To simplify somewhat, I don’t care much about terrorism, because it’s too unimportant and ineffective. The statistical risk of dying in a terrorist attack is, in the United States, the West, and most of the rest of the world, negligible, and will be under any reasonably likely scenario. If we’re still driving cars despite thousands of automobile accident deaths per year, we don’t really set the value of human life so high that attacks in Paris (130 victims) and San Bernardino (22 victims) objectively warrant the massive media attention, revolutions in foreign policy, and proposals to shut the borders completely to Muslims that they evoke. Such events get such attention because of statistical illiteracy. People don’t understand that terrorism does less damage than tiny blips in highway safety. Terrorism is dramatic and makes a good story, so the news media cover it out of self-interest, and people can’t put the stories in proper perspective, so as to realize that terrorism only affects a tiny number of people, and therefore just isn’t very important.
But while terrorism matters less than people think, religion matters a lot more, if not than people think (for at some level, most people understand that the eternal questions with which it deals are the most important of all), at least than people talk about in public. Its importance can hardly be overstated. It shapes society from the foundations up, altering family structures, morals, aesthetics, ways of life, institutions, ideas of political legitimacy, and so forth. I am a Christian and so perhaps biased, yet I think clever irreligious people should attribute scarcely less importance to religion than I do, for religion affects everything else, for good or ill. In my last two posts, I sought imaginatively to flesh out an open borders scenario for the future, based on the abstract, numerical predictions in my article “The Global Economic Impact of Open Borders.” Here I build on that effort by trying vaguely to forecast the likely religious makeup of a future world with open borders.
- (Not) Defining Religion
Religion is impossible to define adequately, for at the heart of what is usually meant by religion is the worship of a deity or deities, but defining deity is one of the tasks of religion itself, so we quickly run into a peculiar kind of circularity. What is religion? Human activity, individual and collective, dedicated to propitiating, appealing to or worshipping a deity or deities. What is a deity? Ask religion: it’s a task of religions to answer this question. But what is religion?… Certain superficial characteristics, like shrines and rituals and sacrifices, solemnity and festivity, are shared between the paganism of Greco-Roman antiquity, or contemporary Asia, and Christianity and Islam. They have, for that matter, analogues in modern nationalism, e.g., the “tomb of the Unknown Soldier,” flag codes, national anthems, which is a clue that nationalism is in part a substitute for religion. It seems to be part of human nature to want to worship something, to pray to something, to hold something sacred, and people will insert all sorts of somethings into that formidable black box, whether it be a philosopher like Confucius or Buddha, or the licentious and irresponsible gods of the ancient Greeks, or a black stone in Mecca, just so that something may be sacred, and our appetite for veneration, worship, humble awe, might not be starved. But the things inserted can be very dissimilar. The omnipotent and omniscient God of the monotheistic faiths has little in common with the whimsical “gods” of the pagan Greeks who can be defeated and deceived, or a merely human philosopher like Confucius.
I’ll cut through all these difficulties with a blunt declaration: CHRISTIANITY, ISLAM, and THE ENLIGHTENMENT are the three great faiths competing for the allegiance of modern mankind. I hope to address objections to this large claim in a follow-up post, but for now, I’ll focus on Islam, whose inclusion in the list no one, I suppose, will object to.
2. Am I an Islamophobe? Yes and No
When I wrote “The Citizenist Case for Open Borders,” I was not admitting to being a citizenist. Rather, I was making the case for open borders on citizenist assumptions, so that people who are citizenists, or who accept a citizenist objective function for purposes of evaluating policy for rich countries like the US, would have reason to support open borders. Similarly, I’m not exactly characterizing myself as an Islamophobe here… yet I’m closer to being an Islamophobe than to being a citizenist. If Islamophobia is taken literally to mean “fear of Islam,” I do fear Islam in the sense that I regard it as a source of error at best and a source of terror at worst. I believe the Islamic religion to be false, in key theological doctrines, in the general tenor of its ethical teachings, in its view of history, and in its view of how society ought to be organized. On the other hand, I think there is more truth in Islam than in some modern teachings such as communism, and perhaps than in the Enlightenment liberalism that is the prevailing ideology on Western college campuses today. I can easily imagine scenarios in which I’d gladly make common cause with Muslims against certain strands in Western public opinion.
