A conversation with Majid Oukacha, for Gatestone Institute

  photo Majid Oukacha HDMajid Oukacha is a young French essayist who was born and grew up in a France which he recognizes less every year. « A former Muslim but an eternal patriot, » as he sometimes likes to describe himself, he is the author of Face to Faith With Islam, a systematic critique, without value judgments, of the most inconsistent and imprecise Koranic laws.

  Grégoire Canlorbe: Could you start by reminding us of the circumstances and motives of your abandoning Islam — and of your decision to take up your pen to unravel your former religion for the public at large?

  Majid Oukacha: Like all Frenchmen who were born and grew up in France in the late twentieth century, I am fortunate to belong to a peaceful nation that allowed me to enjoy rights and freedoms for which I never personally had to fight. My parents, French citizens of Algerian origin and Muslim persuasion, provided me with a religious education, which destined me to remain a devout Muslim. They also gave me a civic, social and ethical education based on respect for France and its values, as embodied in its motto, « liberty, equality, fraternity. »

  I started going to the mosque at the age of eight. The first imam who taught me, and who came from a foreign country, had a perfect French accent, a big, cheerful smile, and he was careful never to give orders to his students outside the walls of the mosque. The courses I took quickly led me to see that what I thought was a blessing — to be born into a faith able to save me from Hell, which, according to the Koran, spares only Muslims — would also become a permanent burden.

  When one is a Muslim, every trivial action of daily life is codified, from how to drink a glass of water upon waking to how to go to bed. I submitted to Allah to avoid the torments of His wrath in the afterlife; I obeyed codified rituals that sometimes seemed a waste of time or a nonsense. My non-Muslim friends were accustomed to hearing me tell them I had to interrupt a game of football or cards to go to the mosque. There, I essentially learned to do the salat, the Muslim five-times-a-day prayers, as well as the bottomless pit of behavioral codes established as virtues by the romanticized figure of the prophet Muhammad.

  In the middle of the uniform flock — blindly imitating a distant spectrum imposing its obligations and prohibitions — I was not afraid to ask « hard » questions.

  « Why in Koranic law about the need to cut off the hand of thief (Surah 5, verse 38), does Allah not say which hand is to be cut off (the right one or the left one)? Why does He specify no minimum value for the theft from which the hand of a thief can be cut off? Stealing an apple for the first time in one’s life, does it really deserve to have a hand severed? And why does Allah not say the minimum age of a thief who must have a hand cut off? Should a 12-year-old who has never stolen before really be held as responsible as a 40-year-old repeat offender? »

  « Why should one walk seven circles around the Black Stone during the Hajj and not six or eight? What will happen if I walk around it eight times? »

  « The Prophet Muhammad explains in his Sunnah that a woman, a black dog or a donkey passing in front of a praying Muslim can cancel his prayer; but, as usual in the Sunnah, Muhammad merely advances a judgment without explaining why it should be that way. To someone who does not believe in Islam, such a statement sounds like a superstition. Why not give the intellectual journey linked to it, instead of just a dogmatic sentence? If it is Allah Himself who gave him this knowledge, why didn’t the Hadith that mentions this prophetic story become a verse of the Koran? The Koran is supposed to represent the messages of Allah which the prophet Muhammad passes on to his contemporaries to inform them about what their creator expects of them. If a woman passes one kilometer from someone who is praying, is the prayer canceled then? What is the maximum distance from which a prayer is cancelled altogether? »

  The logical « domino effect » of these questions is only a small part of the many thoughts that can, and should, keep one’s mind alert — far from the corset of indoctrination that is closed to doubt. I never heard satisfying answers to the limits of this juridical Islam to which I had always pledged allegiance, so I decided to seek them directly from Allah himself. Just before entering university, I tried to understand Islam with an unbiased look, rather than to learn it as an unquestioning believer.

  I had decided to read the entire Koran, from the first to the last sentence, and to register impressions, doubts, and questions in a notebook. Reading the Koran that way not only forced me to have to admit that almost all Islamic laws and dogmas had no scientific or rational basis, but it also highlighted that Islam, under its founder, was a misogynistic religion, preaching slavery, and an enemy of freedom of thought. I had fallen. My trust in what was both obvious and intangible had deceived me all this time. It is the libertarian and egalitarian values of secular and humanist France — which I have learned to love and respect — which gave me the strength to refuse to give in to the fear of blackmail in the form of eternal Hellfire.

  Leaving Islam confirmed my longtime fear that one day I would witness the French people lose all these freedoms and this lifestyle that make France a beloved and envied country throughout the world. All revolutions do not necessarily begin or end in a bloodbath. In a democracy, the majority has the power to make or break a revolution, away from anarchy and war. The day an Islamic majority in France will vote for a president and parliamentarians able to define for all of us what separates right from wrong, good from evil and fair from unfair, what choices then will remain for us?

  You cannot flee from problems indefinitely. You have to fight them at one time or another. I need to convince the maximum of my contemporaries that Islam is a threat to our individual rights and freedoms, and I choose to fight using words, because communication (through writing, speech) is the weapon that gives me my strength. I am, as far as I know, the only author who has made a comprehensive critical study of the principal legal and doctrinal aspects of Islam, by addressing the technical inaccuracies of the laws but without ever stating any moral or value judgment. I have no taboos so I dealt with explosive topics: slavery, pedophilia, criminalization of freedom of conscience… I think this is the most effective method to demonstrate to the widest possible audience the obscurantism and danger of Islam: a universal legislation that cannot coexist with difference.

  Grégoire Canlorbe: This objective look at the technical limitations of Koranic laws seems rare. Is it possible to do the same work with religious books from Christianity or Judaism?

  Majid Oukacha: For Muslims, every sentence in the Koran is meant to be a tale whose author is Allah Himself, the creator of the world, and who is an omnipotent, omniscient and perfect God. This God proclaims many draconian universal laws that are not limited by place or time.

  This base makes analyzing the Koran far simpler than analyzing some of the sacred texts of Judaism or Christianity. The Talmud cites original narratives and interpretations thought by humans. It is up to today’s Jews to decide whether to adhere to these passages or to question them. We can say the same of the New Testament, which is dear to Christians.

  Today, the countries where one lives best, if one is a woman or a free thinker, are precisely the countries with Christian and Jewish roots: France, the United States of America, Israel, Australia, England… These countries defend the individual freedoms of the weakest and the most varied people more than any Muslim country in the world has ever done. If a Muslim wants to criticize a misogynistic passage from the Bible or the Torah for example, good for him!

