Thursday, August 19, 2010

Is Islam a Religion?

Generally, two sides have formed around the NYC mosque issue. One side says it is immoral or wrong to build a mosque so close to the 9/11 site, however, they have a legal right to do so. Another side says that it should be prevented legally, that is, the government should actively move to shut it down. I will not consider the side that actually promotes its existence. Since this argument has been beat to death in many corners of the Internet and elsewhere, I will not attempt to characterize the debate or offer new concretes. My goal is to answer a broader question related to this issue.

If the Emperor of Japan or Adolph Hitler had attempted to set up a recruitment office in the center of New York during World War II, the U.S. government would have had every right to shut it down. Whether they were motivated by Shinto or Nazism would not have made a difference, i.e., one could not have argued that the government were stifling a particular ideology since these persons were actively engaged in a physical war with America. I doubt many would argue with this presumption.

So, at what point does a "religion" or any doctrine move beyond a mere body of abstract thought, deserving protection under the First Amendment, into a philosophical or legal area wherein a proper government has objective moral and legal grounds to prevent followers from pursuing recruitment, dissemination, assembly or political organization? To me, this is the essential question underlying the New York mosque issue. In this context, the question is whether Islam is a "religion" in the sense that it is meant within the Constitution or more broadly construed under the principle of individual rights or whether it should be considered a "political movement" that is actively at war with America and/or the broader legal and cultural framework known as western civilization?

Philosophically, faith is the acceptance of an idea in the absence of evidence and is the characteristic which distinguishes religion from science. I do not believe that the concept of "faith" is relevant in a legal context, i.e., the essential epistemological foundation for a view point is not relevant. What is relevant is whether a body of thought or set of doctrines espoused by some organization can exist within a broad legal framework founded upon rational definitions of individual rights such as free speech, freedom of the press, property rights, due process, etc. Whether or not a certain ideology takes issue with applications of these principles is not important. However, if an ideology by its nature opposes the very foundation of this framework AND actively seeks to undermine this system through violent means, i.e., the initiation of physical force, such an ideology moves from the status of "religion" or "ideology" to an active enemy of civilization. Whether or not the state has formally declared war on such an ideology is not important as many instances of this type of organization could exist or spring up.

With respect to the particular mosque issue, I believe that Islam should be considered an active enemy of civilization. Although I am not an expert on Islam, from what I understand, there is very little separation between its doctrines and their manifestation in the political life of its adherents. It's followers advocate Sharia law which is a set of legal traditions that stand in complete and total opposition to western precepts of individual rights. Husbands can beat and rape their wives. Stonings and hangings are common to those who speak out against the religion or convert to another (apostasy). It is intolerant and hostile to non-believers in the most vile, racist, and violent ways imaginable. Its goal is the complete enslavement of mankind under a global caliphate, i.e., global theocracy, and it has killed tens of thousands in this effort.

Rather than be seen as a "religion of peace" with a few extremists tarnishing its essence, it should be seen as a global political and military force that seeks to spread throughout the world. If this movement were contained to other nations, I would argue as a matter of foreign policy that we have no interest in opposing it militarily. However, as this movement has repeatedly attacked western interests and made its motivations and goals crystal clear to anyone who will listen, the U.S. government should officially regard Islam as our ideological enemy and take any steps towards thwarting its spread within our borders and by supporting allied efforts to do the same.

Also, to answer the argument that only some Muslims are "extremist" I would say the following: just as every Nazi was not a Hitler or Goebbels, and not every Japanese citizen was a kamikaze during World War II, this is not relevant. What is relevant is the actions of its most consistent advocates and its leadership alongside the inaction of its so-called silent majority. It is up to them to rise up and moderate or reform their "religion" in such a way that it can co-exist with the West while broadly respecting the basic principles of individual rights. If, by its very nature, it can not exist in this way, then we should not respect the rights of its followers as they do not respect ours.


madmax said...


This is has been the best, most worthwhile post on the subject of the GZ Mosque and Islam that has yet been written by an Objectivist. Essentially no one is asking the question you are asking, and that is the most important question. Objectivism needs to answer the question of how to classify Islam. Are we at war with "Islamists" or "radicals" or "militants" or "totalitarian Islam" (the ARI's favorite expression)? Or are we at war with ISLAM? If it is the latter then there are serious implications for many areas of politics. Should we allow Islamic immigration? Should we allow the construction of ANY mosques? Should we allow 5th column organizations like C.A.I.R.? etc, etc.