Since I believe Islam to be false, I would be a poor lover of my fellow men if I did not wish for it to disappear, that is, if I desired that millions of people remain forever imprisoned in a web of errors. But inasmuch as the word “Islamophobe” implies irrational, uncritical feelings of hatred and disgust towards Muslims as an opaque Other, I do not feel that way at all. I have traveled in Muslim countries like Turkey, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan, have been on warmly friendly terms with many Muslims (some nominal, but some devout), and have admired the Blue Mosque, the ruins of Samarkand, the poetry of Omar Khayyam and Rumi, and the Arabian Nights. In foretelling a steep decline of Islam under open borders, I am anticipating developments of which my head and my conscience approve, but towards which my heart and imagination are ambivalent.
Perhaps the fairest definition of an Islamophobia (fair in the sense that it makes the word something other than a mere term of abuse) is someone who thinks Islam is a net negative influence on human history, and is harmful to its adherents. Even in that sense, I’d hesitate to self-identify with it. I’d ask, a negative influence compared to what? From Muslim to Christian is a change for the better, from my perspective, but from Muslim to Communist is a change for the worse. At any rate, if Islamophobes desire that there should be less Islam in the world, my argument that open borders will bring that about, is a reason for them to support it.
3. Religious Assimilation
In making predictions about open borders and religion, my chief basis for extrapolating is the principle of ASSIMILATION. While the speed of assimilation is debatable, it’s well-known that immigrants begin to learn about their adopted country as soon as they arrive, some faster than others, that children born in a country of foreign parents exhibit a mix of their parents’ culture and that of their new homeland, and that second- or third-generation immigrants come to resemble the fellow residents of their adopted country so much that for many purposes, they are indistinguishable. Yet while we’re familiar with this pattern for language, professions, levels of education, popular culture preferences, hobbies, and most other facets of life, there seems to be a widespread impression that religion is an exception. We may expect a third-generation Mexican-American, say, to speak English and like American popular music, yet still to be a Catholic. This view is partly justified, and there are communities of otherwise-assimilated immigrant peoples still holding onto their religions and thereby to traces of an old national identity.
Yet there’s actually a lot of religious switching, too, and it cumulatively dilutes away the religious distinctiveness of immigration-originated populations. The Pew Research Center finds that “depending on how ‘religious switching’ is defined, as many as 42% of U.S. adults have switched religions.” Considering that there’s so much religious churn, it shouldn’t be surprising that 18% of Indian Americans are Christian, even though just over 2% of India’s population is Christian, or that half of Irish-Americans are Protestant, compared to one-third who are Catholic. The 42% of Asian Americans who identify as Christian are surely a larger share than in their home countries, which have historically had few Christians (except the Philippines). So if, as the economic models generally predict, open borders would lead to the migration of billions, leading to about half the world’s population being concentrated in the West, while India, China, and many other developing countries would see their populations reduced several-fold, simple extrapolation would suggest that the dominant religions of the West, Christianity and the Enlightenment, would see large gains in membership through the assimilation of immigrants, at the expense of the prevailing religions in the countries of emigration, which many of the emigrants would leave behind as they adapted to their new homelands.
In America, 77% of those raised Muslim, are still Muslim, according to Pew. That’s a fairly high retention rate, but Islam in the West still loses about one-fourth of each Muslim-born generation. At that rate of member loss, less than half of the descendants of Muslims would still be Muslim after three generations. Germany’s assimilation of Turkish migrants seems to illustrate how this process plays out. Less than 2% of the German population self-identifies as Muslim. Almost twice as many people in Germany are of Turkish descent, and there are also substantial numbers of Arabs. Since Turkey’s population is almost exclusively Muslim, it seems that Islam must have lost roughly half of the natural increase of its emigrants in Germany to apostasy. Germany is a relevant case study because its great Turkish immigration mostly occurred around half a century ago, so it’s had time for assimilation to play out across a couple of generations.
What about conversion the other way? In America, there are probably a few hundred thousand converts to Islam in America, mostly in the black nationalist Nation of Islam, most famously exemplified by Malcolm X. The Nation of Islam is an interesting instance of the special political purposes that a Muslim religious identity can serve, and might foreshadow future uses of Islam as a vehicle of radical politics in an open borders world. But it doesn’t seem indicative of an ability of Islam to make many converts, in general. There may be 100,000 converts to Islam in Britain.
