the Century War with Islam-phobia

While I am not a die-hard fan, I have thoroughly enjoyed SF author Dan Simmons' works before - particularly the Hyperion series (though some aspects still don't fully made sense to me yet). I especially admired his portrayal of a reborn Catholic Church in the aftermath of humanity's diapora from a ravaged Earth.

Simmons maintains a blog ("Message from Dan") of his own, and in April posted a lengthy piece about a Time Traveler who comes back to 2006 and warns his own grandfather about the coming "Century War with Islam".

The essay, which foretells the rise of Eurabia and dhimmitude for all non-muslims worldwide, came under predictable fire. Simmons says that the essay was widely linked and pilloried, though I had never heard of it until now, several months later, by a rather roundabout click trajectory. He also describes the criticism as being largely of the "Bush is the true evil!" and "Christianity is as bad as Islam" types, which I am sure were out in force. But he errs in assuming that there is a more reasoned critique of the axioms he makes.

It is important to note though that arguing with islamophobes (and I mean that term in the phobic, not jafi, sense) is much like arguing with Creationists. As The Derb observed,

It’s a wearying business, arguing with Creationists. Basically, it is a game of Whack-a-Mole. They make an argument, you whack it down. They make a second, you whack it down. They make a third, you whack it down. So they make the first argument again. This is why most biologists just can’t be bothered with Creationism at all, even for the fun of it. It isn’t actually any fun. Creationists just chase you round in circles. It’s boring.

It would be less boring if they’d come up with a new argument once in a while, but they never do.

This is also why most muslims don't bother arguing with islam-phobes. The same tired tropes resurface: muslims do not condemn terror. (they do). The Qur'an calls jews apes and pigs. (it doesn't). Islam is anti-free will. (it's not). Islam was forced upon people at the point of a sword. (it wasn't - context). The Qur'an calls for violent jihad against unbelievers. (it doesn't - quite the opposite). Jews suffered immensely under muslim rule. (they didn't - as related by jewish sources). Islam needs a Reformation. (it already has one).

While Simmons' piece is lengthy, there were two central assumptions upon which most of its general argument rested. The first is that Europe is under demographic threat, and will become Eurabia (a hateful term coined by Bat Ye'or) by virtue of muslim fecundity. As I have summarized previously, these fears are simply not supportable by facts.

Randy MacDonald has perhaps the most definitive debunking of the Eurabia meme, with a detailed analysis of actual birthrate numbers and other hard data. It's a lengthy piece and deserves to be read in full by anyone professing to serious concern for the future of Western civlization (as Dan Simmons does). There was also a very good followup post by Scott Martens at Fistful of Euros blog. Scott adds this observation:

I think the French Muslim community is likely to sustain itself as a constructed French Islam, one with fewer elements of an ethnic identity and more along the lines of France’s other minority religions. In modern France, someone who wants, for whatever reason, to be religious is only being barely more contrarian by choosing Islam instead of Catholicism. Thus, I expect to see children and grandchildren of mixed-background homes adopting Islam.

By way of analogy, consider the Sunni Shia divide in Iraq. Anyone living in Baghdad can tell you that most families have both sunnis and shi'a. The jihadists and the foreign elements foment sectarian strife, but for the most part these two very opposed ideologies have demonstrably been able to coexist and foster bonds across their divide.

In a later post to GNXP, Randy analogizes Eurabia to the "Jew York City" meme for their implicit racist agenda:

Racism is, then, a critical element--perhaps a dominant concept--relative to these concepts. If European Muslims or New York City Jews are inherently subversive, undermining legitimate decisionmaking processes in political and social life, how can anyone who belongs to either category be allowed to participate at all? Eurabia and Jew York City are, at their roots, concepts which demand the ghettoization of the groups from which they take their names, their exclusion from any non-subordinate role. These terms' use is a good marker for some sort of highly exclusionary racism.

Randy argues that the real challenge for Europe is cultural assimilation of its immigrant minorities (including muslims), which as I have argued is a real problem they face (and which America does not), in no large part to due to institutionalized racist attitudes as a post-colonial legacy. These are not unsurmountable barriers and there are many voices in European islam - Tariq Ramadan most noted among them - who argue passionately for a European identity as a norm and who reject the idea that a muslim's loyalty should be to a diffuse "ummah" rather than their own host nation. After all, what's best for the ummah is not neccessarily best for Islam.

The second assumption is that all muslims carry the same seed of hate, intolerance, and willingness to sacrifice themselves solely to force non-believers into submission. Simmons goes as far as to have his Traveler state:

Your enemy is he who will give his life to kill you,” said the Time Traveler. “Your enemies are they that wish you and your children and your grandchildren dead and who are willing to sacrifice themselves, or support those fanatics who will sacrifice themselves, to see you and your institutions destroyed. You haven’t figured that out yet – the majority of you fat, sleeping, smug, infinitely stupid Americans and Europeans.”

