The Islamic world is, in terms of its worldview, analogous to the European Christian world from the Dark or Early Middle Ages, in that it has undergone neither a Reformation nor an Enlightenment (although it has undergone schisms, such as that between the Sunni and the Shia). As a consequence of this, the metaphysics, morals, and practices of mainstream Muslims are far more strongly shaped and guided by their religion than are ours in the West. As such, we would consider even mainstream Muslims to be fundamentalist in their outlook. For them, the Koran and Hadith (purportedly recounting the words and deeds of Muhammad), often as interpreted by their local Imam, provide the framework for the way that they live their life. In other words, the Islamic world is, in general, more fundamentalist than the Christian world is now, as it has a more rigid and literal interpretation of its holy books. Furthermore, much of the West is now only nominally Christian, being largely secular in practise.
Of course, one must take care not to view the whole Islamic world as a homogeneous mass. The degree of religiosity within and between Muslim countries falls within a broad spectrum, just as it does within and between Western countries. Furthermore, there must be many people who live under the oppressive regimes in countries such as Iran who would choose to live a more secular existence if they were free to. However, few in such circumstances are willing to dissent openly, particularly with regard to religious matters (and especially if Sharia Law operates, as in Iran and Saudi Arabia), since this might lead to imprisonment or even death (see this for more information). It is their profound misfortune to have been born into such an oppressive society.
Nevertheless, it is undeniably the case that the average level of religiosity in Islamic countries is far higher than that in Western countries (see this). Consequently, the percentage of people in such countries who we would consider religious fundamentalists (who should more accurately be called scriptural literalists, since the justification for their beliefs is to be found in their holy books) is correspondingly much higher than in the West.
Islam has had periods of enlightenment, with a small 'e'. For example, Muslim scholars invented algebra, translated the writings of Plato and Aristotle, and made contributions to the early sciences.
However, the Islamic world has not had an Enlightenment, with a capital 'E'. That is, there has been no analogous revolution in the thinking within the Islamic World that has given people the freedom the criticise the Koran, to contemplate and formulate a secular morality, and to develop ideas of democracy, equality, and law that ignore or contradict the religious teachings of the Koran and Hadith.
In the Islamic world, there is no history or practice of free inquiry, thought or expression; or of Koranic Criticism. In fact, in many parts of the Islamic world, such acts would likely qualify you as an apostate or a blasphemer – the penalty for which is death (strictly speaking, the Koran is ambiguous about the punishment for apostasy, but the Hadith is rather more explicit: "Kill whoever changes his religion." Sahih Bukhari 9:84:57).
During the European Dark Ages free inquiry, thought or expression were not tolerated, and the Church’s authority was absolute. Scientific and philosophical progress that been made within Ancient Greece and elsewhere now stagnated or regressed, and countless thousands of people were tortured and executed for imaginary crimes. Of course, this continued into the Middle Ages and beyond with the Crusades, Witch hunts, Inquisitions, religious wars and so on (all sanctioned or fully supported by the Church), and only started to change with the weakening of the Church’s grip on power, and the general decline in religiosity, during the Reformation and subsequent Enlightenment. This led to the consequent great advances in the areas of reason, rationality, science, and ethics.
In much of the Islamic World, the religious authorities have far greater power over what the populace learn, over their everyday lives, and over what they are permitted to say and write. However, it is incorrect to say that Islamic fundamentalism is a result of a lack of education per se. Many of the Muslim suicide bombers and other Jihadists have been middle-class and well-educated. Rather, it is the Islamic worldview - including a far more literal interpretation of the Koran and Hadith, and lack of any real secular, liberal thought that is to blame. For, in the Islamic World, education necessarily includes a thorough indoctrination in Islam itself, and many apparently secular subjects are given an Islamic interpretation.
It should also be remembered that much of the intelligentsia in the Islamic World gives the impression of being similarly fundamentalist (by our standards) in its worldview, with Islamic philosophy often consisting of an attempt to harmonise reason and the religious teachings of Islam (an exercise in futility, if ever there was one, as faith itself is the belief in a proposition or belief system without proof). This is analogous in a sense to European Medieval philosophy. Osama Bin Laden and others have been inspired by some of these writings. As was the case with the Enlightenment in Europe, any move towards secularisation is probably going to come first from these intellectuals, and then filter down to the general population.
