Words from OFF THE WALL
First, our best wishes, prayers, and thoughts go with our Dear TRUE. We all wish his mother a fast recovery, and hope that she and the family will overcome this health crisis with the grace we have known through TRUE .
Second, many thanks to 7ee6an’s nascent community and to all who are keeping 7ee6an alive and who are challenging me to really become better than what I am as I find myself the host of diverse ideas and concepts I myself do not necessarily agree with fully. I must say out of personal vanity that I never felt more satisfied intellectually than when I push the approve button on a post that I myself may fully disagree with.
Very Opinionated Words from OFF THE WALL (..& Others)
It is very interesting to go back in time and check old debates on Syria Comment on this subject. One of the most interesting was the debate following a main post by the capable Joshua titled “Is Syria Cracking Down on Religious Groups? Why?” As usual, the main post is lost with the first two comments, and the thread of comment was very interesting as LEOLEONI, OTW, MAJHOOL, and HUSAM debated each others and ELI. Please take a look, especially at the smart and thoughtful comments by Majhool, whose words along with those of LEO LEONI I would love to read on 7ee6an. We disagreed on the urgency of theological reforms, but as usual, Majhool got the more rational argument when confronting Eli’s argument by indicating that discussing theology is a futile exercise and I do now agree with him on such futility despite of my disgust at anyone trying to freeze Islam’s rich heritage to its first half a century.
I believe that conceptually, political Islam is a legitimate political movement, but it has gone astray during the 20th century. The enlightened ideas of Abdel Rahman Alkawakibi, who dreamt of an Islamic awakening that transforms Muslim countries into powerhouses of free thinking individuals gave way to a wide spectrum of movements, who in their struggle against tyranny lost their compass and converted the legitimate political struggle for freedom into a struggle for power. Their political discourse became silly and depressing discussion of Hijab, alcohol consumption, polygamy, children marriage, and bikinis on the beach as if these are the only fundamental issues our sick societies have to deal with. I have written about that in the past on Syria Comment, and at one point I have described my own concerns with many so called ulama, whose beliefs have informed the more radical fringes of political islam:
The problem is those theologians who insist on forcing down our throats made-up artificial struggles that bare only superficial relationship to Islam as they invent battles where non should exist. When they should focus on poverty, which is a direct result of unequal opportunities, they see women hair, arms and legs. When they should focus on family planning, they see women as half humans who should abay a series of males, who could by all means be their inferiors intellectually. When they should rile about corruption in the public domain, they throw a tantrum about school sports for girls because it may cause them the think like men. Where they should fight to liberate their sisters in Islam from poverty and injustice, they try to impose draconian, tribal personal status laws on them that makes them subservient to the males of the family, no matter how far removed in blood relationship. These are arguably some of the most respected scholars of our modern days, and they utter verses of the Quran, and use countless Hadiths to justify their sick obsession of the purity of women’s bodies. Their vision of governance is that of idealized forms that never existed in reality.
With that, they have become no better than their oppressors, and it is evident throughout the last part of the 20th century that these groups were content with tyranny as long as the tyrants were giving in to some of their narrow demands (religion of president, source of legislation). And even when they were given opportunities to govern such as in Gaza, they presented no social or economic program other than using the same old methods of despotism, with a few additional restrictions they imposed on women. I have written before that I am yet to see any of these parties talking about empowerment, social justice, education, or economy.
But that is normal, for as the Islamic political movements deformed under despotism, so were liberal and secular movements. They confused liberalism with liberal life style. Just read the responses of the narrow-minded on political blogs, and you will notice that their primary concern is not whether minorities will be able to live as equal partners in their respective countries, but whether they will be able to drink publicly and whether Muslim girls will be wearing Hijab or not. The most striking example is Adonis, he who himself blasted Arab opposition movements for using identical language of discourse to that of the despots, found himself against the Syrian revolution because the demonstrations started from mosque and not from what I would now call secularist temples such as concert halls (Adonis had no problem if demonstrations were to start from churches, which made him look like a closet sectarian to many). In the same thread of comments on SC as the one I have referred to, Majhool says
Wiki defines Secularism as “the concept that government or other entities should exist separately from religion and/or religious believer
Mixing Beer with secularism is utterly stupid. Its as if some Syrian invented their own definition and want to force it on the rest of us.
Clearly, the life-style secularists did exactly what many wise people including Jesus Christ have warned us against “Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.”. For without even attempting to assess and recognize their own despotic, anti-freedom tendencies, they went on an incessant campaign arguing for the need to reform Islam, and even presented versions they would accept without recognizing that there are many currents in today’s Islamic thinking. Again, Majhool has his finger on the pulse as he argues in another comment that placing theological reforms as a condition for allowing political views of Islam is a fascist approach
Its not about causing harm, you can discuss theology all you want, you are not getting anywhere with it. What you are suggesting is as fascist of an approach as it gets. You are denying a billion people their political rights until they pass some litmus test, and defining passing through the acknowledgment of the contradictions of the scriptures and denying of all things divine? good luck
N.Z, on 7ee6an, exposes an underlying problem with some of these calls (minor editorials in bold):
Every time Islam becomes the subject of discussion, KSA is brought in. Is there any other Muslim country in the world, which denies women the freedom to the drive? A shop owner, need not to close his shop to pray, he can, if he chose to. It is silly to even worry about these futile issues. An outsider will reiterate them, an insider knows better.
