Saturday, November 15, 2008
Bill Warner: an unlikely asymptotic analyst
I have admired Bill Warner’s no-nonsense, seemingly comprehensive indictment of Islam for quite some time. Always lurking, however, in the back of my mind, was the sense that he had not quite gone all the way in his analysis to the logical conclusion of holistic analysis.
A recent article of his seems to confirm this suspicion. Near the beginning of it, he writes:
George Bush made a critical mistake after the attack on September 11th; a mistake that created the presidency of Barack Obama. Bush could not name the enemy—political Islam.
Along with such asymptotic euphemisms as “radical Islamism” and “extremist Islamism” and even “radical extremist Islamism”, we can also add Warner’s “political Islam”. Such euphemisms have the effect of delimiting the problem, whittling it down from its proper nature—all of Islam—to some artificial truncation whose justification proves to be based upon abstract theory about what the problem must be according to some model—not what it in fact is as that would be determined by actual data.
Of course, the holistic position—that the problem is all of Islam and all Muslims—is also not a simplex fact by itself, since it would be impossible to possess complete data about all Muslims and all of Islam. The holistic position is a reasonable inference based upon necessarily incomplete data. The point is, the asymptotic analysts behave as though they have a firmer ground in data, which they don’t. With respect to the extraordinary and unique danger we face from Islam, therefore, it would be prudent to err on the side of caution and assume the conclusion of holistic analysis.
Now, there is a sense in which the euphemism “political Islam” may only be apparently asymptotic, insofar as one could argue that it is only when Islam becomes political that it becomes a danger and therefore of concern to us. The major glaring problem with this argument is that it superimposes an artificial distinction upon Islam. Islam, from the beginning, through its 1400-year career, and in our present, has always been inherently and massively political (and, as Hugh Fitzgerald points out, geopolitical). You cannot take the political out of Islam.
Another way to get around this problem would be for the analyst to argue that he knows that all of Islam is the problem, but for practical purposes, we must proceed with a more manageable portion of that problem and concentrate only on the political manifestation of Islam. The problem with this argument is that it would formally encode into the analysis a neglect—or at best, a minimization—of the rich, complex, subtle and unique ways in which the ostensibly “non-political” dimension of Islamic culture is inextricably bound up with laws, politics and geopolitics. This type of reasoning for the analysis of the problem would be sort of like—to employ a metaphorical analogy—focusing only on the overt front lines of a problem of a mosquito infestation, and neglecting or unduly minimizing the sources of that infestation that by themselves may not seem, to a superficial appraisal, to be relevant to the infestation.
Because of the potential scope and gravity of the danger emanating from Islam and its agents, Muslims; and because of the formidable and complex problem of our inability to determine where and when and which Muslims are carriers of that danger in all its myriad forms, we must err on the side of caution—not a caution we direct against ourselves in order to restrain our potential for going down some imagined “slippery slope” toward actions we have deemed, in our political correctness, to be unacceptable (but which in an era not too long ago—during World War Two—we deemed to be rational responses to another eminent and grave threat)—but a caution directed against all Muslims, since we cannot sufficiently determine which Muslims are dangerous and which are harmless.
Only a holistic analysis disposes our intellectual and practical options to err on the side of caution appropriately, while all versions of asymptotic analysis I have seen, including Bill Warner’s, are too likely to predispose us to hindering us from that caution we need to promote, even if that promotion includes erring.
Asymptotic analyses like Bill Warner’s end up complicating the issue too much, in their studied, axiomatic concern for avoiding dealing with the entire elephant in the room. Asymptotic analysts think they are simplifying the problem by trying to whittle it down to size, but the more they assimilate any semblance of good instincts and intelligence into their approach (as Warner does), the more, paradoxically, they generate undue complexity and thereby make the problem less practical, not more, in the end.
In the article linked above, Warner proposes that we work toward eliminating only “one Muslim”—i.e., the founder of Islam, Mohammed. This is the kind of seemingly simplistic contortion to which asymptotic analysis conduces: Warner’s solution sounds simple and doable, but under its deceptively elegant and workable surface lies horrendous complexity and obstacles. Warner thinks, by proposing his solution, that he is avoiding the horrendous complexity and obstacle of tackling all of Islam and all of 1.5 billion Muslims. At the end of the day, he (like any other asymptotic analyst with their own flavor of solution) is only putting off the grim necessity we must gird ourselves for on all levels, beginning with the psychological and intellectual. And promoting the asymptotic view in any of its forms will only serve to undermine that grim necessity.