Here's a long rambling post on a hugely complicated topic. I've made no attempt to organize it, because I don't have a central theme I want to argue. But readers seem to find it thought-provoking, and have made many contributions.
My man in Istanbul writes that's he's unimpressed by another author's arguments that Muslims are inherently prickly and violent.
I cannot say I find this fear of Islam exaggerated - I feel a much higher degree of revulsion towards Islam as I have to endure being a nominal member of it. But that's also what makes some of the things he says questionable. He, like every conservative (or Christian) who is entirely outside "Dar'ul Islam", paints too homogenous, unified, monolithic a picture of Islam.
For example, the attribution (by conservative Westerners) of a relentless taste for violence to all Muslims, I find almost superstitious. For the simple reason that Islam is not an external substance like "ether" which, once it permeates a region, renders it deadly.
The real trouble is most people who live in Islamic lands (and subscribe to that primitive creed) are MORONS. What makes them violent is the same reason that turned Nawlins into the 3rd world a few weeks ago. And yet, he, too, seems to have bought into the myth that those muzzies (who, one gets the impression, could have been perfectly civilized were they Christian), for some unintelligible reason cling to that stupid faith which makes them prone to violence.
I know no one in my extended family who remotely fits into the profile of it he imagines when he talks about it in that relentlessly paranoid tone. They are all Muslims, and I have yet to hear them wish ill - let alone design to kill - anyone of any faith in the world. And yet, reading him, you'd think anyone - myself included - anyone who so much as has been associated with Islam is lethal to civilization. This does not qualify as a perspective worthy of a developed intellect.
(Perhaps because we don't speak Arabic, the Islam we're taught is close to Calvinism - though you shouldn't mention this among Christian conservatives as it infuriates them. I can honestly say that I've learned some of the worst things about Islam from Robert Spencer, not through my religious education. I don't have a single memory where we were made to pray "and you should slay the infidel wherever you see him" etc.
But these things are not on his radar since he doesn't understand that a Bosniac, an Afghani, a Yemeni, a Chechen, a Malay, and an Indonesian cannot possibly be doing all those violent things - whatever they are this week - just because they were taught to "slay the infidel wherever you see him". If for instance, last week Bosniacs had a friction with Kosovars, and this week Malays with Thais, it's the "essence" of Islam in action. He may learn a few things from population genetics, especially regarding genotypical/ancestral distances. Oh and history would also help - for example, Bosniacs and Malays have no connection to each other in any way whatsoever in history.
(The reason for his failure to recognize such things, he reveals in his reply to Daniel. Pipes may deserve his opprobrium, but he slays his own philosophical infidel, "nominalism", there. See, this is the charming result of "essentialism": it makes you assume that once a Bosniac and a Malay become Musulmaniacs, they'll all acquire the same essence, because hr finds the opposite idea, that "words" are *not* "things", relativistic and post-modern, therefore abhorrent. That the nominalist conviction also gave us empiricism, is a detail too expensive for him - especially when there's Christian conservative propaganda at stake.) His obliviousness to race and biology - which he seemed to deride as a "reductionism" in your work - causes him to fail to see this: "Dar-ul Islam" is a wasteland of ill-tempered morons who, were they Christian, would still not be able to build a civilization any more developed than that of (Christian) Nigeria. Islam only gives its dimwitted adherents a ready-made sense of mission to push their primitive attitude with impunity. That's all.'
One test of this dispute would be to look at countries where there are both Muslims and non-Muslims. India would be the largest example. Do Indian Muslims share the Hindu tendency toward a sort of cheerfulness in relations with strangers (which some deride as obsequiousness, but which I've always liked)? Or are Indian Muslims more bristly, like Arabs?
Another test case would be mostly Muslim Indonesia. Its Hindu island of Bali is, by far, the favorite destination of tourists. Is this in part because the Balinese are gentler, less prickly, than other Indonesians?
On the other hand, most of the Lebanese I've known have been Christians, and nobody would confuse them with Balinese. At a company where I worked, the most brilliant young executive was from Lebanon. I had to often remind myself (and everybody else who came in contact with him) that although he was, by Chicago corporate standards, extraordinarily brusque, he was also the politest Lebanese I'd ever met, so, grading on the Lebanese curve, you'd have to say that, deep down, he was a really nice guy.