We do not need to strain ourselves. If you truly care about the rights of women, educate her. A true believer, Jewish, Christian or Muslim are not the problem. Using religion to control the powerless, or brain wash the masses, is.
I wholeheartedly agree with N.Z., as I recognized that I myself have fallen into this trap by constantly citing the worst of the worst like (e.g., KSA, TALIBAN, SHABAB) as examples for the need for reform. However, I am against them not only from secular point of view, but more-so because:
I totally reject the monopoly on critical review of Islam and the inherent violence of bounding the discussion of religious issues to the confine of so-called scholars. The irony is that in many (not all) cases, advocates of such strategy are those who also claim that Islam is the religions of masses, and that it is spreading like wildfires primarily because it does not need clerics as the relationship with god is most personal in Islam. They fail to see the contradiction of the two arguments. You can’t have it both ways, Islam is either accessible to the masses, thus there is no need for scholars to interpret it, or Islam is so complex that no earthly being can be a true Muslim without the help of the learned ones. There is no doubt that Islamic Jurisprudence was a living, rich, and dynamic legal practice, but it died long time ago, and those who killed it are the intellectual grandfathers of those who want to freez Islam by prohibiting self criticism, which is the main culprit in the stagnation of modern Islamic thoughts. The violence, be it verbal, legal, or physical, levied against anyone daring to ask questions prevented many (real) scholars such as philosophers, ethicists, linguists, and historians from contributing to the enrichment of Islamic traditions. While I do respect Majhool, quite a lot, I find the argument that religions should only be discussed by scholars a lazy escape.
As for the need to discuss authoritarian regimes every-time we criticize violent fundamentalism, i think it is uncalled for. There is a time for everything, and one does not need to be accredited by cussing at authoritarian regimes before discussing religion.
In light of today’s situation, the second paragraph sounds utterly wrong, rash and a little foolish, and it is. Because it was despotism and authoritarianism that gave rise to and nurtured the conditions leading to the powerful status of the backward regressive movements. I would now like to add that framing the political discourse around disfigured concepts is off course what the despots wanted, for in that they have successfully introduced themselves as the protector of women’s rights, despite of heir maintenance of ugly civil status laws and reluctance to really empower women through education, especially in rural areas and inner cities, as guardians of minorities, despite of their constant inflaming of sectarianism and controllable mini-sectarian conflicts, as stalwarts modernity, despite of their backward clannish form of ruling and their middle-ages violations of civil rights and due process , and of progress, despite of their well guarded feudal economic and financial monopolies
The aftermath of Arab spring, the first phase of which will conclude with the removal of the Assad dynasty in Syria and the Salih clan in Yemen, will be the greatest challenge facing both political Islam and Arab Secularist. According to EHSANI, who is quoted by Joshua Landis on Syria Comment:
It seems to me that Islamists are being held to a much higher standards than other religions. Barry Rubin is afraid of Islamists but he is ok with israel as a religious state. I think that none of us can have our cake and eat it. That the majority of the people of this region are more religious than i would like is a fact. That after so many years of failures of their leaders they have turned to religion and GOD under the banner of “islam is the solution” is not surprising. When you have to live on $300 a month with 3 kids only GOD can get you going. Whether we like it or not, this region wants to throw away the exisiting order. Do they have an alternative that we like? most likely not. They clearly want to try islam. I think that this transition period is inevitable. The period may well be longer and uglier than we would like but unless we can offer a brilliant alternative, it is hard to see how this trend can be reversed. Iran started on this track back in 1979. The ayatollahs took over and promised the moon. In my opinion they have failed just like the current crop of “islam is the solution” crowd will most likely fail. But, try they will and may be try they must before the region’s next phase sees the light of day. In the meantime, the best we may hope for is that Turkish style rather than salafi style end up rising to the top should a change of the exisiting order actually materialize.
Some have taken issues with EHSANI’s writing considering it to expose him for an islamophobe, which in my opinion is both incorrect and unjustified from the above comment. I see in my friend’s comment a double challenge, the first is for the Islamic political parties, who in all likelihood will be swept into parliaments and constitutional assemblies through a sizable majorities in elections. At the heart of this challenge is his request for them to demonstrate their relevance by producing civil states on the Turkish model and not yet one more despotic state as the Mullahs, who rode the public revolt against the Shah into power, and hung up to it using the same tactics of their predecessor. This is a very serious challenge, for an important intellectual basis of most Islamist parties is the notion of universality of Islam, which as described by LEO LEONI in the above referred to SC debate means its applicability, unchallenged and unchanged to the spiritual and the political. ( شمولية الدين فهو الدين والدولة). This empower their ideology with self perceived heavenly righteousness, independent of whether their interpretation of the text is accurate or not. IMHO, such is no different from the “we know best” mentality of the socialists and nationalists (Baathists) who led Syria into becoming an empire of fear. The second challenge that I got from EHSANI’s comment applies to both Islamists and Secularists, and it is the greatest challenge ever. It is simple, but monumental. I think my dear friend Ehsani is saying: