Sunday, 27 October 2013

It's not radical. It's Islam, stupid!

The above video is really worth watching.
It's a meeting of around 4,000 Muslims in Norway earlier this year ("the largest Islamic Scandinavian International event").  There's a question along the lines of: "why are Muslims attacked in the media for advocating punishments like stoning and death to homosexuals, etc... when Christians and Jews, who have the same punishments in the Bible and Torah" are not similarly attacked in the media".
The answer from Fahad Qureshi is to ask the audience if they are "normal Muslims", ie, not "extremists". They all raise their hands.  Then he asks them if they agree with Islamic punishments such as the death penalty to homosexuals; again they all raise their hands.  Then comes the zinger: well if you're all "normal Muslims" and you all agree with such punishments then it can't be "extremist" to do so.  It's just Islam.  Qureshi sits down to applause all around including from the Sheikh who says that it's the "best answer" on the issue he's heard.
Now think about that: mainstream Islam calls for these barbaric punishments (stonings, beheadings, killing apostates and homosexuals) and all these normal Muslims agree with it, so it's not "extremist"!  It's crazy, but scary and true.
You should read the comment on the video below it on YouTube.  Its crazy conclusion is that because all Muslims hold these views, and yet Islam is a "peaceful religion" (really!) it is "Islamophobic" and "racist" to call them "extremist" or "radical".  They don't conclude -- as they ought -- that some self-examination is in order as to whether said views (eg killing gays and apostates) might be wrong in today's world -- as of course has been done by Christians and Jews.  For the proper answer to the question asked -- why aren't Christians and Jews criticised when these punishments are in the Bible and Torah -- is that Christians and Jews have long ago maintained that these parts of their holy books are wrong and they should not be followed.  Instead, these Muslim clerics claim that they "can't be radical", because all Muslims hold these views!  Again, crazy.
That such punishments are part of normative Islam is, of course, the message that sites like Robert Spencer's Jihad Watch have been saying for a long time.  But when Spencer says it, it's "Islamophobic".  So, are all these normal, everyday Muslims "Islamophobic"?
The irony is that Spencer gets banned from entering the UK for saying similar things -- but from a critical stance.  But Muslim clerics who say these things, as being positive and supporting them, are allowed in.
The story was posted in a blog I've just started reading, the left-ish Harry's Place.  It led to a huge amount of comments and was then posted at Jihad Watch, with again much discussion.  I'm on Spencer's side on this one, as were most of the commenters on HP.
HP's comments are deleted after 10 days, something to do with UK's libel laws, so I'm pasting some of the more interesting HP posts below the fold. Longish, so for hard-core counter-Jihad readers...
Johan Wehtje:
22nd October 2013
 "As Andy points out, this is a particularly surreal example of the oft-noted mirroring between Islamophobes and their main targets. "
That mirroring might be better taken as evidence of the general spuriousness of the term "Islamophobia". What is in fact surreal is the astonishing persistence of the willful delusions about Islam and the problems it poses. This is hardly merely a phenomena of the far left - from liberals through to centrist conservatives - the range of people prepared to intone comforting mantra's about tiny minorities, great and peaceful religions, and use the word moderate in the most bizarre circumstances each and every time they are confronted with clear evidence to contrary borders on the suicidally masochistic.
I suspect that more than a few of the seemingly deluded are aware that they are propagating a lie - but have managed to persuade themselves that the lie is noble enough that it's repetition will somehow lead to it being self fulfilling. I can sympathise to an extent - for some time wishing to believe that Muslims, being human, could humanise their religion, that Islam could be separated from Islamism, that heterodox or syncretic forms of Islam, more naturally amenable to rub alongside nationalist particularism or a secular state were destined to be in the ascendant. 
The swift freezing fate of the Arab spring was the final nail in the coffin of such wishful thinking, alongside the dispiriting results of the Afghan and Iraq interventions and the March 14th movement in Lebanon. Certainly this or that charismatic or wealthy benevolent despotism can hold back for a while the theocracy of the dead eyed bearded chanting brigades wishing to subsume everything in absolute slavery to a deity as capricious, cruel, needy, vengeful, dominating and utterly inhuman as Allah. But pragmatic or somewhat benign despotisms must still pay lip service - even the most secure in their rule, or simply the most despotic dare not outright confront the ideology of the ulema , even when they are busy imprisoning troublesome clerics. And as for outright liberals - even the mildest expressions of disaffection - let alone outright rejection - is to risk life, and at the least liberty. After more than two decades in which Muslim's have had an uncomfortable front row seat, and by far have been the most frequent victims of Islamist/Islamic atrocity and oppression the number who are prepared to ask hard questions of Islam is dispiritingly small - and do in fact merit the term "tiny minority" who are in fact trying to , with the best intentions, to hijack their religion before it, and it's adherents plunge into the looming mountain. What is sadder is the that in the west the vociferousness with which one claims to be a liberal is in inverse proportion to the degree to which one is prepared to actually offer succor and solidarity to actual Muslim and ex-muslim liberals, and in direct proportion to the vociferousness with which one condemns anyone prepared to ask classically liberal questions of Islam.

