Islam and the limits of liberalism: a dialogue

This all started at Steve’s place (if you’re not reading already, you should be), with a great parody of apologism:

Today is the 10th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre. On 11 July 1995, the Bosnian Serb Army, led by Ratko Mladic, disarmed UN peacekeepers and systematically murdered 8,000 Muslim captives. The atrocity shocked the world and Mladic and his boss Radovan Karadzic are still being hunted for war crimes.

Before we condemn the perpetrators, though, we need to understand the underlying causes of this massacre. For 500 years, the Serbs lived under Muslim rule. The Bosnian Muslims are the descendants either of the Turkish conquerors or of South Slavs who converted to Islam. Their ancestors lorded it over the Serbs, oppressing and enslaving them. When Yugoslavia fell apart, many Serbs feared that Bosnia would again become a Muslim dominated state. Others simply wanted to settle some old scores. Southern Serbia was not liberated from Ottoman rule until the 1900s. It is still just within living memory that Serbs were ruled by Muslims. Many Serbs would have grown up with stories about members of their families being brutally treated by their overlords. While we should not condone the massacre at Srebrenica, we should try to understand the historic resentment of colonial rule that drove the perpetrators to such atrocities.

Somehow it developed into a discussion on Islam and the liberal response, carried out through email between me and Jarndyce. It’s been edited for readability, but otherwise is as the discussion went…

Steve’s parody of apologism shoots down one bit of nonsense: Nobody’s saying that Orthodox Christianity is responsible for Srebrenica, are they? Well, Islam isn’t responsible for Madrid, or London either. We need to get down to much more basic definitions of responsibility. Anything else is just apologism, as bad as anti-war types saying the London bombings “wouldn’t have happened but for Iraq”.

Steve agrees that we can’t blame “Muslims” for the London bombs, but suggests something deep within Islam that gives cause for concern. I’m not sure: I don’t let SWPers inform me what it’s like to be on the Left, I don’t let the KKK inform me what it’s like to live in the Deep South, I don’t let Mussolini inform me what it’s like to be Italian, I don’t let Gazza inform me what it’s like to be a footballer, and I don’t let a bunch of homicidal lunatics inform me what it’s like to be a Muslim. Most of my neighbours are Muslim, and I’ll stick to local knowledge. The sorts of people who put bombs on trains are nihilists. Why should our interpretation of Islam be theirs? A proper liberal should never apologise for indiscriminate killing, but nor should s/he cast around for a group to blame. Moral agency is much simpler.

But who really is truly a liberal, anyway? Not many is my guess. And whose definition of liberalism is the right one? Liberality in its original form, as one of many virtues, meant something very different to what it became for us through Locke, or then Mill, or since then, Rawls.

Turning to Islam, it has the same features – literalism, radical egalitarianism, the direct connection with God – that inspired Protestantism’s eruptions during and after the Reformation. Like Puritanism, Islam extracts a pretty high price from its adherents. Then Islam adds another dangerous element – it is a law-based religion, which doesn’t allow for a clear division of spiritual and temporal powers.

Voegelin‘s conclusion on Islam: “Perhaps, for the masses, this high spiritual clarity is made bearable through a connection with the neither high nor especially spiritual extension of God’s realm by force of arms over the ecumene.” (Said over 40 years ago.)

Now, there are many and widely different flavours of Islam. But if we think Islam is fertile soil for outbreaks such as happened in London last week, then surely this is a legitimate point of concern for us all.

It simply won’t do to hide behind a generalised theophobia – “yes, Islam is false, but so are all religions.” Without even bothering to get into an argument over the arrogant religious assertions contained therein (atheist humanism being a religion much like any other); if the worst Christianity has to offer is Christian Voice, or West Bank settlers for Judaism, while Islam has al-Qa’eda and Hamas… well, the difference speaks volumes, doesn’t it?

Your main point, I think, is that the Koran is open to literal translation. Not just that, but that Muslims do take it literally. But I don’t accept that’s unchanging or unchangeable, or that nuance implies one single interpretation. Hardly any Muslims want the shariah introduced in Europe. Many of Europe’s Muslims are Turkish origin, and they don’t even accept the primacy of Islamic law at ‘home’.

Plus, why judge a religion by its worst elements? Does Tim McVeigh represent Christianity? Does Baruch Goldstein represent Judaism? Christian Voice and peaceful Israeli settlers are not the worst those two religions have thrown up recently. Now, if you’re saying that empirically speaking, Islam seems to be hijacked by extremists more than other religions, then I agree. But all, it appears, are hijack-able.

Second, there are powerful modernising Muslim strands in Europe arguing for a non-literal approach to the Koran. Saying, in effect, that a European Islam will be different.

