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Judith

TAWFIK HAMID: The Trouble With Islam

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Here's the direct link:

http://opinionjournal.com/editorial/featur...ml?id=110009890

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The Trouble With Islam

Sadly, mainstream Muslim teaching accepts and promotes violence.

BY TAWFIK HAMID

Tuesday, April 3, 2007 12:01 a.m. EDT

Not many years ago the brilliant Orientalist, Bernard Lewis, published a short history of the Islamic world's decline, entitled "What Went Wrong?" Astonishingly, there was, among many Western "progressives," a vocal dislike for the title. It is a false premise, these critics protested. They ignored Mr. Lewis's implicit statement that things have been, or could be, right.

But indeed, there is much that is clearly wrong with the Islamic world. Women are stoned to death and undergo clitorectomies. Gays hang from the gallows under the approving eyes of the proponents of Shariah, the legal code of Islam. Sunni and Shia massacre each other daily in Iraq. Palestinian mothers teach 3-year-old boys and girls the ideal of martyrdom. One would expect the orthodox Islamic establishment to evade or dismiss these complaints, but less happily, the non-Muslim priests of enlightenment in the West have come, actively and passively, to the Islamists' defense.

These "progressives" frequently cite the need to examine "root causes." In this they are correct: Terrorism is only the manifestation of a disease and not the disease itself. But the root-causes are quite different from what they think. As a former member of Jemaah Islamiya, a group led by al Qaeda's second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, I know firsthand that the inhumane teaching in Islamist ideology can transform a young, benevolent mind into that of a terrorist. Without confronting the ideological roots of radical Islam it will be impossible to combat it. While there are many ideological "rootlets" of Islamism, the main tap root has a name--Salafism, or Salafi Islam, a violent, ultra-conservative version of the religion.

It is vital to grasp that traditional and even mainstream Islamic teaching accepts and promotes violence. Shariah, for example, allows apostates to be killed, permits beating women to discipline them, seeks to subjugate non-Muslims to Islam as dhimmis and justifies declaring war to do so. It exhorts good Muslims to exterminate the Jews before the "end of days." The near deafening silence of the Muslim majority against these barbaric practices is evidence enough that there is something fundamentally wrong.

The grave predicament we face in the Islamic world is the virtual lack of approved, theologically rigorous interpretations of Islam that clearly challenge the abusive aspects of Shariah. Unlike Salafism, more liberal branches of Islam, such as Sufism, typically do not provide the essential theological base to nullify the cruel proclamations of their Salafist counterparts. And so, for more than 20 years I have been developing and working to establish a theologically-rigorous Islam that teaches peace.

Yet it is ironic and discouraging that many non-Muslim, Western intellectuals--who unceasingly claim to support human rights--have become obstacles to reforming Islam. Political correctness among Westerners obstructs unambiguous criticism of Shariah's inhumanity. They find socioeconomic or political excuses for Islamist terrorism such as poverty, colonialism, discrimination or the existence of Israel. What incentive is there for Muslims to demand reform when Western "progressives" pave the way for Islamist barbarity? Indeed, if the problem is not one of religious beliefs, it leaves one to wonder why Christians who live among Muslims under identical circumstances refrain from contributing to wide-scale, systematic campaigns of terror.

Politicians and scholars in the West have taken up the chant that Islamic extremism is caused by the Arab-Israeli conflict. This analysis cannot convince any rational person that the Islamist murder of over 150,000 innocent people in Algeria--which happened in the last few decades--or their slaying of hundreds of Buddhists in Thailand, or the brutal violence between Sunni and Shia in Iraq could have anything to do with the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Western feminists duly fight in their home countries for equal pay and opportunity, but seemingly ignore, under a façade of cultural relativism, that large numbers of women in the Islamic world live under threat of beating, execution and genital mutilation, or cannot vote, drive cars and dress as they please.

The tendency of many Westerners to restrict themselves to self-criticism further obstructs reformation in Islam. Americans demonstrate against the war in Iraq, yet decline to demonstrate against the terrorists who kidnap innocent people and behead them. Similarly, after the Madrid train bombings, millions of Spanish citizens demonstrated against their separatist organization, ETA. But once the demonstrators realized that Muslims were behind the terror attacks they suspended the demonstrations. This example sent a message to radical Islamists to continue their violent methods.

