Friday, January 9, 2015

Why the Left WIll Not Admit the Threat of Radical Islam

MavPhil one more time

Why the Left Will Not Admit the Threat of Radical Islam

My philo cronies and I were discussing this over Sunday breakfast.  Why don't leftists -- who obviously do not share the characteristic values and beliefs of Islamists -- grant what is spectacularly obvious to everyone else, namely, that radical Islam poses a grave threat to what we in the West cherish as civilization, which includes commitments to free speech, open inquiry, separation of church and state, freedom of religion, freedom to reject religion, and so on?   Why do leftists either deny the threat or downplay its gravity?
Here is a quickly-composed  list of ten related reasons based on my own thinking and reading and on the contributions of my table mates Peter Lupu and Mike Valle.  A work in progress.  The reasons are not necessarily in the order of importance.  ComBox open!
1. Many leftists hold that no one really believes in the Islamic paradise.  The expansionist Soviets could be kept in check by the threat of nuclear destruction because, as communists, they were atheists and mortalists for whom this world is the last stop.  But the threat from radical Islam, to a conservative, is far more chilling since jihadis murder in the expectation of prolonged disportation with black-eyed virgins in a carnal post mortem paradise.  For them this world is not the last stop but a way station to that garden of carnal delights they are forbidden from enjoying here and now.  Most leftists, however, don't take religion seriously, and, projecting, think that no one else really does either despite what they say and pretend to believe.  So leftists think that jihadis are not really motivated by the belief in paradise as pay off for detonating themselves and murdering 'infidels.'  In this way they downplay the gravity of the threat.
This is a very dangerous mistake based on a very foolish sort of psychological projection!  Conservatives know better than to assume that everyone shares the same values, attitudes, and goals. See Does Anyone Really Believe in the Muslim Paradise? which refers to Sam Harris's debate with anthropologist Scott Atran on this point.
2. Leftists tend to think that deep down everyone is the same and wants the same things. They think that Muslims want what most Westerners want: money, cars, big houses, creature comforts, the freedom to live and think and speak and criticize and give offense as they please, ready access to alcohol  and other intoxicants, equality for women, same-sex 'marriage' . . . . 
This too is a very foolish form of psychological projection.  Muslims generally do not cherish our liberal values.  What's more, millions of Muslims view our in some ways decadent culture as an open sewer.  I quote Sayyid Qutb to this effect in What Do We Have to Teach the Muslim World?  Reflections Occasioned by the Death of Maria Schneider.
3. Leftists typically deny that there is radical evil; the bad behavior of Muslims can be explained socially, politically, and economically.  The denial of the reality of evil is perhaps the deepest error of the Left. 
4. Leftists tend to think any critique of Islam is an attack on Muslims and as such is sheer bigotry.  But this is pure confusion.  To point out the obvious, Islam is a religion, but no Muslim is a religion.  Muslims are people who adhere to the religion, Islam.  Got it?
When a leftist looks at a conservative he 'sees' a racist, a xenophobe, a nativist, a flag-waving, my-country-right-or-wrong jingoist, a rube who knows nothing of foreign cultures and reflexively hates the Other simply as Other.  In a word, he 'sees' a bigot. So he thinks that any critique of Islam or Islamism -- if you care to distinguish them -- is motivated solely by bigotry directed at certain people.  In doing this, however, the leftist confuses the worldview with its adherents.  The target of conservative animus is the destructive political-religious ideology, not the people who have been brainwashed into accepting it and who know no better.
