Thursday, April 26, 2007

More from a former Islamist...

Ed Husain, Reluctant Islamist
(Image from Penguin Books)

Ed Husain -- the British former Islamist whose parents immigrated to England from the Indian subcontinent -- gives us all reason for some hopefulness in the clash with Islamism, or so implies an article by John-Paul Flintoff, "Rediscovering a kinder, gentler Islam," from the Sunday Times Online (April 21, 2007):
[W]hen a Christian youth was murdered by a Muslim, Husain realised it was a direct result of the hateful atmosphere he had helped to create. "I had advocated the ideas of Muslim domination, confrontation and jihad." That murder marked the start of Husain's withdrawal from Islamism. He was helped by Faye, a fellow student who later became his wife.

His doubts about radical Islam were reinforced by two years living in the Middle East.

He also regained a spiritual, non-political faith much like that of his Grandpa. "Sufi teachers taught me not to look down on non-Muslims," he says, "because you never know who is revered in God's eyes."

No longer believing in a clash of civilisations, he points out that it was Muslim scholars who kept alive Greek philosophy and science and reintroduced them to Europe. "We form part of western tradition. It's our tradition!"
That someone as deeply involved in the Islamist movement in Britain as Husain was could grow out of it gives us reason to hope. While not all Sufis are peaceful, nor do all reject the jihad of battle, the Sufi tradition in Islam does seem more open to other faiths. Sometimes, perhaps, this openness has served merely to Islamize a conquered culture by gradual inculcation of Muslim values among non-Muslims, but other times, it may have allowed for greater pluralism -- both within a society of Muslims and within societies in which Muslims and non-Muslims live. Someone with greater knowledge than my own could perhaps instruct us.

Incidentally, Husain's point about Greek philosophy and science being kept alive by Muslim scholar, while not false, requires some qualifications. Christian scholars hadn't lost everything, and there were renaissances (e.g., the Carolingian) before the Renaissance of the 12th Century that was, indeed, partly inspired by Christian contact with Muslims in Spain. Moreover, Greek knowledge was also kept alive in the Christian Byzantine Empire itself, which provided a conduit of philosophy and science to Western Christendom, especially as Muslim attacks on Byzantium, leading to its fall is 1453, drove Orthodox Christian refugees to the Western, Catholic realm and engendered the greatest rebirth of the Classical tradition in The Renaissance.

Therefore, I wouldn't strongly imply that the Western tradition belongs to the Islamic tradition. I'd note, rather, that Islamic civilization and Western civilization have both borrowed from each other. Most of the borrowing, or so it appears to me, has been on the Muslim side. Certainly that's the case in the past 500 years. But since Muslim scholars were 'preserving' Greek knowledge (albeit not preserving the original Greek sources, as noted by RĂ©mi Brague in Eccentric Culture), then Islamic civilization was already borrowing from early on in its rise to political, military, and intellectual greatness.

Even the clash-of-civilizations theorist himself, Samuel P. Huntington, acknowledges that civilizations don't only clash with each other, for they also borrow from each other -- often as they are also busy clashing.

So even if Ed Husain has withdrawn from his own clash-of-civilizations jihad, his personal example might not provide as much hope as one would wish:
What happened to him, and others, is the result of misplaced policies. "In the name of multiculturalism we have created ghettos," he says.

"In east London you can go to a nursery and then a school and then get a job and almost everyone in your life will be a Muslim. There is a Muslim underworld here, and that is the only frame of reference for young Muslims. We are sitting on a time bomb."
It would seem that Husain believes that there is a civilizational clash, after all, a hidden time bomb just waiting to explode...

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At 7:38 AM, Blogger Hathor said...

It seems to me that most of the ideas emanated from Mediterranean Cultures, including the Middle East over time. I had always thought of that being part of Western Civilization in contrast to Asian and Pacific civilizations. Western Civilization and Christianity has produced as much violence as we think of Islam producing. But maybe, we don't think of colonization, slavery, Crusades or the Inquisition as being violent? Some of the worst violence has happen during The Enlightenment. It bothers me that since we are only a few years away from this,in the span of human history; we take such a superior view. Islam is a religion, that has certain sects and cultures dominate and we compare it to Western Civilization. I would not like the results if certain sects or denomination of Christianity were to dominate this country. If it did would we then compare it to Western Civilization?

At 8:07 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Hathor, people divide civilizations up in various ways. Some do argue for a commonality to the three 'Abrahamic' faiths and therefore to a common 'Judeo-Christo-Islamic' civilization.

I think of Islamic civilization as separate, however, for it developed that way over time in rivalry to Christian civilization.

