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February 02, 2006

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The recent Hamas victory, the continuing Sunni insurgency, and the violent reaction to the shameful cartoons published in the European press have furthered the deep suspicion that Europeans elites and some American publics hold in regard toward Musli... [Read More]

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Doug Lichtman

As readers of this post well know, the comments here have generated a bit of controversy over the last few days. Part of that is my own fault. After a number of comments were posted, I called out one particular poster for that poster’s tone and use of language. That, understandably, was applauded by some and deemed deeply inappropriate by others. Thus, what started as a controversy over the arguable insensitivity of some of the posters here forked into two controversies: one over the dialogue here, and another over how, if at all, the Law School should respond.

I should say first that I have heard from a good many alumni and readers on this, and the emails I have gotten have been phenomenally helpful in terms of thinking through both issues. This is a new medium for all of us, and I won’t pretend for a moment that even I imagine myself to have perfect judgment over how and when to manage it. The email conversations this weekend were thus much appreciated. And, if I had it to do over again, I think I now have a much better sense of what I should have said and done on Friday, when the controversies still numbered but one. My error there to be sure.

All that said, the original difficulties still remain. While there are some who believe the comments originally here were perfectly legitimate, there are many others, myself included, who thought that the comments here were not appropriate for this setting. The puzzle is how best to resolve that difference of opinion. One option is obviously to do nothing and allow everyone to say whatever they think. On this approach, those who are displeased would be told to respond with their own comments back. The result would be administratively simple and easily defended as being supportive of free speech. Then again, that approach would mean that anyone who writes to or for the blog would be helping to provide an audience for what will be at least a modest number of intolerant, uncivil, and maybe even destructive comments. And it would also mean that many readers will ignore the comments entirely, thus missing out on worthwhile conversation both ways. Lastly, to adopt the laissez-faire approach would be to give up on the promise of doing better: building a place where people of differing views exchange ideas respectfully, maybe even warmly, and through that learn from one another.

Another option is to adopt moderated comments. The upside there is that someone would be empowered to stop inappropriate comments before they are published; the downside is that no one really wants that job, and, even if someone did, it is too subjective a job to entrust to one person’s judgment. Moderated comments would also slow down the pace of debate, because comments would not post until they were read and approved by the moderator. Besides, we all have day jobs, and moderating comments is an enormous time sink.

Thus, for the moment, we are going to re-open comments here and throughout the blog. For my own part, I apologize if my initial response here was too heavy-handed. My intentions were good even though my execution was admittedly off. We will in the meantime continue to think about and discuss alternative comment policies. On that, I would very much welcome private emails with suggestions, or perhaps comments here on this thread. Lastly, for now, the comments that were here are being stored offline. Please indulge us on that. The comments here generated such controversy and were to some so hurtful that I would rather not leave them up, at least not until our community has adopted a stable comments policy that might guide any such decision.

Again, thanks to the many of you who emailed this weekend. The issues here were touchy, yet the emails I received were overwhelmingly thoughtful and productive, even from people who disagreed with some aspect of how things had gone the last few days. The blog experiment continues to have kinks; but days like today remind me of what a worthwhile experiment it is.

Roach

I'm going to repeat my substantive criticisms because I think they are things that need to be said.

Professor Levmore writes that "The boycott of Danish goods that has taken hold in parts of the Moslem world may be a fairly good response. I do not mean "good" in the sense that I approve of it, but rather in the sense of people's ability to express their preferences in a way that might influence behavior in another part of the world and in a place where the more direct route, of holding the host government responsible and expecting domestic restraints, is unavailable."

We've seen in the last few days that this is not a normal boycott. This is a riot, a boiling over of a resentful, angry, and fanatical constituency, complete with the burning of the Danish embassy in Lebanon. One is tempted to dismiss these as the acts of a few fanatics, a facsimile of extreme Western behavior of, say, the 15th-17th Centuries. But it is different. The solution to the vices of Christendom could be found in Christianity itself, which teaches a fundamental equality of man rooted in the belief that each person is entitled to respect as a creature made in the image of God. That is to say Christians could collectively learn they were behaving un-Christianly and that our modern liberal, democratic way of life more fully recognizes this principle than its predecessors.

In contrast, the recent reaction of the Muslim world is not a deviation from the peaceful core beliefs of Islam, but rather an expression of its core commandmaents of violence against nonbelievers that dare to fail to submit to what is believed to be a perfect code of behavior. There is no way to look at this turn of events without looking to the culture and teachings of Islam.

Islam is a complete religion and way of life. It counsels laws, a form of government, and modes of mandatory behavior by believers and unbelivers alike. These are contained in the legal code promulgated by Mohammad himself, the Sharia. In contrast to Christianity which speaks to individual behavior and Judaism which teaches a detailed code for the Jewish community, Islam has a complete code for Jew, Christian, and Muslim alike that is meant to be imposed through force by one who is believed to be a divinely appointed regime, the Caliphate.

This legal code is believed to come from God Himself. It does not permit deviation. This is a core belief of Islam: that legislation is a divine function that man cannot alter. Islam is pardoxical; it uses words like freedom from violence, but it means them in a different way. The Koran is clear that no man is really free (to choose Islam for example) unless he is under the aegis of the Sharia code. The Sharia is perfect and works to man's benefit and thus Muslims believe they are commanded to fight (literally) to impose this "freedom" on others. (This stands oddly as a mirror image of the administration's own belligerent, Wilsonian concept of "freedom.")

It's easy enough to find passages that support the kind of violent intolerance in the Koran itself. "VIII.39-42: Say to the Infidels: if they desist from their unbelief, what is now past shall be forgiven; but if they return to it, they have already before them the doom of the ancients! Fight then against them till strife be at an end, and the religion be all of it God's."

Islamic apostate Ibn Warraq said it best when he wrote, ""There may be moderate Muslims, but Islam itself is not moderate. There is no difference between Islam and Islamic fundamentalism. At most there is a difference of degree but not of kind." He, of course, writes under a pseudonym.