Historically, Islam has never made major advances by migration, or by conversion from below, as Christianity has often done. Stagnation or decline has been its fate where it was politically subordinate. Islam spread by conquest, not missionary work. It is still strongest in the historic heartland where it was established by Arab conquerors in the 7th and 8th centuries. That’s not to say that the Middle East and North Africa became Muslim through forced conversions. Forced conversions to Islam were not the norm. Rather, first Arab, and later Turkish, conquerors, became the power elite, permitting Christianity, Judaism, and sometimes other religions, such as Hinduism in India, to persist among the subject populations. But non-Muslims enjoyed various disadvantages, such as paying a special tax called the jizya, could not proselytize, sometimes suffered political violence, sometimes had their children kidnapped to become janissaries, and in general, enjoyed few or no rights and comprehensively inferior treatment. In the very long run, this made it hard for Christian and other minority communities to flourish. Their vitality atrophied, and a slow trickle of conversions to Islam depleted their numbers. So Islam spread through conquest followed by a gradual, top-down conversion of subject peoples to the dominant faith. The exceptions to this rule, such as the seemingly peaceful conversion of Indonesia to (majority) Islam, tended to occur in relatively easy mission fields, where no higher religions had a strong presence.
There are, as far as I know, no historical examples of substantial Christian populations converting to Islam except under Muslim rule. I suspect that one reason why is Islam’s attitude to women. Islam is notoriously anti-feminist, confining women to the veil and the home, and thus preventing them from playing the crucial role as volunteers and community organizers that they play in Christian parishes. When I was a guest at Muslim homes in Central Asia, the wives didn’t sit down to dinner with the men, but served them, staying in the kitchen, then ate dinner later. Historic Christianity didn’t accept women’s equality in the modern sense, but they were regarded as moral and spiritual equals, and they participated in worship alongside men. The Christian saints are the only class of famous people where women have always enjoyed fairly equal representation with men. Importantly, Christianity made the duty of sexual fidelity in marriage mutual, whereas outside Christianity’s influence it had been a duty of the wife only. Christianity has often spread first among women, who then convert their husbands. Islam, I think, is at a disadvantage relative to Christianity because it doesn’t give women enough freedom to be important as community organizers and spreaders of the faith. Anyway, for whatever reason, Islam has never been competitive in a free religious marketplace, and I don’t think it ever will be.
Under open borders, I would expect most of the population of the Muslim world to emigrate to non-Muslim countries over the course of a few decades or perhaps a century. Since Muslims comprise less than one-fourth of the world population, though, migration alone would be very unlikely to lead to a Muslim majority in Western countries. Instead, open borders would lead to a world in which most Muslims live as immigrant minorities in countries where Christianity and/or the Enlightenment were historically the dominant religious influences. That’s a big change from the contemporary world, where Muslims constitute the majority in most of the countries where they live. And while my bits of data and my quick retrospective glance at history hardly constitute ironclad evidence, they point to a scenario in which Islam’s new status as a minority religion in most of the countries where it’s present will lead to a slow but steady dissolution of its membership and influence.
How would Muslims cope with that?
4. Islam and Violence
It is widely perceived that Muslims have a special propensity for violence, which other religions lack, and while Buddhist monks inciting violence against Burmese Muslims and violence against abortion providers in North America are counter-examples, the perception is basically correct. Islamic terrorists, over the past 20 years, have perpetrated dozens of terrorist attacks in non-Muslim regions, with a death toll of thousands, the vast majority of whom had done nothing in particular to earn the enmity of Islam. The global scope of Islamist violence, and its indiscriminate nature, set it dramatically apart. Most denials of Islam’s special propensity for violence represent politically correct spin doctoring rather than serious analysis. That most Muslims oppose terrorism is not inconsistent with Muslims turning to religiously-motivated violence at much higher rates than members of other religions do.
The violent insurgencies of Muslim Palestinians against Israel, Muslim Chechens against Russia, Muslim Algerians against France in the mid-20th century, and so on, illustrate an important pattern, namely, that Muslims are not accustomed to being a quiescent minority in a state where other religions predominate, and often react to it violently. Of course, Palestinians, Chechens, and Algerians had strong historical claims to the lands on which they were living, and could accuse the Israelis, Russians, and French as being imperialist usurpers. Muslim immigrants in the West under open borders could make no such charge. But is irredentism the real motive for these Muslim insurgencies, or just a kind of pretext or secondary cause? Does Islam simply make its adherents disinclined to accept non-Muslim rule, however originated?
Islamic scholar Bernard Lewis argues that there is a fundamental difference in the way Muslims regard the relationship between religion and state:
In [the Muslim] world, religion embraces far more than it does in the Christian or post-Christian world. We are accustomed to talking of church and state, and a whole series of pairs of words that go with them – lay and ecclesiastical, secular and religious, spiritual and temporal, and so on. These pairs of words simply do not exist in classical Islamic terminology, because the dichotomy that these words express is unknown. They are used in the modern languages. In Arabic, they borrow the terminology used by Christian Arabs. They are fortunate in having a substantial Christian population using Arabic, and they therefore have a good part of the modern terminology at their disposal, in their own language. In Turkish, Persian, Urdu and other languages of Islam, they had to invent new words. The word in Turkish and in Persian is laik [from the French word laïque, which describes the prevailing concept of separation of church and state].
