Getting Hot In Here

103° today.

It’s hard to think original thoughts while undergoing massive organ failure, so for tonight I will just add my own to the chorus of voices yelping in indignation over the interview that NASA director Charles Bolden gave to al-Jazeera. Here’s what he said (starting at about 1:11):

“Before I became the NASA administrator, [President Obama] charged me with three things: One was he wanted me to help re-inspire children to want to get into science and math; he wanted me to expand our international relationships; and third, and perhaps foremost, he wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science and math and engineering…

This is pathetic, absurd, outrageous, insulting, patronizing, insane, embarrassing, foolish, disgraceful… I could exhaust Roget’s and still fetch up short of doing this justice. But I needn’t bother, because others have got there ahead of me.

Here’s Charles Krauthammer:

“A new height in fatuousness,” Krauthammer called it. “Absolutely unbelievable.”

Indeed it is — or, to take a darker view, it is believable only if one begins to give credence to the idea that President Obama knows exactly what he is doing, and is deliberately, and competently, dismantling everything that has lifted the United States of America, over the last few centuries, to its unique place in human history. (Lawrence Auster has been making this point for a while now, and I have to say it is looking more and more persuasive.)

Others weigh in. Here are Daniel Pipes, former NASA head Michael Griffin, and Jonah Goldberg.

Meanwhile, as we pervert our greatest national institutions on a fool’s errand to pacify and appease our mortal enemies, a conference was held over the weekend on the subject of just what it means to be a Muslim in the West. It was called the Khalifa Conference, and it took place in Sydney on July 4th. Below is a promotional video. I must say that it is refreshing in its forthrightness about the fundamental incompatibility of Islam and Western civilization — especially in comparison to the girlish fantasies of both the Obama and Bush administrations regarding the real nature of Islam and the Ummah. Would that our political leaders had the nerve to discuss this so frankly.

Toward the end the script says:

And so Muslims in the West have to question: do we, and can we, integrate — or would integration entail compromising some of our key Islamic principles?

They know very well that it will. And we should too.


  1. bob koepp says

    Malcolm – I think you are aware of my dislike of islamists and others who wish to impose their views on the rest of humanity. However, I know a number of muslims who would argue vehemently against the notion that integration into the west must involve compromise of key islamic principles.

    Posted July 7, 2010 at 9:36 am | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    Of course there are such people, Bob!

    They, however, aren’t the problem.

    Posted July 7, 2010 at 10:02 am | Permalink
  3. bob koepp says

    Malcolm – That’s precisely the point. There are articulate Muslims who believe they have not compromised key Islamic principles in the process of becoming “westernized”. Your concluding remarks seem to imply that they are wrong about this, and that we (non-muslims) should recognize their error. But I don’t know just what the error amounts to.

    Posted July 7, 2010 at 4:33 pm | Permalink
  4. Malcolm says

    Again, Bob: sure, there are always some Muslims who drift toward secularism, and who who believe they have not compromised key Islamic principles in the process of becoming “westernized”. As I said above, they aren’t the problem.

    In any case, whether I think they are mistaken about compromising Islam doesn’t really matter.

    The point is that in the view of much of the Muslim world, and of a great many influential Muslim scholars, such “moderate”, “Westernized” Muslims are heretics and apostates. It is clearly the view of the people who put together this conference — and I quite agree — that conformance to Western norms makes demands on Muslims that are incompatible with any internally consistent understanding of the central tenets of Islam.

    The problem for the West, and for “moderate” Muslims living here, is that Islam has a perpetual, self-renewing wellspring of fundamentalism at its core. That there may always be some more liberal and secular Muslims at the fringes of the Ummah, and rifts within Islam itself over who is an apostate and who isn’t, is irrelevant.

    What matters is that due to the unique nature and origins of Islam there has always been, and will always be, a powerful and persistent gravitational pull away from modernizing reforms, and toward fundamentalism — and this will always be a source of tension and conflict wherever there are large communities of Muslims living in the West. The folks who made this video see the problem quite clearly; I wish more people did. They realize that if large numbers of Muslims are going to live in the West, either Islam must change to accommodate the West — which they clearly reject — or the West must change to accommodate Islam. The latter, unfortunately, is what seems to be happening, as the Ummah expands into Europe and the rest of the West.