Objectivists, imo, are behind the curve with regards to Islam. Sadly, many Conservative groups are far better acquainted with Islam and its theology and its history. However, they are Conservatives and they are pretty much all Christian apologists so their conclusions have to be treated with suspicion. Some Objectivist intellectuals need to turn their attention to the subject of Islam and really get at its essence and its history. It very well may be as you say, that Islam is such a pernicious and militaristic ideology that it can not exist in a civilized context. But that question is a very difficult one philosophically.

So, thank goodness you raised this issue. I hope your post gets MAJOR attention in Objectivist circles. I will link to it whenever I can.

Doug Reich said...


Thanks much for your thoughtful comment!

I think its uncomfortable to tackle this issue because it is so un PC with lots of ramifications (as you eloquently pointed out) to basically call Islam in toto a political/military movement, but we agree that it is the right question.

Btw, I did want to clarify to all that I, of course, regard Islam as a "religion" in the philosophical sense - I meant it is not a "religion" in the sense meant by the framers and as broadly construed when we think of freedom of religion since it's ideology is inseparable from its pernicious political and military ends.

thanks again!

roadrage666 said...

Excellent post, Doug. The record of Islam speaks for itself. Again and again, its advocates and acolytes have engaged in destructive and uncivilized behavior. Some of it, like the stubborn insistence on the construction Cordoba House, is merely confrontational or insensitive. Often is it savage and barbarian, like issuing fatwas against Salman Rushdie or the creators of "South Park." (Curiously, Islam seems to be the alone among major religions in the use of "fatwas." For whatever reason, no rabbis appear to demand the head of Sarah Silverman when she makes jokes about the holocaust). And of course, this behavior routinely takes the form of outright acts of war (the 9/11 attacks, endless terrorism in the Mideast, a proxy war against our troops in Iraq, etc). As you point out, the philosophy of Islam is antithetical to the U.S. Constitution and to advanced civilization in general. Islam's track record underscores its inability to exist in the context of the modern world. We are told by the liberal intelligentsia to "tolerate" Islam, yet Muslims appear to have very little tolerance for liberal constitutional democracy.

You use the example of Hitler having a recruiting center in the US during WW2. We need not even look that far back in history to see the absurdity of current attitudes. Would we tolerate a Confederate flag-draped memorial to Nathan Forrest at the site of MLK's assassination? Or a neo-Nazi recruiting center across the street from the holocaust museum in DC? Surely not, yet neither the KKK nor neo-Nazis pose the obvious and enormous threat to our nation that radical Islam does. Our inability to "call a spade a spade" borders on suicidal.

Doug Reich said...


Excellent points. Thank you!

Trevor said...

check this out:

Doug Reich said...


I hope he can succeed. This is exactly the direction they need to go. But he has an uphill battle.


Jon said...

Excellent article Doug. I will second Madmax in saying that this is by far the most enlightening piece I have read on this issue. Thank you!

HaynesBE said...

Great addition to the discussion. Thank you for your analysis.

Doug Reich said...

Thanks Beth.

Doug Reich said...

Question related to Trevor's link of Zudhi Jasser, an American muslim who supports separation of mosque and state and generally seeks to reform Islam to be consonant with western principles of liberty and individual rights.

I applaud these efforts and practically, in the short run, such a movement could heavily deradicalize the movement and prevent a massive amount of destruction.

I am, of course, skeptical given the inherent contradictions between religion in general and especially Islam and the principles of individual rights which rest on reason and the egoistic pursuit of happiness.

While Christianity was neutered to some extent and brought under the rule of secular law and individual rights, does someone who understands Islam better than I, believe that an Islamic reformation could succeed or is it the case that virtually no reading of Islam could be consistent with Jasser's view? I suppose in the midst of the Dark Ages, no one could have envisioned the practice of Christianity in the context of the modern United States, so I guess the answer is yes, especially given religion's infinite flexibility with regard to interpretation.

However, I'm not sure that the analogy is exact given the precepts of Sharia and how intertwined politics and theocracy seem to be in Islam versus the possibility for a more general ethical or existential read of the New Testament - "be nice to your neighbor", "don't lie", etc.

any thoughts?

HaynesBE said...

