Thursday, January 24, 2008

Latest response to Ibrahim Lawson

[this is part of an ongoing dialogue I am having with the head of an Islamic school].

Ibrahim has recently responded to my last post to him. He thinks our dialogue is running out of steam, and wants to try to move things on…

“One last attempt to move things along (or move the goalposts, I am sure some people will think). I am absolutely prepared to admit that I know very little and am wrong about everything I think. With the exception of a sole domain: against all human reason and experience, I know as an absolute, incontrovertible certainty that there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet and messenger. This CLEARLY puts the whole thing on a totally different basis. How to understand this? Well, that’s precisely the task Islam puts to me. In this, I have found thinking based solely on induction and deduction to be singularly useless, except, via negtiva, in showing where the answer does not lie. Instead, I find this sort of thing a useful place to start:
“If thinking is not philosophy, if it thinks upon that to which philosophy can in principle have no access, what is it? How are we to regard it?”

I have two responses.

First, Ibrahim, can you answer those questions that I asked at the end of my last post about faith schooling (I can’t see that your unwavering commitment to Islam prohibits you from answering them). Seems to me your views on this topic are something well worth clarifying, given our original discussion was specifically on faith schools.

Second, the discussion has also kind of moved onto Islam generally (which wasn't my intention). You claim you know as an absolute incontrovertible certainty that Islam is true. Also, you suggest above that reason cannot usefully be applied to Islam. Indeed, you maintain, without argument, that this is an area “to which philosophy can in principle have no access.”

But still, you want to engage in a dialogue about Islam. So do I. But I am puzzled as to what form it should take.

Here’s an analogy to explain my puzzlement.

Suppose Bert is raised from birth to accept uncritically that the memoirs of a rather opinionated, deluded, and occasionally bigoted Victorian politician are in fact THE TRUTH. He supposes everything in this Victorian moralist's book is absolutely, incontrovertibly certain. Why? Because the book says so!

Bert is also raising his own kids to have the same unwavering certainty in the contents of his book.

Understandably, that concerns you.

Now Bert is a nice guy, and otherwise entirely reasonable. Indeed, he is happy to have a dialogue with you about what’s in his book. Only he’s not interested in applying reason or listening to any arguments you might have to offer, because, he says, the book is something to which reason and philosophy don’t apply. He wants a different sort of "dialogue".

What would you say to Bert? What kind of dialogue could you usefully have with him? Wouldn't you feel that Bert has, in effect, restricted the scope of any "dialogue" you might have with him in a wholly unjustified and unfair way?

That's more or less how I feel about the way this dialogue is going...

It's not that I am not very interested in your beliefs, or unwilling to explore new ideas, or that I think you are a bad person or anything like that - I am just not sure what's left for me to say in response to you once I've agreed to your ground rules.

39 comments:

Author said...

If thinking is not philosophy, if it thinks upon that to which philosophy can in principle have no access, what is it? How are we to regard it?

As pathology.

Author said...

Or possibly ignorance. Can Ibrahim not be aware that "knowing" something with "an absolute, incontrovertible certainty" is a very common phenomenon? The problem being that the things "known" in this way is not only numerous and varied, but also mutually contradictory.

Ibrahim must know that Christians "know" that Jesus is the resurrected son of god with (apparently) exactly the same degree of conviction that he "knows" that there is one god called Allah and Mohammed is his prophet. Except - as both Ibrahim and I would agree - the Christians are almost certainly mistaken, because the evidence is against them ("No it isn't," protests the Christian). And - as both the Christian and I would agree - Ibrahim is almost certainly mistaken, for similarly evident reasons ("No I'm not," protests Ibrahim).

If on the other hand Ibrahim is aware of the ubiquity and variety of this phenomenon (see Tom Cruise's recent videos for the latest demonstration of it), then his continued certainty must be down to something else: an extreme and unjustified self-confidence in his own powers of perception.

So there are the options: pathology, ignorance, or egotism. Not really good things to pass on to the children in your care.

anticant said...

Stephen, you will probably now have seen that Ibrahim has put another lengthy response [on which I have just commented] on the previous thread. We now have a multiplicity of threads on this topic, and I would be very grateful if you could post a list of them all [starting with the earliest], and also provide an easier way of navigating to the older threads than endlessly scrolling down your blog.

With respect, I do not see how we can discuss the appropriateness of teaching in Islamic schools if we do not discuss the substance of the teaching - i.e. Islamic doctrine [presumably as interpreted by Ibrahim, which raises a whole new raft of questions about the nature of authority within Islam]. Although I do not find these issues intrinsically interesting, I think they are very important, and unavoidable. Ibrahim, however, is reluctant to discuss them because of unspecified "unresolved disagreements". So where do we go from here?

Ron Murphy said...

Ibrahim,

This mysticism, if contemplated in isolation by scholarly theologians might still be of interest in its own right. But that isn't what Islam is, in principle or in practice.

You claim that we are straying into politics. Quite right, because Islam is both religious and political at its core. And, because it is politically divisive, in that in a Muslim theocracy only Muslims can be regarded as eligible for positions of the highest responsibility in an Islamic state, it's quite natural for non-Muslims to perceive some danger.

At some length you've explained what type of mind is required to understand this mysticism, and what degree of training is required to reach an appropriate understanding. Surely you're not saying that the majority of Muslims understand Islam to this degree. This is significant, because these are the Muslims with whom we non-Muslims have to interact. And if only all Muslim clerics where able to confine their activities to the mystical, there would be less reason for concern, but they too are normal human beings - they make all sorts of interpretations about Islam that stray far from the purely mystical.

You are looking for common ground? How about our daily lives, in as much as they overlap. They overlap, not in the mystical, but in the concrete here and now, in politics, in schools, in issues of indoctrination versus unrestrained critical questioning, the freedom to choose and reject any religious views.

You have noted that some of your points regarding mysticism have been claimed to be irrelevant (by me, for one). They are irrelevant in the following way. Indoctrination is considered to be deleterious to the mind, in that it reduces to capacity to think freely. Because the subject of indoctrination is unable then to free himself from the restraint of the object of indoctrination the subject has no way of telling whether the object is harmful or beneficial, malign or benign. An indoctrinated subject could be equally indoctrinated into any religious or political view. As such, indoctrination is harmful. So, whatever your view regarding mysticism, even if you think it contains an absolute truth, it won't justify the use of indoctrination.

"...but you know as well as I that a theory that is almost right could be completely wrong. At least there is enough room for question to allow some manoeuvre surely?" - sadly you won't permit this degree of uncertainty regarding Islam. Well, you may not have any uncertainty in that respect, but many do, atheists and proponents of other religions too. Science and rationalism at least admits, and attempts to account for, the fallibility of the human mind. The absolutist religious view sweeps that under the carpet with its unquestionable certainty. If one claimed such certainty of any other sphere of knowledge one's mental well being would questioned.

I'd dispute your claim that "...against all human reason and experience, I know as an absolute, incontrovertible certainty that there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet and messenger.", simply on the grounds that from what is known about the human mind, no human being is in a position to hold such a claim, let alone back it up. I can't say categorically that what you are claiming is wrong, but I can say that the strength of your belief in the claim is unwarranted. It may be true that "there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet and messenger", but you do not know it "as an absolute, incontrovertible certainty".

You question language itself. The whole of human culture is based on language. Consciousness itself is under pinned by language. Language is the most expressive medium we have - and it's what you use to propogate Islam. If someone claims to have a deep understanding of some concept, but can't express it, I'd question whether that understanding is real or fantacy. It's not as if Islam hasn't had enough time to come up with a way to express it.

Cassanders said...

@ ron murphy
Definitively not speaking for Ibrahim, allow me to comment on your last paragraph.

One point that might have some relevance ( allthough I do not find it convincing at all) is the alleged beauty of the quran when recited in it's original language.

The perception of beauty does of course not cut much ice when it comes to an external evaluation of truth-claims, but it might have some relevance for the believers' psychological states when they declare their strong convition.

Cassanders
In Cod we trust

Ron Murphy said...

Hi Cassanders,

I was expecting that from Ibrahim, as I think he has said something similar somewhere, or maybe I read it somewhere else.

I think the only relevance it has is that it is a claim that can be made, but with no merit whatsoever. But let's run with it...

Imagine the following, each reciting the Quran:
- An Arabic Islamic scholar.
- A poor, uneducated Arab, born and raised in an Islamic country, but able to read Arabic.
- A Pakistani person, born and raised in an Pakistan, but able to read Arabic.
- A Pakistani person, born and raised in an Pakistan, but unable to read Arabic.
- An English person, born to Islamic parents, with a first language of Arabic.
- An English person, born to Islamic parents, with a first language of English, but able to read Arabic.
- An English person, born to English parents (for want of a better phrase, native English), converts to Islam, and able to read Arabic.
- An English person, born to English parents (for want of a better phrase, native English), converts to Islam, can't read Arabic, so relies on an English translation.
- An English academic who reads Arabic and studies Islamic history and the Quran.
... many more - insert or add as many varieties as there are people who have an interest in the Quran.

Is there a boundary in there somewhere that allows you to 'get' the message? Islam is supposed to be for the whole world, but apparently only for those steeped in Arabic and Islamic culture. Who's to say that the translation of the Quran doesn't improve it its truth value? And if I want to put my trust in any of the above to express the real content of the Quran, my money's on the first and the last, but I'm not sure in which order. As for the others, I'd rely on my interpretation of a good English translation first.

Of course it's almost total nonsense. There may be some cases where literal translations aren't possible, but that will be down to the culture and time distance between the original and the translation. I'd think that any present day Muslim would have difficulty understanding the Quran in the same context in which it was written. You can bet the first person Mohammed showed it too didn't understand it as he did (assuming he did - I don't know the historical integrity of the Quran).

