Robert Sibley: “Don’t blame the West”.

From The Ottawa Citizen

By Robert Sibley, Ottawa Citizen January 3, 2011.

Don’t blame the West

The ‘root causes’ of Islamist terrorism do not lie in poverty or western imperialism, but an age old conflict between reason and revelation

During the last decade of Islamist terrorism, numerous commentators, particularly those on the left, have adopted a materialist approach to explain why some Muslims want to slaughter guests at hotels in Mumbai or detonate bombs at Christmas festivals in Sweden.

Terrorism, they argue, is rooted in poverty, frustration over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and memories of western imperialism. In other words, so the argument goes, the West itself is to blame for terrorism. If only the West would apologize, make reparations, abandon Israel, leave the Middle East and Afghanistan, all would be well. Or at least that’s where the root-cause crowd’s assumptions logically lead.

The problem with this materialist view of terrorism is that it largely misses the spiritual motivations that inform Islamist geo-politics. As political theorist Barry Cooper argues in his book, New Political Religions, or, An Analysis of Modern Terrorism, the Islamists, like the Nazis and Communists, are motivated more by a “disease of the spirit” than materialist aspirations. “When ordinary human beings see themselves as specially chosen by God, or even as gods themselves, they are not necessarily psychopaths, but they most definitely are spiritually disordered.”

Cooper draws on Eric Voegelin, a 20th-century political philosopher who coined the term “pneumopathology” to account for the spiritual diseases of the modern world. Voegelin argued that some people — politicians, intellectuals, journalists, for example — prefer to see the world as a projection of their desires rather than comprehend its reality. Such fabulists effectively live in what Voegelin called a “second-order reality.” If they acquire power they all-too-often pursue extreme measures — genocide, gulags, crashing airplanes into buildings — to transform the world to suit their fantasies of perfection.

In the case of the Islamists, they imagine Islam spreading across the globe and the establishment of a worldwide caliphate based on shariah law. They see themselves empowered by Allah to bring about this new world order by destroying a civilization they regard as spiritually empty. Thus, Islamism constitutes a political religion of apocalyptic proportions.

You don’t have to look far to find hints of such second-order thinking. The New York Hall of Science is currently staging an exhibit titled “1001 Inventions” that purports to show that Islam enjoyed a Golden Age of scientific and intellectual accomplishment when Europe was wallowing in the Dark Ages. According to a New York Times reviewer, the exhibition’s promoters claim Islam’s cultural glories were later “misappropriated” by the West.

It is true that, between the seventh and 10th centuries, Islamic culture spread across North Africa and the Middle East — prompting the building of libraries, universities and cities where science and philosophy were prized. Scholars, such as al-Zahrawi and al-Haytham, made significant contributions to medicine and physics. Philosophers such as al-Kindi and al-Farabi absorbed Aristotle and Plato and, like the Greeks, tried to apply reason to the problems of Muslim society. But to deny that Muslim thinkers borrowed heavily from other cultures — evidence, again, of second-ordering thinking — is a distortion of historical reality. As the Times’ reviewer puts it: “Major cultures of the first millennium (China, India, Byzantium) are mentioned only to affirm the weightier significance of Muslim contributions.”

But then Islam’s Golden Age was golden only in comparison to the endarkenment that descended on Western Europe after the collapse of the Roman Empire in the fifth century. According to some historians, the rise of Islam in the seventh century exacerbated Europe’s “Dark Age.” “Islam, far from being a force for enlightenment in the so-called Dark Age, was actually responsible for the destruction of the literate and urban civilization that we now call Classical,” says John J. O’Neill, the author of Holy Warriors: Islam and the Demise of Classical Civilization. The Muslim conquests of the Christian lands of the Middle East and North Africa in the seventh and eighth centuries were, he says, made much easier by the breakdown in law and order throughout the Mediterranean as the borders of the Roman imperium receded. In this regard, the “1001 Inventions” exhibition is, perhaps, being disingenuous.

Worse, though, says the reviewer, is the exhibition’s failure to account for the “long eclipse” of Islamic culture. Indeed, one of history’s much-debated puzzles is why the Muslim world stagnated after its Golden Age, why the spirit of scientific inquiry and philosophical debate by and large faded from Islamic culture.

