Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Husain: "Moderate muslims" must "end the madness"?

Yesterday's Herald had a piece by Ed Husain, culled from the Observer, that looks at exactly the same recent incidents around the Muslim world I canvassed yesterday -- the floggings, the hangings, the calls for execution -- and takes an almost identical position to the one I took in yesterday's post, except that Husain calls on so called "moderate Muslims" to make a stand against Islamists to "end the madness."
Last year, it was the Danish cartoons. This year it is a teddy bear. What next? And why this repeated madness? For me, it is not about the possible offence taken at perceived negative portrayals of Islamic symbols, but the repeated calls for death, lashings and stoning. The medieval, literalist mindset that fails to comprehend the inhumane nature of these brutal and barbaric acts, often carried out against the defenceless, is the crux of the matter.
And so it is. But where Husain starts well by observing the barbarity, by recognising that "The Western media are right to hold a mirror to educated Muslims by highlighting these outdated practices," by asking "the ubiquitous question ... where is the voice of the Muslim majority?" he still falls some way short. Since he still maintains that there is a moderate Islam with a "benign face" he comes up without any real solution to those Islamists who truly believe that "No one shall live who insults the prophet."

This medieval, literalist mindset is the face of Islam, and I'm certain Husain himself knows that, which leads to him simply hand wringing instead of taking a proper and potentially more productive stand.

"More than ever," he says, "Western Muslims need to stop viewing the world through bipolarised lenses and assert our Western belonging." True, but. The "but" is that Islam itself is built on a barbaric heritage: it was a creed born by force, filled with bloodshed and spread by the sword. It's true that it subsequently enjoyed a golden age of wealthy secularism, but the realisation that the secularism was in no way compatible with the Koran led to a swift and decisive rejection (by Islamic philosophers such as al-Ghazali) of the this-worldly focus that had preserved Aristotle and Euclid and Archimedes and built the Alhambra in Spain -- the rejection resulted in a thousand-year plunge into the Dark Ages. Islam is still there, and until it can find a philosopher to reverse al-Ghazali's disastrous rejection of reason and this world, so it will remain.

It will take more than a simple assertion of "Western belonging" to reverse that, more than just the intention to "build a home together" -- it will take the realisation levelled at Husain by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and which he notes as a challenge to himself: That the very essence of Islam is barbaric, and must be rejected; that to make of Islam a religion of peace will entail excising the very essence of Islam, and rejecting what the Koran maintains is God's law; that thinking must be liberated from its role in the Muslim world as the handmaiden of theology, and focussed instead on this life, and this world.

The extent of what is needed can be judged by the nature of al-Ghazali's rejection (on behalf of Islam) of thought itself, and his embrace of the Koran as the Muslim's sole source of knowledge. "If it's already in the Koran we don't need it," al-Ghazali proclaimed. "And if it's not in the Koran, we don't want it."

It would of course need a new Enlightenment, and leave behind it a religion that was nothing but empty ritual and saintly noise -- something like modern Anglicanism, but with better hymns. That's hard. Harder than Husain seems to realise, or even recognise that this is what his call of necessity entails.

Husain had the courage to put a career as an Islamic fundamentalist behind him. He still has some way to travel -- and so too do his mainstream moderate Muslims. Let us hope he and those few others like him have the courage to continue speaking their mind.

UPDATE: Wafa Sultan explains the barbarism that inspired her to begin her fight Islam, here at YouTube [hat tip Sandi]. "Islam has never been misunderstood," she says. It is "a brainwashing machine... [it is] exactly what the prophet did and said."


  1. I'm not a theologian and have no great knowledge of islam, but it seems to me that the complete sacrifice of the essentials of humanity to a dogmatic belief that anything is justifiable if the name of god is invoked, is a key differentiator of Islam to post reformation Christianity.

    I do wonder whether they have the significant and fundamental theological debates that still goes on within Christianity and whether they can do so without a fear of death and violencebeing present if they say the 'wrong' thing.


  2. Ataturk went a small part of the way.

  3. INSIDER: The irony is that their respective believers insist that both the Bible and the Koran are the work of their God, and if their books are to have any meaning they must maintain that belief.

    Yet in order for them to be truly "religions of peace" the more barbaric parts of these books have to be rejected.

    But in order for them to be recognised as being barbaric, a different source of morality than The Book has to be identified, something that Islam explicitly rejects.

    Christianity, for example, only allowed the West out of the theological stranglehold of our own historical Dark Ages once Christians started dismissing the more barbaric parts of 'God's word.'

    Which means that even Christians joined in rejecting God's word (or at least part of it) as barbaric drek. Thank goodness. But what does that say about the nature of "God's word," and the need to take it seriously? As Richard Dawkins points out, "…we do not as matter of fact derive our morals from scripture. Or, if we do, we pick and choose among the scriptures for the nice bits and reject the nasty. But then we must have some independent criterion for deciding which are the moral bits: a criterion which, wherever it comes from, cannot come from scripture itself and is presumably available to all of us whether we are religious or not."

  4. If the West had any values at all, it would firmly back hand Islamic dogma completely.


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