22nd October 2013

It all links up with this "applicability of Quranic and Sunnah rules in an IDEAL world," question that we were talking about the other day.
There are some Quran-only Muslims (a very modern position), who dismiss most non-directly quranic rules completely or almost completely. These tend also to the kind of quran "contextualisation" that sees what prescriptions there are in the quran as guidance only, and not to be interpreted as part of any actual code of law. Someone like Irshad Manji is a high-profile example, but there are (I've even met) Muslims far less obviously provocative and outré than Irshad who have the same basic view.
There are some (I'd say a lot more), who by no means reject the sunnah, legal traditions, but think they can be overhauled or just applied - whether in actual shariah legal practice or just as guidance for behaviour - in a more modern (aka more liberal) way. These people use standard legal/scriptural exegetical methods to come to more "progressive" conclusions. This is made easier by the fact that Islamic legal opinion has always been variegated and there is no single orthodoxy.(not even e.g. within Sunni Al-Azhar.
But both these general sorts of position are quite intellectual. The majority of practicing Muslims (so leaving aside merely nominal Muslims, persons of Muslim background who are atheists or agnostic, or just lukewarm to indifferent), accept the authority of Quran plus traditions, including legal traditions, on trust. Their belief - as far as I can see from all kinds of evidence - is quite literalistic, but differs somewhat from e.g. Christian literalistic fundamentalism in its recognition of, and indeed almost obsessive demand for - authoritative "expert" interpretation, whether theological or ethical-legal.
I am absolutely fascinated by this difference: of course clerics and lay preachers can have huge influence in protestant Christianity, but ordinary Christians of this type are also feverish individual deployers of Scripture - its availability and familiarity in the vernacular being key to the whole phenomenon).
Meanwhile the zealous (ordinary) Muslim is by Christian standards both a literalist and - paradoxically - a complete sucker for mediated interpretation. Especially in pluralist modern conditions, though, literate Muslims have considerable choice of rival interpretations... An example illustrating all this was a radio documentary several years ago about the views of young Muslims at London University - so obviously a highly educated and articulate sample. They were all the generation in which Muslim Identity Revival was and is fashionable. They described what they valued about their Islam was its capacity to solve all problems (detailed authoritative guidance on everything).
They were then asked what they thought of Tariq Ramadan - as a supposedly modernising Muslim thinker going for a European sort of Islam and supposedly of great appeal to the young. Their responses were quite negative, and all revolving ostensibly around the claim that he did not have real authority (not a proper qualified scholar). I say "ostensibly" because one detected quite a strong sense that Ramadan's views struck them as soggy and throwing them too much on their own interpretations, which was an unIslamic thing to do in itself.
This "authority" obsession is slightly disingenuous in the sense that with plenty of rival authorities around finding the "right" one could be seen just as a way of justifying personal choice while appearing to "submit" authentically. But it shouldn't be underestimated...It's what makes "moderate" Muslim pundits go on and on about the need to replace the wrong sort of authorities with the right ones (e.g. British trained imams, or charismatic activist Muslims who "guarantee" to be able to lead the young away from any dalliance with radicalism). It also, and I always find this grimly comic - means that you almost always find "authoritative interpreters" , whether virtual or in the flesh - involved in actual supposed "self-radicalising", mini groups outside the mosques.
If we now go back to look at the mainstream - with reference to Sarah's piece - I think that an understanding of Islam as for most believers a highly literalistic faith - i.e. guaranteed to be textually the literal truth, or legally, literally the best way of doing things - yet also requiring authorities for its interpretation, including on a simple personal level, helps us grasp the predicament of even non-radical Muslims. When faced with non-Muslim, Western liberal criticism that various, especially but not exclusively the Quranically based prescriptions, are "barbaric", they cannot find any comfort position from which to respond. - any position that, while remaining coherent - does not threaten both their literalism and their dependence on the idea of authority. After al, while authority seems capable of shifting interpretations, it requires a good dose of inherent literalism to retain its own claims to offer correct interpretation.
And especially in a time of Islamic revivalism, in which as Tarek Hargey the Oxford imam complains, popular religosity is now based very much on an "identity" theme that stresses an us-and-them mentality and is hostile to private interpretation (especially in a liberal direction), there is little immediate room for reform. Though notorious, Ramadan's refusal to condemn stoning-for-adultery outright and his preference for a "moratorium" may be a pragmatic assessment (not necessarily a sign of his forked tongue!)
In these circs, it's no surprise that so many Muslims will act like Qureshi's "normal Muslims". And insofar as they are genuinely not radical Islamists, they will (I am sure) take refuge in the "in an ideal world", defence from liberal challenge.


