Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Does Moderate Islam Exist?

There’s a widespread belief that the solution to fundamentalist Islam is moderate Islam. Lawrence Auster extensively addresses this issue in a debate with Daniel Pipes. Auster notes, “To say that moderate Islam is the solution to radical Islam implies several things: that moderate Islam exists; that it represents the true (though perhaps currently disregarded) norm of Islam; and that radical Islam is a departure from that norm.” It’s clear that many Muslims are indeed moderate. But is it because the practice something called Moderate Islam? Auster is skeptical: “It's not just that the supposed moderate majority is really an indifferent or weak voice within Islam. It's that moderate Islam may not even exist in any meaningful sense.” On second thought he concludes, “… it's not just that moderate Islam does not presently exist in any meaningful form. It's that moderate Islam cannot exist.”

He believes Mr. Pipes’ Moderate Islam is only an aspiration – not a reality. Auster: “Pipes's meaning is undeniable: moderate Islam does not now exist. It must be created. Moreover, it can only be created by means of renouncing that which Islam has always been. But, on those terms, can the result still be Islam?” For Auster the problem is: “The fundamental point is that Islam cannot reform itself in any lasting way, because Islam has no source of authority apart from the Koran. In any debate between hard-liners and putative moderates, the hard-liners will have the Koran on their side and will ultimately win the debate.”

Much of the argument for the existence or creation of Moderate Islam is motivated by the fear of an imagined apocalyptic scenario between civilization and Islamic societies. This is putting activism before truth. Facing the truth is the first order of business. The fear of a painful solution cannot legitimately be an excuse to engage in fantasy. Facts must be faced; solutions to the problem are a separate matter. Here Auster wisely reaches for the wisdom of Bat Ye’or:
Bat Ye'or, author of The Decline of Eastern Christianity under Islam and the soon-to-be published Eurabia, has said that our aim as Westerners should not be to save the soul of Islam but to save ourselves, our values, and our civilization. The approach she urges is primarily intellectual: we must stop closing our eyes to the reality of jihad, stop blaming ourselves for Muslim terrorism, and stop imposing crippling taboos on our own speech. Instead, we must openly discuss the Muslims' jihadist beliefs, both among ourselves and with the Muslims. This would force them to face the truth about themselves, which in turn might bring about a positive alteration in their outlook and demands. An unstated premise of Bat Ye'or's argument is that Muslims cannot change themselves. We must help them do it—or rather, we must put them in a position where they will have no choice but to moderate their own attitudes and behavior toward us. Bullies respect strength.
Auster ends his series of articles with his recommendations for action which are beyond the scope of this article.

Dr. Pipes responds here: “Islam can be whatever Muslims wish to make of it. … The religion has changed momentously in the past and surely will continue to do so. … Muslim views [of the Koran] have changed in the past and continue to do so.” Pipes is more concern with the demographic group Muslims than the religious philosophy of Islam: “I reply that my study is not of Islam the faith but of Muslims in history.” Auster’s policy recommendations, Pipes notes, “differ surprisingly little from my own.”

I replied that Pipes’ view (Islam is whatever Muslims want it to be) is pure nominalism. “But this is to obliterate the religion's identity. … [it] is nominalism and it undermines all conceptual knowledge. … For the religion to have an identity there has to be an essence – some enduring core of beliefs and practices.” I conclude: “However, you are right, there are moderate Muslims (yes, most are). But they don't become moderate by practicing something call "moderate Islam." They become moderate by being lax or lapsed for one reason or another. If we sometimes use the word "Muslim" in a demographic sense (my almanac says 99.8% of Turks are Muslim) we should not confuse that with a practitioner of Islam – one who takes seriously his duty to wage jihad on the Infidel. The demographic sense is a virtually meaningless secondary sense that is derivative in nature. Islam, the ideology and associated practice, transcends the failure of Muslims to practice their religion.”

Auster agrees and quotes my rather harsh comments on Front Page Magazine: “'Pipes is correct that Auster thinks in essentials (it's called conceptual reasoning, Dan). Pipes is obviously a nominalist: words can mean anything we want them to.'" I currently believe that Pipes is taking an anthropological-type approach that is descriptive of the demographic group we call Muslims and their history. I agree that Muslims went through periods of being moderate or at least they abandoned active engagement in jihad. However, this is not due to the practice of another version of Islam – Moderate Islam – but merely the failure to practice the religion in a vital manner. I even suggest this is the optimal outcome, i.e. stop practicing Islam.

