January 24, 2010

Forces of Fortune

The Egyptian Islamist theoretician Sayyid Qutb believed the West — in particular the United States — posed an existential threat to Islam. He feared that globalization, spearheaded by the American colossus, might eventually destroy Islam by tempting pious Muslims with freewheeling capitalism, the separation of religion from government and the unleashing of decadent “animalistic desires.” Qutb, in word and in deed, took up the sword against Gamal Abdel Nasser’s secular government. Nasser hanged him in 1966, but Qutb’s ideas transformed the world by inspiring Osama bin Laden’s Qaeda theology.

Vali Nasr, in his outstanding new book Forces of Fortune, shows that Qutb was at least half wrong. Globalization, free trade and market economics aren’t a threat to Islam per se. What they are a threat to is the totalitarian vision of Islam that Qutb’s followers hope to impose.

Read the rest in the New York Times.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at January 24, 2010 7:52 AM
Comments
Qutb "transformed the world" through OBL? OBL didn't change anything. The U.S. did by reacting to a police problem with the biggest revolution in its foreign policy since 1989.
Posted by: Ombrageux at January 24, 2010 9:50 am
It may not be the temptations for the material goods of the West but rather that overall demographics are working against Islam. On a yearly basis Christianity gains 30 million against Islam's 23 million. That means that Christianity is growing almost 20% faster and making much more headway into the same areas that Islam is targetting.
Posted by: Pat Patterson at January 24, 2010 11:42 am
The conception of a "moderate Islam" is another western projection upon the world of Islam.

Although there have been, and are, impious Muslims, and also pious Muslims who do not, or have not, felt powerful enough to fight for Islam everywhere and all-the-time, there is no "moderate Islam". Islam is and has been closely based on its texts. The texts are considered immutable, with no great reinterpretation possible, since long ago. Only quibbling is acceptable, and even then the quibbles tend toward more strictly observed Islam rather than less. Those who reject the texts and or the example of the prophet of islam are exorcised as apostates, if they rebel publicly. Innovators always lose the theological arguments and are dropped from the ummah, either by the pious or by their own decision. See the Bahai.

The 20th century emergence of the Muslim Brotherhood of Qutb, al-Banna (and now his grandson, the snake Tariq Ramadan) and related groups such as al-Qaeda is a demonstration that some Muslims felt and feel obliged to do their duty to struggle for Islam, and that some Muslims feel more powerful and capable of struggle than they did, for example between 1850 and 1925. The emergence is not of some new, different, Islam. The increase in felt capability has been enabled by the development of media technology which has helped to disseminate ideas. This has also been enabled by the wealth and felt-affirmation brought by oil, and the apparent or believed weakness of the non-Muslim world.

These strugglers (jihadists) have the texts and example of their prophet on their side. Not all jihadists choose violence as their strategy to struggle for islam, but all jihadists are pious believers who believe that it is their duty to bring the "blessings" of Islam to the entire world. The implementation of these "blessings" is via Sharia. Jihadists sincerely believe that they are bettering the world and its inhabitants by offering and forcing Islam upon it and upon them. Sharia is, from a western viewpoint, "totalitarian", but that word is not from islam. From a Muslim viewpoint, Islam is Islam, even if there are some disagreements and fissures within.

I agree that globalization, free trade, and market economics are not real threats to Islam. They are more realistically tools for Islam, which enable wealthy Muslim individuals, groups, countries, or organizations, to spread their "blessings" around the world. See: the Saudi, the UAE, the Kuwaiti sovereign wealth funds. And see the UN.
Posted by: del at January 24, 2010 12:47 pm
Pretty much what del said. Virtually everything done by jihadists, be they overt terrorists or pressure/propaganda/al-Taqiyya groups like CAIR, is obedient to the commands of Muhammad. Any "Muslim" who might disagree or oppose these efforts is furthermore directly DISobedient to Muhammad, and thus an apostate and atheist according to the tenets of Islam.

The idea of a "moderate" or liberalized Islam is on par with a "moderate" or liberalized Nazi party. The jihadis will always have the authority of the Koran and hadith on their side.
Posted by: Squires at January 24, 2010 2:38 pm
Good to see we have our avid readers of Bruce Bauer and Mark Steyn here.

But, yes, wonderful all members of Islam (all Muslims) can be no more liberal than Nazis. I suppose that goes for various high French Muslim political figures like Rachida Dati and Fadela Amara. More than that, it is as true of the atheistic Muslims of post-Communist Bosnia and Kosovo, of the West African Muslims of Senegal and Ivory Coast, of the Muslims who elect women to high office in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia..

But no, you are right. There is no diversity in the Islamic world, just as really Christendom in Europe, North America, Brazil and Ethiopia is basically the same.. More than that, the notion Muslims reconciled to liberalism is as anathema as a good liberal democratic Nazi. Michael J. Totten: I hope you understand who your readers are, their logic is ruthless, and leads either to the mass conversion or extermination of the world's 1.5 billion people who make up "Islam". You ought to be ashamed of yourselves.
Posted by: Ombrageux at January 24, 2010 4:19 pm
Michael: nice piece.

Ombrageux: the jihadi movement, however described, has a history and a reach which extends beyond the post 2001 changes in US foreign policy.

Del and Squires: the notion that the logic of belief has to be the logic of believers does not fit the historical facts. Yes, Islam has an underlying logic to it and yes that it is such a scriptural-based and all-of-life religion gives that underlying logic recurring power. But that still leaves room for lots of changes. Including how many people actually think that underlying logic has to be the most important thing in their, and their children's, lives.

