Monday, August 8, 2016

The Khan Controversy: On Free Speech, Sacrifice, and Mosque/State Separation

In the article, I found two statements I want to reply to. First:

Arizona Sen. John McCain, a former prisoner of war, led the charge, saying Trump did not have "unfettered license to defame those who are the best among us." The Veterans of Foreign Wars, the nation's oldest and largest veterans organization, called Trump out of bounds for tangling with Khizr and Ghazala Khan, whose son was killed in 2004.

"Election year or not, the VFW will not tolerate anyone berating a Gold Star family member for exercising his or her right of speech or expression," VFW leader Brian Duffy said.

Criticize Trump for his Khan response all you want. But doesn’t the “right of speech or expression” also cover criticism and rebuttal? One thing Trump cannot and should not be criticized for is his “right of speech or expression,” repugnant as that speech may be. Isn’t that one of our freedoms our military is there to protect?


In an emotional appearance at last week's convention, Khizr Khan criticized Trump for proposing to temporarily freeze the entry of foreign Muslims into the U.S. and accused him of making no sacrifices for his country.

America is about recognizing people as citizens owning their own lives and possessing the unalienable individual rights to pursue their own happiness. The idea that we are subjects who must justify his existence by sacrificing for “the country”—i.e., the collective or the state or the King or the cleric—is an ancient evil that fits the character of a dictatorship, not the United States of America. What exactly was the purpose of rebelling against England? To throw off subservience to a King in exchange for subservience to an electoral majority? No. It was to free men from subservience to any “higher power.” Read the Declaration of Independence.

But what about the “sacrifices”of our servicemen? Isn’t that necessary? No . . . and yes—it depends on how you define “sacrifice.” I believe that sacrifice, properly understood, is the giving up of a value and receiving no value or something less valuable in return. Most people think of sacrifice as merely giving up something you want, without regard for what you get in return. But that makes no sense. A “sacrifice” that leaves you better off is no sacrifice at all. It is a gain.

I think of the people who volunteer to serve in the military not as sacrificing—giving up a value for no value, making one’s life worse—but as taking a positive step to defend the values they believe in—namely, the American principles they chose to actively defend. There is nothing sacrificial about taking time out from one’s life to defend the principles one’s life depends upon from those who threaten it, even if it involves risks and knowing the possibility of paying the ultimate price. American servicemen volunteer to defend the way of life without which their lives and the lives of their loved ones would be worse off. Temporarily giving up the value of one’s civilian time to preserve the greater value of living a life of freedom is not a sacrifice. That’s what American soldiers do.

But even if we insist on labeling American soldiers’ activities a “sacrifice,” isn’t the purpose of that sacrifice precisely so Americans as civilians can live a non-sacrificial life where each of us is free to live for our own sake?

As to Trump’s response to Khizr Khan’s attack on him at the Democratic National Convention, Khan’s published opinions on the constitution are noteworthy, and if still true alter the context of his Democratic Convention speech dramatically. Breitbart’s Paul Sperry reports:

Notwithstanding his war-hero son’s genuinely patriotic example, Khizr M. Khan has published papers supporting the supremacy of Islamic law over “man-made” Western law — including the very Constitution he championed in his Democratic National Convention speech attacking GOP presidential nod Donald Trump.  

Sperry observes that “Western society is built on individualism and secularism,” but that Khan speaks approvingly of the doctrine that the justification of human rights lies in the Quran, not “human law.” Keep in mind that Sharia Law is religious law, which is not law at all but a series of unchallengeable dictates written in a Holy Book by special elites who claim knowledge from a being beyond the reach of mere mortals and whose truth is infallible. Keep in mind that the human rights—the unalienable individual rights—laid out in the Declaration of Independence and formalized in the U.S. Constitution are derived scientifically from observational facts and requirements about human nature and survival—i.e., derived from man’s reasoning mind, and always open to scrutiny. Religious law is not open to scrutiny, but must be taken on faith and followed without question. Unlike the objective law (at least in theory) of secular nations, Sharia nations are ruled by non-objective “laws” that give arbitrary and unlimited and unchallengeable authority to clerics.

Trump personally disparaged Khan’s wife and their religion. While he had a right to say what he said, Trump’s remarks were incredibly stupid politically, and completely uncalled for from a humanitarian perspective and from a perspective of common decency.

But if this article is true, then criticism of this Gold Star families beliefs are fair game.

