The Latest by the Philosopher/Maverick on Islam

0. As I indicated in “The Maverick and the Philosopher,” my post of January 4, 2015, my respect for the thinking of the philosopher, named Bill Vallicella, who writes for the blog, Maverick Philosopher, has as a counter-balance my despair over that of the maverick, also named Bill Vallicella, who writes there too. Two or three of the Maverick Philosopher’s recent posts related to Islam illustrate the difference between the thinking of the one and the other.

1. The quality of the thinking of the Maverick Philosopher’s philosopher is evident in his February 20, 2015, post, “The God of Christianity and the God of Islam: Same God? (2015).” In it the author reflects on the difficulty of choosing between the two “two competing views”:

V1: Christian and Muslim can worship the same God, even though one of them must have a false belief about God, whether it be the belief that God is unitarian or the belief that God is trinitarian.

V2:  Christian and Muslim must worship different Gods precisely because they have different conceptions of God.  So it is not that one of them has a false belief about the one God they both worship; it is rather that one of them does not worship the true God at all.

The Maverick Philosopher’s philosopher’s concluding paragraph-ette is the entirely reasonable:

So it looks like there is no easy answer to the opening question.  It depends on the resolution of intricate questions in the philosophy of language.

I wholeheartedly recommend the post to you. But let me suggest, if I may, that in the course of reading it you take a few moments to ponder what difference, if any, there would be in the course of the discussion if one were to substitute “Jew” for “Muslim.”

2. But then there is the thinking of the Maverick Philosopher’s maverick, as evidenced in his February 22, 2015, post, “Citizens Lynching Citizens.” Despite the title, the primary focus of the piece is on Islamic terrorism, Islamic terrorism as horrifically exhibited in the beheading by “Muslim jihadis” of “Egyptian Coptic Christians on a Libyan beach.”

The maverick begins by asking us to:

Imagine a history teacher who tells his students that in the American South, as late as the 1960s, certain citizens lynched certain other citizens.  Would you say that the teacher had omitted something of great importance for understanding why these lynchings occurred?  Yes you would.  You would point out that the lynchings were of blacks by whites, and that a good part of the motivation for their unspeakable crimes was sheer racial animus.  In the case of these crimes, the races of the perpetrators and of their victims are facts relevant to understanding the crimes.  Just to describe the lynchings accurately one has to mention race, let alone to explain them. [The emphases here, as in the quoted texts to follow, are his.]

Analogously:

Or consider the case of a history teacher who reports that in Germany, 1933-1945, certain German citizens harassed, tortured, enslaved, and executed other German citizens.  That is true, of course, but it leaves out the fact that the perpetrators were Nazis and (most of) the victims Jews.  Those additional facts must be reported for the situation to be properly described, let alone explained.  Not only that, the Nazis were acting from Nazi ideology and the Jew were killed for being Jews.

Analogously, again, the beheading by “Muslim jihadis” of “Egyptian Coptic Christians on a Libyan beach”:

According to recent reports, some Muslim jihadis beheaded some Egyptian Coptic Christians on a Libyan beach. Now beheading is not lynching.  And religion is not the same as race. But just as race is relevant in the lynching case, religion is relevant in the beheading case.  That the perpetrators of the beheadings were Muslims and the victims Christians enters into both an adequate description and an adequate explanation of the evil deeds of the former.

I have no problem with the analogies. In fact, on my first reading of the paragraphs just quoted, I thought I was reading the philosopher.

3. In reading the next paragraph, however, I began to have my doubts.

This is especially so since the Muslims were acting from Islamic beliefs and the Christians were killed for their Christian beliefs.  It was not as if some merely nominal Muslims killed some merely nominal Christians in a dispute over the ownership of some donkeys.