Of course what is obviously the case is that any interpretation of the Quran (or Bible) is completely up for grabs - no two people that have or will exist can possible reach the same understanding. And it's this that shows the claims that it contains absolute unquestionable truth such nonsense. Equally obvious are responses that claim God speaks to us all individually, and so on.

And of course you are right, this notion contributes nothing to the "external evaluation of truth-claims", and is entirely of "relevance for the believers' psychological states".

Cassanders said...

@ Ron Murphy,
Apparently Stephen Law tries to look for common groud in order to have a discussion going. From what I have seen on various islamic apologetic web-sites, I assume his approach is a sensible one.

However, as for the bible, there are good resons to doubt the veracity of the quran(and the ahadiths), both for internal and external (e.g. historical, text-critical) reasons You will find an interesting story here:

http://online.wsj.com/article_email/article_print/SB120008793352784631-lMyQjAxMDI4MDEwMjAxODI3Wj.html

Cassanders
In Cod we trust

anticant said...

It's not 'almost total' nonsense - it's sheer and utter nonsense: a garment in the suit of fictional clothes which preachers of the 'supernatural' wrap themselves in claiming an authority as sham and spurious as that of the Wizard of Oz.

Ibrahim Lawson said...

The point that Ron is making is true about the meaning of the Qur’an, but trivially so, i.e. it is useless. There is an inevitable variance between any two readings of any text, even made by the same person on two different occasions. So what?

The Qur’an is indubitably true, it says so itself. However, everyone is free to make up their own mind, and some use that freedom to not only reject but to mock their creator, which the Qur’an also predicts.

In fact, the Qur’an is interestingly explicit about its epistemology, beginning with the statement that only those who believe in it will benefit from it while to those who reject it ‘it is the same whether you warn them or not’. Those who believe do so because Allah has guided them and those who reject do so because Allah has led them astray.

So its ‘heads I win, tails you lose’ again.

Ibrahim Lawson said...

Ron, you are almost as verbose as me, but just a few comments.

1. I never said mysticism wasn’t political, but it’s a different sort of politics, based on completely different assumptions about the nature of reality. Therefore, Islamic politics cannot be understood outside the essentially ‘mystical’ (don’t like that word) frame of Islam. So any attempt to go there will only be adding fuel to the flames, just as, I’m saying, is happening already in terms of the issue of indoctrination.

2. you’re right about the ordinary everyday folk we share our society with. Many of them appear to be seriously intellectually, emotionally and morally dysfunctional, and that’s just my pupils. As far as I am aware, ordinary everyday society has always been a mess and always will be. In fact that’s partly what worries me about the ‘debate’ about Islam which is going on today. There are some extremely unpleasant people out there doing their best to create chaos and enmity. The way Islam and the Muslims are portrayed in the media would be funny if it wasn’t literally tragic. When Jack Straw criticised women for wearing the face veil, racist hooligans up and down the country took that as an occasion to attack Muslim women on the street. When a respected authority claims that Muslims should not be tolerated (albeit usually trying to draw an egregious line between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Muslims) mosques come under attack and imams are beaten up. Recently an Asian Muslim boy was stabbed to death by 4 white youths, similar to the Stephen Laurence incident though no one seems to be taking it as seriously. There is apparently some question over whether or not this was a racist or Islamophobic event, though no other motive has been suggested. We don’t have to look too far back in history for ominous parallels where a minority ethnic/religious group begins to be targeted in this way and their concerns ridiculed or dismissed.

3. back to indoctrination. I can’t help feeling you are over-egging the pudding (or whatever the expression is). It is merely that the basic beliefs of Islam, very few and very simple, are not subjectable to the usual procedures of verification; therefore they are not taught in the same way. Beliefs in the ‘unseen’ are common to religions but less so perhaps to political and other ideologies which thus can be critiqued in as far as their claims are logical and empirical. But then the teaching of ‘mystical’ truths should not be viewed as indoctrination if that is defined as the process of persuading people to believe something on non-rational grounds or by non-rational means IN PLACE OF otherwise potentially available rational means and grounds. Since this does not apply in the case of the basic beliefs of Islam the charge of indoctrination does not apply either; something else is going on. I prefer to see it as an invitation to take up an intentional stance with respect to fundamental issues of life and death, a matter of will rather than belief This is suggested by the declaration of faith which is ‘I bear witness that there is no one god only Allah…’ rather than ‘ I believe that…’. This is another discussion I would be happy to have later. In my reply to Stephen I will be mentioning Karen Armstrong’s theory of ‘mythos’ and ‘logos’ to shed some other light (or darkness) on this issue.

4. I actually object to religious beliefs (‘mythos’) being taught as if they were rationally defensible (‘logos’), though this happens a lot, though ultimately I am not sure that ‘logos’ is not another form of ‘mythos’ as I am an inveterate reductionist.

5. theories should be falsifiable, e.g. the theory of rationality. Mystical beliefs are not theories. And let’s just deal with the ‘what’s the difference between you and a tea leaf reader’ objection. To you, maybe none; to me, tea leaf reading is a forbidden science I don’t care how absurd or otherwise its claims are.

6. I cannot see what qualifies you to judge the degree of my certainty. And this is one of the problems: mystical knowledge is not like other knowledge and it is misleading to think of it in the same terms. It is certainly not ‘propositional’ in nature, neither is it experiential; it is more like the knowledge one has of a person when you know someone, over and above what you know about them. In fact, it’s a bit like love – when you love someone you can’t really understand why anyone would not. The relevant Arabic word is ‘ma’rifah’ as distinct from ‘ilm’ – they are two modes of knowing, ilm being the type of knowledge that equates to ‘science’ and ma’rifah being more akin to ‘gnosis’. The etymology is interesting.

7. I do question language, I think it is a far deeper thing than we imagine and that familiarity breeds contempt. Language is what Allah uses to create, ‘He says be! And it is.’ But communication is another matter, and ultimately, I think you have to be ready to hear some things before you will understand them.

anticant said...

Ibrahim, now that you have proffered such a comprehensive explanation of your belief-stance, it would be otiose for me to pitch in my own modest and inadequate understandings of the nature of reality, knowledge, truth, and the function of language, as these are so utterly different from and at variance with yours.

I have decided to leave your notions to be dissected by Stephen, Ron, and others with more philosophical learning than I am capable of mustering, and shall now thankfully resume my perusal of "Alice in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking-Glass", which portray a world that is no less plausible, and much more entertaining.

Ron Murphy said...

Ibrahim,

1. It's still a politics that has an impact on everyday life. What flames exist, are ignited by Islam - death for apostates, over-sensitive irrational reaction to cartoons, etc. Islam itself is inflammatory, whether based on a literal reading of the Quran or interpretations by Muslims. However 'mystically' associated that politics may be, it's still politics when it reaches out into this world, and is open to criticism and rejection, and is not immune to a rational approach. Rationality is our most reliable tool, faith is our least reliable and most blunt implement, to be used when rationality fails.

2. I'm sure everyone here deplores the examples you've cited too, but your response here is bogus. How many Muslims have been killed in the UK by other Muslims in 'honour' killings? And who is suffering most at the hands of terror - mostly Muslims? And inter-Islamic-group violence and hatred? Minorities don't come into it. If you want to consider minorities, how many Muslims tacitly approve of the currently publicised murder of members of that other vulnerable group, prostitutes?

3. Your beliefs are far from few, and you yourself have gone to great pains to say they are far from simple - too complex for us to understand and for you to explain. And, of course it's indoctrination; that is plain and simple. If I were invited to a party that I wasn't allowed to leave alive, I think I'd decline. So, I prefer not to call it an invitation, but indoctrination with a deadly consequence. Do those children realise that despite how nice you say Allah is that he'll later require their death if they reject him? If you do tell them, are they in a position to decline your 'invitation'? Again, bogus; and abusive.

4. I'm not surprised you object. They are indefensible in that respect.

5. Mystical beliefs are not theories. No, they are fantasies. No, they are mental aberrations. No, they are invented lies. No, they are...whatever. God is Great. Jesus is God. Anyone can make glib unqualified statements. They mean nothing in isolation. All we can do is treat them rationally, examine them, question them critically, apply scepticism, because all faiths claim to be right, but clearly can't all be right. Muslims rationalise that the claim that 'Jesus is God' is a corruption - reason applies when it works in your favour. If you reject reason then what other way is there of demonstrating your way is the right way? Indoctrination, coercion, force, war, death? Does Islam represent peace? Only after you have already succeeded by those other means? Simple persuasion is out of the question, because when the going gets tough persuasion by reason go out the window.

6. I'm don't particularly want to judge. You would be welcome to your mystical beliefs if only they remained in the mystical realm - theists would have no trouble from atheists, or more specifically from secularist, if that were the case. The problem is that on the one hand you claim inaccessibility to this knowledge, but on the other use it to cause real problems in this world. It is precisely because of the attempts by Muslims to interpret in this rational world consequences that Muslims themselves claim to be beyond rationality. It's this abuse of rationality and language by Muslims that results in the call for death for apostates, the subjugation of women, honour killings, the ironic call for the death penalty for someone who draws a cartoon image of the peaceful Mohammed, and the indoctrination of children. I cannot see what qualifies you (the Islamic collective) to impose your unqualified beliefs on vulnerable children, or to impose (even it only by approval) the death penalty on apostates, or to impose an Islamic theocracy (if you could).

7. If only you'd question your own use of language a little more critically. "The Qur’an is indubitably true, it says so itself", "‘He says be! And it is.’" - The basis on which you make these claims could be made about absolutely any book, with one apparent requirement, that the book contains words to the effect that the book is true. You abuse language itself when you make pseudo-rational statements like 'it is because it says so'. Again, bogus.

