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Re: Dispensing with Semantics

Reader comment on item: Christianity Dying in Its Birthplace

Submitted by Reuben Horne (Australia), Sep 24, 2005 at 10:58

Dr Pipes,
Well I must admit Shazia's ability to argue semantics is without question one of the strongest that I have seen in the forum. Plainly 1400 years of theological discourse - interpretation and reinterpretation have not at all been wasted on her.

The problem for westerners is one of application rather than interpretation. Maybe as Shazia suggests, the Muslims who apply the Koran aggressively are giving in to the dark side of the force (so to speak) and overextending a doctrine that was intended to continue only until Muslims were free to practice their religion without persecution. However as non-muslims from a strategic or practical point of view this argument is merely academic. In majority muslim countries this aggressive defense acts as a blanket excuse to persecute religious minorities. And we are still being fought despite the fact that Muslims are free to practice their religion in the west. On top of this social democratic governments have enacted legislation in various states to protect people from being religiously vilified. This legislation could only be intended for use by Muslims - as only Muslims are so very sensative to criticism of their religion. Christianity on the other hand is vilified every five seconds - it's no longer in the culture of Christianity to enforce apostacy. Numerous vile examples of the all out attack on it include things like Matt Stone and Trey Parker's fellatio song involving the Virgin Mary (admitedly this was a veiled dig at Bill Clinton). But it serves as a fine example of the phenomenon - though the laws apply evenly to all religions only some are in the culture of using such provisions.

Shazia's message probably has more relevance to Muslims than us. If I am skeptical at this particular juncture it is because we have gone through an alarming number of clarifications and semantic twistings in explaining what in and of itself is a relatively straightforward religious story. I tend to see it as a sophisticated persons (Shazia's) rationalisations rather than a valid practicable interpretation. As a westerner I admit to having parsimonious biases - I have a tendency to read text with the understanding that in the absence of sarcasm or satire it means what it says on the face of it. I would imagine that the majority of muslims do much the same thing owing to the fact that they make up a large part of the third and developing world - complex theological ideas are rarely entertained by people whose first and foremost concern is trying to survive. The theory put forward by Shazia reminds me of the one put forward by Saint Anselm concerning the devil. St Anselm utilising the theological angle of onotological inquiry (Onotology is a branch of metaphysics concerned with states of being) demonstrated that the devil could not exist. I wont waste time going into his logic which is presented at length here: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04764a.htm My analogy (though the example is complicated) is that in this instance because the implications of the arguments were dire (The Catholic Church would lose its boogey man) after the arguments were made Anselm dissembled his observations to the point of nonexistence. I wonder if ever actually confronted over her interpretation of the Koran by these "Dark side" Muslims Shazia would stand up vocally for her interpretation or follow Anselm's politically pragmatic path. Unfortunately moderate muslims seem to only be able to find their courage when confronted by westerners like me. Perhaps taking comfort in the white liberal doctrine of non violence. They are largely silent when their more aggressive cousins kill westerners and religious minorities with impunity. Occasionally they play the role of the intellectual vanguard of the extremists - providing the misdirection, the alternative interpretations of the Koran that we see in this instance.

Sorry Shazia - I don't buy it betty. The reason for it is this: Muslims are always keen to remind us that Mohammed was a man for all seasons and this is a fact that I do not dispute - noone could plausibly impune the mans intelligence. For his era he was a giant - a successful merchant, a successful statesman, a warrior and strategist and a philosopher without equal in this time period. In Medina he reestablished the institution of the city state as only the Greeks had known before negotiating and drafting a respected social contract with its then diverse citizens. When he went about constructing his religious writings he intended to make them as comprehensive as possible or so it would seem including rules for trade, rules for good government, food preperation, hygene, dress etc etc. The Koran quite apart from being a good story and a religious text to over a billion people is a manual of political philosophy which is the reason why it occupies a prize place on my shelf. Unlike other manuals such as "Mein Kampf" written by Hitler and "The Prince" written by Niccolo Machiavelli it is the product of the intellect of a man who was a winner. I would imagine that many muslims see it as a political manual in the same way I do - and not just extremists. Examining it from a morally neutral standpoint in teaching al-takiyya it is saying essentially "the art of war is the art of deception," the classic othello like strategy of isolating and conquering your enemies or doing the same to weaker tribes in order to strengthen your own political position and finally insuring that once your enemy is subjugated he does not have the capacity to fight back (dhimmitude). Brilliant stuff - I admire Mohammed for it but in the same way I admire Vlad Tepes (Vlad the Impaler) the latter fortunately never held pretensions of establishing his own religion.

What does this mean for Islam? Well from my perspective (and I tend to offer perspectives rather than clarity) it appears that Islam (where other religions are centered around moral matters almost exclusively) has a more diverse base of issues underpinning it, it is a morally repugnant political philosophy whilst also being a relatively moral if regressive code to live by from a personal persepective. It's astounding ability to resist change and reassert it's anachronistic hold over its traditional power centers is without equal - so there must be something that it is doing right from the political perspective at least (a vindication of Mohammed's political paradigm). Its dual nature as both religion and political party for its adherents as well as the aggression and cunning with which it pursues its interests makes it a creature unique in the west. The fact that governments in Australia at least are moving to legislate in the name of multicultural tolerence to quash any and all criticism of it despite it being the most political religion in all the world stinks of insidious apologism but is an outcome that somehow Muslim lobbyists have been able to achieve. The single greatest threat it poses to democracy comes from its apostacy laws - the ones that Muslims are openly killing westerners in the Netherlands over - but here in Australia we see these laws being effectively though indirectly enacted to appease them when they constitute merely 2% of the population.

Finally to return to Shazia's rejoinder on a more intuitive rather than logical level - rape cannot be made okay by simply shifting, or reinterpreting the context. Jesus Christ certainly never raped anyone. Perhaps then the penultimate achievement of Islam is to take mankind twelve steps forwards up the road of political pragmatism and twelve hundred steps backwards down the road of human rights.

Reuben Horne

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