Islam, My Islam
Before beginning this final instalment of “Islam, My Islam,” there are a couple of corrections and then a few overall observations that I’d like to make:
First, God is not
mentioned in the Constitution of the
Secondly, it turns out that
As I say, he seems tailor-made for the EU.
The leader of the far-right MHP ventured the opinion that new elections are necessary because “political uncertainty” is damaging the economy (the Turkish lira has lost 20% of its value and interest rates have climbed by 15% since Ecevit’s illness). Mr. Ecevit and (get this) his wife, Rashan who is a co-founder of the Democratic Left Party accused the Deputy Prime Minister of not doing enough to support his embattled chief. Which has led to the resignation of the Deputy PM, four other ministers and 27 other Democratic Left Party members. If 33 more members resign, the government will collapse and polls indicate the biggest winner may be the moderate Islamist party, Justice and Development.
[I’m having trouble staying ahead of
events, here. This
morning’s news (17
July) brings word that Ecevit has bowed to the inevitable and has
elections in November, eighteen months earlier than is required by law. A paragraph regarding EU
So, unfortunately (in my view) no, there
appears to be no interest in how
Is there a more moderate form of Islam in the offing? I think there is, although most of the evidence at this point is anecdotal. I think we have come through a time period in which Islam showed signs of posing greater long-term danger to the West than it does today. I’m thinking of the anti-nationalism of Mawlana Mawdudi in Pakistan, Sayyid Qutb in Egypt and Kohomeini in Iran, all of whom developed wide followings for their anti-nationalist views (fortunately, only within their own nations) and all of whom favoured the emergence of a monolithic, steam-rolling Nation of Islam along Wahabite lines which would supersede Pakistan, Egypt and Iran and all forms of geopolitical loyalty—in short all three endeavoured to seize the brass ring of the Mantle of the Prophet. In retrospect, I think it can be seen as a 60’s phenomenon—very much a Muslim reaction to the lunatic excesses of the Baby Boom generation in the West (which was widely seen in the Muslim world as jahiliyya, an Arabic term for the age of total barbarism which preceded Islam. Looking at the 60’s through Muslim eyes, I can see their point).
And I think it is safe to say that the
proven ability of television (despite television’s inherently
nature) to transform any culture—in spite of each
culture’s best efforts to
resist change— should never be underestimated. Feminism, as
an example, would
not have been possible without the televised portrayal of women
characters—whose dialogue was almost exclusively written by
sensible, intelligent and competent than women actually are. Leading up to 1970,
television trained women
to think of themselves in that way and trained men to think of women
way. The fact that
virtually all discretionary household spending in
A wealthy Egyptian businessman was sentenced to seven years of hard labour in prison yesterday for having five wives, exceeding the Muslim legal limit of four, and having entered into brief marriages with 29 minors. Sayed Ragab al-Sawarki, 52, was found guilty of entering “brief unions” with 29 girls under the age of 15 by having their birth dates falsified on official documents…Ahmed Amin Salim and Sayyed Ismail Madkur, bureaucrats whose job is to draw up marriage records, were each sentenced to two years of hard labour for helping Sawarki forge documents. A woman and her two brothers were each sentenced to three years in prison for falsifying birth certificates of the girls who were to marry Sawarki…He would stay married to them for a matter of hours or days before divorcing them and paying them sums of money, the police said.
This has a definite basis in Islamic reality, shariat law, governing marriage. A marriage is contracted with an agreed-upon dowry bestowed upon the wife (it becomes her money, not her father’s or her family’s as is the case in many cultures and tribes). Divorce is a matter of the husband just saying, that’s it, we’re divorced. If the divorce takes place after consummation of the marriage, the wife retains her dowry. If the engagement is broken, the wife returns a percentage of the dowry. What is theologically interesting about the above situation is the idea of conforming to the letter of Muslim law regarding marriage, while, clearly indulging in acts of prostitution (and child prostitution at that). But, leaving aside the ages of al-Sawarki’s “brief union” “wives”—let’s say that they were all nineteen or twenty—I’d be curious as to how that plays out under the letter of Muslim law. What would an imam on the basis of “sacred scriptures and prophetic traditions” have to say about a series of “brief union” marriages where every agreed-upon penny (agreed upon by the wife’s family) of the “dowry” was paid? How common an occurrence is that in Islam? How great is the lack of curiosity about a pillar of the Muslim community who uses his wealth and his prominence to indulge in (let us call a spade a spade) prostitution while claiming complete Islamic legitimacy—so long as he doesn’t have more than four “brief union” “wives” at one time?
But my point is actually tangential to that: the story of Sayed Ragab al-Sawarki would never be considered for a mini-series even though it seems (at least to me) of more monumental theological and societal consequence, representing a potentially greater centre of societal corruption. Why? Because although it has great potential as an “informative” subject, as a representative anecdote which could be used to address a (society-wide?) “letter of the law” potential for corruption, it crosses the female boundary between salacious garbage—gossip—into areas which excite genuine female disgust and revulsion. The potential female viewer (and women are always—except for professional sports— television’s target audience) would find no point of identification in al-Sawarki’s story. No woman would want to be one of his long-term wives and no woman would want to be one of his “brief union” wives. As for identifying with the woman who helped falsify the birth records of one of her daughters, well, of course not. She is disowned from the female ranks. There is no female curiosity about her, what would have led her to make the decision, what she told her underage daughter as she falsified her birth records in preparation for her “marriage”. All these female “roles” are perceived by women to be beyond the female pale (as is anything which women find unflattering to their gender). Whereas in the case of the fictional Hag Metwalli, there is great potential for identification. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that the central appeal of the mini-series for women was, “Which wife did I identify with?” The headstrong, independent one (I will bet dollars to donuts that there was a headstrong, independent one), the caring, nurturing arbitrator? Larger interests can be introduced to women through televison—but only tangentially. They pay attention to that which flatters them disproportionately and which titillates them within acceptable female parameters. I never saw Roots, but I would be terribly surprised if it did not prominently feature a headstrong, independent female character and I would be equally surprised if she (whoever she was) had been either that prominent, that headstrong or that independent in Alex Haley’s book—if she had even existed at all. So, while television offers great potential for sweeping societal change, it does have its limits: primarily, in my view, the female requirement that televised entertainment must flatter women and it must stay within the boundaries of what women will accept in the way of salacious garbage and fictional gossip. Television will do its bit in moving Muslim populations in the direction of left-liberal, quasi-socialist feminism but, in my view, its progress will be limited by what is (presumably) a wider spectrum of subjects and themes that would excite disgust and revulsion within Muslim women and which are, by now, mother’s milk to the degraded sensibilities of left-liberal, quasi-socialist secular Western feminists. The standards of Muslim women have to first be extensively eroded within their own collectivist boundaries of what constitutes (first) acceptable attitudes and (second) acceptable behaviour in fictional television characters before they will adopt those attitudes and behaviours—in the way that women had to, first, share the attitudes of Alice Kramden on The Honeymooners (talking back to her husband, ignoring his threats, while remaining, in the collectivist female view, a good person) before collectively adopting her behaviour (which began a process which led, ultimately, to the collectivist female adoption of, first, the attitudes and then the behaviours of Roseanne Barr on Roseanne)(pride in ignorance, pride in sloth, talking back to everyone—in the collectivist female view, “not taking any s—t,”—while remaining, in the collectivist female view, a good person). It will be a much lengthier process for television to turn Muslim women into Alice Kramden and—with a sufficient number of Western Roseanne Barr-types (that is, women whose attitudes and behaviours largely excite a disgust and revulsion in Muslim women comparable to the disgust and revulsion which Sayed Ragab al-Sawarki’s child prostitution “marriages” excites within all women) existing at the periphery of the reality which Muslim women inhabit and accept (and, as is always the case with Roseanne Barr types, endlessly endeavouring to hurl themselves from any societal periphery in which they find themselves to whatever position they perceive as a societal “front and centre”)(there to exhibit loudly and to the exclusion of all other voices their pride in their own ignorance, their pride in their own sloth and their pride in “not taking any s—t”)—I’m not sure there exists sufficient time (even if that turns out to be ten thousand years) before Judgement Day to turn Muslim women into Roseanne Barr.
