Monday, April 27, 2009

The Chicken Or The Egg?

Unless you're in a coma, you've probably noticed that a great many of the violent and barbaric acts in our modern world can be attributed to followers of Islam.

In the Islamic world today, aside from homicide bombings, jihad and terrorism directed against dar harb ( the part of the world not ruled by Islam), honor killings, female genital circumcision and other forms of violence against women are commonplace, and homosexuals are routinely brutalized and murdered. Non-Muslims are treated as barely human in much of the Islamic world, if they're allowed to exist at all. Warfare carried out by Muslims is done with modern tools of the trade provided by the despised infidels, but is a relic of the good ol' primitive and tribal days. Hostages, beheadings and the deliberate killing of civilians are all fair game, and the language of jihad is essentially the same heady stuff used back in the 7th century against the infidel. And through it all, there remains the miasma of seething violent rage at things like the Danish cartoons that simply doesn't exist in other religious groups.

The question nobody wants to ask keeps floating to the surface: Is Islam to blame? Or, to put it another way, are the perpetrators simply bad Muslims or are they actually good ones who are simply more in tune with Mohammed's message than the majority? Does Islam itself promote violence? Or are the acts simply a product of primitive tribal society that persists in spite of Islam?

Actually, this is a trick question. I personally believe that Islam and the primitive tribal culture combined back in the day to sustain each other and can't be separated by their very nature...even though some valiant attempts have been made in the past, and are being made today.

Let's look at honor killings, for example. Probably the oldest recorded one is in Genesis 34, when Jacob’s daughter Dinah was seduced (or raped, depending on how you interpret the text) by a man from the town of Shechem( modern day Nablus). Afterwards, Jacob's sons Simeon and Levi instigated the killing of the town’s men in revenge. But the Torah also tells us how Jacob denounced the killings and actually took the time to bad mouth his sons for the deed from his deathbed. Not only that, but you'll notice a profound difference from the Islamic way of handling this - the onus of punishment fell on the male, not the female.

This isn't the only honor killing mentioned in the Bible, but they were never condoned or part of Jewish law, just merely reported.

Islam, on the other hand, not only sanctions honor killings but is quite clear about its position in the matter. Killing or flogging an adulteress or a female that has relations with a non-Muslim male are part of sharia ( Qu'ran: 4:15, for example) - provided an Islamic court orders the punishment rather than an individual male family member going off on his own.

Even at that, Islamic courts today in the Muslim world frequently view male family members taking the law into their own hands fairly leniently. In Jordan, for example, many brutal honor killings have been punished by as little as a three month sentence under Jordanian Public Law 340. Moreover, in the context of Islamic society such murderers are often celebrated and held up as role models. Just as homicide bombers and terrorists who kill infidel civilians often are.

But what if a Muslim feels himself disrespected and lives in say, Britain or New Jersey? If no Islamic courts are available, is it permissible to take the law into one's own hands? Probably. There's not much in the way of Islamic rulings or commentary on that particular subject, but the near silence of most Muslim clergy in the West when it comes to denouncing honor killings speaks of those little inconvenient truths Western apologists for multiculturalism and Islam constantly run up against when a number of Muslim clerics themselves insist that honor killing, female genital mutilation, and stoning of adulterers are mandated by Islam. And, as you've probably guessed by now , that's one of the unspoken reasons behind the push among many Muslims in the West for sharia courts to handle those messy domestic problems that come up with uppity females from time to time.

Violent death penalties for women caught in adultery is fairly typical of a primitive society, but only Islam continues the practice into the present day. No Christian court has ever condemned a woman to death for adultery. And although the death penalty for adultery is found in the Book of Leviticus, there is no record of such a sentence ever carried out by any Jewish court. The same is true of homosexuality; while both Christianity and Judaism consider it 'a sin and an abomination' only Islam clearly mandates the death penalty for such activities and carries it out in our present day.

So why does Islamic society persist in these practices ?

The first clue lies in the nature of the Qu'ran and Mohammed. The Jewish Bible and the New Testament, and other Christian and Jewish religious scriptures are considered divinely inspired, but clearly the works of men by the adherents to those religions...which allows the possibility of evolution when history throws a unexpected change your way. Jews, for example, no longer sacrifice goats and bullocks at the Temple altar. But to Muslims, the Qu'ran was literally dictated word for word to Mohammed by the Angel Gabriel himself, and thus is considered G-d 3.0, no upgrades necessary thank you. It is therefore not subject to change or amelioration in one iota. If the Qur'an says that unbelievers are your inveterate foe (Qu'ran 4:101) then that's the end of it.

