The Moral Calculus of Muslim Immigration

Reclaim the discussion from the bigots

I need to start this article by saying that I am not condemning all Muslims with what I am about to write. This caveat is especially necessary in the current global climate of hysteria over President Trump’s so-called “muslim ban”. If anything, I am criticising Islam’s sacred texts and the behaviours they inspire. I find it lamentable that I feel compelled to preface such a critique with this sort of statement, but the Left’s reliable labelling of anyone who questions the masochistic mantra of multiculturalism and cultural relativism as a bigot, racist, or xenophobe makes such a qualification necessary.

Whenever I think about immigration, I think about a conversation between Sam Harris and Maryam Namazie. They were discussing the migrant crisis in Europe and what might be reasonable and rational caveats to open borders. It was quite telling that Namazie was completely unwilling to acknowledge unrestricted immigration of mostly Muslim immigrants might pose issues in Europe. This obfuscation is understandable from one perspective: to advocate for the restriction of immigration based on religion seems like outright bigotry. Throughout the discussion, Harris tried to get some sort of confession from Namazie that some Muslims hold troublesome views. However, this fact never transitioned to an admission that reasonable measures should be in place to vet potential migrants.

The problem is simple: what is a rational balance between a compassionate intake of humanitarian refugees and the maintenance of Western values? I can sense the visceral outrage being stirred in the bellies of readers as they absorb what appears to be an implication that Muslims might have values inconsistent with our own. Surely not? They’re looking to maximise their own happiness in this world, just like everyone else. Well, yes and no. We need to consider how many people we want immigrating to our country who don’t support freedom of speech (notwithstanding the problem that even westerners have with this concept). We need to consider how many immigrants might be sympathetic to female genital mutilation.  Raising these issues does not make one bigoted. On the contrary, it makes one concerned with the maintenance of civilisation. Society needs to stop peddling the myth that all religions and cultures are equal and equally promoting of human well-being. Allowing unchecked immigration, irrespective of whether the immigrant believes that women are his property or not, is sacrificing the ethical foundations of the West at the altar of moral relativism and political correctness.

Lest I be perceived as a babbling ethno-centrist in the league of Rudyard Kipling, I should expound on my last statement. I am of the opinion, entirely justified in my view, that the West is simply better at answering some moral questions than the rest of the world. This isn’t to say that the West has a universal moral monopoly, it is simply a recognition that, for whatever reason of historical accident, the West tends to champion individual rights over the collective. I am open to revision on all questions of morality, but we must not fall into the enormous masochism of pretending that every culture has equally valid opinions on every moral question.

Some values are better than others. Believing that women are equal to men and that everyone is deserving of human rights is demonstrably superior to forcing women to live in cloth bags, whether explicitly or through indirect indoctrination. Does anyone think the two positions are equivalent? Does anyone believe that there is no difference between striving to grant gay people equal rights and throwing them from the tops of buildings? Granted, this latter example is an extreme form of the animus against gay people, but the fact is that even in Muslim-majority countries that are free of the grip of ISIS, you can still be killed by the state for being gay. Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iran, and the United Arab Emirates all have the death penalty for homosexual acts. Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Egypt, Pakistan, and Bangladesh all have laws that prohibit homosexuality, but don’t go so far as to impose the death penalty. This is a statement of hope, of sorts. These abhorrent beliefs are contained in the Qur’an and the Hadith (Suras 7:80-84, 4:16, Hadith al-Tirmidhi Suna 1:152). We can no longer afford to engage in the obscurantist politics of denying the link between Islam and the values that a large number of Muslim people hold. If you think I’m exaggerating, you should read the data gathered by the Pew Research Centre on Muslim views on morality. In Turkey, the posterboy of modern Islamic republicanism, 85% of people thought that homosexuality was morally wrong. The statistics get worse the less secular the country becomes. This doesn’t, of course, mean that 85% of Turks think it’s morally justifiable to kill homosexuals, but the ambient level of religious fundamentalism that informs these opinions makes resistance and reform difficult. It seems counter-intuitive that most on the Left would simultaneously campaign for equal rights for women and advocate for taking in refugees, a substantial percentage of whom will espouse antithetical beliefs. So-called “Liberals” need to recognise that tolerance of intolerance is a toxic mantra that leads only to the downfall of their values. Western society needs to stand against theocracy and the ideals of those who practice and promote it. This includes those on the Christian Right, whose opposition to Islamic theocracy is borne of the opinion that only Yahweh can provide the proper basis of the State.  

