Scruton stumbles through explaining how the West should deal with Islam’s challenge.

A number of commenters have discussed Roger Scruton’s essay in Azure, “Islam and the West: Lines of Demarcation.” Some find it excellent even while others find the conclusion on “forgiveness” confusing if not troubling. I read it with increasing dismay and the results are the fisking below. It’s, alas, a good example of how (even mild) Christian supersessionism, makes it so hard for even sophisticated and (appropriately) politically incorrect thinkers to grapple with what confronts us from Islam.

Azure Winter 5769 / 2009, no. 35
Islam and the West: Lines of Demarcation
By Roger Scruton

What it is about our civilization that causes such resentment, and why we must defend it.

The West today is involved in a protracted and violent struggle with the forces of radical Islam. This conflict is intensely difficult, both because of our enemy’s dedication to his cause, and also, perhaps most of all, because of the enormous cultural shift that has occurred in Europe and America since the end of the Vietnam War. Put simply, the citizens of Western states have lost their appetite for foreign wars; they have lost the hope of scoring any but temporary victories; and they have lost confidence in their way of life. Indeed, they are no longer sure what that way of life requires of them.

That’s an interesting formula, since it is quasi-religious, in the sense that religion does answer the question “what life requires” of the adherent. Having translated religious morality into a secular idiom (e.g., Kant), having dismissed religions as so much hocus-pocus, modern secular people who care about morality don’t know what to do but push the “most moral” elements to the extreme. As a result we get a “progressive left” that is at once scornful of religion (especially of the “white” variety, Judaism and Christianity) even as it pushes a “turn the other cheek, love your enemies as yourself” morality in international relations. “Wildly inappropriate” comes to mind.

Of course, the kind of wisdom expressed in a biblical text like, “nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his dispute,” could not penetrate the mentality that, for example, supports the “poor Palestinians” no matter how badly they behave. Religiously deracinated “ethics” can be as dangerous a phenomenon as religious zealotry. (Or is that moral equivalence?)

At the same time, they have been confronted with a new opponent, one who believes that the Western way of life is profoundly flawed, and perhaps even an offense against God. In a “fit of absence of mind,” Western societies have allowed this opponent to gather in their midst; sometimes, as in France, Britain, and the Netherlands, in ghettos which bear only tenuous and largely antagonistic relations to the surrounding political order.

I like the expression “fit of absence of mind,” because it was a fit, a blood-libel induced fit that led “progressives” to adopt Jihadi hatreds, and walk out on anyone who dared to criticize Muslims (a fortiori Palestinians) because that made their third-world colleagues in the fight for justice and truth “uncomfortable.”

And in both America and Europe there has been a growing desire for appeasement: a habit of public contrition; an acceptance, though with heavy heart, of the censorious edicts of the mullahs; and a further escalation in the official repudiation of our cultural and religious inheritance. Twenty years ago, it would have been inconceivable that the archbishop of Canterbury would give a public lecture advocating the incorporation of Islamic religious law (shari’ah) into the English legal system. Today, however, many people consider this to be an arguable point, and perhaps the next step on the way to peaceful compromise.

It’s even worse. Twenty — even ten — years ago, it would have been inconceivable… now he says it’s inevitable.

All this suggests that we in the West stand on the edge of a dangerous period of concession, in which the legitimate claims of our own culture and inheritance will be ignored or downplayed in an attempt to prove our peaceful intentions. It will be some time before the truth will be allowed to play its all-important role of rectifying our current mistakes and preparing the way for the next ones. This means that it is more necessary than ever for us to rehearse the truth and come to a clear and objective understanding of what is at stake.

I generally don’t like the term “objective” and here, where it’s so much a matter of judgment, it seems particularly inappropriate. “Clear” seems sufficient, if you need another adjective, how about “honest.”

I will, therefore, spell out in what follows some of the critical features of the Western inheritance which must be understood and defended in our current confrontation. Each of these features marks a point of contrast, and possibly of conflict, with the traditional Islamic vision of society, and each has played a vital part in creating the modern world. Islamist belligerence stems from having found no secure place in that world, and from turning for refuge to precepts and values that are at odds with the Western way of life. This does not mean that we should renounce or repudiate the distinguishing features of our civilization, as many would have us do. On the contrary, it means that we must be all the more vigilant in their defense.

Similar sentiments from Ibn Warraq. This is critical, in that all the great wealth and fine principles that the “progressives” want to use to transform the world — indeed the very notion that the world should be transformed into a place of justice and peace and prosperity — come from these traditions.

The first of the features that I have in mind is citizenship. The consensus among Western nations is that the law is made legitimate by the consent of those who must obey it. This consent is given through a political process in which each citizen participates in the making and enacting of the law. The right and duty of participation is what we mean by “citizenship,” and the distinction between political and religious communities can be summed up by the view that the former are composed of citizens, whereas the latter are composed of subjects who have “submitted” (which is the primary meaning of the word islam). If we seek a simple definition of the West as it is today, it would be wise to take this concept of citizenship as our starting point. Indeed, it is what the millions of migrants roaming the world are in search of: an order that confers security and freedom in exchange for consent.

In other words, a civil polity.

Traditional Islamic society, by contrast, sees law as a system of commands and recommendations laid down by God. These edicts cannot be amended, though their application in particular cases may involve jurisprudential argument. Law, as Islam understands it, is a demand for our obedience, and its author is God. This is the opposite of the concept of law that we in the West have inherited. Law for us is a guarantee of our freedoms. It is made not by God, but by man, following the instinct for justice that is inherent in the human condition. It is not a system of divine commands, but rather the residue of human agreements.

In other words, Islam does not separate “church” and “state,” it considers them two aspects of the same phenomenon. Thus, questions like: “is this or that manifestation of Islam political or religious?” are nothing more than Western projections.

This is particularly evident to British and American citizens, who have enjoyed the inestimable benefit of the common law — a system which has not been laid down by some sovereign power but, on the contrary, built up by the courts in their attempts to do justice in individual conflicts. Western law is therefore a “bottom-up” system that addresses the sovereign in the same tone of voice that it reserves for the citizen. It insists that justice, not power, will prevail. Hence, it has been evident since the Middle Ages that the law, even if it depends on the sovereign to impose it, can also depose the sovereign if he tries to defy it.

I’m a little confused here. Strictly speaking, the king was above the law in England throughout the middle ages, and well into the early modern period, until a bunch of Christian millennialists, inspired by their printed Bibles in translation, overthrew Charles I and executed him (1649). So this is a bit of a romantic version of events. Secondly, why couldn’t Sharia work in the same way, that is, bottom-up, decision-by-decision that does justice in individual conflicts. And as for “addressing the sovereign in the same tone as it reserves for any believer, that’s certainly a conceptual possibility for Islam. (Indeed, some Muslims would insist on it, even if few have ever had any real success in that matter.)

As our law has developed, it has permitted the privatization of religion and of large areas of morality. To us, for instance, a law punishing adultery is not just absurd, but oppressive. We disapprove of adultery, but we also think that it is none of the law’s business to punish sin just because it is sin. In the shari’ah, however, there is no distinction between morality and law. Both stem from God, and are to be imposed by the religious authorities in obedience to his revealed will. To some extent, the harshness of this is mitigated by a tradition which allows for recommendations as well as obligations in rulings of the holy law. Nevertheless, there is still no place in the shari’ah for the privatization of the moral, and still less of the religious, aspects of life.

Again, I’m a bit puzzled. Until very recently — post Vietnam era — all Western democracies had adultery as a punishable crime, and only very recently have we extended the category of “no-fault” divorces to include such cases. So this idea of “punishing adultery as absurd and oppressive” is recent vintage. Indeed, almost every nation in the history of mankind considers adultery a punishable crime. Finally, Islam, like Judaism, has the option of making proof of adultery so difficult that it’s essentially unenforceable, so effectively, there are religious ways out of the “oppressive” dilemma.

For all these reasons, I don’t think adultery is a good example. I think something like observance of religious disciplines — fast days, attending service, not eating or drinking certain prohibited items — are much better examples for the issue in question.

Of course, most Muslims do not live under shari’ah law. Only here and there — in Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Afghanistan, for example — is the attempt made to impose it. Elsewhere, Western codes of civil and criminal law have been adopted, following a tradition begun in the early nineteenth century by the Ottomans. But this recognition accorded to Western civilization by the Islamic states has its dangers. It inevitably provokes the thought that the law of the secular powers is not really law; that, in truth, it has no real authority, and is even a kind of blasphemy. Sayyid Qutb, the former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, argued precisely this in his seminal work Milestones. Indeed, rebellion against the secular powers is easy to justify when their law is seen as usurping the sovereign authority of God.

From its origins, then, Islam has found it difficult to accept that mankind stands in need of any other law, or any other sovereign, than those revealed in the Koran. Hence the great schism following the death of Muhammad, which divided Shi’ia from Sunni. From the point of view of secular government, questions of legitimate succession such as those that drove these two groups apart are settled by the very same constitution that governs the daily operation of the law. That is to say, ultimately they are a matter of human agreement.

But a community that believes itself to be governed by God, on terms conveyed by his messenger, has a real problem when the messenger dies: who takes over, and how? The fact that rulers in Islamic communities have a greater-than-average tendency to end up assassinated is not unconnected with this question. The sultans of Istanbul, for instance, surrounded themselves with a household guard of Janissaries chosen from among their Christian subjects precisely because they did not trust any Muslim to miss the opportunity to rectify the insult to God represented in the person of a merely human ruler. The Koran itself speaks to this point, in sura 3, verse 64, commanding Jews and Christians to take no divinity besides the one God and no lords (ârbâbân) from among each other.

In short, citizenship and secular law go hand in hand. We are all participants in the process of law-making; hence we can view each other as free citizens, whose rights must be respected and whose private lives are our own concern. This has made possible the privatization of religion in Western societies and the development of political orders in which the duties of the citizen take precedence over religious scruples. How this is possible is a deep and difficult question of political theory; that it is possible is a fact to which Western civilization bears incontrovertible witness.

It is a deep and difficult question; but if the Muslims have their say, Western civilization’s fate will only bear incontrovertible witness to how fragile such a system is. To use the language of honor-shame, the “privatization” of religion is an attack on “muscular” religiosity, it’s a domestication, even a castration of religion. Either religion then becomes a kind of pleasant ornament of private life (and perhaps subject to the bizarre mutations of modern “secular” progressivism), or it moves into the “integrity-guilt” category in which being able to impose itself is no longer a psychological need of believers, but the ability to believe passionately remains strong. In the current battle between “integrity-guilt,” deliberative beliefs (religious or secular) and muscular, coercive, honor-shame, religion, the latter is winning hands-down.

This brings me to the second feature which I identify as central to European civilization: nationality. No political order can achieve stability if it cannot call upon a shared loyalty, a “first-person plural” that distinguishes those who share the benefits and burdens of citizenship from those who are outside the fold. In times of war, the need for this shared loyalty is self-evident, but it is as necessary in times of peace, if people really are to treat their citizenship as defining their public obligations. National loyalty marginalizes loyalties to family, tribe, and faith, and places before the citizen, as the focus of his patriotic feeling, not a person or a group, but a country. This country is defined by a territory, and by the history, culture, and law that have made that territory ours. Nationality is composed of land, together with the narrative of its possession.

