Saturday, December 29, 2007

Rose Wilder Lane's Give Me Liberty

I have just finished reading Rose Wilder Lane's splendid little book Give Me Liberty. Here are some of the key aspects that attracted my attention that I wish to shed some light on:

(1) On the Separation of "Mosque and State": I came across this passage on pp. 10:
The Reformation reduced the power of the State, the priests, so that common men were free to think and speak as they pleased.

This sentence inspired me to think of a proposition many Western non-Muslims (and some Western and non-Western Muslims) make in attempt to reform Islamic nations: Islamic countries have to separate religion from state to attain a liberal democracy. At first sight, this statement may make sense, even among Muslims, but especially among Westerners. However, eventually, many a Muslim will be baffled by such a statement. For the Muslim will ask: How can we separate religion from the state if the mullahs/imams are not supposed to (1) be heads of state, nor (2) have any religious and nonreligious authority over us? Unlike, say, the Catholic Church, imams are not supposed to hold power and construct a structure called "The Mosque" that rules over people. In Islam one speaks directly to God, without the need for any intermediaries. However, there are wise elders among the people. Their virtue of wisdom may imply that they would naturally be religious persons (e.g., imams), especially when virtue draws a lot of substance from religious scripture. However, religious scholarship has rarely been a prerequisite to "state leadership".

In fact, most caliphates were hereditary, except for the first four "rightful Caliphs" (according to the Sunni tradition), who themselves have been, strictly speaking, elected (through a democratic process called bay'aa). The first four Caliphs were indeed individuals of virtue and possessed religious knowledge, but two were, for example, also businessmen (Abu Bakr and Othman). While their highest virtue is probably religious expertise, they also were excellent statesmen and successful and popular individuals in society. Later Caliphs simply came to power through hereditary systems, regardless of their religiosity, virtue, or success as people in society. In essence, I believe, many of the Caliphs did not have to have a certain prerequisite amount of religious knowledge and virtue. To many Muslims, they only had rules, pretty much like Europeans had kings. The only (major) difference is that Muslim Caliphs never had "divine support". While a Caliph is to be followed as the leader of Muslims, the Caliph could be deposed and replaced, his authority challenged or ignored. Neither could Caliphs, for example, and in contrast to European Kings, endow any person or entity a monopoly. As such, Caliphs had limited powers unlike their European counterparts, which brings me back to my original point. In many ways, it does not make sense to demand that Islamic Nations separate "Mosque and State", because they simply were not supposed to be integrated in the first place. The role of religion in the "state" is only through legislation (through consensus [shoura] and the input or religious scholars, which is exactly how much of Western democracies make laws [i.e., through the legislature]), but I hope to comment on that in the future.

(2) On the Abrahamic Faiths and Liberty: Another interesting passage that mentions Islam is this (pp. 17):
I began at last to question the value of this personal freedom which had seemed so inherently right. I saw how rare, how new in history, is a recognition of human rights. From Brittany to Basra I considered the ruins of brilliant civilizations where peoples had never glimpsed the idea that men are born free. In sixty centuries of human history that idea [that men are born free] was an element of Jewish-Christian-Moslem religious faith, never used as a political principle. It has been a political principle to only a few men on earth, for little more than two centuries. Asia did not know it. Africa did not know it. Europe had never wholly accepted it, and was now rejecting it.

In this passage, after Ms. Lane had described her experience in fascist Italy in 1927, she highlights how the idea of Liberty, while it is new in the political sense, has been in existence and appreciated among the three Abrahamic faiths in a religious sense. I will probably return to Ms. Lane's ideas on, specifically, Islam and Liberty after I am done reading her book Islam and the Discovery of Freedom.

(3) A Comment to My American Friends: In this small book there are gems of wisdom, written in a warm story-telling style, on how very radically different this American phenomenon is from its European counterparts. This book is a must read for every American (and non-American) who wishes to preserve American liberty and American individualism. Rose Wilder Lane is one of millions of reasons to be proud to be American.

(4) Ms. Lane and Ludwig von Mises: Interestingly, on pp. 50, Ms. Lane also has a quote from von Mises' Omnipotent Government: The Rise of the Total State and the Total War (pdf). Apparently, Rose Wilder Lane was a Misesian!

