Friday, July 06, 2007

Islam and Violence?

(Image by Thomas Conroy from BBC)

A recent dispatch (July 6, 2007, No.1646) at the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) translates Sa'd Al-Din Ibrahim's growing misgivings about Islamists generally.

Sa'd Al-Din Ibrahim is an Egyptian intellectual, sociologist, and civil rights activist who directs the Ibn Khaldun Center in Cairo and has long expressed his support for human rights and democracy -- for all groups. Previously, he has advocated the participation of Islamists in the political process, which he sees as necessary and as consistent with his views on civil rights for all. As he puts it:
"In accordance with this principle, I defended, and still defend, the right of Copts, Shi'ites, Muslim reformers (quraniun), and Baha'is to freedom of belief and worship, on a par with [that of] Sunni Muslim citizens. Civil rights are indivisible."
Although Ibrahim does not back away from his support for drawing Islamist movements into politics, he does acknowledge that from the behavior of many Islamist, he can understand why so many people, including Muslims, are beginning to wonder about a link between Islam and violence. In his own words:
It Is Understandable That People are Raising Questions About the Relationship Between Islam and Terrorism

"Despite there being no known connection between the [recent, violent Islamist-fomented] events in Gaza and those in Tripoli, the proliferation of the use of Islamic appellations ... has made Arab and Islamic public opinion ask itself whether there is something in Islam, as a faith or as a practice, that leads to all this violence and aggression. And it is understandable that they should ask this."
To buttress the question's reasonability, Ibrahim recalls:
"The memory of the blowing up of the twin towers of the World Trade Center in September 2001, with its 3,000 victims of many [different] nationalities, lives on in the minds of many. If we add to this the pictures of the daily bombings in Iraq, also carried out under Islamic appellations, or, prior to them, the suicide attacks in [both] Islamic and non-Islamic countries, from Bali in East Asia to Casablanca in western Africa; by way of what is being done in Darfur in Sudan by the forces of the Omar Al-Bashir regime, which claims that it too rules in the name of Islam; or the extended fighting in Somalia, which is being led by the so-called Islamic Courts -- [in light of all of this], we must ask to excuse those who are raising questions about the relationship between Islam and violence or terrorism."
It's interesting to hear that Muslims themselves are asking this question about a link between Islam and violence, for many non-Muslims have been asking this same question for several years now. An answer is not so simple, as Ibrahim notes:
"It is true that generalization in answering these questions is fraught with methodological and objective difficulties. It is also true that there are moderate Islamists who rule in Turkey and who participate in the government in Morocco, Kuwait, and Jordan."
Ibrahim is right. An answer is not so simple as noting that the common factor in all this violence is Islam, for we can't ignore the fact that the vast majority of Muslims don't engage in terrorism or other violence. For that reason, I prefer to talk about Islamist violence rather than Islamic violence. That doesn't mean that I have no qualms about Islam per se. In fact, I do -- and as Ibrahim would acknowledge, understandably so. There may be something within Islam that predisposes it for violence, given the presence of certain triggering factors.

I think that we need to be asking both sorts of questions -- what is it about Islam, and what are the triggering factors?

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At 8:58 AM, Blogger Hathor said...

I want to ask the same question. Why were Christians predisposed to allow slavery and its consequences? A violence perpetrated on many more people than the Islamist have killed. Shouldn't we ask why humans are predisposed to violence, what circumstances cause humans to act as a mob or as organized governments, such as the Nazi regime?
800,000 murdered in 100 days in Rwanda; I just heard this statistic this past week. I wish people would stop thinking that only if the Islamist were destroyed we would have reason and peace in the world.

At 9:56 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Good questions.

Presumably the conditions and triggers would differ according to the case.

The Rwanda case seems to be about ethnicity.

The slavery case in America seems to have been about race.

The Nazi case seems to have been about nationalism.

The Islamist case seems to be about religion.

In three cases, the fear of a perceived enemy and the desire for power over that enemy played a role. The slavery case seems somewhat different on this point. Also, I don't think that we can speak of triggering factors in the case of slavery.

As for comparing carnage, I wouldn't know how to find dependable statistics. For instance, I don't know how many people have been killed through jihad. I've heard estimates of the carnage in India having reached 80 million during the Muslim conquest, but I wonder who was then counting ... or who is now estimating.

The Islamist threat is our current problem, and we have to face it, but you're right -- even if the Islamist are stopped, something else will turn up.

We'll never reach the end of history ... until the asteroid strikes us all dead.

Maybe serve us right...

Jeffery Hodges
. . .

At 11:49 AM, Blogger Hathor said...

I think we make to much of religion as the reason. It is starting to divide this nation by determining that Christianity and Western Civilization are superior. It bothers me, because the discussions are beginning to include ordinary Americans who are not white or Christian. This superior attitude is not stomping out the Islamist, it is making all Muslims the enemy. If you are not making them the enemy you must be supporting multiculturalism and that includes blacks, Mexicans, Asians and political enemies. As a black person looking at Western civilization, I don't see superior, I see hypocrisy. Civilization is what it is.
I can't take an academic look, it is too cool. Maybe being on the net is making me paranoid.

At 12:17 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

There's a lot on the net to make one paranoid.

On Western Culture -- or, rather, the American version -- I've always been ambivalent. Or at least since I was four or five and my great-grandmother emphasized to me never to forget that I was part Indian. Her husband had been half-Cherokee, so she took a special interest, and she'd been born in 1877, so she could still recall U.S. battles against the Indians, and she emphasized how badly American Indians had been treated.

So, all those years of seeing movies on TV about how the American West was 'won', I couldn't help rooting for the Indians.

Western Civilization offers some good things. Indeed, some very good things. But its history, like all histories, is a bloody mess.

Living here in Korea, I see good things that have come down from Korean tradition along with good things brought by Western influence. I think -- contra Huntington -- that what is emerging globally is a new, global culture that partly rests on Western foundations but also incorporates much else.

Meanwhile, though, Huntington is right. We've got different civilizations in this world, and we have to learn how to talk to each other and avoid conflict ... unless it is unavoidable.

That's where the Islamist problem appears. For them, it's a zero-sum game, and they seem to be willing to commit the mass murder of innocent people in aiming toward their goals.

And, it should be clear by now, they're willing to kill a lot of Muslims anlong with non-Muslims in their methods.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:36 PM, Blogger Hathor said...

Actually I think the last statement you made will be what will stop the extremist. Other Muslims will tire of the destruction.

At 9:08 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

You're likely right. Only other Muslims can apply community pressure.

Jeffery Hodges

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