Sunday, June 11, 2006

Proportion

The conservative blogosphere is frequently awash in demands for moderate Muslims to absolutely, once and for all, repudiate and condemn Islamic terrorism. Sounds good… the vicarious fulfillment of press release fantasies being somehow worth more than actual press releases themselves, or ,in other words, less than their weight in pulped lumber, as it were. But anyways, fine, you've had your repudiations and condemnations handed to you in spades, although your appetite has not nor ever will be satisfied with them because your claim to righteousness is as greedy and implacable as that of your enemies. Drop the see-saw competition for reproach, and consider instead what your proclamatory but intentionally illusive moderate Muslim teeter-totterer would avail you. Theodore Dalrymple in the City Journal:

It is important, of course, to distinguish between Islam as a doctrine and Muslims as people. Untold numbers of Muslims desire little more than a quiet life; they have the virtues and the vices of the rest of mankind. Their religion gives to their daily lives an ethical and ritual structure and provides the kind of boundaries that only modern Western intellectuals would have the temerity to belittle.

But the fact that many Muslims are not fanatics is not as comforting as some might think. Consider, by way of illustration, Eric Hobsbawm, the famous, much feted, and unrepentantly Marxist historian. No one would feel personally threatened by him at a social gathering, where he would be amusing, polite, charming, and accomplished; if you had him to dinner, you wouldn’t have to count the spoons afterward, even though he theoretically opposes the idea of private wealth. In short, there would be no reason to suspect that he was about to commit a common crime against you. In this sense, he is what one might call a moderate Marxist.

But Hobsbawm has stated quite openly that, had the Soviet Union managed to create a functioning and prosperous socialist society, 20 million deaths would have been a worthwhile price to pay; and since he didn’t recognize, even partially, that the Soviet Union was not in fact on the path to such a society until many years after it had murdered 20 million of its people (if not more), it is fair to assume that, if things had turned out another way in his own country, Hobsbawm would have applauded, justified, and perhaps even instigated the murders of the very people to whom he was now, under the current dispensation, being amusing, charming, and polite. In other words, what saved Hobsbawm from committing utter evil was not his own scruples or ratiocination, and certainly not the doctrine he espoused, but the force of historical circumstance. His current moderation would have counted for nothing if world events had been different.
Read the rest here.

11 comments:

Brent Gilliard said...

I can't decide whether to take this as just painting Muslims in too-broad strokes or deriding all moderates of all philosophies.

I would try to defend moderation, but everytime I start this paragraph I get the feeling it will take 10,000 words.

MapMaster said...

Consider it painting philosophies antithetical to individual freedom and natural justice in broad strokes. Of that, make what you will.

I would never even try to defend moderation, because I have no idea what it could possibly mean (although I'm sure that Chamberlain would have been considered a moderate if he was a contemporary). But I'm interested in your thoughts on the subject.

MapMaster said...

More on the subject tomorrow, must get to bed!

gm said...

Could one be a moderate supporter of death? Can one be a little pregnant?

Brent Gilliard said...

I full-heartedly support death! Not my own, of course, but I've heard the walking undead are quite unpleasant.

Brent Gilliard said...

Because I have a tendency to ramble, I first want to set aside the hypothesis that 'moderate' Muslims are as bad as 'extremist' Muslims. Partly because I know very little about Muslims in general, but mostly because I can't think of what the next step would be if that were true.

Let's look at the big picture instead.

First, there is the ever-present problem of semantics. As you pointed out, it's hard to define moderate. Personally, I would say a moderate person is mostly satisfied with the status quo. Certainly, the 40% of people who don't vote because they don't think they need to are moderates. Beyond that, it's all subjective.

In political circles, I'd say anyone who is willing to conceed (or appease) to get part of what they want is a moderate. So yes, Chamberlain was a moderate.

(Pardon my rambling. Some historians think the UK was poorly prepared for war in 1938, and appeasement might not have been a bad policy for them. Bad for the Czechs though...)

That means a political moderate can operate outside the confines of their political philosophy. A moderate Libertarian in Australia might vote because it is more convenient to do so than to fight the fine or jail time that non-voters get. A moderate Christian could steal, lie, kill, and... that's all the commandments I can remember.

Hopefully you get what I mean.

Now, are moderates just as bad as the extremists? Dalrymple says "His current moderation would have counted for nothing if world events had been different." to villify Hobsbawm. It may be that Hobsbawm would have happily worked in the Gulags given the chance, but he didn't have the chance.

Let's use the "now imagine she's white" trick. Most people in Canada are moderate capitalists. If they had been born into business shortly after the industrial revolution, would they have had any qualms about child labour in their factories? Or if born in early America, would slavery have been a big deal?

Context is important. It's why the courts examine mitigating circumstances.

A moderate today might do horrible things in a different context. But they didn't.

Anyway, this is dragging on and I have to stop. If I can muster the concentration, I might write more later.

MapMaster said...