I have more to say about this here.
Posted by: Lorenzo at January 24, 2010 4:51 pm
Vali Nasr wrote, quoted in the NYTimes book review: "After losing their long struggle against the militantly secular Kemalist elite, Turkey’s Islamists abandoned their call for an Islamic state and mellowed, more or less, into mainstream Western-style conservatives like Europe’s Christian Democrats. Their heartland-based Justice and Development Party champions free- market capitalism, minority rights and membership in the European Union. "

This seems to be a severe misunderstanding of changes in Turkey in the last decade. The "islamists" (better: pious Muslims who believe Sharia is a worthy societal goal) have not lost their struggle against kemalists/ism/secularism. On the contrary, the secularists are on the defensive and weakening, and the struggle continues. Minority rights? That is a flatly bizarre claim. Membership in EU? Sure. But that does not mean the pious Muslims of Turkey desire to be westernised. If anything, those pious Muslims desire to Islamize the EU. And the secularist Turks who desire membership in the EU do so in order to strengthen their hand versus the non-secularists (read: pious Muslims) in Turkey.

The secularists in Turkey are a minority, about 30% of the population and falling. Islam is practiced more and more publicly, now, in Turkey, than a decade ago.
Posted by: del at January 24, 2010 4:58 pm
Lorenzo,

Your argument may be theoretically true, as a possibility in random unknown social systems. No. Change that. I would say it is true in that general way. But it is not true for Islam.

Part of the horrible genius of Islam is that it sloughs off those who would change it.

If a burgeoning and economically successful middle class were to reliably change Islam, wouldn't such change be apparent in the theology of such Muslims already in western countries? Such a change really isn't apparent to me.

Yes: when exposed to western economic success, some Muslims become less pious (yet many, or their descendants, do not become or do not remain less pious). However, such Muslims, exactly because they are impious, are unable to influence nor change Islam.
Posted by: del at January 24, 2010 5:22 pm
If a person can not be pious in the face of temptation, how pious can they be? When man takes it upon himself to make a "pious" society, the people then fear man, not God. Simply because a vice exists doesn't mean one must avail themselves of it and getting rid of a vice doesn't purify those who in their hearts lust after it even if it is not readily available.

The notion that you can actually make someone become of pious heart by simply removing sources of temptation is a position of weakness. It implies that the religion itself is unable to persuade the people and so "enforcers" must do the job instead.

The people then end up fearing the enforcers, not God, and this means they are not the least bit pious.
Posted by: crosspatch at January 24, 2010 5:40 pm
An interesting sidelight of the quandary of pious Islam and modernity is in the novel "Round the Bend" by Neville Shute. I don't know if any here are familiar with Shute's books, which were written before, during and in the 15 years after World War II. This novel is about a young Englishman who starts a cargo air service in the middle east after the war, based in Bahrain. A friend of his, who he knew before the war, is a ground engineer and something of a mystic. He teaches young Muslim men that by doing good work on airplane engines, they are praying. This is a bit like St Benedict who taught "To labor is to pray" in the 10th century and pioneered the monastic movement. It is an interesting story and most of it is set in the Muslim world of 1948. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be anyone with the same idea today. It is very sympathetic to Islam and the middle east before the invasion of so many westerners.
Posted by: Mike K at January 24, 2010 5:59 pm
Ombrageux,

Your sarcastic paper tigers are unconvincing. But origami is fun, no? Sanctimony too, yes?

But we agree: there are impious Muslims on the planet.

My points are that there is no "moderate Islam", merely some not-always-very-pious Muslims, and that they are, and will be, unable to change the basic theology of Islam. Unless what? How about you explain what would follow "unless"? I doubt that a little bit of economic success will perform the magic. A large scale loss of wealth or crushing defeat would seem more likely possibilities. The reality, temporarily seen in Turkey after WW1, of the utter failures of the caliphate, and of Muslim backwardness and failure, gave power to Ataturk with his Kemalism. In Turkey, he tried to replace Islam with a Turkish nationalism and a personality cult. It was only temporarily successful. Now the nationalism often intertwines with Islam, and the cult is old and passe. In Iran, leaving aside those in opposition to Ahmadinejad based upon his not following a pure enough Islam (!) (the thugocracy is corrupt afterall), there are some who are secularists, usually with a strong Persian identity. Again an ethnic nationalism can compete locally with Islam for those wacky hearts-and-minds. But there is no serious theological competition.

I am not in favor of mass conversion nor extermination of anyone. But those choices, along with subjugation, are exactly the choices given by Jihadis to non-Muslims. For pious Muslims, the world is split in two: what is Muslim and true, or what is non-Muslim and false (and needs to be corrected to true). To not understand that is to be detached from reality. You do correctly notice the ruthless logic which follows, although you are unable to see that this logic flows from Islam, since the time of the Muslim prophet, and results in endless, although sometimes on-hiatus, struggle against the non-Muslim world. The struggle did not start in 2001. It didn't start in 1967, nor 1948, nor 1929, nor 1683... The struggle is not caused by particular actions of non-muslims, or their foreign policies. The struggle comes from the basic theology of Islam.

In fact, to assume that our, western, actions are the primary cause of Jihad, is to treat Muslims with a certain contempt, as if they are unable of independent thought and action. To the extent that various Muslim speakers claim our actions as the cause of Muslim actions and beliefs, I would say they are pretexts. Look up Raymond Ibrahim's al-Qaeda Reader.

Therefore, may I suggest that you rethink your contempt of Islam, and its pious believers? You should be ashamed of yourself.
Posted by: del at January 24, 2010 8:33 pm
Ombrageux- I am a reader of the Koran, the hadith, and the Sirat Rasul Allah.

