Liberty Face Off: Is Islam Inherently a Threat to Liberty?
Welcome to Liberty Face Off, a new column on the ESFL Blog in which two student bloggers will present us their view on a scorching hot topic. Prepare to leave your safe space and encounter a triggering debate! Our blogging team members Bill Wirtz and Daniil Gorbatenko will kick off this first Liberty Face Off with a debate on the question: Is Islam Inherently a Threat to Liberty? Do you have an issue in mind that you would like to see debated among libertarians? Please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and your suggestion might be discussed in the next Liberty Face Off.
If It Sounds Illiberal, It’s Probably Illiberal
By Bill Wirtz
When I left the Catholic Church at the age of 16 (yes that’s a thing, it’s some paperwork though) I felt refreshed. I had never been a fan of religion, church was boring and on the brink of the massive children’s abuse story going on at the time, nothing was really holding me back. As an atheist I didn’t fear supernatural repercussions to my act of apostasy. More importantly, I did not fear that my family or my (now former) church would call for my death. The same cannot be said for Islam.
In the efforts of being politically correct we can pretend that all sets of values are equal, that bigotry is equally spread among religion, and that by all means, radical beliefs are held by a mere fraction of a fraction of people. Neither is the case. The rule of law is better than theocracy. How do I know this? Because under theocracy my article wouldn’t be on this platform and I would be subjected to flogging right after publishing.
A concrete difference between Christianity and Islam needs to be pointed out: Christianity did have a reformation, which affected both scripture and behaviour, while Islam did not. While the New Testament is not necessarily a book that all of us will morally adhere to, it does not call for death, does not glorify destruction or lay out the ‘enemy’ of the faith. Of course we can pretend that the hundreds of quotes from the Quran and the Hadith which are sexist, homophobic and all throughout bigoted by intent, are not representative of people’s actions or believes. Firstly, this would still not change the fact that Islam is intentionally illiberal, and secondly it is not backed up by reality.
Sharia Law is official Islamic Law, governing the behaviour of Muslims as well as those who are not followers of Islam. It promotes death for apostasy, death for blasphemy, death for homosexuality, domestic violence and the overall subjugation of women through not recognising her ability of holding property and giving consent. According to Pew Research polling, 84% of South Asian Muslims, 77% of Southeast Asian Muslims, 74% of Middle Eastern and North African Muslims, 64% of sub-Saharan African Muslims and solid 18% of Southern and Eastern European Muslims believe that Sharia should be the law of the land.
As libertarians we believe in property rights, the non-aggression principle, we believe in solidarity, plurality, respect and human decency. The set of values promoted through Islam are inherently contrary to liberty, and the only people claiming that it is not, are non-Muslim apologists.
Jesus Christ is by no means the equivalent of Mohammed. Jesus was an apolitical figure who did not regard his earthly mission to be related to political struggles: “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” John 18:36, although he did tell his followers to pay their taxes in Mark 12:13-17, which is close of being my biggest objection to him.
Mohammed on the other hand was a political leader and an interventionist by definition. He promoted spreading Islam through violence, led military campaigns, owned slaves, committed murder and rape and married a 7-year-old (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 5, Book 58, Number 234 and 236). There is no instance in which the prophet Mohammed was anything but an archetype of despicable morality.
If it sounds illiberal it’s probably illiberal. Every single country that follows Islam as a value system for legislation turns out to be fundamentally tyrannical and unjust, leading from institutional sexism over partial court systems to executions of those whose moral behaviour is judged to be contrary to holy books. Even in those countries that ban these practices, honour killings and genital mutilation of children remain a problem. That is not to say that we should try to legislate migration, belief or speech of Muslims, but that we should not chastise ourselves from criticising the apparent illiberal nature of Islam.
Islam is in dire need of a reformation. Its practice and value system are a threat to liberty.
There Is no Such Thing as Pure Islam That Should Be Feared
By Daniil Gortbatenko
According to many people, including my opponent in this debate, Islam has intrinsic features that make it inherently different from other religions like Christianity that make its sincere adherents incompatible with the modern social order. The key features cited by the anti-Islamic thinkers are the failure to accept the separation of law and religion, the acceptance by some authoritative theologians of death as a punishment for apostasy, and the belief that the ideal Islamic society (Umma) should encompass all the believers and have only one state (caliphate).
It is certainly true that these are beliefs shared by many Muslims today. It is also undeniable that they can be and often are successfully leveraged by fundamentalist ideologues to recruit psychologically vulnerable young people of Muslim descent (and even some non-Muslim-heritage people). We can even go so far as to say that were Muslims to suddenly form a majority of voters in a Western country today, this could result in a significant erosion of the relatively liberal order.
However, before wondering whether I forgot which position I am defending, consider that none of the things I mentioned is sufficient to conclude that those beliefs are unchangeable, except through complete abandonment of Islam. The reason for this is that, however many horrible quotes one can cherry-pick from the Quran (and it is also possible to cherry-pick quite a few good ones), there is no such thing as pure religion, especially when we are talking about one that is based on a hopelessly vague and contradictory holy book that is not even organized in a chronological order.
The reasons why modern Muslim societies are relatively backward in terms of tolerance and human rights compared to the West cannot be reduced to the wording of the Quran, Sunna or any bunch of authoritative theological pronouncements. Islam and politics in the Islamic societies have historically often interacted in detrimental ways shaping one another in the process. As Scott Alexander aptly noted, even the foundational religious conflict between the Sunnis and the Shia likely originated as a mundane power struggle among the disciples of Prophet Mohammed, with the irreconcilable religious differences being added later through creative interpretation.
Another telling example has been explored by Timur Kuran. The Muslim world has always had a poor protection of property rights from government confiscation. People trying to protect their property seized upon the religious obligation to contribute to charity and created the institution of waqfs: trusts that rendered some kind of public service, to which the benefactor could donate his property that was then not subject to taxation and confiscation.
As late as in 1923 three quarters of arable land in Turkey belonged to the waqfs. That percentage was one half for Algeria mid 19th century and one-third for Tunisia in 1883. The stringent rules governing waqfs, especially the ban on selling their lands, seriously impeded the adoption of the Industrial revolution’s productivity improvements in the Muslim world.
The damaging mutual interaction between politics and Islam continues today. The supposedly totally secular Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein actually adopted Islamization as a deliberate policy in the 1990s and founded the Islamic university from which the current self-appointed caliph of ISIS graduated. The Mubarak’s regime in Egypt for decades did everything to ensure that the Muslim Brotherhood remained the only serious opposition to its rule.
The upshot of all this is not that politics is the only real driver of the problems that Muslim societies face and sometimes export, as in the case with Islamic terrorism. It is, rather, that without the relatively toxic institutional and cultural environment of many Muslim societies, Islam in the West can evolve into the same direction as Christianity already mostly has, except for some small fundamentalist groups.
Religions aren’t like chemical substances that can be put into a sterile flask and then added to the cocktail called society to see what happens. Rather, they are products of complex historical co-evolution with the relevant societies, as well as exogenous influences.