This is a really interesting issue to take up. The “us-them” divide is the most fundamental in human history and a near-universal element found by anthropologists everywhere. Modern civil polities are based on the principle that, at the level of the polity/nation, we transcend the more local (clan/in-group) loyalties and adhere to a set of principles of fairness that apply equally to everyone. The problem is maintaining both in-group loyalties and certain fundamental trans-group loyalties at the same time. Modern progressive movements have taken the — let’s transcend our petty loyalties, including patriotism — to the extreme of failing to even recognize people who, themselves committed to deep us-them dichotomies, manipulate us into embracing them as players in a game they wish to destroy.

There is nothing, right now, more corrosive of civic values than this insane notion of everyone must be treated the same. Ironically, it seems to be rooted in a religious error made by our founding fathers. In framing the principle of civic rights, they used the expression: “endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.” Actually, while it may be that God wants us to have such rights, there’s no evidence that these are birthrights. On the contrary, the norm, inherited from the primate world and replicated by most every “civilization” for the last ten millennia is “those who can do what they will and those who cannot suffer what they must.”

Such rights as equality before the law, and legal protection from powerful people, are rare, and only achieved as the result of a great deal of (possibly divinely inspired) effort. Moreover, they only can be maintained by a vigorous system of education and commitment. The idea that anyone, anywhere, has the right to such privileges, without a commitment to assuring them to others on the part of the recipient of such rights, is nothing short of idiocy.

It is this form of territorial loyalty that has enabled people in Western democracies to exist side by side, respecting each other’s rights as citizens despite radical differences in faith and absent any bonds of family, kinship, or long-term local custom to sustain the solidarity between them. Such national loyalty is not known everywhere in the world, and certainly not in the places where Islamists are rooted. People sometimes refer to Somalia, for example, as a “failed state,” since it has no central government capable of making decisions on behalf of the people as a whole, or of imposing any kind of legal order. The real trouble with Somalia, however, is not that it is a failed state, but that it is a failed nation. It has never developed the kind of secular, territorial, and law-minded loyalty that makes it possible for a country to shape itself into a nation-state, and not simply an assembly of competing tribes and families.

The same is true of many other places where Islamists are produced. Even if, as in the case of Pakistan, these countries function like states, they are often failures as nations. They have not succeeded in generating the kind of territorial loyalty which enables people of different faiths, different kinship networks, and different tribes to live peacefully side by side, and also to fight side by side on behalf of their common homeland. The recent history of these countries might lead us to wonder whether there is not, in the end, a genuine and profound conflict between the Islamic conception of community and the conceptions which have fed our own idea of national government. Maybe the nation-state really is an anti-Islamic idea.

This is one of the major points that Huntington makes in his Clash of Civilizations. Islam has a U-shaped set of loyalties — on the micro-level, to family and clan, on the macro-level, to the Umma, the community of Muslims the world over. Their “national loyalties” are at the bottom of the U-shaped curve. (See Stephen Walt’s review.)

This observation is, of course, highly pertinent to the Middle East today, where we find the remnants of a great Islamic empire divided into nation-states. With a few exceptions, this division is the result of boundaries drawn by Western powers, most notably by Britain and France in the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916. It should hardly be surprising, therefore, that Iraq has had such a checkered history as a nation-state, given that it has only spasmodically been a state, and has never been a nation. It may be that Kurds, Sunnis, and Shi’ias in Iraq will all come, in time, to see themselves as Iraqis. But this national identity will likely be fragile and fissiparous, and in any conflict the three groups will identify themselves in opposition to each other. Only the Kurds seem to have developed a genuine national identity, and it is one opposed to that of the state in which they are included. As for the Shi’ias, their primary loyalty is religious, and in turbulent times they look to the homeland of Shi’ia Islam in Iran as a model.

I’m not entirely sure of this. Although I wouldn’t call Iraqi Shi’is nationalistic, they do have their differences with Iran, more along the lines of ethnicity than nationality.

It is true that not all the nation-states carved out of the remnants of the Ottoman Empire are as arbitrary as Iraq. Turkey, which saved itself as the rump of the empire, succeeded in recreating itself as a genuine nation-state—though not without the expulsion or massacre of many of its non-Turkish minorities. Lebanon and Egypt have enjoyed a kind of quasi-national identity under Western protection since the mid-nineteenth century. And, of course, Israel has established a thoroughly Western form of national government, over territory which is disputed for that very reason. These examples, however, in no way serve to allay the suspicion that Islam is not friendly to the idea of national loyalties, and certainly not friendly to the idea that, in a crisis, it is national rather than spiritual allegiance which should prevail.

Consider Turkey. Atatürk created the Turkish nation-state by imposing a secularist constitution; adopting a secular legal system based on French and Belgian models; outlawing Islamic dress; expelling the traditional scholars of Islamic law (‘ulema’) from public office; forbidding polygamy; and rooting out Arabic words from Turkish and adopting the Latin alphabet, thus cutting the language off from its cultural antecedents. As a result of these revolutionary changes, he succeeded in pushing the conflict between Islam and the secular state underground, and for a long time it seemed as though a stable compromise had been achieved. Now, however, the conflict is erupting all over again: Secularists have attempted to outlaw the ruling Islamic party (the AKP), recent electoral victors in a landslide vote, and the government has attempted to arraign leading secularists in a terrorist trial of dubious legality.

And since Operation Cast Lead, the role of religious zealotry in foreign policy has grown considerably more problematic.

Lebanon, to take another example, owes its exceptional status in the Arab world to its erstwhile Christian majority, and to the longstanding alliance of Maronite and Druze against the Ottoman sultan. Its current fragility is largely due to the Islamists of Hezbollah, who have allied themselves with Iran and Syria and reject Lebanon as a national entity to which any loyalty is owed. Egypt, too, has survived as a nation-state only by taking radical measures against the Muslim Brotherhood, and by leaning upon a legal and political inheritance which would likely be rejected by its Muslim population—though not by the Coptic Christian minority—in any free vote. As for Israel, it has been condemned by its neighbors to live in a permanent state of siege.

The third central feature of Western civilization is Christianity. I have no doubt that it is the long centuries of Christian dominance in Europe which laid the foundations of national loyalty as a type above those of faith and family, and on which a secular jurisdiction and an order of citizenship could be founded. It may sound paradoxical to identify a religion as the major force behind the development of secular government. But we should remember the peculiar circumstances in which Christianity entered the world. The Jews of first-century Judea were a closed community, bound by a tight web of religious legalisms but nonetheless governed from Rome by a law which made no reference to any God, and which offered an ideal of citizenship to which every free subject of the empire might aspire.

Jesus found himself in conflict with the legalism of his fellow Jews, and in broad sympathy with the idea of secular government. Hence his famous words in the parable of the tribute money: “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”

This is silly. Jesus’ conflict with his fellow Jews was on the question of how soon the Day of Judgment was, and what was the most appropriate way to prepare for it. The focus on “legalisms” is Paul’s contribution decades after the Crucifixion. Jesus’ “broad sympathy with the idea of the secular” is so almost too bizarre to even address. His comment on “what is Caesar’s” needs to be understood as a complete indifference to a power that would soon vanish from the earth. Or, as Paul put it twenty years later, explaining why Christians should obey the secular ruler:

    And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here (Romans 13: 11-12).

One of the more pungent ironies here, is that the Jewish “legalisms” against which Scruton claims Jesus set himself, contain many of the basic principles of civic polities that he extols in this essay.

After his death, the Christian faith was shaped by Paul for communities within the Roman Empire that sought only the freedom to pursue their worship, and had no intention of challenging the secular powers.

I don’t know where Scruton gets this. It sounds like the kind of apologetic history one finds in early 20th century histories of the West. Unquestionably, many a Christian community, especially one that thrilled to a dramatic reading of the book of Revelation, rejoiced in the dream of Rome’s utter destruction.

This idea of dual loyalty continued after Constantine, and was endorsed by Pope Gelasius I in the fifth century in his doctrine of the two swords given to mankind for their government: that which guards the body politic, and that which guards the individual soul. This endorsement of secular law by the early Church was responsible for subsequent developments in Europe, from the Reformation and the Enlightenment through to the purely territorial law that prevails in the West today.

This is, alas, a potted and very old-fashioned history of the notion of the “two-swords” or the pre-history of the “division of church and state.” The problems with it are legion, from the interpretation of “rendering onto Caesar…” to the notion that after Constantine we have a principle of dual loyalty, to Gelasius’ “two swords” theory.

I do think that the separation of church and state has its origin in certain religious traditions: Judaism has some very strong elements, from the earliest period of the monarchy; and Christianity has important elements in the thought of Augustine on the “saeculum.” But what “activates” these ideas, what sets them on the path to our modern understanding, cannot be explained purely by citing the literary sources of such ideas. Gelasius’ theories hardly led to a notion of separation of church and state in the modern sense in the insuing centuries, even millennium. Christianity was nothing if not profoundly theocratic throughout the Middle Ages; and Augustine was systematically misinterpreted in favor of theocracy, by people for whom his subtle teachings were way over their head.

During the early centuries of Islam various philosophers attempted to develop a theory of the perfect state, but religion was always at the heart of it. The tenth-century polymath al-Fârâbî even tried to recast Plato’s Republic in Islamic terms, with the prophet as philosopher-king. When all such discussion stopped, at the time of Ibn Taymiyya in the fourteenth century, it was clear that Islam had decisively turned its back on secular government, and would henceforth be unable to develop anything remotely like a national—as opposed to a religious—form of allegiance.

Indeed, the most important advocate of Arab nationalism in recent times, Michel Aflaq, was not a Muslim but rather a Greek Orthodox Christian, who was born in Syria, educated in France, and died in Iraq, disillusioned with the Baath party he had helped to found. If national loyalties have emerged in the Muslim world in recent times, it is in spite of Islam, and not because of it. And it should come as no surprise if these loyalties seem peculiarly fragile and fractious, as we have noticed in the case of Palestinian attempts at national cohesion, and in the troubled history of Pakistan.

Christianity is sometimes described as a synthesis of Jewish metaphysics and Greek ideas of political freedom.

I’ve never run across this formula. Metaphysics is a Greek notion, not a Jewish one. If Christianity is any kind of a combination, it’s a synthesis of Greek metaphysics (theology), and Jewish apocalyptic ethics. As for Greek notions of political freedom, there is no trace of such currents in early Christianity. On the contrary, as Paul taught without the slightest trace of irony that I can detect (unless it’s apocalytpic), “Obey the powers that be” (Romans 13:1-7). And if Christians adopted anything from the Greeks, it was Platonic hierarchies that made the shift to the “monarchical episcopacy” possible in the 3rd century and set up the “conversion of the Empire” to a hierarchical Christianity possible in the 4th century.

No doubt there is truth in this, given the historical context of its inception.