What are you a reader of?
Posted by: Squires at January 24, 2010 9:04 pm
"In fact, to assume that our, western, actions are the primary cause of Jihad, is to treat Muslims with a certain contempt, as if they are unable of independent thought and action."

That is part of the cultural and political narcissism that I sometimes refer to. Everything is somehow "our fault" as if whatever happens in the world springs from us. You are right, I believe, it is at least patronizing to believe that all the problems on the planet are a result of our actions and not the actions of the other people involved. It is ridiculous thinking but many buy into it. And it expands into other areas ... the climate is our fault, all wars are our fault, religious hatred is our fault, and on and on.

It doesn't give an iota of credit to the others involved. Can something for once be someone else's fault?
Posted by: crosspatch at January 24, 2010 9:37 pm
"Can something for once be someone else's fault?"

Maybe it's even less a blame game mindset than which (presumed) mature adults should arrive and straighten this mess out---rather than accepting personal responsibility, grabbing the situation by whichever appendage you can hang onto and owning your shot at attempting to change it. Courage is required. Absolutely. And never to be underestimated. But that's where the lessons of history can strengthen the spine of resolve. Somebody has to say my children and theirs deserve better, even if I never see it.
Posted by: Paul S. at January 25, 2010 12:19 am
"there is no "moderate Islam"

Ah, the Fjordman stance: Its a war to the finish, ethnic cleansing now.

The above statement is simply not true. Inside islam there are many different streams, from the mystical parts of sufism, the Indonesian project to the hardcore Salafist and Wahabbi lines espoused by Al Quaeda and their mates. In Oslo, par example, we have the leaders of several mosques quietly working against homophobia through talking around some of the more problematic hadiths, emphasising that a good muslim must show compassion to all no matter what sexual oriantation. Following the riots after Gaza, we have had official dialogue meetings where the more insane muslims have also been allowed to speak, and have been countered by rational argumentation by other muslims. A gay man spoke in our greatest mosque just a few weeks ago, and was given the imams chair to sit on afterwards. There is a lot happening in Europe right now, and hopefully this will filter back into the more traditional muslim countries.

Im old enough to remember being shouted at that I would burn in hell if I didnt read the bible on a daily basis in my mathclass. Islam is 30 years behind christianity in loosing its old ways. But its just plain crazy to say that it isnt developing. Thats exactly why the "terrorists" of AQ and other caliphate-dreamers are so furious, they can see it changing and dont like it.
Posted by: Fnord at January 25, 2010 1:25 am
"atheistic Muslims" sorry, that is about as valid as "burning ice". Either you're Muslim or atheist, these are mutually exclusive religious categories.

I do not understand why some people view "Muslim" as an ethnic label. It is not. The proper ethnic label re Bosnia is "Bosniak".
Posted by: Marian Kechlibar at January 25, 2010 1:41 am
"atheistic Muslims" sorry, that is about as valid as "burning ice". Either you're Muslim or atheist, these are mutually exclusive religious categories.

I do not understand why some people view "Muslim" as an ethnic label. It is not. The proper ethnic label re Bosnia is "Bosniak".
Posted by: Marian Kechlibar at January 25, 2010 1:41 am
Bosniaks are also called "Muslim by nationality".
Posted by: Andrew Brehm at January 25, 2010 3:54 am
Congrats on the NYT piece. May I ask whose idea it was for you to review this book?
Posted by: Solomon2 at January 25, 2010 7:42 am
Ombrageux,

I suppose that goes for various high French Muslim political figures like Rachida Dati...

That's the French politician who had a child and has never been married, right? Who was born and raised in France? I'd call her Western but I'm not so sure I'd call her Muslim. Do you think she'd be accepted by any Muslim community in the Middle-East? I could be wrong, but I'm guessing not. So... anyway... how do you frame your arguments about Christianity? Do you use nominal Christians or even atheists to prove your points? That may validate your own opinions but it's worthless theologically.

Fnord,

Im old enough to remember being shouted at that I would burn in hell if I didnt read the bible on a daily basis in my mathclass. Islam is 30 years behind christianity in loosing its old ways.

Thirty years? lol. Only you could compare having a teacher rant at you in math class with beheading infidels, stoning adulterers, capital punishment for apostates, and etc. A man got life in prison in Pakistan for blasphemy just a few days ago.

You can't be that ignorant, Fnord. So next time you ask why people call you anti-semitic when you unfairly criticize Israel, look at how you dishonestly issue a pass to Islamists in this comment for far worse behavior than anything Israeli Jews have ever done. And your question will be answered. You can't claim you are "only criticizing policies and practices" when you are clearly extremely biased in the way you put that into play. I don't know if you are a bigot or not, but there's something going on with you. You've got an agenda.
Posted by: Craig at January 25, 2010 7:45 am
Del - I am not suggesting that "jihad" was caused by the West. I am suggesting it is a minor phenomenon insofar as it concerns the West. The importance of 9/11, in human and moral terms, should have been 1 to 2 percent the importance of any number of human catastrophes in the world from the Indonesian Tsunami through Second Congo War. Islamism concerns first of all some Muslim countries (notably Egypt, Iran, Algeria), Islamic terrorism *in the West* however remains virtually an epiphenomenon. The *reaction* to this terrorism is very real and has led to the a hundred times as many deaths in the GWOT/Long War. That is not epiphenomenon, that is the

As "true Islam"... Let me say that all religions are practiced differently in different places, including Islam and what you call "impiety" is often the norm. There are many more factors in determining a country's liberalism than just its religion. If we were cultural essentialists, in Asia for example we might come to the conclusion that Islam causes something like liberal democracy (the regimes of Indonesia, Malaysia and Bangladesh) while continental Buddhism leads to despotism (Myanmar, China, Vietnam). Of course, there's much more to a country's history than that very narrow and essentialist reading of "culture".

