Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Yes, Virginia, there is anti-Muslim bigotry

A lot of the time, the word "Islamophobia" has been gratuitously thrown around to smear any critic of militant/radical Islam, or anyone who discusses the dangerous strands in contemporary Islamic culture. I don't think that either religion or political ideology based on religion are beyond criticism. However, I do think that in some quarters, hostility to radical Islam translates into -- or becomes a smokescreen for -- out-and-out bigotry directed at all Muslims, including secularized but traditionally Muslim populations (such as the Albanians in Kosovo).

Here's a rather striking example.

Last night, I followed a link from an Andrew Sullivan post to a post on a site called Infidel Bloggers Alliance about the firing of a Daily Telegraph editor who had published an article about extremism among British Muslims. (In a subsequent update, Andrew noted that it was unclear whether her firing was related to the article.)

When I glanced at the previous posts on the Infidel Bloggers Alliance blog, a post titled "A Memorable Moment in the Milosevic trial" caught my attention. Both the post and especially the comments treat Milosevic as a misunderstood hero who was actually fighting back against the jihadist peril in Europe. Typical comment:

Yeah. . . Ever since 9/11, one question after another about whether we were on the wrong side in the Bosnian conflict has come up.

The only thing you can trust a Muslim to be is a Muslim.


Of course, prior to his death, Milosevic had repeatedly tried to capitalize on 9/11, and the War on Terror, to present himself as an early crusader, so to speak, against Muslim terrorism. For a dose of reality, go to this article by Christopher Hitchens, whom no one can accuse of being soft on militant Islam.

Just to set the record straight, I am not for a moment implying that Andrew Sullivan shares the repugnant views of the author of the Milosevic post (though I personally think it's a good idea to look around a site before you link to it). However, I do think that critics of radical Islam should be very careful to avoid the trap of anti-Muslim bigotry -- which, in some cases, can evidently lead to excuses for genocide.

More: Those inclined to generalize about Muslim intolerance would do well to read this fascinating post by neo-neocon about Muslim-Jewish relations and, specifically, Muslim rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust.

43 comments:

Luke said...

Dear Cathy,

You're a smart, well-educated woman with an uncommon amount of common sense. That's why I visit your site.

So, for the benefit of a mind that has grown crinkly with age, would you try to enlighten me a little as to the differences between Islam and Muslims? How is a responsible U.S. citizen to distinguish between an ancient, militarily aggressive and, in some parts of the world, state-established cult of intolerance, and those millions of immigrants among us who, by birth as much as by choice, find themselves identified as members of that cult? Does it matter if some of the latter elect to publicly identify themselves as adherents of that cult and to publicly (or perhaps secretly) affiliate themselves with its purposes and organizations? Even if those organizations and the men who lead them are avowed enemies of liberal democracy and everything it stands for, and are receiving massive amounts of financial support from others overseas who feel the same way?

I guess what I am really getting at is this: Do you think Islam necessarily a "religion" as that term is used and understood in our Constitution? If yes, does that mean we ought to treat Islam with respect, and accord it all the legal rights and prerogatives we accord to, say, Methodism or Orthodox Judaism, to choose two non-violent, law-abiding cults at random? But if your answer is no, then explain why -- or whether --we should treat Islam any differently than we do, say, the Ku Klux Klan?

Feel free to reframe the questions any way you like, or to admit that you're just not sure of the answers if that's the way you feel.

thanks,



--
Luke Lea

Anonymous said...

Luke, I can't tell what you are saying or asking. Your post is poorly written. Can you rephrase?

Dr Victorino de la Vega said...

The New York Times reports that the Dutch government has decided to upgrade the compulsory “cultural integration” exams prospective immigrants have to take before obtaining a visa to the country of Erasmus...in order to “filter away all unwanted religiously conservative individuals”

“A lesson, about the Netherlands' nude beaches, is followed by another: homosexuals have the same rights here as heterosexuals do, including the chance to marry.

Just to make sure everyone gets the message, two men are shown kissing in a meadow.

The scenes are brief parts of a two-hour-long film that the Dutch government has compiled to help potential immigrants, many of them from Islamic countries, meet the demands of a new entrance examination that went into effect on Wednesday


Or course citizen of certain countries with high numbers of “religious conservatives” such as Israel and the US are exempted from taking the exam…but the Dutch government wants us to believe this shouldn’t be interpreted as blatantly racist double-standard directed at Arabs and Mohammedans!

But there’s even worse that sheer racism at work here: ironically, by focusing its message on nude beaches, swingers clubs, hash bars…etc. the Dutch government is contributing to the distortion and debasement of Western culture in the eyes of its critics, thus reinforcing their prejudices.

Just like their Neocon friends in Washington and Tel-Aviv, the Muslim-bashers of Amsterdam and The Hague are useful idiots feeding the anti-Western narrative of Osama Bin Laden and Ayman Al-Zawahiri.

Instead of promoting humanistic and secular values by building schools and universities with modernist secular curricula in the Middle-East and South Asia, instead of telling prospective immigrants the world over that Europe is a beacon of humanism and democracy, we’re content with provoking Muslims gratuitously.

In Hitler’s Germany, Jehovah's Witnesses were forced to accept blood transfusion and force-fed ham so they could become “good Germans”.

In Guantanomo’s prisons, Arab and Muslim detainees were routinely forced to watch gay porn movies while listening to the Israeli national anthem

I guess this must have paved the way for the Dutch government’s new immigration law…

Jim said...

"But there’s even worse that sheer racism at work here:"

Dr. Victorino, a soveriegn nation is free to keep out anyone it wants to and that exclusion is not racism. A nation has no obligation to let anyone in. Period. An ethnically-based nation, and in Europe that is the accepted definition of a nation, is not racist because it make laws that restrict citizenship to its dominant ethnicity, unless you hold that all ethnically-based nations are inherently racist. That is a perfectly reasonable position, but try going down the road a bit and seeing how far you get with it on the Hopi or Navajo Reservations.

