Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Voices From the Wilderness: Words from a convert to Islam

I got this from the Dallas Morning News, but I thought the information it gave was important enough to have it presented intact. It is the story of a Jewish man who converted to Islam only to get caught up in the Wahbism movement, the one that is promoting most of the violence we see on the evening news. What I found interesting was the way their indoctination techniques mirrored those of some of the vintage terror and communal groups of the 60's and 70's. You have your charismatic leader, your isolation from the rest of society, your strict set of rules, your abstemious lifestyle, it's all there straight out of so many different groups, although what comes first to mind is The Moonies. Scary stuff, but worth the read. This man is coming out with a book soon, and I plan to read it. The emphasis in the text is mine.

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross:
When I practiced Islam and went through my own process of radicalization, I found the case made by radicals (as opposed to the case made by progressive Muslims) to be more logical and sound. The logical force of the radicals' interpretation of the Islamic faith cannot be denied; anybody who brushes off Islamic radicals' interpretation of jihad as clearly and simply distorting Islam is either dissembling or else speaking from sincere ignorance. I don't think, though, that the radicals are inevitably right, and thus haven't yet given up the hope that Islam can save itself. One of my major long-term projects is an assessment of moderate Islam's chances of success. One of the Muslim moderates with whom I've been dialoguing for that project tells me that the Salafi interpretation seems insurmountable at first, but as a Muslim gains greater mastery of Arabic and is able to interpret Islamic history on his own, less radical alternative interpretations may seem more compelling. At this point, it's too early for me to assess whether this statement is accurate. But the fact that I don't think the radicals are inevitably right makes the current controversy over Pope Benedict's remarks all the more distressing.
It seems that whenever a prominent Westerner voices strong criticism of Islam, two things happen: Muslims threaten violence in response and often actually resort to it, and in return the Western media and leading intellectuals condemn the initial statements rather than the violence. Recall Jerry Falwell's statement back in 2002 that Muhammad was "a violent man"; the ironic -- and tragic -- response was
rioting in Solapur, India that killed at least ten people, as well as a fatwa condemning Falwell to death. Yet by and large the media wasn't interested in the Muslim overreaction; it was intent on condemning Falwell. The violent response to Pope Benedict's remarks is indicative of the pathologies within contemporary Islam. Angry Muslims set fire to seven churches in the West Bank and Gaza. An Italian nun in Somalia who worked in a children's hospital was brutally assassinated. There have been calls to assassinate the pope. And Islamic leaders such as Yusuf Qaradawi have called for a "day of rage."But it seems the media would rather condemn the pope and thus place criticism of Islam off limits rather than focus on the pathologies in contemporary Islam. This Western response serves to undermine Muslim moderates and strengthen radicals. It undermines moderates because one of the strongest big-picture arguments the moderates have is that Muslims need to act like adults, that they can't go off burning churches and killing people at the slightest provocation. Yet the signal we're sending is that we're willing to look the other way and create a ridiculous double-standard: that we're unwilling to hold Muslims accountable for unacceptable behavior and unacceptable actions. The extremists are helped not only by the missed opportunity to examine the crisis in contemporary Islam, but also because it increasingly appears to them that if they want to use threats of violence to stifle speech, they will be helped in their cause by hordes of guilt-ridden Westerners who will side with them. We live in cowardly times, and it's sad to see that so many Westerners pick the wrong side in what is a stark choice between free speech and intimidation


Darren said...

Double standards? In *America*? Perish the thought.

EllenK said...

I think when you consider the source, it's pretty indicative of reality. The problem is that too many people are using this situation for political posturing rather than trying to approach these issues in a logical way. That's why we have rules of engagement that tie the hands of our military and a very vocal opposition that seems to put their own power trip in the place of the safety of our nation.