5. Some leftists think that to criticize Islam is racist.  But this too is hopeless confusion.  Islam is a religion, not a race.  There is no race of Muslims. You might think that no liberal-leftist is so stupid as not to know that Islam is not a race.  You would be wrong.  See Richard Dawkins on Muslims.
6. Many leftists succumb to the Obama Fallacy: Religion is good; Islam is a religion; ergo, Islam is good; ISIS is bad; ergo, ISIS -- the premier instantiation of Islamist terror at the moment -- is not Islamic.  See Obama: "ISIL is not Islamic."
7. Leftists tend to be cultural relativists.  This is part of what drives the Obama Fallacy.  If all cultures are equally good, then the same holds for religions: they are all equally good, and no religion can be said to be superior to any other either in terms of truth value or contribution to human flourishing.  Islam is not worse that Christianity or Buddhism; it is just different, and only a bigot thinks otherwise.
But of course most leftists think that all religions are bad, equally bad.  But if so, then again one cannot maintain that one is superior to another.
8. Leftists tend to be moral equivalentists.  And so we witness the amazing spectacle of leftists who maintain that Christianity is just as much, or a worse, source of terrorism as Islam. See Juan Cole, Terrorism, and Leftist Moral Equivalency.
Leftists are also, many of them, moral relativists, though inconsistently so.  They think that it is morally wrong (absolutely!) to criticize or condemn the practices of another culture (stoning of adulterers, e.g.) because each culture has its own morality that is valid for it and thus only relatively valid.  The incoherence of this ought to be obvious.  If morality is relative, then we in our culture have all the justification we need and could have to condemn and indeed suppress and eliminate the barbaric practices of Muslims.
9. Leftists tend to deny reality.  The reality of terrorism and its source is there for all to see: not all Muslims are terrorists, but almost all terroists at the present time are Muslims.  Deny that, and you deny reality.  But why do leftists deny reality?
A good part of the answer is that they deny it because reality does not fit their scheme.  Leftists confuse the world with their view of the world. In their view of the world, people are all equal and religions are all equal --  equally good or equally bad depending on the stripe of the leftist.  They want it to be that way and so they fool themselves into thinking that it is that way.  Moral equivalency reigns.  If you point out that Muhammad Atta was an Islamic terrorist, they shoot back that Timothy McVeigh was a Christian terrorist -- willfully  ignoring the crucial difference that the murderous actions of the former derive from Islamic/Islamist doctrine whereas the actions of the latter do not derive from Christian doctrine.
And then these leftists like Juan Cole compound their willful ignorance of reality by denouncing those who speak the truth as 'Islamophobes.' That would have been like hurling the epithet 'Naziphobe' at a person who, in 1938, warned of the National Socialist threat to civilized values.  "You, sir, are suffering from a phobia, an irrational fear; you need treatment, not refutation."
When a leftist hurls the 'Islamophobe!' epithet that is his way of evading rational discussion by reducing his interlocutor to someone subrational, someone suffering from cognitive dysfunction.  Now how liberal and tolerant and respectful of persons is that?
10. Leftists hate conservatives because of the collapse of the USSR and the failure of communism; hence they reflexively oppose  anything conservatives promote or maintain. (This was Peter Lupu's suggestion at our breakfast meeting.)  So when conservatives sound the alarm, leftists go into knee-jerk oppositional mode.  They willfully enter into a delusional state wherein they think, e.g., that the threat of Christian theocracy is real and imminent, but that there is nothing to fear from Islamic theocracy.


