Diplomatic Immunity

The Fort Hood massacre has got people talking, and it even seems suddenly to have dawned on a lot of people — as a startlingly new idea — that perhaps there might even be appropriate limits to our liberal infatuation with multiculturalism and radical non-discrimination: that “diversity” might not only not be the summum bonum of an enlightened culture, but that carried too far it might in fact be cultural suicide.

Cultures are much more than mere philosophical abstractions: they are, in a sense, living organisms, and like any living organism they must be discriminating about what they ingest. Without such habits of caution, and in the absence of an immune system that can distinguish between “self” and “other” and so protect the system from pathogens and parasites, an organism will die — and a species that is so maladapted as to lack these essential capacities will go extinct.

Cultures are given form, implicitly or explicitly, by their ideological architecture, their essential philosophical scaffolding. Within the metaphor of culture-as-organism, these core ideas and principles are the skeleton — far more sturdy and inflexible than the surrounding soft tissue — that gives a culture, or an organism, its distinctive shape, and provides the rigid anchor for the various exertions of its muscles and sinews.

But a culture’s structural ideas and principles themselves can be evolving systems, behaving almost as living organisms in their own right. They compete, they adapt, and they undergo selection pressures too. And they also, as in the exquisitely evolved memetic complexes we call “religions”, can develop extraordinarily sophisticated immune systems of their own. They have to, because they too must defend themselves against intrusions and infections by foreign and pathogenic memes.

Of all the maladies that can afflict a living organism, among the direst, for obvious reasons, are disorders of the immune system, and I don’t think it fatigues our metaphor to say that this is exactly what’s happening to us here in the West. There has arisen in our culture a memetic mutation, built upon previous philosophical evolution having to do with admirable principles of liberty and tolerance, that has led us to imagine not only that our culture is entirely invulnerable to pathogenic memetic infection in the form of alien cultural influences, but also that it is actually strengthened and enriched by them in all cases, without any regard to their cultural dissonance, infectious virulence, or even explicit malevolence. What makes this particular auto-immune disorder even more — indeed, far more — dangerous is that our society’s natural immune response has been not weakened, but re-directed: to attack precisely the very influences that might suppress the mutation and restore the health and safety of the organism. Criticism of multiculturalism, then, becomes “xenophobia”, and defensive wariness toward the possibly pernicious influence of excessive diversity, or of alien cultures, upon our own, becomes “racism”. In particular, to adopt a critical and unwelcoming posture toward the utterly alien cultural and memetic organism that presents, by far, the clearest and most present danger to our own, is to be reviled as an “Islamophobe”.

The malfunctioning of our culture’s mutant immune system is in plain, and diagnostically revealing, view in the aftermath of Fort Hood. We have seen the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army (our organism’s teeth and claws, if you will) insist that “diversity” would be a more lamentable casualty than the actual death of our own soldiers at the hands of a jihadist maniac planted amongst their ranks; we saw our media rushing, before any of the facts of the case were known, to convince us all that Nidal Hasan’s religion was not a causal factor in his murderous rampage; we heard our own president, incomprehensibly, calling the killing of infidel warriors by a self-described “Soldier of Allah” “incomprehensible”; and we watched as a stampede of psychologists and feminizing liberal pacifists sought to portray the killer, amazingly, as the victim: the victim of a malevolent intolerance that led his fellow soldiers, who quite rightly sensed that they had the enemy in their midst, to treat Mr. Hasan with culpable insensitivity.

Above all, the action of this malfunctioning immune response has been to suppress as unspeakable in polite society the notion that it might not be “fringe” elements or “extremists” within Islam that the West ought to be wary of, but Islam itself; that the problem is not that a tiny minority of violent thugs have “hijacked” an otherwise peaceable religion, but rather that Islam is — by its very nature, and by the natural action of its most central organizing principles and premises — an inexhaustible wellspring of fundamentalism and intolerance, utterly, essentially and implacably incompatible with Western culture and Western liberties.

So stifling is the opprobrium associated with the expression of this idea that even some of the more stalwart defenders on the ramparts of Western culture have begun to quail. Here, for example, is Jonah Goldberg:

I am more sympathetic toward this reluctance to state the truth of the matter than are some of my colleagues on the Right. There is a powerful case to be made that Islamic extremism is not some fringe phenomenon but part of the mainstream of Islamic life around the world. And yet, to work from that assumption might make the assumption all the more self-fulfilling. If we act as if “Islam is the problem,” as some say, we will guarantee that Islam will become the problem. But outright denial, like we are seeing today, surely is not the beginning of wisdom either.

A powerful case indeed; I and many others have been making it for some time now. It is almost an inescapable conclusion if one takes the time to make a frank and careful study of Islam, and of the 14-century history of its struggle with the West.