[The first glimmerings of Western-style feminism—the demand for full and equal participation in societal decision-making by a number of female Saudi intellectuals—was greeted by the Saudi royal family with the suggestion that any assistance the women of Saudi Arabia could provide in rolling back the astronomical dowries being demanded by potential wives—which has rendered marriage in Saudi Arabia a luxury affordable only by the very wealthiest men and which has brought about an exponential rise in the population of “old maids”—would be most welcome and would be considered a most appropriate place to begin active female participation in the areas of Saudi social engineering. This, evidently, was not what the women had in mind and appears, for the time being, to have brought an end female demands to become active participants in the restructuring of Saudi society.]
The events of 11 September have turned a spotlight on Islam that will not be turned away anytime soon, a spotlight that demands answers, coherent answers, answers which are grounded in reality and which are demonstrably the product of sequential reasoning. It is insufficient to describe Islam as a religion of peace while acknowledging that laws based on its sacred text, the Koran, demand the stoning of adulterers, the amputation of a thief’s hands and the flagellation of those who drink alcohol. Those Muslims who have been fully assimilated within the West but who still retain a primary loyalty to their faith are experiencing, individually, the wrenching schism that usually takes place only within communities, nations and churches. Their loyalties are inescapably divided in a way which would have been inconceivable to them prior to 11 September. How can Muslims argue that Islam is misunderstood when the evidence indicates that, actually, Islam is understood only too well by those who have been raised to think for themselves and to test their beliefs in the crucible of contrary viewpoints? In the fall of last year, most Muslim writings and most Muslim views quoted in the newspapers and magazines consisted of simplistic recitations of Islamic cant along the lines of “You can’t understand Islam in Western terms.” Well, yes you can. You can understand anything in Western terms. Western terms have been evolving since the Greeks in such a way that Western terms arguably constitute the best means of understanding any subject and testing that subject to see if it has a solid foundation of rational thought behind it or if it is pure emotionalism, quackery or mumbo-jumbo. Up until 11 September, Islam had gotten pretty much the same “free ride” in our society as feminism. And, in my view, there is no shortage of emotionalism, quackery or mumbo-jumbo to be found in the Koran, just as there is no shortage of those three to be found in the Torah, in the Books of the Prophets, in the Gospels and in the Canonical Christian commentaries. I would defend and uphold the five pillars of Islam in any forum and under any conditions. If you want me to defend a specific Koranic verse, however, you’re going to have to show me the verse and the context. I might defend it or I might admit that, personally, I find it indefensible. In my view, this is the unaccustomed corner in which Islam found—and now finds—itself thanks in no small part to Osama bin Laden. As he said in his video-taped interview in December, “This event [11 September] made people think about true Islam, which benefited Islam greatly.” In the long-term, I believe that that’s true. An actual on-going examination of Islam in dispassionate Western terms by Muslims and non-Muslims, I believe, will reveal where the skeletons are in the Muslim closet—foremost among these, to me, the Koreish usurpation of the caliphate and the admitted abridgement of the text of the Koran by Osman as well as the (in my view) too extensive reliance on “prophetic traditions” in establishing shariat law (since there was only one Prophet in Islam, doesn’t that mean that a “prophetic tradition” would have to necessarily be attributable specifically to Muhammad—and specifically when he was reciting the verses of the Koran—to qualify for the term? That is, isn’t it theologically sound to say that a “prophetic tradition” is only valid if it is found in “sacred scripture”? ). In the immediate aftermath of 11 September, as is now fundamental, as is now central to the nature of society in the Western Democracies, Hard Questions were asked about—and of—Islam. And were answered by what were, unquestionably, easy, circuitous rationalisations and practiced, glib assertions. Ten months later, the easy, circuitous rationalisations (which grew no less easy, no less circuitous over time) and practiced, glib assertions (which grew no less practiced, no less glib over time) seem, at last, to have given way to a sullen silence which—at least in the case of non-feminists—usually prefigures genuine introspection, genuine self-examination, genuine soul-searching. In feminists it usually just denotes sulking.
A news item from May 1 mentioned that the
ninth execution-by-beheading this year had taken
Post (18 July) brings word that the 24th
execution-by-beheading of the year took place yesterday in the southern
The title of this series of articles has been “Islam, My Islam”. Had I seen a need, I could have written a series of companion pieces of comparable length entitled “Christianity, My Christianity” or “Judaism, My Judaism”. As I have stated elsewhere, I work very hard at maintaining a co-equivalency in my own mind between the three great monotheistic faiths. To me, the Books of Moses, the Gospels and the Koran represent the beginning, middle and end of God’s revelation of Himself to the world. Out of each of the foundational sacred texts, I pick and choose what it is that I believe, what it is that I give greater or lesser emphasis to in my own system of belief, that which I choose to participate in and that which I choose not to participate in (while scrupulously avoiding grafting anything onto the texts from outside of monotheism in spite of various intellectual temptations to do so). This is, of course, very much frowned upon by the entrenched theocratic hierarchies which have formed within Judaism, Christianity and Islam. One is advised to consult with experts in the faith, to find a rabbi (or a minister or an imam) who can guide you in your beliefs. What seems implicit to me (and what has seemed implicit from the time I began studying the Bible six years ago) is that one still has to choose for oneself. Even if one becomes convinced that Judaism is the only true path to God, one is still faced with the choice between Orthodox Judaism or Reformed Judaism, the choice between the innumerable nuanced variations within each of those primary divisions. If one becomes convinced that Christianity is the only true path to God, one has to choose between Catholicism and Protestantism, Greek Orthodox, Anglicanism, Baptist and so on. If one becomes convinced that Islam is the only true path to God, one has to choose between Sunni and Shiite faiths. To ask a rabbi or a minister or an imam to guide you in your beliefs, it seems to me, is comparable to asking an insurance salesman which kind of insurance you should buy. He may purport himself to be an impartial advisor and teacher, but it stretches human credibility to the breaking point (to me) to expect that he will, in the long run, do anything other than sell you his kind of insurance, the brand of insurance he has, self-evidently, “bought” for himself and the brand of insurance which it is his livelihood to “sell”.