Furthermore, there is nothing racist about opposition to Islam as a political system. Islam is not an ethnicity or a race.

Can you think of any reason besides widespread religious conservatism in the US or Israel that might get their citizens exempted form this requirement? Could it possibly that tolerance for various lifestyles is part of the political ideology of those countries, something you can reasonably expect their citizens to understand and uphold, and that that might not be true of people coming from predominantly Muslim societies?

You say:

"Instead of promoting humanistic and secular values by building schools and universities with modernist secular curricula in the Middle-East and South Asia, instead of telling prospective immigrants the world over that Europe is a beacon of humanism and democracy, we’re content with provoking Muslims gratuitously."

What WE are you talking about? Both you and I are Americans - how do the policies of the Dutch government reflect on us? Let me guess - it's all about the evil West. All kaffirs are really the same.

You say:

"In Guantanomo’s prisons, Arab and Muslim detainees were routinely forced to watch gay porn movies while listening to the Israeli national anthem.."

Oh the poor babies - inflicting the Israeli national anthems on people you just know are vicious anti-Semites. Oh the suffering. Same gores for the gay porn. Poor babies. Are you going to fell the same pity for me if I am forced to hear their fellatio-sounding language when I am out in public? I hope not.

That refernce to Hitler's Germany qualifies as an instnace of the Godwin Law. Guess what - Hitler's Germany also rounded up and exterminated gays. Who is most like Hitler then, the US or the homophobic Arab regimes and Islamic religion?

Anonymous said...

Dr. VDLV: I don't want to watch gay porn any more than you do. But given the choice between that and living under sharia, I'll take the porn. No question.

The Dutch are responding to their Islamic minority's forthrightly stated goal of inflicting sharia on the nation. If I were in their shoes, I would make immigrants watch porn, too. If an immigrant can't handle that, then let him live somewhere else. Freedom is more important than diversity.

Revenant said...

Or course citizen of certain countries with high numbers of “religious conservatives” such as Israel and the US are exempted from taking the exam…but the Dutch government wants us to believe this shouldn’t be interpreted as blatantly racist double-standard directed at Arabs and Mohammedans!

Racist? There are American and Israeli Arabs, and there are non-Arabs from predominantly-Arabic countries.

The reason for excluding Western nations is presumably that those nations already tolerate the behavior in question. You don't need to tell an American "if you see a gay couple, it isn't ok to throw rocks at them". We know that already. A guy from a nation where homosexuals are routinely murdered -- e.g., much of the Muslim world -- might not.

PS -- "Mohammedans"? Last I checked this was 2006, not 1906.

Luke said...

In response to anonymous above, let me rephrase my question:

Cathy wants us to distinguish between condemning Islam as a religious ideology, which she thinks is ok to do, and refusing to tolerate the adherents of that ideology, which she calls anti-Muslim bigotry and therefore by implication finds not ok.

I would have no problem with this distinction in connection with, say, Buddhism, a religious tradition that does not sanction violence or the threat of violence for the purposes of its own propagation. With Buddhists we can simply agree to disagree. The same goes for Catholics, orthodox Jews, and most other religious traditions with which we are familiar in the West (though, in the case of Catholics, it goes only since the end of the religious wars in Europe, which, or so I have been taught, is where, when, and why the idea religious toleration got its start in the West).

But in the case of Islam, which, for the sake of argument, let us assume does in fact sanction violence and the threat of violence as tools for its own propagation, it is not so easy to separate the believer from the beliefs to which he subscribes. It is the beliefs themselves that make him a threat -- a physical and moral threat -- to the people around him.

Now, I recognize that in the case of Bosnia in the 1990's, to which mention was made, we had a situation in which, at the time, militant Islam was a long-quiescent tradition and the Muslim community in Bosnia was intermarried with, and surrounded by, other ethno-religious groups, none of whom subscribed to liberal standards of tolerance or had any experience with them.

Militant Islam is no longer quiescent, however, and this raises the issue of what, if anything, can liberal societies do to defend themselves against the forces of organized intolerance they see growing up in their midst? What can they do, that is, without surrendering the very principles of liberty that they are trying to defend?

Since she raised it, I'd like Cathy to confront this issue, both as a matter of abstract principle, and concretely as it relates to how we ought to be prepared to deal with the millions of nominally Muslim immigrants who have come to live in the West, large numbers of whom are now electing to maintain their identity as Muslims and to affiliate with Islamic institutions, most of which are avowed enemies of the West and everything it stands for.

Not to belabor the point, I would like her to focus on the domestic side of the problem, not the foreign policy issue. As we move from tolerating to not tolerating organized intolerance, where does bigotry begin?











--
Luke Lea

Jim said...

Luke has a reasonable question, and I may be able to help a bit.

1) Word games about what is or is not the "real" Islam, don't make the mistake of reading the Koran and assuming it will determine the actions of this or that Muslim. For one thing, you will find that it is poetry, and so it is evocative rather than prescriptive in any kind of detailed way. It sounds pretty bloody in places, but the same is true of sections of the Old Testament, and that hardly makes Jews bloodthirsty savages, even the ones that regard the Torah as the unalterable word of God and so on. Remember that when you hear that moderate Muslims are moderate only insofar as they are not real Muslims. BS. Remeber that Orthodox Judaism isn't exactly a haven of secularist thinking, but so what - what harm has it done yet to liberal democracy?

2) You are right about the lack of separation between the religion and the state. This is different from Euroope and the West, which has always had this separtion going back into Proto-Indo-European times - it is the basis for the Indian caste system and in Europe it was reinforced by perennial political tensions between the Church and the various locals princes and kings. So secularism is hard for Muslims. But presumably, it should be hard for Jews too, and Israel pretty much disproves that.

