Assume, for the sake of this argument, that the outcome of European history is inevitable for all peoples and all cultures. That the there is something Hegelian about this march to secular modernity.
European modernity is a several hundred year old story. It both created and was a creation of great upheavals in the world, like industrialisation and world wars. It can easily be argued this story is still unfolding today.
So, why do some critics insist that such a transformation should occur in the Muslim world both within an extremely short space of time, and without the influx of wealth that accompanied the rise of Europe (and so America)?
Abu Muhammad:"[The Pope's remarks lacked] sufficient concern
for historical reality and an in-depth knowledge of Muslim philosophy.
After reading the text of Ratzinger's speech quite a few times, I am
still perplexed regarding the line of his reasoning; namely that faith
in an absolutely transcendent God whose acts and will cannot be grasped
completely by human reason can possibly lead one to conceive His images
which are capricious and may be against all truth and goodness. The
argument becomes further ironic as Pope strangely chooses to abduce
views of a multifarious Muslim writer
who can equally be classified as a quasi-liberal writer/poet, a literal
jurist, a controversial philosopher, an innovative grammarian or above
all a compassionate ethicist."
I pray that God accepts all of our good deeds during this blessed month, and may He forgive our sins. Ameen. Please remember me in your prayers. Some mosques announced last night that Ramadan would start today. Others, I've been informed, will be starting on Sunday.
Given the recent confrontation between the egotisical media-whores from Indolent Strangers for the Welfare State and the fomer(?) Communist, who was once a sympathiser for a mass-murdering war criminal (how's that for mud-flinging?), it is worth reading Yakoub Islam's response to the latter's patronising drivel on how Muslim parents should raise their children. Some will see Reid's comments as a specific targetting of Muslims. Personally, I see it as part of the general nannying approach which Neo-Labour has adopted when trying to solve social issues (perhaps this is a consequence of the total transformation of the family and general loosening of social bonds). In this case, even Omar Brooks (pictured), a professional Angry Muslim, is right when he says the government should not be interfering in parent-children relationships. (One might also see Reid's lecturing as an example of the patronising tone about "British values" adopted by prominent politicians, largely playing to the gallery, when addressing people still seen as 'immigrants'.)
Update (21/9): I'm watching Question Time, and a good point was raised. Since when was heckling politicians ever considered a crime (whatever one thinks of Brooks'views)? Have people not seen Prime Minister's Question Time?
Jim Tucker: "The lecture was about Logos -- reason, reasonableness, rationality --
as the necessary underpinning both of faith and secular society, that
without a common ground of reason, then conversation becomes
impossible, violence drives out discourse, and we become fragmented,
individualistic, miserable human beings, each man trapped within a self
that can never be understood by anyone else, and God Himself becomes
unknowable and beyond any hope of man's apprehension."
And by way of Tariq Nelson, I came across this blog by a Catholic from London (where the comments, sadly, reminded me of The Great Jafi), who photographed the usual collection of "professional Muslim extremists" (as my brother calls them) shouting and jeering outside Westminster Cathedral. These people, as one can see from the photos, are the usual suspects that turn up for a photo opportunity whenever they can sniff any kind of publicity (who said they were anti-modern?). They have, at one time of another, been part of the now disbanded al-Muhajiroun, al-Ghuraaba or the-group-that-wasn't-a-group-but-a-collection-of-individuals known as The Saved Sect. I wonder what pseudo-Islamic, egotistical freakshow they belong to now; Brothers Against Car Insurance? Indolent Strangers for the Welfare State?
I'm disappointed that the police actually let this collection of idiots, halfwits, morons and fools harass people leaving a church.
