Sunday, October 17, 2010

An Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Moderate Islam

First off, I hope I am not breaking any news when I say that to learn something about Islam one must not get one’s schooling from American television networks. Especially not ABC's The View.

Further, I assume I need not expand on the observation that certain forms of debate (eg where one argues by appeals like 'Oh My God !') do not admit reason and therefore are not in any way informative. For example, it was plainly incorrect for Bill O’Reilly to say ‘Muslims killed us on 9/11’ as the pronoun grammatically includes the speaker himself who, by all appearances, was still alive as he delivered the line. Similarly, it is not an argument for the mosque in a building damaged by the Islamic terrorist attack on WTC to say, as Whoopi Goldberg did, there were seventy Muslims among the victims. It is not because such finding does not alter the religious affiliation of the attackers, nor the fact that two thousand and eight hundred of the other victims – the ones specifically targetted - were Non-muslims. So it would be, to an intelligent woman, plain and clear that if a New York Muslim cleric acts with a callous disregard of the wishes of the majority of those victims, he is not what he purports to be: a moderate Muslim. Further, in the uncivilized debate, Joy Behar challenged the figure of seventy percent of Americans being opposed to the mosque. Interestingly, her CNN employer’s poll in early August quoted the figure of 68%, slightly off the CBS poll’s 71% . So this figure by all appearances does not originate with a shady right-wing pollster for hire, as Ms Behar intimated.

On both sides, then there is bizarre spin-doctoring, either unnecessarily broad-brushing of all Muslims, or denying that state-sponsored, radical forms of Islam exist and are actively engaged in attempts to undermine and dismantle the civilizational foundation of the West. Unfortunately, the debate is all too typical on what passes for brains and civility on the major networks these days. There does not seem to be any common-sense, middle ground to be found anywhere. The sitting US Attorney General does not seem to know there is radical Islam, or so he would like us to believe. One can only wonder if Eric Holder would have had the same difficulty identifying the Baader-Meinhof Gang as radical Marxists.

On the other extreme, Pamela Geller, the NYC blogger who stirred up the opposition to imam Rauf’s Cordoba House project, does not believe there is such a thing as moderate Islam. Selon elle, there are moderate Muslims, but no moderate Islam.

Well, she is wrong. Until the house of Saud started to export Wahhabism in the 1970’s, and the US allowed itself to be shanghaied by the ayatollahs and chased away from Beirut, the Islam in the world was by and large mild. Moammar Gaddafi’s brand of revolution might have had an Islamic flavour, but its political vectors pointed elsewhere (pan-Arabic nationalism rather than jihadi pan-Islamism). There were of course strands and pockets of more conservative, stricter adherence to traditional Islamic precepts, but the belief in toppling the civilization of the West and replacing it with a world-wide caliphate, was as fringe view of Islam as Terry Jones’ baptist gospel is of Christianity today. Modern radical Islam then is a new phenomenon. It came about unexpectedly as a by-product of the petro pricing revolution in the 1970’s. Huge monetary surpluses from oil were used to export the Saudi version of Islam, first to Pakistan and Malaysia and then practically wherever the dollar is recognized as currency. The Shia response to the radicalization was soon realized in Iran, in Khomeini's Islamic Republic. Iran’s ample oil revenues also started to project politically abroad : first in Lebanon, and now in Gaza and Turkey.

So, moderate Islam continues to exist, even though it has been overshadowed lately by the politically militant forms. Tayyip Erdogan, the PM of the latest major arrivals on the Islamic political scene, Turkey, may scoff at the ‘ugly and offensive’ idea of moderate Islam . But all he is saying is that his allegiances no longer lie with the U.S., NATO or Europe. (As a matter of fact, it looks a lot like the APK, Turkey’s ruling Islamist party widely reported to have been ‘created’ by Saudi oil money is now switching allegiances to Tehran.) It is a way to say to the Muslims: the balance of power has shifted. We, the Islamic radicals, now hold the economic trump cards. The U.S. can’t do anything; the country is bankrupt, morally and money-wise. You better march with us.

