I really liked Sam’s article on Islam and the Future of Liberalism but when I forwarded it to a friend, I was even more convinced by his response. I didn’t see any place to comment on the article on the website but then I found these forums, which I suppose is the appropriate venue. Here’s what my friend wrote:
It seems to me that, despite his posturing to the contrary, at the heart of Harris’ position is this: “if ever a state organized around a religion was justified, it is the Jewish state of Israel…And if ever criticism of a religious state was unjustified, it is the criticism of Israel.”
His caveat that, in principle, he finds a Jewish state obnoxious doesn’t seem to interfere with his belief in Israel’s righteousness and propriety. He says not a word about the problems surrounding its creation. Rather he writes: “It doesn’t take many emails containing sentences like “The United States and Israel are the greatest terrorist states on earth” to make me feel that liberalism is simply doomed.”
Now the definition of what constitutes terrorism might be open to debate but Harris owes us more than a dismissive wave of his hand as a response to the folks who, I take it, challenged his definition terrorism with the idea that these two nuclear powers cultivate fear to get their way in the world.
What Harris’ essay offers is attitude and anecdote and bluster rather than a fair restatement of the opposition to him, followed by a thoughtful cogent response. And he forgets history when to take it into account would complicate his assertion of a straight-line causal connection between the nature of Islam and the anger and militancy that we see today in the Islamic world.
He entirely ignores the American actions in Iran that led to the ascendancy of the Ayatollahs. He must be aware that before the CIA overthrew the secular, center-left government of Mosaddegh and instituted the Shah’s torture state, Iran’s Islam wasn’t what it has become. Hezbollah is Islamic but the Shiites of Southern Lebanon didn’t create Hezbollah because it developed, inevitably and necessarily, out of Islam. The Israeli occupation of Southern Lebanon was the incubator for Hezbollah.
And although it’s true that there was shelling across the border from Lebanon before the invasion and occupation, it’s also true and relevant that the Palestinians who were doing the shelling were not doing so because their religion demanded it but because their families had been driven from their homes in Palestine and were not allowed to return. They were and are stateless and impoverished and living in squalid refugee camps.
Similarly, Harris may conclude that Hamas is evil, but we should remember that Palestinian resistance was originally secular. Israeli policy intentionally forced many Palestinians away from secular Fatah and other organizations and into the hands of Islamist Hamas. And then there are all of the other repressive governments in the Islamic world that hold power by virtue of American support and in so-called American interests.
Harris chooses to dismiss the possibility that any of this accounts for the actions of the people involved.Its all Islam. And here is where it leads, he writes: “I also believe that wherever we can feasibly stop the abuse of women and girls, we should. An ability to do this in places like Afghanistan, and throughout the world, would be one of the benefits of having a global civil society and a genuine regime of international law.”
It has a nice ring to it, this Global Civil Society. But Harris doesn’t specify who would exercise this wonderful “ability” and who will have this “ability” exercised upon them. He clearly thinks that a large portion of humanity is too in thrall to Islam to be capable of being entrusted to share in defining that ‘global’ society. So it’s global in its reach not so much in its composition.
Harris’ rationale for supporting moves in the direction of strengthening such a global authority is not new. Selective horror at the crimes of Islamists, denial of our own agency in creating the anger that we face in much of the world, uncritical support of Israel and a denial of its agency in the anger that faces it, all propped up with the simplistic, comforting assertion that “the moral high ground here is clear, and we are standing on it” without admitting any complicating considerations.
Perhaps Harris might quibble with aspects of the world’s existing international global enforcement capability but it’s the only one that is real enough to discuss in any practical way. It’s growing, although not without opposition and not without causing great human suffering. And it is not in any serious way motivated by a desire to protect the world’s women.