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December 25, 2005

Islam Is a Religion of _____

By Neil the Ethical Werewolf

Religions that are nominally unified can mean lots of different things to different people, especially at different times in their history.  You can see this in the history of Christmas.  Conservative Christians of the past -- for example, both Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans during the 1660s -- banned the celebration of Christmas as part of their general dislike of fun.  To Cromwell and the Puritans, banning Christmas celebrations didn't seem like a slight against Christianity.  It was the truly Christian thing to do.  Today's Christmas practices are those of a society where corporations spur us towards massive consumption.  The mutability of religion is also evident in all the different forms of Judaism, with their different dietary restrictions and views of appropriate behavior on the Sabbath. 

This is why I see discussions of whether Islam is a "religion of war" or a "religion of peace" as confused.  (Over at Redstate, you occasionally see people arguing the "war" side and contemplating horrific evil as a result.)  Muslims who feel peaceful will find some way to believe that peace is commanded by the Koran, and Muslims who feel warlike will find a religious justification of violence.  The character of a religion is determined mainly by what its adherents feel like doing. 

If one really wants to change the face of Islam, the solution is to change the way that the majority of Muslims feel.  Gore's old comment that "'Draining the swamp' of terrorism...must also mean draining the aquifer of anger that underlies terrorism" was exactly the way to respond to the problem.  I can see Gore following up an invasion of Afghanistan and non-bungled capture of Osama Bin Laden with a massive program to help the poor and feed the hungry throughout the world, specifically including the Muslim world.  It would've been many billions cheaper than the Iraq War, increased our credibility with Muslims on anti-terrorism issues, and helped us make peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, further neutralizing anti-American feeling in the Islamic world.  An America that the majority of Muslims saw as a friendly nation could credibly support liberal versions of Islam so as to purge antifeminist and intolerant practices from Islam.  When most foreign Muslims felt that they were at peace with the West rather than at war, they would actively oppose violent anti-Americanism in their own countries, and be firm allies against terrorism. 

What we got instead was an administration that makes it easy for Muslims -- the Sunni majority and the Shiites of Iran as well -- to see us as a nation at war with them.  Any real hopes for America to subtly guide the development of Islam were lost, and I don't know how they can be found again. 

December 25, 2005 in Religion | Permalink

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Comments

I agree completely. It's useless to try to stop terrorism by focusing on the specifics of the religion involved. If all Christians were to spontaneously become Muslim and vice versa, nothing would be changed.

Posted by: zw | Dec 25, 2005 7:24:12 PM

A crucial and under-made point: there is no essentializing religion. Religions are often superstructures of justification of people's underlying beliefs and personality quirks.

Posted by: Matt_C | Dec 25, 2005 8:17:53 PM

"Any real hopes for America to subtly guide the development of Islam were lost, and I don't know how they can be found again."

Well, there have subtle and not so subtle hints (Gerecht?) that an underlying goal of the conquest of Iraq was the empowerment of the Shiites(Iran?) as a counter to the aggressive proselytization of the Saudi Wahhabis.

Now as to how well it has been done, how openly it can be done, if it is a good thing, what intrinsic, technical, or practical differences there are between the Sunni and Shia (which probably each have more subdivisions than say, Christianity) ...is a very complicated question. I would, hugely qualified, say the Shia are less theoretically authoritarian than the Sunni. And the theory is important, Catholicism is probably more authoritarian than Protestantism, and entire shelves of books have been written on how that difference has played out in history.

But "subtly guiding the development of Islam" may be exactly what Bush has accomplished in Iraq. Another plan might have involved, after de-Baathification, backing the Kurds and Iraqi Sunni Arabs strongly against the Shia majority in an attempt to create a more pluralistic and liberal Iraq. That has been done to some extent, but in the short term would be very difficult and bloody.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Dec 25, 2005 8:46:39 PM

I found your post interesting in that Islam so well lends itself to various projections of values, and the key is to go beneath this and find ways to enable Muslims to at peace.

Jaroslav Pelikan's Jesus Through the Centuries documents how Christ was viewed through the changing lens of time.

Posted by: alyosha | Dec 25, 2005 9:18:04 PM

O bob, to be as optimistic as you!

We're talking about a President who didn't know of the Shiite-Sunni-Kurdish divide in Iraq until January 2003. This guy had a subtle plan to get all these groups to come together and form an inspiring model of pluralistic Islam? If anything, giving all these groups a high-profile struggle will reinforce divisions instead of uniting anyone.

As to the Wahhabis, you don't weaken an extremist movement by giving them more extreme opponents on the far opposite side. You empower the moderates of their side against them.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Dec 25, 2005 10:21:41 PM

"You empower the moderates of their side against them."

Not an option. By design the moderates and secularists and pluralists are suppressed in much of the Middle East. You need only look at the recent results of the election in Iraq (or Iran) Allawi and Chalabi did not do well. We maybe could have forced a secularist liberal dictatorship on Iraq, but even if possible, it would have taken more resources than Bush had available.

Bush is an imbecile. I will not even give much more credit to his crew, actually I think they got played by Sistani in the spring of 04. I hope I didn't give the impression that there was an actual plan, unless Chalabi and the mullahs in Iran had one.