Lupu's suggestion was my first thought as well. "The enemy of my enemy is my friend" kind of thing. But the left is not known for its historical acumen or long-term memory (even leftists, as knee-jerk and impulsive as they are, adopted the conservative viewpoint about the threat of Islam on 9/12/2001), so I wouldn't be surprised if the "enemy of my enemy" part has been largely forgotten. Now the left's friendship with Islam is sustained by the shield of political correctness the former provides the latter.

11. Leftists have a shared loathing of the Great Satan.

I tend to agree with these points, although some of the errors you rightly address are committed by conservatives, centrists, and apolitical persons. I’d add the following.
Related to 2 and 3:

Many assume that goods and evils are purely physical. Thus, the goods we want and the evil actions we commit are completely explained in physical terms.
Related to all 10 points:
Many fail to identify assumptions, make distinctions and draw consistent conclusions.
-- The distinctions between worldviews (e.g., Communism, Islam, Christianity)
-- The distinction between a genuine good and “a thing believed to be good” (e.g., the claim “Whatever I believe to be good actually is good simply because I believe it to be so”)
-- The distinction between a good and “a thing desired” (e.g., the claim “Whatever I desire is good simply because I desire it”)
-- The distinctions between group and individual and between group identity and individual identity
-- The distinction between authentic religion and pseudo-religion (hence the unfair generalization that “All religions are bad”)
-- The distinction between reasonable concern and phobia
-- The distinction between reason and sentiment (e.g., “All discrimination, including rational discernment, is bad”)
-- The distinction between classical toleration (tolerance/respect of persons) and postmodern tolerance (the belief that all actions are equally right and all claims equally true)
-- The inconsistent implications of moral relativism
-- The dubious, “Rousseau-type” assumption that all human beings are innately good and that wrong behavior is always a result of social imposition
11. Leftist ideology overlaps with Islamic ideology, e.g., anti-capitalism, state control of economy, taxation to spread wealth, etc.
Jeffery Hodges
* * *
Instances of (3) and (9) always make me think of Aristotle's observation: "As a consequence, speaking about the appearances, they do not speak correspondingly with the appearances. And the reason is they do not rightly take up their first principles: they had certain predetermined views, and were resolved to bring everything into line with them. . . For these men, on account of their love of those principles, seem to do the same as those maintaining positions in disputations. They endure everything that follows as though having true principles; as if there were not some principles which ought to be judged from their results, and especially from the end result." -- De Caelo III.7
Seeing how widespread this sort of thing is makes me wonder if practical epistemology is ever taught pre-college.
"So leftists think that jihadis are not really motivated by the belief in paradise as pay off for detonating themselves and murdering 'infidels.' In this way they downplay the gravity of the threat."
I recall reading an Israeli report that confirmed finding scraps of disposable diapers in the remains of homocide bombers, presumably to "protect" their genetalia for their "carnal post mortem paradise".
Three quick thoughts.
First, maybe they do believe it, but for a variety of reasons don't express it in the way others, especially most conservatives, do. For instance, they might think it pragmatic to distinguish what they would call "true Islam" from radicalism, in the hopes of maximizing good will towards and then from the former.
Second, perhaps they would say that "Radical Islam" is a reification. There's this radical group and that radical group and the other radical group, all of which must be dealt with forcefully. We can't send in the armed forces to deal with an abstraction ("From the halls of the Academy/to the great Platonic sea"?), so this piecemeal approach is the best way to solve the problem. (Or at least ameliorate it.)
Third, plain old fear. They don't want to end up like Theo van Gogh, but they forget the moral of Martin Niemöller's famous poem. (This is a subset of the first suggestion, but one which may be prevalent enough to merit being singled out.)
These are all consistent with your proposals, of course.
Interesting list . . . I think it's "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." For the Progressive mind (I use the term loosely) Christian faith, with its built-in disdain for the state's authoritarian bent, is clearly the state's enemy; of course it's still a mystery since Islam has no regard for the authority of Western nation states . . . so the paradox stands unresolved I suppose.
Leftists are rabbits that want to ingratiate themselves with foreign invaders:
Surprised you didn't include this one:
Cultural self-loathing: Liberals (consciously or unconsciously) hate the Christian values upon which America was built and which made America great. This contempt for their own culture causes them to give to other cultures a greater esteem than these cultures merit. The atrocities of Islam are always viewed through rose-tinted spectacles, or even romanticised.
One more:
Relentless championing of the underdog: Leftists are so power-conscious that they tend to deploy it as a moral measure. Man is more evil than woman because he has power over her, the rich executive more wicked than the lowly clerk because the executive calls the shots, etc. But America is big and strong and technologically advanced while ISIS is small and weak and technologically inferior. They are so paranoid about abuses of power that any power inequality raises a red flag for them, instantly warming them to the weaker of the two parties, no matter what its crimes.
Excellent points, Matt. I agree with both of them.
My bullet point about reason and sentiment was vague. To clarify, ours is a sentimental culture. Many people substitute emoting for reasoning. Although feeling is important in human life, unchecked sentimentality tends to blunt the rational faculty and cloud the worldview.

