Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Supporting all moderate pluralist religions.

I recently came across the article below by Abdus Sattar Ghazali titled "Transforming Islam into acceptable forms for the west is the main neoconservative project.” It's a good article exposing the pride and prejudice of the war monger Reverend James Schall. The very idea of neoconservative extremist Christians telling Moslems to "transform" would be indeed laughable if it were not another tragic big lie.

But like all big lies, Schall's big lie is built around a small truth, that Islam, like Christianity and Judaism (or any religion), should be analyzed objectively from the point of view of reason and not just taken based on faith in revelation. We don’t need to and shouldn’t advocate a “market economy” version of Islam. That would be ludicrous. But we do need to support the pluralist-accepting versions of Islam, just as we need to support the pluralist versions of Christianity and Judaism.

Many of the founders of the USA were Deists who used reason to analyze Christianity and decided that the claims of revelation were contrary to reason and led away from pluralism toward dogmatism, intolerance, and ultimately the Inquisition. They supported moderate Christianity. Jefferson even wrote a synopsis of the teachings of Jesus leaving out the miracles and supernatural events which became called the "Jefferson Bible."
I presume and hope that someone has done a similar thing for Islam, but I fear that to do so would make the person receive death threats by the Islamic fundamentalists who literalize the Prophet’s relationship with Allah while they hypocritically claim they are not idolizing him (PBUH).

If we can analyze and criticize the "Dominion" politics of Scalia and Bush, as we should, then we should be able to analyze and criticize the analogous "Dominion" versions of Islam that the Islamic fundamentalists use to make Islam into tool of a police state.

All forms of "moderate," i.e., reasonable, Islam should be empowered just as Christian and Jewish moderates should be empowered, because in each religion there are extremists who would drown out moderate reason and enforce the tyranny of their own extremist and literalist interpretations of the revelations of their prophets. This should be no problem to Islam since it is sometimes said that Islam maintains moderation in everything.

In essence, any person who doesn't understand that the supernatural aspects of their religion should be taken as metaphors and not literal fact, at least for social purposes, is an extremist. For their strictly personal purposes, an individual may take any revelation as literally as they want, but when it comes to putting the vision of a revelation into practice in the social realm then the revelation must be put forward as and “as if”, that is as a metaphor, for understanding ourselves, not as a dictate from a supernatural being, even a "supreme" one, that others must obey “for their own good or salvation.”

All religions have orthodoxy and heresy, that is not a problem as long as they keep them as road maps of their own religion and not as divinely inspired dictates to humankind to be enforced by law. As the mufti says, “Allah Almighty knows best.” but that doesn’t mean he knows what Allah knows.

The Dalai Lama said it in the most succinct way that I have yet to read:

“I want to share my views about the harmony of different religious traditions. I am a Buddhist; and sometimes I describe myself as a staunch Buddhist because, to me, the practice of Buddhism is the best, and Buddhist explanations are very logical. I truly believe that for me Buddhism is the best, but it is certainly not the best for everyone. People with different mental dispositions need different religions. One religion simply cannot satisfy everyone. Therefore, for the individual, the concept of one religion and one truth is very important. Without this, one cannot develop genuine faith and follow it faithfully. With regard to the community, we obviously need the concept of several religions and several truths — pluralism. This is both necessary and relevant. This is the way to overcome contradictions between several religions and several truths and one religion and one truth. Thus, I believe that one has one religion and one truth on the individual level, and one has several religions and several truths on the community level. Otherwise it is difficult to solve this problem.
“It is hypocrisy to say that all religions are the same. Different religions have different views and fundamental differences. But it does not matter, as all religions are meant to help in bringing about a better world with better and happier human beings. On this level, I think that through different philosophical explanations and approaches, all religions have the same goal and the same potential.” – from Live in a Better Way by Tenzin Gyasto, the 14th Dalai Lama, pp. 132-133.

If a Muslim, Christian, or Jew (or Hindu or any other religionist) can substitute the name of their religion for the name Buddhism in the above statement and say it truthfully then they are a moderate who should be supported. If they can’t make that substitution and feel that not only is their religion the best for them but is necessarily the best for everyone, then they are an extremist who should not be allowed to enforce their extremism upon the rest of us.

Gregory Wonderwheel


January 20, 2005

”Transforming Islam into acceptable forms
for the west is the main neoconservative project”

By Abdus Sattar Ghazali

Neoconservatives’ endeavors to create a market economy version of Islam – bereft of its basic tenets - got a boost recently when Reverend James Schall, Professor of government at Georgetown University and a Jesuit priest, vigorously defended their efforts.

In an article entitled “When War Must Be the Answer” published in the December/January issue of Policy Review, Schall writes about “making Islam over into politically acceptable forms.” This is the main neoconservative project and Schall argues that this program can be defended because no one, including the churches, is willing to examine in a serious way the truth claims of Islam. According to Schall, this not only includes Islam’s own understanding of Allah and of Judaism and Christianity, but also its practiced way of life and the direct relation of its religion and its politics.

He also explains the ultimate objectives behind the effort to provide models and forms of “democratic” and “free” political systems. Schall is blunt in pointing out that the neocons effort is to undermine those teachings and customs of Islam that cause the problem, the first of which is the claim of the truth of Islamic revelation and its understanding of the absolute will of God as arbitrary.

Schall’s remarks resonate with the neoconservatives at the Washington-based think tank, the Rand Corporation, who published two studies last year in a bid to create a market economy version of Islam.

