Recently I was having a twitter conversation with Kevin Zelnio and Eric Michael Johnson about the fact that I define myself as “right-wing.” Kevin kind of implied that I was poseur in a tongue-in-cheek fashion. I don’t wear my political beliefs on my sleeve too much in this space because 1) I find talking about politics kind of boring (though data analysis less so) 2) My own views are somewhat idiosyncratic, as I am socially liberal on many “hot button” issues 3) Science is more interesting than politics, and we can have a real conversation about it. If I started offering my stupid uninformed opinions on politics I’d have to open up the floor to my liberal readers to offer their stupid uninformed opinions on politics. There’s a lot of that on the web, so I don’t see where that’s in anyone’s interest.
But I am sincere. I don’t consider myself liberal, and that has to do with particular socially conservative tendencies which I have. Robin Hanson might call me a “farmer,” and I’m also accurately described as having a bourgeois sensibility. More concretely I have little sympathy with liberal diversity talk, and oppose multiculturalism. I’m not a neoconservative or liberal internationalist who believers in eternal war and imperialism to homogenize the values of all humans, but, I do believe in nation-states with distinctive cultural values which unify them.
The nation-states of the West have Western values, which are a contingent product of their particular histories. I believe in the perpetuation of those values. The geometric aspect of Florence’s Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore make it a relatively conceivable mosque at some point in the future, but I don’t want the Duomo of Florence to become a mosque. It’s an aesthetic preference, and culturally biased, but I’m at peace with this. It is a fundamentally illiberal attitude, and I am not particularly shy about it, even with family members who are nominally affiliated with “Team Islam.” It isn’t as if Islamic architecture is under threat, there are 57 nations which are members of an organization of states affiliated with that religion.
Since I’m not a neocon I obviously don’t have much truck with the “War on Terror,” and am moderately skeptical of our close relations with Israel (and honestly, Saudi Arabia and Egypt as well). But, I also do not share the reflexive defense which Western Left-liberals exhibit toward the large Muslim minorities which now reside in Europe. Consider the real evidence of discrimination against Muslims which Ed Yong reported a few weeks back. I grant the reality of this, but one of the dimensions that is important to note is that blacks who are not Muslim are viewed more favorably. I believe that Islam-critics, from the unhinged neocon Right to the ultra-secularist New Atheist fringe are correct in many of their critiques of the nature of the Muslim subcultures of the West, and the barbarism of Islamic culture more generally. The word “barbaric” makes many people wince, and it’s not really acceptable in “polite” company (the company which I generally keep), but I don’t have a good word handy. I don’t believe that we should invade Saudi Arabia so that women can drive and not need to wear the abaya. I find it barbaric, and personally objectionable, but it does not rise to the level of something like slavery or genocide.
Among many liberals these sorts of assertions are ludicrous on their face. You can’t generalize about a whole religion like that. I think this is hypocrisy, as American Left-liberals regularly generalize about white Protestants (or quasi-Protestants, like Mormons). Not only that, they express snobbish disdain for the genuine kernels of truth which lay the seed for the paranoia on the xenophobic Right. Reality is complex, but when there are truths to be faced which are not congenial to the narrative of White Male Oppressor, the truth becomes very simple and stark.
Generalizations which shed a negative light on White European civilization are acceptable (if debatable) in polite Left-liberal society. For example, it is common to assert that Western civilization in the years before 1000 A.D. was barbarous, boorish, and primitive. This is a fashionable assertion as an inversion of the narrative of superiority which once reigned supreme. Of course, it ignores the real exceptions such as the Carolingian Renaissance, or Ireland before the Vikings. It invariably pretends as if the Byzantines did not exist.
But let’s look at the views of Muslims in Western Europe toward homosexuals:
As you can see, Western European Muslims are much more conservative than the general population. Or, more accurately they’re much more reactionary and culturally alien. The reality is that the status quo in Western Europe is toward acceptance of homosexuality without the sort of debates we have in the United States. Interestingly you can’t even calculate a real ratio for British Muslims to the general public, not one British Muslim surveyed would admit to homosexuality being morally acceptable. When it comes to white European attitudes toward Muslims some of it clearly boils down toward racism, but the fact is that most Turks are no more colored than many Southern Europeans, and Britain’s Punjabi Sikh population of working class origin is the source of less tension than Britain’s Punjabi Pakistani Muslim population. There are complex feedback loops at work. Muslim immigrants bring a lot of geopolitical baggage because of the nature of the Muslim world. But, we can’t pretend as if the Islamic world also doesn’t have its own particular suite of values which makes it distinctive.