Blame the imams. In the 11th century, Imam Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, a brilliant if tormented theologian, published The Incoherence of the Philosophers, effectively bringing to conclusion centuries of debate in the Muslim world about the primacy of reason versus that of revelation. Reason makes us question things, makes us doubtful and uncertain, al-Ghazali argued. He attacked philosophers who thought that humans could know the world by means of rational thought. Reason, he said, leads to despair. Only divine revelation, the word of God as revealed in the Koran, provides certain knowledge of how best to live. Human reason must submit to Allah’s will.

A century later, another Muslim philosopher challenged al-Ghazali’s views. In The Incoherence of the Incoherence, Ibn Rushd — better known in the West as Averroes — argued that reason was God’s gift to mankind and was to be used for the betterment of society. Ignorant theologians should not intrude on areas they don’t understand. It was too late. The imams carried the day. Averroes’ books were burned and he fled into exile. The voice of reason fell silent in courts of the caliphs and Muslim culture gradually ossified.

Some scholars argue that Islamist terrorism can be traced to this eclipse of reason. Unlike Christianity, which eventually found a way to balance the claims of Athens and Jerusalem, leaving it open to the scientific reasoning that re-emerged in the Renaissance and Enlightenment, Islam has never reconciled reason and revelation. This unwillingness to reconcile the human and the divine fosters the kind of spiritual pathologies that give birth to terrorism.

“Islamism is grounded in a spiritual pathology based upon a theological deformation that has produced a dysfunctional culture,” argues political scientist Robert Reilly in a newly published book, The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamist Crisis. Mainstream Sunni Islam, which comprises the majority of the faithful in the Muslim world, “has shut the door to reality in a profound way.” This, says Reilly, is the consequence of Islam’s long suppression of reason in favour of religious dogmatism.

Reilly refers to the abandonment of scientific thinking as the “Dehellenization” of Islam. Islam was eventually dominated by those who thought like al-Ghazali. They held that the Koran contained Allah’s direct speech. And, because Allah’s will and action is unlimited, the Koran, as his eternal word, must apply to all times and places. There is no need to look elsewhere in responding to the human condition, regardless of changing circumstances. Since Allah is the first cause of everything, there is no need to look for secondary causes; that is to say, no need to use reason to understand nature’s laws, and, therefore, no need for science.

Such a mindset, Reilly argues, forgoes many attributes Westerners regard as essential to the modern mind, particularly philosophical skepticism and scientific reasoning. “If one lives in a society that ascribes everything to first causes, one is not going to look around the world and try to figure out how it works or how to improve it,” he writes. “The Middle East is poor because of a dysfunctional culture based upon a deformed theology, and unless it can be reformed at that level, economic engineering or the development of constitutional political order will not succeed.”

Other political theorists argue that democracy cannot establish deep roots in a culture where human reason is not paramount because, in Barry Cooper’s words, “the prerequisite of democracy is the respectability of reason.” But without respect for reason there can be no notion of discovering natural laws. And without natural law, says Cooper, “there can be no constitutional political order by which human beings, using reason, create laws to govern themselves and act freely.”

Such views, if valid, augur ill for the presence of Islam within the secular West. If radical Islam is, as Reilly contends, rooted in the suppression of reason, it is hard to see how even moderate Muslims can achieve a deep and wholesome attachment to western societies and their values. How can genuinely devout Muslims identify wholeheartedly with a modern secular society that denies the efficacy of their faith? And if they can’t, what are they going to do about it?

The Islamists’ answer, obviously, is that no accommodation is possible. Hence, they ultimately seek the transformation of the West to accommodate Islam. Chandra Muzaffar, a widely respected Malaysian Islamic scholar, writing in a 2006 book, The New Voices of Islam, captures this spiritual aspiration: “Islam and the post-Enlightenment secular West are diametrically opposed to one another.

© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen

21 Replies to “Robert Sibley: “Don’t blame the West”.”

  1. Excellent article; an inescapable and perplexing observation of Islam for Westerners has been the blindness its followers display in adhering to intolerance and violence to achieve their goals. No attempts to compromise, resolve or discuss are ever sought, and it seems are even permissible. This article explains why. There is no point because considering things for followers of Islam is not possible; their thinking is already written for them in the Koran and to deviate from that I suppose would be a form of religious blasphemy in their eyes. Certainly hastens the idea that trying to reason with followers of Islam is a complete waste of time. This needs to be published in msm around the world to show the progressives their appeasement will never work, ever. These people do not and can not think like Westerners. Our consideration-of-others technique is falling on deaf ears and closed minds. Stops us wasting anymore time trying to reason with these people; we should just get on with the idea of defending ourselves from the increasing brutality seen in our societies.