While anti-Christian polemics from the Last Temptation of Christ to South Park proliferate in our culture, the death threats and spasms of violence we've seen in recent days in the Islamic world stand in sharp contrast to the quiesence of Christians occasionally aggrieved by what they see as disrespect for their religion. And, more important, acts of violence by Christian extremists find little support in the broader Christian community. One does not hear even in Baptist and Catholic Churches kind words for those that would defy the law and use violence again, for example, abortionists or others that deviate from their religious and moral teachings.

The reason is not some cultural difference, but different commandments to the faithful; Christians are told, in essence, to ignore unbelievers and pray for them. Christianity may influence one's political philosophy, but only indirectly. Christianity at its core is concerned with one's orientation to the world, not the structure of worldly affairs. In contrast, Muslims are told by their holiest text that such offenses must be met with violence.

This is an important issue for at least two reasons. First, the West and Europe in particular have undertaken to introduce large numbers of Muslims into their population. From the murders of Pim Fortuyn and Theo van Gogh, to the riots by disaffected Muslim youth in Paris, as a group Muslims living in Europe have shown themselves to be a turbulent minority that feels free to demand obeissance to its own notions of the sacred from the broader community while according little such respect to others. Europe should act on what is increasingly obvious: the liberal and tolerant way of life to which they are accustomed is incompatible with a large and growing minority that has little respect for the beliefs of others. That is to say, that Muslims for now are a turbulent minority and will likely become, as they grow more numerous, an oppressive majority--just as they have in Pakistan, Lebanon, Nigeria, Sudan, and everwhere else they have been in a position to oppress minorities. And the reasons are not because they're mean-spirited, lacking character, or abusing their faith, but because they sincerely believe in it and such commands to oppress others flow from the core text of Islam, the Koran which is believed to have been dictated by God word for word. A free society that has a choice to exclude those that would undermine that society's essential contours is acting both sensibly and well within its rights. No society that valued itself should allow its principles of freedom, tolerance, and inclusion to be employed as a Trojan Horse by those would later disrespect these principles when they are able. That is to say, that it is not a denial of western, liberal principles to say that liberal societies can do some illiberal things to preserve themselves. It's a long road from that sensible position to saying that a society can do anything it wants in the name of forcing the "good life" upon others. In other words, the slippery slope arguments employed to prevent such sensible measures are knee-jerk and clueless. Westerners long ago rejected a totalitarian account of politics that would use the state to demand conformity in all things; the problem is they failed to realize others had not just as they were opening up their society to them.

Second, this entire episode should give some pause to those that believe democracy is the solution to the terrorism flowing from the Middle East. To the extent the populace is Muslim, any Muslim democracy can be expected to adopt some version of Sharia--and we've seen as much in Indonesia and Iraq, for example. Such a democracy might have majority rule, but it would be illiberal. The recent Hamas victory in the Palestinian territories and the Sharia-influence on the Iraq constitution give little reason for hope that non-Muslims will be treated any less shabbily than they have from the first days of Muslim rule in Saudi Arabia. That is to say, they will be second class citizens, subject to a confiscatory tax, and unequal in the eyes of the law. These facts can be confirmed in any casual reading of books on Islam ranging from "The Sword of the Prophet" by Srjga Trivkovic to "The Myth of Islamic Tolerance" by Robert Spencer. And, indeed, most of Bernard Lewis's books are at least consistent with this accounting of things. Likewise, Islamic texts themselves confirm my thesis, including the Koran, the Hadiths, and commentaries like Said Qutb's "Milestones."

So when we come upon some conflict between free speech and Islamic tolerance we should, instead of recognizing Islamic boycotts as just one more form of expression, recocgnize that these boycotts are just the impotent reactions of those unable, though determined, to produce compliance with their worldview through violence. Muslims may disagree about terrorism; Islam, like Christianity, counsels certain limitations on warfare aimed to protect innocents. But Muslims do not (at least within the framework of Islam) disagree about jihad. It's a core obligation of Muslims. It's a central part of their religious beliefs and religious history. And by its nature it defines who is innocent and who is the enemy very broadly.

It is not a coincidence or canard that Islam is called the Religion of the Sword. From Morocco to India it was spread by military conquest, not the actions of missionaries using the arts of persuasion.

In a time like this, we should be partisans for free speech, demanding respect for the principles for those that choose to live in our countries. We should stand up defiantly to foreigners in foreign countries that would dare to have us stand down from our core values through veiled threats of violence and terrorism. Muslims in Britain held up signs threatening another 9/11 and that said "whoever insultes the prophet kill him." I'm disappointed Professor Levmore describes this as an issue of a "trade off between free speech and other values, or simply one of the costs free speech imposes." We've always known free speech means some speakers might be impious and that some listeners might be offended or shocked. Some, in fact as we saw on this blog, might even be offended on behalf of others.

This is the point of free speech; it's founded in a faith that truth will win out in the end, that free speech at least allows access to the truth always to be available, that much of conventional wisdom is worthy of criticism, and that we are worse off for having codified and limited speech in the name of "respect for people's feelings." Now is a time to stand up for Denmark, to tell the Muslim world that their tyrannical belief system will not affect our behavior in the least, and that our principles and values are RIGHT in this regard and, in any case, we will continue to live under them and not give into pressure. Now is time not to offer nuanced considerations of whether our free speech principles might be outdated, but a time to be a partisan for free speech and our western way of life in the face of violence abroad and the activities of subverse, would-be tyrants at home.

Kimball Corson

From having lived in Saudi Arabia and read both the Koran and about Arab culture and religious belief, Roach's understanding of Islam parallels my own quite closely, but we disagree in the here and now on what should be the scope of our unfettered free speech in this quarter. For now, at least, to avoid civil unrest, I believe we need to be more circumspect in exercising those rights when it comes to the tenets of Islam. That is not to say we should be muzzled. It is instead to suggest that we need to pick and chose our words carefully in order to say what we want, without given undue offense – indeed, just as Roach has largely done in his last post.

eteraz

i'm going to make a subtle point here and i hope the commentators will appreciate the distinctions.

there are two levels of this debate, and i fear they are being conflated.