    Finally, as for disliking “Islamists and others who wish to impose their views on the rest of humanity”, you overlook the essential fact that to stress the importance of bringing the entire world under submission to Allah is not some sort of fringe viewpoint held only by “radical Islamists” but is in fact the overarching, central mission of Islam, explicitly stated again and again and again throughout the Koran. (Indeed, the majority of the Koran is dedicated not to the practice of the faith, but to how to deal with the kuffar.) An expansionist attitude regarding the Muslim faith isn’t “Islamism”: it’s just Islam.

    Posted July 7, 2010 at 5:45 pm | Permalink
  5. bob koepp says

    Malcolm – Now you’re getting more specific, by pointing to the Islamic goal of bringing about a global Ummah. I don’t think that goal is at all contrary to western (i.e., enlightenment) values. The use of violence to acheive a global Ummah, however, is contrary to those values. Of course, the Koran itself sends very ambiguous messages about this. Why not seek to exploit the ambiguity rather than accepting the questionable interpretation embraced by radical islamists? As an analogy, I’ve heard a few (american) constitutional fundamentalists advocate pure nonsense based on their weird interpretations of that document. But that’s no reason to reject either the constitution or the form of government it describes.

    Posted July 7, 2010 at 6:58 pm | Permalink
  6. howsurprising says

    Contemporary Westernization is hardly compatible with Christianity either. Yet, you do not run around saying THE CHRISTIANS ARE COMING! THE CHRISTIANS ARE COMING! because some of them take up arms and bomb federal buildings. Ok, well some of us do. Christianity is in a constant struggle with Western democracy, enlightenment, and science. And in some cases, even with capitalism, though some churches have chosen mammon- integrated Capitalist theology with the theology of the Book. Christians are constantly pulled away from Enlightenment, and are forever faced with a choice (a choice recognized by the Catholic Church for example) between accommodating Western secular culture, and making Western culture accommodate it. It is clear that many choose the latter. This is no different than with Islam, except that Muslims come to this as outsiders. While Christianity contends with Western secular society, to be a Christian in Western secular society is, on the whole, a boon, especially here in the United States where being an atheist, or being for god sakes a Muslim, is not, except in limited circles, and for politicians, almost certainly political suicide (swearing an oath on the Koran, rather than the Holy Bible, or refusing to say “Under God” inspires the most *radical* discourse among conservatives.

    Malcolm’s alarmism, therefore, while charming and suiting to his curmudgeonly disposition, is merely facile. There is no mighty clash of civilizations. Indeed, most Islamic inspired violence targets other Muslims, and it will be handled and settled by Muslims (much as the long history of Christian on Christian religious strife attests). The Western world is merely a convenient bogey man, one that through its several century long dominance of the world-stage, and foul crimes of colonialism, it probably deserves. Malcolm, I am sure, or one of his ilk, will no doubt step in here and whine that I (and others of my ilk) ignore the violence and crimes of non-Westerners, or what violence and crimes would have been committed by non-Westerners had they been masters of the world instead. But that argument has little weight. First, it is not true that we ignore the violence and crimes of non-Westerners, nor the ability and tendency of states, Western or not, to commit atrocious acts when it is perceived to be in their interests. Nor do we forget the fact that certain strains of Christianity and of the enlightenment have, in some sense, restrained, or at least ameliorated the crimes committed by the West. I do not. But one cannot judge history, or criminals, by the hypothetical crimes that they or others might have committed (or not committed) had circumstances stood another way. We judge history by history itself.

    Posted July 7, 2010 at 10:42 pm | Permalink
  7. Malcolm says


    I honestly don’t see how you can with a straight face suggest that the subjugation of the West to a theocratic Ummah would be not “at all contrary” to Western values. It would be impossible to imagine anything short of conquest by Martians that would transform the West more utterly.

    I can only assume you are joking.

    Also, what do you mean “exploit the ambiguity”? (Not that the Koran is ambiguous about how to deal with Christians, Jews, and other infidels.) It isn’t up to us here in the West to sort out Islam’s internal disagreements. My only point is that it in no way benefits the West — quite the opposite — to play host to an expanding Islamic subpopulation.