TV Review: The Cult of the Suicide Bomber, Fundamentalism, The Doomsday Code, (Channel 4); Al-Qaeda: Time to Talk?, Al-Qaeda: Turning the Terrorists (BBC2)
There has been an orgy of television programmes in this past week, in
and around the anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Centre in
2001. Programmes ranged from the (now somewhat controversial) drama The Path to 9/11, to a documentary on people who tried to commit fraud on the back of the attacks by claiming they or their relatives were dead. Other programmes explored religion and terrorism. Some have been
good, others average, whilst one I caught the other night on Channel 4
Presented by Robert Baer (an ex-CIA agent who was depicted by George Clooney in Syriana), the first episode of The Cult of the Suicide Bomber
set out to investigate the phenomenon of people blowing themselves up
for their cause and beliefs, concentrating in this episode on Westeners
(the second part
will look at female suicide bombers). Whilst I don't deny his detailed
and first-hand knowledge of Middle Eastern affairs, I doubt his ability
to grasp the situation of Muslims in Britain and his ability
to analyse suicide bombing as a phenomenon. If you're interested in the
cult and psychology that surrounds suicide bombings, then you're theory
must take into account of data which includes not only Muslims but
also, for example, Tamil separatists. Otherwise, if he only wanted to
talk about Muslims and suicide bombing, why not just call the programme
"Suicide bombing and Islam" or something along those lines, instead of
hiding behind an altogether more broad title. He goes over old ground
when discussing the Tel Aviv bombers from Britain (Omar Khan Sharif and Asif Hanif),
as well as the London bombers. In fact he didn't
actually provide any new insights into the psychology of suicide
bombers. For example, suicide bombing, whilst presenting a
philosophical and theological dilemma (on the issue of killing onself), it might not, in and of itself,
be problematic; it is the choice of targets for many such bombers that
presents the biggest concern. The production and general presentation
of the documentary was very poor; especially Baer's ability to bore you
with his voice. In any case, Omar
Khan Sharif and Asif Hanif had been the subject of in a Panorama documentary some weeks ago.
Also in their "Can you believe it?" season, Channel 4 aired Fundamentalists, presented by Mark Dowd,
himself a Catholic. Dowd sampled views of believers from across the
globe, from militant Buddhists in Sri Lanka to Jewish settlers living
on the 'land God gave them'. The programme seemed to confirm my own
belief that "fundamentalism" is an attitude and not necessarily
attached to a particular religion. Dowd himself argued that
fundamentalism was a modern phenomenon, which lent itself to an uneven
marriage of religion and politics. But perhaps the most interesting
programme has been Tony Robinson's The Doomesday Code, also shown on Channel 4. Robinson travelled across the globe, from the United States to Uganda, to understand the rise of Dispensationalist theology
and its political strength in the US, and how it might be affecting American
policies. Apart from the known associations with Israel and US policy in
the Middle East, such beliefs were also affecting attitudes towards the
environment, social justice and the demonisation of Muslims. In Uganda, for example, many believers were said to be abandoning their education and careers or even concern with fixing roads, schools and hospitals, secure in their knowledge that their belief in Christ and coming Rapture would get them to heaven. American organisations were said to heavily fund groups to spread these sorts of beliefs. Some
people portray Muslims as the biggest threat to the world (where 'the
world' conveniently ignores most of the population on this planet), and
whilst I've been quite open and forthright that Muslims have issues,
you have to ask as to who is the biggest danger? Small bands of people
committing (largely) random acts of pious violence and who will never be
able to overrun entire states (as is claimed by some delusional people); or those who appear to sit a little
too close to the centre of the biggest military machine the world has
known and commit themselves to fullfiling the violent prophecies they
believe in? For that is what most of these end of times beliefs seemed to be;
self-fulfilling prophecies, perpetuated by a most inglorious circular
logic. Perhaps what Robinson's programme failed to do was to properly
distinguish between such fundamentalist Christian beliefs and the
broader evangelical Christian tradition. The two are not the same, although they may overlap.
BBC 2, not to be outdone, have had their own series of programmes.
Peter Taylor, who has spent five years investigating various groups who
call themselves "al-Qa'ida", presented his first documentary a few
weeks ago called Al-Qaeda: Time to Talk?, in which he explored
the possibilites of engagement with the group. The lack of a single
group or heirarchy would appear to make that possible, even if any
politician was willing to risk discussing such a possibility. The
second episode, Al-Qaeda: Turning the Terrorists, was on the
fight against terrorism in South East Asia, principally Indonesia and
the Phillipines. This programme has been the best of the various
docmentaries and Taylor pointed to an important weapon Indonesian
governments have come to rely upon: Muslims. That is the best way to
combat these ideas amongst Muslims is not merely to try and
crush them (which can often be counterproductive) but to ask these
individuals to change sides. The programme concentrated on Nasir Abbas,
a former commander of Jemaah Islamiya (JI), an outfit responsible for the Bali bombings, who turned against his former group. He has
become a key source of information for the Indonesian government. He
also speaks to the young men captured by the security services about
their activities and tries to persuad them to change their ways. That is 'to talk as a Muslim to another Muslim' (which is the basicpoint I have tried to get across). Such a tactic has also been used by Yemeni authorites, with varying degress of success. A lesson for certain politicians perhaps?
