Saturday, July 7, 2007

Religion X 3.0

Thursday on C-Span I saw part of a speech by Irshad Manji*, talking about her book The Trouble with Islam Today: A Muslim’s Call for Reform in Her Faith. If I understood her, she holds that Islam is essentially a benign religion, but it has been applied in tyrannous ways by particular individuals or regimes. Her web site suggests examples:
  • the inferior treatment of women in Islam [she gave some horrific examples in her speech];
  • the Jew-bashing that so many Muslims persistently engage in; and
  • the continuing scourge of slavery in countries ruled by Islamic regimes.
Hearing how passionately Manji could criticize Islam "from within" reminded me how little Muslims generally condemn abhorrent acts by other Muslims.

In Wednesday's New York Times, Thomas L. Friedman wrote:
Of course, not all Muslims are terrorists. But it's been widely noted that virtually all suicide terrorists today are Muslims. Angry Norwegians aren't doing this—nor are starving Africans or unemployed Mexicans. Muslims have got to understand that a death cult has taken root in the bosom of their religion, feeding off it like a cancerous tumor.

This cancer is erasing basic norms of civilization. In Iraq, we've seen suicide bombers blow up funerals and schools. In England, seven out of the eight people detained in the latest plot are Muslim doctors or medical students. Doctors plotting mass murder? Could that be? If Muslim leaders don't remove this cancer—and only they can—it will spread, tainting innocent Muslims and poisoning their relations with each other and the world.
Irshad Manji seems to be working hard toward excising the cancer (and placing herself in mortal danger, having received numerous death threats).

I wonder why not many Muslims are heard on this. Do they imagine that just because these suicide terrorists (and those who run them) are Muslims it doesn't follow that they are in any way acting in the name of Islam? Just statistically there would seem to be some critical Islamic correlation. Are Muslims afraid to condemn what I call religious tyranny within their communities because they feel that in doing so they would be perceived as apologizing for Islam itself? Muslims seem to love their religion assertively, if not aggressively. Perhaps they don't think it needs to be apologized for? One of the tenets of Islam, as I understand it, is that it offers God's final and finest word to mankind. To Muslims, Muhammad was God's Final Messenger, after all. Or, as Friedman cleverly puts it:
Two trends are at work [in the Muslim failure to condemn atrocities committed by Muslims]: humiliation and atomization. Islam's self-identity is that it is the most perfect and complete expression of God's monotheistic message, and the Koran is God's last and most perfect word. To put it another way, young Muslims are raised on the view that Islam is God 3.0. Christianity is God 2.0. Judaism is God 1.0. And Hinduism and all others are God 0.0.

One of the factors driving Muslim males, particularly educated ones, into these acts of extreme, expressive violence is that while they were taught that they have the most perfect and complete operating system, every day they're confronted with the reality that people living by God 2.0, God 1.0, and God 0.0 are generally living much more prosperously, powerfully, and democratically than those living under Islam. This creates a real dissonance and humiliation. How could this be? Who did this to us? The Crusaders! The Jews! The West! It can never be something that they failed to learn, adapt to, or build. This humiliation produces a lashing out.
I'm willing to accept, pending my continuing reading of the Qur'an, that Islam is, at its core, benign, even actively benevolent—as I'm willing to accept the same of Christianity and Judaism.

The trouble, it seems to me, is that when a particular religion, however fine in its pure form, is put into practice, it rarely remains pure. Depending on the purity of heart of the practitioner, the religion is subject to all manner of abuses (such as in the three areas Manji lists for Islam). Vile men intent on owning women as property are not likely to practice Islam benignly.

Or as the novelist David Lodge adduces in Paradise News, speaking of the mainland Christians who decimated the Hawaiian islanders:
We got talking [Bernard writes in his journal of his champagne conversation with the woman who knocked his father down with her car] about the permissive sexual mores of the ancient Polynesians, which Yolande described as "the kind of sexual Utopia we were all pursuing in the sixties—free love and nudity and communal childrearing. Only with them it wasn't a pose, they really lived it. Until the haoles came along with their hang ups and bibles and diseases." The sailors gave the beautiful amorous women of Hawaii the pox, and the missionaries made them wear muu-muus even in the sea so they sat about in damp clothes and caught cold. In seventy years the population of the island declined from 300,000 to 50,000.... [Well, decimation more than eight times over! p. 186]
Insofar as practitioners of any religion—call it "Religion X"—say that they are only doing what Religion X commands its true followers to do, Religion X even in its pure, presumably benign form sooner or later gets a lot of bad raps. People who don't follow Religion X might be tempted to write it off as an "evil religion" (as Sam Harris, for example, writes off Islam in The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason). And the more or less benign followers of Religion X are put in the position of appearing to criticize it if they come out against the perverse acts of those who use it malignantly. But perhaps they must come out, if they are to preserve the core goodness of their religion and avoid an ugly backlash among non-followers who would condemn the whole religion for its tyrannous misuses.
I had never heard of Ms. Manji before, but I was impressed by her articulate speech, as I am by this information about her on her web site:
[She] travels the globe to lecture about the liberal reformation of Islam. Her audiences include Amnesty International, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the United Nations Press Corps, the Democratic Muslims of Denmark, the National Committee on American Foreign Policy, the International Women’s Forum, the Swedish Defense Research Agency, the Pentagon, the Jean Jacques Rousseau Institute, and universities from Cambridge to the President Clinton School of Public Service.


  1. Peace,
    I think I had mentioned it before, all respectable Muslim leaders *have* spoken out many a times...average people have gone out on Interfaith/community outreach programs to speak against terrorism/violence etc.

    What irritates me is that the average peaceful Muslim is forced every single time a crime is committed anywhere by anyone who claims to be Muslim to apologize until we are blue in the face. And even when we do, we are not given the platform to be heard, and then we are accused of being silent.

    Thomas Friedman must not have paid a visit to Africa or South america lately. The problems perpetuated by poverty, corruption and illiteracy have given rise to unspeakable crimes against humanity...but let's in those cases we can study the context and not dare to blame christianity (which has a strong hold in some of those regions.)

    I wonder how different our debates and rhetoric would be had the VA Tech student being a Muslim. Would we care to look into his past, to study his psychology, cast blame etc. or would we have lifted our hands and claimed it's Islam and that simplistic answer would have been enough for all us? And I wonder how inspite of the fact that in his videos he mentioned Prophet Jesus (peace be upon him) why not even once was Christianity blamed and all followers of christianity be forced to apologize for him?

    As for Manji, she really doesn't speak for me (and a majority of Muslims don't take her seriously). She doesn't have an Islamic studies knowledge/background yet is hailed as a "reformer" and "expert." Her book are full of logical inconsistencies and fallacies on Islam.

    This whole topic is draining to me, because I feel like I keep repeating myself on some of these points. And each time a bombing happens anywhere, we are all cornered and asked to explain ourselves...Without looking at the root socio-political-historic issues that are producing some of these mentally deranged violent people, we are going to keep going in circles:

    People blames Islam, Muslims defend Islam and Islam being scape goated while Bushites/chenneys/Bin Ladens are having a field day sucking blood and oil from the ground.


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