Ibrahim Lawson' last post

Here's the last response from Ibrahim Lawson. He is responding to this. See link to left for the thread.

Dear Stephen et al,

I have been away on holiday, but in any case thought that this discussion had petered out. However, since you have replied then I will make one last effort to respond.

I have been quite disappointed with the way the discussion has turned out, confirming my doubts about the usefulness of this kind of cyber-conversation as an act of genuine communication. This is partly because the issues are extremely complex to unpack so we end up shouting at each other from our respective entrenched positions. The other reason is the regrettable prevalence of the kind of point-scoring mentality which I suggested characterises debate as distinct from dialogue; perhaps I have been as much to blame as anyone else.

I have, though, learned from some of the contributions that my view of religion is evidently even more esoteric than I had previously realised; as such, it is not really my business either to represent ‘Muslim’ opinion or to defend it and you may have to look for others to argue with; they will not be hard to find.

Briefly to address Stephen’s last points: I have been trying to suggest that the total chaos of his ‘nuclear option’ might be avoided by appeal to some other criteria of justification than those of the ‘techno-rationality’ (or ‘calculative thinking’ or whatever it might be) of the rational-empirical intellectual tradition characteristic particularly of the European enlightenment up to modern times. Within that tradition, I see no room for religion: it becomes absurd. And I think this cannot be stressed enough. From this point of view, training children to believe in God becomes indoctrination – the inculcation of irrational beliefs by non-rational methods of persuasion.

But this is not a position I have been defending. My original comment on Radio 4 was more to the effect of ‘I can see that that’s how you would see it’.

So it seems to me that while I understand where my various critics are coming from, and even agree with them, they do not grasp what it is I am actually trying to say but rather keep attacking positions that they mistakenly attribute to me instead. I might be wrong. It might also be that I am so confused about what I am trying to say that I consistently fail to explain myself properly, or even at all.

What I am nevertheless trying to suggest is that we suffer from an intellectual tradition which has developed a relatively narrow idea of what makes sense and then rejects any other way of thinking about things. The consequences have been disastrous in just about every respect. Of course we now have all the benefits of modern technology, but who can avoid the suspicion that something has not quite turned out right there either and that yet more technology may not be the answer?

And if there were indeed another way of thinking about the world, how would we recognise it when we are stuck with one way of seeing which cannot acknowledge any other? To step outside a paradigm is not easy – “ the eye cannot see the limits of vision”, Wittgenstein observes somewhere.

But some of the criticism levelled at what I have been saying is not attributable to category errors at the paradigm level, but to rather more mundane failures (deliberate or not) to pay attention. So, for example, I have not said that religion and morality cannot be thought about critically, only that there are limitations in the scope of ‘criticality’, at least as usually understood, especially when it comes to foundational principles. This is the point about Rawls (who states the liberal position as well as it can be, so why beat around the bush?) I am talking ‘ultimately’ here, and perhaps this is the problem: we switch backwards and forwards from highly abstract principles to common sense matters of observation. If you think that Islam is about teaching blind acceptance of a whole worldview, as many of you seem to, then come into any Islamic school in the country and see for yourself that this is not true. On the other hand, if you are looking for imperfectly critical thinkers doing their best to teach to teach critical thinking then you will not be disappointed, either in Islamic or any other kinds of school.

The point, though, is that someone has to accept the task of thinking things right through to the end, to the point where critical thinking turns, reflexively, on its own first principles. Very few have the inclination or ability to do this. At this point, thinking starts to throw up some very peculiar results. Perhaps there is an analogy here with nuclear physics, where common sense understanding begins to fail as we are introduced to such concepts as ‘space/time’, multiple dimensions beyond the usual three, the uncertainty principle and so on, in order to explain what is ‘really’ going on. Clearly this is not going to happen in the school classroom, but this is the sort of thing I have been trying to talk about in my contributions to this blog.

Next, your point about each of us being our own ‘ultimate moral authority’. What I said was that I did not see that you had actually argued for this belief, only asserted it; I see no argument to deal with here yet. I tried to argue that the concept of total personal moral autonomy breaks down upon examination and I suggested that that was why you had been unable to provide a supporting argument. In fact, I did my best, extremely telegraphically, to explain my belief that morality as we commonly understand it is not rationally defensible and that we therefore need another way of thinking about this issue (another reason for my scepticism about our intellectual tradition). You dismiss these issues as irrelevant.

So to repeat (again!), I have no problem with teaching children to think critically, including about religion and morality and critical thinking itself (in fact I insist on it) and I too believe that a better society would be the result. What appears to me to be irrelevant, because non-existent, is your response to the serious questions I have repeatedly raised about the extent of the remit of rational-empirical thinking in determining how we understand our existence and our consequent decisions as to how to lead our lives and organise our societies, including our education system.

However, since writing the above I have realised that I have completely been missing the point of this blog. Stephen alerted us to what was really going on, and set the tone, in his original posting, which was not addressed to me:

There are nevertheless SPECIAL DANGERS attaching to the use of religion as a tool.

[for example] the GOBSMACKING POWER of religion to get even very smart people to believe PALPABLY STUPID things.

[in using religion] something probably will GO WRONG, and when it does, you have an EXTREMELY TOXIC situation on your hands. A religious Chernobyl.

It [nuclear power] is potentially HUGELY DANGEROUS. The same, I'd suggest, is true of religion.

He regularly goes into [faith] schools and is HORRIFIED by what he sees. And he's a Christian.

If you're not WORRIED about what's going on in some religious schools, you should be.

My own view is schools like Ibrahim Lawson's should NO LONGER BE TOLERATED.

And there was me thinking we would be having a philosophical discussion about the warrantability of religious belief from the perspective of hermeneutic phenomenology.

Philoso-babble aside, it is clear in retrospect that what most of the contributors to this discussion have wanted is to share their scorn, dislike, fear or hatred of Islam. This is why the philosophical discussion has gone nowhere and why the blog as a whole (see above excerpts) and many of the contributions have the journalistic flavour of the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph (surely not coincidentally the only two media sources referred to, more than once, in these threads).