    Posted July 7, 2010 at 11:00 pm | Permalink
  8. Malcolm says


    You have, on occasion, left some worthwhile and thoughtful comments here. Not this time, though, I’m afraid.

    If you are going to comment here, I will ask you at least to read the posts and respond to what they actually say, rather than to whatever it is you would like to imagine that I, or others of my “ilk”, must be thinking. Nowhere in this post did I say anything about Islamic violence, yet you harangue me at length about it. But Islamic violence, though a real threat, isn’t what should worry us the most. No, this time around the Ummah will conquer the dar-al-Harb not with the sword, but with its lawyers, its politicians, and most of all, with the wombs of its women — as it is already doing in Europe.

    As for the rest of your remarks: here in the West (traditionally referred to, by the way, as “Christendom”), the reason we don’t run around yelling “the Christians are coming” is because they have been here all along; they are us. Whatever tension there may be within Western civilization between Christianity and secularism is a purely internal affair, which we will resolve on our own. But we certainly do not do ourselves any favors, or make our lives any easier, by importing Muslims.

    As for civilizations in collision: if you are seriously going to lecture me about “judging history by history itself”, it might behoove you actually to read a little of it first. Perhaps you could start with the history of Iberia, or the Crusades, or the Ottoman Empire. You might also look up the name “Martel”, or “Suleyman”. I think you’ll be you’ll be surprised to learn that Islam and the West have actually gotten along rather poorly for quite some time now.

    Above all, you have completely missed the simple point of this post — which is, as the makers of the linked video grasp very clearly, that Islam and the West are in many important ways fundamentally incompatible, and that when they come together they form a very unstable mixture, in which each can thrive only at the expense of the other. They are better kept apart.

    Posted July 7, 2010 at 11:43 pm | Permalink
  9. bob koepp says

    Malcolm – I might well be wrong, but I am serious. First, as far as I know, an Ummah need not be a theocratic state where sharia represents the law of the land. As for exploiting ambiguities, the point is to offer alternatives to interpretations of Koranic passages that are drawn on by Islamists to foment war and destruction. Also, the Koran is, indeed, ambiguous about how to deal with Christians, Jews and other infidels. In one place it says one thing; in another place it says something different. That can be presented as an invitation to reflect on how interpretation needs to reflect context — and a challenge to a simple minded “textual literalism.”

    Posted July 8, 2010 at 11:17 am | Permalink
  10. Malcolm says


    Again: it isn’t up to us to sort out interpretive schisms within Islam; surely you can’t imagine that the Muslim world is going to pay any attention to how we here in the West think that the teachings of the Prophet, and the literal word of God, should be interpreted. Keep in mind that textual literalism is a very different thing in Islam than it is in Christianity: it is a bedrock tenet of Islam that the Koran is a verbatim transcription of God’s utterances to Mohammed (as transmitted by the angel Jibreel).

    As for ambiguity, it is easy enough to find instructions in the Koran as to how the faithful should work to expand God’s kingdom among the unbelievers. For example:

    O Prophet! Make war on the unbelievers and the hypocrites. Be harsh with them. Their ultimate abode is hell, a hapless journey’s end. – 9:73


    When you meet the unbelievers, smite their necks, then when you have made wide slaughter among them, tie fast the bonds, then set them free, either by grace or ransom, until the war lays down its burdens. – 47:4


    When the sacred months are over, slay the idolaters wherever you find them. Arrest them, besiege them, and lie in ambush everywhere for them. – 9:5

    I’m not sure what you have in mind that renders any of this “ambiguous”. But even if so, that is something that must be settled within the Ummah itself, not here in the West.

    Meanwhile the practical fact is that despite the existence of secularizing, “moderate” Muslims, Islam carries its self-renewing well of fundamentalism with it everywhere it goes, and always will. Islam is unique in many ways, and this permanent, built-in immunity to reform is one of its strongest and most essential features. (I must say, by the way, that from a Darwinian perspective, I admire it enormously; from the point of view of providing a total, self-regenerating system of social guidance and cohesion, it is in many ways the perfect religion.)

