Shana Tova to my Jewish readers
For non-Jewish readers, Rosh Hashanah is the main Jewish "New Year". It begins this year at sunset September 8. "Shana Tova" is a wish for the recipient to have a good new year.
Why Islamic Moderates Are So Scarce
As past statements of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf continue to surface, many Americans have concluded that the would-be builder of a mosque at Ground Zero is lying when he calls himself a “moderate” representative of his faith. The more disturbing possibility, however, is that he’s telling the truth — that Rauf is indeed the voice of mainstream Islam.
One indication is the resounding silence from the rest of the Islamic community. If that community were truly moderate — as we in the West understand the term — one might expect it to distance itself from a man who blames the U.S. for the 9/11 attacks, says we have more innocent blood on our hands than al-Qaeda, and refuses to disown the genocidal agenda of Hamas.
A few brave Muslim individuals have indeed come out against the mosque, but they are exceptions. Where are the large numbers of Muslims who find Rauf’s statements offensive? Where are their organizations and institutions? Why aren’t they weighing in to repudiate Rauf and his apparent aims?
It’s a common problem. Each time some new offense is perpetrated in the name of Islam — whether it’s the latest suicide bombing in a public square or a woman’s being beaten and mutilated by her own family — it is mostly Western leaders and the press who voice their disapproval. The more one looks for the larger Muslim community to denounce the violence, the more “moderate Islam” seems to vanish like a mirage in the desert.
Why this is so — what happened to moderate Islam and what sort of hope we may have for it in the future — is the subject of Robert Reilly’s brilliant and groundbreaking new book, The Closing of the Muslim Mind. Reilly is a veteran of the Reagan White House, director of the Voice of America under George W. Bush, a board member of the Middle East Media Research Institute, and a frequent contributor to numerous national publications. He has made a deep dive into Muslim thought and history to discover the sources of the present Islamic condition.
The result is anything but dry. Closing is a page-turner that reads almost like an intellectual detective novel. It is among those few brave books on Islam — others would include Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations and Andrew McCarthy’s recent The Grand Jihad — that should be read by anyone who wants to understand one of the most fundamental causes of conflict in the 21st century.
Reilly does in fact locate the elusive moderate Islam — back in the 8th and 9th centuries, when the rationalist Mu’tazilites dominated Islamic thought under Caliph al-Ma’mun. The period is often referred to as the “golden age of Islam,” when that civilization produced some of its highest achievements in philosophy and science. It didn’t last. In 849, the second year of the reign of Caliph Ja’afar al-Mutawakkil, the Mu’tazilites were overthrown. Holding Mu’tazilite beliefs became a crime punishable by death, and the decidedly anti-rationalist Ash’arites soon came to dominate the faith, as they would continue to do, in one form or another, through the modern era.
What makes Closing so compelling is Reilly’s ability to tie seemingly arcane questions of Islamic theology to many of the characteristics of Islamic civilization that we in the West find so hard to fathom. Fundamentally, Ash’arism was a rejection of “natural law” and reason in favor of an all-powerful God of pure will and power. The idea of an ordered universe that behaves according to certain ordained laws — whether moral or physical — would have been understood by the Mu’tazilites. For the Ash’arites, this was blasphemy, an outrage against God’s omnipotence.
In the language of philosophy, this way of looking at the world is known, somewhat confusingly, as “voluntarism.” To quote Reilly, it “holds that God is the primary cause of everything and there are no secondary causes. There is no causal mediation. Therefore, what may seem to be ‘natural laws,’ such as the laws of gravity, physics, etc. are really nothing more than God’s customs or habits, which He is at complete liberty to break or change at any moment.”
