Liberty Face Off REMATCH: Is Islam Inherently a Threat to Liberty?
In this first Liberty Face Off of 2017, our co-editor Bill Wirtz and contributor Daniil Gorbatenko continue their discussion on the topic of Islam and liberty in a special Liberty Face Off Rematch! Previously on the ESFL Blog, they debated the question whether Islam is inherently a threat to liberty. Today they respond to each others statements in that discussion.
States Driven by Tradition, Actions Driven by Ideology
By Bill Wirtz
There are three types of political leaders. One is the leader through tradition, which includes monarchs and dictators chosen through hereditary procedures: the legitimacy of the leader is justified divinely or through customs. One is the leader through reason, which is the procedure of choice for democracies: the leader’s authority is recognised because he was elected. The last kind of leader is that of charisma, often the case for dictators with great popularity such as Napoleon. Their reign is not that of terror, because the terror can only be enacted if their supporters, be that the military or any other militarised unit, recognises its authority.
Even though most Muslim countries are reigned either through tradition or through charisma, Islam as a religion and an ideology is independent of that fact. For instance, Indonesia, with a Muslim population of almost 90 percent, is a secular constitutional republic, and yet 72 percent of Indonesians believe that Sharia Law should be the law of the land. In liberal democracies such as France, 28 percent of polled Muslims have a belief system classified as “rejecting values of the republic”. They surely aren’t all anarcho-capitalists.
My opponent has failed to provide any figures to support his position. Indeed, the belief that “it is just politics”, is a common form of apologism. Apart from the fact that Islam specifically intends to be political, I find this argument most critical when used by those who should defend the virtues of individualism in the first place: if we were to believe that the political environment is the sole influence of human action, then we deny those who are moderates the possibility to find any sort of moral values. If the pretence is that all influencing factors are political, then how could there be moderates in the Middle East, given the authoritarian irrational political nature of the region?
And while it is correct that radical beliefs tend to weaken when exposed to values of liberal democracy, it is my sincere conviction that principles such as secularism, tolerance and respect for those who choose to live differently as well as the acceptance for the rule of law based on factors such as retributive justice through proportionate punishment, presumption of innocence or equality before the law, cannot trickle down from the West, but need to transcend tyranny on a local level. The values of liberty cannot be imposed, they have to be discovered.
I have also been accused of ‘cherry-picking quite a few good ones’, relating to verses of the Quran. If my opponent were to believe that the quotes are completely unrelated to the underlying philosophy of Islam (which is that of conquest), then am I wrong to suppose that he indeed rejects the notion that even ‘pure Islam’ is inherently contrary to liberty?
I find it blantantly striking how any other philosophy which specifically endorses and causes violence is condemned beyond belief by every lover of liberty, but Islam, through the mere assumption of the existence of a deity, gets a free pass.
When the Cuban Revolution took place and Fidel Castro installed a tyrannical dictatorship, were there libertarians who believed that we should separate politics from communism? After all, when collectivists intend to install the common ownership of the means of production by force, they didn’t really mean by force, did they?
If indeed my opponent is calling for a reformation of Islam, then he is nothing but supporting the point I made in the original article. The Quran today contains historical value, but no moral virtues. Its teachings are inherently contrary to liberty, and cannot be reconciled by just giving it a ‘new interpretation’.
Libertarians need to recognise that standing up to tyranny needs to be consequential, and that political correctness is nothing but a drowning a much needed debate.
The term “inherent” matters
By Daniil Gorbatenko
The crucial part of my opponent’s counter-argument centers on the alleged fundamental differences between Islam and its fellow Abrahamic religion, Christianity. In particular, he points out that the New Testament has supposedly abolished the Old Testament’s draconian punishments for things ranging from homosexuality to speaking up to one’s parents.
While such transgressions are indeed not criminally punishable today in any relatively developed majority-Christian country, this does not mean that there is something inherent in the text of the Bible that made such an interpretation inevitable. The human ability to interpret even relatively unambiguous texts in ways never imagined by the texts’ authors is notorious. The history of the US Constitution’s interpretation is a beautiful illustration of this. The “commerce clause”, for instance, was clearly supposed to prevent the erection of barriers to trade among states but in the 1930s it suddenly came to imply that the Federal Government can regulate any behavior that could affect interstate commerce, even though there is nothing in the text remotely hinting at the possibility of such a reading. In the case with punishments for sins, however, there are not even unambiguous statements available.
The evidence usually cited consists of several cases in which Jesus resisted meting out of such punishments, most famously in the case of a woman accused of adultery. However, Jesus never explicitly stated that those punishments generally ceased to apply, and his motivation for waving them in particular cases is anyone’s guess. Hence, Christian theologians generally have to resort to clever interpretative manoeuvres to try to make the change of approach seem obvious. Famous U.S. pastor Tim Keller is one prominent example:
“Further, the New Testament explains another change between the Testaments. Sins continue to be sins—but the penalties change. In the Old Testament things like adultery or incest were punishable with civil sanctions like execution. This is because at that time God’s people existed in the form of a nation-state and so all sins had civil penalties.
But in the New Testament the people of God are an assembly of churches all over the world, living under many different governments. The church is not a civil government, and so sins are dealt with by exhortation and, at worst, exclusion from membership.”
Crucially, this interpretation is not something that unambiguously follows from the text of the Bible at all.
In their past practice, many Christian societies used punishments as draconian as those described in the Old Testament for some of the Old testament transgressions and justified them with reference to the Bible. For example, when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire homosexuality quickly became punishable by death, as reflected in the edicts of Constantine and Constans in 342 A.D. and of Theodosius in 390 A.D.
The upshot of all this is that the absence of legal punishments for moral transgressions in Christian-heritage polities is just a result of the historical evolution of those societies, in particular, of the evolution of the Biblical interpretation and the attitude to religion in general. If Muslim clerics so wished, they could start interpreting away the worst commandments in the Quaran and hadiths – and some of them already do. For instance, commandments to fight the infidels could easily be interpreted as specific to the context of the wars Prophet Mohammed waged. Famous French Muslim theologian Tareq Oubrou goes as far as to read verse 42:51 of the Quran as implying that the Quran was a starting point of individual religious inquiry because the relevant text may imply that it was revealed from “behind the veil (curtain),” and thus cannot constitute the final truth. The text of the Quran and the content of hadiths are thus not destiny at all.
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