Sunday, January 13, 2008

Reply to Ibrahim Lawson

This is part of an ongoing discussion with the head of an Islamic school, Ibrahim Lawson, focusing on his suggestion that in any good Islamic school "Islam is a given and never challenged".

Apologies to Ibrahim for delay in responding.

I think this has been a very interesting and useful exchange, myself, and am very pleased Ibrahim has contributed. Certainly I have a somewhat clearer idea of what he believes.

Ibrahim says:

“I have been trying to suggest that the total chaos of his ‘nuclear option’ might be avoided by appeal to some other criteria of justification than those of the ‘techno-rationality’ (or ‘calculative thinking’ or whatever it might be) of the rational-empirical intellectual tradition characteristic particularly of the European enlightenment up to modern times. Within that tradition, I see no room for religion: it becomes absurd. And I think this cannot be stressed enough.”

As I see it, I am not applying some modern Western phenomenon - “techno-rationality”, whatever that is.

I am just applying bog-standard rationality – the same sort of rationality that people have been applying to practical and other problems and questions since the dawn of time.

[Incidentally, I have been reading Amartya Sen’s book The Argumentative Indian, which makes very clear that in C16th India, for example, the Muslim ruler Akbar was very keen on applying reason and encouraging individuals to think and question rather than uncritically accept Islam. His subjects were even free to reject Islam if they so wished (this at the time the European Inquisition was burning Giordano Bruno for heresy – so much for the idea that the European Enlightenment invented the tolerant secular society). The idea that “reason”, and indeed secularism, is essentially some sort of modern European invention is post-modern cobblers, I suspect.]

Also: lots of people who apply reason (including Western philosophers) think religious belief is reasonable. Perhaps you are too pessimistic?

Certainly you reach for rational argument whenever you think it will support your case. But when the argument starts to run against you, you reach for the skepticism-about-reason button. That's what I call "going nuclear".

But what I REALLY want to know is: what are these other "criteria of justification" by which Islam might be justified? If you respond to anything in this post, do please respond to this.

Ibrahim continues:

“So, for example, I have not said that religion and morality cannot be thought about critically, only that there are limitations in the scope of ‘criticality’, at least as usually understood, especially when it comes to foundational principles.”

We can all agree that their are limits to what reason can show (which is not to say it cannot show religion is false - perhaps it can).

Ibrahim says:

If you think that Islam is about teaching blind acceptance of a whole worldview, as many of you seem to, then come into any Islamic school in the country and see for yourself that this is not true.”


Frankly, I don’t believe this.

I have a great deal of anecdotal evidence that many Muslims - and even Muslim teachers, do indeed want uncritical acceptance from kids.

Including evidence from a member of one of the SACREs, who has been into many such schools, and was "horrified".

I could also quote a few Muslims at you, including a headmaster who doesn't even want his kids mixing with those of unbelievers lest they be "corrupted". Hard to believe he's encouraging much independent critical thought in his school.

There's also the not unrelated statistic that 36% of young British Muslims think the appropriate penalty for any adult Muslim that leaves the faith is... death. Doesn't sound like they've been raised to think and question, does it?

I also note that when I offer to come into your school to offer your kids some arguments against theism, you turn me down flat.

But, hey, if you really do think young Muslims should be encouraged to think and question about their own faith, then perhaps you won't object to the Government introducing statutory requirements so far as getting children to think critically about morality and religion is concerned? Which is what I am after.

"On the other hand, if you are looking for imperfectly critical thinkers doing their best to teach to teach critical thinking then you will not be disappointed, either in Islamic or any other kinds of school.

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


Yes but this is not a reason for discouraging children from asking fundamental questions about morality and religion.

Bbut you say you don't discourage it, so fine. Or, are you saying that? Perhaps you are saying: "Yes kids can think critically about Islam (about e.g. whether Mohummad meant this, or that), but not when it comes to the fundamentals of faith". See - I am not sure. Can you clarify?

“Next, your point about each of us being our own ‘ultimate moral authority’. What I said was that I did not see that you had actually argued for this belief, only asserted it; I see no argument to deal with here yet. I tried to argue that the concept of total personal moral autonomy breaks down upon examination and I suggested that that was why you had been unable to provide a supporting argument.”