To nail it down even further, the Muslim doctrine of Abrogation means that the later, more violent and dogmatic pronouncements of Islam that date from Mohammed's time in Medina take precedence over the earlier more peaceful and tolerant ones that date from his time in Mecca, before the Hegira.

Likewise with Mohammed, the Muslim paradigm, the perfect man, the man all Muslims are enjoined to emulate. If Mohammed said it was fine and dandy to beat disobedient women, if he violated treaties with unbelievers when it was convenient, if he massacred prisoners, if he told his followers to fight the unbelievers until they either killed them, converted them to Islam or subdued them and made them pay tribute to Dar Islam, there are many Muslims who think that's what Muslims should strive for and it's not subject to argument. While Christians likewise claim to seek to emulate Christ in their earthly doings, his activities while on earth were..well, somewhat different from Mohammed's.

A second clue to our answer lies in the basic nature of Judaism, Christianity and Islam themselves.

The Jews from the very beginning ordered their lives, laws, traditions and religious practices to be the very opposite from that of the pagan traditional societies that surrounded them. They rejected human sacrifice, the mystery cults, ritual temple prostitution and other similar rites common in the region to traditional primitive societies. This got them a reputation for being uppity and clannish that persists to this day, but it marked the beginnings of ethical monotheism. The Mosaic laws the Jews adopted laid out the basic principles of justice and human rights and forbade gratuitous cruelty even to animals let alone humans. Even in their daily prayers Jews reflect the idea that G-d, by selecting Israel, differentiated it from the pagan tribal world.

Christianity, which derived from Judaisim and the Jewish world view as it collided head on with Hellenism rejected pagan traditional society even more than Judaism did, if possible. To become a Christian was to reject tribalism and its pagan practices and to be spiritually reborn into a universa, non-tribal community of believers.

Islam like Christianity seeks to incorporate all of humanity into a new religious community, true enough...but there's a major difference.To Christians, that incorporation is spiritual, and results in an inner transformation. Islam's transformation is political as much as spiritual, and it is based on obedience that controls all levels of society rather than just the spiritual aspects.

Another similarity that Judaism and Christianity share that Islam does not is a long standing tradition of evolution and the ability to modify long standing practices to fit the times and circumstances of history. For example, when the Jews were first taken into captivity by the Babylonians, the catastrophe sparked an examination of their religion and its philosophy that culminated in the Babylonian Talmud.

Islam's traditions are quite different. Aside from the fact that the Qu'ran and the Hadiths are considered unalterable, Islam was spread primarily by conquest, so the religion absorbed the traditional tribal world rather than supplanting it, and only mandated surface changes rather than the wholesale changes in world view demanded by Judaism and Christianity.

Here's an example of what I mean by 'absorbed'. Islam's holiest site, the Ka'aba in Mecca is the virtually same tribal shrine Mohammed's Quraysh relatives kept up as a tourist attraction and moneymaker when Mohammed was still herding camels, where people would come and leave offerings to Lah, the Arab moon god. And it still contains the same meteorite inside it from the old tribal days for pilgrims to worship, the Sacred Black Stone(called الحجر الأسود al-Hajar-ul-Aswad in Arabic). After Mohammed conquered Mecca, the Ka'aba didn't change much, except maybe for a sign on the door that said "Under New Management."

Because Islam insists on obedience and simply lacks a well established mechanism of evolving its own belief system, it's unable to rid itself of the baggage of traditional primitive society because it never sought to separate itself from it in the first place. And it's now stuck with it because of the religion's deep avoidance of change.

That's the basic source of the deep failures and lack of progress on any major level in Islamic societies. After conquering and absorbing the civilizations of the Egyptians, Persians and Chaldeans, Islam reverted back to its stifling status quo.

It's also an explanation for the murderous rage from much of the Islamic world that greets even the slightest challenge to Islam's belief system. As more Muslims experience the West and its relative freedom, particularly for women, many Muslims sense that Islam and its traditions are endangered. And lacking a way to be able of being able to evolve their belief system to accept that, they react violently.

When a house is on a shaky foundation, even a slight breeze like a few cartoons can cause a major dislocation.

Is there an answer to this dilemma? Some Muslims think so and are courageously acting on it, but thus far they are paddling against the current of a river of wahabist, Khomenist and Salafist propaganda fueled by billions of petro dollars and the West's own failure to protect and promote its cultural traditions.

