How Does Islam “Present” Itself?

On one of Jon Rowe’s posts, commenter Tom van Dyke writes;

Islam…presents itself as a politics and a comprehensive way of life…

He is wrong, both methodologically and in substance. One of the perpetual debates in my grad program was between the methodological collectivists and the methodological individualists. The MCs believed one could speak meaningfully of a group believing or wanting something, not just as a shorthand way of speaking, but as an actual description. We MIs correctly understood that this was all non-sense–only individuals can believe or want. Even if every single individual in a group wants something, it is still methodologically incorrect to say “the group wants.” The word “group” is itself is just a shorthand descriptor, and a group has no mind, so it cannot want. Using the shorthand descriptor is ok, so long as we don’t fool ourselves into taking it literally.

Obviously then, Islam does not present itself. It’s not even a group. It’s just a religious ideology. The term “Islam” doesn’t even refer to something that has any material existence, beyond whatever neural encoding may occur in human brains.

Of course people–individual people–may present Islam, and here is the substantive mistake, to assume that the presentation of Islam is monolithic. Only someone who has spent almost no time studying Islam or talking to Muslims could believe that. (Regrettably, we have a frightfully large number of such people in the U.S.)

While a great many people do indeed present Islam as a comprehensive structure that incorporate politics, that is hardly a unanimous view. The Ba’athist political movements of Syria and Iraq were explicitly secular, and originally incorporated not just Muslims, but Christians as well–it was an Arabic nationalism with a socialist economic basis. Regrettably, the Christians were eventually excluded and the party became entirely Muslim, but even then remained secular, non-Islamic.

I am a fellow of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, a Muslim think-tank (I am one of a handful of non-Muslims that are part of it), and I know from first-hand experience that the principals there are religious, but decidedly do not believe that their politics must be Islamic. Or better said, if there politics is Islamic, it is so in the way that Barack Obama’s politics are Christian, and not in the way that James Dobson’s politics are Christian.

It’s easy to write the words “Islam…presents itself as…” but no conceivable effort can make a meaningful statement out of those words.

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About J@m3z Aitch

J@m3z Aitch is a two-bit college professor who'd rather be canoeing.
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56 Responses to How Does Islam “Present” Itself?

  1. One thing that gets me about “Islam does this” or “Islam does that” is that in my anecdotal, unlinkable-on-the-internet experiences, such things tend to be uttered by the crowd of Muslim-haters

    Ironically, however, by claiming that “Islam” is the actor, they are in effect refusing to hold terrorists accountable for their crimes. It’s not the terrorists’ fault; it’s Islam’s.

  2. I just re-read my comment and would like to clarify: by claiming that the “Muslim haters,” as I call them, effectively refuse to hold terrorists responsible for their crimes, I in no way intended to imply that most Muslims are terrorists.

  3. Chris says:

    Lol Tom, I like how you picked an article claiming that a political movement founded by a Christian was compelled to be pro Islam for political reasons. Thank God we live in a country where non-Christians can easily be elected, especially in the righting party, and politicians aren’t constantly using appeals to their religious beliefs (even in their campaign ads) for political purposes. We’re so radically different from Muslim secularists!

    At some point, Tom, you become almost a parody of someone so blinded by his opinions that hid arguments actually support their opposites.

  4. tom van dyke says:

    It’s just a coincidence Christians were excluded from Baathism, then? Read the whole thing. Baathism doesn’t work without Islam, that was the point. It was not Kemalism.

    Google the concept of “deen” and “comprehensive way of life,” which leads to virtually hundreds of non-radical Muslim websites [and little in the way of dispute]. If you or James want to argue that “deen” is not normative Islam, then you gotta do better than Baathism and some guys at a think tank, and you have millions of Muslims to straighten out before you waste your time on l’il old me.

  5. James Hanley says:

    Classic, Tom. Instead of making an actual argument, you just make a link. I suppose now you’ll tell me to take it up with that author, as you did on the thread I linked to. That way you can pretend to have struck a telling blow without actually having to go the trouble of actually thinking for yourself.

    Perhaps you never noticed that Saddam Hussein wasn’t running a theocracy. Perhaps you didn’t notice how Hafez Assad bombed the hell out of the city of Hama in order to destroy the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood. Maybe you didn’t notice that the Islamic fundamentalist Osama bin Laden called Saddam Hussein an infidel. Perhaps you didn’t notice that a political ideology that gives mere lip service at best to Islam isn’t exactly Islamist.

    Hey, none of it matters. You’ve got a link, and that smashingly intelligent response, “Whatever:”–that’s all you need for an argument. No independent thought or analysis required.

    But let’s assume I’m wrong about Ba’athism. Your response ignored my other example. You also ignored the methodological argument.

    You can’t actually sustain an argument that all of Islam–all Muslims–believe Islam must be a total system incorporating politics. So you run away. Cowardice or ignorance? Or a combination of both?

    Still, I’d almost be willing to buy you lunch when I’m in L.A. next month, just to see if you’re for real. Fancy a Pink’s hotdog and a really snarky conversation?

