Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Ronald J. Granieri contra Geert Wilders on Islam

Ronald J. Granieri

I receive regular E-Notes from the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI), and since I am interested in Islam and Islamism, I was glad to receive an article by Ronald J. Granieri, "More Faith, Less Fear: Islam, Islamism, and the Future of the West" (August 2014), for based on a couple of previous articles I've blogged on, I expected a careful analysis on why the Dutch politician Geert Wilders is wrong about Islam, but I found Granieri's argument rather less than careful, as the following shows:
First and most obviously [concerning Geert Wilders' errors] is his characterization of Islam, which he claims is not a religion but a "political ideology," which he compares to Nazism and Communism. "Therefore, there is no such a thing as moderate Islam," he declares. "Sure, there are a lot of moderate Muslims. But a moderate Islam is non-existent." This simplistic assumption is flat out wrong. The vast majority of Muslims in Europe, just as the vast majority of Muslims in the world, are not intolerant Islamist radicals. Most of them are hard-working people with families who are simply trying to make their way in the world. That Wilders feels it necessary to characterize a religious community that has existed for 1500 years and that includes hundreds of millions of peaceful people who have never threatened anybody (Indonesia, for example, is the world's largest Muslim country, and currently threatens no one) as a relentless enemy of humanity, and that he wants to dismiss it as merely an ideology is the most stereotypical form of cultural arrogance and short-sightedness. Wilders even gets the basic definition of Islam wrong. He correctly identifies it as "submission" but the context he makes it seem as though that submission is of a political form, when actually what Islam is about is submission to God and God's laws. I know of no monotheistic religion that does not basically expect the same thing of its believers. It's also false to assume that there is no disagreement among Muslims about the practice of the faith, considering that most of ISIS's victims are fellow Muslims who do not happen to measure up to ISIS's particularly stringent dogma.
Whether Wilders is right or wrong - and I disagree with Wilders' claim that Islam is not a religion - Granieri's argument above is so fundamentally flawed that any reader should be able to spot it immediately. Granieri quotes Wilders as saying that "Sure, there are a lot of moderate Muslims. But a moderate Islam is non-existent." Granieri says that this is "flat out wrong" and adds, "The vast majority of Muslims . . . are not intolerant Islamist radicals." But this misses Wilders' distinction between "moderate Muslims" and immoderate Islam.

What Granieri needs to demonstrate is that Islam is not immoderate. I think that Granieri intends to make this point by his remark that every monotheistic religion expects "submission to God and God's laws," but what he ignores is that submission to God differs in the various monotheisms, and he neglects to tell us what Islam considers God's laws to be. In Islam, God's laws are codified as sharia, and when I look closely at Islam's system of laws - including the rules governing warfare - I find much that is hardly moderate.

I thus found Granieri's article less than satisfying.

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At 4:58 AM, Anonymous Ronald J. Granieri said...

Thank you for re-posting my article. Critical responses to my writings are always welcome, though I do feel the need to push back against this dismissal of my argument. I agree that I could have been more detailed in my critique of Wilders, but submit (ahem) that the end of the quoted passage, where I note that ISIS is but one of many forms of Islam, does advance the point that there are more and less (im)moderate forms of the religion. The more I think about it, the more I believe that to posit the existence of "moderate Muslims," but no moderate Islam is flawed, since practice and theory do inform each other in the real world. If one can be a moderate Muslim, there must be a moderate form of Islam in practice. Otherwise, one would have to believe that Geert Wilders is entitled to tell Muslims that only the Islamists are really Muslim, which of course would mean that he and ISIS are on the same side of that argument...

With all best wishes for continued vigorous discussion!

At 7:28 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks for the comment. I sometimes forget that if I can see the individual I'm blogging about, then that person can also see me. I wish I'd been a bit nicer, a bit less blunt.

The problem I have with inferring that Islam is moderate or immoderate based upon what Muslims do is that this seems to entail that Islam is whatever Muslims happen to do, regardless what the core texts state that Muslims should do.

What I've noticed, anyway, is that the Islamists buttress their position by copious citations from the Qur'an, the Sunnah, and the Hadith.

The moderate Muslims, by contrast, don't seem to have the sources to meet the Islamists' arguments. Moderates mostly seem limited to the famous "no compulsion in religion" verse, which was a Meccan verse that has been abrogated by the so-called "sword verses" revealed in Medina.

Thanks again for your cordial reply.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:24 AM, Anonymous Ronald J. Granieri said...

Oh no worries about being blunt. You did zero in on a soft spot in my piece, and goodness knows I have heard worse! Besides, how can I be upset at someone who has re-blogged three of my essays?

I'm reasonably confident that we agree on a great many things, so I won't drag out this disagreement. I'll just say this: It is true that the Islamists have the stronger texts on their side. At the risk of oversimplification, one could say that fundamentalists always have the texts on their side; that is in some ways the very definition of fundamentalism. And I do understand your point that Islam is quite literalist in general, making those texts very influential. In the end, however, to borrow a quote from Mr. Jefferson, what someone believes neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg. It's what people do, especially to those with whom they disagree, that matters most in this physical world. So the distinction between those who choose violence and those who do not, between theory and practice, has great significance. It's important to understand what others believe, but also to recognize the variety of choices people make to live their faith. If we can shake the idea that Muslims are all automaton fanatics, we can develop more constructive policies to deal with the actual fanatics.


At 2:23 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

"[T]he distinction between those who choose violence and those who do not, between theory and practice, has great significance."

I agree on this point. If we knew what radicalizes Islamists, we would know better what to do and what not to do in the struggle against Islamism.

I suspect there are a variety factors, and we won't have control over all of them.

Maybe the best we can do is get Muslims to take a bite of the apple . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sorry but Grainier's argument" is just pap. I don't think he understands Wilders's basic point, and I find his apologetics frustrating to read.

It does not matter that 90 per cent of Muslims are not actively killing/subjugating non Muslims. 90 per cent of Communist supporters were the same hard-working peace-loving folks as Grainier's imagined Muslims. 90 per cent of Germans supporting Hitler were peaceful, hard working German citizens (about half the Germans voted Nazi in '33).

Wilders is correct when he states Islam is best conceived of as a political party. It is a religion, certainly, but it is not only a religion, it is also a prescription for how a society should be structured and run. This prescription needs to interrogated like all other political ideologies.

At 10:36 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I agree. Granieri's argument doesn't address the issue raised by Wilders.

I also agree that Islam has a political aspect, intrinsically and explicitly, but even if did not and were purely religious, it should still be 'interrogated.'

By the way, I don't know why your comment went into the spam file, but I retrieved it and returned it here.

Jeffery Hodges

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