It should also be noted that religious fundamentalism on its own is not sufficient to promote violence. The Jains, for example, are strongly committed to compassion for all life, human and non-human. They consider that to kill any person, no matter what crime he may have committed, is unimaginably abhorrent. Therefore, fundamentalist Jains pose no threat of violence in the way that fundamentalist Muslims (and Christians) do. It is the fact that Islam contains so many entreaties to violence and conquest that makes fundamentalist Muslims such a potential threat.
Religion in the Western world may appear benign now, but it was not always so, and is still not so in some of the theocratic Islamic countries (for example in Afghanistan, Iran, and Saudi Arabia).
A religion of war
In the case of Islam, the particular combination of such a warlike medieval worldview (in which some of the faithful fervently believe it is their holy duty to convert or kill 'infidels', and that the reward for dying in the process is a place in Paradise) and access to nuclear weapons would seem to be a particularly deadly one. It is not necessarily the case that Islam is, at its core, intrinsically more dangerous and warlike than Christianity - although one could make such a case. However, its followers are far more fundamentalist. By the way, it is a misnomer that the word Islam itself means ‘peace’. It actually means ‘submission’.
Some may doubt that Islam is, at its heart, a religion of war. However, to such people I would urge reading the Koran and Hadith. There you will find countless verses in the following vein –
“Slay them wherever ye find them, and drive them out of the places whence they drove you out ... if they attack you (there) then slay them. Such is the reward of disbelievers.” 2:191
“Warfare is ordained for you, though it is hateful unto you.” 2:216
“Fight in the way of Allah who sell the life of this world for the other. Whoso fighteth in the way of Allah, be he slain or be he victorious, on him We shall bestow a vast reward.” 4:74
“Those who believe do battle for the cause of Allah; and those who disbelieve do battle for the cause of idols. So fight the minions of the devil.” 4:76
“If they keep not aloof from you nor offer you peace nor hold their hands, then take them and kill them wherever ye find them. Against such We have given you clear warrant.” 4:91
“Slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them (captive), and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush.” 9:5
“O Prophet! Strive against the disbelievers and the hypocrites! Be harsh with them. Their ultimate abode is hell, a hapless journey's end.” 9:73
“O ye who believe! Fight those of the disbelievers who are near to you, and let them find harshness in you.” 9:123
And so on. Of course, the Bible is full of similar exhortations. The difference is, as I have said, that the Christian world has been forced to moderate, and has moved in a much more secular direction than has the Islamic world. This makes Islam far less amenable to reason and rationality, as unquestioning belief in dogma is always the enemy of reason. After all, if you believe the Koran and Hadith to be the inerrant word of Allah, then why would you not spread Islam by force, as these books instruct you to do?
To be sure, there are fundamentalist Christians in the Western world too, but they are in a much smaller minority. And, of these, virtually none is seemingly willing to kill him or herself in the cause of Christianity, in the way that some Muslim extremists are willing to do in the name of Islam. Of course, a few centuries ago, the fundamentalist variety of Christian was not in the minority. Having said that, the fact that some leaders of the only superpower seem to see themselves as being on a religious Crusade can only further inflame an already bad situation.
And, what of the oft-heard claim that the Koran explicitly prohibits suicide terrorism? In reality there is but one such passage, and even that is somewhat ambiguous:
"Do not destroy yourselves" (4:29)
Against that one sentence, we need to balance the multitude of others exhorting followers to spread Islam by the sword, and to kill infidels. Perhaps some Muslims do think that the Koran is much more explicit than it actually is in prohibiting suicide terrorism. However, these are scarcely going to be the same Muslims who would be likely to engage in such an act. For those so inclined, this vague prohibition will count as nothing against all of the passages encouraging Jihad. And, to such Muslims, it is not suicide anyway but, rather, death in the wholly justifiable cause of Jihad. Such suicide bombings are even known as "sacred explosions".