What has been at issue all along is the belief that Islam is an ideology based on incoherent and just plain false assumptions that predisposes its adherents to irrational violence (‘honour’ killings, suicide bombing, mutilation punishments, oppression of women, execution of apostates, jihad against unbelievers etc etc).

Now either this is necessarily true of Islam and there is no need or evidence, or it is an empirical claim which depends on some facts to support it.

I suspect that this is where things get mixed up in some peoples’ minds. For many, it seems to go without saying that OF COURSE Islam trains its victims to be irrational and violent, it is self-evident, you only have to read the books to see that.

But, of course, this won’t do for anyone who has any respect for rationality – which I actually do, in certain contexts (Barefoot Bum – I don’t accept your theory of leakages, either way: allowing a little non-rationality does not necessarily destroy rationality and vice versa).

So we need some evidence that Islam inevitably results in all the horrible things people expect. What evidence is there? What research has been done? All I see is anecdotes about the behaviour of very specific categories of people from which particular examples people like to generalise, quite weakly, in my view.

To take two examples that have been proposed as proof of the evil of Islam: a man kills his daughter for not wearing a headscarf and a women acts the role of a suicide bomber in a video for children.

Is that it? Is there no further need for analysis? QED – Islam is dangerous?

Add some more examples, as many as you like, of humans beings’ tendency to inhumanity (though let’s avoid getting too medieval in our search for religious villainy, many ideologies suffer from the foolishness of the past).

Now ask the question – what do all these damaged people have in common? And are all of them Muslims?- or even religiously motivated in any way?

My point is, and I’m not going to spell it out, that Muslims are not the only people who, having been traumatised themselves, act out that trauma in destructive and violent ways. I feel desperately sorry for the victims and the victimisers, but I refuse to accept that Islam is to blame in those situations that involve ‘Muslims’ – even when they appeal to ‘Islam’ for their justification – because there are always other, more immediate and compelling psychological explanations of why such behaviour occurs. At the same time, there is a lot of evidence, from my own and others’ experience, that Muslims are peace-loving people who would never dream of hurting another human being any more than anyone else and who are just as shocked and horrified as anyone else by the violence that a tiny minority of human beings are capable of inflicting on others, including members of their own family, for whatever espoused reason.

I am fairly sure that this will not satisfy some readers as it is not a new argument, and I can already hear Anticant typing the words ‘no true Scotsman’ as he accuses me of defining Islam out of blame. But I have already said far too much in my previous posts, though perhaps more thickly veiled that I imagined at the time, and I am not prepared to be drawn on the kind of contentious issues which might force me to be more explicit than is advisable in a world where many people look at each other with daggers in their eyes.

One last word on the nuclear option though: which, in fact, is the only political discourse that has ever actually used nuclear weapons to silence its opponents? And what does that tell you about human nature?


Paul Currion said…
Ibrahim - I understand your concern about the tone of the debate that has taken place on the blog, since at points I found it discouraging as well. I don't hold Stephen responsible for that tone, but I do think that his rhetorical position at the start attracted it. However his posts to you following that initial salvo have been (as far as I can see) reasonable and responsive. He can defend himself better than I.

However I would draw your attention to a real problem in your argument, in the third-to-last paragraph above. You begin by saying that you "refuse to accept that Islam is to blame in those situations that involve ‘Muslims’ – even when they appeal to ‘Islam’ for their justification – because there are always other, more immediate and compelling psychological explanations of why such behaviour occurs." I agree with you completely.

You then go on to say, "there is a lot of evidence, from my own and others’ experience, that Muslims are peace-loving people who would never dream of hurting another human being any more than anyone else and who are just as shocked and horrified as anyone else by the violence that a tiny minority of human beings are capable of inflicting on others, including members of their own family, for whatever espoused reason." I agree with you completely here, as well.

You face the following problem. If you are arguing that Islam cannot be "blamed" for the wrongful actions of its adherents, then you cannot simultaneously argue that Islam can be credited for their right action. If there are proximate causes which explain wrongful actions, then there are equally proximate causes for their right actions. In effect, you are saying that Islam is irrelevant to people's morality as it is lived on a day-to-day basis.

I can reconcile this because my belief is that religion is largely irrelevant to most people's moral discourse - it's simply the language they use to describe it, rather than the way they live it. Obviously this position has its limits, but it means that I can accept both statements. It does not appear to me, however, that it is possible for you to reconcile the two, and I wondered a) if you agree and b) how you square that with your belief that (basically) teaching children in an Islamic framework is essential to their moral wellbeing.

Also interested to read Stephen's response, of course.
Tea said…
paul said: "In effect, you are saying that Islam is irrelevant to people's morality as it is lived on a day-to-day basis."

I agree, and am continuously surprised at how those that say that, while bad deeds have nothing to do with religion, the positive deeds do.

I don't think I agree, however, with your claim that religion is largely irrelevant to most people's moral discourse. This might be true of people who are only nominally religious, and yes, there's a lot of those - but for people who identify more with their religious beliefs, I don't think it's just a matter of "the language they use to describe" their moral views. When someone condemns (and abstains from) sex before marriage, it's their *actions* that differ from mine, not just their *language*. Same goes for many of those who are upset that their children weren't married in church, or because their grandchildren weren't baptized - these people often judge their children's actions immoral. The fact that I think such actions are morally permissible is not simply using "different language" to describe the same moral beliefs, I think.

BTW, Stephen, I just got back from a bookstore, where I saw a Slovenian translation of your Philosophy Files. You might be interested in the fact (if you don't know already) that it has been translated as "The Wiseman's Notes" :)
Paul C said…
tea: I'm not sure what you're arguing. My argument would be simply that for most people, their social environment is far more "persuasive" than their religious creed. Of course in some cases the social environment is framed in distinctively religious language; but I would suggest that you look at the day-to-day lives of those people rather than their words.

The example you give is a good one. In America, abstinence movements - a particularly loud condemnation of sex before marriage - appears to have little to no impact on the actual sexual behaviour of the participants (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/6927733.stm).

So they are talking about their moral status (regarding sex) in religious terms, but practicing it in exactly the same way as everybody else. I believe that this fits with my observation - perhaps I should have clarified that when I talk about "moral discourse", I also refer to the internal struggles that many people have with themselves.