A key American/Western value holds that religion is a private matter that should be separated from political power and that people should be free to practice their religion privately so long as their actions don’t violate the same rights of others to their lives, liberties, property, and personal life-serving pursuits (e.g., by beating recalcitrant wives or killing infidels). Muslims who embrace the secular principle of separation of religion and state are Enlightened allies against Islamic terrorism and totalitarianism, and we should welcome them. Muslims who embrace Sharia Law are in sympathy with the goals of the Islamic totalitarians, even if they reject the tactic of terrorism, and must be considered enemies of Western Civilization. Such individuals cannot claim allegiance to the U.S. Constitution, to the First Amendment—which explicitly protects us from religion even as it protects our freedom of religion—or to any philosophical claim to be a true American.

When someone advocates imposing their religious beliefs on others by government force of law, then those beliefs must be exposed and examined. Those beliefs become fair game, and it becomes morally mandatory to defend our freedom of conscience by speaking out against any attempt to enforce those beliefs by law, whether or not one agrees with the ideas to be imposed.

To be fair, Khan’s writings are decades old. Does he still believe in the supremacy of Sharia Law over the U.S. Constitution? Sperry observes:

It’s not immediately clear if Khan has ever repudiated his earlier support for the anti-Constitutional principles of Sharia law. Searches turn up no subsequent writings or statements to that effect. Attempts to reach Khan by phone and email were unsuccessful.

For now, the most patriotic Muslim in America, according to media myth-making, remains Khizr Muazzam Khan, the father of a fallen American soldier who claims to hold the Constitution so dear he keeps a copy in his breast pocket.

But what does he really believe?

It’s a fair question.

Related Reading:

Why Did the NJ Star-Ledger Delete My Comment on Khizr Khan’s Dem Convention Speech?


Steve Jackson said...

"Muslims who embrace the secular principle of separation of religion and state are Enlightened allies against Islamic terrorism and totalitarianism, and we should welcome them."

I disagree. There may be moderate Muslims, but there is no such thing as Moderate Islam. France welcomed many of these kinds in the 50s and 60s and their children and grandchildren are unleashing crime and terror on the populace.

Have any Muslims in large number and all the bad elements of the religion reassert themselves.

madmax said...


Is it within your worldview at all to ever consider the fact that Islam is an inherently illiberal (or anti-liberty) phenomenon that can not be incorporated into a free society? If Islam is considered a political / military movement whose ultimate aim is the establishment of a global caliphate, ie world domination, and it in large part succeeds by successfully transferring large population contingents through emigration, then arguing for a ban on the religion and a removal of all adherents to the religion, pious or moderate, should not be considered "racist" or "collectivist" or "determinist" or whatever. It should be considered sane and rational.

Objectivists understand that it is not legitimate to yell "fire" in a crowded movie theatre. Also it is not legitimate to solicit someone to commit murder. That is illegal under conspiracy and the inchoate crime laws (which are a legitimate application of the "non-initiation of the use of physical force" principle). I don't see it as illegitimate then to argue that Islam itself is the perpetual solicitation to commit violence; ie it is the perpetual solicitation to wage war on the infidel. If that is correct, which I think it is, then it follows that any person who self-identifies with such a hostile enemy movement (by calling themselves "Muslim") should be considered an enemy class. The resulting political action would range from outright banning of the religion to incremental out-migrating of Muslims to the outright deportation of all Muslims. None of this is "Hitlerism".

What I am trying to suggest to you is that you are being a rationalist (as Objectivists are so prone to be) and treating broad moral / philosophical principles such as "individual rights" and "non initiation of force" and "freedom of religion" etc without any consideration of the human / historical context they exist in. This imo is rampant throughout both the Objectivist and libertarian movements. Only non-mainstream right wingers get the subject of Islam right.

It is a war movement being waged by a hostile population that is deliberately exploiting the weakness of the Europeans (altruism / egalitarianism) through political association with the Left. Islam is treacherous. And its alliance with the Left has potential devastating consequences for European nations and the European people (that includes America). You should have understood that by now. As should the Objectivist movement.

Michael A. LaFerrara said...

I agree that Islam is “an inherently illiberal (or anti-liberty) phenomenon that can not be incorporated into a free society.” There is no such thing as “moderate” religion, including Christianity. All religions are authoritarian by nature. No religion can be incorporated into or reconciled with a free society, in terms of establishing law based on religious dogma. That’s why you need the separation of religion and state.

But that doesn’t mean a free society cannot tolerate the private practice of religion, within the bounds established by individual rights-based secular law. Christianity proved that it can. This means “taming” Islam through enlightenment as Christianity had been tamed. That can’t be done by simply banning the religion as a philosophy. That would just drive the ideology underground, not defeat it. However, any Muslim or Muslim organization or Islamic state or state sponsor of Islamic aggression that seeks to actively impose its beliefs by force or violence should be destroyed and/or outlawed for the same reason that private property cannot be allowed to be used to plan a criminal activity like bank robbery.

