Tuesday, December 11, 2007

It’s even easier (though no less impracticable) than Spencer thinks

In a Jihad Watch post yesterday, Robert Spencer outlined his easy prescription to Muslims that would end the putatively existing sociopolitical phenomenon of “Islamophobia” once and for all:

If Muslims want to end “Islamophobia” instantaneously, here’s how they can do it:

1. Focus their indignation on Muslims committing violent acts in the name of Islam, not on non-Muslims reporting on those acts.

2. Renounce definitively not just “terrorism,” but any intention to replace the U.S. Constitution (or the constitutions of any non-Muslim state) with Sharia even by peaceful means.

3. Teach Muslims the imperative of coexisting peacefully as equals with non-Muslims on an indefinite basis.

4. Begin comprehensive international programs in mosques all over the world to teach against the ideas of violent jihad and Islamic supremacism.

5. Actively work with Western law enforcement officials to identify and apprehend jihadists within Western Muslim communities.

If Muslims do those five things, voila! “Islamophobia” will vanish.

I have an easier formula that with one step would collapse (while embracing) all five of the above steps:

1. De-politicize Islam.

Allow me to unpack my simplex unitary step: As long as the word politics—which of course is what would be de-linked and disabled when Islam is de-politicized—is understood to encompass not only military protection of a polity’s interests, but also more broadly the laws and all the penalties (non-violent and violent) by which laws are unavoidably and necessarily enforced by which to organize society and maintain a society’s health and values, then it becomes clear how much of the organs and viscera (not to mention bones and muscles) Muslims would have to extract from their unique trans-national Body Politic called Islam.

This process of extraction has been performed in Western Civilization over the past few centuries, and has become a model for all polities in the world. The only major obstacles to this remain among Muslim intellectuals, Muslim politicians, Muslim clerics, Muslim masses, and—of course—the foundational Islamic texts that are the central guiding light for Muslims.

The Western model is not without problems and defects; but everything in life—including worthwhile endeavors—has problems and defects.

Nor is the Western model as it stands now a static entity impervious to further change and modification. One feature of its ongoing flexibility reflects an ongoing debate within the West, about just how much religion should influence politics—and how much religion in fact already informs politics to one degree or another. The historian Martin E. Marty, for example, has argued that the sociopolitical history of the United States manifests an ongoing process of the filtration or percolation of a “civil religion” into the American Body Politic—that “civil religion” including, obviously, significant influences from the undeniable Judaeo-Christian roots whence America organically was born.

It is thus arguable that there is more of a spectrum, or middle ground, in the West broadly—and America particularly—between the staunch Secularists on the one hand, and those who either desire, or irrationally fear, a Theocracy. It is, in other words, entirely possible to have a healthy Secularism as the overarching sociopolitical system of any given polity in the West and of all Western polities seen as a whole (with differences in flavor and degree here and there, of course), while at the same time allowing religious values to influence and inform sociopolitical structures. In fact, not only is it possible, but it is the reality—a reality, of course, which is a work-in-progress and ever-changing, because the heart of the West is the respect for the individual who is free and imperfect, and who fundamentally loves the good and the true, but because he is imperfect, can never pleromatically possess them (at least not until the
“next life”).

Such a possibility of a sociopolitical spectrum, however, seems impracticable for Islam—and it is most certainly not a reality there. It is all or nothing with Islam: Either a Theocracy, or the Fitna of Jahiliyya, that darkness of chaos and corruption which constantly threatens the edges of the Faith of Islam and its Community of Believers, and against which they have to struggle—not only psychologically, morally and spiritually, but also politically, legally and militarilyfor all time, until the Last Days and the final translation of all Believers to eternal Paradise, and all Disbelievers to eternal Hell. To the extent that at any given time, in any given place, Islam appears to be amenable to that spectrum, that middle ground where Religion may percolate into Politics rather than attempt to subjugate Politics, it is due not to Islam itself, but to extenuating circumstances in spite of Islam, usually the relative sociopolitical weakness of Islam seen always to be temporary, not indefinite, or to various factors of human flaws whereby passions, disunity and dissension keep frustrating the gnostic dream of Islam.

For, the Separation of Church and State in the West—and the modern model of Secularism that is now reasonably triumphant throughout the West and the rest of the non-Muslim world (outside of those regions deformed by Communism, of course)—really is a grand extrapolation of the Judaeo-Christian dogma, and existential experience, of the Separation of This Life and the Next. That dogmatic and existential separation laid the ground, as it were, for the long slow development of the idea of a “neutral space” for Politics to rise above religious differences and organize society without favoring any one religious interpretation against any other on what the Absolute Truth about the Meaning of Life is. This also might not have developed, had not the Reformation opened the Pandora’s Box of competing interpretations of Christianity, and thus splintered Christendom into a thousand Christianities, each with followers and representatives more or less demanding that their interpretation be favored or even be dominant, over others.

And even though Islam is not really all that unified, and has splinters of its own, often causing violent disagreements, the problem of Islam is that it obsessively cultivates and nourishes the idea that it must be unified or that it is unified but only demonic forces frustate that unification, and that this unification be the vehicle for—or be the revival of—the dominance of Islam over all existence, including its sociopolitical structures. Islam does not have the same sense of a Separation of This Life and the Next, as Christianity has. In Islam, This Life must be coerced to conform to the perfection of the Next, all who resist this coercion must be punished either non-violently or violently, and this coercion cannot but include political, legal and military methods. Christian history is not without significant attempts at a similar coercion, of course. But that same history could not help unfold in tension with the seeds of that principle that would ultimately be the undoing of its theocratic expression: the Separation of This Life and the Next. No such principle, and no such seeds, seem to exist within Islam proper.

So, to re-cap: My reformulation of Spencer’s easy prescription for Muslims is eminently easier, though no less impracticable:

1. De-politicize Islam.

Sometimes, the resistance to what is easy is what makes something difficult, practically speaking—even though it remains at heart basically easy. Similarly, sometimes what is essentially simple can be complicated, but that doesn’t mean the simple truth at the heart of it has changed. Why Muslims cannot do what is simple and easy may be due to reasons difficult and complex, but ultimately this does not absolve them from the fault of failing to see the light and do what is right.

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