Book Rec: "No Matter What…They’ll Call this Book Racist"

Harry Stein’s latest social commentary is a hard-hitting look at race relations in the US from the end of the Civil War to the current sad state of affairs among urban blacks.  He takes common refrains for the left that have shaped policy on the issue since the Civil Rights Movement and dismantles them one by one, leaving the reader with the virtually inescapable conclusion that the Republicans, not the Democrats, have the better plan going forward for dealing with the large gap in happiness, prosperity and criminality of the races.

Sprinkled throughout the book were anecdotes about forgotten players in the fight for racial equality and sad stories about today’s leftists’ cultural blind spots.

But don’t take my word for it.  Go to amazon.com and look up this book title.  You will see that about 40 reviews have come in so far for the book and the only negative ones are inaccurate screeds posted by the very leftists Stein is taking to task in the book.  My favorite was the “reviewer” who claimed Stein simply overlooked the 100 years of Jim Crow, the 300 years of brutality of slave ownership, and the meager gains of the Civil Rights Movement.  Of course, I checked after I read the book and members of the black community from the Jim Crow era and members of their opposition (or governmental entities involved in the conflict) are mentioned on about 60% of the pages of the book…so…I would hazard a guess that knee-jerk-reacting leftists largely aren’t even reading the book before “reviewing” it.  Which is all the info I need to know in order to heartily recommend it to the rest of the thinkers out there who have an open mind.  Of course…I *did* read it…so I have much more to go on, but if you’re anything like me and love poking hard leftists in the eye…this book is for you.

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Novel Idea: Measuring Media Bias

I happened to catch an interview on PJTV.com (a noted conservative think tank and web media outlet, it should be fairly reported) with a UCLA sociology professor named Tim Groseclose. Now he was shilling his new book, so there was some mutual ego stroking during the interview (as his message appeals to conservatives)…but what it all boils down to is worth a read in my opinion.

Dr. Groseclose decided that the way to understand media bias was to use powerful text and voice search engines to make an accounting of how frequently the various media outlets cited various think tanks and political scientists (of known political bent), how often their reporting included loaded phrases with a known political slant in popular usage, and how many times certain loaded political facts were reported. The underlying assumption in this research is that bias in the media is largely governed not by an absence of reporting on specific events (since it behooves news agencies to cover things that are attention-getting news stories), but in the choices each outlet makes with regard to which specific facts will be reported and which buzzwords will be given greater weight.

He uses a massive amount of this search-based data to calculate a “slant quotient” for the agencies and that quotient tells you something about how bad the bias is, and in which direction. The best thing about this tool is that it’s not a relative metric. It doesn’t pit Fox News against everyone else in a relative contest. It pits each news agency against popular vernacular – a better standard of neutrality.

I have already purchased the book…I’m looking forward to his defense of the system. The SQs on his website seem about right to me (he can rate politicians as well as media corporations so you get some points of comparison)…and you can calculate your own political quotient there as well. For the record, I scored a 25.7 (50 would be neutral) – which is actually moderately conservative in an absolute framework…less conservative than John McCain and definitely not on the same planet as Michelle Bachmann. But ironically enough…MORE CONSERVATIVE than Fox News.

Food for thought.

Book Rec: Primetime Propaganda

And now it’s time to talk about something truly important: teevee.

Primetime Propaganda:
The True Hollywood Story of How the Left Took Over Your TV

by Ben Shapiro

This is a book about revealing the obvious: Hollywood is liberal. But this book stands out from the rest because it actually documents its claims with direct quotes from the people involved. Shapiro took advantage of his Harvard ball-cap and his fresh-faced youth to get interviews with some of television’s biggest names, and the candid opinions he managed to gather are at times very shocking. For example, in her interview with Shapiro, Susan Harris (creator of Soap and The Golden Girls) openly declares that conservatives are “idiots” who have “medieval minds” and are therefore “not open to anything reasonable.” Ouch.

Shapiro also spends a great deal of time describing how the television industry actually functions, and these sections of the book are also quite valuable. “Changing the channel is like voting in Cuba,” Shapiro snarks. “Your preference is not going to make much of a difference.” As he explains, this is because a huge number of our cable channels are owned by six – only six – mega-corporations — and these corporations collude with each other to make sure nobody really intrudes on their designated market shares. It’s like two street-side fruit sellers who make an agreement in which one sells only oranges and the other sells only apples. It’s not a “free market” by any stretch of the imagination.