I have no idea what he’s referring to here. The historical context of Christianity’s inception — apocalyptic Judaism — hardly explains what I think Scruton is projecting back into Christian origins when it’s really the product of post-Gutenberg, Protestant theology, itself far more inspired by Hebrew political notions than the Greek ones.

And it is, perhaps, the Greek input into Christianity which is responsible for the fourth of the central features that I believe worthy of emphasis when addressing the Western confrontation with Islam: that of irony. There is already a developing streak of irony in the Hebrew Bible, one that is amplified by the Talmud.

I’m not sure why he calls this a “developing streak of irony” when irony permeates both the biblical text and the subsequent rabbinic compilations. Interesting that he offers no examples.

But there is a new kind of irony in Jesus’ judgments and parables, one which looks at the spectacle of human folly and wryly shows us how to live with it. A telling example of this is Jesus’ verdict in the case of the woman taken in adultery. “Let he who is without fault,” he says, “cast the first stone.” In other words, “Come off it. Haven’t you wanted to do what she did, and already done it in your hearts?” It has been suggested that this story is a late interpolation—one of many culled by early Christians from the store of inherited wisdom attributed to Jesus after his death. Even if that is true, however, it merely confirms the view that the Christian religion has made irony central to its message.

I find this passage deeply puzzling. This is in fact a strange text, whose irony is by no means evident. His “in other words…” seems awfully modern to me. “Come on dudes, we all got our hang-ups, let’s all just live and let live.”

On the contrary, this isn’t an ironic statement, it’s an apocalyptic one: “you who know that God is about to judge you and desparately want his forgiveness, knowing how guilty you are, do you want to face him with this woman’s blood on your hands?” As any Jew would tell you, “there is no man who is sinless,” (and of course, Augustine would turn that into a deeply unironic condemnation of all mankind with his doctrine of original sin), and therefore, this principle for execution makes it impossible. Okay, if the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand,” but problematic if the powers of this world (e.g., Rome) continue to dominate.

I’d actually argue that early Christians lacked irony precisely in proportion to their earnest commitment to their theology. While Paul’s letters and Jesus’ parables may be replete with irony, Christian exegetes were hardly famous for bringing out those ironies. When Paul says,

    “Moreover, brethren I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand by which also you are saved if you hold fast that word which I preached to you – unless you believed in vain” (I Corinthians 15:1-2)

there’s a deep and unexamined — impermissable — irony. For Paul it is unthinkable that the resurrection did not happen, and he presents this remark as a rhetorical question that cannot be answered, “maybe our faith is in vain.” That strikes me as deep and unintended irony.

This irony is shared by the great Sufi poets, especially Rumi and Hafiz, but it seems to be largely unknown in the schools of Islam that shape the souls of the Islamists. Theirs is a religion which refuses to see itself from the outside, and which cannot bear to be criticized, still less to be laughed at—something we have abundantly witnessed in recent times.

Too bad Scruton, who’s a master of literature, doesn’t explore this extremely subtle and important issue. At least here, the treatment is ironically superficial.

Indeed, this is nowhere more apparent than in the matter that called forth Jesus’ ironical judgment. Death by stoning is still officially endorsed in many parts of the Muslim world as a punishment for adultery, and in many Islamic communities women are treated as prostitutes as soon as they step out of the lines drawn for them by men. The subject of sex, which cannot be usefully discussed without a measure of irony, has therefore become a painful topic among Muslims, especially when confronted, as they inevitably are, by the lax morals and libidinous confusion of Western societies.

The idea that early Christians could discuss sex with appropriate measures of irony is something of a lame joke.

The mullahs find themselves unable to think about women as sexual beings, and unable to think for very long about anything else. As a result, an enormous tension has developed in the Muslim communities of Western cities, with the young men enjoying the surrounding freedoms and the young women hidden away and often terrorized lest they do the same.

This is true, and would also be true of early Christians (say from about 70 CE to not too long ago). Scruton seems to have conflated “mature” Christianity — (self-)ironic, tolerant, forgiving — with the entire history of Christianity. In so doing he makes Islam look much worse, and Christianity look much better than either one is/was historically.

Irony was seen by the late Richard Rorty as a state of mind intimately connected with the postmodern worldview.1 It is a withdrawal from judgment that nevertheless aims at a kind of consensus, a shared agreement not to judge.

It seems to me, however, that irony, although it infects our states of mind, is better understood as a virtue, a disposition aimed at a kind of practical fulfillment and moral success. If I were to venture a definition of this virtue, I would describe it as the habit of acknowledging the otherness of everything, including of oneself. However convinced you are of the rightness of your actions and the truth of your views, look on them as the actions and the views of someone else, and rephrase them accordingly. So defined, irony is quite distinct from sarcasm. It is a mode of acceptance, rather than a mode of rejection. And it points both ways: Through irony I learn to accept both the other on whom I turn my gaze, and also myself, the one who is gazing. Pace Rorty, irony is not free from judgment. It simply recognizes that the one who judges is also judged, and judged by himself.

I think I agree with Scruton here vs. Rorty, who basically makes the ironic stance a code-word for radical moral relativism: For him, the ironist is in a state of radical doubt:

    (1) She has radical and continuing doubts about the final vocabulary she currently uses, because she has been impressed by other vocabularies, vocabularies taken as final by people or books she has encountered;
    (2) she realizes that argument phrased in her present vocabulary can neither underwrite nor dissolve these doubts;
    (3) insofar as she philosophizes about her situation, she does not think that her vocabulary is closer to reality than others, that it is in touch with a power not herself.

Here, as Scruton points out, judgment is permanently deferred, indeed, renounced. (In imitation of God’s refusal to show up for a Last Judgment?)

Scruton, on the other hand, gets at a far more interesting form of irony, that is what I would term the ability to engage in self-criticism because one can get enough distance from one’s own self to see the irony in, say, rioting and killing in response to having your religion called violent.

But I don’t think what Scruton calls irony deserves that name. He’s describing an ability to empathize that necessitates a certain distance. Only then can one even perceive ironies. Muslims rioting over the Pope’s comments are so enraged by the “insult” and so angry (perhaps at being revealed) that they try and intimidate the West into shutting up. They have no idea how ironic this is, because, as zealots, they have no ability – or they categorically refuse – to “see themselves as others see them.” Irony is a by-product of, and often a wry and humorous form taken by, certain kinds of self-criticism.

And this is precisely where Scruton now takes us.

Irony is intimately related to the fifth notable feature of Western civilization: self-criticism. It is second nature to us, whenever we affirm something, to allow a voice to the opponent. The adversarial method of deliberation is endorsed by our law, by our forms of education, and by the political systems that we have built to broker our interests and resolve our conflicts. Think of those vociferous critics of Western civilization such as the late Edward Said and the ubiquitous Noam Chomsky. Said spoke out in uncompromising and, at times, even venomous terms on behalf of the Islamic world against what he saw as the lingering outlook of Western imperialism. As a consequence, he was rewarded with a prestigious chair at a leading university and countless opportunities for public speaking in America and around the Western world. The consequences for Chomsky have been largely the same.

This habit of rewarding our critics is, I think, unique to Western civilization. The only problem with it is that, in our universities, things have gone so far that there are no rewards given to anyone else. Prizes are distributed to the left of the political spectrum because it feeds the ruling illusion of those who award them: namely, that self-criticism will bring us safety, and that all threats come from ourselves, and from our desire to defend what we have.

In other words, what we have with the “left” is a deeply unironic sense of self-criticism, a dogma worthy of the passionate and unironic minds of religious zealots: only through radical self-criticism can you be saved. The perduring spectacle of people so self-critical (on behalf of the civilization that gave birth to their thought and their audience), and yet, so incapable of self-criticism (on behalf of themselves and their fellow progressives), may be the deadliest irony of all.

This habit of self-criticism has created another critical feature of Western civilization, and that is representation. We in the West, and the English-speaking peoples preeminently, are heirs to a longstanding habit of free association, in which we join together in clubs, businesses, pressure groups, and educational foundations. This associative genius was particularly remarked upon by Tocqueville in his journeys through America, and it is facilitated by the unique branch of the English common law — equity and the law of trusts — which enables people to set up funds in common and to administer them without asking permission from any higher authority.

The role of free association, and the emergence of voluntary societies, play central roles in the emergence of the modern west (from ca. 1000 onward in particular, almost always, in those early centuries, in the form of religious communities which Brian Stock called, “laboratories of social organization.”

This associative habit goes hand in hand with the tradition of representation. When we form a club or a society which has a public profile, we are in the habit of appointing officers to represent it. The decisions of these officers are then assumed to be binding on all members, who cannot reject them without leaving the club. In this way, a single individual is able to speak for an entire group, and in so doing, to bind it to accept the decisions made in its name. We find nothing strange in this, and it has affected the political, educational, economic, and leisure institutions of our society in incalculable ways. It has also affected the government of our religious institutions, both Catholic and Protestant. Indeed, it was among nineteenth-century Protestant theologians that the theory of the corporation as a moral idea was first fully developed. We know that the hierarchy of our church, be it Baptist, Episcopalian, or Catholic, is empowered to take decisions on our behalf, and can enter into dialogue with institutions in other parts of the world, in order to secure the space that we require for worship.

Association takes a very different form in traditional Islamic societies, however. Clubs and societies of strangers are rare, and the primary social unit is not the free association, but the family. Companies do not enjoy a developed legal framework under Islamic law, and it has been argued by Malise Ruthven and others that the concept of the corporate person has no equivalent in shari’ah.2 The same is true for other forms of association. Charities, for instance, are organized in a completely different way than are those in the West: not as property held in trust for beneficiaries, but as property that has been religiously “stopped” (waqf). As a result, all public entities, including schools and hospitals, are regarded as ancillary to the mosque and governed by religious principles. Meanwhile, the mosque itself is not a corporate person, nor is there an entity which can be called “the Mosque” in the same sense as we refer to the Church — that is, an entity whose decisions are binding on all its members, which can negotiate on their behalf, and which can be held to account for its misdeeds and abuses.

As a result of this long tradition of associating only under the aegis of the mosque or the family, Islamic communities lack the conception of the spokesman.3 When serious conflicts erupt between Muslim minorities in Western cities and the surrounding society, we have found it difficult, if not impossible, to negotiate with the Muslim community, since there is no one who will speak for it or take responsibility for imposing any decision upon it. If by chance someone does step forward, the individual members of the Muslim community feel free to accept or reject his decisions at will. The same problem has been witnessed in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other countries with radicalized Muslim populations. When someone attempts to speak for a dissident group, it is very often on his own initiative, and without any procedure that validates his office. Like as not, should he agree to a solution to a given problem, he will be assassinated, or at any rate disowned, by the radical members of the group for whom he purports to be speaking.

That’s clearly at work in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Ironically, Muslim societies, like all “self-help” justice societies, are strongly committed to collective responsibility. Both crimes and punishments are viewed not as individual phenomena, but family and clan. This thinking underlies everything from “honor-killing” — the girl’s behavior is not her own, it’s her family’s — to retaliation — the group is responsible for the individual’s acts. So this “lack” of this sense of group responsibility needs a more substantive answer than this contrast with the West.