Squires - Might I suggest that to understand something you need to do more than have a prejudiced reading of a few texts? There is more to the Muslim world and their history than just the Koran, just as I think Das Kapital would be a poor way to start to understand the Soviet Union or the People's Republic of China. I base my understanding not on scripture but on human beings. I have lived in England and France and met and worked with Muslim Brits and Arab Frenchmen. That I think gives me a better sense of someone's lived experience than 1400 year old text. (And they have spoken to me about the Koran and what it means to them.)

(In addition to a broader reading on Muslim countries - including the "literature" of people like Bernard Lewis and Robert Spence - mostly more neutral sociological texts than the sensationalist Eurabia cottage industry.)

Craig - Why is the concept of liberal Muslims or even godless Muslims any more absurd than atheistic nominal Christians? You all have defined Muslim a priori as extremist or ultra-conservative rather. In so doing, you've purely and simply decided that millions of Muslims who might be more secular (French, Bosnian, Albanian, Turkish) or those in liberal democracies (Indonesia, Bangladesh, Senegal) are not in fact Muslims. Are they not part of the Islamic World? What then? It is a pointless semantic argument. Google "no true Scotsman".
Posted by: Ombrageux at January 25, 2010 9:06 am
Should read to del: "That is not the epiphenomenon, that is the be-all-end-all of the lone superpower's foreign policy, eternal war at great cost to itself, incalculable cost to the Iraqis one fifth of whom are now refugees and hundreds of thousands dead, not to mention dragging our (I am Anglo-French) European governments into American hair-brained adventures (and one outright war of aggression) despite the wishes of European peoples."
Posted by: Ombrageux at January 25, 2010 9:17 am
Craig, you are a truly fixated mind. What we were discussing here is wether the term moderate muslims exists. Of course Im not comparing the severity of the old religion of my growing up with the takfiris and hardcore wahabbis, I was making a point about how quickly my society has developed in the last 30 years. To make it clear: AQ and the hardcore takfiris are *the enemy*, and the enemy must be fought or subjugated or bribed into quiet. This is the basic premise for me, we are at *WAR* with those lads. But they are a miniscule proportion of the muslim umma. By making them representatives of all things Islam you are giving the real enemy all the aiding and abetting he could wish for. The very reason that I keep on critizising Israels policies is that in my view they are giving ammo to the enemy by their actions.

Ombrageux: The term "godless Muslim" is a oxymoron, as is atheist catholic. I know plenty of godless arabs, kurds and persians, but they dont term themselves "muslim". There are a lot of moderate muslims, however, so I definetly agree with you on most points. Ive been spending time (and so has Michael Totten, to be fair) fighting back against the Robert Spencers and Bruce Bawers of this world. Saying that there is no moderate muslims means that the whole of Lebanons Cedar revolution was done by ... uh... who? Fake muslims? Clever jihadists disguised as democracy fighters? SO we are in agreement, but do not forget that the term muslim necessarily implies a relationship to religion. Its not a race or ethnic term, its a term defining a set of religious sacraments. The interesting fight is between the secular, moderate forces and the extremists, with the traditionalists (90%) as the prize.
Posted by: Fnord at January 25, 2010 9:22 am
Solomon,

The NYT asked me to review it--and quite some time ago, too, before Iran's Green Revolution even began.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 25, 2010 9:50 am
Ombrageux: "Might I suggest that to understand something you need to do more than have a prejudiced reading of a few texts? There is more to the Muslim world and their history than just the Koran, just as I think Das Kapital would be a poor way to start to understand the Soviet Union or the People's Republic of China."

Quite right. You won't understand a damn thing about America by reading the bible either. Most Muslims have never read the Koran and never will.

Muslims outside the Arab world especially deviate from Koranic instruction.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 25, 2010 9:56 am
Ombrageux: I think you agree with del and Squires that the moderate Muslims are less pious. That is the important part. Pious Muslims, however friendly, cannot countenance peaceful co-existence with the non-Muslim world on a permanent basis. They get along when they have to.

That said, there are about a billion Muslims in the world and there are certainly as many variations in personality and outlook as that obviously implies. But to the extent that Muslims are moderate, they tend strongly to be less pious. I can name some exceptions. But they are exceptions.

If Nasr is right that the middle class Muslims will moderate, there should be more evidence of this. The Turkish Islamists appear to be going the wrong way; They just haven't arrived yet.

So far the increase in wealth, trillions of dollars, has not made the Muslim world more moderate, it has made it more violent. Saddam Hussein and Ali Khamenei can make big trouble precisely because they have spare billions. Prosperity enables widespread bloodshed; Poverty limits the reach of the tyrants.
Posted by: Fred3 at January 25, 2010 10:24 am
AQ and the hardcore takfiris are *the enemy*, and the enemy must be fought or subjugated or bribed into quiet.

Fnord, that's one of my issues with you. You continually talk ONLY about AQ and their fellow travelers. While at the same time you defend the Islamic Republic and Hezbollah, HAMAS, and others who are just as bad but happen to have a slightly different ideology. As I said earlier: you have an agenda, and it is clear for all to see.
Posted by: Craig at January 25, 2010 10:35 am
Ombrageux,

Craig - Why is the concept of liberal Muslims or even godless Muslims any more absurd than atheistic nominal Christians? You all have defined Muslim a priori as extremist or ultra-conservative rather.