Western appeasement of their Muslim communities has exacerbated the problem. During the four-month period after the publication of the Muhammad cartoons in a Danish magazine, there were comparatively few violent demonstrations by Muslims. Within a few days of the Danish magazine's formal apology, riots erupted throughout the world. The apology had been perceived by Islamists as weakness and concession.

Worst of all, perhaps, is the anti-Americanism among many Westerners. It is a resentment so strong, so deep-seated, so rooted in personal identity, that it has led many, consciously or unconsciously, to morally support America's enemies.

Progressives need to realize that radical Islam is based on an antiliberal system. They need to awaken to the inhumane policies and practices of Islamists around the world. They need to realize that Islamism spells the death of liberal values. And they must not take for granted the respect for human rights and dignity that we experience in America, and indeed, the West, today.

Well-meaning interfaith dialogues with Muslims have largely been fruitless. Participants must demand--but so far haven't--that Muslim organizations and scholars specifically and unambiguously denounce violent Salafi components in their mosques and in the media. Muslims who do not vocally oppose brutal Shariah decrees should not be considered "moderates."

All of this makes the efforts of Muslim reformers more difficult. When Westerners make politically-correct excuses for Islamism, it actually endangers the lives of reformers and in many cases has the effect of suppressing their voices.

Tolerance does not mean toleration of atrocities under the umbrella of relativism. It is time for all of us in the free world to face the reality of Salafi Islam or the reality of radical Islam will continue to face us.

Dr. Hamid, a onetime member of Jemaah Islamiya, an Islamist terrorist group, is a medical doctor and Muslim reformer living in the West.

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Judith, this is an important article. Thanks for posting it.

I especially like: "Tolerance does not mean toleration of atrocities under the umbrella of relativism."

Barbara

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Judith,

You might be surprised to find that I liked this article. It is refreshing to see an article like this focusing on the fact that there are different factions within Islam just like there are different denominations of Christianity.

Here is a very quick but good overview of Salafi Islam from GlobalSecurity.org.

Where the West shot itself in the foot is that it funded Salafi Islam in Saudi Arabia with oil money. For people in the West to understand this correctly, imagine the following scenario:

One of the founders of, say, the John Birch Society, who was also a fundamentalist Christian preacher, married into the family of the President of the United States. Then later a devoted family member made some kind of invention that provided this organization with the combined wealth of the world's top 50 billionaires or so, plus the GDP of a few medium size countries. Obviously, it would have enough funding to spread the ideology of a strong born-again fundamentalist church added to conservative government throughout the world.

This is something similar to what happened with Abd Al-Wahhab (the founder of the fundamentalist Salafi denomination of Islam). He married into the ruling family (the Saud family) of what is now Saudi Arabia. But without oil money, this didn't mean all that much for the rest of the Muslim world. Salafi Islam was merely a fringe element.

Unfortunately, now it isn't. The West made sure of that. Still, there are great numbers of Muslims who are not in agreement with the Salafis. Funding can go only so far with religion, then it depends on whether a person accepts the dogma on faith or not. I was very encouraged by this paragraph from the article:

The grave predicament we face in the Islamic world is the virtual lack of approved, theologically rigorous interpretations of Islam that clearly challenge the abusive aspects of Shariah. Unlike Salafism, more liberal branches of Islam, such as Sufism, typically do not provide the essential theological base to nullify the cruel proclamations of their Salafist counterparts. And so, for more than 20 years I have been developing and working to establish a theologically-rigorous Islam that teaches peace.

Just like Dr. Hamid, there are others. They deserve as much of our support as we can provide. This is an intellectual war that can only be fought from within at this stage. But Dr. Hamid's observations about the complicity of PC elements in the West should be especially noted. That continued appeasement of violence has to stop. We are letting the wrong people—our own fanatics—speak out against Islamic violence. They usually target all Muslims without discrimination and that is a mistake.

We need voices to target the correct factions and ideas within Islam, not the whole shebang. The fundamentalist Salafis and similar are the ones who need to receive the most criticism. But I don't expect to see that encouraged by our policymakers so long as we import so much oil from Saudi Arabia. So it is up to us, person by person.

I wish Dr. Hamid well in his efforts at reforming the religion toward peace.

Michael

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You might be surprised to find that I liked this article.

Nope. I trusted you to get beyond the headline and read the whole thing. :)

Judith

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That was an excellent article. Its good that some Islamic Scholars like Dr. Hamid are attempting to harmonize Islam with modernity (this may be a logically impossible task, but we are talking about religion here, not "Organon"). Its a very important step and it certainly represents improvement.

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