An associated question is why Israeli Jews are so much brusquer than American Jews, even New Yorkers. Did they pick it up in the Levant from the locals? Or did the Jews who came to America assimilate into the American style of amiability? Or were the "Oriental" Jews who came to Israel from Islamic countries brusquer than the Ashkenazim from Europe? Or were there differences within the Ashkenazim, with the European Sephardic and German Jews who reached America first being politer than the Eastern European Jews who followed, and thus setting a template for their co-religionists to assimilate toward after 1900?
These are not idle questions because it's clear that, on a day to day basis in Israel, the sabra's brusqueness interacts disastrously with the Arab's obsession with politeness. As Alec Guinness's Prince Feisal memorably says in "Lawrence of Arabia:"
For Lawrence, mercy is a passion. For me, it is a matter of good manners. I leave it to you to decide which is the more reliable motivation.
As Heinlein said, an armed society is a polite society. The Bedouin, being nomads in an unpoliced desert, had to be armed at all times. And they set a cultural template of Arab authenticity for more sedentary Arabs to aspire towards.
But a polite armed society can still be a highly violent one. The most Arab-acting non-Arabic speakers are probably the Pashtuns of Afghanistan and Pakistan (the demographic base of the Taliban). Winston Churchill fought against them in the 1890s and left a wonderful description of their society, specifically noting the connection between their politeness and the endless violence in their lives (which can apply to some extent toward Arabs, too):
... a most elaborate code of honour has been established and is on the whole faithfully observed. A man who knew it and observed it faultlessly might pass unarmed from one end of the frontier to another. The slightest technical slip would, however, be fatal. The life of the Pathan is thus full of interest...
So, clearly, I haven't resolved this question, but it's definitely an important one.
A reader comments:
My wife is an Arab Christian, and I've had dealings with Pakistani, Turkish and Arabic Muslims, since I work in the oil industry and have traveled to the Middle East with the military and on vacation.
On a person-to-person basis, almost every Muslim I've dealt with has been polite to a fault. In fact, I've heard, though never tested it myself, that one can walk at perfect ease through the poorest neighborhoods of Cairo without fear of being mugged. Ironically, though, this politeness to strangers may have its roots in the same thing that creates Islamic "prickliness." Treating strangers well is a matter of honor, which is a great thing. But honor has its dark side, too. Trespass against that honor by overstepping one of many, many boundaries, and you are in a world of hurt--See Iraq.
When you get down to it, the problem with Islam comes at the macroeconomic scale. It's almost the direct reverse of the problem we in America have with blacks; ie, we worry about individual street crime, not massive black movements (people like Louis Farrakhan quickly become something of joke). On this larger level, Islam lives in a zero-sum world. For them, the game is about taking as much of the pie as possible, not increasing the size of the pie for everyone as we free-marketeers like to do. Thus Muslims almost invariably insist on segregating themselves, no matter where they are. As a group, they also insist on expanding their territory at others' expense. You can see this by surveying a map of the world's conflicts. Just about every place where Islam borders another faith, there is conflict: in the Balkans, in Indonesia, in Thailand, in Russia, in Africa, in the subcontinent, and so forth. You see this also in the enclaves they form in many western cities, and in that big enclave to the northwest of India called Pakistan.
This self-isolation does lead to some antisocial behavior in the West. Compare Indian and Pakistani populations in Britain. The Indians are doing quite well, but Pakistanis have the highest rate of imprisonment (this according to Theodore Dalrymple).
My impression is that the Pakistani Muslims in Britain were from a much lower class origin than the fairly selected Hindus and Sikhs, who were often professionals before they immigrated. Many of the Pakistanis are descended from peasants who were airlifted en masse from rural Pakistan around 1960 because their land was being flooded by new reservoirs.
In the U.S., leaving terrorism aside, I would guess that Muslims, who are somewhat selected by the immigration system, are much more likely to be victims of violent street crime (especially as shopkeepers in poor neighborhoods) than perpetrators.
Muslims are also very insecure about anything that may even slightly represent a slur on their faith, thus we see all the silliness about names we choose for military operations (remember "Infinite Justice") or cartoon characters, like Piglet from Winnie the Pooh. This "prickliness", for lack of a better word, can even turn fatal, as countless "honor killings" can attest. The most famous "honor killing" we know of is that Van Gogh fellow.
Biologically inherited stupidity may play a role, but I do not think it can answer all the questions. The Pakistanis, the Iranians, and the Turks are not exactly historically stupid people, yet they are all subject to the same phenomena.
