by Richard Butrick (January 2015)
Let’s not blame all Italians for the Mafia. Let’s not blame all Germans for Auschwitz. This seems only fair, judicious and a healthy counter to mob-mentality and over-reaction.
Strangely enough this seemingly admirable judicious let’s-not-overgeneralize, in-all-fairness mindset also seems frequently coupled with the self-righteous ready to blame-all-white Americans for slavery and treatment of American Indians.
How this we-must-all-share-the-blame mentality comports with let’s-not-blame-them-all-for-the-actions-of-a-few is actually an important issue. Towns regularly take pride in their denizens who go on to distinguish themselves. Families, nations routinely do the same – taking credit for astronauts, athletes, Nobel Prize winners and the like. Must they not then share the blame for those persons and actions which discredit them? The Serbians seem, in general, to get the blame for Milosevic and company. It is not axiomatic that spreading the blame is a mistake.
But for starters, indeed, let’s not blame all Muslims for the actions of a few or, indeed, blame Islam for the actions of a few so-called Muslims. For example, we should not let the following examples poison our attitude toward all Muslims or Islam:
Dallas resident Yasser Abdel Said who did away with his two teenage daughters for dating unapproved boys. Zein Issa in St. Louis who killed his daughter for dating an African-American. Chaudhry Rashid in Jonesboro, Georgia, who strangled his daughter for trying to leave an arranged marriage. Mohammed Shojaeifard of Roslyn, New York, who shot his estranged wife, mother-in-law and young daughter. The three daughters of Muslim-Canadian business man Muhammad Shafia, who were found drowned in a car at the bottom of the Rideau Canal near Kingston, Ontario. 16-year old Aqsa Parvez, murdered by her father for refusing to wear the hijab. 20-year-old Khatera Sadiqi gunned down by her brother, along with her fiancé, for the crime of asserting her independence.
These examples, we are informed, do not characterize the mindset or behavior of the vast majority of Muslims. The vast majority of Muslims are peace-loving individuals who just want to get on with their lives and have a live-and-let-live outlook. Further, since the vast majority of Muslims are peace loving people who want to get on with their lives, Islam cannot be blamed for the actions of a few so-called Muslims any more than Christianity can be blamed for the actions of the few who blow up abortion clinics in the name of Christianity.
Let me take a specific case of the vast-majority argument:
The Q-Society of Australia, critical of Islam, gives this summary of its position:
Islam is not just a religion. It is also a political, legal, financial, social and military doctrine which extends to all facets of Muslim life, the cultural and legal landscape of where Muslims live and how to treat non-Muslims. Islam makes it obligatory for observant Muslims to assist in extending the rule of Islam across the world.
For too long Islam has enjoyed immunity from necessary analysis, due criticism and debate because of its status as ‘just a religion’. Unfortunately, if we continue to tolerate Islam without understanding it, Australia as a free, secular democracy will be lost. How so?
The position statement goes on to document the following points:
Islam tells Muslims not to integrate into non-Islamic countries.
Islamic culture is forced on the host nation.
Islam demands that Muslims obey and implement sharia law.
Now here is a verbatim counter to the Q-Society position statement I received from an academic (of course) acquaintance of mine:
The article certainly applies to militant Islamists, but I don’t see how it fits ordinary Muslim people. For example, when I taught in London a few years ago, our granddaughter, Caroline, was with us in Princess Die Playground in Kensington Gardens. This is pretty close to a large Muslim area in London near Marble Arch. There was a little Muslim boy there with his mother and he and Caroline played on the pirate ship. When it was time for us to leave, the little boy asked if Caroline could come to his house to play the next day. This, of course, was impossible, but his mother just beamed at the sweetness of her son. She would have loved it, she said, if Caroline could have played with her son.
This is a personalized version of the vast-majority argument. It is as if I were to counter an argument critical of Nazi ideology with a remembrance of a pleasant experience I had with a German woman in a playground.
Even aside from extrapolating from anecdotal evidence. There are two logical problems with this argument and one tactical problem.
The vast majority of Southerners were not members of the Klu Klux Klan – from this it doesn’t follow that the vast majority did not support the KKK. The vast majority of Muslims do not engage in violent jihad – from this it does not follow that that the vast majority are not sympathetic.
Even if it could be statistically shown that the vast majority of Muslims do not support violent jihad it does not follow from this that Islam, the ideology, does not encourage violent jihad. The vast majority of Catholics do not accept the Church’s position on birth control. The vast majority of Christians do not believe in transubstantiation.
