Egypt

So – if you’ve been reading the news lately, then you know that Egypt is in the process of burning to the ground right now. Certain leftists on Live Journal would like for me to celebrate this “popular uprising” against Mubarak as an expression of the very “democracy” that we hawks champion, but I’m afraid I can’t do that without pointing out the ways this could go horribly, horribly wrong.

Consider what a recent Pew poll discovered about the Muslim majority in Egypt. While that majority favors “democratic government” (59%), they also support:

  • Gender segregation in the workplace (54%).
  • Stoning as a punishment for adultery (82%).
  • Whipping/cutting off hands for theft (77%).
  • The death penalty for leaving the Muslim religion (84%).

The ballot box does not a liberal democracy make. This is something that the international left repeatedly fails to grok. Over and over again, said leftists have claimed that duly elected socialists are “democratic” even when those socialists are guilty of numerous human rights abuses (see also: Hugo Chavez). But democracy is not established by the mere act of voting. Voting is just a surface feature of liberal democracy. Liberal democracy is a complex system comprised of the following obligatory elements:

  • The rule of law, not men.
  • The separation of powers (so that no one person or group has absolute control).
  • Checks and balances (so that, again, power is not concentrated in one person or group).
  • Respect for the rights of minority populations.

If a government fails to reflect these four key principles, it doesn’t matter whether it was “elected.” It’s still not a democracy.

I honestly want Egyptian small-l liberals to succeed in overthrowing Mubarak and installing a truly democratic goverment. The moralist in me believes we shouldn’t tolerate Mubarak’s thugocracy for another minute. But if, after ousting Mubarak from power, the Egyptian electorate then proceeds to vote for the full enforcement of sharia, that will not be a victory for democracy. If the Muslim Brotherhood is allowed to participate in a future election and wins, that will not be a victory for democracy. That will be the worst case scenario.

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Spot the Theme – The "Open-Minded" Edition

See if you can spy the common thread that runs through the following articles:

  • Educational programme brings foreigners to North Korea
    Matt Danzico @ BBC News

    The Pyongyang Project was the brainchild of Matthew Reichel and Nick Young, who were inspired to counteract what they describe as the “one-sided” coverage of North Korea in the international media.

    “The US and North Korea don’t have established relations, and talks are indirect at best. And what we believe is that there is a need for a grassroots level of engagement that we haven’t seen yet between citizens,” says Mr Reichel, a 23-year-old Brown University graduate. “We feel that education is the best ice-breaker.”

  • Philosopher Quarterback Emerges in the Desert
    The Associated Press

    Szakacsy is, as the title of his new CD suggests, someone who has spent his life chasing truth.”

    “I’m just really interested in everything,” he said. “You can find God in everything, truth in everything, so everything is cool at the end of the day. I try to just really see myself in everything. It’s all connected in some way.”

If you guessed “misguided idealism in our youth,” you are absolutely correct.

Regarding the first example: Our dispute with the DPRK is not – and never has been – based on a mistrust of the latter’s ordinary citizens. Indeed, the exact opposite is the case. Our relationship with the DPRK is hostile because, as Americans, we are universalists and therefore assume that the North Korean people also yearn to be free of the Kim family. Indeed, it doesn’t surprise us in the slightest that some North Koreans who’ve managed to escape what my (South Korean) boss calls “the worst country in the world” are currently clamoring to join the South Korean army. That’s exactly what we would do in their place, by God!

Abe Greenwald of Commentary put it well in a recent blog post:

To Mills, somehow pointing out government oppression is synonymous with assuming the existence of a zombie public. As inexplicable as this intellectual shell game is, it is not uncommon. This is exactly what we heard from Tehran apologists in 2009, during the run-up to the fraudulent June 12 presidential election and the deadly crackdown that followed it. “Iranians are property-buying, car-mad, entrepreneurial consumers with a taste for the latest brands,” wrote the New York Times’s Roger Cohen in February of that year. “Forget about nukes. Think Nikes,” he urged, before closing on this recommendation: “America, think again about Iran.” I hope the Iranians had their Nikes on four months later when they had to run from Revolutionary Guard clubs and bullets.

It is precisely because Americans do not assume the people in authoritarian countries to be thoughtless automatons that we recognize the tragedy of their lot. The fact of individualism and the recognition that people in other countries harbor the same hopes and dreams of all human beings are the most elemental aspects of support for political freedoms. A defense of a country’s population is not a defense of its authoritarian leaders; it is an indictment of them.

In sum, Reichel and Young and other folks of their ilk completely miss the point when they urge us to “get to know” the citizens of enemy nations. Chatting it up with the locals is not going to improve relations with North Korea, for instance, because it is not those locals who are causing the problem. The only thing that will improve relations with North Korea is, dare I say it, the reunification of the Korean peninsula under a democratic government — a regime change most North Koreans would welcome, I’m sure.