  6. tom van dyke says:

    Absolutely, James. Maybe late enough for beers. But per the “cowardice” thing, since you’ve already threatened me with banning here, it’s ungentlemanly to not permit me to return fire. I’ll duel, but if I’m to be executed, I prefer not to be there when it happens. Hence, my “whatever.”

    Actually, my second link was to hundreds of links. All you need for a proper valid counterargument in method and content is cite or show a similar number of Muslim sources arguing against “deen” as normative.

    You can’t actually sustain an argument that all of Islam–all Muslims–believe Islam must be a total system incorporating politics.

    Oh, nobody argues “all” anymore, do they? That would be silly. And I’ve spent a lot of time studying Islam, thank you, not from Jihad Watch, but Islam as it understands itself, in the words of its own adherents. This isn’t about Qutb, it’s about al-Ghazali [who was no mere brute]. You do me an injustice.

    There have been various pan-Arab movements lately, Nasser, Khadafi, Saddam, all imagining themselves on top of a Muslim [or at least Arab] world without Islam. But it doesn’t play, as it reverts to tribalism and oppression as the source of its control, not the hearts and consent of the people.

    I don’t argue “deen” as necessarily a bad thing, or at least no worse than Puritan New England, which had its own Christian “deen.” And 400 years later, New England is the home of left-liberalism in America. Go figure.

  7. Chris says:

    Tom, dawlah. Seriously, you have to read something other than books on Islam written by right wing radio hosts.

  8. tom van dyke says:

    Seriously. On this we’re in agreement, Chris.

  9. Mr. Hanley,

    I do have a question about methodological individualism. Namely, does it account for the fact (if it is a fact) that a given group of people might have an interest in its own survival as a group and therefore that the members of a group might take a position on certain issues that would not necessarily do on an individual basis?

    I recognize it is quite possible I’m not understanding exactly what is meant by “group,” as you refer to it. I suppose you do not mean something like a corporation, which in certain, important senses, is an entity that has its own “interest” and can act on its own behalf (for example, when it comes to contracts).

  10. James Hanley says:

    Pierre,

    Individuals in that group might certainly take positions they would not if they were outside that group. We are–of course–influenced by the presence of others to act in ways we wouldn’t if they weren’t around.

    Methodological individualism does not imply, in any way, radical individuality, such that individuals are unconcerned with others. That is, methodological individualism is not necessarily about self-interest. It simply means that we must look at the beliefs and actions of individuals to understand collective outcomes. By contrast, a standard approach among some social scientists, predominantly sociologists, is to look at group or “social structure” to explain individual beliefs and actions. Ferocious battles are fought in the social sciences over which view is correct, and both sides tend to misrepresent the other. Group-level analysts hate statistical analysis because it’s based on individual level data, don’t believe the concept of an individual decision makes any sense because every idea and belief we have is merely a product of the social forces around us, and believe methodological individualists–particularly rational choice theorists–adhere to an atomistic individuality in which individuals do not influence each other.

    But there’s nothing in methodological individualism that denies that the presence of others can affect your beliefs, desires, decisions, and actions. Humans being social animals by nature, it would in fact be exceedingly odd if the presence of others did not, as most of our actions of interest concern interactions with others.

    To use a silly example, when I am not in the presence of others, I may choose to walk around in my undies, scratch, fart, and belch. In the presence of my colleagues and students, I choose to behave differently.

    To your example, of a group needing to survive, we have innumerable examples of people setting aside pure self-interest to promote group survival. But as I noted above, methodological individualism does not imply self-interest* that’s not a problem for methodological individualism. We MIs just assume that the way to understand why is to look at the individuals’ beliefs and goals, rather than to reify the “group” as a sentient entity.

    Or in other words, groups are not more than the sum of the individuals within them.

    ______________
    *Admittedly, some MIs make the mistake of thinking it does. They’re wrong, of course. The fact that people do, mostly, seek their own self-interest is an important analytical point of departure, but not intrinsically linked to methodological individualism.

  11. James Hanley says:

    TvD,

    … since you’ve already threatened me with banning here, it’s ungentlemanly to not permit me to return fire. I’ll duel, but if I’m to be executed, I prefer not to be there when it happens. Hence, my “whatever.”

    I have no idea what you’re trying to say here. I certainly did allow you to return fire. But “whatever” isn’t in fact returning fire, but turning tail and running, as you seem to admit yourself in this strange comment.

    All you need for a proper valid counterargument in method and content is cite or show a similar number of Muslim sources arguing against…

    Wrong. Fail. A perfect demonstration of your inability to understand what a real intellectual argument is, as opposed to a lazy pseudo-intellectual charade. You merely gave me a bibliography, not an argument, which doesn’t demonstrate that you’ve actually read, considered, and intellectually incorporated the ideas.

