(Neil’s Note: I was preparing an essay in response to the recent atrocities in Paris, when I realized that almost 10 years ago – in April 2006, to be precise – I had written a screed on the subject of Islamic terrorism. So I got it out, and decided that despite its age, it might be of interest to the denizens of this forum; if only to give a sense of how far the issue is stuck in a mental morass of plus ça change.)
Clash of Civilizations, or War of World-views?
By Neil Lock
(April 9th, 2006)
“This is not a clash between civilizations, but a clash about civilization.”
These are recent words of Tony Blair, current tyrant of a medium-sized group of islands called Britain. I live in those islands. I often wish I didn’t; but circumstances do not, in the short term at least, favour my moving somewhere better to live and work.
Now, I have no respect for Blair. Blair is the leader of a gang, that passes itself off as a government. That gang does many bad things to people in the islands called Britain, which no government should ever do. Not to mention what it has done in Iraq.
Yet in this matter I find myself, at least partly, in agreement with Blair’s words. And against the received wisdom we are frequently fed, namely, that there is today a clash of civilizations between Islam and the West.
I’ll re-state that thesis as it comes over from its supporters. There is a civilization called “Islam.” And there is a civilization called “the West.” There is an irreconcilable conflict between the two. And we, as inhabitants of the West, have a duty to support Western political leaders like Blair and George W. Bush in their fight against Islam and its terrorists.
So, what is this “Islam”? Well, it’s a religion. It was begun back in the 7th century by the prophet Mohammed and his followers. For its first two centuries or so, it was a religion of its times – nasty and warlike. First by conquest, later by a mix of conquest and trade, It spread to many parts of the world. Today, from western Africa, Turkey and Somalia, to Pakistan and lands south of Russia, in Bangladesh and from Malaysia to Indonesia, Islam is the majority religion. But Islam’s adherents – Muslims – also live in numbers in other parts of the world.
As well as being a religion, Islam is a system of law. A rather conservative one, by Western standards. Indeed, most Muslim governments have departed from the strict interpretation of this system, and adopted at least some Western ideas into their codes of law.
What are the political regimes in Muslim countries like? They vary, but to the Western way of thinking, many of them are not very nice. They include monarchies, military regimes and theocracies.
What, on the other hand, is “the West”? Most people think of the West as a loose association of countries with a particular political flavour, namely, some form or other of democracy. Yet the presence, or pretence, of democracy does not imply Western-ness. Europe west of the former Iron Curtain, Canada, the USA, Australia, New Zealand – it is not controversial to call these societies Western. And there are parts of the world – Russia, China, Japan, India – which most will agree are neither Islamic nor Western. But if we try to define the West as a geographical entity, its borders prove elusive. Are the former African colonies Western? What about South American countries? Is Israel part of the West? Are the former communist countries in Eastern Europe Western?
When we speak of Western values, though, we are on much firmer ground. These are values, which have evolved in Western Europe and societies derived from it over many centuries. Their roots go back to ancient Greece and Rome, as well as to even earlier currents of thought. These Western values have, at times and in places, produced successful societies, societies more dynamic and better to live in than the historical norm. Like Islam, they have been carried, by trade and conquest, to a large part of the world. And they continue to evolve even today.
So, just what are these Western values? They are many. I will list some of them.
To the ancient Greeks, we owe the concept of the rule of law. We also owe to them the ideal of democracy, that individuals should have a voice in the running of the societies they live in. And a sense that there is an order in the world, which we should try to understand.
To the Romans, we owe the development of law and of property rights. To mediaeval times, we owe the ideas of crime as an act outside the bounds of human society; of the mens rea, the guilty mind, which must accompany it; and of the punishment fitting the offence. To mediaeval times we owe also the jury system and the beginnings of rules of evidence.
From the Renaissance sprang several of the important values, which have become Western. A dynamism, a seeking for innovation and discovery. A sense of looking both forward to the future, and back to learn from the past. The ideas of the dignity of Man, and of our mastery over our surroundings. A spirit of free enquiry and criticism.