Ultimately, the answer to whether Islam can learn to play nicely with others and move from the 7th century to the 21st is going to be up to Muslims themselves. The jury's still out on that one.


Anonymous said...

Actually, dishonor killings are believed to have their origins in misinterpretations of pre-Islamic Arab tribal codes. They pre-date Islam by centuries and are, in fact, un-Islamic.

Where things get a little muddled is that it is the case that the majority of the world's dishonor killings occur in Arab/Muslim countries and in Arab/Muslim immigrant communities elsewhere. So there's a correlation, but no causality.

Also, when I conducted a nationwide attitude and opinion survey on dishonor killings in Jordan, a little more than one in five people in my representative sample told me they believe Islam tells them they must avenge affronts to family honor through murder. This isn't, in fact, the case, but the fact that so many people believe it to be so is a huge problem.

Also, not to nitpick, but it's Article 98 of the Jordanian penal code (having to do with crimes committed in a "fit of fury") that results in the puny penalties for these crimes. Articles 97 and 340 also offer leniency, but they have seldom, if ever, been used (according to the Speaker of the Lower House of Parliament in Jordan).

Ellen R. Sheeley, Author
"Reclaiming Honor in Jordan"

Freedom Fighter said...

Hello Ellen,
And thanks for your contribution.
I like your term 'dishonor killings.'

I would disagree that such killings are 'unIslamic' per se, since the Qu'ran sanctifies the same penalties if performed by a sharia court, and in any case, as you have confirmed, views such actions with leniency, thus tacitly approving. As I said, the general silence from the vast majority Islamic clerics on subjects like honor killings and wife beating speaks volumes.

They're much more vocal and united on subjects like the evils of the Jews or of drinking alchohol.

You're quite correct in my view that such practices predate Islam, which merely absorbed such attitudes and is now unable, at least so far, to separate itself from them.

This applies to many other areas aside from honor killings and again, is intended to answer my original question of the prevalence of such behaviour in the Islamic world ..which was exactly my point in writing this article.

Again, thanks for dropping by.

All Best,

Anonymous said...

The STOP HONORCIDE! campaign was launched on Mother's Day 2008. The goal of the campaign is to prosecute honorcides to the fullest extent of the law. We want honorcide to be classified as a hate crime and we advocate for every existing hate crime legislation to be amended to include honorcide.

Anonymous said...

The question nobody wants to ask keeps floating to the surface: Is Islam to blame?

My view is only a little different from yours, FF. I think that Islam, tribalism, and the awful practices you list have only been able to persist in isolation, in the out of the way corners of the world.

Does Islam encourage the isolation? I have no idea.

Freedom Fighter said...

Hi Dave,
Nice to see you!

Respectfully, I disagree on both points.

Islam has never been isolated in the manner you suggest because it has never sought isolation per se(ala' the Chinese or the Japanese - or the Jews, for that matter, as I mention in the piece)...but the spreading of its influence and dominance over the 'other', which is essentially Mohammed's message.

Rather than encouraging isolation, Islam has done exactly the opposite.

As I mention, the religion was primarily spread by conquest and came into contact with several civilizations who did not practice the things we're talking about until Islam came to dominate them.

I'm not sure Egypt or Mesopotamia could be classified as isolated corners of the world.And the fact also remains that violent tribal behavior like honor killings, the brutalization of women and tribal hatred of the 'other' are appearing among Muslim populations residing in the West as well.

And as I think you'd agree, the rising tide in Islam today is that ol' time religion, as promoted by the wahabis, Salafists, deobandis and khomenists.

Rather than determine which came first, Islam or the brutal tribal practices (the chicken or the egg)
I feel they influenced and co-opted each other and are now difficult to separate...though as I mention, some Muslims, at least in the West, are making a valiant effort to try.

Let's hope they're successful.

All Best,

John said...

I don't mean to nitpick, but many if not most Orthodox Jews take the Torah as literaly the word of G-d.

That said, to paraphrase very loosely, G-d gave it to us along with the authority to interpet it.

We don't sacrafice at the temple because it's no longer there. We have substituted prayers for the sacrifices that can no longer be given, based on prophetic revelation, but these prayers make specific reference to the actual sacrificesthey have replaced.

There is however a group who are gearing up to restart the whole business as soon as it's practicable...

The point is that Judaism has it's own mechanisms to adapt to changing circumstances, not be throwing away the past in revolution, but by slow evolution.

