Jihad Watch Board Vice President Hugh Fitzgerald examines the actual prospects of that ever-elusive unicorn, prothonotary warbler, Loch Ness Monster, Howard Hughes: a reformed Islam.
What we expect now of Muslims is so little that we are in danger of exaggeratedly praising that which is not so much a forthright condemnation of Jihad, and the entire Believer-Infidel division that runs through all of Islam. We applaud the Muslim condemnation of attacks on fellow Muslims, without noticing that no similar outrage has ever been displayed when the victims are non-Muslims. Muslim reformers are seldom if ever asked if they would object to attacks on Jews in or out of Israel, or if they would argue that the entire division of the universe between Believer and Infidel, dar al-Islam and dar al-Harb, is illegitimate.
And of course the aggression of Jihad, whether conducted through terrorism or other means, cannot be eliminated through appeals to Qur’an, Hadith, and Sira, and any would-be Muslim reformer must know it. The only way out is to jettison altogether — as fictions and false hair — the Sunnah (i.e., Hadith and Sira), and perform some interpretive prestidigitation that will permit the elimination of, or at least the complete spiritualization of, many passages in the Qur’an, or to attempt the latter magic-trick for Qur’an and Sunnah as well. Unlikely in the extreme.
There is now a lot of money being tossed to “Brave Young Muslim Reformers,” some of whom, like Khaled Abou el Fadl, are nothing of the sort, but simply thrusting careerists, apologists for Islam of the most transparent kind — and given to bouts of hysteria as well. See Khaled Abou El Fadl’s reaction to last summer’s apologist movie on the Crusades, where he predicted attacks on Muslims. “I stake my professional reputation” on this prediction, said the hysterical self-promoter. See also the webpage devoted to this self-described “one of the world’s leading experts on Islamic law.”
A particular offender is the Carnegie Foundation, which under Vartan Gregorian (see his memoir of a Tabriz childhood, where he reports, but does not understand as someone who has internalized a good deal of the dhimmi mentality, the limits of his own immediate experience of Islam and of Muslims) has been spreading the money to every Scholar of the House who says he is busily engaged in “Reforming Islam.” How are they reforming Islam? In what way? Are they changing the texts? Changing how the texts will necessarily be received by a billion people, not all of whom are quite so impresed with Khaled Abou El Fadl and the other Reformers as they are with themselves? Are they imitating Rashid Rida, or any of the others who failed completely, in the last century and a half, to “reform” Islam as they thought it should be reformed? How could the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Whatchamacallit, or similar Good-Works foundations, conceivably doubt that there might be something wrong in supporting the “reformers” who may not successfully “reform” anything, but are quite successful at grant-getting (not the least of the academic world’s problems is that grant-getting is an ability increasingly unrelated, and sometimes in inverse proportion, to merit)? They can’t conceive of such a thing. Why? Because such reform simply has to be, that’s all — I mean, if Islam can’t be reformed, then….
Many statements by self-professed Islamic reformers, or those who see that something is terribly wrong with the world of Islam, with the world’s Muslims, simply show that the most advanced Arab Muslims, of whom there may be some thousands out of several hundred million, only a few dozen of whom dare write openly, know that something is terribly wrong and wish to distance themselves from it all. They wish to bring Muslims to their moral senses.
But when you look closely at what they write, you see that they can never confront the tenets and attitudes and atmospherics of Islam in full. It is always slightly oblique, askew, always with something left out. Does Fouad Ajami, who knows that the world of Arab Islam is full of nonsense and lies, tell us forthrightly that that nonsense and those lies narutally derive from the mental effort of having to accept, and somehow make oneself believe, Islam itself and its essential goodness, with everything that is in Qur’an, Hadith, and Sira, and never to fully examine the real as opposed to the false history of Islamic conquest and subjugation of non-Muslims? These “reform-minded” Egyptians or Saudis never quite can bring themselves to write openly of the long history of mistreatment of whole non-Muslim peoples, of their artifacts, of their histories. They cannot write about what is in the Hadith and Sira, for to even adumbrate the subject of Muhammad’s behavior is not possible. If some of these would-be “reformers” present themselves as latter-day Calvins and Zwinglis, in their use of that phrase “sola scriptura” (the Turkish “reformer” currently presenting the Acceptable Face of Islam in certain American publications, one Mustafa Akyol, is particularly fond of invoking “sola scriptura,” meaning — let’s stick to the “inoffensive” Qur’an, and somehow drop the Sunnah, drop the Hadith and the Sira, as if such were possible) it is the Qur’an’s very opaqueness that allows it to be discussed — for what is opaque there is crystal-clear in Hadith and Sira. That is why some Muslms even say the Qur’an cannot truly be understood without the Sunnah, but the reverse is not true. If certain Muslim organizations eagerly distribute the Qur’an, it is because they know just how opaque and incomprehensible, and therefore inoffensive or unalarming, that Qur’an may seem to hasty Infidel readers, who in any case will not know about “abrogation” and will be eager to focus on the half-dozen constantly repeated and misunderstood phrases (“There is no compulsion in religion” and “He who kills a man…it is as if he has killed the whole world” and one or two others like that, misunderstood, quoted out of their proper context, and in no way representative of the full message of the Qur’an); the same is not true of the Hadith or the Sira, which are quite direct. Hence Infdiels will not be receiving the same free copies of Hadith and Sira any time soon.
