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Monday, August 01, 2005

2 Views on Islam

The first is written by Yusuf Islam, aka Cat Stevens. Here’s an excerpt:

Yes, some have claimed that there are verses in the Qur’an which endorse violence and fanaticism. But all that proves is that, when you quote out of context to further your own particular brand of extremism, you can choose any book on the shelf. Islam is not alone.

The message I picked up from the Qur’an was quite different. I found the light of knowledge and godliness shining from the verses and stories, linking mankind together as one family, regardless of color, status or nationality. It told me of the wondrous universal teachings of peace and unity advocated by the greatest of educators, people such as Abraham, Moses, Jesus and others.

Islam’s article is entitled “The Problem Is Not Too Much Islam but Too Little.” It claims Muslim terrorists are terrorists because they don’t know enough about Islam. They see through a glass darkly, as it were, because Britain doesn’t give enough money to Muslims to teach them to know Islam the way Yusuf Islam knows it.

This is an argument from authority, obviously. Yusuf Islam says he knows the true Islam, and we should therefore trust him when he claims that teaching more Islam will result in less Islamic terrorism. This, of course, is the same Yusuf Islam who said he wanted Salmon Rushdie burned alive, and that if he knew where Rushdie was he would try to contact people in order to have Rushdie killed. Don’t believe me? Here’s the releveant excerpt from the relevant Wikipedia article:

The singer has made controversial statements in the past including supporting the censorship of writer Salman Rushdie. He also seemed to endorse the fatwa against the author suggesting that Rushdie should die for his writings. Yusuf Islam said in a British television program that rather than go to a demonstration to burn an effigy of the author Salman Rushdie, I would have hoped that it’d be the real thing.

The singer, who adopted the name Yusuf Islam when he converted to Islam, made the remark during a panel discussion of British reactions to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s call for Mr. Rushdie to be killed for allegedly blaspheming Islam in his best-selling novel The Satanic Verses. He also said that if Mr. Rushdie turned up at his doorstep looking for help, I might ring somebody who might do more damage to him than he would like.

I’d try to phone the Ayatollah Khomeini and tell him exactly where this man is, said Mr. Islam, who watched a preview of the program and said in an interview that he stood by his comments.

Okay then.

The 2nd view was written by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somalia-born Dutch MP. Read her fascinating biography here. According to Ali:

The terrorists, and the Shari’a-based societies to which they aspire, have an entirely different philosophy. Humans are born to serve Allah through a series of obligations that are prescribed in an ancient body of writings. These edicts vary from rituals of birth and funeral rites to the most intimate details of human life; they descend to the point of absurdity in matters such as how to blow your nose, and with what foot to step into a toilet. Muslims, according to this philosophy, must kill those among them who leave the faith, and are required to be hostile to people of other religions and ways of life. This hostility requires them to murder innocent people and makes no distinction between civilians and the military. In Shari’a societies, women are made subordinate to men. They must be confined to their houses, beaten if found disobedient, forced into marriage and hidden behind the veil. The hands of thieves are cut off and capital punishment is performed in crowded public squares in front of cheering crowds. The terrorists seek to impose this way of life not only on Islamic countries, but, as Blair said, on western societies too.

At the core of this fundamental challenge to the west lies a pre-medieval figure to whom the London terrorists—along with all faithful Muslims in our modern world—look for guidance: Muhammad. All faithful Muslims believe that they must emulate this man, in principle and practical matters, under all circumstances. When trying to understand Islamic terrorism, most politicians and other commentators have avoided the core issue, which is Muhammad’s example. The west, before embarking on a battle of ideas, must attempt to understand this figure, and his presence in the daily lives and homes of faithful Muslims today.