For me, you have to go beyond the quoting of scripture and look at the nature of Arab (and other Muslim-populated) states. They have failed, almost every one. Partly we’ve had a hand. We have to accept that – and it makes our mission in places like Iraq even more obligated. But it’s not just us: the obsession, for example, in Gulf states with boys learning the Koran by rote, instead of algebra, English and economics, is producing a generation ill-equipped for the modern world. This isn’t Koranic, but an interpretation put on it by a generation of despots whose only interest is suppression of their people’s wills. Many of their young men are failing in a globalized economy, and are looking for someone to blame. There is no outlet at home. They look abroad, and target their hate accordingly. We insist on our supposedly precious democratic principles differently in, say, Egypt and Iraq, and the crap the local salafist-jihadist is filling their heads with is confirmed: the West is imperialist; the West wants to dominate and subjugate Muslims; the West is hypocritical.

That hate travels over here via radical imams – we’ve left the pastoral care of our communities, remember, to be paid for by foreign countries. Unlike established religion, Islam has to look after itself financially. The rhetoric of failure and hatred spreads: it chimes with British unemployed (Muslim) youth. Some are held back by traditional structures; others denied opportunities because of racism. It’s a cycle.

All you need is for some of this nonsense to hit the wrong sort of personality, and there’s trouble. It’s politics, in the end, the politics of global radical political Islamism.

No – I think there’s more to it than passing political pressures alone.

I want to be thorough, to avoid any misunderstanding. I don’t think that Islam is evil at all – I think it is one of the great religions with good reason, and I know as well as anyone that most Muslims are good people. You know me – I tend to take it as read that most people are working with good intentions, even if their reading of the facts might be barmy.

What I do think is that Islam possesses certain characteristics as a religion, which makes it especially prone to the Gnostic temptation – that is, the temptation to seek a transformation of the world around a claim of absolute knowledge of ‘reality'; an ideological worldview, as we might call it today. This typically involves some (explicit or implicit) preparation for the end-times – whether through asceticism or the release of all restraints.

The spiritual impulse in man always leaves us open to this temptation, however channelled – the Reformation craze for witch-hunts, Nazism, Soviet Communism – all have done it at some stage. Unfortunately, the spiritual impulse is perhaps the most vital motive for human action – it is what we draw on when reflecting on what makes life living, after all. Harnessing that impulse allows humanity to achieve many, many things. But by the same token, it needs to be kept caged – if unleashed without constraint, the spiritual impulse is the most lethal force we know.

Now, most major religions have had some Gnostic outbreaks, and some are more prone than others – religions emphasising individualist worship with a direct connection to God are especially prone, because there are no traditions, doctrines, or institutions (however fallible) to sublimate spiritual energies. That’s the genius of Orthodoxy (Judaic, Christian, any) – it puts some thickness between the individual and God, to prevent the worshipper mistaking and acting on every event as an apocalyptic symbol. To see this source of the problem within Radical Islam, consider that these ‘conservatives’ often have no truck with local cultural practice – what counts is Koranic interpretation above all, regardless of circumstance, time and place.

Islam’s tendency to Gnosticism is both structurally and historically too difficult to ignore. Structurally, as well as the same features that caused problems in Reformation Protestantism (sola scriptura, private worship, etc), it is law-based and so sees no reason for a distinction between Mosque and State. Within its literalism, part of the problem of Islam is also (as much as I know any of it) an unfortunate tendency to deal in stark concepts like the House of Peace/House of War dualism. You might say some focus unduly on that, but because of the sola scriptura approach, a radical cleric can go on peddling the same line – and by the same sola scriptura token, anybody can become a radical cleric, because there’s no necessary qualification to teach Koranic scripture.

The historic problem is that, whereas similar (if slightly less concerning) structural conditions hold for Evangelical Protestantism, they were burned out through the Reformation and have since been pacified (enervated?) in modern-liberalism. Yet, within parts of the Islamic world, and within some corners of Islamic communities in the West, this is all burning quite hot.

Now, my point is that until Islam on the whole (a) develops suitable institutions or practices to constrain and dissipate the radical temper that can emerge in any religious community; and (b), probably as a consequence of (a), becomes much more effective at disinfecting its own bad elements, it will remain a concern to most, me included.

In terms of the worst of other religions – McVeigh and Goldstein – well, these are single freakoid mentalist types, rather than any large-scale phenomenon. The current problem in Islam, and one that has grown over many decades now, is that of a common ideological movement, across countries and continents. Relatively small in active numbers, but loud in impact, they often remain far too unchallenged in their own backyard. Christianity and Judaism do not, and have not, presently seem to generate such movements. Doubtless, a lot of the other problems of the Middle East haven’t helped, but that’s not the only explanation. Some of the most pious Islamic fundamentalists are drawn from the young, educated professional classes – seeking some escape from existential angst, y’know. (Incidentally, Timothy McVeigh was not a Christian – he was an agnostic.)