One of the things that I found to be fundamentally sound about Islam at the outset of my experience with it was the definition of the term “Islam” itself —submission to the Will of God—and the term “Muslim”—one who submits to the Will of God—which I see as “personalized” versions of the first pillar of Islam: acknowledgement of God’s implicit sovereignty over everything. “All that is in the heaven and in the earth is God’s”, “all things came from God and to God they are returning”. In computer terms, it’s a “0” or a “1,” in my view. You either believe in the pre-eminence of God’s sovereignty (“1”) or you believe in the pre-eminence of, well, anything else (“0”). The choice is your fundamental right (and, in my view, your primary responsibility) as an individual to make and you can make it only for yourself, not for others. Personally, I don’t believe the choice allows of the sort of grey areas to which the secular humanist mind is inclined. As a rabbi once said on the television program Passages when asked about the astronomically large numbers of people who, as North American opinion polls continue to indicate, profess a belief in God, “Yes, but how many of them believe in God, and how many of them believe that ‘God is love’, ‘God is nature’, ‘God is science’.” That is, how many people attempt to redefine God to suit their own purposes—to change God from a specific Being into a completely neutral state of existence? How many individuals attempt to change God from the Absolute Playwright, Absolute Theatre Owner, Absolute Theatre Director whose Theatre is the Entire Universe into a part of the scenery, into the stage or into the theatre against which, upon which and/or within which those individuals enact their own small and fleeting lives? My own view is that there are two overall Realities. There is “1” Reality and there is “0” reality. Which Reality or reality you inhabit, which Reality or reality within which you reside (and which Reality or reality resides within you) is decided by whether you have consciously, knowingly chosen to submit yourself to the Will of God or whether that pre-eminent position in your life is occupied by anyone or anything else. I believe that submission to the Will of God is implicit in the Torah and in the Gospels (and in the Torah is implicitly directed at YHWH “God” and is implicit in God’s directive to man to “subdue the earth” and that the Koran’s frequent injunction against “joining gods with God” originates in the same misapprehension). I believe that this submission to the Will of God is what the Koran refers to when describing wealth and children as a temptation to man. How many husbands and fathers genuinely believe their first loyalty is to God, and how many pay only lip service to that loyalty? How many of them even recognize that their loyalty shifted with their marriage and with the birth of their children and that God now comes in a very distant third, behind the wife and kids?
What is the Will of God?
Back when I was living a “0” life, that would have seemed a very sensible question to me. Having chosen “1” for myself, I believe that the question is both unanswerable in human terms and largely, if not completely, irrelevant to the discussion. To understand the Will of God, as one understands, say, a mathematical formula, would, it seems to me, require deluding oneself that one was, oneself, an omniscient being—which (I hope we could agree) one isn’t. In human terms, it seems to me that Reality, the Reality which is represented by God, the Reality which is God is inexplicable in human terms—and all other realities, which are explicable in human terms, are mere fragments of the single, all-encompassing Reality which is God’s Reality. God is not Nature, but Nature is a small part of the Reality which is God. God is not Love, but Love is a small part of the Reality which is God, God is not Science, but Science is a small part of the Reality which is God. This, I believe, is a terrifying and alienating concept for the secular mind (which flatters itself that no reality is too large for its capacity to comprehend) and leads to accusation. “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” is, at essence, a secular indictment of God. To which the only sensible answer, in my view, would be, “How would you know?” To sustain the indictment, to support the accusation, one would have to have first-hand experience with absolute power. “The more power a human being has the more he is likely to behave in a corrupt fashion as a result of it” is, I believe, a fairer and more demonstrable hypothesis—but is also worlds away from dealing with terms like “absolute power,” and, again, (as most secular discussions of God tend to do) presupposes that the one who is doing the discussing and the One Who Is Being Discussed function on a comparable level of existence. On the one hand you have a being who is, on average, between five and six feet tall, who will, on average, live about seventy years and who didn’t get perfect marks in high school. On the other hand you have an Infinite Being, Who Exists Everywhere Simultaneously, Has Absolute Power and Absolute Knowledge of All Things. Cogito ergo sum. I think, therefore I am. The larger implication, to me (and I suspect to most monotheists) is: well, fine, but what do you think? We all think (even feminists, on those rare occasions when they briefly stop worshipping their own emotions, think). Islam, it seems to me is the only appropriate extension from Cogito ergo sum:
(My own thought is limited and I speculate that my thought must have originated in Some Largest and/or Unlimited Thought) (that is, thought has to “come from” somewhere) (“little things” come from “Big Things” whether you are talking about babies coming out of adults or moons coming out of planets) (given that less limited thought i.e. a man’s thought is always going to be preferable to severely limited thought i.e. a baby’s thought when it comes to decision-making) (I, therefore, accept:) (that the submission of my limited thought to the directions of the Largest and/or Unlimited Thought is an inherently good thought, possibly the largest—which is to say, least limited thought—of which I am capable) (as a corollary, I reject:) (a. the choice of believing that there is no Largest and/or Unlimited Thought b. the choice of believing that, if a Largest and/or Unlimited Thought exists that it is inaccessible to me c. the choice of believing that my own thought did not originate in a Largest and/or Unlimited Thought d. the choice of believing that, if a Larger and/or Unlimited Thought exists it is unconcerned with, unaware of or hostile to my own limited thought) (that is, I reject the idea that a Largest and/or Unlimited Thought could be otherwise than beneficent) (and accept the fact that a Larger and/or Unlimited Thought would, by its implied beneficent Nature, communicate with limited thought: ergo, Scripture).
Put another way, it seems to me that to choose reality (Cogito ergo sum) over Reality (Cogito ergo sum ergo Islam) is to attempt to study astronomy seriously while refusing to accept any information obtained through a telescope, to implicitly suspect the telescope and to implicitly view the telescope as an impediment to accurate perception (because it occupies a space between the eye of the observer and the thing observed it is, ipso facto, by definition, an impediment) and to have faith only in what one can see unaided with the naked eye. To adhere, in other words, to the humanist view that “man is the measure of all things”. The result, if one was scrupulously honest in documenting what one was able to see with one’s naked eye, alone, would, of course, constitute a kind of astronomy, a scrupulously honest documentation of one’s unaided subjective observations of the actions and motions of stars, the sun, the moon and a certain number of planets. But when that documentation is compared with the knowledge which results from accepting as self-evident that the telescope is a central, irreplaceable instrument in astronomy and the acceptance as a given that “the bigger the telescope, the better the information,” there is no comparison. In terms of Reality, rather than reality (to me) God is very much analogous to the Biggest Telescope (Largest and/or Unlimited Thought) when compared with the naked eye (limited thought). Without God, you are thrashing about in a wading pool within sight of the ocean. But it is your choice. The definition of the term “Islam” is not “Knowledge of the Will of God,” it is “submission to the Will of God.” It presupposes that God, as an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent Being is better suited to directing your life than you are, just as the Hubble Space Telescope is better suited to the purposes of astronomy than is your naked eye—and by just, in my view, so comparably wide a margin.
What is the Will of God?
I think it self-evident that—given that each human being is different—God’s Will, as it applies to each individual person who chooses to submit themselves to His Will, is different. One of the reasons that I am suspicious of organized religion and keep organized religion at arm’s length is that it seems to me that the Jewish, Christian and Muslim hierarchies (or, as I see them, “hierarchies”) accept as a given that God’s Will is the same for everyone. In my view, the “hierarchies” and those who support them have simply traded one collectivist misapprehension—the 19th century notion that “if God’s Will was to be done on the earth all of our lives would closely resemble those of the individuals who occupy the religious hierarchies” (that is, we should all live like priests, nuns, rabbis and imams)—and have simply traded that collectivist misapprehension for the (what is to me, anyway) equally specious collectivist view that we should marginalize the presence of God and His scriptures, his Prophets and his messengers in our lives and instead become “baby worshippers,” “marriage worshippers” and “family worshippers”. That is, that we should subscribe instead to the collectivist sensibility which has resulted from the shift in emphasis from the clergy to the laity in Judaism and Christianity and which has resulted in the (perhaps terminal) erosion of those two faiths into well-meaning but misguided…Maternalisms?...which, at essence, deplore God, deplore His scriptures, deplore His Prophets and his messengers. Which, in short, deplore everything except babies, marriage and family (and which deplores even marriage and family unless the wife-and-mother is in charge or it involves homosexuals). I likewise endeavour to keep at arm’s length anyone who purports to be an intermediary between God and man. On a purely personal, purely subjective level, I think it was and is God’s Will that I would attempt to self-publish 300 issues of a comic book. I do not extrapolate from that that it is God’s Will that everyone should attempt to self-publish 300 issues of a comic book. When I look at the entrenched hierarchies of the great monotheistic faiths—both in their much deplored Patriarchal forms and in their current Maternalistic forms into which they have (as I see it) eroded—I see just such an extrapolation, a perpetuation of the view that it is the purpose of religious faith to determine how everyone should live and (more perniciously) whom they should interpose at the highest levels of their own lives between God and themselves. I am in complete agreement with those who believe that an entrenched priesthood is a most unlikely and unhelpful candidate for the position, but I am also of the view (to say the least) that I don’t see our present entrenchment of white-muslin-and-votive-candle-feminism or the elevation of Oprah Winfrey to beatification (although I’m sure her television program has “healed” many of her followers in exactly those limited and secular categories of “healing” with which they are almost exclusively concerned) as any great improvement. And this is, in fact, what I admire about the term “Islam,” the implied submission to the Will of God, without the interpolation of an intermediary between the individual and God.
