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Isn't Dr. Pipes response to the comment too relativistic?

Reader comment on item: The Evil Isn't Islam
in response to reader comment: questions for Dr. Pipes

Submitted by traehnam (United States), Jan 2, 2007 at 13:47

In his response to the reader comment, Dr. Pipes says one can understand the Koran and Hadith in any one wishes, there is no good or bad understanding.

Does Dr. Pipes subscribe to absolute relativism? Isn't that view extreme? Doesn't that view mean that the Koran and Hadith are a Rorschach Inkblot and nothing more and do not in any way channel people's responses? But the contain quite specific statements. If what Dr. Pipes said is true, then there would be absolutely no difference between what a David Koresh says and what a Gandhi says, or between what Jesus Christ says and what Muhammad says.

Obviously Dr. Pipes' statement is true in the sense that madmen and morons can understand a thing in any and every way possible. But those who are more or less sane surely have responses that are in some way bound to the utterly specific nature of the texts of the Koran and the Hadith. No doubt there is a range of interpretations possible, but the range is surely not so flaccidly and infinitely elastic as the response by Dr. Pipes suggests.

This is critical to the case Dr. Pipes makes. What determines whether a specific culture can be reformed or not is not that it is open to any and every reinterpretation. What determines the reformability of a culture is the specific character of that culture. That is the basis on which Dr. Pipes should have responded if he wished to stand by the case for the reform of Islam. Elsewhere he obviously does make reference to specific facts of Islam that he thinks support the case for efforts at reform as well as efforts to resist that which refuses reform. Clearly it is not a question of one or the other, but of the proportion of one's efforts one thinks reasonable to devote to the one and the other.

Was Nazism something to try to reform? Mein Kampf was not a Rorschach Inkblot, anymore than is any other text that has statements claiming to be literal and factual and logical. Islam might well be a very different case, something with enough good elements to be worthy of reform. But Dr. Pipes comment somewhat weakens the case by basing it on a false ground: the notion that the Koran and Hadith are like Rorschach inkblots for which "there are no bad or good interpretations."

Submitting....

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".

Daniel Pipes replies:

I do not mean that a religion is infinitely interpretable, but there is enormous flexibility, as all major faiths have shown. The difference between an Ahmadinejad and a quietist Shi`i of centuries past could not be more striking.

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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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