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Re: Your theory is complete nonsense

Reader comment on item: Bolstering Moderate Muslims
in response to reader comment: Your theory is complete nonsense

Submitted by Farid H. (Germany), May 3, 2007 at 20:57

Thanks for your reply, Noah. It's food for thought. What I'm noticing here, is that we're all looking at the same thing, but yet seeing something completely different. This is best illustrated here, even in this thread, based on personal experiences:

On one hand, we have Milind's traumatizing experience in her part of the world (read her moving comments above under "Useless exercise to find moderate muslim"). Her conclusion is to view all muslims as criminal barbarians, deserving cruelty to humble them, and that they should be expelled from the civilized world etc. etc... Not exactly a humanistic and tolerant mind-set, but from her point of view, it is an absolutely legitimate conclusion. But is it sound?

On the other hand, I've had a totally different experience in my part of the world; having grown up in a mixed-religion/mixed-nationality secular family with religious and non-religious relatives. My experience with the way the non-muslims in my family were being respectfully treated and welcomed, both by all our relatives and by the authorities, is prompting me to the opposite conclusion, that moderate muslims do in fact exist and are being the norm. That too is a legitimate conclusion, from my point of view. But is it sound?

We may be all looking at a two-faced monster - and I'm calling it a monster on purpose. I was lucky enough to have been exposed to the light side, while Milind was unlucky to have witnessed the dark side. We've all seen a part of the truth; and by writing about it, we're trying to shed some light on it. From both sides, which is good! And IMHO, the more light there is, the better.

Personally, I'm very skeptical of religion in general, and have grown more skeptical ever since. Because religion (sorry, to me religion is any kind of faith that is based upon believing something without proof, and that leads to people adapting their way of life to it - your definition may differ, of course), by its very nature, divides humanity in two groups: insiders and outsiders. This alone is not a problem yet, but it's getting highly problematic once insiders start developing intolerance towards outsiders.

I'm looking at both the dark history of catholicism in Europe in a not so distant past, and radical Islam in the parts of the world it spread into, past and present, and what I'm seeing there is enough to increase my wariness every time people get exceedingly religious or, more precisely, bigot. It doesn't matter if it's Muslims, or Christians or Buddhists etc...: it's not the religion per se that's making me wary, it's the fanaticism of their most dedicated followers. Regarding Islam, I'm very critical towards it; but not in the same way most of you here are. The reason for this is that I don't buy into generalizations.

For example: nobody would ever dream of qualifying soccer as evil, just because hooligans exist. I would never blame Christianism or Judaism or Hinduism of being violent, because they too had their share of violent fanatics in the past, just as Islam had and has. A religion is not bad per se, because it attracts criminals and nutheads, or just zealots. But it is bad, if its core is based on hatred and spreading hatred. If that's what Islam is really about, I didn't experience that at all in my family and vicinity (but again, it seems to depend on the part of the world you live in and also on the specific time frame in history).

If it really were so as you are implying, I've lived in a part of the world where people are indeed totally immune to it. But, as we've seen above, it could be just pure chance and an isolated event; or because we're sitting at the western fringe of the muslim world, being multi-ethnic etc...; therefore lucky enough of experiencing a diluted and relaxed form of Islam much different from what's going on in the Middle East? When I see those coranic schools in Pakistan, or the wahhabi-style of Islam in Saudi Arabia, shivers run down my spine: it's so creepy and alien, that it's hard to believe that it is not some kind of sci-fi dystopia. Yet, sadly, it is true too.

As I said, a two-faced monster indeed. My beef with Islam is much more fundamental, but for that reason perhaps also much more damning towards it: it's a religion that is trying to impose sociological norms that may have been progressive back then within arabic tribes, but are now totally repressive in our free(er) world, by casting them in spiritual stone. Any religion that does this, is freezing the whole social development; preventing any further evolution towards more freedom.

Seeing it in this light, Islam is currently the main thing that is holding back a lot of countries from developing and participating in our modern world. I'm still under the impression of how difficult it was for us to reform family law/code to finally make it more balanced toward women's rights; and how fierce the conservative and islamistic opposition was because it now conflicts with Sharia much more than before (I'm delighted it has the courage to do so, it was long overdue!); and we're still struggling to abolish islamic gender discrimination w.r.t. heritage laws, so far without success (yet) because of growing islamistic backlash - mostly imported through AlJazeera satellite, and spurned by the general turmoil in world politics... so I know all too well what I'm talking about.