8. A point about Islamophobia. That term implies an irrational fear. One could resort to the same abuse of language you employ, by saying that since Islam is beyond the rational then so is the fear of it. Fear of Islam would be reasonable. Personally I'd rather stick to the rational, and address any fears that might be considered to be irrational. The rational fear is not about a mystical point of view. Since mysticism has only personal mental consequences for the mystically minded, it has no consequences for anyone else. The fear is for some of the consequences when Muslims project their mystical views into this world. The fact that you see it as mysticism and we see it as bonkers is irrelevant - it's what it means here and now in this mortal realm. You have re-enforced fears about Islam by demonstrating, with some gusto, its irrationality, and by the implicit approval of some of its most vehement and cruel tenets. In (3) you said the beliefs of Islam are very simple. You have been given so many opporunities to quell some of the fears, but you have decliend. Death for apostates is a very simple tenet. Do you accept it and approve it or not?

Ibrahim Lawson said...

Apostasy.
From a theoretical perspective, the judgement on apostasy is the legal correlative of the condition of absolute certainty in the basic principles of faith. It represents the categorical boundary of what is possible on the tongue, as distinct from what is in the heart.

Since the basic tenets of faith are not possibly false, they cannot be denied either inwardly or outwardly.

It is logically inconsistent and thus impossible to enter into the contract of Islam while at the same time reserving the option of opting out. This is what the judgement on apostasy spells out: if you are in, you cannot opt out; if you want to opt out, you are already not in; if you are not in and want to opt in, you cannot do so without accepting the previous two conditions.

A separate issue is what should be done in practice in the case of an apostate.

There is a degree of dispute over this; the Wikipedia article is not bad. Please note that Islam is inherently pragmatic and context sensitive; there are conditions under which what is obligatory, in law, can become forbidden and vice versa.

Please note also that Muslims can and do behave in ways that are not sanctioned by Islam; they may even do so, mistakenly, in the name of Islam. Communities ganging up on apostates in their midst is not Islamic. There is a strict legal procedure that should be followed and people are not allowed to take the law into their own hands in this or any other matter falling under social law.

The legal procedure assumes proper jurisdiction, which is not the case in the UK, so no judgement of apostasy could be sought or gained here in this country at the moment.

To my mind, this should remove many of the fears that have been expressed about this issue, although your problem Ron is more one of blasphemy, to which the same caveats apply. There is no mechanism in place to apply sharia law to blasphemers and Muslims who chose to live in this country are Islamically obliged to follow British law; I don’t think there is any disagreement about this by the majority of Islamic scholars.

In addition, no one is ever forced to be a Muslim and so put in the position of having to face up to the ‘no opt out clause’ from within; Ron or Bert may simply decline the invitation. This is not to say that ignorant Muslims might not think you can force someone etc.

Finally, how does someone end up being executed for apostasy? And how often has it actually happened, at least in conformity with correct procedure? If the sharia law were followed properly, it would be extremely difficult to convict someone of apostasy and even harder to execute them, if that is the required punishment. Apostates are supposed to be given three days to think about it: the choice being, continue to deny thebasic Islamic tenets you at one time accepted and be executed, or say you didn’t mean it and be let off. One has to ask, why would anyone chose the first option? I mean, it doesn’t solve your problem with Islam does it?

It is also a basic Islamic principle that the ‘hadd’ punishments (corporal and capital) should not be applied if there is any possible doubt or way to avoid doing so. One could argue that only a madman would deliberately seek death over such an issue and that they would not be subject to sharia on the grounds of insanity.

An objection to all this might be that some Muslims do in fact take the law into their own hands or use this issue as a pretext for murdering someone and that they are predisposed towards this by the very existence of this sharia law, which therefore shares some moral culpability as does anyone who advocates its implementation.

My argument would be that this is stretching the point too far and that these abuses tend to happen in cases where the participants are lacking in education and/or civilisation. Then again there are those ‘Islamic states’ which also have various cultural and historical reasons for being as they are which have nothing to do with Islam per se. Again, I believe that education is the solution.

Anonymous said...

I mean, it doesn’t solve your problem with Islam does it?

I think the problem many of us have with Islam is precisely that unlike any other belief system I can think of, its followers want to kill anyone who changes their mind about it. Not in an angry way, in a coldbloodedly legal way. Or, as you suggest, to force unbelievers on pain of death to lie about what they think. This sort of enforced dishonesty or permitted dishonesty seems to be a common Muslim response to all sorts of questions. It really doesn't make practitioners of the religion look good when the "educated" leaders of the community deal with the conflict between the religion's precepts and ordinary decent humanity by advocating lies.

Plenty of people are forced to be Muslims. Children, for example. How does a child, who has never opted in, ever able to leave the faith?

It is also a basic Islamic principle that the ‘hadd’ punishments (corporal and capital) should not be applied if there is any possible doubt or way to avoid doing so. One could argue that only a madman would deliberately seek death over such an issue and that they would not be subject to sharia on the grounds of insanity.

One could argue that the moon is made of cheese. Has this argument actually been used in a sharia court when someone is under sentence of death for apostasy? If not, it's irrelevant.

An objection to all this might be that some Muslims do in fact take the law into their own hands or use this issue as a pretext for murdering someone and that they are predisposed towards this by the very existence of this sharia law, which therefore shares some moral culpability as does anyone who advocates its implementation.

That's the objection of decent human beings to systems which encourage murder, yes. But it's not "a pretext for murdering someone", those Muslims feel, with a great deal of justification, that they are doing what their religion requires. What people like you advocate should be done through the legal process in different circumstances, because your holy book demands it and doubt is not possible.

anticant said...

"The legal procedure assumes proper jurisdiction, which is not the case in the UK, so no judgement of apostasy could be sought or gained here in this country AT THE MOMENT."

Oh - so that's alright then. For the time being.....

Ron Murphy said...

Ibrahim,

Thanks for such a thorough response.

"To my mind, this should remove many of the fears that have been expressed about this issue,..." - Your assurances aren't very comforting. I feel I'd get straighter talk from a used car salesman.

The situation for an apostate is pretty tricky. Any true apostate has only one recourse if he wants to be certain he'll survive, and that's to lie and fake a recantation. No matter which country he lives in, once he becomes an apostate it's hanging over him for the rest of his natural life. So, I guess the only other option, if you want to be true to your rejection of Islam, is to remain on the run:
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/crime/article3007677.ece

"The legal procedure assumes proper jurisdiction..." - Not quite the whole story, as I'll get to below.

Since you mentioned blasphemy, let's have a closer look at that.

I don't hold your faith. I have every right to be critical of your faith. What you make of it is up to you, and I cannot be held responsible for your sensitivity. Under normal circumstances, of course, I would not wish to cause someone offense unnecessarily. I would support your right to hold your religious views, but that does not include the right to impose those views, or any of their deadly consequences, on me. I have every right to criticise, and even to ridicule your religion, to the point that you might call it blasphemy.

So, I might be concerned about the possible danger of criticising Islam, which would be an imposition of my freedom of expression. This is particularly so since what I might call criticism you might choose to call ridicule and blasphemy - Islam appears to make words mean whatever fits the requirements.

To quote the fact that the death penalty is hardly ever used isn't enough.

Let's start with these articles, which describe how a journalist has been arrested and convicted and sentenced to death.
http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=25090
http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=25154
Well, my objection starts with the arrest and charge in the first place. That would be oppressive enough. But can you imagine what this is doing to freedom of expression. The same happened regarding the cartoons of Mohammed. It was simply enough to incite a vitriolic response from Muslims around the world to effectively gag the world press.

Take the British law regarding blasphemy. For example, if I likened Christ to a circus clown, in all likelihood I'd have to contend with a few outbursts from offended Christians. Poor John William Gott in 1922 was sentenced to nine months' hard labour for doing just that. That law still stands. You don't think it would be used today? It wouldn't be for the want of trying. See
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/3753408.stm

From the same source, "Some British Muslims unsuccessfully called for author Salman Rushdie to be tried under the law after the publication of his controversial novel, The Satanic Verses. But the law only recognises blasphemy against the Church of England." - Phew! Close one. If it had applied to all faiths I'm pretty sure it would have been persuade.

Can I say what I want about your religion and get away with it, as long as it's in the UK? Not likely. Once the deed is done I'd have to be careful where in the world I visited. Under some versions of Islamic law any transgression in this country might mean there's an awful fate awaiting me in another.
http://muslim-canada.org/apostasy.htm

And of course it doesn't stop there. I wouldn't be safe hiding away in the UK. Followers of Islam can be quite easily persuaded to take action at a distance.

And it's not as if you can anticipate all the possible scenarios that might be waiting to trip you up. Poor Gillian Gibbons was strung up (fortunately metaphorically) for naming the bear after a boy, but just as the Danish cartoons were manipulated in Egypt, her 'crime' too was manipulated for political ends - possible because Islam and politics are intertwined.

"Please note also that Muslims can and do behave in ways that are not sanctioned by Islam." - They don't need to be. Crimes as understood by Islam only have to be alluded to for the wrath of both uneducated and educated Muslims alike to be ignited.

So, Ibrahim, to get back to the original point of this blog topic, Is religion dangerous? - Yes it is.

And, with regard to the dangers of the indoctrination of children, I've read nothing to make me think indoctrination is anything other than dangerous.

Ibrahim Lawson said...

I knew this was going to be difficult. Anonymous has distorted some of what I was trying to say, I’m not advocating lying, for example, and the ‘holy book’ does not demand death for apostasy, but at the same time I can understand how this all must look. Whatever I say is going to lead to more outrage and I just don’t think it’s discussable without a lot more unpacking. Maybe another time.