    It’s rather as if my students turned in a bibliography instead of a paper, and said, “Well, it’s all there, and that’s all that’s really needed for a valid argument.” I’d give them an F. Now let’s keep this analogy in check and not go wild with it. I’m not demanding you give a term paper length response with every little fact and figure supported by a citation. I’m just pointing out that your claim, your approach, is something I regularly encounter among recent high school graduates, and part of my job is teaching them that it’s not intellectually respectable.

    And by the way–you’ve basically conceded my point, anyway, that your claim that all Islam is presented a certain way is false. You just haven’t had the good grace to openly note that you’ve conceded it. Again, because you don’t know how to argue with integrity.

  12. James,

    This sounds a lot like the conversations we have at American Creation about what a Christian is or what Christian thought is? While I agree with all that blanket statements are unproductive, watering it down as you seem to be doing with the interjection of individualism vs. collectivism thing it not helpful either.

    Much like Christianity there is a holy book and centuries of theology written about them. One can read, just a few of the scholars or what have you and come up with the flavor of the major streams of the religion. To say that we have to listen to what each Muslim or Christian says about it to make a judgement is foolish.

    I have studied all of the major religions of the world and have travelled and spoke with thousands of people that practice them. What I found is that I usually know more about their religion than the average person does. I even had to teach a young Buddhist monk some things he did not know about his religion. It is like Christians today. They all sit in church and just take what the holy man tells them without much critical analyses.

    In short, to understand the major themes, OR CONTENTIONS WITHIN, a religion is not all that hard with some study. As I stated in the original post, most of them tend to moderate when they get away from their center and have to mix with other cultures. I would say it moderates a lot when it gets into isolated villages as well.

    When we talk Islam one thinks about the Middle East. But most of them live in a village in Asia. In the part of China I lived in one cannot tell the difference between the Muslims and everyone else other than a white hat they wear.

    I am no scholar on this topic but I have a real good understanding on world religions and what the average dude on the street in other lands believes. There is much ignorance on this topic.

    So much so that I think that the certainty that has been implied in this thread and the original post is absurd. This is an interesting and important discussion that I would hate to see turn into a pissing contest. No one wins those and everyone just gets covered in piss.

    This really is an important discussion!

  13. James Hanley says:

    King,

    “Watered down?” I beg to differ. The distinction is fundamental. As you note, there are contentions within Islam. Those contentions are differing beliefs held by different individuals. Hence, to say “Islam is…” is to begin falsely, and to obstruct the possibility of conducting the important discussion in an intelligible and meaningful way.

  14. How would you feel if we changed “Islam is…” to “Legitmate Islamic thought contains…” I think the latter is what Tom’s overall point was. Mine to you, without getting into the tall weeds of current social science thought, was that most individual Muslims have not real idea what Islam teaches besides what makes them nomimal Muslims. Sometimes they are nominal at best. There is some serious syncreticism in some areas and even belief in local gods in others.

    I understand that we cannot paint in overly broad brush strokes but if they become too narrow it tells us nothing. Dogmeat made this legitimate point about some of my observations on Christian thought at Dispatches. Though I feel he was wrong in his accusation that I had to water Christian thought down to an incomprehensible point to make my thesis work in that instance his concerns of this being a pitfall in many arguments about religious thought is legitimate.

    Narrowing down Islamic thought and tolerance down to Spain during the golden age of Islam is narrow as Tom stated. If you start with 570 and study the evolution of Islam with each Caliphate one will see when the center of Islamic power shifted West it tended to moderate things. Spain is as far West as it ever got.

    I would add that there is not much out there in regards to its spread East though my observations of about its current state in India and China would seem to tentatively conclude that the same happen there as well.

  15. tom van dyke says:

    No, James, trying to box anyone into an “all” argument is cheap and sophistic and even your sophomores can see through that tactic.

    I can beat your butt even under your rules because the facts are not on your side. After you get done with your deconstructions, Islam is The Kiwanis Club with prayer rugs. This is epistemological nihilism, your specialty, since you are incapable of fashioning an honest affirmative argument.

    There certainly is a normative Islam and “deen” is it. You lose again.

    And your cheat of taking the mainpage to declare a victory over me instead of slugging it out on equal ground in the comments section was another example of your inability to play it straight.

  16. Chris says:

    Tom, but din isn’t one thing, nor is there one interpretion, and din and dawlah are often conceived as separate. You don’t have the facts on your side largely because you have a quick google search version of the facts, combined with a tendentious right wing American interpretive framework.

    Buy as you need to think your religion is the best, there’s probably no point in dealing in facts with you anyway.

  17. James Hanley says:

    TvD

    You have an immature habit of claiming to have beaten someone, but this isn’t the kind of thing where a person can unilaterally claim victory.* It’s not like playing one-on-one basketball to 21. But it’s perfectly indicative of your standard pseudo-intellectual approach that you repeatedly crow about your victories. And I’m not trying to box you into anything–you wrote “Islam is,” which is an absolutist statement, and now you’re trying to duck out of it, pretending that it’s unfair for anyone to object.

    But then you fall into universalism again, when you object that I turn Islam into “Kiwanis with prayer rugs.” No, I claim Islam is diverse. For you to try to claim that I made a universalist statement about Islam is just bizarre ranting that demonstrates how you didn’t actually get the point I was making.

