The boorish and uninformed immigration policies of Donald Trump aside, it is worth wondering what the effect of Muslim immigration will be on the United States. Such immigration can certainly affect the tenor of a given locale—witness, say, the segregation of menstruating girls in a public school cafeteria in Canada. Given enough time and enough segregation and enough Muslims, it’s not unreasonable to assume that Toronto might become, per capita, quite a bit more misogynistic over time. So there’s that. But there’s also the oft-asked question about the tension between Islam and Western democracy: namely, are the two things at all compatible? Joe Humphreys at the Irish Times wondered the same thing yesterday:
A charge commonly laid against Islam is that it is incompatible with western values. Certainly, passages of the Koran can be hard to reconcile with tolerance or respect for minorities.
But the same can be said for passages of the Bible. So does Islam pose no less a threat to the upholding of human rights than Christianity?
Right off the bat this whole thing is kind of incoherent. Humphreys says that “passages of the Bible” are “incompatible with western values.” But what does this even mean? The Bible, properly understood, is not a “book;” it is books, some of which are history, some of which are prophecy, some of which are ancient Israelite laws, some of which are parables, and so forth. Determining what is what is critically important when discussing “the Bible;” otherwise you sound like you don’t know what you’re talking about. Joe Humphreys might as well have said, “There are some passages in the bookstore that are incompatible with western values.” It doesn’t really make sense.
The Koran is different: Islamic faith holds that it is the word of God dictated directly to Muhammad. So when we speak of the Koran, we are—at least according to Muslims—speaking about God’s word verbatim, not just in a divinely-inspired transliterative kind of way but quite literally. If the Bible is something like a bookstore, bibliographically speaking, then the Koran is more like a traffic law. Knowing this, it’s quite silly and ignorant to directly equate the divergent holy texts that exist within Christianity and Islam, respectively. They’re not the same: functionally, theologically and historically they are radically different. With this in mind, it should give us pause that there are many passages in the Koran that are wholly and completely at odds with Western-style liberties and human rights. That has drastic imports for how Muslims may or may not interact with Western civilization.
Now, Joe Humphreys cites a professor at Trinity College Dublin, who points out that there are some divergent schools of thought within various Islamic approaches to western-style human rights. Plainly not all 1,600,000,000 Muslims think the same way about everything. So how might we determine the practical implications be for countries with enormous Muslim majorities? Well, it would probably vary from country to country—but it’s also worth looking at the countries that already have massive Muslim populations, as well as countries that have Islam as their official state religion. The Freedom House overwhelmingly ranks Muslim-majority countries and state-sponsored Islamic countries in the Middle East as “not free,” with a few sporadically “partly free.” In fact, only two countries in the Middle East-North Africa geographic range rank as free: Israel and Tunisia, the latter of which was most recently awarded the lowest “free” rating possible.
It is not unreasonable, in other words, to assume that Islam is incompatible with some or most of the core tenets of Western civil liberties.
There is compelling evidence that already suggests just that.
There nonetheless remains a very strong impulse on the part of a great many commentators to try and equate, say, Islam and Christianity, even as the societies that these religions have bequeathed or greatly influenced remain in most cases radically different, as do the religions themselves. A while ago, rehashing a tired old stunt, a few thoughtful pranksters read people some violent passages from the Book of Leviticus which they claimed were from the Koran:
Realizing it was from Bible a person said, “Of course I’ve heard Bible stories when I was young, and I went to a Christian school, but I really had no idea this are from Bibles [sic].”
“Our experiment was a way to highlight our prejudice as a society about Islam, one that has been fed to us through mass media over the past couple of years,” Alexander Spoor of Dit Is Normaal wrote to The Huffington Post in an email.
This is sort of an interesting experiment, but it’s ultimately kind of meaningless, mostly because of the exegetical reasons mentioned above. More importantly, it’s worth stressing that it is not the fault of “mass media” that people believe Islam is a violent religion: people believe this because these days, on a semi-regular basis, Muslim men and women are apt to show up in public places and start slaughtering innocent people while screaming “Allahu Akbar!” The “mass media,” in fact, have frequently tried to cover up this unpleasant fact out of a sense of politically correct propriety. But it hasn’t worked. Most people harbor no ill will towards Muslims, and for good reason. But many people also intuitively sense that Islam has a violence problem. We deny this at great risk to ourselves, our civilization and the precious liberties upon which our civilization rests.