"The individual is not accountable to society for his actions, insofar as these concern the interests of no person but himself." ~ John Stuart Mill
By Patrick Coleman.
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In a July 1st article in Capitalism Magazine, Amy Peikoff argued from her Objectivist position that we should, along with all of our favorite ideologues from the neo-conservative movement, un-peacefully resist the building of a mosque a couple of blocks from Ground Zero. Actually, it is an “overflow prayer space for a nearby mosque,” but there is no need to get technical, I suppose. Given the nature of Islam, she says, and the fact that “we” are engaged in a “war” with them, it is permissible to disregard the property rights of the owners, in favor of more pressing considerations, like keeping the US from sliding into Sharia law (because that is definitely going to happen). In fairness, she does acknowledge that the anti-mosque position is a problematic one, in that it requires us (perhaps) to stretch our conception of private property a bit, but given that this is a “lose-lose situation,” we must choose the lesser of two evils; in this case, a state encroachment on private property being the lesser, and a church being the greater.
As an atheist and an anarchist, I am no fan of churches and I am certainly no fan of the state, so I can empathize with Amy’s dilemma. But I must say that her reasoning concerns me. As with any good argument, and many bad, she starts with a few premises. I would like to address these premises in turn, before revisiting her conclusion. First though, I’d like to make perfectly clear that I do not endorse the violent actions of the 9-11 attackers, nor do I endorse the use of violence in any other capacity except in self-defense against present danger. I am tactically and philosophically committed to non-violent means to ends.
Dr. Peikoff frames the issue by claiming that war has been declared upon us by people who are “animated by an ideology—Islam,” and that they are “aggressing” against us because we are non-believers and because they hate our way of life. If the history of earth began on 9-11-2001, then this might conceivably be a true statement, but history goes back somewhat further than that. While I will not go into a comprehensive explanation, I do suggest that the reader instruct him or herself on the history of US/Middle East political relations. What one will find is that US tampering, pilfering, and outright aggression in the Middle East goes back some 60 years and has resulted in the eternal departure of hundreds of thousands of innocent souls.
Just for sake of contrast, consider these two lines of reasoning and decide which seems more likely to you: Islamic Middle Easterners are so enraged by the popular emergence of Paris Hilton and her glaring lack of burqa that they decide to declare holy war on a basically unassailable continent; or that these same people are so fed up with the fact that their families and friends are being continually bombed and starved to death by Western governments on behalf of oil interests that they decide to retaliate out of desperation. It would seem more honest to say that Islam, or more accurately, a very small group of people, residing mainly in the Middle East, who happen to be Muslim adherents, have declared war upon “our” way of life to the extent that “our” way of life is constituted in part by a consistent and violent interference in their economic and political affairs. To say, as many do, that they “hate our freedom” is patently ridiculous. There are many places in the world with more economic and/or social freedom than we serfs enjoy in the US, and yet we do not see any attacks on Beijing, New Zealand, or Amsterdam. Why do you think they attacked a center of commerce, and a government building? Why didn’t they attack Hollywood and Hooters, for example?
She further asserts that the vast majority of peaceful adherents of Islam have remained silent on the issue of Islamic terrorism, which she assumedly perceives as a tacit endorsement of their violent tactics. I think that this is an important point. Honestly, I’m not sure exactly how silent the Muslim community has remained on this issue, and I’m quite sure that we cannot really speak on what is in the minds of the countless un-heard devout, but I am willing, for the sake of argument, to concede that the silence has indeed been deafening. Even so, I don’t think that we can draw very many valid conclusions from this tentative fact. There are too many other factors at play. The first is that the overwhelming majority of Muslims live outside of the US, which means that they are less likely to be heard by or empathize with us, and they are likely to be more familiar with the military and economic predations of the US government overseas. Those Muslims living in the Middle East would be especially aware, and so are more likely to empathize with, but not necessarily support, the position of the violent few. One can imagine how a bit of ambivalence may exist. Secondly, a great many Muslims, particularly those living around the hub of conflict, would be very unlikely, I think, to say much of anything at all, because if they were to speak out against either the US or the insurgents, they would be making themselves the targets of whichever violent gang they publicly disapproved of. So, again, I do not think that one can say much of anything about Muslims in general with certainty, and one definitely cannot say that Islam, as a whole, has declared war on us, nor we on them.
One of the other ways that she justifies her attack on Islam in this instance is by continually referring to the “true nature of Islam” and the “defining characteristic of Islam,” arguing that they alone among religions promote war on non-believers, while adding the caveat that she herself is no expert on religion. I respect her humility, but I think she is quite mistaken. The Bible is rife with orders from God for his adherents to kill literally everyone who doesn’t think what they think, and everyone who lives near the people who don’t think what they think, because those people have probably been contaminated with . . . you know . . . homosexuality and haircuts. Hoping to nip this argument in the bud, she claims that Muslims are the only people who would actually act on the violent dictates from their holy book. One would have to be staggeringly unfamiliar with the history of Christianity to take this position. Even in current times, we see bombings of abortion clinics, violence toward gays, and a not so small portion of the religious right, whose dogged championing of the Second Amendment seems almost solely for the purpose of killing on behalf of their religion if need be. And let’s not forget the incalculable level of violence committed in the name of Statism, the most pervasive modern religion. No, Islam is most certainly not alone.