For example, a sentimentalist might say “All discrimination is wrong” when he means “Some discrimination is wrong”. He doesn’t realize that his own comment discriminates between right and wrong. He overlooks the fact that some examples of discrimination are appropriate, such as a painter discriminating between colors, a baseball player discerning between a fastball and a curveball, or a judge differentiating between strong and weak legal arguments. Moreover, the sentimentalist is prone to confuse universal statements with particular ones. He exclaims “All x’s are right/wrong!” when he means to assert “Some x’s are right/wrong”.
To modify Plato’s point in Gorgias, sentimentality rejects reason in favor of flattery (463 a – 466 a), and confuses appearance with reality (459 c-e).
Over at First Things, George Weigel published a piece today apropos of this topic. A paraphrase of his essay might be, Leftists do not admit the threat of radical Islam because a prudent regard of that threat would entail their validating Huntington's "clash of civilization" thesis, which includes Islam's "bloody borders." Leftists reject the idea of inter-civilizational conflict, but in saying so they're mounting a straw man argument against Huntington. His thesis is not about inter-civilization conflict as such. It's about the fact that, in the post-Cold War period, religion and other non-material aspects of culture have come to the fore as motivating factors of conflict. That is the Huntington Insight. Leftists deny it and distort it into a bogus thesis of the West v the Rest because they (using Weigel's words) "are materialists for whom all that counts is politics (the quest for power) and economics (the quest for wealth). This blindness leaves public officials (who often share this materialist bias) terribly vulnerable to events whose origins they cannot grasp, or even imagine."
Thus the chain of leftist reasoning might be as follows: a prudent regard for the threat of radical Islam would entail assenting to the elevation of religion as a source of inter-state conflict. Since humans everywhere are motivated by basically material and temporal impulses, religion as such cannot be the source of inter-state conflict. Anyone, like Huntington, who argues against this position is actually saying that the future course of world affairs would be a descent into a Hobbesian madhouse. Since no self-respecting intellectual would hold this view, the leftist distortion of the Huntington Insight has the effect of shutting off debate about religion as a motivating factor of conflict.
That is why a favorite leftist meme is, poverty causes terrorism. Poverty is a material condition. It is understandable and fits prominently into the leftist worldview. To the leftist, there are no non-material causes of terrorism.
Bill, I must say your piece and these follow on comments are about the best collection of thoughts on this subject I have seen to date.
Often and simply said--A conservative will "believe it when he sees it". But a liberal will only "see it when he believes it". No belief-no worries. He is free to fill in the void with any kind of convoluted nonsense he can conjure up.
Thank you, sir. The comments above are very good and fill in points that I missed.
Dear Bill Vallicella
Greetings from Wales.
A propos your second point. I fear you’re in danger of taking this Islamist buffoonery much too seriously. As I recollect you have yourself intimated more than once that Islamism is a classic losers’ ideology – if one can grace such a farrago of nonsense with that term - of appeal essentially to young male dimwits and inadequates with existential problems.
Bill, I say unto you and your breakfast buddies, have more faith in the American way – or rather the degenerate end of it that you have also eloquently excoriated in the past. Sex, drugs and rock’n’roll will surely do for Islamism in the end. Inane hedonism vincit omnia. Deep down all young men everywhere want to be American; it’s just that in this case vicious old geezers with silly beards have messed with their heads. The problem is, of course, the Freudian shift. They drool over internet porn or girls in the street dressed like hookers, feel ashamed then tell themselves it’s not me that’s to blame, it’s Western depravity, and they’re going to pay for making me feel like this. It’s this projected self-hatred that explains the senselessness of their killing and cruelty. I don’t want to sound flippant about this, least of all to an American citizen, but to me (I did History) this has the feel of a temporary pathogen, an inevitably doomed flailing against modernity – not the first or the last - that will inevitably self-destruct in fairly short order.
May I recommend a British movie that might not have drifted into your ken? It’s called Four Lions, and it’s about a bunch of kids trying to concoct a suicide attack. It makes my point much better than I can – and it’s very funny.


