Saturday, November 12, 2005

“The Untouched Hot Potato”

At the end of October, just as the riots were beginning in France, The Big Pharaoh mulled over what he called “the untouched hot potato” that sat in the middle of all the talk about democracy in the Arab world. His essay was thoughtful and considered, enough so that I mulled over it with him, wondering again how to resolve the difficult problem of transporting a rigid belief system over a millennium and a half of bloody borders without having it die on the way.

And then the riots hit in Paris. Poor pitiful Paris, who so often in crises has proved her ignorance of anatomy: during the hard times, the French can be counted on to stand there appearing as if they couldn’t tell their elbow from their derriere, and that’s the sad fact of it. I’m not picking on the French, merely reading their history. Try the French Revolution, say, or Vichy France, or their prissy rules about which words will be permitted into the language. As if some bureaucrat could stop the populace from saying “le weekend” no matter how hard he stamped his well-shod foot.

Yes, it’s true: I don’t think much of the French, though I’m mighty fond of their vowels and their cuisine. But the decades of their sneering condescension have worn a deep hole in my regard for a country that leaves such travail in their wake. Ask Vietnam. Ask Algeria. Hey, ask those who died in their own bloody “revolution” where they understood so little of human nature that they tried to re-name the days of the week. Now you know the source of political correctness. It is, mon ami, how the French brain is organized: two parts self-aggrandizement, one part self-pity, one part treachery, and the rest disdain for anyone not French. They need every bit as much help making it to the modern world as, say, Bahrain. You have only to look at August, 2003 to realize how thin is the veneer in France — indeed they may well have been the inventors of veneer itself.

So for more than a week I watched the hoodlums burn cars and yell “Boo” at the authorities while the latter wrung their hands and did nothing. Hey, those “youths” weren’t actually coming into Paris, were they? Let ’em burn in the hell created for them while we pretend to be concerned. When it’s over, the authorities can come in, clean up, and everyone starts over. Nothing actually improves or changes, but things look okay and “real” French citizens can commiserate with one another about the ungrateful immigrants. Until the next time.

That circus distracted me from The Big Pharaoh’s crucial question — though in part the circus is related to his concern. Big Pharaoh is worried. If Islam doesn’t reform then how can its members ever enter the real world on an even footing?
     If you looked at the world's great faith, you will realize that nearly all have undergone some sort of reform or attempts to marry old historical holy texts with the realities of our ever changing modern age. However, Islam still remains untouched and mired by those who believe that the societal laws of 660 AD could be applied today. In addition, the religion is still enslaved by religious leaders who demonize and persecute any voice calling for reform or a reinterpretation of the Quran or of what the prophet said over 1400 years old in the sun burned desert of Arabia.
Numerous commenters on Gates of Vienna have asked this question, too. Can Islam be reformed? Many are doubtful; they ask where the moderate voices of Islam are. Where are the counterweights to the barbarians who danced in the streets on 9/11?

The Big Pharaoh sees himself as a reformist but he doesn’t sound hopeful about his reforms:
     For someone like me, a Muslim reformist is someone who calls for the reinterpretation of what the prophet Muhammad said 1400 years ago and who is not afraid to dismiss Shariah law as a set of laws that were promulgated in a period that was very different than the one we're living in today.
Islam is currently in a crisis and it is sad that very few Muslim thinkers and leaders are noticing it. They are busy hoping for the white people of the US and Europe to have a positive opinion of Islam while neglecting the root of the problem which is that Islam, in its current unreformed state, is not compatible with the values that Catholic Brazil and Buddhist Korea are trying to adopt.
Leaving aside the problems of Catholic Brazil for the moment, or for that matter, the theologically bankrupt and irrelevant Anglican Church in Britain, The Big Pharaoh may have an ally, an important Muslim ally who would also like to see Islam reformed and the Middle East brought into the present. Actually, I think he’d even settle for the 19th century, but that’s just conjecture.

Last year, on the most propitious holy day in Islam, the Night of Power, King Abdullah of Jordan issued the Amman Doctrine:
     Amman, the capital of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, seizes the opportunity of this Holy Month of Ramadan, in which the Holy Quran was revealed, to issue a statement to the public, to our brethren in Muslim lands and in this whole world.
We are aware of the dangers and challenges the Islamic Nation is facing today at this difficult juncture of its course. Evils threaten its identity, incite disunity, tarnish its religion and assail its tenets; they attack fiercely the very message of Islam. Some who attack Islam imagine it is their enemy. But it is not their enemy. Others, who claim to belong to Islam, have done gruesome and criminal acts in its name. The message that is under attack is the message of tolerance, revealed by the Almighty to His prophet Muhammad, God’s prayers and salutations be upon him, and carried after him by his orthodox successors and household members: a message of brotherhood and humanity; forming a righteous religion that embraces the entire sphere of human life, upholding what is good and forbidding what is wrong, accepting of others, and honouring all human beings.
Then, in September of this year, about a month before the hooligan uprising in Paris, King Abdullah came to Catholic University in Washington D.C. to tell what had happened in the interim:
     This past July, there was a major international conference in Jordan. It brought together scholars from 45 nations. They represented all eight traditional schools of Islamic thought. And together, they affirmed Islam’s core values, expressed in the Amman Message. They issued a joint statement of accord, to help end abuses of our faith. For instance, they agreed that religious edicts cannot be issued by people lacking the proper qualifications and religious knowledge (like Bin Laden and Zarqawi). And they agreed that no one can call another Muslim an apostate—as the extremists do to those who disagree with them.
The Amman Message is an all-Islamic initiative. It currently involves opinion-makers from across the Islamic world. God willing, it will expand to engage the popular preachers and grass-roots activists – what is called the “Muslim street.” We intend to revisit education and media roles as well. The ultimate goal is to take back our religion from the vocal, violent, and ignorant extremists who have tried to hijack Islam over the last hundred years. They do not speak for Islam any more than a Christian terrorist speaks for Christianity. And the real voices of our faiths will be, must be, heard.
So there you have it, Big Pharaoh. I doubt the Muslim Brotherhood is listening to the King of Jordan. I doubt his fellow citizen, Zarqawi, will change his criminal ways — he was a thug before he became a Muslim. Blood will tell, won’t it?