European Muslims are generally much more liberal, all things equal, than the majority of the world’s Muslims. Consider what’s happening in Pakistan right now, Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi ‘has price on her head’:
Though he is guilty of nothing, this Pakistani labourer is on the run – with his five children.
His wife, Asia Bibi, has been sentenced to death for blaspheming against Islam. That is enough to make the entire family a target.
They stay hidden by day, so we met them after dark.
Mr Masih told us they move constantly, trying to stay one step ahead of the anonymous callers who have been menacing them.
“I ask who they are, but they refuse to tell me,” he said.
In the village they tried to put a noose around my neck, so that they could kill me”
“They say ‘we’ll deal with you if we get our hands on you’. Now everyone knows about us, so I am hiding my kids here and there. I don’t allow them to go out. Anyone can harm them,” he added.
Ashiq Masih says his daughters still cry for their mother and ask if she will be home in time for Christmas.
He insists that Asia Bibi is innocent and will be freed, but he worries about what will happen next.
“When she comes out, how she can live safely?” he asks.
“No one will let her live. The mullahs are saying they will kill her when she comes out.”
Asia Bibi, an illiterate farm worker from rural Punjab, is the first woman sentenced to hang under Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law.
The background to this is one of class and caste. Pakistan’s Christians tend to be lower caste converts who are economically subservient to Muslim landowners, and held in contempt by Muslims of similar socioeconomic station because naturally they’re the lowest of the low, being poor and non-Muslim. Accusations of blasphemy generally seem to bubble up out of interpersonal disputes, and are used as leverage by the accusatory party. Christians are not the only target of persecution. The Sunni majority and Shia minority have been engaging in a low-grade civil war for a while now. Sikhs in some parts of Pakistan are given the choice between forced conversion and expulsion. Basically, pogroms. A dead young Hindu had his coffin labelled ‘kafir’.
Not all Muslim nations are Pakistan. It is in some ways an extreme case, but, it is also not inconsequential. ~10% of the world’s Muslim lives in Pakistan, and the Pakistani British community is large and robust. Earlier in the decade I had some expectations that Western Muslims in the Diaspora could shape the culture of Muslim majority nation-states, but the West has little cultural credibility in the first place, and if there’s influence I’d suspect it goes the other way now.
How about Muslim nations like Indonesia? It has a robust moderate majority, and Muslims can, and do, convert to other religions in Indonesia. Most Indonesian Muslims do not have recognizable Arab or Turco-Persian names. But a new report Pew Global Attitude Project really shocked me. True, the majority of Indonesians do not have a favorable view of Osama bin Laden, but 23% do! This is a glass 3/4 full, 1/4 empty, case I suppose. But 1/4 empty is way too empty for my taste.
But I am aware and admit that American imperialism and our reflexive support for Israel leaves a bad taste in the mouths of many Muslims. So being in “favor” of bin Laden may be like asserting that Barack Obama is Muslim, more an expression of identity, suspicion, or solidarity, than a well thought out attitude. On a positive note, the direction of opinions about bin Laden seem heartening from an American perspective:
But there are some more negative notes. The vast majority of Muslims in various populous nations believe that their religion’s involvement in politics is a positive development. To some extent the separation between religion and culture and politics is artificial. But, there are differences of degree. The Anglican Church is the established religion of England, but it clearly has a less powerful impact on the choices of individuals in England than Sunni Islam does in Egypt. Despite recent religious conflicts it is notable that Indonesia does have a relatively dominant moderate-to-liberal Muslim tradition among the core Javanese ethnicity (though not among some ethic groups on the nation’s periphery), so perhaps these Muslims do not have theocratic ambitions. But Egypt, Nigeria, and Pakistan, have all been riven by the politicization of religion. And yet the public still supports the positive role of Islam in politics. Interestingly Lebanon and Turkey have large minorities who dissent, though clearly for different historical reasons.