Maybe those changes I seek in Islam will come from the European experience. But how well they will catch on remains to be seen, and until they do begin to address some of my concerns, the size and shape of the Muslim world, including that part of it in the UK, seems to me to be a pressing issue for our political debates.

Okay, so:
1. Private revelation/a direct route to God;
2. Literalism, especially in the legal field;
3. No church structure to hold back the maniacs.

My central point is this: that could be Stephen Green. As you say, though, Christian Voice aren’t putting bombs on trains. So the problem isn’t the theory, the scripture, but its application, and the weight of numbers going down the wrong path. To me, that’s politics (and some of it internal radical politics).

Crudely, Islam needs to go through a process of change like Protestantism did two-hundred years ago. A separation of the public-political and legal from the spiritual. (Then maybe “war on the unbeliever” will be a duty to debate with him, rather than blow him up?) My argument is that it is already going through this change. European contact is changing Muslims, secularizing or making their devout Islam compatible with (most of) liberalism. Countries like Turkey and Lebanon keep the clerics outside of politics. The daughter of my Turkish neighbour goes out in clothes that make a thirty-something blush.

What isn’t happening is a real confrontation with extreme “Wahhabism” and its source, Saudi Arabia and the madrassas of Pakistan. This is only one strain (I don’t see many Sufi suicide bombers…), but it’s the one that gets most attention from the “kill all Muslims” brigade. The way to tackle these people is not, like some think, to go round selectively quoting scripture and branding Islam as evil. Plenty of Muslims don’t interpret the Koran that way – plenty don’t think a literal interpretation of the Koran is even appropriate. Hardly any think shariah ought to apply in Europe, as I’ve said. These are all facts. What we need is to tackle the problems, not ‘Islam’. And we’re pushing against an open door: any fool can see Wahhabism = failure. And you’re right: Muslims need to tackle the problem, too. To that aim, they ought to be coopted inside the state not left on the outside. Right now the only person on the inside who seems to be speaking for them is Galloway, and his influence isn’t helpful to anyone outside the SWP.

We shouldn’t also forget that the number of people prepared to do this is very small indeed. Okay, you can fire back at me that x,000 have sympathies. But how many anti-globalization protestors are there in this country? How many would sanction the bombing of the Carlyle Group? That’s the difference.

Murderous political Islamism is a cancer and has to be removed. Agreed. But the answer’s integration, not ramping up the Othering.

On your latter, prescriptive point, I’d agree, but it isn’t enough to say that we must ‘include to integrate’ as the only strategy. We can only affect one small corner of Islam, and hardly a dominant one either. The Islam that inspires in much of the world is strident and vigorous, and has no respect for liberal social and political institutions – in fact, often quite the opposite.

Given the wider context, this is why we should be mindful over the level of Islamic migration and residency here. I don’t see why this is controversial – you’d agree with me that religion is not race, and that’s why the Religious Hatred Bill’s a wrong’un, because religion is about ideas and should be open to criticism. But how can we act on that criticism, if it’s not satisfactorily refuted? As I said, I have a lot of respect for Islam, so there’s no great issue here – but if it were the problems of a popular Satanism we were discussing, I’d have no problem in suggesting direct action, even persecution. Religious tolerance takes place within limits; there are some spiritual claims that are incompatible with a given society – thankfully, Islam as a whole is nowhere near that position, but we shouldn’t forget that there are limits.

The comparison with Stephen Green: on the terms you cite, yes. But there are crucial differences beyond the similarities:

First, Christianity is a teaching- and not a law-based religion – it does not claim to be a complete guide to temporal life. Islam, like Judaism, does. This could be solved by the triumph of some kind of orthodox tradition – like Rabbinic teaching in Judaism – but we’re a long, long way from this happening, and it will be very difficult to achieve because Islam is a globalised religion before it has any central institutions capable of administering such authority.

Second, as you say, Protestantism has evolved from its Reformation origins – there is distance between rhetoric and action now. The difference here is critical – a Christian who murders abortionists is widely reviled, and can find no public traction or support; nor can their advocates. Unfortunately, although only a minority, groups like al-Muhajiroun were allowed to exist and the moderate, mainstream Muslim community has not found the backbone or the methods to ostracise them as they would be in the Christian community. This is, as you imply, a historic problem – it might well change – but there’s a long way to travel yet, and until we get there, caution seems advisable.