    So what are we arguing about, really? My point is only that the more Muslims there are in the West, the more friction and tension there will be between traditional Western culture and the Islamic community. Perhaps you imagine that the “moderate” Muslims will form a bridge between fundamentalists and the West, and so bring along their more retrograde brothers, but it doesn’t work that way, due to the very nature of Islam itself. What happens instead is that more and more Muslims simply cross the bridge, settle in the West, and then the familiar pattern of demands for greater and greater accommodation begin: “no-go” areas where the police keep out, calls for Shari’a law, assaults on criticism as “hate speech”, insisting on separate facilities in public institutions for men and women, dietary restrictions in schools, removal of images of pigs from public places, banning of dogs in parks, demands for prayer rooms in workplaces, broadcasting the adhan, work-leave for the hajj, exemptions for truck and taxi drivers from carrying alcohol or pork, refusal to remove the veil for ID photos, etc. Meanwhile, as their numbers swell, the normal gravitational pull toward Islam’s traditionalist core is always at work, so any growing Muslim community necessarily includes an expanding population, and network, of distinctly non-“moderate” believers.

    No, either the West must appease and accommodate, as it is doing in Europe (though there are hopeful signs of an awakening), or Muslims living here must adopt Western norms, which arguably necessitates rejecting core teachings of Islam, as the makers of the video understand very well. An extremely persuasive case can be made, and is indeed being made daily all over the Muslim world, that what we in the West call “moderate” Muslims — the ones we foolishly pin our naive hopes upon for reconciliation in this ancient struggle — aren’t really observant Muslims at all.

    The West is clearly better off simply keeping Islam out; its expanding presence here obviously isn’t doing us any observable good.

    Posted July 8, 2010 at 11:40 am | Permalink
  11. bob koepp says

    Malcolm – I think that what we’re “arguing about, really,” is whether or not the problems that you correctly point out are, indeed, “due to the very nature of Islam itself.” I don’t believe they are, and I want to do everything I can as a non-muslim to encourage non-radicalized muslims to take back their religion from those who have misappropriated it for irreligious ends.

    Posted July 8, 2010 at 4:14 pm | Permalink
  12. Malcolm says

    I want to do everything I can as a non-muslim to encourage non-radicalized muslims to take back their religion from those who have misappropriated it for irreligious ends.

    Well, all I can say is: good luck with that! I’m not quite sure how, once you have got them sufficiently fired-up to make the attempt, your task-force of non-“radicalized” Muslims are going to “take back” an ancient and virtually unchanged religion from the hundreds of millions around the world who are simply practicing it as it has always been practiced, but it’s certainly a noble and ambitious goal.

    But I must point out once again — as I did at the beginning — that even if I am mistaken in my understanding of Islam, and you are right that a “correct” understanding of Islam is consistent with Westernizing reforms, all that is necessary for serious difficulties to persist is for my view to continue to be widely represented among Muslims. This is certainly the case now, as has always been, and I don’t expect it to change.

    In other words, for Muslims to dwell in large numbers in the West without the sort of problems I have enumerated — problems that arise always and everywhere that large Muslim communities exist in the West — the traditionalist understanding of Islam (which is a coherent, historically consistent, and infectiously persuasive interpretation of the Koran and Sunnah) must be extirpated and supplanted with your Westernized, “moderate” one. This is, I think, a completely vain hope — due to the essential structure of Islam itself — and the current trend is certainly not in this direction.

    I also disagree strongly with your assertion that Muslim fundamentalists have “misappropriated” Islam for “irreligious” ends. If anything, the charge is more fairly leveled at “moderate”, secularized “Muslims”, who have arguably discarded the real message of God, and the teaching of His Prophet, for the “irreligious end” of enjoying the material comforts, secular permissiveness, and hubristic humanism of the West, rather than living their lives as they should, in complete submission to God and His law. It is easy enough to make a compelling case, as Muslim clerics routinely do all around the world, that such “Muslims” are nothing more than heretics and apostates. You, of course, may not be persuaded, but what you must remember is that you aren’t the target audience.

    Posted July 8, 2010 at 4:35 pm | Permalink
  13. bob koepp says

    “problems that arise always and everywhere that large Muslim communities exist in the West”

    The Detroit area has had a large immigrant Muslim community for decades. It’s 25 years or so since I had much interaction with them, but at the time, as a community they put a lot of energy into learning how to be “normal” americans. So much for “always and everywhere.”