Finally, let me close this post with a quote made by Ms. Lane (pp. 57) that many Muslims (and, in fact, many theists and atheists) could benefit from:
Americans are thinking politically again, as they have
not thought for eighty years [the book was written around WWII], and they have not forgotten that resistance to tyranny is obedience to God. They are answering the question I should have known better than to ask, ten years ago. They are answering it now in Europe and Asia, and tomorrow they will answer it at home. The answer is:
Yes, individualism has the strength to resist all attacks.

But, for some reason, many Muslims seem to have forgotten that resisting tyranny requires as a prerequisite a retention of individualism. For many of the troubles Muslims find themselves in today are due to, mainly, the collectivist obedience some young radical Muslims have when they give up their individualism and blindly listen to the extremist ideology advocated by a few to control the minds of the young and weak at heart, similar to what Fascist and Nationalist European dictators did leading up to WWII.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Champions of Liberty on Islam Posts

Following up on my Lord Acton on Muslims Post, I will be posting more such threads to shed light on some of the literary and popular views (positive or negative) of the champions of liberty on Islam. Coming up will be a long thread on Rose Wilder Lane's book on Islam and the Dicovery of Freedom, and another shorter one on Laurence M. Vance's article Mises on Islam, just to name two. Stay put!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Lord Acton on Muslims

I came across this passage in John Dalberg-Acton's ("Lord Acton", 1834-–1902) book The History of Freedom (pp. 186):
If we give our admiration to tolerance, we must remember that the Spanish Moors and the Turks in Europe have been more tolerant than the Christians.

It is worth noting that the other two instance in which "Mohammedans" (i.e., Muslims) were mentioned were in regards to the "Catholic and Protestant Theory of Persecution". Regarding the "Catholic theory", Lord Acton says (pp. 169):
Where a portion of the inhabitants of any country preferred a different creed, Jew, Mohammedan, heathen, or schismatic, they had been generally tolerated, with enjoyment of property and personal freedom, but not with that of political power or autonomy.

On the "Protestant Theory", Lord Acton says (pp. 179):
They [Catholics], as well as the Jews and the Mohammedans, must be allowed to live: death was only the penalty [for apostasy] of Protestants who relapsed into error; but to them it applied equally whether they were converted to the Church or joined the sects and fell into unbelief.

It is time that we all, Muslim and non-Muslim, try to revive these eras of tolerance by Muslims and toward Muslims.

Note: I am currently reading Lord Acton's book, which is available for download at the Online Library of Liberty (OLL).

Note 2: If you do not know who Lord Acton is, here is a brief description of him on OLL:
Lord Acton was one of the great historians of the Victorian period and one of the greatest classical liberal historians of all time. His theme was “the history of liberty” and even though he was never able to complete his magnum opus of that name he did write numerous essays, book reviews, and lectures. He also was the inspiration behind the multi-volume Cambridge Modern History.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

A Challenge to Muslim Leaders

I recently came across this video of Congressman Ron Paul. If Muslims think hard enough about their religion, it should not be hard that one of them rise to the level of discourse that this honorable politician displays.

Friday, November 23, 2007

On Islam's Capacity to Evolve

I recently came across a January 2005 article in The Atlantic entitled "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Islam" by Sage Stossel. It is a flashback on whether "democracy [can] take root in a predominantly Islamic part of the world". It is an overview of Atlantic contributions on the topic from the early to the late twentieth century. The highlight of the article is the conclusion:
How democracy will fare in a region where the West is viewed by many with hostility and suspicion remains to be seen. But as [Toby] Lester points out, "Islam became one of the world's great religions in part because of its openness to social change and new ideas." If Islam can rediscover its innate capacity to evolve and adapt without losing its essential identity, then perhaps its followers may realize that Islam is in fact better equipped to encounter the West in a peaceful and enriching way than is currently imagined.