Since all religions are based on faith, any attempt to defend individual rights based on religion will be weaker than one based on faith.
Also b/c Islam is based on faith, there's no evidence in reality to keep it from being reinterpreted in a more benevolent way!
I say: more power to Dr. Jassar for recognizing the crucial importance of individual rights and secular government---even for religions Muslims!
Thomas Aquinas helped defang Christianity. Let's hope Jassar can move Islam more toward a real respect for life.

madmax said...

Let's hope Jassar can move Islam more toward a real respect for life.

It would be nice, but what time frame are we talking about here? It took centuries to reframe and pacify Christianity. Relying on the reformation of Islam is not a realistic strategy for dealing with the threat of Jihad that we face now. Islam poses major problems that other religions don't precisely because it is a combination of personal belief system with a military/political/supremacist ideology complete with its very own Machiavellian tactics of deceit.

Also, I am sick and tired of Conservatives telling me that Objectivism is a suicide pact that can not deal with the problem of Islam because we are all "universalists" that believe in "nothing but individual rights" and therefore have no means to prevent an Islamic takeover. Which is why I really want to see some breakthrough in thinking by an Objectivist on how a free society would deal with the problems of Islam, Muslim immigration and mass immigration from collectivist societies. All three of these things represent threats to America that Objectivism just hasn't dealt with yet. I'm sure it will as the philosophy matures, but I'm impatient. :)

HaynesBE said...

Perhaps a more useful immediate role that Jasser may have is to help sharpen the difference between Muslims who actively value individual rights and the secular governments that defend them--and those Muslims who are active enemies of individual rights.

One of the glaring absences in this whole issue has been Muslims who condemn Islamic terrorism and theocracy. A few have come out and condemned 9/11---but this is the first time I have heard a Muslim emphasize the importance of embracing individual rights, liberty and and the separation of mosque and state. Muslim's like Jasser are not the enemy. I think it's helpful to have someone like him to point to and say--this I can live with, enemies of individual rights will not be tolerated.

madmax said...

I think it's helpful to have someone like him to point to and say--this I can live with, enemies of individual rights will not be tolerated.

I wonder if this is what should be expected of all Western Muslims. I mean by this that if Muslims are to emigrate to Western nations, then they must swear off all political Sharia elements (including the Greater Jihad). Advocating for Sharia would be grounds for immediate deportation.

The problem though is how do you then say that Christians who advocate for Biblical law are allowed but Muslims who advocate for Sharia Law are not? There would have to be some legitimate conceptual distinction made between Islam and all other religions. And that is exactly the subject matter of Doug's post.

No easy thing dealing with Islam.

HaynesBE said...

Interesting question about Christians advocating for Biblical law---but they still have to do it within the confines of the Constitution. Christians can't say, the Bible says this therefore it should be law. They have to somehow justify its compatibility with the Constitution. This may be attempted by interpreting the Constitution in ways I would disagree with--but the standard is the Constitution.

Only those aspects of Sharia consistent with the Constitution would even have to be considered. The rest would be thrown out.

Overthrow of the government is unacceptable whether its done in the name of Communism, Islam or Christianity--and could be cause for deportation.

Just thinking....

Shane Atwell said...

excellent piece. the conceptual difficulty in dealing with islam is that its not a state, nor even a unified organization, and yet most of its leadership and its founding documents have declared war against the west and call for a totalitarian state, at least in principle, though the actual acts of violence or specific admonitions are limited to a small fraction of muslims. can we recognize islam's the declaration of war and fight back? against whom? many analysts recommend declaring war on iran and saudi arabia, which would make sense. but i wonder if there isn't a better answer in here somewhere. the answer that your post supports.

Anonymous said...


This may be somewhat tangential to the discussion --eye for a eye barbarian methods of "justice" under the auspices of Islam:


Jon said...

Thanks Trevor for the link to the video of Dr. Jassar. How have most of us never heard of him? Come to think of it, I'm never exposed to "moderate" Muslims, leading me to believe that they don't actually exist (excluding "sham" Muslims who don't adhere to the religion). But here's a guy who advocates against Sharia, for the separation of mosque and state, and yet I've never heard of him before. Do you think it's because he advocates for individual rights that we have not been exposed to him? Not only does he show that Islamism is antithetical to the values of the West, but he advocates for the very concept that Statists wish to obliterate -- there's no wonder why the MSM wouldn't want this guy to get exposure.

Doug Reich said...

Above is a link of Jasser on Glenn Beck, outraged by a Muslim school in Virginia whose textbooks teach that it is permissible for Muslims to kill adulterers and converts from Islam, among other things