The other points that you made also fit with that observation, in the opposite direction. Being married in church and being baptised are social conventions - they are incredibly trivial issues that can only be given weight by talking about them in religious terms, surely?

Wrote this quite quickly, might not be too coherent... curses.
Kiwi Dave said…
This is really off topic but the last paragraph deserves its own comment.

"One last word on the nuclear option though: which, in fact, is the only political discourse that has ever actually used nuclear weapons to silence its opponents? And what does that tell you about human nature?"

That's a rather ingenuous (or disingenuous - I don't know which) way of describing the actions and decisions which ended WWII in the Pacific. Try reading Downfall by Richard Frank or Truman and the Hiroshima Cult by Robert Newman for convincing evidence of the necessity for both bombs.
anticant said…
“I can already hear Anticant typing the words ‘no true Scotsman’ as he accuses me of defining Islam out of blame.”

What Anticant is actually typing is ‘heads I win, tails you lose’. As Paul has already pointed out, you cannot convincingly claim that Islam is not responsible for the evil done in its name, but should be credited with the virtuous things Muslims do. Religious belief is either a genuine motivation or an excuse: it cannot be both.

“I have already said far too much in my previous posts, though perhaps more thickly veiled that I imagined at the time, and I am not prepared to be drawn on the kind of contentious issues which might force me to be more explicit than is advisable in a world where many people look at each other with daggers in their eyes.”

Well! You have indeed let a very large cat out of the bag [or described the proverbial elephant in the room]. The reason why candid discussion of religious and many other issues is increasingly inhibited in contemporary Britain is, quite simply, FEAR of the consequences of saying what one really thinks – especially as the daggers don’t remain in peoples’ eyes but increasingly take the form of violent aggressive action by bigots against those who dare to differ from them. I trust you will agree that such unbridled visceral hatred and intolerance, whether religious or secular in origin, is the root cause of many current social ills.

And I would still appreciate your views on the compatibility of Islam with an open, pluralistic society.
Ibrahim Lawson said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Author said…
I think there IS something out there, beyond the treetops, which we haven’t got yet, and I want to find out what it is.

So aren't you lucky to live in a free, open, democratic and pluralist society which allows you to pursue this goal in the way you see fit.
anticant said…
Thanks, Author, you said it all! Ibrahim is truly marvellous at producing red herrings and conjuring up Aunt Sallies. It is NOT a matter of fact that “Islam as an ideology prescribes only morally good actions and no wrong ones”. Its scriptural anathemas against ‘infidels’ makes that glaringly apparent.

I totally disagree with Ibrahim that ethics is ‘problematic’. From infancy upwards, every single human being instinctively knows the difference between ’good’ and ‘bad’ and ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. At the very lowest common denominator, we all know that it is wrong to harm others, whatever the reason. It is only when pretentious doctrinaire-bound adults start tampering with the child’s innate sense of justice that tribalism and sectarian bigotry get a foothold. And if Ibrahim is “not clear what the connection is between religion, or rather spirituality, and morality, or even what these two things are”, he has no business being a teacher in any sort of school until he has sorted his personal confusions out.

Religion, he tells us, isn’t perfect and should not be blamed for its adherents’ shortcomings. He then goes on to sneer at “the wonderful, free, open, democratic and pluralist society we are lucky enough to have in the UK (and which the WHOLE WORLD could have if Johnny foreigner weren’t so stubbornly irrational (hating our freedoms etc etc) well excuse me, but I think the whole thing is a fantasy.”

If it is, Ibrahim Lawson and a whole heap of other Muslims have done pretty well out of it. And needless to say, neither I – nor anyone else I’m aware of - have ever claimed that Western societies, and their inhabitants, are all “good, reasonable, NICE, love the truth, are fair, have no illusions, are scientific etc.” This type of knockabout argument may be good enough for a teacher in an Islamic school – and it throws an interesting light on what he tells his pupils about the West – but it’s not good enough for me or for a serious philosophy blog.

IMHO, whatever dust Ibrahim Lawson and his ilk throw in their pupil’s eyes – let alone their own – contemporary Western societies, however far they fall short of their aspirations towards democracy, tolerance, pluralism, free speech and all the other benefits scorned by totalitarian bigots, whether secular or theocratic, are a damn sight superior to any Islamic society that has ever existed or is likely to exist. Luckily for Ibrahim Lawson, we in the West don’t do the death sentence for apostasy any more. For this reason alone, he might care to reflect upon the humaneness of the Enlightenment tradition in which he was presumably reared and has incomprehensibly spurned.
Red said…
Author - pathetic cliche of a sneer man! surely we can do better than that. Apparently, a soldier once said to Crazy Horse, as he sat in chains waiting to exchanged for prisoners taken by his tribe, "You will soon be free." He replied, "I've never not been free."

Anticant, you are seriously conflicted, try calming down little and re-reading your own arguments against yourself.
anticant said…
Thanks for the patronage, Red. If you will graciously elucidate what my "arguments against myself" are, I will consider your words of wisdom.
Cassanders said…
@ Ibrahim
You said:
My point is, and I’m not going to spell it out, that Muslims are not the only people who, having been traumatised themselves, act out that trauma in destructive and violent ways. I feel desperately sorry for the victims and the victimisers, but I refuse to accept that Islam is to blame in those situations that involve ‘Muslims’ – even when they appeal to ‘Islam’ for their justification – because there are always other, more immediate and compelling psychological explanations of why such behaviour occurs.
......... Endquote

The observation (hard data) that e.g non-muslims groups employ suicide terrorist attacks do of course demonstrate that other motives also are invovled and should be addressed. But I hope we can agree that these facts do not rule out religious motivations among muslims suicide bombers.

An analysis (based on Durkheim's suicide typology) is found here:

Another analysis of motives is found here:

To me these studies appears fairly unbiased, and that do indeed eschew the stereotype of the religious nut-cases.
On the other hand, I do not think they absolve religion (in general) and Islam in particular for being a motivating factor i suicide bombings.