There was an argument, in fact. It was based on the premise that while it would be wrong to blame someone for doing something chemical that the chemistry prof. told them to do, it would not be wrong to blame someone for doing something immoral that their religious authority told them to do. Morality is not like chemistry. When it comes to morality, the buck stops with you. It won’t do to say: “But they told me to do it” and point to an “expert”. The argument is here. If you reject it, then I don’t see how you avoid excusing the mass murderer who murders on the instructions of their moral/religious authority. Do you excuse that?

“I have no problem with teaching children to think critically, including about religion and morality and critical thinking itself (in fact I insist on it) and I too believe that a better society would be the result.”

Good (though I need some clarification on what this means - see above) But then it’s hard to reconcile this with your original statement that in any good Islamic school “Islam is a given and never challenged”.

That, of course, is what this entire debate has been about. Or at least I thought it was.

“What appears to me to be irrelevant, because non-existent, is your response to the serious questions I have repeatedly raised about the extent of the remit of rational-empirical thinking in determining how we understand our existence and our consequent decisions as to how to lead our lives and organise our societies, including our education system.”

My view is, we should apply reason as best we can. I don’t say it can necessarily answer all our questions about life, the universe and everything. I also acknowledge there are classic skeptical worries even about reason itself. However, I also pointed out why I thought that sort of general skeptical worry was rather beside the point to the debate I thought we were having.

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

That would be a very interesting discussion to have, but it’s not the one I thought we were having. I thought we were discussing whether children should be encouraged uncritically to accept Islam.

"Philoso-babble aside, it is clear in retrospect that what most of the contributors to this discussion have wanted is to share their scorn, dislike, fear or hatred of Islam."

Personally, I seriously dislike Authoritarian religion. The kind that requires uncritical acceptance. Seems to me, many Muslims go for that. Others (15thC Akbar) don’t. The same is true of the other major religions, as well. They too have their Authoritarian wings. My dislike is not for all Islam, and indeed it extends far beyond Islam. It even extends to Authoritarian atheism, in fact!"

Let me finish with some questions:

You say you encourage critical thinking in class, even about Islam. But:

(i) 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.

31 comments:

Steve Chester said...

"Within that tradition, I see no room for religion: it becomes absurd. And I think this cannot be stressed enough.”

It appears to me that Ibrahim's made a poor choice of words, here. When rationality is raised to an absolute ideal, there is no room for faith.

In my experience, I've often seen reason wielded, as the dominant cultural value, by the non-religious against the religious, much in the same way that empowered religious blocks wield their morality in the other direction. The "best of intentions" are always involved, but such efforts are a grave assault upon a person's culture and community.

When one suggests that a religious body deconstruct their faith and examine their traditions in the face of logic and reason, one is asking them to demean their lifestyle, with the unspoken hope that they will admit it's the nonsense one takes it for, and abandon it for a more terrestrial philosophy.

While religions, on an international scale, have their proud nails, they are often the basis for strong communities and support systems. They are, at the very least, more constructive than the rampant nihilism I see among my generation.

The Barefoot Bum said...

I have to agree with Steve Chester.

It appears to me that Ibrahim's made a poor choice of words, here. When tolerance is raised to an absolute ideal, there is no room for racism.

In my experience, I've often seen tolerance wielded, as the dominant cultural value, by the non-racist against the racist, much in the same way that empowered racist blocks wield their morality in the other direction. The "best of intentions" are always involved, but such efforts are a grave assault upon a person's culture and community.

When one suggests that a racist body deconstruct their racism and examine their traditions in the face of democratic tolerance, one is asking them to demean their lifestyle, with the unspoken hope that they will admit it's the nonsense one takes it for, and abandon it for a more tolerant philosophy.

While racists, on an international scale, have their proud nails, they are often the basis for strong communities and support systems. They are, at the very least, more constructive than the rampant tolerance I see among my generation.

The Barefoot Bum said...

Moral: Any argument for religion can be converted, mutatis mutandis to an equally valid argument* for racism, sexism, and even genocidal colonialism. Such arguments are, contrary to Steve's complaint, the very essence of moral nihilism.

*or, more precisely, an equally invalid argument

Sceptic Anonymous said...