Building upon her preceding progression, Peikoff contends (on a conditional basis) that there may, in fact, be no right of property that allows for the construction of a mosque on US soil, because the US is currently at war with Islam. Assuming that you accept my above reasoning, I think it is obvious that it cannot properly be said that we are at war with Islam as a whole, ergo, according to her own logic, the construction of a mosque is completely within the rights of any property owner, whatever their proximity to Ground Zero. Furthermore, by continually couching the issue in the context of a religious war, rather than a political and economic one, she is consistently misidentifying the actual problem that the world is currently faced with, which is not, in this case, so much one of religious extremism, as it is one of blowback ushered in by centuries of colonialism, interventionism and oppression. Religion is merely a tool used to help galvanize and encourage a problem whose catalyst is ultimately economic and whose character is largely reactionary.
Next, perhaps foreseeing the possible collapse of her previous arguments, Dr. Peikoff, as I mentioned off-handedly in my opening paragraph, reasons that we are caught in an unfortunate situation, one in which we must choose from between the various evils which we find have been foisted upon us. The first and, according to her, less detrimental is to use what may be an invalid and immoral government legal structure in order to keep the Ground Zero mosque from being built; the second, and far greater, is permitting mosques to be built willy-nilly, thereby allowing the pervasive forces of the Abrahamic runt religion to execute the utter annihilation of all we hold dear. While it is absolutely true that terrorists, who happen also to be Muslim, are responsible for thousands of deaths within the US and without, and that, since they are willing to kill innocents in order to achieve their goals, they do pose a distant threat to the American population in general, I still think that a degree of perspective would serve greatly to simplify the issue. It is utterly false to suggest that our choices are limited to this binary, and also to assume that a greater risk is posed to us in the form of Islamic terrorism than in the form of a police state at home. Far more damage has been done to the American people as result of the US government response to 9-11 than any terrorist organization ever could have hoped to achieve in their wildest Islamo-wet-dreams without the assistance of the “useful idiots” we like to call politicians. In the name of combating terrorism, our civil liberties have completely eroded, giving both federal and local government carte blanche to do essentially anything they want; our economy has been hastened greatly toward its destruction by increased military spending, which, considering that the tax coffers are long since empty, is basically straight inflation; moreover, the war on terror has committed us to the indefinite occupation of both Afghanistan and Iraq, and set the groundwork for war with Iran. The list goes on and on.
Are we to believe that a small group of ill-funded jihadists are going to stage a military overthrow of the US (the land of more guns than people) from 6,000 miles away? Oh, sorry, I forgot about the 0.6% of US citizens who are Muslim. Seriously, are these a comparatively worse threat than the leviathan state that currently occupies our towns and cities, stealing our money, kidnapping non-violent people, and destroying our economy? The comparison is laughable.
The loss of freedom in the US is bad enough, but, tactically speaking, what effect do you think that the US government’s military occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan has on the inhabitants there? How many of your children do you think would have to be killed in “targeted” US military strikes in order for you to decide you have had enough? How many siblings? What about your father or mother? This war on Islam and the Middle East does nothing except foment blind hatred and galvanize military resistance at exponential rates. Similarly, those who oppose the construction of a mosque in the US, effectively lumping all US Muslims in with Al Qaeda-type terrorists, are only giving US Muslims a further reason to feel forsaken by their community, and therefore making them more likely to take sides with those who would do the rest of us harm.
She makes one other argument that I would like to address here briefly. Drawing upon Ayn Rand, she writes: “It is OK to take advantage of invalid laws (government scholarships and funding for research), so long as one advocates the abolition of such laws.” I do agree with her partially, in that, for example, I don’t think it is wrong for a tax victim to attempt the recovery of some of his or her lost capital by means of otherwise invalid government programs (the redundancy is not lost on me). However, in this case, she is saying that it is all right to negate a person’s right of property through an unjust legal system, so long as we decry the practice in principle. This is not the recovery of lost value, it is the direct usurpation of private value. Obviously, there is a huge qualitative difference between the two. Would it be permissible, by her standard, to randomly murder black-haired people if it were permitted by law, presuming that one made sure to philosophically oppose the practice?
There is no way to argue the mosque issue consistently without landing on the side of property rights, unless, of course, one chooses to base one’s arguments on false assumptions and fear-mongering, which, I will grant, is an effective method. I’m afraid, though, that bigotry and fear mongering is all that the American anti-Ground Zero mosque rhetoric adds up to. I will, however, proffer a polite suggestion for the consideration of this crowd: Raise some money and buy the location yourselves if it means that much to you, otherwise leave property to its owners.