A propos Sharia: if you think Halacha is demanding, Sharia, even it its most enlightened and modern interpretation and (non-)application is much, much, much worse and restrictive (though this doesn't come as a surprise to anyone here). Which is the reason why a lot of it is almost always ignored, but by the most of zealous muslims, in day to day life. At least from my perspective: Milind will have a totally different experience (note to self: let's never forget this dual perception). And I'm not even talking about the nonsense of lapidation, whippings and mutilations, burqas and all this; don't get me started on those barbaric forms of misbehavior! That alone would be more than enough of a valid reason for muslims to renounce Islam!

But I'm digressing... The more muslims ignore sharia in real life, the less religious they are - or, more precisely, the less they stick to it literally (interpreting things literally being a trait typical of fundamentalists of all religions), trying to impose it upon others who would have none of it, the more moderate they are. The question is how to deal with Islam in general. Moderate muslims, both in the sense I've experienced and in Dr. Pipes' article above, try to domesticize this religion, by living in such a way that they try keeping religion a private matter (where it belongs!), while fighting it back on the political scene.

Just like the seculars in Turkey have done for quite some time (I hope they'll prevail, though things are looking bleak there right now with AKP trying to seize even more power). But you're right too: its an uphill battle, especially now in the midst of this islamistic frenzy. You're suggesting that Islam be removed from civilized society because it's unreformable.

Well, why not? People could just as well convert to Judaism or Christianism; or just be atheistic, all of these options being good and valid choices. Personally I wouldn't mind at all, even though I'm not so sure that Islam, the religion, would be really unreformable (though you may be right - what we're seeing here is not really encouraging)! But I'm afraid this won't happen anytime soon, because this meme has survived 1,400+ years already, and is boasting 1.2+ billion more or less religious/serious followers.

Do you sincerely believe that it would be possible to eradicate it like we did eradicate smallpox (following your analogy)? Or that it would collapse just like communism? How the heck would you accomplish this miracle? It simply won't happen. And the worst that could happen to all of us is to be delusional and start taking our wishes for granted. Now, because we're currently under threat (you say by Islam in general, I think it's just the radicalized political component of it that's dangerous; though I'm willing to reconsider, giving more evidence), the only hope we can have to contain it, is from the inside.

This is exacly what this article here is all about; and here we come back to square #1: no matter what you (or I) do think about Islam; it's not going away, it can only be gradually reformed - or at least moderated and reigned in. As I said, like a dangerous drug... And the only ones who can moderate it, are moderate muslims, who already know how to deal with it. And those need all support they can get, even more so while being hard and harder pressed by the radical islamists.

By alienating those moderates, the only winners are the islamists; and this, no one in their right mind would like to happen. Or, to make a long story short: Dr. Pipes is right; but you'll have to understand WHY he is right. His critical view on Islam is right, because he's very familiar with it and with the whole ecosystem it is living in. This I can confirm wholeheartedly, even though he doesn't need any confirmation from a random commenter ;-).

Every one of his posts and article is a proof of his familiarity and professionalism w.r.t. this matter. This is not about blind bashing (which often misses the mark completely), but about absolutely justified criticism. And this is also the reason why he's attracting so much ire from islamists, to whom Islam would be above all criticism. The more you get acquainted to the whole topic, the more your critique will be pointed and hurting those who are truly deserving it. That's what it is all about.

As to Ianus' second reply: Sorry to disappoint you by not replying to the points you've raised; I'm neither used to, nor willing to engage in this style of discussion (way too aggressive). I do understand your emotions about such a controversial topic and perhaps I'm a little bit guilty of having spurned your ire, but I'm no game for flame wars. Consider yourself to have won this round ;-).

But if you care to repost in a calm tone, we could have a very interesting debate. I'm looking forward to it, if you're still interested. Just a little hint to save us both time: please don't mistake me for an apologist of Islam just because I'm from Morocco, because I'm all but this.


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