3) I am lucky to live in a narea, the puget Sound region, where there is a visible Muslim community, the Somalis. The Somalis have a very Jacksonian worldview, so they fit in very well with most Americans. I don't think the basic assumptions of democracy are so very foreign to them - pretty non-authoritarian. They expect to be left in peace and also they expect other people to want the same, so we don't hear about imagined slights and their wounded feelings because women in this part of the world go around with thier hair showing. Even when they have real grievances, they assume they are going to get a fair hearing, and that goes a long way towards getting that fair hearing. I don't know if this is just because they are Somali rather than say Arab or Pakistani, but they have absolutely no chip on thier shoulder.

The Somalis here are not some paragon of immigrant uprightness; they are known for immigration and other kinds of fraud, but often it has to do with getting birth documents, which don't exist in Somalia, so they fake them up. Ethics and following the moral laws of their religion they are really clear on, but abiding by temprorary political arrangements like secular law they are a little shakier on. They don't immedately see the moral imperative in that. thats' what centuries of minimal government will do to you.

I doubt very much that Islamic triumphalist radicalism is very atytractive to peoplemlike this, here or in the old country. I know that Somalia is a county of concern as far as AQ goes, but that's because even a vanishingly small number of individuals can make a big trouble.

Revenant said...

Remeber that Orthodox Judaism isn't exactly a haven of secularist thinking, but so what - what harm has it done yet to liberal democracy?

There aren't enough observant Orthodox Jews in the world to pose a threat to anything other than people's patience with extended religious debate. :)

It is debatable whether Old Testament stories of bloodshed are as bad as still-standing Koranic commandments to conquer the unbelievers. But it isn't the violence that makes Islam a threat to democracy -- it is the inherent hostility of the Koran to the idea that anybody should be allowed to live in a non-Islamic society. Christianity is evangelical but compatable with secular rule ("render unto Caesar"). Judaism favors religious rule for Jews but doesn't advocate conversion of non-Jews. Islam favors converting everybody in the world, by force if necessary, and making them all live under religious rule. *That* is the problem.

AprilPNW said...

Jim:

Slightly off topic - I am in Puget Sound also (Seattle); just noting a kindred spirit...

"I do want to comment on this:
The Somalis here are not some paragon of immigrant uprightness; they are known for immigration and other kinds of fraud, but often it has to do with getting birth documents, which don't exist in Somalia, so they fake them up."

I have worked in immigration for 6 years as a paralegal. A former boss of mine did lots of work with the local Somalis. They were so vicious and aggresive towards him, and treated him so poorly for his efforts, he eventually refused to work with them for the sake of his own safety and professional sanity. It has been so long since we've discussed this, I can't really relay any good stories. Most of them involved some Somali woman storming into the office, without an appointment, past the stunned receptionist, to scream at him for one percieved slight or another. And I can attest that this man is a very good attorney.

FYI - a number of folks from India cannot get birth certificates either. However, CIS will accept two affidavits from individuals familiar with the facts of the person's birth instead. I don't know if getting notarized (or the equal in Somalia) is an issue, as I have never done work with that population. But it does sound like those "faking" birth certificates certainly have gotten some bad legal advice (if they've gotten any at all).

Mark B. said...

As the typical Somali immigrant has arrived from a "nation" that has been in endemic chaos for the last 15 years, it's not surprising to me that some of them lack basic Western social skills. I doubt that many Somalis have much experience with dealing with civil service bureaucrats or understanding of how things work outside of the clan-based society they came from. My guess is that the second-generation Somali-Americans will prove to be far more adept at working the system to their advantage without resorting to yelling or petty fraud.

I find it striking that American Muslim communities by and large have not joined in the noisy Islamicist demonstrations seen in Europe and Asia. Could it be that actually accepting Muslims as part of American society helps to contain the more extreme fundamentalist elements that are so vociferous elsewhere in the world?

Cathy Young said...

Luke: I am not an expert on the history of Islam, but I suspect that you aren't, either. There are many scholars who are highly critical of the current toxic brand of militant Islam but who do make a distinction between this religious ideology and Islam itself.

My own view is that the separation of religion and state in the Western world is a product of some of the peculiarities of Western history more than the inherent nature of the religion. (The "render unto Caesar" principle did not lead to the separation of church and state in the West for the first 1,800 or so years or Christianity.)

I know there are passages in the Koran that can be seen as requiring Muslims to convert all unbelievers, by force if necessary. Nonetheless, historically, Christians and Jews were allowed to live and practice their religion in many Islamic countries (though they were definitely second-class citizens), and Islamic states were in many cases on amicable terms with Christian ones.

Your question seems to suggest that all culturally/historically Muslim populations that are not in the grip of militant Islam are merely carriers of "dormant" Islamic radicalism. I see no reason for such a supposition.

Incidentally, regarding those obnoxious Somali immigrants: first of all, is it really okay to refer to someone's personal experience to denigrate a group? If someone were to say, "My boss used to have some Jewish clients and they were so pushy and obnoxious he refused to take them on any more," most of us would quickly see that statement as problematic. (And I might add that as a Russian Jewish immigrant who, early in my years in the U.S., briefly worked as an interpreter for non-English speaking Russian Jewish immigrants on their trips to immigration or welfare agencies, I think the above description of Somalis easily applies to them as well.)

Pastorius said...

Of course, what you have done here is tar the whole blog because of one comment.

That's some intelligent stuff.

Good job.

AprilPNW said...

"Incidentally, regarding those obnoxious Somali immigrants: first of all, is it really okay to refer to someone's personal experience to denigrate a group?"

