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Against ‘Seriousness’

Rod Dreher comes to Andrew Sullivan’s defense on the subject of taking Islamic violence seriously.

Sullivan [1]:

What distinguishes Islam is that its founder practiced violence, whereas Jesus quite obviously favored the exact opposite – nonviolence to the point of accepting one’s own death. Unlike Christianity, but like Judaism, Islam also claims sacred land, and, along with extremist forms of Judaism, the divine right to repel intruders from it. Religion is dangerous enough. A religion founded by a violent figure, with territorial claims, and whose values are at direct odds with modernity is extra-dangerous. Which other major world religion believes that apostates should be killed? Or regards negative depictions of the Prophet as worthy of a death sentence?

Dreher [2]:

This is true, and it’s important to say. It gives Islam the respect of taking it seriously. When a Christian murders, as many have done, sometimes with church sanction, he acts in direct contravention of Christ’s example and command. When a Muslim murders, he sometimes carries out Muhammad’s command, which is to say, Allah’s.

To which I can only say: yeah, well, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.

I have learned to be wary of people who say that their opinions are “serious” and other people’s aren’t. “Serious” people are the ones who “knew” that Iraq had an active nuclear program and who “know,” today, that Iran has similar ambitions and cannot be deterred. “Serious” people are the ones who know that we are at “war” with terrorists, and that other metaphorical understandings of our situation aren’t “serious.” Where the rubber meets the road, “serious” means, “expecting violence.” It isn’t the same thing at all as “knowledgable,” but rather the mirror image in ignorance of the platitudinous cotton candy of multiculturalism that Dreher, Sullivan and I alike disdain.

We don’t need more seriousness. Nor do we need more sugary platitudes. We need knowledge.

Samuel Huntington [3]‘s line – “Islam has bloody borders” – struck me as correct at the time it was made. But correct or not, it was an observation of reality, and consequently subject to empirical verification. You can actually count up inter-communal conflicts and see how many involve Muslims. Then the question becomes: why?

If we were to test the proposition, “Islam is inherently more violent than other religions,” we’d need to compare Islamic civilization across time and space to other civilizations (and control properly for other factors). Are Dreher and Sullivan quite sure of what the result of such a comparison would be? Are they quite sure that, say, things like cousin marriage, or a burgeoning population of underemployed males, or the legacy of Cold War-era arms races, or the coincidence of massive oil wealth in the hands of a particularly puritanical sect on the Arabian peninsula, or the intrusion of Zionism, or the demographic decline of Christian Europe (and Russia), or the ructions of modernization meeting a subordination of women that pre-dates Islam, or . . . well, there’s a long list of theories for why Islam’s borders are bloody now. Are we quite sure that those theories are less-correct than the theory, “they are getting their ideas from a bad book?”

Dreher says that when a Christian “murders,” he acts in direct contravention of divine command. Fine: but what is murder? Is it “murder” to wage war to liberate the Holy Land? Or to obliterate the Cathars? Or to convert the Lithuanians? Or to reconquer Spain? I’m quite sure those who prosecuted those wars in the divine name would have been distinctly puzzled by the suggestion that their actions constituted murder – as opposed to justified killing. And, of course, “murder” is prohibited in every civilized society.

Meanwhile, it’s my people who wrote Psalm 137, a prayer for vengeance that ends with glee at the thought of dashing our enemies’ children’s brains on rocks. And yet, over the sweep of history since the rabbinic period, one would have to call the Jewish people among the least-prone to extreme inter-communal violence. We can debate the reasons for that historical fact, but what it should show at a minimum is that the syllogism, “violent texts are a primary cause of inter-communal violence,” needs some work.

Dreher and Sullivan alike are Christians. I’m not. They assume that Jesus’s call to “turn the other cheek” means that Christianity has acted as a historic brake on violence. As a Jew, I have to question that assumption. After all, the number of Christian countries in history that have been governed according to principles of non-violence is exactly zero. Someone from a religious tradition whose founding texts articulated rules about when violence is justified or permitted might look at the long history of Christian violence – not just violence by Christians, but violence undertaken with the Church’s encouragement and undertaken in the name of Jesus – and say: gee, maybe saying “turn the other cheek” backfires, makes all violence seem equally sinful, and therefore opens the gate to truly horrific behavior?

