A Philosopher's Blog

The West vs. Islam?

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on November 27, 2015

Crusader 2015One popular narrative on the American right is that the West is engaged in a “clash of civilizations” with Islam. Some phrase it in terms of Islam being at war with the West, while some are willing to cast the war as being between the West and radical Islam (rather than all of Islam). Not surprisingly, the various terrorist groups that self-identify as Muslim would probably be quite pleased with this narrative: they also would like it to be a war between all of Islam and the West.

There are various psychological reasons to embrace this narrative. Seeing oneself on the side of good in an epic struggle with evil is certainly very appealing. This provides a person with meaning and a sense of significance that is so often lacking in modern life. There is also the lure of racism, bigotry and religious intolerance. These are strong motivating factors to regard those who are different as an implacable enemy—inferior in all ways, yet somehow demonically dangerous and devilishly clever.

There are also powerful motivations to get others to accept this narrative. Leaders can use it as political fuel to gain power and to justify internal oppression and external violence. It also makes an excellent distractor from other problems. As such, it is no surprise that both American politicians and terrorist leaders are happy to push the West vs. Islam narrative. Doing so serves both their agendas.

While the psychology and politics of the narrative are both very important, I will focus on discussing the idea of the West being at war with Islam. One obvious starting point is to try to sort out what this might mean.

It might seem easy to define the West—this could be done by listing the usual Western nations, such as the United States, France, Germany, Canada and so on. However, it can get a bit fuzzy in areas. For example, Turkey is predominantly Muslim, but is part of NATO and considered by some to be part of the Western bloc. Russia is certainly not part of the classic West, but is the target of terrorist groups. But, perhaps it is possible to just go with the classic West and ignore the finer points of this war.

Establishing the war is fairly easy. While many terrorist groups that claim to be fighting for Islam have declared open war on the West, the overwhelming majority of Muslims have not done so. As such, the West is only at war with some Muslims and not with Islam. Likewise, Islam is not at war with the West, but some Muslims are. Muslims are also at war with other Muslims—after all, Daesh (which likes to call itself “ISIS”) has killed far more Muslims than it has killed Westerners. The West could, of course, establish a full war on Islam on its own. For example, President Trump could get Congress to declare war on Islam.

There are, however, some obvious practical concerns about taking the notion of a war on Islam seriously. One concern is the fact that while the are some predominantly Muslim nations that are hostile to the United States (such as Iran and Syria), there are others that are nominal allies (such as Jordan, Pakistan, Iraq, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia) and even one that is part of NATO (Turkey). As such, a war against Islam would entail a war against these allies. That seems both morally and practically problematic.

A second concern is that many friendly and neutral countries have Muslim populations. These countries would probably take issue with a war against their citizens. There is also the fact that the United States has Muslim citizens and waging a war on United States citizens could also prove somewhat problematic both legally and practically. But perhaps Muslim Americans could be treated the way Japanese Americans were treated during WWII. That worked out great, so why not just repeat history? Donald Trump has laid out some of his thoughts on this matter, at least in regards to handling the war with Muslims in America. He has considered requiring Muslims to be registered in a special database and to identify their faith. As those who are familiar with history will remember, this sort of thing has been done before. While I am no constitutional scholar, this sort of thing would seem to be a clear violation of basic civil rights and is clearly immoral.

A third practical concern is determining the victory conditions for such a war. “Classic” war typically involves trying to get the opposing country to surrender or to at least agree to conditions that end the war. However, a war against a religion would seem to be inherently different. One rather awful victory condition might be the elimination of Islam, either through extermination or conversion. This sort of thing has been attempted against faiths and peoples in the past with varying degrees of “success.” However, such exterminations seem to be rather morally problematic—to say the least. Alternatively, Muslims might be rounded up and kept in concentrated areas where the West could observe them and ensure they did not engage in any hostilities against the West. This also seems rather impractical and morally horrifying.

