Monday, August 23, 2010

The Closing of the Muslim Mind

The whole issue with Islam is not really "my bag". It's of passing interest to me.

I believe that certain strains of Islam, certain kinds of Muslims are a threat.

The best predictor of future results is past results. There have been potential terrorists in our midsts and will continue to be so, unless something changes. Sharia is not on our doorstep, but the threat of it is not something we should take lightly either. Once they gain a foothold, Islamists do not give up, and liberals are too wimpy to assert themselves or stand up for basic values.

That being said, Western rhetoric over Islam and Muslims turns me off. It tends to come in two forms. One is the crude and vulgar ("go back to where you came from you bunch of goat-f*ckers!") Or it tends to be in denial about the physical threats and treat all criticism of Islam as racist.

This is why I really liked this interview with Robert R. Reilley about his book The Closing of the Muslim Mind. To me, the discussion over the intellectual problem of Islam goes to the heart of the issue.

I really believe that when it comes to dealing Islamic Fundamentalists who would support or engage in suicide bombing, the only thing they understand is brute force.

Luckily, brute force is not our only solution, nor should it be the primary or first solution.

We just can't win the war of civilizations by bombing the crap out of them.

We have to get to the heart of the matter-- what is it about their thinking that leads them to think that suicide bombing is a viable solution. What is it about their culture that enables and upholds this form of political theatre?

I strongly believe that if we really want a solution, we have to pay attention to thoughtful, examination of Islamic thought and see how we can facilitate a more pacific view of the world.

Reilley says that the roots of the closing of the Muslim mind is the dehellenization of Islamic culture and the promotion of the view of God as pure will and power, as opposed to a God who is justice and reason, which is a traditional Christian view.  I want you all to pay attention to the following quote because it applies not just to Islamic culture, but to wide swaths of Western culture, too:

In his Regensburg address, Benedict XVI said something similar. He spoke of dehellenization – meaning the loss of reason, the gift of the Greeks — as one of the West’s main problems. Less well-known is the dehellenization that has afflicted Islam — its denigration of and divorce from reason. (The pope alluded to this only briefly, though it became a source of major controversy.) The dehellenization of Islam is less well known because it was so thorough and effective that few are aware that there was a process of hellenization preceding it — especially during the ninth and tenth centuries. It was a pivotal period for Islam and the world. It was then, toward the end of this period, that the Muslim world took a decisive turn in the wrong direction.

There are two fundamental ways to close the mind. One is to deny reason’s capability of knowing anything. The other is to dismiss reality as unknowable. Reason cannot know, or there is nothing to be known. Either approach suffices in making reality irrelevant. [Does any of this sound FAMILIAR to our commenters?] In Sunni Islam, elements of both were employed in the dominant Ash’arite theological school. As a consequence, a fissure opened between man’s reason and reality — and, most importantly, between man’s reason and God. My book contends that the fatal disconnect between the Creator and the mind of his creature is the source of Sunni Islam’s most profound woes. This bifurcation, located not in the Qur’an but in early Islamic theology, ultimately led to the closing of the Muslim mind.

I also suggest this might be why the West's reaction tends to be grossly vulgar or ridiculously servile.

Because the West has the same problem. On the one hand, you have a right that is strongly dominated by a current of Bible-only Christianity that denigrates reason and metaphysics. And by writing this, I'm not saying that Evangelical Christians are dumb. I am saying that Evangelical Christianity was built on the denial of reason to know anything about God. Evangelical Christians do not have the intellectual tools to have this discussion.

On the other hand, we have a secularist left that, like Evangelical Christianity, denies the ability of reason to know something of God or of our ultimate reality. It wasn't always this way of course. The Lumieres and a number of philosophers tried to grasp at the true nature of reality. But enlightenment led to disillusion as we started having more faith in science and less faith in man. We discovered the unconscious, and all its irrational or non-rational tendencies. The mind of man became the measure of everything. Then Mass killing-- in the two World Wars-- extinguished our belief in Progress and Enlightenment. What we got instead was post-modernism and a sick relativism.

Those are two very dominant strains. The group of people who truly believe in reason is very small. They are practically an insignificant minority. But I think they have the key to reforming Islam-- not in terms changing the Koran. But in terms of reframing the Koran.

The good news is that because reality has laws, irrational behaviour is self-defeating. Muslims think that by being jihadis, they will make their world a better place. Human beings eventually do begin to realize the stupidity of their ways, collectively. Why? When your society is violent, when your kids are hungry, when all you know is unhappiness, you do tend to take stock. As Dr. Phil says "people do what works". And while one individual might continue to do the irrational in spite of the evidence that it's not working, as Abraham Lincoln says, you can't fool all of the people all of the time. A culture can't fool itself indefinitely. Just as communists came to realize that communism sucks, eventually, people who support terror will come to the conclusion that it's not doing a thing for them. Palestinians are still under occupation and even if they weren't they wouldn't be getting any richer because of the sick fundamentalism that's pervasive in that area. People would not be any happier in a Free Palestine, because they're just have different set of oppressors.
So the point is to help them give the tools to rethink their strategy.

We're not going to stop Muslims from being Muslims or even from being conservative Muslims. Islam will not undergo a Reformation of the Christian kind. There will not be a major revolt.

What we can envision is a change of perception.

How can we do that if their minds are completely closed to any discussion of changing their religion? How can we change their view of God as completely disconnected from reason?

Pope Benedict XVI suggested one path: Intercultural dialogue. Don't talk about religion. Talk about issues common to our cultures. Talk about issues like human rights, or gender, or marriage, or the environment.

The thing about human mind is that it does not have airtight compartments. If you discuss on the basis of rationality on one subject, that approach tends to influence the way you think about other subjects. It's difficult to be a diehard rationalist and a fundamentalist Christian who thinks that the world was created 6000 years ago. You don't meet too many of those. Rationality is a way of approaching the world. It applies whether you are atheist or a believer.

We just can't leave this issue to politicians. It's not just about the Palestinian question or oil or any of those other things. It's ultimately a question of culture and mindset. If we do not change the Islamic mindset, we will continue to experience acts of terror. We need to reach hearts through reason.

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