Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Search for the "True Islam"

In the wake of the Islamic other-forms-of-extremist terrorist attacks in France, the usual spokespersons of the Western dhimmitude repeatedly remind us that the terrorists do not represent the "true" Islamic faith. The terrorists, so it goes, have hijacked Islam for their own insidious political or financial purposes. The majority of Muslims are peace-loving adherents to "the religion of peace."

True enough (Praise Allah for that!), but not especially informative.

So where do we find the "true" Islam?

It is difficult to say. The Islamic world itself is divided between Sunnis and Shiites, each claiming to represent "true" Islam. The leading Sunni nation is the custodian of the Islamic holy sites, Saudi Arabia. Their main challenger for leadership in the Muslim world is the largest Shiite nation, the Islamic Republic of Iran. Do either of these nations exhibit the "true" Islam, one that Westerners might find attractive?

Freedom House rates Saudi Arabia among the worst nations regarding natural and civil rights.

The Koran and Sunna serve as the kingdom's fundamental law. A cabinet appointed by the king writes legislative proposals, which become law after ratification by royal decree. There is no independent judiciary.  Political parties are illegal and no opposition to the monarchy is permitted. With no input into the either the constitution or laws, the people of Saudi Arabia are truly subjects rather than citizens.

The Saudi regime does not recognize basic rights such as freedom of speech, association, and religion. The law requires that all Saudis adhere to Islam. It forbids public worship by other religions. It restricts the religious rights of Shiite Muslims, including the construction of Shiite mosques.

Woman are not permitted to drive and acquired the right to voted in local municipal elections only in 2011. They do not even possess the right of freedom of movement without a male relative.

The criminal justice system uses torture as a mean of interrogation. While most people in the United States believe that some crimes deserve death for perpetrators, the Saudi regime regularly hands down death sentences for robbery, kidnapping, drug trafficking, adultery, and sorcery.

Freedom House rates Iran not much better. This Shiite nation is ruled by a supreme leader chosen by a Council of Experts. Members of the  Council of Experts are elected by popular vote after nomination by a Guardian Council consisting of six theologians. A president and legislative assembly, too, are popularly elected after candidates  receiving approval by the Guardian Council.

The regime restricts fundamental freedoms. Speech, assembly, and religion are restricted. Only recognized minorities religious faith receive toleration.

Like in Saudi Arabia, women possess few rights compared to Western women.

Iran's criminal justice system, too, uses torture as a method of interrogation. Suspects are subject to indefinite detention.

Consensual sexual intercourse between two unmarried people, as well as homosexuality, can result in a hangman's noose.

A couple of  young gays in Iran

Maybe these regimes do represent "true Islam." Perhaps only the millions of average Muslims who quietly live their lives life the rest of us truly speak for Islam.

Published results from Pew Polling are not very encouraging. Large majorities of average Muslims support those religious teachings about morality that one might expect: the condemnation of adultery, homosexuality, alcohol, and suicide, And like most other religions, they belief that their religion is the only path to heaven. Muslims from the Middle East and East Asia, however, also expressed significant support for such things as Sharia law, polygamy, honor killings, and even suicide bombings.

Large majorities in almost all Muslim countries expressed concern about Muslim extremism.

Imagine that.

Friday, January 16, 2015

White House and White Wash

Lately President Obama has taken some heat for not explicitly attributing recent terrorist attacks to "radical Islam." His administration seems to want to whitewash the ugly truth about the religious motivation behind the attacks. The best worst example of this approach came from his administration spokeswoman below:

Why is this? Is he not as smart has Valerie Jarrett thinks? Is he secretly a radical Muslim who supports Jihad?

No. He is just a high level politician trying to be diplomatic--with little religious ecumenicalism thrown in. He does not want to offend Muslims abroad or Muslims at home. In addition, he is a progressive Christian who believes all theists believe in the same deity. Christians and Muslims are simply separated by denominational differences.

Although Obama's White House predecessor George Bush used the phrase "Islamic terrorism," he said it infrequently. And he, too, acted as "theologian-in-chief" to assure Americans that "radical Islamists" have nothing to do with the "religion of peace"

A few quotes pinched from the White House archives:

"I have assured His Majesty that our war is against evil, not against Islam. There are thousands of Muslims who proudly call themselves Americans, and they know what I know -- that the Muslim faith is based upon peace and love and compassion. The exact opposite of the teachings of the al Qaeda organization, which is based upon evil and hate and destruction."

Remarks by President George W. Bush and His Majesty King Abdullah of Jordan
The Oval Office, Washington, D.C.
September 28, 2001

"Some of the comments that have been uttered about Islam do not reflect the sentiments of my government or the sentiments of most Americans. Islam, as practiced by the vast majority of people, is a peaceful religion, a religion that respects others. Ours is a country based upon tolerance and we welcome people of all faiths in America."