  2. If radical Islam is, as Reilly contends, rooted in the suppression of reason, it is hard to see how even moderate Muslims can achieve a deep and wholesome attachment to western societies and their values. How can genuinely devout Muslims identify wholeheartedly with a modern secular society that denies the efficacy of their faith? And if they can’t, what are they going to do about it?

    Exactly! But the more relevant question in my mind is, “what are we going to do about it.”

  3. I notice a dangerous trend among the lefty anti-religious crowd: the indifference and laziness of Westerners to really dig into the religious dogma of Islam, and any other religion as well.

    The secular West has little or no interest in religion, hence no motivation to do the work, and so by definition it’s extremely dry and irrelevant. Religion is a subject of which most secularists think they “know” all they need to know, and this attitude makes them susceptible to soothing taqqiya words about the “peace” of Islam, and other ideas which they want to hear. Their hatred of Christianity and Judaism supports this distorted view.

    They will believe these lies even above ex-Muslims who are trying to warn us. The lies support what the lefties believe – that Western “imperialism” and Christian oppression is the reason for the righteous violent muslim efforts for justice.

  4. Article said, “without natural law, says Cooper, “there can be no constitutional political order by which human beings, using reason, create laws to govern themselves and act freely.”

    We are talking about Saruman’s army here. They are mostly made up of Orcs and the Haradrim people.

    Next time you watch Lord of the Rings notice the Haradrim people who ride the elephants they look like Muslims.

  5. Well said, Dallas. I have friends like that who will not look into any religious text because they’re absolutely positive they have it all figured out and simply don’t need to look further. They are convinced that religious texts are so ridiculous as to make them irrelevant in the real world. They couldn’t be more wrong.

  6. Chris, I have friends who believe that they’re renaissance men – that their eyes are open, and yet they walk in their sleep, refusing to break through the walls of their rigid self-hating beliefs.

    I have heard that liberalism is an ideology and conservatism is not. I am willing to have rational discourse, and of course I am subject to my own programming, but really, it’s like talking to a wall trying to encourage these friends to try on some new ideas. Facts sometimes almost get them to see a glimmer, but the next week it’s all been forgotten, and the West is again the most repressive system ever to blight the planet.

    My point: ideologies brainwash people and remove their ability to reason.

    At home we joke that they are our “case studies” (my lefty friends). Sad but that’s how it is.

  7. If radical Islam is, as Reilly contends, rooted in the suppression of reason, it is hard to see how even moderate Muslims can achieve a deep and wholesome attachment to western societies and their values. How can genuinely devout Muslims identify wholeheartedly with a modern secular society that denies the efficacy of their faith? And if they can’t, what are they going to do about it?

    Look here and see what they are doing about it…

  8. Dallas there is no one more closed minded then an open minded liberal, they are open only to the statements and facts that support their ideology, which in my opinion is actually a theology. As far as I can see they are as subject to revelation as the Moslems, only instead of Mohammad having the revelations it was Marx and Engels.

  9. Richard, I spent one frustrating and fruitless day last week arguing with a leftist who wants to see all religions eliminated, who believes the teachings of all religions are the same, and can’t see that if we kill the mongoose (religions), the pythons in the forest (leftist/totaliarian/genocidal “religions”) close in for the kill.

    The mind is hard-wired for structure. You are right, utopian visions definitely ARE another religion, but with no morality, only nihilistic and immoral Machiavellism.

    Religion means Latin “linking back” to that which connects us, and the definition hints at the true purpose of religion. Even the ideologues feel “connected” by their ideology, at least through the honeymoon phase, before the pogroms and purges, as seen through the 20th century.

    Andrew Klavan was discussing the lyrics to the leftist mantra “Imagine” by John Lennon (get your candle lit and let’s all wave back and forth )…

    “no countries, nothing to live or die for, all the people living for today”

    It’s the philospohy of a COW! I love telling leftists that after all logical arguments have been met with ignorance!

