Saturday, December 8, 2007

Moderate Muslims

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the former Dutch parliament member and Muslim apostate, has written an amazing op-ed for the New York Times the other day. This woman, who at one time condemned to death Salman Rushdie, who left the Islamic faith on her own will, seems to make the excellent and knock-down point about the nature of the Islamic religion and justice system. The question that I beg to have answered: Where are the moderate Muslims that do not agree with the fanatics and fundamentalists? When some Christian fundamentalist, such as Jerry Falwell, makes insane statements many moderate or liberal Christians are more than willing to distance themselves from such people and even demand apologies. A majority of Christians are not in favor of killing abortion doctors even if they are totally opposed to the practice.

Then where, pray tell, are those in the Islamic world condemning or distancing from those that inspire hate? Because of the recent cases of unreasonable "justice," such as the arrest of a woman that allowed a teddy bear to be named Muhammad, another woman sentences to a severe beating for being raped after being with another man who was not a relative of hers, and so on, one would hope that there would be some faction of Islam that would make clear that this is not representative of the faith (be that true or not). Instead . . .

. . . silence.


Does not such passivity mean that the majority, the moderates, are just hunky-dory with these decisions? Worse, the only protests that are heard are of those that demand even harsher treatments. Apparently, the only problem that people have is the majority of the Islamic world is that their system is not barbaric enough.

It would appear to me that "moderate" has a different meaning that it does here. After all, moderates seem to be in the middle of positions; if the positions are all skewed in one direction, then so is the middle. Hence, the middle in the Islamic world would appear to be far away from anything those in the West would call just or fair or reasonable. Some may of course jump to the cultural relativism bandwagon, but as far as I care to think about it relativism is self-defeating and inherently self-contradicting--the outs of the philosophy seem like nothing but sophistry to me. If the words such as "justice" are supposed to be meaningful then they must be applied to all cultures and all parts of the world.

What has been happening is obviously silly at best, cruel in other cases, and disgusting at worst. (Actually, it may still be worse.) Mind you, also, that these are just recent examples. In the late 1980s, there was the call for the death of Salman Rushdie; a few years ago a similar call was for Danish cartoonists. There are the many years of terrorist attacks all around the world, including the Middle East and Israel, Africa, Asia, and lest we every forget, America. There was also the killing of a film-maker in the Netherlands because one faithful Muslim didn't care for its contents, which has kept Ali on the run and under protection since. I must agree with Sam Harris that this all cannot be related so simply to Western policy but must be something to do with the greater mindset of those that have accepted this religion.

Of course, other belief structures can be equally dangerous. Christianity cannot rid itself of its deeds of the Crusades, the Inquisition, the eradication of Native Americans (especially apparent with the Inca), the numerous within-Christian wars and conflicts. Yet, such things have become extremely rare. Sure, Ireland has issues today, but that it rather modest compared to the 12th century. But it seems that there still exists much of this issue in nations that profess Allah and Muhammad as his profit/prophet (Freudian slip?). Why?

The most obvious answer would seem to be that Enlightenment values have to come to fruition in the Islamic world. Why this is the case, I don't know. One suspicion of mine is that because there had not existed a great, single authority on the religion, such as the Pope and Catholic Church for Christianity, there was no such body to revolt against and attempt to have an independent way of looking at the same body of work or belief structure. Now, I would not say that Protestantism is responsible for the Enlightenment, at least not directly, but that sort of spirit of searching for answers outside of single authoritative figures and instead by one's own reasoning, a step away from submission, helped propel Europe into the philosophical powerhouse it is today with a history thinkers like Descartes, Spinoza, Bacon, Hume, Hobbes, Kant, Locke, and so many others that opened the way to freer thoughts.

The trail away from submission to authority, especially authority that is only supported by the shear fact that it says it is the authority, is a good one. I don't know if the Islamic faith can follow the trail. This is because of the word "Islam" itself. Many say it means peace. But peace by what? Submission! Sure, things will be okay in the future because no one will dare raise a finger against the despot--just look at how wonderful North Korea is!

But it should at least be possible to convince the faithful en masse to embrace Enlightenment values. After all, I have met those of such a faith and they in fact can accept the philosophies of equality and reason over dogma. And even when there are Christians in the U.S. today that seem to forget these things in pushing for a "Christian Nation," they still don't seem to go out of their way to kill homosexuals, and neither do orthodox rabbis in Israel. Obviously better sense makes such actions difficult, even if that simply be obedience/fear to/of the law. Sure, it seems that cognitive dissonance would be required to keep both mindsets in the same head, but humans seem to be very good at that. I prefer clear thinking, but progress is progress.

Please read Ali's essay. It is more than just "Islamophobia."