The 17th century gave us the desire for rational explanations of things, and the scientific method of finding such explanations. It gave us a sense of Man as a creative being. And it brought to the fore the idea that we human beings have rights, which governments must not trample on.
The Enlightenment gave us a sense of the natural goodness of human beings. It gave us a sense that right and wrong are above the arbitrary decrees of rulers. It saw society as being for the benefit of the individual, not the individual for the benefit of society. It set out the idea that government must be for the benefit of the governed.
The Enlightenment also gave us a new optimism and desire for progress. And it celebrated our ability to reason, and our capacity to attain knowledge and understanding.
Enlightenment ideas reached a peak in the US Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights. The inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The idea that governments derive their powers from the consent of the governed. Freedom of religion. Freedom of speech and of the press. Freedom of peaceful association. Freedom from arbitrary search and seizure. No double jeopardy or self-incrimination. No taking of property for public use, without compensation. Speedy and public trial of accusations, by an impartial jury. No cruel, unreasonable or excessive punishments.
The Industrial Revolution, next, gave us a new spurt of technological progress and more confidence in our ability to master nature. Contrary to what socialists will tell you, it produced a wider distribution of wealth. And it gave a sense that the individual’s rewards deserve to be in proportion to his or her contribution.
Other Western values have found expression in more recent times, although some of them may earlier have been thought implicit and not needing to be stated. The dignity of the human individual. To be treated as a person before the law. No arbitrary arrest or detention. No torture. The presumption of innocence until proven guilty. Freedom of movement and residence. Freedom of opinion and expression. Freedom of speech, in whatever media. No interference with privacy or correspondence.
I will give you, lastly, two very important Western values. The first is non-aggression – otherwise said, peacefulness unless attacked. If you doubt that non-aggression is a Western value, think back and remember how smugly the media used to tell us, before Bush and Blair did their droppings in Afghanistan and Iraq, that democracies don’t start wars.
The second value is tolerance – tolerance of differences between individuals. You can see the rise of this tolerance in the progress, which has been made against racism in the last half century. And in the lessening of prejudice against homosexuals.
What do these Western values have in common? They represent a way of thinking, which places the individual at the centre of things. Many Western values take the form of much-needed safeguards for us human beings against bad government. But the Western way of thinking is also peaceful, tolerant, dynamic and honest. It values objective facts, objective measurements, rational deductions, rational judgements, objective justice. And it desires prosperity and happiness for all who behave well enough to deserve them.
Contrast, if you will, the opposite way of thinking, which I will call subjection thinking. For the subjection thinker, the human individual is not important. Subjection thinkers find dishonesty, corruption, intolerance, violent aggression, mis-treatment and oppression of people to be all OK. They like to exaggerate problems, such as terrorism, or to make them up, like runaway global warming (or is it cooling?) supposedly caused by human activities. They submerge facts and reason in a sea of lies, propaganda and mental manipulation. And all they can offer us is stagnation, poverty, never-ending conflicts and troubles, fear, uncertainty and despair.
There is indeed a clash about civilization going on today. But it isn’t the one the pundits would have you believe. It isn’t Islam versus the West, or even governments versus terrorists. For what we are experiencing today is a war of world-views. That war pits Western, individual, civilized values against the uncivilized non-values of the subjection thinkers. And… right now, we and our Western values aren’t winning the war.
* * *
It is easy for Western people to let themselves be fooled into thinking that Islam and Muslims are the cause of many of the problems in the world today. For, indeed, the regimes in many Muslim countries have become more conservative and Islamist in the last twenty years or so. And some extreme Islamists – partly provoked, it must be said, by the actions of Western governments – want to unleash a holy war on Western people, to force us all to become Muslims. These Islamists like to use a nasty tactic called terrorism. That is to say, the violent and essentially random targeting of people who are merely going about their daily business.
Now, of course we should condemn this terrorism, this targeting of innocent people. And we should condemn those that do it, those that support it and those that condone it. Yet, before we start to condemn Muslims in general, should we not consider how those that claim to be our own Western leaders are behaving? How well do they uphold our Western values and our Western civilization?