I'm a tad confused by this statement. What makes you so sure my intention was denigration? Please, I'd really like an answer, because I think your statement borders on an insult - you ASSUMED my intentions were nefarious. I've never worked with that population directly, so I don't even HAVE an opinion on that group. Cathy - maybe you want to formulate some sort of guidelines for your blog, like many others have, as in what is considered acceptable, and what is not - it would save your fans a bit of time and effort. Compared to some statements here that were given a complete pass by you - I'm still wondering what was so awful about relaying someone else's opinion, right or wrong.

Final word: until you done immigration work day in and day out with many different populations for several years, you simply have NO idea how common it is for foreign nationals TO LARGELY CONTRIBUTE TO THEIR OWN IMMIGRATION WOES. That goes for people from Podunk India, to high level executives from the UK. THAT is largely the reason I comment on immigration matters. I rarely see an article in the paper that is accurate about immigration (and our lawyers would concur). So while I understand your explaination for the behavior of the Somali's COMPLETELY, I think it behooves you to try and understand what I've learned in this field over the years. Trust me - we bitch FAR MORE about our clients than we do about CIS - which probably suprises you. THEY are most often the problem, NOT CIS. So forgive me if I get a little tired of "poor immigrant" stories. I learned a long time ago to react to such stories with: "Well, what are ALL the facts here?"

Jim: you were spot on about Somalis - maybe you've got a good theory (well, better than my own) as to why CANADIANS are the biggest pains in our asses?

Jim said...

"There are many scholars who are highly critical of the current toxic brand of militant Islam but who do make a distinction between this religious ideology and Islam itself.."

Ain't that the truth. My particular favorite comment was in an article by some cleric - and I don't know if this is just a vagary of Arabic vocabulary or what - but he called the Wahhabis "deviants". Delicious.

Somalis and imigration -

April, I aslo work in imgration, on the inside. Immigration lawyers, the good , honest ones, have a sure palce in heaven. But.... the US immigration "system" is enough to make anyone go postal and I amazed that no one has yet. There are two possible causes for the misbehavior you describe, but the likeliest is frustration. Like I said, Somalis tend to have a Jacksonian worldview. In other words, it's like dealing with Texans.

And I absolutely agree that Canadians are the worst. It's because they have this sense of special entitlement. They really do see themselves as Americans already (which is why they deny it so loudly)and expect be let in because they look Anglo or something.

Back to Islamophobia. It is indeed real, and a lot of the Muslim commentariat in the US and Europe make it worse with their whiny, moralizing victimhood mongering and their dishonesty on the whole issue of terrorism and political Islam. CAIR comes immediately to mind. There is already a backlash coming from the best possible place. Some Muslims in Denmark got a fairly big demo together a week or so ago condemning their own clerics and insisting on freedomn of expression and secularism within Danish society.

Revenant said...

The "render unto Caesar" principle did not lead to the separation of church and state in the West for the first 1,800 or so years or Christianity.

I don't think that's correct, Cathy. Certainly we didn't have separation of church and state in the modern sense of "religion not being allowed to meddle in politics", but the people of Europe were generally ruled by kings, not priests. Christianity and Judaism have both philosophical and historical separation of religious instruction and secular rule. Islam is philosophically opposed to the idea of secular rule, and its history has, to the best of my understanding, largely been one in which religious authority and political authority were strongly tied together.

I admit I haven't read the Koran as often or as in-depth as I have the Bible (mostly because as an American atheist I mostly find myself arguing with Christians and Jews, not Muslims), but my reading of both books gave me the strong impression that Islam is, when practiced as it should be, much more anti-democratic and anti-freedom than Christianity is. Christians who attempted to convert people by the sword were clearly acting counter to their teachings -- but given that Mohammed himself converted people by the sword, it is difficult to argue that such behavior is counter to Islam.

Cathy Young said...

April: it seems that I misunderstood the purpose of your comment, and I am sincerely sorry. Reading the thread (late at night and on cold medicine), I got the impression that, after Jim's statement that traditionally Muslim Somali immigrants did not pose any problem in terms of Islamic militancy, you were countering his post by recounting an anecdote about Somali immigrants being extremely aggressive in their interactions with immigration lawyers. Having reread the thread carefully, I see that my interpretation was wrong and, once again, I apologize. I promise to read more carefully, in the future, before respoding. (I think my mind was also somewhat addled by all the posts in the "male reproductive rights" thread.)

AprilPNW said...

Jim & Cathy:

Thank you for your great responses to my post. Cathy, I keep meaning to tell you that your blog is one of the few that I've visited where I've seen actual APOLOGIES issued. I truly, deeply appreciate your apology, and totally understand.

Jim: eh, more of a kindred spirit than I thought - are you attorney or paralegal? You are SO right about Candians, and your theory is totally consistent w/my own. God, if one more Canadian whines about having to get a long form birth certificate, I'm going postal.

I'm getting the impression you work with asylum cases? The closest I've come to that is a J-waiver of the 2-yr residency due to hardship - a pretty intresting case.

Finally, my take on CIS is this: though they are frustrating, they PALE in comparison to DOL (labor certifications). I am suprised that MORE problems do not occur with CIS. Maybe I believe this in order to preserve my sanity. CIS may be bad, but I sort of EXPECT crappy service from a large complex system like that. I'm far more miffed that most of the highly educated foreign nationals I work with cannot seem to wipe their own asses. I simply expect more from a educated person with a high level of responsibility.

Cathy Young said...

Rev:

Certainly we didn't have separation of church and state in the modern sense of "religion not being allowed to meddle in politics", but the people of Europe were generally ruled by kings, not priests.

And the people of the Islamic world were generally ruled by caliphs and shahs, not mullahs.

