The vast majority of Muslims already see themselves as part of a civilization that is heir to a noble tradition of science, philosophy and spirituality that places paramount importance on the sanctity of human life. Holding fast to the principles of democracy, freedom and human rights, these hundreds of millions of Muslims fervently reject fanaticism in all its varied guises.
Yet Muslims must do more than just talk about their great intellectual and cultural heritage. We must be at the forefront of those who reject violence and terrorism. And our activism must not end there. The tyrants and oppressive regimes that have been the real impediment to peace and progress in the Muslim world must hear our unanimous condemnation. The ball is in our court.
No argument here, whale away at that ball.
Next at bat is Princeton’s professor emeritus Bernard Lewis, who has written movingly and effectively about the great advances the world owes to Islamic science and medicine in such scholarly texts as “What Went Wrong?“:
A form of moderation has been a central part of Islam from the very beginning. True, Muslims are nowhere commanded to love their neighbors, as in the Old Testament, still less their enemies, as in the New Testament. But they are commanded to accept diversity, and this commandment was usually obeyed. The Prophet Muhammad’s statement that “difference within my community is part of God’s mercy” expressed one of Islam’s central ideas, and it is enshrined both in law and usage from the earliest times.
This principle created a level of tolerance among Muslims and coexistence between Muslims and others that was unknown in Christendom until after the triumph of secularism. Diversity was legitimate and accepted. Different juristic schools coexisted, often with significant divergences.
Sectarian differences arose, and sometimes led to conflicts, but these were minor compared with the ferocious wars and persecutions of Christendom. Some events that were commonplace in medieval Europe— like the massacre and expulsion of Jews—were almost unknown in the Muslim world. That is, until modern times.
Well, yes, although the professor does rather gloss over a millennium worth of conquering by the sword, disenfranchisement and dhimmitude. Spain, the professor will remember, had to be “reconquered.”
To be entirely fair, it’s difficult to protest that Saladin and his heirs were especially cruel. By the standard of their times, they were less noted for their barbarism than for their successes. Successes enabled, as much as anything else, by a vigorous tendency towards intramural murder in the “Christian” West.
Who as a consequence of which got so very good at killing that the former conquerors became in time the colonized. But all of that was quite some time back, and does rather pose the question of, “what have you done for us lately?
The claim, made today by the governments of Iran and Saudi Arabia, that they represent God’s will expressed through their version of oppressive Shariah law is a modern innovation.
Ay, there’s the rub.
Reuel Marc Gerecht gets to play the Western beard for this otherwise Oriental discussion, and has a charming personal anecdote that really adds little of substance, while Tawfik Hamid offers up the sensible prescription that one cannot entirely discount all of those horrible Koranic injunctions:
Moderate Islam must not be passive. It needs to actively reinterpret the violent parts of the religious text rather than simply cherry-picking the peaceful ones. Ignoring, rather than confronting or contextualizing, the violent texts leaves young Muslims vulnerable to such teachings at a later stage in their lives.
Finally, moderate Islam must powerfully reject the barbaric practices of jihadists. Ideally, this would mean Muslims demonstrating en masse all over the world against the violence carried out in the name of their religion.
Yes, that would be ideal. It would doubtless set the re-interpreters up for charges of apostasy that are punishable by death, but apart from that, ideal indeed.
Finally, Akbar Ahmed provides us a useful categorization scheme between the mystics, modernists and literalists. The good news is that it’s only the latter category that wants to kill whomever they cannot convince.
It’s an interesting read by some deep thinkers.
In other news, 21 American soldiers have died in Afghanistan over the last 48 hours. And four Jews – including a pregnant woman – were murdered on the West Bank yesterday on the eve of peace talks. Three thousand Gazans spontaneously gathered in celebration, even as Hamas’ Qassam Brigades took credit for the “heroic” attack.
Hamas, the alert reader will recall, is the terrorist organization that the Ground Zero Mosque’s Park51 Project for inter-faith learning’s Sharif el-Gamal cannot quite come round to condemning.
Terrorism being a “very complex question.”
And the beat goes on.