When we go into the real heart of the barbaric craziness we start to see some relieving variance. Pakistan’s Muslims reinforce the perception that that nation has become an expression of something out of a neconservative’s fever dream. To be clear, here’s the question: do people favor or oppose making segregation of men and women in the workplace the law. This isn’t voluntary, or company by-company. These are people who support enforcement of segregation between the sexes in the workplace through state fiat. And thank God we have Turkey and Lebanon! Only 10% support gender segregation by law there. Interestingly Indonesia isn’t that illiberal on this issue either. I think this supports my contention that their perception that Islam has a positive role in politics and the minority support for bin Laden both reflect something different than the same opinions in Pakistan would.
Now let’s explore the stereotype that Muslims are bloodthirsty when it comes to punishment, to the point that they’d make a Texan white with shock:
Thank God for Turkey and Lebanon! Again, one should be careful about taking some of these statistics too literally. 30 percent of Indonesians accept the death penalty for apostasy, but these are likely in overwhelmingly conservative Muslim groups like the Achenese. In Java since the 1960s hundreds of thousands of nominal Muslims have freely converted to Christianity and Balinese Hinduism. To me the difference between Jordan and Lebanon is particularly striking, as these are two Levantine Arab nations (the surveys by the way were asked of Muslims only). Before we conclude Turkey is a paragon of liberalism, do recall that Christian clerics are still being murdered by vigilantes even in that nation, so objectionable do some Muslims find their activity in a society which has very few non-Muslim minorities.
And predictably, Diasporic communities are considerably more liberal. Only 36 percent of British Muslims age 16-24 believe that apostates should be killed! So the crazy that is Pakistan can be nicely moderated with some civilized influence.
I want to contribute data myself. So I looked in the WVS. There’s a question which asks if religion is important. Very. Some. Not so much. Not at all. And then a question which asks if an atheist politician is fit for office. Again, four rankings. I recoded them as 3, 2, 1, and 0, and weighted by percentage. Below is the scatterplot I generated.
The correspondence is pretty close. 75% of the variance in Y can be explained by X, though I wouldn’t take it too seriously, as I recoded a categorical variable. But I’m more interested in the trends, and deviations from the trend. Note that the Polish and Mexicans are 1) more religious than Ukrainians and Serbians, 2) more tolerant of atheist politicians. In Poland you had Aleksander Kwaśniewski, who was president and an atheist from 1995 on. In Mexico you have a long tradition of anti-clericalism going back to the 19th century, and being enacted as the national norm by the Mexican Revolution in the early 20th century (at one point priests were disenfranchised). That norm is only relaxing on the past few decades, with the rise to power of the Center-Right National Action Party.
Many of the ex-Communist nations, such as Romania and Serbia, seem to have started to exhibit a lot of religious-nationalism. In contrast, the Czech Republic has not. It goes to show that the pre-existent culture persisted through the Communist generations, and resurfaced. Though to be fair it does not seem that concrete religious customs and traditions necessarily were maintained with great rigor. Rather, the idea that to be an ethnic Romanian was to be an Orthodox Christian, and to be Serbian was to be an Orthodox Christian, immediately took hold after the collapse of atheistic Communism.
Going back to my discussion with Kevin and Eric, I reject multiculturalism and diversity-talk. In a positive sense I embrace Eurocentrism. I do not have an internationalist utopian Leftist vision whereby I believe my values should be enforced in all places at all times. There are minimal levels of human rights which I believe are necessary in the international order. Slavery should be unacceptable to the international community. But there are a wide range of practices which I find abhorrent, distasteful, and shocking, which are organic features of many societies and cultures. To be fair, many non-Westerners view Westerners in the same manner. More trivially, Americans may view the French as bizarre dirty perverts, while French may perceive Americans to be fat self-aggrandizing cowboys. There are grains of truth in these stereotypes.
