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Dinesh D'Souza: Land of the Free, The Islamic critique cuts deep, but there is an answer.
NRO ^ | 7/2/2004 | Dinesh D'Souza

Posted on 07/02/2004 6:00:09 AM PDT by Tolik

Behind the physical attacks on the West and its allies is an intellectual attack — an assault not just on what America does but also on what America is. So far the U.S. government's military response — in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and elsewhere — has been reasonably effective against terrorism and its sponsors. But our intellectual response has been weak. This matters, because ultimately it is not enough to shut down the al Qaeda training camps. We must also stop the "jihad factories," the mosques and educational institutions that are turning out tens of thousands of aspiring terrorists and suicide bombers. We cannot kill all these people; we have to change their minds. Yet America is making few converts in the Muslim world.

The problem is that we have not effectively answered the strongest version of the Islamic critique of the United States. Usually Americans seek to defend their society by appealing to its shared principles. Thus our leaders remind us that America is a free society, or a prosperous society, or a diverse and pluralistic culture, or a nation that gives women the same rights as men. The most intelligent Islamic critics acknowledge all this, but they dismiss it as worthless triviality.

One of the leading theoreticians of Islamic fundamentalism is the Egyptian thinker, Sayyid Qutb, who has been called "the brains behind bin Laden." Like the terrorists who destroyed the World Trade Center, Qutb was a man who lived in the West and knew its ways. After studying in America, he wrote a book called The America That I Saw in which he argued that his familiarity with the United States was his basis for rejecting it. Qutb wrote that he was shocked by the rampant prejudice of Americans, especially toward Arabs and Muslims. He professed outrage at the materialism and sexual promiscuity of American culture. Even the church, Qutb commented, has become a place for amusement and social interaction rather than worship.

In his later writings, Qutb alleged that America used to be Christian; now it is pagan. The Muslim believer, he wrote, has no reason to envy or emulate the ways of America; rather, true Muslims should feel contempt for those ways. "The believer from his height looks down at the people drowning in dirt and mud."

How, in Qutb's view, did America reach its sorry state? One problem, Qutb said, is that American and indeed Western institutions are fundamentally atheist, based on a clear rejection of divine authority. "Democracy" and "capitalism" are in Qutb's view atheistic ideas. When democrats say that sovereignty flows from the people, this means that the people — not God — are the rulers. So democracy is a form of idol worship. So, too, Qutb insisted that capitalism, which is based on the notion that the market and not God is the best arbitrator of value, is a form of idolatry.

A second problem, Qutb wrote, is that the core principle of America is liberty — the right to determine one's own destiny — and this, he argued, is a highly defective principle. The reason is that liberty can be used well or liberty can be used badly. Given what Immanuel Kant called "the warped timber of humanity," the human propensity for selfishness and vice, Qutb argued that freedom will often be used badly.

For evidence of this, he said, just look at what goes on in America. Qutb pointed to divorce, family breakdown, homosexuality, promiscuity, and the triviality and vulgarity of American popular culture as proof that human beings cannot be expected to use freedom except to gratify their basest impulses. Indeed, Qutb sternly charged that America is materially prosperous but morally rotten. In a famous formulation that has stirred up widespread debate in the Muslim world, Qutb insisted that the West is a once-religious civilization that has now been reduced to what he termed jahiliyya — the condition of social chaos, moral diversity, sexual permissiveness, polytheism, unbelief, and idolatry that was said to characterize the Bedouin tribes before the advent of Islam.

Qutb's alternative to America and the West is Islam, which in his book Social Justice in Islam he terms "an unparalleled revolution in human thinking" that provides the only solution to "this unhappy, perplexed, and weary world." Islam, Qutb emphasized, is not merely a moral code or set of beliefs; it is a way of life based upon the divine government of the universe. The very term "Islam" means "submission" to the authority of Allah. This worldview requires that religious, economic, political, and civil society be based on the Koran, the teachings of the prophet Muhammad, and the Sharia or Islamic law. Islam regulates religious belief and practice, but also the administration of the state, the conduct of war, the making of treaties, divorce and inheritance, property rights and contracts. In short, the advocates of Islamic fundamentalism like Qutb seek to bring the whole framework of human life under divine — which is to say Islamic — supervision.