…. I'm usually quite a soft secularist - anywhere where religion(s) are now a relatively unaggressive part of the social and cultural fabric. But in relation to Islam I've come round to the view - expressed by most of the ex-Muslims and Muslim "dissidents" that I respect - that the confinement of Islam in a strictly secular framework, i.e. its political and civil complete marginalisation, in principle and practice, is the only solution.
The idea of somehow "taming", "domesticating" and "reform-engineering" it, while proposed by many sincere and humane people, is not coherent or practical, and attempts in this line cause obvious damage to our own liberal values and framework. (Sure, we can hope that Islam will become tamer, and applaud signs of that, but we can't try to manipulate that into happening).
However, to have come to that conclusion is a little grim, because it's going to mean, sooner or later, a lot of painful, even if not necessarily violent, confrontations. - a lot of hurt Muslim feelings and dashed hopes of Muslim entitlements.
Sarah is getting a lot of stick on this thread (I can see why). But oddly enough, my feeling is that Sarah has been gradually moving towards sort of conclusion - though terribly reluctantly and trying to maintain a judicious fence-sitting air while doing so - which is what accounts for the awkwardnesses....E.g. the more
angry she gets at "barbarity", the more desperately she reaches - as a salve - for some sort of pairing and equivalence....Spencer "mirrors" Qureyshi...or - despite its apparent reference only to problems of definition, here the most unwise pairing of "Islamism"and "Zionism".
But then look at the conclusion...she's all but using the language of the hated Geller (barbarity!)

Dear Sarka--and others
(I mean to reply here to a number of posters--although it is points raised by Sarka that touched off my thinking…)
The whole issue of *equivalences* (and false equivalences) is a story in itself. I think many people see equivalences where they don't exist--especially with regard to "deep" history--or to the more generative features of current ideas and practices. I've said it here before--and to repeat--there were features in Western culture--going back to the doings of the medieval Church and to feudalism--which *already* carried the seeds of the future flower of liberal democracy (such as multiple legal jurisdictions, representative politics, nascent notions of rights, individual, not collective, culpability). These ideas and practices were not created for the sake of furthering liberal democracy (the medieval West was quite illiberal by our current standards) but for dealing with immediate problems at the time (medieval life)--however, they created what Tocqueville called "habits of the heart" (internatlizations) which could be tapped into and translated readily into liberalism and democracy when these came along--and undergird them.
This "genealogy" of ideas and practices did not exist (certainly not as a set) outside the West. Any other culture aspiring to liberal democracy of any sort has to borrow from the West in some degree--and that includes most of world Jewry who largely, until modern times, were living in East Europe or the Middle East.
Also--the Bible was never considered the absolute word of God by Christians or Jews--so those two lots are able to make amendments to The Text in a way that Muslims have difficulty doing. Muslims have to square a circle if they want to do comparable amendments.
Thus--while there may be equivalences in certain social behavior of contemporary Muslims and Westerners--there is not much in the way of equivalence in the generative features that got us to where we are now--not socio-culturally, and not religiously. And sometimes, this deeper "genealogy" has significance for what happens socially today--so any analyst (academic or not) has to be aware of this.


