Prejudice, Extremism, Islamophobia, and Culture

0

numinous-religion
Prejudice, Extremism, Islamophobia, and Culture

Prefatory Note: This article developed from – and in a few places summarizes and/or quotes from – several replies I sent to various correspondents between May and November of 2012 and which correspondence concerned topics such as prejudice, the use of the terms culture and civilization, and whether or not those opposed to immigration and/or ‘Islamification’ are prejudiced and, if so, whether they should be reproved.

It thus presents my personal, fallible, opinion about such matters, and which opinion reflects the weltanschauung and the morality of my philosophy of pathei-mathos (formerly ‘the numinous way’), as outlined in Recuyle of The Philosophy of Pathei-Mathos and texts such as Pathei-Mathos – A Path To Humility.

◊◊◊

Over the past decade or so there has been a significant increase, in Britain and in Europe in general, in the number of people who claim, believe, or feel, that immigration in general and Islam in particular pose a threat. There is and has been rhetoric, from politicians and agitators, opposing ‘multiculturalism’ and about ‘the threat immigration/Islam pose to French/British/Dutch/German/European/(whatever)’ values, civilization, and identity, as there are regular protests about the building of new mosques, and laws in some European nations prohibiting the building of minarets and the wearing in public of hijab and/or the burkha. Organizations opposed to Shariah and what they term ‘Islamification’ regularly hold demonstrations and protests, many of which are violent or which end in violence, and which organizations directly or indirectly lead to and have led to, or who have members and supporters who commit, Islamophobic [1] incidents such as the harassment of women wearing hijab [2], the desecration of the Quran, the desecration of Muslim graves, and attacks on Mosques and the homes of Muslim families, and many of which incidents are similar to or reminiscent of some anti-Semitic ones.

The question thus arises as to whether such claims, beliefs, or feelings about Islam, Muslims, the Muslim way life, and Islam, are prejudiced and/or extremist, and, if they are prejudiced, whether such prejudice should be reproved.

A Modern Yet Old Concern

An increasing number of people in Western countries seem to feel or are concerned that Islam, and the Muslims who have migrated to or were born in Western countries, are in some way undermining or destroying the indigenous culture/civilization or way of life that such concerned ones – the concernées – identify with. The following comments, although made in respect of Britain, are somewhat typical of this European-wide attitude and concern:

“Here I was, in the heart of a city in the middle of my own country, a complete outcast and pariah.” [3]

“Far from merging with local communities, many seem to have decided as an act of defiance to live and dress as if still in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Somalia or the Middle East,” and that Islam should be ‘re-branded’ for modern Britain. [4]

Islam is “one of the great evils of the world” [5]

“The problems posed by the large-scale immigration of people who do not enter into our European way of life [and] the right of indigenous communities to refuse admission to people who cannot or will not assimilate.” [6]

“When we were growing up, Islam wasn’t even a word in everyday usage. Now it is an visible part of daily life in most cities. The character of Britain has changed tremendously. Personally, I like that but I think people have a perfect right not to like it and it doesn’t make them bad people.” [7]

As these and many similar comments indicate, there are common themes to such concerns and attitudes, some of which themes are often unspoken but nevertheless implied. Among these themes are the following: (i) that there is a particular British identity/character, with ‘native Britons’ regarding Britain as ‘their country’ and by extension not really the country, the land, of these new ‘foreigners’; (ii) that immigrants and those of other cultures and faiths should or must adopt this assumed British identity/character – ‘fully integrate’, be assimilated – in order to be considered British, with the underlying assumption or prejudice that such a posited British/European identity/character is better than or superior to or more advanced than those other cultures and faiths; (iii) that ‘native Britons’ are more entitled to the advantages and the opportunities that British society offers than recent (post Second World War) arrivals, especially if these ‘new arrivals’ belong to a different faith or culture and do not wish to abandon that ‘alien’ faith or culture or manner of dress, and even if such people of an ‘alien’ faith or culture are second or third generations citizens, and work and have paid taxes; and (iv) that the indigenous “people have a perfect right not to like [these changes] and it doesn’t make them bad people” or extremists.

Among the interesting questions that such concerns and attitudes raise are: why do such people not like such changes, and what is ‘bad’. It seems to me that such dislike is often or mostly the result of several factors; for example, a certain instinctive wariness of change and of those who are different; a certain lack of knowledge and lack of understanding of the way of life, the culture, of the newcomers; a certain sense of belonging to their own area or community; and a particular feeling of what it means ‘to be British’ or English or Scots or Welsh. There is thus, or there develops, an instinctive prejudice, that is a bias – in favour of this posited ‘British/Scottish/Welsh way of life’ (usually an idealized/romanticised version of it) and not in favour of the newcomers and their ways.