Qutb admits that notions of "submission" and obedience may sound alien to Western ears. In his view, this is because Western society is based on freedom whereas Islamic society is based on virtue. Qutb gives an example of what he means by Islamic virtue. There is a story in the Islamic classical tradition about a man and a woman who came to the prophet Muhammad and said, "Messenger of Allah, purify us." Muhammad asked, "From what am I to purify you?" They replied, "From adultery." Muhammed asked the two people whether they were insane or drunk. Assured that they were not, Muhammad asked them again, "What have you done?" They confessed that they had committed adultery. Then Muhammad gave the order, and the two were stoned to death. While the couple was being buried, onlookers scorned them, but Muhammad chided the scoffers. The couple had repented, he said, and now they were with Allah.

"This is Islam," Qutb wrote. Analyzing the incident, he pointed out that no one had witnessed the adultery, and the prophet initially sought to attribute the couple's confession to the influence of alcohol or mental disturbance. Still, they had persisted. Finally Muhammad had no choice but to have them stoned in accordance with God's law. Qutb posed an interesting question: why did the couple demand to be stoned? His answer: "It was the desire to be purified of a crime of which none save Allah was cognizant. It was the shame of meeting Allah unpurified from a sin which they had committed."

This, in brief, is Qutb's defense of Islamic theocracy. Islamic societies may be poor, Qutb admitted, but at least they are seeking to implement the will of God. Even if they are failing at this, Qutb said, at least they are trying. And that — he concluded — makes Islamic society superior to Western society.

How should we in America evaluate, and answer, Qutb's critique? We need to take Qutb's views seriously, partly because they are taken seriously in the Islamic world, and partly because for all his vehemence, Qutb is raising deep and fundamental questions. Indeed in some respects the Islamic critique as exemplified by Qutb is similar to the critique that the classical philosophers, including Plato and Aristotle, made of freedom. The classical thinkers would have agreed with Qutb that virtue, not freedom, is the ultimate goal of a good society. And in saying this they would be quite right. How, then, can the Islamic argument against America be answered on its own terms?

Let us concede at the outset that in a free society freedom will often be used badly. The Islamic critics have a point when they deplore our high crime and illegitimacy rates and the triviality and vulgarity of our popular culture. Indeed some Americans may be tempted to say, "The Muslims have a point about Jerry Springer and Howard Stern. If they will agree to stop bombing our buildings, in exchange for us sending them Springer and Stern to do with as they wish, why not make the deal? We could even throw in some of Springer's guests."

But on a less facetious note, we should not be surprised that there is a considerable amount of vice, license, and vulgarity in a free society. Freedom by definition includes freedom to do good or evil, to act nobly or basely. Given the warped timber of humanity, freedom becomes the forum for the expression of human flaws and weaknesses. On this point Qutb and his fundamentalist followers are quite correct.

But if freedom brings out the worst in people, it also brings out the best. The millions of Americans who live decent, praiseworthy lives deserve our highest admiration because they have opted for the good when the good is not the only available option. Even amid the temptations that a rich and free society offers, they have remained on the straight path. Their virtue has special luster because it is freely chosen. The free society does not guarantee virtue any more than it guarantees happiness. But it allows for the pursuit of both — a pursuit rendered all the more meaningful and profound because success is not guaranteed but has to be won through personal striving.

By contrast, the theocratic and authoritarian society that Islamic fundamentalists advocate undermines the possibility of virtue. If the supply of virtue of insufficient in free societies, it is almost nonexistent in Islamic societies, because coerced virtues are not virtues at all. Consider the woman in Afghanistan or Iran who is required to wear the veil. There is no real modesty in this, because the woman is being compelled. Compulsion cannot produce virtue; it can only produce the outward semblance of virtue.

Indeed, once the reins of coercion are released, as they were for the 9/11 terrorists, the worst impulses of human nature break loose. Sure enough, the deeply religious terrorists spent their last days in gambling dens, bars, and strip clubs, sampling the licentious lifestyle they were about to strike out against. In this respect they were like the Spartans who, Plutarch tells us, were abstemious in public but privately coveted wealth and luxury. In theocratic societies such as Afghanistan under the Taliban or Iran today, the absence of freedom signals the absence of virtue.

This is the argument that Americans should make to people in the Islamic world. It is a mistake to presume that Muslims would be totally unreceptive to it. Islam, which has common roots with Judaism and Christianity, respects the autonomy of the individual soul. Salvation for Muslims, no less than for Jews and Christians, is based on the soul choosing freely to follow God. We can make the case to Muslims that freedom is not a secular invention; rather, freedom is a gift from God. Moreover, it is not the case that Islamic fundamentalists care about virtue while we in the West care only about freedom. We, too, care about virtue; like them, we seek the good society; but we disagree with the Islamic fundamentalists about the best means to achieve this goal. In the Western view, freedom is the necessary precondition for virtue. Without freedom, there is no virtue. I believe this is an argument that well-meaning Muslims would have to consider.

