April 07, 2007
Stand up for secularism -- or is it too late?
Amazing as it may seem, the "single most influential religious leader in the Muslim world" today is a genuine moderate Muslim -- former Indonesian president Abdurrahman Wahid:
A former president of Indonesia, he is the spiritual leader of the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), an Islamic organization of some 40 million members. Indonesians know him universally as Gus Dur, a title of affection and respect for this descendant of Javanese kings. In the U.S. and Europe he is barely spoken of at all -- which is both odd and unfortunate, seeing as he is easily the most important ally the West has in the ideological struggle against Islamic radicalism.As to why he is barely spoken of at all, I don't know. Perhaps he doesn't fit any of the radical agendas or isms which are the driving forces of conventional politics.
Not only has he voiced support for Israel, but he also supported Ibrahim Anwar, Malaysian dissident imprisoned for years on trumped up "sodomy" charges. (The latter is described as sharing Wahid's "cosmopolitan and democratic" view of Islamic politics.)
Wahid (known as "Gus Dur") sheds some light on the mechanism which causes young people to choose radical Islam:
"The globalization of ethics is always frightening to people, particularly Islamic radicals," he says in reference to a question about the so-called pornoaksi legislation. For the past three years Indonesian politics have been roiled by an Islamist attempt to label anything they deem sexually arousing to be a form of "porno-action." Mr. Wahid sees this as an assault on pancasila, Indonesia's secularist state philosophy from the time of its founding. He also sees it as an assault on common sense. "Young people like to kiss each other," he says, throwing his hands in the air. "Why not? Just because old people don't do it doesn't mean it's wrong."An "angry conventional" thinker?
Well put. I'm starting to like this guy.
He seems to dislike the choices being presented to young people -- a false dichotomy which forces them to choose between what he calls "conventional" Islam and what he sees as science without a soul. (IMO, the false choice seems to be presented as fundamentalism versus materialism.)
What really concerns Mr. Wahid is what he sees as the increasingly degraded state of the Muslim mind. That problem is becoming especially acute at Indonesian universities and in the pesantren -- the religious boarding schools that graduate hundreds of thousands of students every year. "We are experiencing the shallowing of religion," he says, bemoaning the fact that the boarding schools persist in teaching "conventional" -- that word again -- Islam.This is a tragedy, and I wonder whether a similar process is responsible for the increasing outbursts of religious tyranny in places like Pakistan.
Which leads me to return to an unpleasant but necessary question. Is this false dichotomy (fundamentalism versus materialism) what Dinesh D'Souza reduced to a formula of "homos and porn" on the one hand versus "traditional Islam" on the other?
Again, here's D'Souza:
Our concern should be with the traditional Muslims, who are the majority in the Muslim world. These people are also religious and socially conservative, and they are our natural allies. In fact, since the cultural Left in America is de facto allied with the radical Muslims, we as conservatives have no choice but to ally with the traditional Muslims.And here:
...Muslims must rise up in defensive jihad against America because their religion and their values are under attack. This aspect of Bin Laden's critique has been totally ignored, and it's one that resonates with a lot of traditional Muslims and traditional people around the world.D'Souza also proclaims that "secularism is not the solution" -- which apparently means that the governments of at least Turkey, Indonesia, and Pakistan should be more Islamic.
I think D'Souza is cherry picking, and his entire critique ignores the fact that radical Islam is not merely at war with secularism, but with all Western religions -- especially Judaism and Christianity. Indeed, according to Ayman al Zawahiri, the principal enemies are "Zionists" and "Crusaders."
But don't believe me. Let Zawahiri speak for himself:
[Video link to above.]
Yes, I know that he's also against pornography and homosexuality and Hollywood. He is against the West, and all things he considers Western.
But by claiming that radical Islam is at war primarily with secularism, D'Souza represents the inverse of another mistaken view -- that radical Islam is solely at war with Judeo-Christianity. To me it's painfully obvious that the Islamists are at war with both, which is why I proposed a Judeo-Christian Atheist Alliance in defense of the West.
OTOH, D'Souza sees secularism and Western entertainment as a common enemy of Christian conservatives and "traditional Muslims," and he proposes an alliance. But what would that alliance do? How would it work in practice?
Would D'Souza support this Muslim activist campaign against Playboy?
A leader of the Islamic Defenders Front, Irwan Asidi, warned his organisation would "declare war" on Playboy. "We will attack the Playboy office and sweep up copies of the magazine, which will destroy the morals of Indonesian children."Via Glenn Reynolds, who seems so hell-bent on forcing Muslims to hear Western music that he linked this story and made it quite clear he was on the side of the store owners:
Shiraz Ahmed was tending his music store in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan, when a group of 15 bearded young men walked in bearing bamboo poles and a chilling message. Politely but firmly, they instructed him to take down the colourful array of Bollywood and bhangradance tunes on display and to restrict his business to Islamic music. "They told me I had to change my business," said Mr Ahmed, 25, whose family has run the store for 15 years. "I am so confused. I don't know what to do." Until last week he might not have worried about these men from Islamabad's Lal Masjid (Red Mosque). After all, his shop is legal and within walking distance of Pervez Musharraf's presidential palace. But this was just one of several signs in the past ten days that a creeping campaign to "Talebanise" Pakistan has spread from tribal areas on the Afghan border right to the heart of the capital. And to judge from the Government's response, even here it is reluctant to confront the radical clerics who openly preach jihad (holy war) and defy the writ of the state.There was a similar story in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
"This is porno material and blue films. This is destroying our society," Ghazi said. Crowds shouted, "God is great!" when the pile, doused in gasoline, caught fire with a whoosh.I'm inclined to agree with Glenn's reaction:
PLACING THEIR SEVERED HEADS on those bamboo poles would seem a preferable response...Yes. And save "Free Willy!"
Back to Wahid's point about secularism. The Indonesian, Pakistani, and Turkish governments had once all shared a similar secular approach, but in Pakistan, secularism seems endangered. I think secularism is a good thing, and I think it's been given a black eye by assorted demagogues and activists (on both sides, unfortunately) who seem to be in agreement that secularism means atheism and materialism. In the government sense, the word simply means "not ecclesiastical or clerical." Over time, the word has been so frequently misdefined as atheism and materialism -- by fundamentalists and atheists in collusion -- that it has lost its original meaning.
I'm glad to see that at least one leading Muslim cleric does not see an inherent incompatibility between Islam and secularism (or for that matter, Islam and Israel).
Secularism is not evil, nor is it atheist, nor does anything about it "force" pornography, atheism, materialism, or homosexuality (or Hollywood) on anyone. Secularism has a long tradition of moderation and respect for (just not advocacy of) religion, and it's too bad that activists have made it a dirty word.
At the risk of sounding like an extremist, I don't think the loss of secularism would bode well for the future of Western civilization.
UPDATE: Thank you, Glenn Reynolds for the link.
Welcome all, and HAPPY EASTER!
posted by Eric on 04.07.07 at 10:41 AM
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