Saturday, January 30, 2010

Islam: Europeans are talking . . .

(Image from Novartis Foundation)

I try to read broadly in the newspapers, both on- and off-line, so that I can keep up with developments around the world. I'm most interested in the North America, Europe, and Asia because I've lived on these continents longest (or maybe I'm just 'north-hemispherocentric'). Of these three, Europe has often been my focus as its recent, close encounters with Islam offer the most noteworthy items, for they portend even greater changes within Europe's not-so-distant future.

Europeans are also taking note -- and taking notes!

And talking, or beginning to, about whether Islam itself is the problem, rather than just the ideological extremism within Islam that we usually call "Islamism" and generally prefer to consider a phenomenon on Islam's margins.

Just this morning, I read the British columnist Ron Liddle's remarks in an article titled "We should not absolve Islam of the crimes committed in its name" (January 27, 2010), written for Britain's Tory paper, The Spectator:
[B]y and large you cannot escape the conclusion that the most repulsive invasions of human rights that we see in the world today take place in countries where the national ideology is devolved from Islam. And the more directly or purely it is so devolved, the more primitive and savage it is.

This should not be a shock to us, but we have got ourselves into a twist over Islam in the UK. We have absolved the ideology of all blame by enacting legislation which demands that the rest of us 'respect' it, and therefore resist ad hominem attacks upon it as if they were in some way racist. They are not, of course. And at the same time as doing this we have been forced, as a consequence, to distinguish between those whom we think of as being representative of 'Good Islam' and the increasing numbers of those whom we place in the box labelled 'Bad Islam'.

. . .

I asked a representative from the Muslim Council of Britain if he agreed with the sentence handed down in Bangladesh on that 16-year-old girl [who was to be punished with 101 lashes for the 'crime' of being raped]. He was pretty clear that it was a 'monstrous interpretation' of Islamic law regarding the strictures against sex outside of marriage. But it is hardly an uncommon monstrous interpretation, if it is a monstrous interpretation at all, rather than a perfectly rational interpretation. In any case, he accepted that it was an attempted interpretation of Islam -- in other words, that the inspiration for the lashing of that abused child was drawn from the ideology, even if it was an inspiration based on a misapprehension.
Mr. Liddle sounds rather suspicious that so-called 'monstrous' interpretations of Islam might actually be the most rational understanding of Islam, and that worries him -- as it should if he's right. Is he right?

Europeans are talking . . .

And one of them is the sociologist Necla Kelek, a German citizen of Turkish Circassian origins who speaks out in "Islam has a Problem" ("Der Islam hat ein Problem," Europe News, January 7, 2010) against what she refers to as conservative Islam:
Moscheen bauen die Konservativen, sie betreiben auch die Koranschulen, in denen sie nicht nur den Koran auswendig lernen. Das sind nicht mehr als zehn Prozent der Muslime, aber die sind gut organisiert und bekommen Geld und Anleitung aus dem Ausland. Diese Verbände vertreten den politischen Islam, sie sind meist konservativ, propagieren die Scharia, die islamische Lebensweise und wollen im Prinzip eine andere Gesellschaft. Nicht jeder Muslim ist ein Terrorist, aber die Täter, von denen wir sprechen, nennen sich Muslime. Und die meisten kommen aus dem Umfeld von Moscheen oder Islamvereinen. Das ist ein ernstes Problem der islamischen Gemeinschaft, das sich nicht mit "Wir haben damit nichts zu tun" abtun lässt, denn alle berufen sich auf die Scharia, den Weg der Rechtleitung.

. . .

