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.

Ali's Amazon aStore