This is a key point. Weirdly, the "othering" theme in western leftist vocabulary - which has found its way into the centre, has a lot to answer for here.
On the one hand it involves the morally relativistic idea that we cannot judge or even characterise the nature of the "other" because that way we are imprisoning the other in our own web of assumptions and interests and purposes. Boiled down to nostrums of a less philosophical kind, this has resulted in such hack assumptions as
1. Who are you to judge another culture?
so 2. Only a person who is in the öther" group is qualified to characterise or judge own group, criticise or act. [see Only a Muslim can define what Islam is. or even - more brutally - only Afghan women can change the lot of Afghan women].
And so as it were "comparisons are odious".
But at the same time, by suggesting that we have no right to judge others, in the sense of identifying differences as the basis for unflattering comparison/characterisation, it smuggles in the notion that actually the "others" are all exactly the same as us.
E.g. if it is wrong of us to "other others " suggesting they have a less democratic or liberal culture, or treat women badly, let alone to use such value laden terms as "backward "barbarous", then it sort of follows that in all salient attitudes we have no virtues that they do not somehow also possess. Their ideas and practices are not "really" any less liberal than ours, and if it looks that way it is either because we don't understand them from inside, or because we have distorted their societies with our greed, arrogance and interference. "Really" they are all just like us (if not better), in all positive respects.
I have often observed irritably (especially on CIF), that these nostrums do not just - as intended - represent some criticism of Eurocentricity, discrimination and e.g. Islamophobia, but would logically mean the destruction and banning of all social and cultural history, anthropology, sociology etc. For even if we keep crude stereotyping out of these fields, and are self-reflexive about how our values afect our analyses, the fields are predicated on the idea that "other" societies/religions/cultures/periods can be meaningfully compared with our own, and that they are not filled with people who are all in every basic respect/attitude the same as we are.
Oddly enough, use of the polite nostrums can turn out very rude indeed. I remember an Egyptian Coptic girl who sometimes posted interesting comments on CIF getting most irate at being reprimanded by English progressives, others, when she spoke of problems of Islamism/Muslim attitudes, for not realising that "there were good and bad and tolerant and intolerant people in any society...".
She rightly flew off the handle, saying "That is incredibly insulting to Egyptians....because it means that you are actually forcing me to accept that the proportion of naturally just bad and intolerant people in my society is a very great deal higher than in yours, by some freak of nature!"

Oct 23rd

Dear Sarka--
I think you have written a very important post--too bad it is not an "above-the-line" piece. You have put exceptionally well the (now) growing perception about the Fatal Flaw--the Great Inconsistency--inherent in identity politics--namely, the requirement that "The Other" be viewed paradoxically as the same and different at once (with strange and even impossible moral implications). "The Other" is an absolute equal (to the "White Man"/"Jew") while at the same time, the "White Man"/"Jew" must indulge the "Other's" untoward differences. The "Other" is *just like* us--yet--too *different* to be subject to the sorts of criticisms we habitually make of ourselves.
There are now all sorts of labels for this--"Racism of Lesser Expectations", "Racism through the back door" (because those--usually of the Further Left in the West, who hold with this notion--are *unaware* of their racism).
Although this "othering" crept onto the identity scene during my (academic) lifetime, I can't pinpoint the exact moment it came, or the exact party responsible. I think Edward Said, if not the inventor, was a big purveyor of this notion. And, the concept of "The Other" remains largely an elite-ish, intellectual formulation within the sphere of indentity politics--the general public, I think, has not quite heard of it (and those of the public who pass through academia on their way to other things and do hear about it, tend not to retain it). The more popular notions are "pluralism" or "multiculturalism"--concepts in which it is "understood" by the public that "People of Color" are hyper-equal--and have to be treated, at once, as "just-like-us" but also untouchibly different--in order to maintain political correctness.
All these devices of identity politics--"multiculturalism", "political correctness", and (for those in the know) "the Other"--are now increasingly lampooned. Moreover--many from among the "People of Color" are increasingly contesting the Great Inconsistency"--as it is both insulting to them, as well as supportive of the harm caused to them by many of their own fellows--all to the increasing confoundment of the Further Left here in the West. (Even years ago this contesting began, in embryonic form, to rear its head. I recall reading somewhere that a woman of African descent once stood up in a lecture given by Edward Said and accused him of leaving the status of women out of his model--much to his immediate, great confusion).
Good. The whole business does not fit the complexities of the globalizing world (or even the complexities of the pre-globalizing world)--and we should move beyond it and deal with reality. Now--the next Battle in the War for the Complexities of Reality is the false equivalency/false analogy battle.
But I must say--identity politics has done a great deal of harm--and, in spite of the increasing lampooning, it does continue to chug along and helps tighten the screws of identity for many contesting parties--and it is difficult to argue with a tight screw.