Continuer la lecture de « A conversation with Majid Oukacha, for Gatestone Institute »

A conversation with Geerat J. Vermeij, for Man and the Economy

  geerat.j.vermeijGeerat J. Vermeij is a Dutch-born professor of geology at the University of California at Davis. Blind from the age of three, he graduated from Princeton University in 1968 and received his Ph.D. in biology and geology from Yale University in 1971.

  An evolutionary biologist and paleontologist, he studies marine mollusks both as fossils and as living creatures. He started writing about his Escalation hypothesis in the 1970s. He received a MacArthur Fellowship in 1992. In 2000 Vermeij was awarded the Daniel Giraud Elliot Medal from the National Academy of Sciences.

  His books include Evolution and Escalation: An Ecological History of Life, A Natural History of Shells, Privileged Hands, Nature: An Economic History, and The Evolutionary World: How Adaptation Explains Everything from Seashells to Civilization.

  Grégoire Canlorbe: According to a predominant view in philosophy and in the social sciences, the social hierarchy is an ad hoc cultural construction and not a biological trait. Man is born equal in terms of wealth as well as in terms of social status. Nature spawns neither poor people nor rich people, neither servants nor masters, neither workers nor bosses. Hierarchical relationships are merely cultural, added onto our biological nature (rather than innate). Is this popular view founded, at least in part, in your opinion?

  Geerat J. Vermeij: It is true that the human hierarchy is cultural, but there is a substantial cultural inheritance. Although one’s origins can be overcome, the cultural heritability of phenomena such as poverty and status is nonetheless strong, reinforced by epigenetic effects.

  Inequality and imperfection, however, appear to be universal and necessary accompaniments to life itself. Whenever organisms interact, one party will almost always gain more or lose less than the other as they compete or cooperate. Very rarely will the outcomes be identical for the participants. Although their fortunes may reverse in the long run, with the underdog persisting longer and ultimately gaining the upper hand, the short-term advantage during interactions tends to belong to the party with the greater power and reach.

  This principle applies, for example, to the evolutionary relationship between predator and prey. As a rule, predators exert more intense selection on their prey than prey do on their attackers. Not only do they often kill their victims, but they restrict the times and places in which vulnerable prey can be active. Prey species become important as agents of selection on their attackers only if they are dangerous. Poisonous snakes, stinging wasps, biting crabs, and kicking moose can inflict significant injury on a would-be predator, and could therefore influence the predator’s behavior. Mobbing—large numbers of relatively innocuous prey ganging up on an attacker, as happens when songbirds mount a group defense against a hawk— may also diminish the evolutionary advantage that predators hold over their prey.

  Inequalities abound at every scale of biological organization. Ecosystems in which plants and plankton fix carbon by means of photosynthesis subsidize ecosystems that run entirely on food sources derived from photosynthesis. Life on the great abyssal plain of the deep sea depends completely on the steady rain of dead organisms and their excrement falling from the sunlit waters above. It is in the top few hundred meters of the ocean where there is sufficient light for phytoplankton— single-celled life-forms capable of harvesting light and taking up dissolved minerals for photosynthesis— to produce most of the food on which all other living things in the ocean rely. Over the course of evolution, this nutritional subsidy has extended to a subsidy of lineages. The sunlit zone has been the source of most deep-sea groups of organisms, whereas the deep sea has contributed only a handful of cave-dwelling and polar species to the shallow-water ecosystems of the ocean. Land life on the desert shores of Peru, southwestern Africa, and northwestern Mexico is subsidized by marine life in the productive waters just offshore, because seabirds feeding on fish ferry food and feces to shore. Elsewhere, life in the sea benefits from nutrients coming in from rivers that drain rich ecosystems on land. In each of these cases, the more productive system subsidizes, and therefore has a disproportionate influence on, the less productive one.

  Even the most egalitarian human societies exhibit inequalities in income and status among individuals, among tribes, among institutions, and among nation-states. Insofar as the price of goods and services is determined by adequate information about supply and demand, producers and merchants possess more information about, and have greater control over, commodities than do individual consumers. Through advertising, they can manipulate demand; and by tracking patterns of what goods and services are sold when, where, and to whom, well-organized companies can predict demand and adjust supply accordingly. Companies simply possess and create a better hypothesis about supply and demand than individuals do, and therefore prices are set largely by them. Their information is, of course, far from complete and may even be inaccurate, but the power it bestows nonetheless remains chiefly in the hands of well-organized enterprises. Only when consumers or labor unions themselves become organized into powerful counterweights to business is this economic inequality lessened or reversed.

  The important point is that inequalities arising from differences in access to information or power are not just manifestations of human nature, but pervade the whole of the living world.

  Grégoire Canlorbe: In his book Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, Daniel Dennett refers to evolutionary principles as “universal acid” in order to emphasize their all-encompassing explanatory power. According to you, one might equally employ the same metaphor to express the power and reach of the economic perspective, which you see as fundamentally identical to the evolutionary worldview.

  Could you explicit and develop this iconoclast point of view? Why do living beings necessarily evolve in an economic world of trade, competition, opportunities and challenges?

  Geerat J. Vermeij: Like humans, other living things inevitably compete for (and cooperate to gain access to) locally scarce resources. Competition and resource cooperation are fundamentally economic phenomena. In evolution, survival and reproduction require sufficient resources; therefore, natural selection among phenotypes is fundamentally also an economic phenomenon.

  In his book Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, the American philosopher Daniel Dennett indeed characterizes evolution as “universal acid” to emphasize the power of evolutionary thinking to penetrate very nook of human knowledge. But this is a grim image, a metaphor that calls to mind the satanic power feared by doubters and deniers. Evolution is not some corrosive agent, but a universal elixir that enriches those willing to taste it.

  Understanding its mechanisms and consequences yields an emotionally satisfying, aesthetically pleasing, and deeply meaningful worldview in which the human condition is bathed in a new light.

Continuer la lecture de « A conversation with Geerat J. Vermeij, for Man and the Economy »

A conversation with Steve Kates, for Man and the Economy

  steve_katesSteven Kates is Associate Professor of Economics at RMIT. He was chief economist for the Australian Chamber of Commerce for 24 years and a commissioner on the Productivity Commission. If he has a mission in life, it is to see Keynesian economic theory disappear from our textbooks and the return of the classical theory of the cycle as the guide to economic policy.

  He has written Free Market Economics: an Introduction for the General Reader (Edward Elgar 2011), which explains what economic theory looks like if the entrepreneur is placed at the centre of microeconomic analysis and in which Say’s Law is brought back as the core of macro.

