Islam, violence and the West

June 29, 2015

Islam, violence and the West

First, do no harm

by Erasmus, Religion and Public Policy

SHOULD the United States and its Western partners delve inside the ideological, and theological, debates going on within the world of Islam, in the hope of influencing the results?

David Cameron seemed to answer that question in the affirmative in his first reaction to the ghastly terrorist incidents of June 26: a mass shooting on a beach in Tunisia and a beheading in France. The British Prime Minister said:

The people who do these things, they sometimes claim that they do it in the name of Islam. They don’t. Islam is a religion of peace. They do it in the name of a twisted and perverted ideology that we have to confront with everything we have.

That was an understandable thing to say, in the immediate aftermath of a terrible horror, even though many people may counter-argue (as they have done every time Barack Obama has said similar things) that it is not really the business of a Western political leader to say what Islam is or is not. In the end only the practitioners of a faith, under the guidance of its most trusted interpreters, can decide what that creed really implies…or so the argument goes. It might be added that although outsiders certainly have a strong interest in the final outcome of a great religion’s internal debates, it is hardly their place to interfere in the process.

But a different and more elaborate claim for the legitimacy of deep Western (and specifically, American) involvement in Islam’s deliberations is laid out in the current issue of Foreign Affairs, the journal of America’s Council on Foreign Relations, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Currently a fellow of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, she has become one of the leading (sceptical) commentators on Islam in her adopted homeland.

She finds fault with President Obama for saying that the terrorists of Islamic State are “not Islamic”.  The real situation, as she sees it, is that both the IS terrorists and more peaceful adherents of Islam are acting out of strongly and sincerely held readings of that religion, whose billion-plus adherents are in the grip of some agonising internal wranglings over what their faith signifies. And in her view, the American government should be weighing on the side of the liberal and reformist camp.

She suggests that today’s American administration should be copying the example of the CIA, which as she approvingly recalls, funded magazines, conferences and influential individuals as part of its ideological battle against communism. The beneficiaries of this American largesse should be those who “oppose the literal application of sharia to apostates and women or who argue that calls to holy war have no place in the 21st century.” She also proposes certain favourites on more narrowly theological grounds, such as an Iraqi Shia cleric whom she commends for questioning the uncreated (in other words, divine) nature of the Koran.

In the same issue, a State Department veteran who introduces himself as a former “senior adviser for countering violent extremism”, makes a powerful and convincing counter-argument. For the American government to get involved in the internal debates of world religions is illegal (it violates the constitutional separation of church and state) and almost certainly counter-productive, he reckons. As the diplomat, William McCants, puts it: “Imagine the US government managed to navigate a thicket of laws and find its Muslim Martin Luther. His or her cause is going to suffer greatly in the arena of Muslim public opinion if it is revealed that the wildly unpopular United States is bankrolling it.”

A Hirsi AliIt might be added that for any reformer labouring inside the Islamic heart-land, the open support of secularist American-based intellectuals such as Ms Hirsi Ali, especially those like her who were born into Islam but later renounced it, could also be a kiss of death.

Perhaps a more modest argument should be made. The awkward fact is that America and its allies did quite a lot, in the late 20th century, to foster the most militant factions within Islam. Islamism gained ground in Pakistan under President Zia ul-Haq, an American strategic partner. During the battle to oust Soviet forces from Afghanistan, some of the most extreme factions of mujahideen benefited from Western assistance, only to morph later into al-Qaeda. In several Middle Eastern countries, including Israel, pro-Western governments cautiously encouraged Islamism, when it first raised its head, as a counter-weight to Marxist or secular-nationalist rivals.

In the present situation, Western governments probably can’t do much to help liberalising theological tendencies within the world of Islam, although they are certainly entitled to stand up for their own ideals of human rights and the rule of law. (For example, they can protest over the flogging and imprisonment of Raif Badawi, the Saudi blogger, without pronouncing on whether his liberal reading of Islam is correct or not.) But first and foremost, they should avoid repeating past mistakes and stop nurturing the most illiberal and violent factions.

