Friday, September 06, 2013

Hashem Saleh: On the Need for 'Deconstructing' Islamism . . .

Hashem Saleh
Al-Sharq Al-Awsat
London, August 30, 2013

In the article "Arab Intellectual Calls For Theological-Cognitive Revolution To Extricate Arab World From Backwardness, Crises, And Internecine Warfare," Memri (Special Dispatch No. 5433, September 4, 2013) introduces another liberal Muslim thinker, the Syrian Hashem Saleh, currently living in Morocco. I've excerpted from Memri's excerpts:
[T]here are currently terrifying clashes . . . in . . . [Arab] countries -- because the . . . {Muslim Brotherhood, among other Islamist groups,} is holding back . . . progress towards modernity, tolerance and liberty . . . . How then can we make peace with ourselves? How can we solve the problem of religious and sectarian struggles while we are still stuck in the theological stage of takfir [accusing the other Muslims of apostasy] . . . ? When two Germans meet in China or Japan or at the ends of the earth, do you think that the first question that pops into their minds is the other's religion -- whether he is a Protestant or [perhaps] a stubborn Catholic? Absolutely not! This does not enter their minds at all, while this would be the first question to pop into the mind of a Syrian or Lebanese, or any Arab, upon encountering a [fellow Arab] in Paris . . . . The reason for this is that Germany solved the problem of sectarianism -- first of all from a theoretical standpoint . . . and subsequently from a political standpoint . . . . [However], we need only return to the 17th century in order to find a mire of destructive religious wars, when a Protestant could not countenance a Catholic, and vise versa. They fought and slaughtered each other over [the issue of] identity, as we are currently doing. This [intolerance] continued to plague them for the entire duration of the 18th century. Otherwise, the need for the Enlightenment would not have arisen . . . . Must we wait 200 years in order to solve the problem of sectarianism? The answer is no, [and this] for two reasons. First, because we are living in the era of the information revolution, which abbreviates times and distances. Therefore, something that once took 200 [years] to digest can [now] be digested in half a century. Second, because we are [currently] immersed in global modernity, and development is therefore accelerated. The Western and Eastern superpowers keep an eye on us and we can do or say nothing [without their knowledge]. Until recently, in particular before September 11, [2001], the sheikhs in the mosques could malign other faiths [and say] whatever they fancied, without criticism {but no longer} . . . . There is a third reason as well -- namely that the achievements of the advanced countries are available to us, thus sparing us the necessity to invent or reinvent anything . . . . Nevertheless, this does not mean that the sectarian problem . . . will be solved within two or three years. This is a huge and critical historical problem that will not be easily solved, [certainly] not in the space of one or two generations. I wish I were wrong, but what increases my pessimism is that, hitherto, it has been taboo in the Muslim world to apply the method of critical historical [analysis and use it to challenge] our entrenchment in tradition . . . . Without applying the deconstructionist method to tradition, we will not be able to rid ourselves of the alienating takfiri approach to religion that excludes the other.
May there be more such Muslim intellectuals as Hashem Saleh! I think, however, that his analogy between the current-day violence in Islam and the early-modern wars of religion in the West does not strictly hold. Christianity has had its brutal phases, but its core texts generally emphasize peaceful relations, even love of enemies! Strange doctrine, but there it is. Consequently, Christian violence is due to radicalism at the extremes of the religion. Islam has a bigger problem, for its core texts legitimize violent force in spreading Islamic belief. Islamism is thus radicalism at the core of Islam.

Violence in Islam will therefore be harder to 'deconstruct' . . .

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At 12:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Curious to know how you would characterize the Torah, the core text of Judaism, and the Old Testament, which some Christians reference very selectively in public debates about same-sex marriage and contraception?


At 12:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does your reference to Christian "core texts" that " emphasize peaceful relations" and "even love of enemies" include all books of the Bible?


At 3:40 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Christian core texts are defined by what Christians understand as the New Covenant. Hence the New Testament, whose ethical teachings supersede those of the Old Testament.

Christianity also distinguishes between religion and state, and it offers no all-encompassing system of laws to regulate believers' lives in ways that would require a theocratic state.

In these ways, Christianity can more easily be practiced in a secular state than Islam can.

Islamic reform thus faces a more difficult task.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How would you characterize the Torah as the core text of Judaisim?

If the ethical teachings of the New Testament supersede those in the Old Testament, then why do so many Christians cite selected passages from that part of the Bible in justifying support for or opposition to secular laws?


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

Just the Torah? Or the entire Tanakh?

Either way, it's problematic.

Some Christians may use Old Testament verses to justify their positions, but that doesn't affect my basic point, i.e., that the New Testament enables Christians to adjust more easily to modernity than the Qur'an does for Muslims.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pick whichever you consider as the core ttezt and please answer the question directly,

While awaiting your response, I leave related link for your reading pleasure. It would be interesting if the blogger had compared the Quran to the Torah instead of the Bible.


At 8:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Correction: core text

At 8:36 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I thought that I did answer directly. I said: "Either way, it's problematic."

Maybe you mean fill in the details? There are too many. Let me just say that one problem I see is that God in the Old Testament is depicted as ordering the genocide of a specific group -- men, women, children, infants. One can't get any more problematic than that.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Problematic indeed. Not only does the god of the Israelites kill people,, it also exhorts its followers to kill their fellow tribal members who commit certain transgressions and enemies from other tribes.

One wonders why Christians include those problematic texts in their holy book, especially since some Christians, including nationally renowned pastors like Mike Huckabee and Rick Warren, misuse those violent passages to impose ethical standards not only on their fellow Christians but on nonbelievers like me.

At 8:18 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I'm sorry to hear that you've been attacked.

I guess I can just iterate my main point, i.e., that the New Testament allows Christianity to adjust more easily to modernity than the Qur'an does Islam.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Imagine, Jeffery, if you were unable to marry your beloved wife because of laws imposed by others' religious interpretations. You could live with her, have children with her but not enjoy the legal benefits of marriage. Would you comfort yourself with the knowledge that at least you weren't being attacked? That's setting the expectations bar rather low, isn't it? I agree with your point that Christianity is more adaptable to modern life than Islam. Pope Francis' recent remarks are an encouraging shift away from coercive morality.


At 1:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Imagine, too, that you and your beloved life partner could be denied housing or employment on the basis of others' religious disapproval of your relationship. Christianity is indeed less in conflict with modernity and change than Islam, but is participation in organized churches still an obstacle to social progress? Consider that the US is the most religous Western country and, not coincidentally, the least accepting of same-sex marriage, the least comfortable with providing medically accurate sex education, the most supportive of foreign military interventions, and the most supportive of draconian drug laws and the death penalty?


At 3:59 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Sonagi, you ask me to "Imagine . . ." I can only assume that you believe I haven't thought about these things before.

"I agree with your point that Christianity is more adaptable to modern life than Islam."

That's my sole point.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, this was the original point that spawned our discussion of the core texts of the three major Abrahamic religions:

"Christianity has had its brutal phases, but its core texts generally emphasize peaceful relations, even love of enemies!"


At 5:50 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

That's one reason Christianity is more adaptable to modernity.

Jeffery Hodges

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