2003 June 26 Thursday
Apologists For Islam Say Religious States Are Okay

Writing in The National Interest Kenneth Minogue states what I think is a popular and misleading fallacy.

What I have been emphasizing, however, is that Third World religious conflicts that now look to be unavoidable are terrifying enough without gratuitously politicizing them. Neither Islam nor Christianity will do much to improve the world unless they operate as real religions, turning attention away from projects of transforming social systems toward an innerness focused on duty and goodness. Something like this was how medieval Christendom generated the moral stabilities out of which the modern world emerged. Politics today is notoriously impatient, while patience is one of the great religious virtues.

One of the biggest handicaps that many commentators and analysts have when they try to look at Islam is that they bring with them their own beliefs about what are the characteristics of an ideal religion and assume that anyone who is going to be religious in good faith will come to agree to the same list of ideal religious beliefs. But religions vary a great deal from each other. One can not speak of, on one hand, the secular mind and, on the other hand, the religious mind. Political conflicts in the Middle East are not the result of religions getting distracted and caught up in political questions that are not core to religious belief.

Islam was not designed to discourage people from using religious beliefs in shaping political and social systems. In fact, the Koran places many specific demands on believers about society and government. It does not instruct its believers to turn away from the outer world and focus on the inner self or the supernatural realm.

On the bright side, there are certainly beliefs in each religion that can be appealed to in order to encourage believers in that religion to try to get along with and accept those who are not believers. For instance, the Koran does have some verses that encourage patience in some circumstances.

The Quran clearly advises patience and forbearance when a Muslimís beliefs are being flouted by a non-believer.

ďAllah is with those who restrain themselves.Ē (Quran 16:128)

ďHave patience with what they say, and leave them with noble (dignity).Ē (Quran 73:10)

ďAnd when ye hear the signs of Allah held in defiance and ridicule, ye are not to sit with them unless they turn to a different theme.Ē (Quran 4:140)

Still, Islam is explicitly a political religion that encourages its believers to rule as Muslims over Muslims and non-Muslims. One can not find much in it to support a separation of mosque and state.

While one can fault Minogue for his seeming naivete about the nature of religions in general there is an even worse attitude that a non-Muslim can take toward Islam and politics. Noah Feldman, one of the advisors to the occupation administration in Iraq, actually embraces the idea of using the ballot box to join together mosque and state.

If his new book is any guide, Feldman is a serious thinker who has grappled with the fundamental issues surrounding the coexistence of Islam and democracy. As he argues in "After Jihad: America and the Struggle for Islamic Democracy," instead of insisting that religion and democracy must be separate, Americans must recognize that Islam is a possible carrier of democracy ŮŮ and that encouraging this relationship is in our country's long-term foreign policy interest.

Amitai Etzioni sounds like he agrees with Feldman.

The 1st Amendmentís separation of church and state is not a foreign policy tool; itís a peculiar American conception. Just because the American government is banned from promoting religion within the US does not mean that it cannot promote it as part of a civil society in Iraq or Afghanistan

Let us be clear here. Etzioni does not favor the separation of mosque and state. America's embrace of the separation of church and state is "peculiar". With friends like these the West does not need enemies.

In contrast, reformist Muslim scholar Bassam Tibi offers a more realistic view of the nature of the conflict between the West and Islam.

"Blessed be those who are being lied to", read the headline of an alarming article by reformist Muslim scholar Bassam Tibi in the German weekly, Die Zeit. Syrian-born Tibi, who teaches political science at Goettingen University, labeled well-meaning Christians "inexcusably naÔve" in their dealings with their Islamic interlocutors.

He also accused fellow Muslims as being "dishonest to the highest degree" in claiming that Sept. 11 had nothing to do with Islam. According to Tibi, the current Christian-Islamic dialogue is based on deception, merely producing wishful thinking in the West.

I'm suspicious of people who try to talk their way out of seeing a fundamental conflict between civilizations. If it is okay for Musims to have Muslim states in the Middle East because to do so is somehow inherently Islamic then why should Muslims be allowed to move to and settle in the West? If we accept the logic of the arguments of Etzioni and Feldman then it seems clear that Muslims embrace beliefs that are not compatible with secular democracy.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 June 26 03:33 PM  Religion Secular Ideologies


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