their beliefs and ways of life — abolition of the death penalty, unionists, ethnic minorities, gays, gender equality, a full range of arts, fashions and music.
Secular democracy has been one of the good ideas of Modernity—both the separation of Church/State and the democratic process has brought benefits. However, it also has faults. There is no neutral means of arriving at values. For example France says Muslims cannot practice their “values” (such as modesty/hijab) where these conflict with French “values”(Sikh men also wear turbans for religious reasons)…then there is the secularism where the head of State and head of Church are the same such as Britain or where there is a State religion or State Church–such as the Church of Denmark. In such cases “values” endorsed by Church and State may be the same….
Democracy—while good in theory—has not worked in practice in many parts of the world. The powerful Western countries and their lobbyists interfere for greed and geo-political influence so that governments are corrupt. Instead of working for the benefit of the people—democratic governments are a fast track for elite politicians and their cronies to make tons of money. For example, In one country in South East Asia, a deal for providing generic drugs from India for the poor people of the country was scrapped because the big multinational pharmaceutical companies lobbied against it…(supported by the U.S). (lobby=bribe)
Also—under colonialism, local educational and judicial institutions were dismantled and replaced by “western systems”—today, many judicial systems are hybrids of either the English common law system or the French civil law system
…so if countries with different values paradigm established judicial systems that reflected their values (rather than ones imposed on them by a foreign power)—would it not be right? Buddhist, Muslim, Chinese humanists…etc may prefer to live under laws that reflected their concerns, traditions and values?….
….but why stop there?—why not rethink all Modern systems. For example is GDP the only way to measure success? The King of Bhutan feels an economic system based on Buddhist values would be more appropriate….and why not?…why should there be only one means of defining/measuring a nation’s success/prosperity?
Perhaps modernity and secular democracy has served the West well—but for those of us it has failed—why should we not re-imagine a better future for ourselves?
We know the old adage that democracy is the worst form of government except for all the rest. And despite its muddled application in many parts of the world secular democracy is still the best proven guarantor of liberties for all religious groups. If Muslims cannot handle the French restrictions on public expression of their faith they can still either opt to respect the country that protects them or migrate to another secular democracy.
Capitalism, by the way, is not to be identified with secular democracy. One can have a secular democracy in a socialist or other non-capitalist economy without having to resort to letting an ideology opposed to secular democracy enter. Muslims aren’t the only ones in secular democracies who deplore capitalism or who are working towards an alternative — within the system of secular democracy.
Yes there are flaws but history has proven it is not a good idea when a religious interest is allowed to enforce its values on others. Where there are flaw as there always are most secular democracies have relatively workable legal systems to rein in the corrupt and those who harm others. Sure they sometimes fail but we are free and empowered to work towards improving them without introducing an ideology that will not respect the liberties of all.
Seeking the ideal society is the work of ideologues and the ideology of Islamism is a threat to secular democracy as much as any other ideology. We have enough of a battle on our hands with the current right wing Christians who are taking every opportunity to push themselves into political influential positions at the moment. We don’t want to have to take on Muslims in the future after a hard-fought battle to keep Christian ideologues out of power.
Secular democracy is a liberty that that respects the freedoms of all religions and non-religious groups alike. It needs to be guarded jealously against any ideology, Christian, Islamist, Zionist, Nazism…. What Islamic society has produced an alternative to secular democracy that outdoes secular democracy in
The first sentence—I agree insofar as Western history is concerned. Non-Western historical experience has not always had such an adverse relationship with Wisdom teachings/Eastern philosophies as perhaps the West has had with its traditions….
2nd sentence—-The “new” (relatively) democracies of the Non-West often have weak legal systems that are incapable of reigning in corruption—which actually suits some Western interests just fine…(IMO, this is the primary reason for the failure of secular democracy….which is why some Muslims advocate for “Sharia”—by which they mean a more robust, transparent, and egalitarian rule of law—-though this hasn’t worked well either….)
respect the liberties of all?—-if that had actually been reality—there would have been no need for a civil rights movement in the U.S.—no internment camps for the Japanese-Americans—no systemic profiling of American-Muslims, no systemic racial policies of law enforcement or the judicial system against African-Americans, or torture, renditions, assassinations, drone attacks, proxy wars, preemptive wars, against non-Americans…..It is not the system (secular democracy) rather the people like Snowden, Greenwald and other Americans that strive to improve their country that makes America an example worthy of note….
