by Mary Jackson (Oct. 2007)
In a recent article for National Review, my colleague John Derbyshire declares that he doesn't like Islamophobia. He is, he says, "Islamophobophobic". I take the opposite position, hence the title of this piece: Islamophobophobophobia. The overly suffixed word is silly, but the concept is sound: we should be wary and critical of attempts to dismiss our very rational fear of Islam.
The National Review article is the second time in recent months that Derbyshire has written on Islam. In his entertaining review of Robert Spencer's book Religion of Peace?—Why Christianity Is and Islam Isn’t, Derbyshire recognises that Islam is problematic, but states that the problem of Islam is one of policy rather than theology (my emphasis):
It can hardly be disputed that we have got into the mess we are in with Islam today not so much because of the letter of Islamic theology, or the failure of enough of us to knuckle down to our citizenly duty and read the Koran (personally, I would rather undergo radical dentistry), as because we have executed policies of staggering idiocy.
There are now tens of millions of Muslims living in Christian nations; and this is the case because our nations allowed the tens of millions to enter. We need not have done so. Wise men as long as forty years ago were sounding the alarm about the gross folly of opening our territories to such numbers of strangers with whom we had nothing in common.
If what [Spencer] has told us is true—and so far as the present state if Islam is concerned, I think it is—then the West should proscribe Islam, and the sooner the better. We should not allow Muslims into our countries, other than for necessary diplomatic or scholarly purposes. We should revoke the visas and permits of resident aliens who are Muslims, and ensure their departure. We should offer to purchase the citizenship of Muslim citizens, and bribe them to leave. Those who will not leave should be carefully watched by the police, and subjected to social disabilities—they should not, for example, be admitted to the armed forces, or allowed to proselytize in prisons.
I wonder if the author has asked himself why such measures must be taken - contemplated even - with Islam and not with other religions. Had Western leaders done their tedious "citizenly duty" and studied Islam, would they have permitted those "staggeringly idiotic" levels of Muslim immigration? And would we now be facing the dangers Spencer describes or the radical measures Derbyshire acknowledges to be necessary? There are worse things than tedium. Root canal work is tedious, but toothache is agony.
I can see that, to an atheist or sceptic, all religions may be equally absurd, but they are not equally harmless. It doesn't matter if some people believe that the sun sets in a muddy pond, but it does matter if their holy book tells them to kill those who don't. Islam is indeed boring. It is as dull as dentistry. But it is no less dangerous for being dull. Islam is dangerous because it is a political ideology and a programme for world domination, not just a set of spiritual doctrines.
One of the first websites I looked at when I started thinking about Islam - a mere five years ago - was Muhammadanism, a name for Islam that I have since grown to like. The site is a treasure trove of resources, for example books by William Muir and William St Clair Tisdall, worth reading for their prose-style alone, but mainly for their unapologetic stance and pride in our civilisation. A recent article, Islam: Crime and Interfaith Reconciliation, discusses why the practice of Islam, as opposed to the beliefs, is incompatible with Western - specifically US - law.
The most important article on that site, the one that drives home why Islam is uniquely dangerous, is called Islamic Law and its Challenge to Western Civilization. Everyone should read it:
Most people in the West believe that Islam is a religion in the traditional sense of the word. However, this is a fateful misconception. Islam is not just a religion. It is much more than a religion. Muslims themselves describe their faith by saying, Islam is a Complete Way of Life. This is certainly a more apt description, because Islam is a religious, social, economic, educational, health, political, and philosophic way of life. In fact, Islam is an all-embracing socio-politico-religious utopian ideology that encompasses every field of human endeavor.
The Western view of religion is that a religion is a narrow aspect of life. It does not encompass all human affairs. Religion stands beside culture, economic, politics, and other human institutions. Westerners may differ on matters of religious faith, but they can work together in social, state, and economic affairs. The reason for this is that their respective religions don't claim divine authority over the institutions of governance and economics. Their faiths may differ regarding the salvation of the soul, life after death, and religious rituals, but they don't claim to have divine insight into the institutions of human government and its particular laws. As good citizens, they strive to have a just and equitable society.
