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Are Islam and the West at odds?

What a topic to tackle in a single blog post, huh?  Here's the gist, and then I'll explain: Judge self-identifying Muslims as individuals.  Are they good people?  Then they're not at odds with (idealized) Western values.  If not, then they're at odds.  But what is Islam properly understood?  I don't know, I'm not an expert.  If it really does tend to breed assholes (and how true does that ring, commonsense-wise, really?), then "watch out!"  More importantly: what is the relation of Islam to philosophy?  And what is "the West," exactly?  Aren't there a lot of assholes in "the West"?

First, I want to quote what I just wrote in another post, on the topic of judging people:

Racism in whatever form is fucking idiotic, ugly, vicious, mean, base, evil, obscene, moronic.  There should be no tolerance for it or excusing it.  A real philosopher judges people on the content of their character, i.e., as individuals with moral agency, not on the basis of the other Cs listed on the cover of Kwame Appiah's Lies that Bind: Rethinking Identity, i.e.: country, color, class, culture, creed.  Whatever these other things say about an individual's identity, they are not fundamental in the way character is.  The most effective route to eradicating racism is moral, i.e., philosophical education, beginning at as young an age as feasible.

So this applies to how to assess/judge a Muslim.  Anyway, what is Islam?  There's the wikipedia version, but my experience and expertise in the area of Rand/Objectivism has led me to believe that the wikipedia version of it doesn't exactly do justice to it as understood by a longtime student of it.  Who really properly interprets Objectivism, Peikoff or Kelley?

(Mini-digression: Leftists may be glad to hear that Kelley is less inclined to regard them (leftists) as slime, qua leftists.  I'm not sure that this counts in Kelley's favor, since leftists qua leftists are loathsome losers, however fine or decent they may be otherwise.  But my sense of these things based on much experience tells me that Kelley is more inclined to "study leftism" to a greater extent than Peikoff has the patience for, before issuing a condemnation in some form (assuming Kelley got around to making it a condemnation proper).  Peikoff's views on the loathsomeness of the left are surely in firm and unequivocal alignment with those of Rand herself.  I do encourage close and careful dialectically-minded study of leftist thought before properly concluding that leftism is for loathsome losers.  (E.g.)  Anyway, there are "doctrinal differences" among self-identifying Objectivists, Peikoff vs. Kelley being but one prominent example.  But you'd have to be a seasoned student of Objectivism to sort these things out properly.)

So there are doctrinal differences among Muslims.  How to properly apply the doctrine of taqiyya?  A non-asshole Muslim will advise someone to lie much as a non-asshole Christian would advise you to lie to the Jew-hunting Nazi.  But an asshole Muslim (self-identifying, anyway) like an ISIS or Al-Qaeda type would advise lying to advance their terrorist cause.  On this, the paranoid right-wing Pamela Geller types would be in agreement with the ISIS types as to what Islam is, properly interpreted and applied.  (On another Objectivism-related note, Geller runs or ran a blog titled 'Atlas Shrugs,' but her credentials qua Objectivist thinker are nothing to speak of, nothing like that of a Jimmy Wales or Greg Salmieri.  Not that this would stop leftist losers from tarring Objectivism with the association while ignoring the likes of Wales and Salmieri, the way they have in other cases.)

While the evidence that Trump is racist is tenuous, the evidence that he's specifically Islamophobic is overwhelming and incontrovertible.  For which paranoid-rightists like Geller would surely applaud him.  (This is one ugly aspect of the GOP base that hasn't been called out nearly enough by otherwise conscientious GOPers for what it is, flat-out bigotry.  What, there aren't non-asshole Muslims?  Does that ring true?  Does it ring true that paranoid-rightists understand Islam well enough to contend with scholars of Islam on what its real doctrines are?  That rings true about as much as it rings true that leftists know as much about Objectivism as Peikoff or Salmieri and so can be considered as reliable a source of commentary on Objectivism as these two are.  I don't buy it for a second.)

So to boil it down, the version of Islam that apparently both ISIS and Geller can agree is the correct one is definitely an asshole version at odds with (the best of) Western values.  But if longtime scholars of Islam are in disagreement over correct interpretation of its doctrines (the parallel case in Objectivism being Peikoff vs. Kelley, one that only the experts have the facility to adjudicate), and if outsiders to such disputes don't have the expertise to adjudicate them, then they should shut their pieholes and rest content with saying that any asshole versions are unwelcome and non-asshole versions are tolerable.  The assholes probably need to be killed before they kill you, and the non-assholes should be treated with all the dignity and respect that non-assholes deserve.

And what is "the West"?  Is it an undifferentiated blob?  Is it all good?  Has its history been all good?  There was legalized slavery in "the West" until just over 150 years ago; has the stain washed off yet?  Aren't there asshole Christians who practiced said slavery and rationalized it with Scripture?  Here we need to introduce the matter of the No True Christian fallacy, as well as the No True Muslim one.  The exemplars of Christianity and Islam, respectively, are Jesus and the Prophet Muhammad.  Those are unequivocal cases of a true Christian and true Muslim, respectively.  Being a "westerner" I'm more familiar with the sayings attributed to Jesus, and still an amateur there.  My familiarity with Muhammad is wikipedia-level, for which see my comments above about wikipedia versions of X-ism.  He's been accused of being a pedophile, and so was Socrates.  And Jefferson was a slave owner.  So was Aristotle, the exemplar of Aristotelianism [see also] (mainly for works like the Metaphysics, De Anima, and Nicomachean Ethics - you know, his works of most lasting influence and philosophic interest).

