Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Islamic Libertarianism Can Defeat Islamic Terrorism

The Orlando massacre has renewed the debate over the possible connections between Islam and terrorism.  In that debate, two crucial points are receiving little or no attention.  The first point is that the panic over terrorism is foolish and dangerous.  The second point is that the only way to fully defeat Islamic terrorism is to show that the Quran supports Islamic libertarianism, and that the Islamic radicalism that leads to terrorism is contrary to the Quran. 

Neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump has recognized these two points.  But Gary Johnson could embrace both points as part of his libertarian response to Islamic terrorism.

As I have argued in a previous post, terrorism today is a problem, but it is not an "existential threat" to civilization, as many commentators have said.  The greatest harmful consequence of terrorism in the United States is not the killing of innocent people by terrorists, but the foolish panic over terrorism that leads us to wage a "war on terrorism" that inflicts far more harm on us than any terrorist attack.  Gary Johnson recognizes that when he warns about how the "war on terrorism" has threatened individual liberty.

By any objective measurement, the harm from terrorism has been declining.  The rate of violent deaths per 100,000 people per year has been trending downward since 1970 in the United States, Western Europe, and worldwide.  In Western Europe and worldwide, the highest peaks of terrorist killings came in the 1970s and 1980s.

The second crucial point is that the battle against the Islamic State and the other Islamist radicals is not as much a military battle as it is an intellectual or theological battle of ideas in the interpretation of Islam.  The defeat of theocratic Islam in that battle of ideas will come with the triumph of Islamic libertarianism.

People like Trump are correct to assert that there is some connection between Islam and terrorism, but he is wrong to convey the impression that the entire Islamic tradition inclines to terrorism, and therefore the United States should close its borders to all Muslims.  Barack Obama is right to emphasize that Islamic  radicalism is a distorted interpretation of Islam that is accepted by only a small minority of Muslims.  But Obama never explains exactly what is wrong with the Islamic radical interpretation of Islam, or  what would be the correct interpretation of Islam.

As I have indicated in some previous posts--here and here -- the Quran can be read as teaching the libertarian principles of religious liberty and pluralism.  And, indeed, there is a libertarian tradition in Islam based on the Quran.  The apocalyptic violence and theocratic politics of Islamic radicalism cannot be found in the Quran.  Rather than relying on the Quran, Islamic radicals must appeal to the Haddiths--the reports of Muhammad's sayings and doings.  But Islamic scholars disagree over the interpretation of the Haddiths and even over their authenticity as accurate reports.  Moreover, to treat Muhammad's words and deeds as sacred denies the teaching of the Quran that Muhammad was only a human being and not divine.  The revelation of the Quran is divine, but Muhammad is not.

For example, Omar Mateen believed that he was justified in killing homosexuals because Sharia treats homosexuality as a capital crime.  And it is true that in 40 out of 57 Muslim-majority countries or territories, homosexuality is a crime; and in almost a dozen of these, homosexuals can be sentenced to death.  But this interpretation of Sharia has no basis in the Quran.  It depends totally on Haddiths.

It is true that the Quran tells the story of God's punishment of Sodom and Gomorrah (7:80-81, 26:165, 27:55, 29:28-29).  But nowhere does the Quran declare that homosexuality must always be a capital crime (as it is in the Mosaic law of the Old Testament). 

In today's Wall Street Journal (June 14), Ayaan Hirsi Ali has an article arguing that Mateen's anti-gay violence is supported by Sharia, and thus implying that he was indeed carrying out the teachings of Islam.  But she is completely silent about the fact that this teaching is not found in the Quran.

Just as the New Testament can be read as supporting Christian libertarianism, so the Quran can be read as supporting Islamic libertarianism.  And, in fact, I think most Christians and most Muslims today are libertarian in their embrace of religious liberty and pluralism without any coercive enforcement of religious belief.

As a libertarian, Gary Johnson can advance this argument as part of any policy for defeating Islamic terrorism.


CJColucci said...

I read the Koran many years ago and found that it was no more difficult to cobble together a perfectly nice, reasonable religion from it than it was to do the same with the Bible. While it is my deep hope that muslims will work out a perfectly nice, reasonable religion, fairly soon, and I support any plausible effort to encourage such a development, I do not see how I, or Hillary Clinton, or Gary Johnson, or any non-muslim American politician can gain the necessary traction to advance such a development. Besides not pouring gasoline on the fire, like Donald Trump, what can a non-muslim American politician do?

Larry Arnhart said...

It is true that ultimately the libertarian reading of the Quran will have to be advanced by Muslim believers, just as the libertarian reading of the New Testament has been advanced by Christian believers. In fact, as I have indicated in other posts, Muslim believers like Mustafa Akyol are doing this. As I have said in my post, most Muslim believers today embrace a libertarian interpretation of Islam. Dabiq--the monthly magazine of Islamic State propaganda--often warns that many of the jihadist factions are not coercively enforcing Sharia in the territories that they have taken, because so many Muslims resist the harsh rules of Sharia as too oppressive.

Anonymous said...