Third, and related to Islam’s being a law-based religion, is its insistence on stark notions that encourage “them-and-us” thinking. There’s an underlying idea that goes around that, once you strip out language and theological concepts, all of the traditional religions are pretty much the same. But that’s not true – although the Abrahamic religions share some ground, there are substantive differences between them which cut to the heart of their worldview. To give just one example, they have very different notions of God – in Islam, as far as I am aware, God is a more distant, arbitrary power-that-is.

Again, let me reiterate that these points are not necessarily specific to Islam – but Islam fits the bill now, and is also large enough to be potentially problematic. We can’t get away from the fact that, here and now, most of the terrorist problem-children in the world are Muslim. For whatever reason, Islam is proving some of the richest soil for ideologised hatred right now – and it seems to me that this is not wholly coincidental.

Now, hopefully you’re right that a European Islam is emerging that’s thoroughly pacified by modern liberal society – but that’s got all the makings of being a global/historical aberration – unless the more dominant global strands are challenged (especially, as you say, Wahabbism), it seems to me that global Islam will remain an issue. And I don’t see how it’s going to be solved, and until it is, there are factors to consider. I don’t disagree about the importance of binding British Muslims into the state as much as possible – quite the opposite. But this is not a one-way process, and isn’t helped when many of the leading Muslim groups jump on the racial identity bandwagon, and damn any questioning reference to their faith as Islamophobia. It’s helped even less when, sometimes, while criticising extremism in general they duck out of criticising specific groups and individuals. When we reach the extremes, Muslims have to choose Britain over Islam, and too few of the ‘leaders’ (self-appointed, self-important though they are) seem willing to do so.

Not unproblematically, as Walter Berns once pointed out, the rule of liberal society is “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s; render unto God that which Caesar permits.” Evangelical Protestantism has long since accepted this rule; Islam has not, so far.

Well, you clearly know more about the scriptural detail than me, and I don’t think we’re that far apart. Maybe I’m just less pessimistic than you. I see this twisted form of Islam losing the battle almost everywhere. No, we shouldn’t be stopped from giving opinions about religions, I agree. But assigning group blame, for anything (not all Christians wanted Jerry Springer: The Opera stopped), has to be discouraged. Muslims themselves, in the end, will have to lance the boil. It’s in their interests, and they have the comparative advantage. We have to help them find the resources to do that in Britain. That means coopting them within the state, helping them train imams within proper educational structures so we don’t have to import Saudis and Pakistanis who don’t understand the British context. The “Muslim = evil” meme has to be challenged wherever it appears, including on blogs. Islamophobia is an ugly word, but it exists. That has to be recognised, even though some may be exploiting and exaggerating its prevalence.

And we can’t calculate what the effects of a moderately secular and successful Iraq would be on the Middle East. Lebanon is already more successful than, say, Egypt. A bigger country succeeding spectacularly may tip the scales. Turkey’s longevity is proof that secular Islam is possible – their ‘Islamist’ government are using the ECHR to defend secularism, as well as trying to get into the EU. Surveys of naturalised ‘European Turks’ (including one on my desk right now – not online) find virtually no support for the primacy of Islamic over secular law. We have a slightly skewed sample in the UK, as the majority of our Muslims are Pakistani-origin. The picture looks different over the water.

Liberalism is the path forward, and it’s working. I like the fact that it is silent on the big questions. It doesn’t mean you can’t have your own answers to those questions. Just that, as long as none are incompatible with liberal society, one doesn’t outlaw or invalidate any. Equal consideration, including for all religions. We’re reached a crucial juncture, sure, but change is already happening. We just need to keep the process moving.

Yes, you’re right – we’re not too far apart. Both of us see, I think, that there are issues in Islam, but that also we in the West aren’t simply bystanders in the process. That’s takes place internationally – in building a successful Iraq most of all, as you say – but also domestically, in working to bind British Muslims into our national life. You’re also right that I’m more pessimistic than you are. I don’t think this is impossible, but I think it’s a high wall we want to climb, and I question whether we in the West have the will even to play our part in it.

Modern liberalism’s cunning is in its silence on the big questions – but it also makes it ultimately an empty vessel – but agreeing to be indifferent to each others’ deepest belief is hardly a basis for community. That’s why I think liberalism can never be enough on its own, and never has been in any society, either. Unless we have some basic agreement on those big questions, we don’t have the fellow-feeling on which we can build our liberal regime.

I think this is where I do worry about Islam in Britain today. To achieve what we both want – British Muslims who feel British Muslims – we have to be willing to offer them some substance to buy into, some additional motivation to inspire their thoughts and deeds. Liberalism alone cannot offer that; all it does offer them is the chance to be Muslims providing they keep themselves to themselves (some offer!). We have to offer Muslims participation in a genuine community, with a sense of holding some substantive values in common – not just ‘tolerance’ and ‘rights,’ but a sense of order and justice and the good life.