In Cod we trust
Ron Murphy said…
Mr Lawson,

para2 - "I have been quite disappointed with the way the discussion has turned out" - It's quite simple. Ignore anything offensive - sticks and stones etc. Barefoot Bum can be quite acerbic, but he does make some good points, so simply respond to the argument rather than the perceived insult. Where else is this type of dialogue going to take place? Shouldn't more Muslims be visiting these blogs and giving their points of view?

para 3 - I'm confused by your point here. "...my view of religion is evidently even more esoteric..." Esoteric (dictionary.com):
1. understood by or meant for only the select few who have special knowledge or interest; recondite: poetry full of esoteric allusions.
2. belonging to the select few.
3. private; secret; confidential.
4. (of a philosophical doctrine or the like) intended to be revealed only to the initiates of a group: the esoteric doctrines of Pythagoras.

but then ... "it is not really my business either to represent ‘Muslim’ opinion or to defend it"

I'm not trying to point score here. I'd seriously like to know how you reconcile what appears to be an elitist view that you hold some 'esoteric' knowledge that you are unable to share with us, with the notion that your view in Islam is not for you to defend. Surely it is reasonable for those of us who don't understand Islam to put critical questions about it to someone who has been prepared to speak publicly on it, and who promotes the teaching (indoctrination) of children.

para 4 and 5 - I do find this disingenuous, given the selected transcripts of the interview found on the internet. It very clearly isn't ‘I can see that that’s how you would see it’, and very clearly was your actual view. I wanted to verify this by listening to the interview again. You can get to the Beyond Belief web site at here, but the particular programme cited on the web, 10th March 2003, isn't there. Anyone know why? If anyone has a link to the full transcript or the audion I'd appreciate it.

para 6 "So it seems to me... " - If it is the case that either we are failing to understand you, or you are failing to explain your view, then isn't further discourse the way to go, rather than giving up and claiming that all this "cyber-conversation" has no merit. You say later you insisted on critical questioning from the children in your school, why can't you accept it here? OK, so some of it might not meet the high standards you appear to require; try explaining more. Is this is how you rebuff what limited critical questioning of Islam you allow from your school children? Stick with it. If the children you teach don't have the capacity to understand this 'esoteric' stuff, then what will they be left with? Dogmatic Islamic rules? And when they grow up and still aren't up to your 'esoteric' heights, what then? Continue to follow blindly and unquestioningly (or with limited critical questioning)?

para 7, 8 "What I am nevertheless..." - I would have to say that Wittgenstein's quote cuts both ways, and I would go further and say that it applies particularly to those of a religious view who see their own system as absolutely true. If you have supernatural beliefs, that's fine. The question here is whether you should impose those beliefs on children as if they were true, when very clearly, from the number of faiths and the variety of belief within faiths, they can't all be true. If you then say, well yes, but my specific belief IS true, then you are admitting a very personal view; even a personal morality (some Muslims think it morally correct to kill an apostate, some Muslim's don't) and hence you become your own moral authority. I think the soft secularist (listen to mp3) view is more inclusive in that it allows for a more diverse range of views than you give credit for.

para 9 - "But some of the criticism ..." - "...I have not said that religion and morality cannot be thought about critically..." - Yes you have, indirectly, by saying (earlier post) that "Islam is ‘never challenged’ (again not my formulation of words) in the sense, not that it is not interrogated, but in that Muslims do not imagine that there is a viable alternative, which there isn’t." - you are allowing for discussion and questioning only within the Wittgensteinian '...limits of vision'. And, in the interview which started this blog topic, you appear to be pretty clear that Islam is a given. You may say here you support critical thinking, other statements of yours would imply that it would be limited. And anyway, is this apparent openness of yours typical of Islamic leaders? If it is, invite them along to the discussion. I assume that not all Muslims are as well versed in the 'esoteric' stuff as they are, so they must be used to explaining Islam to the un-initiated.

para 10 - "The point, though..." - This whole paragraph is bent on describing the limitations of critical thinking. What puzzles me about this often chosen approach is that, if you really are questioning 'thinking' to that extent then religious 'thought' and 'belief' is equally, and I'd say more, open to doubt than is critical thinking. The whole of religion has come out of the thoughts of men. If you say the source is God, I say no, you just think the source is God, and your self-imposed lack of imagination ("Muslims do not imagine that there is a viable alternative")is preventing you seeing past that. And, I fear we come back to the arrogant elitism again, to suppose that religious thinkers are the ones who can see it "...right through to the end...". Critical thinkers are quite willing to subject critical thinking itself to examination, whereas religious thinkers insist they have sole access to the absolute underlying truth - come on, it's comical!

para 11 "Next, your point about each of us being our own ‘ultimate moral authority’." - Atheists, humanists etc., do claim to be responsible for their own morality, and ultimately act as their own authority, though that doesn't stop them learning from others about moral issues, and of course they generally comply with current social and legal moral standards. Though theists claim that moral authority comes from God they do in fact act on their own interpretation of that authority, to the extent that they become their own arbiters of what parts of God's morality they choose to adhere to. So in a very practical sense theists regularly make themselves the ultimate moral authority - they choose their morality, either inter-faith or intra-faith, whether its how Muslims treat apostates, how Catholics view contraception, and so on. So, either God's moral truth is absolute or it is not. If it is then there can be only one true religion and all followers must accept all its rules (what is the absolute ruling on the treatment of apostates?). If it is not, and God's moral truth is open to interpretation by mortal 'men', then one might expect that some Muslims might choose to kill apostates while others would not; but then why accept God as a source of morality at all?

para 12 "So to repeat (again!), ..." - Every time you think of God, explain God to children, attempt to understand what God wants from you, you are using your capacity to think. God is entirely a mental construct, a conceptual idea that has been invoked and rationalised about (poorly) in an attempt to explain life the universe and everything. Thinking has been the sole source of God. There is no other evidence of God. In the past some societies thought there were multiple gods, but the main monotheistic religions, under the scrutiny of critical thought and scientific data have twisted and turned to come up with the simplest most resilient explanations for God that they can - but they are still failing, because the more critically the God hypothesis is examined, the more it is found wanting, in its current religious form.