Goldberg continues:

As I fully expected, this has elicited a lot of disagreement from some readers and I figure I should offer a fuller explanation (my apologies in advance for the long post). They complain I want to put on blinders, that I don’t want to deal with the truth, etc. For example, from a reader:

Jonah,

Islam is the problem. At its core is a radical worldview that is incompatible with individual freedom, democracy, and Western culture in general. You of all people should know this.

For a fuller explication of this view, you should read some of Andrew Bostom’s writings, including this post below.

Goldberg responds to his reader’s comment; indeed it seems that he is in broad agreement:

Let me say up front that I think folks like Bostom make a very powerful case that Islam is, if not the problem, then at least it is a major problem. It’s “mainstreamism” as Andy says below. There’s too much in the history and canonical text of Islam — not to mention the present-day reality of Islam — to really deny this outright.

Quite so.

Even the statements of many “moderates” would be counted as bigoted and hate-filled if they came from Christians. Polls supporting everything from anti-Semitism to suicide bombings in Muslim countries demonstrate that, at minimum, extremism is not a “fringe” view held by a few “hijackers” of a peaceful religion. Even Egypt’s “liberals” are anti-Semitic. Talk about how the “real” problem is poverty and ignorance is not completely without merit, but neither is it all that persuasive […to put it mildly…] The 9/11 hijackers were educated and middle class. Wahabbism thrives among the wealthy of Saudi Arabia. Bin Laden and Zawaheri come from very prosperous backgrounds. Hasan was/is an Army major and a psychiatrist. These intelligent, educated people have no problem looking to the Koran and other established texts of their faith and saying, “See, what I believe is true and right according to my faith.” I would very much like to see a Western devotee of the notion that the extremists have merely “hijacked” the Muslim faith debate Islam with a Jihadist. My hunch is they would lose, badly.

Indeed they would, though I imagine the encounter would provoke such cognitive dissonance that it would have little effect, so well-established is the aversion to discriminatory judgment in the multiculturalist liberal mind.

Goldberg sees the situation clearly, it seems. What, then, is to be done? Reading on:

So why don’t I fully agree with those who argue that Islam is the problem? Well, because that strikes me as a blind alley.

What are the policy implications of this view? That we should take a posture of enmity with over a billion Muslims, including millions of law-abiding U.S. citizens? Some (though not all) say that’s a strawman argument. To say that Islam is the problem is not to say that we have to be at war with Islam. Rather, we need to put the focus on Islam so it can expedite internal reform. As one reader puts it very well:

Saying that Islam is the problem doesn’t mean that all Muslims are dangerous. It puts the onus on Muslims to confront what is being done in their name. Are they for it or against it? If they turn against us on this basis, then at least we know where they stand. Pretending that Islam (as opposed to all Muslims) poses no danger to us won’t help matters. What if we had done the same thing when fighting Communism? The fact that people of good will could sincerely believe in Communism didn’t lessen the threat Communism posed to our survival as a free people. Islamic dogma is anathema to human freedom. We need to understand this and battle it on that basis.

I really wish I found this more persuasive. The problem with the Communism analogy is that Communism really was a novel and artificial imposition on society. You could appeal to Ukrainians as Ukrainians in an effort to get them to reject Communist ideology. The rhetoric of freedom had salience both as an appeal to individualism but also to national and cultural self-determination (we didn’t call them “captive nations” for nothing).

Islam isn’t like that, at least not in most places (one exception that comes to mind is Iran where a Persian, nationalist, identity seems to many to be as authentic as the post-revolutionary ideology that rules the country now). In most Islamic countries, Islam isn’t a foreign ideology imposed by revolutionaries from within or without. Islam is central to the culture, integral to their identity. Only a relative handful of Russians took great offense when you insulted Marxism, because Marxism was never central to the Russian identity. Indeed, my hunch is that at least in the years between Stalin’s death and 1989, you were more likely to invite a punch in the nose from a typical Russian by insulting Tolstoy than by insulting Marx.

Goldberg is splitting hairs a bit here; both Islam and Communism are ideas, and both of them are totalizing systems of cultural organization. But he is right that Communism had a slightly weaker grip on the levers and switches of adaptive group-level behavior than the most effective religious systems do.

Anyway, here comes Goldberg’s point:

The problem with formulating a serious public policy based on the assertion that Islam is the problem is that you guarantee Islam become even more of a problem. It’s a bit like Schrodinger’s cat. Right now Islam is both problem and solution. If we decide on one, we foreclose the possibility of the other.

People who say Islam is The Problem often overlook the fact that there are millions of Muslims who are peaceful, do not support terrorist Jihad, and so on. If all of a sudden you claim their faith in and of itself is a threat to us, you push them toward the Jihadists. The Kurds in Kurdistan are Muslims, should we stop working with them? There are millions of moderate Muslims in Pakistan, should we send the signal that they are indistinguishable from the terrorists because they share the same faith?