I’m not endorsing that view – I’m just saying that there are perfectly logical arguments that can be made that completely reverse the Christian apologetic claim that because Jesus preached non-violence and Muhammad (like Moses) led an army, therefore Christian civilization is inherently less-violent than Muslim (or Jewish?) civilization. Obviously, if you’re a Christian, you’ll find a Christian apologetic argument congenial. But that doesn’t mean it has analytical value.

For that matter, the United States was founded by genocidal racist slave-trading colonialists. Does that mean the Constitution is essentially and irredeemably racist? Isn’t that where the “bad book” theory logically leads?

Again, I’m not saying that religious (or other foundational) texts are irrelevant. I’m certainly not saying that all religious (or political) traditions are the same. I’m saying that the syllogism, “bad book = bad acts,” is highly suspect, and obviously so. There may be a very good argument that Islamic civilization has a distinctive problem with modernity that will be very difficult for it to solve, precisely because of the nature of its founder and the historic understanding of its founding revelation. I would expect to hear that argument from liberal Muslims first and foremost, because they are the ones who would most be interested in solving it.

Which brings me to one last note. In passing, Dreher says:

Obviously many, many Muslims choose less bloodthirsty interpretations of these verses, and this is the sort of thing that non-Muslims should encourage, for the sake of peace.

This is another formulation I think we should properly suspect. There is very, very little that non-Muslims can “encourage” with regard to Muslim interpretation of their sacred texts. We can “encourage” Muslim leaders to silence, jail or kill individuals we consider to be a threat. And by all means, we should ask questions – heck, we should sometimes ask impolite questions if it’s necessary to do so to get real answers. But I think Dreher would be quite offended by the suggestion that the proper role of Muslim leaders is to “encourage” Christians to interpret their own religion in a way that is more congenial to Muslim interests or feelings. Why wouldn’t Muslims feel the same way about Christians “encouraging” them to interpret their holy book the way Christians prefer? And if it would, then isn’t the kind of “encouragement” that Dreher says we should engage in more than likely to backfire?

UPDATE: Dreher’s later post [4]‘s title gets it right: “Uncle Ruslan, a Good American.” Exactly. A good American – because the identity we share is “American,” not Muslim. So it’s not for us to say who is a good Muslim and who isn’t, and to encourage Muslims to be the “right sort” of Muslims from our perspective. But it is for us to say what makes a good American and what doesn’t – and to be as firm (or, if we prefer, as lax) as we like about applying our own standards in that regard, as Americans.

90 Comments (Open | Close)

90 Comments To "Against ‘Seriousness’"

#1 Comment By CAT On April 25, 2013 @ 2:19 pm

It seems obvious that “violent Islam” is just the latest cover for an elite’s looting of the American taxpaying public – because that is where the money is.
The Military -Terror Industrial Complex lives off the blood and treasure of the American middle class. To coax ever greater financial sacrifices out of this class, it is necessary to convince them that they need the “best protection money can buy”.
A few well directed and hyped angry reactions by those we decide to create by killing their brethren and taking their land seems sufficient to get the American boob to hand over his money (and freedom).

#2 Comment By c matt On April 25, 2013 @ 2:24 pm

If we were to test the proposition, “Islam is inherently more violent than other religions,” we’d need to compare Islamic civilization across time and space to other civilizations (and control properly for other factors).

Seems you are confusing two things – the religion itself (its teachings and precepts) and the things its followers do. The proper way to test the proposition is to compare the foundational documents and teachings of Islam with those of the other religions.

No doubt the followers of any religion (or none) can perpetrate atrocities. The question, as presented, was not about the followers, but about the religion itself.

