In my summary of the C4SS vs IP episode, I made it clear that,
We would even be happy to encourage and facilitate a conversation with members of the Muslim community for him, if he so desires. It would be a good learning experience for all of us.
To take steps toward honoring this declaration I have reached out to Davi Barker of The Muslim Agorist and Muslims for Liberty. Barker is an a writer, an artist and an activist of significant skill and purchase in libertarian and agorist circles. I even had the privilege of meeting and talking with Barker at the 2013 New Hampshire Liberty Forum.
Before our site was taken down I emailed Barker some of the cruel comments coming out of the S4SS UGent group to get his perspective and experience dealing with this kind of hyperbole and bigotry. I also tapped the Students for a Stateless Society (S4SS) contributors and coordinators group for questions that they think individuals might want to ask regarding Islam and its intersection, if any, with anarchism or libertarianism. I want to thank Barker for his time and participating in this discussion.
When we initially approached the S4SS UGent group’s point of contact to explain what was going on and why a number of their discussions had begun to take on an Islamophobic focus complete with racist epithets.
They responded simply with, “Discussion on the NAP [Non-aggression principle] and how to deal with people ‘from certain cultures’ … the general conclusion was: seek and destroy.”
Barker would like to inform them that,
The answer [to how to deal with people] is, exactly the way you deal with people from your culture who engage in aggressive, rights violating behavior. The culture of origin has no bearing on the NAP, in fact the NAP precludes conceptualizing people as their culture. People are individuals. To regard cultures for their crimes instead of individuals for their crimes is collectivist thinking, what Ben Stone calls right-wing socialism. If an individual commits aggression his culture of origin is irrelevant, and his guilt in no way transfers to others in his culture who have not committed such an act.
Our interlocutor, “No culture wholly cohesive enough [to warrant categorical violence?] Have you ever heard of Afghanistan and Saudi-Arabia?”
Barker, from experience, explains, “
Yes, in fact, I have traveled there. I just recently returned from a month long trip to Saudi-Arabia, and I did not find a cohesive culture. I found the proliferation of western modes of dress and music common among the young, and displeased elders who preferred traditional modes. I found those who defended the prevailing order, and others who felt the monarchy was a tool of western powers they’d rather see cast off. I found some proselytizing the extremist Wahhabi doctrine, passing out free books about their movement’s founder, and I found others completely rejecting this doctrine and blaming it for most of the woes of their country. I found a whole host of cultural customs, some pleasant and others shocking, and also many frustrated and embarrassed by those customs. Anyone, especially an anarchist, who believes that there is a cohesive culture within the arbitrary boundaries defined by a state, has obviously never traveled there.
And, finally, charming as always, “When it comes to nazis, communists, and islamofascists, it is us or them, there is no margin of negotiation.”
As much as I hate to go to bat for nazis and communists, this is still not true, even for them. I have had neo-nazi and communist friends in my life, and even they were individuals, capable of reason, capable of moral agency, and capable of negotiation. They were in short, individuals first, and ideological labels second. And regardless of what your state subsidized text books told you about history, the same was true for every citizen and soldier in Nazi Germany. They were individually accountable for their crimes, not collectively.
The S4SS contributors were very interested to talk to Barker. I pulled together some of their questions for him:
1. How does your religion and your politics relate, if at all?”
Before I converted to Islam I was a socialist. A Marxist by osmosis, being from California. When I converted I mistakenly believed that Islam was a monolithic religion. One of the aspects of it that appealed to me was that the scripture, the Quran, has been preserved in it’s original language, and there are not sectarian divides over different translations. I quickly learned that having all Muslims agree on one book did not mean all Muslims agreed on one interpretation, and being new to the religion it became important to me to consider all available interpretations and to have a method of discerning between them. This process of investigation, searching for the interpretation which seemed most consistent to me, forced me to also question my political beliefs. To discern a political philosophy which was not only consistent with my new creed, but also internally consistent. This criterion lead me to reject socialism, and embrace property rights, and ultimately reject statism, and embrace voluntaryism. The Quranic verse, “There shall be no coercion in this way of life” is one that many Muslims try to mitigate through various interpretations, but I take it as a radical and inviolable axiom by which all interpretations must be measured.
2. Since 9/11, anti-Muslim bigotry has fueled both state violence and individual violence. How can libertarians ally with Muslims against this violence and hatred?
Many Muslim organizations focus on social outreach, sensitivity workshops, and interfaith work in an effort to combat anti-Muslim bigotry by demystifying Islam for non-Muslims. In the mainstream culture this has proven highly effective, and studies have shown that the majority of Americans have never actually met a Muslim, and having met just one Muslim face to face correlates dramatically with a rejection of stereotypes, propaganda and bigotry against Muslims. However, in my experience libertarians reject these things whether they’ve ever met a Muslim or not, because libertarianism, as an individualist philosophy, automatically rejects collectivist claims made about anyone. Libertarians, at least those who have fully internalized individualist thinking, are already inoculated against bigotry. So, partnering with Muslims to organize social events is an effective method, but even just spreading the message the liberty itself is an effective strategy against violence and hatred.
3. What are some common misconceptions about the Muslim religion that libertarians should know?
One of the biggest misconceptions we face in America is that Islam is somehow foreign to American society. In reality, Islam has been in America since its inception, mostly through the slave trade. Some historical sources suggest that Andalusian Muslims arrived in North America long before Columbus, and that many who traveled to the new world hired Muslim navigators from Spain. Most African slaves were brought to North America from West Africa, which is mostly Muslim. The statistics are impossible to guess, but there is evidence that many slaves were running clandestine schools to teach their children Arabic and preserve some of their Islamic heritage. The first recorded conversion to Islam in America was in 1888 by Alexander Russell Webb while he was operating as a Consul to the Muslim world.
4. Do you use your faith to explain the morality of anarchism or libertarianism? If so, how?
Yes. There are a number of ways to do this. First, it’s important to point out that Muhammad was born in a tribal anarchy, and never established a State as we would define it. It’s perhaps easier to make this argument as a Christian because Jesus was in direct conflict with Rome, and never came to power. Muhammad had conflicts with the Byzantine and Persian empires, but Arabia was a polycentric clan structure, so his primary conflict was with the dominant clan. Once he came to power Muhammad served as an arbiter, but he never claimed the authority to legislate those who did not explicitly consent to his leadership. Those who did not convert, and that sense did not consent, formed their own legal systems. And even when he was asked to serve as arbiter in disputes between non-Muslims he judged according to their laws, not Islamic law. So, he never established a monopoly on violence, but lived among competing judiciaries. Second, there are a number of good quotes from him, as in “The greatest jihad is to speak the truth in the face of a tyrant.” And finally, it’s pretty easy to call upon various periods of Islamic history where the State was weak or non existent and science and philosophy thrived in the Muslim world. Early libertarian writer Rose Wilder Lane has a book titled “Islam and the Discover of Freedom” which catalogs much of this history and describes how many of the philosophical underpinnings of libertarianism, such as the separation of faith and reason, the primacy of freedom of conscience, and many aspects of natural law theory came to Europe through interaction is Muslims in Turkey and Spain.
If you are interested in finding out more about Davi Barker’s work and faith, please check out his articles, interviews and art on his site – The Muslim Agorist.