Der Islam hat ein Problem. Er will Leitkultur sein und nicht nur das Leben der Muslime regeln, sondern auch bestimmen, wie sich die übrige Gesellschaft gegenüber den Muslimen zu verhalten hat. Der Islam trennt zudem nicht Religion und Politik, ist also nicht säkular. Gleichzeitig hat diese Weltanschauung aber keine einheitliche Lehre davon, was diesen Glauben überhaupt ausmacht. Er ist alles und gleichzeitig nichts. Ein Gespenst. Der Islam ist in diesem Sinne verantwortungslos, weil der Gläubige nur Allah gegenüber verpflichtet ist.
Here's my somewhat loose translation, along with some bracketed additions to clarify Kelek's meaning:
Conservative Muslims build mosques, and they also run Koranic schools in which they not only learn the Koran by heart [but are also indoctrinated in political Islam]. They are no more than ten percent of the Muslims, but they are well organized and receive money and guidance from abroad. These groups put forward political Islam -- they are mostly conservative, propagate sharia (the Muslim way of living), and in principle want a different society. Not every Muslim is a terrorist, but the perpetrators [of terror that] we are talking about call themselves Muslims. And most come from the environment of the mosques and Muslim societies. This is a serious problem within the Muslim community that cannot be excused [by repeating]: "We have nothing to do with that." [This serious problem cannot be excused,] for all [Muslims] appeal to sharia, the path of correct guidance.

. . .

Islam has a problem. It intends to be the leading culture and not only regulate the lives of Muslims but also dictate to the rest of society how it should behave toward Muslims. Moreover, Islam does not separate religion and politics, and thus is not secular. At the same time, despite having this [integralist] worldview, Islam has no unified teaching as to what Muslim belief comprises. It is simultaneously everything and nothing. A spector [haunting Europe]. In this sense, Islam is irresponsible [with respect to society], for the believer has a duty to Allah alone [not to society].
From these two recent articles -- by two rather different writers from two rather different countries (though both Liddle and Kelek, fairly or not, are considered controversial) -- I sense that the discussion in Europe about Islam is shifting from a focus on radical Muslims as extremists on the outer fringe of Islam to a focus on radical Muslims as extremists at the very core of Islam.

Looks like those among us who are non-Muslims will need to become experts on Islam to make our judgements on a sound basis.

As should anyone who is talking . . .

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At 8:08 AM, Anonymous Malcolm Pollack said...

Excellent post, Jeffery. This is exactly the point: the world's problems with Islam arise not from its fringe, but its core.

At 8:22 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yes, I recall that post of yours, Malcolm, and you're not the only one who thinks this way -- as we see from today's blog entry.

I'm remaining officially 'agnostic' on this point -- for now, anyway -- and contenting myself with mere observations.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:14 AM, Blogger Teacher Leo said...

I must say I agree with Malcolm - if Muslims are indeed horrified by what is perpetrated in their name and the name of their religion, they need to address it.
Human rights are, after all, now not just a philosophical concept, but something that is now legislation in most countries, and something poeple can call upon when theirs are violated.
From what I understand from my Muslim friends, the interpretations put on the Quran by this extremist group are not true - but as the article you quote points out, that is the problem - noone knows what is a 'true' interpretation!

At 9:22 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yes, those 'true' interpretations are scarce as hens' teeth, but it's perhaps telling, for example, that even the lightest reading of the Qur'anic verse on beating one's wife never disputes that a man has the right to beat her -- just that he has to do it with a toothbrush or the equivalent, which not only makes that hermeneutic sound strained but even makes the Qur'an look rather ridiculous, in my opinion.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What is "true"---Muslims know what is true.
There is a problem in Europe---about identity---but Islam is one aspect only. Europeans are insular and this creates problems for immigrants of all religions---including Muslim immigrants who are a larger group. However, this is not any different than the U.S. when Black people were marginalized, discriminated against and held with suspicion. strange ideas about them were circualted that they were not as intelligent, somehow had smaller brains....etc. Job opportunities were not available and they were not "accepted" into the larger "white" society.---Yet, what did the Americans do?---they went back to their core values of justice, equality, and the right for all to pursue happiness....and America is richer for it. Had they given in to fear, prejudice and bigotry, the U.S. would have been a far different place today. Europe (and the world) can learn a lot from the American experience.

At 1:35 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Anonymous, thanks for the visit and comment.

I agree that Europe isn't especially welcoming to outsiders, and that's also true of many places in the world.

