The Proud Duck

Thoughts on policy, history, faith, baseball when I get around to it, waterfowl, and life in general by a junior attorney who'd much rather have Jonah Goldberg's job. Or possibly Darin Erstad's.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2005
Hugh Hewitt, on his blog, wrote, "The idea that all of Islam is the problem is a fringe opinion."

My response, expanding on my previous post below:

Dear Hugh,

On today's blog, you wrote, "The idea that all of Islam is the problem is a fringe opinion." I deeply respect your judgment, but I think you may be going a bit too far -- or possibly I'm misreading your meaning.

In one sense, you're right: Ultimately, the responsibility for jihadist outrages lies firmly with the heretical death-cultists who perpetrate them, not with the rest of the world's Muslims, who reject their ideology and tactics with varying degrees of unequivocation.

But I don't think you can avoid considering whether Islam is just horribly unlucky, to have had such an awful run of bad apples bob to its surface, or whether there is something to Islam, as an ideology, that will tend to produce a disproportionate share of violent fanatics.

I don't see how any one could argue that basic cultural assumptions can have no effect on the frequency with which certain characteristics occur within a population. Consider Max Weber's "Protestant work ethic" thesis, or the argument in Michael Novak's book "On Two Wings" that the cultural assumptions of the Judeo-Christian tradition inclined Americans to embrace liberty. Since all religions, like all ideologies, have a human element, all religions have flaws along with the good in them. The leaders of my own Mormon Church like to say the Church "makes bad men good and good men better." I like to add "and proud men insufferable, and unstable men absolutely nuts." On the one hand, we produce a disproportionate number of strong families; on the other hand, we can be insular and lacking somewhat in individual initiative and in cutting-edge creativity. It's all part of the package, and each religion's package contains a different mix.

A person with a truly decent character and enlightened mind can immerse himself in virtually any religion and find in it the foundation for a sublime spiritual life. The problem is that there is not an unlimited supply of decent, enlightened souls on the earth. With a very few truly saintly exceptions, most of us have at least one or two smudges of human viciousness -- which we are loath to acknowledge -- in some dark corner of our hearts. And vast numbers of us couldn't reflect our way out of a paper bag with GoogleMaps directions printed on the inside. The problem with Islam is not that, applied by the best that apply it, it can't produce just as much enlightenment as other religions. The problem is that it's insufficiently idiot-proof.

Islam's particular ideological package seems, along with the good Islam accomplishes, to be producing a disproportionate number of international terrorists, and making it difficult for any large portion of the Islamic world fully to reconcile itself to pluralism and modernity. The point of observing this is not to denigrate Islam -- it is to acknowledge that Muslims, if they are to make their religion as noble as it has the potential to be, need to work harder than others to overcome their religion's apparently built-in susceptibility to misinterpreted by disproportionate numbers of those marginal minds, who can be found in any religion and will always be with us.

When you're second best, as the old rental car ad goes, you try harder. When you recognize you have a handicap, you work to overcome it. To pretend that Islam, as an ideology, has nothing at all to do with violent fanaticism is fantasy, and will only serve to discourage Muslims from undertaking the proper measures to put their house of faith in order."


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