The progressive evolution of spirituality and faith, their integration into democratic institutions and egalitarian ethics, exercises a moderating effect on them. It helps translate the literal into the metaphorical, helps adherents understand the way in which a story, passage, or symbolic account might provide psychological and sociological insight for individual and collective understanding. When religions turn to literalism (and almost inevitably thereafter turn to violence), or more accurately, cling to the remnants of the literalist world into which they were born, it's often because of the re-imposition of material scarcity, the exploitation of one group by another, and the tendency of the powerful to treat others as means rather than ends. Where love is allowed to flourish, it flows.The second thing you need to know about Clash-of-Civers is that they benefit personally (sometimes financially, sometimes merely from inflating their self-importance) from creating the perception of such a clash—even to the point of facilitating and/or encouraging localized, contingent manifestations of it, and then using those violent manifestations of mutual misunderstanding as validations of their durable theory. Their urgent desire for their theories to be true renders them ahistorical: As James Wiles points out, at a minimum, "every practice of Muslims, which we today denounce as barbaric, was de rigueur for Christianity at or before the time of the Reformation."
So while the Fatwa itself is to be celebrated, the fanfare surrounding it raises a few important questions, particularly for those concerned with peaceful relations and anti-imperialism. The declaration has a sense of being designed and deployed by the West at a particular time and place, and that context might weigh against the larger importance of the declaration. As Kenneth Burke might have put it, the scene outweighs the act. This isn’t just a theoretical problem: As one comment notes, the fanfare
plays on a widely-held (and sometimes willful) misperception that Muslim leaders have not spoken out against Islamist violence. Large numbers of Muslim leaders have denounced violence, suicide bombs, 9/11, 7/7 and many other bloody attacks by Islamist radicals (check out a long partial list here). But since there is no real hierarchy in Islam, non-Muslims don’t know who has the authority to speak out and Muslims often challenge the authority of those who do. Many of these statements end up unreported, like the trees nobody hears falling in the forest. But if a news story is written with the “first ever” tag in the lead, it gives the false impression that no other Muslim leader has ever done anything similiar before.This is important. The list of Muslim leaders who have condemned terrorism is pretty damn long.
Another important question: Do insurgents have the right to use violence to resist occupation? Does the outcome of history change this question? Some interpretations of the fatwa say Qadri argues that terrorism is not permissable even when facing "foreign aggression." I personally and politically agree with this, but many thoughtful people will find this problematic. They will argue, and not without some justification, that such a position risks giving a free pass to the very non-pacifistic imperialist interests that tend to drag us into invasions and occupations that serve the interests of, to put it euphemistically, much more pragmatic interests than the faithful, articulate opinions of Qadri and the millions of peaceful Muslims in the world. An ethical problematization of insurgent violence is important in a conversation about the legitimacy of occupation itself. Both sides of such a debate have important things to say.
Finally, it's important to remember that nothing will satisfy the incompatablists, the essentialist scriptorians, and the Huntingtonists. That's because, consciously or unconsciously, they want war between the West and Islam because that war is their ideological lube, and often their material bread-and-butter.