The best mechanism to revive the Muslim world is to rediscover this "openness to social change and new ideas". And in this paragraph, the point that is most interesting, is that to fight Islamic extremism, it is not necessary to fight Islam itself. By reviving an important, now forgotten, aspect of Islam (that of openness to change, and new ideas and challenges) "without loosing Islam's essential identity" is the easiest path to defeating extremism and making liberty and democracy of value among Muslims without offending their religious sensibilities.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Islam & Suicide Attacks

It is very sad to hear many people believe that Islam condones suicide attacks. I find this very odd for several reasons.

Firstly, suicide itself is never condoned in Islam. Taking one's own life is a big no-no:
Destroy not yourselves. Surely God is ever merciful to you. Qur'an 4:29

Secondly, there are instructions in the Qur'an that specifically prohibit terrorism (i.e., the killing of non-combat forces in battle, and by extension, in peace), and that promotes non-violence:
Whosoever kills an innocent human being, it shall be as if he has killed all mankind, and whosoever saves the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind. Qur'an 5:32

Be quick in the race for forgiveness from your Lord, and in the race for a garden wide as the heavens and the earth, prepared for the righteous- (the righteous are) those who spend whether in prosperity or adversity, who restrain anger and who pardon all people. For God loves those who do good. Qur'an 3:133–134

Invite all to the way of thy God with wisdom and beautiful preaching. And argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious. For thy God knows best who have strayed from his path and who receive guidance. And if you do respond to an attack, respond no worse than they did. But if you show patience, that is indeed the best course. Be patient- for your patience is from God . . . Indeed, God is with those who restrain themselves and those who do good. Qur'an 16:125-128

O You who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to God, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be against rich or poor, for God can best protect both. Follow not the cravings of your hearts, lest you swerve, and if you distort justice or decline to do justice, verily God is well acquainted with all that you do. Qur'an 4:135

To those who persevere in doing good is a reward more than in measure. No darkness nor shame shall cover their faces. They are companions of the garden where they will live forever. But those who have earned evil will have a reward like evil. Humiliation will cover their faces. They will have no defender from God. Qur'an 10:26-27

The recompense for an injury is an injury equal thereto (in degree), but if a person forgives and makes reconciliation, his reward is due from God, for God does not love those who do wrong. But indeed if any do help and defend themselves after a wrong done to them, against such there is no cause of blame. The blame is only against those who oppress men with wrongdoing and insolently transgress beyond bounds through the land, defying right and justice, for such there will be a penalty grievous. Qur'an 42:40-43

Thirdly, it is important to point out that suicide attacks are not a Muslim invention. See this for an informal introduction to the history of suicide attacks.

Finally, has there been Islamic suicide attacks before the use of the terror tactic (unfortunately, in the name of Islam) in the Holy Land, which started a only a few decades ago? If there has been consistent use of suicide attacks by Muslims throughout the 1400 year history of Islam, then one may claim that suicide attacks are condoned by Islam (whether wars conducted in the name of Islam are justified or not is a different story --wars are not equivalent to suicide attacks, but that will have to be addressed in another thread*). But the fact remains that suicide attacks in Islam is a very modern phenomenon, that is increasingly being used by Islamist terrorists.

Watch this portion of a debate between Dinesh D'Souza and Constitutionalist Republican nominee for President Rep. Ron Paul of Texas (as well as Larry Abraham and Doug Casey) at the Freedom Fest 2007 (specifically, see minute 7 onwards). I think the Congressman has it exactly right. But note that his explanation does not approve of terror tactics. It only explains what motivates the terrorists. The whole thing can be found here. This is a very interesting debate to watch.

And this discussion between Congressman Paul and Michael Scheuer is also very relevant to what motivates the extremists. It was a follow up of a Republican Party debate that preceded by a few days.

Related to this topic are the article's found at the Minaret of Freedom, and the website Muslims Against Terrorism.

The moral of the post:

(1) Terrorists who use Islam to justify their terror crimes are abusing the message of the Qur'an. They will use language taken out context from the Qur'an, and ignore the verses and arguments provided above that proves them dead wrong.