Ron, think about the context, where Muslims are in power and Islamic law is being applied, what kind of fool is going to force a showdown with the authorities? In a proper Islamic society, no one is going to harass you for your beliefs and what you practice in private – it’s not the belief that is punishable, it’s the persistent public declaration. I know this is still anathema to the liberal mind – we should be able to say anything we want; we fought for this liberty etc - but to understand how apostasy figures in Islam you have to imagine yourself into a wholly different and alien world. I guess you wouldn’t want to do that. Same thing with blasphemy – living in a Islamic society, surrounded by Muslims, you have to be a Cordoban martyr to insist on insulting your fellow citizens most cherished beliefs – that’s not sticking up for freedom of speech, phenomenologically it’s something else entirely. I’m not sure Salman Rushdie and his supporters were ‘sticking up for freedom of speech’ either.

Anticant – I put in that bit about ‘at the moment’ for you and DD, who we haven’t heard from for a while.

anticant said...

RON says: “Islam appears to make words mean whatever fits the requirements.”

Yes, indeed. It is Wonderland in real life:

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “ which is to be master – that’s all.”

Alice was too much puzzled to say anything; so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. “They’ve a temper, some of them – particularly verbs: they’re the proudest – adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs – however, I can manage the whole lot of them! Impenetrability! That’s what I say!”

“Would you tell me please,” said Alice, “what that means?”

“Now you talk like a reasonable child,” said Humpty Dumpty, looking very much pleased. “I meant by ‘impenetrability’ that we’ve had enough of that subject, and it would be just as well if you’d mention what you mean to do next, as I suppose you don’t mean to stop here all the rest of your life.”

- LEWIS CARROLL: 'Through the Looking-Glass'

IBRAHIM says: “Where Muslims are in power and Islamic law is being applied, what kind of fool is going to force a showdown with the authorities? ….to understand how apostasy figures in Islam you have to imagine yourself into a wholly different and alien world. I guess you wouldn’t want to do that.”

No, Ibrahim, I wouldn’t! But thanks to the global antics and pronouncements of you and your co-religionists, I frequently do.

Thank you for at long last answering – even if only obliquely – my oft-repeated question as to whether Islam is compatible with an open, pluralistic, democratic society. From what you have said, it clearly isn’t; and it therefore follows that the answer to your question as to whether your pupils are a threat to British society is ‘Yes’ if you teach them the twaddle and pseudo-intellectual contortions you delight to indulge in here.

anticant said...

Incidentally, Ibrahim, talking of 'apostasy', you doubtless know Benda's thesis of 'La Trahison des Clercs'. Why are you so contemptuous and scathing of the Enlightenment tradition in which you were, presumably, brought up?

Ibrahim Lawson said...

OK, Stephen, my answer to those questions.

You say:

“You say you encourage critical thinking in class, even about Islam. But is this restricted to e.g. what Mohammad meant by this remark, or what that passage of the Koran means? etc. Or can kids ask more fundamental questions, such as why they should even believe the Koran is true?
(ii) Even if the latter question is one they are permitted to ask, would it be taken seriously and answered - or just met with unjustified insistence ("It just is true!")
(iv) Would such questions be not just permitted, but positively encouraged? If so, how?
(iv) Could a child say in class, "Frankly, I don't believe this is the word of God", and face no sanction?

I don't see how your statement that in any good Muslim school, "Islam is a given and never challenged" can be squared with positive answers to these questions.”


Firstly a qualification – I find them to be leading questions; there is an implicit ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ answer (“even if ….”, “not just permitted …”). You are poised with the “I told you so!” riposte playing to the audience. This is why I hesitate to engage in this kind of discussion, as I said in my initial private email to you, but why I have also decided that some kind of effort needs to be made. For there is too much rhetorical posing around this issue – on both ‘sides’ – and too many minds already made up. Add to this the complexity and diversity of the hermeneutic context (what everybody ‘already knows’) and the diverse power issues implicit in this discourse. For example:

Hospital staff turn beds to Mecca
Hospital beds of seriously ill Muslim patients are to be turned to face Mecca as part of changes aimed at helping patients uphold their Islamic faith.
Dewsbury District Hospital in West Yorkshire will also provide Halal meals and make changes to shower facilities. Staff at the hospital will take part in training sessions to teach them how to help patients with their faith worship. A Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust spokeswoman said it wanted to improve its service for Muslim patients. This included staff positioning the beds of "very ill" Muslim patients to face the Qibla in Mecca if requested to do so by the patient. Hospital matron Catherine Briggs said she had spoken to Muslim patients about how the service could be improved. She said: "We always do our best to listen to our patients and are willing to adapt our nursing practices where possible to help patients uphold their cultural beliefs."

A BBC news item, to which Anticant, who posted this story on his blog, responds:

Multiculti madness
Even on April Fool's Day I would have thought this story a bit steep.

The lunatics have not merely taken over the asylum. Now they are running the hospitals as well.

And this attracts the comment:

lavenderblue said...
Look on the bright side. This applies to the 'seriously ill'. I like the sound of that.
09 December 2007 14:39

In a context such as ours, vulnerable people get hurt when others indulge in rhetorical positions and emotive language, let alone sinister racist posturing, and I am very aware of the possibility of provoking more of the same by engaging in this conversation. I hope you will understand my concerns and my reluctance to engage with inflammatory issues without preparing the ground first, which to some extent has occurred now.

Anyway, can kids ask why they should even believe the Qur’an is true? Well they don’t tend to, as a matter of fact, but they could. And we would tell them that they should believe it because they are Muslims and that’s what Muslims believe, which is the answer to your second question (which is not to say that the question is not being taken seriously, only that the answer is simple). Is that an ‘unjustified insistence’? I don’t think so; it is justified by the fact that this IS what Muslims believe. The questionable part may be the assumption that they are and should be Muslims, but this is a given in that they are in an Islamic school. Ask if a non-Muslim could attend my school and I would reply ‘of course’ but I wouldn’t understand why they might want to as they would have to be treated the same as everyone else so as to avoid unnecessary divisiveness.

However, such questions are not positively encouraged because, in the context of an Islamic school, they are not ‘real’ questions in Kierkergaard’s sense of being of living concern (can’t find exact reference); the Islamic version is that if you have to ask why should I believe then you don’t and nothing can make you, whereas if you do believe the question is merely theoretical. So I suppose if the intention behind the question was genuine, we would have to say ‘you’re possibly in the wrong school’. Am I making myself clear? We would not encourage the question because there is no point to it; it’s not an Islamic question – we don’t play that game with this one.

Finally, if a child did say “Frankly I don’t believe…” there would not be any sanctions, if by that you mean punishment. There would be in the strictly sociological sense, because secondary socialisation is what school is all about. There would be disapproval perhaps, incredulity maybe, irritation… I don’t know, depends on the kid and the teacher. I’m not saying that in other countries the reaction would be the same. But I just don’t see it happening normally, especially in the kind of place where you might expect a rather more extreme reaction.

Here’s what caused all the trouble:

ER: Ibrahim Lawson, how would you define the purpose of your Islamia school?
IL: Well, the essential purpose of the Islamia school as with all Islamic schools is to inculcate profound religious belief in the children.
ER: You use the word “inculcate”: does that mean you are in the business of indoctrination?
IL: I would say so, yes; I mean we are quite unashamed about that really. The reason that parents send their children to our school is that they want them to grow up to be very good Muslims.
ER: Does that mean that Islam is a given and is never challenged?
IL: That’s right...

Let’s just look at this a minute. I use the word ‘inculcate’ and ER suggests that means indoctrination (a very loaded word). I, reacting slightly aggressively to this provocation, decide to let him have the argument he wants (this is radio 4 after all, it’s supposed to be entertaining). He then encourages me further by putting more words into my mouth. My reply at the time is actually a statement of fact rather than of principle (though it is a principle I am happy to defend).

So I still don’t really see what all the fuss is about. Your example of research into children who grow up to be morally challenged because mum and dad didn’t discuss ethics with them is no more or less relevant to Muslims than it is to anyone else I don’t think. Educated Muslim parents discuss matters with their children, others don’t. Many Muslims grow up to be morally responsible, thinking beings; many don’t. I think it’s a bit farfetched to blame an adults’ lack of morality on his or her having been told that they have to believe in Allah and Muhammad. Sure, there are unthinking moral cretins in the Muslim world; there are everywhere – some of them in positions of considerable power and influence, but whatever the propaganda says, I do not believe that Islam itself can be shown to have any causal influence on this, as if having faith were some kind of mental virus. If anyone thinks that, then prove it.

As regards your nuclear option, I think we need to be similarly pragmatic. I am not claiming that rationality has nothing to offer, that irrationality wins the day and no one can be right or wrong anymore etc etc. I think this is more hyperbole on your part. I just think we, as a society, can pragmatically accept a certain amount of indeterminacy, or Wittgenstein’s ‘rough ground’, around certain axiomatic beliefs. Of course, the response to that is ‘where do we draw the line?’ Again, I would invoke a spirit of pragmatism, of what actually more or less works, what is more or less acceptable to more or less everybody. And this social consensus either slowly evolves as part of society’s self-regulation, or a crisis is reached and a point of rapid change.

I remember reading an article by Richard Rorty that has some relevance. He discusses how world views change and observes that people in the west did not suddenly stop believing that the earth was at the centre of the universe (although of course it is, it’s all relative) but gradually came around to this way of thinking over a period of, what, 100-200 years? I think that in the same way there is an indeterministic graduation between religious thinking and logical thinking or whatever we want to call them, why not use ‘mythos’ and ‘logos’?- which allows for dialogue, given sufficient good will or mutual positive regard on both sides. This mail is already far too long, so please see http://lightandsilence.org/2006/12/mythos_and_logos.html

This brings me on to the second comment of yours: we do have to discuss Islam in general if we are dealing with issues of Islamic education; a point you have resisted. We are talking very specifically about how faith should be inculcated and that is a religious issue, at least for me; someone else might just think I am pathologically delusional, but I want to explain myself in my terms since it’s my views that are under scrutiny. Now I do think that reason has its limitations when it comes to justifying religious belief, or the ‘mystical’. The quote by the way is not mine but from Caputo, and I did say to please read a little more before coming to any conclusions about what he might mean by “to which philosophy can in principle have no access”, since there is no argument in the paragraph I quoted, as you have noticed.