I’d prefer a world without religion. But as long as religion exists, it should only be tolerated insofar as it is private and rights-respecting. Banning the private, non-aggressive practice of religion or any conscientious belief is itself illiberal and contrary to a free society.

Steve Jackson said...


Where do you get your knowledge of Christian history from? Binswanger, Biddle, Rand, Peikoff? They aren't exactly authorities on the history of ideas - far from it. Most enlightenment thinkers were Christians or sympathetic to Christianity.

Anyway, would you place any limits on the number of Muslims a country would allow in?

Michael A. LaFerrara said...


There’s a reason why the Founding Fathers separated church and state. The history of Christianity when merged with political power is full of conflict, tyranny, suppression of dissent, persecution of heretics, and bloodshed. Would you want to live in a country governed by laws based on the “infallible” word of God as written in the Bible, where the governing authorities are God’s earthly representatives empowered to impose unquestioning subjugation to God’s infallible word as they interpret it? I wouldn’t. Most modern Christians wouldn’t either (other than the Catholic hierarchy).

A large minority of, if not most, Muslims would want such a state, only substituting the Koran for the Bible. That’s a problem. And since you mentioned them, I’m intellectually indebted to Binswanger, Biddle, Peikoff, and other Objectivist intellectuals for plainly identifying the enemy. The book “Winning the Unwinnable War” by Elan Journo is the first time I encountered the term “Islamic Totalitarianism.”

I’ve seen no evidence that they are wrong that unbridled religious faith is at the root of Islamic aggression. Sure, there were plenty of “enlightenment thinkers [who] were Christians or sympathetic to Christianity.” And thankfully so, because the key is “enlightened”—meaning adherents to reason. That’s what I mean by “tamed.” The problem with Islam is the lack of enlightened thinkers within its ranks.

I’m also indebted to Rand for identifying the root cause of movements—ideas and philosophy. Immigration from certain countries should be restricted or banned based on national security and rights-protection evaluations. And American citizenship should certainly be granted selectively, based on allegiance to Western secular values. But a simple-minded religious test for Muslim immigration based solely on professed religious beliefs won’t defeat the enemy—and as I said, is thoroughly illiberal and un-American. The main problem is that Western intellectuals are dominated by Leftists who are paving the way for Islamic authoritarianism by their infatuation with multiculturalism/“diversity,” fundamentalist democracy, collectivism, and statism. Madmax touched on this phenomenon above. If the West’s thought leaders and most of us in the general population were united in defense of Western values (individualism, constitutional republicanism, free enterprise capitalism, intellectual freedom), Islamic theocracy wouldn’t stand a chance of gaining a foothold here—and militant Islamic terrorism and its state sponsors would be crushed once and for all, leaving in its wake only enlightened Muslims or Muslims who have at least given up as hopeless the dream of imposing Sharia by law.

Steve Jackson said...

"There’s a reason why the Founding Fathers separated church and state."

Actually, that's not quite true. The first amendment applies only to the federal government ("Congress shall make no law . . ."). States were free to have their own church or support religion. CT and MAss had state churches until around 1830.

Yes one can learn things from Biddle, et al, but it's not where I'd get my intellectual history. For example, I'd read Cassirer on the enlighentment and the renaissance.

Michael A. LaFerrara said...

Steve, what you’re saying is that the constitution that the Framers submitted and the people ratified is a hollow document. If the constitution applied only to the Federal Government, that would make it for practical purposes utterly devoid of rights protections, leaving the Federal Government as a toothless institution presiding over a cabal of state mini-dictatorships endowed with the unchecked power to violate their citizens’ rights at will.

The evidence doesn’t support this contention. The Declaration of Independence is an official document ratified by the Continental Congress representing the 13 colonies—the soon-to-be states. The Declaration’s purpose was to establish the philosophical foundation for the Revolution, the new nation, and its constitution and laws. The Declaration clearly establishes that rights belong to individuals; that rights precede governments; that governments are established to secure, but can not violate, individual rights. Whatever circumventions of the Federal Constitution occurred, the U.S. Constitution, created by and for “We the People,” not the states, must by definition extend to the people living within the now UNITED states.

A constitution applying only to the Federal Government is a toothless document, leaving the American people utterly without protection from tyrannical state governments in direct violation of the Declaration of Independence. I find it unthinkable that this is what the Founders intended.