“secular democracy” is better than x—It is good to have faith in a system—-but—Just as the philosophical underpinnings of secular democracy grew out of the Western historical experience…..other systems/philosophies can also grow out of particular historical trajectories—if given a chance. So why not? Why should the world adopt a singular system that the “West” prefers simply because it/west arbitrarily decides it is the most convenient one?
Alternatives—I am not a “Purist”—so I am not wholeheartedly into the whole “a revisionist utopian past that will solve today’s problems” type of idea….Nevertheless, Persia, China, India and the Islamic Empire–all have had long traditions of culture, governance, wisdom teachings/philosophies, histories, etc to draw upon—If they do come up with alternative systems that incorporate their wisdom and values—and try it out—the effort will require improvement by the people, just as secular democracy does. If liberty is a value that is considered important—then the liberty to determine the system one lives under should be part of it? However, if everyone is to have the “right to conscience” (the right to live under their own ethico-moral codes and laws—In Sharia this is called the right/protection of “deen” (way of life))–
then it goes against the concept of “majority rule”, a general principle of democracy—because minority considerations would be equal—not less– to those of the majority….
—I can understand and sympathize—but the problem might be about the historical power struggle that played out in the West….?….rather than lumping everyone into such a binary world—-could not the west take the time to study non-Christian philosophies and metaphysics and have constructive dialogue in which a western country can negotiate and compromise solutions that are beneficial to the whole society?
I can understand that what appears “foreign” may be instinctively inferior or suspect…but how much does a westerner know about the history of Islamic philosophical debates about governance, laws, civic responsibilities, social cohesion…etc?—or the Chinese?, or the Indian?….
But—if our future is a global world—we need to know each other….to not make the effort because the other is unfamiliar would be a loss…?…
Diversity creates tensions and discord—but if humanity is to morally progress and mature—it will be by overcoming the tensions, discord and problems (value-struggles) created by diversity—not by making everyone the same—but by promoting knowledge and tolerance for the differences…a Unity that incorporates diversity….
I thought we were discussing the established Western democracies where minorities are welcome and free to practice their ways of living to the extent they don’t violate the rights of others.
I suspect the countries you have in mind (I don’t know which ones you are thinking of exactly) are suffering from an absence of secular democracy, not the failure of secular democracy.
Again, we are misunderstanding each other. No one is saying secular democracy is flawless. But the fact that we can now look back on the history of the civil rights movement and other abuses of minorities and of women demonstrates that we have a system that allows us the freedoms to change it for the better. But people like Chomsky and Greenwald would be dead by now, or in prison, in other systems — it is our secular democracies that enable the Chomsky’s and Greenwald’s to flourish. The US is far from being a pure democracy — many of us see it as a system manipulated by elite powers but there is nonetheless still enough democratic mass for a struggle to currently exist to hold on and push back for a more democratic system in the future.
What system do you prefer to live? I deplore our system in Australia now but it is much closer to the secular democratic ideal than most other systems I know. People here are free to live their ways of life and express their views that they would not free to do in many other places I know of.
If you think this is an arbitrary Western choice of mine then can you suggest to me a better society where everyone would be better off?
I am not suggesting by the way, as you imply in your answer, that the world should adopt our system. I do believe that each people should have a right to adopt the system of their own choice but if those systems violate the rights of others as those rights have been enshrined and supported by the majority of nations of the world (and often opposed by the US and Israel, by the way) then I do believe in doing what I can to support the interests of those persecuted minorities in those places.