  Grégoire Canlorbe: According to you, Say’s Law was the statement that demand would never fall short of properly proportioned supply. In other words, demand deficiency could never occur—except in the case of miscalculations on the side of supply.

  At first sight, this proposition is a tautology. By definition, so long as decisions by producers on what to produce coincide with decisions by buyers on what to buy, there prevails an equilibrium of supply and demand. In my opinion, the law of markets presupposes in fact something crucial, namely that the desire to buy goods is only limited by the nature of goods supplied. Although there may happen a global mismatch between the wishes of buyers and the composition of supply, the willingness to acquire (consumption or equipment) goods is otherwise infinite.

  Overproducing means here to produce something in excess with the demand of people or to sell it at a price that does not cover the costs of production. The classical proponents of the law of markets believed overproduction of everything could never occur—unless an outbreak of entrepreneurial mistakes concerning the public’s preferences or purchasing power. In this regard, what they fundamentally did was to castigate any theoretical explanation of crises holding the fluctuations in demand for a phenomenon totally independent of the structure of supply. The classics generally put it in these somewhat sybillin terms: while men err in their production, demand is infinite as such. While recessions happen, they are never caused by demand deficiency.

  In his posthumous Notes on Malthus, David Ricardo provided an eloquent summary of this precocious intuition of classical economics.

  “If the commodities produced be suited to the wants of the purchasers, they can not exist in such abundance as not to find a market. Mistakes may be made, and commodities not suited to the demand may be produced—of these they may be a glut; they may not sell at their usual price; but then this is owing to the mistake, and not to the want of demand for productions [per se].” [i]

Could you start by reminding us of the lines of force of the reasoning underlying this cumulative proposition on the part of Jean-Baptiste Say, James Mill and Robert Torrens?

  Steve Kates: There are a number of false assumptions on the nature and scope of Say’s Law that must be eliminated before we can have this conversation.

  The first and most important of these assumptions is that Say’s Law is a conception best understood by looking at economists from the early nineteenth century. And the reason this conception remains embedded in so much of the modern approach is that it is called “Say’s” Law, Jean-Baptiste Say, of course, having written the first edition of his Treatise in 1803. So let me begin by putting this discussion on Say’s Law into its proper context.

  The term “Say’s Law” was invented in the twentieth century. It was invented by the economist Fred Taylor, as he describes in his introductory text, Principles of Economics. The text was self-published in 1911 and distributed only to his own students at the University of Michigan, but was then published in 1921 by the Ronald Press in normal textbook form as the eighth edition for use beyond his own classrooms. And how do we know that Taylor invented this term? Because he says so. Chapter XV is titled “Say’s Law” and in it he discusses why he chose this name. Having explained how demand is constituted by supply, he wrote:

  “The points just brought out with respect to the relation between demand and the output of goods are so evident that some will consider it scarcely legitimate to give them the dignity derived from formal statement… I shall therefore put the proposition we have discussed in the form of a principle. The principle I have taken the liberty to designate Say’s Law; because though recognized by many earlier writer, it was particularly well brought out in the presentation of Say (1803)”. [ii] (My bolding)

  I particularly like the fact that for Taylor and his contemporaries the principles behind Say’s Law seemed so obvious that he hardly thought it even needed to be said. If you don’t believe it, look it up. Taylor had been using the phrase “Say’s Law” since 1909, always mentioning that he had invented the term. It is a phrase never used before it was coined by Taylor and came into common use on the American side of the Atlantic only after his text was formally published in 1921. The very embarrassing question that comes from this is, if this is a twentieth century term invented by Taylor, how did the words “Say’s Law” show up in The General Theory? Because once you realise that Keynes had to have been reading a literature that no one knows he had been reading, the provenance of The General Theory becomes very different from what we have up until now been taught.

  Nor does the embarrassment end there. Keynes’s definition of Say’s Law is “supply creates its own demand”, the only phrase within economics other than “the invisible hand” known to every economist. And that, too, comes from a twentieth century American text, Value Theory and Business Cycles, a work published in 1933 by an obscure and unknown American economist, Harlan Linneus McCracken. In a chapter on “Involuntary Failure of Demand” McCracken wrote:

  “The Automatic Production-Consumption Economists who insisted that supply created its own demand, that goods exchanged against goods and that a money economy was only refined and convenient indirect barter missed the significance of money economy entirely.” [iii] (My bolding)

  You won’t believe that either, since you rightly find it ridiculous that you should be hearing such significant facts about the origins of the most thoroughly investigated economics text in history only now, some eighty years after The General Theory was published and brought to your attention by someone as unknown to you as Harlan McCracken. But there you are, and there is no possibility of anyone refuting either of these two facts since neither the term “Say’s Law” nor its definition “supply creates its own demand” have ever been found anywhere within the economics literature of the nineteenth century. Neither the term “Say’s Law”, nor its definition “supply creates its own demand”, were ever part of the discourse among economists prior to the twentieth century. The question you need to ask is how did they get into The General Theory?

  Therefore, if you wish to understand the actual meaning of Say’s Law, it is worse than pointless to return to the economists of the early nineteenth century. It is to Taylor you must go since he specifically tells you what it means.

  “Principle – Say’s Law. The Ultimate Identity of Demand and Product

  “In the last analysis, the demand for goods produced for the market consists of goods produced for the market, i.e., the same goods are at once the demand for goods and the supply of goods; so that, if we can assume that producers have directed production in true accord with another’s wants, total demand must in the long run coincide with the total product or output of goods produced for the market.” [iv]

  But we must go a bit farther to understand why Taylor had gone to the trouble or writing his chapter, identifying this principle and giving it the name Say’s Law. All this is explained at the very start of the chapter.

  “General Demand Fallacies. – Among the fallacious notions in popular thinking that have gained very wide currency are to be found a number which grow out of misconceptions as to the real source of the general or total demand for goods, and as to the methods by which that demand is increased or diminished. Several types of these fallacious notions may be cited. Thus, government improvements of all kinds, including even those of questionable value, are often supported by businessmen and others on the ground that such improvements increase the total demand for goods… A true understanding of the nature of the total demand for goods will show that these notions are fundamentally unsound.” [v]

  Of course, that entire line of reasoning has utterly disappeared since the Keynesian Revolution. Everyone now believes what economics teaches, that government spending, even expenditure of questionable value, increases the total demand for goods and services, and therefore increases the total demand for labour. And while it may come as a shock to some to find that Keynes deceived his followers by hiding from them the research he had undertaken in writing his book, they will comfort themselves by arguing that at least he was right about these issues. But there is no denying the deception. Keynes lied about what he was reading and it is only these very faint traces that allow us to understand what he was actually doing. Of course, Taylor was also right about the economics and Keynes was wrong, as the consequences of the various stimulus packages should, by now, have made evident.