This is a serious and valid objection. I have no doubt whatsoever that he is right about this: that if the West were to acknowledge, clearly and forthrightly, the fact that Islam itself is fundamentally at odds with the core principles of our modern post-Enlightenment civilization, it would make enemies of many who might otherwise co-exist with us in peace. But have we any sensible alternative?

Stephen Schwartz and others are pretty persuasive that the core of the problem is Wahhabism and we should throw in Iran’s Shiite radicalism as well. Right or not, I think as a practical matter, focusing on the dangers from these sects is a better way to demonize extremism while giving the rest of the Muslim faith room to maneuver. The fact that we don’t hear all that much about Sufi terrorism tells me that there’s space within Islam for other, non-problematic, interpretations.

Goldberg makes a very common error here: he assumes that the existence of “moderate” Muslims indicates that there is a possible evolution of Islam that would lead, in time, to a complete extinction of fundamentalist extremism, or at least to such a broad rejection of hard-core Islamist ideology that it would be reduced to a negligible irritant. If some Muslims can be like this, goes the thinking, then in principle all of them can someday be.

This is a generous and well-intentioned view, but unfortunately it ignores both the history and ideological core of Islam. As I explained in the comment-thread of a recent post, it fails to grasp the essential incompatibility of Islam and liberal democracies:

At the core of the strength of the West is its foundation in secular law, empirical science, and individual liberty. Secular law — the separation of church and state, the ‘rendering unto Caesar’ that is permitted under Christianity — is arguably heresy in Islam, a doctrine that goes at least as far back as the thirteenth century, when Ibn Taymiyya articulated the idea of tawhid, the unity of God.

Taymiyya expressed that unity in two forms: unity of sovereignty (God is the sole creator and ruler of the world), and unity of worship (God is the only suitable object of worship and obedience). To obey man-made laws, then, is effectively to worship and submit oneself to Man, rather than God, and is therefore apostasy. It is important to understand that this is not a fringe viewpoint; it is a clear and valid theological conclusion, and one held by millions and millions of Muslims around the world.

Given this, Muslims then sought to account for the accelerating failure of Islam to prevail against the infidels by suggesting that the problem was caused by insufficient fidelity to the teachings and example of the Prophet, and by corruption and drift. The answer, then, would be to rely only on the Koran — the literal and infallible word of God — and on the example provided by the life of the Prophet himself, and his companions. Everything else — in particular all modern ideas, influences, and innovations — must be discarded. This is salafism, and this is why Islam is fundamentally incompatible with the modern Western world. Sure, there will always be secularizing, “moderate” Muslims — the founders of Pakistan and modern-day Turkey were such men — but they are not the problem. The problem is the persistent gravitational pull toward retrograde fundamentalism that will always exist in any Muslim commmunity. Under any rigorous examination of Islam, secularism and “moderation” are heresy, plain and simple.

Goldberg concludes:

Again, I have no great answer here and I’m running very, very long. In short, I think those who insist that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with Islam are befogged by a political correctness that blinds them to a real threat. But I also think that some of the people saying Islam is the problem often fail to recognize — or at least acknowledge — that Islam will have to be the solution as well.

I wish Goldberg were right about this, but after years of study and reflection I think that, although there will always be modernizing influences within Islam, and millions of peaceable and non-confrontational Muslims, it is naive to imagine that the Ummah will ever extirpate its totalizing, expansionist core; to do so would be to cut out the very heart of Islam itself.

I think that Goldberg himself realizes this; in this piece he undercuts his own argument with repeated caveats and disclaimers. He clearly sees that Islam itself is a “real threat” to the West, but, correctly acknowledging the polarizing and divisive effect of a serious Western response, and unable to offer a better solution, he falls back on the faint hope that the West can safely stake its own survival on the willingness of the Muslim faithful to choose sides against their own most devout co-religionists. He also ignores the precariousness of a relationship based on the divided loyalties of Western Muslims, in which there must always be a dynamic tension between fealty to their secular host cultures and to their God and His Prophet.

No, we cannot rely on the Ummah to police and reform itself; we have had 1,400 years to see Islam in action, and it would be folly to strategize on the assumption that it will suddenly cease to do what it has always done. And it isn’t about “hating” Islam, even if we need not prostrate ourselves to offer it the “respect” that it demands. Islam simply is what it is; this is a problem for the West to solve. And we aren’t going to solve the problem without being able, first of all, to admit that it exists.

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14 Comments

  1. Kevin Kim says

    What solution(s) do you have in mind?