    And back to methodological aspects, your claim that Din is the normative Islam ignores the fact that all of Islam is normative, as is all of Christianity, all of Buddhism, etc., except for their purely historical aspects. So to call one aspect of it “the normative Islam” is to say precisely nothing. Far from “beating my butt,” you’ve made an incoherent and pointless claim. Sure it’s a normative form of Islam–I have no problem agreeing, because the whole thing, and all its interpretations, constitute a set of normative beliefs.

    As to the question of me bringing the debate to the front page? I thought it was an interesting methodological question, one I had to deal with a lot in grad school (and still do on rare occasions at conferences, if a particular sort of person wanders into the “wrong” presentation). I think it’s interesting because it says a lot about how a person views the world, not just you personally, but anyone. For libertarians, methodological individualism is almost certainly the overwhelmingly predominant mode of analysis. If you object to things you write being brought to the front page, you know how you can avoid it. But please don’t whine about unfairness; it’s unbecoming.

    __________
    *I’m not even sure what it is you think you’ve won, since I never claimed there was no such approach in Islam. So for you to say there is, well, that’s to make a claim that I wholly agree with. My only claim was that you were overbroad, and you certainly haven’t refuted that.

  18. James Hanley says:

    King,

    “Legitimate Islamic thought contains…” is fine (although we could, I suppose, go ’round and ’round about “legitimate, so I’d prefer “contemporary Islamic thought contains…”). Because obviously there is a strain of that thought among Muslims, a point I have not objected to.

    But I don’t think that’s what TvD meant. He’s had ample opportunity to clarify that this was his meaning, but hasn’t. Whereas he could simply have said, “mea culpa, I spoke too broadly,” he has engaged in very defensive argumentation to emphasize that he is in fact right.

    As to your own claim that most Muslims don’t really know what they believe, any more than most Christians do, that rather supports my argument than the other way around. They’re not actually engaged in Muslim “thought” anymore than my kids’ Sunday School teacher giving them rote lessons is engaged in “Christian” thought. So it’s a vast stretch to say that they all present Islam a particular way.

  19. “As to your own claim that most Muslims don’t really know what they believe, any more than most Christians do, that rather supports my argument than the other way around. They’re not actually engaged in Muslim “thought” anymore than my kids’ Sunday School teacher giving them rote lessons is engaged in “Christian” thought. So it’s a vast stretch to say that they all present Islam a particular way.”

    I think you miss my point, and perhaps Tom’s, here James. My point is that one has to look to the major streams of Islamic thought not each individual. The streams are often scholar driven. Violent Jihad is a major stream over the history of Islam that has tended to dissapate as the West has taken over large chunks of the land in which this used to occur. I think, if I am reading you guys right, Tom is stating the former and you the latter. Both are true.

    This is an important discussion. All I am saying is we should not turn it into a pissing contest because it is important.

  20. Matty says:

    They’re not actually engaged in Muslim “thought” anymore than my kids’ Sunday School teacher giving them rote lessons is engaged in “Christian” thought.

    There’s an important point here, people can identify as members of a group for a huge range of reasons very few of which involve intellectual argument. So trying to define the views of an individual Muslim (or individual anything else) by reference to the content of doctrine is likely to be a particularly poor way of going about it.

  21. I spelled dissipate wrong. Oops.

  22. Chris says:

    Spelling mistakes? In blog comments? Shame on you!

    Seriously, though, Tom’s position is absolutist: Islam is by its very nature political and therefore intolerant and hostile to liberty in a way that is radically distinct from Christianity. This is false historically, theologically, politically, etc., but because Tom is an absolutist on this issue, none of this matters to him, and the facts must of logical necessity accord with his view.

  23. Brad Hart says:

    Personally, I like what how Thomas Friedman describes Islam (or at least how Islam views itself). He states that Islam sees itself as Religion 2.0. Judaism was the “old school” way to God, Christianity was the upgrade and Islam is the new and improved version. I realize there are probably some problems with that definition but what say you all?

  24. James Hanley says:

    King,

    . My point is that one has to look to the major streams of Islamic thought not each individual.

    Agreed. In toto. But note that you’re using the plural–“streams“–not the singular, as TvD did. In his original comment he was insisting that we look at a single stream. So whether he meant it as an absolutist statement about Islam, as it appeared to me, or as an exclusionary statement (i.e., only this stream matters), his approach misrepresented Islam.

    The reason I make such a big deal about this, aside from the inherent methodological interest I take in the issue, is that this is a common tactic of Islam’s critics. But it’s not an honest tactic. As I noted previously, I never claimed no Muslims think the thoughts TvD is pointing to, and I haven’t claimed it’s not an important stream in Islamic thought. I only claim that it’s but one stream, so we can’t define Islam as a whole by it.