Speaking again, personally, speaking (I’ll give away the game right here) subjectively—the only way that I believe any kind of faith can be discussed—I haven’t the faintest idea how much of it I’ve gotten right and how much of it I’ve gotten wrong. The, so far, 282 of the 300 issues, I mean. Or my life, for that matter. I don’t think I’m supposed to know until the Last Day. Knowing would, I believe, defeat the intrinsic purpose of life: which, to me, consists not in knowing, but in doing. Choosing what I think is right and, hopefully, doing it. Not what necessarily appeals to me, not what I think I would most enjoy, but what I think is right. What I think that God thinks is right. Not what Gloria Steinem thinks is right, or what George Bush thinks is right. Or what a priest or Pope John Paul II or a rabbi or an imam thinks is right. It would not surprise me in the least to find out I’m doing really, really badly (which would be the consensus view in the feminist society in which I live) and it would not surprise me to find out I’m doing really, really well. I think I would be surprised to find out what parts of my life were “high water” marks in the eyes of God and what parts of my life were “low points”. That is, I take it as a given that, like all people, in submitting myself to the Will of God, I understand His Will in my life imperfectly—less imperfectly at some times and more imperfectly at others, but always, imperfectly. This, to me, is the meaning of jihad. “Striving in the path of God,” the usually excruciating and seldom enjoyable process of the practical application of “submitting oneself to the Will of God”. Jihad: overcoming the rationalisations that kept me smoking cigarettes after submitting myself to the Will of God. Jihad: overcoming my profound apprehension at even attempting to fast in the month of Ramadan. Jihad: overcoming my unreasonable attachment to an electronic device (television) whose puerile, vacuous and moronic contents disgusted and revolted me better than 99% of the time. My plate was and is full with things that need to be done and things that need to be undone if I am to align myself with the Will of God. It’s more than a full-time occupation, it is a near-Sisyphean lifelong task.
So, it should come as no great shock that (in my view) for me, or for anyone, to pretend to “muck into” the lives of others, given that all of us, as imperfect beings understand the Will of God in our own lives imperfectly really seems ludicrous to me. I see no reason to exclude priests, ministers, bishops, popes, nuns, rabbis, imams or ayatollahs from that blanket statement. They are all imperfect people who have been selected—or elected—by imperfect people for their position. To me, “mucking into” the lives of others (returning to my previous metaphor) makes about as much sense as trying to help someone see through their telescope by sticking my telescope on the end of it. Good theory (I suppose) but, in practical terms, less than helpful. The extent of the advice that I could give would be: submit yourself to the Will of God and from then on, you’re both on your own and in the custody of God. God can help you. I can’t. I would feel safe in saying that there is nothing you won’t experience that isn’t a very common experience once you have submitted to the Will of God—exhilaration alternating with discouragement, genuine submission alternating with half-hearted submission, stubbornness, rebellion, resentment, joy, despair, astonishment, unremitting boredom, tranquility. That’s what I’ve experienced, across the whole spectrum and back again. I can’t say my life has improved in any conventional sense, but then I’ve always found life to be very hard and largely unrewarding work so, in a sense, I’ve really just changed from leading a completely pointless life of hard and largely unrewarding work to leading a life of hard and largely unrewarding work that has as its aim doing what I think is right in the eyes of God— “striving in the path of God” or, at least, striving to “strive in the path of God”—to resist temptation in a world that is largely devoted to multiplying and strengthening temptation. I don’t envision reward—or even “reward”—partly because I really don’t think I’m very good at this and partly because of my own experience that life is implicitly unrewarding (I do, however, also accept the fact that once you see almost everything the world has to offer as a corrupting temptation—as I tend to do—it becomes very difficult to be rewarded in any conventional sense of the term). Most of the time, I can’t picture how the “next life” would differ significantly from this one. The Koranic verses about the houris, the “wives of stainless purity” (a subtle but significant difference from the “virgins” they are described as being in the Western press—which I would attribute, in no small part, to the West’s profound shortage of “wives of stainless purity” and consequent incomprehension of the very idea of what a “stainless” wife might be)(even, you know, theoretically) (say “stainless” to anyone in the West and the first thing they’ll think of is steel) promised in the next world, strike me as hyperbolic—as opposed to those verses which depict this world as the “farmland for the hereafter,” resonating with the Gospel’s promise that “many are called, few are chosen.” What I envision is more hard and largely unrewarding work, larger and more subtle temptations, more at stake and less chance of success. My preference would be for no afterlife whatsoever: complete oblivion, to cease to exist (which puts me very much at odds with the inmates of this particular asylum who—whether “0” or “1”—seem always to long for “more life, longer life” even when they know that it is unattainable) but I’m not sure how much of my preference is “flesh-thinking” (I hold to the view that if your existence has manifested itself within a physical form you have either eroded from a higher state and/or have made a series of very stupid “0” reality decisions somewhere along the spiritual line). Perhaps once my flesh is actually dead, I will be able to perceive the nature of life more accurately and prefer life to oblivion, but right now? No, definitely not. It took me a while to recognize this not as a suicidal impulse (I didn’t give myself life so I don’t think it’s mine to throw away) but analogous, rather, to having made elaborate preparations and large sacrifices to attend a party which turns out, upon your arrival, to be excruciatingly boring and not worth a fraction of what you had to give up to attend. The fact that you have to stay at the party for as long as eighty or ninety years, it seems to me, only emphasizes the level of stupidity inherent in your choice. I’ve been at this party for forty-six years now and I, for one, am more than happy to leave it at any time God sees fit (Anyone you want to say goodbye to? No. Anything you want to take with you? No. Anything you’re going to miss? No.)
In choosing to submit myself to the Will of God and his absolute sovereignty, it occurred to me very early on that Islam was—and is—intended to be more inclusive than it proved to be once the descendants of Abu Sofyan and Hind got a hold of it.