The tactical or practical problem is the presumption that what the vast majority of a given cohort believe will direct the course of action of the cohort. The following is excerpted from an article by Amjad Kahn.
Firstly, in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t really matter that the vast majority of Muslims oppose jihadism because as long as there is a significant and determined minority of Muslims that are supportive, jihadists will achieve their aims.
The vast majority of Iraqis and Syrians hate ISIS but that did not prevent ISIS from taking over large swathes of those countries and committing large-scale massacres. A majority of Nigerian Muslims oppose Boko Haram but that does not seem to have dented their seemingly unstoppable rise. A majority of Pashtuns oppose the Taliban but they still remain the most potent political and military force in Pashtun regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Hence, merely being unsupportive of jihadism does not prevent the phenomenon from growing and causing widespread chaos and destruction. Nor does it prevent it from becoming a dominant force.
That the vast majority of a cohort do not engage in an action does not mean they do not support it. Further, even if the vast majority of a cohort do not believe in an action or principle it does not follow that the ideology or meme that coalesces and energizes the cohort does not endorse the action or principle. Moreover, what the vast majority believe may have little influence on the actual direction taken by the hardcore adherents and leaders of an ideologically driven cohort.
Certainly, in one sense, as Nonie Darwish pointed out back in 2005, “the silent Muslim majority is the problem” – simply because they are silent. But, realistically, it can hardly be expected that the rank and file Muslims would be willing to speak out against their leadership any more than the rank and file members of the Mafia would speak out against their leadership. It is not like speaking out against the political leadership in the US – or at least not like it used to be. But this issue is a subtle diversion into the problem of the legitimacy of spreading the blame for the action or inaction of a cohort whereas the argument here is that that issue is largely beside the point regarding ideological analysis.
Whether an action is in conformity with Islamic doctrine is relevant to a critique of Islam. Which actions are sanctioned or not sanctioned by an ideology or body of doctrine is relevant to a critique/analysis of the same. But that is not the same as to whether the cohort ostensibly identified with the ideology conform to the ideology. Whether the honor killings alluded to above are in conformity with Islamic doctrine and jurisprudence is relevant to a critique of Islam but whether the vast majority of Muslims endorse or decry such activity, while something of an indicator, is not directly relevant. The real issue is the doctrinal thrust regarding the activity/behavior.
The vast-majority argument is the little red-herring that is used to derail legitimate critical analysis of Islam. It has a think-stop, conversation over effect that is used to finesse a criticism of Islamic doctrine. It involves the clever tactic of countering an argument/thesis by appealing to two generally credible points that (1) let’s not just automatically blame all of a cohort for the actions of a few and (2) let’s not just automatically blame an entire belief system by the actions of a few claiming justification under the belief system.
True enough – but not directly relevant to a critical analysis of the belief system itself. And that is the lesson. The mistake is to counter the diversion as if one were countering the valid points about over generalization. The tactic must be to agree and point out that that has very little bearing on the issue of whether there is doctrinal basis in Islam for treachery and genocidal violence in the cause of Islamic supremacism. Do those who commit heinous crimes in the name of Islam have basis for doing so? And it is worth noting in that regard that the leader of ISIS has a Ph.D. in Islamic studies.
On a lighter note one has to be in stunned amazement at the mental gymnastics of the Australian hostage taker, Haron, who argued on his website that Islam is the religion of peace and that is why Muslims must fight and destroy the infidels:
Islam is the religion of peace, that’s why Muslims fight against the oppression and terrorism of USA and its allies including UK and Australia.
Following Haron’s lead, it must be that the real meaning of these passages from the Koran:
– Regarding infidels (unbelievers), they are the Muslim’s “inveterate enemies” (Sura 4:101). Muslims are to “arrest them, besiege them and lie in ambush everywhere” (Sura 9:5) for them. They are to “seize them and put them to death wherever you find them, kill them wherever you find them, seek out the enemies of Islam relentlessly” (Sura 4:90). “Fight them until Islam reigns supreme” (Sura 2:193). “Cut off their heads, and cut off the tips of their fingers” (Sura 8:12).
is “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
On a more somber note, the unfortunate aspect of the vast-majority think-stop manoeuver is that it has currency and as such immunizes Islam from critical doctrinal analysis especially as it is invoked at the point of criticism. It has the net effect of giving Islam a sacrosanct status. Allowing any religion or ideology a sacrosanct status is the beginning of an Orwellian zombie existence for mankind.
Dr. Richard Butrick is an American writer who has published in Mind, Philosophy of Science, Notre Dame Journal of Formal Logic, International Journal of Computer Mathematics among others.
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