Tuesday, October 21, 2014


Arguing about Islam

I was fascinated by the mini-furor in Waco over an opinion piece in the Baylor student newspaper by a junior named Jeffrey Swindoll.  You can read the whole thing here.  Here is part of his argument:

There are a lot of problems with the national discussion about the terrorist group known as the Islamic State (also referred to as ISIS or ISIL), terrorism, and Islam as a whole. The majority of those problems come from non-Muslims that are bending over backwards to defend Islam without a leg to stand on. Conversations about Islam among non-Muslims is poisoned with non-factual arguments and liberal dreams, void of reality. 

He then goes on to quote the Koran's seeming exhortations to violence:

“Fight with them until there is no more unbelief.” (Quran 8:39)
“Kill [infidels] wherever you find them… [disbelief] is worse…” (Quran 2:191)

“Strike off the heads of those who disbelieve.” (Quran 8:12)

Before unfortunately veering off into some anti-Obama rants , he makes this point:

A survey done by Pew Research Center done in 2013 reveals that the majority of Muslims in the world believe in a literal, word-for-word interpretation of the Quran. Specifically in Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan, literal interpretation is above 90 percent on average. Not all Muslims believe in a one-dimensional view of the Quran, but, according to Pew Research Center, the majority of them do. In other words, a majority of Muslims stand by those horrific verses you just read. 

I'm intrigued by his argument, though I disagree with much of it (including the idea that "political correctness" is a liberal thing-- I noted a pervasive conservative political correctness when I lived in Waco).

I've never understood the statement that Islam is a "religion of peace."  No religion seems to have done a very good job of promoting peace, after all, and the most frequent conflicts seem to occur in those areas where religion is most significant in political life.

Is this a discussion we should be having more broadly, possibly about both Islam and Christianity?

Not to mention the genocides that the Bible reports that the God of Israel ordered them to commit, including women and children. Or the crusades. Or the killing of innocent native inhabitants of North, Central and South America. Perhaps when Islam has a few more centuries of experience, it will, like Christianity, move away from using scripture to justify the hunger for power and territory of some of its adherents.
1. I am intrigued by your tease on conservative political correctness in Waco. I have no doubt you are on to something. I will look forward to a post one of these days that offers a fuller explanation.

2. In America, it is always a good time to talk about Christianity. We have a centuries-long tradition of talking about what Christianity is supposed to do and how it can do it better. We talk about it publicly, privately, and in the cracks. You and I and most of are friends are engaged in that conversation. But I do not feel in anyway exhausted. I am ready to talk. Let's talk soon and often and then let's talk again.

3. The coupling of Islam and Christianity in a conversation about violence in society is perfectly appropriate. But, and maybe this was the point of the editorialist, we really should be honest about the proportions. If we are talking about terrorism and brutal violence against humanity in the modern age in the name of religion, if we are honest finders of fact, I suspect we ought to brace ourselves for the possibility of data leading us to a conclusion that may challenge our current notions of proper civil discourse within our idealized multicultural society.

Having offered that one small cautionary note, I agree. Let the discussion begin.
Farmer-- Another fascinating aspect of this is the tendency towards violence within a religion based in part ON religion, rather than between religions. Christians in Ireland, Muslims in Iraq, etc. There seems to be more of that in the Muslim world than within the Christian world right now-- and more of that than there is conflict between Islam and other faiths.
This Lariat article advances a view (save for the Obama stuff) strikingly similar to that of famed liberal (and atheist) Bill Maher. Maher, to much vituperation from the political left, apparently believes that there is no such thing as "moderate Islam."

Interestingly, Maher bases this position on his standing as a liberal. In his account, ideas like free speech and gender equality (which he seems to think are exclusive to the political left) demand that liberals be critical of Islam.

While I tend to think that his criticism is motivated more by his antipathy to religion than his fidelity to liberal values, the controversy around his comments raises an interesting question about political discourse: what is it about Islam that makes it off limits, not just for criticism but as a topic of conversation?

At some level, the backlash to Maher's position is really about how broadly he condemns Islam, but some of it is motivated, I think, by the same sentiments that keep a meaningful discussion of religious violence off the table--a muddling of multiculturalism and myopathy (you could call it political correctness if you wanted to) and fear.
I'd like a mainstream interpretation of the verses in question if one is available, instead of going by a college student's reading alone.

Until then, I will spare my outrage. It is so overused these days.
Does Michael Zehaf-Bibeau have a place in this discussion?
Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?