Tuesday, April 29, 2008

D'Souza: "Moderate" Islam and Classical Liberalism Go Together.

Thanks to Ari Armstrong for posting this item on Dinesh D'Souza's Townhall column "What Muslims Really Think." In his column he does something that  find stunning. He asserts the hypothesis that most Muslims are freedom-loving individuals.

The problem for most Muslims is Western liberalism. But here we must distinguish between two kinds of liberalism. There is the classical liberalism of the American founding. Call this Liberalism 1. This liberalism is reflected in such principles as the right to vote, to assemble freely, to debate issues, to trade with others, to practice one’s religion, political and religious toleration, and so on.

Then there is the modern liberalism of the 1960s. Call this Liberalism 2. This liberalism is defined by such tenets as the right to blaspheme, the complete exclusion of religious symbols from the public square, the right of teenage boys and girls to receive sex education and contraceptives, the right to abortion, prostitution as a worker's right, pornography as a protected form of expression, gay rights and gay marriage, and so on...

Now we are in a better position to understand Islamic attitudes regarding the West. The vast majority of Muslims worldwide embrace Liberalism 1 while rejecting Liberalism 2. They are generally comfortable with classical liberalism while abhorring the tenets of modern liberalism.

Let's understand this. A religious, conservative commentator actually wants us to believe that it is religious traditions, both Christian and Islamic that are compatible and benevolent towards classical liberalism? The implication is no different than the philosophical interpretations of conservative legal intellectual Robert Bork in his Slouching Towards Gomorrah, which I blogged about recently. Except D'Souza gives it a religous basis, and in so doing, finds more in common with Muslims who tolerate radical hatred of the West.

Freedom and liberty exist to the extent that government is limited to the province of protecting individual rights, not trampling them in the name of some sort of social morality. Islam is not a peaceful religion held hostage, but is instead implicitly tolerant of the ideas that the radicals preach.

Our newest Oblogger, Kostubh, highlights the same argument being made half a world away, in his latest, "The Myth of Moderate Islam." In it he points us to an Indian review of a Pakistani film “Khuda Kay Liye” (For God’s sake) which attempts to equate the violence of radical Islam and the response of the US to the 9/11 attacks. And the author is wise to spot the contradiction.

What interested me most about the film was that in seeking to show Islam in a good light, it accidentally exposes the prejudices that make moderate Muslims the ideological partners of jihadis. In painting America as the villain of our times, the prejudices against the West that get exposed are no different from what Mohammad Siddique, one of London’s tube bombers, said in the suicide video he made before blowing himself up. In the video, that surfaced during the trial now on in London, he describes himself as a soldier in the war against the West: ‘I’m doing what I am for Islam, not, you know, for materialistic or worldly benefits.’

The same contradiction exists in D'Souza's piece of course. In mis-identifying the essentials of classical liberalism and liberty as the outgrowth of religious traditions, he unwittingly shows us his distaste for the very basis of individual rights. Notice the contradictions inherent in his lists of Liberalism 1 and Liberalism 2. The right to "debate the issues" unless your side of the debate questions the existence of God (blasphemy); the "right to vote" and submit to the will of the majority if the vote doesn't go your way on something like abortion; the "right to toleration" unless you're gay. ; the right to "trade with others" unless that trade involves paying someone to teach your kids the way you desire or to perform certain "questionable" medical procedures on your own body.

What interests me about the D'Souza piece is that in justifying the idea of a "moderate" Islam, he shows us the very mechanism through which "radical" Islam is allowed to perpetrate it's crimes. For if the blowback against elements of liberty that one finds distasteful is justified, in idea, then how long will it be before someone straps a bomb to their chest and puts the idea into practice? And who will actively oppose them?

That D'Souza would draw a line in the sand and side with religious influence shows me the true extent to which religious intolerance has become a force in today's society. In doing so he is uprooting classical liberalism from its secular grounding. If he wishes to see the logical end of such an association he need only look to the best example of it's logical, consistent end in today's world, radical Islam.

"Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." - Ben Franklin

1 comment:

Burgess Laughlin said...

In doing so he is uprooting classical liberalism from its secular grounding.

This point seems to be the pivot point of debate, at least based on what I have heard religionists say.

The problem is this: Is the issue a historical issue or an issue of worldview (philosophy or religion) or both? Most religionists I have talked to say the issue is simple and historical: Most of the founders of classical liberalism were religious men, they say, and therefore there was no secular grounding.

Did the founders of Classical Liberalism justify their tenets without reference, explicit or implicit, to God or their religion? Is that what "secular" means here?

I have very little knowledge of U. S. or modern European intellectual history. So, I cannot answer the question. How would one go about defending the idea that Classical Liberalism had a secular foundation?