If a damsel that is a virgin be betrothed unto an husband, and a man find her in the city, and lie with her; Then ye shall bring them both out unto the gate of that city, and ye shall stone them with stones that they die; the damsel, because she cried not, being in the city. Deuteronomy 22:23-24
You know what they say on the Internet; post in haste, repent at leisure.
I just posted a counterpoint to Cats’s post below showing some Islamic justice and its justification in the Koran; mine was a list of nasty “who to stone, and why” from the Bible. I posted it because it seemed Cats was sort of carrying on this argument over at Samizdata which started off about the elder brother of Charles I and ended up about Islam, via a thing about whether the current turmoil in the Islamic world is a parallel to the turmoil in Christendom during the Reformation. But then I thought it looked kind of pissy to have posted that here, like a spoiler to Cats’s post which, having repented at leisure I guess it was to some extent, so I’ve just taken it down again and praised the Lord for having admin rights.
Still, I think the question that developed at Samizdata- can Islam reform?- is really quite an interesting one. I think most of us here at Cats probably agree that Islamic “justice” and much of the nature of Islamic society as it currently stands is not something we find very admirable, to put it mildly. The question therefore is, “can Islam become something more admirable?”. That is, can you have a society which is muslim but also adopts western/enlightenment values?
Cats and various other posters say the answer to that is no. That is, that the nature of Islam is fixed by the Koran, which by being a clear and unambiguous set of rules which all Muslims must follow, fixes the society in stone, or traps it in amber, or some other such metaphor I’m struggling with right now. But I disagree. I think that the history of Judaism and Christianity; both brothers of Islam (well, Judaism is the father, or the mother) show that religions can change, and I do not think that Islam is actually any different. I think that buying into the idea that the current form of Islam is the only possible form plays into the hands of our opponents, the jihadis.
The extreme, violent, absolutist stylee of Islam is characterised by various Islamic sectors; Wahabbi, Deobandi and so on. But the particular Bin Laden form has a very clear pedigree, and a very recent one too. It is the form of Islam developed by the Muslim Brotherhood, a reactionary movement founded in 1928 by one Hassan Al Banana, with the intention, as with all fundamentalisms, of taking Islam back to some perceived “true, pure” root. The ideological basis though isn’t down to Banna anywhere near so much as down to a sad little twerp called Sayyid Qutb, who developed in a series of books the basic ideas that now drive Al Quaida. The central belief espoused was that only pure sharia is proper Islam, and anything else is “jahiliyyah”; not really Muslim at all. This reactionary philosophy was a reaction against the fact that the muslim world was evolving to modernity, becoming slowly more liberal under western influence, even discussing such issues as feminism.
But if we as western non-muslims accept this view; that there is only one possible path a muslim can follow, and any muslim who strays from Qutb’s purist sharia isn’t following the religion properly; and this view is widely espoused among anti-jihadists in the west, who insist that Islam has this particular character engraved into it by the Koran; then we shoot ourselves in the foot. We help the Islamists- extremists who are determined to lock their fellow muslims into a mediaeval ideological straitjacket- to achieve their aims. We are saying to the young muslim, “if you are a real muslim, you should follow violent jihad and desire a global caliphate, and you should wear the burka” and so on, and slamming the door on the muslim who says, “I just want to get on quietly with my life and go to the mosque like you guys go to church”. If we say that the only form of Islam is jihadism, can we blame them for saying, “oh well fair enough, jihadism it is then”.
Is there another path open to Muslims? I think there is. I do not believe that any set of words is immutable, and that is especially true of religious texts. Christians and modern Jews routinely ignore various clearly stated rules in the Bible. The Book Of Acts tells Christians not to eat strangled animals, but most Christians enjoy a turkey or goose at Christmas. The Jews no longer stone disobedient children, even though the Torah is absolutely clear on the need for that, and Judaism just as much requires obedience to the Torah as Islam to the Koran; indeed the nature of Judaic Law and Sharia are effectively the same since Islam is just Judaism for Arabs. The difference is that modern Jews take a different personal attitude to extremist muslims, that is all.
So to declare that Islam is inherently all the violence and nastiness of the Koran is wrong both logically and strategically. Islam isn’t going to go away. The hundreds of millions of believers aren’t going to suddenly become atheists. If we in the non-muslim world say that the only possible Islam is the one espoused by Al Quaida, we become their enablers. And we really shouldn’t want to be that.