So where does that leave our dialogue? Is the Bert analogy useful?- or is it you, Stephen, that are restricting the terms of reference in a wholly unjustified and unfair way?

You say Here’s an analogy to explain my puzzlement.

Suppose Bert is raised from birth to accept uncritically that the memoirs of a rather opinionated, deluded, and occasionally bigoted Victorian politician are in fact THE TRUTH. He supposes everything in this Victorian moralist's book is absolutely, incontrovertibly certain.

Bert is also raising his own kids to have the same unwavering certainty in the contents of his book.

Understandably, that concerns you.

Now Bert is a nice guy, and otherwise entirely reasonable. Indeed, he is happy to have a dialogue with you about what’s in his book. Only he’s not interested in applying reason or listening to any arguments you might have to offer, because, he says, the book is something to which reason and philosophy don’t apply. He wants a different sort of "dialogue".

What would you say to Bert? What kind of dialogue could you usefully have with him? Wouldn't you feel that Bert has, in effect, restricted the scope of any "dialogue" you might have with him in a wholly unjustified and unfair way?


What I say we have to do is decide whether there is any relevant similarity between say Bert and myself., and also what the point of the exercise is.

Here we have to have some kind of relevant understanding of the role and nature of ‘mythos’ so as to be able to potentially distinguish between Bert and me; and we also have to decide what hinges upon your willingness or otherwise to have a dialogue with Bert or me.

I would say that the analogy between Bert and me is weak on the grounds that although there is a slight similarity in our epistemological stances (perhaps; I don’t know why he believes that philosophy and reason don’t apply to his beliefs) there is a huge difference between what he and I believe.

Your use of this analogy seems to me to reveal an unwillingness to distinguish between an individual who “is raised from birth to accept uncritically that the memoirs of a rather opinionated, deluded, and occasionally bigoted Victorian politician are in fact THE TRUTH” and a Muslim whose belief system, rather than being idiosyncratic and quaintly bizarre, is embedded in cultural discourse shared by hundreds of millions of people past and present, spanning several thousand years and including some of the greatest and most inspiring moments in known human history and civilisation.

Perhaps you really think there is an equivalence here and that trying to have a sensible conversation with Bert is pretty much exactly like trying to get any sense out of me. But if it’s not, then what form could our dialogue take, as you ask? What could the ground rules be?

Well I think we have made some progress personally, unless you are merely toying with me. I have found it useful to have to interrogate myself as to what I think, feel and mean, and to practice various strategies that I hope will come in useful one day. It has been useful to research some of the more common attitudes one encounters and see if there isn’t just a little chink of light there somewhere. But as to ground rules… what I am most concerned about I suppose is not ultimately the justification of mysticism in itself but to try to shift the discussion away from what seem to me to be cast iron liberal certainties, for some people, towards a slightly more flexible and tolerant attitude to people like me who are far from sharing those particular values and ideas. This has thrown up all sorts of complications as we untie the knots in our thinking about this. One that I think is central to a lot of misunderstandings is the tendency to take it for granted that we know what concepts like truth and knowledge mean. Or take the concept of a ‘fact’, as in ‘let’s stick to the facts’ or ‘the facts are important’ or ‘facts and reality are necessary’ etc etc.

If you’re not very careful, the idea of truth becomes the property possessed by a proposition which accurately states the facts, while a fact becomes that which is captured by a true proposition. Just what is a ‘fact’ supposed to be, without circularity?

Why bother to go on about this? Because my experience of people and myself is that it is very easy and very common for us to live in a mental world which is based more on how we think life is than how it actually is if we pay attention and stop disregarding stuff that doesn’t correspond to how we think life should be. I think we need to get phenomenological, back to the things themselves.

Here’s an analogy to explain what I’m trying to get at: we think that when we look at the world, what we see is more or less like what you get with a photograph. But actually, the world doesn’t look like that at all to us – only what we’re actually looking directly at is in focus, it’s moving all the time, round the edges the eye/brain actually stops bothering to register colour (though we can’t directly experience that). So when we try to paint what we see, we tend to paint something that looks like a photograph, i.e. ‘realistic’. Except it’s not. Our idea of what the world should look like when we look at it has interposed itself between us and ‘reality’.

This is an analogy, it fails at a certain point. But it’s the sort of thing we do all the time about all sorts of things we experience.

So what would the ground rules be? I would like to stick to painstaking attempts to be as honest as possible in reporting how we actually really feel and think. I would like to think that I have done that in trying to explain why I think my school should be tolerated by you, and I will keep trying. You say what you have to say, and I’ll do the same – that might get us somewhere. What’s the alternative?

One last thought: you have complained that I reject the use of ‘rationality’ when it suits me only to retrieve it when I think there is something to gain for my position. (I do not, of course, object to rational procedures in maths or science.) That’s one way of looking at it. On the other hand, I see this as trying to use terms of reference that are familiar to you in order to see if there is any possibility of your understanding me. (Surely we can use language to critique the use of language without inevitably vicious circularity? May the circle be unbroken!) Unfortunately but perhaps almost inevitably, in trying to express my thinking in terms that are fundamentally inadequate to the task I come across either as a charlatan who dishonestly insists on missing the point in order to cover up his own intellectual limitations or as pathologically deluded.

A propos your all-evil god, I therefore think you are tilting at windmills, of which there are many which may even deserve to be tilted at. I think that ever since the Muslims swallowed Greek philosophy it has been giving them indigestion. Any of them that have received a basic indoctrination into rationalism will no doubt think that their faith can be explained in the way you rightly satirise since it can’t. Oh I know there are religious thinkers who would disagree with me, Swinburne for one (P(e/h.k) >> P(e/k), and so P(h/e.k) >> P(h/k)? I mean honestly!) and any number of Christian theologians who are too nice to argue even with themselves. No, I think medieval and classical intellectual tools are revealing their limitations here, as elsewhere.

Ibrahim Lawson said...

“Scathingly contemptuous contorted pseudo-intellectual twaddle” – Ouch! talk about the cut and thrust of debate!

Ron Murphy said...

Ibrahim,

If I might continue from your 30th Jan 10:40pm post...

"In a proper Islamic society..." - Can you identify one that has existed in the past or exists now? No society can uphold its ideals consistently, and so has to be on guard against itself. But any Islamic society has the in-built capacity to be oppressive, should religious leaders choose that. And apparently they sometimes do.

"...it’s not the belief that is punishable, it’s the persistent public declaration..." - So, you're punished for being irritating - so much for the tolerance of Islam. But apparently this isn't always the case anyway. You don't have to be persistent or "intentionally force a showdown with the authorities". All you have to do is download some innocuous material from the internet and show it around. It helps if your brother criticises the authorities.

"living in a Islamic society, surrounded by Muslims, you have to be a Cordoban martyr to insist on insulting your fellow citizens most cherished beliefs" - Apparently so, but why? Isn't that a sad indictment of Islam? Well, it's not a problem for Muslims to insult the cherished beliefs of Western secular culture. It happens regularly. Do you not see the irony when the criticisms that tell us how degenerate our society has become are from these Islamic societies?

It appears to me that the core of the problem is that any society that builds its beliefs and its laws on an ancient system from a time that was inherently barbaric by today's standards, and that still accepts some of its more barbaric methods in principle, is innevitable going to cause conflict, both internally and externally.

Ron Murphy said...

Ibrahim,

The photo-artist analogy - I think you have it the wrong way round. The artist recognises (intuitively if they are not aware of the mechanics of the eye and the action of the brain) that out there is the real world, but in between his understanding of it is this limited instrument, the eye-brain. An artist learns overcome those limitations by being able to analyse reality by repeatedly sampling and analysing the sense data. As with riding a bicycle, it can become second nature. Some artists move on to become more skillful, and are not only able to represent that reality, but able also to capture emotive feelings that might be associated with the scene, or may be able to impose upon it more than is there. And of course there have been many artists that try to capture some essence of what they are trying to express, and may even omit the visual or geometric reality to achive that.

I'd use the photo-artist as an analogy in describing one aspect of the scientific method - to use repeatability in attempt to overcome possible errors and to represent the data that can be understood and accepted by others. I'd also liken religion to abstract art - an attempt to express the essence of some internal ideas, which of course not everybody 'gets', and which has no resemmblance to the real world. Tricky things analogies. Like words, you can make them mean what you want.

The origins of the universe are unknown to everyone, as far as we can tell. The God hypothesis is one possibility, but so far is all we can do is argue about it from a metaphysical point of view. Without the data it's all speculation. With the existence of God still in the stage of metaphysical argument it isn't totally irrational to think God might exist. But there is nothing to tell us what form God might take, how he might reveal himself, whether it be as a personal theistic god, multiple gods, a deistic god, or whether he existed at the beginning but doesn't now... we know nothing of this, except pure speculation.

So in this context, a guy wrote a book. Lots of people believe the book contains the word of God. They have no reason to believe that other than they want to, and the guy who wrote it says they should, and the book itself contains the same claim. Anyone, at any time could make the same claim of their own book. This does occur occasionally. There is no know way to verify or falsify these claims. Any rational person would be hightly sceptical, and in the light of the number of such claims should be sceptical to the point of rejection. This is where Stephen's analogy stands up.

anticant said...