In the Islamic world, from the beginning, Islam was the primary basis of both identity and loyalty. We think of a nation subdivided into religions. They think, rather, of a religion subdivided into nations. It is the ultimate definition, the prime definition and the one that determines, as I said, not only identity, but also basic loyalty. And this is quite independent of religious belief. In Islam, there isn’t – or rather, there wasn’t until recently – any such thing as the church, in the Christian sense of that word. The mosque is a place of worship. It’s a building, a place of worship and study. And in that sense, it is the equivalent of the church. But in the sense of an institution with a hierarchy and its own laws and usages, there was no such thing in Islam until very recently.
If Lewis is right about this, his argument strongly suggests an explanation for the widespread impulse to Muslim insurgency. No situation in which Muslims live under non-Muslim rule can be quite normal in Muslims’ eyes. Their religious laws demand to be implemented as civil laws. Their religious community is meant to be realized as a political community. Without a separation of church and state, it’s difficult for the pious to live under infidel rule.
A Christian’s loyalty to the Church is compatible with being a subject of a non-Christian state, because the Christian is commanded to “give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and unto God what is God’s.” The highest law to which Christians regard themselves as subject, the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament, are not meant to be, and surely could not be, embodied in the legal code of any state. By contrast, at the heart of Islam lies sharia, a legal code, which, according to majorities of Muslims in most countries where Islam is present, is supposed to be the law of the land. To tell Muslims they may practice their religion privately within the framework of a central state is to impose on them a role congenial to Christians rather than Muslims, and fundamentally at odds with their religious tradition.
My co-authored paper Rowley and Smith (2009) demonstrated that there is a democracy deficit in the Muslim world, an even more marked deficit of freedom, and a lack of religious freedom in particular. Politically correct efforts to explain this in terms of other variables such as oil or the legacy of colonialism don’t stand up to statistical scrutiny. Islam just seems to be inherently illiberal.
5. The Duty to Murder Apostates
Perhaps most importantly, as Pew reports, many if not most Muslims support the brutal stop-loss policy that has been a feature of Islam from the beginning, namely, the death penalty for apostasy:
Compared with attitudes toward applying sharia in the domestic or criminal spheres, Muslims in the countries surveyed are significantly less supportive of the death penalty for converts.19 Nevertheless, in six of the 20 countries where there are adequate samples for analysis, at least half of those who favor making Islamic law the official law also support executing apostates.
Taking the life of those who abandon Islam is most widely supported in Egypt (86%) and Jordan (82%).
How widely is the death penalty for apostasy enforced? According to a Library of Congress report, “The countries surveyed that expressly make apostasy a capital offense are Afghanistan, Brunei, Mauritania, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen,” though enforcement may be inconsistent. Elsewhere, apostasy may entail lesser penalties, such as loss of property, and apostates may be murdered by vigilantes. Nor is this stop-loss policy limited to Islam’s historic heartland. Even in the West, many apostates from Islam live in fear. High-profile cases like the Islamic Republic of Iran’s attempt to murder Salman Rushdie aren’t just the aberrations of an occasional crazy ayatollah. They express Islam’s historic practice.
It’s worth stopping to rescue any hapless readers who may be under the impression that Christianity, too, mandates the death penalty for apostasy. Put simply, it does not. One thing that will never happen to any Christian in his entire life, is that he’ll be reading his New Testament, and he’ll come across some passage that makes him think, “Hmm, this seems to say that we should kill apostates. Why don’t we do that now?” There is not a single word or phrase in the New Testament that would remotely suggest a thing to an unbiased reader. Even a reader who scanned the whole New Testament desperately seeking some scriptural pretext for religious coercion would come away nearly empty-handed. Neither Jesus nor any of the other protagonists of the New Testament, apostles and disciples etc., use lethal violence, and even of non-lethal violence, the only instances are Jesus’s cleansing of the temple (which sets a precedent only for the use of non-lethal force to protect holy places from defilement) and Peter’s cutting off of the high priest’s servant’s ear (which Jesus rebukes, even though Peter is defending Jesus from men who intend to kill Him).