But, this Muslim inferiority complex that encourages prickliness is, at least partially, based on an accurate assessment of the lack of Muslim accomplishments in the world over, say, the last 400 years.
A reader writes:
It should be said that the murdering, slaughtering Islam of the past was almost a noble religion compared to the Islam of today, which is a religion for the absolute wretched of the Earth. Islamic violence and terrorism is driven by the resentment of a slave people who have been swept away into irrelevance by the breathtaking technological and scientific advancement of modern (non-Islamic) society. The truth is that the Muslims of today are powerless - a puny bomb here, a little car bomb there. Gone are the days of the conquering hordes. What's left is a religion for the "deprived" of the ghetto - planning in the dark and killing some innocent civilians. But when called to fight in the field of battle, they disintegrate with a rapidity seen to be believed. It was with good reason that Moshe Dayan said that the secret of military success in the 20th century was: "to fight Arabs".
A reader writes:
I agree with your assertion that all Muslims are not inherently violent. In fact, I've walked the streets of cities from Cairo to Kuala Lumpur and found them safer than American cities. The problem is a very small group of Muslims who are disposed to violence, principally against "unbelievers." This in itself is not remarkable, but what is disturbing is that the vast bulk of peaceful Muslims refuse to do anything about it.
Something that's going on now is the cultural Arabization of non-Arab Muslims, both in Europe and in Asia. In part, this is because the Saudi princes pay their religious hotheads to go away and proselytize for Wahabbiism somewhere else, far from home.
Another reason is that Muslim teenagers growing up in the West often develop a broader, cruder form of identity. In Britain, it's now being common to see third generation Bangladeshi school girls insist on wearing Arab tent-dresses to school, although nobody in Bangladesh has ever worn them. Whereas their immigrant grandparents might identify as members of a particular tribe in Bangladesh, and their parents as Bangladesh, they find it hard to explain to the non-Muslim kids at school in Birmingham where Bangladesh even is. But they notice that lots of British people are scared of Muslim terrorists, and since fear is a form of respect, which is very important to teens, they identify with Muslims in general, which means Arabs get pride of place in their imagination.
And there's increasing Muslim literacy. Often the first book somebody will read is their scripture, and they notice all sorts of things in it that people didn't talk about before when just the elite read it and the elite just wanted to keep things calm so they could go on being the elite (The invention of the printing press 560 years ago led to literalist Protestantism in Europe, which caused no end of trouble up through 1648, but Arabs showed very little interest in the printing press until not that long ago).
So, lots of lower class people are discovering for themselves that the Koran talks about jihad, so they figure they'd better get with the program.
A reader writes:
As long as Muslims remain Muslims, even if they are not personally devout and followers of Jihad, they remain always liable to return to a genuine version of the faith, and then they will be supporters of jihad violence.
As long as one is a Muslim, one cannot renounce such things as the death sentence pronounced on apostates, or the command to kill infidels. These are the final and absolute command of Allah. Your correspondent and his family are not personally violent. But they cannot separate themselves from the terrorists who are their fellow believers, because those terrorists are good Muslims. This solidarity is what makes Islam, in Michael Grahams's immortal words, "a terrorist organization."
On the other hand, it's easy to overestimate the importance of literal scriptures. If you arrived from Mars and your only knowledge of Earthlings was from reading the Old Testament and the New Testament, you'd probably guess that the warlike Hebrews had been kicking the pacifist Christians around for the last 2,000 years. So, people often pick out of their holy book whatever they want to find, and the sprawling Koran makes this post of mine look tightly organized and closely argued.
But, also because, -- as Razib at GNXP pointed out in one of those insights that make you slap your forehead and echo T.H. Huxley in saying "How stupid of me not to have thought of that" -- of increased numbers of pilgrims to Mecca due to better transportation. When the pilgrims get home to Jakarta or Birmingham, they are socially entitled to lord it over their fellow Muslims who haven't mad the haj, and constantly point out to them, "Well, when I made my Koran-mandated pilgrimage, I noticed that the way they do it in Mecca is ..." So, this spreads the Mecca-style all over the Muslim world.