  And as an aside, if you interested in a more extended discussion on all of this, you should look at my article, “Influencing Keynes: The Intellectual Origins of the General Theory” which was published in 2010. It’s all there and in fine detail.

  So let me give you the proper definition of the principle that lies behind Taylor’s and this is from John Stuart Mill and from his Principles of Political Economy published in 1848. This is known as Mill’s Fourth Proposition on Capital, and it states:

  “Demand for commodities is not demand for labour.” [vi]

  The level of employment cannot be increased by increasing the demand for goods and services. It is Mill trying to tell us that a public sector stimulus will never reduce the level of unemployment. And while you might wish to deny that Mill is right about the theory, you cannot deny that, given his words, he would have foretold that the stimulus packages we have seen across the world since 2009 would with certainty fail. Just as each and every stimulus has done in each and every one of the countries in which it has been tried. The meaning of Say’s Law is thus found in the fact that the increased demand for goods and services by governments since the Global Financial Crisis has not led to an increase in employment in any country of the world. Instead, employment growth has been woeful, much worse than in any previous recovery since the Great Depression. It is thus unnecessary to go back to the nineteenth century to understand Say’s Law. All you need to do is look at the abysmal recoveries we have had and recognise that this is exactly what every classical economist would have told you would occur.

  And it is not as if the policy direction from Mill had been ignored. This was highlighted by Winston Churchill’s in his 1929 budget speech.

  “Churchill pointed to recent government expenditure on public works such as housing, roads, telephones, electricity supply, and agricultural development, and concluded that, although expenditure for these purposes had been justified: ‘for the purposes of curing unemployment the results have certainly been disappointing. They are, in fact, so meagre as to lend considerable colour to the orthodox Treasury doctrine which has been steadfastly held that, whatever might be the political or social advantages, very little additional employment and no permanent additional employment can in fact and as a general rule be created by State borrowing and State expenditure.’” [vii]

  These were, moreover, genuine value adding forms of spending and in no sense of the make-work variety. Yet even then, little if any additional employment had been seen to have occurred as a result. The same may be said of the various stimulus packages that have been adopted across the world after the Global Financial Crisis.

  Indeed, as a general rule, which has had no peace-time exceptions, increases in public expenditure do not and cannot lead to a permanent increase in employment. If anything, such expenditures will slow the recovery process and will inevitably keep unemployment higher than it would otherwise have been.

  This is the conclusion that comes from a proper understanding of Say’s Law. There has, moreover, never been a single exception to this rule during the entire eighty year period since the General Theory was published.

Continuer la lecture de « A conversation with Steve Kates, for Man and the Economy »

A conversation with Roy Barzilai, for Agefi Magazine

 8056037 Roy Barzilai is an independent scholar, who studied both Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism and Rivka Schechter’s philosophy of language, rooted in the Hebrew Bible. The synthesis of Rand’s Aristotelian philosophy, and the biblical creed of ethical monotheism provides profound insights into the ideas that shaped the Western mind. By exploring the intellectual history of Western civilization, Roy seeks to reach a greater understanding of the human mind.

  As a financial analyst for more than a decade, Roy became aware of the herd mentality in financial markets. He studied the Wave Principle of Human Social Behavior and the new science of socionomics, focusing on how change in social mood affects society, its ideas, philosophy, culture, and economy. This dynamism is the engine of history.

  Roy holds undergraduate degrees from Tel Aviv University in Law, accounting, and computer science. He is the author of two books: The Objective Bible, published in 2014, and The Testosterone Hypothesis, published in 2015.

Continuer la lecture de « A conversation with Roy Barzilai, for Agefi Magazine »

A conversation with Guang Zhen Sun, for Man and the Economy

 sun  Holding a PhD in economics from Monash University, Australia, GZ SUN now teaches economics at the University of Macau, Macao Special Administrative Region, China. His research interests are mainly microeconomics and the history of economic thought.

  His joint work with collaborators helped establish the theoretical foundation of a literature on endogenous labor specialization. He has also published at times on topics in axiomatization, public choice, theory of the firm, evolutionary economics, etc., and on less-dismal-than-normal topics such as general equilibrium analysis of how large-scale societies of ants self-organize. Among the services he has provided to the scientific community of economists, the commitment he currently takes most seriously is his editorial job at a new journal, Man and the Economy, founded by the late Mr. Ronald H Coase.

  His book The Division of Labor in Economics: A History provides, for the first time, a systematic and comprehensive narrative of the history of one central idea in economics, namely the division of labour, over the past two and a half millennia, with special focus on that having occurred in the most recent two and a half centuries. Quite contrary to the widely held belief, the idea has a fascinating biography, much richer than that exemplified by the pin-making story that was popularized by Adam Smith’s classical work published in 1776.

  Grégoire Canlorbe: Adam Smith’s treatment of the division of labor in his magnum opus has given rise to much debate and controversy over his priority.

  It has been sometimes alleged that his views were essentially plagiarism of the opening chapters of Anne Robert Jacques Turgot’s Reflections on the Formation and the Distribution of Riches, published a few years earlier. The two books show indeed remarkable similarities in content.

  Other analyses consider that Smith’s thought had been anticipated in broad outline by the treatises of ancient Greek or Chinese philosophers. Kuan Chung, Hsün Tzu and Ssu-ma Ch’ien, as well as Xenophon, Plato and Aristotle among their Greek counterparts of the “Axial Period” of human civilization, had indeed already carried out sophisticated developments on increasing returns to specialization and the relation of specialization to the market mechanism.

  What would you retort to these recurring claims in defense of Smith’s profound originality in the history of ideas?

  Guang-Zhen Sun: Doubtless, Smith’s greatest achievement in classical economics is simply founding it, laying down a novel and powerful superstructure for what would come to be referred to as the classical political economy, into which many previously existing but otherwise scattered ideas are well weaved into a coherent body of thought and analysis. On top of that, Smith’s main priority in the intellectual history of the division of labor rests on two separable but closely related pillars of his economics: his historical jurisprudence, and his integrative analysis of the market and the division of labor. These two facets, in my view, constitute much of the core of his scholarship in economic science. This statement needs a great deal of elaboration, a task we can hardly expect to undertake in an interview, of course. But let’s take it as a good excuse to discuss a difficult topic in a conversational manner.