Thanks for the comment, Peter Lloyd. While I take the Islamist threat more seriously than you do, you do make a good point. The 'liberating' influence of sex, drugs, and rock & roll should blunt the edge of the fanatics' fanaticism. After all, the Beatles and other western acts played a role in bringing down the USSR: young russkis wanted what their Western counterparts had, freedom.
Decadence, I suppose, has its uses.
But I wouldn't call what is happening and has happened to the Christians and Yazidis of Northern Iraq "buffoonery." And it only takes a relative hand full of these crazies to turn the world on its ear.
Thanks for the movie suggestion.
If I might, I’d like to comment on one of Mr. Lloyd’s points. He suggested that decadence eliminates the extremist tendencies of young men with existential problems. He wrote: “Deep down all young men everywhere want to be American; it’s just that in this case vicious old geezers with silly beards have messed with their heads.”
Now, these vicious old men were once young men. They were probably confused young men with existential problems. Their heads were probably confused by an earlier set of vicious old men. However, now they themselves have become vicious old men with existential problems. They became vicious old men in our world of decadence. They became vicious old men in a world of American culture disseminated in print, on the radio, on television, in the cinema, etc. And they became vicious old men that have power over young men, just as their mentors did.
So if decadence eliminates the extremist inclinations of young men with existential problems, and if all men everywhere want to be American, then why didn’t decadence straighten out these old men? Why didn’t they adopt American values and drop the extremism? And if they didn’t do so, why should we expect that the current stock of young men under their influence will eventually be pacified by decadence?

And aren’t these vicious old men basically encouraging the young confused men to delay gratification of their temporal desire for sensuality in favor of an anticipated eternal gratification of sensuality?
Thanks, Elliot, for this and your earlier contributions.
Mr Lloyd might reply that it is only relatively recently that Western decadence has been able to penetrate deeply into the Muslim psyche via modern communication media, the Internet in particular with its mainstreaming of deviant thought, behavior, and music -- stuff that once was available only in the demi-monde but is now openly celebrated by our cultural elites as 'transgressive.'