And have you ever wondered why the television industry is so excited to grab that 18-to-49 market? Well, Shapiro tackles that too. He argues that the social science behind this focus on the young is debatable at best. It is not in fact a given that those in the 18-to-49 bracket are more likely to respond favorably to advertising or that this bracket has more buying power. It is true, however, that this bracket is more liberal — and that is quite convenient for television’s liberal creators.

Will conservative readers find this book illuminating? Yes — but if they’re anything like me, they will argue with Shapiro over his discussion of individual television programs. In my view, I think Shapiro often puts too much stock in authorial intent. Let me explain using a canon featured on our sci-fi blog: J. Michael Straczynski is a flaming liberal. Leftwing fans of his opus, Babylon 5, have drawn parallels between Clark, the fascistic president of the Earth Alliance, and George W. Bush, and JMS certainly hasn’t discouraged them. If I were using Shapiro’s method of analysis, I would thus have to conclude that because JMS is liberal, Babylon 5 must be liberal. But when I ignore JMS and look at the show itself, I see a text that is comparatively conservative in character. Babylon 5 is often (legitimately) praised for its treatment of religion and spirituality. It is also a show that skewers the press, endorses the use of military force to fight evil, and repeatedly steals material from Sacred Scripture. JMS’s treatment of sin and redemption in particular is absolutely outstanding — and his central romance is about as chaste as it can possibly be without it morphing into a simple friendship.

Funny things happen when a creator’s vision is translated to the boob tube and consumed by the audience. That vision becomes part of a larger context — and it gets reinterpreted according to each audience member’s worldview. One viewer may look at Dr. Gregory House and conclude that David Shore is stumping for atheism because House rarely loses in religious arguments. Another viewer may look at the same character and conclude that, given House’s manifest unhappiness, Shore’s show is anything but a celebration of atheism. (The second is the interpretation SABR Matt and I favor.) Regardless of what Shore himself might think, I believe you can use the text to support both readings. Yes — I admit that this approach is suspiciously post-modern, but it has certainly served me well. When you’re a conservative who loves TV, you’re almost required to become a King Rationalizer. I mean, you basically have a choice between that or living with persistent annoyance.

Of course, all of this is not to say that television isn’t predominantly liberal. It is. But I think we need to be more discerning than Shapiro is here when it comes to identifying which canons are definitely liberal and which canons are open to alternative interpretations. The Cosby Show and The Waltons? Those shows are conservative no matter what their creators intended. M*A*S*H? Yes, that one’s liberal, especially in the later seasons. (But, so help me, I adore M*A*S*H for things that are entirely unrelated to the show’s pacifism. RADAR, I LOVE YOU! I WANT STUFF YOU IN MY BACKPACK AND MAKE YOU MY TEDDY BEAR! Ahem. Sorry about that. My inner fangirl went nuts for a second there.) Star Trek? Mostly liberal, though I think the team behind Deep Space Nine in particular deserves to be recognized for bringing, at the very least, some balance to the franchise.

When all is said and done, though, I think Shapiro and I agree on what television needs to do to make up for its failures. Neither one of us is really looking for shows which align with each and every one of our values. We simply want TV writers to acknowledge the possibility that not all Republicans are ignorant rubes. We want TV writers to acknowledge the possibility that not all people of faith are judgmental hypocrites. And for goodness sake, we want TV writers to be honest and acknowledge the very real foibles of the left. In short, what we want is a modicum of fairness.

Book Rec: The Conservative Foundations of the Liberal Order

The Conservative Foundations of the Liberal Order
by Daniel J. Mahoney
Intercollegiate Studies Institute

I supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq for several reasons. First of all, I – like everyone else – believed that Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. I also took into account Iraq’s history as an aggressor nation. When we entered the first Iraq War, we did so to stop Hussein from conquering neighboring Kuwait — and the cease-fire which prevented a complete regime change at that time was predicated upon Hussein’s living up to the terms outlined by the U.N. This Hussein repeatedly failed to do, so on those grounds alone, we had a right to relaunch the conflict. Lastly, it did matter to me that Hussein was a dictator who tortured, raped, and murdered his own people. We may have been mistaken in concluding that Hussein had a viable WMD program, but only a mendacious idiot would declare that this –

– was preferable to what the Iraqi people have now.

