October 27, 2010

Racists vs. reformers on Islam

If you're a bigot like reader Stpehen M., you think Islam is inherently evil. If you're not as blind and unthinking as he is, you understand that repressive regimes are using Islam to maintain their power. It's much the same as how Western monarchies used Christianity for a millennium-plus to legitimize their power and suppress dissent.

This repression tells you little or nothing about the underlying religion. People are perverting the religion--using the contradictions inherent in any thousand-page text--to justify their actions. If you wanted to, you could base a dictatorship on Shakespeare's plays, The Wizard of Oz, or the dictionary as well as the Bible or the Koran.

Some postings address the power struggles within the Islamic world. That is, the power struggles that bigots like Stephen can't or won't talk about because they don't fit the white-Christian supremacy narrative.

Facebook and Muslim Outrage:  Gleaning the Wrong Lesson, Again

By Ramzy BaroudThe likes of Daniel Pipes, Alan Dershowitz, and other "experts" invade our TV screens and take on the responsibility of lecturing the world on Islam. They use the same reductionist and racist language that they have utilized for years in the guise of academic jargon.

Why, though, are these "academics" and "intellectuals" eager to discredit Islam? And why are Muslims playing right into their hands?

It behooves us all to remember that some of those who champion freedom of expression are selective in their advocacy. Freedom of expression becomes important when the holiest symbols of Islam and its Prophet are paraded, ridiculed and stereotyped. However, these very advocates are enraged when the opinions being expressed are inconsistent with their own agenda, which is overtly militant and hegemonic, and refuses to take into consideration any honest opinion on Israel and its war crimes against Palestinians. One needs to repeat the way that the respected South African Judge Richard Goldstone, himself Jewish, was depicted for pointing out the horrendous crimes committed in Gaza during Israel's most recent war. More, these individuals seem completely oblivious when Muslims are denied the right to express their own values. When, for example, was the last time a right-wing fanatic stood up for a Muslim woman's right to cover her hair or face?

It must be stated, however, that discrediting Muslims and Islam is not a random strategy. It is very much in tandem with an overriding agenda that has occupied the thinking of many right-wing and Zionist ideologues for years, especially following the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the rising of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim fervor in various Western countries. The aim is to dehumanize Muslims, to make them seem less civilized, and, thus, less worthy of equal human rights. In other words, Muslims cannot be treated using the same standards that apply to Westerners, because they have failed to subscribe to Western values. The angry protests in Pakistan are supposedly proof of this. This makes war easy and sanctions morally justifiable.

Why are Muslims playing right into this scenario? Actually, they are not, although it would seem otherwise. The fact is, many Muslim nations are caught between two layers of oppressions: that of outsiders--wars and occupation, interference in their countries' affairs, all forms of humiliation and exploitation--and internal pressures--corruption, oppression and denial of rights, including, yes, freedom of expression, speech, assembly and democracy itself.
To Perpetuate Their Dictatorships, Arab Rulers Resort To The Islamic Creed

By Elie ElhadjThese three and other governments in Arab countries use Islam as one of their main pillars for maintaining power. No matter what shortcomings exist in the society, no matter how slow the pace of development, no matter how low living standards, and no matter how often the government fails, the regimes remain in power.

There are, of course, risks in this use of Islam to legitimize authority by promoting a traditional interpretation of that religion. One is that the country's society is more stagnant and its progress even slower. Yet the regimes are ready to accept this cost.

The other is that the very same strategy helps legitimize Islamist movements that want to undermine and overthrow the existing government. The governments try to manage this problem by using ulama supportive of the status quo to issue definitions of Islam in line with the regime's interests. They also run campaigns to distinguish between the "proper" pro-government Islam and "mistaken" Islamist interpretations.

These efforts are not altogether effective. In sum, the regimes are riding a tiger, which provides them with more benefits than costs but which may someday turn against them and devour them.
1977 vs. 1979

By Thomas L. FriedmanIn short, the Middle East we are dealing with today is the product of long-term trends dating back to 1979. And have no illusions, we propelled those trends. America looked the other way when Saudi Arabia Wahabi-fied itself. Ronald Reagan glorified the Afghan mujahedeen and the Europeans hailed the Khomeini revolution in Iran as a “liberation” event.

I believe the only way the forces of 1979 can be rolled back would be with another equally big bang—a new popular movement that is truly reformist, democratizing, open to the world, yet anchored in Muslim culture, not disconnected. Our best hopes are the fragile democratizing trends in Iraq, the tentative green revolution in Iran, plus the young reformers now coming of age in every Arab country. But it will not be easy.

The young reformers today “do not have a compelling story to tell,” remarked Lahcen Haddad, a political scientist at Rabat University in Morocco. “And they face a meta-narrative”—first developed by Nasser and later adopted by the Islamists—“that mobilizes millions and millions. That narrative says: ‘The Arabs and Muslims are victims of an imperialist-Zionist conspiracy aided by reactionary regimes in the Arab world. It has as its goal keeping the Arabs and Muslims backward in order to exploit their oil riches and prevent them from becoming as strong as they used to be in the Middle Ages—because that is dangerous for Israel and Western interests.’”

Today that meta-narrative is embraced across the Arab-Muslim political spectrum, from the secular left to the Islamic right. Deconstructing that story, and rebuilding a post-1979 alternative story based on responsibility, modernization, Islamic reformation and cross-cultural dialogue, is this generation’s challenge. I think it can happen, but it will require the success of the democratizing self-government movements in Iran and Iraq. That would spawn a whole new story.
Comment:  For more on Stephen's views, see Islamophobia Just Like Stephen's and Stephen's Bigotry Against Muslims. For more on the subject in general, see Understanding Islam.

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