At the same time, Europeans have a reason for concern, for Islamism does pose a threat, and the Islamists are Muslims who think that they know well what Islam teaches, and what they 'know' is rather alarming.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe "Islamists" are alarming, but are they any more so then the neo-nazi's, the ku klux clans, or any other voilent fringe groups? If we actually put things in perspective rather than buy into myth and fantasy, we can realize that "anger" is fuelled by concrete greviences. When the "white settlers" took over the lands of the American Indians--what happened?---the American Indians fought back---because their anger was feulled by a concrete grevience. When they fought back---what was the myth/fear that developed among the white people?----that the American Indians were uncivilized savages--who only understood cruelty and so that was the only way to deal with them.
Robert Pape wrote the book "dying to win" which is based on actual research---not myth---and it delves into the real reasons for suicide attacks. The gallup poll has done actual research(poll) on how Muslims around the world think. These researches show something that is actually common sense---we are all human beings with the same aspirations and desires.

When aspirations and desires are crushed by the society one lives in, --such as France, the despair can eventually turn into anger which can erupt into voilence---give people hope, and a chance for happiness and you will see peace valued.

At 5:53 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Anonymous, thanks for visiting again.

I'm of course concerned about any extremist group, but the danger posed by Islamists is currently greater than that posed by the others that you mention.

Moreover, I don't think Islamist ideology reducible to mere reaction. They see themselves as possessing a coherent ideology grounded in the Qur'an, the Hadith, and the Sunna and consider themselves actors in history with the world-historical mission of conquering the world for Islam.

That this mission is pure fantasy doesn't stop it from being extremely dangerous, and I don't think that the ideology behind it would disappear no matter what US foreign policy is. For the Islamists, the fact of non-Muslims is sufficient reason for radicalism and terror.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are correct that what they believe is a fantasy---One that can easily be broken by the Quran, Hadith, and Sunnah---which DO NOT support such a fantasy. The Quran is pretty clear--unless one deliberately misinterprets it---but any rational argument that shows what the Quran actually says---will easily break the fantasy---As to the Hadith---Yes, some are disturbing----However, from the very beginning of Islam, Hadith have been catagorized as authentic, mediocre and false by thorough research into their historical accuracy and chain of documentation.---therefore, unsound hadith that is used for voilent purpose can easily be proven by scholars of this field. that leaves the Sunnah(or rather Sira)---Prophet Muhammed(pbuh) has been the most documented Prophet(pbuh) and much has been written about him from Muslim and Non-Muslim sources.---This means that for scholars, there is plenty of material to study and reputable scholars both Muslim and Non-Muslim have researched and written about his life. (Karen Armstrong's "Muhammed, Prophet of our time" is a neutral Non-Muslim perpective).
Without the constant legitimacy given to "Islamists" by the western media and government---these people can easily be exposed for the lunatics they are.
---Unless ofcourse western people enjoy getting a thrill out of being scared silly by mythical monsters.---in which case, people will continue to buy into it.--but buying into the fear only undermines the very values that the West treasures.

As to U.S. foreign Policy---You may be right that voilent fringe groups will continue to exist--however, their ridiculous ideology will no longer resonate with dissillusioned and angry youths who have no jobs and no hope and need an excuse to blame someone else.
--Stop plundering the rescources of other countries at the expense of their people---just to maintain the oil guzzling lifestyles of the U.S. public and military. Ofcourse, the U.S. should take care of its national interests---however, if it does so in a fair and just manner there will naturally be less resentment against the U.S.---that is just common sense.

The solution is simple---Give more air time to Muslim scholars who are willing to "debunk" Islamists as well as the fear-mongering Westerners claims and you will take away their legitimacy.

Thankyou for allowing me the opportunity to express my views.

At 6:25 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Anonymous, thanks again for visiting and expressing your views.

We have somewhat different perspectives on a couple of points.

I don't see that recent wars by the US have been fought to plunder resources. Oil of course plays a role, but more one of power and who controls it than a matter of plunder. The purely economic argument seems too simplistic. And some interventions, e.g., in Bosnia, have been conducted more as a matter of human rights than anything else.

