If it is it doesn't matter

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Where are my fellow liberals?

I have been a liberal my entire life, for good reason. I am an atheist, bisexual, a believer in free speech, a believer in civil rights, a believer in the right to dissent, a believer in due process, etc. I grew up during the McCarthy era, and the later era of the John Birch Society. I was 8 when Brown v. Board of Ed. came down. I opposed the Vietnam War -- and if that was, in a way, the 'liberal's war' it was also the liberals who turned against it. I have watched Conservatives lead the anti-evolution forces, the forces of censorship, the lies from McCarthy to Agnew to Coulter. As a historian, I have seen the actions of Conservatives against progress, against freedom, and have seen the actions of Roosevelt, of the Progressives of the 20s and Thirties, of the great Supreme Court Justices from the first Harlan through Brennan.

I am still proud to call myself a liberal. no a LIBERAL, and I still believe in the same principles. But I am getting worried. There have been two stories recently that have touched my LIBERAL (yes, sometimes bleeding) heart the strongest. The cartoon controversy, and most of all the Abdul Rahman horror. I would have expected it would be my fellow liberals that would be screaming at these violations of the freedoms we love.

Instead it is Michelle Malkin.

MICHELLE MALKIN!

I just went down a list of liberal blogs, certainly not all of them, but a good group of at least twenty. I saw many pieces on Bush -- but none mentioning that it took him five days to respond to the Rahman horror. I saw tons of commentary on a Conservative writer for the Washington POST who has proven to be a plagiarist.

I saw two mentions of Rahman, one in passing, and one by a blogger who was, while admitting that the Rahman story was horrible, debating another blogger who was screaming about the vileness of the Afghani clergymen.

Yes, I am not surprised that the Christians and Conservatives are yelling at the case. Rahman is being punished for becoming a Christian. (I wonder how many would have spoken as loudly if he had announced he was an atheist. After all, several of the sites I saw had ads for a book denouncing the Dover decision.)

But, my fellow liberals, if you do not protest this, if you do not see this as an attack on freedoms you have spent your lives fighting for, if you do not -- while avoiding bigotry, avoiding screams of 'islamofascism' that lump all Muslims together -- demand the release of this man, if you are so entrapped in the misunderstanding of multi-culturalism that would accept any actuion by a group, no matter how vile, as a reflection of their culture to be protected -- would you have accepted anti-Semitism in Germany as a part of the culture, as it was -- if you are so lost as to think that this is not as much an assault on your freedom as it is on one poor man in Afghanistan...

Then I am sorry I cannot believe in a hell, so I can't picture you there, sharing the fiery lake of the "Illustrious Dunderheads" -- in Rex Stout's words -- of the 30s.

But then...

I keep reading comments like the ones by LouLou and Ali, and I am impressed -- and yes, I will go back to those comments and more questions later. But then, I read something like this (from the AP on the CNN website)

http://edition.cnn.com/2006/WORLD/asiapcf/03/23/afghan.christian.ap/index.html

But three Sunni preachers and a Shiite one interviewed by The Associated Press in four of Kabul's most popular mosques said they do not believe Rahman is insane.
"He is not crazy. He went in front of the media and confessed to being a Christian," said Hamidullah, chief cleric at Haji Yacob Mosque. "The government is scared of the international community. But the people will kill him if he is freed."
Raoulf, who is a member of the country's main Islamic organization, the Afghan Ulama Council, concurred. "The government is playing games. The people will not be fooled."
"Cut off his head!" he exclaimed, sitting in a courtyard outside Herati Mosque. "We will call on the people to pull him into pieces so there's nothing left."
He said the only way for Rahman to survive would be for him to go into exile.
But Said Mirhossain Nasri, the top cleric at Hossainia Mosque, one of the largest Shiite places of worship in Kabul, said Rahman must not be allowed to leave the country.
"If he is allowed to live in the West, then others will claim to be Christian so they can, too," he said. "We must set an example. ... He must be hanged."
The clerics said they were angry with the United States and other countries for pushing for Rahman's freedom.
"We are a small country and we welcome the help the outside world is giving us. But please don't interfere in this issue," Nasri said. "We are Muslims and these are our beliefs. This is much more important to us than all the aid the world has given us."
Afghanistan's constitution is based on Sharia law, which is interpreted by many Muslims to require that any Muslim who rejects Islam be sentenced to death.
Hamidullah warned that the government would lose the support of the people if it frees Rahman, and "there will be an uprising" like the one against Soviet occupying forces in the 1980s.

---

"Cut off his head. Pull him to pieces. We must set an example. He must be hanged. There will be an uprising if it frees Rahman." These are not laymen, giving their impression of Islam. They are clerics, Islamic authorities. (True, from a very conservative part of the world.) And it isn't just the claim that he deserves death, but the barbarity of their words.

Words, for once, fail me.

Haditha

I read it first on Treasure of Iraq's blog:
http://baghdadtreasure.blogspot.com/2006/03/accident-or-cold-blooded-revenge.html#comments
He is a good reporter, but he has -- as he should -- a point of view, and it is not favorable to America. But it isn't a story, i believe, that he covered, He cites TIME Magazine, and i went there.

TIME Magazine may no longer be the automatically pro-American mag it was during the Luce days, but it is still hardly a far-left -- or left at all -- magazine, except in the paranoid eyes of the Ann Coulters. It ran this story, and I hope anyone who can reads it:
http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1174682,00.html

This is the Iraqi My Lai, if it proves to be true. Yes, it was a mistake, yes it was a company of Marines enraged and crazed by the death of one of their own, and yes, Haditha was a 'stronghold of the resistance.' These are not excuses. What we did there was a true atrocity -- and there is evidence it is not an isolated incident.

Yes, I believe that Iraq would be better as a democracy, and the more secular the better.
Yes, I believe that America, despite its blunders, is still the 'light of the world,' pointing the way to the sort of world that we need to have.
Yes, I believe that George W. Bush is a self-deluding, religion-drunk fool rather than an evil man, and that his motives were not either homicidal mania, greed for oil, or a religious crusade.
Yes, I believe that the others involved in this policy were mostly acting out of high motives. (And even those who were acting from mixed ones, from petty greed and corruption, were not basically evil, merely selfishly trying to 'get a cut' of available monies.)
Yes, I believe that if George Bush could truly grasp Haditha, Abu Gharaib and the rest through his blinders and his inability to admit a mistake, he would spend days racked with tears.
Yes, I feel sorry for what will happen in Iraq after we leave, until they settle down into some form of government or governments.

