Wednesday, December 12, 2007

medical opinions

There are currently two men of medicine pushing their views of Islam: the one characterizing it as incorrigibly jihad prone and the other as a spiritual treasure hijacked by the jihadists. The first is Andrew Bostom, author of The Legacy of Jihad and an associate professor of medicine. The second is M. Zuhdi Jasser, founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy and a specialist physician in private practice. Presumably both men have an instinct and a motivation for healing but their views are opposed in their essence and therefore the guidance offered is conflicting. It would be interesting to hear the two of them debate, whether directly or through representatives or surrogates.

In fact, I've been reminded of Bostom through just such a representative or surrogate in the form of Philip Carl Salzman, author of a Middle East Quarterly essay titled The Middle East's Tribal DNA. It is a useful essay in bringing together relevant data and ideas from cultural and political studies. However, Salzman relies a good deal on the work of Bostom as well as other writers of similar vein such as Bat Ye'or and Robert Spencer. He belongs to a school of thought that is gaining strength due, especially, to the absence of clearly formulated counterarguments. What I find original in Salzman's essay is the idea that a bedouin tribal culture over which Islam was to dominate has, instead, succeeded in dominating Islam itself. Here are his concluding sentences [my emphasis added]:

Middle Eastern societies are not "modern," however, in the sense that European and American societies are. The tribal spirit holds sway. Its influence upon Islam permeates even the most cosmopolitan Arab states even if the tribal influences enshrined in the religion espoused or revealed by Muhammad are, almost fourteen centuries later, forgotten. Indeed, had Islam, whatever its many dimensions and complexities, not incorporated the balanced opposition structure of the tribal society that it sought to overlay, it is doubtful whether it could have been as accepted and successful as it was.

Salzman is suggesting here not only that Islam failed to transcend the tribal culture out of which it arose but that its own success lay in its elevation and sacralization of that very tribal culture. Indeed, it doesn't take a great leap to conclude further that that is essentially what Islam consists of, viz, a sacralization of tribal political culture.

Something along these lines is mentioned by Salim Mansur, also for the Middle East Quarterly, in a review of Mohamed Charfi's Islam and Liberty. Mansur acknowledges a similar view among some modern Muslims though it is unclear whether and how his own view differs from this:

Charfi is unabashedly a modernist Muslim who contends that the traditional insistence of Muslims on religion and politics in Islam being inseparable is the source of much difficulty. Historically Islam was shaped by men in politics to legitimize their power, to make the state an instrument of faith, and to invest the successors of the Prophet, the caliphs, with an aura of sacred authority, an argument that others beside Charfi have also illustrated (most notably Ali Abderrazak in Islam and the Foundation of Power).

President George W. Bush has spoken eloquently about freedom being God's gift to mankind; Muslims have not been denied this gift of heaven but have squandered and abused it. Charfi's study will be of interest for both specialists in Arab-Muslim politics and general readers keenly concerned in contemporary affairs. The author is to be commended for striving to kindle an understanding of Islam that would take Muslims back to the religion's original impulse and help non-Muslims to appreciate how difficult is the process of reform.

Mansur does refer to "the religion's original impulse" suggesting that this might have formed the basis for a spiritual liberation. From this and other writings, it is clear that Mansur accepts Mohammad's primary message as represented in the Koran as just such a "gift of heaven" as the idea of freedom is for Bush, a gift that has been "squandered and abused". This is very close to the notion of a pure or spiritual Islam that has been hijacked by the jihadists.

Here is how Jasser expresses that notion [my emphasis]:

I will finally add a caveat that my only fear is that many exposed to the term [Islamofascism] will have little prior knowledge of Islam or contact with Muslims and will carry away a belief that Islam as a spiritual faith is fascistic in its ideology. That cannot be further from the truth of the Islam which I teach my children and so many of the vast majority of Muslims teach their families. But that should stimulate Muslims to even more actively defeat the Islamists who have hijacked our faith for their own political agenda. In fact we can also cannot forget that the Islamofascists are a subset of a much larger ideological threat to the west of the Islamists. The Islamists include all those who believe in political Islam from the fascists of Al Qaeda to the rank and file political Islamists who believe in democracy, elections, and parliaments but still hold tight to a theocratically exclusivist Islamic state.

source: A Muslim American

We have here, then, a spiritually pure inner circle of Muslims who reject the political character of Islam, surrounded by Islamists, jihadists, and Islamofascists. Jasser would like to believe that the inner circle represents "the vast majority of Muslims" but various polls and surveys make that very hard to believe, especially outside of the United States. Robert Spencer at Jihad Watch has almost daily opportunities to scoff at "The Tiny Minority of [Extremist] Muslims" as one news story after another pours in, indicating just how mainstream is the Islamist view of Islam.

Sadly, I believe that counterarguments to the "Jihadism is the real Islam" idea are lacking because they cannot be expressed in any clear, coherent or logical manner. Inevitably, inconsistencies and contradictions emerge, a feature not present in the jihadists' case. I have noted elsewhere (in the Koran according to Jasser and the hidden hand) that Jasser must suffer a perpetual cognitive dissonance if he is to uphold the Koran as the Word of God since it involves such blatant contradictions. Jasser's capacity for persevering within such a discordant mental framework is further evidenced in the above interview where he says:

My love for my faith should drive me to wage a counter-jihad, and not blame the messenger (users of this term) and demand that the term be stricken so that I can live in denial. These thugs spread an evil in the name of a warped version of the faith they believe is Islam. However, I become like “al Qaeda” if I refuse to call them “Muslim” and commit takfir (determining who is and who is not a Muslim) by saying they are not “Muslim.” Their Muslim or Islamic identity is between them and God as it is for every Muslim. Once we open the door to debate who is and who is not a Muslim it empowers a theological hierarchy which will purport to speak for the faith community. I will never subscribe to that. As a moral human being and as an American, it is obvious that their actions are evil and barbaric and we should do everything we can to destroy them and defeat them wherever we find them.

The last phrase is an echo from that famous (or infamous) passage from the Koran as follows:

And slay them wherever ye find them, and drive them out of the places whence they drove you out, for persecution is worse than slaughter. And fight not with them at the Inviolable Place of Worship until they first attack you there, but if they attack you (there) then slay them. Such is the reward of disbelievers.

Koran 2:191, trans Pickthall

Is it just me or does Jasser start the above paragraph by refusing to deny Islamofascists as fellow Muslims while ending the paragraph by characterizing them as trouble-making disbelievers who must be sought out and slain just as the jihadists themselves are seeking out and slaying all the rest of us? For at least this poor addled brain, this "argument" is far far too self-contradictory to swallow.

I'm afraid that in the current debate, such as it is, I must assign one point to Dr. Bostom (et al) and deny one point to Dr. Jasser (et al). I'm also disinclined at this stage to hold my breath in expectation of any change in the situation. Islam, for me, is an attempt to sacralize the "might is right" outlook which is directly opposed to every aspect of humanism and natural justice that I know of. There is only one way for Islam to go and that is down. Down into the dust where it belongs.

Labels: , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home