The Old Testament, to be sure, contains some hair-raising passages that seem very much opposed to religious freedom, but that’s part of the Mosaic law, which St. Paul’s epistles clearly and insistently establish is not comprehensively binding on Christians, but has been superseded, fulfilled, replaced by the higher ethical teachings of Jesus. The early Church never used violence. After the conversion of Constantine, the state got somewhat entangled with the Church, and unfortunately it often made political sense to use violence to suppress paganism or heresy, if only because the Christian religion had become an important determinant of political loyalties. Nonetheless, in the east, violence was used far more by heretics, such as Arians and Monophysites and Iconoclasts, against the orthodox, than the other way around.
Augustine, around the turn of the 5th century AD, wrote a very unfortunate book entitled “On the Correction of the Donatists,” in which he argued that coercion could be used against the Donatist heresy in North Africa. Nonetheless, killing for Christ remained rare for centuries afterwards. The much-maligned Crusades, though spiritually misguided and ultimately quite harmful, sought to acquire and hold territory, rather than impose orthodoxy. Only in the 13th century, with the Albigensian Crusade and the founding of the Inquisition, did the Roman Catholic Church turn into a coercive agency holding the allegiance of its flock with death threats. By this time, Rome had split from the east, and the popes had launched a kind of revolution, called the Investiture Controversy, against the western emperors, leading to a century and a half of intermittent, increasingly unscrupulous warfare, in which the popes became more and more culpable in bloodshed and corruption. It is against this tainted and wayward church that the Protestants rebelled in the 16th century.
So of the three major branches of Christianity, Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant, only the Roman Catholics are really tainted by historical association with the practice of murdering apostates. True, events like the murder of Michael Servetus in John Calvin’s Geneva mar Protestant, and episodes like the persecution of the Russian Old Believers mar Orthodox, history, but these were acts of individual religious leaders and/or of secular regimes rather than of “the Church” corporately. Modern Protestants and Orthodox take it for granted that these persecutors were in the wrong, and would reject as absurd the notion that their faith required them to approve of such crimes. If anything, they assume that their religion requires them to sympathize with the persecuted. Only for Roman Catholics is it problematic to embrace religious tolerance, and even here, the problem isn’t that any Roman Catholic could suppose it’s against his religion to condone the religious tolerance policies of contemporary Western democracies, since the Church itself does so, but rather, that if conscience compels a Roman Catholic to affirm that the murder of apostates for their unbelief is always and everywhere intolerable, that person will be somewhat at odds with the historic practices, and perhaps teachings, of a Church that claims (in a special, rather difficult to understand, sense) never to have erred.
Yet it is significant that even at the nadir of its wicked career, the Inquisition didn’t actually do the killing of heretics. Victims were “relaxed to the secular arm” to be murdered. This hypocrisy does less than nothing to justify the Inquisition’s crimes, but it does show that even the Inquisitors couldn’t quite pretend that Christ had authorized the Church to kill apostates. Rather, the fiction was that the state was doing it for its own raison d’etat. Also, the Church didn’t authorize vigilante violence against apostates, of the kind often perpetrated in Muslim countries today, either. The Holy Inquisition practiced scrupulous due process. I don’t think this makes the Inquisition any less evil. If anything, it makes it more evil, since the worst crime of the Inquisition isn’t the murder of people but the murder of truth, making people tell lies from fear, and scrupulous due process enabled the Inquisition to carry out this evil purpose more efficiently. But since the Roman Catholic Church never authorized private violence against heretics and apostates, it would be pretty impossible for a Roman Catholic believer to imagine that it’s his or her duty to kill apostates now, when it’s not the Church’s policy to advocate or be involved with such crimes in any way. That said, the Roman Catholic Church’s medieval crimes, not adequately repented of until recently, cast a long shadow, making the Roman Catholic Church an illiberal force for much of the modern period, with some culpability for Catholic dictators like Francisco Franco of Spain.
If people think Christianity authorizes the murder of apostates, that might make people more relaxed about Muslim immigrants. After all, Christians obviously get along fine as citizens of liberal societies, so if they can do that in spite of being theoretically required by their religion to kill apostates, might we not expect the same happy result from assimilating Muslims into liberal societies? But the reason Christians today don’t kill apostates is that their religion doesn’t require them to do so, and never did. On the contrary, it forbids them to do so, a fact that even the Roman Catholic hierarchy in the darkest chapters of its history never quite managed to obscure. By contrast, in Islam, the death penalty for apostasy is an evil idea whose time will probably come again, and again, and again, as long as Muslims keep reading the Koran, and regarding their faith’s early history of conquest as a model to emulate.