1 - freedom of speech: this is the more general point. can you mock a religious figure in a paper? yes. can you make caricatures of a man of whom people do not make caricatures. yes! can you? oh yes. in answering yes to these questions, europe, the west, americans, are all absolutely correct.

2 - incitement of hate-crimes: this is the more difficult point, and i'll be blunt about it: *european muslims* (and i'm limiting this to them) have a rightful reason to fear that mockery of their beliefs will lead to an increase in violence against them. american muslims generally dont have to worry about hate crimes. that's why we don't really care how many muslim villains you put into hollywood movies. hell, we go along with everyone else to watch these movies. consider 'the seige' - a horrible movie if there ever was one - all about stereotyping arabs and muslims - it couldn't even recognize that not all arabs are mulims or that not all muslims are arabs - still, i recall when it came out, me and fellow muslims were eating popcorn and buying soda by the ton at showings. why? because we were at top 10 colleges; we were lawyers, and as a consequence we have faith in the american system. european muslims, on the other hand, don't have this kind of success in europe. there are a number of institutional, economic and psychological reasons -- IN WHICH BOTH THE EUROPEAN ESTABLISHMENT AND THE IMMIGRANT MENTALITY are complicit. as a consequence of these wide scale failures, the european muslim minority fears reprisals when their beliefs are so publicly mocked. the thought is: "if they can mock our most holy man, they surely won't stop at anything if they come after us." this is a psychological insight about the place of the minority and can be best understood by understanding the black viewpoint in the american south in the 1970's (after the civil rights era but before economic improvement).

what's most unfortunate is that when the middle east becomes the main spokesman against these attacks, what they have really done is take attention away from the problems that european muslims face. point # 2 gets ignored. it becomes all about point # 1. law professors write about freedom of speech and forget about the ghettoization of a community immigrants that reminds me very much of the ghettoes of the deep south that remain to this day.

finally, roach, your 'analysis' of islam - where the only authority you cite is that of ibn warraq - leaves a lot to be desired. both in terms of intellectual honesty and accuracy.

Steven Duffield

Interesting post about the differences in Europe....all the way up until you ruined it by pretending to know if Mr. Roach was being honest or not. Accurate is always up for debate. Anyway, interesting points on substance until then.

Roach

Maybe, eteraz, you can show me why I'm wrong by citing passages from the Koran. And, in return, I'll quote 100 in response that talk about violence and discrimination against Jews, Christians, infidels, etc. And then you can try to explain them away.

Roach

The fact that our earlier discussion caused undue controversy is not too surprising, but there is actually something important at stake in the decision to accomodate militant sensitivity. One implicitly concedes important ground when one approaches a viewpoint that he thinks is mistaken (among other things) in an overly reverential way.

Matthew Parris had a good piece in the Times (UK) about this very subject, "But offence implicitly offered, and offence actually taken, are two different matters. On the whole Christians, for example, take offence less readily than Muslims. The case for treating them, in consequence, differently is obvious, but we should be wary of it. It means groups are allowed to be as thin-skinned as they wish: to dictate for themselves how delicately we must tread with them — to create, as it were, their own definition of respect and require us to observe it. Those who do this may not always realise that that they create serious buried resentments among those of fellow-citizens who are more broad-shouldered about the trading of insult.

"Muslims are not alone in this. I really hate the way some Israelis and their apologists become angry and rude whenever the state of Israel is criticised; the interviewees who jump down their interviewer’s throat the moment they dislike a line of questioning about Palestine; the readers who write — themselves offensively — to allege anti-Semitism when none was felt or intended, or bark at you if you talk about their “wall” rather than “fence”.

"There is no doubting the result of this habit: we journalists are forever deleting a line here or a thought there because of the barrage of complaint we know would otherwise come from the Israel lobby. But does that lobby realise how much unvoiced hostility towards their cause this fans? . . .

"I am not happy that we should allow any group to define the terms on which we deal with their issues, however genuinely or deeply felt. They for their part should not suppose that the self-censorship they induce in the rest of Britain does them any favours in the end. It does not make us sympathetic, only wary of complaint.

"Nevertheless, a conclusion some draw is that for the sake of a quiet life we might as well refrain from voicing criticisms we may feel towards any supersensitive group or cause, because our private thoughts, our private arguments, and those of our readers, remain our own, and uncensored. Others draw the conclusion that we should at least avoid gratuitous insults — the “damn your God” as opposed to the “I doubt His existence ” expressions — because they hurt real, decent people. I think this latter form of polite restraint is what Ben Macintyre was proposing.

"The approach is tempting. It avoids hurt. But it overlooks, in the evolution of belief, the key role played by mockery. Many faiths and ideologies achieve and maintain their predominance partly through fear. They, of course, would call it “respect”. But whatever you call it, it intimidates. The reverence, the awe — even the dread — that their gods, their KGB or their priesthoods demand and inspire among the laity are vital to the authority they wield.

"Against reverence and awe the best argument is sometimes not logic, but mockery. Structures of oppression that may not be susceptible to rational debate may in the end yield to derision. When people see that a priest, rabbi, imam or uniformed official may be giggled at without lightning striking the impertinent, arguments may be won on a deeper level than logic."


Note: second sentence edited for clarity with permission to fix omission of words.

eteraz

Roach,

I specialize in Islamic Law. Feel free to cite all of the "100" passages that are anti-Christian and anti-Jewish and anti0Infidel. I will explain each one, one by one. I'll probably do it on my blog. But please, give me a cite. I assure you, I have a copy of the Quran with me.

In your post you only mentioned one. I'm going to let you compile your list and will check back on this blog to see if you've answered.

All this is assuming you want real engagement and not just a polemic. I'm not man enough for polemics.

I await your response.

Kimball Corson

Rather than search for passages, which can only lead to a battle of the cites, I have an idea:

Eteraz apparently brings a Muslim/American perspective to the table that is very valuable, especially when coupled with his specialization in Islamic law.