#3 Comment By R. Lewis On April 25, 2013 @ 3:25 pm

After man compares Christianity to Islam
“You know what, yeah, yeah. You know what — that’s liberal bulls**t right there … they’re not as dangerous. I mean there’s only one faith, for example, that kills you or wants to kill you if you draw a bad cartoon of the prophet. There’s only one faith that kills you or wants to kill you if you renounce the faith. An ex-Muslim is a very dangerous thing. Talk to Salman Rushdie after the show about Christian versus Islam. So you know, I’m just saying let’s keep it real.”

-Bill Maher

#4 Comment By sal magundi On April 25, 2013 @ 3:47 pm

AndrewH:
It’s really amazing how a single attack by two disenfranchised loners bring the worst in Americans.

No one stripped them of the right to vote. I believe one became an American citizen last September so he would’ve had the right to vote so stop the lies.”

i’m really pretty sure that’s not what the poster meant by ‘disenfranchised’.

#5 Comment By ben On April 25, 2013 @ 3:57 pm

“c matt” hits the nail on the head. Mr. Millman’s whole piece is built upon a gross (intentional?) mis-reading of Sullivan and Dreher.

#6 Comment By Biff On April 25, 2013 @ 4:23 pm

I think it’s important to also note that historically Islam has not always been violent in the way it is now. Islam has contributed many things that are the foundations of modern society. The obvious one is a large chunk of our mathematical knowledge. But aside from that obvious example, look at how Islamic culture has treated those with mental illnesses in the past. The world’s first mental hospital was created in Baghdad before the turn of the second millinium AD. The first case of a mental illness being treated through therapeutical means came less than fifty years after, something the Western world wouldn’t practice till nearly 900 years later. And around the time the Catholic Church was burning heretics at the stake, a Islamic philosopher and physicist in Cordoba, Spain would become the first person to fashion wings that could sustain flight (accounts a the time say that he jumped from a tower a glided nearly 300 yards, and survived).

Accounts of life in Jeruselem prior to the first Crusade note that there were nearly half a dozen universities and just as many libraries. Accounts also state that Jewish, Christian, and Muslim populations lived in relative peace at the time. And from the fall of the Roman Empire until the Rennaissance, most of the world’s cultural and educational centers were in Muslim controlled countries.

These facts would lead me to believe that the cause of today’s Islamic extremist factions lie not in the teachings of Islam itself, but rather in other outside variables. Rather than Islam itself being a breeding ground for extremist views, I wod instead suggest that poverty and the lack of secular education would instead be the culprits. Because poor, ignorant people make poor, ignorant decisions. Time changes things, and while the West has dominated the world economically and educationally for the past five hundred years, that could (and probably will) change in the distant future. It certainly did for Islamic culture.

#7 Comment By An Anachronistic Apostle On April 25, 2013 @ 4:40 pm

If we were to test the proposition, “Islam is inherently more violent than other religions,” we’d need to compare Islamic civilization across time and space to other civilizations (and control properly for other factors).

I suppose one would have to properly control for the civilizing influences which first encouraged the expertise and knowledge used in crafting a damascene blade, to thence be used on people.

Of course, the civilizing influences encouraging the expertise and knowledge to split the atom, and thence to first use its consequences on people, might not come off so well in comparison.

#8 Comment By Andrew On April 25, 2013 @ 4:45 pm

First, I’d like to know if Dehrer and Sullivan ever read or currently read the Koran. If so, I’d like to know which passages they refer to in saying the Koran preaches violence.

I can see that you never opened any Islam’s scriptures–be that Quran or Hadith. I can start with infamous Q: 9:29, 9:88, 9:14, 9:123, 8:39 etc. and we can go over this all day long. Of course, we can go over Sahih Buhari or Ishaq, or Tabari too, to namy a few. Robert R. Reily when giving public speaking warns about de-Hellenization (predominantly it is the loss of the link between cause and effect) of Western thought–this whole thread is manifestation of this process.

#9 Comment By Daniel On April 25, 2013 @ 4:58 pm

Georgie wrote:

“Good article:

“Where is the mob of Muslim-hating Americans going crazy after Boston? It’s a figment of liberals’ imaginations”

[5]

While I agree that the left can be responsible for fear-mongering about anti-Muslim violence, one should remember that we have a very effective means of dealing with our thirst for vengeance: our unequalled military machine.