16 thoughts on “Islam, violence and the West

  1. Throughout all of recorded and probably un-recorded human history, (from the time of the stone age shaman to the Pope, Caliphate, et al,), religion has always been used as a political tool to obtain and maintain political power and authority over other human beings and with it monetary riches and physical comfort, not to mention doing wonderful things for the Ego.

    And, (this is probably the real rub), some actually believe, an Eternal Paradise awaits, no matter how many fellow children of God you beheaded.

    Islam is a religion of Peace. Show me one religion which is not?

  2. Islam is a religion of peace according to many muslims who want to worship God and at peace with God in order to go to heaven. But the extremists, the jihadists and fanatics are spoiling the image of islam and treating islam as a religion of no return and the only religion that promote you to heaven as no other religion can lead you to heaven but one Allah and His so called Messenger. This amount to religious hijack, or once a muslim forever a muslim concept that ultimately render millions to forced divine submissions which no one take it!!!!!

  3. Guys and Gals,
    Got to include this song though it is not actually directed towards Islam. Just parallels……..Use your brain please

  4. Erasmus attempted to argue that since the United States Constitution supports separation of state and religion institutions, the United States government should not involve in using foreign policy to support certain foreign Muslim groups over others based on their religious policy. This is not a particularly strong argument because

    1) The jurisdiction of the United States Constitution is mainly that of domestic. The principle of separation of state and religious institutions is enforced through extensive mechanism only available within the domestic realm – including trained judges and laws enforceable only domestically. The United States government has little influence on those countries hell-bent on imposing theocracy to their people. Even “world police” has a limit because few want to die for others’ freedom; when Patrick Henry said “Give me liberty or give me death”, he did not mean “Give you liberty or give me death.”

    2) When either secular communism or religious Islamist groups pose a threat to the United States, the United States Government has a responsibility to defend its citizens with all available means including ideological tools relying on re-interpreting Islam the religion. For its own safety as well as its principle, the United States government should clearly declare it is openly opposing to any religion that cannot keep a wall away from governing political system. Hirsi Ali is correct for proposing the United States government to fund conferences and magazines and Voice of American to oppose Islamism, and do them openly and state its position clearly- you are either for “separation of state and religious institutions” or you are against it. Only the diluted internationalists such as Erasmus would count on reformation of Islam alone by itself and its unpredictable success for the United States’s safety. Neither should Malaysia’s safety be counted on the success of Islam reformation or revolution – which could take centuries.

    The United State government as well as other nations should go a step further: Keep an arm-length away from theocratic countries and exclude them from any free trade agreements and technologies sharing. Then build walls around those theocratic and semi-theocratic countries to contain spilled over damage to neighboring nations.

  5. And that is why the best religion is that which is kept to oneself and not used by self-appointed beings to shove down the throats of others.

  6. Isa,
    If that is the case, you are supportive the notion of REPEALING article 3 of Malaysia constitution……and I quote”

    “……..Article 3 declares that Islam is the religion of the Federation but it then goes on to say that this does not affect the other provisions of the Constitution (Article 4(3)). Therefore, the fact that Islam is the religion of Malaysia does not by itself import Islamic principles into the Constitution but it does contain a number of specific Islamic features:

    States may create their own laws to govern Muslims in respect of Islamic law and personal and family law matter.
    States may create Syariah courts to adjudicate over Muslims in respect of State Islamic laws.
    States may also create laws in relation to offences against percepts of Islam but this is subject to a number of limitations: (i) such laws may only apply to Muslims, (ii) such laws may not create criminal offences as only Parliament has the power to create criminal laws and (iii) the State Syariah Courts have no jurisdiction over Islamic offences unless allowed by federal law (see the above section)……”