I would ask him specifically where and how Roach's and my perspective fails or is at least compromised in his view in one or another regard and in one or another location and where it also holds too and why. That would be interesting.

Clearly he is not an absolutist rampaging through the streets and perhaps his views over times have shifted toward more western values from his or his grandparents’ earlier perspectives.

Talk to us Eteraz about these matters. We need to know. What has been the history of your thought and what is your background. Help to educate us on these matters. We need to understand.

Roach

OK, here are a few that seem pretty damning to me. (100 was hyperbole for now). Damning that is, if you don't think nonbelievers should be killed, and Jews and Christians should be persecuted, and that polygamy, concubinage, and slave-holding are wrong.

On the enemy and the duty of jihad.
Koran 9:5: "Fight and kill the disbelievers wherever you find them, take them captive, harass them, lie in wait and ambush them using every stratagem of war.”

On the enemy. Koran 9:29: "Fight those who do not believe in Allah, nor in the latter day, nor do they prohibit what Allah and His Apostle have prohibited, nor follow the religion of truth, out of those who have been given the Book, until they pay the tax in acknowledgment of superiority and they are in a state of subjection"

On the mandatory nature of fighting. Koran 8: 39: "And fight with them until there is no more persecution and religion should be only for Allah; but if they desist, then surely Allah sees what they do."

On violence. Koran 5:33 "The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His apostle and strive to make mischief in the land is only this, that they should be murdered or crucified or their hands and their feet should be cut off on opposite sides or they should be imprisoned; this shall be as a disgrace for them in this world, and in the hereafter they shall have a grievous chastisement . . ."

On violence. "[8.12] When your Lord revealed to the angels: I am with you, therefore make firm those who believe. I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them."

"[33.25] And Allah turned back the unbelievers in their rage; they did not obtain any advantage, and Allah sufficed the believers in fighting; and Allah is Strong, Mighty."

On stealing lands. "[33.26-27] And He drove down those of the followers of the Book [i.e., Jews and perhaps Christians] who backed them from their fortresses and He cast awe into their hearts; some you killed and you took captive another part.

"And He made you heirs to their land and their dwellings and their property, and (to) a land which you have not yet trodden, and Allah has power over all things."

On the others of the book. "[5.51] O you who believe! do not take the Jews and the Christians for friends; they are friends of each other; and whoever amongst you takes them for a friend, then surely he is one of them; surely Allah does not guide the unjust people."

[Some thoughts on the spoils of war, i.e., women and goods.]

"8.69] Eat then of the lawful and good (things) which you have acquired in war, and be careful of (your duty to) Allah; surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.

Defending slavery. "[8.70] O Prophet! say to those of the captives who are in your hands: If Allah knows anything good in your hearts, He will give to you better than that which has been taken away from you and will forgive you, and Allah is Forgiving, Merciful."

[Not legal but a sign of the prophet's character, in particular his massive sexual appetite:]

[33.50] O Prophet! surely We have made lawful to you your wives whom you have given their dowries, and those whom your right hand possesses out of those whom Allah has given to you as prisoners of war [i.e., captured women as concubines], and the daughters of your paternal uncles and the daughters of your paternal aunts, and the daughters of your maternal uncles and the daughters of your maternal aunts who fled with you; and a believing woman if she gave herself to the Prophet, if the Prophet desired to marry her-- specially for you, not for the (rest of) believers; We know what We have ordained for them concerning their wives and those whom their right hands possess in order that no blame may attach to you; and Allah is Forgiving, Merciful."

Violence as commtiment "[2.216] Fighting is enjoined on you, and h is an object of dislike to you; and it may be that you dislike a thing while it is good for you, and it may be that you love a thing while it is evil for you, and Allah knows, while you do not know."

Hadith and other sources:

Tabari VIII:122/Ishaq:515 "The Prophet commanded that the ruin should be dug up. Some treasure was extracted from it. Then Muhammad asked Kinanah for the rest. He refused to surrender it; so Allah's Messenger gave orders concerning him to Zubayr, saying, ‘Torture him until you root out and extract what he has. So Zubayr kindled a fire on Kinanah's chest, twirling it with his firestick until Kinanah was near death. Then the Messenger gave him to Maslamah, who beheaded him."

I guess, though, my question is simple. If our world were under an Islamic legal code, could nonbelievers insult the prophet, make an image of him, leave Islam for Christianity or atheism, or do any of the other things that we take for granted as part of our western way of life. Because that's my point; these things are not allowed in Islam and Muslims are commanded to fight nonbelievers until, some day, the whole world is under the "protction" of an Islamic government and Islamic legal system.

anon

surely we're not going to go quote by quote in hopes of accusing one major religion of illiberalism while simultaneously trying to defend another's liberalism. unless you believe that christianity is about subjugating women, stoning homosexuals and the like, this seems an argument that's unlikely to be fruitful.

also, it's quite odd to characterize the beliefs of a vast majority of a religion as 'incorrect' because you interpret their religious texts differently. an obvious response to your belief that the text is somehow inherently illiberal is: so what? in stating that the text permits a single reading - and one that is violent at that - you evidently place yourself in a camp with the fundamentalists, and few others. of course there are important fundamentalists, ones with political power and the like, but they do not speak for the majority of Muslims (or so polls and casual observation continually show). so, even if it were possible to label a text as inherently illiberal, should that really justify condemning all members of a faith, even those who are proud to disagree with you?

Kimball Corson

Eteraz, how does a good Muslim get out from under the passages Roach cites (and there are many more)? Does he ignore them, reject the admonitions of his mulas and immigrate to the west? If so, is he really then a true believer and child of Islam or is he instead a quasi-infidel that, like a Christian, uses his new religious freedom to pick and choose what he believes and disbelieves? How is this problem typically handled by Muslim immigrants? Too, are most Muslims similarly willing to reject the more odious aspects of Islam if they have the religious freedom necessary to do so? Help us here? Should the policies of western nations permit more, not less Muslim immigation, if that is the case?