Luckily for the West though, things are never simple in the Muslim world. Traditional societies have traditional views of themselves. Saudi Arabia and Iran will forever be at loggerheads. Egypt sees itself as the centre of the Arab civilization. Its intellectuals ridicule the upstart desert primitives in Riyadh. Syria will not cede its influence in Lebanon to Iran. Malaysia and Indonesia will be tied economically much more closely to the East Asian markets than the Middle East. The long term smart play for Muslims around the world would be to stay with moderate Sufism. A lot of them in the West are happy with the lives they lead and do not like the negative attention the islamist radicalism creates for their communities. But unfortunately, many Muslims remain passive in their politics, coming as they do from places ruled by brutish despots. They are frightened by the fiery sermons of the Saudi-trained clerics (for a closer look, here is a BBC documentary from 2007 as a primer). They see the mosques openly preaching sedition and separation from the state, and the authorities not stepping in and dealing with the outrage in a just, competent, effective way. In consequence, most Muslims will not step forward and confront the fanatics themselves.

How to Identify moderate Islam

The test is actually quite simple. If a person proclaims that sharia should replace the secular laws of the West, if he or she believes in a world-wide caliphate, and Islam as the only valid religion of the world, then this person is not a moderate Muslim (= a believer in moderate Islam), whether or not the believer publicly renounces terrorism. The terrorism in this position is implied. One cannot claim, as either material or spiritual need, the right to the trashing of other people’s beliefs. All true religions believe themselves unique and superior to all other religions. Islam is no exception in this. The fact that this religion spread in the world initially by military conquest is irrelevant. The fact that the Quranic idiom often points to martial valour as the truest expression of faith is irrelevant. All religions live by hyperbole. What is relevant is whether the contemporary Muslim believer grasps that hatred breeds hatred, insincerity breeds mistrust, supremacist ideology breeds resistance in fair-minded and intelligent people. What is relevant is whether the contemporary Muslim believer grasps that he only way a civilization may show its superiority is by an example in laying the groundwork for its people to lead a secure, productive, satisfying life. If this is the way of Allah, we can live side by side peaceably.

But, the intelligent woman will ask, is there such Islam anywhere ? Isn’t it just what you would like to believe ?

Well, I think there is a quite convincing proof that most Muslims do not mean to kill us. One of the curious items in the Ground Zero Mosque affair has been the silence of the mainstream American media on the unpopularity of the project in the Arab world. The pundits evidently don’t know what to make of the negative image imam Rauf has there. The scholars of the world’s oldest Islamic university, Cairo’s Al-Azhar, consider him a provocateur par excellence to a point of accusing him of playing a part in a devious Zionist conspiracy. They think the idea of a “call to prayer from the rubble of WTC” (a partial title of Rauf’s book printed in Malay) gives Islam a bad name and strengthens the association between 9/11 and Islam, on which many people in America will gladly jump and around which some will create their media personality. Far from a shield against Islamic extremists, the Park51 project will inevitably attract them (as did the Hamburg mosque where the 9/11 plotters gathered) as a place of pilgrimage. Nowhere is the unsoundness of Rauf and the builders of the Islamic center more apparent than in misrepresenting the Muslim majority view outside of the US. A poll in the moderate Arabic electronic paper Elaph in August showed that the Arab main street is aligned to the American main street in judging the Ground Zero Mosque to be a bad idea. 58% percent were against it. It appears that most people the project as an unnecessary and counter-productive provocation. Whether they are Christians, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs or Muslims. Most would readily agree with a Muslim view of the sharia lunatic fringe which would have had no chance in attracting followers were it not for the glut of oil money in the hands of the religiously obsessed.

A control question for Joy Behar: why does a Lebanese Liberal Joseph Bishara does not believe imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is a moderate Muslim ? (answer here)

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