Re: Islam and Europe

From: Grant Callaghan (
Date: Fri 22 Nov 2002 - 03:10:19 GMT

  • Next message: Jon Gilbert: "Re: Islam and Europe"

    One of the religious memes we always have to cope with is the idea that people were smarter in to old days. The older an idea is, the more it reflects the TRUTH. Most religious practices are attempts at preserving the past and continuing customs and memes that represent "great" ideas handed down from the founders of the religion. Over time, variations on these ideas accumulate into a body of work by people who have tried to perserve the "meaning" of the past. In essence, it is a way of worshiping the past. What was adopted in the past is better than what we are doing now. People believe this in spite of the fact that we've gone from a stage in which the average life expectantcy was 18 to one where it is almost 80.

    We've gone from chronic hunger and warfare and the enslavement of people who lost the wars taken for granted to a world where most of the people in it are relatively free and wars are mostly to settle diplomatic questions that can't be agreed upon as opposed to the conquering and enslavement of other peoples. Relatively few people in the world today suffer from real hunger in the sense of people starving from lack of food. And every year the number who suffer this way grows smaller.

    So from a rational point of view what does this worship of the past really have to offer? It promises life will be better after death (based mostly on how bad life was before death in the [past) and it teaches us how to endure in the face of adversity -- something most of us don't have to face compared to our ancestors.

    In Dickens' time, England was a prosperous and thriving nation and yet the novels of Dickens chronical endless pain and suffering. That's a stitch in time compared to the days in which Jesus walked the earth and Buddha sat beneath the Bhodi tree. The things we take for granted today would be considered miraculous in Dickens' day and godlike in the time of Jesus. Who, in those days, would think that walking on the moon is less than a miracle and who could conceive landing ships on Mars? If you said you could cross the ocean to America in three hours, a traveler from Dickens' day would be incredulous.

    So what did the prophets of old have to offer that make our lives better than they are today? Most of the suffering we do today consists of agonizing over things we see on TV but are never going to happen to us. People destroy their lives with drugs and stupid decisions, but no one is taking their freedom to choose away from them unless they commit a crime and go to jail. The laws are availble for everyone to see and learn so we don't have to cope with laws nobody told us about.

    I'd say life is getting better all the time and religion has little more to offer us than a way to face ourselves when we look in the mirror. It certainly doesn't improve the way we deal with each other, for the most part. We have more security and peace than the world has ever known and a prosperity that was conceivable only by Roman Emperors in the distant past. Today's TRUTH is about whether things we believe can be proven or not. It is not about whether faith can move mountains that we seldom have any need to move -- unless we're building a new subdivision someplace. The TRUTH today is about whether the world we believe in is consistent with our belief.

    The TRUTH of today's world is a different meme than the TRUTH that comes to us through religion. Only one of them prepares us to face the world of the 21st century, and it's not religious TRUTH.