Roach

If Islam and its texts preached violence, but in practice Muslims societies were completely tolerant and nonviolent in matters of religion, I suppose you would have a point "anon." But Christianity preaches nonviolence and western, Christian societies are nonviolent and tolerant, at least in matters of religion. Islam, in contrast, makes demands of violence by believers against nonbelievers, and, in fact, these believers often behave this way. These are not mere protests; these are actual and veiled threats, burnings of buildings, threats of holocausts, etc.

The most farcical aspect of recent Muslim riots is that these riots are being made against cartoons that portrayed Islam (and its prophet) as violent. The fanatical response of recent days is actually confirming the essential point of the artist's satire.

I also don't think this is a matter of "condemning all members of a faith." No one is being condemned here, in contrast to Islamic apostates like Rushdie. Rather, I'm making factual observations and generalizations about a people, a religion, and its members. There will always be exceptions; the question is whether the core point has truth to it or not.

PS Find me anywhere in the New Testament where anyone is commanded to be stoned, put to death, or punished for any particular sin as a religious duty. I suggest you'll find none because Christianity is fundamentally a message of mercy, an addition to the previous regime of law with a new covenant based on grace.

S. Desai

As an outsider to both religions - my thoughts are...

1. If a muslim country published pictures of Jesus nailing American Indians and blacks to the Cross - as an exercise of freedom of speech - typifying some cultures perceptions of christianity - I am sure you would have an equally strong response. Of course - there will be 6 or 7 out of those 12 cartoons that are not blatantly characterizing a religion as genocidal - and so comes the charge that 'muslims' are extreme ( of course blowing up abortion clinics and killing physcians -is just spreading the true need for the compassion of Christ). The wish to denigrate is the issue not freedom of speech - there is wilful malice in some of the cartoons for sure.

If I had drawn Jesus's crown with the flags of the European countries strangling 3/4ths of the world in misery (as the thorns) - people WOULD be offended.

2. I think the response of the embassy burning's - may have been a catalyst but not the substrate. In the context of two wars in Iraq, Palestine (didn't Hamas win fair and square -DEMOCRATICALLY), in short - continued colonialism by European/Christians ( today disguised as multinational corporatism - which is 'WHY' corporate welfare is an important governmental responisbility).

Yesterday heathens,today it is Islam - there must always be an enemy for a minority population to justify exploiting the majority of the resources and populations of the world.

Note- that despite Christianity spreading wide to the depths of China, Africa, India and South America - resentment is seething at atrocities in the name of 'civilization/democracy/free trade' - the usual oxymoronic logic of exploitation can only last so long in the face of decades of wealth being systematically removed.

Since it can not be met by direct force and is repressed - there will 'always' be the possibility of a 'minor' incident leading to a conflagaration disproportionate to the inciting incident.

Quotations from a religious book any religious book is a specious method of establishing a people's intent or most importantly their perceptions.

In the end - we live in a closed system and to think that repercussions will not occur is naive. Like the national debt - it will be transferred to another generation - and if leadership continues (in spite of mountains of evidence) to play the fiddle while the world is burning - it can only expect to be remembered with scorn.

There must be a recognition that like in a closed system - equilbrium is the natural state of affairs and NOT consumption. I think the moral of the story is that just as the muslims gave the world tools to understand the world like Algebra, Algorithms, numeric systems, etc etc. The European civilization has succeeding in imparting the priciples of 'freedom'. If an individual can 'understand'that his own country man can not be trusted to make proper decisions then why should foreigners be exempt from this logic?

What we see is a triumph of western values -where Muslims, Africans, Asians have learned they also have a right to free speech and most importantly have the right to decide their own fates, perceptions and most importantly their own nations.

Kimball Corson

Anon, the passages Roach quotes are but a few and it is pretty hard to interpret them in any liberal or emancipating way. The New Testament does not contain similar mandatory injunctions. If that is true, is a liberal believer of Islam simply to wave these mandates away and ignore them? Favorable interpretation is not really an option, I believe. The problem is how does one accepted the Koran as being the word of God without also accepting these mandates and others like them?

Kimball Corson

S. Desai, I disagree with your point 1. If Jesus were so depicted, Christians would not react as Muslims have. They might take pen in hand, if that. The point is not whether someone takes offense. It is whether they react with violence and threaten to kill.

On your second point, I think there is some validity to it. We do act like imperialists and we do exploit and take advantage. It is our history.

Whether freedom is a workable solution for suppressed Muslims is unclear to me because western values require that so much of Islam must be jettisoned that I am just not sure that most or even many Muslims can or will accept that. That is the real question.

eteraz

To Ms. Corson & Roach

Roach: So we're already down from a 100, hmm? =) We have a closed set of Quranic verses. Something manageable. Give me a little time to sit down and write on them. I will post my results here and on my blog. The delay is simply because I have a million other things to do and made my suggestion on this blog on the spur of the moment. BTW: Tabari/Ibn Ishaq are not hadith. They are "seerah" texts, which are fictional accounts of the life of Muhammad. Hyperbole, in other words =) So I am not going to address them.

Roach, as to your further point about the lack of Christian violence: I think you are forgetting that no Western state is Christian. These are post-Enlightenment, liberal state where Christianity is tolerated, and a bare husk of its former "glory." As such, to suggest that Christianity is not violent as Islam is to overlook a history that is bloody and painful. Please re-read the 17th century texts where even good Christians (like Kant) where trying to limit the scope of Christianity in the polity. I find your point of view interesting because on one hand you want to decry Islam as a primodrially evil religion while overruling the fact that its adherents consider themselves children of Judaism and Christianity, while at the same time you want to exalt Christianity. I must say, most critics of Islam are secular; in that respect, you are almost refreshing.