Stephen if you want more historical examples of tolerant Islam I suggest you should read William Dalrymple's, The Last Mughal (London, 2006). Bahadur Shaz Zafar the last Mughal Emperor of India had a very peculiar / syncretic religion. His mother was a Hindu and he was a Sufi who ultimately believed that even Hindus could be saved so long they led a good life. Out of respect of his Hindu subjects (and his mother I guess) beef was also banned along with pork. Hindu holidays were celebrated by the King while the Hindu elite paid their respects to Sufi shrines.

I also found very striking that some prominent Hindu thinkers had actually received madrasas education!

What we see is an example of how tolerant Islam could (should?) be. Dalrymple argues that after the failure of the Indian mutiny (or first war of independence if you wish) in 1857 Islam in India became more purist and aggressive that eventually led to the separation of India into a Muslim and a Hindu country.

Like all religions Islam is also about interpretation. You can a liberal / open minded one which can be tolerant of other views. Or you can have a firebrand one, not much different from the hysterical Christianity of the Middle Ages when people died on the stake for daring to challenge the boundaries set by the Church and the Bible.

The Barefoot Bum said...

If Islam were open to interpretation, what would it be that Ibrahim Lawson seeks to place outside the domain of critical inquiry?

Steve Chester said...

Any generalized argument against religion based on guilt by association to a parody is an argument for cultural intolerance.

Some level of moral nihilism is a necessity to propagate tolerance within a society. As all moralities are based on values, and most values are subjective, an objective morality would be incomplete. Favouritism of one's own values above those of another is the root of intolerance. While ethical arguments can be made against extremes, that line of judgement tends to lead to blanket dampening of all foreign value systems and a slow homogenization of human culture and philosophy. Tell me about racism now.

anticant said...

"Favouritism of one's own values above those of another is the root of intolerance."

Not if one's own values are tolerant and others' values are intolerant!

Do you espouse mindless moral relativism?

The Barefoot Bum said...

Steve Chester: Tell me about racism now.

Unfortunately, more than 40 years of experience speaking, reading and writing the English language has left me woefully unprepared and unable to understand what you just said.

I guess I'll have to stick with the kindergarten stuff like metaphysics and quantum mechanics.

Steve Chester said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steve Chester said...

I concede. I see now how my words could be interpreted, if taken too far. I don't see any arguments here that couldn't be abused through exaggeration and mockery. My position is one of temperance. Fair judgement cannot be passed upon values one does not hold.

Please, try to enlighten me. In a multicultural society, I don't see an alternative to moral relativism that doesn't encourage an imperialistic imposition of one set of values above all others.

anticant said...

Steve Chester, if you really don't understand that in order to keep a society relatively free, open, pluralistic, and tolerant it is necessary to say 'No' - sometimes with force - to totalitarian intolerance, there is little I can add.

If it strikes you as 'imperialistic' for believers in Western, Enlightenment democratic values to vigorously oppose fascism, communism, and other secular dictatorships, as well as theocratic totalitarianisms such as Islam, Roman Catholicism, and other bigoted 'we are born again and get the Truth from God/Allah' mindsets - so be it!

In Transactional Analysis terms, all these peoples' common stance is "We're OK - You're not OK". I reject it. They are not OK by me.

anticant said...

Further, there are no 'multicultural societies'. We live in a multicultural world, but in individual societies different cultures exist more or less uneasily alongside one another. At present, most of the unease in Europe stems from the growing presence of Islam, which does not accept - and indeed professes to despise - what many of its adherents term 'degenerate' Western values - see:

http://newhumanist.org.uk/1622

[I shall be interested in Ibrahim's comments on this article.]

This series of threads began in response to Ibrahim's statement elsewhere that as headmaster of an Islamic school, he teaches his pupils that Islam is 'the Truth' - a given, not to be questioned. Stephen, and others, raised the issue of whether such teaching is indoctrination as opposed to true education. An important aspect for me is that, whatever it is labelled, such teaching should not receive a penny of public funding, but should be subsidised by those who believe in it and not by the taxpayer.

Now tell me I am 'imperialistic' and 'intolerant'.

Steve Chester said...

"In Transactional Analysis terms, all these peoples' common stance is "We're OK - You're not OK". I reject it. They are not OK by me."