I also don't think that disabusing Islamists of their views will be so easy as showing them that they follow the wrong hadith. Ideologies are stubborn things, and when individuals have put their blood into it, they're not likely to give it up.

The question, of course, is how to prevent new recruits, and that is something that the West, for example, has little control over -- nor do other non-Muslims. Muslims themselves will have to make the arguments against extremism and demonstrate to potential extremists why Islamism is not authentic Islam.

Thanks again.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My apologies if I made things sound too simple. A deeper look can reveal the complexity. For example, the term "Islamists" does not really define anyone. There are different fringe groups with different ideologies and grievences. Islam itself is not an "organized" religion like Christianity. It has no structure, no heirarchy of priests--it has scholars and maybe loose associations of like-minded scholars but there is no real "organization" or "spokesperson". At the moment, the ideology that is getting "airtime" is the "Islam is going to conquer the world" or some such. This seems to have, for some strange reason, taken up the imagination of the people. No one stops to think how impossible this is when one so-called "Islamists" can't even agree with another.!

---The West has little control---Maybe, maybe not--The U.S. is "Best Friends" with the two countries in which these idelogies were born--Egypt and Saudi Arabia. These ideologies were born there BECAUSE the U.S. supports oppressive and corrupt governments that the people do not like. ---But what does the U.S. do?---it goes off and attacks Iraq---The excuse that Saddam was a "Cruel dictator" is laughable because when Saddam was at the height of this "cruelty" and gassing his own civilians---the U.S. was "best freinds" with Saddam and had supplied him with the chemical weapons! (Iran-Iraq war) It was only later---when Saddam apparently decided to cut off U.S. interests that he became the "bad guy". However, this strategy is not unique to the middle east oil producing countries---It happens in South American countries that have natural resources---particularly oil that the U.S. wants. The U.S. supports oppressive and corrupt governments that cheat their own people---but when a government or leader "nationalizes" these resources so that the people might actually benefit---they loose favor with the U.S.(which means trade embargoes, sanctions or war / threats of war...etc) And where does all this oil go?---The massive and thirsty U.S. military which has many bases all over the world--and all of these bases need huge amounts of oil to keep them in shape---But no one really wants foreign bases in their country.---take Okinawa, Japan for example--they resent having American bases--they don't want American military on their land!

However, to put things in perspective---It is simplistic to put all the blame on the U.S. because much of the mess was actually caused/created by the Europeans and their "colonization". The U.S. unfortunately "inherited" the mess when it took over the European policy. Also, it has to be noted, that the U.S. might support inept, oppressive and corrupt governments---but it is not the cause of those governments being inept---just that the people of those countries find it easier to blame the U.S. rather than blame themselves.

Both Muslims and Non-Muslims can do a lot to help each other. After all--the goals are the same--all of us want peace and prosperity for ourselves, our loved ones and for our future generations. As you said---ideologies can only last when they are fed by "recruits" with greviences, without that, they will end up being a footnote in history.
--Give Muslim scholars more airtime and you will have debunked any mad ideologies. Foreign policy that focuses on fairness and justice can also help. A more sensible military policy cannot hurt either.---and in Europe, domestic policy that focuses on equal opportunity can ease some of the tensions.

Problems are always better solved in a reasoned, intelligent and factual discourse---particularly complex problems that have multiple causes tangled up together.

---and by the way---Bosnia is said to have oil deposits in both the north and south......

At 2:14 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

There is much truth in what you write, though I'd say that no one was thinking of oil at the time of the Bosnia intervention.

I also wonder how much power the US really has. I suspect that this always been somewhat exaggerated. There may have been a unipolar moment, but even in that moment, there were limitations.

The West is losing power these days, relatively speaking, as China and India are rising. I guess we'll be living in a different world in another generation.

I hope that it's a better one.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:47 PM, Anonymous erdal said...

Ah, the "Bosnian Oil Reserves"...