It’s worth noting at this point, that I am not specifically against Muslim beliefs.  I am against any values that contradict the core of liberal democracy. Censorship, blasphemy, misogyny, internecine conflict: these are things that one must oppose if one claims to be a Liberal. Islam is the most recognisable and widespread paradigm of these beliefs, although the alt-right can be just as egregious in those regards as well. It is better to support girls attending school than to throw acid in their faces for daring to read.  It is better to support freedom of expression, even if you find it offensive, than to murder cartoonists for blaspheming Mohammed. While these beliefs and their attendant actions may not be specifically enunciated in the Qu’ran (in the case of preventing girls from going to school), it is pure delusion to ignore the connection between the message about women in the holy book and the way women are treated in Muslim-majority countries.  It is better to allow people to determine their own religious convictions than to brand them as apostates and wish for their deaths.  It shouldn’t need to be enunciated: the Qur’an and the Hadith promote, sanction, and command these behaviours (Suras 4:89, 9:11-12 and Sahih Bukhari 52:260, 83:37, 84:57, 89:271).  To accept this is merely the first step to realising that there is a balance to be struck between humanitarian and societal concerns.

I’m not calling for the demonisation of refugees or their barbaric detention in offshore facilities (if you don’t believe me, read my article “John Stuart Mill on Nauru”).  I’m calling for a reasonable discussion of the implications of beliefs and their impact on behaviour, without being fettered by false and frivolous accusations of bigotry or racism.  I feel I am wasting time and effort explicating this, but I am also opposed to Trump’s so-called “Muslim ban”. There is little to recommend the policy:  it doesn’t even attempt to limit immigration based on beliefs. It is a woefully maladroit attempt to appeal to the worst in the American electorate, and it’s depressing that it has, in that respect at least, been successful. But Trump’s gauche policy agenda should not serve to obscure the issues. There is no doubt that people may use this discussion as an excuse to air their actual xenophobia and anti-Muslim bigotry, but the only way we can separate the real bigots from the herd is to acknowledge that there are reasonable concerns to raise about Islam and the future of Western civilisation.

About Tom Adamson 10 Articles
Tom is a blogger and academic based in Australia. He is currently working to be admitted as a lawyer and wants to travel and write about his interest areas of politics, philosophy and science.


  1. Tom, I think it’s because people like myself, and perhaps Maryam as well, aren’t interested in what’s best for Europe in particular. Nor are we interested in ‘preserving Western values’. Rather, we’re more interested in what’s best for the world as a whole, and in exporting progressive values to as many people as possible.

    If some Muslims do represent a threat to women and so on, the best place for them is in European countries where women’s rights are at least comparably protected. Furthermore, they will be far more likely to be exposed to ideas which may challenge their beliefs. It’s a win-win situation.

    • Good idea. Except that while you may think that you are “exporting progressive values”, the receiving end thinks that you actually like Islam. And when they outbreed you, you will be so happy to get that Islam.

      • Outbreed me? Breeding is for animals. Humans have children who grow up to be adults who make their own decisions. If you actually cared about fighting religious bigotry you would support efforts to improve education and general living standards across the world instead of trying to wall yourself off. Too bad your borders won’t protect you from nuclear weapons which Islamists will inevitably get their hands on if the Middle East is abandoned to them.

