On the Islam Question, and the Downside of Social Media
Two days ago, at the Austrian Scholar Conference, we heard from Mustafa Akyol about the commercial heritage of Islam – a learned, eloquent, deeply informative, and inspiring lecture in every way. He has a new book that is coming out soon that covers the topic. If the book covers what his lecture covered, it will be a revelation.
Perhaps this lecture wouldn’t have been has shocking 30 years ago when Islam was “our” ally in fighting communism. Back then, we were told by spokesmen for the Reagan administration that these were “people of the book” who embrace family values and reject “godless communism” and so therefore we should fund the “freedom fighters” in Afghanistan and welcome Muslim immigration.
Fair enough. Of course that policy didn’t turn out so well, as the former freedom fighters mutated into terrorist cells that later became the target of the “war on terror,” which most everyone understands – despite various pieties in favor of religious liberty and tolerance – is essentially a war on Islam.
Islam is the new communism, that scary foreign thing we are supposed to fear above all else and hand over our liberties and property to the state so that they will protect us against it. The state is once again trying to play up cultural themes in order to tightened its control, and it is working once again.
This new culture of Islamophobia has emerged gradually over the last 15 or so years, but in recent times it has reached a fevered pitch, to the point that the man on the street can be counted on to quake in fear at the very mention of this great religious tradition. This is mainly due to a predictable historical myopia on the part of citizens (see Orwell) and incredible ignorance about the history and meaning of the Islamic religious tradition and its gigantic contributions to modernity as we understand that term in the West.
A great place to begin to understand, rather than fear, is Mustafa Akyol’s brilliant lecture at the Austrian Scholars Conference. What absolutely stunned me was the extent of the negative reaction, at the youtube page, at our facebook page, and more generally. The vituperation was palpable, and contradicted all my expectations. I had figured that most people like enlightenment but it appears that the people who prefer fear and hate prevailed in this case.
But what I found especially interesting was how few “likes” the video itself had elicited on facebook. I don’t believe that’s because few people like it. It’s probably because people feel intimidated into not publicly saying in front of friends and family that they like this video, for this would imply taking a small stand that contradicts regime priorities in a time of war. It would be the same for a speech on Spain during the Spanish-American war, or during World War I on the glories of German culture,or a speech on the high civilization of Japan during World War II, or a speech drawing attention to the aggressive U.S. foreign policy during the Cold War.
Tragically, Islam now falls into that category of an officially approved bugaboo – exactly of the sort that Mencken said that Americans must constantly invent in order to have an outlet for their tendency to blame everything and anything but mainstream bourgeois society for all ills.
A note on the meaning of this particular lecture: every year the Austrian Scholars Conference has some 70 papers on economics, plus one lecture on economics and religion. This was that one lecture this year – and, in the past, this lecture has covered Judaism, Christianity, and it could conceivably cover Hinduism and more. This lecture on Islam was exactly the kind of speech we hope to have in this spot.
Mencken once said that in order for history to progress, it was essential that there are people who are willing to hurl dead cats into the temple of conventional wisdom. If so, history has taken a step forward.
Jeffrey Tucker is Editorial Director of the American Institute for Economic Research. He is author of It's a Jetsons World: Private Miracles and Public Crimes and Bourbon for Breakfast: Living Outside the Statist Quo. Send him mail.