(2) There are those in the West who believe that the blame should entirely be placed on Islam as the core evil. To prove this, they essentially commit the same mistake that the terrorists fall into, which is to ignore the verses and guidelines from Islamic jurisprudence that clearly indicate that terrorism can not be condoned by Islam. I believe they do so out of sincere ignorance of Islamic theology. By blaming Islam, they may alienate a lot of "moderate" Muslims (alienating them does not imply that they themselves become terrorists; on the contrary, they may be less interested in helping in the war on extremism, which is, I believe, what we observe among many moderate Muslims today). However, by noting the above evidence and using it, those who want to fight the War on Terror can instead use Islam to fight the jihadis ideologically by showing them that their tactics are not justified. This does not rule out the option of taking action against criminals and terrorists who commit terror crimes.

* Since I brought this issue up, the rules of engagement in war were summarized by the Prophet of Islam in this quote:
Stop, O people, that I may give you ten rules for your guidance in the battlefield. Do not commit treachery or deviate from the right path. You must not mutilate dead bodies. Neither kill a child, nor a woman, nor an aged man. Bring no harm to the trees, nor burn them with fire, especially those which are fruitful. Slay not any of the enemy's flock, save for your food. You are likely to pass by people who have devoted their lives to monastic services; leave them alone.

For a brief introduction to Islamic military jurisprudence, see this Wikipedia entry.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Muhammad Asad

Hit and Run's commenter kolohe has recently asked me a few interesting questions about Islam. In the discussion, kolohe pointed me to a translation of the Qur'an by Dawood. Having not read that particular translation, I suggested that Muhammad Asad's commentary is probably way better. Admiring Asad myself, I gave kolohe some background about Asad that I thought to share with readers of Islamolibertarianism. Here it is:

I would rather trust Muhammad Asad's The Message of the Qur'an. I haven't read it, but I have read his Road to Mecca, which also gives great insight into the synergy between wahabism and the House of Saud. The book itself reads like a national geographic story. His writing is very elegant and reads like a story.

Asad's personal story (which he tells in The road to Mecca) is very interesting --way more interesting than T. E. Lawrence's. He was born Leopold Weiss (to a long line of rabbis) in 1900 in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, led an intellectual (somewhat hedonistic) life in Germany and wrote for the Frankfurter Zeitung. At some point he decided to visit his uncle in the Holy Land, at which point he discovered Arab culture, and Islam.

His journeys are very interesting. Toping it all, he helped in the founding of Pakistan (!!!) and represented it in the UN for some time. He moved to Spain and died there in 1992. One of his more interesting views is that in Islam, the veil is not mandatory. Other than that he is religiously mainstream and is probably the best person to present the story of Islam to the West. More can be found here.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Are you a Libertarian?

There is only one rule in Libertarianism. If you agree with it, then you are a libertarian. This one rule is the Non-Aggression Principle (NAP). It states:
no one has the right, under any circumstances, to initiate force against another human being, nor to delegate its initiation.

Are you a Libertarian?

Monday, October 29, 2007

In Defense of Libertarianism (1): Are Libertarians Soulless?

Commenter mnuez expresses the widely held, and misconceived, view of libertarians as soulless. In a recent comment, s/he says:
When it comes to soullessness, I can't think of any group of people to whom that term applies more than to many of you, kindhearted Libertarians...

... I'd ask you to look in the mirrors and note the lack of empathy in your eyes for your tens of millions of suffering American brothers and sisters. THAT'S soulless.

I, of course, disagree. The misconception is that libertarians are stingy and don't wish to give to the less fortunate segment of society. While this may be true of some libertarians (remember, libertarianism is about individuality and non-collectivism, so putting all libertarians in any single basket labeled "soulless" is not going to earn critics of libertarianism much mileage in a discussion with libertarians), many libertarians come from a very different humane angle. To illustrate, here was my response to mnuez (mildly edited):
Heartless is when you outsource charity, caring, alms giving, social consciousness (whatever you want to call it) to a totally soulless entity such as a government which couldn't care less about other people's money, health, or education. I, for one, like the libertarian view since it is honest about what a government can and can not do for the less fortunate.

Above all, I trust myself more than the government in distributing my money and I do give (not only in the form of taxes, which mostly ends up spent on stupid endeavors such as unjustified foreign wars).

