Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Polymorphous Islam

Before 9/11 I, like almost everyone else in the Western world, had no interest in Islam. However, nothing invites an interest in the ideology or religion of others quite like the mass murder of your fellow citizens performed in the name of that ideology or religion.

My investigation of Islam began with Bernard Lewis' "What Went Wrong". The title of the book is misleading. Lewis invites attention to various peculiarities and anomalies of the Ottoman Empire but in the end has nothing very useful to say about the matter. Nor has anyone else to my knowledge.

A careful reading of the Koran and Hadith would lead one to believe that Islam is a genuinely evil creed that provides ample justification for murdering, plundering, enslaving and oppressing infidels. A study of historical Moslem depredations and conquests reinforces that point of view. However, scripture and history can no more be used to indict today's Moslems than today's Christians. Both have had at various times and places a murderous and intolerant history. The Moslem invasion of India is heartbreaking in its cruelty, viciousness and slaughter. So too is the history of Europe's 30 Years War between Protestants and Catholics. If scripture and history lack explanatory value, where should we look instead? A good place to begin is in the former Ottoman provinces in Europe.

There is today no nation in the world more favorably disposed to the United States than Albania. This tiny, impoverished country has supplied a small contingent to coalition forces in Iraq although its dominant religion is Islam. Bulgaria and Germany have largely Turkish Moslem minorities that are millions strong who quietly practice their faith without threatening or doing violence to Christian majorities. Turkey has struggled for nearly a century to become European with mixed results. Nevertheless, there is a separation of church and state and Turkish Jihadists are extremely rare. The Moslem Druze minority in Israel have long allied themselves with the Jewish state and played an important role in its military affairs. This carefully selected sample would suggest that Islam is not incompatible with a modern civil society.

We need look no further than Saudi Arabia, Iran and parts of Pakistan and Bangladesh along with various other Arab states to find something quite different and genuinely evil by the standards of the more civilized nations of the world. Given both loathesome and admirable examples of Islamic populations we must conclude, at the least, that there is no useful, general statement about Islam that explains Islamic terrorism. Islam is polymorphous and can be either benign or malignant depending on who practices it and where it is practiced.

Islamic terrorists wherever they may be found subscribe to a version of Islam that is the unique product of Arab culture and entirely foreign to many other Moslem societies. The question then is not what is wrong with Islam or the Moslem world but what is profoundly wrong with the Arab culture responsible for this evil. That will be the subject of a future piece.

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