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Reader comment on item: Bolstering Moderate Muslims
in response to reader comment: to Farid

Submitted by Farid H. (Germany), May 8, 2007 at 23:05

Hi AS, thank you for your insightful comments! Before we start here, I'm definitely NOT trying to play the role of an advocatus diaboli here, since we're both skeptical w.r.t. Islam; though (perhaps) in different ways. I'm just seeing things a little bit differently and from a different angle.

Since I'm neither theologian nor historian, I'm almost certainly about to tell a lot of nonsense. Please forgive me that, and if you're religious, please forgive as well my rather unreligious view on all this; but for the sake of debate I'll try it anyway (and I'd love to learn about where I'm mistaken from people who are better informed that I am).

As far as I always understood it, Mohammed was heavily influenced by Judaism (and slightly by Christianism) in drafting Islam. As you may know, there was an important community of Jews in Hejaz (therefore of course in Mecca and Medina) back then, so it's not really surprising that Mohammed borrowed many ideas (monotheism, most of the halal rules etc...) from them. Most of the positive teachings of Islam can easily be traced back to Judaism (not only the ten commandments etc...). If you will, that's the white side of Islam.

But, and that's crucial too, Mohammed was also a military commander. Whether he became a war lord to spread Islam or whether he invented and shaped Islam to support his military plans, I personally don't know. There may even have been a mutual relationship between both aspects and there seem to be many conflicting interpretations on this, as far as I can see. Anyway, seeing it this way, Islam, the religion, is different from Christianism, the religion, the latter being based upon Jesus' supreme example of non-violence. I'd say that this military side of Mohammed's career heavily contributed to the dark side of Islam.

A typical example is also Mohammed's ambiguous relationship to Jews and Judaism. Initially, he was very impressed by Judaism (therefore the positive talk in the Coran about Ahl al Kitab [people of the book], etc...), but was then terribly disappointed when the important jewish communities of Medina and Mecca refused to convert to Islam; resulting in the subsequent negative talk about them in the Coran (which is a real shame, and is yet another shortcoming of Islam).

So if you say that Islam has no spiritual, philosophical or theological foundations, that's probably not quite accurate. I'd rather characterize Islam as a spin-off of Judaism-for-Arabs, slightly influenced by Christianism and with elements of Arab mentality and (too many) local rites and local social rules and customs mixed in; but (and that's where the real negative side shows its ugly head) "contaminated" with personal views, likes and dislikes of Mohammed the war lord and disappointed prophet - personal views which should have been kept out of it.

As an aside, and that's my very personal opinion on this, I think that Islam may not even have sprung into existence, had Judaism not excluded Arabs from being part of it back then, therefore "forcing" them to duplicate parts of it (while not being quite proficient at it, to put it mildly) - but, again, it's nothing more than a totally unqualified assumption: I'm likely to be wrong on this point. If someone knows better, please correct me.

The real point here (w.r.t. Daniel's article) is something else. Due to the dual-side of Islam (light side vs. dark side), Muslims are being taught from a very early age an interpretation of it. What distinguishes moderate Muslims from radicals is on which aspect the emphasis of this teaching is being focused on: if it's on the light side, you get moderate Muslims, if it's on the dark side, you get radicals, jihadists and terrorists. If it's somewhere in-between, you get people who can swing both sides, depending on the social and political environment they're in. I'm not worrying about the moderates; and the radicals are perhaps lost to reason anyway. The real struggle right now is to convince those in-betweeners to swing to the light side (it's unrealistic to expect them to drop out of Islam completely, though it may happen in some cases - and depending on the region, it may be more or less dangerous to do it publicly or officially).

But back on topic. Islam as tool of Arab imperialism... Yes, that's a valid point too; and that's why I'm not sure which of Islam and Mohammed's military career influenced each other more. As far as North Africa's history is concerned, you're absolutely right. But yet, it's not so clear-cut: while Islam undeniably spread through Arab imperialism ("through the sword"), Christianism too spread e.g. in South America, the Philippines etc... through the Conquistadores and later in sub-saharian Africa thorough 19th century colonialism. Both may (or may not) have spread without an imperialistic civilization acting as a carrier, but it may have taken a lot longer to spread naturally through persuasion. Interestingly, only Judaism, the very core of monotheism, didn't spread militarily, but only through diaspora and the force of its own teachings (which is a testimony to its intrinsic power as a very potent system of beliefs). Muslim women married to non-muslim men: that's very rare (compared to the opposite which is largely tolerated), though in my family we do in fact have one instance of this and I know two more families where this happened - but that's definitely not representative, so it's irrelevant.

Regarding Milind's views, I do understand why she/he (sorry Milind, are you a man or a woman?) comes to her conclusions. In fact, I sympathize with her a lot! For her, that's a logical way to react, given what she experienced. I would have reacted the same way, had I been in her place! But I disagree with the generalization that she comes to. Fighting back those who did her wrong, including their idelogy is absolutely legitimate - even more than that: it's necessary! I'd even add that the moderate muslims should have intervened to stop those radicals, and that's a shame they didn't or weren't able to do so. But I do have problems with her generalizations (and only with the generalizations per se), because those are WAY too broad and hit a lot of people who don't deserve to be target of her hatred.

This kind of overly broad generalizations and thinking is all too widespread here in Arab land too (e.g. regarding Jews, Israel, and recently America as well), and I've always struggled with people here who kept repeating the usual propaganda on grounds of blind generalizations. All I'm doing is to ask people to please have a more detailed look, to zoom in just a little bit more.

As soon as people do this, all those stereotypes (whether anti-muslim, anti-western, anti-jewish, anti-arab, anti-american and whatnot) dissolve rather quickly. IMHO, the biggest allies of radicalism are ignorance and overgeneralizations. That's what I'm asking people to avoid, if they can. Incidentally, it works too when talking to radical islamists: have them look closer at countries they deem worthy to live in (Saudi Arabia? Iran? Sudan?!), and you'll raise a lot of eyebrows and encourage them to start thinking on their own, rather than relying blindly on some tales and preconceived opinions. That's IMHO the key to fight radicalism.

You said: "the real problem is not muslims, it's islam." Well, yes, it is. And that's why it's so important that Muslims learn how to cope with it, and develop an immunity to its destructive dark side. That's why I started this thread here with the analogy of a dangerous drug (in the sense of medication). If taken in small doses and responsibly, Islam will not necessarily harm those who take it - in fact, it may even, through its light side, be helpful in some cases. But the potential for harm and damage is huge; and the line to an overdose of it (a.k.a. swinging to its dark side by getting too religious) is blurry and a moving target, like dunes in the desert. I agree with your assertion: Islam is a dangerous meme. Just how to keep in in check and under control is where we may (or may not?) come to different conclusions.


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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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