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Enlightening Islam, Revisted

Back along about the end of 2006, during a  Christmas break, I wrote an extended piece about Islam and some of the problems in the world with relation to it. I’ll post it here, because I think it’;s ideas are still of import, and particularly because it is important to the extended discussion I’m about to start.

By the time most of you read this, that Bastard of Baghdad will have been executed for his crimes against humanity, and specifically his fellow Iraqis. If I was to take a cue from the mainstream news services, I would be doing wall to wall coverage of this guy’s every breath between now and 10:00 PM eastern, which is when we’re told he’s going to receive his rasins. Or, not.

However; rather than dwell on the point for any length of time, perhaps it is fitting that we pay him all the attention he deserves, a which is to say none all, and rather discuss how to move the region forward.

In my job, I am if nothing thing else, a diagnostician. Rule number one in fixing problems, is diagnosing them correctly in the first place. Without that first at being accomplished you don’t have a hope in hell of solving the problem.

Well, similarly, part of our problem with our analysis of our success or failure in Iraq, and the whole of the middle eastern region, is that we have misidentified some of the problems. Some of these misidentifications have been for reasons that we’ve been force-fed all our lives. the equality of all men, etc.. I will certainly not argue against that wisdom. The problem is, While all men are created equal all cultures, are not. The cultures we’re dealing with over there don’t see it that way. They are driven by something else… a different world view, entirely.
Jason Pappas at Liberty and Culture [1] makes this important point, by way of John Agresto, former president of St. John’s College [2]‘s Santa Fe campus. That point being, that when we make judgments about our success or failure in Iraq, we miss in both directions, because of a complete misunderstanding of the rocky culture and the religion on which so much of it is based:

“We generally have a benign view of religion. We always insist that those who kill infidels or torture in God’s name have somehow ‘hijacked’ their religion. We consistently failed to understand that not all religions have the same view as we do of peace, of brotherhood, or of justice. Islam in general, and parts of Islam in particular, are not post-Enlightenment faiths. But why would they be? We desperately kept looking for the supposed ‘moderates’ among the clergy in Iraq. Moderate as compared to what? Just because we believe that God wants everyone to enjoy equal rights, or that killing Jews or stoning apostates is wrong, doesn’t mean that our beliefs are shared in other faiths.

And therein, lies a point that I made over a year ago now, which was unfortunately lost in the transition to this new web site. I will try to reconstruct it from memory and snippets. It generally made the point, that Islam was still waiting for its Martin Luther. I would suggest to you that Luther, more than anyone else at this time, paved the way toward the age of enlightenment. Prior to Luther’s arrival, there was no such thing as a moderate Catholic. Similarly, then, there is no such thing as a moderate Muslim today.

As I asked Bill at his excellent INDC blog back at the beginning of this year:

Where are the long lines of local Muslims angry at what’s been done to their peaceful religion? There are none, or not enough to make any difference.

The more I investigate this the more I’m convinced that the Pope, of all people, got this one right. Islam, being Islam, simply cannot reform itself. Therefore I submit, that there is no such thing as moderate Islam. More correctly, that there is no such animal as a moderate Muslim.

At least, at the moment. Which, translates into “it may be possible to inject some change down the road.” But, frankly, I consider it an open question, whether or not reform can ever occur.

Consider the state of Islam vs the state of Christianity, since the Reformation of the latter.
From an objective standpoint Christianity at least has the advantage of viewing government and religion on two separate levels. It was Christ himself who urged us to give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God that which is God’s. Islam, meanwhile, has no separated perception in this area. At least part of this is a problem of point of view from the average Muslim; The Islamic world looks forward to the 15th century. So, perhaps viewing it from this angle will help your overall perspective. If you were a citizen of 14th century Spain, let’s say… would you have been able to envision such a separation between Rome and Madrid?

OTOH, and by the same token, the point of view differs from our standpoint…part of our inability to get our mental arms around this whole concept of the limitations of Islam to reform itself is due to the fact that whereas we deal with religion and social values on separate levels, those in the Islamic world do not, as a rule…. and that’s not much different than the point of view of the denizen of fourteenth century Spain, is it?

That’s problem number one, and it’s the easiest to describe in terms of trying to propagate a secular society.

