February 09, 2007

Intellectual Warfare


Ayaan Hirsi Ali on reforming Islam in The Caged Virgin:

1. Let Us Have a Voltaire

… many Western thinkers and politicians exacerbate this Muslim tendency to avoid internal reflection by themselves avoiding looking at Islam. They lean back complacently and opine “Oh, well it was like that with us once. The Church governed the West in the Dark Ages. Don’t worry, all will be fine with Islam in the end.” They do not know what they are talking about.

Present-day Islam is not compatible with the expectations of Western states. Islam is in need of enlightenment...

... Islamic societies still wrestle with the problems of the Dark Ages (prejudice, restricted thought, superstition) that strapped Christian societies before the Reformation and the Age of Reason questioned central tenets. But is unlikely that this movement will rise up from within the Islamic world. Writers, academics, and journalists who voice their criticism are forced to take refuge in the West. Their works are banned in their own country.

What, then, can Westerners do? At an international level leaders such as Blair and Bush must stop saying that Islam is being held hostage by a terrorist minority. They are wrong, Islam is being held hostage by itself. It would be more useful if they confronted Saudi Arabia with the fact that its repressive regime, its demographic pressure, and its biased religious education system have created a breeding ground for extremists. Almost five years after 9/11, they have been addressed to only a small extent.

In the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe, the native white majority can help the Islamic minority by not trivializing the seriousness of the present crisis in Islam. By addressing absolutist attitudes toward the Koran and the infallibility of the Prophet Muhammad, Muslims in the West can learn from the questions and criticisms that have been put to Islam since September 11. More pressure should be put on minorities to become fully integrated into local and state cultures. Democracies should foster the voices of dissent and sponsor Muslim dissidents in the West, so that the one-sided, stultifying religious rhetoric to which millions of Muslims are subjected every day has a counterpoint.

Let the Muslim Voltaires of today work in a safe environment on the enlightenment of Islam, which will lead to an international enlightenment, as the power of reason and individual responsibility frees the minds of individual Muslims of the burden of the hereafter, the constant feelings of guilt, and the temptation of fundamentalism. We would learn to feel responsible for our problems and the areas in which we lag behind. Let us have a Voltaire. (40-41 The Caged Virgin)

2. A Call for Clear Thinking

Muslims in Europe and across the world may be seen as roughly dividing into three groups. Most visible are the terrorists, who resort to violence (and their allies, the fundamentalists, who do not kill and maim, but provide the terrorists with material and nonmaterial or psychological assistance). Second, their polar opposite is a group of people (and although it is tiny, it is growing) who may be characterized by its questioning of the relevance and soundness of Muhammad’s example. They may one day provide an intellectual counterweight to the terrorists and their supporters. I, who was born and bred a Muslim, count myself among them. We in this group have embraced the open society as a true alternative to a society based on the laws of Muhammad – a better way to build a framework for human life. We could call this group the reformers.

The terrorists have far more power and resources than the reformers, but both groups vie to influence the thinking of the vast majority of Muslims. The reformers use only nonviolent means, like writing, to draw attention debates over core values. The terrorists and fundamentalists, however, use force, the threat of force, appeals to pity (“look at what the West is doing to Islam and Muslims”), and ad hominem smears to evoke a knee-jerk community to withdraw in self-defense. In the West, these tactics give rise to moral relativists who defend so-called victims of Islamophobia; meanwhile the reformists are shunned by their families and communities and live under the constant fear of assassination. In short, the core of the debate is made taboo, and the fundamentalists attain a near-monopoly on the hearts and minds of the third and largest group of Muslims, the undecided.

Who are these “undecided” Muslims? They are the group to which Tony Blair refers when he says, “The vast and overwhelming majority of Muslims here and abroad are decent and law-abiding people.” They live in Edgware Road and Bradford, and in Amsterdam and Saint Denis; they are not fervent observers of every ritual of Islam, but they count themselves as believers. They are immigrants and second-generation youths who have come to the West to enjoy the benefits of the open society, in which they have a vested interest. But they do not question the infallibility of Muhammad and the soundness of his moral example. They know that Muhammad calls for slaughter of infidels; they know that the open society rightly condemns the slaughter of innocents. They are caught in a mental cramp of cognitive dissonance, and it is up to the West to support the reformists in trying to ease them out of that painful contradiction. The established Muslim organizations, which operate on government subsidy, offer no more than a cosmetic approach to eradicating terrorism inspired by the prophet Muhammad – “peace be upon Him,” naturally.

The first victims of Muhammad are the minds of Muslims themselves. They are imprisoned in the fear of hell and so also fear the very natural pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. There is as yet no consensus in the West on whether to support the side of the radical reformers. The present-day attitude of Western cultural relativists, who flinch from criticizing Muhammad for fear of offending Muslims, allow Western Muslims to hide from reviewing their own moral values. This attitude also betrays the tiny majority of Muslim reformers who desperately require the support – and even the physical protection – of their natural allies in the West. (174-6 The Caged Virgin)

Some Links

Breaking Through the Islamic Curtain

Ayaan Hirsi Ali Weblog

Unfree Under Islam

My Life as an Infidel

'Enlightenment Fundamentalist' Ayaan Hirsi Ali, on Reforming Islam

Posted by sd at February 9, 2007 04:13 AM | TrackBack




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