No, I haven't. My closest friend is Muslim. In many ways she's more liberal than I am, and I'm a libertarian. In others, she's much more conservative. However, whenever the subject of Hirsi Ali, Irshad Manji, etc come up I get quite an earful from her about how they are only trying to use Islam to promote their personal agendas. I haven't discussed the French minister with her and I'm not really sure what she'd have to say on the matter. Maybe I should. I'm just pointing out that it seems a bit silly to offer people who are Muslim in name only as counter-examples to actual practicing Muslims. Practicing Muslims will not accept those people as being valid counters to their own positions, any more than nominal Christians get a seat at the table when engaging in serious discussion about Christianity.
Posted by: Craig at January 25, 2010 10:43 am
A gay man spoke in our greatest mosque just a few weeks ago, and was given the imams chair to sit on afterwards.

Fnord: your remark about the gay man in mosque reminded me of this UK channel 4 report: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1f80pNyoL6A
Posted by: Marian K. at January 25, 2010 10:59 am
MJT,
Ombrageux: "Might I suggest that to understand something you need to do more than have a prejudiced reading of a few texts? There is more to the Muslim world and their history than just the Koran, just as I think Das Kapital would be a poor way to start to understand the Soviet Union or the People's Republic of China."

Quite right. You won't understand a damn thing about America by reading the bible either. Most Muslims have never read the Koran and never will.


One does understand something about America by reading the US Constitution. What is the constitution-equivalent in Saudi Arabia? Or how about the supreme document in Iraq or Afghanistan? It is mentioned in your last sentence.

That last sentence is interesting. Any nominal/"liberal"/impious Muslims who have never read the Koran (oops> will clearly never have any significance in theological discussions within Islam. How could they?
Posted by: del at January 25, 2010 11:37 am
del,

Saudi Arabia is an extreme case. Its "constitution" isn't law for one billion Muslims. Have you read the constitution or its equivalent for Tunisia, Lebanon, Iraqi Kurdistan, Azerbaijan, Albania, Kazakhstan, etc?

If you don't like the term "moderate Muslim," replace it in your head with "liberals and democrats who live in Muslim countries." These people exist all over the place, in some countries in greater proportions than in others. They exist in only small numbers in places like Saudi Arabia, but in rather large numbers in other places, such as Iran. If the Green Revolution topples the Islamic Republic regime, something very different is going to follow.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 25, 2010 12:14 pm
Fnord, the Soviet Union was a Marxist-Leninist creature, with emphasis on "Leninist".

And yes, you would learn a lot about the true nature of the Soviet Union from studying Lenin. As hideous as this red-handed fanatic was, he was quite honest about his philosophy and intentions.

For about 50 years, the western left played the game "who can avoid and ignore the evidence of bloodthirstiness in Lenin's theories the best". Only the invasions of Czechoslovakia and later Afghanistan made some of the lefty intellectuals realize that leninism is pure, violent evil.
Posted by: Marian K. at January 25, 2010 12:17 pm
BTW Michael, there was a lot of liberals and democrats in the Eastern Bloc, my mother was one, but if Kremlin decided to wipe out the West by their nuclear power, they would be completely irrelevant.

And they unfortunately were irrelevant as the Soviet empire "exported revolution" across the globe, because it is hard to be relevant when you're in Czechoslovak prison, or, in the worse cases, in Soviet gulag of any kind.

Even the Iranians are still suffering from the regime that is probably hated like no other. Because it has enough guns to suppress them.
Posted by: Marian K. at January 25, 2010 12:23 pm
Marian,

Yes, of course, agreed. The liberals and moderates are irrelevant if they aren't in power.

What I object to is the notion that every Muslim in the world is a jihad robot with the Koran as its software. We would be at war with every Muslim country in the world if that were true.

I don't care if theological moderate Islam exists or not. What matters is whether there are liberals and democrats in Muslim countries, and I know as a fact that there are. Analyzing the Islamic world as if these people didn't exist won't get us anywhere.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 25, 2010 12:36 pm
Globalization, free trade and market economics aren’t a threat to Islam per se.

Of course they are. Why pretend differently? Just as they are a threat to Christianity. Medieval Christianity was just as anti-mercantile and anti-materialist as modern Islam. American and European "Christians" have responded by changing their religion into something people like Augustine would have found almost unrecognizable as Christianity. Traditional Islamic culture is really not compatible with science, globalization and free markets, so in that sense Muslim believers really are fighting for their cultural survival. But no traditional culture has been able to withstand the onslaught and material benefits of free markets and globalization - there's no reason to think Islam will survive unchanged either.
Posted by: vanya at January 25, 2010 2:20 pm
It's actually pretty easy to accept del's position. All you have to do is define any Muslim who does not follow his extreme view as "impious" and "not a true Muslim."

You can do something similar by defining any Christian who fails to follow one particular extreme fundamentalist theology as "impious" and "not a true Christian." Come to think of it, we got several centuries of wars in Europe by people who did just that. But at least most of us finally got over that. And now it is possible to be a good Christian (in the minds of the vast majority of Christians), whether one is Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant (of any of the myriad varieties), etc. -- even though their theologies are very different from each other.

The same thing is actually true of Islam today, at least from the Muslims I know personally and what I see around the world. There are groups who disagree, of course. The two largest (and most vocal) being the Wahabists in Saudi Arabia and the neocons in America. Interesting bedfellows, when you look at it....
Posted by: wj at January 25, 2010 2:24 pm
The two largest (and most vocal) being the Wahabists in Saudi Arabia and the neocons in America.

What about Khomeini? He didn't disagree? He wasn't vocal? Iranians today don't live under an extreme form of theocracy? What about Pakistan? Everything is fine there? No problems? Taliban is fine and dandy? What about the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, for that matter? Are you aware of all the mob violence against Christians earlier this month, and the way the government responded? Nothing to do with Islam or the way it is interpreted in the region?