That an intelligent but belligerent species such as ours would eventually invent nuclear weapons was perhaps inevitable. However, that they do exist now puts our very survival as a species in a very precarious position. The principle of Mutually Assured Destruction seems to have been what has so far kept the fingers of world leaders away from the red buttons, however deplorable that may seem. Whilst we have teetered on the brink of annihilation for the last fifty years or so, we have never tipped over the edge. However, once nuclear or radiological weapons start to fall into the hands of religious extremists, who are willing and ready to martyr themselves in the name of their god, it is hard to see what would stop them from being used. How this scenario can be prevented should be uppermost in all of our minds. See this for more information. Of particular concern here should be the security of the nuclear weapons from the former Soviet Union, and from Pakistan.
Of course, we don’t only have to worry about terrorist groups obtaining nuclear weapons. In the case of Iran, we have a country with a fundamentalist Muslim leadership that is widely suspected to be working on a covert program of nuclear weapons development, although it maintains that its nuclear ambitions are purely peaceful. Accusations of hypocrisy come from some Western commentators, who say that we are not in a position to criticise Iran's suspected nuclear weapons development, when we have our own nuclear weapons. This however, is a case of misplaced egalitarianism. What really matters here is the motivation behind Iran's suspected nuclear ambitions, and the likely result if they were to succeed. We can only speculate, but statements such as this by Iran's President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, perhaps give us an idea (however you choose to interpret it).
Based upon statements such as this one, I think that the world would likely be a significantly more dangerous place if Iran possessed nuclear weapons. In particular, there would seem to be a distinct possibility of a nuclear conflagration between them and Israel (who are widely believed to be a nuclear state, although they have never formally admitted this), which might then escalate.
Against the charge of hypocrisy, I would say that pragmatism is more important here, and that hypocrisy, if this is what it is, disproves nothing anyway (for example, if a smoker advises somebody else not to smoke, that advice is not rendered invalid by virtue of the hypocrisy). The reality is that the current nuclear powers are not going to completely relinquish these weapons (although we should still push ahead with the NPT), but that standing by while certain unpredictable and belligerent states develop them is dangerously misguided. Ask yourself the following: if you knew for sure that as soon as Iran achieved nuclear weapons capability that it would launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike on Israel, that Israel would retaliate, and that other nuclear powers would be drawn in, would you still think it only fair and proper that Iran be allowed nuclear weapons? I doubt it. So, as I said before, the important questions to ask are what is Iran’s motivation, and what would the likely results be. Based upon statements emanating from Iran’s leadership, I would suggest that their reasons for wanting nuclear weapons are not purely defensive ones.
There has been a certain balance of power with the existing nuclear states, and none has been prepared to risk its own destruction by launching a pre-emptive attack, but I think that a nuclear Iran would be dangerously unpredictable. Would the Mutually Assured Destruction principle work with a religious fundamentalist such as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, for whom the ideas of martyrdom and Jihad are quite reasonable? This is a salient question. When we consider this, and the possibility of other country's weapons falling into the hands of terrorists, we can see that, for the first time in history, nuclear weapons might be controlled by people who are utterly convinced that they would go straight to paradise if they were to die in the name of their religion.
The Liberal Left stance
In cases of terrorism by Muslim fanatics, a typical Liberal Left response is to excuse the actions of violent Muslim fundamentalists as being justified responses to Imperialist actions of the West, and to label any criticism of Islam as just Islamophobia. So blinded are they by their hatred of the United States (and the UK) and its activities that they will seemingly side with any regime with which it quarrels - not matter how fascistic or oppressive it might be. They seem unable to comprehend that the Islamic states they are siding with are the sort of oppressive, totalitarian regimes that their liberal principles should wish them to see changed. After 9/11, some commentators even wrote that the US had it coming - which is a blatent example of the type of facile moral equivalence and relativism too often found with the liberal Left of today.
Refusing to ever acknowledge or consider that it is their religion that is at the heart of the problem with the extremists will only allow the situation to worsen unabated. It is not that a peaceful religion has been hijacked by extremists but, rather, that the so-called extremists are merely taking literally the tenets of a dangerous belief system as they are written in the Koran and Hadith. In that sense, the Liberals are like the French intellectuals of the 30’s who refused to accept that Hitler and the Nazis were bent on world domination, and that their Final Solution would involve the deaths of millions of Jews and other so-called undesirables.
