If it is it doesn't matter

Monday, March 13, 2006

Exchange with Deborah Lipstadt

(I am new enough to blogging that I am not sure if this is permissible to do. I had an exchange with Deborah Lipstadt on her blog, History on Trial

in which I discussed in some detail where my ideas had reached. (And I hope most of my readers also read her blog -- I've got to take the time to try and get a blogroll up. She wrote the two main books on Holocaust Denial, DENYING THE HOLOCAUST and HISTORY ON TRIAL -- the second was about the libel suit David Irving started against her and her triumphal demonstration of what the man was, a bigot, liar, and anti-Semite.)

I am going to post the main comment here. My initial comment was in response to what i believed were complaints she had received from Turks about her mentions of the Armenian massacres.

I commented:
"I am slowly beginning to be convinced that Muslims and Nazis share one trait -- don't be quoting the Godwin rule at me until you read to the end -- that unlike other religious and political movements, good or bad, that attempt to 'change reality' the Nazis and the Muslims are the only ones who have attempted to 'define reality.' And therefore they have to attack anyone who challenges their definition."

(In fact, the complaints she received were from Armenians, which I still don't understand. She also argued that I was 'painting with too broad a brush,' that perhaps I should be challenging 'Muslim extremists' or 'Islamists,' but not 'all Muslims.')

I responded with the following, that explains my comments above and describes about where my mind has reached by now:

"First, I DID misspeak when I said "Muslims' and "Nazis.' I should have said "Islam" and "Nazism." A belief is not the same as its believers, of course. And while I am not trying to push this comparison further than the original point I made, it is probably true that there were Nazis -- and it is certainly true that there were those who originally voted for Hitler -- who did so because they believed in German nationalism, thought Hitler would help the economy, and who were either only mildly anti-Semitic and never foresaw the Holocaust, or who weren't anti-Semitic at all, and figured that while they thought Hitler was a little nuts on the subject of Jews, he was right on other topics.

But as for Islam, I stand by my statement. And, ironically, a few months ago, had I seen someone else post a similar statement, I would have replied much as you did.

But, after some months of watching the news, reading the posts of Muslims, both 'moderate' and 'extremist,' watching the MEMRI tapes -- or reading transcripts, since i do not speak Arabic -- and reading the Qur'an, I have come to a position similar to that of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Irshad Manji, Ibn Warriq, Taslima Nasrin, and most recently Dr. Wafa Sultan. Each of them, raised Muslim, have come to believe that the problem is NOT a small (or large) group of extremists, that the problem is inherent in Islam itself. (Of the people mentioned, only Manji sees the possibility of an Islamic Reformation. The others have rejected Islam entirely.)

One problem that I believe many people have in coming to grips with this is their assumption that the "Spectrum of Belief' is similar in Islam as it is in Christianity or Judaism. In those religions, the Specturm can be described -- the numbers are meant illustratively, not literally, as

20% Fundamentalist/Literalist
20% Conservative (accepting the sacred text as God-given, but accepting that there are some errors and myths)
15% Liberal (seeing the text as predominantly man-made but expressing the idea of God the believers accept)
10% Cultural (accepting the religion as part of their culture or traditions, but more accepting the rituals as a bonding with that tradition than seeing it as 'true.' This proportion is probably higher in Judaism because of the Holocaust and Judaism's 'ethnic' component)
30% secular (claiming membership in the religion, maybe attending the 'great ceremonies' but not seeing it as part of their day to day lives -- "Christmas and Easter Christians" or "Passover and Yom Kippur Jews")
5% rejectionist (atheist/agnostic/'spiritual' but not believers in the religion)

(I must stress that these are 'theological positions, and that there are wide variations both in interpretation and in social and political positions within each group.)

But the Islamic spectrum is different, mostly because there has been no Islamic Reformation. I recall that many Muslims complained, when there was condemnation of "Islamic Fundamentalism" in the media, that this was wrong, because 'all Muslims are Fundamentalists.'

This is not true, of course. But in Islam, the 'conservative' and 'liberal' points of view are the true 'small minorities' -- though over-represented in the 'blogosphere.' I'd argue that a more accurate 'Spectrum of Belief' in Islam is the following -- and again I repeat that there are wide variations within each division.

50% Fundamentalist/Literalist
5% (at most) Conservative and Liberal combined
10% Customary/Cultural
25% Secular
10% Rejectionist

Furthermore, there are differences in the way the three religions view their 'sacred texts' which affects the way they think.

Neither Christians nor Jews see their texts as 'the final, unchangable revelation dictated by God to their prophet' as Islam does.

Few C or J see their text as a blueprint for all of life. Nor are these religions -- any more -- involved with specific polities. (Israel is a secular state, after all, and few Catholics would support the Syllabus of Errors that condemned Democracy. And while some F/L Protestants seem to confuse religion and the Republican Party, few would, if asked, accept this as a theological position.)

Another important point is that, for F/L and Conservative Christians, at least, hell is seen as 'where sinners go.' For Muslims it is -- as is repeated endlessly in the Qur'an -- 'where Unbelievers go.' It is a subtle but important difference.

For the other religions, if a member rejects the religion, it is viewed as a problem between him and God. In Islam this is only true if he 'keeps silent' about his change in beliefs. Attempting to convince others is a serious transgression. "Extremists" view it as being punishable by death, but even 'secular' Muslim governments have imprisoned writers and scholars and forced them to divorce their wives for apostasy.

