Sunday, September 17, 2006

Straight From the Horse's Ass's Mouth

From Andrew Sullivan - a perfect, well-synchronized response to the Pope's recent claims about Islam, from the seat of Muslim officialdom. To put it gently, it's not clear who is resting whose case.

I am neither a scholar of the Koran nor the Bible, but even so I am certain that what Sullivan points out is accurate. I understand the vagueness in the definition of jihad - this is irrelevant, and to argue onward from this is simply callow. The point can and should be simplified to the purely literary. Muhammad, the high prophet of Islam, accomplishes what is conveyed in the Koran, at several turns, through violence and coercion, and I'm aware of no doctrinal effort developing any "interpretation" of this fact. Jesus kills no person in the course of his literary life in the New Testament. This is not a matter of faith or virtue or spirituality, but rather of noticing words on pages. Of course this doesn't mean that to be a faithful Muslim you must morally endorse what the prophet is implicitly agreed, by faithful Muslims, to have done. This is hardly a point worth making. Why Islam cannot lay claim to the "religion of peace" mantle is precisely what Sullivan points to elsewhere - the growing inextricable role of the reactionary reflex in the Islamic world. Tolerant and humane impulses in Islam are increasingly forced into the periphery of its own institutions by those who forge their meaning. Equally true is Sullivan's point about evolution. There is plenty for which the various hierarchies of Christian churches ought to hang their heads in shame, at present, but there is nothing in modern Christianity like the world-historical synthesis of radical Islam and violent tyranny. That this shouldn't be rubbed in every Muslim face on earth goes without saying. But it is anything but civilized to deny what is in front of our eyes. The above remarks of Pakistan's Foreign ministry spokeswoman are archetypal - Islam is peaceful, and I dare you to say otherwise. As I can think of no other way to evaluate a religion's social value system (into which peace and tolerance obviously fall) than the conscious decisions and behaviors of its dominant figures, I can see no real argument to be had in this conflict. We torture ourselves to keep validating the argument that all religions are created equal, any more than this is true of all forms of government or ideology or culture.

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