We saw just over a week ago that jihadist sentiments were rising in the Middle East. Now we see that they’re rising in Algeria also. In both cases the Salafists gain adherents by presenting themselves as the representatives of true and pure Islam. The Algerian authorities, “supposedly committed to secularism,” appear to be aware of this, as religious affairs minister Bouabdellah Ghlamallah has “promised to create a national council to ensure that religious rulings, or fatwas, from clerics conform with Algerian law.”
Note, in other words, that Bouabdellah Ghlamallah did not promise to ensure that fatawa would conform with Islamic law, or with Moderate Islam, or with the True, Peaceful, Tolerant Tenets of Islam. One would think that if the latter two existed, or if Islamic law itself were not fundamentally at variance with secular law in many particulars, he would have worded his statement differently.
In any case, I applaud his statement. Why can’t we have an American official saying that he will ensure that fatawa from Islamic clerics in the U.S. conform to American law? This doesn’t mean that political dissent would be outlawed, or that religious institutions would be made into puppets of the state and barred from disagreeing with whatever the state dictated. But it would mean that they would not be able to flout the laws of the state, and that their dissent would have to be conducted through the political process, not through subversion.
For example, last year Ibrahim Hooper of CAIR noted, according to AP, that “a minority of Muslims take second wives, and that Islamic scholars would differ on whether one could do so while living in the United States.” At least as AP reported what he said, he didn’t seem to say anything “Islamic scholars” recommending that Muslims in America obey American law. Why couldn’t, then, an American official say that the rulings of Islamic clerics in the U.S. should conform to American law?
One key aspect of the answer, of course, is that while in Algeria Bouabdellah Ghlamallah can be realistic about Islamic teaching and its relationship to the Algerian state, because the population is Muslim and most people know full well what Islam teaches, in the U.S. few people know what Islam teaches, and a dogmatic unreality is enforced by both liberal and conservative spokesman, such that fictions about Islam are virtually all that get an airing in the public square when it comes to this issue. So if an American official said what Ghlamallah said, he would immediately be excoriated as a racist, Islamophobic bigot.
Yet Islamic teaching does not change from Algeria to the U.S. — or if anyone says that it does, it would be kind of him to provide some evidence.
“Salafism, a Conservative Strain of Islam, Gains Ground in Algeria,” from AP, November 2 (thanks to E):
[…] Algeria is worried about Salafism, an extreme branch of Islam that is a concern for authorities across North Africa. Imported from Saudi Arabia and backed by Saudi oil money, Salafism has gained a significant following not only in Algeria but in neighboring Morocco, and has grown dramatically across the Middle East in recent years.
The latest alarm came when authorities in a Sahara Desert town, Biskra, rounded up people who failed to fast during the holy month of Ramadan and sentenced six of them to four years each in prison.
The arrests caused an outcry “” and El Watan’s headline “” because Algeria has traditionally taken a more relaxed attitude to religious observance than places like Saudi Arabia. No law in Algeria explicitly bars people from drinking, smoking or otherwise breaking the daytime fast during the holy month, which this year fell in September.
The Biskra arrests were carried out in the namound and grow into another potential threat to its power. While Salafism is not always violent, in Algeria some Salafist groups have indeed turned to jihad “” or holy war. The Algerian Salafi Group for Call and Combat has allied itself with Al Qaeda and is blamed for bombings and other attacks.
Algeria’s government, supposedly committed to secularism, is fighting back. The Biskra verdicts were so exceptional that they embarrassed authorities in the capital and resulted in a government rebuke. The men were quickly released on appeal.
The religious affairs minister, Bouabdellah Ghlamallah, told the LibertDe newspaper that police were right to admonish the men but not to prosecute. “It’s a problem between these men and God,” he said. He also promised to create a national council to ensure that religious rulings, or fatwas, from clerics conform with Algerian law.
The Interior Ministry, meanwhile, said in September it would reinforce controls on mosques so that “foreign rites are not inappropriately imported.” LibertDe reported that 53 imams were banned from preaching in government-controlled mosques and 42 mosques were closed last year for following such rites. Local imams were also required to highlight the danger of being recruited into terrorist groups….