  About the first point, so much has been done in the past four decades in the study of the history of ideas, and of political thought in particular, especially by Donald Winch, Knud Haakonssen and Istvan Hont among others, that there is perhaps no need for further discussion. My small book draws upon their brilliant work to appreciate Smith’s definitive contribution to historical jurisprudence, which indeed took shape mainly in the hands of Smith himself and a few other Scots. Nonetheless, it may be worth stressing that it is in accounting for the historical origin and the nature of the commercial society – the last developed stage of the four-staged conjectural human history – that Smith organizes the exposition of his historical jurisprudence in his magnum opus The Wealth of Nations (WN). In elaborating the historical dimension of the division of labor, Smith develops his main thesis of the origin and evolution of property rights and the function of the government, and thereby made his fundamental contribution to this branch of the study of human society. Some otherwise paradoxical ideas or statements in that great work, if and when seen from this perspective, can well be resolved and even become natural.

  As far as economics is concerned, his study of the market and the division of labor is certainly far more important. As is perhaps not uncommon in the history of social thought, a high price Smith may have had to pay for the comprehensiveness and richness of his scholarship on this subject is that his theory is from time to time unduly narrowly interpreted, or misunderstood. Due to constraints of space, we may focus on two points only.

  Very few economists would doubt Smith’s depth in understanding of the nature of the market. How much his scholarship on this has been influential, not only among economists but among the public as well, might be measured by the popularity of the very term “the invisible hand.” Probably because the term invisible hand may well invoke some divine providence, the market mechanism – as well as the extent of the market for that matter is also so conceived as to claim a standing as a sort of “first mover” (proton kinoun) in Smith’s “inquiry into the nature and causes of the wealth of nations,” and particularly in his theory of how the market relates to the division of labor that sits at the heart of his whole theory. A case in point is what is named “the Smith theorem” by George Stigler in his well-known 1951 paper in Journal of Political Economy: that the division of labor is limited by the extent of the market. Nothing goes wrong with the statement per se, and indeed Smith himself uses this statement as the title of one important chapter in his masterpiece; it nonetheless fails to depict a complete picture. For the power of purchasing, in turn, largely depends upon the division of labor, and it is therefore no less meaningful to reverse the causality. Let’s quote a paragraph from Smith’s opening chapter in WN that follows immediately after articulation of the productivity advantages of the division of labor.

  “It is the great multiplication of the productions of all the different arts, in consequence of the division of labour, which occasions, in a well-governed society, that universal opulence which extends itself to the lowest ranks of the people. Every workman has a great quantity of his own work to dispose of beyond what he himself has occasion for; and every other workman being exactly in the same situation, he is enabled to exchange a great quantity of his own goods for a great quantity, or, what comes to the same thing, for the price of a great quantity of theirs. He supplies them abundantly with what they have occasion for, and they accommodate him as amply with what he has occasion for, and a general plenty diffuses itself through all the ranks of the society.”

  The observation by Smith upon the interdependence of the extent of the market and the division of labor was then fruitfully extended, especially by Edward Gibbon Wakefield, Alfred Marshall and Allyn Young. One section (Section 4.2) of my small book critically examines the development of this Smithian thesis by these men. It is to be noted in passing that Wakefield illustrates Smith’s two-sided theory of the market and division of labor by analogy with the roles of two legs in walking.

  What makes his scholarship of the market all the more remarkable is the comprehensiveness and profundity of his understanding of the nature of the market. It is, as far as I can see, much broader than what is demonstrated by the standard price theory in modern textbooks of economics. But we shall come to this point below when talking of another matter and make more detailed discussion then.

  Grégoire Canlorbe: In his 1981 international bestseller Wealth and Poverty, George Gilder is highly critical of Adam Smith for arguing that the extent of the market determines the possible range for the division of labor. In Gilder’s view, the progress of economies can indeed be measured by the extent of the system of exchange; but it is the process of increasing specialization that expands the market, not the other way around.

  As “the anthropology of the potlatch” suggests, gifts and counter-gifts are the essence of economic life. “The gift evokes the desire to reciprocate and thus induces exchange.” In this regard, “it is not the market that expands the division of labor” but “it is the process of invention and specialization—the production of new goods—that expands the market.” The gift comes first.

  What is your opinion on this influential criticism?

  Guang-Zhen Sun: Honestly, I don’t see much inconsistency between Mr. Gilder’s supply-side argument and Adam Smith’s theory of the interdependence of the market and the division of labor. Smith assigns a central role to the power of the division of labor in production, and the criticism of the demand-oriented doctrines by the supply-side economics can be well aligned with Smith’s theory, at least as far as the parts played by the system of exchange and specialization in economic progress are concerned. We have addressed this issue above.

  Grégoire Canlorbe: A crucial point advanced by Adam Smith is that the gains from the division of labor are realized most effectively and efficiently when competition is guided and constrained by a soundly functioning system of politic and economic institutions. Would you say this condition is met in contemporary China?

  Guang-Zhen Sun: My short answer is: Yes and no.

  Let me start with a few words on the positive side of the story. China’s economic performance in the past three and a half decades, its economic growth in particular, is dazzling. It is doubtless a significant event in human history, not least for having fundamentally changed and improved the lives of hundreds of millions of Chinese people and placed made-in-China products all over the world. Equally impressive is the vitality, vastness and complexity of its domestic market. The biggest puzzle about mainland China’s market economy is perhaps the coexistence of its highly centralized political system and the very decentralized and efficient economic system. Paradoxically, it is its unique political system that has thus far enabled China to achieve such impressive economic growth, which has largely centered on industrialization and urbanization.

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A conversation with Stephen Hicks, for Foundation for Economic Education

Hicks-Stephen-2013  Hicks is the author of Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault, which argues that postmodernism is best understood as a rhetorical strategy of intellectuals and academics on the far-Left of the political spectrum in response to the failure of socialism and communism.

  His documentary and book Nietzsche and the Nazis is an examination of the ideological roots of National Socialism, particularly how Friedrich Nietzsche’s ideas were used, and in some cases misused, by Adolf Hitler and the Nazis to justify their beliefs and practices.

  Additionally, Hicks has published articles on a range of subjects, including free speech in academia, the development of modern art, Ayn Rand’s Objectivism, business ethics, and the philosophy of education, including a series of YouTube lectures. He is also the co-editor, with David Kelley, of a critical thinking textbook, The Art of Reasoning: Readings for Logical Analysis.

  Grégoire Canlorbe: According to a popular opinion, left to its own devices, capitalism inevitably tends to a monopoly economy. An economy in which there is no competition. In a monopoly environment, the dominant companies can freeze competition and entrepreneurial initiative. In this regard, any monopoly is problematic, even the monopoly of the local baker or shoemaker. Without competition, the quality of service slips. And innovation becomes an expensive nuisance unless it wildly jacks up profits.