One notices that the most advanced of these good-hearted, outwardly westernized, and therefore rational beings, who publish their daring thoughts, their criticism of their own countries, regimes, worlds, in Al-Asharq Al-Awsat or other London-based papers (which represents the summit, and also the limit, of their mental freedom) they never list, among the matters needing attention and reform, any of the tens of thousands of terrorist attacks on Israelis and Jews. Above all, they fail to realize that that in the end is the real test of Islam, of Muslims, and the Jihad: will they abandon the Lesser Jihad against the tiny, and inoffensive state of Israel? For Israel is an Infidel state in Dar al-Islam. And so Israel puts them to the real test. Israel, after all, is not — and they know it perfectly well — out to dominate the Middle East. Instead, it has offered again and again to collaborate in all sorts of ways with its neighbors, and only in despair now is trying to dissociate itself as much as possible from those who support, and will always support, the relentless Jihad against it. One key test of Islamic Reformers is their ability to see that Infidels, including the Israelis, even within this Dar al-Islam (a concept that sums up the manichean division of the world between the Infidel and the Believer) entitled to a sovereign state of their own. Perhaps they can slowly try to approach the issue, by admitting that non-Arab Muslims — the Kurds, say, or the Berbers — have a perfect right to sovereign states of their own in the Middle East and North Africa. It is a hard thing for Muslim Arabs to admit. Would they, could they? Can an Egyptian Muslim “reformer” not merely protest the mistreatment of the Copts in Egypt, but also dare to publicly relate that mistreatment to the teachings of Islam, and note that what the Copts endure is what all other indigenous Christians and Jews in the Middle East and North Africa, have endured? And even to go from there to discuss the 60-70 million Hindus killed, or to mention that the Indian and Pakistani Muslims of today are the descendants of Hindus who, either forced by immediate threats of death, or by the slower unendurable anquish of dhimmi status, converted to Islam — is that something any Muslim “reformer” can recognize and admit to?
When it comes to the Lesser Jihad against Israel, how many Arab “reformers of Islam” are able to reexamine Arab propaganda, and to admit to themselves, much less to others, that that propaganda has been based on a rewriting of history, of the demographic history of the Ottoman vilayets that made up the territories of Mandatory Palestine, and on overlooking the land-ownership under the Ottomans (with 90% of the land owned by the state)? How many might admit that the Jews continued to live in the Middle East under Muslim rule, and that while in a few places, where the European powers had been particularly influential (Baghdad in the 1920s, Cairo and Alexandria from roughly 1880 to World War II), Jews were allowed to live and obtain a certain amount of prosperity, elsewhere, as in Yemen, their condition amounted to chattel slavery? How many might admit that everywhere they were in a state of permanent insecurity, and that Baghdad prosperity could be overturned in a “Farhud” and an entire community wiped out? The same thing happened when Nasser came to power to the Jews of Cairo and Alexandria. And not only to the Jews, but to the Greeks, Italians, Armenians, to all those who were not “Egyptian” (i.e. Arab or Muslim) even if their families had lived in Egypt for generations.
The sympathetic understanding of the rights of non-Muslims, including the Jews of Israel, and of such Christian minorities as the Maronites who once held Lebanon as their refuge from Islam, is a litmus test for those who present themselves as Islamic “reformers.” They may be quite good at being rewarded, a bit too prematurely, in the Western world, with support, positions, and being accorded an audience. But they should be put to the test: do Infidels, even Infidels in possession of this or that territory, have rights that are independent of whatever Muslims may grandly, and most temporarily, deign to accord them? Do Infidels have their own histories, their own appeals to legal, moral, and historic rights? Or is the very idea one that is impossible for Muslims, even “reforming” Muslims, to quite comprehend? Decades of ARAMCO and Arab League propaganda have convinced many that the Middle East and North Africa belong to Islam and to Arabs — this is what the phrase “the Arab world” means. But there are many others, both non-Arab Muslims, and non-Muslims, present within that so-called “Arab world.”