No interference with privacy or correspondence… or filming us everywhere we go, and tapping our e-mails? Freedom of movement… or no-fly lists? Trial of accusations without undue delay… or long detention without trial? No torture… except when Bush authorizes it? Freedom from arbitrary search… or stop and search on any excuse? No double jeopardy… no, Blair destroyed that one already. The rule of law… or battering us with more and more bad laws, more and more strictly enforced, so that none of us are safe?
How about recognizing our natural human dignity and goodness, and letting us live as we wish, as long as we don’t harm others? Not a chance. Just about everything Blair and co do is treating us as if we were the bad guys. They behave towards us human beings with ever increasing harshness and arrogance. They treat us like animals to be broken to their wills. And they want to reduce us to even less than that – to numbers and DNA samples in a database. Similar things are happening, too, in Bush’s kingdom on the other side of the Atlantic.
But, some may say, isn’t terrorism such a big problem, that we should accept some loss of liberties in order to beat it?
Well, that depends. First, should we not be very, very suspicious of anyone that wants to give away others’ liberties? Second, is terrorism really as big a problem as it’s made out to be? Could it not be dealt with like any other serious crime, without damaging civil liberties? And where is the objective, rational analysis of the risks from terrorism versus the costs to human beings of lost liberty?
Third, how can we be sure that, if we did accept any suspension of liberties, it would be temporary, not permanent? Fourth, do Bush, Blair and co really want to end terrorism? Or might they just be using it as an excuse for their own agendas – including trampling on our rights? Fifth, can we be sure that they would not use powers given to them to deal with terrorism, against people who have nothing to do with terrorism? Well, can we?
Sixth, isn’t Bush and Blair’s condemnation of terrorists a case of the pot calling the kettle black? Isn’t their starting a war in Iraq – legal niceties apart – just as bad as what the terrorists do? If not many times worse?
All this is bad enough. But terrorism isn’t the only excuse the political classes today are using to bully and squeeze us down into subjection. Health, safety, the environment, climate change – all these they have set up like idols to give apparent justification to their harmful policies. Not to mention that old chestnut, Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction.
I will give you what I call the Law of Political Explanations. If politicians give you one single reason for a policy or policies, it’s probably a lie. But, if politicians give you two or more reasons for something, particularly if it’s at different times, you can be damn certain they’re all lies.
Come on, are there really any thinking people out there who actually believe any excuse any politician trots out any more?
No, it is plain that Western politicians today don’t care a damn about Western values. They claim to be our leaders; but in reality, they are traitors to our values and to Western civilization. It is plain that in the real war today, the war of world-views, the politicians and the terrorists are on the same side – the side of subjection thinking, of intolerance, of hatred of the individual. They are not on the side of us human beings.
And what of democracy, the system which is supposed to give all of us a say? What is the value of a vote, if all those that frame the major parties’ policies, and practically all of their candidates, are traitors to our Western values? And how can the consent of 22 per cent of people – and a largely deluded 22 per cent at that – be enough to endow a gang like Blair and co with authority to rule tyrannically over everyone in Britain?
When you understand all this, it becomes hardly surprising that we aren’t winning the war of world-views. We haven’t even been allowed a chance. Imagine, if you will, what would have happened in the Battle of Britain if Churchill and his cabinet had been closet Nazis.
* * *
Now, what of Islam and Muslims? Where do they fit in the war of world-views?
All of us – even children of atheists – are brought up in some kind of moral environment. Frequently, this has a religious component to it, whether though our parents or through schools. When we are young and inexperienced, we tend to absorb the religion we are taught, without questioning it very much. But as we mature, many of us come to question, even to reject, the religions we were brought up in. Some pick a different off-the-peg religion. Some go green. Some grow their own religion. Others conclude that religion is a waste of time, and become agnostics, or that it is a scam, and become atheists.
The point I want to make here is that it is silly to condemn people for the religion they were brought up in. It is no more under their control than is the colour of their skin. Therefore it should not count against them. Statements like “Islam is a warlike religion,” whether true or false, are irrelevant to how we should approach Muslims as individuals.
