On being Intellectually Honest in the Political Islam discussion

23 Nov

Shadi Hamid, Muslim and scholar of Political Islam at Brookings, writes a good piece on the discussion surrounding Islam, democracy, and groups like ISIS.  In a day where even asking the question about whether Islam is compatible at its core with democracy and whether ISIS can be quickly dismissed simply as a departure from Islam, his article is poignant.

I’m not a scholar of Political Islam, but in my own area (Christianity and Political Theory), I know it to be intellectually dishonest for me to say that liberal democracy arose in the West despite orthodox Christianity and in no way because of it.  From what I know of political Islam and what we observe in history, it is not implausible to say that if liberal democracy will arise in the Middle East despite orthodox Islam and not because of it.  That is an intellectually honest statement on my part, but it invites charges of bigotry.  I will have to live with that.

The reason why the charge of bigotry is sure to follow a statement like that is because of the postmodern liberal fallacy that all religions are the same.  They are all equally compatible with liberal democracy or they are all irrelevant to it.  Religions are infinitely malleable and can be molded into whatever shape we want.  In other words, religions are like cars.  They are basically the same, take you the same places (in this life or the next), and only differ really in furnishings and brand names.  But when we buy into this fallacy, we analyze religion and politics using only half our brains.

No, it can be the case, and it isn’t bigotry saying so, that some religions are more or less compatible with liberal democracy than others.  It can be the case, and it isn’t bigotry saying so, that some religions require little adjustment for the teachings of their core central figures, sacred texts, to accommodate liberal democracy than others.  It can be the case, and it isn’t bigotry to say so, that some religions will need to recover its orthodoxy in order to embrace liberal democracy (I think this is what the Reformation did in church history) while others will need to depart from that orthodoxy and invent something radically new in order to do so.

Hamdi writes:

Every time the Islamic State commits yet another attack or atrocity, Muslims, particularly Western Muslims, shudder. Attacks like the ones in Paris mean another round of demands that Muslims condemn the acts, as if we should presume guilt, or perhaps some indirect taint.

The impulse to separate Islam from the sins and crimes of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, is understandable, and it often includes statements such as ISIS has “nothing to do with Islam” or that ISIS is merely “using Islam” as a pretext. The sentiment is usually well-intentioned. We live in an age of growing anti-Muslim bigotry, where mainstream politicians now feel license to say things that might have once been unimaginable.

To protect Islam – and, by extension, Muslims – from any association with extremists and extremism is a worthy cause.

But saying something for the right reasons doesn’t necessarily make it right. An overwhelming majority of Muslims oppose ISIS and its ideology. But that’s not quite the same as saying that ISIS has nothing to do with Islam, when it very clearly has something to do with it.

If you actually look at ISIS’s approach to governance, it would be difficult – impossible, really – to conclude that it is just making things up as it goes along and then giving it an Islamic luster only after the fact.

It is tempting, for example, to look at the role of former Saddam-era Baathist party officers in the organization’s senior ranks and leap to the conclusion that religion can’t matter all that much. Yet many younger Baathists came up through Saddam Hussein’s late-period Islamization initiative, and, in any case, just because someone starts as a Baathist – or any other kind of secular nationalist – doesn’t mean they can’t, at some later point, “get” religion.

There is a role for Islamic apologetics – if defending Islam rather than analyzing it is your objective. I am a Muslim myself, and it’s impossible for me to believe that a just God could ever sanction the behavior of groups like ISIS.

But if the goal is to understand ISIS, then I, and other analysts who happen to be Muslim, would be better served by cordoning off our personal assumptions and preferences. What Islam should be and what Islam is actually understood to be by Muslims (including extremist Muslims) are very different things.

For scholars of Islamist movements and Islam’s role in politics, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, there should be one overarching objective: to understand and to explain, rather than to make judgments about which interpretations of Islam are correct, or who is or isn’t a “true” Muslim.

In addition to being a Muslim, I am an American, as well as a small-l liberal. I have written about how, even if we personally believe liberalism is the best available ideological framework for ordering society, that should not be allowed to distort our understanding of mainstream Islamist movements such as, say, the Muslim Brotherhood and its analogues across the region.

It makes little sense to compare Islamists to some liberal ideal, when they are a product of very different contexts than our own.

The “is ISIS Islamic?” debate can seem circular and exhausting. But it’s an important one nonetheless. Islamic apologetics lead us down a path of diminishing the role of religion in politics. If the past few years of Middle Eastern turmoil have made anything clear, it’s that, for Islamists of various stripes – mainstream or extremist – religion matters.

