Monday, January 07, 2008

Ayaan Hirsi Ali on Lee Harris

You can't say the forces of freedom are making no progress when, of all places, the New York Times allows Ayaan Hirsi Ali to review Lee Harris' new book, The Suicide of Reason. Here's a bit of her review:
Harris extols American exceptionalism together with Hegel as if there were no contradiction between the two. But what makes America unique, especially in contrast to Europe, is its resistance to the philosophy of Hegel with its concept of a unifying world spirit. It is the individual that matters most in the United States. And more generally, it is individuals who make cultures and who break them. Social and cultural evolution has always relied on individuals — to reform, persuade, cajole or force. Culture is formed by the collective agreement of individuals. At the same time, it is crucial that we not fall into the trap of assuming that the survival tactics of individuals living in tribal societies — like lying, hypocrisy, secrecy, violence, intimidation, and so forth — are in the interest of the modern individual or his culture.

I was not born in the West. I was raised with the code of Islam, and from birth I was indoctrinated into a tribal mind-set. Yet I have changed, I have adopted the values of the Enlightenment, and as a result I have to live with the rejection of my native clan as well as the Islamic tribe. Why have I done so? Because in a tribal society, life is cruel and terrible. And I am not alone. Muslims have been migrating to the West in droves for decades now. They are in search of a better life. Yet their tribal and cultural constraints have traveled with them. And the multiculturalism and moral relativism that reign in the West have accommodated this.

Harris is correct, I believe, that many Western leaders are terribly confused about the Islamic world. They are woefully uninformed and often unwilling to confront the tribal nature of Islam. The problem, however, is not too much reason but too little. Harris also fails to address the enemies of reason within the West: religion and the Romantic movement. It is out of rejection of religion that the Enlightenment emerged; Romanticism was a revolt against reason.

Both the Romantic movement and organized religion have contributed a great deal to the arts and to the spirituality of the Western mind, but they share a hostility to modernity. Moral and cultural relativism (and their popular manifestation, multiculturalism) are the hallmarks of the Romantics. To argue that reason is the mother of the current mess the West is in is to miss the major impact this movement has had, first in the West and perhaps even more profoundly outside the West, particularly in Muslim lands.

Thus, it is not reason that accommodates and encourages the persistent segregation and tribalism of immigrant Muslim populations in the West. It is Romanticism. Multiculturalism and moral relativism promote an idealization of tribal life and have shown themselves to be impervious to empirical criticism. My reasons for reproaching today’s Western leaders are different from Harris’s. I see them squandering a great and vital opportunity to compete with the agents of radical Islam for the minds of Muslims, especially those within their borders. But to do so, they must allow reason to prevail over sentiment.
I think Ali is right that we have to engage in a war for the minds of Muslims (but also for those in the West trapped in the irrationalities of White Guilt) and that over time we will find that more and more of them will want to be free like Ali, and not slaves to traditional forms of society, especially when they see that is not tribalism that can hope to feed them and keep them comfortable and healthy, but only our global modernity, without which the human population must greatly diminish.

However, Ali, and perhaps also Harris, though I haven't yet read his book, continues to pit reason against faith in objectionable ways. Of course there is a lot in the Western tradition of unreason to oppose. This blog never tires of berating the Gnostic left and its incoherent preaching on multiculturalism, for example. However, Ali seems to be largely unaware of how Western individualism has been in good part an outgrowth of Judeo-Christian religion, and Romanticism, and not simply of the "Enlightenment" which is best understood as a secularization or codification of what has always been a potential of a Western religious tradition that separates the moral and (the tribal) ethical, emphasizes individual moral conscience and conversation with God, as well as a history of progressive, unfolding revelations into our humanity to be discovered in human time. Furthermore, ours is a religion that, especially in the case of Christianity, calls on us to maximize human reciprocity, to see individuals as sacred centres/traders in their own right, freed of any particular social hierarchy or periphery, in a way that has led us to the free global market of secular modernity.

Similarly, the Romantic movement cannot be seriously summed up with a one-sided, good or bad, polemic, however much violence has arisen from it, both in the form of leftist political movements and resentful individuals defining their humanity against "the system" or the establishment. The modern individual, who uses the arts of consumer society, and also some reason, to endlessly differentiate individual sacred centres within a larger free market modernity, is as much a Romantic figure as is the anti-modern philobarbarist or supporter of one or another totalitarian fantasy. Furthermore, Romantic interest in the primitive can be a form of anthropology, a mix of reasoning and art that attempts a better understanding of our human origins, an improved understanding that can have liberating potential in our modernity. It is all too simple to see Romanticism across the board as an unquestioning embrace of the primitive.