God is only ever apparent in the minds of individual humans. There are no shared religious experiences. Any external supposed act of God can always be explained by other means, or if it can't then doesn't mean God is the cause, it only means we don't know the cause yet. Many religious doctrines are contradictory, and even self-contradictory, and these contradictions are generally ignored by recourse to supernatural powers. Critical thinking and the scientific method is the most reliable system of questioning, testing for falsifiability, and independent testing for repeatability that we have for interpreting the world with our limited senses and our limited mental capacity.

paras 13-15 - "Philoso-babble aside, it is clear in retrospect that what most of the contributors to this discussion have wanted..." - Wrong. What is wanted is an explanation of how to you justify your interview comments about the indoctrination of children and that Islam is a given and never challenged, in the light of all we know about the powers and dangers of indoctrination and unquestioned following of doctrines; and from that the discussion has moved on to question you further about how you reconcile Islam with many of the acts that are carried out very specifically in the name of Islam, often with the support of its religious leaders. Why not address the points made in the excerpts? I don't think you've addressed any of them yet. You have steared your points of view into the wonderland of 'esoteric' philosophy, but you haven't answered these points. You said (in an earlier post) that you stick by your interview statements - so, do you condone the indoctrination of children? Do you accept that indoctrination is dangerous? Why should we, as a community, tolerate the indoctrination of school children into a system that by your own words, is a given and is unquestioned (though at the same time being questioned?)?

para 18 "I suspect that this is where things get mixed up...". - Not quite. Islam doesn't of itself train people..., but it does make them more pre-disposed to being moved to violence by those unscrupulous clerics that use their implementation of God's 'moral authority' to manipulate the unquestioning followers to do violence.

para 19 "But, of course..." - The point is that the social and theological mix that Islam supports allows 'sufficient' irrationality to make it dangerous in practice, even if not in itself.

paras 20-21 "So we need some evidence that..." - They are not anecdotes, they are real cases. Did or did not religious leaders in the Sudan call for ridiculous punishment for a teacher's naming of a teddy bear? Was Salmon Rushdie's death called for by Islamic leaders, or not? Was Theo Van Gogh killed in the name of Islam or not? What was the Islamic reaction to a cartoon in Denmark, and on what 'moral authority' was the situation excited by touting additional cartoons around the Muslim world? These are real examples of how Islam can be used to incite the unquestioning and gullible. Islam is a framework that is conducive to abuse.

And, by the way, it's a bit rich calling the cited real examples anecdotes, when all of religion is by its nature anecdotal.

para 22 - "Is that it?" - No. Let's analyse it some more. Start by answering to of the basic questions rather than resorting to 'esoteric' points that have no practical impact on the questions. I don't need to know all the 'esoteric' details of Einstein's description of gravitation to know that if I step off a tall building I'll probably die.

para 24 "Now ask the question..." - Are they not all Muslim and religiously motivated? Have I missed something. I thought the examples were.

para 25 "My point is,..." - Okay, it's not only Muslims - just look to Northern Ireland - it just so happens that the current context is Islam because that was addressed in the original blog. Yes, there may be other psychological explanations, but they are so clearly integrated with the cultural inheritance and indoctrination of Islam.

Paul Currion answers the rest of this paragraph clearly enough.

para 26 "I am fairly sure that..." - I don't see what your reluctance is here. There will be no calls for your demise from anyone here, so what are you so concerned about that you can't be drawn on it? What can you not be explicit about? For clarification, you're not suggesting you fear some backlash from the Muslim world about anything you might be drawn on?
Ibrahim Lawson said…
Sorry Ron, I wrote a long reply and then realised this conversation, by the nature of the medium, cannot go anywhere, which leaves me with nothing left to say. Maybe a thread on the semiotics of blogging would be interesting.
Stephen Law said…
sorry - v. busy. will try to respond to Ibrahim shortly. Apologies to Ibrahim for the delay.
Ron Murphy said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ron Murphy said…
Mr Lawson,

That's a pity. I thought it might go somewhere. I thought I might learn the Muslim take on questions about the source of moral authority - something that to my mind appears to be a contradiction in that the one true and absolute source is god, yet at the same time each and every Muslim has their own interpretation. Or, what your current view is on the balance between indoctrinating children and at the same time providing then with critical thinking skills; or your view on accepting Islam as a given that one would not imagine could be questioned while at the same time encouraging questioning. Or I thought I might come to understand the conflict between the many inter-faith truths and intra-faith truths where each must be the one absolute truth. Do you not see that these are genuine questions?

What's wrong with this medium? I'm sure it can be exasperating at times, but didn't you ever find the same was true in PTA meetings at school? There are always questions that tend to drag the meeting off-topic, or the occasional parent that tries to control the meeting. Any social meeting will not run like clockwork. I'd say the benefit of this medium over meetings and even emails is that it provides a forum where you can actually take time to consider each others responses, and anyone looking in can dive in at any time without actually interrupting anyone else.

I agree that it might not take the form that some might like. For example, it doesn't allow for the teacher to wisely dispense his esoteric knowledge to his pupils for them to absorb and wonder at. Pontificate on bullshit and someone will be right back at you. It's easy enough to lecture here, but you won't always get polite applause as you might with a live audience.

I hope you don't give up. I hope you get round to answering some of the fairly basic questions that have been put to you. Perhaps the input of other Muslims might help to restate your points. I'm sure you know as a teacher that explaining something in a different way can often make the point easier to understand. Not everyone is receptive to one particular explanation.

I appreciate that you might feel you're up against a brick wall - we all have our world view and we're not going to change it. Well that will certainly be the case if no one is prepared to answer our questions.

I'd like to emphasise a point of view. Atheism isn't a belief system. Most people here are atheists only as a consequence of their current views based on critical questioning and evidence. If you were to respond with answers to the questions or provide any evidence that really supported the existence of god, the truth of Islam, the value of indoctrinating children (with anything not just Islam), then they would be taken seriously.

The fact that people are prepared to read your responses, consider them, and take the time to respond in turn must show you that there is a genuine interest. This sequence of blog posts is the longest one I've participated in, and that's thanks to Steven for prompting and managing it and to you for being prepared to stick with it.

