Blinders, Willful and Otherwise

It takes a Canadian publication to publicly state what should look obvious in United States:  making sense of what took place in Orlando (and, in retrospect, what took place in previous terrorism-related shootings at San Bernardino and Ft. Hood, to up a point) is a mess.


The incident brings together three awkward strands that modern American society would prefer to keep separate:  it is an act inspired by Radical Islam; it is an act of gun violence by a seemingly mentally disturbed person; and it is an act of violence against LGBT community.  The truth, of course, is that these issues have always been linked together:  foot soldiers for radical organizations of all kinds who do seemingly unthinkable things are and have always been drawn disproportionately from the mentally disturbed–not that it keeps people from lionizing those whom they agree with:  remember Norman Morrison, the anti-Vietnam War protester who set himself on fire.  Real issues with gun regulations are potentially complex enough that placing heavy restrictions on firearms, in the end, would serve mainly and only to make most of the public feel better about themselves rather than deal with the “real problems” much–although there is equally no denying that it will, at least, make some progress somewhere.  For all the mental issues and gun issues, it is also true that the proximate cause that the shooter drew inspiration from and used to justify himself is Radical Islam–and, by and large, the prevalent attitude among much, if not most, of the Muslim community does indeed tilt against many precepts of the multicultural sensibilities of the West–especially LGBT.

The inevitable conclusion is uncomfortable.  The fact is that, Islam, as subscribed by many, if not most, of its adherents is implacably hostile to the ideals of Western liberals.  The easy and seemingly logical solution is what Trump and his ilk are proposing:  recognize that most Muslims are strange and alien people; place a wall of separation between them and ourselves; and not deal with them.  The alternative seemingly chosen by the liberals appears to be unrealistically ambitious in the opposite direction:  since they cannot accept that Islam is foreign and alien, on the whole, they are intent on remaking Islam in an image comfortable to themselves.  All manner of “liberal Muslims” are trotted out repeating Islamized version of multicultural dogma and denounce radicalism as “not representative of True Islam.”  They are not, strictly speaking, wrong:  Islamic theology is sufficiently flexible that a liberal interpretation of the Quran is very much possible.  In absence of a centrally defined dogma, radical Islam is not the “true Islam”–but neither is the liberal, West-friendly Islam, who, to boot, make up a very small minority of world’s Muslims.

I drew the analogy between the the Ottomans and the Greek Orthodox Church in the conquered Balkans before, among other examples.  The Ottomans did not want to convert the Greeks to Islam at the sword point:  they wanted them to become pliable, “multicultural” subjects of their empire who knew their place.  This failed miserably, for the Greeks certainly did not care to limit themselves to “their place.”  The Ottoman idea, like other Imperial ideals used to govern multicultural empires, where subject tribes exchanged accepting “their collective place” in the imperial hierarchy in return for tolerance is also profoundly un-American as it rejects the idea of individual agency.  While I will not categorically reject the multiculturalist idea about Islam (and other troublesome “minorities” who would not stay in their prescribed reservations) as impossible, it does rest on a lot of paradoxical and antiliberal (in the old sense) presumptions, and I suspect that this is not invisible to those who object to it.

The Trump solution, of the Wall of Separation and not dealing with the “foreign tribes” for a while, seems irresponsible, but can the alternative be sold to those who don’t find it so imperative to their ideals to keep engaging with the world?


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