This point leads me to reflect once again on the idea of citizenship. An important reason for the stability and peacefulness of societies based on citizenship is that individuals in such societies are fully protected by their rights. They are fenced off from their neighbors in spheres of private sovereignty, where they alone make decisions. As a result, a society of citizens can establish good relations and shared allegiance between strangers.

Scruton lays this out as if it were “reasonable.” (Later he refers to it as “all [done] with relative ease.”) And so it appears, to those of us born and raised in such societies, as well as those who “get it,” like Ibn Warraq. But it calls for some rather exceptional human emotions that need cultivation if a polity is to transcend the zero-sum world of “rule or be ruled” and “crabs in the basket.”

You don’t have to know your fellow citizen in order to ascertain your rights against him or your duties toward him; moreover, his being a stranger in no way alters the fact that you are each prepared to die for the territory that contains you and the laws which you enjoy. This remarkable feature of nation-states is sustained by the habits to which I have referred: self-criticism, representation, and corporate life, the very habits not to be found in traditional Islamic societies. What the Islamist movements promise their adherents is not citizenship, but “brotherhood” — ikhwân — an altogether warmer, closer, and more metaphysically satisfying thing.

And yet, the warmer and closer an attachment, the less widely can it be spread. Brotherhood is selective and exclusive. It cannot extend very far without exposing itself to sudden and violent refutation. Hence the Arab proverb: “I and my brother against my cousin; I and my cousin against the world.” An association of brothers is not a new entity, a corporation which can negotiate for its members. It remains essentially plural—indeed, ikhwân is simply the plural of akh, “brother” — and denotes an assembly of like-minded people brought together by their common commitment, rather than any institution which can claim sovereignty over them. This has significant political repercussions. For instance, when Nasser’s successor as president of Egypt, Anwar Sadat, set aside seats in the Egyptian parliament for the Muslim Brotherhood, they were immediately occupied by those judged suitable by the president, and disowned by the real Brotherhood, which continued its violent activities, culminating in Sadat’s assassination. Simply put, brothers don’t take orders. They act together as a family—until they quarrel and fight.

This brings me to a final and critical point of difference between Western and Islamic communities. We live in a society of strangers who associate rapidly and tolerate each other’s differences. Yet ours is not a society of vigilant conformity. It makes few public demands that are not contained in secular law; and it allows people to move quickly from one group to the next, one relationship to the next, one business, religion, or way of life to the next, and all with relative ease. It is endlessly creative in forming the institutions and associations that enable people to live with their differences and remain on peaceful terms, without the need for intimacy, brotherhood, or tribal loyalties. I am not arguing that this is a good thing, but it is the way things are, and this is the inevitable byproduct of citizenship as I have described it.

Huh? Why wouldn’t he argue this is a good thing? It’s the key element of the kind of Western society that so many people want to live in, no matter what their complaints about it. It’s the kind of society that makes intellectuals like Scruton and so many others, possible.

Furthermore, I’m not sure I’d call this state of affairs the “inevitable byproduct of citizenship.” More likely, it represents both the sine qua non of citizenship — without having reached a significant level of tolerance and trust between strangers, citizenship won’t work — and it’s the direct product of citizenship — encouraging these patterns of behavior and attitudes is a major goal of education in civil polities.

What makes it possible to live in this way? There is a simple answer, and that is drink. What the Koran promises in paradise but forbids here below is the necessary lubricant of the Western dynamo. You see this clearly in America, where cocktail parties immediately break the ice between strangers and set every large gathering in motion, stimulating a collective desire for rapid agreement among people who a moment before did not know each other from Adam. This habit of quickly coming to the point depends on many aspects of our culture besides drink, of course, but drink is critical, and those who have studied the phenomenon are largely persuaded that, for all the costs that our civilization has paid in terms of alcoholism, accidents, and broken homes, it is largely thanks to drink that we have been, in the long run, so successful.

It would be nice to have some references here. Most societies have alcohol, but very few developed the citizenship Scruton wants to explain. I’m not denying the point, but it clearly needs a much better articulation than this vague generalization.

Of course, Islamic societies have their own ways of creating fleeting associations: the hookah, the coffee house, and the traditional bathhouse, praised by Lady Mary Wortley Montague as establishing a solidarity among women that has no equivalent in the Christian world. But these forms of association are also forms of withdrawal, a standing back from the business of government in a posture of peaceful resignation. Drink has the opposite effect: It brings strangers together in a state of controlled aggression, able and willing to engage in any business that should arise from the current conversation.

This strikes me as far from the crux of the matter. He’s actually describing a condition in which our politicians are in a condition of a continuous buzz, which may be the case, but I’d sort of hope it wasn’t.

The features to which I have referred do not merely explain the uniqueness of Western civilization; they also account for its success in navigating the enormous changes that have come about through the advance of technology and science, just as they explain the political stability and democratic ethos of its component nation-states. These features also distinguish Western civilization from the Islamic communities in which terrorists are cultivated. And they help to explain the great resentment of those terrorists who cannot match, with their own moral and religious resources, the easy competence with which the citizens of Europe and America negotiate the modern world.

If this is so, then how should we defend the West from Islamist terrorism? I shall suggest a brief answer to that question. First, we should be clear about what it is that we are and are not defending. We are not defending, for example, our wealth or our territory; these things are not at stake.

Actually, they are at stake, but it’s not what we need to stake our claim on.

Rather, we are defending our political and cultural inheritance, embodied in the seven features which I have singled out here for attention. Second, we should be clear that you cannot overcome resentment by feeling guilty or by conceding fault. Weakness provokes, since it alerts your enemy to the possibility of destroying you. We should therefore be prepared to affirm what we have, and to express our determination to hold on to it. That said, we must recognize that it is not envy but resentment that animates the terrorist. Envy is the desire to possess what the other has; resentment is the desire to destroy it.

How do you deal with resentment? This is the great question that so few leaders of mankind have been able to answer.

One of the reasons that few have even tried to answer this question is that by and large, in the world of “rule or be ruled” in which envy is the pervasive norm, one at once wishes to arouse resentment by over-powering success, and discourage its expression with ruthlessness. The problem of how a civil polity, based on fairness and open-handed trust, and eager to forgo ruthlessness, deals with the resentment of societies that it bests/humiliates merely by its own domestic success (e.g., Israel and the surrounding Arab nations, and the USA and Europe), is, in some senses, a new phenomenon.

Christians, however, are fortunate in being heirs to the one great attempt to answer it, which was that of Jesus, who drew on a longstanding Jewish tradition that goes back to the Tora, and which was expressed in similar terms by his contemporary R. Hillel. You overcome resentment, Jesus told us, by forgiving it. To reach out in a spirit of forgiveness is not to accuse yourself; it is to make a gift to the other. And it is here, it seems to me, that we have taken a wrong turn in recent decades. The illusion that we are to blame, that we must confess our faults and join our cause to that of our enemies, only exposes us to a more determined hatred. The truth is that we are not to blame; that our enemies’ hatred of us is entirely unjustified; and that their implacable enmity cannot be defused by our breast-beating.

This paragraph combines two somewhat contradictory notions. As the “irony” of Jesus’ rebuke of those about to stone the prostitute illustrates, forgiving is intimately connected to self-criticism, which is the kissing cousin of blaming oneself. Insofar as this is a warning against “Masochistic Omnipotence Syndrome” (MOS), it’s fine, even eloquent. Insofar as it’s an attempt to implement Jesus’ teachings, it’s problematic.

The big difference between Christian and Jewish attitudes towards forgiveness is that for the latter, it’s predicated on the person seeking forgiveness admitting his fault and asking for forgiveness; for the former, forgiveness is, in principle, unconditional, granted regardless of the attitude of the person one forgives.

Indeed, one of the ways of critiquing the progressive left today is to accuse them of adopting “love your enemy as yourself” (or: “love him more than yourself”) as a principle of international and inter-relgious relations. For example, when the “gift” of forgiveness you offer to people who hold you in contempt for your effort, elicits contempt and aggression, how long do you keep giving?

So instead of saying to the Muslims, “we’re wrong, please forgive us for making you angry,” Scruton would have us say, “you’re wrong for resenting us, but we’ll forgive you for it before you even ask for forgiveness, indeed, without your even being aware that you need forgiveness.” In so doing, Scruton actually applies a Christian notion: he wants us to forgive Muslims for a resentment that they either refuse to recognize, or, if they do admit to their deep hatred of the West’s power, they hardly consider it a sin for which they should as us forgiveness.

In other words, Scruton has set up the moral situation according to a (surprisingly unsophisticated “Christian”) formula that exudes cognitive egocentrism: “they have sinned by being resentful, and without taking responsibility for provoking their sin, we should forgive them for it.”

In practice the two approaches to the problem are not far apart, in that neither grapples with the problem of how the Muslims view us, and neither rebukes the Muslims for their outrageously hypocritical accusations against the West for “violations” of a morality to which they have no allegiance. In other words, both the far left MOS, and the Scruton “Christian forgiveness” approach fail to confront the demopathy with which Islam is killing us.

There is a drawback to realizing this truth, however. It makes it seem as though we are powerless. But we are not powerless. There are two resources on which we can call in our defense, one public, and the other private. In the public sphere, we can resolve to protect the good things that we have inherited. That means making no concessions to those who wish us to exchange citizenship for subjection, nationality for religious conformity, secular law for shari’ah, the Judeo-Christian inheritance for Islam, irony for solemnity, self-criticism for dogmatism, representation for submission, and cheerful drinking for censorious abstinence. We should treat with scorn all those who demand these changes and invite them to live where their preferred form of political order is already installed. And we must respond to their violence with whatever force is required to contain it.

After a long article examining the cognitive and attitudinal dimensions of the problem, this is a strange paragraph. On the one hand, it’s an excellent summary of what we need to do; on the other, it’s a very old list to those of us who figured out what’s wrong a while ago. The problem is not, “what we need to do,” but why we won’t do the simplest, most obvious, and even largely non-violent things that we need to do?

In the private sphere, however, Christians should follow the path laid down for them by Jesus: namely, looking soberly and in a spirit of forgiveness on the hurts that we receive, and showing, by our example, that these hurts achieve nothing save to discredit the one who inflicts them.

This is an excellent example of liberal cognitive egocentrism. Only when the peer-group acknowledges the “bigness” of the forgiver and the pettiness of the offender, does one get this kind of result. Scruton is describing a very rare peer group that discredits the one who inflict hurt. On the contrary, hurting others with impunity is one of the major sources of “honor” both in male and female circles. As Mme. de Maintenon put it, “the social order depends on the humiliation of the inferiors.” “Showing, by our example, that these hurts achieve nothing save to discredit the one who inflicts them,” is fantasy.

This is the hard part of the task — hard to perform, hard to endorse, and hard to recommend to others. Nonetheless, it is the task at hand, and in a battle the stakes of which are so high, it is a task that we cannot fail to undertake.

This has me baffled. Is Scruton a Christian moralist? The kind of forgiveness he advises is incredibly difficult, impractical for all but the most adept of saints, and, in our current dilemma with people who really are enemies, completely inappropriate. Sure, for people who aspire to holiness — and that’s many sincere Jews and Christians — these matters may be significant.