6. Islam versus Free Speech
Also symptomatic of the tension between Islam and political freedom are the protests that erupted across the Islamic world when Jyllands-Posten cartoonists depicted Muhammad, provoking violent protests and riots all over the Islamic world. No respect here for freedom of speech. The notion that Denmark is an independent country with its own laws, which can’t be required to abide by Islamic rules against depicting Muhammad, also apparently enjoys little credence among the masses of the Islamic world. The Charlie Hebdo shootings are another case of (certain) Muslims refusing to accept freedom of speech even outside Islamic lands.
A theme of Rowley and Smith (2009) was that Muslims claim to like democracy, yet they have very little. A post at Gallup.com cites evidence that vast majorities of Muslims think they support free speech, even in some countries, such as Egypt, where widespread advocacy of the death penalty for apostasy makes it clear that they really don’t. This seems to show that Egyptians haven’t thought very much about what free speech means.
I’m not really an expert on Islam, even though I’ve spent time in a lot of Islamic countries and had long, deep conversations with many Muslims. Rowley and Smith (2009) was mainly a number-crunching exercise, with no deep causal analysis of the kind that a real expert could offer. But my impression is that there is widespread admiration of Western institutions in the Islamic world, but there is a failure to understand the moral principles that undergird Western institutions, and the incompatibility of key Islamic tenets, deeply rooted in the mindsets of ordinary Muslim people, with those principles. The man-on-the-street in Jordan or Palestine or even Baku, I think, could not, without a fundamental re-education, assimilate the idea that people have a right to apostatize from Islam, or draw Muhammad, and that to prevent such apostasy or blasphemy by force of any kind, much less by murder, is an intolerable violation of human rights.
Personally, I think Westerners should defer to Muslim sensibilities to the extent of not drawing Muhammad. It’s unnecessarily provocative, and there’s no real need or reason to do it. But I would have very little confidence that, if Muslims got norms and/or laws established in the West preventing the depiction of Muhammad, they would stop there, and respect the right of Westerners to attack Muhammad in speech or writing. Some Muslims would, of course, but it seems likely that a determined majority of Muslims would strive to punish apostasy and suppress blasphemy, elastically defined, and with each success, would move the goalposts further, until all public discourse was smothered by a compulsive deference to Islam, if free countries don’t stop them. A few would resort to extra-legal violence, and more would approve of it, but the West would have the force to resist, if it had the will.
And that’s why I’m so worried by incidents like Canadian lawsuit against the journalist Mark Steyn for “defaming” Islam in his writings. We could expect more such efforts to hijack Western institutions for Islamist ends.
7. The Danger of Relativistic Surrender
The real scandal about the Mark Steyn case isn’t that the Canadian Islamic Congress filed a complaint, but that the Ontario Human Rights Commission gave a favorable hearing to it:
While it dismissed the complaint by the CIC against Maclean’s, the OHRC also issued a statement saying the article in question “portray[ed] Muslims as all sharing the same negative characteristics, including being a threat to ‘the West’,” and thus promoted prejudice towards Muslims and others. In an interview, Chief Commissioner Barbara Hall stated that “When the media writes, it should exercise great caution that it’s not promoting stereotypes that will adversely impact on identifiable groups. I think one needs to be very careful when one speaks in generalities, that in fact one is speaking factually about all the people in a particular group.”
Let me take a moment to deconstruct this cowardly, misguided, unacceptable statement. “Stereotype” essentially means “generalization,” with a gratuitous negative connotation attached to it. It can be thought of as a generalization which some authority figure chooses to disapprove of. Generalizations are essential for understanding the world. So for an authoritative body like the OHRC to condemn the use of “stereotypes” is almost to say that people can only use officially approved generalizations, which is almost to say that people can only think in officially approved ways. Such a suggestion is utterly inimical to free speech.
Whether the media should “exercise great caution” not to “adversely impact… identifiable groups” is an interesting ethical question for individuals to ponder. There are strong arguments pro and contra. On the contra side, many true and important things might be impossible to say publicly without adversely impacting identifiable groups, so that such scruples would effectively silence much or most of public discourse. On balance, I think “the media” should not “exercise great caution,” or at least that it’s very important that at least some media outlets tell the truth without worrying about the consequences. What I’m certain of is that a public body like the OHRC, in a free society, has no business having an official opinion about how much caution the media should exercise. The marketplace of ideas must be free.
The most philosophically inept part of the quote is the suggestion that one mustn’t “speak in generalities” unless “one is speaking factually about all the people in a particular group.” The vast majority of general statements by which people communicate with each other and help one another to understand the world have exceptions. If no generalization is permissible to utter unless there are (knowably?) no exceptions to it, the vast majority of human speech would be prohibited. This absurd desideratum could never be put into practice in ordinary life, but it could, under pressure from domestic Islamists, be applied selectively to silence whatever speech the authorities happened to take a dislike to. Freedom of speech could be virtually extinguished in the West without much more sophistry to justify it than the OHRC provides in the quoted paragraph.