In Europe, kings were traditionally considered "anointed by God"; hence the "divine right of kings." (Incidentally, isn't the English monarch formally considered the head of the Anglican church?) If I remember my European history correctly, after the Reformation and the religious wars of the 16th Century, the generally accepted doctrine was that a country's religion was determined by the religion of its sovereign. In fact, most European countries have an official religion today. In Russia, the Russian Orthodox Church and the state were very closely enmeshed; and until the last century the Catholic Church had tremendous political power in Western Europe.

Revenant said...

And the people of the Islamic world were generally ruled by caliphs and shahs, not mullahs.

Hm. My understanding is that the caliph was also viewed as a religious leader. If that's not correct, then the historical parallel you're drawing would be a valid one.

Even then, though, the example of Mohammed himself is a troubling one. Jesus' message, it seems to me, was that it doesn't matter who rules THIS world, because its the next one that counts. Mohammed was very big on Islam ruling both worlds.

I'm not saying that "Muslim = dangerous" or anything like that. I just feel that the underlying philosophy of Islam is less compatable with enlightened thought than the Bible is, and that it is therefore more difficult for observant Muslims to come to terms with enlightened society.

Jim said...

April,

Asylum and labor certs are a mess. Asylum is inherently frustraing and heart-breaking. No help for it. Anyway....

Church and State -

The real divisions between the relgious and political sides of European life don't have to do with figleaf formulas like divine right and such. There were three impulseas at work:

1) The underlying Indo-European notion that governance and religious/acadmemic endeavors are utterly separate and inter-contaminating. This is afeature both of the Hindu caste system and of Irish tribal law and it probably has reflexes all the way betwen those cultures.

2) The transnatioanlist structure of the Church as opposed to local or national(when those arose) rulers. The Guelph-Ghibelline struggle that went on for centuries was an expression of this tension.

3) Simple sibling rivalry. High ranking aristocrats and churchmen often came from the very same families. The fought like littermates. So where in Islamic society the caliph or emir would have clerics staffing his courts adjudicating all issues, that never, ever happened in Europe. Civil rulers maintained the courts they had always had from long before Christianity. Some matters, such as probate and marriage lawe, that we now think of as civil, may have been under church jurisdiction, but that was a difference of application, not of principle.

Mark B, said...

My reading of European history indicates that the Catholic Church held a great deal of temporal as well as spiritual power. The Pope directly ruled a sizable swath of central Italy, and much of the Holy Roman Empire consisted of self-ruled bishropics as well as counties and duchies. The papacy was a source of political as well as religious authority until well into the 19th Century, when the new Italian state finally overran the Papal States and ended the Pope's temporal reign.

The Caliphate began as a spiritual and temporal title held by the immediate successors of Mohammed, but over time became a more purely spiritual position. The Otttoman Sultans were recognized as Caliphs through their possession of Mecca, Baghdad and Damascus (the three greatest centers of medieval Islam).

AJTALL said...

Cathy,

I just want to say I am another reader of your blog who agrees completely with the first paragraph of the first comment (by luke) on this thread - "an uncommon amount of common sense". I couldn't put it any better myself. You are an intellectually honest opinion writer unlike any other. No agenda, no bias, thoughtful and completely objective.

mythago said...

Mohammed was very big on Islam ruling both worlds.

As was Jewish theology for quite some time.

Revenant said...

As was Jewish theology for quite some time

If by "for quite some time" you mean "for a few centuries, thousands of years ago" then sure.

However, even during the time when the Jews were ruled by priests (a time which, it is worth noting, isn't actually part of any historic record beyond that kept by the priests themselves), they weren't evangelistic -- their religion was for their people, and they did not attempt to forcibly convert the rest of the world to their form of worship. Islam does.

W.B. Reeves said...

However, even during the time when the Jews were ruled by priests (a time which, it is worth noting, isn't actually part of any historic record beyond that kept by the priests themselves), they weren't evangelistic -- their religion was for their people, and they did not attempt to forcibly convert the rest of the world to their form of worship. Islam does.

True enough. Traditional Judaism springs from a tribal religion and consequently is not evangelical. Of course for the ancient Israelites this simply meant that massacre was mandated for competing pagan cultures.

I suspect that being crushed militarily, dispossessed and scattered to the four winds had more to do with Judaism's subsequent developement than any inherent doctrine. Much as the 30 years war and the French Revolution had more to do with the subsequent decline of Chistianity's political authority than any of its dogmas.

Revenant said...

Of course for the ancient Israelites this simply meant that massacre was mandated for competing pagan cultures.

I don't believe that was generally the case. The Old Testament does contain stories of supposedly divinely-sanctioned massacres of neighboring cultures, but those seem to have been the exception rather than the rule. There's no standing commandment to kill people who worship other gods. "I am [Yahweh] your god, you shall have no other gods before me", is a statement addressing the Jews, not all of the people of the world. When the Jews waged war on their neighbors it was generally for the same reason that their neighbors waged war on them -- for land and plunder. "God wants this war" was probably not typically used as an excuse, since holy wars were supposed to not allow plundering -- it is harder to get a man to risk his life when you won't even let him take home a stolen enemy goat for his troubles.

But, yes, it does seem that the ancient Jews were royal pains in the ass (certainly the Greeks and Romans thought so), and modern Jewish theology is definitely filtered through those thousands of years of being kept under other peoples' thumbs.

Jim said...

Revenant,

I think you are right that the massacres in the OT were only for land - taking Canaan, and there was also a standing injunction to destroy Amalek - the Arabs - for preying on the Israelites in the desert. That may be harsh, but it is not all the same as slaughtering all unbelievers if they refuse to convert.