Consider the first of the five pillars of Islam: Acknowledgement of God’s sovereignty and acknowledgement of Muhammad as His prophet. On the face of it, this appears to be “Islamocentric” and implicitly anti-Jewish and/or anti-Christian—and it has certainly been viewed that way for centuries. However, in my view, far from being anti-Christian, it seems to me to pose a very sensible question that Christians seems loathe to address and which I mentioned earlier in this series. Do you not suppose that God has—and had—absolute sovereignty over Jesus and Mary? It seems to me another “0” and “1” question over which Christianity has been tying itself up in theological knots for two thousand years trying to figure out how to make the answer simultaneously “0” ( Because Jesus was God, the question is irrelevant) and “1” (Jesus was a man but co-equivalent with God so Jesus and God were equal). Even if you allow for Jesus being God’s son (which I don’t, but for the sake of argument, let’s discuss the point in purely Christian terms), isn’t a son correctly submissive to the will of his father? I mean, sure, many—if not most—sons aren’t, but isn’t submissiveness to the father’s will the ideal? And isn’t that, according to the Gospels, exactly what Jesus—both the Synoptic Jesus and the Jesus of John’s Gospel—spent a great deal of time preaching: that he was doing the Will of his Father, that he was doing the will of He who sent him into the world? Did he ever preach the opposite? That God should submit Himself to the will of Jesus? No, of course not. I do think it unfortunate that the conventional Islamic acknowledgement of God’s sovereignty includes the phrase “and Muhammad is His messenger”. Not because I don’t believe it (I do) but because the phrasing leaves a great deal to be desired, making it sound as if Muhammad was God’s only messenger. Unfortunate, particularly, because Muslims don’t believe that. The Koran explicitly names any number of individuals from the Torah and the Gospels who are included in the ranks of God’s prophets and messengers. At the same time, I can understand that Muslims would be reluctant to modify the first pillar into “There is no God but God and Muhammad is one of His messengers,” because it does seem to, you know, rather blunt the point. In my own prayers, I’ve chosen “There is no God but God and Muhammad is His last messenger and seal of prophets.” I’ve often wondered, how much of a problem would that be for Jews and Christians to incorporate into their own faith? For an Orthodox Jew, as an example, would acknowledgement that Muhammad was God’s last messenger jeopardize their own anticipation of a coming Meshiach? Is Meshiach considered to be in the same category of prophet as Isaiah or Jeremiah, or does the mere fact of his exalted status take him out of the realm of the prophets and into the sort of realm occupied by Jesus in Christianity? And even leaving aside the “last” messenger part, after fourteen hundred years, don’t even Orthodox Jews acknowledge that Muhammad was a prophet of God? For a Fundamentalist Christian does the fact that Jesus has promised to return on the Last Day allow for Muhammad’s acknowledgement as God’s last messenger and seal of prophets? Or could it be acknowledged because, indisputably—in this world—Jesus lived six centuries before Muhammad’s time? For me, of course, describing Muhammad as God’s “last messenger” causes no problem at all. Of all the pivotal figures in the histories of Judaism, Christianity and Islam since 632, the nearest that I could see as being in the category of a messenger of God would be Martin Luther. And in the case of Martin Luther, I think it indisputable that—in calling into question the corruption that had been perpetrated against the Word of God by the degraded papacy of the Middle Ages—while he exhibited great bravery and profound faith in the face of nearly universal opposition and personal peril, he didn’t per se bring anything new to the monotheistic table. There is no “Gospel of Martin Luther,” no additional Book which has been “sent down” that could be considered comparable to the Bible and the Koran. Unless you consider the Book of Mormon canonical, which I very much don’t.
Two of Islam’s five pillars, prayer and fasting in the sacred month of Ramadan, are bound inextricably together in my own perceptions because the first time I tried praying five times a day was during my first Ramadan fast in 1999, so I’d like to address the two of them together:
If you’ll recall, way, way, back at the beginning of this series of essays (back when the earth was, as it were, still cooling) it was my dissatisfying experience with the Anglican Church and the consequent sense of “something missing” when I stopped going to church which first led me to consider “fasting in the sacred month”. If you’ll also recall, praying five times a day seemed to me—as I contemplated fasting in Ramadan (particularly with the ritual ablutions, change of clothing, etc.)—excessive. What I anticipated with praying five times a day was that it would have the character of a marathon, an endurance rally. I assumed that, in this, it would have much in common with getting up at 8:30 every Sunday morning to put on a suit-and-tie and to struggle off to church (at first, through the always unpredictable Canadian winter wonderland and, subsequently, to sit in that same suit-and-tie for an hour and a half during the sweltering summer months in a church that wasn’t air conditioned) to listen to homey little stories about mum, dad and the kids. That is, I considered fasting in the sacred month would be the same as I assumed all religious activities were: largely unpleasant rituals through which (if you weren’t a mum, a dad or a kid) you gritted your teeth, sucked it up, bit the bullet, etc. etc. I thought that unpleasantness was the point of religious activities. Much to my surprise, what I had expected to be an ordeal turned out to be anything but. In fact, for me, it served to clarify very vividly the difference between “0” reality life and “1” Reality life. Not that I noticed it at the time. At the time, it just seemed an unexpected bonus that what I had thought was going to be an ordeal had turned out to be not that difficult, that I was going to be able to manage the thirty days of praying and fasting with far less effort and exertion than I thought would be required. I had also given up caffeine, alcohol, meat, dairy products and masturbation for the sacred month. If you had asked me when I began that first Ramadan fast whether I would make it through the thirty days, the answer, honestly, would have been “no”. My thought in starting the fast was that I would give it a try and see how far I could get. I hoped I could make it through two weeks and I hoped that I would try again the following year and keep trying until I made it through the whole thirty days—and (crucially) that I would then be able to make it through the full thirty days in the years following. Ever since I began reading the Bible six years ago, I have never wanted to “take a step down,” that is, to set myself to doing something, to do it for a while and then let it slide, as had happened with my church attendance. Having resolved to become a genuine church-goer, I was (to say the least) not terribly impressed that I had only made it through six months. If you had asked me during the first two weeks of my first Ramadan fast what I was thinking about, the answer would have been “an ice-cold beer and a cheeseburger”. That, to me, was the point of the fast—NOT doing things and how LONG I could not do them.
It wasn’t until December of 2000 and my second Ramadan fast that—much to my own amusement—I could remember the first couple of days of my first experience with any clarity. The first couple of days, cranky about having to get up well before dawn to have something to eat and then being unable to eat or drink for the rest of the day, by the time the sun was going down, filled with bitterness and resentment…
[Let me interrupt myself to include a news item from Cairo
which made me
chuckle during last year’s Ramadan, “23
die in car crashes linked to Ramadan fast”:
“Twenty-three people died in two
automobile accidents near Cairo in
incidents attributed to speeding at sunset just before the end of the
fast, police said yesterday. Seventeen
were killed and 13 injured when two cars collided on Wednesday near
140 km south of
…at this hard, hard Islamic row I had to hoe (poor me!). As I usually do, I would buy my dinner on the way home. And what I would buy would be three desserts. Three non-chocolate (no caffeine!) things made up of various kinds of sugar and varieties of fat in a variety of shapes—layer upon layer—which I would devour in several large bites the minute (c’mon. C’MON!) the sun had dipped below the horizon. And with a (Hah! THERE!) sense that a certain amount of Justice had been restored to the universe, I would sulk off to bed. A couple of days of that brought about the anatomical repercussion you would expect (GAH! POOR ME!) and then I switched to dried fruit, salads, and things of that kind. The interesting thing was that—having completely forgotten what those first couple of days of my first fast had been like—the following year, I did the same thing! And it wasn’t until the expected anatomical repercussion hit a second time that I remembered, Oh, right. This. I did this last year, too, didn’t I? Now, the reason that I forgot about it by the second year was that the difference in quality between praying and fasting in Ramadan in the second week as compared to the first couple of days was like the difference between night and day. Not only did the fasting and praying become easier, but everything became easier. My stamina increased dramatically, all my little aches and pains vanished, I slept soundly straight through the night, I awoke refreshed and eager to go to work, I was more alert, I was more patient, crises great and small had no impact on me whatsoever. Walking felt like gliding, a sensation which I hadn’t experienced since I was about ten years old. “I remember being like this,” I kept thinking, “I remember my life feeling like this: before I had experienced masturbation, before I had experienced sex, before I had experienced drugs, before I had experienced alcohol.” (I was also aware that my newly recovered state was the one that I had wanted masturbation, sex, drugs and alcohol to return me to). What was interesting was that—when the thirty days of my first Ramadan fast was up, I didn’t want to stop. Having dreaded fasting, I now found myself dreading not fasting. My stamina won’t be as great! My aches and pains are going to come back! I won’t sleep as soundly! I won’t be as refreshed in the morning! I won’t be as alert! I actually kept going for about another week-and-a-half (and found out later that that’s something of a “no-no” in Islam) and expected that I would, you know, crash. Like coming down off of acid (which was the closest analogous experience—in terms of profound impact—which I had to compare it to). But, of course, fasting in Ramadan comes very much from the other side of reality—that is, from Reality—so there was no crash. What I did experience was comparable to having spent a month with my head above water—having been previously unaware that my head and the rest of me had been underwater for more than thirty years. As I ate my first food during daylight hours, ate my first roast beef sandwich, my first chocolate chip cookie, drank my first beer, each event pulled my head a little further down until I was living underwater again, which—over a period of a week or two—seemed strange and then just seemed to be the way that I had always been. Drinking beer gradually ceased to be this peculiar activity—where I had to keep reminding myself of what (exactly) the theory was behind drinking a liquid which had, at essence, “gone bad” (and tasted like it)—and, gradually, became again this thing that seemed to be a really good idea, particularly after a long week where I had all of these, you know, aches and pains and I wasn’t, you know, sleeping well and there were all these, you know, big and little crises that, you know, “got” to me.