Now, mind you, it is not that I want to simply deny that the Muslim jihadis were acting from Islamic beliefs or deny that the Christians were killed for their Christian beliefs. Just restricting our attention to the Quran, we can note that Muslim jihadis can, after all, appeal to the so-called “Sword Verse”:

And when the sacred months have passed, then kill the polytheists wherever you find them and capture them and besiege them and sit in wait for them at every place of ambush. But if they should repent, establish prayer, and give zakah, let them [go] on their way. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful. (http://quran.com/9/5)

And, conjoining to the command to “kill the polytheists” an identification of the Christian belief in a triune God with polytheism, they evidently believe that they can further justify the killing of Christians just for being Christians.

One of the two writers, then, of Maverick Philosopher has given expression to a genuine truth about Islam, that some Islamic terrorists have some basis in the Quran itself for some murderous understandings of how Muslims should conduct themselves.

4. There are, of course, many things that Muslims opposed to Islamic terrorism would want to say in response to the terrorists, things related to the context of the sword verse and to the thoughtful interpretation of scripture, things which then allow them to condemn Islamic terrorism as un-Islamic. Those who are interested can easily find relevant statements and discussions with but the most cursory of googlings; I very quickly came up with Sheikh Jamal Rahman, “Making Peace with the Sword Verse,” Yes Magazine, October 13, 2010. http://www.yesmagazine.org/blogs/interfaith-amigos/making-peace-with-the-sword-verse

I, however, am concerned with one specific and pertinent part of the whole truth left out by the truth that the maverick has given expression to, a leaving out every bit as much a leaving out of a pertinent part of the whole truth as the leaving out of race in his first two examples. It has even been suggested, by no less than one of the writers of Maverick Philosopher in the February 8, 2015, post, “Michael Walzer, “Islamism and the Left”,” that leaving out a pertinent part of the whole truth can lead to a suspicion of “a lack of intellectual honesty.” That is, he tells us:

[W]hile it is true that most if not all religions in their extreme forms carry the possibility of tyranny, this is also true of non- and anti-religious ideologies such as communism.  If one fails to point this out, as Walzer does fail to point it out, then then one can be suspected of a lack of intellectual honesty.  Communist tyranny alone led to the deaths of upwards of 100 million in the 20th century.

Just so. But just so too is it true that while Islam in its extreme form “carries the possibility of tyranny, this is also true of” Christianity. Note, for instance, that Christianity also has its “sword verses.” The following, from Deuteronomy, is but one:

10 When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace. 11 If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you. 12 If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city. 13 When the LORD your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it. 14 As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves. And you may use the plunder the LORD your God gives you from your enemies. 15 This is how you are to treat all the cities that are at a distance from you and do not belong to the nations nearby.

16 However, in the cities of the nations the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. 17 Completely destroy[a] them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the LORD your God has commanded you. 18 Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the LORD your God. http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Deuteronomy+20&version=NIV.

Might it not be the case that some Christians, though not all, and some Jews, though not all, take some inspiration for an expansionist vision of today’s Israel from the reference in Deuteronomy 16 to “the cities of the nations the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance”? Let me hasten to add, of course, that there are many things that Christians and Jews opposed to an expansionist vision of today’s Israel might want to say in response to the expansionism in question as un-biblical, things related to the context of the Deuteronomic text and to the thoughtful interpretation of scripture, things which then allow them to condemn that expansionism as un-Christian or un-Judaic.

5. Our writer goes on, still in “Michael Walzer, “Islamism and the Left”,” to draw a distinction.

There is also a distinction that needs to be made and I don’t see Walzer making it.  It is the difference between ‘rampaging,’ say, because your religion enjoins such behavior and ‘rampaging’ in defense of your life and livelihood and religion.  Islamic doctrine enjoins violent jihad; there is no Buddhist equivalent. This distinction at the level of doctrine is crucial and must not be ignored.  Doctrine is not mere verbiage; doctrine is at the root of action.