As for what constitutes belief and unbelief, there are some tantalizing clues in various places that the Persians were considered monotheistic - various nice remarks about Cyrus as godly and so forth. There is another theory that this monotheism has roots in the hittited incursion/settlement in the region long before the entry into Egypt, and therefore before the Exodus, and that there is a connection between "Luwian" the Hittite liturgical language, and "Levites". Anyway, not a word about exterminating gentiles for their unbelief (or belief, as the case may be).

Judaism is not a proselytizing relgion and never really has been, with one exception - during the Roamn era about 25% of the polulation seems to have ben Jewsh, and that can only have been the result of a lot of conversions. Jesus makes a remark to the effect that the Pharisees will go to the end of the earth to convert one gentile but won't bother to help a fallen Israelite, or some such. Again no mention of any force, and even the nukmbers and factuality are shadowy.

Revenant said...

25% of the population of the Roman Empire was Jewish? Do you have a cite for that? Because that seems incredibly high, especially for a religion as unattractive to converts as Judaism (lots of rules and prohibitions, no promises of Earthly or Heavenly reward, and practiced by people in what was then considered a backwards and barbaric part of the world).

I can see the religion spreading during the time when Christianity was still a cult within Judaism, but prior to that it seems hard to believe it would have caught on.

Omar Barsawad said...

For any one to say that Islam was 'spread by the sword' and Prophet Muhammad sanctioned that, is simply trying to distort history.

Right from the beginning of Islam in Makkah then to Medina, Muslims only fought back when attacked or threatened. Islam had no alternative too, but to fight back against both the Roman and the Persian empires.

Considering the very recent spread of Islam in South East Asia, Indonesia and Malaysia in particular - Islam has spread without 'the sword', just as it is spreading now accross America and other parts of the world.

As for brutality and the use of force, our very recent history - as we are now refering to history - has much of it; Islam or Muslims, were not a part of any of them.

Be it the dreadful trans Atlantic slave trade or horrors of both the first and second World Wars; be it the gas chambers and the holocaust; be it Sebrenica and Rwanda - Islam, was never a part of these. Islam too, was never a part of the almost complete extermination of the indeginous people of the Americas and Australia. Nor apartheid South Africa.

Still, even with its bloody foundation - one can not generalise and condemn Western civilization and democracy whole sale.

We shouldn't pick up on history to generalise in judging people. All I know, is that ALL of the three great religions of the World are noble, compassionate and have served Mankind well, too. Just as Budhism and the other Eastern religions.

W.B. Reeves said...

That may be harsh, but it is not all the same as slaughtering all unbelievers if they refuse to convert.

Exactly where in the Koran do you find an injunction to slaughter Jews and Christians? Traditional Islam holds that these religions are imperfect interpretations of revelations from Allah. As such, neither Christians or Jews, being "people of the book", qualify as "unbelievers." It's true that Islam gives short shrift to pagans and paganism but neither Christianity nor Judaism have clean hands on that score.

BTW, if you think the massacre of pagans was merely a matter of real estate acquisition, you might inquire into why it was that Samuel said God had turned his face from King Saul.

Jim said...

Revenant,

I can't back that up - I have seen it various places, and that may just be circular reporting, or it may mean that there is some truth to it. I got the impression it came from some analysis of census returns. Middle Eastern cults were popular in Roamn times - Isis cults, Yahweh cults, Mithra cults, so it's not hard to believe that lots of people might have converted to Judaism. Judaism may not have been ll that unattractive in the Roman world; it's not an unattractive religion; it offers an appelaing cosmology and you get out of exposing your kids on a hillside.

"Considering the very recent spread of Islam in South East Asia, Indonesia and Malaysia in particular ...."

How about considering the spread of Islam in India?

"Islam too, was never a part of the almost complete extermination of the indeginous people of the Americas ..."

You need a trip to Mexico, or Texas for that matter, if you think the indigenous peole of the Americas were wiped out. Peru will work too. You are rather conveniently sloppy with your facts.

"Be it the dreadful trans Atlantic slave trade.."

Well of course. We will just overlook the equally horrible trans-Saharan and East African slave trades, and of course we mustn't mention the still ongoing ensalvement of black people in Sudan.

"BTW, if you think the massacre of pagans was merely a matter of real estate acquisition, you might inquire into why it was that Samuel said God had turned his face from King Saul."

In the extermination of Canaanites? Canaan? The LAND of Canaan? In this particular instance it was because Saul had failed to kill off the livestock and kept it for himself. That is a very thorough extermination, and it would leave the land absolutely empty. It was still about land. The whole narrative is about taking the Promised Land.

"Exactly where in the Koran do you find an injunction to slaughter Jews and Christians?"

Exactly how does that matter if the attacks are being carried out as a result of preaching in mosques by imams? Is that not also Islamic?

So what? It doesn't make bigotry against individual Muslim people because of their religion any more accaeptable. It doesn't make it acceptable or useful to claim that Islam is monothically violent or anything else.

"Still, even with its bloody foundation - one can not generalise and condemn Western civilization and democracy whole sale. "

Well, I happen to think there is and has been a lot to criticize in Western civilization, and that that is where most of our progress has started. The same goes for religions - Christianity has had a lot of housecleaning to do, and still has some left. It is for Muslims to identify and fix the problems they see in their religion.

Omar Barsawad said...

Considering India and wherever else! Give me one instant where Islam wiped out a whole people like the indeginous Tasmanians were?

I have not refuted Islam's dirty closets! Nor did I generalize and attacked a certain people because of their certain dark past.

As for Peru and Mexico: how can one forget what Pizarro and his men did to the Inca? And what Cortes did to the Aztec? That was just about 500 years ago! Very recent indeed!

To date, the ideginous Americans live wretched lives, many in 'reserves'! And the decendants of the African slaves? What kind of a life do they have in the World's richest country? This was just in tday's Herald:

http://www.iht.com/articles/2006/03/20/news/blacks.php

Just as we have a 'lot of cleaning to do' you to do have plenty!