  25. “Tom’s position is absolutist: Islam is by its very nature political ”

    Are you sure this is wrong? I have not studied the political theory angle of Islam that much but their is a stream of Islam that wants to establish a caliphate for sure. A Caliph is temporal and spiritual leader. I am not so sure how much the nominal Muslims in most of Asia care about that. Good discussion though.

  26. “Agreed. In toto. But note that you’re using the plural–”streams“–not the singular, as TvD did. In his original comment he was insisting that we look at a single stream”

    I did not get that in that he was nailing Chris for using a narrow stream. Maybe he was too I will have to go back and read it. I am not defending Tom or nailing you. I just saw this getting personal and was calling for cooler heads to prevail. Not that I always do that myself as we saw at Dispatches. But I hate when important discussions disintegrate into pissing contests even when I do it myself.

    “The reason I make such a big deal about this, aside from the inherent methodological interest I take in the issue, is that this is a common tactic of Islam’s critics. But it’s not an honest tactic. As I noted previously, I never claimed no Muslims think the thoughts TvD is pointing to, and I haven’t claimed it’s not an important stream in Islamic thought. I only claim that it’s but one stream, so we can’t define Islam as a whole by it.”

    I know why you did it. It was the same reason you nailed Heddle for speaking for all of Christianity about the Jews believing in a different God than Christians. I actually agree with you more or less in a general sense. Until one travels and sees Islam for itself in places outside the Middle East he really does not get the whole picture. Most are peaceful nice people that I have met. I hear it is the same in Pakistan too. Even in the remote tribal areas. I have friends there.

    But like I said this is an important discussion that Hunington and Fukuyama get into. It is one we need to have as a nation. I think it should be taught on more in HS and at the University level. I like Jon’s original post in that it puts it out there that maybe we can draw from our experiences as a nation in the areas of politics and religion to help guide them through this a few hundred years later.

    But history also shows us that if Europe falls asleep that extreme forms of Islam do seek to extend the caliphate into Europe. They are too weak right now to do it but never say never. Needless to say Christians have done the same before you say it.

  27. tom van dyke says:

    Tom’s position is absolutist: Islam is by its very nature political and therefore intolerant and hostile to liberty in a way that is radically distinct from Christianity.

    Heheh. Didn’t declaim that, did just the opposite. But I do think it’s a valid question, since it is not a fact largely on the ground, so I had the temerity to ask it.

    din and dawlah are often conceived as separate

    What is this? Substance?

    Much appreciated, Chris. But before you accuse me of being only Wiki-deep, prove that you’re not first. The floor is yours.

    And of course I beat your butt again, James. As always. You can’t beat something with nothing.

    And for the record, I have not spoken of “radical” Islam atall. The discerning reader noted my comment that this is not about Qutb, but al-Ghazzali, i.e., normative Islam. Bin Ladenism offered itself to the Muslim world as normative Islam, but fortunately for the human race, the Muslim world gave it a brief thought but said, naaaaaaaaaaaaaaah.

  28. James Hanley says:

    TvD,

    Do you really think that debates of this type are settled just by claiming victory for yourself? Or do you do that just for the intentional purpose of being annoying? Either way, it’s astoundingly juvenile.

    And as I noted above, I really don’t even have the foggiest idea what argument you think it is that you’ve won. And I seriously doubt you can coherently explain it.

    No lunch, or beers, when I’m in L.A. if you’re going to just play this childish “I beat you, I beat you, na na na na na na” game.

  29. tom van dyke says:

    No hot dog for Tom. Disappointing. Goddam.

    James, you played the

    On one of Jon Rowe’s posts, commenter Tom van Dyke writes;

    Islam…presents itself as a politics and a comprehensive way of life…

    He is wrong, both methodologically and in substance.

    card on your mainpage. Had you not put my good name on your mainpage, James, I’d have been content to keep the agreement you yourself proposed, that we both keep to separate orbits, an agreement which you have not kept.

    But I confess I do love kicking your butt as a selfish pleasure. I did offer an olive branch a number of posts back in accepting your offer of a hot dog and extending it to beers. You handed me back the brown end of the stick, and anyone who can read English can see that, brother.

    Olive branch again, seventy times seven, 70 x 7, too big a number for people to calculate back then. [And probably now, too.]

    The beauty of the Socratic dialogues is that they weren’t hostile; everybody was a good sport, even Thrasymachus, not only my hero but clearly yours. You cooperate towards the truth, you do not fight tooth and nail toward or against it. Once we arrive at joint inquiry, the rest is easy, and fun.

    Pleasurable; erotic, saith the philosopher.

    Oh, I already give you too much trust in going on this long. Charlie Brown, Lucy, and the football. So be it. I shall always be Charlie Brown and you will always be Lucy. It’s in our natures. Or our religions. Not sure about that last part…

  30. James Hanley says:

    Tom,

    Again you claim to have “kicked my butt,” but very conspicuously you are unable to explain what argument you won. You haven’t demonstrated that you were correct methodologically, and you haven’t demonstrated that you were correct substantively.

    You are simply substituting claims of victory for an actual substantive argument that might result in a debate victory. As long as you continue in this fundamentally juvenile approach, there’s really little point in my wasting further time trying to engage you in a debate you so assiduously avoid.