 Original Link from the Washington Post

Why was Fire Chief Kevin Cochran really fired?

17 Nov

From the Wall Street Journal

Kelvin Cochran has led a remarkable life by any standard. He was born into a poor family in Shreveport, La., in 1960 that became even poorer after his father walked out and left his mother to raise six children alone. “After he left, we couldn’t afford to live in the projects anymore,” he once told an interviewer.

Mr. Cochran aspired to be a firefighter from age 5, and he eventually was appointed Shreveport’s first black fire chief in 1999. In 2008 he became the fire chief of Atlanta. And In 2009 President Obama appointed him U.S. fire administrator, the top position in the profession.

At the urging of Democratic Mayor Kasim Reed, Mr. Cochran returned to his post in Atlanta in 2010 and continued to impress. In 2012, after more than 30 years of service, he was given a Fire Chief of the Year Award by Fire Chief magazine. In a related press release, the mayor’s office said that “under Chief Cochran’s leadership, the department has seen dramatic improvements in response times and staffing.” Mr. Reed added: “Chief Cochran’s pioneering efforts to improve performance and service within the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department have won him much-deserved national recognition.”

But a year ago, Mr. Cochran was suspended for 30 days without pay, pending an investigation into his behavior. On Jan. 6, at the end of the suspension, Mr. Reed sacked him. Mr. Cochran’s fireable offense, according to the city, was publishing a book in violation of the city’s ethics code and without permission from the mayor. The reality, according to a lawsuit filed in response to the firing, is that Mr. Cochran no longer has his $172,000-a-year job because of what’s in the book. The suit accuses the city of firing Mr. Cochran for his religious beliefs.

It turns out that when he’s not fighting fires, Mr. Cochran spends a lot of time helping black men turn their lives around and stay out of trouble. He does this under the auspices of Atlanta’s Elizabeth Baptist Church, where he is a deacon and leads a men’s bible study.

Mr. Cochran self-published a book in 2013, “Who Told You That You Were Naked?” The book, written on his own time, is a compilation of lesson plans for his bible classes and explains how the teachings of Christ can help men fulfill their purpose as responsible husbands and fathers. What earned the ire of Atlanta officials is that the 162-page tome includes a few passages criticizing homosexual conduct as “perversion.”

In response to the lawsuit, the city has maintained that Mr. Cochran was terminated for violating protocol, not for his religious views—as if he would have been fired for publishing a cookbook. But comments from the mayor and other city officials at the time of the suspension suggest that the book’s content is what drove the decision.

“I want to be clear that the material in Chief Cochran’s book is not representative of my personal beliefs, and is inconsistent with the administration’s work to make Atlanta a more welcoming city for all of her citizens—regardless of their sexual orientation, gender, race and religious beliefs,” said Mr. Reed. Alex Wan, a member of the City Council who is openly gay, said “I respect each individual’s right to have their own thoughts, beliefs and opinions, but when you’re a city employee, and those thoughts, beliefs and opinions are different from the city’s, you have to check them at the door.”

So the mayor fired someone who disagreed with him in the name of inclusivity and tolerance. And Mr. Wan believes that government employees are entitled to their own views but not entitled to share them with anyone. If this is true, the Constitution’s protections of free speech and freedom of religion are meaningless in practice.

David Cortman of Alliance Defending Freedom, the legal group representing Mr. Cochran, says the city is now using protocol arguments to cover its tracks after wrongly terminating someone for holding and expressing religious views that city officials didn’t like. There is no official requirement to notify the mayor before you write a book, Mr. Cortman told me, and Mr. Cochran sought and received permission from the city’s ethics department to pursue the book project.

“The ethics rule concerns moonlighting, other employment or outside work,” said Mr. Cortman. “It doesn’t apply to writing a book, religious or otherwise, on your own time at home. And if they had such a rule in place it would be unconstitutional. You don’t need the government’s permission to do that.”

Despite the left’s efforts to paint Mr. Cochran as some kind of hateful bigot, the city’s own investigation of the former fire chief’s work history found no complaints of discrimination.

Many Americans—and polls show their numbers growing—don’t agree with Mr. Cochran about sexual behavior or same-sex marriage, but all Americans have a stake in religious freedom. Consider: Would it be OK for a mayor who holds traditional views on marriage to fire an employee who wrote a book that expressed support for same-sex marriage?