Why isn’t this Moderate Islam? There is a vast difference between the failure to practice one’s religion and practicing a new transformed version of an old religion. Being lax is being in default of one religion’s demands. It means failing to confront the religion’s odious elements and solidifying a new belief system. It leaves open the possibility of the religion’s revival and leaves one impotent to intellectually fight the retrogression into barbarity.

For a new version of a religion, a major change is generally achieved or solidified by extensive doctrinal exposition by a least one major theologian who presents a new vision, synthesis, or weighting of the original elements. If a significant portion of the original religion needs to be marginalized, motivation must be presented. We see major changes in Christianity by Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, and Wesley. Jesus was a major reformer of the Jewish religion and Paul’s writings helped to solidify these changes into the new religion of Christianity.

Where are the major texts and writers of Moderate Islam? What were the changes and how does one condemn Mohammad’s martial legacy? Who refutes the militants and on what grounds? What new general principle replaces Islamic supremacy with a universalist ethical orientation - one that puts every human being on an equal basis?

Aspirations for Moderate Islam generally assume that Islam can embrace reason in human affairs just as Christians generally have. We will consider that possibility in a future article. Moderate Islam does not now exist and we must first deal with today’s reality.

PS (12:45pm edit) Robert Spencer has an interesting link on this topic. Also, both Auster and I hold Mr. Pipes in the highest of esteem for his seminal work of militant Islam. Daniel Pipes and Lawrence Auster maintain their own websites. In today’s New York Sun, Pipes explains that Islam is the motivation of the terrorists. Compare his recent article with this.

9 Comments:

Blogger Shah Alexander said...

Thank you for your comment to my blog the other day. I often hear this kind of argument these days. I feel it something understandable. The Islam-West clash seems to be somewhat similar to the Japan-Asia (China and Korea, particularly) clash. Hatred and jealous are deeply imprinted on their mind.

However, if there are no moderatre Muslim, is the idea of Middle East democracy an illusion? This is vital to US foreign policy.

7/26/05, 10:42 AM  
Blogger Always On Watch said...

Jason,
At last, I'm finding time to explore this postings, including the links you've provided. As Beak says, moderation in Islam is a moot point. One thing, however, is certain: for centuries, Islam has been resistant to moderation, and attempts at moderation and rational dialogue have brought forth cries of apostasy--even in the direction of Turkey, which is considered questionable because of its abandonment of the caliphate. As you put it, "For a new version of a religion, a major change is generally achieved or solidified by extensive doctrinal exposition by a least one major theologian who presents a new vision, synthesis, or weighting of the original elements." Are those processes happening? I don't think so.

I agree with the Beak when he says "Until we in the West demand that brutality , terrorism and repression end it won't."

Shah asks, "[I]f there are no moderatre Muslim, is the idea of Middle East democracy an illusion?" Western democracy in the Middle East is an illusion, I believe. However, just yesterday on MSNBC, Dr. Phares stated that there are Muslims who would support a form of democracy. Like you, Jason, I somehow feel that those Muslims are lapsed Muslims, possibly Muslims who see that their culture is on the path to self-destruction.

Like you, I have respect for Daniel Pipes, and he is certainly an expert in exposing militant Islam. I fear, however, that his dream of moderate Islam is just that--a dream. I put a lot of credence in Warraq's and Sina's words.

7/27/05, 8:06 PM  
Blogger G_in_AL said...

Moderate Muslims exist... they are the ones that do not feel like following ALL the teachings of the Koran. It expressly tells Muslims they must kill (or conquor) non-belivers to please Allah....

How do you deal with that? How do you reason with it? It is a war, there will be a winner and a looser.

Awile back I posted something along these lines. If you want to read it, its HERE.
It pretty much covers most of the things along the same lines as Jason did.

7/29/05, 1:06 PM  
Blogger Dr. T said...

A few notes: if one makes the argument that only lax Moslems are moderate Moslems, then it is difficult at best to not also conclude that lax Christianity is only lax Christianity. In fact, I would make all the same arguments regarding moderate Christianity being lax Christianity that was made in regards to moderate Islam. At the same time, there is more than a hint of ahistorical thinking in regards to moderate Islam -- the Golden Age of Islam was one of what almost anyone could consider to be moderate thinking, and occured at the same time that Christianity had plunged Europe into the Dark Ages. Islam exited the Golden Age when it rejected philosophy (especially Plato and Aristotle), while Europe entered the Renaissance when it began investigating the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle in more depth. It in no way hurt that what the Moslems considered a minor barbarian invasion into a small part of its lands was the Crusades for Europe, and introduced Europe to new ideas and goods.