Very simplistic arguments you make, wj. You're no better than Fnord. Whoever you personally oppose(for whatever reasons) = bad guy. Everyone else is in the gray area where you can make their transgressions disappear with a little moral relativity. Some of the people in this thread are condemning all for the actions of a few. You are issuing passes to people who don't deserve one. Who is worse?

Interesting bedfellows, when you look at it....

Islamists and neocons? lol. I've been around a while, and it's always seemed to be that it was the American left who always had the patronizing and condescending attitude towards all those pesky foreigners. If you can't make the problem go away by merely exposing the ignorant heathens to your superior intellect, you redefine the problem so that it isn't a problem any more. The way the left has dealt with Islamism and international terrorism is a perfect example. At least the neocons had a plan of action. And it wasn't "kill em all" as you'd probably like to have people believe.
Posted by: Craig at January 25, 2010 2:45 pm
"Pious Muslims, however friendly, cannot countenance peaceful co-existence with the non-Muslim world on a permanent basis. They get along when they have to. !

Thats simply not true. I have a local mullah, who I helped out of a snowdrift wearing oldfashioned punk costume five years ago, and he loves me still. Hes a hardcore traditionalist, but those guys have a sense of humour too. As long as they retain a sense of honour. (And thats the main problem we in the west h ave with "them" in everyday life according to my bservation, they still have a sense of honour....) Everybody has to give room for everybody else, thats the law of the land when you get beneath the surface.
Posted by: Fnord at January 25, 2010 3:21 pm
Michael's piece "Kosovo's Moderate Muslims" is worth revisiting.
Posted by: Paul S. at January 25, 2010 4:14 pm
MJT,
"If the Green Revolution topples the Islamic Republic regime, something very different is going to follow."
I am less sanguine than you. I expect a modified but still Sharia based system. To actually reject Islam would invite civil war. Many Iranians are pious, even as many are not.

You are correct that I don't like the phrase, "moderate Muslim". It is often undefined or poorly defined or inconsistently defined by different people even within the same discussion. That is why I tried to define "pious Muslim", a Muslim who believes Sharia is a worthy societal goal, as something to discuss.
"Liberals and democrats" doesn't work. Iranians or others cannot really be both liberal democrats and have a Muslim society. The political ideologies are inconsistent. In Democracy, the legitimacy of the government is fundamentally based on the will of the people. In Islamic societies, legitimacy is based on piety or claims to piety, i.e. adherence to Sharia. It is possible for people to claim, even with some sincerity, that they are both for "democracy" and are pious believers. But that is because many and sundry do not think through their statements and beliefs for consistency, or do not understand what "democracy" is, except as some system of finger painting and sectarian pressure groups.

The bottom line is that for pious Muslims, Islam really matters in every activity, every day. Many in this discussion, and Mr Nasr, seem to assume or claim that Islam is as unimportant to Muslims as Christianity is to so many secular Europeans and Americans. On the contrary, Islam has a different hold. Combined with Vali Nasr's unbelievable (to me) description of recent Turkish political developments, and what should be some testability by observing how Islam has or hasn't changed, in the UK, in the USA, I found your almost effusive book review, of his book to be unpalatable. Jus' sayin'. I don't mean that as an insult. Just an honest opinion.

Fnord,
A "permanent basis" would be far beyond the scope of the lifetime and belief of some single particular imam in a snowdrift, even if he is sincere and if you are honest in this discussion (neither of which I am convinced of). But please provide a substantive account of the disputations which you described above: the talking around of ahadith, as you put it, and the rational discussion where the "radicals" were unconvinced of their misinterpretations. Thanks.

Ombrageux,
Jihad is an unimportant "epiphenomenon"? I am speechless. We live on different planets.
Posted by: del at January 25, 2010 11:31 pm
del: We havent discussed theology, no, and most likely he sees parts of Norway as a pulpit of sin. The point is that these minorities of traditional religious views are able to coexists with a liberal society. Half a year ago a gay man got a light beating in Grønland, our "ghetto" (where I live) and this has led to a huge discussion among the muslims about social control, openess, tolerance and so on. Im sure that some of them are just mouthing the words, but quite a few lead by example. The main point is that dialogue is possible, and that change actually happens if we treat "the others" with respect. Theres been a marked change in attitude among somalians towards genital mutilation, as an example. The same about forced marriage in the pakistani community. There is a generational shift going on.
Posted by: Fnord at January 26, 2010 3:50 am
Fnord

AQ and the hardcore takfiris are *the enemy*, and the enemy must be fought or subjugated or bribed into quiet. This is the basic premise for me, we are at *WAR* with those lads. But they are a miniscule proportion of the muslim umma

There was widespread (i.e. considerably more than “miniscule”) approval in the middle east and other parts of the Muslim ‘world’ when the towers were knocked down. You need only to google on the polls. Recall the TV clips of average people dancing in the streets, honking their horns in glee, and passing out candy.

Perhaps most Muslims aren’t hardcore extremists but applauding terrorist acts is no better.
Posted by: Toady at January 26, 2010 6:21 am
......"I hope you understand who your readers are, their logic is ruthless, and leads either to the mass conversion or extermination of the world's 1.5 billion people who make up "Islam". You ought to be ashamed of yourselves.
Posted by: Ombrageux at January 24, 2010 4:19 pm..."

This was addressed to our host, but had it been addressed to me, I'd have said..."Baloney". I don't see credible evidence from authoritative and responsible minds that the Christian West is out for mass conversion of Muslims...think about it..that's literally impossible from any sensible viewpoint.
Nor is there credible evidence from authoritative and credible minds that we Western Christians are out for the 'extermination' of Muslims. And, again, from a practical viewpoint, that simply is not possible.

