Different Degrees of Reformability
Reader comment on item: The Evil Isn't Islam
Submitted by traehnam (United States), Jan 5, 2007 at 02:40
Maybe Dr. Pipes doesn't think it fruitful or relevant to consider the question, but isn't it the case that different cultural and religious systems have different degrees of reformability? Just like people?
Dr. Pipes says that the mainstream of scholarly opinion holds that Islam once built a creative civilization. Some scholars of course are skeptical of that view, and believe such creativity was gradually snuffed out as Islam penetrated with sufficient thoroughness the conquered societies.
But grant for the sake of discussion what Dr. Pipes says about Islam's once creative civilization. Doesn't it remain true that liberal democracy has been extremely rare in Muslim-majority nations? Isn't it true that human rights organizations' statistics, like those of Freedom House, show that the group of Muslim-majority nations is the most backward group in the world in terms of civil liberties and political rights?
I believe one can even discover an inverse relation between the percentage of Muslims in a nation and the strength of that nations civil liberties and political rights as numerically rated by Freedom House. In other words, order all the nations in the world from largest percentage of Muslims to lowest, and then look at each nation's combined Freedom House numerical rating for civil liberties and political rights. As the percentage of Muslims in a nation goes up, the civil liberties/political rights rating gets worse. Not invariably, but the pattern I think is there pretty strongly.
What if Islam was capable of some creativity back in ages when hierarchical and dictatorial rule, combined with preindustrial levels of technology, were the norm? My impression is that the Koran and Hadith constitute a highly authoritarian, quasi-totalitarian, closed type of cultural system. So I think it a national securit risk to permit immigration of Muslims to the West, just as it would be dangerous to permit large numbers of any totalitarian group to enter the West, especially given the well-known demographic trends. Even now, so I'm told, one third of all babies born in France is Muslim.
I agree with Dr. Pipes insofar as he promotes the need to support liberal Muslims and the need to reform Islam to the extent possible. But he seems to underestimate the differences between different religions, as to their relative degrees of openness to reform. Doesn't he perhaps even go so far as in effect, if not explicitly, to deny the distinction between open and closed systems? If a closed system becomes open, that is not mere reform. That is too profound a change to be talked of with continuity terms like "reform." The change from closed to open is transformation. That which arguably was most distinctive and driving in the closed system, namely its pernicious closedness, is gone.
My opinion at present is that Islam is such a closed system. Gorbachev, in attempting to reform the Soviet system, inadvertently destroyed it so that it gave birth to a post-Soviet society. So maybe the efforts of Islam's reformers will have the same effect on Islam. And given Islam's evidently very strong, though not absolute incompatibility with liberal democracy, as shown for example by events even in Turkey, I think that would be an excellent outcome.
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Daniel Pipes replies:
"isn't it the case that different cultural and religious systems have different degrees of reformability?"
It is clearly harder for Muslims to come to terms with modernity than it is for peoples of other civilizations. But it would be a mistake to conclude that because the record is poor, it cannot improve.
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