Victory might be defined in less extreme ways, such as getting Islam to surrender and creating agreements to behave in ways that the West approves. This is, after all, how traditional wars end. There are, of course, many practical problems here. These would include the logistics of Islam’s surrender (since there is no unified leadership of Islam) and working out the agreements all across the world.

Or perhaps there is no actual intention to achieve victory: the war on Islam is simply used to justify internal suppression of rights and liberties, to manipulate voters, to ensure that money keeps flowing into the military-security complex, and to provide pretexts for military operations. As such, the war will continue until a more traditional opponent can be found to fill the role of adversary.  Russia seemed eager to get back into this role, but they now seem willing to take part in the war on terror.

One reasonable counter to the above is to insist that although the ideas of a war with Islam and a clash of civilizations are quite real, a more serious approach is a war with radical Islam rather than all of Islam. This narrower approach could avoid many of the above practical problems, assuming that our Muslim allies are not radicals and that our and allied Muslim citizens are (mostly) not radicals. This would enable the West to avoid having to wage war on allies and its own citizens, which would be rather awkward.

While this narrowed scope is an improvement, there are still some obvious concerns. One is working out who counts as the right sort of radical. After all, a person can hold to a very radical theology, yet have no interest in harming anyone else. But perhaps “radical Islam” could be defined in terms of groups that engage in terrorist and criminal acts that also self-identity as Muslims. If this approach is taken, then there would seem to be no legitimate justification for labeling this a war on Islam or even radical Islam. It would, rather, be a conflict with terrorists and criminals—which is as it should be.

There are some very practical reasons for avoiding even the “war on radical Islam” phrasing. One is that using the phrase provides terrorist groups with a nice piece of propaganda: they can claim that the West is at war with Islam, rather than being engaged in conflict with terrorists and criminals who operate under the banner of Islam. The second is that the use of the phrase alienates and antagonizes Muslims who are not terrorists, thus doing harm in the efforts to win allies (or at least to keep people neutral).

It might be objected that refusing to use “radical Islam” is a sign of political correctness or cowardice. While this is a beloved talking point for some, it has no merit as a serious criticism. As noted above, using the term merely serves to benefit the terrorists and antagonize potential allies. Insisting on using the term is a strategic error that is often driven by bravado, ignorance and intolerance. As such, the West should not engage in a war on Islam or even radical Islam. Fighting terrorists is, of course, another matter entirely. We should certainly put an end to Daesh and other such groups to protect the West and Muslims. And Western Muslims.

 

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  1. ajmacdonaldjr said, on November 27, 2015 at 10:23 am

    • ronster12012 said, on November 29, 2015 at 9:36 am

      AJ

      Thanks for that vid, as stated there are many agendas in play.

      One point in the vid was that Turkey was establishing mosques throughout Europe, not as temporary places of worship but as permanent beachheads for a sort of Islamic colonialism.

      One moral question that Michael may comment on is whether it is more moral to firebomb these mosques or use explosives.

      A related question is about the morality of race/religious wars of liberation by colonized people. Up till now, the left is always on the side of the colonized but now we(as in white Europeans, whether in Europe or the US or Australia etc) are being colonized will the left support us in our struggle? No prizes for guessing….

  2. TJB said, on November 27, 2015 at 10:46 am

    Very interesting, Mike. You are a philosophy professor who has devoted his life to the importance of ideas. Yet, when it comes to Islam, you claim that ideas don’t matter.

    How, for example, do you propose to vet potential refugees?

    • WTP said, on November 27, 2015 at 12:28 pm

      You are a philosophy professor who has devoted his life to the importance of ideas

      Come on TJ….I’m not looking to pick a fight but surely you know this isn’t true. I call him a sophist, you’ve said he’s more of a polemicist. It’s surely open for debate, but certainly in this context I’d say polemicist is worse. Why do you continue to take Mike at his word and cede him so much argumentative ground? If Mike was truly interested in ideas he would follow through on his various arguments. Lately, perhaps since I called him out on repeating lies about Ben Carson, buy perhaps that’s something to feed my ego, he’s gone rather dark on replying to comments. It can’t be a time factor because he’s thrown up plenty of posts on other topics. If he was truly interested in ideas he’d be willing to back up his points and cede ground when he was wrong. When his ideas are cornered he either puts on his clown nose, abandons the argument, or goes Special Snowflake and claims hurt feelings.