He stood and set the Scotch glass back in its place on my sideboard. “How, we wonder in my time,” he said softly, “can you ignore the better part of a billion people who say aloud that they are willing to kill your children . . . or condone and celebrate the killing of them? And ignore them as they act on what they say? We do not understand you.”

My emphasis above - what Simmons writes is tantamount to blood libel. Do the "better part" of a billion muslims really "speak aloud" of killing non-believers' children? In a followup defensive essay, Simmons justifies the implication with a reference to the 2002 Pew Global Attitudes Survey. Actually, he doesn't link to it himself, he just quotes the interpretation of the survey from Sam Harris' book The End of Faith. In a nutshell, Harris argues that the responses to the question "Is suicide bombing in the name of Islam justified" indicate a deep-seated malevolence lurking in teh average muslim mind. However, if you compare the results from the 2002 survey to the same question asked in 2005, there is a clear evolution over time. Rather than provide counter-spin to Simmons' and Harris take on teh raw data, I wil just link the relevant results (click on the tables below to read the full reports).

The Pew Research Center summarizes these results as follows:

The belief that terrorism is justifiable in the defense of Islam, while less extensive than in previous surveys, still has a sizable number of adherents. Among Nigeria's Muslim population, for instance, nearly half (46%) feel that suicide bombings can be justified often or sometimes in the defense of Islam. Even among Europe's Muslim minorities, roughly one-in-seven in France, Spain, and Great Britain feel that suicide bombings against civilian targets can at least sometimes be justified to defend Islam against its enemies.

Note that the validity of targeting of civilian populations is hardly under dispute. Were I to be asked the question, "Is the bombing of civilian populations justifiable in the defense of the United States" I'd answer with an unqualified yes. Israel also lays claim to the same right of self-defense and all rational observers agree.

Do the results above really support Simmon's contention that the "better part of a billion" muslims want to see his children enslaved? It flies in the face of observed reality, where there are vibrant non-muslim minorities in muslim countries such as Indonesia and Pakistan (accounting for a sizable fraction of the muslim population worldwide). In India muslims account for a massive (10%) fraction of the populace and while there certainly is communal violence and domestic terror, much of the former is provoked by hardline political parties sowing dissension for political gain (with victims more often muslim than not - see the Gujrat riots where muslims were singled out with complicity of state government records). As for the latter, the primary driver is the Kashmir conflict. India does not have massive riots likein France arising from failure to assimilate; muslims are an integral part of India and proud of their Indian identity (as I am of my Indian origin).

Simmons labors intensely to support his future thesis. For example, his Traveler alludes to the beginning of the Century War as being June 5th, 1968 - the assasination of Robert Kennedy by a Palestinian, the Jerusalem-born Sirhan Bishara Sirhan. The fact that Sirhan was not a muslim, but actually Christian, is omitted. I assume the omission is one of ignorance, a simple failure of due diligence, which is rather ironic given that Simmons describes a future America where the right to vote is contingent upon having read Thucydides. The latter is a reference to the Peloponnesian War, which Simmons goes to great lengths to analogize as an argument for victory belonging to the most ruthless. And therein lies the greatest tragedy of this strain of thought. Simmons eulogizes Enlightenment values as "ours" and says that Islam is at odds with them; yet he would cast these very ideals aside.

(I have posted a link to this essay on Simmon's web forum and invited his response.)

UPDATE: Dan Simmons responds to my response to his April Message... sort of.


Julaybib said...

I'm linking this to my blog/journal and hopeful I will comment on it at length there.


The Muslim Anarchist

Sigmund, Carl and Alfred said...

Excellent, excellent excellent. I'm glad Ali Eteraz pointed the way.

Your presentation is superb- and needs to be read.

That said, the kind of Islam that causes Islamophobia does exist. That cannot be denied.

The primary(and not unnoticed) difference between Jews and Muslims, is one of participation. That is, Jews participated (do NOT read assimililated) into their respective community. These isn't a city where Jes settled in large numbers, that did not fund a hospital that would serve the community. These institutions were built from the ground up, with real community participation. There are Swedish Hospitals, Lutheran hospitals, Methodist and Baptist hospitals, just to name a few groups. Most were built in a time when religious differences were far more significant than they are now.

That is relevant, because communities are known by the institutions they build and maintain.

Sadly, moderate Islam does not have corresponding institutuions. Virtually all the intitutions have been coopted by the more radical element, including Mosques that have served the community for decades.

Notwithstanding what the Quran does or doesn't say, or how Islam is treated from a historical point, the fact remains that the public face Islam has been defined by some of the most vile and racist bigitry in the world. One only has to read contemporary translations of Islamic media, school curricula and translations of incindiary religious sermons to know that th criticisms do not fall out of the sky.