"Islamic Libertarianism": You've completely left reality and live in a fantasy land. As you follow the consequences of your beloved classical liberalism it is leading you to more and more insane conclusions from its insane premises. You're not only morally blind you're strategically blind. The only way you'll get anything close to your beloved classical liberalism is in a wealthy, homogenous, Christian, white country. Keep telling yourself that libertarianism isn't racist even though 99% of libertarians are white. Meanwhile the Left moves onto banning guns, banning hate speech, greater affirmative action, greater government surveillance, open borders, thought crimes, and who knows what else. I'm sure you'll succeed in getting smaller government as soon as you convince the leftist demographics of the validity of your highly-rational universal arguments. I'm sure then they'll see the error of their ways and stop wanting government to redistribute freebies to them.

Anonymous said...

"Islamic Libertarianism:" Muslims obviously suffer from false consciousness and once they perceive the glory of classical liberalism they'll see how gay pride marches, feminism, gay marriage, transsexuals, transnational cosmopolitanism, freedom of expression, sexual liberation, tolerance, were actually Islamic all along.

Roger Sweeny said...

Anonymous, I'm sure you're being sarcastic but it IS possible to imagine. After all, many "mainline" Protestant denominations, e.g., United Methodists, United Church of Christ, say that "gay pride marches, feminism, gay marriage, transsexuals, transnational cosmopolitanism, freedom of expression, sexual liberation, tolerance were actually [Christian] all along."

Larry Arnhart said...

Now Donald Trump is presenting himself as the protector of LGBT rights!

Anonymous said...

Look at this chart of the demographics of mainline protestant denominations: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/blackwhiteandgray/2012/02/mr-baltzell%E2%80%99s-neighborhood-the-rise-of-word-%E2%80%9Cmainline%E2%80%9D-and-the-decline-of-mainline-denominations/

You adopt liberalism, you go extinct. This goes for everything.

Roger Sweeny said...

Anonymous, I completely agree that "mainline" Protestant denominations are in decline. That why I put the word in quotes. But I don't think they are going to go extinct. They're more like GM, once a 500 pound gorilla, now just one among many.

My point was that people calling themselves Christian theologians have made the case that these things are actually Christian--and many people believe them. Similarly, it is possible to make the case that these things are actually Islamic--and perhaps one day many people will believe it.

Larry, I don't see why it is shocking that "Now Donald Trump is presenting himself as the protector of LGBT rights!" We have too much of a tendency to think that if someone believes A, he must be a member of team B, and believe C through M. So if someone wants to substantially limit immigration, he must be a "right-winger" and he must hate gays. But perhaps he doesn't hate gays and fears that too many potential immigrants do (a not totally unreasonable fear). Perhaps he is simply a nationalist, "Gay or straight, you're an American and you matter more to me than a foreigner."

Narciso said...

I never understood the fact that darwinian conservatism doesn't consider homosexuality immoral as well. Have you discussed this is a chapter I have missed in your books, Dr. Arnhart?

Roger Sweeny said...

There is no discussion in either Darwinian Natural Right or in Darwinian Conservatism. However, there are some relevant posts on this blog. The most recent is probably:


Quoting part of it:

"[Thomas Aquinas] also infers from this comparative animal biology that homosexuality must be unnatural for two reasons. First, nonhuman animals do not engage in homosexual conduct. Second, homosexuality does not lead to procreation and parental care of children (Summa Theologica, I-II, q. 30, a. 3; q. 31, a. 7; q. 94, a. 3, ad 2, q. 94, a. 6; II-II, q. 154, aa. 11-12)..

"We now know, however, that Thomas was mistaken about both of these points. Scientists have observed homosexual behavior in 471 animal species--167 species of mammals, 132 species of birds, 32 species of reptiles and amphibians, 15 species of fishes, and 125 species of insects and other invertebrates (Bagemihl 1999, 673). Scientists have also observed that same-sex pairs have successfully reared young in at least 20 species. In some cases, one or both partners are the biological parent(s) of the young they raise together. In other cases, the partners adopt and care for young without being the biological parents (Bagemihl 1999, 23-26). Moreover, in some cases, the same-sex couples seem to be more successful in their parenting than opposite-sex parents.

"We also now know that homosexuality is biologically natural in that it arises through the interaction of many biological factors in the early development of fetuses and children ...

"Given what we know about the animal nature of homosexuality, if we want to pursue happiness, peace, and prosperity in societies with both heterosexual and homosexual individuals, then we ought to protect the liberty of homosexuals to live their lives as they wish, as long as they do not harm others. Consequently, the liberty of homosexuals would include the right to same-sex marriage, as long as we know that this is not harmful to others."


"If lesbian women and gay men have the same natural desires for sexual mating, conjugal bonding, and parental care as heterosexual men and women, and if gay marriage increases the likelihood of gays living in households with "two committed parents, a biological connection, and a stable home," this would support a biologically conservative argument for legalizing gay marriage."

The last paragraph is from:
which also includes several cites to previous relevant posts.

Roger Sweeny said...

This post made me think of Scott Alexander's that begins, "Why is there such a strong Sunni/Shia divide?" It is about more (and less) than this post, very interesting. IV.5. is probably most directly relevant.