Monday, June 23, 2008

Dialog of the Deaf

The June 14th issue of The Economist carried a fairly lengthy article about interfaith dialog, When Religions Talk (registration required).

Even by The Economist standards, there was a fair amount of throat clearing before sidling up to the apparent issue at hand:
[At] almost all these gatherings, there are some huge subjects that participants either do or don't mention... One is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict ...

Another is the rise within the Muslim world of various forms of what Olivier Roy, a French scholar, calls “neo-fundamentalism” (often ascribed to a mixture of Egyptian zeal and Saudi petrodollars) which are crowding out local, more compromising readings of Islam ...
All the while ignoring the real crux of the problem. By definition, religions assert mutually exclusive metaphysical claims; otherwise, there would be no reason for their distinct existence.

One would think, when faced with this Gordian knot of contradictions, that participants in these gabfests -- torture tests for even titanium Random Noun Generators -- would come away with far more humility, and without any certainty.

Far from it, particularly for those whose metaphysical claims lean towards the Islamic, who insist upon curbing anything offensive to Muslim sensibilities.
At this week's meeting in Malaysia, that question was addressed in a way that frightened the relatively few participants whose understanding of civil rights was rooted in a Western, liberal world-view.

Speaker after speaker called for some formal, internationally agreed restriction on the defamation of religion. “I can never accept that freedom of speech is morally right when it offends my faith,” said Prince Turki al-Faisal, a senior Saudi official (and former head of his country's intelligence service). Several participants said there should be a legal regime to uphold an article in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (a UN treaty that came into force in 1976) which states that “any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.”
Irony meters around the world hit their pegs.

Of the three Abrahamic faiths, none of which look particularly good in this regard, Islam is the most virulent when it comes to non-, or other-, believers. One can start with the admonition to kill all disbelievers* wherever they might be found, and march from there with a goodly distance remaining before exhausting all Islams (other) faith offending contents.

If these interfaith dialogs had any value, they would yield the conclusion so obvious that one wonders why anyone need leave their recliner to grasp it: your religion is every bit as false as all the others.

Fat chance.

* Update: David pointed out there is no admonition in the Quran to kill all Jews. Since I was unable to find the quote, I have corrected the original sentence.


Blogger Harry Eagar said...

It's not just interfaith Muslims. About a week ago, the chairman of the Muslim Conference made the same demand.

Let us phrase it in simple terms: Muslims, as a matter of religion, demand:

1) The right to legislate for everyone everywhere;

2) Extinction of civic rights everywhere.

Do all of them do this? Maybe not, but it is difficult to hive off "extremists" as the bad actors. If the chairman of the Muslim Conference can say stuff like that, to absolutely no objections from the conferees, it must be mainstream thinking.

I tried to say the same thing in my review of Noah Feldman's 'Fall and Rise of the Islamic State.'

Not everybody is playing by the same set of rules.

On the other hand, Pew has a report out that purports to say that most (upwards of two-thirds) of Americans are cool with multiple paths to salvation.

Seems like Revelations 3:16 is out of fashion except perhaps in the endzones of NFL games.

I have cited Mencken more than once to the effect that even a hundred years ago it was becoming difficult to find people willing to kill over the issue of infant damnation.

Well, there are always ants at the picnic, aren't there?

June 24, 2008 12:40 AM  
Blogger David said...

There's an important issue here, but let's clear away one piece of brush first. There is no command in Islam to go kill all the Jews (and, yes, I know about the tree thing). Even the Iranians allow for a Jewish minority and, while I wouldn't want to live that way, it is a better life than being killed out of hand. They even get a token member of the Iranian parliament.

The more serious issue is a nascent international crusade against the First Amendment, which includes this nonsense, the Canadian human rights swamp in which free speech is dismissed as an American conceit and even the international compact to reduce smoking, which came close to requiring the US to ban all cigarette advertisements and depictions of smoking, over our objections that the First Amendment wouldn't allow us to do so.

I'm hoping that this is one parochial US policy that the internationalists among us will let us hold, but in the long term I'm skeptical.

June 24, 2008 8:23 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Wsll, let's clear up your clearing up.

There's no question that in both theory and practice, Islam requires/allows killing of infidels who refuse to convert.

This can be parsed on the ground, and conquerors (unless they're Germans) don't always see the advantage of killing all the tribute-payers they've just conquered.

Also, the timeframe at which the conversion of the entire world is, like the Second Coming, indeterminate.

The problem for non-believers is that as long as this remains goal, it is a threat to their spiritual and, often, physical existence.

This is not so very different from the underlying beliefs of most Christians a few centuries ago. Those were changed, under the whip of the Enlightenment and, perhaps, other factors.


It is not just the Muslims and some others want to extinguish free speech.

They are also antagonistic to free association and free religion.

They also are claiming the right to impose sumptuary laws on everybody.

June 24, 2008 9:20 AM  
Blogger Susan's Husband said...

No, Islam permits the "People of the Book" (Christians and Jews) to pay the jizya instead of converting or being killed. Pagans only get the latter two options.

June 24, 2008 11:09 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I'm talking about what happens on the ground.

Nothing in the "5 pillars" that are supposed to be the reduction of Islamic faith requires killing, enslaving, forcible conversion.

But that's been the custom for 1,400 years.

Even if their theology were completely something else, as long as their habits remained as they have been, they would be a threat.

It isn't the theology, it's the religion.

(I apologize for lousy writing in previous post. I was being talked at from 2 directions while I was writing it. Should have used preview.)