Ms. Corson: how does one escape the passages that Roach cited? Well, education helps. Not only that, but you have to be willing to give back to your own community. I encourage you to check out my blog, where in some way or another I'm always working on infusing new creative energy into Islamic cultures. This is a parmount duty of a Muslim thinker. To turn people away from their lethargy, boredom, and disinterest and channel their energies into different directions. I must admit I have friends who are better at "reforming" individual Muslim souls. Me, I operate more on the theoretical level. Simultaneous to that work I have to engage people like Roach, who are receptive to dialogue but have very little familiarity with the text except to quote it out of context. I have to tell you that I don't have a 10 year plan for the reformation of Islam. Nor a 5 year plan to make Islam more palatable to the Western tongue. Our lives are far more delicate and varied than to be defined by the theory of civilizational conflict (or trying to disprove it). I'm a firm believer that expansion of one's horizons, along with the cultivation of one's virtue (I am like the classicists in that regard), makes for a better world. Most of all though, I consider it my mission to restore hope in those people who have no hope in their daily life, and so when they encounter a crisis in the world, become ranting lunatics. To have hope though, Ms. Corson, one doesn't have to be Muslim, Christian, or Atheist. Just a person. I know this is a vague answer and does not address your burning questions right away. But this is my platform and from here everything emanates. On my blog you might enjoy the posting "because allah wills it" - as well as "a rhyming history of crusade and terror."

The Law Fairy

Roach and Kimball --

As to your points about the New Testament, granted, they're not as difficult to swallow as the old testament, but the suggestion from both of you that we focus on this part of the Bible is a little bit unfair in terms of the discussion here.

I'm a Christian -- have been since I was a little kid. I'm not ashamed of this fact and I don't have issues with my religion. Its adherents are far from perfect but I believe that, of the world religions, it's the one on the most right path, if you will. I also think the criticism heaped on Islam, particularly when it's compared to Christianity, is uncalled for.

I'll admit that my familiarity with Islam is very poor. By the same token, my familiarity with Christianity is very good. Christians, myself included, are often challenged by non-Christians to reconcile the Old and New Testaments. The reason for this is that the Old Testament is quite a bit harsher. It is rife with commandments to kill, stone, behead, burn, imprison, and other such lovely things. It has entire chapters and books dedicated to arcane dietary, sexual, and other restrictions. It features a God who inflicts plagues and pestilence on innocent children. The New Testament is much easier to stomach. It features a loving, merciful miracle-worker whose critics are so bent on domination that they stoop to bribing one of his closest companions to betray him, and then kill him in one of the most brutal manners possible. The problem for Christians is that, according to traditional theological doctrine, this gentle man and the vengeful God are in essence the same being.

I've spent my share of years studying and thinking about this, and at this point in my spiritual development I've determined that it's something I'm unlikely to understand in this lifetime. That's fine by me -- taking a page from one of my favorite philosophers, Kierkegaard, I choose to have faith do the rest for me. In other words, while I believe the Bible is inspired, I don't think it can be taken literally in the way fundamentalist Muslims might take the Quran passages Roach quoted literally. Does this, then, make me a bad Christian? Am I unfit to call myself Christian? Does a "true" or "good" Christian take the Bible literally to the last jot or tittle? I think no.

This is likely in large part because of my western upbringing. I suspect that if Muslims were subject to the same influences I have been, their understanding of and approach to Islam would be much more similar to my understanding of and approach to my religion. To say that they are not is an empirical point. What is it that is *so different* about the basic tenants of Islam that a "true" Muslim (this, by the way, has not been defined yet) *CANNOT*, too, be a liberal democrat (lower-case liberal democrat; not referring to specific modern political parties or ideologies)? That there are large groups of fundamentalists is not an answer. Presumably Operation Rescue, if it had any money, could move tomorrow to an island in Central America and declare themselves a sovereign religious theocracy and plot terrorist attacks on areas where abortions were "too" frequent. How would their sovereign state be any different from the extremist Muslim states?

Roach

I'm sure your responses will be interesting. But I should hope you'd address on some level to what extent Islam is incompatible with modern, liberal democracy. That is, to what extent it demands substantive laws that regulate behavior by beleivers and nonbelievers alike.

I am glad you noticed that I speak from a different idiom than the Christopher Hitchens/Andrew Sullivans of the world. I'll take "almost refreshing" as a compliment, or at least the sign of someone attuned to nuance. I actually agree with the view--sometimes lodged as a criticism of western decadence by Muslims--that the western world's liberalism is unsatisfying and unsustainable. I wrote in response to the Paris riots, "The idea of France has been in flux and at war with itself since 1789. France's Christian past and secular present have repeatedly conflicted with one another, often violently, in various episodes such as the Terror, the Commune, and the riots of the Soixante Huitards. They have never and can never coexist because the liberal, secular idea of France is explicitly anti-Christian. It permits no official recognition of France's Christian heritage. While these groups could exist in uneasy peace, the introduction of an alien elemenet with a self-confident and comprehensive vision of how society should be organized presents a major challenge. The question mark must face the crescent. The real question revealed by these riots (and related riots in Denmark and elsewhere) is whether Europe can survive as [post-modern] Europe--secular, liberal, rationalistic--or must it once again become Christendom to survive the Islamic challenge." There is a reason western conservatives talk about culture wars. Now those wars have a third front: the orderly society presented by Islam.

I agree with you that our present western identity is less Christian than the past. But I think the US has it right. Our political realm lacks an established church. But we're not a secular reimge, in the same way as France, for instance. In this space created by religious freedom, without the ossified state-supported churches of Europe, real religious life has flourished while it has declined across the pond. In this sense, I think free markets, freedom, and popular forms of government more correctly express Christian values in politics than predeessor regimes.

I also would not say go so far as to say that Islam is a "primodrially evil religion." I think it is naturally intolerant, violent, and absolutist. But that alone would not, without qualification, make it evil. Many of its core moral teachings for individual behavior accord with Christianity and Judaism: not to steal, not to engage in thievery, modesty, limits on warfare, etc. Likewise, many individual Muslims are decent people.

The problem is that Islam has a collective and historical aspect as well as an individual one. Unearthing the real Islam, whether that is to be found in the Koran, Islamic history, or the consensus of believers is of fundamental importance to Muslims and Westerners alike.

