Sunday, June 21, 2009

No Clash of Civilizations

My piece on Christian-Islamic reconciliation, through the lens of progressive secularism and nonliteral religiosity, has gotten some positive feedback on facebook. Feel free to spread it around to other venues.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hey, Anonymous Douchebag here:

In your article you make the mistake of linking to articles that are irrelevant to your point at best, or actually undermine your thesis at worst.

The former includes the one where you assert the Pope emphasized monotheism, when the page you linked to said nothing of the sort, and was about a Muslim making a diatribe about Israel.

The latter is the one where you say the "Muslim demographic bomb" isn't plausible, when the page you linked to was about how to stop it from happening. To quote from the page "Boosting European birth rates, reducing taxation, ending open door social services for foreigners and drastically curtailing immigration would reverse the Muslim demographic threat. We are not truly helpless, we are only being made to feel that way. There are solutions and answers that can end the helplessness and the shadow of the demographic threat."

He calls it a threat twice, and not in an ironic way, either.

I don't know how you feel about this, but if I were to link to pages that actually disproved what I was saying, I would feel pretty damn stupid and awfully lame to boot!

matt said...

Hi Anonymous. Always concerned with being accurate. In the first instance, the article states: "Pope Benedict came to Israel and the Palestinian Authority with a message of peace and reconciliation, emphasizing dialogue, especially interreligious dialogue among Jews, Christians and Muslims in this land shared by followers of the three great monotheistic religions." Similarly, Souad Sbai (a Muslim, so you probably don't trust him) pointed out that 'the Pope stressed the importance of dialogue between the major monotheistic religions, warning against extremism and a certain exploitation of religion and recalling that religion "is disfigured when forced to serve ignorance and prejudice, contempt, violence and abuse."' (http://www.ilsussidiario.net/articolo.aspx?articolo=20205) That actually may have been a better link to use, I admit. In his remarks during the visit with the President of Israel, the Pope said: "Jerusalem, which has long been a crossroads for peoples of many different origins, is a city which affords Jews, Christians and Muslims both the duty and the privilege to bear witness together to the peaceful coexistence long desired by worshippers of the _one_ God." Coexistence, worshippers, one God. So my citation was weak, but not untrue.

You are correct, however, about the second citation. It should have been this: http://www.geocities.com/richleebruce/b/1st-world-islam.html

I will make the change on the original article. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

Anonymous said...

You're welcome. Am I the first person to point out that the second citation didn't really do what you thought? Wow.

Now for another point (addressed in the comments section of Shared Sacrifice, too):

You wrote, "Those believing there is 'no such thing as moderate Islam,' or that the religion itself is inherently violent, should answer the question of whether or not the effort by the Pakistani government to utilize Islamic scholars to combat extremism is futile."

The answer is a resounding YES!

1-You wrote, "Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani publicly stated that terrorism is a perversion of Islam, calling on Islamic scholars to 'root out' extremism in Pakistan."
Unfortunately, he didn't say exactly how the terrorists had gotten Islam wrong. And statements like his are never, ever backed up with anything resembling actual quotations from Islamic scripture or jurisprudence.

And perhaps the ultimate reason such an effort is futile is found in the article itself, namely that Islamic schools are recruiting the terrorists! "Religious schools, or madrassas, play a key role in radicalizing Pakistani youth and provide a pool of Taliban recruits who cross the border to attack western forces in Afghanistan, according to the United Nations and U.S. intelligence agencies."

Hmm, multiple religious schools themselves are radicalizing the youth?!? How could this be? How did these schools even come into existence, if they are preaching a perverted version of Islam?

Or could it be that terrorism isn't a perversion of Islam at all?

In any case, asking Islamic scholars to root out extremism when they themselves are teaching it is like asking the fox to guard the hen house; in a word--FUTILE!

matt said...

Hi Anonymous. You're entitled to your opinion that the effort _by_ muslims to promote a less literal and extremist interpretation of Islam is futile. Given that there is absolutely no alternative to that approach, however (at least no alternative other than some sort of Islamo-Western fight to the death that would result in apocalyptic-level death and destruction on a scale far worse than what we see now), it's your opinion that's really futile.

Anonymous said...

Matt,

You wrote in your essay specifically about Pakistan's efforts. I do think they are futile, because the country has been playing both sides for a long time now; claiming they need more of our money, and then, if not actually encouraging terrorism, at least not discouraging it effectively at all.

Examples include not turning over the Mumbai jihadist suspects, refusing to even listen to criticism of their anti-terrorist policies, or engaging in the oft-repeated but never backed-up rhetoric that "terrorism is a perversion of Islam." So, yes, I believe this last is another in a long line of futile efforts.