IT DOESN'T MATTER ANY MORE.

The pictures of Haditha are spreading through the blogosphere. It is those, and the Abu Gharaib ones, and Falluja that will define what we were doing there -- never mind that it is our freedom of the press, our ability to self-criticize that brought them to light. Yes, it is true that, as our apologists say -- read the comments on TREASURE OF BAGHDAD -- that the religious fanatics and 'insurgents' have killed more Iraqis than we have, and more innocents. This has been the last straw. We can no longer accomplish our aims. Every day we are there, we are hurting ourselves, and hurting the chances of Iraq ever becoming a democracy instead of a new Iran, or a tortured Lebanon.

We have to do it wisely. We have to take a short time to protect those who we have already helped. But we no longer have a choice.

WE MUST END THE OCCUPATION AND BRING THE TROOPS HOME AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.

More later on the questions

I want to thank Ali and LouLou for the answers they have already given to the series of questions. I will be reposting the sections of question 4 later today, and adding more. And I will be responding to the answers I have already given. But I have to interrupt this to mention a news story.

It will come as no surprise to those who have read this that I fear a long-term and explosive confrontation between Muslims and the West. But that fear has nothing to do with the War in Iraq, which I have opposed from the beginning. If you look back into the archives, you'll even see a discussion of why I think George Bush took us there.

But once we were there, I, at first, hoped we'd manage to make some good out of a mistake, that we WOULD manage to start Iraq on the path towards Democracy -- which I feel is a necessity for any country.

After a while I began to change my feelings. I looked at the history of the last century and realized that no country has managed to create a government in another country through invasion and occupation -- except in one circumstance, when the previous government has STARTED a war that proved disastrous to the country. (Germany after both world wars, Japan after the second, maybe Afghanistan now.)

Countries HAVE been able to overthrow a government, get out, and aid the people to create their own -- WWI gives many examples, as does Panama in the last decade. And the USSR managed to hold governments in power longer than anyone else, by using tactics and pressure no democratic government would, but even in most of those governments they started with an indigenous faction.

But the failures, from the 'white Army' invasion of the young USSR, to the attempt to determine the fate of the post Ottoman Turkey, through Vichy France, Greece after WWII, Vietnam, Cuba, "Mainland China's" pressure on Taiwan, even the fall of the colonial regimes shows this does NOT work.

I had to hope that America would set a deadline and tell Iraq it was on its own, that the US would supply economic aid, rebuilding aid, but not to provide troops after a certain point, maybe six months to a year from now. I think it would have worked.

But, just yesterday I read a story...

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Question - transition between 3 and 4

Many times when certain barbaric practises that occur only or principally in Muslim societies are brought up (honor killing, forced marriage, etc.) the response is that these are 'cultural survivals' in primitive societies. Yet these societies have been Muslim for centuries. Why has Islam not been able to extirpate this type of primitivism? And why, when civil authorities attempt to move against them, are they so frequently criticized by religious authorities? If Islam is an example of higher values, why does it not fight fiercely to change the ideas of believers in societies which accept such things? Instead, it appears to me too often that, if the society is Muslim, any 'local custom' is accepted.

(Does this have anything to do with the Qur'anic insistence on belief rather than on conduct? Both are mentioned -- as they are by other religions -- but it is the statement that 'Unbelievers go to hell' which is repeated hundreds of time in the Qur'an. Some Christians accept this as well, but the stress there is on 'sinners going to hell.')

Even though I have mentioned other religions in these questions, I am specifically asking about Islam, and hope that the responses will be restricted to that, and that i don't get a chorus of 'well, Christians -- or Jews, or Hindus -- do bad things too.' I am an atheist myself, and could criticize other religions strongly, but it is Islam I am trying to understand, not trying to prosecute.

Question 3

This is a reposting of a series of questions addressed to 'Moderate Muslims and Muslim Reformers." This one question is perhaps the one I am most interested in getting an answer to.

3: What values, ethical or moral principles, philosophical ideas or other concepts in Islam cause you to remain a Muslim, rather than to either join another religion or to become 'a secular good person'?

Question 3a

3a: In which cases do you consider Islamic values superior to Western ones on similar topics?

Questions 3b

3b: In which cases do you consider Western values superior?

Question 3c

3c: How can those Western values you prefer be joined onto an Islam many of whose believers consider is unchangeable.

Questions 3d

3d: Is Islam compatible with democracy and democratic values?

Questions 3e

3e: If you feel it is, how do you answer an ultraconservative who argues as follows (referring to our ultraconservative "Islam Q&A")

"Question :Is the one who fails to rule by that which Allaah has revealed and bases the entire legal system on man-made laws a kaafir? Should we differentiate between him and one who judges according to sharee’ah, but may rule in a manner contrary to sharee’ah on some issues, because of his own whims and desires or because of a bribe, etc.?

Answer :Praise be to Allaah.Yes, we must make this distinction. The one who rejects the law of Allaah and casts it aside, and replaces it with man-made laws and the opinions of individuals has committed an act of kufr which puts him beyond the pale of Islam. Whereas the one who adheres to the religion of Islam, but is a sinner and wrongdoer by virtue of his following his whims and desires in some cases, or pursuing some worldly interest, but admits that he is a wrongdoer by doing so, is not guilty of kufr which would put him beyond the pale of Islam.Whoever thinks that ruling by man-made laws is equal to ruling by sharee’ah, and thinks that it is OK to do that, is also guilty of kufr that puts him beyond the pale of Islam, even if it is only in one instance. Shaykh ‘Abd-Allaah al-Ghunaymaan (www.islam-qa.com)

Question 3f

3f: There are many tenets of Islam that I can wholeheartedly agree with, such as giving to the poor, the equality of all, taking care of relatives, etc. But in Islam, these commands seem to be limited to believers, thus 'all Muslims are equal before God. Other religions are less strict in such dinstinctions. For example, Jewish and Christian charities, in most cases -- not all -- give benefits to those not of their faiths. Can Islam extend those ideas to non-believers as well?