    I arrive in L.A. on the 13th, and leave the 21st. If you really want, I will buy you a Pink’s hot dog (although I don’t know which of those days I’ll actually be available–trips to Universal Studios, Ventura, and Bakersfield will take up several days). I’m hard-pressed to imagine it will be worth anyone’s time, though. I’m mostly just curious to see if you’re quite as ridiculous in real-life as you are on-line., which probably isn’t a good or respectable reason to meet someone. In any case, if we do get together, I don’t want to mislead you as to my real purpose.

  31. tom van dyke says:

    Chris, you seem averse to putting any ideas into your own words, so there’s nothing to engage. Nor have you engaged me in actual terms of what I actually wrote. What did I mean by “a politics?” The structure of the nation-state, the reestablishment of the Caliphate? Or simply the means of how a society orders itself, and the presuppositions behind them?

    Absent actual dialogue, there’s no point in playing dueling scholars by proxy. Thank you for the link to Carl Brown. It’s not quite on point with my actual question about normative Islam, but I’m sure it’s very good. There is no doubt that tolerance and a level of secularism have been phenomena in the history of Islam, but this does not go to the root question about theological compatibility.

    I have seen writings from modern liberal Muslims on how a Western-style secularism can be reconciled with the Qur’an. I wish them luck in establishing it as normative, as I do not believe it is [clearly, neither do they, or they wouldn’t be arguing for it].

    James, thank you for your kind invitation, but my stomach’s not as strong as it used to be.

  32. James Hanley says:

    my stomach’s not as strong as it used to be.

    I’m not sure if that refers to Pinks or to me. *grin*

  33. Chris says:

    Tom, let’s look at the score: I gave you facts, and you dismissed them with a tendentious quote and link to a google search page. I made points, about the issue and your position, and you demanded substance in a comment devoid of it. Hmm… Now you’re demanding I put things in my own words?

    Here’s what we know:

    1.) Islam admitted religious, economic, and intellectual tolerance before Christianity.
    2.) Islam has always had a varying, multifaceted, and complex relationship with politics and secular authority, in ways analogous to Christianity.
    3.) There is nothing inherent in Islam that makes its relationship with politics less secular than Christianity, or less tolerant, as evidenced by tolerant and secularized periods in the history of the Islamic world, as well as by the continued existence of Muslim secularists.
    4.) Din doesn’t mean what you think it means, either semantically or practically.
    5.) Therefore your position is either false, trivially true of both Islam and Christianity, or incoherent.

    I win. James owes me a beer and a hotdog.

  34. “There is nothing inherent in Islam that makes its relationship with politics less secular than Christianity”

    Explain this.

  35. Chris says:

    By this, I mean there is nothing, in either scripture, theology, or practical philosophy, in the context of Islam, that prohibits its allowing or submitting to secular authority in the same way that Christianity does, namely in a way that accords with the fundamental tenets of the religion (otherwise, both would either rebel or practice their faith illegally, as has happened in both casese — in pre-Christian Rome or in parts of east Asia, e.g.).

    Now, it could be argued that there is a difference in the meaning of the phrase “in a way that accords with the fundamental tenets of the religion” for the two faiths, but the second part of my point is that this difference is irrelevant to the question of secularism within the two religions; that is, that with respect to that question, the differences is merely a surface one. It does not determine how members of the two faiths relate to secular authority, how they relate to a separation of church and state, or how they relate to religious tolerance.

    And this last part is where Tom got started, from the historically, philosophically, and theologically spurious position (which he’s held for some time, I know, because he repeats it often) that tolerance as an inherent principle is unique to Christianity, and therefore must have come from some other place (political necessity at best, historical revisionism at worst) in the history of Islam.

  36. James Hanley says:

    I win. James owes me a beer and a hotdog.

    Sure. Meet me at La Brea and Melrose. It’s Pinks or nothing.

  37. “that tolerance as an inherent principle is unique to Christianity, and therefore must have come from some other place (political necessity at best, historical revisionism at worst) in the history of Islam.”

    I read a good 30% of the book you linked. It jives a lot with what I was saying about Islam being more strict near its traditional core and more lenient when it expands. What I did not know much about was the expansion East. He wrote some fascinating stuff about how the imperial cultural pattern of not really bothering the tribal areas that much was about what I expected from what I have seen. Though he put it into a good historical context.

    I do think there is a tolerance because of apathy and one based on rights. It is the former that reigned in Islamic political theory according to the book not the latter. The trouble I have with that is what happens when the powers that be do want to control things? It seems that the people have no recourse to any intellectual thought on rights. That is the part that I am not sure would be compatible with any form of Islam.

    This gets into views of God and human nature. Islam is kind of fatalistic at its core which poses a problem with rights talk. Since they seem to look back to the golden age for guidance I see no mention of rights back then.

    So since tolerance is based on rights in the Western sense and not apathy or separation of society and state as the book put it, I cannot see this type of tolerance as compatible with Islam. Though I am not expert on the Koran so I could well be wrong.