Thanks for the comment, Entozoa, and I think I understand what you are talking about. But what you neglect to mention is whether moderation is a philosophy at all. You imply that a moderate position is derived more or less from a pragmatic or utilitarian approach, but without recourse to any fundamental principles, which means that it could be adopted thinkingly or unthinkingly, or even accidentally — whatever works, as it were. Of course, I do moderate my own expressions and opinions in some contexts for the purpose of being understood or just to get along with my environment. But I can't see how moderation could be a principle or policy itself — as you say, context is everything, so a moderate probably did countenance child labour or slavery in their times, possibly acknowledging an equivocal discomfort, but certainly entertaining a disregard to some degree or another to fundamental principles.

But back to the little picture! What Dalrymple is saying, and with which I agree, is that moderate Muslims can and do repudiate extremism in method but remain broadly sympathetic to the same objectives as the terrorist's. Similarly, most socialists these days, shamed by the millions slaughtered in the name of communism, repudiate violent revolution but are still sympathetic to the adoption of a totalitarian ideology in political form that is antithetical to freedom or truth, and would less mourn deaths brought about in the service of bringing this state of affairs about than other deaths.

But I realize that I am painting a very broad stroke about Muslims. There are in fact Muslims who not only abhor extremist violence but also all of its totalitarian or revisionist objectives. They are the ones who have separated their religion into claims of action and reason upon individuals and voluntary communal associations and divested it of its claims to temporal authority over everyone else. You can call these people moderate Muslims if you like, but why they should be pestered into public remonstrations of their loyalty to non-violence and the Canadian way is beyond me. Those kinds of demands are, in fact, bigoted. Leave genuinely peace-loving people alone to associate with their chosen community as they see fit, a courtesy that is extended to other non-Muslims generally. I'm sure that they are saddened and distressed more than the rest of us by Islamic extremism in ideology or method. Left alone in a society that is not governed by a manipulatable system of collective privileges and immunities, and they may end up solving the problem on their own, even if it takes quite a few centuries.

But let me address the generalization I make of Islam, after issuing that disclaimer. Much the same can and has been said by a friend of mine about Christians and Christianity, to whom I am much more broadly sympathetic. It is true that many Christians even today would like to impose standards derived from their religion on the rest of society. But, first, very few Christians today aspire to a genuine theocracy as is found in the Muslim world, and as few attempt to implement their objectives violently. Those few have forgotten Christ's injunction to "render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's," an admonition that, along with the particular idea of individual salvation, has illuminated much of the Christian evaluation of the relationship between individuals and society, once the Church lost its dual hegemony as Caesar and Spiritual Leader. Unfortunately, Islam contains no such clear injunction, and Muslims who respect the clear separation of conscience and authority derive it not from Islam but from the authority of their own reason outside Islamic teaching. Which is why I do esteem those Muslims very much. Unfortunately, they are more likely to be a minority, but there is nothing more certain than that the righteous demands for moderate Muslims to speak out will invite for the most part only those self-serving publicity-seeking Muslims who beat a half-measure of strategic retreat for their own purposes.

Brent Gilliard said...

I was about to post a resposnse but Thomas Friedman is on the Daily Show. Two minutes

Brent Gilliard said...

OK, I agree mostly with your second paragraph, though it is important to stress that sharing sympathies with and condoning the actions of terrorists are not the same.

I know you put a greater premium on people's critical thinking than I do, but it is the responsibility of 'moderate' Muslims and the rest of us to create an environment that shifts the equilibrium from minority to majority. I don't profess to know exactly what that means, but it's more than just providing information. But I agree that the 'moderate' (maybe we could call them enlightened?) Muslims can't be forced to do anything.

This all gives me a headache. Where are the bread and circuses when you need 'em?

To Dave Barry's blog! [cue william tell overture]

Brent Gilliard said...

I guess I neglected to talk about moderation as a philosophy again.

Let's say "no".

I think we could use an automotive analogy. Moderation is a bit like the brand of a vehicle. It's says nothing important like the type of vehicle/philosophy (i.e. car, truck, communism, capitalism, etc) but it has emotional qualities that vary from person to person.


This is much more abstract than I like to think. I couldn't even grasp imaginary numbers in grade 12 calculus.

I have decided that, after imaginary numbers, political theory is now my least favourite thing in the world.

MapMaster said...

Entozoa, your automotive analogy is perfectly apt. I loved it! Work it a little and you've got yourself a great quote. Much less abstract than moderation as a philosophy.

it is the responsibility of 'moderate' Muslims and the rest of us to create an environment that shifts the equilibrium from minority to majority

Well, I wouldn't say precisely that it is the "responsbility" of anyone to bring such a condition, but it is in the best interests of most of us. It's really pretty simple, though, I think — suffer no system of artificial privileges and immunities that can be politically manipulated by fears, ideologies, wishful-thinking, lobbyists, etc... and admonish with all the force of your voice and reason any attempt to gain them at the expense of yourself and others. Punish when necessary. Billy Beck said it succinctly once before:

"It's all about the socialism."

I always loved imaginary numbers, but I have no idea what that says about me as a person. But anyone who reads Dave Barry is good in my books. And I tolerate your rambles, and you tolerate mine...

Cheers!