    > Honest Intellectuals must Shed Spiritual Turbans
    > By Ibn Warraq
    > The Guardian | November 4, 2002
    > Aldous Huxley once defined an intellectual as someone who had
    > found something in life more important than sex: a witty but
    > inadequate definition, since it would make all impotent men and
    > frigid women intellectuals. A better definition would be a
    > freethinker, not in the narrow sense of someone who does not
    >accept the dogmas of traditional religion, but in the wider sense of
    > someone who has the will to find out, who exhibits rational doubt
    > about prevailing intellectual fashions, and who is unafraid to
    >apply critical thought to any subject. If the intellectual is really
    > committed to the notion of truth and free inquiry, then he or she
    > cannot stop the inquiring mind at the gates of any religion - let
    > alone Islam. And yet, that is precisely what has happened with
    > Islam, criticism of which in our present intellectual climate is
    > taboo.
    >The reason why many intellectuals have continued to treat Islam
    >as a taboo subject are many and various, including:
    > Political correctness leading to Islamic correctness;
    > The fear of playing into the hands of racists or reactionaries to
    >the detriment of the west's Muslim minorities;
    > Commercial or economic motives;
    > Feelings of post-colonial guilt (where the entire planet's
    >problems are attributed to the west's wicked ways and intentions);
    > Plain physical fear; and intellectual terrorism of writers such as
    >Edward Said.
    >Said not only taught an entire generation of Arabs the wonderful
    >art of self-pity (if only those wicked Zionists, imperialists and
    >colonialists would leave us alone, we would be great, we would
    >not have been humiliated, we would not be backward) but
    >intimidated feeble western academics, and even weaker,
    >invariably leftish, intellectuals into accepting that any criticism of
    >Islam was to be dismissed as orientalism, and hence invalid.
    >But the first duty of the intellectual is to tell the truth. Truth is not
    >much in fashion in this postmodern age when continental
    >charlatans have infected Anglo-American intellectuals with the
    >thought that objective knowledge is not only undesirable but
    >unobtainable. I believe that to abandon the idea of truth not only
    >leads to political fascism, but stops dead all intellectual inquiry.
    >To give up the notion of truth means forsaking the goal of
    >acquiring knowledge. But man, as Aristotle put it, by nature
    >strives to know. Truth, science, intellectual inquiry and rationality
    >are inextrica bly bound together. Relativism, and its illegitimate
    >offspring, multiculturalism, are not conducive to the critical
    >examination of Islam.
    >Said wrote a polemical book, Orientalism (1978), whose
    >pernicious influence is still felt in all departments of Islamic
    >studies, where any critical discussion of Islam is ruled out a priori
    >. For Said, orientalists are involved in an evil conspiracy to
    >denigrate Islam, to maintain its people in a state of permanent
    >subjugation and are a threat to Islam's future. These orientalists
    >are seeking knowledge of oriental peoples only in order to
    >dominate them; most are in the service of imperialism.
    >Said's thesis was swallowed whole by western intellectuals, since
    >it accords well with the deep anti-westernism of many of them.
    >This anti-westernism resurfaces regularly in Said's prose, as it did
    >in his comments in the Guardian after September 11. The studied
    >moral evasiveness, callous ness and plain nastiness of Said's
    >article, with its refusal to condemn outright the attacks on
    >America or show any sympathy for the victims or Americans,
    >leave an unpleasant taste in the mouth of anyone whose moral
    >sensibilities have not been blunted by political and Islamic
    >correctness. In the face of all evidence, Said still argues that it was
    >US foreign policy in the Middle East and elsewhere that brought
    >about these attacks.
    >The unfortunate result is that academics can no longer do their
    >work honestly. A scholar working on recently discovered Koranic
    >manuscripts showed some of his startling conclusions to a
    >distinguished colleague, a world expert on the Koran. The latter
    >did not ask, "What is the evidence, what are your arguments, is it
    >true?" The colleague simply warned him that his thesis was
    >unacceptable because it would upset Muslims.
    >Very recently, professor Josef van Ess, a scholar whose works are
    >essential to the study of Islamic theology, cut short his research,
    >fearing it would not meet the approval of Sunni Islam. Gunter
    >Luling was hounded out of the profession by German universities
    >because he proposed the radical thesis that at least a third of the
    >Koran was originally a pre-Islamic, Christian hymnody, and thus
    >had nothing to do with Mohammed. One German Arabist says
    >academics are now wearing "a turban spiritually in their mind",
    >practicing "Islamic scholarship" rather than scholarship on Islam.
    >Where biblical criticism has made important advances since the
    >16th century, when Spinoza demonstrated that the Pentateuch
    >could not have been written by Moses,, the Koran is virtually
    >unknown as a human document susceptible to analysis by the
    >instruments and techniques of biblical criticism.
    >Western scholars need to defend unflinchingly our right to
    >examine Islam, to explain its rise and fall by the normal
    >mechanisms of human history, according to the objective
    >standards of historical methodology.
    >Democracy depends on freedom of thought and free discussion.
    >The notion of infallibility is profoundly undemocratic and
    >unscientific. It is perverse for the western media to lament the
    >lack of an Islamic reformation and wilfully ignore books such as
    >Anwar Shaikh's Islam - The Arab Imperialism, or my Why I am
    >Not a Muslim. How do they think reformation will come about if
    >not with criticism?
    >The proposed new legislation by the Labour government to
    >protect Muslims, while well-intentioned, is woefully misguided. It
    >will mean publishers will be even more reluctant to take on works
    >critical of Islam. If we stifle rational discussion of Islam, what
    >will emerge will be the very thing that political correctness and
    >the government seek to avoid: virulent, racist populism. If there
    >are further terrorist acts then irrational xenophobia will be the
    >only means of expression available. We also cannot allow
    >Muslims subjectively to decide what constitutes "incitement to
    >religious hatred", since any legitimate criticism of Islam will then
    >be shouted down as religious hatred.
    >Only in a democracy where freedom of inquiry is protected will
    >science progress. Hastily conceived laws risk smothering the
    >golden thread of rationalism running through western civilisation.

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