This current anti-Islamist/Muslim war is against a virulent, metastasizing zealous terrorism which is leaning on their own interpretation of centuries-old verses as justifying vicious and horrific murders. Random murders. Sensible folks recognize that these terrorists don't speak for 1.5 billion...mostly passive, acquiescent, but alas, too many applauding, see above...Muslims.

I don't see how you or anyone can come up with such glib "thinking". And, I'm not the least ashamed of myself in supporting, get this, the annihilation of those responsible for those very successful attacks upon my American homeland.

Try another brand of hash.
Posted by: Hrothgar at January 26, 2010 9:10 am
If you believe a liberal Muslim is impossible, that that therefore they are all congenitally determined to destroyed Western liberal democratic civilization (like Al Qaeda), and this "long war" goes from Al Andalus to the Gates of Vietnna.. then there is only one Solution.

I am not claiming that the West pursues such a Solution but the thinking of several posters here implicitly advocate it.
Posted by: Ombrageux at January 26, 2010 10:48 am
Ombrageux,

If you were (note the subjunctive mood) to understand Islamic theology at even a superficial level, you would know that a state of permanent war, although not always constant hot open conflict (truces/hudnas are possible, and sometimes the best instruments of war are not swords and guns), exists from the point of view of Islam toward all that is not Islamic. For pious believers in Islam, there is only the one solution: victory over those who disbelieve. This state has existed since the time of the prophet of Islam.

But, certainly, not all people who call themselves Muslim are pious. The difficulty for non-Muslims is that these impious, "liberal" Muslims are never able to change the basic theology of Islam which demands struggle (Jihad in whatever form: open warfare, proselytization, propaganda...) until victory. Your use of the word "congenital" is interesting as it misleads. Islam is not a race, it is an ideology which infuses culture.

The "solution" which you so abhor, implying that we are its agents, is in fact the solution, upon us, demanded by the logic of pious Islam, to be striven for by pious Muslims. It seems reasonable to me to be aware of this Islamic logic, even if you would prefer not, perhaps congenitally, to accept this reality. The long war is imposed by Islam and their only "solution" is victory, but that does not mean that non-Muslims must have a mirror-image response. No. The demand for a "solution", and implicit expectation that "solutions" exist for all "problems" is part of the GWOT problem. I expect that Hugh Fitzgerald would be a persona non grata here, as an "islamophobe". Nevertheless, he has often mentioned this in his essays. Relevant examples of "problems" which he offers for consideration include, poverty and human greed. There is no "solution" to either of these. They need to be addressed and minimized, but not through ignoring them, nor covering one's eyes. Same with Islam. Stop subsidizing failed Islamic states and countries. Stop trying to fix their mistakes. Let them fight amongst themselves. Replace petroleum as the main source of global energy. Do not sell them any weapons. Do not allow them to immmigrate in order to escape Islam, and paradoxically bring it with them - they need to fix their own states and cultures first..They need to understand, as Ataturk did, that their backwardness and dysfunction comes directly from Islam and much of what it teaches.
Posted by: del at January 26, 2010 11:35 am
Del,

The problem I have with your analysis is that it fails to describe the world as it is and as I have personally experienced it.

How do you explain that the most pro-American people on earth are Albanians (according to Gallup's recent international surveys), and that the Kurds in Iraq have been our friends for almost four decades?
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 26, 2010 11:51 am
There is very little difference between the notion of "Eternal Jew" and "Eternal Muslim". All faiths are practiced in different ways, often in ways considered "impious". All scripture is open to interpretation - even the Koran - hence the diversity and schisms within the Islamic world. What more need be said? We are dealing with 1.5 billion human beings, not "Jihadist" robots.
Posted by: Ombrageux at January 26, 2010 11:52 am
I'm afraid I have little patience with the stance taken above that if we admit Islam is a problem, the this implies hatred for Muslims and that we have to employ the Final Solution. How do we get from here to there? The mental jump is amazing.

Communism waa an ideology that posed a threat to Western civilization. This was universally acknowleged at the time. Understanding this fact did not translate into hatred for all Russians or all Chinese. Nor did it cause us to want to kill them all. We implemented a strategy of containment and we tried to minimize the amount of land, wealth and weapons the communists controlled. That is all I think del is calling for in the case of Islam and Islamic states. Hardly the Final Solution. Get a grip.

Yes, this is a complex world and no two human beings will ever see things exactly the same way. Not all Germsns were Nazis - everybody knows that. Yes, some Muslim groups will be more pro-American than others, but that doesn't mean that we should attempt rely on Muslim states to be our allies in perpetuity. Look at Pakistan. Is that a reliable ally? Is Saudi Arabia? Wouldn't we be better off by admitting these so-called allies are playing us for fools and to begin to try to limit their wealth and power rather than constantly feeding it like the fools we are?
Posted by: Rebecca Bynum at January 26, 2010 3:08 pm
Congrats on the book review, Michael. (Why did it take you so long?)

But I think del's critiques above are pretty strong against Nasr's book -- Turkey looks like it is both becoming more middle class / capitalism friendly economically successful AND more Sharia influenced, anti-tolerant of non-Muslims.
Because I want Nasr's 'increase the middle classes' optimistic thesis to be true, I'm very saddened by the reality I see in Turkey.
(Maybe you should go back again, both for Istanbul & the middle; and even the Turkish Kurds).

del's claim seems to be -- pious Muslims ARE in a state of war. I think he's right.
You challenge him with the examples of Albania & the Kurds.