MY has discussed letting the Islamists (or better, the radical partis internal to each nation) have their way in the ME, though I am unclear as how he thinks that would play out. If I am an optimist, it is a cautious one, and what we may get is the equivalent of the Thirty Years War, which not coincidentally was followed by various enlightenments.

Your program of food stamps and peace corps for Arabs is not one I have any objection to, save the profound corruption and tribalism that would keep benefits from actually trickling down to the base. It is not as if we don't have experience with transferring massive amounts of money to the middle east one way or another, and Egypt and SA are no more advanced, in fact are regressing, after generations of such efforts.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Dec 25, 2005 11:36:40 PM

also realize that the moslem areas of eurasia, along with the orthodox christian areas of eurasia, didn't go through a renaissance/reformation, like the catholic and protestant areas of europe did.

and those catholic and protestant areas of europe influenced the americas and austrailia and southern africa.

Posted by: harry near indy | Dec 26, 2005 1:10:02 AM

The "Renaissance/Reformation/Thirty Years War/Enlightenment" is a warblog meme that is radically reductionist and really doesn't make any sense as history or prediction. I take it back.

As soon as you have a practical plan to have the radical center self-identify and achieve hegemony in either the Middle East or, hey, US of A, let me know.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Dec 26, 2005 1:44:05 AM

Ayman Nour sentenced to five years hard labor in Egypt. via Gilliard.

I suppose Ayman Nour is the kind of moderate we all want to support and foster in the ME. The problem, as wejust saw in Iraq, is that he doesn't really have a base.

The ME or Arab world has already gone thru a secular pluralistic phase. They were called Nasser and Assad and Pahlavi and, yes, Saddam. I could link here to the story at Kleiman's about Iraqi Christians not being able to celebrate their holiday for the first time in a generation. Why that secular nationalism did not develop into a secular free-market liberalism is a long story having a little to do with Israel, and a lot more IMO, to do with Qutb and Khomeini and SA.

Okay, so the question is how to establish a majority base in the ME for something we can call liberal secularism. One useful empirical question is why liberal secularism has triumphed in Europe yet is having so much difficulty in the United States. Interesting that in the mid-sixties religious right counter-revolutionary forces formed in the US and and the ME in response to excesses of secularism but faced with much the same excesses did not form in Europe, or at least not in any interesting way.

Economics, welfare-statism, or reduction in poverty does not appear to correlate. Certainly America moved right as poverty decreased, and from what I remember, the same is true in the middle east, tho the pattern of economic equality has reversed more precipitously in the ME than in in the US. That might have to do with the proportion of the economies that are based on rent; or, in something that might please Ezra and MY, a precipitous decline in militarism in Europe.

Just thinking out loud. The problem is a lot bigger than Bush, and I really don't see the left blogosphere seriously looking at what the the ME will look like in the next generation or two, which is probably only the biggest problem in the world. I welcomed this post.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Dec 26, 2005 12:12:36 PM

Islam as a religion is not quite 1300 years old. When Christianity was that age, it hadn't had its renaissance/refoprmation/30 years' war/enlightenment yet either. Islam should start having its r/r/30/e in another century or so. But maybe it'll take less than 4 centuries to arrive at a "live and let live" equilibrium this time. There's a cheery prospect for the holiday season.

Posted by: C.J.Colucci | Dec 26, 2005 12:32:08 PM

Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab

The problem I have with the historical analogies is 1)the Abbassid Caliphates and the glory days of Baghdad and Damascus looks kinda like a "Renaissance" to me (and directly stimulated the Western One, or High Medieval,) and more importantly

2) if Wahhab (1703-92) is not the close analogue to Luther and Calvin, I don't want to see what one looks like.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Dec 26, 2005 2:42:04 PM

CJ colucci,

What "live and let live" christianity do you see? I see Bush very comfortable with using the language of a "crusade", I see him drawing on the model of a "clash of civilizations" and when I read red state or freeper sites I see self professed "christians" very comfortable with a militaristic, armageddon and revenge focused christianity. four centuries have gotten christians more or less nowhere.

aimai

Posted by: aimai | Dec 26, 2005 3:00:41 PM

What "live and let live" christianity do you see?

That would be the Christianity that doesn't strap bombs onto the young and impressionable and send them into cafes to inflict as many casualties among civilian women and children as they possibly can. The same Christians that don't condone bombing an abortion clinic and don't attempt to protect the murderer that shot Dr. Slepian, an abortion performer. I also didn't see Christians standing up to defend Timothy McVeigh for is moronic spree.

Now, as for the Muslims.....

Posted by: Fred Jones | Dec 26, 2005 9:12:57 PM

Good post Neil.

Posted by: Adrock | Dec 27, 2005 1:08:27 PM

Nice metaphor about draining the swamp and the aqcuifer that feeds the swamp. The problem is that the acquifer is not poverty and underdevelopment but faith in a renewed, almost protestant form. This is demonstrated by the fact that it is not the "masses" that are rebelling, but the semi-westernized leaders and intellectuals in search for a Muslim future in an increasingly modernized world. Osama and his fellow militants are striving for a Puritanical Protectorate, a la Cromwell, or a Dutch Republic, free in the eyes of God and Man. With the added twist that they call it Caliphate and want it extended over the entire world.

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