    Posted July 8, 2010 at 5:36 pm | Permalink
  14. Malcolm says

    Oh, the process is underway in Detroit as well; don’t you worry. It goes faster in some places than others, and the Muslim community in Detroit is one of the oldest and best-assimilated in the Western world (a throwback to an earlier social climate here in the States, when “moderate” Muslims were the only ones who made a go of it here), but it gets there eventually nevertheless.

    Posted July 8, 2010 at 5:45 pm | Permalink
  15. the one eyed man says

    I’ve spent a lot of time in Detroit, and the Muslim population there is substantial. There is also a big Muslim populations here in the Bay Area. Fremont has one of the largest Afghan communities outside Afghanistan, and there are Pakistanis and Iranians all throughout Silicon Valley (although LA has a much larger Iranian expat community).

    The next time you’re in town, we should go to my favorite Middle Eastern place, in Mountain View. It’s a serious halal restaurant – the waitresses all wear burquas – and the food is awesome. In my view, they should try to grow their business with a cross-cultural slogan: kabobs so good, they’ll make you plotz.

    Posted July 8, 2010 at 6:32 pm | Permalink
  16. Malcolm says

    Ah well, as long as we can have kabobs…

    Posted July 8, 2010 at 10:17 pm | Permalink
  17. Malcolm says

    On further reflection, Bob, your comment about Detroit deserves a more thorough response, as does even Peter’s kabob-and-burqa observation. It is easy sometimes in these discussions, no matter how hard one tries to be careful, to reply in defensive haste.

    Although the tide is turning now, I do agree that there is some effect at work in Detroit, and perhaps America generally, that has made the retrogressive effect of the core Islamic meme-plex act less virulently, at least up till recently. I don’t think it is difficult to account for, but the task is beyond me this late in the evening. I’ll try to get back to this shortly.

    Posted July 8, 2010 at 11:55 pm | Permalink
  18. Malcolm says

    After digging in a bit further, I’m not at all sure that anything exceptional needs explaining here. As the population has grown, it appears that the usual process is proceeding as I’d expect. Obviously in early days, a self-selection process would have brought Mideasterners to Detroit who wanted to assimilate; who didn’t see American life as requiring them to co-opt their religion. But as the Mulsim population swelled in recent years, and the zeitgeist in America changed toward radical multiculturalism, the soil has become more fertile for real Islam to take root, and so it is.

    Posted July 11, 2010 at 10:10 pm | Permalink
  19. bob koepp says

    Malcolm – Something does need explaining…
    On what basis do you identify the non-assimilating, militant form of Islam as “the real thing?” Do you know something that hasn’t occurred to the many millions of Muslims who don’t accept that version of their faith?

    Posted July 12, 2010 at 8:21 am | Permalink
  20. Malcolm says

    On what basis do you identify the non-assimilating, militant form of Islam as “the real thing?”

    On the same basis that, for example, Sayyid Qutb did. If you study Islam, it soon becomes quite clear that this is a perfectly reasonable interpretation, and I think it is indeed by far the most reasonable one, most consistent with the Koran and the Sunnah.

    I haven’t time today to recap it all – that would take hours of writing – but if you want to get hold of many of the central points that animate jihadist thinking you can read this.

    As I have said again and again, however, what matters is not what I think, but simply that there are always sufficient numbers of Muslims in any large Islamic community who share this view.

    And keep in mind that even if one stops short of the interpretation described in the linked document — which justifies violence in the name of jihad — there is still a great deal of room for a less-militant interpretation that is still a very long way indeed from anything resembling “moderate”, Westernized Islam. The arguments put forward are built solidly and straightforwardly on central principles of Islam — the supremacy and unity of God in particular.

    Posted July 12, 2010 at 9:47 am | Permalink
  21. bob koepp says

    Malcolm – Here is the prologue from the article to which you directed me:
    “A genealogy of the radical ideas that underline al-Qaeda’s justification for violence shows that the development of jihadi thought over the past several decades is characterized by the erosion of critical constraints used to limit warfare and violence in classical Islam. This erosion is illustrated by the evolution of jihadi arguments related to apostasy and waging jihad at home, global jihad, civilian targeting, and suicide bombings.”

