GIDEON AND MOHAMMED
Gideon and Mohammed personify the clash between the Judeo-Christian culture of Free Will and the Islamic culture of submission. (The word Islam means, literally, submission.) From these opposing premises have evolved the two diverse civilizations whose records of accomplishment have been so markedly different.
As related in the Old Testament (book of Judges), the people urged Gideon to become their king, so that he and then his son could rule over them. But Gideon declined, declaring that “I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The Lord will rule over you.” To Gideon, the mandate from above was not one of subordination to a king or a Pharaoh, but of self-rule and individual responsibility. Over the centuries the priority of Free Will – the sovereignty of the individual over his own life - haltingly emerged as the core value of Western culture.
In contrast, the culture of Islam emphasized not self-rule, but submission – submission to the Koran as interpreted by an Islamic priesthood.
The atmosphere of submission did little to inspire an openness to new ideas. Prior to the spread of Islam, the Middle East had been the cultural center of Western civilization, excelling in medicine, science, mathematics, astronomy, as well as serving as the transmission belt of Greek culture to Europe. But as the culture of submission pervaded the Middle East, the spirit of inquiry and toleration waned. The fate of the Taki al-Din observatory in Istanbul will illustrate the point: Finished in 1577, it was one of the largest observatories in the world at that time. But observatories were not mentioned in the Koran, and were therefore un-Islamic, and evidently not deserving of support. In 1580, with the apparent approval of the Islamic priesthood including the Mufti of Istanbul, the observatory was destroyed.
By the end of the Middle Ages, the nations of Islam had gradually declined into an anti-intellectual backwater. Oxford Professor Richard Dawkins once noted on Twitter that “All the world’s Moslems have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge.” Dawkins was excoriated for his “bigotry” and “racism,” but he responded that he was only noting a fact.
The difference between these two cultures - Free Will vs. submission - is no mere quibble in semantics. When independent, critical thinking is suppressed by a philosophy of submission, the irrational prevails by default. Practices such as beheadings, stoning, honor killings, fatwas, and the like are allowed to take root and become a permanent fixture of the culture. At the end await the murderous thugs of ISIS.
Of course, not all Moslems subscribe to Islamic terrorism, and many are doubtless repelled by it. But when the prime directive of Islam is "submission," dissent is obviously muted.
The difficult path of human progress has been measured by the gradual emancipation of the individual from the top-down authoritarianisms of the past - of the tyrant, the Pharoah, the medieval Church, the king, the dictator. In this context, Islam does not represent a step forward, but a step backward to the top-down authoritarianism of the Koran and its priesthood. Islam is not a religion of human progress, but of human regression.
Still, we have no obligation to "save the world" from its demons. President John Adams warned against the temptation to "seek out foreign monsters to destroy." If we wish to lead, let it be by example and persuation, not by armed force. The invasion of Iraq was arguably the worst foreign policy blunder since Vietnam - a blunder which has led to much of the chaos which bedevils the Middle East today.
There's blame enough to go around. Still, to rue retrogressive Islam is not simply "Islamophobia," as some will insist, but is more importantly an affirmation of our own Western values. Gideon had it right, so let us continue to defend those values.