An Open Letter to the Ayn Rand Institute

Posted in Extremism, Philosophy at 10:19 am by Haider

(This is a letter I wrote to the Ayn Rand Institute regarding some articles they sent out to their newsletter subscribers regarding Islam and terrorism. I didn’t get a reply from the Institute, but thought that others might find it useful)

To whom it may concern:

I am a registered user of the ARI site, and a great fan of Ayn Rand’s Objectivism.

But while reading some of the op-eds I have been receiving from the ARI, “objectivism” was the last word that came to mind. These op-eds were about “Islamic” terrorism, and the writers were proposing that the religion of Islam was the root of the terrorist attacks in London.

I am mainly referring to the articles written by David Holcberg (The Terrorists’ Motivation: From the Camel’s Mouth) and Edwin A. Locke (The Terrorists’ Motivation: Islam), where the writers even include quotations from the Holy Koran to support their claims. However, as an Islamic researcher, I find the writers’ approach to be misleading, inaccurate and can hardly be called objective. Objectivism does not only depend on the logical strength of the argument, but the truth of its premises. The misinterpretation of Koranic verses makes the premises of the writers’ arguments false and, therefore, defeats their whole argument.

Has it ever occurred to the writers that they may be taking the verses out of context, or using wrong translations of the text?

Have they not recognized that the context of the verses which promote violence is a military confrontation? The Holy Koran clearly states: “Fighting has been made permissible for those at war because they have been oppressed.” [ 22:39 ]

Have the writers not realized, through their reading of the Holy Koran, that it does not promote enmity towards all disbelievers, but only those who oppress the Muslims? Again, the Holy Koran places the Muslim enmity towards the disbelievers (wrongly translated in the verses quoted by the above writers as Pagans, but originally means: those who reject the truth, and implies hostility) in the context of being oppressed, by saying:

“Allah does not forbid you, with regards to those who do not fight you on account of your religion nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them: for Allah loves those who are just.” [60:8]

Mr Locke also made the bizarre claim that Islam – as a religion – discourages reason and expects the Muslims to blindly follow its dogma. While some Islamic sects may tend towards this position because they are unaware of the rational basis of Islamic beliefs, Islam should not be blamed for their ignorance. The Holy Koran repeatedly refers to the use of reason, and encourages its readers (who are not necessarily Muslim) to ponder and to engage their intellects, as the following verse demonstrates:

“Say: ‘I advise you on one point: that you stand up before Allah,- (It may be) in pairs, or (it may be) singly,- and reflect (within yourselves): your Companion is not possessed: he is no less than a warner to you, in face of a terrible Penalty.’” [34:46]

The sayings of Prophet Muhammad and his family (peace be on them) are full of praise for the intellect and the use of reason. There are sayings which regard the intellect as the noblest creation and which explain that references to the “heart” in the Holy Koran are actually references to the intellect (where “heart” in that context refers to the core of human beings: their intellect).

And if Mr Holcberg and Mr Locke wish to quote verses out of context, then the same can be done with the ARI website and its op-eds. A recent op-ed by Alex Epstein (Fight the Root of Terrorism With Bombs, Not Bread) can be said to promote violence in the same way the Koranic verses do.

I wish to make it clear that I did not write this as an “offended” Muslim who wishes to blindly defend his religion, but as a rational individual who wishes to defend objectivity. I believe Ayn Rand’s philosophy has a lot to offer, especially the objective defense of reason and the promotion of living on principle. It would be a real pity if Mr Holcberg and Mr Locke would discredit the philosophy by using it to juggle false premises. And if they wish to further a political agenda, then this should not be done in the name of Objectivism.

The literalist approach is what the extremists use to justify their own political agendas, and I’m afraid Mr Holcberg and Mr Locke are only using the extremist’s approach, without bothering to dig out the true meanings intended by the Holy Koran.

Best regards,



  1. Bashar said,

    April 21, 2008 at 10:48 am

    I really don’t know who Ayn is Haider, but from what I read I can recall similar acts by many others. You can’t take part of the sentence and make it a sentence by it self.