  As a fine connoisseur and renowned debunker of anti-capitalist arguments, how would you assess this widespread analysis?

  Stephen Hicks: Free-market capitalism is the most anti-monopolistic system there is, as entrepreneurs are creative in developing new products and improving old ones. The profit motive of course incentivizes that creativity, as does the natural creativity that individuals exhibit when they are free to pursue their own lives.

  Think of the music and electronic industries, for example, in the last one hundred years—how endlessly innovative they have been and how prices have gone down, precisely because they’ve been mostly free markets.

  Problematic monopolies have only existed when governments made them—either by granting exclusive charters or other special favors.

  Under feudalism, the king as head of government has the power to make monopolies and forbid competition. The same is true to a lesser degree under mercantilism. And of course for socialism the economy is one giant government monopoly.

  Only market liberalism gives people the freedom to start new businesses without permission, to experiment as much as they want, to trade or not trade with whomever they choose, and to compete along multiple dimensions—price, quantity, quality, innovation.

  In the United States, for example, the Postal Service has a government-granted monopoly on first-class mail. It has been stagnant, a huge money-loser, and its agents regularly shut down any individual who tries to start a competitive mail-delivery service.

  Sometimes I test the seriousness of those who worry about monopolies by asking them: Do you agree that government postal monopolies are bad and should be eliminated? If they say No, then that tells me they’re not serious about real monopolies. If they say Yes, then we can start a productive discussion.

  Grégoire Canlorbe: The law of supply and demand asserts that any free market price for a singular good is instantaneously fixed at an equilibrium level in response to supply and demand dynamics.

  According to a common criticism on the part of postmodern intellectuals, following Marxian economics, this proposition at the core of “free market ideology” is grossly unrealistic and merely ideological. It is refuted by the existence of a permanent disproportion between supply and demand in capitalist economies. Owing to inflation, unemployment, and limited effective monetary demand on the part of working people, supply really exceeds demand. This disproportion results in cyclical economic crises of overproduction.

  What would you retort to these recurring claims?

  Stephen Hicks: Remember that the “law” of supply and demand is an aggregate of many individuals’ judgments and actions. It’s important not to reify it into some sort of Platonic or Hegelian abstract force that operates of generic necessity.

  So I agree with those who criticize the methodology of some versions of free-market economics that utilize only idealized and abstract models of markets in which everyone is perfectly rational and has instant access to all information.

  But I disagree with the standard postmodernist move of taking the failure of such idealized models to mean that only messy chaos and crisis rules the world. In philosopher’s labels, Nietzsche is not the only alternative to Plato.

  The best way to model free markets is from the bottom-up, by starting with real human beings, each of whom has individualized values, knowledge, and options. Such individuals make their economic decisions about production, trade, and consumption, and so go on to form business organizations—firms, networks, and formal markets—of increasing complexity.

  Grégoire Canlorbe: The young business magnate Christian Grey affirmed in a recent interview: “Business is all about people, Miss Steele, and I’m very good at judging people. I know how they tick, what makes them flourish, what doesn’t, what inspires them, and how to incentivize them. I employ an exceptional team, and I reward them well.

  My belief is to achieve success in any scheme one has to make oneself master of that scheme, know it inside and out, know every detail. I work hard, very hard to do that. I make decisions based on logic and facts. I have a natural gut instinct that can spot and nurture a good solid idea and good people. The bottom line is, it’s always down to good people.

  I don’t subscribe to luck or chance, Miss Steele. The harder I work the more luck I seem to have. It really is all about having the right people on your team and directing their energies accordingly. I think it was Harvey Firestone who said the growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.”

  What is your opinion on these statements? Do they shed light on a universal feature of the entrepreneurial spirit?

  Stephen Hicks: I’m charmed that a character in an erotic novel can be such an articulate spokesman for entrepreneurism.

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A conversation with George Gilder, for Agefi Magazine

george-gilder201209271600  George Gilder is a venture capitalist and Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute and American Principles Project, Editor-in-Chief of the Gilder Technology Forum (from Forbes).

Grégoire Canlorbe: It is not uncommon to hear that the global weakness of the contemporary USA lies in the worsening of income inequalities. The best predictor of social and economic class is nowadays the social and economic class of parents. People like the Rockefellers or the family of Mitt Romney are born into the 1% and pass that position along to their children. In other words, the USA have a plutocracy, like it or not; and that plutocracy should at least pay a higher tax rate and a higher death tax—a higher tax for passing along its wealth to its kids. America works best when it can open the path for dirt-poor kids with drive and intelligence to rise—as Abraham Lincoln rose from the poverty and mud of his father’s farm in Illinois.

  What is your opinion on this popular view?

  George Gilder: The popular view is nonsense. Inequality is irrelevant. Under free markets, capital flows not to those who most quickly spend it but to those who can best expand it. It goes to suppliers rather than demanders. What matters is mobility and creativity. Forbes magazine shows ever more rapid arrivals and departures from their lists of rich people. However, the “hypertrophy of finance” in the world economy that I describe in The Scandal of Money is fostering more inequality based not on merit but on government privileges.

The world’s central banks have become a fourth branch of government that centralizes economic activity and renders the system fragile and unfair. This is a serious threat to the future of capitalism. Futile and meaningless currency trading is now 73 times larger than all world trade in goods and services. Yet it fails to establish money more stable than the economic activity it supposedly measures. The perversion of money under socialism is the leading cause of immutable inequalities based on power and privilege rather than on knowledge and on contributions to the economy.

  I believe that new forms of money based on the Bitcoin blockchain and gold will evolve in coming decades and emancipate the world economy from its central bank socializers. I also believe that this popular hostility towards income inequalities as such—and the inability to recognize that only inequalities based on privilege are illegitimate—is the symptom of an even more general misunderstanding of the nature of material progress.

  As I have demonstrated in Wealth and Poverty, material progress is ineluctably elitist: it makes the rich richer and increases their numbers, exalting the few extraordinary men who can produce wealth over the democratic masses who consume it. Material progress depends on the expansion of opportunity: geniuses identify themselves chiefly through their works rather than by their inheritance or test scores. Material progress is difficult: it requires from its protagonists long years of diligence and sacrifice, devotions and risk that can be elicited and financed only with high rewards, not the “average return on capital”. Material progress, although democratically demanded, is procedurally undemocratic: it means the expensive support of activities thoroughly beyond the ken of the people, and often even their leaders.