Questions 3g

3g: Several places in the Qur'an assume the existence of slavery, particularly the enslavement of prisoners of war. (Thus the first punishment for killing a believer accidentally is to free a believing slave. And there are several verses permitting a -- male -- Muslim to have sex with a slave.) Yet, today, slavery is viewed as barbaric, inhuman, and something that humanity has 'put behind itself." How do you reconcile or accept this?

Questions 3g

3g: Several places in the Qur'an assume the existence of slavery, particularly the enslavement of prisoners of war. (Thus the first punishment for killing a believer accidentally is to free a believing slave. And there are several verses permitting a -- male -- Muslim to have sex with a slave.) Yet, today, slavery is viewed as barbaric, inhuman, and something that humanity has 'put behind itself." How do you reconcile or accept this?

Questions 1 &2 -- comments

I received only one comment on the first two questions. Krava, a Portugese blogger
http://aconjuntura.blogspot.com/
said
"Question:If you realy wanted answers, why did you asked such biased questions? "

My response is that I feel the questions are pointed and challenging, but not biased.

Question 2

These posts are part of a series of questions directed at 'moderate Muslims' and 'Muslim reformers.' They were originally published below in large posts, I have broken them up to aid discussion. This section is on legal matters and Sharia. (There will be a final miscellaneous section to cover areas I did not cover)

2: Do you believe that Muslims should be under Shariah law -- not obey it but be governed by it -- either in Muslim countries or in Muslim communities existing in non-Muslim countries?

Question 2a

2a: In what ways do you see Sharia law as superior to secular law as promulgated in countries such as the US, Canada, and England -- or in other Western countries if you know them better and would prefer to discuss them. In what ways, if any, do you see these secular legal systems preferably to Sharia?

Question 2b

2b: Should apostates be punished criminally if they merely leave Islam? What if they attempt to convince others of their position, with the possibility that they would leave as well?

Should there be a difference if
i) the apostate converts to another 'religion of the book
ii) converts to a different religion entirely
iii) becomes an agnostic
iv) converts to an 'Islamic heresy'
v) converts from Sunni to Shia or vice versa

Question 2c

2c: Should blasphemy be punishable by law?

Question 2d

2d: As far as I know, neither the Qur'an nor the Hadiths specifically condemn rape, distinctly from other -- consensual -- sexual sins. If I am wrong, can you quote me a hadith or verse of a Sura where such a condemnation occurs?

Questions 2e

2e: What rights should homosexuals have? Homosexual Muslims?

Question 2f

2f: Many of the punishments that are supposedly based on sharia and on specific verses of the Qur'an or on Hadiths are seen as excessively harsh, and when countries have attempted to impliment them, there have been outcries against them, both from within and without the countries. Do you accept such punishments, and if not, how do you get around the Qur'anic verses that seem to call for them?

Question 1

1: Do you accept that the Qur'an is the final revelation of God, dictated, through Gabriel, to Mohammed?

Question 1a

("It" is the Qur'an, of course)

1a: If you do not, what do you consider it is, and what authority do you believe it holds?

Question 1b

(References are to ther earlier parts of the question as originally posted.)

1b: If you do, how do you explain the inconsistencies, contradictions, and specifically the scientific and historical errors, for example (all quotes are from Pickthal)

18:86 Till, when he reached the setting-place of the sun, he found it setting in a muddy spring

18:90 Till, when he reached the rising-place of the sun, he found it rising on a people for whom We had appointed no shelter therefrom.
And the many other places where the Qur'an supports a geocentric Universe

(not as wrong, just silly is 67:5 And verily We have beautified the world's heaven with lamps, and We have made them missiles for the devils, and for them We have prepared the doom of flame. And if you think this is merely an obsolete quirk, the following was quoted in "Islam Q&A" "Al-Bukhaari said in his Saheeh: Qutaadah said: “Allaah created these stars for three purposes: to adorn the heavens, to stone the devils and as signs by which to navigate. Whoever seeks anything else in them is mistaken and does not benefit from them, and he is wasting his time and effort in seeking something of which he has no knowledge.” (Saheeh al-Bukhaari, Baab fi’l-Nujoom, 2/240) by Sheikh Muhammed Salih Al-Munajjid )

For history, see 5:116 "And when Allah saith: O Jesus, son of Mary! Didst thou say unto mankind: Take me and my mother for two gods beside Allah ?" implying Mary is part of the Christian Trinity

or 7:124 "Surely I shall have your hands and feet cut off upon alternate sides. Then I shall crucify you every one." supposedly spoken by the Pharaoh of the Exodus when crucifixion was invented by the Romans centuries later.

Trying again with the questions

I always do things on the net first-draft -- if I didn't, I'd keep redrafting and redrafting and would never get anything posted. But this means my posts are usually very long with too many points to comment on. The 'questions for moderate Muslims' posts, though, are too important for me to let get buried, this is something that is worrying me very much. So I am going to reprint the three posts I already posted, broken into more manageable sections, and then break the other three posts I have planned into equivalent sections. (I may do a little editing on them, but not change the points.) I'll reprint each of the already posted ones in reverse order so they appear from 'top to bottom.'

Hopefully there will be someone out there who can answer my points.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Questions for Moderate Muslims #3

In a comment to my first post in this series, I was accused of asking biased questions. I don't believe I did, in that or the other post in the series. Hard questions, certainly. Challenging questions, yes. But 'biased' ones, no.

This group, however, does come from a personal bias. I have always been a feminist, that is, I have never accepted that men should have any rights women should not, have never even accepted the concept of 'gender roles,' other than the strictly physiological. Growing up in a lesbian household can do that for you, one of the reasons I consider it lucky I did. (Yes, in the 1950s, in suburban New Jersey no less. This may be one of the things that Jami referred to in his post. And the other reasons I consider myself lucky have far more to do with the people Billie (my 'birth mother') and Claire (her partner of over 30 years until her death) were, and the quality of parenting they gave me than their genitalia. But I'll discuss this another time, it is really irrelevant here.

One thing that is also irrelevant is the permanent cliche that keeps on coming up in discussions of Islam and women's rights and treatment. "But, Mohammed treated women better than Christianity and Judaism did at the time." It is not just a cliche, it is not just irrelevant -- we aren't living in the 7th Century, at least most of us aren't -- I am not sure it is true, except possibly as far as the question of inheritance goes.

