Is Islam the Problem?
In the constant process of liberal self-flagellation over the boiling Mideast, a fake dichotomy has come to rule the argument. Why can't liberals admit that Islam is essentially an evil religion, find moral clarity on this fact, and move with the resolve of Republicans to stomp it out? In other words, the only thing wrong with the neocon agenda is that the neocon were the ones doing the stomping. This debate has flourished on an email thread among a group of my friends, spurred by an article by Sam Harris. First, let us get to the pith of his argument:
The same failure of liberalism is evident in Western Europe, where the dogma of multiculturalism has left a secular Europe very slow to address the looming problem of religious extremism among its immigrants. The people who speak most sensibly about the threat that Islam poses to Europe are actually fascists.The faults of the argument are evident in just these two sentences. "Multiculturalism" is used here as a red herring, a substitute for Harris's critique that liberalism fails to have the moral clarity he desires. He therefore rigs the argument: you're either a clear-eyed moral absolutist or you muck in complexities, but anything other than moral absolutism is wrong. Like Henry Ford said, you can have any color of car you want, so long as it's black. The second fault is the assumption--necessary for clear-eyed absolutists--that the source of violence is religious extremism. Let's not cloud the waters with any other factors: behavior is dictated by a single cause. Very clear. If you accept these two premises, the final argument is obvious--you must, in the clear-eyed manner of our witch-burning forbears--condemn the evildoers. (And probably with the business end of your gun.) Americans have always loved penitence. Everywhere on the right and left, Americans seem to be wanting Muslim penitence so that we may cleanse them of the stain of wrong belief.
Liberals accept this Rovian-packaged deal at their peril. Islam is not the sole cause of violence, any more than Christianity can be blamed as the sole cause for our invasion of Iraq (though surely only the naive will fail to see its contribution). Religion is an accelerant. Bush is using it in the White House like gasoline on the fire of his corporate-military policies, and Muslim leaders are using it throughout the Mideast for their own ends.
I regret that I don't have the time to source the following factors. If I were getting paid to do this thinking, it'd be less hinky. I'm not, so hinky it is. Anyway, here are some of the other reasons the Middle East is destabilized:
- Oil. For a number of reasons, countries where oil--is the sole or dominant source of GDP are violent and destabilized. It is easy to control oil and support a dictatorship when you control oil revenues. Even Russia, with a large and diverse economy, is seeing the destabilization of rich oil barons.
- Education. Most of the populations in the Middle East have no access to education or alternative models of reality. One of the reasons Islam is so persuasive is because it has no counter in secular education.
- Employment. The Middle East has the highest rate of unemployment in the world.
- Age. The Middle East has a burgeoning population of youth (a third to half the population) who are uneducated, unemployed, and poor, fueling destabilization.
- Isolation. "Connectivity" that quality of penetration from the outside world, is a corollary to education. Exposed to cultural influences beyond their own world, countries begin to open up, as China has done since the 1990s. Citizens of the Middle East remain disconnected, again, further empowering the voice of radical clerics.
Finally, there's this: the US bears a large measure of the responsibility for Middle East instability. It has kept our cars full of cheap gas for 50 years. When Iran struggled toward democracy, we stifled it and re-installed the Shah. When Iran and Iraq went to war, rather than take an internationalist approach, we backed one warlord against another. When our warlord invaded Kuwait, we ran him back to his own oil fields. It has been in the interest of the United States to keep citizens of the Middle East poor, uneducated, disconnected, and oppressed.
For liberals to now blame those poor, uneducated, disconnected, and oppressed citizens for radicalizing does them a grave disservice. Worse, acting on the believe that the destabilized Mideast is the result of "Muslim radicalism" will get us more of the idiocy George Bush has been peddling for six years. Islam is an accelerant--it's not the problem.