The problem is that this is where the liberal-Left will not be willing to tread – it likes the idea of community, but blanches at any of the steps necessary to achieve it. Communities, after all, are built on particularities – on exclusive loyalties, on personalities, on parochiality. Liberals will always (as liberalism demands) put universal values – choice, freedom, equality – above the particular claims of communities.

I have to wonder if the question of Islam in Britain really might force us to discover whether liberalism can ever alone provide a basis for society. And the more I think about it, the less I think that it can.

  1. Andrew said:

    Excellent piece. To stretch the analogies from Jarndyce’s last section slightly about cancers and boils: the question for me is which strand of Islam is the cancer? And that isn’t, for me, a question of simple majorities of people, but about the dominance of ideas. Of course we in the West want to see the rise of a reformed, liberal, tolerant Islam, but we have to accept that there is a sizeable group of fundamentalists who really don’t want to see that. I’m leaning towards Blimpish’s view here that I’m not sure that we in the West have the will to help ‘our side’ win that ideological battle. At the moment, we’re falling far short – we’re offering them nothing, beyond the chance to play a part in a society which has already failed them both economically and socially (see the Thunderer piece in the Times today about the closure of the textile industry in the North, for example –,,3284-1698333,00.html).

  2. EU Serf said:

    You use Turkey & Turks as an example. There is a feeling in Turkey that the Islamist Government here is using the EU to destroy the limits to religion’s influence in politics, secure in the knowledge that the EU will not, in the end, accept Turkish Membership.

    Sure you cannot compare the Turkish Government to most of their Muslim counterparts, but the picture painted in the west is too rosy.

    As most foriegn visitors see the Skyscrapers of Istanbul and the Beaches & Nightclubs of Marmaris, they are being a little misled.

    It is also necessary to remember that Europe’s first suicide bombers were in Turkey not London.

  3. Andrew: shit, sorry about those medical metaphors. Just read it back in full for the first time. Truly grizzly.

    Serf: I’m not sure how you can take a succession of headscarf cases involving the ECHR and Turkey as evidence they are trying to de-secularize the country. Quite the opposite, I’d say. They want Islamic dress kept out of public life. But obviously I’m not saying Turkey is a model of liberal democracy, nor am I an expert on the country. Only using it to show that Islamic government isn’t either Turban-wearing maniacs wielding Kalashnikovs or militarist despotism, with no other possibilities.

    (And I’d say Europe’s first “suicide bombers” were Russian anarchists, FWIW.)

  4. EU Serf,
    If Turkey’s government is “Islamist”, why are they trying to reduce the influence of religion in politics?

    regarding the use of suicide as a tactic in conflicts, I suspect it predate Russian anarchists by centuries or millenia. However, I don’t have any hard evidence on the phenomenon — does anyone else?

  5. Jamie K said:

    “regarding the use of suicide as a tactic in conflicts, I suspect it predate Russian anarchists by centuries or millenia.”

    Well, there’s the original assassins in the twelfth century or thereabouts, all of whome were expected to die on their missions. I think Jarndyce’s point about the anarchists is a good one, except that i’d substitite nihilists or narodniks, like Nechaev: “to love people is to drive them into a hail of bullets” etc. The fundamental – arf – idea seems to be the restoration of purity through annihilation.

  6. I’m with Blimpish on this, I think.

    Either way, do either of you two want a job in Special Circumstances?

  7. Ben P said:

    Blimpish – thats some pretty brilliant analysis. I think this also goes along way towards explaining why gnostic strains of Christianity are the ones that are exploding worldwide – pentacostalism, esp. – in nations where other western ideologies have failed.

    The rise of religious fundamentalism in the former third world is going to be one of the big stories of the 21st century – and I’m not just talking about Islam here.

    Jarndyce – if anything, Iraq is becoming considerably more religious. This is certainly true in the Shi’ite South. I think living in the US allows me to see, perhaps, that religion is increasingly serving as a substitute for secular liberalism, globalization (or Marxism) in much of the world. In this sense, Europe and secularism seem much more as historical outliers than the other way round. All I need to do is drive out into some depressed ex-mining or logging community three hours from where I live to see the evidence in all the independent “full gospel good news Bible churches” and the like.

    Indeed, the key isn’t so much to force secularism/liberalism/the “global economy” down the throats of those who don’t want it, but find a way of encouraging and promoting what are the powerful and growing strains of religious ardour into non-violent spaces of public discourse.