So, if anyone insists on bringing this up, I will insist they include quotes from the Talmud, the Torah, the New Testament, or the "Church Fathers" to show that they accepted what Mohammed did. Now, on with the questions. I think there are enough issue that this may lap over into two posts, even ones as long as readers of this blog are getting used to.

Of course, the first question is obvious:
4: Do you believe that women and men should be treated equally as far as rights go, and if not, how do you feel they should differ, and why.

4a: Do you accept the Qur'anic rules as far as the proper division of inheritance goes, or the rules that in certain cases it takes the testimony of two women to match that of one man.

4b: How do you feel about the fact that the Qur'an never addresses women directly, that they are always 'they' not 'you.'

4c: Do you accept the idea that men need to be protected from 'uncontrollable sexual urges?' and Shaitanic temptation?

4d: If you do, do you accept that this should be done by encouraging or requiring women to restrict their freedoms in various areas?

4e: For each of the following, please state both what restrictions you believe women should accept, and if such restrictions should be voluntary, enforced by society, or enforced by legislation: (each of these has in fact been a matter of controversy)

i: 'modesty of dress'

ii: engaging in sporting events where the audience may include men and uniforms may not be able to meet the requirements of (i.)

iii: coeducation, and do you distinguish between primary school, high school, and college

iv: contact with 'non-mahram' men in day to day to life

That's enough for one post. Let's take up matters specifically relating to sex, marriage, and similar matters in the next.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Questions for Moderate Muslims #2

I probably should have broken the previous into two posts. I'll probably have about three more areas to ask about here, and I'll make them into distinct posts -- and possibly intersperse some other topics (I finally saw the new DR. WHO and baseball season is starting very soon).

But this one will be on values.

3: What values, ethical or moral principles, philosophical ideas or other cause you to remain Muslims, rather than to either join another religion or to become 'secular good people'?

3a: In which cases do you consider Islamic values superior to Western ones on similar topics?

3b: In which cases do you consider Western values superior?

3c: How can those Western values you prefer be joined onto an Islam many of whose believers consider is unchangeable.

3d: Is Islam compatible with democracy and democratic values.

3e: If you feel it is, how do you answer an ultraconservative who argues as follows (referring to our ultraconservative "Islam Q&A")

"Question :
Is the one who fails to rule by that which Allaah has revealed and bases the entire legal system on man-made laws a kaafir? Should we differentiate between him and one who judges according to sharee’ah, but may rule in a manner contrary to sharee’ah on some issues, because of his own whims and desires or because of a bribe, etc.? Answer :
Praise be to Allaah.
Yes, we must make this distinction. The one who rejects the law of Allaah and casts it aside, and replaces it with man-made laws and the opinions of individuals has committed an act of kufr which puts him beyond the pale of Islam. Whereas the one who adheres to the religion of Islam, but is a sinner and wrongdoer by virtue of his following his whims and desires in some cases, or pursuing some worldly interest, but admits that he is a wrongdoer by doing so, is not guilty of kufr which would put him beyond the pale of Islam.
Whoever thinks that ruling by man-made laws is equal to ruling by sharee’ah, and thinks that it is OK to do that, is also guilty of kufr that puts him beyond the pale of Islam, even if it is only in one instance.
Shaykh ‘Abd-Allaah al-Ghunaymaan (www.islam-qa.com)

3f: Many of the tenets of Islam that I can wholeheartedly agree with, such as giving to the poor, the equality of all, etc. seem, in Islam, to be limited to believers. Can Islam extend those ideas to non-believers as well?

3g: Several places in the Qur'an assume the existence of slavery, particularly the enslavement of prisoners of war. (Thus the punishment for killing a believer accidentally is first to free a believing slave.) How do you reconcile or accept this?

And, as a bridge between this section and the next, many times when certain barbaric practises that occur only or principally in Muslim societies are brought up (honor killing, forced marraige, etc.) the response is that these are 'cultural survivals' in primitive societies. Yet these societies have been Muslim for centuries. Why has Islam not been able to extirpate this type of primitivism? And why, when civil authorities attempt to move against them, are they so frequently criticized by religious authorities? If Islam is an example of higher values, why does it not fight fiercely against believers whose societies accept such things?

(I have bnot said this, but in all these questions, please answer in re Islam, and do not respond with "Well, look at what Christians do." I am an atheist and could criticize Christianity, Judaism and other religions strongly as well, but I am attempting to discuss Islam here, not compare it.)

More later or tomorrow. the next section will be on Islam and Women.

Questions for moderate Muslims and Muslim reformers

1: Do you accept that the Qur'an is the final revelation of God, dictated, through Gabriel, to Mohammed?

1a: If you do not, what do you consider it is, and what authority do you believe it holds?

1b: If you do, how do you explain the inconsistencies, contradictions, and specifically the scientific and historical errors, for example (all quotes are from Pickthal)

18:86 Till, when he reached the setting-place of the sun, he found it setting in a muddy spring
18:90 Till, when he reached the rising-place of the sun, he found it rising on a people for whom We had appointed no shelter therefrom.
And the many other places where the Qur'an supports a geocentric Universe
(not as wrong, just silly is 67:5 And verily We have beautified the world's heaven with lamps, and We have made them missiles for the devils, and for them We have prepared the doom of flame. And if you think this is merely an obsolete quirk, the following was quoted in "Islam Q&A" "Al-Bukhaari said in his Saheeh: Qutaadah said: “Allaah created these stars for three purposes: to adorn the heavens, to stone the devils and as signs by which to navigate. Whoever seeks anything else in them is mistaken and does not benefit from them, and he is wasting his time and effort in seeking something of which he has no knowledge.” (Saheeh al-Bukhaari, Baab fi’l-Nujoom, 2/240) by Sheikh Muhammed Salih Al-Munajjid )

For history, see 5:116 "And when Allah saith: O Jesus, son of Mary! Didst thou say unto mankind: Take me and my mother for two gods beside Allah ?" implying Mary is part of the Christian Trinity

or 7:124 "Surely I shall have your hands and feet cut off upon alternate sides. Then I shall crucify you every one." supposedly spoken by the Pharaoh of the Exodus when crucifixion was invented by the Romans centuries later.