Do not expect powerful regimes to respond to a pressure-cooker bombing with another pressure-cooker bombing. They use homemade bombs–we use precise engines of death.

It is the impotence of the weak that drives these kind of attacks. The strong will use more conventional means in their dealing of death. The weak have no hope or expectation that their side could defeat us in face-to-face battle, so they battle in the only way they can achieve some measure of success.

And looking at the debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan, I’d say that their methods seem to achieve far more with far less cost. Yet our love affair with high-tech (and highly expensive) weapons means we will continue to ineffectively wage third-generation war against a fourth-generation enemy.

#10 Comment By Paul Emmons On April 25, 2013 @ 4:59 pm

C matt writes:

>The proper way to test the proposition is to compare the foundational documents and teachings of Islam with those of the other religions.

Who either cares or should care? This is utter ivory-tower abstraction to the point of irrelevance. I doubt that it were even possible to separate documents (or at least their practical meaning) from what their followers do: one of the first things that followers do is interpret the documents one way or another. We, too, would need to put an interpretation upon the documents when we read them. What would possibly justify the presumption of an outsider’s insisting that his reading is the real one, while all the scholars within the religion itself were getting it wrong?
One of the few things I know about the Koran is that later verses are held to supersede earlier ones when they conflict. I wouldn’t doubt that these conflicts give rise to considerable subtleties in interpretation. If I were a Muslim, I would probably be just as amused (at best) by witless prooftexting from infidels as in fact I am as a Christian.

No, a religion is as a religion does. This is not an easy standard for any believer to accept, but I think it is an inescapable obligation. If it makes you feel any better, this standard presents its own problems for Mr. Millman when he writes, “If we were to test the proposition, ‘Islam is inherently more violent than other religions,’ we’d need to compare Islamic civilization across time and space…”

The proposition is stated in the present tense. The present is what we all must live in. History doesn’t necessarily provide us much advice.

#11 Comment By Rambler88 On April 25, 2013 @ 5:00 pm

In practice, whatever the holy books say about theory, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have always committed precisely as much violence in the name of religion as they could get away with. The violence was against neighbors of other religions where they could get away with it (including murderous riots by Jews in cities of the eastern Mediterranean under Rome), and also between rival sects within the same religion. The only factor that represses the violence is physical repression by superior force. For early Christians, violence would have been suicide (and sometimes was). In the modern Christian West, Christian religious organizations were gradually deprived (by increasingly secularized states) of the means to perpetrate major violence and ability to do so with impunity. (This was still a live issue in the mid-1800s, when French troops assembled to be blessed by the Pope after they had bloodily put down the republican movement in Rome.) Christian churches still chafe at the restraint. Whenever and insofar as Judaism had sufficient political power with an independent base, it, too, was characterized by large-scale religious violence. (Street-level violence continues at a noticeable level in some Hasidic ghettos where secular law is enforced on a selective, hands-off basis.) As to Islam, leaving aside violence against other religions, internecine warfare has been widespread since the Shia/Sunni split, held down only by governments that repressed it by sufficient force.

This is not strictly limited to the Abrahamic religions. Hinduism has the same tendency; it is not widely mentioned in the West because it is confined to India, where it has been a constant throughout history. The tendency seems to be characteristic of any religion where there is a separate, powerful priestly class and a set of widely-held, positive, anthropomorphic beliefs about the supernatural. (It is perhaps the last factor that accounts for both the incidences of religious violence among Buddhists and the general low level of religious violence among Buddhists. Buddhism has its crude popular varieties, but the belief that the ultimate realities have nothing at all to do with the issues over which people get violent is more prevalent in Buddhism than in the Abrahamic religions or Hinduism. (Such is my impression, at any rate.)

Radically pacifist religions are not counter-examples even at the theoretical level: they do not point to possibilities for an effective religious answer to the problem of violence. The merely sin at the opposite extreme, parasitizing on the larger society’s willingness to exert violence in their defense. Where they exist in sufficient numbers to hamper the larger society’s ability to defend itself and them, a reaction sets in: the larger society turns on them as it turns on violent religious sects, and many of their own adherents decide, in response to the common external threat and the pressure from the host society, that violence in self-defense is just after all. (Example: the Quakers in colonial Pennsylvania.)

