Sunday, November 22, 2015

Erasing the grayzone

I've been reading up on ISIS lately, which I didn't do when it first started hitting the news because I was in such a bad place emotionally I couldn't handle it.  I'm doing it now because sheltering refugees is such an issue and I want to educate myself.

An interesting article, which I can't find now, described ISIS as opposed to the emigration of anyone from its territories.  Specifically, the writer claimed that ISIS wanted to "erase the grayzone" -- convincing people that there was no choice but to either apostasize from Islam or to come to their territory and join them.  They want Western nations to reject Muslim refugees and treat them badly, because this way people have to come join ISIS since there are no other options.

I'm not really concerned about arguing this point at the moment (who needs MORE blog posts about this controversy?) so much as considering the whole concept of erasing the grayzone.  I've written about this before, in my post on progressive religion.  It seems that whenever there is some sort of halfway house in religion, there are people who want to wipe that out.  Nonmembers see that halfway house as inconsistent and dishonest, and anyway, if there's an extremist version of your religion, then you're suspect even if you are more progressive than they are.  So they say "the real Islam is violent" and hope that this will get people to ditch the progressive halfway house and leave Islam.  Meanwhile the extremists hate the progressive version even more, because people are benefiting in some way from being attached to their religion -- keeping up traditions that are important to them, having spiritual experiences, and so on --  without doing the sort of heavy lifting the extremists are doing.  So they say "the real Islam is violent" in the hopes that people will want to keep the Islam, so they'll embrace the violence.

Basically, those little tricks that keep a person in a religion are being outmaneuvered by a strategy of "stay in the religion, but cherrypick the parts that I object to."  Extremists want to close this loophole so that people are forced to jump one way or the other.  Maybe most will jump away from them, but there will always be those who don't see that as an option.  They're attached to their religion, on the one hand: they've had experiences of God within it, they've dedicated a lot of their life to it, their family will shun them if they leave it, and of course they want to see their deceased loved ones someday.  But on the other, they've been shown there are some contradictions in their progressive compromise with their religion, while this extremist group has the real deal.  Well, if they want their religion, they want the real deal, right?  So they jump toward extremism.

The process of Islamic radicalization is familiar to me, because it's no different from the way you radicalize a Catholic, though of course the makeup of the radical version is luckily not so violent.  But I've watched people go to college and start attending the Latin Mass and then the next thing you know, they're arguing in favor of theocracy.  Or they start watching Michael Voris and pretty soon all their posts are about communion in the hand.  Heck, I was "radicalized" myself, when I got into Regnum Christi.  I already liked my faith, and here were these people saying that if I wanted to really live up to it, I should be spending every minute, every breath, to further Christ's kingdom.  It's convincing because it's true.  It actually follows.  If a religion is true, then extremism in defense of it is no vice.  Morality comes from God, so there is no moral law that can't be disobeyed if you can be convinced that God wants it.

That's not to say that it's always begrudging -- that people don't want to be radicalized.  Probably some don't.  But some of them feel frustrated with the way no one takes seriously the only thing in life that's supposed to matter.  Or they are attracted by the idea, sadly rare these days, of dedicating one's entire life to a cause.  It certainly appealed to me.  I hope that if I had been raised Muslim I wouldn't have been running off to join ISIS -- but I can't say for sure that I wouldn't.  When I was young and naive, I needed a cause I could believe in, and I guess I'm pretty lucky that Regnum Christi was as bad as it got.

I have mixed feelings toward grayzones in general, whether we're talking about Islam or anything else.  It seems an unsafe place for people to be; it may not be rationally justifiable, and the danger to radicalization is always present.  Often parents with a lax or progressive view find their children becoming more radical, either because they're turned off by their parents' lack of zeal or because they are receiving religious education from someone radical outside the family.  I can see why people would try to push for people to abandon even moderate Islam, just for this reason.

However, I think I'd have to come down on the side of defending the existence of grayzones, because there always has to be a safe place to land when you feel stuck between untenable choices.  People have to know that they don't have to give up their entire faith, which supports them and is inextricably entwined with their cultural patrimony, or else become extreme.  There should be, if possible, whole communities of people who are keeping the religion without the extremism, who can be counted on to provide rational defenses for the progressive way and to instruct children in it.  These can be places for people to go when they're moving away from extremism as well -- longing to quit radical religion but terrified of quitting the religion itself.

And that's why, despite my misgivings, I think the message of the West to Muslim refugees, immigrants, and citizens should be this: Yes, you can be a moderate Muslim.  You are welcome here and we will include you in our society.  You don't have to choose between your traditions and the blessings of liberty -- you can have both.

Oops, turns out I did talk about the refugee crisis.  Ah, well, I'm sure my views on the subject come as no surprise.

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