2: Do you believe that Muslims should be under Shariah law -- not obey it but be governed by it, either in Muslim countries or in communities existing in non-Muslim countries?

2a: In what ways do you see Sharia law as superior to secular law as promulgated in countries such as the US, Canada, and England -- or other Western countries if you prefer.

2b: Should apostates be punished criminally if they merely leave Islam? What if they attempt to convince others of their position?

2c: Should blasphemy be punishable by law?

2d: As far as I know, neither the Qur'an nor the Hadiths specifically condemn rape, distinctly from other consensual sexual sins. Can you quote me a hadith or verse of a Sura where this condemnation occurs.

2e: What rights should homosexuals have? Homosexual Muslims?

2f: Many of the punishments that are supposedly based on sharia and on specific verses of the Qur'an or on Hadiths are seen as excessively harsh, and when countries attempt to impliment them, there is an outcry against them. Do you accept such punishments, and if not, how do you get around the Qur'anic verses that seem to call for them?

That's enough for now. There will be a part B on the Islamic attitude towards women, on Islamic practices that are frequently explained away as 'cultural survivals' and on thew treatment of Unbelievers, and other things.

A point I have made is demonstrated

From this Friday's USA Today:
(This is a trial in Afghanistan of a man who converted from Islam to Christianity. The speaker is Judge Ansarullah Mawlavezada )

Afghanistan's constitution is based on Shariah law, which states that any Muslim who rejects their religion should be sentenced to death.

"We are not against any particular religion in the world. But in Afghanistan, this sort of thing is against the law," the judge said. "It is an attack on Islam. ... The prosecutor is asking for the death penalty."

The reference is
USA Todayhttp://www.usatoday.com/news/religion/2006-03-19-convert_x.htm

No other religion demands or has demanded this.

A few minor changes

I had previously marked the comments as 'no anonymous comments.' I realized after Jami's comments, and my searching back to his blog, that this meant you had to get a blog to comment -- that's how I got this in the first place, trying to comment on Deborah Lipstadt's blog. So I have no enabled anonymous posting -- though i would prefer if people signed their comments, and I included word verification just to avoid possible spamming.

The major change, getting my blogroll up, should finally be done this week, I hope.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Paging Dr. Kafka

(Part 2 of my Adventures in Medicaid)

Actually the reapplication process went smoothly at first. The interviewer would only talk to one person, so Em went in. (I wonder if the reason for that os self-protection. If he turns you down, better he should have only one person mad at him.)

I begged Em to ask "What is an S87, but she apologized. She described the guy as a complete robot, only interested in the next blank on the form. Even though Em tends to be relectant to assert herself -- except when she's talking to me -- I accepted this. We had a couple of documents to bring in. We did, and this time I asked one of the visible workers, "What's an S87?"

"I don't know."

Anyway, we relaxed, caught our breath, dealt with only the ordinary chaos we and five cats can cause, and waited. The person who talked with Em when she brought in the other documents said she'd try to expedite things so we'd hear in two to four weeks, instead of the usual four to eight. But our paperwork was in order, everything up to snuff, we figured things would go smoothly.

Then WHAM!

Earlier this week we get a letter explaining that our reapplication was being denied because an RFI had shown that my wife had three bank accounts at the Dime Savings Bank, one that we recognized, another for a few hundred dollars, and a third for an amount well into five figures. Which would have been very nice, except for one problem. We knew nothing at all about the other accounts. (I wondered, and a friend suggested, that perhaps Em's parents had opened an account for her many years ago and never told her. Either that, I assumed, or it was a simple clerical error. There was one obvious error already, since while Em had had an account in the Dime for years, the bank no longer existed as such, and hadn't for at least seven years. It had been bought and was now a Washington Mutual bank.)

So Em and I went to the bank and discovered it was a third possibility. The friend who had called us had listed Em's name as the beneficiary on the account. She had been friends with Em since before I came along and had no family to leave her money to. Of course she is in reasonable health and, as long as she is alive, we have noi ability -- or desire -- to touch the money. (Of course, we now did know her account numbers, thanks to Medicaid.)

What do we do? Contact Medicaid and get it straightened out. So we call the number to 'arrange a conference.'

The result. Sound of phone being answered, sound resembling a computer or fax hook up. "To access your voice mail, press the * key. Thank your for calling Gng." Followed by a selection of fragments of e-mail messages (no, we DIDN'T press the * key) followed by "If you want to leave a message, wait for the beep."

Somehow, this was not helpful.

So we call 311. "I'll connect you to the Medicaid Complaint Department." Which would have been useful, except after 40 rings, no one picks up.

So I try another, general number for Medicaid. This results in a message from the City Commissioner of Human Rights followed by silence, no ringing, none of those delightful nests of instructions that can take five minutes to reach a human voice. Not even a pleasant bit of classical music to calm me down.

Back to 311. This time I get the Complaint Department #. Try it again. No answer. Repeat. Same result. Back to the original number. Same result, only with a different selection of voice mail fragments. Back to the general number. The Commissioner has a lovely voice, but this isn't helping.

Back to 311. Repeat the problem. "Okay, I'll connect you to the general Medicaid number." I ask if it is the number I already have. Yes. I start to explain. The phone and one of my cats are on the bed. The cat, having heard enough, steps on the disconnect button.

By this time it is too late to go to the office listed on the sheet, which is actually for the State, though it is also the mailing address for the city if you want to arrange a conference by mail -- no, I don't understand it.

We decide to leave the next day, after Em's dental appointment -- she is getting a full set of dentures and, because of the complications of insurance, it has been almost a year since she started the process.

The main reason for the delay was going to a private dentist who took Medicaid. When he found that he couldn't talk her out of having dentures and convince her to have a series of root canals and repairs on the teeth that would have cost almost as much as our mythical account, and that Medicaid wouldn't pay for, he instructed his receptionist not to give us an appointment. And when she finally went to a hospital clinic -- at the same hospital that dropped a bench on my leg which was why she was reluctant to try it -- great doctors, lousy support personnell at that hospital -- she found out the insurance WOULD pay for the extractions, but not for general anaesthesia and surgery. Which meant she had to have four teeth at a time removed each week -- they couldn't give her enough novocaine for more removals safely. Fortunately, the clinic knew we had been kicked off but decided to complete the work anyway, since all her teeth had been already removed and she'd been walking around toothless for a couple of months as they waited for her mouth to heal and final adjustments to the teeth to be made. (I should mention that Em is 18 years younger than I am, even though the only way you'd guess this in her toothless condition is that I look fifteen years older than my age, so it averages out.)

