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« People who say or write inoffensive things need no protection" | Main | David Gregory, call your office »

February 20, 2006


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Teresa said it well in her reply to Dem Apples. What seems strange to me is the lack of understanding by so many intelligent people of how usurpers of power such as Hitler, Stalin, Saddam and now the leaders of the dictatorial Muslims cannot be allowed to retain their growing power if the free countries of the West are to survive.

Markus Kolic says Islam is not our enemy - Sissy replies never said so. Some of our friends are Muslim. True.

Fair enough - but the underlying question is not confronted in this exchange: can Islam reform compatibly with the modern secular, fast globalizing, world? Can Islam be "made safe" for the planet's other six billion people?

The late Ernest Gellner revisited that question throughout his long and influential career as a philosophical anthropologist and could not answer it affimatively. Apparently Pope Benedict XVI agrees: Islam can't (see spengler at Asia Times) change - as does Dutch MP and Muslim dissident Hersi Ali. Robert Spencer at www.jihadwatch.org also. And in a sotte voce way, so does Dennis Prager, the only talk show host I know of who is fluent in Arabic. (A recent addition to the list is Diana Hsieh at noodleblog http://www.dianahsieh.com/blog/)

The above are pessismists and doubting Thomas's, but Prager is also among the least dogmatic, suggesting more of a continuum of thought than outright categorical differences on the right on this issue. The supporters of Bush's Iraq policy are optimists with more delicate shades than the pessimists are. They are therefore much tougher to pin down. A positive future for the Muslim world depends upon so much, upon so many diverse conditions in civil society being met! Therefore all progress is highly contingent upon numberless people and events.

There are two kinds of changes needed in Islam. Turning away from theocracy, and changing the doctrine of jihad - "warfare with spiritual significance" - which Walid Phares calls "the unofficial sixth Pillar of Islam."

Fortunately for Bush and the US, many Muslims want to try some form of government other than theocracy or dictatorship. Many, however, like Michael Totten, are convinced that as in Palestine and Algeria, Iran, and some say Shi'ite dominated Iraq, theocracy or Islamist party's will have to be elected, tried, and failed first. But the happy hope is that many Muslims are willing to try method of government that challenges their ancient religious tradition. According to Ruel Marc Gerecht, the Shia clerics of Iraq know that democracy is contrary to Islam, and yet they are going there all the same. If it works, optimism about Muslim reform and adaptability grows.

But now lets face the pessimistic side, especially that drawn out by the Mo'toons war. Why is changing jihad necessary? Because if this doctrine alone disappeared, the GWOT could end today. But because, as Robert Spencer and others like Martin Kramer explain, Islam is very much insulated from change, this may be more than difficult - it may be impossible! (See philosophy PhD student Diana Hsieh's post here briefly making the dour case that a "moderate Islam" is impossible http://www.dianahsieh.com/blog/2006/02/faith-in-moderate-muslim.html)

What I'm reading and hearing from Turkey, for instance, is that because of the content of the Danish cartoons, the fear that the West is at war with Islam has spread, provoking shock, recoil, and rage. Whoever holds the One True Religious Faith (which can't be changed) is going to agree that profound change is necessary? Impossible. Thus in Turkey, this is how the cartoons have been grasped: an affront! A rude outrageous offense. (And Turkey is where, unlike most in the Muslim world, most people actually have access to print or TV media from which to view the Mohammid cartoons and judge them.)

Challenging theocracy among Muslim's is doable. The examples of democracy in Turkey, Indonesia, India, and now Iraq, provide powerful positive examples of mass social success lacking in the rest of the Muslim sphere. But challenging jihad? This may be a doctrine too far - or else with the blessings of experience with the open society, reform may spring naturally through time.

Jihad has always justified aggression, violence, and conquest (see University of London Middles East historian Efraim Karsh's "Islamic Imperialism: A History" April 2006), albeit no only violence. It justifies terrorism today, as it has for centuries. Rice University's David Cook writes in "Understanding Jihad" (2005), that while a peaceful doctrine of jihad is possible, apart from apologists (like CAIR), there is no sign of such reform within Islam yet.

With the problem of jiahd for Islam minimally explained, the next question is how honest and direct American's ought to be about this? How can we help? Clearly, Bush uses euphemisms like WOT and GWOT and even just "terrorism" to elide the fact that it is the doctrine of Jihad that must change. But what are the intellectual supporters of Bush to do? To say and not say? And how far do we go with airing these debates in the public square?

It's on questions like these that I could use help! Or do you, Sissy, simply disagree with Diana above: there is a moderate Islam (which Daniel Pipes believes) which must be protected and nurtured away from a distinct and evil Islamism?

"This is what differentiates us from authoritarian ideologues on both wings, who have no qualms about condemning the masses. (”Sinners!” “Consumers!” etc.)"

(..."Radicals!" - oh wait I guess that makes me an "authoritarian ideologue" too. nevermind...)

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