Remarks by President George W. Bush in a statement to reporters during a meeting with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan
The Oval Office, Washington, DC
November 13, 2002

"Islam is a vibrant faith. Millions of our fellow citizens are Muslim. We respect the faith. We honor its traditions. Our enemy does not. Our enemy doesn't follow the great traditions of Islam. They've hijacked a great religion."

Remarks by President George W. Bush on U.S. Humanitarian Aid to Afghanistan
Presidential Hall, Dwight David Eisenhower Executive Office Building, Washington, D.C.
October 11, 2002

"The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That's not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace. These terrorists don't represent peace. They represent evil and war."

Remarks by the President at Islamic Center of Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C.
September 17, 2001

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Conservatism and Ideology

Most contemporary Americans see conservatism as one of the main competing political ideologies competing for the allegiance of the American voter.

The word ideology, like conservatism, lacks a concise, widely accepted definition.

Originally the term referred quite literally to the "science of ideas." The context meant ideas that constituted part of a political program that required action from it supporters and anticipated opposition from its opponents.

Karl Marx later used the term to describe how people see the world differently based upon their social class or position in society. Specifically, he tried to instill "class consciousness" in a working class that suffered from false consciousness--its embrace of the ideology imposed upon them by the capitalist ruling class. The influence of this conception of ideology can be seen today even among non-Marxists. Instead of accepting political views at face value and analyzing them based upon their overt meaning, some analysts--especially journalists  television personalities--simply disregard those views. Instead, they attempt to interpret those political views based upon some supposed "special interest" or social position in society, i. e., race, class, etc.

Others use the term as a synonym for world view--a person's comprehensive set of propositions about the world and his role in in.

I prefer that first, most commonly understood definition--a conservative plan for political action.

Unfortunately, those professionally engaged in pushing and ideological program--politicians and their retinue of supporters--are notoriously inconsistent. For them, power matters more than programs or principles.

And, unlike those "eternal verities" that make up one's world view,  political programs vary based upon historical circumstances. Even such fundamental cleavages over the roles of government often play themselves out differently based upon the time and place. For example, as we shall see, conservatives have supported "big government" as much as they have "small government."

What mattered was the end to which "big government" has been directed.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Conservatism as a Worldview

Conservatism is more often considered as a worldview--a comprehensive set of beliefs about the material universe, mankind's place in that universe, and the purposes of life for individuals, families, and political communities. Such fundamental beliefs may be called axioms, assumption, principles, or presuppositions.

Whatever their names, the basic beliefs that constitute anyone's worldview help interpret reality and provide meaning for that person's experiences. Of course, those basic beliefs can cause one to misinterpret experiences as well.  Although many of one's basic beliefs are shared by others in "overlapping" world views, it is the differences in basic beliefs that distinguish people from each other in their social, religious, and political views. Sometimes these differences are ones of degree; sometimes they are differences in kind.

(Writing about these ideas presents is own set of problems. It is all too easy to conflate propositions about what conservatism is with what is has been and personal views about what it ought to be.)

Like any other group, conservatives hold certain basic beliefs--or "eternal verities" as one conservative called them--that serve to unite those people known as conservatives across time and place. They provide the common thread that make the idea of conservatism intelligible.

Understanding those "eternal verities" is the first step in understanding conservatism itself.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Conservatism and Tradition

A more common description of conservatism includes adherence to tradition.

At one level, this seems an extension of the idea of conservative temperament that feels more at ease with the familiar. People with a conservative temperaments not only might adhere to familiar ways of doing things close to home,  but also feel uncomfortable about changes even beyond their immediate world. They grow apprehensive about changes that occur across a broad spectrum of categories--cultural, moral, demographic, and political. The prefer the traditional order that they grew up with. For such people, conservatism is more of an emotion than idea.

When many people share such adherence to traditional ways, they can form a formidable resistance to change. For example,one can see examples of cultural persistence in the different regions of the United States. Despite the nationwide expansion of industrial capitalism and the pervasive presence of the mass media (including the new social media), many cultural differences still separate Americans North and South.

Temperamental conservatism and conservative cultural persistence, however,  do not necessarily translate into political action.

At another level, however, conservatism embraces tradition as a touchstone for evaluating change.

Conservatives value tradition not for the sake of tradition, but because it is the received wisdom of earlier generations. Tradition survived because other way of doing things had been rejected.