June 24, 2008 3:21 PM  
Blogger Ali said...

I really doubt the injunction for Muslims to convert the world to Islam has any force any more. The propaganda of jihadists mostly emphasises the need to fight back against oppression of Muslims across the world. The ideology owes more to anti-colonialism than anything else.

Also the impact of forced conversions is overrated. Islam won a lot of adherents because it was a winning power with an egalitarian creed. For my distant ancestors, it offered a better deal than remaining on the lower rungs of Hindu caste society.

June 25, 2008 2:56 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Cough, cough. Ahem.

Excuse me. Lost my coffee over the idea that Muslims are aggrieved by colonialism.

I don't doubt that they are, but it's still awfully funny.

As for forced conversions, again I separate the ideological constant from the practical opportunity.

It probably is true that forced conversions by means of actual swords have seen its day, although it happened in Afghanistan within living memory.

The problem is that the idea survives and with enough strength to continually produce homicidal maniacs in troublesome numbers.

Among Christians, except for a very few completely powerless rednecks, the idea of cuius regio, eius religio is merely an historical oddity. In the Koran Belt, there are whole states and numerous popular political parties that still subscribe.

June 25, 2008 9:11 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

The following is from Robert Spencer, so add salt to taste.

But it reinforces my point, I think.

'The war against free speech is advancing rapidly: Associated Press reported Thursday that “Muslim countries have won a battle to prevent Islam from being criticised during debates by the UN Human Rights Council.” Council President Doru-Romulus Costea explained that religious issues can be “very complex, very sensitive and very intense…This council is not prepared to discuss religious matters in depth, consequently we should not do it.” Henceforth only religious scholars would be permitted to broach them.'

It's the politics, not the theology, although, as here, theology is mustered, as convenient, in the service of politics.

June 25, 2008 3:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ali, surly you understand there is nothing that upsets Harry and the Duckians more than a Muslim, Christian or Jew that says he really doesn't want to kill anybody. The man clearly needs intensive re-education.

June 26, 2008 8:24 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

How about if this person says he wants to abrogate civil rights?

Are we allowed to object to that?

June 26, 2008 9:10 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...


I think you missed the points.

First -- the Old Testament, New Testament and Quran each, on G-d's say so, not only think each other's metaphysical claims are nonsense, they each thoroughly slang other believers.

So, how do these gabfests get around that?

The second goes to what Harry said. Muslims, in particular, but also joined by other religionists, demand legal protection against just about anything offending their delicate sensibilities. Stepping away from the civil rights the rest of us prefer to enjoy, how, without reeking to high heaven of hypocrisy, do Muslims make that demand, considering what the Quran has to say about Jews?

How's that supposed to work?

June 26, 2008 11:21 PM  
Blogger Duck said...


Unfortunately there are many who are willing to provide Ali with that re-education.

June 27, 2008 6:04 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

It isn't easy to tell whether a religionist is acting from religious or political motives when, for example,you have Muslims murdering Buddhists in southern Thailand.

Or for that matter, when you have, say, Hindus murdering Hindus.

Reduce the offense from murder to robbery, torture or deprivation of civil rights, and the problem does not disappear.

The difference is important to some people, but not to me.

June 27, 2008 9:07 AM  
Blogger Ali said...

Being re-educated by terrorists is fairly low on my list of worries when it comes to mingling with my religious brethren. Being run over by a 20 year old fellow Muslim with no car insurance is much likelier.

As for the UN thing, it's more a symptom of outraged defensiveness than grasping aggressiveness. You'll find plenty of editorials in Muslim papers and man on the street talk about how the white man is out to attack Islam any way he can. But not much about the prospects of turning Europe into the next Muslim state.

June 27, 2008 3:00 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

That of course was the calculation made by the modern world from 1709 until around 1990 -- that while the threat was being made, it could not be projected much beyond a sword's length.

The time has passed when the world can say, with Richard Harding Davis, "Civilize 'em with a Krag."

Of course, it never arrived for people in places like, eg, Afghanistan where a sword was the highest available murdering technology.

If you are a Buddhist school teacher in southern Thailand, there are a lot worse and a lot more likely outcomes than being run over by an uninsured driver.

June 28, 2008 12:01 AM  
Blogger Ali said...

I'm not sure it has. Muslim belligerents can only muster about enough strength for low-tech insurgencies. Which is bad news for Buddhists in southern Thailand. But not an existential threat for the Thai state or the rest of the world.

June 28, 2008 6:51 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

On their own.

If that was all there was to it, we would worry about them about as much as we do Colombian maoists.

It's borrowed technology that reaps the big returns. The cannon that pounded down the walls of Constantinople were Hungarian.

June 29, 2008 10:42 AM  
Blogger Ali said...

True, but they wouldn't have got there without the army of 100k behind them. There's no will to fight those battles any more. There's a risk of jihadist groups getting their hands on NBC weapons. Given their level of technical expertise can just about manage car bombs, it's pretty low on my list of worries.

July 01, 2008 9:08 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

well, you live in the UK. They only have to get up to the level of the IRA to make that change for you, personally.

I used to think (up until 1968) that the Arabs inevitably would. You're right, they still haven't. (What changed my mind was the revelation that it wasn't the IDF that stopped most of the Egyptian tanks in Sinai in 1967; it was that the Egyptians neglected to put oil in the tank engines.)

I don't consider that a stable position, though.

July 02, 2008 11:31 AM  

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