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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Islam's "encounter with modernity" 

I'm in the middle of George Weigel's outstanding little book, Faith, Reason, and the War Against Jihadism, a humane, learned, and stimulating dissection of the jihadi war. TigerHawk readers interested in that struggle -- and most of you are -- would all benefit from reading it. At a mere 157 pages you will not find a crisper analysis anywhere. For example, this bit comes at the end of a chapter that rebels against the faddish contemporary idea that we ought to think of Islam, along with Christianity and Judaism, as "one of three Abrahamic faiths."

It goes -- or should go -- without saying that Islam has, over the centuries, given meaning and purpose to hundreds of millions of lives that have been nobly and decently lived. Islam has given the world architectural and decorative beauty, magnificent poetry, a lived experience of racial comity that puts a lot of the rest of the world to shame, important philosophers, a profound mystical tradition, and much, much, more. Yet it is also true that, throughout the world today, Islam is in the midst of what Alain Besancon aptly describes as "a long-delayed, wrenching, and still far from accomplished encounter with modernity." That struggle with modernity created, as we shall see in a moment, a struggle within Islam, an intra-Islamic civil war. When that struggle spilled out from the House of Islam, it became one of the defining dynamics of the history of our time -- and eventually left a great gash in the ground in lower Manhattan.

The Islamic encounter with modernity has been so wrenching -- and so volatile -- because it intensified, even as it reflected, certain problems built deep into the theological structure of Islam from the beginning. That, in turn, led to patterns of confrontation that seem, at the moment, qualitatively different from the strained relationship between Christianity and modernity in the early phase of their encounter. In fact, and despite the conflicts of the Enlightenment and the Age of Revolution in Europe, Christianity's convictions about the rationality built into the world by the world's creator were one important source of "modernity," if by that term we mean the scientific method, historical-critical study of ancient texts, and government by the arts of persuasion, to take but three examples. Are there, in Islam's theological understanding, themes analogous to Christianity's ideologically driven convictions about the rationality of the world, themes that could, over time, make Islam's encounter with modernity fruitful for both Islam and for the modern world? The answer to that question will play a large role in shaping the course of the human future. Whether Islam can evolve into a religion capable of providing religious warrants for genuine pluralism is -- to take the most immediately urgent issue -- one of the great questions on which the future of the twenty-first century will turn.

Read the whole thing.

7 Comments:

By Anonymous Boludo Tejano, at Tue Mar 18, 02:05:00 PM:

Pope Benedict's speech,for which he got a lot of grief, gives a good summation of the issue. I can see why Orianna Falacci, atheist though she was, liked what Benedict said on the matter.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Mar 18, 05:13:00 PM:

Before spending the $$$ and time on Weigel's book, potential readers might be interested in Michael Scheuer's review (Google scheuer weigel for the entirety):

"The first thing the reader will note in Mr. Weigel's book is that it is not a work of scholarship. In the book's endnotes the great majority of citations refer to the work of other neoconservatives – David Frum, Max Boot, Mr. Woolsley, Joshua Muravchik, David Gerlertner, Efraim Karsh, Charles Krauthammer, various Wall Street Journal editors and writers, etc... The book amounts to one neocon reading the work of others, and then summarizing their ideas and his for the praise of that same closed circle....

"In Mr. Weigel's book one will look long, hard, and fruitlessly for any hint that he has studied the statements, books, and interviews produced by Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and their lieutenants and allies. It is, after all, less taxing intellectually to define the enemy's motivation and war aims on the basis of what your own philosophy demands of the foe it lusts to fight, than to listen to the enemy and then match his words to his deeds...."

Another rebuttal by David Gordon:

"It never seems to occur to Weigel that the jihadists are influenced by American policy. No doubt they seek the universal triumph of their religion; but, as Michael Scheuer in his Imperial Hubris, and Robert Pape, in Dying to Win, have pointed out, Islamic terrorists react to concrete grievances, most notably American involvement in the Middle East. Both of these authors have devoted years of study to the problem; Weigel prefers to rely on an expert on the novels of Norman Mailer.

