Monday, September 06, 2004
Islam and the west, part two of three
In Part One of Islam and the West, I discussed Islam and secularism. In this piece, I'm going to discuss Islam and its relationship with religion-- as it defines itself and as it relates to western religions, an always dangerous endeavor. I was looking for a way in which to do so in a way that was as non adversarial as possible. As luck would have it, a correspondence with a friend, came to my aid. Paulie, of The Commons, a fellow blogger for whom I have great respect, provided me with an astute observation that helped guide me. To him, I say thank you.
My well read friend wrote, "Multiculturalism is the expression of postmodernist relativism, and is the direct descendant of the Enlightenment philosophers who worked so hard to excise religion from society. ("I think, therefore I am" is the cornerstone element.) If there is no external valuation, all things then can be made equal, or unequal, with abandon.
I believe that some of the Multiculturalist ideas are good ones. The idea of being 'My brother's keeper' is a cornerstone of our identity. All to often, religious doctrine becomes 'tribal,' to an extreme, which is antithetical to western faith and values.
I also believe that Paulie is quite right when he says that 'excising religion from society' is not such a good thing. As he said, "If there is no external valuation, all things then can be made equal, or unequal, with abandon."
By examining Islam as we see it today, we are forced to confront our own beliefs.
That one may be an atheist or agnostic is irrelevant. Our values and beliefs share a fundamental foundation, if not agreement on their source. While it is true that there are great differences between the beliefs of religious and the beliefs of the atheist, one thing is shared-- there is an understanding that we have free will and choice in our beliefs. It is that choice that also defines democracies.
It is with those words in mind that I am presenting these ideas.
I begin this piece and ended my first piece by posing the same query. Should citizenship tests require the following questions:
"Do you believe that every individual has the right to believe or not believe as they see fit?"
"Do you believe in the right for individuals to renounce or change their beliefs?"
These questions become relevant because for many Muslims, the answers to these questions are an emphatic 'No!'
This is not an indictment of all Muslims as treacherous persons who want to undermine our world as we know it. However, it does offer a glimpse into modern day Islam.
Most immigrants came here understanding that they were to be included in the melting pot we know as America. They understood they were free to practice their religion, maintain their customs and keep their traditions. They wanted to be a part of that melting pot and contribute to it. It was understood that the fruits of their labor and their standing in the community would determine their credibility in the community at large. In other words, they understood that they had to contribute to the well being and ethos of America.
How did they do it? Well, there are community hospitals built by Catholic and Lutheran charities. There are hospitals built by Presbyterian and Jewish charities.
There are community food kitchens sponsored by virtually every ethnic group in this country, from Croats and Bulgarians to Swedes and the Hare Krishna. These groups contribute. It didn't take long for these groups and others to get involved.
Muslims are different. There are virtually no ongoing charities that service the community at large. There are some exceptions, of course. However, they are all event based and all geared toward media recognition, such as disaster relief drives and so on. There are very few if any, ongoing projects.
The religious faith of Muslims, as presented in America and the west, is predicated on the Quran. While these immigrants, often well heeled and well educated, claim to be progressive, they are not. The Quran, as venerated by Muslims, is unlike other religious texts and doctrines, Muslims have never really moved forward with the exception of the “Golden Age,” that period of Islamic enlightenment that was extinguished by various leaders of the Caliphate itself. Fearing progress and enlightenment would diminish their power and influence, the various Caliphs put an end to independent thinking by invoking religious authority, much like the Catholic Inquisition.
For almost 14 centuries, Islam has remained the same. To somehow think we are looking at a 'new and improved' Islam, as presented to us by the apologists is only to fool ourselves. The call to Islam is coming from the fundamentalist movements, the same groups who utter medieval calls to slaughter this group or that group. They call for the establishment of Sharia Law as the bedrock of their 'new' society. They want to turn back the clock, as if it could be done. The Mullah's tenure in Iran is a failed example of that truth. They cannot keep the tidal wave of reality away, no matter how fast they dance. As time goes on, they have become more and more desperate. It is the idea of an 'Islamic Bomb' that they turn to in order to reestablish their 'righteousness.' These are the voices, parroted in America and the west, that now wish to become part of our mosaic.
Why this is so has been said to be a complicated matter. In truth, it is a very simple to understand. It has to do with the political, religious and cultural background of Muslims.
Like virtually all immigrants who come to these shores, Muslims become part of a minority. Unlike other minorities, Muslims have a hard time adapting to their new status. They are used to being in the majority and they have been inculcated with the notion that because of their religion, somehow they are superior. In addition, generations have been told that the west is fighting a 'War on Islam.' They see any reluctance to share their views as somehow biased or racist. There is a huge disconnect here. They see no correlation between the actions of some to the perceptions of others.