The arguments on behalf of freedom, and of America, are not only for the benefit of Muslims in the Arab world; they are also for the benefit of people in America and the West. To help counter the anti-Americanism that we see from Europeans and sometimes even from Americans, we can confidently show our allies, our citizens, and our idealistic young people that America is not simply richer, more varied, and more tolerant, it is also morally superior to the fundamentalists' version of Islamic society. It was Edmund Burke a long time ago who wrote, "To love our country, our country ought to be lovely." Burke's point is that the highest form of patriotism is not based on the dogmatic assertion, "My country, right or wrong." Nor is the highest form of patriotism based on loving your country simply because it is yours. Rather, the highest form of patriotism is based on loving your country because it is good.

In my view America, for all its flaws and weaknesses, can meet Burke's test. America merits a rational patriotism that can confront, and answer, the strongest criticisms of this country. Ultimately America is worthy of our love and sacrifice because, more than any other society, it makes possible for its citizens the good life, and equally important, the life that is good.

Dinesh D'Souza, the Rishwain Scholar at the Hoover Institution, is the author of What's So Great About America.


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Editorial; Foreign Affairs; War on Terror
KEYWORDS: dineshdsouza; dsouza; islam

1 posted on 07/02/2004 6:00:10 AM PDT by Tolik
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To: Lando Lincoln; quidnunc; .cnI redruM; Valin; yonif; SJackson; dennisw; monkeyshine; Alouette; ...
Dinesh D'Souza:

The arguments on behalf of freedom, and of America, are not only for the benefit of Muslims in the Arab world; they are also for the benefit of people in America and the West. To help counter the anti-Americanism that we see from Europeans and sometimes even from Americans, we can confidently show our allies, our citizens, and our idealistic young people that America is not simply richer, more varied, and more tolerant, it is also morally superior to the fundamentalists' version of Islamic society. It was Edmund Burke a long time ago who wrote, "To love our country, our country ought to be lovely." Burke's point is that the highest form of patriotism is not based on the dogmatic assertion, "My country, right or wrong." Nor is the highest form of patriotism based on loving your country simply because it is yours. Rather, the highest form of patriotism is based on loving your country because it is good.

In my view America, for all its flaws and weaknesses, can meet Burke's test. America merits a rational patriotism that can confront, and answer, the strongest criticisms of this country. Ultimately America is worthy of our love and sacrifice because, more than any other society, it makes possible for its citizens the good life, and equally important, the life that is good.

Interesting article PING. !

This ping list is not author-specific for articles I'd like to share. Some for perfect moral clarity, some for provocative thoughts; or simply interesting articles I'd hate to miss myself. (I don't have to agree with the author 100% to feel the need to share an article.) I will try not to abuse the ping list and not to annoy you too much, but on some days there is more of good stuff that is worthy attention. I keep separate PING lists for my favorite authors Victor Davis Hanson, Lee Harris, David Warren, Orson Scott Card. You are welcome in or out, just freepmail me (and note which PING list you are talking about).

2 posted on 07/02/2004 6:04:38 AM PDT by Tolik
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To: Tolik

America is good and that is why America deserves to be loved. If more Americans would love her goodness instead of criticizing every flaw and vice she has under the sun, her light would change the world for the benefit of all mankind.


3 posted on 07/02/2004 6:04:59 AM PDT by goldstategop (In Memory Of A Dearly Beloved Friend Who Lives On In My Heart Forever)
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To: Tolik

America is the most successful society ever. Any and all Muslim societies are miserable failures, at the bottom of the heap in every way.


4 posted on 07/02/2004 6:08:03 AM PDT by tkathy (nihilism: absolute destructiveness toward the world at large and oneself)
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To: Tolik

I love the profoundness of D'Souza's writing. He always gets and explains one layer deeper than anyone else I've read.


5 posted on 07/02/2004 6:11:08 AM PDT by blanknoone (The WOT can only be won abroad, and can only be lost at home.)
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To: Tolik

Excellent!...


6 posted on 07/02/2004 6:21:25 AM PDT by MEG33 (John Kerry's been AWOL for two decades on issues of National Security)
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To: blanknoone

Agree. I think this article should be a required reading starting from middle school up.