Are your really giving up? Are you really saying Islam cannot answer these questions?
anticant said…
"Sorry Ron, I wrote a long reply and then realised this conversation, by the nature of the medium, cannot go anywhere, which leaves me with nothing left to say."

Oh dear - Ron Toto has twitched away the Wizard's curtain.
Nick said…
The following debate has some relevence to the discussion with Ibrahim (as well as being interesting in its own right), since one of the participants is a muslim scholar, and the debate was held in front of a largely muslim audience:




There is little doubt that the atheist team (Richard Carrier & Dan Barker) wins from a technical perspective (although the other team wins hands down in terms of rhetoric and misinformation). See this for Carrier's analysis:

Nick said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ibrahim Lawson said…
Ron et al, response on its way
Ibrahim Lawson said…
I read that Socrates was mistrustful of writing his ideas down for people to read. Why? Because reading someone’s ideas when they are not there is not at all like listening to them explain to you in person, especially one-to-one. Reading can give you the impression that you have open access to the writer’s thinking but crucially, you cannot ask questions to check this. Therefore, the possibilities for misunderstanding are considerable. You may want to argue that this blogging medium does permit a conversation, but does it really? My experience is that we respond to each others points with yet more material to be further misinterpreted (unless we are already in agreement, in which case what the other is saying is transparently clear). That is why I feel that the conversation is going nowhere and that the medium is fatally distorting the message.

I have had the thought that reading is very useful in the service of technological thinking and its products, the empirical sciences. The undoubted, though perhaps not unmitigated, success of techne as a worldview has perhaps led us to believe that this is the primary or even only way of looking at the world (using language) and that reading is an unquestionable good. I haven’t read the following, but it might be interesting. I found it by googling Heidegger+language and there is a lot of material there.


I do not think that ‘god’ is a source of ‘morality’ or than ‘his existence’ can be ‘proved’ using ‘evidence’ and ‘argument’.

I put these terms in inverted commas because I think that, along with others not mentioned, they are questionable. Over the last 40 years or so, I have come to an understanding of these concepts which differs considerably from those of the ‘common sense’ in which they are employed.

This has happened not as an idiosyncratic descent into madness but as a result of reading very widely in philosophy and religion and reflecting on my own experience in the light of what I have read. Consequently, I am not alone in my beliefs about these things, relatively esoteric though they may be. What I have noticed during the last 25 years is that there are interesting correspondences between the writings of the ‘mystics’ of various traditions from Lao Tsu onwards and certain philosophers such as Wittgenstein and Heidegger and their ‘followers’. I have noticed also that their style of philosophy has ‘leaked’ into the social sciences and produced phenomena such as social constructivism and action research and a plethora of associated ideas and methodologies. It also ‘leaked’ into Christianity and produced existentialist theologies. Later came postmodernism in all its varieties.

The medium and the message
Putting the above two into context, I am sceptical about the possibility of communicating anything particularly profound by email conversation but quite confident, on the other hand, that interminable argument is highly probable. Fun though that may be to some.

As an illustration, may I say that the debate Nick mentions, and I read the analysis with interest, is only obliquely relevant to our discussion as I see it. It seems like people who don’t understand philosophy and science arguing at complete cross purposes with people who don’t understand religion.
anticant said…
Ibrahim, may I first of all say how much I appreciate your returning here, when you obviously find the medium uncongenial and the discussion frustrating.

I hope, though, that you will revise your opinion of the uselessness of blogging, infuriating though it sometimes is. I have been blogging for 18 months now, and am well aware of how much nonsense, aggression, mutual hostility, and sheer nastiness is out there. I have several times felt tempted to give up on the whole thing as a waste of time which generates more heat than light. But I have also learned a very great deal about many topics – not least from this civilised discussion with you on Stephen’s blog. And becoming aware how very angry, closed-minded, and defensive many people are is an important issue.

It is vital to bring about greater understanding, and mutual tolerance, between Muslims and non-Muslims if an increasingly ugly and alarming social divisiveness in Britain is to be halted and reversed. And if this is to happen, we need many more Muslims to take part in these debates. We may well end up agreeing to disagree, but we shall at least have clarified the nature of our differences and defined how best to live alongside one another peacefully.

Like you, I would welcome a world in which all education and the transmission of knowledge was on a face-to-face basis: there is no substitute for observing one’s interlocutor’s facial expressions and moods. But this is an impossible ideal. You yourself say that over 40 years you have gained a more profound understanding through reading – so why don’t you think it is possible to do the same through blogging which is, after all, simply a speeded-up postal system for exchanging ideas in groups? You say that when reading you cannot ask the author questions – but that is precisely what blogging enables you to do. If this leads to further misinterpretations, surely we must redouble our efforts at clarification? I rather think Socrates would have enjoyed the stimulating challenge of blogging.

If this ‘conversation’ is going nowhere, may I respectfully suggest that it is because you repeatedly avoid answering the many pertinent questions which have been put to you? If at the end of the day you say “Well, I can’t give REASONS for my beliefs”, that’s fair enough – but it brings us back to the starting point of all this – whether it is acceptable to teach your pupils that your beliefs are factually ‘true’.

Finally, may I draw your attention to the following ‘Declaration Against Violence’ which I and some friends posted some months ago?


This was carefully drafted so as to be as non-controversial as possible, and acceptable to a wide range of people with differing – and mutually hostile – views. So far, it has attracted fewer than 50 signatures, which to my mind is an eloquent commentary on the sad state of global affairs. If you and many other Muslims would sign it – as well as non-Muslim readers of Stephen’s blog – it would be reassuring to those of us who wish to see a more peaceful world.
Ron Murphy said…
"I read that Socrates was mistrustful of writing his ideas down for people to read. Why? Because reading someone’s ideas when they are not there is not at all like listening to them explain to you in person, especially one-to-one." - Notice that you read that. You didn't hear it on a one-to-one. If you can't rely on the written word then what of this 'comment' by Socrates?

Any form of communication difficult, so the best we can is use what we have available.
- Redundancy helps - using different forms of communication, written and spoken being the most common.
- Iteration helps - being able to read someone else's take on ones own words helps to identify where they have misunderstood, or how one failed to explain.

