The devil is in the details. One last post before getting out of dodge.
I have written several articles about Islamaphobia in American, the Arab Spring, and Islam inside the Middle East. Sometimes earing the ire of the Far-Right for my views. But today I took some time to watch fellow FtB blogger Maryam Namazie give a speech in Copenhagen (The video can be found on her post entitled “Simplicity is killing us”).
She spoke about how some in the left have been hesitant to criticize Islam due to a perception that any such criticism is seen as racist, to which I have asserted that the far right’s claims of “Creeping Sharia” in America are racist. This deserves some explanation from myself.
First and foremost, Sharia is a bad thing. Any religious law imposed on any culture is in my opinion inherently immoral for both being based on bullshit “revealed truths” and inevitably being imposed on those with different faiths than the law. Not only is it detrimental to women’s rights, as Maryam points out, but everyone else’s rights as well. According to sharia law, the punishment for apostasy is death. And that is not good news.
In my life I have come across four “types” of Muslims. First, the ones that I love, Americanized Muslims who have kept only a shred of their tenants and heritage and have taken in American culture and secular values, I call them protestant Muslims. Second, are the American Muslims who congregate in their own social groups and communities, caught at a decision point between accepting the greater American culture or holding fast to their face. Thirdly are affluent Muslims who attended my college, they were the educated youth. Lastly, there are the people of Iraq, who are mired in their often brutal culture.
None of the generalizations I am about to make hold true to every member of each of my four groups but, these are the views of one outside observer. I look at the first group as a model for the power of secular institutions to moderate a violent faith so it may coexist in modern society. American government did and continues to moderate Christianity to a great extent, we often forget that the various denominations of Christianity did not get along that well around the birth of our nation. If you were a Quaker in a Baptist town and some sketchy shit went down (and there were no slaves to burn), the Quaker was likely in for an ass-kicking or worse.
Here also is what I view as my biggest objection to the far-right’s criticism, their apparent lack of belief in that very moderating power of our society. If America becomes on par with the United Kingdom in its treatment of Islamic law, then we have a problem. But that has not happened yet. If it does, if I learn that Muslim women have to abide by a sharia arbitrator with the complicit involvement of the American Government, then I would have to change my tune. But, and correct me if I am wrong, I don’t see that happen.
The second group, like the Muslims of Dearborn Michigan, highlights a different issue. One of my former co-workers was fast to repeatedly characterize the entire Muslim community of that town as anti-American terrorists, I think he was incorrect. Now undoubtedly in concentrated community of any faith, the hard liners and extremists will find that it is easier to thrive in those environments than in a secular one, but not exclusively so. As often as not, American Muslim extremist spawn from secular societies as much as cultural enclaves as a response to rabid perceived or real racism.
Yet several prominent Dearborn community leaders have dedicated their lives to enhancing the links to American institutions; one Muslim paper editor invited the CIA to advertise in his community so that his town could contribute to the fight against extremism by helping supply a vital resource, translators. But cultural enclaves have been established by almost every culture that has migrated to America. When you come to a strange new land, often immigrants seek out each other to establish some sort of community bond and often seek institutions of religion to replace the family and tribal groups that they left behind. This is nothing new in American society, an neither is the instances of a few bad apples attempting to subjugate and manipulate those enclaves for their own ends, in this case the establishment of Islamist principles.
The third group is the most mixed bag of the bunch, the young foreign students. Some were fervent believers in their faith but other were secular, often it depended more on geography than anything else in how they interpreted the primacy of sharia law. And that geography was representative of their politics.
Lastly, there are the people of Iraq. One of the more secular places in the Middle East, the insurgency has given the Islamists much more power, so much so that I fear for the Government’s ability to resist in the coming years. The more secular figures such as Al-Sistani have lost ground to the Sadirists. But here we see how culture affects religions. Islamists are a product of both culture and religion. From what I have experienced, even if you were to vanish religion from the region in the blink of an eye, the culture would still be Islamist. But if you are able to vanish the culture from the religion, if you are able to move the moral zeitgeist in a progressive direction, then the Islamists may be exorcised from Islam and Sharia will die with it.
Before this deployment to Iraq, I and my fellow officers were giving over 40 hours of post-grad level education on Islam in Iraq and something that a Baghdad woman said to me stuck.
“Islam in in the middle ages and has yet to experience its protestant reformation. In a world that continues to provide us with weapons to murder each other with increasing efficacy, Islam needs that reformation soon.”
So the right needs to be careful of how it engages this issue, you can no more solve the problem of Islamists by destroying Islam any more than an atheist can solve the problem of Christian extremists by destroying Christianity.
The battle must be waged primarily by our culture and not our arms. In painting all Muslims with a wide brush that implies that they are all terrorists, you do more to create extremists than you extinguish, when a moderate Muslim encounters hate at every corner, he or she can be driven to dark places.
As much as we combat Islamism in politics and through war, we need to hasten the assimilation of Muslim Americans into the melting pot of our society. For that is the ultimate victory as our cultures clash in the wake of globalization, not to destroy to Islamist factions, but to make them irreverent and have them wither on the vine.
Secular societies that stand up for every person’s inherent human rights are better societies. And by bringing more under its fold rather than shunning whole ethnicities for the actions of a few actors inside our state and the actions of cultures half a world away, we will win.