In a healthy free society, where public opinion is robust in its understanding of the nature of, and institutional prerequisites for, liberty, the mindless blather of the OHRC might do little harm. What makes the present case so mischievous is that the OHRC is functioning as enforcer for a creeping suppression of free speech by a Muslim minority instinctively allergic to freedom of expression because of the history and doctrines of Islam. That the OHRC surely doesn’t understand this makes them all the more dangerous. It’s not an isolated case. From France, we hear that:
A critical report about the problems faced by — and posed by — school pupils with immigrant backgrounds… says Muslim pupils and parents in France are increasingly making religious demands on the state school system and that teachers should rebuff these demands by explaining the country’s principle of laïcité, the official separation of church and state. Among the problems it listed were pupils who upset classes by objecting to courses about the Holocaust, the Crusades or evolution, who demand halal meals and generally “reject French culture and its values.”
“It is becoming difficult for teachers to resist religious pressures,” said the report.
Luca Volonte has more examples in “Europe, Multiculturalism, and Nihilism.”
Freedom depends on a certain paranoia. Free peoples must know how to nip threats to liberty in the bud, before they’re too strong to be stopped. For every brave Mark Steyn, who writes boldly about Islam in the face of threats from velvet inquisitions like the OHRC, there are a dozen writers who will take the safe route by not saying anything that’s politically incorrect, no matter how true and important it may be. I suspect that there’s already less criticism of Islam in the movies and the mainstream media than its illiberal character and epistemic implausibility would warrant, because the thought leaders of Western society are afraid of a backlash, including acts of violence, if they speak out.
With people like the Ontario Human Rights Commission in positions of power within the West, I think there’s a significant, though small, chance that Muslim immigration could lead to a sweeping loss of freedom in the West. Cases like Mark Steyn’s may be rare, not because officials have the intelligence or integrity to defend the principles of a free society, but because it wouldn’t occur to Westerners, schooled in the traditions of freedom, to file such complaints. Without the Canadian Islamic Congress to file a complaint, the OHRC might have carried on the routines of liberty forged by their wiser and better ancestors, and their unworthiness might never have been exposed. How much of the Western elite is similarly indifferent to truth and freedom, ready to throw away the best traditions of the West at the first suggestion? The fortress of Western liberty is very strong, but this won’t do much good if all the guards are asleep at their posts.
But I’m pretty confident the guards would wake up in time. It would be an easy matter for a resolute West to admit hundreds of millions of Muslim immigrants while keeping its own traditions of freedom intact. I’ve stressed the OHRC because its sophistries are very dangerous, but it turned out to be just words, and Mark Steyn is still a free man. Under open borders, there would be more Muslims, but they would almost certainly be a minority. Christian and/or Enlightened Westerners would enjoy large structural advantages as being the incumbent population, and having much greater wealth and education. In the face of efforts by Muslims to push a pro-Islamic political agenda, they would have natural allies in billions of Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, and other non-Muslim immigrants from the developing world. If Western elites have sometimes made compromises that they shouldn’t, they’ve done so in a spirit of generosity from what they feel is a position of strength. If Islamist agendas brought to the West by Muslim immigrants became a real, existential threat to the West’s heritage of freedom, I think Western elites would either rise to the challenge of defending it, or be removed and replaced with people willing to do so.
8. Let Them In First, then Change Them
The free governments of the West ought to communicate to the Muslims of the world the following message:
“You are welcome to come and live among us, and in return for moderate taxes and obedience to our laws, we’ll protect your rights to life, liberty, and property, as well as religious freedom, insofar as practicing your religion doesn’t require you to violate the rights of others. But the rights of others include some things you’re not accustomed to, such as the right to proselytize other faiths, to apostatize from Islam, to condemn Muhammad as a false prophet, and to insult all that you regard as holy. You may build mosques at will, and attend them, and fast during Ramadan, and try to persuade others, peacefully, to do so with you, but you must utterly and forever repudiate the evil practice, which has stained your faith with murder and shame from the beginning, of killing apostates from Islam. If this despicable and barbarous doctrine is taught among you, you will be imprisoned for incitement of violence. Similarly, while you are free not to depict Muhammad yourselves, you must henceforth understand this as a law binding on you only, and in conscience, not as a law that binds non-Muslims, or that can be enforced against anyone, Muslim or not, by violence. We do not care how incompatible these demands are with your faith as it has been practiced for a thousand years. We are more powerful than you, and we insist that, while you live among us, you submit to the principles of a free society. Any effort to subvert those principles will be ruthlessly crushed. Your religion must henceforth become something out has never hitherto been, an affair of private worship and peaceful speech, destitute of temporal power, as our own Christian churches willingly are. Even as you venerate the conquering Muhammad, you must make your religion emulate that of Jesus, Who taught that His kingdom is not of this world, and told His disciples meekly to accept the rule of earthly masters, while awaiting their rewards in heaven.”