"Twaddle and pseudo-intellectual contortions" is, I think, legitimate cut-and-thrust. I did NOT say Ibrahim's posts are 'scathingly contemptuous', and in fact I respect his good will and stamina in hanging in here.

But I must put on the record, for him and others, that I am not a racist. It would be strange for me to be one, as my maternal grandfather was a Lebanese-born Christian Arab who came to this country as a young man and eventually became a naturalised British subject.

I have no objection to anybody on the score of their race or place of origin. But I have the strongest objections to some of the religious, cultural and social baggage they bring with them if it is inimical to our native traditions and they are unwilling to moderate at least their public behaviour in accord with our British liberal, tolerant way of life.

As for special religious facilities in hospitals, I do not think their provision is a proper function of the NHS. Turning beds towards Mecca is not merely a matter of private devotion; it is a public claim to special privilege.

Needless to say, I also object to Christian hospital chaplains being paid out of public funds.

Ron Murphy said...

Ibrahim,
On your post of January 31, 2008 8:47 AM

"In a context such as ours, vulnerable people get hurt when others indulge in rhetorical positions and emotive language..." - I agree, many Muslims do react that way to mere words or cartoons.

"...my reluctance to engage with inflammatory issues without preparing the ground first..." - The ground needs to be prepared. Many spokesmen for Islam are persistently evasive when questioned about very basic issues regarding human rights. It's like trying to get blood out a stone getting a senior Muslim to say clearly that the severe punishments are still acceptable, and impossible to get them to say clearly they are no longer acceptable. The usual response consists of an explanation of how peaceful Islam is, how Islamic texts have to be put into context, and finally how it's okay anyway because they are hardly ever implemented. Not very convincing.

"Anyway, can kids ask why they should ..." - You basically allowing kids to reject Islam, but removing all opportunities to do so.

Both the above use the 'bad-sculptor' analogy. With your initial concession you start with a massive rock and promise to create a wonderful statue. You start to chip away in what appears to be reasonable stages, removing the fragments you don't need with apparent ease and skill. But, unfortunately you continue to chip away until there is nothing left; what might have been a wonderful statue is a pile rubble at your feet. Your initial concession is worthless. Onlookers can see you've been very busy, even apparently skilful in the use of your tools. But some onlookers have given up and moved on. Some have been taken in by your skill with the tools and will believe they see before them a masterpiece in the rubble. Some have the audacity to ask what happened to the statue.

Here's another example, "there would not be any sanctions, if by that you mean punishment".... "There would be disapproval perhaps, incredulity maybe, irritation" - and maybe rhetoric and emotive language, repression even? Chip, chip, chip.

Ibrahim Lawson said...

Ron et al, you are right. I have been wasting my own and everyone else’s time trying to explain the inexplicable, justify the unjustifiable and defend the indefensible; I must be a complete moron. No wonder people are giving up. If belief in God is non-rational, as I claim at least, any means to get people to accept this belief will be non-rational and therefore indoctrination. Once non-rational beliefs are permitted, they will always be available to trump any move by opponents (the ‘nuclear’ option) leaving only physical force as a means of mediation. Society will inevitably descend into chaos as we start oppressing and slaughtering each other, each of us in the name of our chosen and non-negotiable ideology. There is nothing more to be said; the elephant in the room has revealed himself and we might as well face up to it.

Thank you for helping me to understand.


((BTW, Anticant, I am sorry if you thought I was accusing you of racism – insensitive, pseudo-liberal bigot, perhaps, yes – it was lavenderblue who I though came across as the type to own a bulldog and wear union jack underpants.)

Ron Murphy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ron Murphy said...

Ibrahim,

It's not all bad. The theistic-hypotheses and non-theistic-hypotheses about the origins of the universe (pre-big-bang) are pure speculation. Anything goes, metaphysically. Most of the objections to the religious ideologies are based on what else is deduced by valid rational arguments with questionable premises, or irrational invalid arguments. But, if your God doesn't work to what we understand to be the rational, so be it.

That still doesn't mean you are wrong - from a rational point of view you might have got lucky, at least some of your conclusions might be true. God might exist. From your point of view you knew (had the knowledge, the truth) all the time. Then the same could be said of any Christian.

You're not alone on this planet. You share it with various flaovour of Christian and Muslim, with various kinds of deists and atheists. We can't all be right. We might all be wrong, for if you are right that there are other ways of 'knowing' who knows what lies beyond 'mythos' and 'logos'.

Because you're not alone, and, presumably at least in principle, we all want to get along, the difference between what we believe and what we do is significant. That's why secularism regarding state and education is the fairest principle we can have in common. Let every adult make up their own mind and live the way they choose with the least harm to others and their beliefs. To give every adult that freedom it's essential we don't overload them with any one world view when they are children. I don't know of any secularist that objects to parents bringing their children up as Muslims or Christian, as long as at school at least they had the opportunity to learn other world views and how to question them all.

I'd be interested in your views on this: Beyond Belief, Secularism, 29 Aug 2005.

And this is closer to the Islam I would be less worried about: Beyond Belief, Reformation in Islam, 7 Aug 2006; so I'd be interested in your views on that in the context of the above.

I also accept what you say about the extremists being a minority: Beyond Belief, Islam and Democracy, 9 Feb 2004.

This last interview starts out very promising. Following the young man's interview the participants condemn this minority. They go on criticisms of democracy that are quite valid. But there are also some very mixed views on the freedoms of non-Muslims in an Islamic state. There are at first what appear to be very reassuring views about the interpretation of Islam in regard to human rights; until, that is, Rea touches that Islamic nerve again - the border line you cannot cross, with no compromise. There's the cop-out where they state that although homosexuality is forbidden it's okay in the privacy of your own home (as if Allah's jurisdiction ends at the front door); the hypocrisy and irony where they state that in the strict view of Islam imposing your views on society is not permissible (the expression of homosexuality in public in this case). Chip, chip, chip. Not quite as far removed from the young man's views as I first thought.

No wonder Prof. Haleh Afshar wouldn't go back to a hypothetical Islamic Democracy. There are many valid criticisms of Western democracy's faults - but at least there's hope and the scope to do something about it, in principle, for everyone, no exceptions. Islamic democracy, as expressed by the two gentlemen in the interview, is a sham. The absolutist limits on its tolerance towards and freedoms of some of its citizens clash severely with Western democracy - in principle, not just in practice.

anticant said...

Ibrahim, if you will clarify what is “pseudo-liberal” about my “bigotry”, I’ll gladly debate that with you at length.

And I’ll pass on your comments to lavenderblue, who I’m sure will be very flattered. She lives in a Midlands town where there is – as in so many English towns and cities – a burgeoning Muslim presence making increasingly assertive demands on the authorities and the indigenous population for more public space for the Faith. As a matter of fact, both she and I have personally pleasant Muslim acquaintances whom we like very much: our objections are not to Muslims, but to aspects of Islamic doctrine and practice which strike us as unacceptable in terms of traditional British democratic values. We are neither of us sympathisers with the BNP or any other neo-fascist group. You really should be more careful before you tar people whose actual opinions and track record you know little about with these broad-brush smears.

As I have said ad nauseam, how individuals choose to believe and worship is their own private business. When it becomes public business, because it leads people of similar beliefs to band together in order to promote political and social objectives, it is everybody’s business, and all have not merely the right, but the duty, to scrutinise and to comment if they wish. It is a sad fact that for the past couple of decades – specifically since Islam became a significant presence in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Europe – debates about religion have become much more strident and intolerant. Muslims bear considerable responsibility for this, because of their faith-based intransigence and reluctance to modify their traditional ways of thinking and behaving or to accommodate to the wider society in which they live. This makes many non-Muslims apprehensive, and increasingly frightened. Are you and your fellow Muslims really too stupid to recognise that, far from being discriminated against and excluded “victims”, you are perceived by an increasing number of British non-Muslims as a rapidly growing threat to our traditional way of life? Nothing that you have yet said on Stephen’s blog has persuaded me that this is a false perspective.

I have repeatedly asked you questions which you have not answered. I repeat two of them, and hope you will now address them candidly.

First, is Islam compatible with a secular, pluralist society and an open way of life?

Second, what do you teach your pupils about the wider, non-Islamic society in which they live?

As for “Once non-rational beliefs are permitted, they will always be available to trump any move by opponents (the ‘nuclear’ option) leaving only physical force as a means of mediation. Society will inevitably descend into chaos as we start oppressing and slaughtering each other, each of us in the name of our chosen and non-negotiable ideology. There is nothing more to be said; the elephant in the room has revealed himself and we might as well face up to it”, this is an increasingly likely scenario. But it is not a case of ‘permission’: people believe whatever they want to, or have been taught to, whether officially permitted or not. It is the nature and social effects of the beliefs which is the real issue – not how rational or irrational they are. As I have previously said, “By their fruits you shall know them”. We are continually being told that “Islam is a religion of Peace “, but it doesn’t look like that on the ground. And if you throw in the equally irrational and intolerant American ‘born-again’ Rapturists and neo-Cons who regard the prospect of a Middle Eastern holocaust with relish, there is a real witches’ brew which leaves those of us who say “a plague on all your Faiths” fearing that humanity is already bound hand, foot, and brain in a lethal tumbril which is carrying us all towards nuclear Armageddon at an increasingly rapid pace.

Anyway, that’s what I believe and I think it is up to you, Ibrahim, and your fellow Muslims to play your part in averting such a horrific catastrophe.

anticant said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
anticant said...

On the subject of Islam and Human Rights, I submit the following with the author's permission:

MAKE THE DEFENCE OF HUMAN RIGHTS YOUR NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTION

Message from Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director, National Secular Society


Rather than the usual New Year’s resolutions about reducing your credit card debt, losing weight or giving up smoking, we would urge you all to make one about something much more important to future generations. To vow to support Human Rights. For it is they which underpin our way of life – for many they represent one of the greatest achievements of Western civilisation.