I take religion seriously, and I belive what I belive about Islam, in part, because it is what I hear Muslims say Islam means. I've read Qutb. I've read at least parts of the Koran. I perused your own website and the rantings (and in some cases reasonable discussions) by self-described Muslim commentatrs. I've read al Muhujabah's blog and discussed Islam with Muslim friends and acquaintences. This is not a view I've formed overnight.

I realize that it would pointless to use my own private (or culturally obtained) notions of shame, decency, or morality in the face of what others believe to be a revelation, a command from God. It's almost pointess to talk about such behaviors, however strange, as "moral" or "immoral." Was it immoral for Abraham to raise the knife above his son Issac?

So I'm more interested in the factual reality so that the western world and the Muslim world can at least meet on a plane of factually, accurate understandings and make sound policy on the basis of that understanding. I'm interested in significant immigration reform becauase I have concluded that it is a recipe for conflict and disaster for our "empty husk" of a culture and political system to accept one far more detailed and unitifed in its notion of the
good life.

I think in practice there are many Islams just as there are many Christianities. But just as in Christianity, the question arises about whether some of the more quiescent, lukewarm, and harmless varieties are so because they're unfaithful to the revelation. In other words, the question must arise about whether the bin Ladens of the world are, in fact, good Muslims. (The movie "The War Within" was very good on this point). They bin Ladens imagine themselves to be so. They are certainly not vicious in the manner of a comman criminal and it would be stupid and self-deluding to approach them as such.

sdesai

I do recall quite a lot of fervour and there
was violence at the portrayal of 'The passion of the Christ" and that was made by Mel Gibson - I think he is from Yemen.

Anyway -regardless of how 'religious' one is or which religion one is- there is a history here that is relevant. The Cruades ultimately became the turning point for both civilizations. As the routes to the East were pried open so did western ascendancy. For many - it seems - they are not over.

To continue debate on the grounds of religion is perilous and although I believe there are jewels of truth strewn in many religious texts - I feel the better path is to discuss the principles. No religion -is exempt from Mullahs, Priests, Popes from co-opting and perverting truth for material gain.

I continually find it fascinating that in a society that regularly sees miracles - like cellphones, satellite TV, surgery, anesthesia and spaceships. That we blithly forego this all encompassing reality and cling to texts and interpretations of dated material which at best represents written history after prolonged oral tradition. In other words - (a copy of a copy of a copy) - there will always be distortion from the original - and I am not sure but is there an 'original' text in religion? That road maybe infinite in the realm of debate.

I must say what I do find it disquieting that many biblical 'stories' are presented as facts - and re-enacments done on the basis of what evidence again?

But for the sake of mercy - leave it off the History, Discovery, Learning channels -- pretty please?

I must say that cultural context is a huge blinder. A classic example is the pyramids - which many were 'absolutely' certain was by slavery and the forcing and killing of tens of thousands. There is evidence that pyramids were created more with ingenuity and not slavery. Recently - the history channel did a special on the wall of china - again - 'millions must have died' - yet scanning the wall for 100s of miles and 100s of sites not one mass grave has been found.

Slavery is not a final common pathway to building monuments that last millenia's.

And - why should one 'accept' an unproven dialectic that religion is the basis of the government. Europe also had its papacy and generational tyrants. Buddhism , Jainism which preached against castism and tried to enjoin humanity to be in harmony - had no effect for centuries as they also shared dictatorial regimes (with out Europe's help) - as did Christianity. How can the son of God 'die' for all our sins and yet the 'King' be a God ? How can one worship and kneel before a king - if one shall have 'No God before me".

It is a hopeless spiral of illogical thinking which leads to vortex of 'blind faith' and false sense of certainty.

No culture is capable of discovery in a repressive environment - and there is more than ample proof that other civilizations/religions have been very creative, dynamic and contributed to the store of human knowledge.

Therefore, there are progressive secular people/times/periods/moments in every religion.

One can very well say - how can I trust Christians - since 'as a non-believer' - I am surely going to hell - same to the Muslims - I am an infidel = to me its the same coin with the same face - just a different hand showing it to me.

The point is religious views can never really be imposed. There India stands as a shining example - despite 1000 years of rule by Muslims and 300 by British - it is one of the few areas in the world that allowed its oppressor every accord to 'save' them and yet the country is still 80 percent Hindu.

none

Roach: "I'll take "almost refreshing" as a compliment, or at least the sign of someone attuned to nuance."

So, Roach is either saying that the complimenter is attuned to Roach's nuance or that Roach is himself nuanced. Either way, the implication is that Roach is nuanced.

The same person that has advanced HIS version of a monolithic Islamic religion as THE Islamic religion.

The same person that, at every opportunity, sets things up as a dichotomy between "Islam" and "liberalism." (Gee, no wonder they're incompatible.)

The same person that continues to give credit to the Christian religion for ideas and institutions that, at the very least, its institutional leadership has been and (in many cases) continues to be inimical towards.

And now, for his final act (if only it were so), he refers to himself as "someone attuned to nuance." That is, someone aware of and responsive to ... subtlety.

pbb

The debate is, in my view, going off track. Many, now, are focusing on the reaction of the Muslim world forgetting how shocking and offensive the cartoons are. Instead of looking into what caused this uproar, people are diverting the debate. We should be talking about ethics and morale here, as the debate is definitely not about freedom of speech or freedom of the press. The latter, by the way, does not mean anarchy; just because one has freedom of speech does not give them a license to lampoon a holy figure like Prophet Mohamed. Many Muslims would be just as outraged and angered if Jesus or Moses were depicted in the same manner.

Furthermore, in this context of cultural misunderstanding and geopolitical unrest, moves of this sort cannot be tolerated. You just cannot mock the holiness of a religion, be it a prominent figure or some aspect of it.