What is plainly obvious is this. Benedict XVI has made some factualmistakes in quite a dry speech (pdf) aimed at academics. Somewhat ironically the speech contains much else that many Muslims would probably agree with (for example, his views on religion, faith and secularism). But whilst talking about religion and violence, he has ignored the violence his own organisation has been involved or given its blessings to. What's more the quote about 'evil and inhuman things', taken from the Byzantine emperor Manuell II, dates back to 1391; the very year massacres of Jews took place across Catholic Spain. Something about casting stones comes to mind.
Some would point out that Ratzinger has form on fostering anti-Muslim sentiment, including his rejection of Turkish membership for the EU based on Turkey's lack of 'Europeaness'. Others, will say that his statements must be seen in light of the demonisation of Muslims, especially of those in Europe. And indeed, on this point, the Supreme Pontiff should be wary that his language does not resemble that of European bigots on the far-right, some of whom seek harm to Muslims. Shaykh Abd al-Hakim Murad, however, sees these comments on Islam in Europe by the Pope in a different light, one which is less about Muslims but more about Christianity and secular Europe. Although his piece was written before the Pope's speech, I think it is safe to say that, without any further comment from him, the sentiments Murad expresses would extend to the recent controversy involving Ratzinger. Indeed, he gives Europe's Muslims a piece of wisdom worth taking on board:
"Many Muslims have been uncomfortable with Ratzinger because of his public statements about Islam. Yet we should be wary of emotional responses; and act in our interests, which are also those of a well-integrated, tolerant and successful Europe."
I'm with the ISB, and Aisha E, on this one. We can and should rise above this. Use this an opportunity for something good. The Pope was talking about religion, reason and violence and made some comments on Islamic theology, Surat al-Baqarah and jihad, in amongst some points that Muslims would probably agree with. Where then was the response from leading Muslim intellectuals and religious authorities clarifying the ethic of jihad (and so rescuing it from the slur that some Muslim extremists and anti-Muslim bigots place on it), the place of reason in Islamic theology (whether we take a Ghazalian, Maturidian or Taymiyyan approach, or look to Ibn Rushd), and the verse mentioned by the Pope? He wants to talk reason within faith, why not give him such a discussion and take up his challenge? But no; that would be too easy and we'd rather be quick to take offence and wallow in our emotions.
Secondly, even if the Pope had no intention of slurring the Prophet (upon whom be peace), and was making only a philosophical point, as a Catholic he will never share the same sensitivities towards the Prophet (upon whom be peace) that we do. Unless the Pope had called for a wholesale extermination of Muslims (which he was far from doing), then Muslims should grow thicker skins. Some of us don't hold back on our views on Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism and secular belief structures, so why then must we expect someone else to tip-toe around our beliefs? By trying to muzzle others we merely end up muzzling ourselves and make any criticism by Muslims look empty and downright hypocritical.
And if Ratzinger's point was to say there is something inherently violent about Islam, then the response by some must surely confirm his own beliefs. How does attacking churches prove that Muslims are not violent? Even worse, an Italian nun has been murdered in Somalia (it isn't clear that this murder is linked to the recent furore, but I wouldn't be surprised). I'd agree that the political climate (and a general lack of law and order) helps foster anger towards something alien and foreign, away from the tyrants who rule in some Muslim countries (since not all Muslim countries are autocracies; this is something the Middle East suffers from). Others add that these events must be seen within the context of wider political situation (e.g. the Iraq War). But Pakistan has the freest press in the Muslim world, and, in some cases, Pakistan's press is even free of the political servitude that we see in some liberal democracies (it would be hard to find outright fawning of any Pakistani leader that you see in the US, for example). In Palestine, where churches came under attack, both Christians and Muslims suffer from Israel's aggression. And the fact is some of the major churches were the loudest opponents to the invasion of Iraq. So I am not prepared to reduce other Muslims to robots who simply react without a will or desire of their own (for even a slave has a choice: to live the life of a slave or to choose death).
Thirdly, we see a skewed principle of priorities. As Aisha says where are the demands and protests that people who kill Muslim children and impoverish Muslim nations be punished? In a week when Darfur comes under the media glare again, we have some Muslims vexing themselves over something they have not read, nor will ever read (Rushdie taught us that). And what can be a bigger slur on Islam than the Kafkaesque Hudood Ordinance of Pakistan? Yet, I don't see too many of these chaps protesting against that (quite the opposite in some cases).