While Christianity recognizes the possibility of miracles, when God intervenes to supersede natural law, in Islam every nanosecond is the functional equivalent of a miracle, the result of God’s divine act. Thus there is no law of gravity, only God’s will, determining moment by moment that the apple will fall from the tree. Neither is there any morality, no objective good and evil as we in the West would see it, only the arbitrary decrees of an all-powerful God. There is no “truth that is written in our hearts,” only the truths that are written in the Koran, which could just as well be otherwise if such were the whim of God. As Ibn Hazm pronounced in the 11th century, “He judges as He pleases, and whatever He judges is just. . . . If God the Exalted had informed us that He would punish us for the acts of others . . . all that would have been right and just.”
The problem, one might say, is obvious. In science, the repudiation of natural law meant the explicit denial of cause and effect. No wonder that the rise of the Ash'arites coincided with the decline of a once-vibrant Islamic intellectual culture after the 13th century. And no wonder that societies that exalt the power and arbitrary will of God to the exclusion of reason can hardly understand, let alone embrace, modern democratic institutions, which are founded, as our Declaration of Independence makes clear, in the self-evident and enduring truths of natural law.
Nor can we be surprised that such cultures endorse institutionalized domestic violence or rampant terrorism and the murder of innocents. As hard as it is for the secular Left to accept, Western culture is founded on and steeped in the Judeo-Christian assumption that our innate understanding of what is right is a direct reflection of God’s goodness and justice as reflected in His universal law, to which even He adheres. We make a mistake when we assume other cultures are necessarily speaking the same moral language.
Is there a possibility that Islam can find its way back to the root philosophies of its golden age? There are those within Islam who want to, but — like the voices raised in opposition to the mosque — they are lonely, even threatened, outposts within their faith. One thing Reilly’s account makes clear: Only when we move beyond the common platitudes of our contemporary political discussion and begin to deal with Islam as it really is — rather than the fiction that it is the equivalent of our Western culture dressed up in a burqa — will we be able to help make progress in that direction.
Yes, we do need government: Just not as much of it as many seem to think
No, I've not read Tony's maunderings and no, I'm not going to. However, there is one interesting little story that's emerged:
The former Prime Minister describes how he supported pension reforms proposed by Adair Turner but these were opposed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer at that time. Lord Turner recommended raising the State pension age and restoring some linkage with earnings – both changes now planned by the Coalition Government – but Mr Brown was thought to be against these reforms. Now we know just how much so.
Mr Blair’s book ‘A Journey’ says: “We had been having a huge set-to about Adair Turner’s pension proposals. John Hutton (the pensions secretary) and I both thought them right but Gordon disagreed.
“He was in a venomous mood and I can truthfully say it was the ugliest meeting we had ever had…the temperature which was already below freezing point went Arctic.”
Mr Blair goes on to relate how Mr Brown threatened to call for an inquiry into allegations that wealthy friends of the Prime Minister had gained seats in the House of Lords after making donations to the Labour Party. Mr Blair claims Mr Brown said he would expose what became known as the ‘cash for honours’ scandal unless Lord Turner’s proposals were dropped.
Government is needed because there really are some collective action problems that cannot be solved without the existence of government (sorry anarchists!). But that does not mean that all of the problems of the world are amenable to government action and that we thus require a government so large as to try and solve all such problems.
For, as we can see, those who actually make up government do not in fact attempt to solve those problems. They're far too much like the rest of us fallible human beings, willing to snit and scrabble for short term advantage for themselves while ignoring the large scale and long term problems.
No, I don't say this was unique to Brown: James Buchanan received the Nobel for pointing out that all politicians, all bureaucrats, are susceptible to exactly the same urges. They are, after all, just people and people everywhere react to incentives.
All of which leads us to he conclusion that while we do require government to solve those problems that only government can solve we really don't want them doing anything at all other than what only government can do. For the rest of it we'll make our own mistakes thanks very much.
The AMA and central planning
Physicians of the Florida Medical Association recently sent a message on health care reform to America and the AMA: The FMA has "no confidence" in "the ability of the AMA leadership to effectively protect the Profession of Medicine in America". AMA leadership aided politicians with dark of night votes -- overcoming bipartisan opposition of a bill that had been rejected by the America people. The AMA provided political cover for a government and corporate takeover of medicine that breaks the trust between patients and doctors -- a betrayal of the finest medical care in the history of the world. Americans cannot trust the AMA leadership on health care at this time.