"Reading can give you the impression that you have open access to the writer’s thinking but crucially, you cannot ask questions to check this." - Yes you can, relatively efficiently in this medium.

The spoken word isn't always sufficient - if one isn't present then anyone else's view of what was said is hearsay (Socrates comment above is hearsay). One-to-one may be most useful, but you are then restricting the input to just two points of view. Increase the numbers and you have to formalise the debate. Just listen to the debate cited by Nick. Parts of it were quite comical. Live debate has its own problems, the not least being the capacity for the audience to be whipped up by rhetoric. I agree with the last paragraph in your post - though in this forum there is the quest to understand religion, hence the questions.

Sure, this medium has some of the problems you mention, but I think you under-estimate its usefulness. Under what other system would you have these views exchanged between people across the world? We can't rely on the media or governments to report what's really going on. What other medium would provide this level of efficient interaction between so many diverse people?

And put your criticisms of this written medium to another. I few centuries ago some guy with personal problems went to live in a cave. Some time later he came out with some written material. Since then many other guys I have no reason to believe have been putting their own twist on what he wrote or said. On top of that, some of the passages appear to be purposefully ambiguous. And on this some cultures base their whole life values, decide how they think they can impose those values on others, justify taking the lives of others that don't agree with them, and so on.

So, you don't think god is the source of morality (at least in the common sense use of these terms). Okay - see! We're getting somewhere. You've just informed me of something I was unaware. I thought Islam did think god was the source of morality. Stephen has been arguing that we are each ultimately our own moral arbiters, and I would agree. Do you agree with this - the first sentence of your next paragraph would suggest this - "...reflecting on my own experience in the light of what I have read..." Or, do you mean something else altogether. Please expand.

Yes, it can become interminable, but surely that depends on it is approached, whether focus can remain on-topic, whether questions are answered or the discussion diverted to more esoteric topics without explaining how they have a direct baring on the initial topic, or whether attention is diverted to the medium used for the discussion.

If we can focus on some specific points for now.

1) Indoctrination
From the start you have been asked for clearer explanation of your views on the indoctrination of children. You appear to be giving a rather vague answer, in that you have stated the following:
- You do approve of the indoctrination of children into Islam. You have said you stand by this view.
- Islam is a given. Muslims cannot imagine Islam not being true.
- You approve of critical thinking.

You may well think your esoteric views provide some insight into this apparent contradiction, but personally I don't see why - please explain. If you can't explain it how am I to judge whether you are correct or crazy? "This has happened not as an idiosyncratic descent into madness ..." - How can I know that if you can't explain? How do your students know to accept what you tell them?

Let's make it a little clearer, just to avoid some possible misunderstanding. Indoctrination is usually distinguished from education by the fact that the indoctrinated person is expected not to question or critically examine the doctrine they have learned. I'd say that you, as a headmaster of a British school, would use the word 'indoctrination' in exactly this sense. I'm pretty sure that is what was meant when the interviewer put the question to you:
- ER: You use the word "inculcate": dies that mean you are in the business of indoctrination?
- IL: I would say so, yes; I mean we are quite unashamed about that really…

In view of what we know of the use of indoctrination in history - and not just religious indoctrination - can you really say that indoctrination, in the sense above, is acceptable?

Even if you think it's a benign form of indoctrination - into something inherently 'good' - it still isn't an form acceptable because it leaves the indoctrinated open to abuse:
- Islam is a given. Muslims cannot imagine Islam not being true.
- Higher knowledge resides in an elite
- As a member of the elite I know what's right, you can't know, you must believe me.
- You must become a suicide bomber because...

I can't see why you can't see the danger. Please explain.

2) Revealed sources of knowledge

Given what you have written in your most recent response about communication I'd say that alone would be sufficient for you to question the 'truth' (whatever that might be) contained in the Quran or any other Islamic source. How can you be so sure that Mohammed and the Quran are credible? He was a man. Why do you believe him? How do you avoid the circular argument of claiming god is his source when you cannot be sure there is a god - or even if there is a god that Mohammed's source was god and not just delusion?

Islam's view of Christianity and other religions is that it they are corruptions that Islam rejects. So God renews his revelation again and again until in the final revelation the message is preserved intact. This is taken to be the revelation given to Muhammad in the Qur'an. On what basis is this believed other than Islam says so?

Well, god hasn't been too pleased with the way that last revelation has been handled. He's particularly not pleased with the killing of apostates or the indoctrination of children. He wanted Islam to be criticised, he wanted only followers that could appreciate him rationally (since he'd gone to the trouble of providing us with rationality). He thought Akbar was on the right track (see Stepehen's post 13th Jan), but that idea sort of got lost. So god said to himself - "Damn! I thought I'd fixed that bug! Back to the drawing board." And so god decided to back off a bit, give humanity time to figure out the 'reason' thing. He started with the enlightenment and thought he'd let it play out for some indeterminate time - God said "I should have figured that to put too optimistic a deadline on such a grand project was futile when dealing with such dumb beings, even for an omnipotent omniscient god. Why didn't I learn that first time round, when I tried to create the world in six days. I was way off target with that one."

This latest revelation was given to me by god, about five minutes ago. Mr Lawson, why won't you believe me?

Of course, it wasn't a revelation. I wouldn't want to inadvertently start another religion. My treatment may appear facetious, but I can assure you my question isn't - why do you accept the views and writings of Mohammed? Why are you so sure Mohammed's revelation was a revelation at all? I've not seen any clear answer to this problem with Islam and other 'one truth' religions. Can you provide one?

3) Science and reason as a source of knowledge

Just to be clear, science and reason doesn't claim absolute 'one truth' knowledge, and so it isn't an alternative 'faith' system. You cannot direct the argument implied by the questions above (2) at science and reason because by its very nature the science and reason world view is self questioning.

All we have is experience and thought, which when used as methodically as we can in science and reason give us our most reliable view of the world.

Science doesn't claim god exists or does not exist. It doesn't have the data one way or the other. What we can use science and reason for is to judge to what extent world views that postulate god and use god are reasonable with respect to all the other claims they make.

Do you reject this idea that science and reason is the best we have?