But that's exactly my point. You're expressing support for totalitarian enforcement of your values. That's absolutist, not pluralist, and judging by the fading freedoms of people in many "free, open", Western democracies, it's prevalent.

Steve Chester said...

On the point of school funding, then, I agree in principle. Moderation, however, would be preferable to a complete cut of funds.

anticant said...

As my values aren't 'totalitarian', preserving them against those that are is not 'totalitarian' either.

Of course, if you belong to the extreme libertarian school which maintains that if 51% vote for a totalitarian party, then dictatorship is the legitimately chosen option and should be submitted to by the 49% minority [what price the American Revolution?], then there's nothing more to be said.

Remember that Hitler was democratically voted into power in Germany and consider the consequences. To describe my position that pluralistic, democratic values are superior to intolerant 'winner takes all' ones as 'totalitarian' is a very humpty dumptyish use of the word!

Popper summed all this up pretty well in "The Open Society and its Enemies", and a more recent discussion of the dilemmas facing democrats is Fareed Zakaria's "The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad" [ISBN 0-393-04764-4]

The Barefoot Bum said...

Tolerance and multiculturalism:

The problem with [Steve's] stance, though, is that nobody supports absolute tolerance. We don't tolerate murderers, thieves, rapists, people who don't pay their taxes, or even people who jaywalk. The Nazis presumably had some sort of prosaic law enforcement, but we are not Nazi-like just because we enforce prosaic civil law.

The question is not whether to be intolerant of anything, it's about what specifically to be intolerant of; not whether but where to draw the line.

The Barefoot Bum said...

Oops... Tolerance and multiculturalism.

Ibrahim Lawson said...

Well it’s been a while and things are moving on without me. I have actually spent several hours writing various detailed responses to the points that have been raised, but at the end or the day I always end up seeing several moves ahead and it’s not encouraging.

As of last night I now have 587 hits on my name in Google and I admit to being more than slightly ambivalent about that. Some of the comments on various blogs etc are really quite disturbing. There seems to be an intractable tendency to entrench – from ‘indoctrination is bad’ to ‘Islam is evil’.

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 tp 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?

The question of the character of Heidegger’s thought requires a special force when one considers that, having stepped back out of philosophy, thinking takes on a likeness to that which lies beyond philosophy – viz. poetry and mysticism. Heidegger has repeatedly said that thinking and poetry dwell in the closest proximity, and this alliance has often been touched upon in the literature on Heidegger. But Heidegger has also said that “the most extreme sharpness and depth of thought belongs to genuine and great mysticism.” (SG, 71) Now the relationship of Heidegger to mysticism is never discussed with any detail in the literature. Of course, Heidegger’s later writings are frequently characterised, and usually unfavourably, as a “mysticism of being” but never with any serious discussion of what mysticism is.”

From ‘The Mystical Element in Heidegger’s Thought’, by Robert Caputo. (Some pages are available by googling Heidegger+mysticism+thinking. Please have a look at this before forming any opinion on the above excerpt, which gives very little to go on.)

The problem I am having with this discussion is interesting and I have learned a few things. One is the obvious – that we have different paradigms for thinking about the human condition. For some people, politics is the most important perspective; for others, feminism or psychology or anthropology or economics or science or philosophy or theology. For me, ‘mysticism’ is the meta-narrative which includes and explains all the others and why they ultimately fail. What this blog is basically about, on the threads concerning Islamic schools, is politics, with some philosophical issues from time to time, which are regularly dismissed by some contributors as beside the point (as is my insistence on talking about ‘the mystical’). And it IS irrelevant, perhaps, if what you really want is a political argument. But I am not going to give anyone a political argument on the terms that have been proposed because I think the whole thing is a distraction; and thus I am, quite fairly in a way, accused of avoiding the issue. But in my mind I am not avoiding the issues, I am trying to speak about them in a way that makes sense to me by going to the heart of the matter – i.e. the mystical, in the Heideggerian sense of “the most extreme sharpness and depth of thought”. Why settle for anything less?