7 posted on 07/02/2004 6:22:18 AM PDT by Tolik
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Comment #8 Removed by Moderator

To: Tolik
A critical feature of American and Western culture is the high value we place on learning, freedom of inquiry, open debate and science.

We do not appeal to a religious authority to resolve public policy debates (although our public policy debates are informed by religious values, and religious authorities such as Catholic bishops are free to participate in debate).

We have a strong belief that our lives can be improved by hard work and through science and technology. The tremendous material and technological success of the West is a direct result of this. The Cassini probe that entered Saturn orbit this week is a beautiful reminder of why the West is so powerful -- Islam long ago abandoned the scientific curiousity it had in the late medieval period.

9 posted on 07/02/2004 6:28:20 AM PDT by megatherium
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To: Tolik

Let us concede at the outset that in a free society freedom will often be used badly. The Islamic critics have a point when they deplore our high crime and illegitimacy rates and the triviality and vulgarity of our popular culture.

Something I've been saying for a while now.
Dinesh D'Souza just says it better...make that MUCH better.
I know we don't like to admit it but look at America's cultural exports to the world, Dallas, Britney Spears,...

What we need to do is get Madison Ave. on board with this war.


10 posted on 07/02/2004 6:29:25 AM PDT by Valin (Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. It's just that yours is stupid.)
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To: Tolik

B4L8r


11 posted on 07/02/2004 6:30:09 AM PDT by AFreeBird (your mileage may vary)
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To: tkathy

"Qutb pointed to divorce, family breakdown, homosexuality, promiscuity, and the triviality and vulgarity of American popular culture as proof that human beings cannot be expected to use freedom except to gratify their basest impulses."

All of these things are pillars of western liberalism. Yet...the liberals are helping the Muslims to take over, not realizing that as soon as the Muslims gain power, liberals/gays/feminists will be the first ones crushed under the tank treads or placed on the cattle cars.


12 posted on 07/02/2004 6:40:33 AM PDT by Pete98
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To: Valin

That's something I've been saying too, and have been attacked for it.

Add to the fact that America has slaughtered 40 million innocents, and it's no wonder why so many hate us.


13 posted on 07/02/2004 6:43:56 AM PDT by Guillermo (France Sucks)
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To: Admin Moderator

Whoa, what happened to my comment?


14 posted on 07/02/2004 6:46:41 AM PDT by alnitak ("That kid's about as sharp as a pound of wet liver" - Foghorn Leghorn)
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To: Tolik

Wow! This goes straight to the heart of the problem like nothing I have read for a long time.


15 posted on 07/02/2004 6:58:17 AM PDT by MainFrame65
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To: Guillermo

Add to the fact that America has slaughtered 40 million innocents
?


16 posted on 07/02/2004 6:59:52 AM PDT by Valin (Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. It's just that yours is stupid.)
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To: AFreeBird

We can generally agree with the Muslims that murder, robbery, rape, stuff like that are crimes. When we get to sex, we divurge on what is good and what is bad. Howard Stern is a scream to some (me included) while in their countries they would cut his tongue off, or worse. Even in our country the proliferation of sexual content available to children is concern to many. I don't see how a devout Muslim would ever agree to allow this sort of thing to be allowed where they are in control. There are always a certain percentage of people who want to tell others how to live, and under the guise of religion, and the power of the state, and their feeling that they are right, and doing God's will, will not be deterred.


17 posted on 07/02/2004 7:01:26 AM PDT by Crababble
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To: Dajjal; Siobhan

Dinesh D'Souza on Sayyid Qutb ping!


18 posted on 07/02/2004 7:09:28 AM PDT by Pyro7480 (Sub tuum praesidium confugimus, sancta Dei Genitrix.... sed a periculis cunctis libera nos semper...)
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To: Valin

Roe v. Wade.


19 posted on 07/02/2004 7:14:01 AM PDT by Guillermo (France Sucks)
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To: Tolik
Simply fabulous.

"Salvation for Muslims, no less than for Jews and Christians, is based on the soul choosing freely to follow God."

Some would probably quibble with the above.

 

20 posted on 07/02/2004 7:19:04 AM PDT by Incorrigible (immanentizing the eschaton)
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To: Tolik
There is a story in the Islamic classical tradition about a man and a woman who came to the prophet Muhammad and said, "Messenger of Allah, purify us." Muhammad asked, "From what am I to purify you?" They replied, "From adultery." Muhammed asked the two people whether they were insane or drunk. Assured that they were not, Muhammad asked them again, "What have you done?" They confessed that they had committed adultery. Then Muhammad gave the order, and the two were stoned to death. While the couple was being buried, onlookers scorned them, but Muhammad chided the scoffers. The couple had repented, he said, and now they were with Allah.