  Grégoire Canlorbe: “One of the problems with organized religion,” affirmed Hugh Hefner, “is that it has always kept women in a second-class position. They have been viewed as the daughters of Eve.” How would you assess these statements by the founder and chief creative officer of Playboy Enterprises?

  George Gilder: Feminism condemns women to inferiority by subjecting them to the standards of male achievement. Feminists want to present women as victims, which means inferiors. Hefner celebrated the superiority of women’s bodies, which feminists decry. But Hefner, for all his philosophastering, did not have ideas any more interesting than the vanities of feminism. Generally speaking, he did not articulate nor materialize the true spirit of capitalism.

  To the extent that both conservatives and socialists believe the engine of economic growth is driven by consumer demand, they agree to see permissiveness as favourable to growth under capitalism. In reality, demand, whether avaricious or just, is impotent to impel growth without disciplined, creative, and essentially moral producers of new value. All effective demand ultimately derives from supply; a society’s income cannot exceed its output. The output of valuable goods depends not on lechery, prurience, lust, and license but on thrift, sacrifice, altruism, creativity, discipline, trust, and faith. To the extent that pornography and promiscuity debauch the moral capital of the society—to the extent that they distract workers and entrepreneurs from the long-term effort to create new value—these sources of “demand” actually undermine economic growth.

  By that measure, the sexual revolution embodied by Hugh Hefner and his magazine clearly retards economic progress and prosperity. It distracts, demoralizes, obsesses, and depraves the men and women who must forgo immediate returns, sacrifice immediate pleasures, master difficult disciplines, and respond to the needs and desires of others if they are to create successful businesses. Capitalism has been incomparably the most productive economic system in the history of the world because it best evokes the effort and creativity—the moral quality and productive energy—of workers and businessmen who put the interests of others before their own gratifications.

  Grégoire Canlorbe: Your analysis and your appraisal of capitalism are based on a profound theory of information, which was recently synthetized in Knowledge and Power. Could you remind us and develop the main outlines of this highly integrated view of information, technology and entrepreneurship?

  George Gilder: Based on the mathematical ideas of Claude Shannon and Alan Turing, information theory is an evolving discipline that depicts human creations and communications as transmissions across a channel, whether a wire or the world, in the face of the power of noise, with the outcome measured by its “news” or surprise, defined as “entropy” and consummated as knowledge.

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A conversation with Howard Bloom, for Gatestone Institute

  13620836_10209035982830092_3410075051478893150_n  There are only a handful of authors alive today whose ideas about geopolitics have won respect in both the world of Islam and in the West. One of those authors is Howard Bloom.

  His first book, 1995’s The Lucifer Principle, predicted a nuclear Iran. And his 2000 book Global Brain, warned about a man named Osama bin Laden and a group called the Taliban. His new book The Muhammad Code: How a Desert Prophet Brought you ISIS, al Qaeda, and Boko Haram—or How Muhammad invented Jihad, is the story of how a desert prophet set us up for a nuclear Iran and an atomic successor to Osama.

  Howard Bloom has debated one-one-one with senior officials from Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and Gaza’s Hamas on Iran’s global Arab-language Alalam TV News Network. And Sheikh Muhammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Dubai’s ruler, who doubles as the Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, has named a racehorse after one of Bloom’s books.

  Bloom’s second book Global Brain was the subject of an Office of the Secretary of Defense symposium in 2010, with participants from the State Department, the Energy Department, DARPA, IBM, and MIT. And the Department of Defense’s SENSIAC Military Sensing Symposium relied on Bloom to explain how to see the world through the eyes of Osama bin Laden.

  Bloom’s 199 appearances on North America’s highest rated overnight talk radio show, Coast to Coast AM, a show that airs on 500 of the continent’s leading radio stations, have covered everything from the Gulf War and 9/11 to the Fort Hood shootings, the Arab Spring, and the Syrian civil war. In addition, Bloom has dissected headline issues over 40 times on Saudi Arabia’s KSA2-TV, Saudi Arabi’s Ekhbariya TV, and on Iran’s global English language PressTV.

  Grégoire Canlorbe: In a market overwhelmed with books on Islam, what is unique about The Muhammad Code?

  Howard Bloom: The Muhammad Code tells a story quite unknown in the West, namely the story of the only founder of a major religion ever to call himself “the Prophet of War”[i] and to command 65 military campaigns. It tells the story of how that prophet set our ancestors in the West up for over 1,300 years of attack and enslavement, the story of how he laid the groundwork for the destruction of superpowers far more potent than the United States, and the story of how he started the longest-running world war in history. And most important, The Muhammad Code tells the story of how that prophet demands that his never-ending war be turned today against the ideals we hold dear in the West—human rights, gender equality, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of trade, entrepreneurship, pluralism, and democracy.

Millions of Muslims envision Islam as a religion of tolerance, pluralism, and peace. But there’s a blunt fact staring us in the face. What ISIS is doing is merely one attack in the world’s longest running world war—the war of “Mohammed the Conqueror” and the “knights” of Islam, as Bin Laden used to say, against every other civilization on the face of the planet. For Allah and His Messenger demand that Muslims be on top. They demand that Muslims allow others to live only if they take a role as second-class citizens in a purely Muslim state and pay the jizya, a tax designed to shame and humiliate. And they demand that Islam rule every inch of land on God’s own speck of dust—the planet Earth. So Muslims in the West can never be happy. At least not according to the standards of the Hadith and the Qur’an. Not according to the standards of al Qaeda, Boko Haram, the Iranian Islamic Revolution, and the Islamic State. That is, good Muslims cannot be happy until Shariah rules every land. And that includes your land and mine.

  Since the beginning of history, we have been blinded by evil’s ability to don a selfless disguise. We have failed to see that our finest qualities are often the generators of the actions we most abhor—murder, torture, genocide and war. From our urge to pull together comes our tendency to tear each other apart. From our devotion to a higher good comes our propensity to the foulest atrocities. And from our commitment to ideals come our excuses to hate. Righteousness in Islam consists in following Muhammad’s footsteps. And those footsteps are violent, imperialist, colonialist, sadistic, and genocidal. But those who want to “annihilate” or to convert their fellow men in the West are not madmen. They’re rational and they’re something more—they’re idealists. They want to free us. They want to save you and me.

  As they see it, you and I were made from a clot of blood by Allah, by God. We were given everything we have by Him. Since we are His creations, we will experience true justice and peace only if we live by His laws and are enlightened by His truths. What are those laws and truths? The ones that God himself gave to Mohammed in the seventh century. Islam is out to save you and me in an even more profound way. If we are tricked into following false laws, believing in false gods, and sticking to what Osama bin Laden used to call false “opinions, orders [and] theories”[ii], we will go to an unspeakably painful hell. Our earthly life is but a brief interlude, a brief gift, a brief test to see if we can follow God’s path. But hell and heaven are forever.