After several days (or perhaps a week of two) of reacquainting myself with “underwater” life, it became apparent to me that, once more, in my life there was “something missing”. Clearly, what was missing was the purer state which I had experienced during my Ramadan fast which (however) kept bumping up against my certainty that I was not intended—it was not God’s Will—that I would live that way. The purer state which I had experienced had begun to erode almost immediately after the formal end of Ramadan (in early January that year). Whatever the reason for that erosion, it existed outside of my ability to comprehend it, like an unwritten law having greater force that any written law. It took me a while to consider the idea that I might actually begin praying five times a day simply as a way of life, the way of my life (I had returned to only reciting my prayer in the morning after getting ready for work and in the evening just before bed) as a way of filling that “something missing” hole in my world. It was an interesting experience making my series of choices—choosing not to perform the ritual ablutions, not to change clothing, to not observe the specific Muslim prayer times (calibrated to the minute: the sheet of Ramadan prayer times I had received from Reflections on Islam were for “Toronto and Vicinity” and noted that to each prayer time in Guelph you should add 3 minutes, in Hamilton 2 minutes, in London 8 minutes, in Waterloo 4 minutes. The beginning of Ramadan is also “subject to moon sighting,” that is subject to the sighting of the full moon by Muslim authorities. Even though, in the 20th century, we know—to the minute—when the moon becomes “full” in any geographic location on the globe, Islam still takes into consideration that if God chooses another time, just this once, we must be prepared) but to pray, instead, at the approximate times of Fajr, pre-dawn—described in the Koran as the hour in which it first becomes possible, by natural light, to discern the difference between a white and a black thread (which is undoubtedly the case in the Arabian Peninsula but, trust me, that at 5:56 am in Canada in December it is impossible, by natural light, to differentiate between one’s hand in front of one’s face and, say, the bottom of a mine-shaft, let alone a white and a black thread)—Zuhr, noon-time, Asr, mid-afternoon, Maghrib, sunset and Isha, evening, when the last traces of sunset have faded. And so that was what I did. Of course my Fajr prayers soon slipped from “pre-dawn” to “dawn” to “close-to-dawn” to “morning” (and, on Saturday mornings, after being out until 2 am, “mid-morning”) on the rare occasions where I have some kind of social engagement where I’m apt to have a glass of wine or two, I compress Asr, Maghrib and Isha into early afternoon, mid-afternoon and late afternoon. The further I get from Ramadan in the calendar the more…flexible…my prayer-times become, the more I am apt to stretch three beers on Friday night into five beers (and maybe a shot of Jack Daniel’s) (or two). At the halfway point (right around now, in fact) I begin to develop a genuine longing for Ramadan—the ritual ablutions, the change of clothing, the specific prayer times, the day-long fasts—and the giant Muslim NO! sign which is, by my own choice, attached to it. Thirty days, once a year, where I no longer have to ask myself if two coffees are too many, if I’ve been eating too much chocolate, if I’ve been eating too much meat, eating too few vegetables, masturbating too often, ogling too many pretty young girls. For thirty days, by choice, I take those decisions out of my own hands and (two weeks in) begin to re-experience who it is that I actually am, under all these layers of small, creeping vices and their attendant rationalisations, and their attendant rationalisations’ levels of attendant anxieties, and their attendant anxieties’ levels of spiritual “discomfitedness”? You know, that stuffy feeling, the feeling as if your skin is on too tight? Yes, exactly. That feeling that you’re probably, as a North American or European, feeling right now. That feeling that has made pharmaceuticals, recreational drugs, pornography, self-help books and holistic medicine the multi-to-the-nth-power-billion-dollar industries which they are today. Ramadan which, for me, is now and (inshallah) in all the years which remain of my life indisputably “home base,” the way of thinking and the state to which I return once a year. Because there is no better experience, to me, than to experience being ten years old again at the age of forty-six.
Anyway, it has occurred to me, over the course of three fasts in the sacred month—speaking as someone who has studied Judaism, Christianity and Islam—that the five pillars of Islam seem to offer the greatest ecumenical possibilities of the three monotheistic religions. That is, I think Jews and Christians could both observe at least four of the five pillars, while leaving every other element of Judaism and Christianity intact and unchanged. Although Islam prohibits the consumption of alcohol, the prohibition of the consumption of alcohol is not one of the five pillars.
Of the two remaining pillars, the zakat, of course, I have addressed on several previous occasions and I still consider it to be an inherently good idea for each individual to contribute 2.5% of his or her accumulated wealth to feeding the poor in his or her city, town or region. I also don’t think (I may be wrong) it should be that terribly difficult, in the ecumenical spirit in which I’m discussing these issues, to get synagogues and churches to agree to institute the zakat. Or for secular humanists to go along with it, for that matter. It probably is…terribly difficult, I mean. But I honestly can’t see a good reason why it should be.
Coincidentally, the remaining pillar, the hajj—the pilgrimage to Mecca—was the subject of one of my few direct contacts with the Muslim world, a letter which I wrote to the host of Reflections on Islam, Ezz E. Gadd (who frequently answers viewers’ questions on the air). Essentially, what I asked was: speaking as a person who believes in God’s sovereignty, who believes that Muhammad was His last messenger and seal of Prophets, who prays five times daily, who pays the stated alms and who fasts in Ramadan, but who also believes that Judaism and Christianity are completely valid faiths in their present form, would I be considered a Muslim, insofar as making the hajj was concerned? And if not, by whose authority would Mr. Gadd claim that I wasn’t?