    Logic thinking is simple
    If this
    do that

    As you have taken the time to give strong examples from the Quran to clarify it, if a company or site wants to be credible they ought to do their homework before they start talking, or else, they are just talking like everybody else. They are not helping any cause here, but creating more enemies for them selves.

    Sadly however, the western world must have many people who wish to hear such claims, and are willing to take it as granted without further investigations. Others must have a say on it, but then again, you say they never replied to your emails. So, one can only guess.

  2. Thomas McElwain said,

    April 21, 2008 at 11:30 am

    Ayn Rand has been a major contributor to western philosophy and her work has been especially precious in balancing western thought in danger of being skewed by focus on epistemology alone. But her work appeared several centuries after the period when Islamic philosophy was the fountain of western thought, and reflects not only the historical forgetfulness of that situation, but also something of the peculiar relationship between the Christian and Islamic populations in the particular country of her origins. Despite the influence of local and historical trends in her experience, she made remarkable achievements in philosophy, achievements which bear some similarity, in gross, to those of the late Islamic philosopher Mulla Sadra (Sadra al-Din Shirazi) and his followers.
    The attempt to find a causal relation between certain passages of the Qur’an and what is termed “Islamic terrorism” is in fact partly justified. The people who perpetrate such acts do themselves refer to such passages in justification of their behaviour. However, to find in the Qur’an the cause of such phenomona is naive and methodologically faulty. American slavery was vehemently justified in its time by reference to the Bible, yet any historian that considered a Semitic text produced in the Middle East 2500 years ago to be a primary cause of American slavery would not be taken seriously. Just as there were historical, social, economic, political and to a lesser extent religious factors involved in the origins and maintaing of American slavery, so there are historical, social, economic, political and to a lesser extent religious factors involved in “Islamic terrorism.” Islam is far more important as a justification for terrorism than as a cause of it. Christianity is appealed to in the reaction to “Islamic terrorism”, but is hardly a truly determining factor in the policy of “war against terror”. The Christian view of the crucifixion of a man in the Middle East as solving problems may well be involved in the recent policies in regard to Afghanistan and Iraq, but the belief in the crucifixion can hardly seriously be maintained as a primary cause of the second Gulf War. That is the kind of explanation the writers you refer to seem to be making. There is an uncomfortable lack of sophistication in the argument. If I have read Ayn Rand correctly, she tends to minimize the importance of religion as a reasonable explanation of phenomena. Not all of her followers have been able to debarrass themselves of the effects of education having lurking Christian characteristics, but of course these are people who never went to Soviet schools. The crusader mentality is based more on fear that reason, and is therefore not susceptible to the arguments of logic.

  3. Haider said,

    April 21, 2008 at 12:05 pm

    @Bashar: The site promotes the philosophy of Ayn Rand, and they don’t usually consider visitors as customers, so there is no real drive to please all visitors 🙂

    What I find troubling about their attitude is that they promote the philosophy of rationality (a great philosophy, might I add, which I agree with to a very large degree), but they do not apply it correctly.

    @Professor McElwain: Thank you for your contribution. I believe that an interpretation of the Holy Koran can both justify and be the cause of terrorism. However, what I disagreed with the writers about is in the causal relationship they draw between the Holy Koran and terrorism, as though the meanings they have attributed to the text are the only possible meanings. I touched on this issue in my article: Islam and the Muslims.

    I don’t think Ayn Rand minimizes the importance of religion. She makes a strong case for the importance of ideas in general, and religion – as a set of beliefs or ideas – can have an enormous influence on an individual’s life as well as on society, politics, etc.

  4. Don Veto said,

    April 21, 2008 at 10:29 pm

    The Ayn Rand Institute should read up on their namesake with her Liberatarian philosophies of laissez faire, or live and let live and freedom for all and not express biased out of context opinions.

  5. Haider said,

    April 22, 2008 at 10:55 am

    Dear Don Veto, thank you for your input. What’s troubling about the ARI at the moment is that they’ve made it their mission to focus on “current affairs” that they do not understand properly, and which they view from a very distorted impression.

    Welcome to the blog 🙂

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