"Weigel... is in the grip of theological determinism. He rightly says that how 'men and women think about God — or don't think about God — has a great deal to do with how they envision the just society, and how they determine the appropriate means by which to build that society' (p. 13). It does not follow from this undoubted fact, though, that religious belief, to the exclusion of all else, directly causes political action. Surely jihadist views do not develop in a political vacuum.

"Weigel is himself constrained to admit that in Iraq, American intervention has increased terrorism. 'American analysts and U.S. policy makers miscalculated the degree to which post-Saddam Iraq would quickly become a battlefield in the wider war against jihadism' (p. 82). Do we not have here a perfect illustration of how American intervention causes the problem its advocates profess to cure? Naturally, Weigel does not see matters this way. For him, the increase in terrorism shows only that the American invasion should have been planned better. Of course, we cannot leave Iraq now, he says: terrorists would regard American withdrawal as a great victory and would intensify their actions against us. One wonders how he knows this. Weigel professes belief in a 'tranquillitas ordinis,' but what he in fact favors is religious war. He would do better to adhere to the just war tradition he has endeavored to replace."

- mattt  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Tue Mar 18, 07:17:00 PM:

You know, I've read Michael Scheuer too. He is not nearly so long on scholarship as polemic himself, and has a particularly gripe about American support of Israel, to which he ascribes a great deal. The harsh reality is that the jihadists want to overthrow "apostate" Muslim regimes, and the United States stands in their way regardless of its support for Israel. We stand in their way not because we like most Arab regimes -- most people agree they are disgusting -- but because the only regimes not considered offensive to the jihadis are even more disgusting. Scheuer has much that is interesting to say, but his oft-repeated opinion that the United States can diffuse jihadi rage by altering its policies in some way that would not also harm American interests strikes me as very wrong-headed.  

By Blogger Jim VAT, at Tue Mar 18, 07:44:00 PM:

The fact of the matter is that Christianity went through its Reformation and the scientific revolution threw off the shackles of religious dogma. The Copernican viewpoint and evolution solidified the stance of reason and science being at the forefront of Western thought. The separation of Church from State was also a great step forward in the history of the Western world.

This has not happened with Islam which seeks to maintain a fundamentally flawed view of the world despite humanity's advances. And, as noted, modernity in close contact with fundamentalism cannot help by cause cracks throughout Islamic culture and society.  

By Anonymous Boludo Tejano, at Wed Mar 19, 01:34:00 AM:

The fact of the matter is that Christianity went through its Reformation and the scientific revolution threw off the shackles of religious dogma.
I suggest you investigate the role of Christianity in the mindset that set off the scientific revolution: the idea that God was a God of reason, and that there was order in his universe. Pope Benedict has some speeches on this.

The separation of Church from State was also a great step forward in the history of the Western world.
“Render unto Caesar” showed that from the beginning of Christianity there was a separation between Church and State.
BTW, I am an agnostic.  

By Blogger Jim VAT, at Wed Mar 19, 10:13:00 PM:

"I suggest you investigate the role of Christianity in the mindset that set off the scientific revolution"

It was the role of the Church to suppress scientific truth until it could no longer do so. How long was the Copernican "revelation" suppressed? What happened to Bruno and Galileo?

"from the beginning of Christianity there was a separation between Church and State. "

Is that so? Then I suggest further study into the religious and political history of Europe including the role of Popes regarding the governance of nations. It is also insightful to note that the Constitutions of most of the original US states had significant Church/State ties, many that lasted well into the early 1800's.

Tell me again how Church and State were separated under Christianity "from the beginning."  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Mar 19, 10:17:00 PM:

This article today on the motivation of AQI suicide bombers, which seems directly relevant to a discussion of how US action and policy influences our enemy:

"...the U.S. military command in Iraq has put together a new profile of the foreign cohort within AQI. It's based on debriefings of 48 foreign members of AQI currently in U.S. custody. In other words, Multinational Force-Iraq (MNF-I) wanted to spread the word about what its most-implacable foe really is. Here is what that enemy looks like. I'll call him Mr. AQI...."

http://www.prospect.org/cs/articles?article=five_years_later

Ackerman admittedly has a little too far left bias even for me; if anyone can point to another perspective on this AQI profile I'm all ears.

-mattt  

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