    Note the references to “jihadi thought over the past several decades” and “critical constraints used to limit warfare and violence in classical Islam.” If, instead of attributing the real problems we face to “the very nature of Islam itself,” you recognized that the problems are of recent vintage, and represent what the author sees as an “eroded” version of Islam, I would have no cause to object.

    Posted July 12, 2010 at 10:05 am | Permalink
  22. Malcolm says

    That’s because this article focuses specifically on the increase in jihadi violence in recent decades. But as I said above, violent jihad, however threatening it may be, is the least of the problem. The real point is that Islam clearly calls for a life committed to the rule of God’s law, not secular, Western law, which puts God above man.

    Here’s an article about Qutb.

    Posted July 12, 2010 at 10:15 am | Permalink
  23. Malcolm says

    The most important point to take away from the first article is the highly persuasive thinking of Taqi al-Din Ibn Taymiyya on the unity and sovereignty of God. This has been an enormously influential argument; it is very difficult to refute in any coherent way.

    Posted July 12, 2010 at 10:18 am | Permalink
  24. Malcolm says

    Furthermore, it is not as if expansionist Islamic militancy is some recent phenomenon, as the inhabitants of much of Europe and the Middle East over the past 1,400 years would surely attest.

    Posted July 12, 2010 at 10:45 am | Permalink
  25. bob koepp says

    Malcolm – Please indulge my tenacity, even if you can’t forgive it.

    You say, “The real point is that Islam clearly calls for a life committed to the rule of God’s law, not secular, Western law, which puts God above man.”

    If that’s the “real point,” then anybody who places even the secular varieties of morality “above the law” should be the target of your ire. But then, something tells me that’s not the real point…

    Posted July 12, 2010 at 11:03 am | Permalink
  26. Malcolm says

    I’m afraid you’ve lost me there, Bob. Can you clarify the question? (Do keep in mind that I have plenty of ire to go around, and that the topic here is a specific one.)

    At issue here is whether conformity to Western norms conflicts with core tenets of Islam; the makers of the video linked in this post seemed to think so, and I agree.

    And of course I forgive your tenacity, you argumentative cuss. I’m the same way.

    Posted July 12, 2010 at 11:21 am | Permalink
  27. bob koepp says

    Malcolm – Well, at least you’re a generous argumentative cuss.

    Any moralist who views morality as “objective” calls on us commit our lives to something “above man.” However, while I well know your antipathy to the notion of “objective morality,” I don’t think it’s the Muslim take on the source of morality, but rather the moral content which some Muslims claim to discern, that is contrary to the Western norms you cherish (I trust that includes freedom of conscience within the bounds of what is necessary for a well-ordered society).

    It’s true that prominent “spokesmen for Islam” seem to you (and me) to be dangerous hate mongers. But it’s as much a mistake to take their twisted views as definitive of Islam as it is to see Jerry Falwell as representative of Christianity, or Rush Limbaugh as a paragon of enlightened conservatism.

    Posted July 12, 2010 at 12:14 pm | Permalink
  28. Malcolm says

    No, Bob, you’re missing the point here. This isn’t about the source of morality, but the source of law.

    If God is the universal sovereign, then submission to man-made (i.e. Western, secular) law is a turning away from God, a submission to Man rather than God. As Ibn Tamiyya explains, it is blasphemy.

    One of Ibn Taymiyya’s most important contributions to Salafi thought is his elaboration of the concept of tawhid—the unity of God. He divided the unity of God into two categories: the unity of lordship and the unity of worship. The former refers to belief in God as the sole sovereign and creator of the universe. All Muslims readily accept this. The second is affirmation of God as the only object of worship and obedience. Ibn Taymiyya reasoned that this latter component of divine unity necessitates following God’s laws. The use of human-made laws is tantamount to obeying or worshipping other than God and thus apostasy. Mawdudi adopted this position and drew a sharp bifurcation between the “party of God” and the “party of Satan,” which included Muslims who adhered to human-made law.

    Why do you think there is anything “twisted” about any of this? It all flows very naturally and straightforwardly from the Koran and Sunnah. If anything, the twisting is being done by those in the West who must exercise excruciating contortions to insist that there is no incompatibility between Islam and modern Western traditions (in particular, the importance of secular government).

    And again I must remind you that what you or I think of all this isn’t what matters; what matters is that this interpretation of Islam is very common indeed in the Muslim world, and is nothing even remotely resembling a “radical” or “extremist” view.