    In summary, I am not so sure that you and Tom are both wrong. If so it is based on the Western prism that we see things in. I think that is the main thesis of the book though I will have to finish it to see.

  38. This is perhaps the most important question the world will face in political theory over the next 100 years as globalism with either produce Hunington’s Clash of Civilizations or Fukuyama’s End of History.

    I remember reading another book with this theme in mind 17 years ago. I found it on my Grandfather’s book shelf. It was Jihad vs. Mc World. The author surely framed the issue well. My fear is that we will try to impost Western solutions to Eastern problems and mess this whole thing up. Anyone familar with the book knows that this is about more than the West vs. Fundamendalist Islam. It is the technological and advanced West vs. the remote and tribal East.

    It will be the age of Exploration all over again. Castillian and Aragonian culture battled it out for the heart of Spain and the latter lost. Las Casas voice crying out in the wilderness was drowned out. The encounter turned into a “Clash” and millions were killed or oppressed. The internet, much like the printing press did back then, has positioned us for a re-do of some sort. That is why we cannot ignore the schoolmen and their impact. We need to learn from it.

    Cortez attended the School of Salamanca were Las Casas taught and dropped out!

  39. Chris says:

    KoI, Tom should read you more, because that is what discussing something actually looks like!
    Islam actually encodes a set of rights, some of them explicit, some of them less so, in the Koran. It may be true that Islam’s tolerance, when not in power, is largely fatalistic or a product of apathy, but it is decidedly not the case that Islamic tolerance and concern for basic rights/liberties when it has been in power, in its less oppressive periods and places (some of which exist today), is a result of fatalism or apathy. Religious tolerance for Jews and Christians, at least, is built into Islam. Religious tolerance for other minority religions (e.g., Hinduism in certain regions of the subcontinent) was born more from an inherent separation of church and state, and perhaps more importantly, church and economy, than from a concept of religious rights.

  40. James Hanley says:

    Chris,

    Thanks for the link to that book. I’ve just printed it and look forward to reading it.

  41. “Islam actually encodes a set of rights, some of them explicit, some of them less so, in the Koran”

    I have never heard this but I did not know much of what is presented in that book either. Can you steer me toward something to read on this? Something short and sweet I go on an interview in the morning and if I get the job football season and the end of my life for 4 months will be upon me.

    All I can say about Tom is that I have learned a lot from him and that I truly believe he does want a dialogue. The trouble is that, as I found out at Dispatches, weeding out the good guys like you and James(and Ed Brayton and Chris Rodda too) that will discuss things and the guys out to hack you to death no matter what you say is hard. The former is one of the greatest experiences I have had in my life. The latter is tends to harden people into pissing contests.

    Tom can get testy but it is almost always to challenge us to raise the level of discussion. He nails me too and we agree a lot. I am glad he does because it brings out the best in me. I see it in Jon too when Tom nails him.

  42. James,

    It is impressive. The book that is.

  43. Heidegger says:

    Chris says:

    “Religious tolerance for Jews and Christians, at least, is built into Islam.”

    HA! And here I thought, Chris, you didn’t have a humorous bone in your body! Shame on me. Seriously now, are you kidding? Is this a joke? And if you really are serious, could you please let us know your coordinates in whatever alternate universe you now inhabit because it sure ain’t this planet. I mean, c’mon–“built into Islam”?? When? Where?

    How about as a starting point, let’s look at the Jewish population in some Arab countries. Hmmm…let’s see–Indonesia—Jewish population: 0; Libya: 0; Algeria:0; Egypt: 0; Jordan: 0; Afghanistan: 1—WHOOPIE—ONE Jew living in Afghanistan!! Surely this must be what you mean by a demonstration of Islam’s “tolerance” for Jews! You got me there. Please do enlighten me about this most curious statement of yours.

    An interesting link illustrating Islamic tolerance of Jews.

  44. Heidegger says:

    This one’s much better. Chilling, actually. Hitlerian youth….

  45. tom van dyke says:

    Therefore your position is either false, trivially true of both Islam and Christianity, or incoherent.

    Well, as we see, my position, properly understood, is none of the above. And penetrating such hostility in this forum is simply too tiring.

    Now, it could be argued that there is a difference in the meaning of the phrase “in a way that accords with the fundamental tenets of the religion” for the two faiths,

    Precisely.

    I do think there is a tolerance because of apathy and one based on rights.

    Yes, and this was what I meant by “Islam as it presents itself,” as a theology, and as normative Islam understands itself.

    theologically spurious position (which he’s held for some time, I know, because he repeats it often) that tolerance as an inherent principle is unique to Christianity…

    Yes and no, and this illustrates the danger of conflating theology and history, and further the categorical error of conflating Christianity with Christendom, or Islam with “the Muslim World.” I have never spoken of the latter in each pair, nor of Christians and Muslims on any individual level. Different strokes for different folks.