If this is the example of a virtuous society, I find it difficult to take seriously. I think the vast majority of Americans would find this grotesque.

21 posted on 07/02/2004 7:21:22 AM PDT by Polonius (It's called logic, it'll help you.)
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To: Guillermo

The lightbulb goes on! Good point!


22 posted on 07/02/2004 7:23:59 AM PDT by Valin (Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. It's just that yours is stupid.)
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To: Tolik

"I think this article should be a required reading starting from middle school up."

Along with this other jewel that he produced in the wake of Reagan's passing; it should be
required reading to immunize kids from liberal/Democratic revisionists:
http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1148542/posts


23 posted on 07/02/2004 7:30:34 AM PDT by VOA
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To: Polonius

Lets bear in mind that this happened in (what) the late 7th century. Where this would not have been consided all that outragous anywhere in the world. It wasn't all that long ago here in America that people convicted of a capital crime were taken (pretty much) right from the court room too the gallows too the graveyard.
And yes I find it grotesque also.


24 posted on 07/02/2004 7:32:45 AM PDT by Valin (Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. It's just that yours is stupid.)
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To: VOA

Than you very much for the link. Here is more of his stuff on FR: http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/k-dineshdsouza/browse


25 posted on 07/02/2004 7:49:42 AM PDT by Tolik
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To: Tolik
He nails what Islam is without cutting to the truth. Islam is phony in every area. Phony virtue, phony prophet, phony god.

In truth they worship Satan and are the children of Satan. They call Allah the greatest deceiver of them all. We rightly call Satan the great deceiver. What small part of the Old Testament they use, they twist into a lie, thereby calling God a liar. His son they reduce to a prophet and lie about his divinity.

Lying and Islam go hand in hand. Islam is a cult that views lying as a useful tool for allah, while God has made truth an essential foundation, Jesus said of himself, I am, the Way, the Truth, and the Life, announcing truth as one of the identifying characteristics and foundation of the godhead. We are at war with the ideology of Satan, a phony piety that esteems the lie as a fundamental foundation, that indulges the blood lust of brutal killers and feathers the nest of Satan's clerics.
26 posted on 07/02/2004 7:51:12 AM PDT by MissAmericanPie
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To: goldstategop

Must be due to the feminization of American society. A woman goes into a restroom, looks into the mirror and says "I need to lose ten pounds, I'm fat"
A man looks into a mirror and says "I'm still HOT!"

American Left is criticizing every flaw and vice under the sun, instead of loving our goodness, our beauty.

The RIGHT used to say AMERICA, LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT!


27 posted on 07/02/2004 8:25:40 AM PDT by buffyt (The Clintons are the Demons from Dogpatch)
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To: Valin

True enough, but would you take seriously someone who wants to return to those 7th century standards, and seems to in fact hold them up as superior?


28 posted on 07/02/2004 8:49:22 AM PDT by Polonius (It's called logic, it'll help you.)
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To: Tolik
By contrast, the theocratic and authoritarian society that Islamic fundamentalists advocate undermines the possibility of virtue.

It is only by making a choice between life and death, between truth and lies that virtue can be discerned. I have often thought it a lie that muslims have high regard for their women by leaving them covered in public. More likely this is to prevent the male from becoming overcome with the lust in his heart. This is not virtue, it is more like prohibition.

29 posted on 07/02/2004 8:51:47 AM PDT by KC_for_Freedom (Sailing the highways of America, and loving it.)
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To: Tolik
Even the church, Qutb commented, has become a place for amusement and social interaction rather than worship.

As opposed to what, THE MOSQUE, which has become a place for incitement to murder ???!!!!!

30 posted on 07/03/2004 7:26:22 PM PDT by happygrl
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To: Valin
Lets bear in mind that this happened in (what) the late 7th century.

The difference is that we have moved on and they are still stuck in the 7th century.

31 posted on 07/05/2004 5:50:15 PM PDT by lancer (If you are not with us, you are against us!)
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To: lancer

Many Muslims are, BUT (as I'm sure you know) there are those who a trying to bring the Islamic world into the modern world.


32 posted on 07/05/2004 6:02:36 PM PDT by Valin (Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. It's just that yours is stupid.)
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