However, I do champion true reform in Islam, and hope against hope that such a thing can come about. However, I remain pessimistic of it's chances, considering the facts that:

-Scratch a reformer, and often what you get is a "slow jihadist" (one who thinks violence is just bad tactics, and hasn't given up the goal of Islam ruling the world.)

-True reformers are often marginalized at best, and murdered at worst.

So, I say God bless the reformers; they need all the help they can get!

You seem to think that all we need to do is be positive and reform will happen spontaneously. I, however think that ignoring or denying the very things that need reform helps nobody. How can something be reformed, if we say there's nothing wrong?

matt said...

We agree about one thing: Reform is needed. I'm good with that for now, because I'm not terribly interested in quibbling over the rest of what you say. I suggest you write a letter to the editor and send it to stannard@sharedsacrifice.us and we'll print it and invite learned folks to engage and respond to it.

I'll say one more thing: You lament the fact that reformers are marginalized and murdered. Me too. And people in the U.S. who make a career, or even a serious hobby, out of attacking Islam at every turn (those people are one of the focal points of my article) make it worse for those reformers, not better. Islam-haters WANT the reformers to fail and get killed, so as to harden the lines dividing Islam and the west. It's good for their careers. So I have little patience with them.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on your psychic abilities! I didn't know that you could divine the inner desires of people just from their writings. Good show!

Seriously, though, if someone like Spencer quotes a jihadist justifying his actions based on Islamic texts, who is the one "attacking" Islam?

Wouldn't the guy justifying his horrible actions be the one "attacking" Islam, instead of the guy pointing out the first guys words?

Are you suggesting that if I quote someone who says "I hate", that, in fact, I'm the one who hates?

If jihadists were to stop committing violence and justifying it with Islamic texts, leaving nothing for Spencer to quote, I, although not psychic, think that Spencer would be overjoyed.

matt said...

Whoever you are, I think your anger and quickness to respond without really thinking your position through demonstrates that we've probably reached the point where further argument through this imperfect comment-posting forum is unconstructive. Therefore, I ask that you write a letter, of any length, to Shared Sacrifice, send it to stannard@sharedsacrifice.us and see what others have to say.

I have already addressed the scriptural question. I did so in my article and, assuming you are who I think you are, in emails to you. Scriptural essentialism ignores the instability of text and its inseparability from context, the role of the powerful in shaping the meanings of that text, and the ways in which progressive reforms aid the transition from literal to metaphorical interpretations of scripture. That process is not historically inevitable. We can help it along through interreligious and cultural dialogue and the empowerment of moderating tendencies that do, in fact, exist in Islam (unless you believe all the self-professed moderates are liars, and if you do, that presents an irreconcilable epistemic problem that renders any further dialogue between us useless).

As for your latest comments, I'll simply re-post what I wrote before: You're entitled to your opinion that the effort _by_ muslims to promote a less literal and extremist interpretation of Islam is futile. Given that there is absolutely no alternative to that approach, however (at least no alternative other than some sort of Islamo-Western fight to the death that would result in apocalyptic-level death and destruction on a scale far worse than what we see now), it's your opinion that's really futile. I'll also say again that the Islam-hating approach actually leads to MORE moderate muslims being killed by extremists, because it hardens lines between Islam and the west (a trajectory that can only end in more innocent lives being lost than are now), as well as hardening the lines between reformers and fundamentalists. I invite you to think about these things as you compose your letter, rather than relying on the pronouncements of hardliners (from both Islam and the west) who have a material and ideological interest in sustaining, rather than solving, these conflicts. Have a nice day. Thanks for continually giving me the incentive to clarify my opinions and positions. It's helpful.

Anonymous said...

Ok, since you think this line of commentary useless, I'll end with this:

You wrote, "...the ways in which progressive reforms aid the transition from literal to metaphorical interpretations of scripture."

The problem is that for many Muslims, the Koran is literally the word of Allah, and can't be changed. So, getting around this has been seen as approaching blasphemy.

Anonymous said...

Just one more thing, and I am honestly curious here:

You wrote, "instability of text". What does this mean? I don't think you actually mean to imply that text changes right in front of our eyes, do you?

But what else can it mean? Other than variables in translation, the Koran (or any other work) is the same today as it was when it first was published, right?

Could you please enlighten me? How does text change over time? How are words on a page unstable?

matt said...

You write: "The problem is that for many Muslims, the Koran is literally the word of Allah, and can't be changed. So, getting around this has been seen as approaching blasphemy." Yep, that's true. It was a huge problems for Christians a few hundred years ago and for some it still is. We have to keep struggling to show people a better road to spirituality.

You ask what I mean by instability of text. I am talking about the unstable relationship between text and interpretation. That relationship is mediated by material and ideological power, and all those dynamics change and evolve.

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