A viable alternative is giving money to privately managed NGOs, instead of government, to wisely spend this money on social issues. Such NGOs may be secular or religious (e.g., churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, etc). While this may not be the perfect solution, it certainly would be better than having government do the job. It will also reinforce the role of religious and humanitarian institutions in society, with the end effect of a more cohesive society with less tensions. These tensions are created because those who give feel that they are forcefully being pushed to give, and because those who receive feel that without the forceful support of government they won't be able to live decently in society. If, instead, we have a system in which all interactions, especially humanitarian ones, are performed voluntarily and with confidence.

An Islamic angle on this is that a Muslim has to pay 2.5% of excess liquid wealth in charity. No taxes are required in Islam. The notion of taxation comes from the same secular source; that there are public demands such as road construction and maintenance, security (police), maintenance of courts, and so forth. These, not being mandated in Quran, have to be done on a local, probably municipal, level as a secular (i.e., independent of religion) societal activity.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

A Reason Magazine Interview with Imad A. Ahmad

Imad A. Ahmad, president and director of Minaret of Freedom, was interviewed by Reason Magazine's Tim Cavanaugh back in 2003. They discussed Islam, liberty, the Western and Islamic civilizations, and the possible bridges that exist between them, especially a focus on Islam and libertarian principles. The interview can be found here. I will be taking comments and discussing with blog visitors, so let me know what's on your mind.

Friday, October 26, 2007

A speech on "The Synergy of Libertarianism and Islam"

Commenter Neu Mejican over at Reason Magazine's blog brought to my attention (here) a speech by M. Zuhdi Jasser on The Synergy of Libertarianism and Islam. Thanks NM!

Commentary by iih on the notion of the necessity of spirituality to libertarianism ("spirituality" is not necessarily "religion". An atheist can still be a very spiritual person even though s/he does not believe in God):

Mr. Jasser says:
It is my belief as a Muslim that libertarianism is a prerequisite for piety and for a pure unadulterated relationship with God.

Islam is a monotheistic religion, which, clearly, means that Muslims believe in God. (Note: "Allah" is the Arabic word for "God". Arab Muslims, Jews and Christians use the word "Allah" for "God".) Hence, God is the supreme being and is that which, alone, is worthy of worship. Thus, there can not be any other god (with little "g") besides God (hence, the Muslim declaration of faith "la ilaha ila Allah", which translates to "there is no god but God"). The word "god" here means anything that is tangible (e.g., wealth) or intangible (e.g., an ideology) can not be held in such a high esteem to the degree of being worshiped. Though many people today will not say that they "worship", say money or "conservatism", they can so blindly follow these things to the level of subconsciously be in a state of de facto worship.

When Neu Mejican posted the comment I link to above, here was my response (slightly edited):

My (humble) view is that all people are born free and then they, in the course of their lives, decide to loose that freedom by succumbing to tangible and intangible things like ruthless rulers, the tyranny of power (including one's own sense of power and supremacy over others), money for the sole sake of money (not to be confused with success, which sometimes entails financial reward, and the need to live well, which requires the earning of money), carnal desires, etc. Humans, I believe (and based in big part on my faith) are freest when their souls are free.

So the intangible sense of freedom (e.g., being free of ideology) supersedes the tangible sense of freedom (e.g., financial freedom). The Islamic faith, as Jasser alludes to above, says that all humans are born free. And since it is a monotheistic faith, then the only supreme power is that of God, and, hence, none and nothing is worthy of following except Him. Hence the declaration "There is no god but God" (the first god [with little "g"] implies not only "gods", but also such things as money, power, carnal desires, etc). Hence, also the name of the religion "Islam" -- submission. Many critical of Islam says that "submission" means blindly submitting to the will of God. Nothing can be further from the truth, for if a Muslim blindly follows the literal word of God (especially with a poor background in the grammar and vocabulary of the Arabic language), than that person has become a slave of an ideology, as opposed to a reasoned and spiritual process of being a Muslim.

Regarding Mr. Jasser's quote:
It is my belief as a Muslim that liberty is necessary for religion and religion is necessary for liberty.

later, in that thread, I add:
... spirituality is important for freedom. Spirituality not necessarily in the strict religious sense. For example, if one becomces enslaved to the sexual desires of his/her body, then that person is no longer free. Sexuality could, however, be very spiritual. If so, it would not prevent a person from being free.