Conservatives see history as a sort of laboratory for ideas tested and lessons learned. They harbor skepticism about progressive efforts to jettison tradition in favor of untried paths. Progressives often charge Conservatives with upholding an unreasonable adherence to  tradition just for the sake of tradition. Progressives set up a false a false dichotomy by claiming that their  disagreement with Conservatives pits tradition against reason.  The contrast is really between proven ways of doing things with speculation about the future benefits of change. Libraries are filled with accounts of failed social and economic "experiments." Many of our nation's most intractable social and economic problems today result from progressive changes instituted decades earlier.

This is not to say that Conservatives hold on blindly to traditions or that they should. Some traditions are not worth conserving. Conservatives, however, understand the harm that can come from unintended consequences. Even ending a bad tradition can yield something worse.

This notion of Conservatism as a way of life devote to tradition does have its own limitations. Every society has its own traditions and a group of people loosely labeled "conservatives" who desire to preserve them. Traditions differ radically, however, society to society.

Conservatives in America seek to conserve American traditions, especially the American constitutional order. That is really the essence of Conservatism as tradition.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Conservatism and Temperament

In the previous post, I alluded to conservatisms.

People apply the word conservatism in all sorts of ways.

Conservatism is often used to describe a persons temperament or psychological disposition. rather than some set of principles.

Philosopher Michael Oakeshott provided this brief summary several decades ago:

"To be conservative, then, is to prefer the familiar to the unknown, to prefer the tried to the untried, fact to mystery, the actual to the possible, the limited to the unbounded, the near to the distant, the sufficient to the superabundant, the convenient to the perfect, present laughter to utopian bliss. Familiar relationships and loyalties will be preferred to the allure of more profitable attachments; to acquire and to enlarge will be less important than to keep, to cultivate and to enjoy; the grief of loss will be more acute than the excitement of novelty or promise. It is to be equal to one's own fortune, to live at the level of one's own means, to be content with the want of greater perfection which belongs alike to oneself and one's circumstances."

This kind of conservatism seemed natural in some degrees to human nature.

For Oakeshott, the conservative disposition does not translate into a specific political program or even imply that most common and most unhelpful characterization of conservatism--resistance to change. For Oakshott, governing is the art of managing change within a nation's traditional customs and institutions.

Change will come, whether one likes it or not. The problem is what kind of change occurs and the purpose or goal of that change.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Conservatism: Prolegomena and Problems

One of the problems with writing about conservatism is that people hold so many ideas about what is means.

For some, conservatism is a temperament--a disposition that certain people exhibit as they interact with the world.

For some, conservatism is  commitment to tradition and resistance to change.

For some, conservatism is a set of "eternal verities"--a set of beliefs that stand the test of time even in our ever changing world.

And for some, conservatism is an ideology--a program for political action in order to bring certain things to pass.

Perhaps these are all facets of conservatism. We will look at each in turn.

Another challenge is identifying who counts as "conservative." It is only in modern times that individuals or organizations have explicitly identified themselves as conservative, even as they disagree over what that means.

And historians often label people in the past as conservative even without troubling to tell their readers the criteria for determining their assertions. Moreover, both professional historians and casual readers occasionally make the mistake of presentism: reading contemporary ways of thinking anachronistically back into the past. And then there's the mistake of reading past ways of thinking into the present modern world.

Does anyone really know WWJD?

Thursday, January 1, 2015

A New Year . . .

A new year brings some new directions here at Right Detour.

Since the inception of this blog, most content consisted of commentary on current events--especially of a political nature-- with some reviews of conservative books.

One goal in the reading and reviewing of the books was to satisfy my own search for "the meaning of conservatism." Interestingly, this proved to be a  topic which most writers espousing a conservative viewpoint seemed to avoid. George Nash, in his now classic The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America, explicitly explained to his readers that it was NOT his purpose to define conservatism.  Nash even denied the existence of  a "single, satisfactory, all-encompassing definition of the complex phenomenon known as conservatism." Indeed, his account of the conservative movement that emerged after World War II was largely a history of the attempt of conservative intellectuals to do just that--define and explicate the idea of conservatism.

I plan to make my own "go at it" in this blog. If I accomplish nothing else, I hope to clarify my own thoughts about the meaning of conservatism, even if my efforts prove unhelpful to others.

In addition, I hope to illustrate conservatism, or conservatisms, through several posts of a historical nature about conservatives of the past. Perhaps the theme might be called "conservatives at work."

These historical posts also will serve a purely historical interest--to reflect upon how much of our world has changed.  I trust my dozen to two dozen regular readers will not experience the same glazed eyes from which they suffered in their high school history classes and decide to turn their attention elsewhere.

And as has been the case over the last couple of years, some posts will attend to contemporary controversies. Observations on "the current scene" will reflect conservative principles rather than emit more "conservative carping" . . .  except when it doesn't!