Anyway, we decide to try the Coney island office again before heading into Manhattan. We'd been having a warm snap. Guess which day it broke and went back to seasonal.

We get down there, Em shows the letter we'd gotten from the bank. It's fine except for one thing. The person who made it out forgot to date it. Fortunately there's a branch of Washington Mutual nearby. We get it stamped, turn it in, and there things rest.

I want to say that it is all smooth sailing from this point on. But I'm not THAT crazy.

Oh, and one final point. It's now obvious that S87 DID mean 'too many assets. Which means we were kicked off unjustly. While we've been off, Em had to buy asthma medication, I needed pain pills for my arthritis, and since Vicodin is unrenewable, we had to go to the doctor. All of which we had to pay for out of our own (tiny) pockets. I suppose we COULD put in a claim for these expenses.

I don't think we will. Vicodin works on headaches too, but there are limits to the number the doctor will prescribe for us.


So we

Friday, March 17, 2006

Dr. Kafka, I presume

Finally I get a chance to write this, since the events it describes are, temporarily, quieted down.
And LOOK EVERYBODY, Prup can actually write a post and not mention Islam or Muslims. (Well, there was this one Muslim couple sitting in front of us at one trip to an office who overheard me discussing one of my posts and the man seemed to be annoyed, but he's only an extra in this script.)

Now I live in America, in Brooklyn. Which has a lot of very good points, but we are the only Western country I know of for which health care is not considered a right. (Which is rather dumb, since American industry loses more days to illness that could be cured than it cost to insure everybody, and large companies that are unionized wind up having to pay a major amount of cash for private insurance for their workers -- and those are just the Republican arguments for Universal Health Care.)

Due to our own situation, which i don't need to describe, both Em and I were on Medicaid -- and if you get them confused the way most people do, Medicaid is for those who are broke, Medicare is the one for those who are broken down by virtue of age, or other disability. In our case we belong to a Medicaid HMO, as al people now are required to do.

Things were going fine for two years. We had filled out our renewal form in Mid-October, knowing it would take until March before it went through and we were renewed for the next year. (We'd be technically kicked off for a day until the new list was put on, but we were used to such technological wizardry.)

In mid-February, Em was going to her therapist when she is told "You've been kicked off Medicaid." Her shock and confusion and annoyance can be consewrvatively expressed as "HUH???!!!!!?????"

We called the HMO. "Why were we kicked off?"

We were told, "You didn't get your renewal forms in on time." Interesting, since I'd gotten an extra set of forms and had called Medicaid and was told they had received them. So I called the NYC HRA.

After checking, "Yes, we have your forms. You were kicked off because of, let me see, the code is S87."

"What does S87 mean?"

"I don't know, it's a new code."

"Could you please find out what it means?" (In retrospect, I might not have been that polite, but I wasn't screaming and cursing either, might as well make myself look good.)

The person on the other end puts the reciever down, and either doesn't push the 'hold' button, or it is broken. I hear all sorts of conversation going on. "What's an S87?" "I don't know?" "Where do I look," and general confusion, with at least one person saying "Never MIND about the code."

Finally the person comes back. "You have too large assets."

(Our situation has not changed in the time since we applied. Our bacnk account has remained at the 4-figure level, with the first number only going over 1 immediately after we receive a Christmas gift from Em's parents. And that is max, some months it hits the two-figure level. We own neither a car, a house, or much of anything, we live in Em's parents' house since they moved South. Our cats are, of course, valuable assets to us, but financially they wind up on the debit side. Five cats use a LOT of cat litter and food.)

But this is a general Medicaid number. I figure I should call a local office. So I call 311, the number for the City's non-emergency help line. These people are very nice, but they don't HAVE numbers for the local Medicaid offices. "Wait a minute, one of them is located in the nurse's residence at X Hospital. I can connect you there."

The hospital must have been used to these calls because before i could get the question finished they gave me the right number.

I get through, and the office confirms that we have been cut off -- even though we've filled presecriptions at our pharmacist that day and are able to do for the next few days. And yes, it is an "S87."

"What's an S87?"

"I haven't the faintest idea. You'll just have to go to an office and reapply."

"Wait a minute," says I, having had some experience with public assistance in the time before I was married. "If we're cut off, don't we have to be notified and given a chance to appeal?"

"Oh, yes. That's handled automatically by computer. The notice should have gone out already." (We have yet to receive it.) "But you'll still have to reapply."

The hospital office isn't convenient. The one on Coney Island -- not an island, btw, for non-NewYorkers, just a neighborhood (and there haven't been rabbits there for centuries, for the linguists among you) -- is an easy subway ride away.

So, after about a day of panic attacks -- usually Em's specialty and one reason why we are on Medicaid to begin with, but this time I am keeping up with her shudder for shudder -- we go down there.

It is February, remember. It's been very warm this winter, but not this day. And Coney island is not an island, but it is on the Ocean. And the office is right up against the Boardwalk, overlooking the Ocean. (If I'd had a pair of stilts, i could have waved to The Religious policeman in England.) But we manage to get there, and the 'Bentoncicle" phase only lasts a few minutes. The building's heat supply is working, which in retrospect was an unexpected blessing.


To Be Continued tonight if possible.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

How to answer a critic of Islam

I know, I know, but it looks like the chaos is settling down and I'll be able to put up a few posts over the next few days, including "Dr. Kafka, I Presume" that will explain part of the chaos. But a correspondent of mine sent me 'Aquol's "How to be a Muslim Reformer"
http://www.aqoul.com/archives/2006/03/how_to_be_a_mus.php
and I couldn't resist. (If you haven't come across this, check it out first.)

