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Is winning a virtue?

Reader comment on item: Victory – An Obsolete Concept?

Submitted by Scott Talkington (United States), Jul 31, 2009 at 04:43

... I'm wondering not so much about our resolution to win, but about the possible consequences? I know what pushes us, but what pulls us? What inspires?

I understand you to be saying that we're in a battle against "radical Islam," but is there a relationship between this terminology and the nearly-forgotten distinction between the Quietist and Activist traditions of Islamic writing and thought? If, for instance, one googles a term like "moderate Islam" it will elicit thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of references. But if you do the same for Muslim or Shi'ah Quietism you can count the references on your fingers. Isn't Quietism precisely the sort of moderation that you're talking about, and that we ought to be looking for as an ally?

As I understand it, historical Quietism invoked a tolerance of state power, whether or not tyrannical, out of a resignation that the alternatives were always less desirable, observing that the state is a necessary evil "to be endured in order to avoid worse, but to be avoided as far as possible" according to Lewis. So while the Quietists recognize the state as a corrupting influence, at least until the return of the Mahdi, they don't perceive a reciprocal principle that recognizes the corrupting influence of religion on the state. In that sense it's hardly a Lockean or liberal doctrine. Then again, neither did the early Calvinists recognize that principle right off the bat. In fact, they'd have been more comfortable with Muslim Activists on such matters (though hardly on other doctrinal points, except perhaps predestination).

What influenced the Calvinists and their descendants to gradually surrender the notion of theocratic authority to the principle of popular sovereignty, limited state power--relegating the preacher to status of impassioned guidance and advocacy? Wasn't it, at least in part, the fact that the statist Calvinists were defeated militarily with Cromwell, booted out of England, and ultimately compelled to identify the notion of "success in a calling" as the exclusive sign of elect status and providence in the New World? I know this wasn't the only influence (the Tindale bible certainly played a role) but it was an influence, no? And possibly a turning point?

Of course, we know the role that Sistani played in Iraq, legitimating (by markedly not opposing) the formation of the new Iraqi state under the tutelage of the lowly American infidel. But what is this more than the traditional Quietist resignation to endure the victor as the necessarily imperfect ruler of a unified Umma? Is there at least some recognition, informed by the atrocities in next door Iran, that religious rulers (though certainly not the faith itself) might corrupt political life, and the state? Isn't the recognition that such religous presumption is self-corrupting the very core of Quietism? And might this, even now, be transferring from "near enemy" who are also the reluctant victors? Does it make some sense that the descendants of Calvinism and Lockeanism have helped to transfer this traditional liberal wisdom to the Middle East via to a Muslim sect that was, well... pre-conditioned to it? In this sense isn't it obvious that being victorious is a virtue rather than a vice, or at least an asset rather than a liability? Or is this merely wishful thinking?

Moreover, if it's not quite wishful thinking, what alternative courses of action might we take that don't involve our entanglement in a Muslim Reform Project, at least through resignation? Can we afford to just shrug off this opportunity, given the proclivities and taunting rants of the al-Faqih (rule of the jurists) next door?

Finally, just to acknowledge the difficulties, how would you respond to the following somewhat pessimistic questions concerning the above thesis?

1. How do we convince Quietists to stop being quiet, without themselves becoming corrupted by power?

2. While they apparently eschew outright power, they do insist that no laws directly contravening Shari'ah be allowed. So while they'll let the fresh air in, they won't overtly agree to let the bad air out.

Admittedly these, and other problems, exist. But is it worth at least considering the role of a Quietist separation of secular and clerical authority, given the meager alternatives? Or is there no role for Quietism as a conditioning "therapy" for Islam?

Submitting....

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Note: Opinions expressed in comments are those of the authors alone and not necessarily those of Daniel Pipes. Original writing only, please. Comments are screened and in some cases edited before posting. Reasoned disagreement is welcome but not comments that are scurrilous, off-topic, commercial, disparaging religions, or otherwise inappropriate. For complete regulations, see the "Guidelines for Reader Comments".

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