Freedom Fighter said...

Hi John, and welcome to Josuah's Army.

Not to nitpick back, but while the Torah is considered divine:

a) The Hebrew Bible consists of more than just the Torah

B)it has always been subject to interpertation, which is one reason why Jews read a parsha per week, plus all the commentaries!

C) Two Jews will always have three opinions on exactly what G-d meant.

As you may know, there's a famous Chasidic story about a group of emminent Rabbis in Israel debating energetically over a fine point of Law, to the point where G-d himself entered the discussion and informed the Rabbis as to whom was right and what He in fact meant.

At that point, one of the Rabbis supposedly said: "Almighty King, you gave us the gift of the Law.But it is OUR job to interpert it and decide how to apply it in the matter at hand."

At that point, G-d supposedly laughed with glee and departed, delighted (as any father would be) that his children had matured and could find their own way on the path He had set for them.

I'm aware of the fact that Judaism has successfully evolved mechanisms to adapt to changing circumstances, as has Christianity.

Islam has not, which is exactly my point.

Thanks for dropping by.


Anonymous said...

Whilst I agree with you in general terms about the nature of Islam I believe there is a very important historical reason for this and it is a reason which has been forgotten in the West, because it didn't happen to us. In those parts of the world that did suffer, such as China, Eastern Europe and the Muslim world it is largely ignored or simply swept under the carpet. The memory is too traumatic to contemplate.
The event which gave rise to this trauma was the arrival of the Mongols.Before their arrival the Muslim lands were among the most civilized and advanced parts of the
world and had every chance of continuing to evolve normally.
Of the four Muslim kingdoms which existed at the time, two were destroyed and the remaining two, Syria and Egypt escaped only by the skin of their teeth. But there was a terrible price to pay. They fell into the hands of a race of ex-slaves and religious fundamentalists called the Marmalukes. They believed that the infidels had triumphed because the Muslims were not religious enough and must return to the Koran. The Muslim world then began its long slow decline into rigid fundamentalism and xenophobia.
A similar effect can be seen in China and Eastern Europe. After finally throwing off the Mongol dynasty, the Chinese Empire was bigger, more aggressive and possessed of a visceral hatred and contempt for foreigners. Likewise after throwing off the 'Tartar Yoke' two hundred years later, Eastern Europe had lost its place as the most prosperous part of the continent. The West had undergone the Renaissance and was well on the way to dominance.

Freedom Fighter said...

Hello Peter,and welcome to Joshua's Army.I get a fair number of readers from your side of the pond.

You raise an excellent point, but one that unfortunately bodes ill for Islam's relationship with the West in the near term if you're correct.

The Wahabis and Deobandis both arose out of a desire to get back to so-called 'pure Islam' with all its violent accouterments, and as I'm sure you'll agree, so did the current Salafist and khomeniest movements,after the 'failure' of PanArabism in the 1970's.

So if you're correct,there's very little chance of Islam learning to coexist with the West in the near term.

By the way, I think I could raise the counter argument that Islam's conquests of Spain,the Balkans and India as well as the ethnic cleansing of the Jews from Saudi Arabia were just as traumatic and destructive as the Mongol conquest of the Muslim world,but once they had shaken off the Muslim yoke, none of those civilizations became mired in decline the way the Islamic world did, therefore giving some weight to my points about the inability of Islam in general to adapt and progress and the basic stifling nature of Muslim society.

Thanks for an excellent post!

All Best,

Russ White said...

I suspect the problem might lie deeper than just the culture over a thousand+ years, but in the theology of Islam itself. In the case of Christianity, what is the source of the moral law? In the case of Judaism, what is the source of the moral law? In the case of Islam, what is the source of the moral law?

In Christianity and Judaism, the source of the moral law is the nature of Yahweh -- or rather, his attributes. As Allah has no attributes, Islam is radically different.

What does this imply about the nature of the moral law and it's application to everyday life?

A parallel question might be -- in Christianity and Judaism, what are the source of respect for human life? answer the same question for Islam. As the differences widen out, the problem Islam has with it's attitude towards the world should be become more clear. To "reform," Islam must come to terms with this set of problems.

BTW, the reason Christianity and Judaism has flexibility in their reading of the moral law is precisely because they ground the moral law in an underlying set of ideas about Yahweh and his attributes. Especially in Christianity, the Mosaic Law is not "the only Law ever made," but rather one of several possible valid expressions of God's character. This much like case law and natural law, in a sense...