Jihad Backfire, cont.

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"The long-simmering internal debate over political violence in Islamic cultures is swelling," writes NYT reporter Neil MacFarquhar. Secular intellectuals of the Islamic world are "breaking previous taboos by suggesting that the problem lies in the way Islam is being interpreted."

Secular writers and teachers, as well as blue-collar Muslims, are "dismayed by the ever more bloody image of Islam around the world. They are determined to find a way to wrestle the faith back from extremists. Basically the liberals seek to dilute what they criticize as the clerical monopoly on disseminating interpretations of the sacred texts."

MacFarquhar's piece is essentially an illustration of the Gilles Kepel thesis of Jihad Backfire. According to that argument, jihadis set out with the goals of challenging the West and overthrowing the corrupt leadership of Muslim lands, but their actions have set back their cause and alienated millions of fellow Muslims.

Thus, according to MacFarquhar, the muted reaction in the Arab world to the U.S.-led assault on Fallujah, because of its association with Zarqawi, and thus this "swelling" debate over Koranic interpretation.

In a sense, the story is also a quick take of the emerging Arab liberal voice in the post-Arabist world that is taking shape. The journalist Abdul Rahman al-Rashed, for example, is becoming a go-to guy for a liberal Arab quote. There are also the liberal scholars dissenting from Al Azhar. But the most interesting quote in the story comes from one Ibrahim Said, interviewed while delivering pastry in Cairo. His is the only blue-collar voice in the piece, and it makes the debate at the story's center a bit less rarified.

"Resistance was never like this—to kidnap someone and decapitate him in front of everyone," Said told MacFarquhar, then quoted from the Koran. "'Verily never will Allah change the condition of a people until they change it themselves.' That means nothing will change unless we change ourselves first."

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  1. I’m glad to hear this go mainstream. Growing up, I would hear my relatives and close family friends debate religion and the interpretation of the Koran, but it was considered impolite to speak up about this and it always remained behind closed doors. This leads to an acceptance of the status quo just because, “That’s the way it’s always been read.”

    One of my cousins got her Ph.D. in Arabic and one of the verses in the Koran that is now translated as “beating your wife” or something like that had a completely different, secondary meeting at the time. Or the one I frequently would hear questioned is the polygamy allowance. The way my father had interpreted it was that it was allowed if you were marrying a widow with an orphaned child (the prophet Mohamed was an orphan, so kindness to orphans is huge in Islam). When I read the sura that had this allowance, my father’s interpretation seems dead on.

    Is this the start of the Islamic Reformation? Here’s hoping.

  2. Not to pick on anyone, but what kind of name is MacFarquhar? Sounds Scottish-Turkish. 😀

  3. This points out the danger of arranging one’s life around other people’s interpretation of ancient authoritative texts. The current crop of evangelical Christians in the U.S. zero in on isolated lines in the Old Testiment book of Leviticus, and the New Testament letter of Paul to the Romans, for example, to derive their obsession with wiping homosexuality from the face of the earth, in fact, their obsession with other people’s sexual practices in general.

    What Christians fail to realize is the the Bible has been EDITED. Time and again, from the Council of Trent to the Diet of Worms, to every conclave of old guys in robes down through the centuries, “God’s Holy Word” has been filtered through human beings and their personal prejudices. Not to mention endless translations, updates, concordance notes, etc.

    If one wishes to center his life around mere belief, as opposed to knowledge, one is at the mercy of centuries of half-assed theologians and God’s ad hoc editorial staff.

    No wonder Muslims are driven to homicidal insanity. Their political systems, by and large, aren’t set up to allow for more peaceful forms of coercion as our own religious nutcases are attempting.

  4. Tom Friedman has related thoughts in his column today in the NYT.

    Speaking of the Bible being edited. I come from a Scots-Irish Bible-thumping background, so I think literalists take that verse seriously about nothing being added or subtracted from the Holy Word on penalty of Hell.
    But it has been edited. That verse has the same figuative meaning as appears on a snake-oil label: “accept no substitute.”

  5. Muslims don’t need no stinkin’ Reformation. Usama is the Reformation. Fatwa on him. Freedom comes after the Reformin’, when everyone is sick of being told what to do by the powers that be, be they Catlick or Prod.

    Let’s hope that this is the start of an Enlightenment.

  6. Charles Paul Freund,

    According to that argument, jihadis set out with the goals of challenging the West and overthrowing the corrupt leadership of Muslim lands, but their actions have set back their cause and alienated millions of fellow Muslims.

    But Kepel makes clear thats not neccessarily because non-Muslism are dying, but because the ineptitude of some groups has led to massacres of Muslims (even though the attacks were directed at “Westerners” and “Jews”). The attacks on Morocco, many of those in Saudi Arabia, etc., are illustrative of this point.

  7. Maybe two years prior to 9/11 I listened to a talk radio program featuring an Egyptian who made these points:

    1) The Koran is badly interpreted by those who would exploit the innaccuracies to their own ends. Don’t expect THEM to be truthful.
    2) An entire religion is being “hijacked” by those whose ultimate goal is political power. To these people, any discussion of “the ends justifying the means” misses the point because the ends are sanctioned.
    3) He didn’t know when things would change, but he was hoping for sooner rather than later.

    Any little bit helps.

  8. That last quote sounds kind of bogus, huh?

  9. Steve R, however it sounds, it’s what he said. I caught the interview while driving.

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