    Posted November 18, 2009 at 4:38 am | Permalink
  2. Kevin Kim says

    More specifically, I want to skip to the endgame. What should the world look like after the problem has been acknowledged and then solved? Will this be a world with no Muslims, staffed with vigilant people who police the populace to snuff out any possible reemergence of the memeplex? I’m curious as to what your ideal future would be.

    Posted November 18, 2009 at 4:46 am | Permalink
  3. Malcolm says

    Hi Kevin,

    That’s the question I’ve been asking myself too, for a long time now.

    I’m not at all optimistic that it can be solved. Probably the only realistic aim is for the West to build better fences — and to stop deluding itself with multiculturalist fantasies about the limitless blessings of diversity, and about how Islam and liberal democracy are natural pals.

    Posted November 18, 2009 at 11:27 am | Permalink
  4. Kevin Kim says

    re: better fences

    I see that many of your posts on this subject deal with the West’s cultural “immune system” and its current failure, but as even a scholar like Bernard Lewis acknowledges in Islam and the West, the issue is complicated by the fact that “Islam” and “West” can’t be neatly dichotomized.

    I mentioned the endgame in my previous comment because there’s always the danger that “solution” means something sinister, along the lines of a “final solution.” That’s probably not where your thoughts have been leading you, because you’re a nice guy, but the danger of treading that path exists all the same. For the record, I find the thought of eliminating all Muslims horrifying, so I’d never countenance any measure that extreme, i.e., one that attempts to stamp out Islam and all Muslim culture.

    On the philosophical level, I find it troubling that anyone with an empirical bent would be essentialistic about Islam. Perhaps I’m misreading you, but it seems you’re building a case for the idea that Islam is inherently poisonous. To make this argument, you’ve relied on an empirical method: look at Islam’s history! But empirical methodology doesn’t sit well with essentialism. If it’s observed that Islam arose from a swirling historical context, and if it’s agreed that, based on what we know of nature, all physical phenomena experience change, then the idea that Islam somehow contains an unalterably poisonous core loses much of its impact. The fact that something hasn’t changed up to now is no evidence that it might not change in the future, a sentiment with which the empirically-minded David Hume would agree.

    I suppose one could respond that a venomous snake in one’s house is still a venomous snake, no matter what circumstances gave rise to its existence and current location in my bedroom; the snake, whatever its origins, must be ejected or killed for the danger to be removed. I’d concede that this is true, but would note that this argument doesn’t justify the killing of all venomous snakes everywhere. At best, one has made an argument that applies only locally.

    Kevin

    Posted November 18, 2009 at 2:13 pm | Permalink
  5. Malcolm says

    Kevin,

    Good heavens, no – I am certainly not suggesting some campaign of extermination against the world’s Muslims. Did you really think I would imagine such a thing?

    As for “inherently poisonous”: again, no, and I think “poisonous” is the wrong word to be using here. What I have said is that Islam is inherently incompatible with Western culture and values, and that Muslim immigration is probably something we ought to be very wary of. The idea that we can import huge numbers of poorly-assimilating Muslims into Western communities without disastrous consequences for the host culture is folly.

    As for Islam’s “poisonous core”, my point has been that Islam has at its core a system of essential tenets that will always give rise to aggressive, retrograde fundamentalism, despite the continuing existence also of moderating influences. This opinion is based on a study of Islam itself, but is also amply borne out by history. Essentialism? Yes. I do think there are essential features of Islam that cannot change. When the essentialist view and empirical confirmation of essentialist predictions agree so well, for so long, it probably means you are on to something, Hume notwithstanding. Even Hume would think it a safe bet that water will freeze when it gets cold, or that the sun will come up in the morning.

    As I’ve said elsewhere: this isn’t about poison, or hating, or racism, or any of the rest of it. Islam just is what it is, and it will always present the same features: the division of the world into “house of Islam” and “house of War”; the same retrograde and expansionist tendencies; the same dissonance with Western notions of liberty and tolerance, and so on. Sure, it will also present assimilable, modernizing, docile Muslims as well, but they aren’t the problem.

    Islam is an enormously successful meme-plex, and in a Darwinian sense, highly adaptive, I think. All I am saying here is that we in the West need to look at it realistically, because it is still, as it has been for the past 1,400 years, a dangerous rival, sharply at odds with our own culture and worldview.

    Posted November 18, 2009 at 2:59 pm | Permalink
  6. Kevin Kim says

    If the Islam meme is in people’s brains, and if you believe that a world without Islam is better than a world with it (you do believe this, yes?), it seems you’d have to get rid of the brains containing the meme, since memes are inseparable from the people who harbor and propagate them. Three options, then: containment, ejection, and destruction.

    (1) Contain the Muslims in the West: don’t allow them free access to Western society, and keep them in ghettos with no chance of escape.