The merits – or lack thereof – of the second war in Iraq will surely be debated for years to come, but I think Daniel Mahoney is right to declare in his latest that one of the major flaws of George W. Bush’s foreign policy was its democratic triumphalism. Though it may be true that all men desire liberty, it is manifestly not the case that they all wish to have it in the post-modern Western style — and it would behoove us to remember that top-down impositions of “democracy” may not always be wise.

As it is, the West itself is having trouble maintaining the old small-l liberal order because, as Mahoney writes, “democracy” has breached its bounds and bled into areas of life where it has been damaging rather than salubrious. It is not enough for today’s antinomians that our governments are democratic. No – instead, we must have a radical democratization of everything. The old authoritative institutions – organized religion and the family especially – must be knocked down.

Our Founding Fathers were quite congnizant of democracy’s tendency to democratize in the manner described above, so while they often wrote in the radical cadences set by the Enlightenment, they practiced the art of government in a manner that was more conservative. John Adams, for example, once famously opined that our U.S. Constitution would remain adequate so long as the American people remained religious. These men, in other words, counted upon the continued existence of pre-democratic institutions to moderate their political project. And this model worked — for a time.

Unfortunately, Western society now looks upon “authority” with distinct suspicion. Consider, for example, the constant negative coverage of the Catholic Church. When you combine its various projects, the Catholic Church turns out to be the largest charitable organization on the planet. The Church also educates more children than any other private group, and it often does so in areas where resources are severely lacking. Its hierarchical structure, however, is positively medieval; outsiders often regard the Holy Father as a quasi-king and the cardinals as quasi-lords, and the terrific pageantry of a High Mass in Rome certainly does nothing to dispel that impression. And the Magisterium? The fact that we Catholics can’t decide for ourselves what we believe about God or about the moral law is seen as an absolutely unconscionable offense against the democracy project. Thus, many seek to destroy the Church by magnifying its flaws at the expense of honest reporting.

Consider too how the usual suspects approach the military. The military is also a hierarchical organization in which respect for rank is considered an absolute necessity. A good commander will often seek the input of his subordinates, but once he has made his final decision, that’s it — a soldier is obligated to follow that commander’s orders tout de suite. And there’s a good reason why the military is run in this fashion: On a battlefield, disobedience can result in death. Our post-modern anti-authoritarians don’t understand this, however, and so they demonize the military as blood-thirsty and stupid at every opportunity.

Ironically, in tearing down these pre-democratic institutions, our radicals have ushered in an era of declining liberty and greater state control. Once, a man’s faith was expected to restrain his avarice; now, we must discourage greed via government fiat. Once, it was considered hideously impolite to whistle at a woman on the street, and men were taught to honor female chastity and modesty; now, we have draconian sexual harrassment rules which, again, are imposed from above. Once, families were put in charge of the moral education of our children; now, we must write legislation to discourage schoolyard bullying. We are losing sight of the principle of subsidiarity because we have radically weakened those small, local, and frequently non-democratic institutions which once took up a lot of the social slack.

In reality, Mahoney points out, the boundaries that were formerly delineated by conservative institutions like the family and the Church were part of what allowed our democracies to remain stable in the years before the “culture of repudiation” came into vogue. To pull down those boundaries, as many post-modern Westerners have done, is sheer folly.

Book Rec: Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child

Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child
by Anthony Esolen
Intercollegiate Studies Institute

When SABR Matt and I were in elementary school (in the seaside Connecticut town of Niantic), we used to while away much of our free time dreaming up elaborate yarns about the Zinkleys, a family of super-geniuses who lived in a climate-controlled dome in Antarctica. As I recall, we chose Antarctica because we’d seen an episode of 3-2-1 Contact in which the young star traveled to said continent to visit the South Pole, and we were completely enchanted by Antarctica’s forbidding and seemingly alien landscape. As you may have guessed, this was before my official introduction to science fiction. If I’d known about Heinlein’s Podkayne of Mars or John Christopher’s Tripods Trilogy back then, I’m sure I would’ve insisted that the Zinkleys make their home on another planet.

Be that as it may, our games of “Zinkley Pretend” would often last for hours on end — and when we weren’t absorbed in our fictional universe, SABR Matt and I would often run down Kevin Road to play with a friend who had what seemed to us to be the most terrific yard in the world. Behind this friend’s house was a good-sized pond that was a potential source of entertainment in any season. In the summer, we’d go swimming, heedless of the leeches and the weeds that squinched under our bare feet; in the winter, the pond would freeze up, and we’d “skate” around on the ice (I use scare quotes there because we didn’t actually have ice skates). In our friend’s front yard, meanwhile, a departing glacier had deposited a large pile of rocks that became for us our moss-and-lichen-covered “mountain.” SABR Matt fell off the “mountain” once and broke his arm in two places, but oddly enough, he managed to survive — just as I managed to survive many years later the day I decided to ride in the direction of the sunrise until I found Puget Sound and ended up crashing my bike into a fence and tree (obviously, this was after we’d moved to Washington State).