And speaking of Aristotle and philosophy, and connections with Islam, there was a period of time, known as the Islamic Golden Age, in which Arabic and Islamic learning was intimately tied up with interest especially in Aristotle.  Figures such as Avicenna, Al-Kindi, Al-Farabi, and Averroes were prominent in this regard.  One of them referred to Aristotle as "the ultimate mind."  (Compare his body of work with that of any other single figure in the history of thought.  He composed both the Metaphysics and the Nicomachean Ethics?  Must have had a pretty good mentor and other favorable circumstances.)  These scholars translated and preserved Aristotle's works, for eventual transmission to "the West" for translation and commentary by the likes of Aquinas, who basically shared the assessment of Aristotle as the ultimate mind.  But after Al-Ghazali's 12th-century critique of "the (incoherence of the) philosophers," it wasn't long before the Islamic Golden Age came to an end.  Coincidence?  Is it coincidence that "the West" made significant intellectual leaps not long after Aquinas's 'synthesis' of Aristotle and Christianity?

Anyway, there still is a thing called Islamic philosophy, and anything qualified by "philosophy" (as in __________ philosophy) probably couldn't be all that bad.  The devil in disguise, so to speak, would be something that isn't philosophy presenting itself as philosophy.  (Sophistry, for example.  It has "soph" in the word, and might even be pretty sophisticated, and yet.....)  Among the sins of the history of "the West" was the Catholic Church turning Aristotle into dogma, enabling it to deny heliocentrism in the face of evidence.  That's not philosophy or science properly speaking.  (Dogma is to passive intellectual activity what philosophy and science are to active intellectual activity, not to draw too close a parallel to the active-vs-passive-intellect distinction in Aristotle.)  And not even the love or pursuit of wisdom guarantees the (non-asshole) having or possessing of wisdom, but that's a longer story.  But I could almost guarantee that much more extensive study of philosophy, whether among Muslims, "westerners" or anyone else, will lead to a considerable drop in asshole tendencies - at least an improvement at the margins.  So isn't that what we all really ought to be focusing on here?

It would sure be nice, in all this, to get a better grip on the meaning of "the West" and especially of "the best of Western values" (which are in all likelihood philosophically informed).  Someone remarked not long ago that "the West" got its philosophy from Athens, its legal forms from Rome, and its religion from Jerusalem.  Okay then, I guess?  Maybe this is a tad more helpful: The very learned Mortimer Adler co-edited the Great Treasury of Western Thought (1977) and more or less translated the subject matter into the form of 102 topical essays in The Great Ideas: A Lexicon of Western Thought (originally a 'Pantopicon' accompanying the Great Books series he oversaw, then revised/updated as a stand-alone publication in 1992).  In the Great Ideas the names of Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas are referenced in the greatest number of essays (something like all 102 of them in Aristotle's case).  These names appear a bunch in the index of the Great Treasury.  So if these figures are fairly representative of the best ideas/values the Western tradition has to offer, then they would be good ones to study, emulate in one's own way, etc.  Incidentally, these two mammoth books belong in the personal library of any person aspiring to be learned.  (So why are they out of print, all the while formats like Twitter, which encourage cleverness as over and against wisdom, flourish as they do?)

So, to wrap up: I've taken a contentious issue, not exactly answered it simply and directly, but provided some necessary antidote to conceptually sloppy and toxic treatment of the subject, and transformed it toward the bigger and better issue to tackle head on (so as to best address this as well as a shit-ton of ultimately related matters): why not more philosophy?

ADDENDUM: It cannot pass without comment that the political forms (and various cultural norms) in much of the Islamic world today are at odds with . . . what's philosophically best.  The assholes currently running things in Iran, for instance, are anti-philosophy, and there's good evidence that they are at odds with the people they're oppressing/abusing.  The asshole running Saudi Arabia most likely murdered a journalist (while apparently liberalizing other aspects of its society...).  There were the Bin-Laden-harboring assholes who brutalized the people of Afghanistan for a time.  Etc. [More about assholes and other shitty people here.]  Whatever else can be said about these things, they are less likely to be prevalent in that region of the world if they go back (well, forward) to the sensibilities guiding the Golden Age scholars, and then apply that sensibility to the study of philosophers like Locke (a leading expert on rights and toleration).  See?  No problem there that philosophy can't fix.  And since anti-philosophy is self-defeating, there's no rational opposition to be had to more and more of it.  It can happen without too much fuss, when people are pointed in the right direction.  If there's one benefit to be gleaned from the otherwise unimpressive New Atheist movement, it's that attacks on philosophy, science, and intellectualism are no longer in any way considered "cool" or civilized (anti-intellectual religionists are, qua such, assholes who deserve ridicule; no more safe harbor for idiotic evolution-denial, no more taking pride in being the Stupid Party [not that Democrats don't have their own counterpart to Palin], etc.).  The supposed problem: Is Islam compatible with Western-style democracy or is it inherently theocratic?  Well, what if we asked this of Christianity ca. the European Middle Ages?  Somehow - over time - the West went from having more theocratic political structures to having more liberal ones.  Perchance did philosophy have anything to do with that?  This is why you can't leave the fight in the hands of the likes of Geller, who don't do philosophy but rather partisan theo-political polemics and only exacerbate the problem in the process, and throw people off the scent of philosophy.  Philosophy, goddammit!


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