How to answer a critic of Islam

In the past few years many former Muslims have turned against their religion and written articles and books critical of it. This has resulted in a scarcity of people prepared to respond to them. (Perhaps not a scarcity of people willing to respond, but shouting 'Death to the enemies of Allah' is not considered to be the most effective form of criticising them, and has even been known to bring them a certain degree of sympathy, as well as police portection. And other writers, such as Sheikh Muhammed Salih Al-Munajjid who runs the "Islam Q&A" site
http://www.islam-qa.com/
who has conveyed the ruling that 'excessive laughter' is haram for a Muslim; that a man should not ride public transport with a woman, and should avoid sitting next to one -- even if it requires regular seat changing -- and if he feels himself tempted must leave the transport at once, even if it means being late for work; and that "if a woman has the misfortune to be studying in a mixed university, she should reduce the evil as much as she can, so she should not debate with men or allow any opportunity to speak to her or get to know her, even if that leads to her getting lower grades. Warding off evil takes precedence over seeking benefits." is not considered to portray the progressive, moderate image of Islam that is needed to confront the apostates.

Since there is such a lack, I have prepared a guide to the proper way to answer such critics. A person who follows it can write any number of articles and gain a fine reputation for brilliance, even among some non-Muslims who are impressed by the moderate reasonableness of the responses.

Of course, the responder has one main advantage if he knows the proper usage of the "SOS Device," a rhetorical trick hardly limited to Muslims. (Defenders of George Bush's and Republican domestic policies have been using it for years. Some people credit Ronald Reagan with its invention, though in fact it had been common for years.)

SOS, in this case, stands for "Same Old Stuff." If one person complains about something, the responder needs considerable agility to avoid actually answering the critic. But if there are fifteen people all making the identical complaint, the responder should realize this makes his task easier. Just use the "SOS Device." "Aren't you people ever asking the same tired questions over and over? Don't you ever come up with anything new. Hasn't that been raised by Irshad Manli, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and all the rest of you 'so-called' liberals. I'm not going to go over this yet again." Sometimes a simple "There you go again" is sufficient.

But of course you only use that in a debate or a general discussion. The most important overall rule is always to divert attention to the person, not the argument. "Ad hominen" may occasionally receive criticism from purists, but it works, especially if it is, in fact, 'ad feminem.'

Many critics of Islam are, in fact, women, who make the claim that Islam mistreats women. Now merely pointing out that the person IS a woman will win you the sympathy of a certain portion of the audience, particularly if the audience is predominantly Muslim and wonders why a woman is daring to speak in the first place, and especially to criticize. But there are still a lot of people for whom that isn't enough. Most of them, however, will be won over if you call her not just a woman, but a feminist.

That of course is just a start, a way of getting the readers on your side. The next thing is to declare the person doesn't know anything about Islam, has never studied it, is totally ignorant of it. The fact that the person may have spent most of her life in an Islamic environment, that they might have memorized the Qur'an at an early age, that they can actually speak Arabic, that they might have gone to a Muslim University, that's all irrelevant, or at least you need to make the audience think it is so.

Then you have to develop the "Sophisticated Sneer." This is difficult, but very rewarding, though it takes a certain hardening of the heart to pull off convincingly. Most critics have horrible experiences that caused them to reconsider the religion they had, until then, devoted their life to. Don't skip over those, mention them, but with the SS. If you do it properly, you can make even having your beloved professor killed in front of you seem like a mere trivial occurence that the protestor is using as an excuse for her real purpose, which is to win publicity for herself. Even if she has received death threats in e-mails, has had to go into hiding, needs police protection to appear in public, you can tell that as if she is boasting about her boldness, and even, subtly, imply that maybe she set the whole thing up herself to sell books. (Always attack the motives, always make it look like she's just trying to get publicity. Do it loudly enough and you can discredit her totally. After all, what is having to live her life behind shields, having to wonder if she will be the target of the sort of madman who drove his car through a crowd of innocent students for the love of Allah, seeing her name and picture on placards threatening her death, compared to the wondrous joys of being on the news.)

But you might have to pretend to respond to her criticisms. There are time tested replies that you can memorize. Whatever horror she claims about Islam, always claim that Christians did it too. Maybe they did, maybe they didn't, and if they did it was hundreds of years ago, or was truly a minor splinter group, but your audience -- especially the Muslim and secular ones will be glad to believe it and certainly won't know any better.

Whatever she says, insist she's talking about a minor splinter group of 'crazy extremists' and not the 'great majority of Moderate Muslims." (This great majority somehow seems to have no political power in any Islamic country, or even in most communities of Muslims in Europe, and the minor splinter group is either the ruling party or main opposition in most countries, but who is going to say this aloud when if they do you can call them a racist, a bigot, or an 'Islamophobe.')

Insist that Islam means 'peace' -- even though it really means 'submission.' Insist that Mohammed (or Allah, depending on the audience) said 'there is no compulsion in religion,' even when they bring up the oppression of religious minorities, the burning of churches, the laws against blasphemy.

Claim that Mohammed was centuries ahead of his time in his treatment of women. (This probably isn't so if you compare his statements to Christian or Jewish teachings and practices in the metorpolitan areas, but the audience won't know this.) And if you say it often enough, the Christians will figure, well, our religiomn progressed over time, so probably Islam did too. (Remember, to them 'fundamentalists' are a minor group, they won't realize that all Muslims are, in theory, fundamentalists, whose book is supposedly unchangeable.

Depending on the audience, maybe you can even throw a quick jab at the Jews or the United States, pointing out how the critic's views pander to the prejudice of those groups.

But whatever you do, don't address the critic's points directly. That way gives them too much of an advantage.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Three questions

I am still getting back to everything I promised, but I wanted to post this -- and e-mail it to some people -- to bring the discussion more into focus. Again, if you'd rather e-mail me (jimbentn@verizon.net) I'll copy the comments I received and post them.

Three questions -- well, two of them are statements I want your opinions on:

1: I used to believe that a 'reformed Islam' was possible. As time has gone on and I have read more, as I said in "Changing My Mind" I believe that Islam is like my old computer, that by the time you fixed or replaced what was wrong with it, you would have 'nothing left but the case and the speakers.' In other words, rather than reform it, it would have to be replaced.

2: If Islam were reformable, why bother? What specific perceptions, ideas, principles (ethical, moral, practical, or whatever) are both exclusive to Islam and worth the effort of creating a Reform Islam? (I'll admit I have yet to see any, but that is why I am sending this to a number of Muslims, hoping they do. What I have seen is either principles that are common not just to most religions but to simple secular humanistic common sense, or principles exclusive to Islam -- like their treatment of women and unbelievers -- which are the reasons why the reform would be necessary.)