There have been major civilizations that do not have this tendency toward religious violence: the pre-Christian West, and perhaps China at times. They were, overall, just as violent as any other civilization; the violence was prompted by common human vices. But in their favor there is at least this to be said: they left the moral issues simple. They avoided obscuring them with a superfluous layer of supernaturalism that makes it impossible for major priestly religions to address the issue of violence usefully and without flagrant hypocrisy.

#12 Comment By Paul Emmons On April 25, 2013 @ 5:23 pm

Noah writes:

>I would expect to hear that argument from liberal Muslims first and foremost, because they are the ones who would most be interested in solving it.

In fairness to liberal Muslims, we often hear such challenges: if Muslim is a religion of peace/not theocratic/upholds the dignity of women/bla-bla-bla, then why don’t we hear from liberal Muslims to that effect? Well, assume that you were a typical Muslim in the U.S. This means that you are probably an immigrant, you are working your fingers to the bone at a menial and unremunerative job, and you don’t speak English very well. You are ever so liberal, kindly, and patriotic. But where’s your megaphone? How are you going to get the message across to your alter ego, Noah Millman the blogger at TAC, that you really don’t hold with the terrorists? And even if you get his attention, how would you make him believe you? I can conceive of a few purely practical obstacles here.

Bruce Bawer has written of events that are a little more difficult to overlook, however: (1) There is an Islamist-driven atrocity. (2) A mass demonstration is planned and announced (perhaps more by leftist sympathizers than by Muslims themselves) with great fanare, wherein Muslims will demonstrate their disgust and renunciation of terrorism. The supporters have high hopes that the harmlessness of harboring major Islamic enclaves in their cities will be demonstrated. (3) The turnout is humiliatingly small.

Why should they bother? They can just keep wearing their T-shirts reading “2030 we take over”. The dream seems to be progressing on schedule.

#13 Comment By Northern observer On April 25, 2013 @ 5:47 pm

Muhammad murdered poets and Christian monks. He slaughtered cities that had yielded to him. Yes he had to deal with Arab tribal rivals that were as cruel as he was but you can’t will away his brutal behaviours. And let’s remember when quoting Jewish violence in the Old Testament that it is limited in time and space. It is the story of violence limited by history and geography. There is no Jewish mandate from god to convert Tibet. Furthermore equivalence arguments ignore the 2000 year evolution of Judaism post second temple. Violence and blood are taboo, more taboo than in any other religion besides Christianity. The Koran is written in a declarative eternal tone. The view is not historical as it is eternal which makes its threats of violence towards unbelievers problematic. Many people are skeptical when I make these claims. To them I simply say read the books. Read the gospels and then read the Koran. The problems then become obvious.

#14 Comment By libfreak48 On April 25, 2013 @ 7:24 pm

Let’s see…extremist Buddhists are murdering Muslims in Myanmar. Extremist Jews harass women riding buses in Jerusalem for not dressing “properly” in public, not to mention expropriating land that doesn’t belong to them and ethnic cleansing in the name of a “greater Israel.”

Or the Muslims slaughtered by Christians in Kosovo.

And, while we’re commenting on violent religious extremists, let’s think about Dr, George Tiller, shot to death by a right-wing extremist Christian inside of a church.

Not to mention the centuries of violent Christian aggression involving everything from burning people at the stake to forcing conversions at the point of a gun to declaring war on Muslims to reclaim Jerusalem in the Crusades.

But somehow it’s Islam that is the only “violent” religion, an idea espoused by right-wing Christians who would gladly see their version of Christianity become the state religion of the US, as Islam is the state religion of Iran.

Newsflash – ALL religions are violent.

#15 Comment By Dave On April 25, 2013 @ 8:00 pm

I’m not aware of any current religion explicitly founded by a military man (and a very good one at that). His successor Uthman was an even better general.