    Posted July 12, 2010 at 12:29 pm | Permalink
  29. bob koepp says

    Malcolm – OK. It appears to me that the pivot on which this argument turns is:
    “The use of human-made laws is tantamount to obeying or worshipping other than God and thus apostasy.”

    Notice the weasel word ‘tantamount.’ Then consider that there are all sorts of man-made laws to which supposedly devout Muslims submit. For example, the Koran and Sunnah say nothing about who should be allowed to drive a motor vehicle, much less on which side of the road to drive. Neither, I think, do Muslims believe that Allah dictated the rules of chess.

    I think the Muslim world is going through some very bad times, but I am hopeful that these are growing pains associated with modernization. In fact, I think that hypothesis gives a better accounting of the evidence than does the notion that Islam is inherently opposed to values that were more or less embraced by European societies a couple hundred years ago.

    Posted July 12, 2010 at 2:05 pm | Permalink
  30. Malcolm says

    Right. This is the point. Every society, including Muslim theocracies, needs a government, and of course those governments will make some rules regarding topics about which Muslim tradition is silent.

    But submission to any government that is not itself explicitly subordinate to God, and to God’s will as expressed in the Koran, Sunnah, Hadith, etc., is apostasy. (“Tantamount” is Wictorowicz’s word here, not Ibn Tamiyya’s.)

    The Muslim world has been going through some very bad times since the ascent of the modern West. What to do about is has been, for centuries, the subject of rancorous conflict within the Ummah. Some have argued that in order to prevail against the infidels, Islam needs to adopt some of its principles and methods. But there has always been a stronger, retrogressive current of thought that argues that there is nothing to learn from heathens, that the problem is insufficient fidelity to God’s will and the Prophet’s teaching — and that what is needed is a purification of the faith, a stripping away of the corruption that has accrued since the Prophet’s day, and a rebuilding of the dar-al-Islam guided strictly by the Koran and the examples of the Prophet and His companions.

    It would be nice if this were just “growing pains”, and I understand that it is absolutely necessary in terms of the inclusivist, multiculturalist ideology ascendant in the West that it be seen as such. But I don’t see any reason to believe this. This doctrine of returning to tradition is nothing new; it appears to be entirely natural within Islam, and for many centuries it has arisen with renewed vigor every time the expansion of Islam into the dar-al-Harb faces a setback.

    Posted July 12, 2010 at 2:50 pm | Permalink
  31. bob koepp says

    No, the point is that the “argument” in question is crap unless the respective spheres of human and divine law are clearly defined. At most, it could plausibly be argued that when human laws contradict divine law, obeying/submitting to the former is apostasy. That’s directly analogous to a secular moralist claiming that it is immoral to willingly obey laws prescribing immoral behavior — to which the proper response is, “Of course!”

    And this business of government being explicitly subordinate to religion is also crap. That doesn’t even work in Iran, where knowledgeable citizens know full well that their “rulers” lack the mandate of heaven.

    Posted July 12, 2010 at 3:17 pm | Permalink
  32. Malcolm says

    Bob, you are approaching the whole thing from a Western, secular point of view, in which it is man‘s place to pick and choose what is subject to God, and what isn’t.

    You can, of course, say it’s “crap” till you’re blue in the face (as a Westerner, and an atheist, I think it’s crap too!), but your saying so is going to have exactly zero influence on the millions of devout Muslims who don’t think it’s “crap” at all. To them, submission to a government that isn’t explicitly based on God’s given law is a non-starter. The Western principle of explicit separation of church and state is in direct conflict with this fundamental requirement.

    We have already agreed that there is disagreement between traditionalist and “Westernized” Muslims. But the theocracy in Iran actually enjoys widespread popular support; which citizens are more “knowledgeable” is simply a matter of opinion. To the traditionalists, the others are just examples of why it is necessary to push back against the corruption of modernizing, Western influences.

    Posted July 12, 2010 at 3:24 pm | Permalink
  33. Malcolm says

    Really, it doesn’t matter who we think is right. What we ought to acknowledge, and what Western elites need to stop deluding themselves about, is that this traditionalist view is very much alive and well in the Muslim world, and is not “extreme” at all.