But they’re hardly normative on a large polity of people who must be able to defend against malevolence with deterrants rather than holiness. To suggest that it [Christian-style, unconditional, forgiveness] is a task we cannot fail to undertake makes no sense at all. And to end here, without discussing what “forgiveness” should look like either when American citizens speak with their fellow-citizens of Islamic allegiance when those Muslims show disturbing signs of demopathy, or discussing what the US should do in dealing with nations that seek our destruction, strikes me as inadequate, to say the least.

Roger Scruton is a writer, philosopher, and public commentator. He is currently a professor at the Institute for the Psychological Sciences in Arlington, Virginia. This essay is a revised version of a lecture given as part of the Program to Protect America’s Freedom at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.

53 Responses to Scruton stumbles through explaining how the West should deal with Islam’s challenge.

  1. Hmmm! Delivering a lecture like this on a Sunday morning. And I thought this would be my day of rest. ;-)

  2. Eliyahu says:

    RL, you discuss “poor palestinians” below, using quote marks for the word poor.

    the mentality that, for example, supports the “poor Palestinians” no matter how badly they behave. Religiously deracinated “ethics” can be as dangerous a phenomenon as religious zealotry. (Or is that moral equivalence?)

    First of all is the issue of whether the Arabs in Judea-Samaria & Gaza are in fact poor, particularly compared Arabs in nearby countries.
    Secondly, endorsing favoritism [משוא פנים ] for the poor or anybody else means downgrading truth. Obviously, truth is not necessarily on the side of the poor or the rich or the in-between in any particular case. In this case, the Biblical rule is more respectful of truth than what the “progressives” say.

    Now with the Arabs and Israel, there is a big problem because of the commonplace prejudice that the Arabs are “poor” whereas the Israelis [imagined to be ultra-white skinned Europeans] must be rich. However, there are a lot of Arabs who are superrich. These are especially Arab big shots in oil rich countries. But not only them. Rafik Hariri was a billionaire, although his country was Lebanon which does not have oil [so far]. But Hariri made his billions mostly off of his business in oil rich Saudi Arabia. Many Arabs, Muslims and Christians, have made big money by going far away from the Middle East, to North and South and Central America, to West Africa, to Europe, Australia, etc.

    On the level of the palestinian Arabs in Judea-Samaria & Gaza, they are generally better off economically than Arabs in Jordan and Egypt. The differences are striking even between Gaza and the Egyptian border town of Rafiyahh [Rafa in Arabic, Raphia in Latin]. After all, so much international money goes into Gaza and has been going into there for many many years that many people there have a lot more money than the nearby Egyptians. Then, too, many Gazans were working for Israelis [up to 5 to 10 years ago] and making better money that way than they would have working in Gaza. In fact, TV films showing the suffering of families in Gaza often show the inside of homes which are NOT especially deprived at all, especially compared to the reported poverty of homes across the border in Egypt or in Central Africa or Vietnam, for example. Look at the size and cleanliness of apartments, the furniture, the electrical appliances. rugs, wardrobes, relatively well equipped modern kitchens. Look at the clothes they wear. The average Egyptian is much more disadvantaged, even in Egyptian Rafiyahh. There is also a notion that being “non-white” means also being poor, although many Arabs are lighter than many Jews and more prosperous than many Jews. We now face an utter jumble of ideas, often one contradicting the other but all working to besmirch Jews and Israel.

    Also, the claim that Gaza is the most crowded place on earth is another big lie. The Tel Aviv metropolitan area [Gush Dan גוש דן ] is more crowded, more densely populated. Martin Kramer did several comparisons in this vein about 8 weeks ago. But if Euros or other Westerners really believe that then they should try to alleviate it by welcoming some of these Arabs into their own countries. Might that not only help to alleviate the population pressure but the Arab-Israeli political problem too??

    Now, there is a problem of respect for truth in the position that, because the Arabs are supposedly weaker and poorer, despite their hundreds of millions whose numbers speak to Western politicians, whose 22 votes in the UN and other international bodies speak to Western politicians [not to mention the votes of Muslim states in the OIC], whose oil speaks to Western capitalists and diplomats, despite their trillions in oil money, etc., that their lies should be overlooked or forgiven or even accepted as a “higher political, moral truth.”

    So that commonplace argument is very insidiously clever. The Arabs are “poor” and “weak” and thus deserve our aid and sympathy. Likewise, because they are poor and weak –supposedly– their lies should not be counted against them. The poor dears can’t help it. Or, they have no alternative. Hence, the Eurohypocrites find themselves back where they were 100 years ago. Various breeds of demagogues agitate against the Jews for allegedly being too rich, being exploiters, blood suckers, although many in those days were factory workers and in the manual trades. August Bebel said that “antisemitism is the socialism of fools.” There is also a notion being “non-white” means also being poor, although many Arabs are lighter than many Jews and more prosperous than many Jews [obviously skin color is not necessarily linked to prosperity].

    At the same time, in that same period [100 anni fa], some of the same agitators and others, wrote that Jews were aliens, not truly European, not quite white, swarthy [look at Geo DuMaurier's depiction of Svengali], really Orientals [which was historically true of the origins of most Jews in Europe].

    Today, the great-grandchildren of those who called Jews alien to Europe are now calling Jews alien to the Middle East which must be made purely Arab [and the Arabs too are glad to oblige, persecuting not only Jews but even Arabic-speaking Christians, their allies of yesterday against the Jews].

    The Israelis are also seen as cruelly taking Arab houses, Arab land, Arab history [this claim is a reveral of history itself], exploiting Arabs economically, etc.

    So today’s Western anti-Zionists have found the proper arguments for obviating and vitiating any Western guilt over the Holocaust and other persecutions of Jews by recasting the old anti-Jewish charges of 100 years ago into up to date Middle Eastern versions: now, instead of being alien to Europe they are “Europeans alien to the Middle East.” Instead of exploiting good, clean, white Aryan workers, they exploit “non-white” Arabs [in fact, some Arabs are very dark and some are white and some merely a bit swarthy or olive-skinned, like some people in my family]. Instead of being accused of using the blood of pale white European Christian children, they are now accused of killing somewhat swarthy or “non-white” Arab-Muslim children [i.e., Muhammad al-Durah]. And these recycled, renovated, and refurbished lies serve the same genocidal purpose as those lies told through the 20th century up through WW2.

    Nothing new under the sun. אין חדש תחת השמש

    see link:

  3. Cynic says:


    Thanks for the lead. I tried reading the article but due to circumstances at the moment do not have the peace of mind to try and analyze it.

    Another article about Franz Rosenzweig by Spengler, the Asia Times writer seems to have something in common so maybe you would care to read it?

    Christian, Muslim, Jew Franz Rosenzweig and the Abrahamic Religions

    Rather than three Abrahamic religions, Rosenzweig saw only two religions arising from the self-­revelation of divine love, with Islam as a crypto-pagan pretender. He was no Islamophobe, observing that Islam during certain eras evinced greater tolerance and humaneness than Christian Europe. But he was emphatic that truly foundational differences distinguish Judeo-Christian religion from Islam.
    Contemporary academic thinkers almost universally eschew Rosenzweig’s view of Islam. But it makes no sense to affirm Rosenzweig’s depiction of the unique bond between Jews and Christians—their response to God’s self-revelation through love—while ignoring what makes this bond so different from other human responses to the transcendent.

  4. oao says:

    That’s an interesting formula, since it is quasi-religious, in the sense that religion does answer the question “what life requires” of the adherent.

    NO!!!! Religion USED to be considered what life requires when humans did not know any better — that’s when it was invented. Increased conscious knowledge, particularly about evolution and survival, has made the core of religion obsolete. People hold on to it because they are afraid of death and often of coping with a hard reality and of making their own decision, but beliefs in the supernatural are today causing more problems than they solve. countering one supernatural deity with another is what doomed humanity in history and once you take it and life after death out of religion, its value goes to zero.

    As a result we get a “progressive left” that is at once scornful of religion

    Not all non-religious are progressive leftists, in fact there are more who are not and there is no logical move from religion to left. What is more, leftims is a secular religion in that it is based mostly on faith rather than empirical evidence. that is true of rightism too. religion is ideology with a supernatural god, leftism and rightism is religion without one.

    In other words, what we have with the “left” is a deeply unironic sense of self-criticism, a dogma worthy of the passionate and unironic minds of religious zealots: only through radical self-criticism can you be saved.


    Religiously deracinated “ethics” can be as dangerous a phenomenon as religious zealotry.

    NO!!!! these self-serving not ethics, it masquerades as ethics, same as religion does.

    i agree that scruton fails on the solution to islam.
    but since your entire critique rests of theism and the notion that religion is the basis of ethics and atheism is devoid of it, you fail as much as scruton does. he “forgives” their religion, you offer yours. neither is the answer.

  5. oao says:

    on 2nd thought, i will retract my criticism of your criticism, as i think you were referring to scruton’s religious basis rather than yours.

    but my readings of you here suggests that you are a theist and subscribe to religion as the source of ethics.

  6. oao says:

    you seem to think that if you drop religion you end up with leftism (you disregard rightism), which is based on “false” ethics. fear of death and hardships and of some god (religion) is not a sufficient source of ethics, neither is being self-centered (leftism and rightism).

    secular-humanism is more likely it, but it’s not a surprise that theists, leftists and rightists consider it extremism. i understand why.

  7. oao says:

    let me summarize more succinctly: my appreciation is for his comparison of western civilization and islam. his solution is pathetic.

    he has a good diagnosis of the problem, but he has no solution. that’s quite common in the west, and why it’s losing.

  8. Eliyahu says:

    oao, in the real world, is there always so much difference between “Left” and “Right”?

  9. Michelle Schatzman says:


    I do not agree with either Scruton or you, about the lack of solidarities beyond the level of families, clans and the Umma. There are also the “brotherhoods” (tariqa), who are mostly sufi. They are important in North Africa, specially Marocco from what I know, and in muslim subsaharian Africa. Senegal is well-known for the importance of its “brotherhoods”. Some of the best-known are the Tijaniya, and the Murid brotherhood, the latter being strong on hard work and organization, and hence quite wealthy.

    I learnt from one of my grad students, who was a muslim from Senegal, that death penalty in islam for adultery is very difficult to apply, since four male witnesses, who do not hold family ties either between them or with the accused, should have seen the act clearly. Therefore, if and when stoning is applied to an adulteress (and her accomplice) in muslim countries, I tend to bet that it is under suitable generalizations found in whatever nook and crany of sharia law can be found.

    Not being an expert on islam, I have no way of proving the last paragraph – but it does prove something : this grad student was a nice guy, who understood quite a few things about his religion, of which he was a pious adept.

  10. oao says:

    oao, in the real world, is there always so much difference between “Left” and “Right”?

    some. the difference goes away as you approach the extremes.

  11. Rich Rostrom says:

    RL: “Strictly speaking, the king was above the law in England throughout the middle ages…” That would be news to John, for one, or to Richard II. There were complex legal restraints on royal actions all through the Middle Ages, and certainly before the English Civil War. (The ECW was provoked in large part by Charles I’s attempts to evade or override these restraints.)