Yes, they do have oil. Almost a domestically useful amount for such a tiny country. But internationally, it doesn't even register. Almost every country has some oil, somewhere. Bosnia's is in the mountains, and almost impossible to get at (at reasonable cost).

Just for comparison: Austria has twice Bosnia's oil, Albania has 10 times as much, the USA 500, Iraq 5000 times as much. Ballpark figures, of course

At 4:00 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Erdal. I didn't think that Bosnia could have significant oil reserves.

Wars are fought for complex reasons, not for something as simple as the slogan "No Blood for Oil" might suggest.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:54 PM, Anonymous erdal said...

More along the lines of the original post:

Here's an excerpt from an opinion piece in DIE WELT newspaper, a large mainstream paper with vaguely conservative leanings. This would not have been printed two or three years ago:

They can't stomach Mohammad's true face.
by Daniele Dell'Agli

[Intro walks through the recent attempt on the life of the Danish cartoonist Westergard and some typical reactions]

Now, there may be many definitions of satire [...] but it is always conceded that it is trying -in a polemical or entertaining way- to get at a kernel of truth of a scandal or a commonly known grievance. More, the common knowledge of the historical, political or biographical background is prerequisite for the satirical cause to work, it would dissipate uselessly otherwise. What's the attack's target in this case? Very simply that the founder of Islam started his career as a raider of caravans and a murderer who, as the ruler of Medina, ordered his political opponents' assasination and the genocide of the local jewish tribe. These are undisputed facts among muslim scholars ever since, and should also be sufficienty known among at least the educated of the northern hemisphere.

[a paragraph about how the discussion is instead steered toward issues of free speech and religious feelings follows]

Both parties are thus not yet able to face up to the underlying issues of the caricature (which, for this reason alone is anything but "stupid" of "plump"): that islamic assasinators are not only well in tune with the spirit of many koran suras and most of their commentary body, but can also claim the antetype of Mohammed for their bloody deeds.

For the rest of his religions's adherents who still try vainly - together with liberal apologists - to beat the drums of islamophobia to veil this fatal connection, this has consequences: As long as they are not ready to critically qualify the historical authority of the prophet as they will qualify his teachings, they can not claim for themselves a difference between Islamism and Islam, without being theological nonsensical. And as long as they think that they ought to live in 21. century Europe according to 7.-10. century oriental rules, they should not lament that they, too, are thought capable of suddenly obeying the warlike commands of their religion's founder, or of endorsing such behaviour in others.


At 7:20 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Erdal, that is precisely what I thought was happening, that discussion in Europe of Islamism has shifted from seeing it as extremism at the margins of Islam to seeing it as extremism at the core of Islam.

Thanks also for the link. I'll take a look.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Watch and read mohammed T-shirt art from Sweden at,

At 5:28 AM, Anonymous erdal said...

I've not seen this myself, but I've been told by people who live there, that there is a graffity campaign, presumably by students or high schoolers, with the motto "Allah, go home!" in several southern university towns. Nothing in the media yet. Actually, a Google search for the phrase comes up with the tinyest of results. Strange that not even hardline blogs appear to have used this rather obvious line, ever.

The Feuilletons of the papers and magazines are at each others throat, daily. Alliances are shifting in surprising ways and fronts harden: You can now regularly observe opinion leaders in even Die Zeit, Süddeutsche, Spiegel and FAZ call each other "imbeciles", "criminals" or "insane". The viciousness of the tone is unlike anything I've seen here since maybe the big fight in the early 80's over the nuclear Pershing-II rockets to be stationed en masse in Germany. Maybe it's the weather -- there hasn't been a winter that hard for about the same time.

At 6:50 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Presumably, this "Anonymous" poster differs from the other. I wish that people would at least sign off with a nickname to help other readers distinguish among posters.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:54 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks again, Erdal. I'm rather far from all that clamor, being here in Seoul, but I hear echoes of it, and some Korean scholars who have studied in Europe are aware of the debates and are beginning to look with a jaundiced eye at the foreign worker communities here in South Korea.

Eventually, we may see protests in this country . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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