    Tolerance is not quite the right word here, since the Qur’an clearly states there is to be no compulsion in religion. But tolerance is not the same thing as pluralism.

    Pluralism is not inherent to Christianity since the Bible says nothing of it, but later Christian thought, perhaps starting as early as Augustine’s Two Kingdoms, the bifurcation of the City of God and the City of Man, can be theologically compatible with pluralism.

    Can Islam, based on its own tenets, or by later development of Islamic thought, be compatible with such a pluralism?

    Of course it can, theoretically, since there are [liberal] Muslim scholars who argue so. Have they succeeded in making pluralism normative, as Vatican II and John Paul II did? [Since there are 1.5 billion Christians in the world and 1 billion are Catholic, we may, for statistical purposes, take pluralism as normative in Christianity.]

    For the record, taking the long view of history, or an ahistoricist one, I put the Inquisition and bin Ladenism in the same pile, as exceptions to the normative, not the rule. This ain’t about that, it’s about examining the question, as Chris put it,

    a difference in the meaning of the phrase “in a way that accords with the fundamental tenets of the religion” for the two faiths…

    Indeed, my question about how “Islam presents itself” has nothing to do with Christianity atall. Historically speaking, with the possible exception of the United States [and we’re working on that ;-)], “Christendom” is a dead letter.

    However, “the Muslim world” is still a reality in some real sense. The question, then, is whether Islam is compatible with secularism. The drama is being played out as we speak in Turkey and in France.

    Laïcité, they call it.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La%C3%AFcit%C3%A9

    I expect it to be incompatible with “deen [Dīn],” theologically speaking, but hopefully I’m wrong.

    Peace. Salaam. Whatever.

  46. “Yes and no, and this illustrates the danger of conflating theology and history”

    The book gets into the the danger of this as well. It sounds like a day at AC. It discusses almost all of the same themes we discuss about America and Christian thought everyday. Lifted some fog off of Islam for me.

  47. James Hanley says:

    this was what I meant by “Islam as it presents itself,” as a theology, and as normative Islam understands itself.

    And we’re back to treating Islam as though there is some inherent unanimity, an approach that serves only to obstruct reasoned analysis. The moment someone says “Islam is…” (or :”Christianity is….” or “democracy is…” or “conservatism is…”) they’ve shut out the possibility of deep division within that particular community about what constitutes their ism and what doesn’t.

    “deen [Dīn],

    I use “Din,” because it’s more commonly used by Islamic scholars (I think, but don’t know with certainty). But since we’re translating from a language that uses an entirely different alphabet, I’d be hard pressed to say there’s a right and wrong way. I suppose the wrong way would be to translate it in a way that nobody can follow what one is saying, but “Deen” is common enough I don’t think that’s a problem at all. Feel free to stick to whatever you’re comfortable with.

  48. Heidegger says:

    Chris says:

    “Religious tolerance for Jews and Christians, at least, is built into Islam.”

    HA! And here I thought Chris didn’t have a humorous bone in his body. Shame on me. Seriously now, are you kidding? Is this a joke? And if you really are serious, could you please let us know your coordinates in whatever alternate universe you now inhabit because it sure ain’t this planet. I mean, c’mon–“built into Islam”?? When? Where?

    How about as a starting point, let’s look at the Jewish population in some Arab countries. Hmmm…let’s see–Indonesia—Jewish population: 0; Libya: 0; Algeria:0; Egypt: 0; Jordan: 0; Afghanistan: 1—WHOOPIE—ONE Jew living in Afghanistan!! Surely this must be what you mean by a demonstration of Islam’s “tolerance” for Jews! You got me there. Please do enlighten me about this most curious statement of yours.

    An interesting link illustrating Islamic tolerance of Jews.

  49. tom van dyke says:

    And we’re back to treating Islam as though there is some inherent unanimity

    “Normative” is not “unanimity.”

  50. James Hanley says:

    LOL, I never said it was.

    Some folks never miss an opportunity to miss the point.

  51. tom van dyke says:

    On that we agree, James. שָׁלוֹם.

  52. You guys still going at it?

  53. James Hanley says:

    Nah, it’s all over but the shoutin’.

  54. Heidegger says:

    Chris says:

    “Religious tolerance for Jews and Christians, at least, is built into Islam.”

    HA! And here I thought, Chris, you didn’t have a humorous bone in your body! Shame on me. Seriously now, are you kidding? Is this a joke? And if you really are serious, could you please let us know your coordinates in whatever alternate universe you now inhabit because it sure ain’t this planet. I mean, c’mon–“built into Islam”?? When? Where?

    How about as a starting point, let’s look at the Jewish population in some Arab countries. Hmmm…let’s see–Indonesia—Jewish population: 0; Libya: 0; Algeria:0; Egypt: 0; Jordan: 0; Afghanistan: 1—WHOOPIE—ONE Jew living in Afghanistan!! Surely this must be what you mean by a demonstration of Islam’s “tolerance” for Jews! You got me there. Please do enlighten me about this most curious statement of yours.

    An interesting link illustrating Islamic tolerance of Jews.

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