    Kings in other nations were as much or more restrained. For instance, each king of Aragon went through a ceremony in which he was informed

    If you uphold our laws and our rights, you are our king – and if not, not!

    You’re largely right, although I was thinking of Bracton’s comment that, although the king is subject to the law, only God can judge him, which makes him effectively outside the reach of the law. Richard II provoked a rebellion and got deposed, but it was hardly the kind of legal proceeding of impeachment that some of us might associate with “constitutional monarchy.” As for the ECW and what provoked it, there’s a relatively rapid evolution of Parliamentary powers that makes it possible, if you will, the realization of potential authority, rather than the implementation of existing authority. -rl

    “a religious error made by our founding fathers…”: The Founders defined the “inalienable rights” as “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. They did not imagine for one moment that all men enjoyed these rights, or that obtaining and maintaining them did not require great struggles. What they meant was that these are natural rights – what men have if other men are not actively oppressing them.

    Thanks for this clarification. I accept it as a good reading of what the founders thought. On the other hand, if “natural rights” are what we have when others aren’t oppressing us, it takes a lot to get men (including ourselves) to stop oppressing each other (one might argue, that’s the natural condition, the gravitational pull against which a civil polity struggles).

    As for much of today’s thinking about human rights, it seems to have lost all appreciation of the struggle involved. -rl

  12. Michael B says:

    What aspect of Scruton here (or elsewhere) do you place under the rubric of “supersessionism,” Richard?

  13. Richard Landes says:

    it’s a mild form, but the formula, “jesus opposed jewish legalism” is classic of invidious identity formation, as in: “The Jews of first-century Judea were a closed community, bound by a tight web of religious legalisms…”
    i think i may have been earlier sensitized to this kind of thinking in reading James O’Donnell’s The Ruin of the Roman Empire where he has similar, canned versions of the conflict btw christianity and judaism.
    in any case, the reason i bring it up is that in placing his emphasis on Christian forgiveness and openness and implicitly dismissing Jewish legalisms and closedness, he actually takes us in just the wrong direction: it’s the disciplines of laws that make people capable of the self-restraint necessary to exercise freedom responsibly.
    in the end, Scruton’s recommendations are irresponsible.

  14. Michael B says:

    Thanks, I was curious. I cannot know so this is merely in passing, but knowing Scruton via other writings I strongly suspect you’re placing too much emphasis on this invidious interpretation. Beyond that, it’s a too nettlesome and often subtle set of issues that are involved, too easily given to misinterpretation, including within Christian disciplines and communities, so I’ll leave it alone beyond that general note.

  15. oao says:

    As for much of today’s thinking about human rights, it seems to have lost all appreciation of the struggle involved. -rl

    THAT’s why education, of which history is a part, is critical for those who are not present when the fight for their rights occurred. it’s because education collapsed that the west fails to realize that it needs to defend those rights. they take them to be literally natural.

  16. oao says:

    it’s the disciplines of laws that make people capable of the self-restraint necessary to exercise freedom responsibly.

    laws can be moral or immoral. is the freedom exercised via self-restraint due to immoral law responsible?

  17. [...] mas minha simpatia – algo nada científico, sei bem - vai para Scruton. Em todo caso, leiam o texto e tirem suas próprias [...]

  18. Sebaneau says:

    For those who have reasons to believe that the “Book of revelation” predicted not the end of the world but the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple by the Romans, it seems that those who, outside or inside christianity, have interpreted it as an apocalyptic sect were mistaken.

    Besides, this whole discussion fails to acknowledge the prevalence of pseudo-democratic socialism as an established, violent, and destructive religion of deceit, censorship and legal plunder in the West.

    Given the absurdity of such government-imposed pseudo-democratic socialist beliefs, and the extent of the attendant human sacrifices they inspire –to “social justice” as well as “climate change” and “diversity”, (legal plunder destroys the equivalent of all the wealth it steals) it is ridiculous to call it “secular”.

    Nor can in any way be described as “egalitarian” or “free” a society where everyone is a half-slave to or a dependent of state functionaries, where a ruling caste marginalizes dissent through monopolies and subsidies and imposes “solidarity” as well as “political correctness” using police force.

    Therein lies the source of the West’s self-destruction, and nowhere else.

  19. Cynic says:


    You will need Nelson’s help in translating Portuguese blog posts relating yours if it becomes a regular thing as it can be most interesting; (I don’t have a classical education to cope with the terminology).

    #17 above wrote in his post:
    …. Landes não tem uma percepção correta do que foi o Cristianismo. Para ele, a religião surgida com a vinda de Cristo é um anúncio do Fim do Mundo, equivalente a outras seitas mileniaristas que ocorreram na época ou que surgiriam depois. Fazer essa equivalência é a mesma coisa que igualar Cristo a um dos inúmeros “falsos messias” que circulavam pela Judéia.

    Landes does not have the correct perception of what Christianity was. For him, the religion that arose with the coming of Christ is a notice of the End of The World, equivalent to other millennial sects which occurred during that period or appeared afterwards.
    Making this equivalence is the same thing as comparing Christ to one of those numerous “false messiahs” who circulated through Judea.

    Landes critica Scruton por ser uma espécie de “apologeta” cristão, enquanto o seu trabalho seria mais “científico”. Não sei de nada, mas minha simpatia – algo nada científico, sei bem – vai para Scruton.

    Landes criticizes Scruton for being a sort of “defender of/excusatory”* Christian while his work is more scientific. Don’t know, but my sympathy – something not scientific, I know well, – goes to Scruton.

    * (not sure of how to translate apologeta as have never come across this form – apologetica I know)

  20. oao says:

    Making this equivalence is the same thing as comparing Christ to one of those numerous “false messiahs” who circulated through Judea.

    that presumes jesus WAS the REAL messiah, so all the
    rest derives from that. but was he? after all, he had
    nothing to do with christianity, which was invented by

    Don’t know, but my sympathy – something not scientific, I know well, – goes to Scruton.

    nooooooo! reaaaaaally? never occurred to me.

  21. Michael B says:

    oao, March 11, 4:11 pm,

    In fact, it does not inherently make that assumption. A vast corpus of natural theology and philosophical output, spanning centuries, can be used in support of both Judaism and Christianity – as well as in support of theism per se. Not so concerning those others who circulated in Judea contemporaneously with Jesus.

    There are also all manner of socio-historical offshoots and related strains, obverse sides of the same or related coins, etc. E.g., emphasizing Luther’s late in life anti-Semitic tracts – while deemphasizing, obscuring or entirely eliding Karl Marx’s and Frederich Engel’s own anti-Semitic corpus, which was in fact prominent and somewhat voluminous – and arguably pivotal in terms of their larger oeuvre and their ideological effort.

    So, you’re not being terribly scientific yourself.

  22. oao says:

    A vast corpus of natural theology and philosophical output, spanning centuries, can be used in support of both Judaism and Christianity – as well as in support of theism per se.

    i am aware the corpus is vast. vastness per se does not mean much to me.

    in any case, i only said that the CRITICIZER made that assumption, and people who do immediately become suspect because to make it one must suspend judgment — that’s what faith requires by definition — and when you do that, everything becomes suspect. at least for me it does.

    religions were fine as interpretations of the world; there are elements in them that were part of the evolutionary survival mechanism — otherwise they would not have been that successful. but AT THE TIME OF THEIR INVENTION, when we were mighty ignorant. they are coming back with the return of ignorance (in the west), islam never left for obvious reasons.

    but i digressed a bit if i am not mistaken.

  23. Michael B says:

    It doesn’t matter. Though it’s obvious enough I wasn’t suggesting the “vastness” alluded to per se reflected the principle point being made.

  24. oao says:

    if it’s natural it cannot support the supernatural, and without the latter it’s not religion.

  25. Michael B says:

    No. Though I’m only going to make a point as pertains to syntax vs. semantics, and not get bogged down here. Natural theology is a term, a term that serves as contrast with revealed (or dogmatic) theology, i.e. with theology more commonly understood. The term natural theology is also used interchangeably with the term rational theology, e.g., Liebniz’s Theodicy largely falls within the scope of rational theology as I recall. I.e. theology and theistic conceptions as can be advanced via unaided reason and absent Judaic, Christian or any other revealed/dogmatic conceptions – e.g., Socratic/Platonic and Aristotelian theistic conceptions.

  26. Richard Landes says:

    i have to admit to finding carl jung’s approach here very useful (despite his follies during the nazi period — just goes to show how powerful the appeal of millennial ideologies on the “smartest” of people).

    he pointed out that the the uncs, precisely because it is uncs, has no (known) limit, and therefore shd be conceived of as eventually connecting with elements of human psychology (and collective psychology) that other writers identify as religion/god/etc. there’s a fundamental issue here of matters most easily referred to as intuition, that defy “logic” even as logic clarifies some of these issues and draws our attention to them.

    i confess that much of my thinking about civil polities and the values of positive-sum have been changed by the events of the 21st cn. it’s clear that humans are more complex than anything any system will ever “contain” and that what we do is in some sense “situational” (which is why i am a post-modernist in what i think is a healthy sense). the formula “positive-sum all the way” is radically inappropriate, even tho that’s what i think many “theodicy-driven” atheists would like god to have done – create a universe where positive-sum was encoded in the operation of nature, not as a by-product (plants in reproducing, give animals food), or of “human choice” (cooperation over competition).

    i think as humans we’re stuck with a human condition where we cannot always be “good” (ie positive-sum), and that is a “good thing” no matter how painful to us however sophisticated and wise our sense of conscience.

    so these discussions of revealed vs. rational theology displace attention from the mystery of human motivations and interactions (in which honor-shame always plays a role, not always the same), to abstract arguments. the argument of some atheists — the god i don’t believe in wd never do that — strikes me as silly. it’s like saying, “i won’t believe in a god whose behavior i can’t reduce to my idea of what “just” is.” this superficial reading of “justice” — how cd he kill innocent children in an earthquake, or build a universe in which such things can happen — is a kind of “humanist” theodicy that has repeatedly either failed or given birth to monstrosities.

    i don’t have answers, i just know (some) of the answers i don’t buy.

    so on the theology debate, i’m wide open to religious discourse, and neither dismiss religious thought, nor claim to be “scientific.” on the contrary, i think “scientific” (as opposed to, say, empirical, or honest) approaches when strictly applied to the human condition, are inappropriate.

    on the matter of Jesus, i don’t seee him as a false prophet, but as one of many prophets (including Muhammad) who were wrong about the timetable of the apocalypse (a not insignificant error for someone whose promise of imminent salvation — “repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” — is a key element in his popularity). this by no means invalidates the spiritual message he communicated, nor even the messages his followers developed over time.

    it does, however, call into question the kind of invidious identity formation characteristic — alas — of many of his followers (including Paul) in which the “truth” of Christianity invalidates Jewish religious insights. that, it seems to me, is both an act of arrogance inappropriate to any genuine (and hence modest) religious person, and leads us (as it did Scruton, i think), to make mistaken arguments about what our various religious leaders would have us do (the famous, “what would Jesus do?” question).

    in this case, i see unconditional forgiveness (and love your enemy) — ie positive-sum all the way — as an appropriate behavior for both apocalyptic believers (God the Judge is about to appear and judge mankind), and open-hearted mystics. to then shift that into the arena of international politics and suggest it as a collective action (not the personal action of the mystic), where we are dealing with murderous enemies, is just plain folly worthy of a darwin award.