Is this bias bad? I venture to say yes, for two reasons. First (and philosophically) because life itself is and always has been both a flow of change and, beyond the artificial divisions/categories we project upon it, a unity [8]. To try and prevent this natural change by holding onto and dividing human beings into temporal ideated categories based on median assumptions – such as some ‘race’ or some idealized static national community or static culture said to have arisen during some historical period – is hubris [9]. Second, because I consider the good to be “what is fair; what alleviates or does not cause suffering; what is compassionate; what empathy by its revealing inclines us to do, what inclines us to appreciate the numinous”. Thus the bad is what is unfair, what causes suffering, and what is biased, prejudiced, since prejudice [10] in many ways is the opposite of the muliebral virtue of empathy, causing as such prejudice does the impersonal judgemental assessment of a person or persons who are personally unknown, and thence often predisposing an individual or a group to treat those so impersonally judged in a harsh manner. And such prejudice is bad – unfair, morally wrong, deserving of reproval – even if the prejudice that is felt does not lead a particular individual to commit harsh practical violent and/or hateful (and thus by definition extremist) deeds [11].

In my view we should be gently and personally moving away from – and gently and personally encouraging, in others, a moving away from – prejudice (whatever its genesis) toward empathy and the personal, individual, non-judgemental knowing that empathy engenders; away from the artificial (abstract) divisions and categories we have manufactured (and often judge people by) toward an appreciation of the numinous and thus toward a feeling and a knowing of ‘that of the numinous in every person’ (to again paraphrase George Fox).

Culture, Civilization, and Identity

In the increasing rhetoric about, and the fears concerning, ‘the threat Islam poses to European/Western civilization’ and ‘to French/British/Dutch/German/European/(whatever) values and identity’, there are both assumptions and prejudice.

The very usage of the term civilization, for instance, implies a bias; a qualitative often pejorative, prejudiced, assessment and thence a division between something judged ‘better than’ – or ‘superior to’ or ‘more advanced than’ – something else, so that ‘to civilize’ denotes “the action or process of being made civilized” by something or someone believed or considered to be more distinguished, or better than, or superior to, or more advanced.

Thus – and in common with some other writers [12] – my view is that a clear distinction should be made between the terms culture, society, and civilization, for the terms culture and society – when, for example, applied to describe and distinguish between the customs and way of life of a group or people, and the codes of behaviour and the administrative organization and governance of those residing in a particular geographical area – are quantitative and descriptive rather than qualitative and judgemental. It is therefore in my view inappropriate to write and talk about a European or a Western ‘civilization’.

Given that culture is often understood as the way of life characteristic of a community of people, as their distinctive beliefs, customs, language, and social behaviour, is there a European or a Western culture of which, and for example, a ‘British culture’ might be a part? Or a unique ‘British culture’ (and thus identity) which might or might not have some affinity with some European culture? And, if it exists, who or what defines this British culture, and whence did it arise or is assumed to have arisen? For are cultures static, unchangeable entities, or are they, as peoples and languages are and have been, in flux – absorbing, assimilating, developing, and making obsolete. And if cultures are as I incline to believe – and like languages – in flux, is it reasonable to try and make them static, a fixed ideation, by zealously striving to limit them to what they were perceived to be, once, or to what they are understood to be or assumed to be now, and demanding that everyone must adopt this limited and fixed ideation with little or no variation, and certainly no (or only a strictly defined) diversity of change, allowed? [13]

However, insofar as I am concerned, such postulations and theories in respect of cultural identity are the chimæras of our times, and derive from a fundamental misunderstanding of culture. For the essence, the nature, of all cultures is the same: to refine, and develope, the individual; to provide a moral guidance; to cultivate such skills as that of reasoning and learning and civility; to be a repository of the recorded/aural pathei-mathos, experiences, and empathic understanding of others (such as our ancestors) over decades, centuries, millennia, as manifest for example in literature, music, memoirs, poetry, history, Art, and often in the past in myths and legends and religious allegories. A recorded/aural pathei-mathos and empathic understanding – a human learning – which teach the same lessons, whatever the culture, whatever the people, whatever the time and whatever the place. The lesson of the importance of a loyal love between two people; the lesson of the importance of virtues such as εὐταξία [14] and honour; the lesson of the need to avoid committing the error of hubris [15]. The lesson of hope, redemption, and change. And the lesson concerning our own nature:

” From Aeschylus to Sophocles to Siddhārtha Gautama, from the mythos of the Μοῖραι to the postulate of samsara, from the notion of Fate to the Sermon on the Mount, and beyond, we have had available to us an understanding [of] how we human beings are often balanced between honour and dishonour; balanced between ὕβρις and ἀρετή; between our animalistic desires, our passions, and our human ability to be noble, to achieve excellence; a balance manifest in our known ability to be able to control, to restrain, ourselves, and thus find and follow a middle way, of ἁρμονίη.In Pursuit of Wisdom (2011)

Ultimately, the assumed or the perceived, the outer, differences do not matter, since what matters for us as human beings capable of reason and civility is our shared humanity and the wisdom that all cultures guide us toward: which wisdom is that it is what is moral – it is what keeps us as mortals balanced, aware of and respective of the numinous – that should guide us, determine our choices and be the basis of our deeds, for our interaction with other human beings, with society, and with the life with which we share this planet.

As outlined in my philosophy of pathei-mathos, my personal view is that the criteria of assessment and judgement are the individual ones of empathy, reason, and the presumption of innocence; which means that abstractions, ideations, theories, and categories, of whatever kind – and whether deemed to be political, religious, or social – are considered an unimportant. That what matters, what is moral, is a very personal knowing in the immediacy-of-the-moment so that what is beyond the purveu of our empathy, of our personal knowing, knowledge, and experience, is something we rationally accept we do not know and so cannot judge or form a reasonable, a fair, a balanced, opinion about. Hence, and for example, individuals and people we do not know, of whatever faith, of whatever perceived ethnicity, sexual orientation, or perceived or assumed or proclaimed culture – whom we have no personal experience of and have had no interaction with over a period of causal time – are unjudged by us and thus given the benefit of the doubt; that is, regarded as innocent, assumed to be good, unless or until direct personal experience, and individual and empathic knowing of them, as individuals, proves otherwise.

“This acceptance of the empathic – of the human, the personal – scale of things and of our limitations as human beings is part of wu-wei. Of not-striving, and of not-interfering, beyond the purveu of our empathy and our pathei-mathos. Of personally and for ourselves discovering the nature, the physis, of beings; of personally working with and not against that physis, and of personally accepting that certain matters or many matters, because of our lack of personal knowledge and lack of personal experience of them, are unknown to us and therefore it is unwise, unbalanced, for us to have and express views or opinions concerning them, and hubris for us to adhere to and strive to implement some ideology which harshly deals with and manifests harsh views and harsh opinions concerning such personally unknown matters.

Thus what and who are beyond the purveu of empathy and beyond pathei-mathos is or should be of no urgent concern, of no passionate relevance, to the individual seeking balance, harmony, and wisdom, and in truth can be detrimental to finding wisdom and living in accord with the knowledge and understanding so discovered.” Some Personal Musings On Empathy – In relation to the philosophy of πάθει μάθος

Considered thus, what matters are our own moral character, our interior life, our appreciation of the numinous, and the individual human beings we interact with on the personal level; so that our horizon is to refine ourselves into cultured beings who are civil, reasoned, empathic, non-judgemental, unbiased, and who will, in the words of one guide to what is moral, Ἀπόδοτε οὖν τὰ Καίσαρος Καίσαρι καὶ τὰ τοῦ Θεοῦ τῷ Θεῷ [16].

David Myatt
2012

Notes

[1] Islamophobia has been defined, by Professor Erik Bleich, as “indiscriminate negative attitudes or emotions directed at Islam or Muslims,” and thus, “as with parallel concepts like homophobia or xenophobia, Islamophobia connotes a broader set of negative attitudes or emotions directed at individuals or groups because of their perceived membership in a category.”

See my 2012 article Concerning Islamophobia.

[2] In respect of Hijab and some of the myths surrounding it, see, for example, Leila Ahmed: A Quiet Revolution – The Veil’s Resurgence, from the Middle East to America. Yale University Press, 2012. Leila Ahmed is Professor of Divinity at Harvard.

[3] The quotation is from a book by Clarissa Dickson Wright, published in 2012, the author having been a presenter of several mainstream television cookery programmes.

[4] Trevor Kavanagh, a journalist writing in the British newspaper, The Sun, dated November 20, 2012.

[5] Richard Dawkins, speaking in Stornoway, as reported in The Scotsman newspaper, dated November 2, 2012.

[6] Roger Scruton, speech at Antwerp, June 23, 2006.

[7] Private communication from an e-mail correspondent, November 2012.