This expansion of power over patients by bureaucrats and corporate accountants is a threat to the lives of Americans. Technocrats are creating a rationing system in America to deny care to people who need it most -- and who paid for it. The AMA endorsed a bill creating panels that are deciding that cancer drugs decreasing suffering at end of life are "too expensive". Committees are coercing doctors to withhold antibiotics at 24 hours after surgery despite proof that this increases infection rates. Panels force doctors to inappropriately give beta blockers to some heart attack patients resulting in shock and accidental death. Arrogant and untouchable elitists are deciding what medical care patients receive -- not patients with doctors as their trusted advisor.
This is an example of a system that has failed throughout history: Central economic planning. Political committees decide the cost and availability of goods and services. Price controls and rationing are imposed, leading to shortages in physicians, medicines, and surgeries that have given Americans the best cancer survival, shortest waiting times and most patient satisfaction. The AMA endorsed a plan without tort reform that allows nurses and pharmacists to practice medicine. It also expands 16 million people into a failed Medicaid system where patients must go to the ER for care and bankrupts our country for our children. The future of waiting lines, rationing, lower quality and bankruptcy are writ large in its proto-type: Romney care in Massachusetts. Like Obamacare, doctors are put on a budget and punished if they spend a penny more on their patients. Medicare and other patients that would seek to escape from this system will lose all the benefits that they earned through a lifetime of payroll theft.
The original proposal at the FMA was to withdraw our delegation to the AMA -- a separate organization. But one doesn't withdraw Congressmen from Washington and the FMA now seeks to have the AMA once again stand up for the medical profession as a trusted servant of the patient -- not a servant of the state or insurance companies. FMA physicians echoed the sentiment of so many Americans today: we have "no confidence" in the ability of elite politicians to preserve medical freedom for our patients.
In an Op. Ed. In the Florida Times-Union, Brian Klepper and David Kibbe attacked me and the FMA as representing the "Old Guard" and fighting against "progressive" change embraced by AMA leadership. The hailed the ability of people like them (who don't practice medicine) to use computers to micromanage medical care and complain that doctors make money by caring for patients - even as these members of the elite special interest culture work as high priced medical industry consultants. Kibbe sold two health information technology companies and now stands to profit from government mandated computer records. Computer records that are more like Big Brother watching to make sure your doctor is "efficiently" saving money for state-run insurance. Big Brother medicine will actively penalize doctors if they don't ration care. No patient can trust their doctor in such a system.
As a member of the "old guard" that puts patients first and bureaucrats and insurance companies last, I am proud to lead the way to send a clear message to the AMA leadership: start standing up for patients. Like most doctors, I see the AMA leadership as betraying American medicine. I am working to repeal government run medicine and replace it with the great FMA plan that puts patients in charge, lowers costs, and increases quality so the best days of medicine will be ahead of us, and not behind us.
Petraeus: Quran burning will endanger American lives: "The US commander of the Afghan war has warned that troops’ lives will be endangered if a Florida evangelical church goes ahead with a planned burning of the Koran on Saturday’s 9/11 anniversary. General David Petraeus said the planned torching of Islam’s holy book would be a propaganda coup for the Taliban in Afghanistan and stoke anti-US sentiment across the Muslim world. The Dove World Outreach Center at Gainesville, Florida says it will burn copies of the Koran on this weekend’s ninth anniversary of the September 11 airborne attacks in protest at what it calls ‘the evil of Islam.’”
Taliban threaten to attack Afghan polling stations: "The Taliban vowed Sunday to attack polling places in Sept. 18 parliamentary elections, warning Afghans not to participate in what it called a sham vote. Meanwhile, two coalition troops, one British and one from the Republic of Georgia, were killed in fighting in the turbulent south, while a political rival of President Hamid Karzai questioned his approach to pending talks with rebels who might be persuaded to abandon the insurgency.”
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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)