  27. Cynic says:

    on the matter of Jesus, i don’t seee him as a false prophet, but as one of many prophets (including Muhammad) who were wrong about the timetable of the apocalypse

    I have difficulty believing in such stuff as “repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” being Jesus’ exact words. Unfortunately we only have what was attributed to him by others and going by the general inability of people to accurately describe an event even 24 hours later I find it hard to accept at face value all such prophecies.
    As for Mohammad being a prophet I tend to agree with Wafa Sultan that Islam was created to please him.
    What is known about him through their “holy scriptures” presents him as more of a psychopath than what one would expect of a “holy” leader.
    To be blunt it seems that their rules are more in keeping with a Cosa Nostra gang.

    Não sei de nada, mas minha simpatia – algo nada científico, sei bem – vai para que meus olhos percebe.

  28. Sorry to be so ignorant here but I have googled “uncs” and “jung” on the www and looked for previous mentions of “uncs” here at Augean Stables to no avail. Help!

  29. Oh wait – unconscious? Ad hoc abbreviations again. I need more coffee,

  30. Michael B says:

    I was eschewing any “theology debate,” I only clarified a semantic/syntax issue, and earlier a point of applied reasoning and logic.

    As to the potential for a better exchange in this thread, the terrain here has been pre-established and over-determined far too extensively. For example, Scruton is not invoking the forgiveness motif in the simplistic sense you’re imagining, Richard. Scruton is not indulging an extensive explication vis-a-vis the theme of forgiveness, neither in general terms nor as applied to Islam and Islamicists, but in invoking such a problematic issue in the essentially cursory manner Scruton chose, one can choose a charitable or a less charitable interpretation, and you chose the latter. Similarly with some still more problematic Christian themes (e.g., Jesus and the apocalypse, perceived differences between Jesus/Paul), you’ve over-determined the issues in an essentially conclusory manner.

    Hence I forego the exchange, and I’m not going to be so obtuse as to recommend something like Karl Barth’s multi-volume Church Dogmatics to “help clarify” such issues.

  31. oao says:

    Though I’m only going to make a point as pertains to syntax vs. semantics, and not get bogged down here.

    well, that’s in the eye of the beholder. which is why i am not gonna pursue that direction.

    Liebniz’s Theodicy largely falls within the scope of rational theology as I recall.

    scientists are at their worst when they try to dabble in god. just consider what newton dabbled in, and he was one of the smartest.

    to make mistaken arguments about what our various religious leaders would have us do (the famous, “what would Jesus do?” question).

    god is a HUMAN invention. whatever weaknesses humans have, they will be reflected in the invention, no matter how much they would want it to correct those weaknesses or construct theories about it. that’s why it’s been used primarily as a means of control of man over man and it will be used that way no matter what.

    it does, however, call into question the kind of invidious identity formation characteristic

    i again recommend THE MYTHMAKER.

  32. oao says:

    Unfortunately we only have what was attributed to him by others and going by the general inability of people to accurately describe an event even 24 hours later I find it hard to accept at face value all such prophecies.

    it’s not just that. paul simply hijacked jesus for his purposes. and the myth he built around him had more to do with earlier myths than with what jesus was about. paul’s mythology was a result of his own mental state and problems, it was extremely human in nature.

    As for Mohammad being a prophet I tend to agree with Wafa Sultan that Islam was created to please him.

    All religions are, in a trivial sense, create to please those who create them; paul too created one to please himself. they may rationalize it differently, but that’s what men do most of the time.

    there are some above average talented people who are skillful in capturing people, in figuring out their fears and desires and take advantage of it by creating catchy myths. hence THE MYTHMAKER.

  33. Cynic says:

    “uncs” and “jung” on the www and looked for previous mentions of “uncs”

    uncles and jungle?

  34. Cynic, That works. For while I was ready to go with the Universal Network of Christian Scientists. ;-}

  35. Cynic says:


    Ad hoc abbreviations again. I need more coffee,

    Age, in my case, is something that coffee cannot overcome.
    Talk about ad hoc abbreviations. Adding to the confusion with dk and other modern SMS type constructs I at times am confused especially when speciality specific jargon is used into the bargain.

    ABC – Atheistic Benevolent Cynics; Another blooming carnation; associated builders and contractors; another bittorrent client; American book centre ………

    Is it possible that psychologically people are reducing the number of words and letters in the “space/time continuum” with the concomitant increase in nuance where body language will once again pervade the communication spectrum?

  36. Cynic asks . . Is it possible that psychologically people are reducing the number of words and letters in the “space/time continuum” with the concomitant increase in nuance where body language will once again pervade the communication spectrum?

    Hmmm, interesting. You’ve noticed how poorly humor and sarcasm translates in this medium – or any medium except in person. A written transcript of a Seinfeld episode just doesn’t do it for me – but I can’t tell you how many times I have laughed when Jerry says that one word – Newman.

    Using abbreviations such as “uncs” saves time for the writer – but also forces the reader to read more creatively – kind of like we read poetry. We have to stop being literal or we won’t get it. Yesterday I read RL’s comment right after I woke up and not fully awake. My brain felt like molasses. After an hour and some coffee I took another look and it seemed obvious.

    Those little smileys that some blogs offer their commenters from a drop down list are an attempt to fill that gap you mention. I’ve always felt kind of silly having to use them.

    Maybe there’s an opportunity there for someone to overcome that barrier – something that allows writers to more easily convey nuance, sarcasm, irony, etc. in 30 (or 300) word blog comments – without saying “this is funny”, which of course makes it not funny. ;-)

  37. More thoughts re: Cynic’s #36 – RL, this is not a harrangue – but the inability to PREVIEW before SUBMITting or EDIT for a while after the fact causes me to be extremely literal and exact in my choice of words and phrases, to over-edit (and over-explain points which another member has mentioned) and then to worry that I am losing the thrust of a comment by paying too much attention to those things – knowing that once I hit SUBMIT, there will be no going back.

    Hitting the SUBMIT button on this blog is an emotion-fraught experience for me. But then, who said life was supposed to be easy? ;-)

  38. Cynic says:


    Those little smileys that some blogs offer their commenters from a drop down list

    In some cases they are absolutely necessary because some people just don’t get the nuance.
    How many times I’ve seen a comment end with “/sarcasm” just to ensure the required result.
    Having come from the applied and technical side I cannot afford to read more creatively and the worst thing for anybody in this situation is having to deal with nuances. I am not used to politicking and lose patience trying to make out what may or may not be implied.
    It is stimulating having a back and forth jousting with words in one’s leisure hours where as much nuance can be implied without coming to blows. :-)
    But, when it comes to discussing a post such as has appeared here then we commenters have to try to write into the “prose” whatever nuance we would normally supply by inflection in a conversation or flailing of one’s hands to bring the meaning down to earth in one piece.
    I suppose that if there were “smileys” sufficient and efficient they would have been used in the comics already – “oof, biff”!
    I think what I did not get across is that I feel that as the ability to use words deteriorates so the difficulty of communicating will increase.
    Not all of us visiting this site have the same educational and professional backgrounds and unless you wish to put your views specifically to those of similar interests, then you need to as you wrote in #37
    be extremely literal and exact in my choice of words and phrases,
    As I jokingly pointed out in another thread ‘cynic’ has different interpretations depending on which side of the pond one’s literary basis is anchored.

    Your complaint about losing the thrust of a comment is understood as many a time I’ve discovered later that I could have made something much better through a minor edit, but not having the “visual fluency”, missed it.

    “Newman” unfortunately can only be appreciated by visualizing Jerry’s face as one remembers the vocal inflection. I cannot think of anyway of putting that into print. Now just to make things more difficult take out some letters and see what it “sounds” like.
    But discussing “cognitive dissonance” etc., just depends on good literary skills and a good glossary if one is to take shortcuts unless one is not too worried about readers throwing their hands up in despair everytime they hit an ad hoc abr., and maybe desisting from reading the complete article.

  39. Cynic says:


    I missed what I wanted to reply to your
    Hmmm, interesting. You’ve noticed how poorly humor and sarcasm translates in this medium – or any medium except in person.<

    Maybe it will end up with ad hoc abrevs alongside cartoons (One’s PC will come loaded with Cartooshop instead of Word) to try and communicate in the future.

  40. Richard Landes says:

    I have difficulty believing in such stuff as “repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” being Jesus’ exact words. Unfortunately we only have what was attributed to him by others and going by the general inability of people to accurately describe an event even 24 hours later I find it hard to accept at face value all such prophecies.

    in general when the statement is important but not flattering (ie a mistaken apocalyptic prophecy), it tends to get either eliminated or rewritten (the kingdom of heaven in within you). so in millennial studies, we tend to credit mistaken apoc prophecies as accurate rather than think that the followers would retroject a mistaken claim that could undermine the credibility of a founding prophet. in this case, it’s not only Jesus who says it, but John the baptist. and to top it off, everything that Jesus does makes sense within this apocalyptic framework, including his perfectionist ethics in the sermon on the mount.

    As for Mohammad being a prophet I tend to agree with Wafa Sultan that Islam was created to please him.
    What is known about him through their “holy scriptures” presents him as more of a psychopath than what one would expect of a “holy” leader.
    To be blunt it seems that their rules are more in keeping with a Cosa Nostra gang.

    there’s little doubt that as his career took off and he got a radically loyal discipleship, Muhammad did get a lot of revelations that gave him the green light to do what he wanted (esp when it came to women). but his early (apocalyptic) revelations actually compelled him to say things that created great danger and potential (eventual) embarrassment for him (when the apoc prophecies of the Day of Judgment did not come true), and it’s pretty clear (to me at least) that if his message had been nothing but self-indulgence and mafia rules, the religion wd not have succeeded no matter how much force they used. there’s more to islam than meets our eye, and more to islam than meets the eye of the believer.

    Não sei de nada, mas minha simpatia – algo nada científico, sei bem – vai para que meus olhos percebe.

    which means?

  41. Cynic says:

    which means?

    What I translated from the Portuguese in my comment above
    Don’t know, but my sympathy – something not scientific, I know well, – goes to Scruton,/strike> what my eyes perceive.
    and used to disclose that I have no “credible”/academic baggage other than my eyes, ears and mind in this discussion.

  42. Cynic says:

    and it’s pretty clear (to me at least) that if his message had been nothing but self-indulgence and mafia rules, the religion wd not have succeeded no matter how much force they used


    Having witnessed during several years working with people of said religion it was obvious to me that they were controlled by fear.