Until we have uncovered the roots of our disagreements, we will not be able to communicate effectively. This was a point I made earlier by mentioning MacIntyre on ethics. In this light, more or less everything that has been said about religious belief has been neither here nor there in my view, and hence we are no nearer to evaluating Stephen’s original claim that my school “should not be tolerated” than we were in the first place.

Stephen Law said...

Hello Ibrahim - thanks for this contribution and all your contributions, in fact. I am not quite sure how to respond anymore, to be honest, as you are not, in the main, responding to me questions or points, but retreating to a sort of mysticism that refuses to acknowledge the role of reason. You say:

**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?"**

Isn't this, in essence, a refusal to consider or indeed put any rational argument in this area?

If so, I think I've already dealt with that suggestion in my earlier postings on "the nuclear option".

anticant said...

Spirituality is a universal human attribute, inherent in the non-religious as well as the religious personality. There are many different traditions and strands of mysticism, including non-theistic meditation and contemplation, which many of us who do not count ourselves as 'religious' practise. What has any of this to do with "knowing as an absolute, incontrovertible certainty that there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet and messenger"?

As Stephen says, such an assertion negates any serious philosophical or intellectual discussion. If Ibrahim is unable or unwilling to provide any supporting evidence for his 'absolute, incontrovertible certainty', it merely remains his unsubstantiated opinion.

anticant said...

And, of course, Ibrahim’s refusal to engage in political discussion about the impact of Islam upon British life and values conveniently lets him off the hook of answering my oft-repeated question as to whether he sees any conflict between what he teaches his pupils about Islam and the tolerant, pluralistic, liberal, democratic society in which the vast majority of those of us who are not Muslims aspire to live?

The issue here, which I see Ibrahim as dodging, is that far from being a ‘distraction’, politics is the nub of the argument. Islam is by its very nature a political project as well as a religion: unless I am completely mistaken, it postulates universal rule by an Islamic theocracy as Allah’s ultimate will for the world. Is it therefore surprising that those of us who would be happy for the Muslims among us to worship as they wish if we did not feel threatened and ultimately targeted as ‘infidels’ – i.e. second-class citizens – by their faith are becoming increasingly alarmed and concerned to know what Ibrahim and his fellow Muslim teachers are indoctrinating into their pupils about the wider society they live in?

Ibrahim Lawson said...

Stephen, thanks for the reply.

You say – “I am not quite sure how to respond anymore, to be honest, as you are not, in the main, responding to me questions or points …”

I think we are all picking and choosing which points to respond to, to some extent, and hence skewing the conversation onto grounds that we personally feel more relevant than others. My perception has been that the things I think provide fruitful grounds for progress are ignored or dismissed, while what are obviously for others the main bones of contention are to me either irrelevant or topics which are so fraught with potential for misinterpretation that any exchange of opinions would be premature while basic areas of disagreement remain unexamined. Much of what Anticant writes falls into this latter category. Plus your questions about whether a student in an Islamic school would be ‘allowed’ to reject Islam: there is just no way to give an answer at the moment that would qualify under the terms proposed. It’s almost like ‘have you stopped beating your wife?’ It’s hard to answer without accepting the presuppositions of the question, and then you’re dammed either way. I think some deconstruction is called for. Unfortunately, the same could be said of the way the majority of Muslims seem to be speaking about Islam. There’s a kind of time-warp in which modernist rationalists are arguing with medieval theologians (which is where the cries of ‘burn the unbelievers’ must come from; but also, to be fair, the Humean disdain for religious belief:

"If we take in our hand any volume of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance, let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames, for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion")

No dialogue here.

However, I take it as a positive that you now are not quite sure how to respond. Perhaps you did not mean it that way, but as more of a sigh of regret at my wilful refusal to talk sense. In fact this is the impression you give when you continue -

“… but retreating to a sort of mysticism that refuses to acknowledge the role of reason.”

I think ‘retreat’ is something of a value judgement (why should it not be an advance?). Do I refuse the role of reason? I really want to say that I would like to think that ‘reason’ can almost recognise its own limitations except that we seem to approach some kind of self-referential circularity at that point, where whatever lies beyond is no longer subject to the same criteria. Does that mean it doesn’t exist, or that we can’t talk about it in some way and even understand what each other are saying? I don’t believe so.