  8. A truly excellent debate, but I wonder if what’s missing from it is an Islamic voice. What I see is a whole load of white (presumably), nominally Christian (if not in practice) Europeans making sometimes quite sweeping statements about Islam, a problem which invariably affects all discourse about this subject in the Western media (whether mainstream or otherwise). Can anyone direct me to an overtly Islamic source of opinion, preferably one which is neither apologist nor apologising (if you see the difference)?

  9. Reired Rambler said:

    In his book “Dying to Win, Professor Robert Payne from Chicago University attempts to analyse what he describes as “terrorist suicice attacks between 1980 and 2003.
    He argues the common denominator in 95% of these cases is this- they’re nationalist insurgents with a secular, strategic goalof ousting the military forces of democratic countries from land the they believe is theirs.
    An interview with Pape can be found here

    (Ed: link fixed)

  10. First “suicide bombers”: Hashishiyyin. Where we get the word assassin. Not a bunch of drugged up beserkers (false etymology relating to hashish often used, thanks to Marco Polo actually) but a sect founded by Hasan Sabbah (offshoot of the isamailis).

    However, they were inspired by the sicarii, jewish daggermen resisting the roman empire. Although the sicarii didn’t poison themselves after stabbing their target. They just acted all shocked that someone had been killed. So I guess the israelites were the first terrorists. Ironic.

  11. Gack, just read back and realised:
    a) I sound like I took garry’s pompous pills and
    b) Jamie mentioned the assassins already, and is indeed correct that the movement emerged in the 12th century.

  12. EU Serf said:

    ….If Turkey’s government is “Islamist”, why are they trying to reduce the influence of religion in politics?….

    I don’t think they are.

  13. Phil E said:

    the problem isn’t the theory, the scripture, but its application, and the weight of numbers going down the wrong path. To me, that’s politics (and some of it internal radical politics).

    Bang on, if you’ll pardon the expression. We’ll be making progress when we can hear arguments along the lines of “sure, Britain needs to get out of Iraq, break with the Bush/Sharon anti-Islamic axis and give Islam its due as a great world religion – but blowing up buses? What are you people thinking?”

    We’re a long way from that now; sadly, the calls for ‘moderate’ Muslims to isolate the ‘extremists’ make it less rather than more likely.

  14. Phil: how doesn’t Britain give Islam its due as a great world religion? Any more than Hinduism or Buddhism, or Christianity, for that matter?

    And if moderate Muslims don’t isolate extremists, how else is moderation to become the uncontested norm? Osmosis? The extremists aren’t just idle theorists – as can be seen from the past two weeks – but putting their ideas into action, or applauding those who do so. These types of people would not be included within mainstream Christian circles in Britain, even on the fringes.

  15. dearieme said:

    Small point, but perhaps important: Jarndyce says “Does Tim McVeigh represent Christianity?” An American friend, a Democrat, once alleged to me that McV belonged to a Christian Fundamentalist group; when I said that I’d never heard that, she said “He must have done”. So I googled, and could find no sign of it. Does anyone know better?

  16. dearieme said:

    McVeigh: sorry chaps, I now see that Blimpish had already dealt with my point. So instead: “Turning to Islam, it has the same features – literalism, radical egalitarianism, the direct connection with God – that inspired Protestantism’s eruptions during and after the Reformation.” OK, but after about a century and a half, the Protestants had learned to live with each other, to live happily with Jews (at least in England and her North American colonies) and refrained from subjecting Catholics to an Inquisition; then came Constitutional Monarchy, the Enlightenment, religous toleration, abolition of slavery etc. Why do Islamic societies seem so intellectually impoverished compared to that lot?

  17. B: a further thought on this. You say that Islam is especially vulnerable because it has no mediator (e.g. a Pope) between man and God. But suicide bombing broke out first among Shia Muslims, who do have that mediation (after a fashion). In fact, Sunnis are relative latecomers to the suicide+murder party.

  18. Erm… as much as I’m aware:

    1. The Imamate (like the Caliphate) combines both spiritual and temporal powers, which is very different from an episcopal government like the Papacy, at least in current historical terms, if not perfectly throughout history.

    2. The authority of the Imams is not formally constituted for recognition by all Shi’a Muslims within a single, global hierarchy. Instead (again, as much as I’m aware) it exists in particular communities – even though Iran claims supreme authority, this isn’t recognised internationally.

    3. Putting (1) and (2) together, outside of Iran, local Imams lead, but don’t have the binding authority unless they can gain traction as actual rulers. So their authority to mediate is limited unless they also accept a role in leading politically, too, which doesn’t exactly help.

    There’s a further point too, that even where Imam rule is accepted, the practice is much more like pre-reformation Christianity – where rule is not so much through doctrine than the rule of the enlightened.