#16 Comment By mao-mao the flak catchers On April 25, 2013 @ 8:10 pm

c matt writes “No doubt the followers of any religion (or none) can perpetrate atrocities. “

As it happens “(or none)” is the current world champion, with something like a hundred million deaths to its credit.

Religions are down there in footnote territory.

[6]

#17 Comment By ahimsa On April 25, 2013 @ 8:39 pm

“[In post second temple Judaism] violence and blood are taboo, more taboo than in any other religion besides Christianity. “

There are only slightly fewer Jains in the world than Jews. Non-violence has been the core Jain doctrine since the 6th century BC.

It’s interesting that whereas the US has suffered from religiously motivated terror from Christians (abortion clinic bombings), Jews (the most terror attacks), and Muslims (the bloodiest and most sustained terror attacks), the good ole Jains have yet to hit us.

#18 Comment By Andrew On April 25, 2013 @ 9:15 pm

It is the impotence of the weak that drives these kind of attacks. The strong will use more conventional means in their dealing of death. The weak have no hope or expectation that their side could defeat us in face-to-face battle, so they battle in the only way they can achieve some measure of success.

True, to a degree. The more important issue is why those weak cannot become stronger. Once this question asked the hell breaks loose. The left cannot answer it because it is incompetent, the so called “right” cannot answer it because it is self-righteous but the answer is out there, for everyone to see, and those who bother to look–they see it clearly.

#19 Comment By Allan On April 25, 2013 @ 9:27 pm

@Northern observer

Name one instance where Muhammad killed a Christian monk.

You can’t, because your claim is absolutely baseless. He actually forbade his followers from fighting monks or destroying monasteries during times of war.

You obviously have not been exposed to how the Qur’an is traditionally taught and have no clue about Classical scholarly exegesis. There is a specific context and nuance to every verse of the Qur’an. Learned Muslims are taught this from an early age. Only the ignorant pick and choose verses to suit their agendas without wisdom.

Do you even know what justifies a state of warfare in Islamic Law? Do you know about the preconditions for fighting? Or the rules of conduct in war? How about the rights of those under treaties? Do you even know the definition of “treaty” in Islamic law? Have you ever looked outside of war-propagandists like Robert Spencer for your information? Or do you feel that hacks like him are an honest and sufficient source?

I’m not trying to be a jerk, but I’m really annoyed with all these internet experts spouting off nonsense.

#20 Comment By EliteCommInc. On April 25, 2013 @ 10:07 pm

““You know what, yeah, yeah. You know what — that’s liberal bulls**t right there … they’re not as dangerous. I mean there’s only one faith, for example, that kills you or wants to kill you if you draw a bad cartoon of the prophet. There’s only one faith that kills you or wants to kill you if you renounce the faith.”

For minute I thought Mr. Maher was talking about Salem, or 14th Century Europe . . . or any time and place in history.

#21 Comment By Thelma Jesselman On April 25, 2013 @ 11:15 pm

Perhaps Mr. Millman being of the Hebrew faith has a bit of a bone to pick, that Christians are hipocritical and just as bad as Moslems, which is to say that the Jews are superior? He has a very superior tone that would stick out in Pahrump, NV.

Thelma Jesselman

#22 Comment By Timothy Gawne On April 26, 2013 @ 12:02 am

Islam is a religion of peace and all who say differently must be killed.

#23 Comment By Martin Snigg On April 26, 2013 @ 5:21 am

What Islam is has been established in lots of other places. David Goldman, who is actually steeped in theology, in an essay ‘When Even the Pope Has to Whisper’

And Peter Kreeft, Robert Spencer discussion youtube ‘Good Muslim/Bad Muslim’.

Expert on Islam and world renowned religious freedom scholar Rev. Dr Mark Durie – [7]

“Over the past decade I have had the opportunity to speak to thousands of people about Islam across five continents. At question time, the same issues keep coming up. The questions which have stayed in my mind are all about world view assumptions. These are key ideas which control the thinking of Western people when they are engaging with Islam. ”

So people needn’t feel fear that conservatives can’t hold two distinct ideas in our head at once, sober appreciation of what Islam is, while refusing to be drawn into our secularist rulers silly game of pitting traditional faiths against each other for their own benefit.