But more, I know many moderate Moslems. North Africa is full of them, as is Turkey and southeast Asia. That constitutes the vast majoity of Moslems. The Wahabbi sect, which is a radical (and ahistorical) interpretation of the Koran is what is causing most of the trouble -- and it is the state religion of Saudi Arabia, where it just happens that the holiest sites of Islam are located. Back luck for the religion, it seems to me. But all the Moslems I know are eminently reasonable people, who are more interested in the historical intentions of Mohammed, and wish to continue developing socially in the spirit of his teachings. For example, what he said about how to treat women were in the spirit of making life better for them. Some have used what he said to oppress women, but others understand what Mohammed's intentions were, and have used his teaching for inspiration to make life better for women (again, one sees this most in North Africa). THe former group make the same mistake as fundamentalist Christians in taking a so-called "literal" interpretation. They forget that all text has context -- and it is context that brings us closest to interpreting a text correctly.

7/30/05, 6:32 PM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

Seeing that Jesus was peaceful and Mohammad violent, perhaps we should be worried about Christians being lax and Muslims being devout.

To get a positive comparison for Islam, you hold the bar so low when you compare it to the Dark Ages of Western Europe—doesn’t that say something?

Europe in particular and Christians in general did not lose the Greek philosophers – their works were available in Greek in Constantinople until its fall in 1453. Arab scholars made scientific advances but they could never apply reason to human affairs. Averroes tried! Aquinas succeeded!!

7/31/05, 8:35 AM  
Blogger thinkingoutloud said...

The illusion that this is an Islamic problem is startling. You can find the current Muslim fanaticism in every single religious tradition (and yes Muslims are in their dark ages). It is hypocritical to think otherwise (not to mention dishonest and irrational).

So, what is the problem that exists? If we are to label Islam as the problem than we must label religion as the culprit, all religion. That makes it a different ball game altoghether (I suppose that would make the faithful very uncomfortable right now...I can feel reason slipping away).

Perhaps there is something to be said for ignoring some of the edicts of religious traditions. That's what Christians have done and a modicum of tolerance was born from it (reflect on the reticence towards Martin Luther's virulent anti-semitic teachings or the misogonysm of Augustine).

Either way, if we are going to have this discussion at all than we need to be able to look at the whole picture, including historical. Otherwise it's just another bigoted religious hate fest. The only one left out in the cold is reason.

9/18/06, 11:40 PM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

Of course we do have to look at all religions but we have to look at both their similarities and their differences. As religions, there is a commonality that puts them all in the category, religion. And we have to face the problem of religion in general. Faith, dogma, and authority are inimical to a liberal social order that requires the cultivation of individual judgment and individual initiative based on reason and consent.

The ability of some religions to limit their domain of faith and allow reason to dominate secular affairs depends on the specifics of each religion. Islam has challenges that are greater than many of the other religions because it comes with a built-in political ideology. Indeed, it originated as a political movement, created by a political/military leader bent on conquest and subjugation.

I don’t believe Islam is a suitable candidate for a moderate or limited variant – at least not as a dominant variant maintained on a sustainable basis.

9/19/06, 4:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How can moderate Islam not exist? do people really believe that all muslims are fundamentalists and that every muslim in the world wishes to see the 'infadels' slaughtered? i know people who are Islamic, and the people i have met are not fundamentalists, and open their arms to other people, infadel or not. This proves, to myself at least, moderate islam does indeed exist.

Saying that moderate islam is the same as radical Islam, is like saying regular church going Christians are the same as the KKK- which i some how doubt. because a small percentage of the Islamic population do terrible things, does not mean the entire population does, or even agrees with these practises.

9/1/07, 11:08 PM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

No one disagrees that moderate Muslims exist but it is still debatable whether moderate Islam exists. One can be moderate by either (a) practicing a moderate version of a doctrine or (b) being lax. The slackers don’t define a religion. I know Catholics that don’t go to church or listen to the Pope. That doesn’t mean they practice “moderate Catholicism” where church-going isn’t required and the Pope isn’t an authority. Again: the slackers don’t define a religion.

Of course, you weren’t here to make a serious comment. Your quip about the KKK shows you are merely spamming this website with nonsense.

9/2/07, 9:12 AM  

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