In the aftermath of the March 22 Islamist attacks in Brussels you’ll hear legitimate discussions about security measures, immigration policy, and Obama’s moral cowardice in refusing to identify “Islamists” as the problem. But the underlying cause—philosophy—should be the ultimate focus of our attention.
Western attitudes toward Muslims
The discussions after each attack like the one in Brussels always center on Muslims and Islam. Many say “Not all Muslims are Islamists or terrorists,” or “I work with many fine Muslims,” or “We need to ally with Kurds, Turks, and other nice Muslims to defeat ISIS and Al Qaida.” Some—Donald Trump most loudly—argue for keeping Muslims—or at least those from Syria—out of the United States until we can sort out who’s dangerous. And Trump echoes other when he asserts that "Islam hates us."
Most of these views center on political concerns: Will more Muslims in a country lead to an increase in acts of terror or violence, and calls for repression in order to accommodate Muslims' sensitivities? Will not criticizing Islam or Muslim culture best ensure that Muslims respect the liberty of others?
But politics is a reflection of underlying values, reinforced by institutions and culture. The political regimes in Western Europe—and, most notably, in North America— are based on the Enlightenment.
Our Enlightenment civilization
Our civilization is based on a recognition of the power of human reason to understand the world and to guide our lives. See Isaac Newton!
Our civilization is based on the freedom of individuals in society to think, speak, and inquire freely. See Voltaire!
Our civilization is based on the recognition that individuals are ends in themselves, that we each have our own goals and dreams, and in society with others we should have the right to do as we please, dealing with our fellows based on mutual consent. See John Locke!
Our civilization is based on the notion that the purpose of government is to protect the liberty of each individual. See America’s Founders!
Our civilization is based on separation of church and state. See the U.S. Constitution.
That’s why Ayn Rand called the United States, “in its original founding principles, the only moral country in the history of the world.”
Muslims and modernity
Those who take Islam most seriously see a religion founded by a warrior on horseback wielding a sword. Muhammad’s goal was to set up a Caliphate, where religion and state are united. The most extreme believers, in the words of Osama bin Laden, “Love death” the way we love life. And Muslims believe that the Koran was word for word dictated by God through Mohammed, and thus no interpretation is possible. This makes it extremely difficult, especially for most fervent believers, to go through anything resembling the Enlightenment that occurred in the West.
Yet Enlightenment ideas offer the only means for Muslims to live peacefully in the West and, elsewhere, for them to become truly modern and civilized.
Whenever a terrorist attack occurs, as well as in the ongoing controversies surrounding security and immigration, we who want to preserve civilization must do more than just denounce what are rightly labeled Islamists. We must also must make clear what the values are that should imbue any culture worthy of the label “civilization.” That will take a philosophy of reason. It will require, in the end, Objectivism.