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  20. John Lieb said:

    It is the blase and casual response of local Imams and Muslim Clerics to the London Bombings as well as 9/11 that has brought alarm not only to the Christian Community but the U.S. in general. The only response, from the upright Muslim Community, should be complete outrage and an all out cleaning of house, fully cooperating with local authorities. But as you know….this is not the case. Apolegetics aside, Jihad is a legitamized methodology for spreading Islam at all costs and is self-endorsed by the so-called “good” Muslim community given their apathy and false surprise each time a suicidal bomber slips out the backdoor of one of their mosques. We are all infidels in their eyes and the quicker we “die by the sword” the better for Islam. But we close our eyes to this in the West.

    Ask yourself these questions:

    Are Muslims free to worship in the U.S.?
    How many mosques exist in the U.S?

    Now answer these:

    Are Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Taoists, and the like, free to worship in Iraq, Iran & Syria?

    How many Cathedrals, Churchs & Temples exist in Iran, Iraq & Syria?

    The answers are clear….Jihad and it’s offensive are effective.

    Stop watering down the truth with apologetics!

  21. Eco-warrior said:

    Iraq and SYRIA? iran I can understand but SYRIA? with all its orthodox assyrian christians? Come on, do more homework before posting a comment on a forum.

    Most aspects of MODERN warfare are perverse, by virtue of its being modern and machine driven.There is no longer a battle ground anymore, wars are fought in the same places where people live.

    All of Muhammed’s battles were fought on assigned battle grounds, they were straightforward and clear where only COMBATANTS can be killed- if you cause mischief in the land, you were going to be fought to the death until you desisted. All of his battles werent about forcing people to believe, they were about fighting oppression. The first muslims fled mecca when they were pesecuted, but returned to fight quraish tribe which continued to oppress meccan muslims.
    In the history of Islamic rule, from Muhammed’s time onwards all non muslims were welcome to live in muslim lands, with the difference of paying a different kind of tax. If anyone was ever forced to believe in something, that was wrong, as there was and never will be any complusion in religion.

    Anyone who sees ordinary civillians as legitimate targets, especially civillians in areas with large muslim communities (white chapel, edgware road) is certainly not all there in the head. Ordinary muslims dont care what people in non muslim lands do or dont do, what they believe and what they don’t. Islamic rule cannot possibly be imposed on a people who don’t want it. It can only be imposed if the majority of a certain area want it, at the expense of the minority- but that’s the same as every democracy.

  22. deteodoru said:

    Below is an impression I would love to share, particularly with Jewish members on this list. It is a most disturbing impression that can only be ameliorated through collegial discourse, in my view. So I offer it to this list in hope of promoting discussion instead of slander. Reason can change my views as they are fraught with alarm that would appreciation pacification.

    The “Big Red Scare” days of the Cold War were heady days, especially for the once Leninist neocons turned anti-Red propagandists publishing in CIA sponsored media directed at the Left. But those days are gone and many rich careers made in the Conservative Movement fighting the “Red Menace” came to a crashing end. Trade names for think-tanks, publications, publishing houses and other assets could be bought for a nickle on the dollar as the Corporate Establishment and CIA ceased funding of the “Red Scare” propaganda machine and the well payed “experts” had to scramble in search of real jobs.

    Many proved to be as good at scholarship and writing as at their past trade of scare propaganda and they found a niche for themselves in academia. But for the neocons it proved business as usual, for they were able to move from the “Big Red Scare” to the “Big Green Scare.” Green is the color of Islam and the neocons managed to parley venture capital from right-wing Zionist extremist entrepreneurs into a “War on Terror” fighting the new Islam scare. Indeed, deeming the Cold War “World War III,” they declared “World War IV” on Islam:

    To be sure, the internationally waged Zionist campaign to label all Islamists “Jihadists” is not new. In its desperate effort to impede global recognition of the Palestinians as a people with national aspirations, the Israeli Government funded lavishly with American aid-funds all sorts of front organizations that depicted every act of terror a tactical battle in the GLOBAL Islamist War on the West. Recently, Israeli operative Bernard Lewis was honored on his 90th birthday as the first to warn of a new war of the worlds– to the death– between Islam and Christianity which they say he dubbed, a Clash of Civilizations, not Huntington, the author of a book by the same name. Nowhere was his past personal history as agent of an interested party ever mentioned, after all, a basic tenet of this operation is the “Don’t show, don’t tell” inability on the part of us “dumb goyim” Christians to recognize the bias behind his “scholarship.”