The origin of this deliberate obfuscation and power political game is our most urgent problem, and that is found in the secularist establishment – we know as the ‘Cathedral’ or non-declared established church of secularism, but should be called Moloch. [8]

#24 Comment By Sasha Margolis On April 26, 2013 @ 7:30 am

EliteCommInc. and Brian Cobb,

Please look up the meaning of Rabbinic Judaism. Noah’s statement doesn’t include “the Hebrews,” Jericho, or the Plagues.

#25 Comment By Daniel On April 26, 2013 @ 9:15 am

Libfreak48 wrote:

“Newsflash – ALL religions are violent.”

I hope you didn’t mean this literally. You gave examples of how adherents of certain religions acted violently. That is indisputable. It is also indisputable that religion is often used as a justification for violence…just like “liberating” a people, or “spreading democracy” are often used to justify violence, or “rectifying an historical injustice.”

But if you are implying that all religions are inherently violent and lead inevitably to violence, I think you’re making a leap…just as unwarranted as if I assumed that atheism was inherently violent because of the actions of some atheists and their justifications for their actions.

#26 Comment By Daniel On April 26, 2013 @ 9:18 am

@Andrew–your answer is more than a bit coy. If I admit “I don’t know” why the weak cannot become stronger, then I imply that I am either incompetent or self-righteous.

Please speak plainly: why do you believe that the weak cannot become stronger? (Disclosure: I do not believe they cannot, but many different factors can make this easier or more difficult.)

#27 Comment By A. G. Phillbin On April 26, 2013 @ 2:26 pm

@Andrew (posted on 4/25/13, @ 9:15pm):

Okay, drop the other shoe: why is it that you believe the weak cannot grow stronger?

#28 Comment By J DeSales On April 26, 2013 @ 8:50 pm

Biff, you state: “And from the fall of the Roman Empire until the Renaissance, most of the world’s cultural and educational centers were in Muslim controlled countries.”

Now, I assume by “Roman Empire” you mean the Western Roman Empire because if you mean the Eastern Roman Empire, well, that would mean 1453 which is after the start of the Renaissance. If you mean the Western Roman Empire, then that would mean the mid fifth century AD. Just to get our dates set. Further, by “world” I will assume you mean Europe, North Africa, and the Near/Middle East (excluding India, Southeast Asia, China, Korea, Japan, and the civilizations of the New World, all of whom had cultural and educational centers of their own).

So, now that we know when and where we’re talking about, let us look at that. While it is true that the Islamic world had a plethora of great centers of culture and learning, did they have most? Well, for at least 600 years after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the greatest city of culture and education in the Mediterranean and European world was Constantinople, the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. Along with Constantinople, a number of other Byzantine cities in Greece, Asia Minor, Egypt and the Levant were centers of culture and learning (though many would eventually become Islamic centers of culture and learning). But let us look also at Europe proper: there was Bologna, Rome, Milan, Florence, and Padua in Italy; Paris and her Sorbonne along with cultural centers in Rennes and Marseilles; Oxford and Cambridge in England; and Vienna in Austria (which would not attain its great prominence until the 19th century, but still boasted a fine educational institute prior to the 15th century).

Simply put, while the Islamic world in the medieval period deserves respect and boasts such great thinkers as Avicenna, Averroes, Alpharabius, as well as many others, the West can similarly boast great thinkers and writers. And if (for most of the medieval period) there was one capital of culture and learning, it was Constantinople, recognized by Muslims and Eastern Christians as the greatest city (the Westerners were often too jealous to admit its prominence).

Still, your point remains valid, that’s just a personal sore spot.

#29 Comment By EliteCommInc. On April 26, 2013 @ 8:57 pm

“The view is not historical as it is eternal which makes its threats of violence towards unbelievers problematic. Many people are skeptical when I make these claims. To them I simply say read the books. Read the gospels and then read the Koran. The problems then become obvious.”

I have searched the Koran, and it generally disavows violence and war, except save self defense. There is no provision that calls for attacks against those who criticize Mohhamed via word of mouth or cartoon. At least I have not found it.