Now, understand please, I still take the question of Islam’s ability to reform within the bounds of the religion framework an open question. Mostly this is due to a lack of understanding of what the religion encompasses at it’s foundations. I don’t pretend to understand Muslim culture. But I can’t help but speculate, here; what if the problems of reforming Islam are due to a lack of understanding of the religion by its adherents, much the same as there was a lack of understanding about the Christian faith amongst most of its adherents in Luther’s time , pre-Guttenburg?

luther-martin.jpgAs I have said elsewhere, Luther’s biggest contribution to the Catholic church, and ultimately to the world, was the concept that he opened the Bible and the understanding of it up to the average parishioner. Most of the people of that day who called themselves Christian, really didn’t understand the religion they claimed as their own. That’s because the majority of them couldn’t read, And even if they read English, they couldn’t read Latin, and were therefore utterly dependent on what the priest told them the book said.
So it was, that up until the time that the printing press came along, that intimate understanding, that study, was pretty much limited to the clergy, and even there, to the upper levels thereof. I’m willing to bet that’s the case in Islam… who steadfastly refuses, for example, to provide education for it’s women.

printing_press.jpgAlong comes Luther with his printing press, who teaches them how to read the Bible for themselves, and gain the needed understanding of it… who tells them that a personal relationship with God is necessary, and with that personal understanding comes the reform of tolerance, which over hundreds more years becomes the church we know today.

In light of this, I would suggest to you a trend:

Here in western society, people tend to be better educated than they are in everyday Iraq, or even Egypt and Turkey, for example. This results in vastly different perceptions of everything in the world, including religion. They tend to read more, for one thing, having the ability. While I am sure that the western civilization tends to breed more placid people particularly in regards to spiritual matters, because of cultural influence alone, I would also suggest that the violence we see inherent with Islam is directly connected to the education level and therefore the understanding of that religion by its adherents.

Muslims we see here in the west are at least somewhat more peaceful than what we’ve been seeing in the MiddleEast. Is this a result of their having a better understanding of their religion, I wonder? A good understanding of one’s religion is difficult to obtain at the point of a machete , which is how Islam is so often taught in that region today.
This is one reason I’ve always been somewhat uncomfortable with the phrase “Islamic fundamentalism”; There is still a great deal of argument as to specifically what that phrase means, because the fundamentals of Islam are still in the discussion stage, even among its most adherent followers. For someone to call themselves fundamentalist, assumes that said person has a fundamental understanding of their religion. yet, that still his ill defined at best, because they themselves can’t agree on what it means, on any more than a superficial level. Without that understanding the phrase “Islamic fundamentalism” simply does not apply anymore than “Fundamental Christianity” does to pre-Guttenburg Christians.

Thus the question; If greater understanding of the religion by the very people involved in it is the answer, does this suggest a path for us to take?

If it does, then that path is going to be made somewhat more complex by the fact that there is no real hierarchy within the Muslim religious world as there is in say the various offshoots of Christianity. Even the various Christian sects are not nearly as disparate in their beliefs (and thereby the definition of being within the religion) as Muslims would seem to be. This presents some complications in terms of getting the “true Islam” message out; the various leaders themselves because there is no hierarchy, cannot seem to agree on what Islam IS… the tenants of the religion; Without the strong leadership model, the messages being sent on mixed at best. In a very real sense, there’s nobody to question as regards religious tenants.

Think about this; when it came time in the Christian church for reform, Luther had the advantage of having Pope Leo to proverbially set on fire. A focal point, if you will, to aim at. I daresay that Luther would not been able to be nearly as effective had he needed to fight a decentralized authority.

prayers.jpgOTOH in the Islamic world, there is no such person, no such leader, no such group, even, to ask such questions of. Worse, still, the process of asking such questions can often be dangerous, if not fatal. That makes the process of questioning these radicalized versions of Islam all the harder, even assuming one isn’t going to get killed for asking the questions, or raising challenges.

To whom does one go for an authority of view on what, specifically, Islam is? I have asked that question many times in the past and usually get referred to the Koran. That answer of course, is problematic, given the number of different slants on the meaning of the Koran that there are. Certainly there are a number of different slants as well on the Bible. However I would point out that there is still an authority structure in place there, which tends to narrow the Interpretations down by quite a bit.
Without such a structure, all kinds of things pop up… The religion becomes whatever certain protagonists say it is… such as the Wahabi, for example… And there’s nobody of authority within the religion to say ‘no’.

More of a comparison; The Catholic church certainly had its bloody periods. And why did these stop? Someone sitting in authority, was there to challenge, and once that authority saw the reason in the challenge that somebody within the church said “stop”.