Even in Israel, with its Zionist idealists from Russia and Eastern Europe, its refugees from Hitler, its concentration-camp survivors, and its continued flow of Jewish immigrants, both those who necessarily need a refuge (as the Ethiopian falasha), and those who leave lives of comfort in the Westen world for an ideal, are now outnumbered by those Jews who arrived, also refugees, or descendants of Jewish refugees, from those Jews who had never left the Middle East or North Africa. Similarly, the Kurds and Berbers, the Maronites and the Copts, are not foreign to this “Arab world.” They predate the arrival of the Arab Muslim conquerors, and should be recognized as predating it. Their claims not merely to be free of mistreatment, but of some far more significant recognition, should not be ignored or begrudgingly discussed, but openly so — and by Arab Muslims who wish to assume the mantle of “reform” within Arab Islam. These peoples are not fossils, their ethnic or sectarian identity to be trifled with, they merely to be regarded as insufficiently “arabized,” ridiculously clinging to their identities, say, as Maronites, when they should instead accept the linguistic and cultural imperialism by which the use of the Arabic language becomes an acceptance of Arab identity. That acceptance of Arab identity, and the forgetting of one’s own non-Arab past, becomes a way to enroll Christians in Arab lands in Muslim causes. They come to see the world through the prism of Islam, and identify, as so many “Palestinian” islamochristians do, with the war on Israel. Even in the West, they continue to identify with Islam — through that meretriciously imposed “Arab” identity that makes some of the descendants of Lebanese Christians, for example, come to forget that their own ancestors did not see themselves as “Arabs” but as “Maronites” or “Christians,” and that they left the Middle East in the first place because of the massacres of Maronites that begin in the mid-19th century, and because of the constant pressure, and hostility, and insecurity, that Islam engendered.
All of these people, in the view even of “reforming” Arab Muslims of the most advanced kind, appear to have only such rights as are to be granted as Arab Muslims choose, in their “generosity,” to grant. This is the wrong way to look at the matter.
It will be hard, but necesary, for those “reforming” Arab Muslims, if they want to avoid the permanent war between Islam and not the West, but Islam and the Rest, to do much more than they have been willing to do. They should be willing to admit, for example, that the recent, deliberate, tendentious invention, after the Arab-Israeli war of 1967, of the “Palestinian people” has been useful to present the Lesser Jihad against Israel as merely a matter of “competing nationalisms” — though one would have difficulty finding anything unique to distinguish “Western Palestinian” Arabs from “Eastern Palestinian” Arabs (i.e., Jordanians), or for that matter, from those people who are mysteriously called “Israeli Arabs.” These “reformers” should themselves point out that nowhere in in the writings and speeches of such figures as the Mufti of Jerusalem, or George Antonius of “The Arab Awakening,” indeed, nowhere at all in the pre-1967 speeches of any Arab diplomat or leader, does the phrase “Palestinian people” occur. So many of these “Palestinians” arrived from outside “Palestine,” with the defeated army of Abd el-Kader, with the veterans of Mehmet Ali, with the European Muslims transferred by the Ottoman government from the former Muslim-ruled lands in Europe in the 1880s, from Iraq and Egypt and the Emirate of Trans-Jordan in the period 1920-1940.
If a small Infidel state cannot be permitted to exist, cannot be permanently accepted within borders that reflect not the salami-tactics of the Slow Jihad, but legal, moral, and historic claims that made sense to the League of Nations and, if anything, make even more sense today, then the whole notion of ending the Jihad is shown to be nonsense. You cannot end it only “in part” because here or there, the enemy has proven too resilient. And while Jihad can be put on the back burner for a decade or a century, it cannot be ripped out of Islam. Not even if a hundred thousand Brave Young Reformers claim to have done so, with foundation money backing them up.
The morally and intellectually most advanced people born within the world of Islam, the ones who have been given the freedom, by living in the West, to see the farthest into the problem of Islam, have concluded (and it is much harder for Arabs to do this than for those who do not have their ethnic identity so entirely wrapped up in Islam, such as Iranians or Pakistanis) that Islam itself cannot be reformed and must be abandoned. And so they do — but seldom openly, and never openly in dar al-Islam. Yet as Locke and Pierre Bayle noted, freedom of individual conscience is the freedom that matters most. This is something that Islam must permit to those born into Islam through no fault of their own — the complete freedom to leave Islam.
Only then will something like progress be made. Neither Ibn Warraq, nor Ali Sina, nor Azam Kamguian, nor Irfan Khawaja, nor a thousand or ten thousand other articulate ex-Muslims, get anything like the attention — much less the financial support of foundations — for their important articulation of what Islam is, and why Muslims need to think, and re-think. Why is this? Why are ex-Muslims, the bravest and clearest-sighted of all those born into Islam, forced to fend for themselves, while only those who stoutly cling to Islam despite the mental and moral compromises they must make and the apologetics and falsities they must necessarily swim in, are feted and financed and hailed?
We are grateful for any truth-telling at this point. But only the full truth, nothing but the truth, about Islam will do. And there are standards by which to judge: the lucid written words of Ibn Warraq, the piercing spoken words of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the relentless debater’s energy of Ali Sina.
Accept no substitutes.