      Of course none of this would matter either way to me except he does his polemicizing (spell check says no, so maybe I made that word up) on our tax dollars…Well maybe not yours, but mine down here in FL. And yours if you ever come down and spend a buck. Actually, the federal student loans and grants that go to pay for his classes do come out of your pocket. Do you think such a thing is sustainable?

      • TJB said, on November 27, 2015 at 1:23 pm

        Mike is an interesting case because he isn’t filled with hate like most lefties.

        He does make arguments, but when people raise objections he rarely confronts them and almost never modifies his views in response.

        For example, we always hear that only a “tiny minority” of Muslims are terrorists. This is true, but the elephant in the room is that huge numbers (something like 20-30%) are sympathetic to the goals (and even the means) of the terrorists.

        • WTP said, on November 27, 2015 at 7:09 pm

          Filled with hate? I suppose not. Derision, contempt, and a false sense of moral and intellectual superiority perhaps. A few others I could mention. But hate, I’ll give you that.

          But back to my original point, not devoted to the importance of ideas. One cannot be devoted to ideas without being interested in refining them through Socratic means. Well, not without being evil I suppose. I wouldn’t say he’s evil, but certainly not someone who considers ideas important. He can claim otherwise but his actions, well other words really, indicate a lack of such an interest.

          • ronster12012 said, on November 29, 2015 at 11:18 am

            WTP

            Talking about ideas, we seem to be on the cusp of a new cultural paradigm. The left is dying or dead( they just haven’t realised it yet).

            I came across this the other day https://nationalactionlondon.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/zeiger-hammer-of-the-patriot.pdf. The author has collected 250 common leftist ideas and has provided rebuttals to all of them. They may not all be ‘philosophically sound’ but are designed to persuade any onlookers, if not the leftist opponent concerned.

            I bring this up not because I actually agree with all the contents of above book, but find it interesting that someone is taking aim at leftist assumptions themselves. I hadn’t noticed that before.

  3. TJB said, on November 27, 2015 at 1:09 pm

    Hillary Clinton:

    FMR. SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON: The bottom line is that we are in a contest of ideas against an ideology of hate, and we have to win. Let’s be clear, though, Islam is not our adversary. Muslims are peaceful and tolerant people, and have nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism. The obsession in some quarters with a clash of civilization, or repeating the specific words radical Islamic terrorism isn’t just a distraction, it gives these criminals, these murderers more standing than they deserve. It actually plays into their hands by alienating partners we need by our side.

    Mike, do you agree that “Muslims are peaceful and tolerant people, and have nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism?”

    • WTP said, on November 27, 2015 at 7:13 pm

      D’s can throw out any number of thoughts. There is little to zero pushback from the MSM or academia as to their coherence, viability, practicality, or basis in reality. Because of course they, the MSM, and the academics (who incidentally are wilting in the face of angry snowflakes) are by their own declaration, the reality-based community.

    • WTP said, on November 27, 2015 at 8:33 pm

      Let’s be clear, though, white conservative men are not our adversary. They are peaceful and tolerant people, and have nothing whatsoever to do with racism, sexism, or rape. The obsession in some quarters with a War on Women, or repeating the specific words “rapist” “racists” “haters” isn’t just a distraction, it gives the real criminals, the real rapists and racists more standing than they deserve. It actually plays into their hands

      There. FIFH.

