How did you become interested in learning more about Islamic thought? And what have you learned?Read the whole thing as I've posted only a small section of the interview here.
Reilly: My background really was in the Cold War and I am a student of political philosophy. Most of that was applied to 19th and 20th century Western ideologies. It was only after 9/11 that I wondered whether what I knew could apply to the situation we were facing.
So for more than 10 years now I have been studying mainly Muslim theology—and what passes for philosophy and metaphysics and epistemology—to try to get to the source of why things have gone so wrong there. And I traced it back to an enormous intellectual drama in the 9th century in Baghdad between those who wished to give primacy to reason and those who wished to give primacy to pure will and power. So you had, on one side, the first theological school in Islam that said, “God is rationality and justice,” and the other side which said: “No, God is pure will and power. Rationality has nothing to do with Him and whatever He does is incomprehensible to us and He cannot be confined to what is thought to be reasonable or unreasonable.”
You’ve talked about Islamic metaphysics, which conceives of the movement of an object across a desk as a process in which that object is being destroyed and reconstituted a million times every second. Is this not in direct contradiction to the Greco-Roman or Western understanding of reality?
Reilly: Yes, absolutely, because it’s a denial of natural law and because of this almost perverse concentration on God’s omnipotence. The theological school in Sunni Islam called Ash’arism, which is the majority theological school, even today says that God is the first and only cause of everything and there cannot be secondary causes (such as natural law) because that would be a challenge to God’s omnipotence. So for God to be omnipotent, nothing else can be even so much as potent. Therefore, gravity does not make the rock fall; God does. Fire doesn’t burn cotton; God does. There is, therefore, no cause and effect in the natural world. This teaching has destroyed the Sunni Muslim world.
And their metaphysics that you referred to is: How do they explain how things are constituted if they have no essence or a nature (which they deny)? They are constituted by these time/space atoms which God, in an instant, agglomerates into certain shapes or things like a plant or a tree or a person. And why that tree should remain a tree in the following instant has absolutely nothing to doing with having the nature of a tree; it has no nature. It is only for reasons we will never know that God wishes to reconstitute it as a tree in the next instant—because things are constantly passing into and out of existence, and they seem to be the same thing; but they are not. Everything is made new almost instantaneously.
This, of course, means everything is miraculous. All nature is miraculous and all miracles are natural, as one thinker put it. The problem with this is that if everything is miraculous, it becomes incomprehensible. That’s the quality of a miracle—that it is temporary suspension of natural law for which you can give no account.
But if everything is that way, then you can’t give account of anything. And this is how world escapes the Islamists and why things become incomprehensible to them—and why they become subject to the wildest and most absurd conspiracy theories.
And you can’t dialogue with such an ideology. Is there any response that can be made to that way of thinking?
Reilly: Even though this bizarre metaphysics is asserted, it doesn’t abolish reality; reality is still there, even if they are incapable of recognizing it as it is. So, you still have reality on your side. If somebody wishes to cook their meal, they still have to light the stove, even though they deny the relationship between lighting the match and the gas igniting.
In fact, as the denial of reality is getting more profound, the sharper the crisis [within Islam] becomes. Through the profusion of these satellite channels throughout the Middle East, they’re having the West shoved in their faces on a daily basis and the sense of their own inferiority in comparison becomes more acute.
How do they respond to this? They respond by becoming even more Islamist. Their only recourse is their religion and therefore they become more extreme in it. That’s not the direction in which things need to go for things to improve there. It’s in the opposite direction of a re-Hellenization.
Related link: Delving into the mind of Islam ~ MercatorNet