It is incumbent on us to work through such contradictory possibilities in the major intellectual and artistic currents of the modern West, to foster the positive forces therein, so as to defend our modernity. This defense cannot be seriously achieved by those who would simply write off large parts of our cultural heritage as unreasonable. The Enlightenment's caricature of Reason is not alone the salvation of anything. It leads to forms of positivism which become crude Gnostic religions in their own right: see Marxism, or the French Revolution, for example, where reason and romanticism embraced in ways I don't think Ali yet knows how to separate.

I greatly admire Ayaan Hirsi Ali for showing the West what Islam is, for being a whistle blower, an informer, for insisting we hear the kind of stories that can only come from those who have lived under the oppressive tribal codes of the Islamic world. And while she seems to be someone whose escape from Islam has left her faithless and unsure how to deal with the human need for good faith, as the guarantee of our freedom, of our ability to perform for others an act of good faith, an acting that "reason" alone will never conquer, she may at least give us the courage to fight harder against those, like Mohamed Elmasry, who are actively targeting the forces of freedom in the West, as in Elmasry's recent campaign to silence Mark Steyn, or to make him unpublishable in Canada. Elmasry is the man who was widely quoted in the media for claiming that the murder of Aqsa Parvez was just a "teenager issue":
"I don't want the public to think that this is really an Islamic issue or an immigrant issue," said Mohamed Elmasry of the Canadian Islamic Congress. "It is a teenager issue."
Thanks to voices like Hirsi Ali's, fewer and fewer Canadians are falling for such rhetorical sleights of hand. Islam is an inherent part of certain tribal societies and tribal society is arguably an inherent part of Islam, though whether there can be some kind of accommodation of Islam and modernity remains to be seen. We will only begin the serious work of finding out what can and cannot be made of Islam and modernity when we stop listening to and appeasing the anti-freedom Islamists like Elmasry, who is invited to all kinds of conferences by leftist Canadian elites, and champion those Muslims who so desperately want greater freedom for their people. Ali has rejected Islam, others are trying to reform it. Let that debate play out, let's give our attention to those Muslims interested in change and progress, and not in a defense of tribalism masked as a denial that Islam is profoundly allied with tribalism.

The debate we need will be well served if we renew our interest in Western culture and history so that it does not become a sources of easy polemics and caricatures for those fighting for freedom and modernity. We only really defend freedom and modernity when we are not unnecessarily casting out parts of it, but grasping the greater mystery by which so much has and can be held together as a network of free individuals making their lives sacred in any number of ways.

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Anonymous said...

Wow! The British MSM really have woken up and are beginning to reflect the national mood

Here are five newspaper excerpts from today's Islamophobia Watch in addition to yesterday's Hard-hitting Daily Express article:

Daily Mail


Daily Telegraph 1

Daily Telegraph 2

Sunday Telegraph

The £64000 question is how do we turn this tide of revulsion against the Death-cult into poliitical action? Is it too late? These parasites have wormed their way into every aspect of national life and are producing poisons which are killing the Body Politic.

And they are still entering at the rate of several hundred every day, and swarming and breeding like maggots when they get here. Meanwhile the political parties dare not admit that there is a problem - partly because they are chasing the 'Muslim Vote' - and partly because to stop the influx would be to acknowledge that Muslims are bad for the country (to put it mildly), and thus admit that they have allowed a major national disaster to occur on their watch.

The first rule of finding yourself in a hole is to stop digging. But the mainstream parties won't even do that.

Four actions are needed to save Britain.

(1) Immediate end to Muslim immigration
(2) Immediate deportation of all illegals.
(3) Removal of children from Muslim parents where abuse is possible (physical abuse such as FGM and mental abuse such as hate-cult indocrination)
(4) Internment of all illegals or potential terrorists who can't be deported.

To our American cousins I would say it isn't too late for you, but if you do nothing for another five years and you'll be in the same state as Britain. You must stop importing terrorists now!

truepeers said...

It seems to me, najistani, that if you want your government to address the Sharia zones that are growing up in your cities, the corruption of the police, etc., you have to first transform the thinking on multiculturalism and white guilt that rules the British elite. And the way to do that is not to try to engage them in hate speech, but to give them a positive message about defending freedom and a clear vision of why the route you are presently on promises to end violently.

But if you go around talking about swarming maggots, the majority of Britons will rightly write you off as just another BNP hate monger. It is precisely what allows the other side to do nothing, but doing anything taints them with racism. If you want to insure a free society, you have to incorporate the idea in what your write and say, and even show that you insist on freedom for Muslims.

Anonymous said...

I don't have the political or historical knowledge to comment relevantly to the article or najistani's post, but I can easily say that your response to him was right on the mark and struck exactly the right tone that I think is needed in all debate of troublesome issues such as the William Simpson/Carnegie affair. Glad I checked in here this morning. Keep up the good writing.

truepeers said...

thank you