    (2) Eject the Muslims from the West: build those “better walls” between Western and Muslim countries, and let the Muslims do whatever they want outside of the West.

    (3) Destroy all Muslims: well, this is self-explanatory.

    There’s another possibility:

    (4) Transform the Islam memeplex into something harmless.

    You’ve rejected (3) because genocide is a horrible prospect. You’ve also rejected (4) as naive and unrealistic: Islam has already demonstrated that it won’t change. That leaves (1) and (2), neither of which strikes me as particularly realistic. I suspect that (1) is as distasteful as genocide, since it means creating Muslim ghettos, so we can eliminate (1) from consideration. That leaves us with (2): the ejection of Muslims from the West.

    But how exactly does this protect the West? Even the strongest immune system is naturally porous; attacks against the West aren’t stopped by building better fences, especially if the enemy has long-range capabilities.

    And another question is this: if you seriously believe the West is currently engaged in a death struggle with Islam (I assume you do), then merely banishing Muslims from the West is too meek a response. If an attacker comes at me with the intent to kill me, I don’t plan to spend the rest of my life parrying his blows; I’ll do what I can to stop the fight, whether this means merely neutralizing the attacker or outright killing him. Either way, I’ll be taking the offensive. If the West is in a similar situation, then for its own sake it should take the offensive as well.

    That’s why I’m having trouble seeing the consistency of your position. By all rights, you should be advocating some pretty extreme measures, because according to you, the West faces an extreme problem. Instead, when I ask about the endgame, the only options on offer are “be very wary” and “build better fences.”

    I’m sorry to keep hammering at this point, but it’s important for me to know just what your vision of the endgame is. Some possible scenarios:

    (1) A walled-off West that lives in a state of perpetual defensiveness, allowing no Muslims in, and always at the ready for some sort of Muslim attack.

    Problems: no guarantee that Muslims won’t infiltrate, and no guarantee of safety from long-range attack. Great scenario for generating fear and paranoia.

    (2) A world totally devoid of Islam, which will mean getting rid of all Muslims, their writings, and all other traces of the various forms of Muslim culture throughout the world.

    Problem: the dual prospects of genocide and history-erasure make this scenario unimaginable.

    (3) A walled-off West, happy as a clam, with Islam on the other side of the wall, just as happy, and just as uninterested in breaching the wall.

    Problem: this scenario flies in the face of human nature. It would never happen.

    (4) A West that allows West/Muslim interaction, but that profiles all Muslims so thoroughly that passage into and out of the West becomes a drag.

    Problem: this scenario isn’t so different from how things are now. It’s a vision of the present, but with more travel restrictions and surveillance. It also fails to address fundamental issues, such as the idea that Islam and the West are engaged in a death struggle. If it’s a death struggle, then why the half-measures?

    Posted November 19, 2009 at 5:22 am | Permalink
  7. Malcolm says

    Excellent comments, Kevin. I’ll respond just as soon as I can; I have a very busy day here at work, and am traveling later on.

    Thank you for clarifying the issues so effectively.

    Posted November 19, 2009 at 11:50 am | Permalink
  8. Malcolm says

    Hi Kevin,

    You’ve raised a lot of pointed questions here, and I’ll try to give a thorough response.

    You wrote:

    I want to skip to the endgame. What should the world look like after the problem has been acknowledged and then solved? Will this be a world with no Muslims, staffed with vigilant people who police the populace to snuff out any possible reemergence of the memeplex? I’m curious as to what your ideal future would be.

    To ask about an “endgame” assumes that there is in fact any end in sight, or that the problem will be “solved”. I’m not that optimistic. It may be that sometime in the future the Islamic memeplex will have become nothing more than a fascinating historical relic, in the way that the pagan religion of the Greeks and Romans has; indeed I’d hope that we might someday come to see all religions that way: as a left-behind stage of our species’s childhood, as adaptive “training wheels” that helped human groups get on their feet, and that we later outgrew. But religious memes are sticky, and the most-evolved ones powerfully so — and if they are indeed an adaptive product of group-level selection, then it seems reasonable to assume that they actually do improve the fitness of human groups in competition with other groups less robustly equipped. If that is so, then any secularizing human society is at a disadvantage relative to societies that are strongly bound by religion — and I think we are seeing this right now, particularly in Europe. So for these memes really to lose their grip it is going to take some sort of multilateral disarmament that I don’t imagine is likely to happen.

    The only “endgame”, then, would be something along the lines of a war of genocidal extermination, which is certainly not what I am plumping for here.

