Sunday, December 16, 2007

yes, Zuhdi, let's talk

The final installment of the NRO Q&A with Zuhdi Jasser arrived in my inbox today. A key question was as follows [my emphasis]:

Lopez: What’s the most important question you get when you speak on radical Islam?

Jasser: I would weigh the importance of all of the various questions I get with their centrality in promoting American security. That said, the most important question or concern I get from audiences to which I have the privilege to speak, is whether spiritual Islam and political Islam are in fact contrary to my beliefs — inseparable? And whether I am whitewashing a dangerous political ideology? An appropriate answer to this question would need volumes of discourse. Ultimately, I ask them not only to believe my voice and my ideas, which appear to be in the wilderness, but rather to begin the ground work of speaking to Muslims in the grass roots about their political and spiritual constructs. We need to multiply this debate exponentially within the Muslim community.

from NRO Q&A: We Need a Hero

In the interests of contributing to those "volumes of discourse", I'll throw my tuppence worth in here.

Jasser asks me to believe his voice and his ideas. I have no trouble with his basic sincerity but I have grave doubts regarding his capacity to sell his story fully to Muslims and non-Muslims alike. As Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch has expressed it, first in the positive, then in the negative:

Meeting intimidation with a demonstration of nobility and generosity. Bravo, Zuhdi Jasser.

source: U.S. Islamic group ...

This is very good, but of course it doesn't go far enough. I hope that M. Zuhdi Jasser would be willing to confront Taheri-azar's abundant Qur'an quotations, and the role of the example of Muhammad in inspiring jihad violence today. If he is, and if others like him are, then there might really be some progress toward the ideological confrontation with jihadism that he calls for.

source: American Muslim leader ...

Jasser especially urges "speaking to Muslims in the grass roots" but this I have attempted several times, always with highly discouraging results. I'm met with a variety of evasions, defensive walls, threats and even pleas to desist, along the lines of:

  • "It is generally impolite to discuss religion and politics. Just raising these matters is offensive and a sign of belligerence and intolerance."

  • "You don't know Islam. You're an ignorant Kafir."

  • "Be careful what you say or even suggest against Islam as we Muslims will defend our faith with violence if need be and that includes violence against you, your loved ones, and your possessions. The police won't help either, not if you merely find your pet cat poisoned or a deep scrape in your car's paintwork."

  • "We're terrified ourselves of the violent Muslims and we don't want to be seen associating with a non-Muslim on anything more than the most superficial level. Let's talk about the weather, that's fine, but no more. And even there, let's not talk about God bringing the rain or the sunshine. Leave God out of it."

Nowhere is there any honest and forthright debate. Nowhere. Even Jasser himself is evasive, rarely making direct references to the Koran or the life of Mohammad.

At the very end of the interview Lopez asks: "Who are your heroes?" Jasser provides a list of four men: his grandfather and namesake Zuhdi Al-Jasser, US Presidents Reagan and Jefferson, and fictional TV hero Jack Bauer. What kind of a Muslim leaves Mohammad out of a list like that? Is Mohammad absent because Jasser has genuinely come to repudiate him as a role model or is he not there because Jasser is practising a form of taqiyyah, diplomatically neglecting to mention something that might sound too "un-American".

To convince me, Jasser will need to do far more than denounce Islamists (under whichever of their many names). He will need to put some substance into his airy-fairy assertion that there is a separate spiritual Islam unpolluted by Islamist political ideology.

This is how I see it:

  • The Koran, the life of Mohammad, the traditions and the classical interpretations form a coherent whole with a clear Islamic supremacist message: God is One, His Centre is located at Mecca, His Final Prophet was Mohammad, His Final Word was the Koran, no other conception of deity has any validity, the Jewish and Christian conceptions are especially pernicious for making apparently credible but deceptive claims, and it is the duty of every Muslim to spread the One True Faith of Islam whether by the sword, by unrestrained fertility, by the (literal or metaphoric) handing out of sweets to children, or by forceful evangelization.

  • "Nice" Muslims like Jasser are employing the tactic of handing out metaphoric sweets to gullible adults.

  • Yes, there is "a spiritual Islam" of sorts. There is a mystical tradition, called Sufism, which arose within the Islamic empire but has clear influences from abroad, from outside the core supremacist Islamic tradition described above. Those influences include much Hindu and Buddhist mysticism, deep and direct influences from Zoroastrian, Christian and Jewish sources (through an actual reading of and meditation on their sacred texts), as well as wider Mediterranean influences (such as Greek neoPlatonism and ancient strands of Egyptian alchemy and theosophy). The core values of Sufism can be represented by the poetic works of one man alone, known to us all as Rumi. However, if you took his two major works, the Mathnawi and the Shams collection, and removed from them every clear Islamic (Koranic or Mohammadan) reference, then you would still be left with an oceanic and essentially divine corpus. Take Islam out of Rumi and you're still left with the Divine.

  • Do a similar but opposite job on the main Islamic works, especially the Koran itself: remove every clear supremacist, political, ideological statement - every "Islamist" statement - and what remains? Perhaps a puddle or two of insipid and unoriginal pronouncements as to the glory of God. The kind of thing that a dozen monkeys on a dozen typewriters could easily produce in a dozen days.

I'm happy to discuss any of this with you, Zuhdi, at whatever length you wish, here or elsewhere.

I'm prepared to be infinitely patient but not to the point of holding my breath. I will continue to be engaged in many other activities such as enjoying the fruits of the rich culture to which I'm fortunate to be an heiress. Stuff like Beethoven and professional tennis, but especially stuff like civilized adult conversation unfettered by fear or favour.

renoir conversation

detail from Pierre-Auguste Renoir: Le Moulin de la Galette, 1876

Yes, Zuhdi, let's talk. I'm ready, willing, and waiting.

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