Islam is different from other religions in that it is not limited to the spiritual aspects of life. It engulfs all aspects of life from the cradle to the grave. Islam claims to have a divine mandate over everyone, and this includes non-Muslims too. While non-Muslims may not be required to observe the religious rituals of Islam, they must recognize the supremacy of Islamic rule over them. As an ideology, Islam promises an economic, political, social, and religious utopia when the world finally submits to Allah and the rule of Shari'a law. The Islamic objective is to have all aspects of a nation's culture and institutions undergo gradual Islamization to yield an Islamic state patterned after Shari'a Law.
The content matters. The devil is in the doctrine.
Derbyshire’s Islamophobophobia article shows a similar unwillingness to engage with what he calls “the minutiae of religious doctrine”. As the following excerpts show, he does not look too closely at Islam, and distance seems to lend enchantment:
Why, when I read books like Robert Spencer’s, do I feel my irritation — my Islamophobophobia — rising?
A part of it is my dislike of narrow-minded ideological boosterism, of which there is a lot in the Islamophobe business. Many of the noisiest Islamophobes are committed Christians of one kind or another, usually of the angry kind — the same people, I suspect, who e-mail in to tell me that I am a “nihilist” with no morals.
Heaven forbid anyone should take me for a multiculturalist — “All religions are equally good!” See my first bullet point above. Still less am I a Hitchensite — “All religions are equally bad!”
It is none the less true that Islam, whatever its failings, is an ancient and respectable religion that comforts and sustains hundreds of millions of souls, and has provided one of the organizing principles for numerous substantial civilizations. Possibly those civilizations weren’t to your taste. They probably wouldn’t have been to mine, either. If you have ever thought seriously and imaginatively about what life is like in a state of barbarism, though, you will acknowledge that even not-to-your-taste civilizations are a vast improvement on the other thing.
It is likewise true, even on the worst figures (which can be found in Mark Steyn’s book, on page 76 for example), that the great majority of present-day Muslims don’t approve of terrorism, and would like to live lives of peace, prosperity, and security.
Would I exclude foreign Muslims from settlement in the U.S.A.? Yes, I would; but this is not actually saying much, as I would stop all mass immigration if I could. Islam needs particular attention because of the sheer quantity of lunacy it has thrown up in the present generation; but it is not the only counterexample to the Diversity Theorem, only the most pressing one.
As to the cultural aridity of Islamic civilizations: well, yes. This is not an exceptionalism belonging to Islam, though. The exceptionalism belongs to us, to the West. We are dynamic and creative; we are fired by curiosity to inquire into the natural order; we are driven by imagination to set off and explore remote places; our culture progresses through developmental stages, each building on the last..
I’m therefore inclined to cut Islam some slack. It’s a religion, bringing the consolations of faith to multitudes. Most of its believers are decent people, who pay no attention to the fiercer verses of scripture.
I’ll even admit to seeing some appeal in Islam. I think this came through in my review of Robert Spencer’s book.
There is both a male and a female principle in any religion, but usually one or other principle is to some degree more prominent. Judaism is, in (I think) obvious ways, a more “masculine” religion than Christianity or Buddhism; the Old Testament more “masculine” than the New; and within Christianity, Protestantism is more “masculine” than Catholicism. Islam strikes an outside observer as the most “masculine” of all the big faiths.
In Islam [...] every man, however he makes his living, is a soldier of the faith. This resonated with British military men. To this day, if you show up at a recruiting station to join the British army, the NCO will tell you: “Yes, you may get trained for something useful. You may become a cook, a driver, an engineer. There are great opportunities. But first we’ll make a soldier out of you.”