Now, I do not find Islam a very attractive philosophy. I am not comfortable with its central theme, surrender to the will of God. I don’t like its attitude to alcohol, or its subjection of women. (Though Western feminism has tipped that particular balance too far the other way). Nor do I like the fanaticism it can engender, or the suspicion it causes some Muslims to show for non-Muslims.
But, as an upholder of Western values, I will not condemn Muslims for being Muslims. Indeed, I have sympathy for moderate Muslims in Western countries, who must be feeling that they are being made into scapegoats. I will uphold their right to have their religion, as long as they behave reasonably. I will be tolerant towards them, as long as they are tolerant towards me.
There are on the other hand some, that I do condemn for their religious conduct. I condemn those that try to foist their religious viewpoint on others, by threats, force or perversion of law. That is intolerant and uncivilized behaviour.
So, I condemn those Muslims that want to restrict my freedom of speech because I might insult their pesky prophet. But I also condemn those Christians that want to censor the Internet on the pretext of protecting my (non-existent) children from porn. I condemn the Islamists that use or support violence against innocent people. But I also condemn the Christians that want to forcibly ban abortion or the teaching of evolution, and the enviros that want to forcibly suffocate the world economy. Who are they, that they claim a right to impose their prejudices by government force, on people who don’t even believe in their dubious deity or their climate-change claptrap?
In reality, there are good Muslims and bad Muslims, just as there are good Christians and bad Christians, good Jews and bad Jews, good atheists and bad atheists. Some Muslims are peaceful and tolerant. I know this for a fact, because I have met examples of them. There exist, on the other hand, aggressive, intolerant Muslims. Those of us who uphold Western values should accept the former, and reject the latter.
But our enemies, the subjection thinkers, don’t agree. They want us to mis-understand the war we are in. They want to stir up antipathy and mistrust between indigenous Western people and Muslims. They want Western people to see Islam as an enemy. They want us to see Bush, Blair and co as white knights on shining chargers, rescuing Western civilization from the evil Islamic terrorists. And they want us to support and pay for their next murderous assault on a Muslim country, probably Iran or maybe Syria.
The recent affair of the Danish cartoons was a good example of their propaganda. You have to admit, it took a lot of people in. It gave Western people an impression that most Muslims are intolerant. This brought a reaction by unthinking Westerners against Muslims in general, which in some places, like Holland, led to talk of mass deportations.
But the affair also sowed the seed of something else. Did you hear the nonsense about re-introducing a crime of blasphemy? Did you notice the sermonizing about responsibility and codes of conduct? Did you get the feeling that freedom of speech wasn’t being properly defended? Not surprising, really. For these were subjection thinkers speaking. Subjection thinkers don’t like freedom of speech. Except for themselves, of course.
The subjection thinkers want to kill our freedom of speech, because they know that it is our weapon against them in the war of world-views. If we human beings and our Western values are to win that war, we must never, ever, ever compromise on freedom of speech. Anyone that wants to restrict freedom of speech, however good and reasonable their arguments may sound, is an enemy of Western values.
And aren’t those that want to restrict others’ freedom of speech, by their very attitude, admitting something? Aren’t they admitting that their ideas can’t fairly compete, can’t stand the test of open comparison, with the ideas of those they want to muzzle?
The first step towards winning a war is to understand that you’re in one. And the second is to identify the enemy. That, I think, we have now done. The war is a war of world-views – Western, individual values versus subjection thinking. And the enemy are the subjection thinkers, including the traitors that today pass themselves off as Western leaders.
It may seem as if the war is unwinnable. For our enemies are many and powerful. And our friends in positions of any power are few. History, though, takes strange turns. The short term prospects look bleak for Western values; and yet, there’s a feeling in the air that great change is overdue. That there’s another Renaissance coming – or a Re-awakening, at any rate.
Isn’t it about time? Isn’t it time people woke themselves up from the bad dream, which is life in the perverted societies which today pass for Western civilization? Isn’t it time for a resurgence of Western values? For a new dynamism, a new confidence in ourselves and in the future? For the restoration of the human individual to his and her rightful place at centre stage? For a rejection of subjection thinking and subjection thinkers? For Western people to provide an example to those in Muslim countries, and in the rest of the world, so they can liberate themselves too?
Well, isn’t it about time?