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Doubtful

Reader comment on item: My Optimism about the New Arab Revolt

Submitted by Fred Baehr (United States), Mar 24, 2011 at 17:14

Dear Mr. Pipes,

I respect your scholarship and admire your stance for rationalism, but in this case I have my doubts. Maybe I am a victim of my own prejudices because I must admit that in fact I despise Islam as just another tired form of fascism, and I don't use the term casually. In any case it seems to me that what a modern pluralist liberal humanist would call "rationalism" is all but impossible within the confines of Islam. One might try to say the same of Judaism and Christianity, but the melding of those two traditions eventually made way for the emergence of liberal humanism, and so I would not agree. Is it useful to ask why liberal humanism emerged in the west and not somewhere else? I think it is.

Liberal humanism was constructed in the west through a combination of the existing philosophic traditions of Judeo-Christian ethics and ancient Greek rationalism. Ethics developed by Jews and Christians were rationally expanded upon in an atmosphere of free inquiry that had itself been expanding in Europe since the 14th century. By the 18th century philosophic developments were being spurred on by the emergence of modern scientific inquiry, itself a result of the Greek tradition of seeing the world as a thing that could be understood rationally through observation, and most importantly, without mystical insight. European thinkers could then give unto the world what was the world's, and still give unto God what was God's. They were able to separate divine inspiration from physical science and in the process develop both traditions. It is said that religion is bad science and science is bad religion, and from the western point of view that assertion rings true.

So why didn't this way of thinking about the inalienable rights of individuals ever rise in other parts of the world? Why not in China where they had 2000 years to think about it? Why not in India, arguably the most philosophically dynamic civilization in the ancient world with a written scholarship going back at least 2000 years, with many humanitarian principles? I don't pretend to have the answers but the questions seem to beg answering.

As for Islam, it seems to me to be totalitarian by its very nature, and totalitarianisms are seldom sympathetic to free inquiry. How can a society supposedly guided by the unerring word of the only true God be open to openness? If the only true freedom is to be the slave of God, then that which would set man free is an entrapment, blasphemous and evil. Could Islam remain Islam in anything but name if it were to give up on its absolute claims to truth and righteousness? It seems to me the answer is no. So I doubt that the near future holds much promise for the expansion of liberty in the Islamic world. Religions in general are the most conservative philosophies known to man, and it has been ever thus. They conserve their traditions because to let them go is to admit that they may never have been and may not now be worthwhile, and believers are emotionally (rather than intellectually) attached in any case. So Islam, as an absolutist totalitarianism, will be very very slow to change or give its faithful anything like what modern liberal pluralists would call "freedom". Sorry I can't share your optimism.

Submitting....

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Note: Opinions expressed in comments are those of the authors alone and not necessarily those of Daniel Pipes. Original writing only, please. Comments are screened and in some cases edited before posting. Reasoned disagreement is welcome but not comments that are scurrilous, off-topic, commercial, disparaging religions, or otherwise inappropriate. For complete regulations, see the "Guidelines for Reader Comments".

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