(I am an incorrigible troublemaker: it interests me to take questions from other monotheistic debates and apply them to other situations: in this case freely adapting the Scribes’ and Pharisees’ question to the Synoptic Jesus when they asked “by whose authority” he healed the blind, the lame and the lepers. His reply, of course was that he would answer their question if they would answer a question of his own, as to whether the Scribes and Pharisees believed that John the Baptist’s ministry was divinely inspired or purely an “earthly” preaching. As the Synoptic Gospels tell us, the Scribes and Pharisees declined to answer because they knew that John was almost universally regarded by the people as a Prophet and they feared a backlash if they said that his was an earthly ministry—and they couldn’t say his ministry was divinely inspired because the obvious question would be, Well, why didn’t you follow him, then? When they said, “We cannot tell,” Jesus basically said, “Then I cannot tell either by whose authority I do these things.” Which got him out of a jam, no question, but which doesn’t really add up in any logically sequential fashion—unless you draw the inference that what the Synoptic Jesus was saying was, “We’re both working the same side of the street. You guys are afraid of the people if you tell the truth and I’m afraid of you if I tell the truth”—but, then, that’s the Synoptic Jesus for you.)
The correct Muslim answer to my question (which I already knew, so I don’t know why I asked it) was that Mr. Gadd’s authority—as it is the authority for all theological Muslim answers to theological Muslim questions is “sacred scriptures and prophetic traditions”. As I’ve already said, I can go along with the sacred scripture part—the Koran—but “prophetic traditions” always sets off alarm bells and warning flags for me. A “prophetic tradition” that can be directly traced to Abu Bakr or Omar? I think I could bring myself to granting that authority. A “prophetic tradition” that began with Moawia or any of the other hereditary caliphs descended from Abu Sofyan and Hind? There, I would have a problem.
I was surprised and rather pleased when I got a phone call from Reflections on Islam telling me that my letter had been selected to be read and answered on the air the following Sunday. I was even more surprised when I watched the program and found out that Mr. Gadd’s answer (based on “sacred scriptures and prophetic traditions”) was yes, I would be considered a Muslim and could thus enter the sacred precincts and perform the rituals of the hajj. Obviously, it was the answer I wanted but (no big surprise, knowing me) once I had it, I found that I disagreed with it. Perhaps I idealize Islam a bit much, but I do tend to think that unless I was very clear in my own mind that I was never going to touch a drop of alcohol again for the rest of my life (I like to say that I am at least three beers a week away from being a good Muslim) and unless I regularly went to the mosque in Waterloo and prayed in the prescribed Muslim fashion, in my own view, I had no business venturing anywhere near the sacred precincts of Mecca. Of course, a year or so ago my parents took me to a restaurant that is run by a Muslim family (my parents having mentioned that their son was fasting in Ramadan, the family was eager to see this North American freak of nature for themselves) and I asked one of the sons (who was a waiter) if he had ever performed the hajj and he smiled and said, “No, not yet. I haven’t committed enough sins.” I burst out laughing. It’s believed that after executing all the prescribed rituals of the hajj, the pilgrim returns home as cleansed of his sins as a newborn baby. My idea of Islam doesn’t include putting off the hajj until later in life so you can get enough sins “under your belt” to make it worth the airfare. I’m sure, just given basic human nature, that he’s not the only Muslim that looks at it that way. And, perhaps, by that very human standard, I would qualify as a Muslim. So, assuming that Mr. Gadd was correct and his view would be shared by (gulp) Saudi immigration officials and (gulp gulp) the guardians of the sacred precincts—and I’m not correct—then even the fifth pillar of Islam is open to a much wider ecumenical interpretation than my own.
What I’m driving at (in my usual long-winded
fashion) is that—so far as
I can see—the conversion of the world to Islam is really not all that unattainable, depending on how
you examine the logistics of the problem.
It is unattainable right now, sure, particularly in the
“Mr. Bush was telling us what is a martyr…God forbids
Bush from telling us who is a martyr.”
An unnamed Jordanian imam quoted
in the New York Times, reacting to
President Bush’s assertion that “suicide
bombers are murderers, not martyrs.”
“A group like al-Qaeda cannot be deterred or placated or
reasoned with at a conference table. For that reason,
this struggle will not end with a treaty or accommodation
of terrorists. It can only end in their complete and
U.S. Vice-President, Dick Cheney
What I think needs to be recalled in the Western Democracies is what, exactly, is it that we are in favour of?—what, specifically, is it that separates us from Wahabite Muslims?—what is it that we are willing to fight for and, if need be, to die for in the War on Terrorism? We have become such purists in the field of human freedoms that it is difficult to not view ourselves as nations which have simply eroded into a grey, squishy philosophical pudding that believes that everything is okay, really it is. It doesn’t matter what it is, we agree with it. 11 September put an end to that perception of ourselves. It seems to me that what we, the Western Democracies, believe in is the freedom to choose and our belief that the freedom of the individual to choose must supersede the freedom of the state—or any governing authority—to infringe upon that freedom without a valid, demonstrable, logic-based cause. Thus, we, the Western Democracies believe in the freedom of the individual to participate in a religion and the freedom to practice that religion. We also believe in the freedom of an individual to not participate in a religion and the freedom to not practice a religion (which was a nuance, admittedly, rather late in arriving at the forefront of our consciousness: through the long centuries where we, the Western Democracies, were more aptly described as “Christendom,” with all the deplorable suppressions and oppressions of people’s freedoms and unwarranted exaltations of our own preferred worship that—for the better part of two millennia—that implied). Where the clash of civilizations between the Western Democracies and fundamentalist Islam takes place, now, is that fundamentalist Islam holds that it, Islam, supersedes the freedom of the state—any state (in exactly the way that we, the Western Democracies, view the rights of the individual to supersede the freedom of the state) because to Islamic fundamentalists, Islam represents the Will of God. L’état, c’est Dieu, in a manner of speaking. Those states which are not Muslim states are considered by fundamentalist Islam to be infidel states which must be overthrown if Islam is to achieve what fundamentalist Islam believes to be the motivating force behind Islam: the belief that it is God’s intention that the entire world must—and will—one day convert to Islam. Clearly, this represents a fundamental disagreement, a “deal breaker” between Islam and the Western Democracies writ large and—so long as a significant portion of the Muslim world adheres to this view and endeavours to bring about just such a fulfilment by whatever means it deems necessary, well, the inescapable conclusion, in my view would have to be:
“Of course, you realize this means WAR!”
Yes, the classic Groucho Marx/Bugs Bunny
line—which is only funny,
really, in peacetime and only to those who, in peacetime, are seduced
thus, hold firmly to the view that war can never be regarded as an inevitable outcome but only as the
result of a failure of good will, a failure to communicate with
eloquence a desire for peace or (as is the popularly held view in our
age) as the result of a failure to properly curtail masculine
aggression. And yet
situations do exist where war becomes
German invasion of
To me, what is essential is for the Western Democracies to
their resolve in this situation, that Wahabite Islam is completely
as a religious faith practiced by ascetic and devout individuals and is
completely unacceptable as the foundation for attacking civilian
democratic countries. We
ourselves to take a hard line on these issues and to maintain that hard
line. The peril
represented by the least
“softness” on Wahabite Islam or allowing the
perception to take hold that
“softness” on Wahabite Islam is even a remote
future possibility is—post-11
September—just too terrible to contemplate.