Whilst the Liberal stance might at first glance appear to be the noble one (and it is the one to which I would normally gravitate, as a Liberal freethinker myself), it must be tempered here by appeal to reason and evidence, and a willingness to face the truth, however uncomfortable it might be. Its proponents must avoid self-delusion, and political correctness masquerading as fairness and concern to avoid discriminating against others.
Liberal commentators are fond of saying that Islamic terrorism against Western targets is a direct result of our own aggressive actions in the Middle East and elsewhere. However, such actions by the US and others merely add to the problem, rather than being its root cause. In my view, this root cause is in fact the Muslim religion itself - and the rationale behind these terrorist actions is, in reality, the project to establish a worldwide caliphate founded on Sharia law, with the ejection of the infidel from Muslim lands being merely an intermediate step in this aim. See this article, and this one too, for more on that topic.
To be sure, not all Muslims are fundamentalists. There do exist more moderate Muslims, particularly in the West, and we should be thankful for this. I would urge them to speak out against Muslim fundamentalism, to encourage religious moderation wherever they can, and to work with others in the West to help to find a solution to extremism - as some are already doing. However, the voice of Islamic moderation is all too often conspicuous by its absence.
There is no shortage of verses in the Koran urging Muslims to spread their religion by the sword (see my earlier quotes from the Koran, and those from another post), and seemingly no shortage of Muslims willing to carry this out. This will to impose one's religion upon others is at the heart of Christianity too, but an increasing secularisation and weakening of the Christian Church's power in the West means that Western governments can no longer openly call for this.
Moderation and Iraq
We can only hope that the Islamic world moves towards moderation, if not outright secularisation, although there is little evidence that this is actually happening. And in Western countries such as the UK, France, and the Netherlands, the younger generation of Muslims is often becoming increasingly radicalised. The return to fundamentalism of these westernised and often well-educated young Muslims is fuelled by a mixture of youthful bravado and rebellion, the need to be part of a group, indoctrination in Islamic ideas of violent jihad, and a backlash against the current US-led activities in the Middle East. This last item is particularly misguided as, however foolish, naïve, and self-motivated were the actions in Iraq, the vast majority of the killing in Iraq now is Muslim by Muslim (Sunni vs. Shia). This centuries-old intra-faith tension had lately been kept in check by the despotic Sadam Hussein (a Sunni who particularly oppressed the Shia and Kurdish populations. Interestingly, Iraq was nominally run as a secular state under Saddam Hussein, which particularly ired neighbouring Islamic states), but erupted as soon as he was removed. So, rather than seeing that the real problem is with the dangerously deluded Iraqi Muslims who want to kill each other over rival and ancient interpretations of Muhammad's successor, these radicals instead choose to lay the blame solely with the Western forces who gave the Iraqis this dubious freedom.
It should be noted that most of these radical young Western Muslims were born in the West, and many have never even set foot in Iraq or Afghanistan. They are neither poor, nor uneducated, they are not oppressed, and they are not living under an occupation. The only real connection that they have is through their religion. Of course, what these Muslims really object to is the presence of the 'infidel' on Muslim soil, as well as a general and misguided disgust at the West’s morality (see this). They often appear much more fundamentally opposed to coalition troops in Iraq than are many Iraqis - perhaps because they didn't have to live under the despotic rule of Saddam Hussein.
Although there is little doubt that the invasion of Iraq was carried out mainly for the benefit of US interests, the Iraqi nation might benefit too, by getting rid of a despot, and by getting some sort of democracy instead. A perfect case of an ill-motivated action nevertheless having the potential to produce desirable consequences. However, many Muslims within Iraq and elsewhere are so caught up with the religious, sectarian conflicts and with their obsession with infidels that they are blind to this. Of course, there has also been covert (and often not so covert) support for insurgents and interference in Iraq from neighbouring Sunni (e.g. Saudi Arabia) and Shia (e.g. Iran) dominated countries.
Just War Theory alone probably dictates that the invasion of Iraq should never have happened. Moreover, it should have been clear to anyone with an understanding of the region’s history and religion that removing Saddam Hussein would likely lead to the type of bloody Sunni/Shia conflict that we are witnessing now. Nevertheless, since the invasion did take place anyway, the Iraqi population was given an opportunity to improve its overall lot by installing some sort of democracy, and improving personal freedom for its individual members. However, those people willing to work towards this end are being coerced (or killed) by those too blinded by religious hatred and personal ambition to be willing to grasp this opportunity for the benefit of the population as a whole.
Of course, no country has a perfect democracy (if such a thing is even theoretically possible), nor universal personal freedom of thought, expression, and action (within reason), but any move towards this is likely to be an improvement, as an increase in individual freedoms and rights is conducive to an improvement in the potential for overall happiness. As such, greater individual liberty and freedom equates to the country being run under a better moral framework. Of course, the idea of a democracy itself can be a paradox, as the population of some fundamentalist countries would perhaps vote for an oppressive, theocratic regime anyway if given the chance. Let's hope that this doesn't happen in Iraq.
One interesting and encouraging thing to note is that a majority of Iraqis indicate that they prefer the current leadership in Iraq than Saddam Hussein's regime. See this.
A tale of two moralities
As to the problem that some Muslims have with West's morality, perhaps we should take a moment to compare two systems. Firstly, the Islamic ethical framework (much of what I will say here applies equally well to the Christian system). This is a duty-based system, in which the concepts of right and wrong are those as laid out within the Koran and Hadith. In this system, it is our duty to obey these strictures, whatever the consequences might be. This framework has several major flaws:
- Firstly, the Koran and Hadith contain many contradictions and inconsistencies, and are open to multiple interpretations, so it is not unambiguously clear what these rules actually are (this is despite the fact that many Muslims contend that the Koran is inerrant).
- Secondly, is it the case that these moral imperatives are good because Allah says they are; or does Allah command them because they are morally good? This is an important distinction. In the latter case, the implication is that this good morality exists independently of Allah, and so we could discover and describe it completely without reference to Allah at all. In the former case, morality becomes somewhat arbitrary, since Allah might have ruled that murder is good, for example, and we would be forced to accept that. In fact many of the rules supposedly given by Allah do seem to work along these lines. For example – the inferiority of women is enshrined; calls are made for punishment or death for homosexuality (whilst different opinions exist regarding the theory of this matter, as there are multiple interpretations, the practice is that many homosexuals have been executed in Iran and Afghanistan); calls for severe penalties (including death) for adultery, blasphemy and apostasy etc.
- Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, the whole system of Islamic ethics presupposes that Allah exists and is benevolent. If Allah is not benevolent, then why would acting in accordance with his or her will be considered morally good (and, based upon this, Allah does not appear to be benevolent at all)? Furthermore, the metaphysics of Allah’s existence rests upon very flimsy philosophical ground and, as such, is almost certainly false. Even the most basic god hypothesis, akin to pantheism, is far from being a good explanation for our existence (see my other post here). But, once all sort of other ad-hoc characteristics are attributed to one’s god, as with the Muslim and Christian god, then its existence is virtually ruled out. The only positive evidence for the existence of such a god is that the universe exists, and so do we, but that argument can equally be used to support the existence of an infinity of other ‘gods’ (the Bible and Koran don't really count, as we can't substantiate extraordinary claims based upon such flimsy historical evidence. Furthermore, religious experiences count for naught too, see my post here). So, on this argument alone, the probability of any one specific god existing is effectively infinity to one against. Furthermore, when we examine the predictions entailed by the characteristics attributed to God/Allah (omniscience, omnipotence, omnibenevolence etc.), we find that these are not borne out by the evidence of the universe as we find it (too much evil, God’s silence etc).
By comparison, I would advocate a consequentialist system of ethics, of the type often espoused by Secular Humanism. Such a system does not depend upon the existence of any supernatural entity for its validity, since it is secular. It is not dogmatic in the way that the Islamic system is, but is provisional and subject to revision as our ethical understanding improves. It judges the morality of actions based upon the likely consequences of such actions, and aims to maximise overall human happiness. Liberty, personal freedom of speech and thought, and democracy are emphasised.
Under the Islamic system, liberty, free speech, thought and action are not tolerated where they might go against the rules imposed by Allah. By contrast, the system I am advocating encourages liberty, free speech, thought and action, so long as it does not cause harm to others. This concept was detailed by John Stuart Mill – see this and this. Under such a system, giving offence does not constitute harm.
