I had the privilege of exchanging views with a very liberal democrat on another listserv. Herewith is the exchange. It did not start with anything I wrote, but we capture it in the middle, when Liberal Democrat is responding to other Republican commentators.
Liberal Democrat wrote:
I cite our worthy LD:
I am afraid of the next Timothy McVeighs and Dylann Roofs, the people in our midst who want to destroy our consensus in this country because they think they’ve been left behind by history. And they have, because they seem to think our greatest days are in the past and they’ll do what it takes to force us backward, where women, minorities, LGBTQ and non-Christian people are second-class citizens and the advantages of being born white and male were enough to succeed. That is what scares me and if we close public speech to what scares us, that speech will go underground and rot. At least we know who to fear when these monsters speak.
The question for the pragmatic among us is: Who has the most power actually to “force us backward”?. I would put it to the people who are more concerned with Christian and white-nativist reaction than they are with Islam, that they are straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel.
My second assertion is that vastly more people agree with this view of mine than they do with the benign views of my colleague Mr LD.
My third and wholly superfluous assertion is that this group of people are becoming very tired of the net direction of society in the post-Christian world, insofar as what appears to be a tidal wave of Islamic reaction to modernity is ignored by the bien-pensant elites, while the lingering outposts of people unpersuaded by the world view of the New York Times are held to be the true enemy. To me this seems both mistaken as to fact, in a very large way, and to be the result of a failure to imagine what a truly alien political religious ideology Islam is. It is off the map, so to speak, and cannot be conceived. Since it is inconceivable, whereas Christian fundamentalism is a more familiar target, the enemy of my enemy is somehow imagined to be my friend. Here I speculate as to motive and am less certain than I am of the previous assertions
The gap between the bien-pensants (the well-thinkers, the morally superior) and ordinary opinion has seldom been wider, and the views of the ordinary people less tolerated by the morally superior, and held in greater contempt.
I have seen this past summer normally quite conservative (that is to say sensible, centrist, moderate, well educated ) people explode in rage at the effrontery, ignorance, cretinism, red-neckery of the less educated classes in daring to disagree with the least jot and tittle of the Official View. It is stunning to see the contempt directed at the lower orders by their social betters.
It will not end well, regardless of the outcome of the current US presidential election.
I remain unpersuaded that the main issue of our time is somehow American ignorance, or policy errors. They exist, and Americans in their ignorance keep making errors, as any nation does. Perhaps the US elites have been making more than their fair share of late, and this is the subject of the election now underway.
In respect of Islam you wrote:
“I am convinced that, as you said, it is alien enough to Americans–who generally only had a two week crash course in Islam during high school and still think history ended after we won World War II–that it’s still a useful crutch to rile us up and I think we’re afraid to learn that our “enemy” is not that much different than us on Maslow’s hierarchy.”
I recall a liberal American official at the FCC one time complaining about Republicans, insofar as their world view and knowledge came from one book, the Bible.
I admit the justice of that critique. One book is not enough.
But we have had a Reformation, and its subsequent wars and reorganization of the European state system; we have religious freedom, we have social freedom, we have a large measure of political freedom, even if, in your view, it is used in error.
Muslims in Islamic countries have none of these things. They still hold, in principle, that all necessary knowledge of the world, comes from one source only, given one time to one prophet, indelibly, indisputably, inerrantly, and that not a word can be revised or re-interpreted. Exclusive reliance on the Koran for guidance in all matters has led to social, intellectual, political and economic stagnation across the Islamic world. When they had strip mined the contributions of the previous Christian, Zoroastrian, pagan, Buddhist, and pre-Islamic intellectual accomplishments, they were culturally unable to generate new insights because inquiry is haram, forbidden. Most of what we call Islamic contributions to knowledge were pass-throughs from previous cultures.
At the same time, they were promised that they would be the final revelation, and that in principle and by right, they would be the conquerors of the world by now.
So they are caught in a gigantic cognitive dissonance between what they believe they ought to be doing, that is, governing the world, and as a part of their regime using its non-Muslim women as their sex toys, on the one hand, and the fact that they are at the back of the class in every dimension of accomplishment. A UN report of 2004 or thereabouts, and written exclusively by Muslim intellectuals, pointed out that the people of Finland, population 4 million, produced more absolute GDP than 77 million Arabs produced in non-petroleum exports. The economic value created by Finns, population 4 million, was greater than the economic value created by all of the Arab world, excluding petrochemicals. Arabs are excruciatingly conscious of their inferiority, and many seek simple answers, found in the Koran, as to what is to be done. Its name is jihad.
So here is my second point.
Weighed in the balance against the 1/5 of humanity, a large proportion of whom seem to be stuck in the cultural assumptions of tribal Arabia in the 6th century AD, or who wish they were so stuck, then purely domestic squabbles among the citizens of the US do not seem to carry the weight or importance that many Americans think (or believe passionately) that they have.
My observation is that a serious engagement with the issues requires one to step back from exclusively and parochially US partisan concerns. Even if we assume that Republicans and Democrats say largely true things about one another, we do not engage the relevant question or questions. It is of very little use to suggest to an American that they see things in excessively partisan terms. You are likely to get your head shot off. Especially in a presidential election year.
I am ducking behind a wall as I write. Thank you for an entertaining discussion.