Many people tend to portray Muslims as backward people, with no education, no knowledge of the world, and even no idea of liberty. That is a skewed view of the real face of the diverse Muslim world. Islam is not about culture. Muslims live everywhere in this world and participate in social and economic life like everybody else. They form over a billion people of world population. So they are not a minority. Muslims are not animals, they are not violent beings. They have feelings and are merciful. Mercy is the backbone of the Islamic faith. That aspect of the religion is easily or voluntarily overlooked by many, for obvious reasons. Some people do have a beef with Islam. That is why they will try to find whatever they can, including interpretable passages of the Qur'an, to make this religion look bad. I have to say that the likes of Osama Bin Laden do not help the image of Muslims, who are generally viewed as barbarians. But whoever is good-sensed and decent will easily understand that they do not represent Islam. The religion itself means peace. Bin Laden and his cohorts have other preoccupations than Islam. They are not acting in the name of Allah, nor are their motives related to Islam.

In conclusion, blaming these events on Islam and Muslims will not solve the problem. The majority of the Muslims that has been angered by the cartoons has stayed home, and has chosen to express its anger and distress in a different way than in violence, unlike the people rioting at this moment. The rioters will ultimately calm down.

What we can learn from this is that religion is a sensitive issue. It is even more sensitive than people think. Muslims take that sensitivity to another level. Just because some faiths would be more accepting of this kind of caricatures in the west does not mean that Muslims should remain silent about it. They have a right to express their anger. Violence is not a good option, and Islam does not favor it, anyway. But in situations like this, you just do not know what is going to happen. The world is in a deep geopolitical crisis, and it is sad.

Mohamed (Pbuh), although just a prophet, is a holy figure that should not be mocked or lampooned. No religious holy figure should be mocked or lampooned, for that matter. Journalists should stick to informing people and not venture into provocative publishing. That is not what freedom of press is about.

Kimball Corson

Law Fairy suggests that perhaps we are not capable of understanding such conflicts. Anon thinks there is no specific Islam religion per se with which to have a conflict. Sdeai would have us all hop over the conflict problem by learning to focus on principles and give up on dated texts. And Ereraz too wants to hop over the conflict problem by his faith in education to change and develop Islamic culture.

Interestingly enough, Sdeai and Ereraz would impliedly seem to concede the religious and cultural conflict problem Roach and I identify, but instead direct their attentions toward solutions to it. While those solutions might indeed be good and likely are, what is being suggested is that Muslim faith and Islam must change to join the modern world and minimize the conflict between it and Islam. And I think that is probably right.

Education, progressivism and liberal immigration may well be the answer to how we resolve the conflict, but in the meantime we face obstacles from those of different views and the transitional problems we observe continue. Whether we can surmount both continues to trouble me. The history of recent Muslim immigrations is not a rousing success story, good education is hard to come by and not available to many, and the decidedly modernistic and secular approach of focusing on principals and giving up on dated texts is too big a jump from where too many are just now, especially for those without a good education.

These views, while they may leave us with some hope, also certainly leave us with the religious and cultural conflict and our present problems.

eteraz

Couple of quick points before bed.

1. Ms. Corson: I think before we talk about Muslims we have to talk about where they are. If we are talking about them in the West, we have to keep going back to the American-Muslim v. European-Muslim divide as I suggested in an earlier post. Why the success here and the failure in Europe? You can't simply say: America is better and Europe is worse with minorities. It is the institutional make up of the US that makes it better. It is the institutional make up of the United States that makes it amenable for immigrants to grow rich. Call me a capitalist, but I believe that when immigrant communities are able to make money, they cease being immigrants.

2. Roach: You stated that Islam is" I think it is naturally intolerant, violent, and absolutist." Without arguing semantics, when you say "natural" you are suggesting that intolerance, violence and absolutism is its *essence.* Were that the case then Islam would have always been, in just about every society where people are Muslim, been a force of intolerance, violence and absolutism. That simply has not been the case. If you are making your assertion based on the fact that Islam has existed in regions where violence has occurred over and over again for the past millenia, then under that standard Christianity is violent and absolutist as well -- and still we haven't resolved very much in the debate, nor moved forward.

I encourage you to look at my post "caliphate: the future of islamic theocracy" on my blog under past posts.

I appreciate your attempts to come to terms with this new global phenomenon. For me, as a Muslim thinker, these are exciting times, because the marks people such as myself make on the faith, will leave their imprint long into the future. Many serious Muslim thinkers are very aware of the importance of this moment. In these times it is somewhat deflating to come across educated westerners, upon whose civilizational shoulders I am now standing, who have only hopeless (and altogether dead end) remarks to make, such as "Islam is incapable of change" or "Islam is static." For a man who is doing his utmost to revive the spirit of fluidity and chance in Muslim cultures, such remarks coming from educated westerners are both irritating and maddening. They suggest that reason and art cannot triumph over ossification.

I believe it can. And will.

Kimball Corson

After perusing eteraz' blog and several other Muslim blogs, I come away with the sense that, in the hands of those authors at least, Islam is changed and substantially reformed, indeed so much so that I wonder if it really is the Islam of the Koran or something else entirely. Further, I sense, without knowing it, that Muslim blog managers and contributors have a common sense of what parts of the Koran are to be jettisoned and what parts are to be given greater emphasis. It is also clear to me that, some sympathies for their foreign compatriots aside, their reactions to the Muhammad cartoons is decidedly American in character in the sense they do not riot and discuss the problem and reactions to it, some even condemning the violence elsewhere, while recognizing that it is understandable.

Again, I am left with the impression that Islam’s conflict with modernity or postmodernity and western values is to resolved by the reformation of classic Islam. However, why this occurs better here than in western Europe is not really clear to me yet, notwithstanding eteraz’ helpful comments. The need to focus on principles and jettison the worst of old texts, as sdeai suggests, is made clear by the thought that such passages should not be used out of frustration as the basis for violent action.

Too, if a form of secular humanism can rise out of Christian ashes in the West, in the hands of Nietzsche and others, as has been suggested, there surely is no reason a different, but very similar form of secular humanism cannot arise out of Islam’s ashes in the same environments. We only need someone to do for Islam, what Nietzsche did for Christianity. But would the basic analysis be any different? I think not, but the specifics would be.

I now see clear grounds for hope, thanks to our Muslim contributors here.

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