We are all one and the same Humanity, sharing the same destiny. Just as blood and internal organs can be transfused or transplanted from one to the other, irrespective of religion, race, ethnicity, color or gender. And the recent DNA conclusions make each and every one of us almost one and the same.

Preaching hatred against one group, and continuously portraying it negatively - the way Islam is now - is not the way for 'progress'.

W.B. Reeves said...

Exactly how does that matter if the attacks are being carried out as a result of preaching in mosques by imams? Is that not also Islamic?

Excuse me but were'nt you the one who said:

There's no standing commandment to kill people who worship other gods.

Evidently you think it matters when speaking of Christianity and Judaism. In the case of Islam, not so much. Good thing too, since by your standard we would have to indict Christianity and Judaism for the ravings of Meir Kahane and Pat Robertson.

All religions harbor their share of bigots and lunatics. You, apparently, are concerned only with the Islamic variety.

Jim said...

"Good thing too, since by your standard we would have to indict Christianity and Judaism for the ravings of Meir Kahane and Pat Robertson"

No argument from me there. Religion is a very strong force, both for good and evil, and it needs to be watched all the time, and never really trusted. Complacent piety and blind faith are immoral when it ocmes to something as powerful as religion.


Omar, you have probelm with hysterical generalizations:

"As for Peru and Mexico: how can one forget what Pizarro and his men did to the Inca? And what Cortes did to the Aztec?

First you said extermination. I then point out that genetically indigenous people are in the majority in those places, hardly exterminated. Then you respons with a feint about incidents in the past, as if history ended right at those incidents and the situation remained frozen. Alright then. Pizarro toppled the Inca government, which was very authoritarian aparently, and instituted his own. He can be said to have enslaved the population, but that would be not quite accurate, since such a small force of troops could never enslave such a huge population if it were used to freedom. In Mexico the situation was somewhat simialr, most people were macehualli before and reamined macehualli after Cortez arrived. Again, he had a tiny force and in his case a lot of his success was due to the help he got from Mexican allies, especially the Tlaxcalans, but there were others. Indeed the Tlaxcala survives as a separate political entity to this day. The same happens to be true in an unrelated case, Michoacan, which the Spanish never "conquered" since as enemies of the Aztec Empire, the Purepecha were happen to make arrangements with the Spanish. And there was certainly no extermination there either; the Spanish wanted people to rule. Death from new diseases can't really be laid at the feet of the pre-modern Spanish unless you attribute to them God-like power. You seem to be be confusing this with events in North America, but even for that area, your broad brush characterization of events as an extermination is inaccurate. In the South there was more inter-marriage than extermination, until there an eventual expulsion - again, not an extermination. Even in the north, the Iroquois formed an alliance with the Englsih that is basically still active today in the form of Anglo-Canadian protection of the Mohawk against Quebec. Even within the territory that became the United States, both the Pawnee and the Absaroka will tell you to this day that they survived extermination only because of their alliance with the US, because it was the Lakota and Cheyenne, not the whites, who were trying to exterminate them. The point is simply that the historical situation is much more complex that you seem to understand.

If you are getting your (obviously clueless)information about the living standards of African-Americans, the majority of whom are middle class by American standards, then that explains your problem. Bit of advice - just as Americans tend to be fairly ignorant of the Middle East, so do Middle Easterners tend to be ignorant of the US, and worse than that, ignorant that they are ignorant, because they imagine they know the US. And this can be true even if they physically reside in the US, because some choose to live in communitarian bubbles and never interact with people in the general public.

Revenant said...

Omar, you seem to have a bad habit of equating "Christian people did it" with "Christianity did it". That's a dangerous equivalence for you to be using. For starters, it makes the statement "Islam is responsible for most of the terrorism and genocide in the world today" true. A more rational approach is to look at whether the underlying religion sanctions those activities.

That said, I'd like to address a few of your points:

Right from the beginning of Islam in Makkah then to Medina, Muslims only fought back when attacked or threatened.

It is recorded that Mecca's attack on Medina was in retaliation for Mohammed's raiding of Meccan caravans. Labelling the subsequent Muslim conquest of Mecca as "only fighting back when threatened" is a bit Orwellian. It is certainly true that Mohammed and his successors spun their various wars as being "defensive", but that's a trick would-be conquerors have been using since the dawn of time. It defies common sense to think that a group of people "defended" their way up from a single city to control of the entire Middle East and much of Africa, Europe, and Asia.

the dreadful trans Atlantic slave trade

The African end of the transatlatic slave trade was founded and run by Muslims, and continued to be run by them long after Europeans and Americans got out of the business. Slavery continued to be practiced in the Arab world until the mid-20th century, and continues to be practiced in the African Muslim world. Finally, the Koran itself endorses slavery. So pretending that Muslims are blameless on the slavery issue is a bit silly.

or horrors of both the first and second World Wars

Where the Second World War is concerned it seems worthwhile to point out that the leadership of the Palestinian Muslims was allied with Nazi Germany. And it is patently ridiculous to say that Muslims had nothing to do with the horrors of the First World War when the Ottoman Empire was one of the chief combatants.

be it Sebrenica and Rwanda

The Sudan genocide, which is being carried out by Arab Muslims and is still ongoing, has already claimed more than twice as many lives as the Bosnian and Rwandan genocides combined.

Revenant said...

Excuse me but were'nt you the one who said:

"There's no standing commandment to kill people who worship other gods"

No -- I was the one who said that, not Jim.

Exactly where in the Koran do you find an injunction to slaughter Jews and Christians?

Most of the justifications for Islamic warfare actually come from the Hadith (recorded sayings/actions/etc of Mohammed), not from the Koran. The best parallel to Christianity would be Paul's letters, which were immensely influential in spite of not, technically, being the direct word of God.

