Monday, April 28, 2003

Why Islamists Detest America

Tibor R. Machan

Over the last several months there’s been a lot of consternation about why so many Muslims detest America. Why do they find the system of political economy associated with the USA so objectionable?
Put bluntly, their charge that America’s culture is “materialistic” is largely true, if by this they mean that people in America pay a good deal of attention to how well they can live, how much joy life can bring them—including when they go shopping.
Not that Americans do not believe in God or don’t embrace some religious faith but they do not do so with the kind of utter and blind devotion leaders of the Islamic faith demand of Muslims. For a most of these leaders the only government that is legitimate is one that demands of and forces its citizens to fully adhere to the Koran as they interpret it. Nothing else will do and when America associates politically or economically with countries where this goes on or where Muslim leaders want it to go on, the leaders believe it corrupts those societies, leads them astray from the Koran, which for them is a disaster. So, they hate the country from which such influences emanate.
America, in contrast, rests on a classical liberal political tradition in which tolerance reigns supreme as a principle of human relationships. John Locke, the grandfather of the American system of government, was also preoccupied with figuring out how government and church should be related. Out of his and some others’ reflections the American founders took away a liberal theory of government, one that opposes any union of state and church, especially at the federal level but by now also in every state. This has spawned a great many religious denominations in the USA—one needs only to look at all the different churches in one’s own neighborhood to appreciate this.
Yet, Americans tend, in the main, to confine their religiosity to Sundays or the Sabbath while during the rest of the week they go about their personal and professional lives pretty much with little deep concern for how these square with their faiths. Just compare the amount of public prayer Muslims practice to that of Americans!
Moreover, Christianity has by now made relative peace with commerce and the “materialism”—I’d prefer calling it “naturalism”—Muslim leaders find so detestable. Christians see human beings as having a divided self, composed of spirit and of matter (soul and body), with both due some measure of care in one’s life. The two sides do not always interact happily, of course, but that hasn’t lead to any great changes in American and other Western cultures.
Yes, commerce is often derided by writers, priests, ministers, intellectuals and the rest but this is often recognized as somewhat paradoxical if not altogether inconsistent—after all, most of those doing the deriding tend to be quite happy with the measure of material well being they have managed to achieve and few if any have taken any serious vows of poverty.
Finally, it is undeniable that a vigorous commercial culture tends to be directed to living well here on earth rather than to preparing for everlasting salvation. We may not be able to take it with us but we do like it a lot—namely, material wealth—while it we are dwelling here on earth. And that probably does distract many of us from focusing on what religious leaders consider our spiritual needs and obligations.
The question is whether the Muslim leaders are right: Is this freedom we enjoy in America and the West good for us all or are we becoming decadent, shallow and faithless as we enjoy our lives here on earth? I believe that without addressing this question we will always be vulnerable to the harangue of Muslim leaders (as well as others) and will keep being detested by many Muslim faithful across the globe. And some of this detestation will be deadly at times.
But then perhaps that is to be expected when one holds up as an ideal a sort of human life in which men and women are free and able not only to choose to do what is right but also what is wrong. Perhaps we ought to be more confident and firm in our belief that this is indeed how human beings ought to live. We ought also to stand up firmly in support of the system of politics and law that vigorously protects such a way of life. We should not hesitate to resist the aggression of those who find this so contemptible. They, after all, are quite mistaken in attempting to enforce by law the good life they demand of their faithful—simply no good can come from enforced goodness.
Indeed, if it is such a good life, why do they need all these laws to make people follow its principles?

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