  4. ronster12012 said, on November 29, 2015 at 10:39 am

    Michael

    ………………………………………………………..
    “It might seem easy to define the West—this could be done by listing the usual Western nations, such as the United States, France, Germany, Canada and so on. However, it can get a bit fuzzy in areas. For example, Turkey is predominantly Muslim, but is part of NATO and considered by some to be part of the Western bloc. Russia is certainly not part of the classic West, but is the target of terrorist groups. But, perhaps it is possible to just go with the classic West and ignore the finer points of this war.”
    …………………………………………………………

    Why not use race and culture based criteria? Makes it easier…..Russia in, Turkey out. Turkey was only ever in NATO because of their geography during Cold War V 1.0…..better for missiles. So, all white christian based countries are the west….the rest = non west. Simple…

    ………………………………………………………….
    “Establishing the war is fairly easy. While many terrorist groups that claim to be fighting for Islam have declared open war on the West, the overwhelming majority of Muslims have not done so. As such, the West is only at war with some Muslims and not with Islam. Likewise, Islam is not at war with the West, but some Muslims are. ”
    …………………………………………………………..

    Aren’t moslems supposedly obligated to spread Islam? And if Islam is fundamentally incompatible with western values then *all* moslems are at war with us in the same way that all communists local or foreign were at war with us. If they are not at war with us then they are not true moslems…

    …………………………………………………………….
    “Muslims are also at war with other Muslims—after all, Daesh (which likes to call itself “ISIS”) has killed far more Muslims than it has killed Westerners. ”
    ……………………………………………………………..

    Which is why it is obvious that ISIS is simply a western+saudi+israel+turkey backed destabilization group tasked with getting rid of Assad for various reasons,both geopolitical and energy related. They would be snuffed out when their job was done but Russia’s entry into the game has complicated matters.
    As you point out, ISIS has killed far more moslems than non moslems.

    All one has to ask is why haven’t they attacked Israel to know who is sponsoring them.

    ………………………………………………………………..
    “There are, however, some obvious practical concerns about taking the notion of a war on Islam seriously. One concern is the fact that while the are some predominantly Muslim nations that are hostile to the United States (such as Iran and Syria), there are others that are nominal allies (such as Jordan, Pakistan, Iraq, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia) and even one that is part of NATO (Turkey). As such, a war against Islam would entail a war against these allies. That seems both morally and practically problematic.”
    …………………………………………………………………

    No need for an actual war on Islam as an ideology(futile and unwinnable), rather ring fence our countries, expel any moslems within(multiculturalism is now a dead idea anyhow), maintain military superiority over moslems(not that difficult) and not allow ourselves to get sucked into shooting wars in the ME by the jews.

    Neocons=jews who want the west to fight and die for Israel.

    …………………………………………………………………………….
    “Alternatively, Muslims might be rounded up and kept in concentrated areas where the West could observe them and ensure they did not engage in any hostilities against the West. This also seems rather impractical and morally horrifying.”
    ……………………………………………………………………………..

    Morally horrifying? Losing is morally horrifying….and might makes right when all is said and done. If Islam wins they will immediately impose their idea of right on us and if losers are in no position to challenge it then that becomes the new ‘right’. We can scream about ‘human rights’ all we can, but if we are not in the position to enforce them then they no longer exist in the form defined by us.

    ……………………………………………………………………………………

    “Or perhaps there is no actual intention to achieve victory: the war on Islam is simply used to justify internal suppression of rights and liberties, to manipulate voters, to ensure that money keeps flowing into the military-security complex, and to provide pretexts for military operations. As such, the war will continue until a more traditional opponent can be found to fill the role of adversary. Russia seemed eager to get back into this role, but they now seem willing to take part in the war on terror.”
    ………………………………………………………………………………………

    Probably correct in that there is no intention of winning, it is all smoke and mirrors to achieve other aims.

