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.