    Real separation between state and religion. A Secular Malaysia

    You can’t have the cake and eat it yourself. Remember Sarawak Does Not Have a State Religion. If you can’t do it, shut up

  7. What is the root cause of the so-called violence done by Islamic extremist in Europe??…the constant religious harassment by certain group and media in Europe against Islam ( acknowledged to be the fastest growing religion in Europe) and Prophet Mohammad perceived to be a threat to Islamic existence and expansion in Europe by the so-called Jihadist…The recent shooting incident in Paris was a clear indication that they really meant business, and would not tolerate people who simply condemned Islam and Prophet Mohammad.

  8. Why should Isa’s comment be taken the way looes47 implies ? If the looes47 sincerely believes in a secular State and the repealing of that particular provision, why is it in the Buku Jingga , the following is expressed clearly and supporter by PKR, DAP and PAS :

    1. Mempertahankan Perlembagaan Persekutuan, Islam sebagai agama bagi Persekutuan dan agama-agama lain boleh diamalkan dengan aman dan damai di mana-mana di negara ini serta melindungi kedudukan istimewa orang Melayu dan anak negeri mana-mana antara Negeri Sabah dan Sarawak dan kepentingan sah kaum-kaum lain sejajar dengan Perkara 153.

    To an apparatchik like looes47, a person can’t have a moderate position on Islam, unless of course you are a moderate Muslim who supports the DAP.

    In other words gentle readers, Isa isn’t allowed to be moderate because of existing legal provisions but the DAP is allowed to support such provisions but yet still be secular.

  9. Some comments on comments and more:

    “Even the animist Ibans profess to be peaceful though they did headhunt at certain point in time”. Ibans could have been protectors of their own territory and any intruder could have been their target for decimation. But this was long past. They no longer headhunt. Beheading, a cruder version of headhunting, in the Islamic world has long history. At the rate things are going, it looks like it is going to be a permanent fixture targeted not only at unpardonable sinful Muslims but increasingly the “infidels” (read as Westerners) as well.

    “Islam acknowledged to be the fastest growing religion in Europe”. A religion attracting others into its fold for its own merits and values can be said to be a growing religion in the true sense. If you practise polygamy and multiply yourself wherever you are domiciled you only increase the numbers across the board prodigiously. The reproductive growth of Muslims has become a serious concern in European countries as the fertility rate of these Europeans may not be reaching even the replacement level. That is why they are weary of allowing new Muslim immigrants.

    Religion can be an antidote for decadent living. It can purify mind and soul if properly practised. It should be kept at heart and home and not brought to public space. Equal benefits can also be derived through non-religious options like meditation, self-reflections, yoga and tai-chi practices.

  10. Latest Time Magazine says that number of Muslims will grow by 73% by the year 2050, “making Islam the only major religious group projected to grow faster than the world’s overall population”

  11. We can debate as much as we like here but the fact remains that we had what I believe was a manner of religion that most suited a multiracial society like ours – one in which one minded his/her own business without all these “experts” who have cropped up – Gurus, Sheikhs, Ustazs, Ulamak (grossly wrong expression), Fatwa experts etc. etc – none of whom have any standing in our religion except what they have assumed for themselves.

    In another posting here Dr. Bakri has proposed shutting down a couple of such bodies… could not agree more… but why not All?

  12. Right TL Man. That’s why the west is making a lot of deviations by mocking Islam, the Quran, support the infidels and tbe reconstructions of the Middle East through their trained proxies.

    As Isa Manteqi wrote, Why don’t they leave Islam alone, or at least show positive view about Islam ? Is the crusade still alive ? So, for what the Human Rights if not meant for muslims too ?

    Looes 74, at least Conrad do the reading and find the truth about his stance as an atheist. If you have that phobias, let it away. Its the created term used by the enemy of Islam.

    Islam here, is not your enemy. Islam here, never cross your belief and you rituals. Only politics make it worst.

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