  Islamic militants want to save you so you can spend the time that really matters, the time that lasts the longest, the time from your death to the Day Of Judgement, in the luxurious upper rooms of paradise. Only if your eyes are opened to the legacy of Mohammed, only if you are persuaded to drop all other “opinions, orders, theories and religions” can Islam save you. What happens if you stubbornly refuse Islam? What happens if you cannot be won over to the light? You must be wiped out. You must be kept from corrupting the minds of others and dragging them down to hell with you.

  When former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad threw a press conference in September 2006 to report on his visit to Senegal, Cuba, Venezuela and the United Nations, he said, “And God willing, with the force of God behind it, we shall soon experience a world without the United States and Zionism.”[iii] He’d also made the same word-for-word statement the previous year.[iv] It is very unlikely that Ahmadinejad was proposing a thought experiment. He was proposing a reality that Iran and its fellow Muslim states would be able to achieve with their coming weaponry. And with the existing 120 Islamic nuclear bombs of Pakistan.[v] Bombs that could easily fall into the hands of ISIS.

  Islam has called for the annihilation of the Jews for close to 1,400 years. But why eradicate those of us who live in America? My suspicion is this. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Abubakar Shekau, and Islamic militants from Iran to Indonesia and from Trinidad to Dearborn, Michigan, feel that Europe is eager to appease the Muslim world, eager to bow to Islam’s will. Europe can be saved. Europe can be brought into the fold of Islam. But America stubbornly insists on promoting its Satanic culture, a culture that will drag millions down to the pit of fire. Hit America with a few nuclear weapons, take out New York, Washington, and a handful of other American coastal cities, and those left in America will embrace Islam. What’s more, the weak-willed Europeans will finally see the truth and will accept second-rate status in something god promised Mohammed long ago—Islam’s global empire.

  Grégoire Canlorbe: Besides your concern for the survival of the modern Western civilization, how did you come to have a properly scientific interest in Islam? Does it have anything to do with your personal history?

  Howard Bloom: My introduction to Islamic culture came in 1962. My parents and grandparents were Zionists—people who wished ardently for the right of Jews to return to a homeland that appears in a flood of Hebrew prayers, the Promised Land, the Hebrew territory from which Jews were expelled over and over again and which the Jews stubbornly rebelled to retake in 66 AD, 133 AD, 351 AD, 438 AD, and 614 AD.[vi] Those Jews, my ancestors, battled the biggest imperialists of the day, the Romans. Rome periodically got fed up with Jewish freedom fighters and removed most of the Hebrews from the land Jews had inhabited since 1,200 BC.[vii] Rome scattered this remnant across the face of the Old World. Yet Jews insistently trickled back into what they considered their native land again, and by 636 AD,[viii] Arab historians say these Hebrew returnees and the Jews still on the land of Judea had built 41 cities[ix] in what is today called Palestine and Israel.

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A conversation with Waleed Al-Husseini, for Gatestone Institute

716889-waleed-al-husseini01recadre2jpg  Waleed Al-Husseini is a Palestinan blogger and essayist as well as the founder of the Ex-Muslim Counsel of France. He garnered international fame in 2010 when he was arrested, imprisoned and tortured for articles he posted in which he criticized Islam. He has received threats and death threats. He is one of the most celebrated cyber-activists from the Arab world and now lives in France where he sought refuge. He continues to be a fierce defender of its secular, republican values.

  He is the author of an autobiography, Blasphemer! Allah’s prisons! edited by Graset in 2014 (re-issued in 2015), as well as articles in Le Monde, La Règle du jeu and Libération. His blogs are “la voie de la raison” and “I’m proud to be atheist.” Contact: hassayen@gmail.com

  Grégoire Canlorbe: Could you start by reminding us of the circumstances and motives of your dissent?

  Waleed Al-Husseini: My atheism is the result of a long quest for the truth about what I saw happening in front of me. Obviously, nobody holds all of the Truth, but during my research, I realized that religion in general, and Islam in particular, was highly incompatible with the values of human life. That was the beginning of my rejection of Islam. As time goes by, the horrors and crimes committed against mankind in the name of Islam seem to have proven me right. They have strengthened my conviction that it was the right choice to make.

  Grégoire Canlorbe: Despite being jailed, tortured, threatened, persecuted and socially pressured, you have never given up your opinions or curbed your determination to defend them. How come?

  Waleed Al-Husseini: Once I had made up my mind, I had to defend my new convictions against all sorts of pressures, whether in prison or in the street. To do so, I gathered my strength out of the weakness and archaism of the religious speech. I simply used intelligence against faith. The former opens the mind, the latter puts human beings in prison. It feels as if religious leaders practice some sort of psychological torture on their followers in order to dominate them. In Muslim societies, all the citizens live in a huge prison called Islam. I wish to remind the readers that, if I am deeply hostile to Islam as a religion, I respect Muslims as human beings and deplore the situation in which they have to survive.

  Grégoire Canlorbe: “Mahometism, writes Tocqueville in his Writings on the Koran, is the religion that has mixed both political and religious powers, and in a way that the high priest is necessarily a prince, and the prince is the high priest, and all the acts of civil and political life are ruled more or less according to religious law… This concentration and confusion established by Mahomet between both powers… was the primary cause of despotism and social immobility… which has always been a characteristic of Muslim nations.”

  Do you think that things can change? Or that Islam—and the Islamic world—cannot be reformed?

  Waleed Al-Husseini: During the genesis of Islam—which looks in many aspects like a sect—the political power relied on religion in order to control and dominate society. Subject to certain exceptions, the situation has not changed in 1,400 years.

  In his time, the prophet Mahomet had already made use and abuse of many fatwas, attributed to the angel Jibril, in order to justify what can never be justified. He awarded himself the right to rape young girls, in the name of poligamy, and used religious discourse to wage his wars, which he called “Islamic conquests”. He also committed the first war crimes in the name of Allah—upon, he claimed, divine command!

  The same methods are still common practice today, in the main Islamic countries. Iran is ruled by the Wali e-Faguih, the Supreme Leader, who claims he is “God’s vicar on Earth”. Saudi Arabia is under the rule of the “Keeper of the holy Places”. The king of Marocco is the self-proclaimed “Commander of the believers”. In the other muslim countries, the rulers call themselves Wali alAmr, “the tutor”, a title that works as a deterrent, allowing imams to use religion in order to ban any possible objection to the tutor’s authority.

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