(Then there is the reported case of Dr. Sulieman Brashear who, while remaining a Muslim, found through his researches that Islam had developed over time and not 'sprung full-blown' from Mohammed's forehead. His colleagues at the University of Nablus are reliably said to have settled the dispute with him by throwing him out a second-story window.)

And, sadly, the Qur'an does contain ugliness, at least in Western eyes. There is considerable misogyny in it -- it contains NO verse directed specifically at women, who are always 'they', not you -- women are ordered to be subject to their husbands and must obey them, and they ARE permitted to be beaten. (As The United Nation Population Fund (UNFP) in its State of World Population 2005 report found:
In Egypt, 94 percent of women thought it was acceptable to be beaten, as did 91 percent in Zambia.)

(There is misogyny in the other sacred texts, but it is softened by stories of noble, heroic women. Not in the Qur'an)

There is NO equivalent to the Qur'anic injunction:
“Fight against those who (1) believe not in Allaah, (2) nor in the Last Day, (3) nor forbid that which has been forbidden by Allaah and His Messenger (Muhammad), (4) and those who acknowledge not the religion of truth (i.e. Islam) among the people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians), until they pay the Jizyah with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued”

or the command to kill the unbeliever wherever he is found.

There is also nothing like the insistence that 'unbelievers' REALLY know the 'the truth' and are simply refusing to become Muslims out of 'envy' or a wish to do evil. (Unbelievers, in the Qur'an are, by definition, evil and acting from evil motives.) Or, similarly, that the entire non-Muslim world is occupied in 'scheming' to keep Islam down.

(This paranoia, coupled with the gullibility that fundamentalism/literalism always brings, can readily spread beyond strictly religious bounds. Not only do Muslims frequently refuse to believe reports of such as 9/11 and other evil acts by Muslims -- 'no Muslim would do something like that' -- but, as an example, many Muslims are sure the Moon lnding was a Hollywood-produced hoax.

All of this combines to produce the effect I mentioned. The 'Muslim reality' is so different from that of the West. The Qur'an was NOT dictated by Allah. Mohammed was not the perfect human being. Sharia law does not work when applied. Muslim governments usually do not work well for their own people and are corrupt. Next to the West, the Muslim world IS backwards, and that is lessened only because they make use of Western technology. No modern society -- including Muslim ones -- can work without interest-charging banks. Etc.

But accepting these facts would mean challenging the tenets of their religion, which they cannot do without risking both the carefully described tortures of hell and civil punishments. All they can do are two things. One is to insist that the reason for the failures is that the people were not being Islamic ENOUGH -- the solution for the failure of Islam in political terms is MORE Islam.

And finally it is to impose their reality on the rest of the world rather than to accept the reality that causes them to doubt. And they do, violently, if necessary."

In the next post on Islam -- after some others, I hope -- I want to discuss some points I made, here, particularly about the specific negative effects of the form of literalism that is found in Islam.

But I continue to seek people who can point me in better directions, who can convince me that my fears and interpretations are overblown.


Blogger Hallq said...

John 3:18- "he who does not believed is condemned."

In orthodox Christianity, Hell is indeed where unbelievers go. Granted, there is the rationalization that they go there because everyone is a sinner and can only be saved by belief, but this is the eqivalent of saying, "We don't kill unbelievers, they're just not allowed to have food."

Also, some Christians do claim that unbelievers really believe in God, or claim, as one leading evangelical does, that the unbeliever "willingly ignores and rejects the drawing of God's Spirit on his heart" and for this reason deserves damnation. I wish I still had the book that quote comes from, as the guy cites Bible verses in his support, but the citations are there at any rate.

4:40 PM  
Blogger Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

Thanx, Chris. The difference is that while relatively small groups of Christians may believe this, it is not the main focus in the Bible. You found one verse, and maybe there are a few more, in 40+ books. The Qur'an is one (endlessly repetitive) book and it repeats the comments about unbelievers well over a hundred times.

And in practice, most Christian preachers stress SIN, not UNBELIEF -- since they aren't talking to unbelievers, or telling Christians not to befriend unbelievers.

The result is, and it is a subtle but important difference, that a Christian -- particularly a pre-pubescent or pubescent one might feel guilty about masturbation, or some petty shoplifting, or some other minor offense. A Muslim will feel guilty about DOUBT, about questioning his faith or the tenets of it. (Okay, some fundie Christians will too, but not as strongly).

Because of this he's trapped -- the Muslim, I mean. He doesn't dare develop the one tool that would free himself, criticial thinking, because if he uses it on his religion, he risks hell, or legal punishment in this life if he lives in a Muslim society.

6:41 PM  
Blogger Tom Strong said...

And in practice, most Christian preachers stress SIN, not UNBELIEF -- since they aren't talking to unbelievers, or telling Christians not to befriend unbelievers.

It seems to me you're underrating the number of Christians who do both, especially the former. At least here in the South, Christians who claim that unbelief leads to damnation are a dime a dozen. And I live in a relatively "blue" city (Atlanta).

9:27 PM  
Blogger Hallq said...

Yeah - one report put the portion of the American population believing "All who do not accept Christ as savior will go to hell." at 39%:


The idea is repeated more often in the Quran, but when I cracked open a Quaran for the first time after hearing all kinds of bad things about Islam, I was expecting something worse than ad nauseum repetitions of statements found in the Bible.

3:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"(There is misogyny in the other sacred texts, but it is softened by stories of noble, heroic women. Not in the Qur'an)"

I refer you to Womem in the Qur'an. It neglects to mention Asiyah, Pharaoh's believing wife (66:11).

6:21 PM  

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