If you do, can you explain what other view(s) are better and why? And here I'm not looking for an answer such as 'Islam is better'. I would like to know what it is about the world view that leads you to accept a 'one truth' religion such as Islam at the expense of science and reason.
Ibrahim Lawson said…
Ron - you see why this isn't working. I did not say that God is not a source of morality - I said that I did not believe that 'god' was a source of 'morality', and I further explained that by saying that I don't think we know what the terms in inverted commas mean. If and when we ever do, then maybe it will turn out that god IS a source of morality, but we will then have a very diferent understanding of what that means.
anticant said…
Ibrahim, to make sense of the above comment, you have to define what you mean by 'God' or 'god'. What are this entity's attributes?

You now seem to be saying that you don't think you know - nor what 'morality' is, or where it emanates from.

Is this what you teach your pupils?
Ron Murphy said…
Mr Lawson,

On the particular point about god being the source of morality, I think you are being evasive. See this. Particularly "The source of Islam is Allah, the Creator of everything known and unknown to us." There are other statements that say or imply the same.

I see why some aspects of this discussion are not working. You have not responded to the basic questions that have been asked many times. The questions have been raised and rephrased by Stephen and others in an effort to make it clear what is actually being asked, and why it is being asked.

Another way in which it's not working is that you continue provide obscure comments about what you say are esoteric ideas that we will find difficult to understand. As Stephen has pointed out, these esoteric ideas may be worth blog topic in their own right. However, they don't have a direct impact on the questions at hand.

For example, whichever turns out to be true, either God is a source of morality or he is not, doesn't impact on whether you should indoctrinate children, making them amenable to unquestioned persuasion. Whether god is or isn't the source of morality isn't the most relevant aspect of Islamic belief in this context. The particular problem being addressed is that children are being indoctrinated into accepting the unquestioned 'truth' of Islam, and the authority of its clerical hierarchy in the interpretation of Islam, an authority that ultimately lies with god. This acceptance of authority, when that authority is wielded by extremist fundamentalists, is dangerous, because they have an abundant source of unquestioning followers. Clearly only a few will be incited to act, but the majority will stand by in what amounts to collusion, since to do otherwise would be to question.

And on a particular point regarding the dangers inherent in Islam, for example about the association of Islam with terrorism, it is often claimed that Islam is very specifically a system of peace. If the question of Islam and terrorism is raised the usual response is something along the lines of, "It should be clear, then, that 'Muslim terrorist' is almost an oxymoron: by killing innocent people, a Muslim is committing an awesome sin, and Allah is Justice personified." - here, the same source as above. However, in the few sources I've found on the internet there isn't a categorical rejection of terrorism as such; all the statements and explanations refer to 'innocent' people. So, in this context one would have to ask what is understood by 'innocent'. I tried to check this by following this link. Unfortunately what appear to be the most pertinent pages return a 404 - they've been pulled. Though there are statements by some Islamic leaders that condem terrorism. it's hardly universal; and I'd go so far as to say that some, where they can get away with it politically and where they have the support, explicitly or tacitly approve of terrorism.

So, to the questions. If you are inclined to answer them I would appreciate as direct answers as possible.

Question - Do you put limits on the critical questioning of Islam, and if so what limits?

Question - Is the following what you understand, and understood in your interview, to be the meaning of indoctrination? Indoctrination is distinguished from education by the fact that the indoctrinated person is expected not to question or critically examine the doctrine they have learned.

Question - Do you acknowledge the dangers of indoctrination in this sense, and how with limited critical questioning, the danger is enhanced, as expressed in previous posts in this series?

Question - Do you acknowledge that Islam, as a complete belief system, does not see the separation of religion and government as a possibility (other than where it currently has no choice)?

Question - If it were possible to have any or all aspects of Islam incorporated into British law, would you want to include corporal and capital punishment? Example: the death penalty for apostates.

Question - Following on from the previous question, would you want to include punishment of any kind for someone that criticises Islam, pictorially portraits the prophet Mohammed, or otherwise insults Islam?

Question - Would you want to make illegal either criticism of Islam or any act of expression that insulted, ridiculed, satirised or mocked Islam, its prophets, its leaders, etc.?

The motivation for these questions is that I have a particular view of Islam that I would like to correct if it is wrong. In my view* (currently is based on all the evidence I've seen, from news reports, listening to comments by Islamic leaders from the UK and elsewhere, reading books and internet sources, those that criticise Islam and those that support it) Islam is inherently dangerous because: its goal is to spread Islam and to convert everyone to Islam; and that it is prepared to do this through: the indoctrination of children, the rejection of the critical questioning Islam, the intolerance of freedom of expression to the extent that it is critical of or insulting to Islam, the integration of Islamic law into nation state laws and the conversion of nation state into an Islamic state, the limitation of the tolerance of other belief systems where they don't comply with Islamic law in an Islamic state, the use of coersion, intimidation and punishments to make Muslims comply and to prevent non-Muslims criticising Islam to the extent that it might psersuade Muslims to reject Islam.**

If you can give me direct and categorical responses that show how my current view is at fault I'd appreciate it. I would be interested in both your own personal views on this and what you understand to be the general Islamic point of view if there is such a thing.

* I want to make it clear that I accept that many Muslims may personally reject this view on the grounds that they personally would only ever wish to live by what might simplistically be called the loving and peaceful aspects of Islam that accept a broad view of freedom of belief and expression. I have no issue with Muslims that take such a personal view and I would support their freedom to implement their belief system in as much as it didn't 'harm others'***.

** It's also my view that there is no god and that significant claims of Islam are false. But that particular point isn't relevant, so I'm not questioning it specifically here. I'm more interested in the consequences of accepting Islam, for non-Muslims and for ex-Muslims that want to reject. I hold similar worries about the dangers of other religious (and atheistic) ideologies - the current context is Islam.

*** This term should be clear enough, but I could expand if you wish.
Ron Murphy said…
Missing Links:


anticant said…
The fate of non-Muslims in an Islamic State? In a single word, SLAVERY - physical, moral, intellectual, mental, and social.

You have only to look at already existing Islamic States around the world to perceive this simple truth.