Whereas Jews and Christians share what is referred to as the 'Judeo-Christian ethic,' to a Muslim, this is a foreign concept. I recently wrote a piece on Anti Americanism and Islam. A part of that is relevant to this discussion.
"Judaism, Christianity and Islam have the significant and important concept of Imitatio Dei, the deliberate choices we make in imitating God. We are after all, 'Created in His image' and charged with living our lives in a Godly way. To those who accept faith, this is a basic tenet.
It is here that differences between the faiths occur (Again, I'm referring to the Abrahamic faiths as we know them today.).
God, as accepted by Jews and Christians is limited in his interaction with us, in that laws of nature, once established, are part of His Dominion. He has sympathy for man and suffers when we do. (For example, when a infant drowns in a swimming pool, God cries with us. In the laws of nature, infants cannot swim. Islam sees the death differently. The child's death is a punishment) He takes pity on the disenfranchised and the persecuted. The Christian God came to earth and foretold of his own crucifixion and even welcomed it. The poor and the weak elicit God's love most deservedly and most clearly. Jewish and Christian theologians speak of "divine humility".
These notions are completely foreign to Muslims today and have been for a while.
That Allah is beneficent and the merciful, is a given. However, Franz Rozenzweig, philosopher and theologian, made the following astute observation. "For Islam, the notion that man's failings more powerfully awake God's love than man's merits is an absurd, indeed an impossible thought. Allah has pity upon human weaknesses, but the idea that he loves weakness more than strength is a form of divine humility that is foreign to the God of Mohammed". His remark is profoundly insightful in these times.
Thus, it is only through strength and forcefulness that a Muslim can truly be a Believer. He must force himself and his beliefs upon others with no quarter for mercy or compromise, if he is to fulfill his destiny as God's agent on earth.
This will prove to be a continuing great obstacle to the credibility of Muslims. The focus of Islam-- religious and political- has always been taking the offense, and in lieu of a real issue, creating a position that requires an offensive posture (thus never ending jihad), and less on what Jews and Christians call 'good works'...it is within this version of Islam that Arab Muslims have chosen to vent their political rage. They cannot measure up in any meaningful way, to their enemies, the US and Israel. Therefore, unbridled hatred of those who are measurably more accomplished than they has become the mother's milk of their faith...With Islam less and less a vehicle for advancement and integration into the modern world, what better way to fire up the multitudes than the road to salvation and demonization of the very progress their so societies so desperately need"
In other words, for the reasons cited above, Muslims cannot 'just get along' with America. They are charged with enforcing their beliefs on others and failing that, demonizing them. They set themselves apart not so much to maintain their own identity (althoughthat has never proved to be a problem for any other hyphenated American) than it is to establish “Fortress Islam,” waiting for the time that Islamic values can be imposed on the 'wicked west.'
Within "Fortress Islam," the ideologies used at home become the easy way to justify their beliefs. Clerics, fearing community assimilation into the wicked (and democratic) American melting pot, keep a tight rein on their flock. All evil is the domain and work of Christians and Jews, in their plot to keep the righteous Muslims down. Even social contact with the American way of life is poisonous. While it is true first generation immigrant groups have always been reluctant to have their children 'mingle' too much, it was for another reason. They had no problems with Americans per se, they just wanted to keep their culture and identity. Muslims on the other hand, see non Muslims as emissaries of evil, ever wanting to pollute and dilute their relationship with God. It is us who must accommodate them, rather than they who accommodate us. As long as we exist as we are, we are a threat.
Adopting any semblance of democratic values poses a threat. Thus, in keeping with Islamic values, the answer to the questions posed earlier become clear.
There is no right to worship in a way other than Islam. All non believers must be brought to Islam, period.
Further, there is no right to renounce Islam. That renouncing Islam may be theologically unacceptable is one thing. The idea however, of allowing choice however, a clearly democratic value (and for that matter, Godly), is quite another- and that is totally unacceptable.
That is why there is so much tolerance and acceptance of a wide variety of Muslim behavior- even the most evil- they are still Muslims, and thus 'in the right.' Even Sharia Law, is 'bendable'. There are no real punishments for the well connected or powerful.
Indeed, the latest Fatwa issued by Sheikh Qaradawi calling on all Muslims to kill Americans in Iraq-- even civilians, was interesting. There was no mention of British or other coalition soldiers. Further, Qaradawi spends a lot of his time in Qatar, which proportionately has more Americans stationed there than Saudi Arabia or Iraq. I suppose he doesn't want to upset his Qatari hosts by calling for violence there.
This isn't about religion. It is about control and power and those same ideas are here now.
It is in these realities the we must see and understand Islam and Muslims.
There are voices in Islam of reform and moderation, of course and they must be acknowledged. However, until those voices become mainstream, we are right to prepare for the inevitable confrontation that can potentially change our society in a very profound way.