    So persistent are religious memes that I am inclined to agree with you that to get rid of them “it seems you’d have to get rid of the brains containing the meme”; by this you meant fighting and killing the believers. But another way this often happens is by attrition across generations: the old folks die off, and the memetic infection never gets a good hold on the kids. It has often been said that science advances “funeral by funeral”, and secularism, it seems, generally expands this way as well. I have no doubt that this effect can apply to some extent in Islamic societies as well, if the door is ajar enough to let modernizing and secularizing influences in at all.

    But Islam, as I have argued often, is especially resistant, in its core principles, to this sort of evolution, more so than any other of the major religions. Its central tenets — that Mohammed received a literal dictation of the Koran straight from God’s messenger; that as God’s anointed agent on Earth Mohammed’s life provides an incontrovertible example of the ideal servant of God; that the unity of God demands that Man be subservient to none but God, and that therefore secular governments are apostatic — give it a permanent and eternally renewing wellspring of fundamentalism that is present in no other system. This is why I disagree with you on the question of “essentialism” in Islam: in Islam the essentialism is a defining, explicit feature. It’s built right in.

    You wrote:

    …as even a scholar like Bernard Lewis acknowledges in Islam and the West, the issue is complicated by the fact that “Islam” and “West” can’t be neatly dichotomized.

    No, I suppose they can’t, but the point is that they needn’t be. Sure, there are fuzzy borders, both ideologically and demographically, but there is no question that, despite any crossfading at their edges, there is no difficulty distinguishing them in their ideological and demographic heartlands: a madrassa in Peshawar is a very different place from a physics lab at Ohio State. The edge cases just aren’t the issue here.

    I suppose one could respond that a venomous snake in one’s house is still a venomous snake, no matter what circumstances gave rise to its existence and current location in my bedroom; the snake, whatever its origins, must be ejected or killed for the danger to be removed. I’d concede that this is true, but would note that this argument doesn’t justify the killing of all venomous snakes everywhere. At best, one has made an argument that applies only locally.

    I quite agree. The analogy is excellent. I have never suggested that we go out and try to kill all the venomous snakes in the world; we’d never be able to do it anyway. But it certainly seems prudent to learn to identify venomous snakes, to do whatever you can to get them out of your house, and to take measures to discourage them from coming in. Extending your metaphor, then, we could say that the Western liberal multiculturalist takes the following positions:

    1) That to assert, in any general way, that venomous snakes are dangerous by their very nature is racist and xenophobic;

    2) That venomous snakes who do in fact bite and kill people are “fringe” elements in the venomous-snake community, who have “hijacked” their species’s naturally benevolent nature;

    3) That, given 2) above, it is up to the other snakes — the kind and decent ones that surely are the “real” snakes — to do something (if anything is to be done at all) about the bad apples amongst their kin;

    4) That our own household, far from being endangered by having lots of venomous snakes around, is actually strengthened and enriched by their presence;

    5) That any hostility shown by any of us, even those who have been bitten already, toward venomous snakes is surely counterproductive, and serves only to anger and radicalize the “decent” snakes, while having no effect on the biters;

    6) That to make any discrimination between “self” and “other” [as any healthy organism’s immune system must do] is a grave moral sin, unbecoming of an ethical society. Venomous snakes therefore are, under their scales, just our brothers and sisters, and should be welcome in our home.

    It is this core collection of liberal memes — this suicidal mindset, this well-intentioned but utterly fantastic delusion — that I oppose in these posts. But I also want to make it very clear that the object of criticism here is not any race or ethnicity of people, but the virulent memeplex of Islam itself — although, as we have agreed, it can be very difficult to separate the memes from the brains they infect, and so for a culture that finds itself threatened by Islam any response will inevitably involve its dealings with Muslims themselves.

    You go on to list several options:

    (1) Contain the Muslims in the West: don’t allow them free access to Western society, and keep them in ghettos with no chance of escape.

    Absolutely not, as I am sure you’d agree. Such an approach is good for nothing and nobody.

    (2) Eject the Muslims from the West: build those “better walls” between Western and Muslim countries, and let the Muslims do whatever they want outside of the West.

    This is too absolute to be practical, but some moderated approach to this is worth further consideration.

    (3) Destroy all Muslims: well, this is self-explanatory.

    No, for many obvious reasons.

    (4) Transform the Islam memeplex into something harmless.

    That would be lovely! I believe it, however, to be impossible. (Have you any realistic suggestions as to how that might be achieved?) At the very least, we’d be foolish to stake our security on the passive hope that Islam will transform itself into anything harmless anytime soon. Liberals in the West, banking always on their misplaced optimism about man’s essential goodness, cite examples of moderating influences within Islam as beacons of hope. (I’ve even done so myself, on rare occasions.) But these movements affect only Islam’s fuzzy edges; the problem, however, is the eternally self-renewing core, and its permanent gravitational pull toward retrograde fundamentalism and shari’a.

    This is not Islam’s problem; Islam is simply doing what it has always done, with impressive consistency. This is a problem for the West to solve.