Regarding the second example: It is certainly not the case that all religions teach the same things; therefore, it is not the case that all religions are equally true. A demonstration: Buddhism calls for us to renounce the self entirely; in other words, it teaches the denial of personality. Christianity, on the other hand, calls for us to renounce our sinful selves so that we may put on our godly selves; it teaches that the personality is one of God’s great masterworks and encourages each of its followers to contribute to the Body of Christ according to his or her unique vocation. Are we obligated to respect the deep traditions of these two ancient faiths? Certainly. But they can’t both be right; their positions are contradictory.

It’s good to explore different faiths when you’re young. Eventually, however, you’re going to have to settle on something. It is not a sign of philosophical depth if you just accept everything as “cool at the end of the day.”

At this point, I think I shall conclude with another relevant quote:

“An open mind is really a mark of foolishness, like an open mouth. Mouths and minds were made to shut; they were made to open only in order to shut.” – G.K. Chesterton, 1908

Should We Emulate Europe?

I’m going to have to say no.

Euro-Freedom Watch
by J.E. Dyer @ Commentary

With little fanfare, the EU adopted new legislation this week that makes “certain forms and expressions of racism and xenophobia” criminal offenses — and allows individual EU nations to prosecute the citizens of other nations for those offenses. And no, it’s not European anti-Americanism that’s being targeted by the xenophobia provisions. Advocates of free speech in Europe are quite clear that what the new law will criminalize is analytical, factual, or hortatory discussion of Islam and Sharia by non-Muslims.

It’s sad to see that Europe’s march toward dhimmitude is still proceeding apace.

On the News and Around the Web

First, have some more Chris Christie porn:

If this guy ran for president, I’d be outright excited to cast my vote for him.

*****

In other news, who else is deeply concerned about the developing conflict between North and South Korea? My boss and several of my students have family over there, so I will certainly be monitoring that situation closely. I just wish we didn’t have this team advising Obama. Meep!

Book Rec: The Closing of the Muslim Mind

The Closing of the Muslim Mind:
How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamist Crisis

by Robert R. Reilly
Intercollegiate Studies Institute

When the topic of Islam is broached on, say, Live Journal, the following sequence of events usually takes place:

  • Someone declares that Islam is a religion of peace, citing the Five Pillars and their emphasis on charity, prayer, fasting, etc.
  • Someone else counters this argument by citing verses in the Quran that advocate killing infidels and noting that Islamist terrorists justify their actions with these same verses.
  • The first individual points to violent verses in the Bible and concludes that Christianity has the same potential for violence.
  • The second individual insists that Christianity does not officially advocate violence, but can’t effectively explain why not.
  • DISTINCT LACK OF PROFIT.
  • In The Closing of the Muslim Mind, Robert R. Reilly, I believe, has found a way out of this logjam. Islam need not be violent and backward, Reilly argues; it has turned out that way in much of the Muslim world in part because of the result of a Medieval dispute about the nature of Allah and in part because of the intrusion of Western Marxism and Fascism.

    Here, Reilly has incidentally provided the means to refute the claim that the Bible indicates the violent potential of Christendom. It is true that there is violence – even genocide – in the Bible, particularly in the historical books of the Old Testament. But the dominant interpretative tradition of Christianity does not consider these passages prescriptive. Centuries ago, Christianity incorporated the Greeks’ respect for human reason and consequently enabled the growth within Christendom of both science and philosophy as fields of study that are wholly independent of theology. Though there are Christians today who are Biblical literalists, most mainline Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox Christians have concluded that the Bible is both a divine and a human creation. Most Christians believe that the Bible was created in time for an ancient audience and that one should always keep this in mind when engaging in scriptural exegesis.

    Sunni Islam, Reilly states, went in an entirely different direction – and the point of divergence can be found in the outcome of a doctrinal debate that arose in the Muslim world in the Middle Ages. On one side were thinkers such as Averroes and Avicenna, Muslim equivalents of Thomas Aquinas who worked to incorporate classical philosophy into the practice of Islam. (Incidentally, these writers would also play an instrumental role in reintroducing Medieval Europe to Aristotle.) These men believed that the universe was created through God’s Logos (reason) and thus can be penetrated at least in part through rational inquiry. They argued that men have free will. They believed that the Quran was created in time and thus has to be interpreted according to the literary traditions of the time in which it was revealed. And they stated that any statement in the Quran that seems to contradict reason is a statement that is insufficiently understood.

    On the other side of the dispute, meanwhile, were thinkers such as Al’Ghazali. According to Reilly, Al’Ghazali argued that concepts such as free will, natural theology, and the like have the effect of limiting the omnipotence of Allah. To counter the Muslim rationalists, he stated that God is not Logos but Will and that the changes and movements we observe in the universe are driven by Allah, not by natural law. If you fire an arrow and it hits its target, this does not happen because of natural physics, but because Allah moves the atoms of the arrow and target in such a way that they eventually meet. If you lift your arm, it is not because of nerve impulses originating in your motor cortex, but because Allah moves the atoms of your body so your arm will rise from its position at rest.