[8] qv. The Nature of Being and of Beings section of my The Way of Pathei-Mathos – A Philosophical Compendiary.

[9] qv. (i) The Abstraction of Change as Opposites and Dialectic; (ii) Concerning Some Abstractions – Extremism and Race; (iii) Recuyle of the Philosophy of Pathei-Mathos.

It is personal empathy and pathei-mathos which enable us to appreciate the unity beyond the appearance of posited, manufactured, categories and opposites, and which thus inclines us toward knowing and trying to do what is right. As explained in Recuyle of the Philosophy of Pathei-Mathos:

“Empathy – and the knowing that derives from it – thus transcends ‘race’, politics, religion, gender, sexual orientation, occupation, wealth (or lack of it), ‘status’, and all the other things and concepts often used to describe, to denote, to prejudge, to classify, a person; so that to judge someone – for example – by and because of their political views (real or assumed) or by their religion or by their sexual orientation is an act of hubris.”

As I mentioned to one correspondent:

“My admittedly fallible view of empathy is that it is natural human faculty which most humans could possibly develope and use. A faculty that can provide a type of knowing of another living being sans words, ideas, abstractions/constructs; and which results in sympatheia – benignity – with and for that living being.

I have described it a ‘translocation of ourselves’ where we experience a loss of that ‘separation-of-otherness’ which usually defines us as an individual human being, resulting in an intuition or intuitions concerning the feelings of another. Thus and for instance we can sense someone’s sadness, or grief, or pain, or joy. Which, in practical terms, naturally predisposes us toward treating that person as we ourselves would wish to be treated: with compassion, understanding, honour, and dignity.

In a sense, we make an ‘acausal connexion’ to and with another living being, and which connexion is entirely independent of those forms, categories, and classifications we normally use to describe, and to try to ‘understand’, and/or which we use to judge (consciously or otherwise), another person. A process I have described as a wordless intuition concerning the physis – the being or character – of a person.

Sometimes this ‘translocation of ourselves’ and sympatheia with another is of a sufficiency to cause us to actually physically feel the pain of another. Which sufficiency of empathy can quite naturally make the everyday life of such an ’empath’ somewhat challenging if not difficult.

As to how this faculty might be developed, I only have tentative suggestions, based on my (limited) understanding and the pathei-mathos of my rather outré life. Which suggestions concern such matters as developing an appreciation of the numinous, cultivating wu-wei, and fostering an attitude of personal humility part of which is understanding ‘the cosmic perspective’, of the reality of ourselves as one microcosmic fallible fragile mortal rather insignificant living being on one planet orbiting one star in one galaxy in a cosmos of billions of galaxies, and which short-lived mortal also happens to be a connexion to all life, human and otherwise, on this planet we mortals call Earth.”

[10] Prejudice is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as “preconceived opinion not based on reason or actual experience; bias”.

[11] I outline my particular usage of – and sometimes particular definition of – certain terms, such as ‘the good’, extremism, society, innocence, and so on, in Appendix I (A Glossary of Terms) of my Recuyle of the Philosophy of Pathei-Mathos.

[12] A useful overview of the usage of the terms culture and civilization is given in Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society by Raymond Williams, Oxford University Press, 1976.

[13] One correspondent of mine went so far as to jest that the ‘save British culture from Islamification’ brigade are kindred in spirit to those who would have us remove all ‘foreign’ words from the English language, with in-fighting occurring and new grouplets formed because they cannot agree what constitutes a foreign word and how far, historically, they should go back in their crusade to remove such ‘non-British’ things and so keep ‘their language pure’.

[14] As I mentioned in The Way of Pathei-Mathos – A Philosophical Compendiary:

εὐταξία [is] that quality of self-restraint, of a balanced, well-mannered conduct especially under adversity or duress, of which Cicero wrote:

Haec autem scientia continentur ea, quam Graeci εὐταξίαν nominant, non hanc, quam interpretamur modestiam, quo in verbo modus inest, sed illa est εὐταξία, in qua intellegitur ordinis conservatio

Those two qualities are evident in that way described by the Greeks as εὐταξίαν although what is meant by εὐταξία is not what we mean by the moderation of the moderate, but rather what we consider is restrained behaviour… De Officiis, Liber Primus, 142

[15] In respect of avoidance of hubris, refer to myRecuyle Of The Philosophy Of Pathei-Mathos.

[16] Matthew 22:21. Reddite ergo, quae sunt Caesaris, Caesari et, quae sunt Dei, Deo. Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God, the things that are God’s.