Generalizations about cultures can be useful. For example, it seems likely that Britain will continue to have many more problems with their Muslim population than any other European nation. This is because nearly half of British Muslims are Pakistani, while the substantial number of the remainder are Bangladeshi, and so culturally similar if not as extreme. This is simply amongst the least assimilable segment of Muslims to liberal Western values. In contrast French Muslims are disproportionately from Algeria, which is amongst the more secular of Muslim nations (and France is historically more aggressive about integration than Britain). Sweden has a much larger Muslim population than Norway, but Norway has a larger contingent of Pakistanis. Swedish Iranians for example, who often fled from the Shah, tend to be very secular.
In polite society such generalizations can not be mooted. You have to leave it to neoconservatives and right-wingers. Right-wingers like me! I do not want to live in a society with too many Muslims. I was born in a Muslim nation, and am happy I am a citizen of a Western nation. As someone who was technically born a Muslim and am a rather transparent in my atheism I am moderately concerned about the crazy adherence to barbaric apostasy laws within Islam, which even Harvard Muslim chaplains may not necessarily repudiate.
So could bridging work with Islamophobia? Could getting to know Muslims have the healing effect that knowing gay people has had?
The good news is that bridging does seem to work across religious divides. Putnam and Campbell did surveys with the same pool of people over consecutive years and found, for example, that gaining evangelical friends leads to a warmer assessment of evangelicals (by seven degrees on a “feeling thermometer” per friend gained, if you must know).
And what about Muslims? Did Christians warm to Islam as they got to know Muslims — and did Muslims return the favor?
That’s the bad news. The population of Muslims is so small, and so concentrated in distinct regions, that there weren’t enough such encounters to yield statistically significant data. And, as Putnam and Campbell note, this is a recipe for prejudice. Being a small and geographically concentrated group makes it hard for many people to know you, so not much bridging naturally happens. That would explain why Buddhists and Mormons, along with Muslims, get low feeling-thermometer ratings in America.
So could getting to know more Muslims heal your negative attitudes toward them? Well, it depends on the kind of Muslim. Some Muslims are normal people who happen to believe a few different supernatural tenets, abstain from beer, etc. Other Muslims are different from you and I. They’re embedded in a different culture with radically different values and outlooks. The data on the number of Muslims and attitudes toward them are mixed. Some European nations with many Muslims (Germany) are much more negative than the United States, while some with fewer than the United States (Poland) are more negative as well. Britain is around the same negativity, but has proportionally a much larger Muslim community. France, with a Muslim community that is both the largest, and arguably the most integrated, in all of Europe, is somewhere between Germany and Britain.
Also, gayness is a relatively demarcated identity rooted in a fact of private behavior. Aside from better fashion sense gay men tend to share similar values to straight men. Many Muslims are conventional assimilated people, but others are not. The larger a Muslim community becomes I would argue the greater the possibility for involution and the emergence of a coherent and separate subculture.
I have hierarchies and personal values, and am not entirely open. With all the preceding I think it is clear that I do not esteem Islamic civilization as it has come to develop. There are aspects of East Asian civilization which I find to be alien and not worthy of emulation, but in general I am more positively disposed toward it. I generally put Hindu Indians between between Muslims and East Asians, primarily because one has to wonder about a society which could produce organized religiously motivated killings on such a grand scale in this day and age (Hindu apologists I’ve talked to argue that they learned this from the Muslims). Such judgments are not “objective” as such. They’re personal reflections of my values. They indicate a certain lack of openness.
There are other examples I could give. I am not a libertarian, but I am much more sympathetic to the role of prices and markets in efficiently allocating resources than a typical Left-liberal. My attitudes toward gender roles is relatively conservative (I support legal equality, but accept sex differences is real on a range of traits). I obviously have little sympathy for identity politics.
Of course my friend John Emerson might point out that I’m describing a particular social sort of Left-liberal. Not social democrats who might focus more on economic issues. But it does seem that in Europe social democratic and Left-liberal parties have the same stance on accommodation with other cultures that American Left-liberals do. Labor and Socialist parties draw upon the immigrant vote, while the right-wing parties defend the native culture.
So that’s that. Most of you already knew I’m no liberal. Those of you who are shocked should get over it. Back to science and other stuff…..
Image credit: Justin Hall
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