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Time for Common Sense about Religion & Politics

Reader comment on item: [Fixing] Islam's Image Problem

Submitted by Peter Herz (Taiwan), Aug 1, 2003 at 22:45

The more I reflect on Islamist ferment, politicized fundamentalism [Christian, for I refuse to use this term of any save those Christians who accept it as a self-designation] and that phenomenon Peter Berger once called Secularism in Retreat, the more I am convinced that there are too many factors at work for us to say that unreformed Islam is the problem and "moderate" Islam (whatever that is) is the solution.

Has "moderate" religion always been all that good? For example, historians of the Shoah always trot out Luther's admittedly horrid fulminations against the Jews as an important source of Hitler's anti-Semitic extremism. Yet, in World War II, Lutherans in Norway, Denmark and Finland (all attached to the Axis either by German occupation or Soviet bullying) were as appalled as any at German anti-Semitic policies, and even helped hinder them (sometimes at great personal risk, as in the occupied countries). Did this make such people "less Lutheran"--i.e., somehow disloyal to justification by faith alone, the consubstantial presence of Christ in the Lord's Supper, and other doctrines by which Lutherans long defined themselves?

Some in the comments offered in this forum have spoken of what a good thing the higher criticism of the Bible was in the historically Christian west. Yet 19th century theologians such as Adolf Stoecker and Paul Lagarde eagerly embraced both higher criticism of the Bible and extreme nationalism--Lagarde went so far as to have his books bound in pigskin, so "filthy Jew hands" wouldn't touch them. Solomon Schechter, the famous Jewish theologian who studied in late 19th century Germany, called higher criticism the "higher anti-Semitism". And if we consider the "Aryan Jesus" promulgated in Hitler's Germany, you cannot take a "fundamentalist" approach to the first page of the New Testament and accept an "Aryan Jesus" at the same time.

Both Muslims and non-Muslims have seen Sufi mysticism as a "moderating" influence on Islam. But history shows us that the Naqshabandi Sufis were an important element in Caucasian and Central Asian resistance to the Russian Tsars and in revolts against the Qing Dynasty in the Muslim portions of China. The supposedly soft, gentle, Sufi-influenced "Monsoon" Islam of insular southeast Asia is producing its own crop of crazies as I write, and a hundred years ago, produced the jurementados who gave American troops such a hard time in the southern Philippines (indeed, some of the Moro liberation groups now active are their descendants).

Come to think of it, even pacifistic Quakers are nothing but fire-breathing Ranters and Fifth Monarchy Men who got the worst of armed encounters with Cromwell's Ironsides.

As for the indifference to traditional beliefs that so many of us treat as a mark of "progress", it strikes me that 20th century totalitarianism arose in a West that had "secularized". To me, Islamic so-called "fundamentalism" looks suspiciously like the New Left smeared over with a veneer of traditional piety and terminology, rather than like the medieval Turkish ghazis (Central Asian pioneers in a new land?) who ate the Byzantine Empire piecemeal (with a little help from the Crusades).

I think we have some very widespread human problems out there, which at present are manifesting themselves in both core and diaspora Islamic societies, not proof that Islam--even in its traditional varieties--is incapable of living with others.
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