  2. I like many things Tom Adams says here. I do NOT like the divide-and-rule implicatoins – vis the suggestion that liberal feminist secularists have to choose between Sam Harris and Maryam Namazie​. Why can’t the Left ever publish a critique of Islamism that does NOT divide-and-rule the secular left (and thereby give more oxygen to religious privilege)?

    • I’m not saying Maryam doesn’t have valid contributions to make to the progressive movement, I’m just saying that on this particular issue, I think she’s blinkered. I don’t agree with Sam on everything, but I think on this topic he is a scrupulous and rational interlocutor. I don’t like the divide-and-rule style any more than you do Terri. I can only apologise if my piece gave off that implication.

  3. I am very interested in what is best for Europe and the rest of the West. I am also very interested in preserving western values. For the above reasons, I do not want Islam in my country at all. I also do not want my country flooded with 3rd World migrants either. They will keep coming until my country is like theirs and then they will stop coming. However, I do want to improve the lot of every person in the Muslim and 3rd World to be the same as ours. We can help far more people for far longer for the same amount of money by helping them in their own countries. I still believe in having immigrants but they must go through a points system just like they have in Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

  4. ‘If some Muslims do represent a threat to women and so on, the best place for them is in European countries where women’s rights are at least comparably protected.’

    REALLY? WTF? What about the rights of women NOT to be raped? Who speaks for us? Not you, obviously.

    You seriously want to import millions of fighting age, testosterone filled men whose death cult masquerading as a religion tells them its ok to rape, honour kill, perform FGM, sexually abuse children, male and female. Clearly, you must be a man.

    If they’re not imported into Europe, they cant rape us. PREVENTION should be the watchword. Not a feeble attempt to clear up the pieces afterwards.

  5. Excellent piece! I agree with basically everything you said. When I see the discourse in my country and the rest of the EU on islam and the refugee crisis I’m filled with despair. Decades of government propaganda about the supposed benefits of “multiculturalism” and the denial of the virtues of our own society and culture (with all it’s faults) has created large masses of supposedly liberal western people, including women and gays, who cannot, simply CAN NOT bring themselves to think critically about islam and what unlimited islamic immigration into western society means for them, for fear of being (called) a racist or a xenophobe, or god forbid an “islamophobe”. Even the mere suggestion of maybe reintroducing border controls, for example, is enough to have groups of leftists (and I consider myself to be a centrist, left on some issues, conservative on others) denouncing you as basically Hitler. The mass immigration of islam is continually being presented as something inevitable, even desirable (out of some vague “diversity is strength” idea, or to combat the effects of an aging population, which is insane since over time you would need exponentially more immigrants as the previous groups grow old themselves) and something we will cope with by sheer wishful thinking (“Wir schaffen das!”) without any kind of structured plan in place to screen people, or to defend and promote our western values, most importantly freedom of speech (which is already being sacrificed on the altar of political correctness), womens and gay rights and seperation of church and state.

    As commenter fisherdownload above naively demonstrates, many people seem content to think that these values, hard won by decades if not centuries of struggle, will simply rub off by themselves on anyone who comes to live in the west. And that we can afford to wait for this to happen. This might be true for some people, but the problem is that the radical islamists DO pour lots of money and effort into promoting their cultural views and exporting them all over the world. We can’t think that we can simply refuse to fight and still win the war (and I don’t mean literal war, I’m talking about the cultural contest). That’s the problem with cultural relativism. If all cultures are equally valid and valuable, why would you invest energy in promoting your views over those of others? Most Muslims certainly don’t think all cultures are equally valid, and many of them are prepared to fight for their cultural supremacy over ours.

    The practical problem is of course: Even if the west somehow managed to reach a concensus that importing people whose views on key issues are opposite to what we would consider reasonable is not a good idea; how do you screen people for ideology? Do you let them fill out a questionnaire? It doesn’t seem possible.

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