    So, as you point out yourself, this leaves us with some version of (2). I agree. You raise the following objection, however:

    But how exactly does this protect the West? Even the strongest immune system is naturally porous; attacks against the West aren’t stopped by building better fences, especially if the enemy has long-range capabilities.

    Agreed. But in your focus on “endgames” and “solutions” you are letting the best be the enemy of the good: that we can’t make our immune system perfect is no reason not to make it much, much better than it currently is. We could take some very effective steps if we were serious about the problem, but this will never happen until we admit that Islam itself is a problem. As long as we are in the grip of the etiolating liberal memes listed above, we’ll do nothing.

    You also said this:

    And another question is this: if you seriously believe the West is currently engaged in a death struggle with Islam (I assume you do), then merely banishing Muslims from the West is too meek a response. If an attacker comes at me with the intent to kill me, I don’t plan to spend the rest of my life parrying his blows; I’ll do what I can to stop the fight, whether this means merely neutralizing the attacker or outright killing him.

    This is indeed a difficult question. We may have no wish for a death-struggle with Islam, but if Islam does, what are we to do? If we rule out a war of annihilation (which we do, of course), then it seems our only other option is to pursue a policy of containment and sequestration.

    You wrote:

    I’m sorry to keep hammering at this point, but it’s important for me to know just what your vision of the endgame is. Some possible scenarios:

    (1) A walled-off West that lives in a state of perpetual defensiveness, allowing no Muslims in, and always at the ready for some sort of Muslim attack.

    Problems: no guarantee that Muslims won’t infiltrate, and no guarantee of safety from long-range attack. Great scenario for generating fear and paranoia.

    (2) A world totally devoid of Islam, which will mean getting rid of all Muslims, their writings, and all other traces of the various forms of Muslim culture throughout the world.

    Problem: the dual prospects of genocide and history-erasure make this scenario unimaginable.

    (3) A walled-off West, happy as a clam, with Islam on the other side of the wall, just as happy, and just as uninterested in breaching the wall.

    Problem: this scenario flies in the face of human nature. It would never happen.

    (4) A West that allows West/Muslim interaction, but that profiles all Muslims so thoroughly that passage into and out of the West becomes a drag.

    Problem: this scenario isn’t so different from how things are now. It’s a vision of the present, but with more travel restrictions and surveillance. It also fails to address fundamental issues, such as the idea that Islam and the West are engaged in a death struggle. If it’s a death struggle, then why the half-measures?

    As for your (2) above, we are in complete agreement. What’s left, then, is some combination of the rest. We could certainly do the following, if we had the stomach for it:

    A) Sharply restrict immigration of Muslims to Western nations, or at least those Muslims who feel their first loyalty is to Islam, shari’a, etc.;

    B) Usher out those Muslims already here as tourists and on visas who promote jihad or otherwise pose an obvious threat;

    C) Stand firm for our own cultural principles, freedom of speech and the rule of Western law being first and foremost. No silencing and censoring of criticism for fear of offending religious sensibilities; no bending and relaxing of laws to accommodate Muslim tastes; no Rowan Williams – style capitulation regarding the introduction of shari’a courts in Western countries, and so on;

    D) Adopt various incentives to encourage fundamentalist Muslims to leave Western nations: to enjoy their traditional culture in their traditional homelands, while we do the same in ours.

    Why the “half-measures”? There are several answers to that. First, these may indeed only be “half-measures”, but they are far stronger measures than anything we are trying at the moment, and would have a marked effect. Second, if we rule out genocide, all we are left with is “half-measures” like these, or to maintain the status quo. Third, it may well be that to maintain the status quo will lead to a far more sanguinary confrontation with Islam down the road: I could easily imagine, if the penetration of Islam into Western society continues unabated, that it might lead in time to a truly awful, violent uprising when non-Muslims suddenly realize that their opportunity for political change has passed.

    These “half-measures” may not be particularly satisfying, and I have no doubt that to the liberal mind they surely feel morally objectionable, but I just don’t know what else to suggest. They may not lead to a conclusive “end game”, but they may be the best we can do.

    Posted November 20, 2009 at 6:06 pm | Permalink
  9. Elisson says

    This post, and the discussion that follows, is serious Food for Thought. It encapsulates many of the concerns I have concerning the relationship between Islam and the West.

    I believe that, like the Catholic memeplex, Islam may evolve over time to a less pernicious, less aggressive form, one that is capable of coexistence with Western values and ideas. [Remember that when the Catholic church was 1400 years old, the age of Islam today, it was burning heretics at the stake.] The question is, what can we do to accelerate the process? How do we bring evolutionary pressure to bear… before our culture is damaged or destroyed?