    ………………………………………………………………………………………
    “There are some very practical reasons for avoiding even the “war on radical Islam” phrasing. One is that using the phrase provides terrorist groups with a nice piece of propaganda: they can claim that the West is at war with Islam, rather than being engaged in conflict with terrorists and criminals who operate under the banner of Islam. The second is that the use of the phrase alienates and antagonizes Muslims who are not terrorists, thus doing harm in the efforts to win allies (or at least to keep people neutral).”
    ………………………………………………………………………………………..

    Why not be clear about things and if you are at war with ‘radical islam’ then just say so.

    There is an real question as to whether ‘radical islam’ is in fact true islam. We are told that islam is religion of peace, but that is plainly a lie. Perhaps radical islam is true islam and all non radical moslems are simply lukewarm or lazy moslems.

    ……………………………………………………………………………………….
    “It might be objected that refusing to use “radical Islam” is a sign of political correctness or cowardice. While this is a beloved talking point for some, it has no merit as a serious criticism. As noted above, using the term merely serves to benefit the terrorists and antagonize potential allies. ”
    ………………………………………………………………………………………..

    Cowardice IMO.

  5. TJB said, on November 29, 2015 at 12:26 pm

    Mike, in Harry Potter, what did it mean when Harry would say “Voldemort” and all of the others would say “He whom must not be named”? See any parallels?

  6. WTP said, on December 14, 2015 at 9:08 am

    via Ace of Spades. Magus would likely have some perspective on this. Anyone remember Magus?

    There will be no doubt some hand-wringing about “Islamophobia” and further calls to continue the American elite’s fourteen-year track record of whitewashing Islamic beliefs and culture, but I wonder if the media is missing a powerful, largely-uncovered influence on America’s hearts and minds – the experience and testimony of the more than two million Americans who’ve served overseas since 9/11 and have experienced Islamic cultures up-close.
    Yes, they were in the middle of a war – but speaking from my own experience – the war was conducted from within a culture that was shockingly broken. I expected the jihadists to be evil, but even I couldn’t fathom the depths of their depravity. And it was all occurring against the backdrop of a brutally violent and intolerant culture. Women were beaten almost as an afterthought, there was a near-total lack of empathy for even friends and neighbors, lying was endemic, and sexual abuse was rampant. Even more disturbingly, it seemed that every problem was exacerbated the more religious and pious a person (or village) became.

    I spent enough time outside the wire and interacting with tribal leaders to get a sense of the reality around me, but the younger guys on the line spent weeks at a time living in the heart of the local community. I remember one young soldier, after describing the things he’d seen since the start of the deployment, gestured towards the village around us and said – in perfect Army English – “Sir, this s**t is f**ked up.”

    It is indeed. While it’s certainly unfair to judge Indonesia or Malaysia by the standards of Iraq or Afghanistan, it’s very hard to shake the power of lived experience, nor should we necessarily try. After all, when we hear stories from Syria, Yemen, Gaza, the Sinai, Libya, Nigeria, Somalia, Mali, Pakistan, and elsewhere they all fit the same depressing template of the American conflict zones. Nor is the dazzlingly wealthy veneer of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, or the other Gulf States all that impressive. Tens of thousands of soldiers have seen the veritable slave labor that toils within the oil empires and have witnessed first-hand their casual disregard for “lesser” life.

    But this same experience has caused us to treasure the Muslim friends we do have – in part because we recognize the extreme risks of their loyalty and defiance of jihad. That’s why American officers fiercely champion the immigration of local interpreters, even to the point of welcoming them into their own home. That’s why there’s often an intense connection with our Kurdish allies, the single-most effective ground fighting force against ISIS.

    Two million Americans have been downrange, and they’ve come home and told families and friends stories the media rarely tells. Those stories have an impact, but because of the cultural distance between America’s warriors and its media, academic, and political aristocracy, it’s an impact the aristocracy hasn’t been tracking. Experience trumps idealistic rhetoric, and I can’t help but think that polls like YouGov’s are at least partly registering the results of a uniquely grim American experience.

    http://www.nationalreview.com/article/428146/more-than-few-islamic-extremists?target=author&tid=1048


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