Derbyshire places himself outside the camp of the Islamophobes. Islamophobes, he claims, are generally “Christians of the angry kind”, with the odd “good egg” Christian such as Robert Spencer, or agnostic such as Ibn Warraq, thrown in. And a Jewish Bat Ye’or and quite a few Buddhists. Oh, and “several million angry Hindus”. Indeed, during the course of Derbyshire’s article, the camp of the Islamophobes grows more diverse by the minute, such that one is tempted to think that what brings them together is not an "angry" urge to proclaim the rightness of their religion – or lack of one - and the wrongness of Islam, but a reasoned, logical dislike of Islam, based on knowledge, experience and understanding.
In a footnote to his article, Derbyshire says:
Note on the word “Islamophobia”: Roger Kimball tells me this is the wrong word. A phobia (says Roger) is an irrational fear of something. Fear of Islam is perfectly rational! I leave you to discuss this among yourselves.
But why leave it to your readers to ask whether fear of Islam is rational? Surely this question is central to any discussion of Islamophobia. Does Derbyshire think fear of Islam is irrational? Not entirely. He acknowledges that there is something to fear from Islam, perhaps more than from other religions, and he should be alive to the possibility that, if he overcame his boredom and read more about it, he would uncover more that is threatening – and frightening.
Derbyshire concedes that we should stop Muslim immigration, but only because we should stop, or at least restrict, all immigration: the West is superior to other any other civilisation, and its achievements – and its borders – must be defended. This is true. I am a great believer in Western superiority – no other civilisations come close to ours – and what is superior must be defended. However, by putting Islam into the same category as other non-Western civilisations, Derbyshire overlooks the fact that Islam is uniquely threatening, not just to us but to all non-Muslims. Islam, and only Islam, has at its core a division of the world into believers and infidels, and the commandment, for all time, to convert, subjugate or kill the infidels until the world is conquered. Non-Muslim immigrants to the West integrate, often successfully, and have no such commandment. Muslim immigration is uniquely dangerous. Even if Muslims do not know their texts, the texts have not changed and the fundamental – not “fundamentalist” – requirement to wage jihad can be rediscovered, and acted upon, at any time. For further evidence that fear of Islam is justified, see Hugh Fitzgerald’s piece here.
Derbyshire talks of Islam as a “religion” which has given comfort to many “souls”. In doing so, he overlooks its political component. Islam is not just a religion, it is a “complete way of life”, threatening to the West, to the Buddhists of Thailand, to the Christians and Animists of the Sudan, to the Zoroastrians of Iran, to the atheists, the agnostics, and to Derbyshire himself.
Derbyshire confesses to seeing “some appeal” in “Islam” because it is a “masculine”, “fighting faith”. Certainly Islam is a violent religion, which has conquered by force superior but non-violent civilisations. However, while Islam is aggressively “masculine”, with rape not only a weapon of war, but a perfectly normal act when sanctioned by the Koran, I would not call it a manly faith. Slaughtering innocent women and children in an Israeli pizza parlour, killing schoolchildren in Beslan, beheading peaceful Jewish farmers, killing office workers, commuters and poets – these acts are not manly. They are cowardly and brutish. If Derbyshire wishes to get sentimental about soldiering and manly courage, he has picked a bad example.
Moreover, qital, or violent struggle, is only one aspect of jihad, and not even the most important. Da’wah (propaganda) and demographic conquest are far more insidious and effective weapons in the spread of Islam. Consider too how so many Muslims have embraced the victim culture, whining about "hurt feelings" over remarks made by the Pope, or a few cartoons. The very word "Islamophobia" is the battle-cry of the bleaters. Manly? Big boys aren't supposed to cry, but where crying works better than fighting, Muslims can weep buckets. A “fighting faith”, certainly, but Islam fights dirty, by sabotage and by stealth. And, as the enemy within, it is fighting us.
I am pleased that John Derbyshire has written on this subject. He is wrong, but he will provoke a great deal of debate, and in the course of proving him wrong, much constructive and instructive argument will emerge.
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