Practice critical thinking

Jan. 28, 2015

The Paris terrorist attacks show that social problems badly need competent, “critical” thinking. But does current education (yours?) provide a robust repertoire?

Like: Comprehensiveness: overlook nothing vital, see “both,” “all” sides—fair-mindedly… Beware propaganda—on all sides!—and both rampant Relativism, and rigid Authoritarianism… Don’t swallow “Today’s Truths” (“must believe!”), nor dismiss “Taboos” (“mustn’t consider!”)… Free Speech: misunderstood, endangered?—“ hate speech, slander, insults”…? And more… Minefields abound!

Timely example: “Islam, and Muslims—how moderate, how extremist, are they really?” A colleague showed me some “edgy” but noteworthy articles from outside mainstream media. (Now, how to sanely scrutinize both “sides”? )

(1) Thus, Islam. Is it more (A) a great world religion of Peace often “hijacked” by (“tiny minority” of) misled “extremists”? Obama said: “Islam is peace.” (True or not? A “Truth”? How to exceed mere opinion?)

(B) Or more the Sword? A total theo-political system dictating a duty to achieve world conquest (“global caliphate”) via persuasion—or force. (A moral duty, since man-made laws are inferior, hence Sharia law needed.) Conquered non-Muslims have only three choices. Convert. Live as subdued third-class “citizens” Or undergo “the Sword.” (Is this fair-minded? “Islamophobic”? Is everything “relative”?)

Next, two “Taboo”- seeming comments. First, by a political scientist. Second, from an Islamic organization.

“The most widely respected Islamic authorities: [Qu’ran, hadith, commentators, four legal schools]—all assume that Muslims have a duty to spread the dominion of Islam, through military offensives, until it rules the world.” [ — Mary Harbeck, Knowing the Enemy, 116 ]

Doesn’t promise much for “peaceful-dialoging.” (But, how to distinguish research from propaganda? And, is this “offensive”?)

Second, an FBI-captured internal memo from the group “Muslim Brotherhood” to its members:

“The process of settlement [of Islam in the U.S.A.] is a “civilization-jihadist” process with all the word means. The [brothers] must understand that all their work in America is a kind of grand Jihad in eliminating and destroying Western civilization from within and “sabotaging” their miserable house by their hands and the hands of the believers so that it is eliminated and Allah’s religion is made victorious over all religion.”

Not promising for a “diversity-celebration Block-Party.” (But again, reliable? Misquoted? Slanderous?)

(2) Then, about Muslims themselves. Vastly moderate, friendly to the West? And/or, ranging widely in attitudes (about strong Sharia-law, etc.)? And the friendly are indistinguishable from the hostile?

Finally, three “problematic” statements? ( “Truths” versus “Taboos”?)

“Islamism is just Islam in its most pure form.” (A.H. Ali)

“Our first problem is Islam. Our second problem is our refusal to accept the first problem.” (Bosch Fatwin)

“The refusal of the Western elite class to protect their nations from jihadist infiltration is the biggest betrayal in history.” (Sergei Trekovic)

Confused? I was—but the above thinking-tools helped. The point: robust higher-order thinking seems especially vital today. But is one’s education proffering such generic repertoires of thought-tools? To move beyond information, indoctrination, egocentrism—to powerful perspectives?

–Brian Kevin Beck
Emeritus Associate Professor
UW-Whitewater

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