Once again, there is the truth and there is the whole truth. It is true that “Islamic doctrine enjoins violent jihad,” though the serious student of the religion might see some similarities  between that doctrine, at least as it is spelled out in the Quran if by no means as it is spelled out by some religious “scholars,” and the Christian doctrine (or doctrines) of “just war.” And, if my meager understanding of the subject is at all accurate, it is true that there is no Buddhist equivalent to the Islamic doctrine of “violent jihad,” although that may seem more obvious at first glance than after serious research. I have not done the research, but a quick googling, again, alerts us to the existence of a book on the matter, Buddhist Warfare, edited by Michael K. Jerryson and Mark Juergensmeyer and published by Oxford University Press in 2010; a review in the Journal of Global Buddhism can be found at http://www.globalbuddhism.org/11/margolies10.pdf. Suffice it to say that up close things may look a bit different.

6. The distinction, moreover, which the philosopher/maverick has drawn “between ‘rampaging,’ say, because your religion enjoins such behavior and ‘rampaging’ in defense of your life and livelihood and religion” is not well drawn, for we should, at least sometimes, recognize the difference between the kind of enjoining represented by formal statements of doctrine promulgated in scripture or by some body widely recognized as authoritative within a religious community and the more informal and ad hoc enjoinings which come forth in particular circumstances; the former are at least often more thoroughly considered and so represent the better thinking of the community, while the same cannot always be said of the latter.

That is, the distinction as spelled out by our maverick leaves out the religiously inspired “rampaging” that is enjoined in the more informal and ad hoc enjoinings of the likes of, say, some of the anti-Catholic Protestant militants, some of them genuine terrorists, in the Northern Ireland of just a few years ago and some of the anti-Protestant Catholic militants, some of them genuine terrorists, in the same Northern Ireland; in neither case were the militants representative of the best thinking of their Protestant and Catholic co-religionists.

I would suggest to the maverick that it may be such informal enjoining, by Buddhist militants as opposed to the best of Buddhist thinkers, that is at work in the violence visited by some of the Buddhists of Myanmar upon members of the Muslim minority there, where clearly that the majority is Buddhist and the minority Muslim is an essential part of the whole truth. And I would suggest to him that it may be such informal enjoining, by Muslim militants as opposed to the better among Muslim thinkers (I might point to King Abdullah of Jordan as an example of the latter), that is at work in the  horrific violence we have see committed Islamic extremists.

7. In all honesty, I have to admit that the writing that I have thus far attributed to the maverick may well have been that of the philosopher, even if not representative of his best thinking. But when, as “Citizens Lynching Citizens” draws towards its end and offers some opinions about Barack Obama and “the Left,” there is no question at all; it is the maverick who is writing.

First, then, re Obama: our maverick asks and answers a question:

What did Barack Obama say about this [the beheading by the jihadis of the Egyptian Christians]?  He said: “No religion is responsible for terrorism — people are responsible for violence and terrorism.”

The maverick’s response:

Now that is a mendacious thing to say. Obama knows that the behavior of people is influenced by their beliefs.  For example, he knows that part of the explanation of the lynchings of blacks by whites is that the white perpetrators held racists beliefs that justified (in their own minds) their horrendous behavior.  And of course he knows, mutatis mutandis, the same about the beheading case.

I translate “that is a mendacious thing to say” as “that is a lie.” But the singular “that” is not quite the right word, for Obama advanced two propositions:

No religion is responsible for terrorism.

and

People are responsible for violence and terrorism.

Taking the latter first, here’s what I bet: I bet that

Obama knows that the behavior of people is influenced by their beliefs.

that:

[Obama knows] that part of the explanation of the lynchings of blacks by whites is that the white perpetrators held racists beliefs that justified (in their own minds) their horrendous behavior.

and that:

[Obama knows,] mutatis mutandis, the same about the beheading case.

Yet, his knowing these things is absolutely consistent with his believing that:

Even as they are influenced by their religious beliefs, people are responsible for violence and terrorism. Indeed [Obama could further believe], people are responsible for their religious beliefs and the related beliefs they hold about violence and terrorism.

that:

Even as they are influenced by their racist beliefs, those white people who lynched black people are responsible for the lynchings. Indeed [Obama could further believe], those people are responsible for their racist beliefs and the related beliefs they hold about the lynchings of blacks by whites.

and so that:

Even as they are influenced by their religious beliefs, those Islamic terrorists who beheaded the Christians are responsible for the beheadings. Indeed [Obama could further believe], those people are responsible for their religious beliefs and the related beliefs they hold about the beheading of Christians.

