Friday, 31 December 2010

New Year's Resolutions

Mirroring below the post by the newly-discovered (for me), Roland Shirk:
As the new year comes upon us, most of us come up with projects for self-improvement, which typically center on health, exercise, relationships, or moral failings we want to address. I'd like to propose some ideas for what we in the movement to resist Islamic totalitarianism can do to advance our cause.
I invite readers to submit their own 5-10 ideas on how we can (either individually or corporately) do a better job in this struggle. Remember to phrase them as practical, can-do items that really are within the reach of ordinary people. (Compiling a list of resolutions we wish that the president of France would take up is probably not too useful.) Being a rhetorician by temperament and training, the five things I plan to do this year center on seizing the rhetorical high ground. (That's a metaphor that's too often divorced from its original meaning; remember what a difference it made for the Union at Gettysburg that the Federals were at the top of hills and a ridge, which the Confederates had to march up under withering fire.)

The very word "rhetoric" seems tainted to some, who equate it with misleading or empty speech. But that's like dismissing "restaurants" because McDonald's calls itself one. Rhetoric has a long and noble history, going back to the Athenian assembly and the Roman Senate. Aristotle thought rhetoric important enough to devote an entire treatise to the subject. The great rhetorician Richard Weaver, in his classic The Ethics of Rhetoric, defined rhetoric as persuasive language we use in order to put into practice the truths we learn through philosophy--in other words, to pursue the Good. When George Washington addressed the troops at Valley Forge, he didn't offer them logical syllogisms about representative government. (If he had, we might still be British subjects, suffering under laws suppressing free speech because it's "offensive" to jihadists.) Instead, he stirred their hearts. There's nothing shameful about doing that, so long as it's done honestly. So here are the five rhetorical hills I wish to claim, phrased as (non-rhetorical) questions:

1. What do we call what we're against? In a previous piece, I proposed revising the way we talk about sharia restrictions on "unbelievers" as "Islamic Apartheid." Since then, I've seen that others in our movement beat me to the punch, and have organized Islamic Apartheid Months. Good for them! The term "dhimmitude," while perfectly truthful and useful, sounds to outsiders like jargon. Indeed, one of the handicaps we face in the movement is the need to sling around so many Arabic words and Islamic concepts--which are in themselves distasteful to ordinary, non-multiculturalist Westerners. We're most of us happy enough to hear about hummus and hookahs; start quoting suras and hadiths to expose concepts such as taqqiya and kitman, as practiced by men with names like "Sharif El-Gamal," and soon enough the average reader's eyes glaze over. Now, that's something anyone delving beneath the surfact of this issue will soon enough have to get over. But when speaking to people who should be on our side, if they didn't find the whole subject matter too alien and intimidating, use language that truthfully conveys the basic ideas, but which is already familiar. Everyone has some idea what "apartheid" was; that's why the loathsome Jimmy Carter used it in his dishonest book about Israel. Let's use it ourselves, since it's much more apt as a description of what Muslims propose to impose on the rest of us. Don't say "religious apartheid," because it isn't specific enough. No other faith on earth hopes to do to outsiders what Muslims routinely do. So when people ask you what you're worried about, say something like "I'm against Islamic apartheid. Are you for it?"

2. What do we call ourselves? I won't presume to speak for all of you, but I like to describe myself as a "civilizational patriot." It reaches across the religious divides that exist in Western society, and nicely broadens the issues at stake beyond questions like terrorism or the specific atrocities inherent in Islamic law. It's also positive, rather than negative, pointing not just to what we're against but what we're for. It puts critics on the defensive, placing them in the position of either admitting they're anti-Western (which they are) or that they aren't patriots (which they aren't).