But then I am not sure we have a 100% clear understanding of what ‘reason’ means. You might say that we have a good enough idea, 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? So I feel we are getting to a point where we are clearer about the real issue in question.

This from Philosophical Investigations: “The more narrowly we examine actual language, the sharper becomes the conflict between it and our requirement. (For the crystalline purity of logic was, of course, not a result of investigation: it was a requirement.) The conflict becomes intolerable; the requirement is now in danger of becoming empty. We have got onto the slippery ice where there is no friction and so in a certain sense the conditions are ideal, but also, just because of that, we are unable to walk. We want to walk: so we need friction. Back to the rough ground! (107)

I feel that I am constantly being asked to explain myself in terms of some crystalline purity of logic which is inadequate and inappropriate for the task at hand – viz justifying my epistemological position on Islam (which in turn underpins my approach to education in this respect).

I deliberately put my position about the unusual and uncompromising nature of my Islamic belief in as stark and bald a way as possible because I think that there is a much larger gulf to be highlighted between Islam as a belief system and non-Islamic thought than is generally recognised. I am not in favour of trying to explain Islam in terms of traditional European thought, or any other form of secular rationality, or to draw any comparisons between them. Why? Because Islam really is something quite different and that is what I want to discuss and what I think our society needs to discuss. But we won’t be able to discuss it until we have opened up some kind of common ground that is not merely Islam translated into concepts and terms that are not appropriate and serve to conceal rather than reveal the essence of what is concerned. The point I am trying to make is that we need to struggle to open up this new ground (if we want to, of course), it is not just lying there waiting for us already prepared. We do not yet know what we are talking about; I do not really know how to respond to you. Whatever I can say seems to you to be avoiding the issue or retreating into literal non-sense. You say -

“Isn't this, in essence, a refusal to consider or indeed put any rational argument in this area?”

and I say, I don’t feel that this is the case, only that anything I find I can say that might be termed ‘rational argument’ doesn’t hit the spot somehow. Mystics have never claimed to be rational as far as I know, and Islam is, at its heart, a mysticism. Does this mean we can’t talk about it at all?

I sometimes feel that we are not only not speaking the same language but not even using language in the same way. In the past I have thought of this as if there are these two tectonic plates (worldviews, if you like) rubbing against each other, but that the fault line is fractal – meaning infinitely complex. Somewhere down there, along this fractal edge, if we look hard enough, we may find the join, where you and I can finally say, I am beginning to understand where you are coming from (except that I have the impression that I do already have a much better idea of your position that you do of mine). And then the metaphor breaks down perhaps, or we reach the magma level or whatever.

A lot of Muslims, thanks to their basically secular western education seem to think that Islam can be perfectly well explained and justified in western secular terms. I don’t believe this and think it is a mistake to attempt. Rather we need to redefine the language of western secularism (or whatever we want to call it – the way people tend to think today) before any understanding of Islam is possible, a least any understanding that has any resonance with the truth as Muslims see it. (But then maybe you think it requires only anthropological explanation).

The common sense view of people like Anticant and millions like him is that language is a labelling system (the Augustinian position which Wittgenstein critiques) and that truth is an attribute of propositions in their ‘correspondence’ with ‘the facts’. Furthermore, ‘knowledge’ is the holding of beliefs which are true (see above) and justified (by reference to Humean type principles). Something like this has become the dominant model. I am not sure it’s right. And if we are not sure we are using these basic concepts in the same way, we will not understand each other.

So, if you have the patience, it is this area I think we should focus on: Islam functions under quite different suppositions to secularism, atheism, humanism, Marxism, feminism etc etc and also, I believe, Christianity and Judaism. I think we can talk about this nevertheless. And I still don’t think my pupils are a threat to society.

(Incidentally, here’s a passage I rather like from Plato’s 7th letter, referring I think to the process of inquiry into understanding: “It is only when all these logoi (names and definitions, visual and other sensations or data) are rubbed together and subjected to tests in which questions and answers are exchanged in good faith and without malice that finally, when human capacity is stretched to its limit, a spark of understanding and intelligence flashes out and illuminates the subject at issue.”

anticant said...