I don’t think that the maverick would want to deny that the Islamic terrorists who beheaded the Christians are responsible for the beheadings, even influenced as they may be by their aberrant and abhorrent religious beliefs.

I don’t think it evident that we have a lie before us in Obama’s statement, “People are responsible for violence and terrorism.” I don’t think it evident even that we have a falsehood before us.

8. Assuming the plausibility of the understanding of the second of Obama’s proposition just set forth, there is room for understanding that his first proposition, that “[n]o religion is responsible for terrorism,” is but another statement, perhaps not entirely happy, of the thesis proposed in the second. After all, it is the persons having the religion, be it the religion as interpreted by the better of its adherents or the religion as interpreted by their opposites, in their heads and hearts who engage in the concrete actions, good, bad, or indifferent undertaken in the religion’s name; without the activities of its adherents, a religion does nothing.

9. Enough, then, about Obama. Well, almost, for our maverick uses his thesis that Obama is mendacious as an entry into a statement of his opinion of “leftists.”

Why then is Obama so dishonest?  Part of the explanation is that he just does not care about truth.  (That is a mark of the bullshitter as Harry Frankfurt has pointed out.) Truth, after all, is not a leftist value, except insofar as it can be invoked to forward the leftist agenda.  It is the ‘progressive’ agenda that counts, first, and the narrative that justifies the agenda, second.  (Karl Marx, 11th Thesis on Feuerbach: “The philosophers have variously interpreted the word; the point, however, is to change it.”  Truth doesn’t come into it since a narrative is just a story and a story needn’t be true to mobilize people to implement an agenda.

How many things here fall short of the standards that one would expect of a philosopher? At least three. First, how might he know that Obama “just does not care about the truth”? Second, is there but one “leftist agenda,” as the use of the definite article and the singular noun in “the leftist agenda” might suggest? Third, is it true for all leftists that truth is not a value and “doesn’t come into it”?

10. There is one more thing that, well, assures me that at least the latter sections of “Citizens Lynching Citizens” are the work of a maverick and not a philosopher. He writes:

What is to be done?  Well, every decent person must do what he or she can to combat the lying scumbags of the Left.  It is a noble fight, and may also be, shall we say, conducive unto your further existence in the style to which you have become accustomed.

I’ll bet you can spot what it is.

Until next time.

Richard

About Rchard E. Hennessey

See above, "About the Author/Editor."
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One Response to The Latest by the Philosopher/Maverick on Islam

  1. Mahmoud Shazlee says:

    Thank you for elucidating in such a clear and methodical way the general tenor and “quality” of the Maverick Philosopher’s writings on Islam which I, as Muslim with a keen interest in different philosphical traditions and writings, have long had misgivings about. For a person who is otherwise so thoughtful, careful and fair- minded when assessing and commenting on other religious traditions such as Christianity or Buddhism, MP seems to relish latching on to and publicising in his blog only the most heinous actions, and scriptural justifications for the same, of a certain class of modern, heavily politicised and violent “Muslims” and giving the strong impression that, although labelled “radical” or extreme, such barbaric acts and scriptural interpretations are in fact representative of the authentic or normative Islam. Whereas nowadays this indeed is the preferred narrative of a number of disparate groups and individuals with their own agendas, I would have expected a much deeper and objective analysis from a philosopher such as MP. MP has stated elsewhere in his blog that certain militantly atheistic philosophers have a cartoonish understanding of religion and utterly lack any religious sensibility. Strange as it may seem, for this Muslim, Maverick Philosopher displays exactly the same tendencies when discussing Islam. Maybe the thesis that “Maverick” and “Philosopher” are in fact two different persons does have a lot to recommend it

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