    Posted July 12, 2010 at 3:59 pm | Permalink
  34. bob koepp says

    Malcolm –
    I am not approaching this with the assumption that it’s man’s place to say what is subject to God. I assume, for the sake of argument, that the Koran expresses the will of Allah. I also assume, as one must for the sake of argument, that basic logic applies. And I assume that even a devout Muslim must recognize that there are things like automobiles and chess, where Allah has not thought it necessary to tell us what rules to follow. That should suffice to deflate the “argument” in question, even in the eyes of devout Muslims. Now there are, indeed, devout Muslims who will reject this simple logic. And they might even claim that they do so because of their devotion to Islam. But it is a mistake to accept that claim at face value so long as there are equally devout Muslims who recognize the force of logic — and such there certainly are. This, too, is a matter of simple logic.

    Posted July 12, 2010 at 4:11 pm | Permalink
  35. Malcolm says

    But Bob, you are focusing on this or that little rule – the speed limit, or whether you can castle if you’ve moved your king.

    The point here is the very structure of government and society. Does the government itself explicitly subordinate itself to Allah, as expressed in the Koran and the example of the Prophet? No? Then it commits the heresy of placing man before God, and the devout Muslim must struggle to replace it with God’s law.

    Posted July 12, 2010 at 4:37 pm | Permalink
  36. Malcolm says

    As Omar Ahmad, founder of CAIR, put it:

    “Islam isn’t in America to be equal to any other faith, but to become dominant. The Koran, the Muslim book of scripture, should be the highest authority in America, and Islam the only accepted religion on earth.”

    Posted July 12, 2010 at 5:19 pm | Permalink
  37. bob koepp says

    But Malcolm, I’m not focussing on specific rules, but using them to make a general point which could be made just as well using other examples.

    The fact that you can easily find people whose interpretation of Islam is at odds with values espoused in societies called “Western” doesn’t mean that Islam is inherently opposed to Western values. And the relations between temporal and religious authorities have never been clearcut in the Islamic world. Sure, you can point to ideologues who insist that there is no ambiguity — but why give them any more credence than you do the aforementioned Falwell?

    Posted July 12, 2010 at 5:46 pm | Permalink
  38. Malcolm says

    I give them credence, first and foremost, because I think their interpretation of Islam is logical, persuasive, and perfectly consistent with the Koran and core Islamic traditions, far more so than any modernizing reforms. This traditionalist view has risen to ascendancy in the Ummah again and again for centuries, whenever Westernizing influences have gained ground.

    But as I keep pointing out, it doesn’t matter whether I give them credence. What matters is that millions upon millions of Muslims around the world — including the founder of the most prominent Muslim organization in America — give them credence as well.

    Posted July 12, 2010 at 6:02 pm | Permalink
  39. bob koepp says

    Malcolm – I guess we read history very differently, with you attributing certain things to the influence of Islam that I think have other sources. I will go so far as to say that I think Islam is particularly prone to appropriation as a pretext for a variety of ruthless, lethal power games, but not so much as to change the logic of the game. And while I do recognize the threat to human liberty posed by modern Islamism (an oxymoron), taking the long view it seems a minor ripple in time. Of course, we who are among the ripples are buffeted by them, making it difficult to take that long view.

    Posted July 12, 2010 at 9:17 pm | Permalink
  40. Malcolm says

    Malcolm – I guess we read history very differently…

    I’d have to agree with you there, Bob, if you read history in such a way as to imagine that that Islam will suddenly, for the sake of fitting in better with the modern-day West, abandon its eternal and unwavering goal of bringing all of humanity under submission to Allah — a mission that is declared on page after page of the Koran, and which has been an engine of sanguinary conflict between East and West for 1,400 years.

    But we have probably reached the point of diminishing returns here. Last word to you, if you want it.

    Posted July 12, 2010 at 10:21 pm | Permalink
  41. uiop says

    Islam is no more a threat to Western secularism than is Christianity. In fact, given that so much of Christianity is in place in the West, especially the U.S., the potential to subvert those values is most to be found in Christian movements that not only claim that the United States ought to be a Christian nation, but that it was *meant* to be a Christian nation. Furthermore, many are convinced that secularism is the enemy. You know this of course.

    Posted August 11, 2011 at 11:43 pm | Permalink

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