    Posted November 23, 2009 at 12:00 am | Permalink
  10. Malcolm says

    Hi Elisson, and thanks for joining in.

    I am skeptical, for reasons given above and elsewhere, that Islam can be as flexible as Christianity in this regard. I have no doubt that Islam can take modernized and moderate forms — it already does — but the difference, and the problem, is that the fundamentalist, retrogressive core is, I think, ineliminable. On any careful study it is the real Islam.

    Posted November 23, 2009 at 1:30 am | Permalink
  11. Gilad says

    I very much enjoyed reading this post and the discussions that follow. I would like to point out some ideas and possible solutions for this very serious problem.

    First, we are at war. It is a war of civilizations that has been waged for the past 1400 years. When at war, it is imperative to identify the enemy, or the threat. This is something we have yet to do effectively. Calling it a “war on terror” is like saying that during WWII we were at war with tanks.

    We are at war with Political Islam, and the sooner we identify this enemy, the better off we will be. Islam is a complete civilization and a political system first and foremost. Religion is the least of Islam. By highlighting the political aspects of Islam and separating them from the religious ones, we can have a much more clearly defined enemy to combat.

    Do you remember the Danish cartoons of Muhammad and the weeks of rioting and violence by Muslims that ensued? This was political, not religious. If muslims want to respect Muhammad by never criticizing or joking about him, that is their religious right. But when they threaten and hurt non-Muslims, who do not respect Muhammad, who was a political leader – that is political. When Muslims say that Muhammad is the prophet of the only God, that is religious. When they insist that non-Muslims never disrespect Muhammad, that is political. When the newspapers and TV agreed not to publish the cartoons, that was a purely political response, not a religious one. We must stop responding to Islam politically, and treat it just like any other religion.

    It is important to note that 61% of the Qur’an is devoted to discussing the Kafir (unbeliever). Only 39% is devoted to discussing Islam and the Muslim. This makes the Qur’an a political doctrine. (Also, the Qur’an is only 16% of the whole Islamic cannon). Another important fact is that the majority of Muhammad’s life was political, not religious. In fact, the Islamic calendar starts when Muhammad became a warlord and politician, not when the angel Gabriel was revealed to him years earlier. The media never explains why Islam does anything, except as a reaction to what we do – this is misleading, and needs to change. Islam does not need to look to us to decide what to do. Islam has its own political agenda; it’s own political game plan, namely, to annihilate all civilizations that are not Islamic. This is written very clearly in black and white – it’s not some wacky interpretation. Let’s stop with this suicidal political correctness and start pushing for better education on the political aspects of Islam.

    Next, we must find alternative sources of energy and cut our dependence on oil. This would mean we would no longer answer to the Saudis, who’s number one export is ideology, not oil. Their Islamic theocracy would lose power and influence, and once they run out of money, they would have to join the 21st century, or kindly take a hike. Also, the United Nations, which has been hijacked by the Organization of Islamic Conference, needs to be disassembled, shut down, kicked out of American soil. There is not justification for our tax dollars paying for such a corrupt body of tyrants, dictators, sheiks and assorted Third World leaders, along with their First World enablers. Enough is enough.

    Next, there have been extensive undercover investigations into mosques in the United States, which are funded by the Saudis, and teach Islamic anti-western ideology and political doctrine. A great book that just came out on this subject is called “Muslim Mafia.” These mosques all need to be publicly investigated and shut down, as an act of war against political Islam.

    These are only a few ideas, although I fear this country is not ready nor willing to implement any of them. Europe is starting to wake up, although I fear it is too late. I pray the United States does not suffer the same fate.

    Posted November 24, 2009 at 5:31 am | Permalink
  12. Malcolm says

    Gilad, for some reason I missed seeing this comment until just now.

    I find little to disagree with.

    Posted June 26, 2010 at 5:03 pm | Permalink
  13. Bill says

    I am late in coming to the thread, having just gotten a link from Kevin.

    Gilad has definitely created the best response in the thread. I have just explicitly arrived at his position a few weeks ago–that Islam is a political system with religious trappings.

    One thing I that had struck me when reading a history of the Middle East by a person sympathetic or at least not antagonistic towards Islam, was that everytime Mohammed needed a justification for his actions, he conveniently had a vision from Allah. A clear exposition of its history weakens the case for it being a religion.

    Posted September 21, 2010 at 7:46 am | Permalink
  14. Malcolm says

    Hi Bill, and welcome.

    Yes, Gilad’s comment is spot-on. This is not to say that all self-identified Muslims are Islamists (in the sense of embracing Islam as a total political system), but Islam is certainly far more than “just” a religion, and a broader understanding of that fact here in the West is essential to our assuming the correct posture toward it.

    Posted September 21, 2010 at 8:25 am | Permalink