At Atlas Shrugs yesterday I explored the difference between virtue and fear, in connection with Islamic morality:
As I wrote last week, Muslim and non-Muslim analysts often tell us that Muslims hate the West for its decadence, its immorality, its lasciviousness, which they contrast unfavorably with the supposed morality and uprightness of the Islamic world. Often this boils down to a Muslim critique of Western “freedom,” especially as Bush and Obama pursued military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan ostensibly to bring Western-style freedom to those countries.
In line with that, the Mufti of Australia, Sheikh Taj al-Din al-Hilali, once complained that “Australian law guarantees freedoms up to a crazy level.” Yet genuine freedom is an indispensable prerequisite for any cultivation of real virtue. Even the post-Christian West makes it more possible to be virtuous than the apparently much more straitlaced Islamic world. With its stonings, amputations, death penalties for an array of offenses including apostasy, Islam has created not a framework in which people can become genuinely good, but an empire of fear. People don’t dare step out of line, not out of an authentic understanding that the path of moral and ethical uprightness is preferable to the alternative, much less out of love for God or a real desire to please him, but because they are afraid of what would happen to them if they did depart from Islam’s vision of morality.
Certainly the same critique can be leveled to some degree against societies that were more Christian than our present one, and this is not to say that society has no right or responsibility to legislate against immoral activity. Still, were people unable to choose to do evil, their choosing of the good would not be a manifestation of virtue, but merely of fear and the power of coercion. Those who have no choice but to be good demonstrate nothing about whether their beliefs enable or inspire them to choose the good when they could just as easily not do so.
Islam does not see virtue this way. Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini once thundered: “Whatever good there is exists thanks to the sword and in the shadow of the sword! People cannot be made obedient except with the sword! The sword is the key to Paradise, which can be opened only for the Holy Warriors!”