Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Necessity & sufficiency & Islam; Barack Obama is an apostate!   posted by Razib @ 1/16/2008 03:19:00 PM

Mark Kirkorian points out that Barack Obama is a Muslim apostate:
Several implications: first, Obama's has a unique opportunity - even a responsibility - to speak out on behalf of former Muslims under threat of death for converting to other faiths. Second, there are likely to be even more lunatics trying to kill him than there would be otherwise. And third, how would a President Obama be greeted by, say, the king of "Saudi" Arabia? Probably the same way a President Lieberman would be, and that could actually be a big selling point in his favor, but it's something we can't just pretend doesn't exist.

By a broad interpretation Kirkorian is correct to assert that Obama would be considered an apostate by many Muslims if the facts of his biography were to be presented before them (I am an apostate as well by the definition that is being assumed here). Additionally, his conversion to another religion is also highly problematic, non-religious individuals who nevertheless do not opt-out of Islamic identity/culture and turn toward aggressive atheism or another religion are tolerated to some extent in many Muslim societies. Converts to other religion though are seen as a more obvious affront.

But there's a big problem with Kirkorian's inferences: they exist in in a vacuum of the true distribution of empirical data and take Muslim axioms at face value. This is common among many conservative American intellectuals who wish to rebut the anodyne reassurance from the mainstream that Islam is "really a religion of peace." So fixated on countering the "Islam is peace" propaganda conservative intellectuals don't bother to learn much about how the religion is actually practiced to compare the facts to the various inferences they make about how it would be practiced. If you look at a list of former Muslims you note several politicians, most prominently Carlos Menem, the former president of Argentina. Menem of course had good relations with the Arab world.

What gives here? We know that some apostates are threatened with death, or even killed. Context matters. Many of the attacks on apostates have other factors which serve to push Muslims to action upon their avowed axioms. The Afghan convert to Christian, Abdul Rahman, wasn't the most mentally stable individual. In the Muslim world apostasy and blasphemy laws are often enforced or implemented opportunistically; quite often there are other reasons that principals bringing the charges have for prosecution (e.g., confiscation of property).

I do think it is important that the Mark Kirkorians of the world point out the illiberalism which is accepted within the Muslim world. But that being said, I do worry that they take their own rhetoric a bit too literally. After all, consumption of alcohol does exist within the Muslim world, to the point where a king of Saudi Arabia had to abdicate because he couldn't mask his addiction anymore. To some extent I wonder if a certain Anglo-American naivete about the relationship between word & deed is at work here; a tendency to take as concrete assertions which are embedded & expressed within the constraints of practical day to day realities. On the other hand, I also think part of the issue is that when you are outside of a culture you only see the explicit axioms which are averred and are unaware of the implicit pragmatism which defines day to day life. Finally, it is important to note that though I think that the Islamic attitude toward apostasy is not sufficient to explain the outbursts of violence and intimidation to those who leave the fold, it is necessary.