Mr. Jasser's description on the "Relevant historical landmarks of the Islamic faith" is a very well rendered. I find the conclusion of that section a very accurate description of how the Quran's seemingly strict rules ought to be perceived.
If one were to sit down and write rules for one's own home, even though there is a strict set of rules, it would still be libertarian since the introduction, acceptance, continuation or the end of the rules would remain voluntary. While much of the Quran is rules, the acceptance of them is purely individual and is to be left inviolable by society.
Essentially, the Quran's commandments ought to be followed if a person wishes to be a better Muslim. However, man has the freedom to reject these commandments, especially in a pluralistic society where Muslims are not a majority.

Well, what if the society of interest is predominantly Muslim? Should strict application of sharia be implemented on those who reject the message of the Quran? The short answer, in my opinion, is "no". There is plenty of room for compromise and getting by with one's lifestyle without crossing sharia law if implemented in a Muslim society. The longer answer will involve defining the concept of a "Muslim community" in which, I argue, even lifestyles such as homosexuality can exist, but that will be a subject to be addressed in a future post after I do some research on the matter.

Regarding Jasser's statement in "The Muslim concept of sin and forgiveness as it relates to liberty"
Thus, individuals choose alone, and sin alone. No one else, not even the parent will be there on the day of Judgment to bear the sin (thus the major deviation from Christianity over 'salvation' or 'Jesus taking on our sins' or 'the assurance of heaven based only on salvation-there is no assurances of heaven in Islam regardless of what some may say).
I would also add that, interestingly, while any civil society has a code of rights and responsibilities, Christianity lacks such a modern sense of responsibility since Jesus, Christians are promised, will take all sins if they return to Him. Muslims, on the other hand, are not guaranteed forgiveness by merely being Muslim.

I would also like to highlight some of Jasser's quotes in the speech:

In fact, in my own tradition of Sunni Islam (as compared to Shia) it is felt that 'ceremonial' practice is discouraged since it empowers a pseudo-clergy which may in the end interfere in this liberal relationship between an individual and God.

In "Free Markets and Islam", Jasser correctly adds that:
The very nature of Islamic banking is free of collectivism and inherently decentralized. Profit-making, the invisible hand, and the 'virtue of selfishness" are all precepts to which I find no conflict within my faith and in fact I find encourage¬ment within my faith.

Jasser concludes his speech by a discussion on "Libertarianism and Islam", and highlight his concluding paragraph, which is directed at libertarian Muslims:
My hope is that other libertarian Muslims wherever they may be wake-up and realize that their day has come now to be accounted and lead the ideological battle waged by Islamists against Muslims who separate the affairs of religion from the affairs of the state.

And with this, I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Jasser and is one of the reasons that I have decide to create this blog.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Welcome to Islamolibertarianism!

So, we have heard a lot about "Islamofascism" (see this for one view, and this for a counter-view). In fact, Islamofascism Awareness Week is currently underway on some 150 American college campuses (see a reaction by the libertarian-leaning Minaret of Freedom Institute). Well, it turns out that "fascism" is not the only suffix that can be appended to "Islamo". This (informal) "blog" will focus on an alternate suffix often dismissed by many as impossible -- the "libertarianism" suffix.

Could there be such a thing as Islamolibertarianism? I believe that the answer is "yes". My goal here is twofold. The first is to allow both Muslims and non-Muslims explore the question of whether Islam and Liberty are mutually exclusive concepts, or whether there is some overlap? If there is room for an overlap, how much of an overlap? The second goal is to allow both Muslims and non-Muslims to put on the table evidence and counter evidence on whether Islam and Liberty can go hand in hand. I believe that they won't always go hand in hand, but I also believe that the evidence will be such that in a secular (i.e., with Church-State separation) a Muslim will be able to live in a libertarian-leaning society without any moral conflict, and that Islam, just like other religions and secular philosophies, can equally exist in society.

I will also post links to articles, news items, and literature that relate to either or both topics of Islam and libertarianism.

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