Mr Vallicella
Thanks for taking the time to reply to my comment.
Might I put in a plug with you and your readers for Roger Scruton’s writings on Islam and Islamism? His analysis of the issues raised in this thread should be read by anyone who’s interested in them. I’d make large claims both for Scruton - one of the most considerable intellectual figure of our time – and his stuff - the most profound I’ve read by far, couched in the most stylish prose. I’d recommend “The West and the Rest”, which you can read in an evening, and what you might call his summa, “The Face of God”, in which the subject is put in a wider philosophical context.
As to the general tenor of his thought, Scruton would probably bridle at being epitomised as Burke, Kant and Hegel for our time, but it gives you the general idea. It’s Kant and Hegel at last made reasonably lucid as well, something this non-philosopher had long given up on.
If you want to get a flavour of his mind before spending good cash money on his books, look him up on Youtube.
Mr Vallicella, since you usually have the sense to remain electronically incommunicado, I’d like to take advantage of this comment box to add a heartfelt irrelevance - a thank- you note I’ve long wanted to write for several years of high-calibre intellectual sustenance. I hope you’ll take it as the best kind of back-handed compliment when I tell you this is coming from a life-long leftie. I refer not only to your own pieces but to the steers towards books I know I wouldn’t otherwise have read – I see Haecker’s Journal on my shelf – and those first read in callow youth but which returned to in later years at last begin to mean something – Weil, Pascal, Augustine.
Both Islam and Leftism are antipathetic to Western dominance of history. For that implies the exaltation of Natural Law, which is antithetical to both of these inferior doctrines which seek hegemony.
You’re welcome, Bill. Thanks to you and to Mr. Lloyd. This is an important discussion.
I understand the reply on Mr. Lloyd’s behalf. But I hesitate to trust the power of decadence, especially considering the history and worldview of fanaticism. The Jacobins, the Fascists, and the Bolsheviks were motivated rather than mollified by the perceived decadence of their enemies. Granted, these were political movements -- although Robespierre had quasi-religious motivations and Russell called Bolshevism a religion (The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism). So I’m skeptical that decadence will soothe current fanaticism.
I’d like to recommend The Anatomy of Fascism, by Robert Paxton. Although the book emphasizes Fascism, it’s an informative look at the psychology of group extremism. Paxton holds that fascist radicalism is motivated by several factors, including a fear of sociocultural decadence, a concern about the decline of the group, a belief that the instincts and volitions of group leaders supersede the voice of reason, a general conviction that will rather than reason is supreme, and a belief that violent action is justified. (See chapter 2 and the end of the final chapter)
"Both Islam and Leftism are antipathetic to Western dominance of history. For that implies the exaltation of Natural Law, which is antithetical to both of these inferior doctrines which seek hegemony".
Mr. Hazani, a powerful statement there. Made more so by its brevity.
Peter Lloyd,
I've known of Scruton for a long time, but thanks for the recommendations. And also for the kind words. I am happy to see that you picked up on my Haecker posts.
You will find my e-mail address if you clik on 'About' near the top of the right sidebar.
Thank you.
A very enlightening thread and a fairly exhaustive list of explanations. I am not sure whether it is useful to add another one to the list so far discussed. But here I go.
One of the central doctrines of Left oriented ideology is to deny objective truth in general (with a few exceptions). And when it comes to theistic doctrines, I think that the Left's position is to deny that theistic doctrines have *cognitive meaning*. Now, if theistic doctrines fail to have *cognitive meaning*, then they cannot be true or false.
Therefore, those on the Left assume that even those who profess to believe in the absolute truth of theistic doctrines cannot really do so; for a belief is a *propositional attitude* and since theistic doctrines fail to have cognitive meaning, it is nonsense to hold a propositional attitude towards them. Therefore, those who profess to "believe" theistic doctrines actually do not; they really confuse belief (a propositional attitude) with a totally different type of attitude typically labeled as *Sentimentalist-attitudes* (prevalent among one trend of non-cognitivism in ethics).
Since, from the Left's point of view, Radical Islamists cannot really believe the propositions that define their religion, such beliefs cannot explain their behavior. Therefore,
1. Islam cannot be the cause of individual Muslim's extremist behavior;
2. Since belief in Islam cannot be causally explanatory (since no such beliefs are possible), we must look for non-cognitive, sentamentalist attitudes, in order to explain their behavior. Thus, explanation must appeal to contextual causes such as oppression, economic conditions, History, the West's colonial past, etc.

The original list is rational and wholly defensible, with a small qualification: I do wonder about any too-casual use of the terms 'leftists', 'the left' etc. I suspect these terms designate many people who would actually call themselves 'left' politically (in the sense of social progressives) but who would still agree with much / all of the list above.
I think it's unlikely that 'most of the left' really don't think that Muslims don't 'really believe in xxx'; the problem is finding out what it is they really believe in (i.e. real exposition, not just 'the Koran' or 'Allah'). I doubt if the non-violent ones can provide a coherent answer.
I wonder if your term 'leftist' really talking about some 'ideological' left, i.e. the political left's (minority?) absolutist camp? This would be reasonable, since these are the kind who invariably get into power, but it might alienate some readers, preventing them from seeing the blunt common sense of the analysis.
I would like to see a post on what 'leftist/on the left', and also 'conservative' really mean - how people might self-identify is starting to become problematic.
Good point, Thomas. There is of course a spectrum of opinion on the Left, and that would have to be considered in a thorough analysis.
>>I would like to see a post on what 'leftist/on the left', and also 'conservative' really mean - how people might self-identify is starting to become problematic.<<
That would make a good post!
Dennis Prager was interviewing Michael Coren the other day, who basically came to the same conclusion as #7. Prager agreed, saying that if the Left is forced to recognize radical Islam as evil, the whole leftist worldview and raison d'ĂȘtre completely falls apart.
Made perfect sense to me.

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