Ibrahim, I don't think I am the only one who disagrees with you who wants an honest discussion without malice. Our difficulty is that you refuse to discuss issues we consider important - indeed, crucial - on the pretext that "any exchange of opinions would be premature while basic areas of disagreement remain unexamined." You then say: "Much of what Anticant writes falls into this latter category", and later in your post you attribute to me philosophical views on the function of language and the nature of truth which I do not, in fact, hold.

My difficulty, you see, is that I would LIKE to be convinced that your pupils and co-religionists are not a potential threat to the only kind of society I consider worth living in - but you decline to give me any reasons or reassurances calculated to change my mind because you assert that such a discussion would be "premature" because of unspecified unresolved disagreements.

I find your position unconvincing and unsatisfactory.

Ibrahim Lawson said...

Anticant - it would be helpful if you could articulate what you understand the words 'truth' and 'knowledge' to mean, if you do not subscribe to the beliefs that I have incorrectly attributed to you, among others.

Ibrahim Lawson said...

BTW, in response to this from Anticant:

see: http://newhumanist.org.uk/1622

[I shall be interested in Ibrahim's comments on this article.]

my comment is that the article is superficial, journalistic rubbish full of blatant bias and distortions.

anticant said...

Thanks, Ibrahim, for the invitation [challenge?] I am not a professional philosopher, and my answers will doubtless seem superficial to others who post on this blog. But I will endeavour to marshal my thoughts during the next few days, and will ask Stephen to be kind enough to post them as a separate thread.

As a starter , may I ask you to ponder the distinctions between FACTS, OPINIONS, BELIEFS, and ASSERTIONS UNSUPPORTED BY EXTERNAL EVIDENCE.

What is 'reality'? Do we live in a real world, or a dream world?

Your response to the 'Deobandi' article is predictable. I leave others who read it to judge for themselves.

Post-Islamist said...

Mr Anticant writes movingly about "the tolerant, pluralistic, liberal, democratic society in which the vast majority of those of us who are not Muslims aspire to live."

His false consciousness is remarkable in its naivety. See this for an alternative view - -

http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article19142.htm

anticant said...

Post-Islamist, whoever you are, you are a dab-hand at the condescending sneer. I read Information Clearing House regularly, and am an admirer of Paul Craig Roberts. If you bothered to look at my blog - Anticant's Arena - you would know that I am as vehemently opposed to American neo-Con 'born again' exceptionalism run amok as I am to totalitarian Islam. Is it beyond your comprehension that one can be a tolerant liberal democratic pluralist who loathes totalitarians of all stripes?

Whoever is 'naive', it isn't me!

Post-Islamist said...

Antique Aunt: Ideology is a process accomplished by the so-called thinker. Consciously, it is true, but with a false consciousness. The real motive forces impelling him remain unknown to him; otherwise it simply would not be an ideological process. Hence he imagines false or apparent motives. ...

It is above all this appearance of an independent history of state constitutions, of systems of law, of ideological conceptions in every separate domain, which dazzles most people. If Luther and Calvin “overcome” the official Catholic religion, or Hegel “overcomes” Fichte and Kant, or if the constitutional Montesquieu is indirectly “overcome” by Rousseau with his “Social Contract,” each of these events remains within the sphere of theology, philosophy or political science, represents a stage in the history of these particular spheres of thought and never passes outside the sphere of thought. And since the bourgeois illusion of the eternity and the finality of capitalist production has been added as well, even the victory of the physiocrats and Adam Smith over the mercantilists is accounted as a sheer victory of thought; not as the reflection in thought of changed economic facts but as the finally achieved correct understanding of actual conditions subsisting always and everywhere ...

Stephen Law said...

Does post-Islamist mean that thinking never gets us any closer to the truth (or at least - there's no reason to suppose it does)?

If so, that's the nuclear button again. I think I need to do another post on going nuclear.

anticant said...

I'd rather be an 'Antique Aunt' than a deconstructionist postmodernist Post-Islamist. As I don't subscribe to any of the ideologies you catalogue, I am in general agreement with your thesis. But has it occurred to you that the version of 'reality' espoused by Muslims is just one more naive false-conscious ideology?

It would be nice if we could get back to the questions posed by Stephen in his post at the beginning of this thread, and get some straightforward answers from Ibrahim. But it doesn't look as if we're going to.