Huntington, incidentally, not only sees a separate Judaic civilization but also distinguishes between Western civilization and Orthodox Christian civilization.

Violence seems to be a human problem, limited only by a group's means for wreaking destruction, which likely explains why the 20th century was so destructive -- we had bigger, more powerful weapons.

What worries me about Islam is the possibility that military jihad is an integral part of the faith, perhaps too deeply rooted in its long practice and its foundational texts to be uprooted.

To emphasize -- a concern, not a certainty.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:33 AM, Blogger Hathor said...

What concerns me is that Western Civilization becomes "good" and "white"; perhaps Aryan.

I never thought of the Muslims in Mongolia, the Balkans, China and even in Southeast Asia as being the same as in Saudi Arabia. The Wahhabist influence is rather
recent in those regions.

When it is convenient Christian's pull out the Old Testament for the violent adventures.

At 9:48 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yes, I've also wondered about Huntington's category "Islamic Civilization," for it ignores the profound fault line between Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims.

I guess that some Westerners do think of Western Civilization as 'white' -- but the U.S. (and, increasingly, Europe) is so multiethnic and yet so Western that I can't see how Western Civilization can any longer be thought of as 'white.'

And Huntington, if he were consistent, would need to count Christian areas throughout the world as part of Western Civilization -- by analogy to how he classifies Islamic Civilization -- such that much of sub-Saharan Africa would also be Western.

You're right about the convenient use of the Old Testament by Christians. If I recall, the Holy War (Cherem) verses were used during the First Crusade.

The Crusaders' attack on Jericho was supposedly modeled on the Old Testament one ... except that the walls didn't come tumbling down.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:42 PM, Blogger Hathor said...

My exposure to some blogs has given me that impression of that Western civilization is "white". On some I have been definitely told that blacks aren't part of American culture. With them, American culture is synonymous with Western Civilization. You also can't have any other religion, but Christianity to fill their criteria. These people are not the lunatic fringe.

Sometimes, I feel that I might give the impression that I am paranoid. I would credit the internet for that.

At 2:02 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

If 'white' is a color, then plenty of Westerners have been rather dark -- I think of Westerners from the Mediterranean regions who were probably rather dark brown, it seems to me, even in the Medieval period.

I recall, though, in Germany hearing remarks that made me wonder about European attitudes. I had a discussion with one German who said that America has no culture of its own. When I asked about music, she replied that it was all derived.

"What about jazz?" I asked. "Isn't that American?"

"That's music of the Blacks," she said.

"Blacks are also Americans," I pointed out.

To her credit, she reflected a moment, then conceded the point.

On a different occasion, I recall having to point out that Blacks were American and that American culture would be unimaginable without African-Americans.

Here in Korea, the so-called "Korea Wave" is spreading music to China, Japan, and other parts of Asia. The music is obviously modeled on American music and is strongly African-American in style.

So, I'd say that African-Americans are having a rather profound influence on cultural style throughout the world.

Anyway, whatever Western Culture might have been in the past, it's broader and more inclusive now.

And for that matter, it has long borrowed from other cultures...

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do believe that until relatively recent times the Muslim cultures outside the areas immediately in the vicinity of what is generally referred to as the Middle East were distinct.

The rise of extremism in it's current form being a fairly recent phenomenon. Of course there are movements such as Fa'lung Gong but I see that movement as having it's beginnings as mostly independent. It was only after the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan that movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood began to have a certain allure that the jihadism as we have come to recognize it presently, that we have a tendency to lump them all together.

It has been described as such before but after the relative forced diaspora of Bin Laden's organization, that organization is now a "franchisor" of terrorism's version of McDonalds. It has become convenient too for other jihadi coalitions to call themselves al Quaida.


At 4:54 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I think that much of the extremism has been funded by the oil wealth of Wahhabi Muslims.

Moderate Muslims in the West have often made this point, namely, that the Wahhabis have 'bought' mosques throughout the world and installed their own sort as imams.

The US did much to accelerate the radicalization of Islam by supporting some of the most extreme jihadi movements against the Soviets in Afghanistan -- a classic case of American short-term rationality trumping its long-term rationality, only to be trumped by the Islamists' long-term rationality in turn.

Pakistan's support for the Taliban and its tolerance of the worst sort of madrasas have made things all the worse.

Our American adventure in Iraq hasn't turned out very well and doesn't look that it will. So much for bringing democracy to a place not especially hospitable to the concept since it contradicts Islamic assumptions about political legitimacy.

Looks like Huntington is more right in this instance than Fukuyama...

Jeffery Hodges

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