The biggest danger that I foresee as events unfold is
feminism and the feminizing of the Western Democracies which
not coincidentally) has experienced its least success in the
So far, the
the planes that were hijacked and flown into the World Trade Center
had been hijacked by members of the Irish Republican Army, all of whom
trained in Ireland and had been living in West Germany, Spain, the
States, England and France up until 11 September, I would think it only
sensible that every guy with an “O” and an
apostrophe at the front of his last
name or an Irish passport or an Irish accent or who was arriving on a
from Belfast would reasonably have
expect to be subject to increased airport security, surveillance and
scrutiny. It also
seems to me that—if
the government of Ireland had expressed as little contrition and
little blame and was as unforthcoming in assisting the United States in
investigating the perpetrators of the crime, their organizations and
associates as Saudi Arabia has been since 11 September—that
would more than
justify—would, in fact, make mandatory—the erosion
of the human rights of all
Irish nationals living in the United States for a period of time that
(again, in my view) justifiably
remain…fluid…until such time as the conditions
of war (and I’m sure the United States would have declared
war on the Irish
Republican Army) changed. Changed,
and foremost, in response to the collective will of “We, the
People” in the
can hear rumblings in the [
need to keep fighting against profiling…People say profiling
makes them feel like criminals. It does—I know this
firsthand. But would that I had been made to feel like a criminal
a thousand times than to live to see the grisly handiwork of real
Arab-American Tarek Masoud
in The Wall Street Journal
Why is it that that contrition, that acceptance of blame,
assistance—ten months later—is still
not forthcoming from
I think it is worth considering that there is easily as much—and actually a great deal more—fear of Wahabite Islam among the hierarchies of the Arab dictatorships than there is in the Western Democracies. I believe that that fear is so pronounced and so desperate that it supersedes all other diplomatic and international considerations by a wide margin—among the Arab dictatorships, in the Palestinian Authority, at OPEC. The militant, terrorist Wahabite Muslims and their derivative incarnations—whether one is discussing al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Hamas, Hezbolleh, Islamic Jihad or the others—have one thing in common. They are certifiably insane, in the exact way that the Nazis were certifiably insane: their perceptions of right and wrong are so skewed as to place them beyond the pale of reasoned discourse. Like the Nazis, none of them represent a national majority, and, like the Nazis, where they have been granted influence or where they have seized power they ruthlessly pursue a course of wanton destruction. Like the Nazis, they blame the Jews for their every misfortune. Like the Nazis, they are convinced that nothing will end their misfortune but the utter destruction of the Jews. Like the Nazis, their first recourse is always violence and bloodshed. Like the Nazis, it is impossible to appease them. Like the Nazis, whatever level of appeasement is offered them is viewed by them as a “gimme,” as a “freebie” which they are happy to accept…sequentially, successively and incrementally. Unlike the Nazis, they do not (I don’t believe) accept the fact that at some point efforts to appease them will come to an end (in the sense that I do believe that Hitler understood that at some point he would no longer be ceded territory and would be forced to use whatever territory, power and influence had been ceded to him as a staging area for military, rather than diplomatic, conquest). Unlike the five years in which Europe’s Great Democracies endeavoured to appease Hitler, the appeasement of Wahabite Islam has been the misguided policy of the Arab world for decades—if not, arguably, for centuries. And unlike the Nazis, the Wahabite Muslim belief that they are “striving in the path of God” and that their murder of women, children, babies and the elderly is mandated by God supersedes nationality, national interest and simple territorial ambitions.
It is that level of insanity, and that level of cold-blooded violence which, in my view, engenders and has engendered an almost unimaginable level of fear among non-Wahabite Muslims. I think that what we will see in the coming months and years, is a gradual recognition among non-Wahabite Muslims that the Muslim fear of Wahabite Muslims is no more valid, has no greater basis in reality than the fear that the German people had of the Nazis, or the fear that the inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza have of Yasser Arafat and his “security forces,” of Hamas, of Hezbolleh, of Islamic Jihad. They are thugs, pure and simple. As the Taliban and al-Qaeda are thugs, pure and simple. The elimination of a thug is purely a matter of identification and the application of superior force of the kind the United States demonstrated in Afghanistan and which Israel is now demonstrating in the West Bank (having taken into account the inescapable price of a temporary world-wide escalation of anti-Semitism): that it possesses the superior force and the national will to use it against Yasser Arafat’s “security forces” and against the terrorist organizations which have gotten by for too long on the illusion that they, too, possess firepower comparable to that of the world community.
Of course there is also the insular nature of Islam itself, which takes justifiable pride in being the recipient of God’s Last Revelation to the World (a pride comparable to Christians with their New, Improved Testament) but which tends also to a disproportionate sense of self-importance in more…temporal…matters (the Jordanian imam quoted above, telling the President of the United States that God forbids him to decide who is and who is not a martyr is an example of this syndrome) particularly where Islam, a Muslim nation or a Muslim individual is involved. If an accurate perception of the severe limitations of Islamic firepower isn’t actively demonstrated on an on-going basis, Muslims will retreat at the first opportunity to a wholly inaccurate perception of themselves and their opponents. Along that line, it was with no small measure of amusement—on the occasion of Colin Powell’s last tour of the Middle East—that I read the National Post headline, “U.S. credibility collapsing, Saudi Prince tells Powell”. This, you will recall, came shortly after U.S. Vice President Cheney had returned from a comparable tour of the region. I suspect that—knowing Secretary Powell’s dove-ish inclinations—the Vice President said, “Mr. President, why don’t you have Mr. Powell go over and talk to some of these…fellows. I think he’d find it very…enlightening.”
after Mr. Powell was asked icily by Moroccan King Mohammed why he had
headed straight to
I’m just guessing, but I suspect the Vice President found the progressively more glazed look and artificial smile in the news photos of the Secretary of State’s face as his Middle Eastern tour proceeded confirmation that Mr. Powell had been as thoroughly…enlightened…as had the Vice President before him. Something along the lines of, “What in the HELL are these people TALKING about? We just KICKED THE TALIBAN’S ASS around the block in FIVE WEEKS without breaking a SWEAT! We had more JOURNALIST casualties than MILITARY casualties! That sounds pretty damned CREDIBLE to ME!”
Powell has, this year, made a much bigger issue of the State
rights reports and has been willing to say aloud—about the
Uzbeki regime of
Islam Karimov, for instance—things no
In announcing the Secretary of State’s mission,
President Bush, in a
White House Rose Garden speech, 4 April, had said, “America
former adversaries as trusted friends—Germany, Japan and now
Russia. Conflict is
not inevitable. Distrust
need not be permanent. Peace
is possible when we break free of old
patterns and habits of hatred.”
language was perhaps too diplomatic for the occasion or perhaps it was
after the U.S.’s overwhelming military victory in Afghanistan
or perhaps it was
a little of both, but for anyone willing to read the
President’s words with
their eyes open, the writing was clearly on the wall:
Germany, prior to becoming a trusted American
ally, had needed to be purged of fascism and (unfortunate, but
breaks) that had required that the country be crushed militarily. Japan, prior to becoming a
ally had needed to be purged of quasi-religious Imperialist pretensions
world conquest and (unfortunate, but them’s the breaks) that
had required the
country to be subjected to atomic bombing.
In my opinion, we are at the point where the U.S. State Department may finally have recognized what most right wingers—and even such notables on the “other team” as Nathan Sharansky, the Russian dissident—have been saying for some time: no progress is possible in the Middle East until the Arab countries democratize. If this seems unlikely, then I think it worth considering what (unless I miss my guess) the U.S. approach will be: to militarily impose a regime change in the least democratic of the Arab nations (in the American view, Iraq—I’d say Syria, myself, but, hey, it’s American ordinance, American military personnel and American tax dollars so, Iraq it is) in a conflict comparable to the war in Afghanistan, allowing for a war, say, five times the duration (that is, six months) and, say, ten times the American casualties (eighty, maybe ninety) to be followed by international assistance in the development of democratic structures and institutions while also allowing the U.S. time to (you know) reload and while they’re (you know) reloading, to give the other Arab dictators time to (you know) mull things over and see if some or (heck) even all of them might just be able to see their way clear to maybe doing a little Wahabite-ectomy on themselves before the Americans, once they’re (you know) finished…reloading…end up having to decide for themselves who the next Arab dictatorship is that needs a little (you know) radical surgery in the interest of its own (you know) long-term health requirements.