Another reader writes:
The thoughts expressed by your Turkish Muslim reader are, in my mind, both reasonable and mostly accurate. I’m married to a Turkish woman who was nominally Muslim until she converted to Christianity when we got married. My in-laws (one American, one Turk) live in Istanbul, so I’ve had the opportunity to see how one – albeit rare – Muslim society operates. My main disagreement with your reader is this: Muslims who take they’re religion seriously scare me, while Christians who take their faith seriously comfort me.
In Turkey, the elite, Western-oriented class isn’t very pious. I’ve been to countless dinners and events where everyone was drinking and dancing, and the women were dressed as provocatively as you would see in a LA club. These people are not going to the mosque on a weekly basis. My father-in-law hasn’t stepped foot in one in the 17 years I’ve known him. These people may disagree with US foreign policy, but they certainly don’t advocate violence. Of course, Turkey is unique because of its forced secularism – who knows what Turkish Islam would be like if there was no Kemalism 80 years ago.
Of course the types of people that inhabit a society make a big difference in how that society develops. But, I think the records shows that ideology and religion play an equally important role. In short, I’m not convinced an authentic, religious Muslim society of made up of people who are not “morons” would adopt Western values – only when they drop Islamic values do they look Western.
Wait a minute; much of Latin America has about the same IQ as the Muslim world, and you don't see international terrorism coming from that region. Islam has bloody borders, and Latin America doesn't. Where Muslims begin to make up a minority of the population, organized violence against enemies of Islam is waged (the murder of Van Gogh in the Netherlands, the recent terrorism in the UK, and even India has had problems).
But, you also see a lot of organized violence within Arab countries, at least when they don't have a dictator keeping the lid on things. Remember how Peter O'Toole tries to shame the Arab tribes into developing a sense of Arab nationalism in "Lawrence of Arabia:"
So long as the Arabs fight tribe against tribe, so long will they be a little people, a silly people - greedy, barbarous, and cruel, as you are.
Just speculating off the top of my head on a grand scale, I suspect that the Middle Eastern pattern of in-marriage, such as cousin marriage, tends to make Arab societies more fractious.
In contrast, the Roman Catholic church long discouraged marriage even between distant cousins in medieval Europe, which I suspect helped develop civil society in Europe. Your in-laws couldn't be your blood relatives, so you had a Hamiltonian genetic interest in the welfare of other people in your region because they might end up grandparents of your grandchildren. In the Middle East, however, with it's high levels of inbreeding, your future in-laws, the potential grandparents of your grandchildren, were likely to be blood relations of you, so why bother being altruistic toward strangers, at least beyond the minimums set by religion and politeness.
And that raises the scary question: If we somehow persuade Muslims to become less Islamic, will they start acting genteel, like post-Christian Europeans, or will they act even more hostile and tribalistic because they now lack the encouragements of their religion toward universalism? Much of the popularity of Islam stems from the feeling in the Islamic world that without Islam's teachings of benevolence toward fellow Muslims, everybody would be at everybody else's throat all the time.
For example, the Taliban were able to come to power with little opposition in 1995 precisely because many Afghans of good will were sick of the warlordism that beset Afghanistan after the Communists were driven out, and they hoped that these Taliban religious students would rule more altruistically than the warlords. Indeed, the precipitating incident that brought the puritanical Taliban to favor among Afghans was a shameful civil war that between two warlords contending for the favors of a pretty catamite.
Well, the Taliban didn't work out so hot, but it's important to understand why many decent Afghans in 1995 wanted to give the Taliban a try.
Somewhat similarly, one of the striking things that hasn't happened in the Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States in the three decades of vast oil wealth is the complete moral collapse of society. If many countries, if the government put everybody on welfare, as the Gulf Arabs did after 1973, the society would soon decay into drunken brawling, heroin addiction, and AIDS. Islamic puritanism, however, for all its other faults, has at least allowed the oil Arabs to avoid the grossest forms of social collapse.
So, why isn't India as fractious as the Middle East? Hindu India has extreme endogamy within regional subcastes (although little cousin marriage), but this comes with a religious scheme explaining both the exact hierarchy and why individuals deserve to be born into their caste -- because of what they did in their past lives. This makes India somewhat more socially stable than Arab countries, where Islam and Christianity both encourage some sense of spiritual equality.
In contrast, Latin America has had a relatively stable social system for 500 years, with the whiter looking people on top in most countries in most eras for that entire time, because it allows the most formidable and ambitious dark young men to marry whiter women and thus absorbs their children and grandchildren into the white ascendancy.