Unless and until Muslim modertes/reformists (Eteraz comes to mind), establish institutions of their own, the schism between Islam and the rest of the non Islamic world will grow.

That is not only a tragedy for most Muslims, but for those of us that are outraged at yet another generation of Muslims lost to fraudulent version of Islam, imposed on them by corrupt and disgusting tyrants.

Aziz Poonawalla said...

That said, the kind of Islam that causes Islamophobia does exist. That cannot be denied.

I don't think I've denied this - quite the opposite in fact, as many of the links above will show.

The X-Mathematician said...

Without necessarily endorsing Simmons's essay/whatever, I have a quibble re: the passage about the suicide-bombing polls:

It is simply not the case that "the validity of targeting of civilian populations is hardly under dispute". This is disputed all the time! :) Heck, in this case, even I dispute it. Were I to be asked is the targeting of civilian populations justifiable in the defense of the United States I would reject this as a false choice, an empty category. How/when is it necessary to "target" a civilian population "for the defense" of a country? (There are canonical historical examples where this was done, i.e. Nagasaki, Hiroshima but those are hotly debated nowadays and even their defenders mostly feel the need to cast their defense in true military terms, i.e. "there were munitions factories", i.e. by arguing that the targets weren't "really" civilian...)

So I don't know where you get that targeting civilians "for defense" is so uncontroversial. This is as opposed to targeting something strategic with civilians nearby, of course. So perhaps what you meant to say was, "Killing civilians in the process of bombing legitimate targets is hardly under dispute". That would be true (excluding bona fide pacifists).

But that's not the sort of thing these poll responders were expressing support for! They were expressing support for suicide bombing, whose innocent victims are not 'collateral damage' but the intended targets. You may say "what's the difference". Well, essentially it's the difference between lawful warfare and terrorism. (And forgetting/glossing over this difference would be a mistake when attempting (mostly successfully!) to rebut folks who are concerned about minorities in their midst whom they deem terror-prone!)

We do bomb legitimate targets amongst civilian populations, yes. That's uncontroversial (mostly). But we do not "target" civilian populations (mostly.. when/if we do, lots of people raise hell :). So there is no equivalence between someone who accepts the inevitability of collateral damage in the process of lawful warfare and someone who condones suicide bombing "to defend Islam".

You imply there is and then cite the phrasing of the suicide-bombing question, as if it mitigated the answers. As if to say "Yes they support suicide-bombing, but they 'only' support it in defense of Islam. Just like we would to defend our countries".

Um no. Recall I wouldn't even support targeting civilians in defense of my country. Actually I don't even think that makes any sense. But you're saying it's supposed to be mitigating for someone to "only" support suicide-bombing (a special and dangerous - because difficult to defend against - form of targeting civilians) "to defend Islam"?

Which raises a final question, just why the heck would violence, or physical activity of any kind, be needed "to defend Islam" in the first place? We know how/why nation-states need defending, they have borders and infrastructure and territory and people that can be destroyed or taken.

Islam is a religion. Leave aside suicide bombing, leave aside terrorism, leave aside warfare; under what circumstances would anything other than discussion be needed "to defend Islam"?

Well, the poll respondents (those who answered affirmative anyway) don't think the notion of violence (even against civilians, even deployed via suicide-bombers) "to defend Islam" is so absurd. Which alone - far from mitigating their responses, as you imply - makes them dangerous. It would be bad enough I think to say "yes it's ok to target civilian populations to defend my nation-state". But to say targeting civilians (with suicide bombing!) can be ok "to defend Islam" is to sign on to nihilistic violence in the name of a notion so vague and ill-defined ("defending Islam") that it's practically meaningless. What the heck constitutes "defending Islam", which civilians need to be suicide-bombed to do so (and why), and who picks the targets? In practice, this all means whatever some self-anointed authority says it means.

That's a real problem, and it's not analogous to how you or I feel about warfare in the national defense. People who think that way are a danger to others (if only because their thinking is muddled and ignorant). And so emphasizing that aspect of the poll question, far from mitigating the results, makes them more ominous in my mind.

My $.02....

Kip said...

A very nice thoughtful post. It's great to have some dialogue in opposition to the many writers who see every Muslim as a supporter of terrorism. 'Sigmund Carl', for example, like so many conservatives his Blog is reasonable until he gets on the topic of Islam, which is about every second post.

I say this with sadness, as a conservative myself, although as a Christian conservative (not a Libertarian) I now see so many great things to love and admire in Islam, pro-life and pro-family being the most obvious.

But to be fair, and to be honest, 911 drove a lot of people mad, myself included. We're only human. The turnaround for me came with seeing the great forbearance and courage shown by the people of Iraq towards their terrorist tormentors.