Fear of a Muslim Planet

The Well is a private conferencing system, its “current” topic notoriously incivil, and yet there’s been a great discussion there lately, with a frank exchange of a wide range of views about geopolitics today and the war on terror, and litttle patience for unexamined truisms. Since I only “own my own words,” I can’t provide the whole exchange here, but my posts give a taste:

current 1360: Islam and Current Events III
#338 of 349: That came out a little mangled (xian) Fri 22 Nov 2002 (11:07 AM)

What I’m getting here is that the nature of the threat emanating largely from majority-Muslim countries is the fact that Islam is most often expressed in a virulent, hateful, literalist form of the religion. (I suspect the non-hierarchical nature of the religion is an element as well — it strikes my Western mind as strange that a religion could aspire to rule large states and yet run itself as an entirely distributed network: dangerous memeplex!)

Other religions may have had periods more or less like this, but none “of global reach” today have as militant an outlook combined with a large population in the sway of fundamentalist interpreters.

Though I do think we are continually slipping into confusing Islamists for Muslims (I don’t think militancy is as widely supported in the Muslim world as we are currently being led to believe, and I suspect passive sympathy outweighs active support proportionwise, but the fact remains that the extremists are not considered beyond the pale by most, and they number many in absolute terms, and a small number can wreak great havoc if not opposed at all levels of society), I’m willing to concede that one of the globe’s problems right now might be the grip of the militant strain of Islam as an influence on the lives of so many and its penetration into the genome of the culture it has coevolved with.

To put it all more simply, I think the enemy might be religious fanaticism (especially when combined with political power and popular support, which may be the same thing).

With separation of church and state in the West (and in East Asia to a large extent) we can talk about the superiority of our culture but the real problem is moderating Islam as an actor on the world stage.

I’m afraid we are engaged in an exchange more calculated to radicalize Islam than to moderate it. I don’t blame anyone for any impulse to respond, because we are frightened and there are no easy answers.

Friedman has pointed out that some of this depends on the resolution of a civil war within Islamic societies. We may go down a path of horror and atrocity thousands of times greater than what we’ve seen so far if there ends up being no way to defuse things, or draw them out long enough for those societies to rescue themselves.

…and later, in response to a discussion about whether mainstream Islam is fundamentalist:

current 1360: Islam and Current Events III
#341 of 349: That came out a little mangled (xian) Fri 22 Nov 2002 (11:42 AM)

ok, but 90% of the people in the U.S. say they believe in God (or something like that) but how many go to church? Literalism is literalism but most of us (and most Muslims) live in the real world and do [not] become terrorists.

I’ve been reading “The Rock: A Tale of Seventh-Centruy Jerusalem” by Kanan Makiya, which shed some light on the influence of the Talmudic style of scriptural interpretation on Islam in its second generation. When it suited state power, in our middle ages, it was permissible for the meaning of the suras to be debated hermeneutically (…and the influence of Persian culture was strong, and math flourished, etc.), and Islam has always had that Protestant-style decentralization, so your local sheik has a lot of freedom of interpretation and emphasis.

There does seem to be the problem that a greater militancy was “baked in” (and probably was needed for the memeplex, else how could Bedouins carve out an empire from the decadent interface of Byzantium and Persia?).