This has to be so under a properly constituted liberal system. To see why consider, for example, that the views of a Christian might cause offence to Muslims, since Muslims regard Jesus as being merely a secondary prophet (and not the son of God), but Muhammad as being the true prophet, and vice versa; the views of Jews might cause offence to both Muslims and Christians, since they deny the divinity of Jesus (as well as supposedly having crucified him) and the revelation of Muhammad, and regard themselves as God’s chosen people; and the views of non-believers, Buddhists, Hindus, etc. might offend Muslims, Christians, and Jews for a multiplicity of reasons.
Hence, there are really only two coherent possibilities here: a totalitarian system, such as a theocracy, in which no dissent from the (religious) rules is tolerated (which would be the favoured system of many fundamentalist Muslims and Christians, for example); and a liberal system in which giving offence is always allowed. Anything in-between is inconsistent and impracticle. Therefore, as long as you allow any religious (or, to a lesser extent, political) freedom at all, then you run the risk that somebody is going to be offended. This is an unavoidable consequence of liberty, and so the best solution is to allow complete freedom of speech, except in cases where direct harm is caused to others (for example, falsely shouting 'Fire!' in a crowded theatre, or spreading malicious lies about somebody).
Here are a few practical comparisons of the two ethical systems under discussion:
1) Under the Islamic system blasphemy is a serious crime, since it breaks sacrosanct rules from the Koran and Hadith. Under my system, it is not a crime at all, since it is covered by the right to free speech and thought.
2) Under the Islamic system apostasy is a serious crime, since is breaks sacrosanct rules from the Koran and Hadith. Under my system, it is not a crime at all, since it is covered by a person’s right to free speech and thought.
3) Under the Islamic system homosexuality is often considered to be a serious crime. Whilst the Koran is somewhat ambiguous on the subject, the Hadith is rather more forthright ("Kill the one that is doing it and also kill the one that it is being done to"). Under my system, it is not a crime, since personal freedom dictates that consenting adults should be free to indulge in whatever sexual practices they wish in private. Furthermore, mounting scientific evidence suggests that homosexuals are very likely born that way, which poses a problem for the religious person who disapproves, since the implication is that God/Allah created people a certain way, and then ruled that their likely behaviour is not allowed, and is punishable by death (not to mention eternal damnation). This is but one of the many inconsistencies in the religious moral framework (another is that God created many people who He must know would choose to believe in another god, or the same god under a different name, or no god at all, and then consign them to an eternity in Hell for this ‘crime’).
4) Under the Islamic system, women are usually seen as being inferior to men, and as being potential temptresses who should cover themselves. Not doing so is a crime in most fundamentalist Islamic countries. In my system, women (as well as homosexuals, and people of all races) are entitled to equal rights, and may dress as they please, since this is part of their right to personal freedom. This is a result of the type of views held by some Muslims.
Now, the actual ethical systems in place in Western countries do not attain the standard of liberty and freedom that I am advocating (sometimes for religious reasons). Nevertheless, despite many imperfections, they are much closer to the system that I am advocating than to the Islamic system. In theory, if not always in practise, concepts of personal freedom of thought and speech, liberty, democracy, and equality are now enschrined in law, and are generally understood as being basic human rights.
So, in my view, the system of ethics I am advocating is a far more enlightened one than the Islamic system, as a result of the great advances in ethical understanding that took place during and after the Enlightenment. At its core, it attempts to maximize human happiness; unlike the Islamic system, which compels people to follow certain (supposedly god-given) rules, whether this makes for greater happiness or not. The result of this is the much greater potential for human misery under the Islamic system, since people have far more constraints upon their personal freedoms, and run the risk of being punished for the many ‘crimes’ that are peculiar to that (and similar) system – such as blasphemy, apostasy etc.
In my system, people should be treated equally; and be free to think, say, and do what they want (with certain reasonable limitations placed upon these last two, such as not having the freedom to murder). Furthermore, what people eat and drink, what they smoke, how they dress, and how and with whom they choose to have sex in private (so long as both parties are consenting adults), for example, should be none of the state’s business, as these are victimless crimes. As such, they should not be enforced or punished by law (the crime surrounding drugs, for example, is almost entirely due to their prohibition - but that's another story).