I share these things to illustrate exactly how much free reign our parents gave us as children. We did get involved in a few adult-organized activities, like the Scouts, orchestra, children’s theater, and Niantic’s Sesquicentennial Project, an after-school activity whose name the poor secretary at Lillie B. Haynes could never pronounce correctly, but large swaths of our schedule were left entirely open. Not only did this allow SABR Matt and me to – gasp! – play outside, but it also gave SABR Matt the opportunity to mess around with numbers (we called that being “numberish”) and draw weather maps — and it gave me the chance to prowl around the public library devouring every book on medicine and disease that I could get my hands on.

Today, on the other hand, parents don’t often leave kids alone to entertain themselves — and in his fantastically written social commentary, Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, author Anthony Esolen identifies this lack of free time and nine other current-day trends as the key enemies of passion and originality. A while back, SABR Matt wondered out loud why the students at his university seem to have no “desire”. This book, I think, may contain the answer to his query. Esolen argues – and quite persuasively, I might add – that children’s souls have been bled dry by a combination of overly-controlling parenting, factory-style public schooling (which he calls “drudgery without the facts”), and a popular culture that cherishes political correctness above all else. At the same time, he presents a rousing defense of patriotism, traditional morality (including the traditional understanding of what it means to be a man or a woman), and religious faith.

Esolen’s prose is a real treasure – wickedly incisive and profoundly moving all at once. Here he is, for example, after he’s just described the organization of an unsupervised baseball game:

…Now you actually have to play the game. You have to keep track of the batting order, or the downs, or the number of outs, or the fouls, or the score. Nobody is going to do it for you. But what happens when there’s a disputed play?

Here again, we see the wonders of organizing every non-electronic moment of a child’s life. When adults are in charge, they will settle the dispute. Sometimes they do so preventively, by making sure that disputes cannot occur. That’s what schools in Massachusetts did a few years ago, decreeing that for elementary school soccer matches, no one should keep score. What a remarkable teaching device that was! It prevented the children from using their wits to separate right from wrong…

But boys from time immemorial have fashioned their own “rules” for meting out sandlot justice… The boys will argue, using evidence, and they all understand that it is in everyone’s best interest to respect evidence, since otherwise no game would be possible… And if that doesn’t work, the boys will not go home in a snit. What would be the fun in that? They will not cry, like babies. They will not sue. They will use the supreme act of their moral imaginations. They will forgive the baseball universe. They will Pretend the Play Never Happened. Everyone goes back to where he was, and the play is done over…

This is perhaps a slight idealization, but scenes like this may indeed have unfolded on a regular basis during Esolen’s childhood, when kids had involved parents available at home to teach them the difference between right and wrong.

Meanwhile, here is Esolen on the impossibility of creating great works of art without a sense of the transcendent:

We can suppose, then, that to remove from the child the possibility of praise – to rob him of any intimation of the Being that lends existence itself to all things that exist – would be like confining his mind to a room with a low ceiling. “This is all there is,” we say, “and don’t ask us where it is going, or what it means, because it is going to destruction only, and it means nothing. Now build a cathedral in honor of that. Write an epic poem about universal heat-death. Compose a song of love for what cannot love. Just try. When your head gets too sore from all the bumping against the ceiling, you’ll learn better, and be a good and useful citizen.”

Ouch.

Even though I don’t believe I’m called to marry, my inner teacher finds Esolen’s ideas quite inspiring. If you have children – or if you plan to have children in the future – and you’re seeking encouragement in your quest to raise creative and empowered kids who haven’t been deadened by today’s mass entertainments, I definitely recommend picking up this book.

Book Rec: Intellectuals and Society

Intellectuals and Society
by Thomas Sowell

Can you believe that Sowell turned 80 this year and yet continues his relentless assault on the groupthink and prejudices of the left? He is one powerful and vital personality – but I suppose bucking the tide in academia is bound to make one extremely stubborn.