3. What do we call our domestic opponents? The term dhimmi is accurate and evocative, so I don't propose we abandon it, but it does have certain drawbacks. For one thing, it requires a lengthy explanation of Islamic law, which one doesn't always have time or space to provide. For another, is literally coached in the language of the enemy. I don't think Winston Churchill went around referring to the likes of Neville Chamberlain as Beschwichtigungspolitikers. I fancy he might have had some trouble pronouncing the word; in any case, it would have marred his noble rhetoric. Instead, why don't we use the perfectly serviceable word "appeaser"? It's interesting to note that "appeasement" wasn't always pejorative. High-minded Englishmen who saw that the Treaty of Versailles was deeply flawed--to the point that German Social Democrats were screaming for its revision--used the term for decades without embarrassment. From 1919 through much of the 30s, it was the equivalent of "detente." It took the shameful betrayal of Munich to taint the word forever. It says what we mean, so we should use it. There are many ways in which our current confrontation with expansionist Islam differs from the diplomatic conflicts of the 1930s, but in essentials we face the same phenomenon: Reasonable men are projecting their own motives and psychology onto men with irrational motives; pragmatists with limited aims are trying to mollify fanatics whose demands are limitless. The amiable are trying to buy off the insatiable.

4. What do we call the enemy? Robert Spencer has at great length explained why he won't use the term "Islamist," since it contains the false implication that Islam is itself (like Judaism or Christianity) essentially apolitical, but is subject (like other faiths) to being hijacked by those who politicize religion. As we know to our dismay, this simply is not true. Likewise he rejects "radical Muslim," since it hives off as a trivial, blinkered minority those who actually favor the stated program of the Qur'an, and buys as a rhetorical pig-in-poke the term "moderate Muslim"--the favorite mask behind which the likes of Reza Aslan and Ibrahim Hooper like to hide their real agenda. Most effective, I think, at conveying the sad truth of the situation is the term "orthodox Muslim." Few devout Muslims would be willing to dispute their own orthodoxy, and the term blows no smoke up our skirts. Its implications are truthful: that orthodox Muslims support sharia. "Muslim supremacists" is a good term for overtly political Muslims, and "peaceful Muslims" (Spencer's favored phrase) works well to describe ordinary people who don't even know that their religion is also a totalitarian ideology.

5. How do we fight back when we're lied about? Answering this question would require a book in itself, so I'll confine myself to dismantling a single rhetorical time-bomb: "Islamophobia." It's interesting that our enemies chose this term rather than "bigot" as their favorite epithet. That probably had to do with timing. The Civil Rights movement achieved its major goals decades ago, and images of angry white sheriffs wielding police dogs have faded into black and white memories for most. Currently, the loudest movement for social change is the gay rights crusade, and it has very effectively tarred its enemies with the term "homophobe," which cleverly combines two implications: First, that opponents of social change are hateful, and second that they're afraid (probably because they fear some secret tendencies in themselves). "Islamophobe" suggests that we oppose Islam because we fear it, as xenophobes fear things that are merely foreign. Muslims who use the term probably also mean to imply we fear Islam because we secretly think it might be true. We face a real problem here: Because of what Muslims in power (or equipped with bombs) really do across the world, we are indeed afraid of them, and of Islam. So this epithet contains a grain of truth; instead of denying it, why don't we use that grain of truth to make a pearl. I answer people who call me an Islamophobe by saying something like this: "Afraid of Islam and sharia? You're damned right I'm afraid. So are the Iraqi Christians who get gunned down in their churches, and the Pakistani Christians facing execution for blasphemy. I'm sure the victims of terrorism in New York and London were frightened, too. When you have to take off your shoes and belt at the airport, and get your whole body x-rayed before you can board a plane, who do you think the airlines are 'afraid' will blow up the plane--the Amish? The Mormons? The Hindus? If that's what it means to be an Islamophobe, then I guess you could call FBI agents 'crime-aphobes.' If Muslims want us to stop being scared of them, maybe they could--I dunno, stop oppressing and killing people around the world. That would make a really nice start."

I hope these suggestions are helpful in making arguments, and look forward to readers' practical suggestions in their own areas of expertise.
See it all here.  And then see the comment section, many thoughtful and knowledgeable.