Traditional Islam holds that these religions are imperfect interpretations of revelations from Allah. As such, neither Christians or Jews, being "people of the book", qualify as "unbelievers.

This is true. But it is worth considering that treating Islam in the manner which Islam says Christianity and Judaism should be treated is considered grounds for jihad. In other words, Islam teaches that it is ok to wage war against people who treat Muslims the way that Muslims treat non-Muslims. Christianity, on the other hand, doesn't endorse violence, even against oppressors (although since Christians are human beings like the rest of us they tend not to follow those teachings very well).

It's true that Islam gives short shrift to pagans and paganism but neither Christianity nor Judaism have clean hands on that score.

I think the historical record shows that Christians treated Hindus and Buddhists much better than Muslims did. A lot of that may stem from the fact that Christians only came into large-scale contact with those religions late in their history when respect for human rights was on the rise, of course.

Luke said...

Back to the main topic. No, Cathy, I am not an expert of Islam. But one does not have to be to make a fundamental judgment like this: is Islam in theory compatible with democracy? The answer is surely not, based on not only the many schools of orthodox opinion in Islam (for which one does need to be an expert)but on a simple reading of the life of the founder, who was an epitome of violence and intollerance. You simply cannot get away from that fact, anymore than you can get away from the fact that Jesus was non-violent, and non-political, in everything he said and did.

Now, if Islam is incompatible with democracy -- and for the sake of argument please grant me that much -- then what should our attitude be towards Muslims coming into the country?

These are the issues our country must face.

Mark B. said...

I think the historical record shows that Christians treated Hindus and Buddhists much better than Muslims did. A lot of that may stem from the fact that Christians only came into large-scale contact with those religions late in their history when respect for human rights was on the rise, of course.

I think a more important factor was that European Christians never made up more than a tiny fraction of the population of the major Hindu and Buddhist areas, and they were acutely aware of that fact.

The initial European contacts in Mughal India in the 17th Century were primarily for trading rights, not colonization or conversion. In the 18th Century, French and British stations in India were interested in using the local Hindu and Muslim rulers against each other rather than direct domination. Even after the British came out on top and controlled the Indian subcontinent, there were never more than 250,000 - 300,000 Britons to control a population of 400 million. The Indian Mutiny of 1857-58 showed them just how precarious their rule was, and they were careful to utilize the techniques of Divide and Conquer to maintain it.

The European record in China or the French regime in Indochina certainly can't be called "enlightened," but once again the very small numbers of Europeans compared to the huge numbers of Chinese and Indochinese limited how much they could accomplish. There was missionary activity, of course, but without the committment of much greater numbers of Europeans it was never likely that conversion would make significant inroads in China.

In the end, what kept Western Christianity from mimicing Islam was not so much moral scruples as it was the economic and political strictures of the European imperial powers. Imperialism was expensive and resource-consuming, and no Great Power wanted to leave itself at a relative disadvantage in the theater that mattered - Europe.

Luke said...

Here's a piece that gets right to the heart of the matter. Note the reference to moderate Muslims at the end.


Issues & Insights
Religion Of Peace?

Posted 3/27/2006

War On Terror: In the wake of the cartoon jihad and mosque-on-mosque violence in Iraq, most Americans now think Islam has more violent believers than any other faith. Yet many still view it as a "peaceful religion."

Psychologists might call this cognitive dissonance — a state of mind where rational people essentially lie to themselves. But in this case, it's understandable. In our politically correct culture, criticizing any religion, even one that plots our destruction, is still taboo. And no one wants to suggest the terrorists are driven by their holy text.

Which explains a Washington Post-ABC News poll showing that Americans are becoming more aware of the broader threat (58% associate terrorists with Islam), but are still convinced terrorists are radicalizing Islam and not the other way around (54% don't think Islam itself encourages violence).

The new poll, however, still doesn't sit well with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a group dedicated to improving public perceptions of Islam. It has denounced increasingly negative views as "Islamophobic" and vowed to redouble its "education" efforts.

Good. What better time for CAIR and other Muslim leaders to step up, cut through the politically correct fog and provide factual answers to the questions that give so many non-Muslims pause?

Generally speaking, those questions focus on whether the Quran does indeed promote violence against non-Muslims, and how many of the terrorists' ideas — about the violent jihad, the self-immolation, the kidnappings, even the beheadings — come right out of the text? But even more specifically:

Is Islam the only religion with a doctrine, theology and legal system that mandates warfare against unbelievers?

Is it true that 26 chapters of the Quran deal with jihad, a fight able-bodied believers are obligated to join (Surah 2:216), and that the text orders Muslims to "instill terror into the hearts of the unbeliever" and to "smite above their necks" (8:12)?

Is the "test" of loyalty to Allah not good acts or faith in general, but martyrdom that results from fighting unbelievers (47:4) — the only assurance of salvation in Islam (4:74; 9:111)?

Are the sins of any Muslim who becomes a martyr forgiven by the very act of being slain while slaying the unbelievers (4:96)?

And is it really true that martyrs are rewarded with virgins, among other carnal delights, in Paradise (38:51, 55:56; 55:76; 56:22)?

Are those unable to do jihad — such as women or the elderly — required to give "asylum and aid" to those who do fight unbelievers in the cause of Allah (8:74)?

Does Islam advocate expansion by force? And is the final command of jihad, as revealed to Muhammad in the Quran, to conquer the world in the name of Islam (9:29)?

Is Islam the only religion that does not teach the Golden Rule (48:29)? Does the Quran instead teach violence and hatred against non-Muslims, specifically Jews and Christians (5:50)?

There are other questions, but these should do for a start. If the answers are "yes," then at least Americans will know there's no such thing as moderate Islam, even as they trust that there are moderate Muslims who do not act out on its violent commands.

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