    In this cosmology, there’s no such thing as causality. You cannot say that putting a lit match to paper will definitely start a fire. In your ordinary life, you may have observed that this happens, but this is only because Allah habitually moves the atoms of the universe in such a way that fire results. Allah could very well change His Almighty Mind one day and decide that matches will not cause fire. That is His province. He is Allah.

    And Allah’s absolute power extends to the Moral Law as well. Al’Ghazali also argued that good is good and bad is bad because Allah has decided what is good and bad, not because good and bad are intrinsic to particular actions. If Allah commanded you to murder newborn babies, you would have to obey. To put it in very basic terms, Joss Whedon’s notion that the Christian God is a “Sky Bully” is actually far more applicable to Al’Ghazali’s vision of Allah’s Divine Nature. In a way, Al’Ghazali anticipated Nietzsche by several centuries; in his view, we are all subject to Allah’s Will to Power.

    Unfortunately for the Muslim world, Reilly continues, by the time the smoke from the above-described dispute cleared, Al’Ghazali had won – and the spirit of rational inquiry that drove the Islamic civilization at its height began to disappear. That is why – SABR Matt, take note – between 1983 and 1984, the Pakistani media suspended their weather forecasts. Attempting to predict phenomena that are wholly subject to the Will of Allah was considered to be theologically suspect.

    The consequences of this fundamentally irrational worldview are incalculable. Reilly states that in a world in which God is pure Will, people – leaders especially – behave as if might makes right, science is quashed, and superstition reigns supreme. It is because of Al’Ghazali’s influence that Muslim soldiers sometimes display a curious indifference when it comes maintaining their firearms; they believe that they will hit their target if Allah wills it. It is because of Al’Ghazali’s influence that the number of patents issued in Europe dwarfs the number issued in the Middle East. And it is because of Al’Ghazali’s influence that today’s radical Islamists have eagerly incorporated both Marxist and Fascist political thought into their millenarian ideology; totalitarianism is well supported by Al’Ghazali’s cosmology (though, to be fair, Reilly takes pains to stress that Al’Ghazali would be shocked by the actions of today’s Muslim terrorists).

    Reilly points out that there are neo-Mu’tazilites – Muslim rationalists – who wish to reverse the damage Al’Ghazali and his school of thought have wrought, but they have found it extremely difficult – even perilous – to air their views in public. Indeed, many of the neo-Mu’tazilites Reilly quotes are currently living in exile in Europe. If we wish to combat Islamist terrorism, Reilly concludes, we will have to throw our support behind these beleaguered reformers and actively encourage a Muslim Enlightenment that stresses the interdependence of faith and reason.

    I found this book quite illuminating and constructive. Unlike other critiques of Islam I have seen, it digs deep into Muslim intellectual history and discovers a long lost tradition that has the potential to save the Muslim world from its dysfunctions.

    The Truth

    My view on news about the difference between Western ideals, based on Christian thought, and the ideals driving the hard- nosed sub-sect called Wahhabism:

    The principals of western philosophy for me are based on the 2 commandments of Jesus Christ and the lucky chance that the Lord is understanding:

    Love God with your while heart, mind and strength.
    Love your neighbor as yourself.
    I am not perfect, but if I make a mistake God will forgive me when I realize I am wrong.

    Most Muslims are devout believers in one God and have some additional rules they obey, but they can live with me following my rules. Wahhabism isn’t that way. They have perverted selected parts of the Koran to say the rules are:

    Everyone who isn’t Muslim must be destroyed.
    Half the human race has the status of chattel slaves with no rights (women).
    It is OK to wage war against non-Muslims, especially those who try to pervert these teachings.

    Why they hate the US:

    We show we care about them and are OK with most Muslims
    We spent American lives protecting Bosnian Muslims in Croatia.
    We spent American lives feeding and protecting Muslims in Somalia.
    We helped Muslims after the Indonesian tsunami.
    An American citizen, to thank the Afghans who saved him when he was lost in the mountains and at the request of moderate Tribal leaders, raised money and built a school for the village children, including the girls. (Thanks to my cousin Bill for pointing the book Three Cups of Tea out.)

    No wonder they hate us. We help them; they are required to destroy us to maintain their sense of moral superiority.

    Our laws and philosophy encourage and allow building places of worship, including mosques. There are over 200 mosques already in NYC. Our laws allow a fringe to complain about this, but most of us ignore them, except the media who try to make it a “right wing nut case issue”.

    The World Trade Center had about 50,000 working in it that day, and most of them made it out safe. I also had a friend working in the Navy Command Center at the Pentagon that morning, and he survived. In less than a year that section of the Pentagon was rebuilt and back in action. The terrorist attack on the U.S. on 9/11 shocked Americans out of their sense of safety and complacency, but the results of that attack show both that God is on our side and that American optimism and industry can get us through any tragedy.

    Wahhabi terrorists tried to disrupt our economy and our way of life on 9/11, but they failed because America is robust. Our country has survived on the strength of our institutions and on the goodness of the American people. The world needs to know this. Extremist Wahhabis have manufactured false reasons to drive hatred against the USA. We need to do a better job of explaining what we are really about.