More Than Tepid and Ambiguous

 Posted by on 22 July 2005 at 11:23 am  Uncategorized
Jul 222005

Bob Bidinotto, who is once again working for The Objectivist Center, recently posted a link to Ed Hudgins’ op-ed “Flushing the Koran or Reason Down the Toilet?” on SOLO. In so doing, he offered this introductory comment:

I’ve posted this link to a fine recent commentary on the evils of mysticism by Ed Hudgins, new executive director of The Objectivist Center, for two reasons. Not only does it speak bluntly on a vitally important issue, but it also refutes those who claim that his public position, and TOC’s, is tepid or ambiguous on the issue of reason versus religious faith.

That last bit, as you might have guessed, obliquely refers to my various criticisms of Ed Hudgins’ op-eds. It’s also a non sequitur. Even if Ed wrote a solid, uncompromising op-ed on faith versus religion this one time, that would not wipe clean TOC’s record of timid appeasement. Just as a reminder, that record includes such gems as the op-eds “The Human Spirit of Christmas” and “The Problems with The Passion’s Moral Message,” as well as the policy forum on Islam in America and American Values: Are They Compatible?. Unsurprisingly, the new op-ed so highly praised by Bob Bidinotto is a philosophical disaster, as noted by Tom Rowland two posts. Let me add a few comments of my own.

Ed Hudgins starts with a short summary of the “Koran abuse” story. In so doing, he grants almost all of the standard premises of the current debate. Most notably, he concedes that “abuse” of the Koran is possible in writing: “But apparently there were abuses of Islam’s holy book, some intentional, some accidental. Many Muslims have strict rules concerning its handling.” Then, in the very next paragraph, he refers to those “abuses” as “desecration.” The only premise of the debate that he even begins to question is the idea that the Gitmo prisoners ought to have access to the Koran. So in a fairly snappy line, he observes that “the reason there were opportunities for abuse is that the administration bent over backwards to make sure that the terrorist fanatics held at Gitmo whose goal it is to kill Americans all had copies of the texts they use to justify their murderous ways.” Yet he never follows up on that by explicitly stating the Koran ought to be forbidden to Gitmo inmates. And notice that the “terrorist fanatics” merely “use [the Koran] to justify their murderous ways.” Hudgins’ implication (whether intentional or not) is that the Koran doesn’t actually justify their murderous ways. All of that is a concession to not just religion, but to the most irrational and destructive religion of our time: Islam.

Hudgins then tells us that the “real story” behind the fuss over Koran abuse concerns “the nature and danger of religious fanaticism.” So he’s already told us that religion itself isn’t the problem, but only “fanaticism” — a.k.a. extremism. (Hmm… Did Ayn Rand have something to say about the use of that kind of term?) By limiting the problem to religious fanaticism, Hudgins gives a free pass to the seemingly “moderate” Muslims who silently support their mad-bomber brothers in faith. (Ironically, this point finally seems to have dawned upon Bob Bidinotto with the London bombings.) Hudgins then offers this not-exactly-bold claim about religion: “By definition all religions have some or many tenets that must be accepted on faith, not on rational or objective, philosophical grounds. Thus each religion has many interpretations.” Most obviously, Hudgins is here downplaying the role of faith in religion, since all the core tenets of a religion — not merely “some or many” — must be accepted on faith. Yet we ought to take note of strange emphasis on multiple interpretations in that second sentence, as it drives the next paragraph:

In the case of Islam there are those adherents today who maintain that their religion teaches peace and tolerance and bans murder as contrary to the will of Allah. They tend to be in the tradition that flourished in the Islamic world a millennium ago that respected open inquiry, scholarship and reason. Of course today the most serious international threat to peace and freedom comes from radical Islamists who commit the most heinous crimes — who strap explosives to their own children in order to kill innocent individuals — in order to terrorize others into mindless obedience to a primitive, repressive theocracy. Those who rioted, burned and destroyed at a possible insult to their holy book fall into this group.

I’m certainly no expert on the Koran or the history of Islam. However, I know enough to say with confidence that the single bright spot of civilization in the whole history of the Islamic world was due to the strong influence of Aristotle, not some alternative reading of the Koran. (In fact, it was a return to the Koran that extinguished that bright spot of rationality.) Moreover, it’s also clear that the Koran sanctions and encourages conversion by the sword, violent martyrdom, hatred of the infidel, and so on. So Hudgins’ claim that the religion itself is ambiguous on such grand-scale values is absolutely false. It’s a falsehood that whitewashes the true nature of Islam. (It’s also a falsehood that TOC saw fit to promote in the policy forum mentioned above in which, as TOC itself reported, “Imad ad Dean Ahmad of the Minaret for Freedom Institute maintained that Islam supports free exchange, private property and tolerance.”)

The rest of Hudgins op-ed concerns the clash between Western values and Muslim fanaticism. It is a confused and confusing philosophic disaster. He appeals to the value of tolerance, not reason, as the foundation for the rights like freedom of expression. He never tells us why tolerance is a value; he only suggests that its acceptance put an end to the bloody religious wars in Europe. He never even clearly states what tolerance is, so it’s wholly unclear whether he means it in the sense of not initiating force against those with opposing views (i.e. respecting rights) or in the sense of refusing to judge those with opposing views (i.e. ideological skepticism and egalitarianism). He even says that “truth is obtained … through open discussion and debate” — meaning that truth is a social product, not the result of a man’s independent exercise of reason. (I’m not surprised by that, since it’s also Kelley’s view of objectivity found in Truth and Toleration.) He offers no solution to Muslim irrationality and death-worship except tolerance.

So does this op-ed, as Bob Bidinotto so boldly claimed, “speak bluntly on a vitally important issue” and refute “those who claim that [Hudgins'] public position, and TOC’s, is tepid or ambiguous on the issue of reason versus religious faith”? At this point, I don’t think that I need to dignify that question with an answer, except note that “tepid” and “ambiguous” are seriously inadequate descriptions of the problem.

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