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Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Questions. Questions that need answering.

Dennis Prager writes about the recent tragedy in Russia and has some questions about Islam. He also has a few questions for those who refuse to ask the questions. Read the whole thing. His main question, if I may paraphrase, is: What is wrong with Islam? I make to claims to be a scholar of Islam but I have read the Koran and I know a little bit about Muslim history. It is my belief that Islam on its own is no more prone to violence and death-cults than any other religion. Yes, you can find parts of the Koran that exult in bloodshed and conquest, but that is true of the Bible as well. The fact remains however, that Islamic Terrorism, not Christian, Jewish, Hindu, or Shinto Terrorism is the grave threat the world faces today. Another fact is that while one can find crazy individuals or small groups in other religions, the widespread, interconnected nature of Islamic terrorism makes it a threat of a different nature than that of any other extremist group. Perhaps the most important question of our day is why this is so. I view the answer to this problem as being two partially related factors. First, it is in the structure of Islam. Once again, I am not a scholar of Islam, but my understanding is that unlike Catholicism, Islam does not have a central authority. Even the various 'branches' of Islam do not have a central authority that is comparable to the Catholic pope. Instead it has various scholars and teachers that have prominence in the Islamic community and a general authority but no structural or bureaucratic support system for this prominence. In this, they are more like Christian Protestants than Catholics. Unlike Protestants however, Islam does not approve of individual conscience or interpretation of the scriptures. Rather, the teachers and scholars are held to have a great deal of authority in religious matters. I would say that this is similar to the Jewish Rabbi system (although Judaism has incorporated a lot more individuality.) In an of itself, this system does not cause the problems in the Islamic world. It does however leave the people more open to manipulation if significant clerics can be manipulated. It also leaves them without any central authority to condemn acts of barbarism. The second factor, and most significant, is the secular governments of the Arab world. To put is simply, the totalitarian Arab regimes are unable to compete with the productivity of the west, unleashed by capitalism and liberty. In order to stave off widespread revolt and maintain power the Arab governments have channeled the anger of their people at outside targets. The main vehicle they have used for this channeling is the Islamic scholars and teachers. Or rather, selected Islamic scholars and teachers. Those teachers who did as the governments wished, who focused anger and hatred against the Jews and the rest of the infidel West were rewarded with secular power and increased money to spread their message. Over time they have naturally risen in prominence. The moderate, progressive voices in Islam have been simultaneously purged by these governments. So the Islamic leadership, by and large, has been radicalized by a systemic effort to achieve precisely that effect. With no central authority, or individual appeal of conscience to act as a break, the religion has been hijacked. It is clear that Al-Qaida or any other terrorist group one could name, did not do this hijacking. They may have taken things to the next level, but they are the result, not the cause of this distortion of a once great religion. Many of the Arab governments now have come to regret this effect they have caused but they have learned a truism of power: Once given it is not easy to take back. If then this is the cause, what is the solution? It is probably safe to say that no outsider can create a Islamic Pope. The closest historical figure in Islam to the Pope is the Caliph and if a moderate Caliph were to arise, he could do a great deal to mend Islam. However, such an event is very unlikely and certainly cannot be imposed from without. Removing and/or reforming totalitarian Arab (and to a lesser extent non-Arab Muslim) regimes does seem to hold some promise of hope however. First, a free-market democratic Arab world would likely have greater economic success. This would immediately bleed off some of the passion and anger than is fueling Islamic terrorism. A people who believe that they hold their individual destiny in their own hands does not need to find an outside group to blame for their failings (and they will have successes as well.) At the same time, this focus on self-reliance and individual accountability in economic matters would seem to be likely to translate into self-reliance and individual accountability in religious matters. This will not destroy Islam or get rid of the Imans and Ayatolahs but it will place a break on what sort of Islam they can preach. It will, in my opinion, make Islam a stronger, more vibrant religion that will be able to compete with Christianity and the other great world religions on a philosophical level. Islam has historically been a very advanced and tolerant religion. The western world owes much to the enlightenment contained in Islam at a time when Christianity was comparatively barbaric. It is my hope, that this once great religion will regain it's roots and move into the 21st century.

2 Comments:

Blogger Aric said...

Actually, I don't think the rise of a Caliph would assist much. The Caliphates were more indicative of Sunni Muslims, and there was rarely just one of them at any given time.

-- Aric

9/07/2004 02:50:00 PM  
Blogger Dave Justus said...

You are correct. I didn't feel any need to enumerate the weakness of my Caliph solution since I don't think it likely any Caliph will arise in the near future and even if one did I doubt he would be a moderate.

In all fairness though, their has historically been more than one Pope at a time, and the Pope has a great deal of respect from many non-catholic Christians.

If a moderate Caliph were to arise and soundly condemned terrorist tactics it might have an effect on even the non-sunni Muslims.

Not gonna happen in any event.

9/07/2004 03:00:00 PM  

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