The body overseeing Universal Human Rights is the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC). Taking part in their meetings is a sobering experience. While there are countries, groups and individuals who make wonderful contributions, Human Rights are undoubtedly becoming less universal and inalienable. The individual’s rights are in great danger of becoming alienated in favour of group rights – often for religions.

The proceedings of the UNHRC have become a constant battle between Western nations, on the one hand, and the numerous members of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC), aided by a few countries who always support them and in turn receive support from them. These include China, Cuba and even India.

So, the 56 OIC countries are also making considerable progress on an international declaration on defamation of religion – a kind of all-religions blasphemy super law. Anyone seeking to draw attention to the capital offence of apostasy will be lucky even to be heard, and there is no chance of any action. Anything deemed the slightest bit critical of Islam is immediately jumped upon, and possibly even excised from the official record.

But the problem is much more serious even than apostasy laws or threats to freedom of expression. The whole edifice of Universal Human Rights is crumbling before our very eyes, and the “West” is letting it happen. With all the support the OIC can muster, and with painfully little active opposition from the “West”, those supporting the Universal declaration no longer have the upper hand. There are some honourable exceptions such as Canada and Belgium and the EU is a positive influence, but most Western countries are doing little better than wringing their hands, while others do not even do that. The United States is less than helpful, yet with its support and leadership this depressing picture could be so very different.

And the Secretariat are coming under increasing pressure to give the OIC an unobstructed run. The opportunities for non-Governmental organisations that are prepared to speak out — such as the International Humanist and Ethical Union — are being drastically diminished, if not eroded altogether.

The OIC Secretary-General, Prof. Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu issued a statement to mark Human Rights Day 2007. It reads, in part:
Respect of Human Rights through effective protection and promotion of equality, civil liberties and social justice is a milestone in the OIC Ten Year Plan of Action. In this regard the OIC General Secretariat is considering the establishment of [an] independent permanent body to promote Human Rights in the Member States in accordance with the provisions of the OIC Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam and to elaborate an OIC Charter on Human Rights. The OIC is also committed to encourage its member States to reinforce their national laws and regulations in order to guaranty strict respect for Human Right[s].”

The OIC Cairo Declaration is explicitly based on Shariah law.

According to Wikipedia “The CDHRI concludes that all rights and freedoms mentioned are subject to the Islamic Shariah, which is the declaration's sole source. The CDHRI declares ‘true religion’ to be the ‘guarantee for enhancing such dignity along the path to human integrity’. It also places the responsibility for defending those rights upon the entire Ummah.” This is paving the way for second-class, religious-based group “rights”, rather than individual Universal Human Rights. And unless we are careful, many of the countries with the greatest need of Universal Human Rights support (and a high proportion of them are in OIC countries) will come under a shariah system. See this excellent report on the problem by IHEU’s Roy Brown who has done so much in this area: and also an exposure of the UN Human Rights Council’s ignoble stance on Darfur.

The United Nations has already completely overhauled its Human Rights machinery and this second attempt has been completely undermined as was the first, discredited, one. The whole Universal Human Rights machinery is unravelling for the second, and perhaps final, time while Western states stand by, drumming their fingers.

Meanwhile, the most vulnerable in the world are being betrayed.

We must all try very much harder to support Human Rights from attack, whether that is from religious or cultural forces. Please do anything you can to raise consciousness of this impending crisis for humanity and to put politicians and diplomats everywhere under pressure to take responsibility for protecting Universal Human Rights.

anticant said...

Here are the links to and in Keith Porteous Wood's article:

http://www.secularism.org.uk/
makethedefenceofhumanrightsyourn.html


Organisation of the Islamic Conference:

http://www.oic-oci.org/oicnew/index.asp


Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam [Wikipedia]:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
Cairo_Declaration_on_Human_Rights_in_Islam


IHEU pleads for action on Darfur:

http://www.iheu.org/node/2875

Ibrahim Lawson said...

Anticant - In your view, I have misinterpreted lavenderblue’s comment that she liked the sound of the fact that the Muslims causing all the trouble were seriously ill; perhaps there is another explanation of her choice of words. In terms of liberal doctrine, and traditional British democratic values if you like, what exactly is the objection to Muslims having their beds re-aligned so that they can die, as recommended, facing Mecca, the direction in which they have been praying all their lives? I can’t help feeling that it is because they are basically foreigners, and therefore the emphasis on “British traditions” as compared with the “lunacy” of the benighted heathen. Hence ‘bigot’ - one who is strongly partial to one's own group, religion, race, or politics and is intolerant of those who differ (Webster’s). Perhaps this is being unfair, but it’s what your words suggest and so, if you don’t like being misinterpreted, you should be more careful in how you express yourself.

You have indeed expressed your views “ad nauseam”, stridently in fact and showing little evidence of tolerance of views which you disagree with. And Muslims are certainly not “too stupid to realise that [they] are perceived by an increasing number of British non-Muslims as a rapidly growing threat to our traditional way of life”. It is made obvious in a thousand ways every day, particularly through the so-called ‘news’ media. The problem I have is that the phrase ‘our traditional way of life’ is often a code used by xenophobic bigots to direct their viciousness against Muslims in a seemingly, albeit superficially, acceptable way. Our ‘traditional way of life’ has never stood still and has changed hugely in my lifetime alone (one thinks of attitudes to Sunday shopping, homosexuality, abortion and adultery for example) so frankly, I think it’s a myth.

Your questions: Yes, of course Islam is compatible with a secular, pluralist society and an open way of life (I imagine - since I don’t really know what that last one means). I don’t think it’s the best option, since Islam is actually a far better, more humane, just and civilised system of governance than secular pluralism, but compatibility is certainly possible given the circumstances. As a minority who chose to live in a non-Islamic system, we are obliged to respect that system and obey its laws. We do reserve the right to disagree, and we do expect a certain amount of cooperation from the state to whom we pay our taxes and to whom we have, de facto and to the required extent, submitted our sovereignty; isn’t that part of the social contract? The fact that pseudo-liberal bigots may find that irritating is beside the point.

Secondly, we teach our students what we are required to teach by law via the citizenship curriculum. The textbooks we use, if you are interested, are the ‘Your Life’ series published by Collins, which have long sections on multicultural Britain. What we teach is probably a little more nuanced than you would prefer, but probably more in line with the views of most people in the UK who do not allow the actions of a criminal minority to affect their judgement about the perfectly harmless and law abiding majority of Muslims, who, once again, desire only to be left alone to live peaceful, if occasionally non-rational, lives. As for the things one objects to such as forced marriages and ‘honour’ killings – these are not Islamic but cultural in origin. British law is capable of dealing with the effects of these cultural beliefs and a decent education should see off the beliefs themselves: as is in fact happening – check who is actually doing these things.

I know you personally are not interested in theory, but others reading this may be. My position on Islam as a ‘mystical’ system vis a vis ‘enlightenment rationalism’ I will re-state as simply as I can. No one has yet offered any evidence of being willing to discuss this with me – perhaps because everyone has given up in disgust. But for the record, at least…

A number of seriously interesting thinkers in the last 100 years or so seem to have suggested, what my own experience appears to confirm, that our current way of thinking about things – life, reality, consciousness etc – is perhaps not 100% fully worked out and complete. This would mean we might be wrong about some things we think we know, and we don’t know which. The idea that this may be true but that, nevertheless, we are well on our way and on the right track compared with what came before, coming as it does from within the current thinking, may also be wrong.

If this is true, it suggests that there may be one or more other, different, ways of conceiving reality. One or more of these may be preferable to what we have now. These putative other ways may conflict in some details with what we have now and will therefore seem wrong.

This is a lot of ‘ifs’, but this kind of thing has happened before in the domain of science, for example, where a theory can struggle for a while and them have to give up to a better theory.

I think that Islam is indeed another, better, way of looking at things, but which, unsurprisingly, appears to be at variance with secular humanism for one. This makes it all but impossible to discuss the issue of ‘human rights’ for example. When I say that ‘human rights’ are theoretical entities, and that, furthermore, if they are supposed to be ‘self-evident’, they stand in some need of justification, most readers will recoil in horror, thinking I am advocating some kind of moral anarchy. Anyway, that’s another discussion.

Ron Murphy said...

Ibrahim,

Beds facing Mecca? No problem. It's a reasonable request under the circumstances. "Hence ‘bigot’ - one who is strongly partial to one's own group, religion, race, or politics and is intolerant of those who differ (Webster’s)." - Not too unfair a charge, but a little hypocritical. Listen towards the end of Beyond Belief, Islam and Democracy, 9 Feb 2004. (link in earlier comment). As soon as homosexuality is mentioned all the tolerance goes out the window.

"Yes, of course Islam is compatible with a secular, pluralist society..." - Just as long as it remains a secular democracy. In an Islamic state leading figures of government and the armed forces must be Muslims, and is therefore is less democratic. Islamic states are intolerant of other views to the extent that it criminalises what are considered to be acceptable practices (at least legally) in the West and imposes capital punishment for them.

"a decent education should see off the beliefs themselves" - Except for the above.

"– life, reality, consciousness etc – is perhaps not 100% fully worked out and complete." - I'd agree. Not by science, philosophy, or religion. Consequently it is unreasonable to impose your speculative and imagined values (from a non-believer's point of view) that are derived from your metaphysical interpretations of what little IS known, upon those people that don't agree with you, or are too young to understand, even if YOU have absolute belief in your interpretations. That's why secularism (not atheism), in government and education, is the most neutral stance to take. Imperfect it may be, but it's the best we can do; all existing and past alternatives are far worse. That's why all three Muslim interviewees in the Beyond Belief episode said they'd choose to stay in Britain rather than live in any current Islamic theocracy.