#30 Comment By Escher On April 27, 2013 @ 9:07 am

There are plenty of well educated and prosperous Muslims living in the West, who continue to stay silent about the growing menace of radicalism in their community. It was telling that the first concern expressed by Muslims interviewed after the Boston bombings was that the perpetrators should not be from their religion.

#31 Comment By a spencer On April 27, 2013 @ 10:09 am

On holiday, I’ve traveled almost exclusively among Muslims for the better part of the last decade, all over the Middle East, and without a gun.

Unfailingly, Muslims have attacked my vulnerability with offers of tea and fruit.

#32 Comment By Turmarion On April 28, 2013 @ 10:01 am

Andrew, thanks for the reference to Reilly, with whom I was unfamiliar. I’ve long thought de-Hellinization was at the root of a lot of the problems in Islam, and I think it’s an issue with us, too, but I never had it quite that clearly articulated.

#33 Comment By Egypt Steve On April 28, 2013 @ 1:58 pm

“Western nations which have explicitly abandoned the teachings of the Church, or even faith in Christ explicitly, such as Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, have proven to be far more murderous and unrestrained in their conduct of war than those which continued consciously to subject themselves to the rule of Christ.”

I seriously doubt that Sitting Bull or Nat Tuner, or the wretched victims of Belgium’s “Rubber Terror” at the end of the Nineteenth Century, would accept that at all!

#34 Comment By Rich On April 29, 2013 @ 3:38 pm

Yes, the Constitution was written by slave-trading racists – that’s why we A.) fought a Civil War, and B.) amended the Constitution.

Try suggesting an “amendment” to the Koran and see what happens. Just please don’t stand near me when you do it.

#35 Comment By Russell Seitz On April 29, 2013 @ 11:06 pm

Not much has changed since the 30 Years War :

Blessed be ye Jacobites,
All their ways and works
Cursed be the Presbytry
heretics, and Turks.

#36 Comment By Nicolas On April 30, 2013 @ 7:52 am

Without doubt, in the past 20 years, predominately Christian countries have killed far more Muslims in predominately Muslim countries than the reverse.

#37 Comment By A DC Wonk On April 30, 2013 @ 9:26 am

Let’s see…extremist Buddhists are murdering Muslims in Myanmar. Extremist Jews harass women riding buses in Jerusalem for not dressing “properly” in public

Making an equivalency between murder and harassment surely isn’t helping your point.

#38 Comment By a spencer On May 3, 2013 @ 2:22 am

one more thing: Arab sweets are the best. No saccharine or substitutes. Sugar and cream.

#39 Comment By Viking On May 3, 2013 @ 11:33 pm

A Spencer, I’m glad that you made a comment earlier today, or perhaps yesterday by now with TAC’s time standard (GMT?), as it makes my remarks here not quite-so-untimely.

In response to Allan’s and similar remarks: I have to admit that I haven’t researched Islamic law that extensively myself. I can say, however, that in the century between the Prophet’s death in 632 and the army of Charles Martel’s defeat of Muslim forces in 732, the former’s heirs conquered a wide swath of territory, from Western Europe to a small portion of the Indian Subcontinent. There were in all likelihood city-states, small kingdoms, etc, that had only heard of the religion shortly before they were attacked. Any account of Islamic law that can’t explain how Muslims squared such an aggressive policy with the dictates of their religion’s purported reluctance to engage in warfare is, frankly, useless.

That brings up another consideration. Most descriptions of Christian societies’ often warlike tendencies concern their behavior post-Martel. I would submit that this may have come from the understandable need to counter what Christians, being unversed in how Islam is really a religion of peace, saw as naked Muslim aggression. There was, after all, no seeming stop to the advancing armies of the Prophet – until Martel did so.

Viking

#40 Comment By a spencer On May 4, 2013 @ 11:11 am

and another thing:

I’ve been asked for a considered opinion about Alan Ginsberg in Iran, Syria and Lebanon. Not once in the United States.

A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE recited and debated in a 200+ classroom in collegiate Aleppo…