It is apparent on reading the Koran and the traditional writings that Muhammad’s life not only provides rules for the daily lives of Muslims; it also demonstrates the means by which his values can be imposed. Muhammad himself constructed the House of Islam using military tactics that included mass killing, torture, targeted assassination, lying and the indiscriminate destruction of productive goods. This may be embarrassing to moderate Muslims, but the propaganda produced by modern terrorists constantly quotes Muhammad’s deeds and edicts to justify their actions and to call on other Muslims to support their cause.

The question is who is right? If Yusuf Islam is right then the UK should fund Islamist schools. What to do if Ali is right? Well, she says:

Muslims in Europe and across the world may be divided into roughly three groups. Firstly, there are the terrorists, who resort to violence (and their allies, the fundamentalists, who do not kill or maim, but provide terrorists with material and immaterial assistance). The second group, the reformers, are the polar opposite of the terrorists and may one day provide an intellectual counterweight to them. This group of people—although tiny, it is growing—may be characterised by its questioning of the relevance and moral soundness of Muhammad’s example. I, who was born and bred a Muslim, count myself among them. We in this group have embraced the open society as a true alternative to a society based on the laws of Muhammad—a better way to build a framework for human life.

The terrorists have far more power and resources than the reformers, but both groups vie to influence the thinking of the third group—the vast majority of Muslims. The reformers use only non-violent means to draw attention to debates over core values and the example of Muhammad. The terrorists and fundamentalists, however, use force, the threat of force, appeals to pity (“look at what the west is doing to Islam and Muslims”) and ad hominem smears. Their unwitting allies in the west defend so-called victims of Islamophobia; meanwhile, the reformers are shunned by their families and communities, and may even live under the fear of assassination. In short, the core of the debate is made taboo, and the fundamentalists attain a near-monopoly on the hearts and minds of the largest group of Muslims, the undecided.

Who are these “undecided” Muslims? They are the group to which Tony Blair refers when he says “The vast and overwhelming majority of Muslims here and abroad are decent and law-abiding people.” They live in Edgware Road and Bradford, and in Amsterdam and Saint Denis; they are not fervent observers of every ritual of Islam but they count themselves as believers. They are immigrants and second-generation youths who have come to the west to enjoy the benefits of the open society, in which they have a vested interest. But they do not question the infallibility of Muhammad and the soundness of his moral example. They know that Muhammad calls for the slaughter of infidels; they know that the open society rightly condemns the slaughter of innocents. They are caught in a mental cramp of cognitive dissonance and it is up to the west to support the reformers in trying to ease them out of that painful contradiction. They must be engaged in a process of clear thinking on how to evaluate the moral guidance of the man whose compass they follow.

In short, Ali believes the West must, in effect, westernize Islam.

Can the West do this, and remain the West?


  • At 10:25 PM, Blogger Cernig said…

    Hi Hark,

    Well arguably it managed it with another Middle-Eastern religion which spread to be a world religion - Christianity. A lot of what makes our society run is still thanks to the legacy of the pre-Christian Romans after all.

    Now...can it do so without social upheavals somewhere in the world? It would seem not - but this time the upheavals seem to be barely infringing on the West and more to do with the East.

    Of course, all this begs the question - does there have to be a clash of cultures? I am far from convinced that there does.

    Regards, C

  • At 6:38 AM, Blogger shamanic said…

    Ali essentially is seeking to build a European Muslim Feminism which empowers Islamic women. I think it is both what is needed and does represent a clash of cultures. She's a radical's radical, and if she isn't assassinated by Dutch Muslims, will be a leading figure in a coming Euro-centric Islamic reformation.

    That's a big if though.

  • At 9:24 AM, Blogger Harkonnendog said…

    I agree with you. The thing is the West, today, is so into separation of Church and State- (maybe NOT the West, maybe just the US) that is seems like it would be a betrayal of some core values to try to change a religion politically.
    I agree with you that Ali is trying to do that- but I think that if she can do that she will fundamentally change Islam.
    Thanks for the comments guys. I'm going to post this to the UPC board with your comments as updates later on.


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