    To be sure, the neocons would be quick to point out, 9/11 has more than signaled the existence of such a “clash of civilizations.”– but with ALL of Islam? Here again, as in their past Cold War propaganda, the neocons relied on their true and tried tactic of “don’t show, don’t tell,” for we are deemed “dumb goyim” who will not look behind the blaring slogans. The fact is that we, the Christian World, came to Islam to conquer it after it had collapsed as a power, not the other way around. And, armed by Stalin, European Jews created out of nothing the state of Israel. Instead of making the Germans pay for the Holocaust, we, in fact, made the Arabs pay and pay dearly; the most helpless Palestinians, according to Benny Morris, the Zionist historian, suffered a cruel invasion that caused some more idealistic Israelis to name it “Zionazi” for its exterminationist tactics of ethnic cleansing. That 1948 event is, right or wrong, at the root
    of 9/11, as well as our imperial protection of our “cheap oil” through corrupt regimes we back and protect against their own subjects.

    Through parthenogenesis (eg. self-replication) a plethora of organization was created by a hand full of neocons, much as they did as one time Leninists, to give the impression of a heterogeneous “united front” of view points. For them, 9/11 was not as much of a God-sent as was the coalition they managed to make with the Fundamentalist Christians who believe that the Day of Rapture will only come AFTER Israel comes to dominate the Middle East. Coalition with these “Christian Zionists” (though for reasons that can be considered nothing more than an extension of their anti-Semitic position) proved to be like a Stalinist Coup per the 1936 Dimitrov designed “united front” that, “neutralizes our enemies and brings them to the service of our cause.”

    Using the Cold War Era and the opportunist Senator Jackson of Washington State, who really thought the neocons would bring him to the presidency, (his hopes were dashed by a massive and fatal coronary) they campaigned for bigger is better strategic weapons and thus in an influence peddling scheme linked the massive American military-industrial complex– that Eisenhower was so weary of– with that of Israel. There was plenty of money to be made and, to date, none of the neocons nor their progeny suffers from poverty. But, the end of the Cold War seemed to put all that in jeopardy; that is, until 9/11 brought an end to the unachievable sure-fire ABM System and gave cause for a “transformation” of the US military into a global Christian Expeditionary Force chasing Jihadists all over the globe and promoting– they hoped– Israeli domination of the Middle East:

    But note, no sooner did we reach achievement of one such venture in our war on terror that we abandoned it unaccomplished for yet another. Hence, the masters of 9/11/2001 are still alive and free, today mid-2006, still directing alQaeda in its terrorizing of the world. After all, there’s little to be gained from ending the source of the scare!

    In the meantime, the “Big Green Scare” propaganda is in full swing. For example, the same neocon Hudson Institute that championed more-is-better nuclear armaments for the war against the Big Red Scare is now promoting “expert and great scholar” on Islam Bat Yo’er, an Israeli who lives in Switzerland (like many neocons living in “anti-Semite” Europe instead of the “safe homeland” Israel), from where she propagates the concept of “EURABIA,” which means that Europe has already been taken by Islam because of its inherent weaknesses: (1) anti-Jewish nature and (2) loss of Christian zeal to destroy Islam. Now if that doesn’t sound like an obvious attempt to kill two birds with one stone, I don’t know what does. As Anne Norton notes in her book, ” Leo Strauss and the Politics of American Empire,” Yale university Press, there is an ongoing a full-court-press anti-Semitic campaign against Arabs and Islam in general, run by the neocons, which I would dub the “Big Green Scare.”

    This campaign has yet another motive: fear that as more and more Islamics settle and succeed in America, they will acquire the economic wherewithal to match the “Israel Lobby” that Mearsheimer and Walt wrote about in their study– but this AIPAC with “I” for “Islam” instead of “Israel”– one seeking to sway Congress, not on Israel’s behalf as does AIPAC, but on behalf of Islam. Such “dumb goyim” are deemed the Christian Americans in Congress, that the neocons fear that, once the Arabs acquire a foothold in American politics, they will draw Congress away from Israel.

    It is most instructive to read how the Neocon Establishment responded to the Mearsheimer and Walt analysis of the Israel Lobby and what is fomented by these neocons– or through their “friends”– about Islam in order to feed the Big Green Scare; it is utter ANTI-SEMITISM!!!

    Here is one sample of the way the case is made:
    part 1
    part 2

    and below is the URL for the Mearsheimer and Walt article that caused such a stir:
    which was so vitriolically denounced by ADL as follows:

    So, it would seem, Ye’or on “Eurabia” is O.K. but Mearsheimer and Walt on AIPAC is “anti-Semitic.” I leave you all to contemplate and further research what’s behind the BIG GREEN SCARE.

    Daniel E. Teodoru

  23. Are you quite alright Daniel, old man? This post is ten months old, so I very much doubt anyone’s paying any attention.