As long as Western governments resolutely insisted that the rights to denounce Islam, missionize Muslims, and apostatize from Islam would be defended to the death against any and all challenges and never mitigated or compromised in the least, they could easily carry their point. I think, ultimately, this would happen, as lapses like that of the OHRC provoked popular backlash from conscientious disciples of Christianity and the Enlightenment. Westerners would develop and refine and popularize the case against Islam. Parts of it might come to be taught in schools, since the mere facts of history, properly told, are a strong case against Islam. Christian missionaries would carry the case against Islam deep into Muslim communities. Each wave of apostates from Islam would make it easier for the next, by writing ex-Muslim books, and forming ex-Muslim communities. Their stories would bolster the case against Islam with invaluable inside information. Islam would be tested as Christianity has been tested in its long contest with the Enlightenment, by critiques from former insiders who know its weaknesses. I don’t think it could withstand the test.
So if open borders brought hundreds of millions of Muslims to the West through migration, I would expect these Muslim immigrants to try to co-opt Western institutions, and/or engage in private vigilante violence, to prevent criticism of Islam, enact and enforce bans against apostasy from Islam, impose Islamic proscriptions on non-Muslim populations, and otherwise Islamize Western societies at the expense of truth and freedom. Westerners would need to be alert, resolute, and principled, to block these efforts from succeeding. Yet it wouldn’t really be very difficult to block them from doing so on any large scale, and if Muslims were forced to submit to Western norms of religious freedom, I’d expect them to lose at least one-fourth to one-third of their youth to apostasy in each generation. Meanwhile, the historic heartland of Islam would be largely depopulated by emigration, and its weight in world affairs would become negligible. There would still, even after a century or more, be more Islam in the West than there is now, but there would be a lot less Islam in the world. And I would probably welcome that.
9. Can Islam Reform?
One of my co-bloggers read an earlier draft of this post, and asked me if I thought Islam could reform, so as to become more appealing to Western natives and/or to the assimilated descendants of Muslims living in the West. When people talk of Islam “reforming,” they tend to assume it will “reform” in a direction they like, a liberal and tolerant direction, more conducive to peaceful co-existence with other religions, and perhaps with greater equality for women. But there’s another kind of reform, the reform of ISIS and al-Qaeda and Saudi Wahhabism and the Iran of the ayatollahs, a reform that seeks, not compromise, but renewal, a deepening of commitment. The Protestant Reformation in Europe wasn’t moderate and compromising, but fanatical and often violent.
I think we’ll continue to see reform movements of both kinds in Islam: reform in the direction of liberal tolerance, and of violent fundamentalism. Open borders might tip the balance in favor of the former rather than the latter, by exposing more Muslims to Western tolerance and prosperity and mitigating their sense of grievance by giving them access to opportunity. But I suspect that violent Islamic fundamentalism is actually a more intellectually coherent position than any kind of liberal, tolerant Islam could be. “If past generations of Muslims were wrong about so many things,” the children of liberalized Muslims will ask, “why should we believe that they were right to revere Muhammad?” Liberal forms of Islam would prove to be pathways out of Islam, while violent fundamentalisms would arise in reaction against them. A transformation of the Islamic religion as a whole, such that it became unproblematic for Muslims to live peacefully under non-Muslim rule, scrupulously tolerant of their neighbors and committed to freedoms of speech and religion, seems unlikely.
I could imagine new sects sprouting out of Islam as Mormonism sprouted out of Christianity. They would discard most of Islam’s historical legacy so as to be comfortably modern, yet still call themselves Muslim and acknowledging Muhammad, appealing to people whose heritage inclines them to regard Muhammad as a holy man. Such sects might then base their appeal primarily on strong community, family values, and clean living, combined perhaps with political radicalism like that of the Nation of Islam. But I doubt such sects would become either dangerous or numerically important.
As usual, the views expressed in this blog post are those of the author, Nathan Smith, only, and do not represent any sort of official position of Open Borders: The Case.