Monday, September 29, 2014

Islamism: The Real Islam?

James V. Schall, S.J.
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In an article titled, "It's time to take the Islamic State seriously: It believes that terror is a legitimate way to achieve world peace" (MercatorNet, September 17, 2014), the Jesuit scholar James V. Schall argues that Islamism is the real Islam:
The Islamic State and the broader jihadist movements throughout the world that agree with it are, I think, correct in their basic understanding of Islam. Plenty of evidence is found, both in the long history of early Muslim military expansion and in its theoretical interpretation of the Qur'an itself, to conclude that the Islamic State and its sympathizers have it basically right. The purpose of Islam, with the often violent means it can and does use to accomplish . . . [its aim], is to extend its rule, in the name of Allah, to all the world. The world cannot be at "peace" until it is all Muslim. The "terror" we see does not primarily arise from modern totalitarian theories, nationalism, or from anywhere else but what is considered, on objective evidence, to be a faithful reading of a mission assigned by Allah to the Islamic world, which has been itself largely procrastinating about fulfilling its assigned mission.
The various non-Islamist forms of Islam are thus heretical, implies Schall. The real Islam is made of the sterner stuff offered by the Islamic State. Why is the real Islam like this? Why? Because:
The roots of Islam are . . . bad theology, but still [a theology] coherent within its own orbit and presuppositions . . . . [If one understands the real Islam's] premises and the philosophy of voluntarism used to explain and defend it, [the fact] . . . becomes much clearer that we are . . . dealing with a religion that claims to be true in insisting that it is carrying out the will of Allah, not its own [will] . . . . [W]e have to [deal with this real Islam] . . . on those terms, on the validity of such a claim. The trouble with this approach, of course, is that truth, logos, is not recognized in a voluntarist setting. If Allah transcends the distinction of good and evil, if he can will today its opposite tomorrow, as the omnipotence of Allah is understood to mean in Islam, then there can be no real discussion that is not simply a temporary pragmatic stand-off, a balance of interest and power.
Schall's point here concerns the implications of a voluntarist god. Allah is conceived in Islamic theology as a deity whose divine nature is solely omnipotent will. He has no rational essence and could arbitrarily enjoin tomorrow everything that is forbidden today. This arbitrary foundation of the real Islam entails that "might makes right" - Allah is right because he is the most powerful being - and hence that the real Islam is impervious to reason (i.e., logos). Truth is thus established by force as facts on the ground.

Is Schall therefore correct about the real Islam?

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At 10:28 AM, Blogger Kevin Kim said...

My half-baked insights here. I think people in the West aren't wrong to worry over what seems to be a substantial overlap between Islam and Islamism, but I also think it overstates the case to essentialize Islam and reduce it merely to its terrorist form. Religions are as they are practiced, and Islam presents a complex picture with no easy analyzes or solutions on the horizon.

At 12:47 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Perhaps we could say that the religious experts in Islam immerse themselves in the early writings - Koran, Hadith, Sunnah - and arrive at Islamism as the real Islam. I certainly have the impression, anyway, that the experts tend to arrive at a violent version of their religion.

The critics of these experts don't seem to be able to use the early writings to meet the experts' arguments.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:00 AM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

Could it be our conceptions are clouded by our postmodernism, our skepticism, and our relativism--and even our scholarship?

In the modern view, any manifestation of theocracy is "criminal." Maybe this leads us into a discussion of John Rawls' notions of "outlaw" states, or maybe the more familiar "Jeffersonian" formulation concerning theocracy and separation of church and state should suffice; in any event--from a modern perspective--can any theocratic organization whatsoever be afforded the "status" of a state or nation-state? The postmodern answer--if it can be said to be an "answer--is "yes." But the modern answer is "no."

The choice between the two perspectives--postmodern or modern--seems not to be a philosophical choice, but a political one. And this understanding seems to be the "end run" that takes the ball around the postmodern defensive line.

At 4:36 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Modern thinking admit that a state calling itself theocratic might exist as a fact, yet have no legitimacy.

Postmodernism seems to accept just about anything.

Jeffery Hodges

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