Nonetheless, Jordan's strategy ought to hearten those moderates like the Big Pharaoh who look around and wonder where peace and sense will come from:
     Strategically, Jordan is one of the few countries truly engaged in the battle of ideas. As important as it is to conduct raids, make arrests, and freeze terror funds, the war on terror also requires that countries deny jihadists the ability to radicalize and deploy new recruits.
Some will say this strategy cost Jordanians their lives in the blasts last week. But they would be wrong. The list of terrorist bombings in supposedly “friendly” countries — Pakistan, for one — proves there is no safe haven from terrorists. And Zarqawi, the deadly Joker, wants Jordan for his base.

What the Muslims have yet to learn, and what King Abdullah would have them understand, is a lesson the Americans learned early in their fight against the British. As Ben Franklin told his fellow revolutionaries, “we must all hang together or assuredly we will all hang separately.” Franklin had many other aphorisms which would serve Muslims well, but that one is a good place to start.

Come to think of it, perhaps instead of technology, Middle Eastern catching-up with the West could begin with a study of the history of successful revolutions.


linearthinker said...

If you took your tongue out of your cheek, would your words sound the same? Just asking.

Re bigpharoah's thoughts on reforming Islam, i.e. "why we can't take the saying of the prophet, the actions of his companions, and Shariah law in their historical context," I wondered if an objective opening of the issues he raised would expose the brutal, venal basis of Islam and Shariah, and thereby end the effort before it had really begun? Not that I dismiss his sentiments, just that I question if such reform is possible.

Jason Pappas said...

Islam’s supposed taboo against Muslim on Muslim violence was hard to maintain. Mohammad is credited with uniting the Arabs and directing their violence against non-Arabs. However, it didn’t last. Many of the first few Caliphs died a violent death and the Shiites had a falling out with the Sunni early on.

One of the problems with a lack of universal moral principles is the complete inability to draw lines. Like the phony “code of honor” of common criminals, the reality of immorality leads to distrust. Arbitrary rules can not replace solid morality. Islam is a supremacist ideology that sees some people as less than human. It’s not long before some Muslims see other Muslims as less than Muslim.

Of course, I believe change is possible but for Islam (unlike Christianity) it involves shoving the religion aside as I’ve argued here.

I still like hearing about those that seek reform - even failed efforts lay the groundwork for another try. And it means that some are admitting there is a problem … the first step.

Gryffilion said...

When France isn't having problems with a German Fuhrer, it's having problems with an Islamic furor...

(put this in response to the wrong post earlier)

Papa Ray said...

Bill's words should be printed in bold large type and plastered at every street corner and every written, printed, broadcast media.

I have been saying basicly the same thing for years, just not with the talent that Bill has in expressing his thoughts and feelings.

And after reading this quote here:

"God willing, it will expand to engage the popular preachers and grass-roots activists – what is called the “Muslim street.”

This quote shows that even Muslims that want some reform don't really fully understand their own religion (or he is trying to pull a sham over on everyone).

If I have to explain it to you, at this late date, you need more than Bill and me to convince you that Islam is going to have to be eradicated - TOTALLY, because it can/will never be changed.

There is NO other way.

Papa Ray
West Texas

Anonymous said...

Thought-provoking as usual, Dymphna. I have a few random thoughts to contribute. First, France.

As I wrote last week, the evidence we have in hand on the young men who are still rioting in France does not support the conclusion that their rioting is religiously inspired nor is it completely clear that the rioters are Muslims. I think the best conclusion we can draw right now is that they're not rioting because they're Muslims; they're rioting because they're French.

On reformations. Those who long for a reformation in Islam probably haven't reflected much on the Protestant Reformation. The reformation in Islam is well underway, it's Salafism, and the reformation is a conservative one just as the Protestant Reformation was.

This is not good news.

What Westerners are looking for is not the Reformation but the Enlightenment which come into flower first in Italy (with the Humanists) and later in France and grew from very different roots than the Reformation.

Is the war against Islam itself (as Papa Ray says)? I don't know that the reckoning is in and I certainly hope not. In the final analysis that question will be answered by Muslims themselves and more anti-terrorism demonstrations like those in Morocco and Jordan are a small start. As Michael Ledeen frequently says, faster, please.