“Our nation was founded on the principle that everyone should be free to not just believe what they want, but to live their lives according to those beliefs,” said Mr. Cochran in a statement last month following a court hearing. “I’m here today not just for myself, but for every religious person in America who does not want to live in fear of facing termination for expressing their faith.”

Mr. Riley, a Manhattan Institute senior fellow and Journal contributor, is the author of “Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make It Harder for Blacks to Succeed” (Encounter Books, 2014).

original link

The Syrian Civil War. What’s that all about?

17 Nov

A new civil religion, not secular humanism, is being imposed

6 Nov

From Bruce Frohen:

In court at least, one no longer hears the argument that federal policies are establishing a “religion of secular humanism.” The reason for this is simple: raising the issue is a guaranteed way of losing, immediately and with extreme prejudice, the suit in which the claim is made. This does not necessarily mean that criticizing decisions interpreting the First Amendment’s prohibition against a national, established religion for promoting their own kind of religion is clearly wrong, only that it violates judicial self-conceptions. Judges find it insulting to have their precepts, which they have been told since law school are rooted in the only enlightened, democratic vision of law possible, actually bespeak something so “irrational” and “superstitious” as faith. These decisions are rooted in faith. But it is a political, not a properly religious, faith.

The claim that judges are imposing on us a secular humanist religion is inaccurate. But its inaccuracy does not stem from its entirely valid charge that post–World War II religion clause jurisprudence is rooted in a specific conception of the human person and his relationship to God. Rather, the inaccuracy of the secular humanism argument comes from its failure to make the distinction between religion qua religion and its political doppelganger, civil religion.

Read the rest

Deep down, men and women like and need chivalry

6 Nov

From Jeffrey Tucker:

Daniel Craig, the star behind the smash hit James Bond movies, was asked what he likes most about his classic character.

“He’s a considerate person … and he looks out for other people,” he told RedBulletin.com.

This is one reason we love Bond. He has a problem with misogyny, true, but his outward behavior toward women is chivalrous. It stands out in a time when manners are rarely on display, and the culture’s obsession with “equality” has misled men into thinking they have no ritual obligations toward women.

Read it all

Why don’t we laugh at family-structure denialists like we do climate-changer denialists?

24 Oct

From Brad Wilcox:

t’s been a rough two weeks for the family-structure denialists, those progressive academics (Philip Cohen, “How to Live in a World Where Marriage Is in Decline”), journalists (Katie Roiphe, “New York Times, Stop Moralizing About Single Mothers”), and pundits (Matthew Yglesias, “The ‘Decline’ of Marriage Isn’t a Problem”) who seek to minimize or deny the importance of marriage and family structure. That’s because three new pieces of scholarship — a journal, a report, and a study — were released this month that solidify the growing scientific consensus that marriage and family structure matter for children, families, and the nation as a whole. On October 14, Princeton University and Brookings released a new issue of The Future of Children, focused on marriage and child well-being. After reviewing family research over the last decade, the issue’s big takeaway, co-authored by Princeton sociologist Sara McLanahan and Brookings economist Isabel Sawhill, was this: Whereas most scholars now agree that children raised by two biological parents in a stable marriage do better than children in other family forms across a wide range of outcomes, there is less consensus about why. Is it the quality of parenting? Is it the availability of additional resources (time and money)? Or is it just that married parents have different attributes than those who aren’t married? Thus a major theme we address in this issue is why marriage matters for child wellbeing. Although definitive answers to these questions continue to elude the research community, we’ve seen a growing appreciation of how these factors interact, and all of them appear to be involved. In other words, although scholars are not exactly sure why marriage matters for children, they know that marriage does matter for them. On Tuesday, the Washington Post spotlighted a new report, Strong Families, Prosperous States: Do Healthy Families Affect the Wealth of States?, that highlights the macroeconomic associations between marriage and state economies. The report, which I co-authored with economists Robert Lerman and Joseph Price for the American Enterprise Institute and the Institute for Family Studies, shows that states with higher levels of married parenthood enjoy higher levels of growth, economic mobility for children growing up poor, and median family income, along with markedly lower levels of child poverty.

Read the rest

Read more at: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/425957/family-structure-matters-w-bradford-wilcox

Thy shalt not bow to the gods of the culture. Living faithfully in Babylon. Great chapel sermon by Mike Kruger.

22 Oct
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