Some Muslims (and some Christian’s too) feel that the West’s ethical system is morally depraved. However, for the reasons that I have stated, I think that this criticism could much more legitimately be levelled at the Islamic ethical system. Even many Westerners feel that our morals are getting worse. This displays a gross historical ignorance. Not only have societies been saying that about themselves for thousands of years, but it ignores the fact that there is far more equality, freedom, social welfare, and democracy now than ever. See this, for example. In fact, our society has become increasingly liberal in its attitudes to personal freedom, and it is aspects of this necessary freedom that others find so problematic, since they feel that people should conform to some authoritive and restrictive moral behaviour (often based upon religious tenets).
It is a mistake to apply cultural relativism to the Islamic system, and state it is their system, so who are we to criticise it. The reason that I can criticise it is that nobody chose to be born into such a system. However, having been born there, many people live a life of oppression and subjugation, since there is no way out for them. Why should people be compelled to live like that? I speak for those people.
The way forward
We need to find a way forward with the problem of Muslim extremism, and quickly, or the future for humanity looks bleak. Appeasement, however, is not the way forward. The West’s moral and other advances in terms of tolerance, personal liberty, and freedom have been fought for long and hard, and we shouldn’t be ready to give them up so easily. In a recent survey, 32 percent of UK Muslims questioned felt that, "Western society is decadent and immoral and that Muslims should seek to bring it to an end". For reasons that I have discussed at length, I think we should strongly resist any such aim to impose an Islamic moral code, or caliphate.
Even apart from the well-known terrorist acts, there have also been many high-profile examples of Muslims attempting to curb the right to free speech within the West (this right is already not as universal as it should be). For example, the fatwa against Salman Rushdie; the recent controversy over the Danish cartoons; and the murder of the Dutch film director, Theo Van Gogh. In a liberal society, every idea and belief has to be open to discussion, criticism, and ridicule. Religion is not exempt (see this and this).
As another example, a recent poll in the UK indicated the 40% of the Muslims questioned would like to see the introduction of Sharia Law into parts of Britain. This is something that we should oppose unreservedly, as by allowing it to be introduced we would be permitting the removal of what we would call basic human rights for those people under its proposed rule. Whilst we can do nothing to remove it in places such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, we should never permit it to exist in the West. The rights of those who would be condemned to death for imaginary or non crimes trump the rights of those who wish to impose such penalties. Benign cultural differences should of course be tolerated in pluralistic societies such as ours, but we must draw the line at the abuse of basic human rights.
Sharia Law codifies and enshrines into law the type of barbaric rules found in the Koran and Hadith (similar ones can be found in the Bible as well), such as the inferiority of women, strict limitations on free speech, and penalties of death for apostasy, adultery, and homosexuality. Those in any doubt as to how it operates in practise should read articles such as this.
Nor, as I have said previously, is ignoring the problem, or blaming it all on the West the way to go, as this is merely simplistic and misguided. After all, where are the Tibetan Buddhist suicide bombers? They have suffered an occupation far more brutal than anything imposed upon the Muslim world by the West. Or, for that matter, where are the Palestinian Christian suicide bombers? They have been subject to the Israeli occupation too. The answer is that invasion and occupation alone are not a sufficient condition to produce suicide bombers. For that, you also need a literal interpretation of a dangerous set of beliefs.
I should add that this article is not racist, since I am not talking about any one race of people. It is religion in general, and more specifically the Muslim religion (since it is a warlike religion and currently has a more fundamentalist following than Christianity, the other main warlike religion) that is the problem. Religion, or lack of it, should be a private matter, and not one for the state to concern itself with.
The conclusions discussed in this post have been reached by examining the empirical evidence, and then applying the methods of reason. Anyone who wishes to dispute my conclusions must dispute either the evidence, or my chain of reasoning. It is not sufficient to state that the conclusions are wrong, based upon the fact that you find them unpalatable.
For more on this topic, I would suggest the following links.
Problems with Islam:
The problem with the Liberal attitude to Islam:
The absence of an Enlightenment in the Islamic world: http://www.secularhumanism.org/index.php?section=library&page=iwarraq_26_3 http://www.spiegel.de/international/0,1518,398853,00.html
The problems faced by People trying to renounce their Muslim faith: http://www.spiegel.de/international/spiegel/0,1518,468828,00.html
The effect of medieval Christianity on science: http://richardcarrier.blogspot.com/2006/11/science-and-medieval-christianity.html