Sowell studied economics at Harvard, Columbia, and the University of Chicago and is currently a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University; for decades, he has written books for popular consumption covering a host of topics, including the history of world cultures, the history of conquest, basic economics, and political ideologies. In short, he is himself an “intellectual” according to his own definition of the term. But unlike many others who make their living selling ideas (as opposed to products or services), Sowell is able to stand outside the academic milieu and trenchantly comment upon its dysfunctions.

Intellectuals, states Sowell, live in a world in which they are rarely forced to face the consequences of being foolish. As a matter of fact, in academia (excluding, of course, those departments which deal with practical specialties such as business administration, medicine or engineering), nonsensical thinking is incentivized. These people, claims Sowell, have been told all their lives that their intellects make them quite unlike ordinary men; thus, they experience a strong psychological pull towards ideas and ideologies that emphasize their status as special snowflakes. Leftism, with its dramatic propositions and identifiable villains, contains all the self-congratulatory rhetoric most academics need to feed their sense of superiority; traditional conservatism, with its emphasis on systemic processes that by their nature can’t be centrally controlled, offers nothing similar.

Here, Sowell covers much the same material he covered in his 1996 tome, The Vision of the Anointed (which SABR Matt should remember, as I read huge swaths of that book to him back in the late 90’s). For example, he once again explains the core differences between the “tragic” vision held by most conservatives – a vision that emphasizes the world’s fallen condition – and the “vision of the anointed” held by most leftists – a vision that assumes perfection can be achieved on Earth if only people of sufficient compassion and conviction take the reigns. For those who are familiar with Sowell’s earlier work, such passages will probably feel a little repetitive.

There is also one glaring flaw in Sowell’s analysis: he explicitly excludes scientists from his indictment on the assumption that scientists receive sufficient external validation from the publicity their discoveries receive and thus feel no need to venture beyond their narrow specialties and cut a flash in the wider world. That may have been true back when the discoveries scientists were making could be comprehended by the general public, but science nowadays is far more esoteric. For example, from what I understand, SABR Matt is attempting to discover how waves in the atmosphere might influence the development of systems that are thousands of miles away from a particular atmospheric disturbance. His work may lead to better models which can subsequently be used by weather forecasters, but I doubt the average Joe on the street is going to understand exactly how Dr. SABR Matt made the local weather report more accurate, as the math involved certainly isn’t ordinary Algebra. And similar gulfs open when you start discussing neuroscience, quantum mechanics, or, God help me, quantum mechanics in neuroscience. Does the average American know who won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry this year? The prize was awarded to Richard F. Heck, Ei-ichi Negishi and Akira Suzuki “for palladium-catalyzed cross couplings in organic synthesis.” What the heck is that? I don’t know because I’m not a chemist — and neither are most Americans.

The point I’m trying to make here is that public appreciation for scientific achievement is starting to dwindle because science has now moved well beyond the typical layman’s education — and as a result, some scientists have in fact drifted beyond their specialties in search of fame and fortune. In other words, these scientists have wholeheartedly adopted the habits and attitudes of Sowell’s “intellectual” class. How many scientists, for example, have earned notoriety for advocating sweeping economic changes to combat global warming despite their utter lack of education in economics? How many scientists have earned notoriety for attacking traditional religion despite their utter lack of education in philosophy, theology, and Church history? In my observation, the list is pretty extensive and is only getting longer.

Still, Intellectuals and Society contains many sections that are absolutely worth the price of the book. Anyone who is concerned about our national defense should, for example, appreciate the two chapters in which Sowell draws parallels between the pacifism that was in vogue in the years between World Wars I and II and the anti-war prejudices of today’s intellectual elite. Anyone who is sick of the left’s seemingly unshakable belief that an Ivy League degree automatically qualifies someone for a position of leadership should thoroughly enjoy Sowell’s discussion of knowledge and its sources. (Millions of brains in the aggregate are far smarter than 1000 brains, declares Sowell, even if the average IQ of the 1000 is higher than the average IQ of the millions.) And anyone who is alarmed by the behavior of our current president should love Sowell’s attacks on what he terms “verbal virtuosity” – the ability to peddle pleasant-sounding but ultimately empty soundbites. (“Change,” Sowell thunders, is not automatically good. The specifics of your change matter more than your ability to weave a web of pretty phrases.) Bottom line, Sowell gives the thinking conservative plenty of ammunition with which he or she can fight today’s political battles. For that reason alone, you should pick up this book.

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.