For Pious folk, their religion is most important. It looks like pious Muslims are willing to kill any Muslims who live publicly as if being Muslim is not the most important identity. If the ability of pious Muslims to threaten others is not strongly somehow, the society where such threats occur will look as if it is increasingly pious.

For Albanians & Kurds, their ethnic identity has been and is now more central to their total self-identity than the fact they are Muslim.
Just as being Irish to Irish Catholic IRA guys able to kill English was more important then being Christian. But pious Muslims seem to constantly want being Muslim to be the dominant identity of all Muslims.

It looks to me like a long, long war indeed.

Yet more US gov't support directly to small Muslim businesses in Pakistan & Afghanistan would more likely make things better.
Posted by: Tom Grey at January 26, 2010 5:37 pm
oops - opposed.
If the ability of pious Muslims to threaten others is not strongly opposed somehow, the society where such threats occur will look as if it is increasingly pious.
Posted by: Tom Grey at January 26, 2010 5:39 pm
Tom,

It didn't take me "so long." The Times sat on it for more than six months after I finished it. The book review section is being trimmed because of a lack of advertisments, so they're stuck now with a backlog of reviews.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 26, 2010 5:46 pm
Tom: It looks like pious Muslims are willing to kill any Muslims who live publicly as if being Muslim is not the most important identity.

No offense to you personally, Tom, but I'm getting a little bit tired of all this.

If you lived in (Sunni) West Beirut like I did, I suspect you would not have written that sentence without at least a couple of qualifiers.

I don't dispute the fact that some "pious" Muslims behave this way, but it's not even remotely true that all of them do.

Beirut is decadent not just by Arab standards, but by Western standards. And it's full of practicing Muslims.

What, exactly, do you think it's like in a place like West Beirut or Istanbul? These places are not anything like Saudi Arabia, I assure you. You can order hookers at hotel front desks, for example, and there are bars, scantily clad women, and drunk people everywhere.

These places have problems with Islamists, for sure, but the Koran isn't the law, and most people who live there don't want the Koran to be law.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 26, 2010 5:57 pm
MJT,

Many Albanians identify more with being Albanian than with Islam. They are also grateful for US bombing of Serbia as part of the Kosovo conflict. Similar but different with many Kurds. In both cases another (local ethnic) identity steals the show from Islam. But when individuals from these groups identify more strongly with Islam, and are pious, one ends up with the Fort Dix, NJ, attempted bombers (Albanian immigrants) or people like Mullah Krekar and his Ansar al-Islam, now living in Norway, on the dole, in opposition to the Kurdish autonomous government.

So. You seem to obliquely suggest that we encourage these alternate identities to compete with Islam, or at least with what you call "Islamism"? Sounds ok to me, at least some of the time.

Fnord,
Maybe you could arrange a disputation between snowdrift-Imam and Mullah Krekar? Snowdrift-Imam could then convincingly demonstrate to Krekar that homosexuality is fine in Islam. Right? Snowdrift-Imam doesn't happen to be Krekar? I hope not.
Posted by: del at January 26, 2010 6:05 pm
Fnord, I have linked to a Channel 4 UK documentary about gay Muslims. This is worth watching, although the complete doc is over 50 minutes long.

The remarkable thing is that the gay Muslims who contributed to making of this documentary are visibly afraid. They refuse to show their faces, they speak in a voice that betrays fear, you can notice the strain in their body talk. At one point, the crew is kicked out of a gay club, because the "Asian" (read = Pakistani, not Japanese) patrons are afraid of being outed. Even though the club is rather dark.

It would be absurd to claim that these people are Islamophobic. They were born and bred Muslims, and some of them still pray at home (as one of them says: as a gay, I am not welcome in mosque). Rather, they know that a non-zero share of their coreligionists are sincere in their belief that gays should be put to death, and that yet another subset of these fanatics is willing to do that with their own hands.

It is probable that Britain is infected by Islamic radicalism to larger extent than Norway. The British authorities were overly "tolerant" to a gang of hate preachers in the 1990s, giving asylum to every fanatic kicked out of Maghreb for sedition, and, as a result, they have reaped al-Muhajiroun, Hizb-ut-Tahrir and 7/7.

It is rather clear from the documentary that in Britain, being gay and Muslim is not just theme of "huge discussion within community", but rather some brick-throwing and death threats. If Norwegian Islamic community has made progress beyond this, good to Norway. But the conditions on ground are different in different countries, and that cannot be ignored; different conditions will cause different reactions.
Posted by: Marian Kechlibar at January 26, 2010 11:58 pm
M. Kechlibar: Homosexuality and islam is, and will continue to be, a problem for the foreseeable future. It is, however, a much greater problem in Eastern Europe, where nationalistic christian hooligans regularly beat up gays. Again, I see this more as a generational problem than a religious ideological problem that will remain fixed for all times. I would posit that any gaybashing actually being done is done by chavs, your classic suburbqan hooligan (wich comes in all colours).

My point is that progress is being made through dialogue and respect, not demonization and reduction of islam to a single ideological entity.
Posted by: Fnord at January 27, 2010 8:05 am
I would posit that any gaybashing actually being done is done by chavs, your classic suburbqan hooligan (wich comes in all colours).

Since our hooligans over here in the US are urban rather than suburban, maybe that's not as classic a stereotype as you think.
Posted by: Craig at January 27, 2010 1:27 pm
Oh, and one more thing fnord... I don't know much about Eastern Europe but last time I was in Western Europe gays were highly visible and not at all shy about broadcasting their sexual orientation to anyone who was paying even the slightest bit of attention. Since Marian was discussing homosexuality in Western Europe maybe it'd be more relevant to limit the discussion to Western Europe?
Posted by: Craig at January 27, 2010 1:31 pm
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