    And the totalitarian leaders know full well how easily manipulated the leftists are when they become the messiah, and they rub their hands as the well-meaning and tragically naive leftist populace falls into their clutches like sheep.

  10. Dallas Machiavelli is a must read for anyone who wants to understand the left, and you need to read more then the Prince. I have a hard time getting his other works but they are worth the time to find and read.

  11. Thanks for the tip Richard, at least I will read a few internet pages on his writings and influence.

    Glasov’s “United in Hate” and Rossiter’s “The Liberal Mind” are the ones I read this year on the mental illness of leftism. From a psychiatric viewpoint it has its roots in a mis-identification with one’s own society (per Rossiter – a shrink). It’s kind of a growing avocation now for me to study the phenomenon since half of my fellow Canadians are afflicted.

    This is in contrast to genuine empathy for others, of which the radical left makes a mockery.

    Moderately helpful might be to share with a leftie the following books: Wafa Sultan’s “A God Who Hates” and Noni Darwish’s “Cruel and Usual Punishment”, a really excellent and gritty read. A pretty good intro to Islam is Don Richardson’s “Secrets of the Koran” although the liberals really hate it for a few reasons, Richardson’s Christian perspective for one. Amazing content though, and he took pains to use varied translations from Arabic.

    Then again I would rather immerse in the study of Renaissance art, ancient cultures and Mediterranean travels, just so I don’t get too cynical.

  12. If you can get them to read them, the leftist will resist doing anything like studying the other sides argument, and at times come close to resisting to the death.

  13. If they do, it’s with disbelief. Last week the reaction to Wafa’s authentic (valuable) experience and teaching was “in her opinion…”, as if he knows better than someone with real experience.

    Like talking to a wall, they live in their dreamworld.

    Most are beyond hope.

    The good news – humans after 70-80 years have to give way to fresh minds.

  14. But the tide in the US seems to be turning, if the TEA parties keep active over the next couple of years things will be very different, if they don’t we will have major problems.

  15. And of course, when the sleeping giant awakes, I wouldn’t want to see things go to the other extreme. Our freedoms are threatened by extreme deviation on either side of rationality.

    That being said, I don’t underestimate the power of the good ol’ boys to correct the disease of P-C moral relativism once we’re mobilized.

  16. I know what you mean, I know some people that are praying that the vigilantes start up again, granted in almost all cases they were started because organized law and order had broken down and was corrupt. And in almost all cases they disbanded once the situation was corrected, but there is a massive potential for abuse there.

    Having said that almost all of the people who would be fighting have military or police experience or both types. Some people (from what I have heard they are in DC and the big cities) are afraid of a race war, a race war wouldn’t last very long given the differences in the size of the groups.

  17. Dallas – google drd4 gene, the left are geneticaly programed to think this way my very father is a former marxist union secretary and I debate him, often convincing him and defeating his every position only to find out he has reverted back the next day [ ground hog day I call it ] my dad is a 78 years old 163 iq alcoholic his 73 years old sister is a marxist psychologist who controls an australian aboriginal “ant farm ” in the northern teritory aka pol pot year zero colective ownership and no property rights. To my dad and his sister islam represents a –surogate proletariate — whom will rise up and overthrow the west for them this is why said qutb cloked the muslim brotherhood in marxism [ milestones 1966] to gain the sympathies of fellow travellers and their ilk. ‘ islam is not a religeon it is a method’ qutb

  18. Ray, very interesting, thanks. The gene also makes them stupid. Ground Hog Day, ain’t it the truth, I love your reference, it’s so true.

    The liberal mind crystallizes around the utopian ideas, the knee-jerk inherent hatred of “the multinationals”, the beliefs about the USA being the worst imperialist and terrorist entity in history, and of course hated capitalism (however in practice they very much actively enjoy the fruits of capitalism and are very conscious of the wealth that they never seem to want to give up). They love to be in the ‘management’ class of course because of their deep insight and their ‘prescription’ for the beloved oppressed masses.

    Invariably, the hypocrisy of their righteous ‘knowing’ what those masses need is invisible to them. Such arrogance that they never consider themselves to be part of their oppressed masses, but more something like a messiah instead, far above the crowds. Good Stalin material.

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