A Friday indulgence: New target, same rhetoric

Via Matt Yglesias, I learn that Islamophobes believe Muslims to hold to a doctrine called taqiyya, which allows them to lie to unbelievers with a clear conscience. I find this concept interesting on a lot of levels. First, it reminds me of what I once called the “atheist two-step”:

  1. Someone points out that the particular religious belief disproven by the doctrinaire atheist is not really held by anyone as stated.
  2. The doctrinaire atheist then says that religion is so obviously stupid and pernicious that one can’t be held accountable for detailed knowledge of it.

The Little Professor then replied that this is a long-standing technique of denouncing religious enemies, having a long history in anti-Catholic polemic, for example:

  1. Someone points out that the particular Roman Catholic belief disproven by the doctrinaire evangelical Protestant is not really held by any Catholic as stated.
  2. The doctrinaire evangelical Protestant then says that Catholicism is not just obviously stupid and pernicious, but also deceitful at base–so it’s not even possible to have detailed knowledge of the religion. (Ergo, don’t bother.)

Obviously this notion of “taqiyya” is closer to the anti-Catholic position, since it claims that Catholics are actively hiding their true beliefs. One can see a similar pattern in anti-Semitism — Jews who appear to be harmless and friendly just reinforce the deceptive abilities of Jews.

The very fact that the “taqiyya” accusation so neatly fits into established patterns of religious prejudice is sufficient grounds for dismissal, but even taking it at face value, one wonders how Muslims could’ve been so careless as to allow unbelievers to learn of this rule. And even if this one principle of Islam is genuine, wouldn’t that then call all other principles we think we know into question? Sure, one could claim that the apparently peaceful Muslims are the ones using the principle of “taqiyya” to lull us into submission, but could it not also be the case that the jihadists — who are the only ones avowedly at war with the West — are actually misrepresenting Islamic beliefs in order to advance their cause?

A principle that leads to radical skepticism should surely cut both ways — and yet conservative opponents of Islam conclude just the opposite, as though the Islamic license to deceive meant that only outsiders could truly understand Islamic doctrine, just as only anti-Catholic polemicists can see the true horror of Romanism and only anti-Semites have access to the true nature of the Jew. One should extend this as radically as possible — in this mindset, one fundamentally can’t trust the targetted group because even the members themselves can’t understand their own true nature.

4 thoughts on “A Friday indulgence: New target, same rhetoric

  1. Taqiyya strikes me as having some interesting parallels with Bonhoeffer’s comments about lying (the thought experiment with the son of a drinker being interrogated by his teacher).

  2. Reza Negarestani’s first piece for Collapse (available as a pdf here: “http://www.urbanomic.com/pub_collapse1.php”) deals with taqiyya extensively and comes to conclusion that it isn’t, in a modern context, meant to shield the true nature of Islam from infidels but rather used to turn every infidel into a potential Muslim for other infidels. Enter the U.S. government spying on its citizens because everyone is a potential terrorist. So yeah, the member group can’t be trusted because they don’t know who they really are but we can’t trust each other either because we might secretly share that hidden nature and actually be Muslim. This is all obviously Negarestani’s take on its use by a small set of extremists – I don’t know anything about taqiyya’s use historically – but I found his article interesting all the same.

  3. I remember when the war drums first sounded the common rhetoric was to say that, “Those Muslims (who do not practice or approve of violent jihad) aren’t ‘real’ Muslims.” As more or less closet atheists the more liberal Muslims were simply removed from political scene.

    I am a little curious as to why and when this change took place. There were plenty of reactionaries digging through Islamic theology years and years ago who could’ve uncovered taqiyya right from the start. Why only now change course and (openly) place all Muslims under suspicion?

    The “Ground Zero mosque” opposition’s tactics remind me of old witch hunt tests. If you submerge a woman and she drowns, she’s innocent, if she lives it’s because she’s a witch and then must be killed. The NYC Muslims can only prove their innocence by committing “political suicide” (revoking their rights, accepting collective blame for 9/11.) If they resist, it proves their hostility toward America.

  4. I appreciate and agree with what you’re saying, and I’m glad you brought this up. I just finished reading a bit of history on 19th century Iran for a writing project that is now off to an editor, and I am glad that I read some of this with the current debate going on.

    My understanding is that taquyya operates on a complex level as a hermeneutic within certain sectors of Islam, as for example the influential writings of Sayyid Qutb, but on an esoteric level, where peace, for example, means something quite different than “peace.” I have heard Qutb used as an example from a few different sources as an example of theological language having hidden meanings. The problem with this is that Christians struggle with this aspect of Christian theological language, let alone a foreign religion’s. (Perhaps this is the thing that liberal or radical Christianity might have with Muslims, from this perspective–my local radio show in Lebanon, PA, keeps bringing up Jeremiah Wright, suspecting him of being a secret muslim, as with the President)

    The public generally does not understand the hexity of Islam, that it is more diverse than those on both sides of the argument would like to admit, and if I’m not mistaken taquyya has a stronger legacy within Twelver Shi’a Islam than others. In fact, my understanding is that it is generally impossible to know how many remain of the Azalis because their practice of taquyya goes so far as to deny their allegiance to their own sect and was modeled by one of their founders.

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