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The greatest myth

June 26, 2015

Last night I was browsing Amazon’s radical thought category in the political science section, and I was struck by how preoccupied present-day political discourse must be, if readers’ buying choices are any indication, by the question of militant Islam. I particularly noted the repeated byline of Robert Spencer, who appears to have made quite the name for himself through his criticism of most Islamic sects and an aggressive reading of Islamic source texts.

Let us assume for a moment that everything Spencer has to say and suggest about Islam is true. Let us assume that it is a faith which mandates war, abuse, and oppression. Let us assume that Muslims are permanently unwilling to accept the rule of a civil state and are enjoined to oppose such governments. Let us assume that, pushed onwards by a number of fringe groups, the Islamic community is making a concerted and even conspiratorial attempt to establish Islam as the dominant religious and political force on this planet. What then? According to Spencer and his colleagues, this is a movement that must be resisted, for the good of both Western civilization and humanity.

But Spencer and his fellow writers, for all their appeals to humanism and natural law, have apparently failed to comprehend one of the most critical and inevitable human rights: the right to be wrong. Even if the existence of objective evil can be proven, and even if it can be further proven that a specific human action is an example of such evil, such proof does not bar an individual from practicing evil, or entitle those who do not practice evil to suppress those who do. The human equality axiom makes it impossible to establish a “legitimate” framework in which one man is denied the right to act in a certain way, or in which he is somehow entitled to justifiably punish another man who acts in a way that displeases him. He has the right to attack or counterattack, but no matter what explanation he uses to justify his act, whether he claims to be acting as the agent of a state or on the instructions of a god, he has never acted with any greater rights than those of a private individual. And his enemy, in turn, has not acted without any rights at all, because his action is evil or wicked or criminal, but with the same rights of a private individual. The two opponents are equally matched.

The argument that certain religions or political views or criminal actions should be suppressed as a danger to the community is a manifestation of one of the greatest of all human myths: the delusion that a balance between conflicting forces can be achieved in human affairs. In fact, the assumption that balance is possible is the very foundation of all politics and societies, testifying to its impact and longevity. Those political groups usually termed “conservative” attempt to achieve this balance by declaring a single set of viewpoints to be valid and penalizing dissent from those viewpoints with violence. Those often termed “liberal” or “progressive”, as a rule, try to secure rapprochement among rivals through negotiation and compromise. However, both approaches have the same goal. Both wish to control and limit social chaos, especially between individuals. Consequently, their aims can only be accomplished at the expense of individual rights. But if humans are deemed to be equal, and to have equal inherent rights as a consequence of their equality, then the conflict which arises from their unfettered use of those rights is unavoidable and conflict management, by whatever name it is called, is pure fantasy.

This does not appear to have occurred to Spencer & Co., who are blissfully oblivious to the fact that every time they call for the suppression of an agenda they deem hostile to human rights, they are perpetuating an underlying idea far more dangerous to humanity than radical Islam could ever be.

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