"...one or more other, different, ways of conceiving reality..." - It's the putting into practice that's the main problem, the irrational derivation from a speculative starting point to ridiculous conclusions. Some of the Islamic moral laws on adultery, homosexuality, blasphemy, apostasy are nothing to do with interpretations of ultimate reality. Human mysticism (assuming it is real in some sense other than a trivial mind-state) does not of itself imply God; and God (even if he exists or is real in some sense) does not imply the Quran is genuinely his doing; and the Quran is open to virtually any interpretation you wish. Islam is based on far more unfounded speculation and massive irrational leaps than is reason and science, as means of determining what is real. To take this route: mysticism => God => Quran => apostasy deserves death, requires some very sound reasoning, which has never been forthcoming.

"...a theory can struggle for a while and then have to give up to a better theory." - Yes, that's the point. That's what we are relying on. Nothing is absolutely certain for all time. I'm glad we agree on that. Oh, except Islam. Oh yes, and Christianity, ...

"I think that Islam is indeed another, better, way of looking at things, but which, unsurprisingly, appears to be at variance with secular humanism for one." - Of course it's at variance, and is not better in any sense (unless intolance is better). Secularist democracy doesn't impose limitations based on religion. It only imposes limitations where actions themselves are too imposing on others. For example, the death for repeated display of homosexual affection in public. Your right to impose your belief in the death penalty is too much of an imposition and should be limited; public display of affection by homosexuals is only an imposition to those who don't like to see it - hardly life threatening. That's not to say that are no cultural barriers in a secular democracy - there are grey areas, and public display of affection can go too far, no matter your sexual orientation.

Human rights are theoretical, in the sense that they can be discussed in a theoretical context when framing laws; though as with all laws relating to human activity there are grey areas that should allow some flexibility in practice. They are not self-evident, except in the sense that any society is accustomed to enjoying some rights historically, and some of which may be related genetics. They do have to be thought about. In other words they are a human construct requiring consensus.

Despite the Islam's claim that moral laws are God given there appears to plenty of human interpretation when it suits. It's funny how the laws that call for the strongest penalties in Islam are those relating to perpetuating Islam by any means (apostasy and blasphemy) and those relating to male dominated bigotry (adultery and homosexuality). Keep those because it suits.

anticant said...

Ibrahim, lavenderblue must speak for herself, and may well do so when I have drawn her attention to your latest comment. What I said, and repeat, is that you are wrong to imagine that either she or I are supporters of the BNP.

Hospital beds turned to face Mecca? For once I disagree with Ron. It is no part of the NHS’s job to disrupt its normal service to patients in order to humour the whims [however ‘sacred’, and ‘recommended’ by whom?] of a particular religious sect. The NHS exists to serve the entire community, and the proper criteria for its operation should be solely medical. If adherents to a particular religion [needless to say, yours] want special treatment, they should remove themselves to private care facilities. You are welcome to set up Islamic hospitals and hospices, so long as you pay for them and do not expect the taxpayer to do so. My objection has nothing to do with the patients in question being ‘foreigners’ – I thought you keep insisting that they are British - but everything to do with Islam’s incessant clamour for preferential public treatment.

Incidentally, your persuasive argument that some public funding of Islamic schools ensures state supervision has now been disposed of by last week’s decision to allow a separate ‘faith’ schools inspectorate to be set up.

As for my ‘intolerance’, I certainly am intolerant of others’ intolerance and I see little if any evidence of tolerance for non-Muslims on the part of you and your co-religionists. If Muslims are not, in fact, too stupid to realise that they are perceived by an increasing number of British non-Muslims as a rapidly growing threat to non-Muslims’ traditional British way of life, they are apparently too stupid and self-obsessed to take effective steps to disarm our alleged prejudices by demonstrating that they are groundless.

You say: “Of course Islam is compatible with a secular, pluralist society and an open way of life…. compatibility is certainly possible given the circumstances.” I am unsure of your meaning here. Would compatibility no longer be possible if the circumstances change? [If, for instance, Muslims become an effective majority in all or some regions of the UK?]

You say: “As a minority who chose to live in a non-Islamic system, we are obliged to respect that system and obey its laws.” Reluctantly and grudgingly, I suspect. If so, there are other choices you could make.

You say: ”The perfectly harmless and law abiding majority of Muslims…desire only to be left alone to live peaceful, if occasionally non-rational, lives.” This, of course, is exactly what the great majority [in both senses] of perfectly harmless and law abiding majority of non-Muslims desire. So why cannot we combine to ensure that this becomes a reality? If, as you claim, “the things one objects to such as forced marriages and ‘honour’ killings are not Islamic but cultural in origin”, there should be no real problem. But there is, and it is not all on account of non-Muslim pseudo-liberal bigots. You have perhaps not yet seen this:

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article3295487.ece

Can you put your hand on your heart and honestly say that it has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with Islam? Whatever else you teach your pupils, I hope it is not too ‘nuanced’ to avoid utter condemnation of such practices, and of bodies such as the “Islamic Sharia Council in Britain” who not only condone such atrocities but apparently promote them. If it IS just ‘cultural’, please tell me what the great majority of perfectly harmless and law-abiding Muslims are actually DOING about it?

Pseudo-liberal bigot I may be, but I don’t attempt to excuse the inexcusable.

anticant said...

Ibrahim, I have just posted an Open Letter to you on a later thread, "The Ibrahim Lawson Correspondence". I am also posting it in Anticant's Arena.

Ibrahim Lawson said...

Ron, I think I don’t mind discussing these things with you, but maybe over on my blog so we don’t have to take up any more of Stephen’s space and annoy any of his regulars.

I haven’t listened to the Beyond Beliefs you reference – time, partly, but also because it would probably get on my nerves. I’ve been a Muslim for over 30 years, in the UK most of the time, and there isn’t a lot I have heard. I’m not going to defend anyone else’s words here and many of my co-religionists struggle to explain themselves without realising why. One reason I’m in Islamic education is to try to make a difference and something needs to change, that’s for sure.

I take it that we are actually having two arguments: one practical one about whether Muslims right now and for the foreseeable future in the UK should be considered a threat, in principle and practice; and the other abstract one about whether in theory an Islamic polity would be willing to accept un-Islamic practices on the part of its non-Muslim citizens. Such an Islamic polity does not exist in the world today and in the past the reality has been as messy as any other ideology, including secular liberalism. The two realms, practical and theoretical, tend to overlap but I think should remain pragmatically distinct. Arguing in theory about what would happen IF…..can confuse the issue as to what in practice, right now is possible and desirable.

In a theoretically perfect Islamic system, non-Muslims are not treated as having equal social rights, it's true. They are not required to perform certain services for the state for example, and in return pay extra taxes, though in the past non-Muslims have indeed held positions of power and influence. But we are a long way from that in the UK today and must make the best of what we have got.

Democracy is a strange creature and one I don’t find completely convincing; I find, for example, that it distorts the social process somehow so that the most undesirable types tend to get elected. And what happens when a majority want an Islamic state?

Imposing my non-rational views? Actually, all that is theoretically required of non-Muslims in an theoretical Islamic state is that they obey the law, not that they believe anything in particular; but anyway, let’s continue this elsewhere…

anticant said...

"I haven’t listened to the Beyond Beliefs you reference – time, partly, but also because it would probably get on my nerves."

What a convenient way of avoiding awkwardnesses! If I turned away from topics that get on my nerves, I wouldn't think of Islam from one month's end to another.

"I take it that we are actually having two arguments: one practical one about whether Muslims right now and for the foreseeable future in the UK should be considered a threat, in principle and practice; and the other abstract one about whether in theory an Islamic polity would be willing to accept un-Islamic practices on the part of its non-Muslim citizens."

Actually, they are one and the same argument - because if non-Muslims have no cause to feel apprehensive about their status and role in an Islamic state, British Muslims would no longer be viewed as a threat.

Your comments on a prospective Islamic state are not reassuring! You say: "We are a long way from that in the UK today and must make the best of what we have got." Meaning, I suppose, that you would prefer Britain to be an Islamic state in which non-Muslims had inferior status?

"What happens when a majority want an Islamic state?" Depends on the size of the majority, I suppose, and how far non-Muslims are prepared to go in resisting its imposition.

Tony Lloyd said...

I'm a bit late coming in on this, but I just wanted to pick up on two things in Ibrahim's posts.

The first is in the item quoted in the blog entry:

"I have found thinking based solely on induction and deduction to be singularly useless, except, via negtiva, in showing where the answer does not lie."

and the second is the whole of the post dated 28th Jan at 6.58pm ending in "So its ‘heads I win, tails you lose’ again."

I am not going to use the "I" word (I have read too much Popper) but just heartily agree with Ibrahim on the "negative" point. Yes, reasoning is only of use to show us where we have gone wrong. Let us agree that reason and evidence can never give us a positive reason for anything (you may take this as a methodological conceit, I take it quite literally). Whilst we may use reason ONLY to know where we are wrong, we are left with the fact that we CAN use reason to know where we are wrong.

Unfortunately finding out where you are wrong is precisely what the ‘heads I win, tails you lose’ post denies. It relfects a desire not for knowledge ("I get data from non-scientific sources") but a desire to avoid the controlling action of reason. What is the point? If you make a true statement as a result of revalation, mysticism science, dreaming or drug use reason (and especially logic) is not going to rule it out as false. That's a real win-win situation. If you make a true statament you make a true statement. If you make a false one you might find out that it is false and the next statement you make might be true (or nearer the truth).

Why stop yourself finding out that you are wrong? Feel free to come back to me with a better explanation than

"I want to say some things even if they are false".