    When a two bit cleric who couldn’t add 2 and 3 three without the use of a pocket calculator but could rule a kfar through fear of his thugs, could keep the people ignorant of progressive ideas while drumming into their skulls, from an early age, the tenets of Mohammad then it could be ruled through fear because no act or word that afflicted his sensitivities went unpunished.
    Imagine a mafia that does not let one leave the “confines” of the village, and slowly but surely captures other habitats while not permitting the influence from the outside world (1400 years of it so far). After centuries of obscurantism who would know any better to voice opposition?
    It has taken more than 60 years under constant Western influences in Israel to start a slow erosion of the primal thinking and will take a century or two of constant contact to permit discussion akin to that found in the Judeo-Christian mind allowing thinking and acting “outside the box”.

    When the words of the prophet (Hadith) are considered the way to behave then there is no disagreeing.

    did get a lot of revelations that gave him the green light
    This makes me think of all those court cases where a “revelation” was the excuse for some ghastly deed.

  43. Cynic, I ran across this recently.

    Seems others have noticed how much communications can suffer on the little screen.

  44. Cynic says:


    Thanks for the link.

  45. oao says:

    and it’s pretty clear (to me at least) that if his message had been nothing but self-indulgence and mafia rules, the religion wd not have succeeded no matter how much force they used. there’s more to islam than meets our eye, and more to islam than meets the eye of the believer.

    cynic is right. given the arab culture, I am not so sure. arabs always went for the strong who promises stuff, so they went for muhammad. no surprise there.

    i’m wondering how many believers would be produced in the muslim world if they would not inculcate and indoctrinate it since kindergarten, with physical and social rewards and punishments and without muc foreign influence. that would be the real indicator of how much is there about islam.

  46. Michael B says:

    Though I’m only going to make a point as pertains to syntax vs. semantics …

    “well, that’s in the eye of the beholder. which is why i am not gonna pursue that direction.”

    Oh good grief. It wasn’t simply in the eye of the beholder, the syntactical point made was precisely and solely that. If I were to state the sky is blue at high-noon on a cloudless day, you’d no doubt worry, moralize and harangue over the hue, saturation, etc. of the specific shade of blue, or perhaps would note that such is not the case on Mars or some other planet. Worrying and quibbling over nonsense and false distinctions while ignoring altogether more substantial issues is not a sign of a mind disciplined by “reason and knowledge.”

  47. Cynic says:

    Michael B,
    Thanks for that link to Scruton’s article in your comment:
    Scruton in City Journal

  48. Thanks MB for posting. This article “Scruton in City Journal” further places his “forgiveness” paradigm in focus. He says . .

    Al-Qaida may be weak; the whole conspiracy to destroy the West may be little more than a fiction in the brains of the neoconservatives, who themselves may be a fiction in the brains of liberals. But the threat does not come from a conspiracy or from an organization. It comes from individuals undergoing a traumatic experience that we do not fully understand—the experience of a déraciné Muslim confronting the modern world, and without the benefit of the two gifts of forgiveness and irony. Such a person is an unpredictable by-product of unforeseen and uncomprehended circumstances, and our best efforts to understand his motives have so far suggested no policy that would deter attacks.

    It seems to me that the policy message that many Western leaders and leftists have picked up on is dhimmitude and surrender. That’s not forgiveness, that’s apology.

    Scruton also says. . We should also drop all the multicultural waffling that has so confused public life in the West and reaffirm the core idea of social membership in the Western tradition, which is the idea of citizenship. By sending out the message that we believe in what we have, are prepared to share it, but are not prepared to see it destroyed, we do the only thing that we can do to defuse the current conflict. Because forgiveness is at the heart of our culture, this message ought surely to be enough, even if we proclaim it in a spirit of irony.

    OK, but I just don’t see what this last sentence has to do with those that precede it (not just in this paragraph but throughout the essay). Maybe my brain is not very open to Christian philosophical arguments – or at least this one.

    Seems he started out wanting to inject “Christian forgiveness” into the ME conflict in some way and this is what he came up with. Does this make better sense to anyone else here? Like MB?

  49. oao says:

    OK, but I just don’t see what this last sentence has to do with those that precede it (not just in this paragraph but throughout the essay). Maybe my brain is not very open to Christian philosophical arguments – or at least this one.

    because he does not want to recognize and accept that the solution is to fight he gets twisted in knots to offer a solution which is no solution.

  50. Michael B says:

    He’s not “twisted in knots” in the least.


    Hello. I’ll respond very thematically only and as such it may result in some frustration, it may seem more opaque than I’d prefer, but Scruton himself is reflecting in a very broad, thematic mode. All this, imo, is critical, so I’ll indulge and respond at some length, apologies in advance if I meander a bit.

    Firstly, I wouldn’t describe it as a philosophical or “Christian philosophical” argument (**), it’s more cultural/historical within a civilizational framework that has variously – but successfully and rightly nonetheless – married Athens and Jerusalem. Iow – and this is conceived very thematically indeed – the dialectical tensions and aporias reflected in Athens/Jerusalem have been maintained rather than rejected/usurped on fideist or positivist grounds. Hence, within better civilizational supporting and more enduring strains, Tertullian’s fideism/narrowness is widely rejected as is any purportedly Rational positivism/narrowness, for example as conceived within some narrow post-Enlightenment traditions – e.g., Auguste Comte representing a particularly egregious scientism/positivist outlook, Marx as well in social/political terms. The post-modern project itself is an attempt to come to terms with a set of more specifically modern crises, sometimes successfully, more often unsuccessfully (hence, respectively, Scruton invokes Socrates’ vs. Rorty’s conception of irony – conceptions which perhaps are diametrically opposed to one another, despite Rorty’s protests to the contrary).

    So, Scruton is addressing cultural/historical phenomena within a civilizational framework, he is not directly addressing ontological or epistemological subjects nor Judaic or Christian theological subjects. He is speaking out of indigenous cultural depths, not “injecting” something from outside. I realize that will require, dependent upon one’s perspective, some intellectual/analytical “empathy” or comprehension or indulgence, but that is the general conceptual mode he’s invoking and speaking out of and that is what he is suggesting is well worth defending and supporting in a more positive sense.

    The key passage from your first excerpt is: “individuals undergoing a traumatic experience that we do not fully understand—the experience of a déraciné Muslim confronting the modern world” – the uprooted and “do not fully understand” qualities receiving pointed emphasis. Then, rightly concluding the excerpt with, “without the benefit of the two gifts of forgiveness and irony. Such a person is an unpredictable by-product of unforeseen and uncomprehended circumstances, and our best efforts to understand his motives have so far suggested no policy that would deter attacks.”

    I’d further note Scruton’s City Journal overview is entirely consonant with the themes developed by Spengler in his review of Rosenzweig, previously linked in this thread and which are also thematic/cultural and civilizational, in a germinal and perduring sense.

    I’m not sure how to respond to your latter query concerning forgiveness, though minimally I’d note your lead into that query: “[i]t seems to me that the policy message that many Western leaders and leftists have picked up on is dhimmitude and surrender. That’s not forgiveness, that’s apology,” is itself suggestive in the right direction. Scruton is addressing it as a cultural, not a specific theological phenomenon or trait, and is interweaving it with irony. Much as he positively contrasts his better conceived irony over against Rorty’s misconceived irony, so he is conceiving forgiveness over against Islam’s “world of certainties” and “joke-free zone.” I certainly realize the retorts the secularist presumptive/ideologue will reply with (cossetted as he is in the west) but that is broadly indicative nonetheless, in civilizational terms.

    That second excerpt, from the end of Scruton’s piece, echoes back to the beginning of that same City Journal article, in the first several grafs wherein he articulates the theme of citizenship. One example: “The 20 percent of Muslims who are Arabs, however, feel the mesmerizing rhythms of the Koran as an unbrookable current of compulsion and are apt to take “Islam” literally. For them, this particular act of submission may mean renouncing not only freedom but also the very idea of citizenship. It may involve retreating from the open dialogue on which the secular order depends into the “shade of the Koran,” as Sayyid Qutb put it, in a disturbing book that has inspired the Muslim Brotherhood ever since. Citizenship is precisely not a form of brotherhood, of the kind that follows from a shared act of heartfelt submission: it is a relation among strangers, a collective apartness, in which fulfillment and meaning are confined to the private sphere. To have created this form of renewable loneliness is the great achievement of Western civilization, and my way of describing it raises the question of whether it is worth defending and, if so, how.”

    So he’s contrasting a certain distance and “loneliness” as achievement in the west in the form of “citizenship,” with the “brotherhood” and corresponding rejection of “citizenship” within Dar al-Islam, most conspicuously within Sunni and Shi’a Muslim societies, though Scruton himself indicates Arab Muslim society.

    (** – Properly conceived I doubt there can be a “Christian philosophy” as such, excepting in a marginal and tentative and sympathetic sense – not systematically and not in a positivist sense. At least some would disagree, and I do not intend to invoke a mere relativism.)

  51. Thanks MB for your serious and careful answer. I’ll need to go back and read the Scruton articles with this in mind and I’ll need to stretch a few old neurons. ;-)

  52. Cynic says:

    consider this from MB’s comment:

    Citizenship is precisely not a form of brotherhood, of the kind that follows from a shared act of heartfelt submission: it is a relation among strangers, a collective apartness, in which fulfillment and meaning are confined to the private sphere.

    The way I understand it, and not as an academic but versed on personal observations, one must not remove the tribal/clan culture from the issue which provides much more virtual security than just plain citizenship where the neighbour could as well be on the other side of the moon.
    Insecurity runs high in that culture and one must consider also the manner in which they try to preserve the paternal lineage

    Marriage and the Terror War Better learn up on your anthropology if you want to understand the war.
    Think of the culture of the Muslim Middle East as “self-sealing.” Muslim society has a deep-lying bias toward in-group solidarity, the negative face of which manifests itself in a series of powerful mechanisms for preventing, coercing, or punishing those who would break with or undermine the in-group and its customs

    Marriage and the Terror War, Part II

    In the first part of this piece, I showed that, on a world scale, the radical form of in-marriage represented by the union of parallel cousins is highly unusual. Parallel-cousin marriage is confined almost exclusively to the region once ruled by the original eighth-century Islamic empire, and this involuted form of marriage stands in sharp contrast to the relative value placed on out-marriage, inter-group alliance, and interchange favored by almost every other culture in the world.
    Yet the very strong form of endogamy uniquely practiced throughout much of the Muslim world shows that it is possible to construct a human society on the basis of another fundamental strategy. Instead of cultural communication, adaptive development, and mutual trust, this strategy stresses intense in-group solidarity and unbreakable cultural continuity.

    Read Kurtz’s other articles and the other links he provides for an interesting perspective.

    Holy argues that the high value placed on endogamy sharply sets Muslim society apart from the rest of the world. The loyalties of women who marry within their own family lines remain undivided. Negatively, therefore, parallel-cousin marriage sacrifices the “integrative” advantages of exogamy. Yet in a positive sense, parallel-cousin marriage serves as a powerful tool for preserving the internal solidarity and cultural continuity of the group.

  53. Michael B says:

    Nothing I added is worth terribly much. I do recommend the Rosenzweig article in particular, it’s worth a thorough comprehension. Scruton’s City Journal piece is worth a solid read or two as well.

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