Who is of the like in the Islamic world? Nobody that I can see.
Yet.
And that’s a problem. But more;

Islam is still waiting for its Luther.

I figure that was part of the idea, going into Iraq in the first place: Establishing a democracy in such a place, after all, would certainly lend itself to work toward altering, and, need I say it, pacifying, Islamic society, and controlling the more violent and radical elements. My take is that if such a person or group is to rise up against the Wahhabists or Salfi, they will be the product of a freshly reformed, and democratic Iraq. Which would do a fair job of explaining why the Syrias and the Jordans and the Irans are so very concerned, just now.

The very reason that those hardline Islamic states are so concerned about the insertion of democracy into Iraq is because they see ….apparently more clearly than we… that democracy, for all its faults, has one major advantage ; That it by its very nature injects social change, by way of what I will call “Social Darwinism”. Such evolution has no chance whatever under, say, a Saddam… but it DOES stand a chance under a Democracy. Under a democracy, the ideas and ideals of western culture will filter through, as they have every other place where Democracy has been installed. Japan, for example. South Korea. Etc.

This change will undoubtedly allow a more western attitude, and thereby will create the environment in which Islam’s Luther can stand forth. But this isn’t going to be a quick process. It’s going to be along slow and likely (given whom we’re dealing with) very bloody process, because changing hearts and minds is always the longest , slowest, hardest job there is. And, of course, that assumes we actually have the courage to see it through. Given the recent election, I have my doubts.

We have to stick with the plan. The consequences of not doing so are utter failure, for both they, and us. I say again; It’s not going to be quick. We in the west, cannot expect that kind of seed change to occur overnight. What we’re talking about, is dragging Islam and its followers fast forward from the fourteenth century. We cannot do that quickly, or by force and not expect violent reaction. Forced change, is never long lasting , and seldom satisfactory for anybody concerned. What needs to be done therefore, is to create an environment in which an Islamic version of Luther can stand forth, so that the culture can change ITSELF.

And all of this is exactly why I’ve said that a democracy in Iraq is a good place to start; It’s only under such conditions that Islam can it last find its own Martin Luther. But I wonder if the democrats in Congress are up to creating the conditions where all that can happen.
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So now the other day, along comes Fran Porretto, of Eternity Road and an article called After Islam. [3] Fran is apparently not so optimistic as I as regards the possibility of co-existence:

[4]With regard to Islamic penetration of the West and the hazards to life and liberty that have accompanied it, your Curmudgeon isn’t completely alone in proclaiming the inevitability of quarantine or genocide, [5] but he comes pretty damned close. The usual dissenter’s rejoinder is that “we can’t.” Can’t what? Can’t quarantine all Muslims in the existing Islamic states? Can’t kill them all? Can’t kill some and quarantine the rest? Answers are infrequent; the conversation usually trails off at that point.

In point of fact, we — the United States of America — jolly well could do any of the three. We’re not incapable; we’re reluctant. But the time is drawing near when we must choose among them. Rest assured: choose we most certainly will, for the alternative is the extinction of the United States in particular and Western civilization in general. Whichever path we select, and by whatever process we select it, it will occasion great moral agony for its executors, for a good nine-tenths of Muslims worldwide are at worst passive enablers for their jihadist brethren.

Ouch.

While I share his outlook on co-existence under the current set of conditions, I wonder just a bit at his insistance that there’s no cure for the situation from within Islam itself.

The various fables told about Saracen Spain, the most frequently raised “example” of peaceful and tolerant Islamic rule, have all been debunked. No comparable arrangement has fared any better.

Well, that’s certainly true enough, but what of changing Islam from within, as I mention in the old article reprinted here? Well, Fran’s dialogue takes a left turn at the end of the piece, which tends to make my point for me:

Islam did not give birth to the savageries practiced by its adherents; rather, it provided them with a pseudo-theological justification for what they were inclined to do anyway. If Islam were washed away completely — if the last known Qur’an were destroyed and all memory of its contents effaced from the world — the savagery it legitimized would still exist. It would remain so until social and economic evolution had raised the afflicted peoples to something approximating the Judeo-Christian ethos — an interval at whose length your Curmudgeon is indisposed to guess.

Correct. Which is exactly why, as I said back in 2006, that the way out of this is inserting a Democracy in thier midst. Such a move would provide the social and economic path forward, the lack of which entraps so many in that 14th century culture.

As for how long…. there are no shortcuts to this process. Changing minds is always the hardest path. It’s also, in the end the most rewarding.