There are constraints upon majority rule and this was one of the big issues faced by the framers of the U.S. Constitutions — how to protect minority interests given majority rule. Unfortunately the minority interests they happened to be most concerned about were those of the plutocrats, the wealthy few, not the minorities at the bottom. Majority rule that overrides minorities is in effect mob rule. I am talking about the Western Systems we have and that are also subscribing to the values of human rights as enshrined in the Universal (not Western) Declaration of Human Rights. Our systems in Australia and Britain and New Zealand and Canada and the US and Western Europe are, as I understand them, based on the belief in the protection of minorities as well as the rights of majority rule. Majorities are limited by their agreement to respect minorities.
This is our “Western historical tradition” that we have struggled through bloodshed to achieve. We have great traditions of historical struggle that have given us rights of racial minorities, children, women, handicapped, religions, homosexuals, and now even animals. We have a long way to go and the rights we have achieved through a lot of struggle are sometimes under threat and can never be taken for granted. My partner is an Asian and I am sometimes told I am being too precious to care too much about some social problem in Australia when in Thailand the situation is much worse and taken for granted as just a part of life — I try to remind her that the reason she prefers to live in Australia is because conditions and freedoms are so much better here and the reason they are better is because of past historical struggles. We cannot take our freedoms and progress for granted but must always be vigilant to protect them.
I am naturally a part of my family, my local area, my state, my nation — but I do not feel as though my nationality is my ultimate identity. I am in many ways ashamed of being Australian as well for all the failings we have in the way we deal with each other and with non-Australians — but not all of us deal badly, and for that I am grateful. I feel, really, a part of humanity, part of the human race, and my nationality comes in as a very distant identity when compared with that identity. I naturally identify with the West in many respects culturally but that is not my overall identity — I love learning and interacting with other cultures, too.
I am well aware of our historical past with racism and Orientalism. There has been remarkable moral progress even since I was a child — especially in gender equality, racial issues, and now homosexual rights.
The system that has allowed this to thrive is a system that basically, with not perfect but general success, has kept secularism as the foundation stone of its legal framework: I don’t know how else to guarantee (insofar as we can guarantee anything in human affairs – but at least guarantee our right to struggle to maintain our rights) freedom for racial and religious minorities other than to keep the system from being dominated by any one interest or ideological group that wants to overthrow or replace that secular foundation.
If that is Western arbitrary arrogance I don’t think we understand the history behind it or the ordinary people who live in the system who are willing to fight and sacrifice to maintain it.
To sacrifice for a system or idea that seeks to overthrow the secular basis of our system is to threaten the very system that allows those ideas to exist here freely alongside everyone else’s.
Secular democracy has brought benefits—but how well will it adapt to the future if that future is more global/transnational and less nationalistic?
There was a time in history similar to ours—where acquisition and transfer of knowledge exploded because of the industrialization of paper. It was also a time when trade/commerce led to a sort of globalization. It was in this pluralistic and transnational environment that the most inclusive and tolerant form of Islam developed—Sufism.
Modernity/Secularism is founded on the nation-state and the loyalty and identity of the citizens to this notion—therefore, will it be able to adapt itself to a global world where nation-state may be a weak or perhaps non-existent?—possibly, but likely it will require change and progress and for this to happen—there needs to be an understanding of both benefits and flaws of the system and conversations about it.
Today failed states are growing—this brings into question whether the idea of nation-state should be the way we organize ourselves in the future—if not, what other ways can we imagine?
If we assume that humanity is a “work-in-progress” and therefore our destiny is to progress (in humaneness), then the way we organize ourselves as a complex group system should help to facilitate this progress. The Chinese (Confucian) view it as moving from our level of predisposition to a “cultivated” disposition.
How can we imagine a future where humanity values sharing, reciprocity, equality of human dignity…and such when that future may be burdened with the toxicity of our failures?
Some Western thinkers had ideas—-Thomas Jefferson said “The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only object of good governance”—-and—Thomas Paine said “We hold the moral obligation of providing for old age, helpless infancy, and poverty is far superior to that of supplying the invented wants of courtly extravagance”…and so forth. But, it seems to me, the systems that developed from these values was limited because it was based on the idea of human nature (predisposition) without balancing it enough with human potential (cultivated disposition)
Islamic/Eastern philosophies may perhaps offer interesting insights into the human condition?—if so, conversations about these value systems and what they might contribute to human well-being should be encouraged…?…..