3: I have stated (in my 'Exchange with Deborah Lipstadt' below, which explains WHY I think this) that, while other religious, political, and social movements -- good and bad -- attempt to 'change reality,' Islam attempts to 'define reality.' Because it does, when its 'reality' is opposed by a Western reality, or historical or scientific facts, etc., since it cannot question its own reality or challenge the opposition on its ground, it reacts violently to attempt to destroy the 'competing reality.' Do you agree?

I hope this one will get comments. Again, I will post almost any e-mail I receive in reply.

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
http://lipstadt.blogspot.com/

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.

Bad Prup!!

I have been neglecting this for a while -- mostly because I've gotten so busy reading other blogs and posting comments there that I forget I have one of my own. (And my comments are frequently as long as my posts.) I won't deny that the World Baseball Classic has taken up more than a little of my time as well. And maybe the one justifiable excuse is that I have been gaining more and more knowledge, and my positions are firming up a bit.

Sadly, they are firming up in a way less and less favorable to Islam. The more I read, the less likely I think that a reformation in it is possible, and the more likely I see of a major conflict with it. I continue to hope that someone will show me I am wrong, but the hope is getting thinner and thinner. (A bloger has promised to send me a book dealing with Muslim women that i expect to weigh carefully. She is one of the participants in it, and she is a woman who converted in adult life to Islam, so she'll be showing me a distinctly different viewpoint.)

I will be continuing the series, and I will also be doing posts on other things, including getting back to my cats, discussing the upcoming baseball season, and the season finales of STARGATE, ATLANTIS, and BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, as well as other things my wandering mind lights on. I'll try to post at least every other day, maybe I can squeeze out the time for daily postings.

Thanx for the nice comments I have already received. And let's cheat a bit and reuse a long comment I made on a blog for my next post.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Changing my mind

I will not be posting the next part of my discussion on Islam until the begining of next week, at the earliest. I want to widen the topics on this blog, get back to politics, cats, tv, even mystery stories. (I may either copy or link to a discussion I am having with the Egyptian blogger, Tomanbay,
http://tomanbay.blogspot.com/ -- sorry, but my dashboard is not putting up links properly)
about a mufti who he sees as a possible voice for reason, but who I have my doubts about. (The discussion is already getting lively with a third party entering into the fray, so you might check it out.)

And much of what I have written and will be writing about is also covered on a VERY important website,
http://www.secularislam.org/Default.
which is the home page of the Institute for the Secularization of Islamic Society.

But this is NOT what i am changing my mind about, though the information on the website is quite important to my change. Two weeks ago, I would have stated that the idea of a "Reformed Islam" was a desireable theoretical possibility, but that I doubted it would be politically practical. There are many Muslims in the blogosphere -- as well as those on my old fourm -- who have discussed the idea. But I felt that the key was that they were not either in power or seeking power. I know of no Muslim country where there is a Reformist, Secularist movement that is actually contending with the government -- usually secular governments are battling hard-line Islamicizers and making concession after concession to defeat them, up to the point of some attempt at instuting a version of Sharia law. (Turkey, with its unique history and the legacy of Ataturk is something of an exception, but even there, religious parties are important players and have gotten their own concessions.)

I am afraid that, were any Reformist group to actually approach power, to begin to gain seats or to challenge for the presidency or prime ministership of a Muslim country, the hardliners would use every weapon, including violence and election fraud, to keep them out of power. (Were they to gain power, well, we have seen Muslim governments do their best to destabilize Muslim countries that they disapprove of.)

But after the events of the last two weeks, I have come to the conclusion that a "Reform Islam" is no longer even a theoretical possibility. (The key events were the events in Iraq and the declaration signed by Salman Rushdie, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and ten other intellectuals who were raised Muslim. If you are unaware of this, I'll refer you to Tomanbay again, since he was the first person to mention this.

The complete list of signers is:
Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Chahla Chafiq
Caroline Fourest
Bernard-Henri Lévy
Irshad Manji
Mehdi Mozaffari
Maryam Namazie
Taslima Nasreen
Salman Rushdie
Antoine Sfeir
Philippe Val
Ibn Warraq

I decided to Google each of them and read more about them, except for Hirsi Ali who I have already discussed here. The comments I read, and the quotes from their works convinced me that Islam is not reformable.

Let me give an analogy. I had an old computer before I got my present one last year. It was so old that it had an original Pentium chip, and that had been new when I bought it. My wife asked if we couldn't just 'fix it up,' rather than replace it.

I explained that to 'fix it up' I'd have to replace the CPU. I'd have to change the motherboard, or I couldn't install the new CPU. I'd have to change the video card and have more video memory, and probably the sound card as well. I'd have to add about 20 times the RAM and replace the hard drive with one that was at least 40 times as big. And I'd have to change the modem, which was 28.8 kps. I might even have to change the cooling system because of the new CPU. In other words, to 'fix it up,' I'd be left with nothing but the case and maybe the speakers, and the case wasn't in great shape either.

Sadly, that is a good analogy for Islam. I am afraid that there is too much wrong with it for a reform movement to succeed, that the changes would simply leave 'nothing but the case.' Now certainly there are other religions which have the same problems as Islam. Mormonism, Christian Science, the Jehovah's Witnesses come to mind. BUT THEY DON"T CONTROL COUNTRIES, and they don't attempt to use blackmail and violence to win acceptance for their own beliefs. (And they don't consider 'apostasy' punishable by death.)

Were Islam, at least in the West, able to accept Western values and liberties (including the liberty any Westerner has to leave the religion he was brought up in), were there no attempts to acquire special treatment for their communities, were there none of the horrors of forced and kidnapped marriages, compulsory veiling, even honor killings in the West, were there not attempts to establish Sharia law in Western societies, were there not violent attacks in the West, I might, regretfully, argue that Islamic countries had the right to establish their own systems, that Muslims had the right to their own beliefs, and to hope for the eventual triumph of reason and rationality. (Though I'd also want the West to offer asylum easily to those who were fleeing Islamic societies.)

Sadly, I am afraid that this is not going to happen, and the possible consequences scare me, which has been the point of this entire discussion of Islam.