The Rand study published in March 2004 - entitled “Civil Democratic Islam: Partners, Resources, and Strategies” – suggested selectively ignoring or rejecting elements of the original religious doctrine of Islam. In order to achieve this objective, the Study called for an alliance with the modernists in the Muslim world. It defines a moderate as a Muslim who believes that the Quran is a legend and that some verses (suras) may have been falsely or inaccurately recorded in the Quran. According to the Study modernists believe in the historicity of Islam, i.e., that Islam as it was practiced in the days of the Prophet reflected eternal truths as well as historical circumstances that were appropriate to that time but are no longer valid. They also believe that Islam is responsible for the underdevelopment of the Muslims because prosperity and progress depends on modernity and democracy.

In December 2004, the Rand Corporation issued another study – entitled “The Muslim World After 9/11” – which also called for empowering the Muslim moderates in the Muslim world. A summary of this 678-page study was issued under the title: U.S. Strategy in the Muslim World after 9/11. As an essential component of an effective U.S. policy toward the Muslim World,
the new study stressed the support to what it called “civil Islam” that is the Muslim civil society groups that advocate moderation.

Keeping in view the two Rand reports in the background of constant media and conservative Christian rights campaign against Islam and Muslims helps us to understand why after 9/11 the so-called progressive, moderate and ijtehadi Muslim groups are cropping in US which are squarely blaming the Islamic faith for all ills of the 1.3 billion Muslims. These agenda driven
groups have joined the chorus of “reject all basic tenets of Islam.”

Clash of civilizations

Reverting to Schall’s views on Islam and war.

Schall strongly believes in Huntington’s theory of the “Clash of Civilizations” and sees the current situation in the world as a new war of civilizations. Huntington says that the centuries old military interaction between the West and Islam could become more virulent. For Huntington, Islam is ideologically hostile and anti-Western.

Drawing upon Huntington’s concept, Schall argues: “Our leaders, both civil and religious, have been loath so to designate it as a civilizational war. Islam is said to be a religion of peace. To suspect that it is a threat on a much broader scale is one of those things that must be classified as “secret writing.” He further says that it goes against the dominant religious mood, namely, ecumenism, and against the liberal mode, namely, tolerance, according to which all issues can be resolved without war.

The 21st Century, it seems clear, will more likely be a century of confrontation with world religions rather than with world ideologies, as was the 20th Century, Schall writes in an article, “Belloc On The Apparently Unconvertible Religion (Islam)”, published in 2003.

He even describes as the current US military operation in Iraq as a war against an expanding Islam. The International Herald Tribune on Jan. 11, 2005, quoted Schall as saying: "I always thought it was a mistake not say what Iraq really was, that is, a war against an expanding Islam. I can put myself in Bush's position, of course, and understand it was a prudential act to say it was a war on terrorism." (Politicus: Bush might be heading for tangle with neocons by John Vinocur)

Borrowing from the French Catholic historian Hilaire Belloc, Schall argues that Crusades (1095-1200) did not split Islam geographically, if the Crusades had cut Africa from Asia, Islam may have declined. He insists that many of the advocates of occupation of Iraq today use this theory of the need to split Islam and hence reduce its geopolitical power.

Schall predicts a long struggle between Islam and the West. He argues that theorizing that the “terrorists” are merely a side-show, a tiny minority which will naturally pass out of existence, is an easy way out of considering the more basic problem of the civilizational movement and what
to do about it. “This consideration is based upon the notion that Islam is a confident civilizational movement, suddenly aware, thanks to the judgment of its more radical leaders, of the possibility of continuing its historic mission: spreading the religion by force or other means throughout the

“Islam has another soul and another destiny which it seeks to spread, by its own proven means,” he says.

War is a virtue

Let us now discuss Shall’s views on the necessity of war.

He is a Machiavellian. In his latest article - When War Must Be the Answer - in the Policy Review magazine, he strong supports war as a virtue. Citing Machiavelli’s advice that a prince should spend most of his time preparing for war, he says: A common, oft-heard theory about war today, by contrast, is that we have “grown” or progressed out of it. The assertion that war may still be necessary is looked upon as “anti-progressive,” a sin against “history.” No “reasonable” person can hold the view that war may be necessary.

Schall rejects this notion and cites Herbert Deane’s summation of Augustine’s view of war: “Wars are inevitable as long as men and their societies are moved by avarice, greed, and lust for power, the permanent drives of sinful men. It is, therefore, self-delusion and folly to expect that a time will ever come in this world when wars will cease and ‘men will beat their swords into ploughshares.”

He is mindful of the destruction and killing of innocent civilians in the war, which is now termed as collateral damage. Though much carnage and chaos happen in any historic war, and on every side, still we cannot conclude from this that “war is not the answer,” he says. In this regard he quotes C.S. Lewis, who wrote in his essay “Why I Am Not a Pacifist:” The doctrine that war is always a greater evil seems to imply a materialist ethic, a belief that death and pain are the greatest evils. But I do not think they are. I think the suppression of a higher religion by a lower, of even a higher secular culture by a lower, a much greater evil.

The worst modern tyranny in the twenty-first century will not come from armies but from their lack, from the lack of capacity and courage to use them wherever they are needed to protect justice, freedom, and truth, Schall argues by adding: “If war is not the “answer,” what is? How do we rid ourselves of tyrants or protect ourselves from ideologies or fanatics who attack us with their own principles and weapons, not ours?”

After establishing his case for war, Schall points out that the worst modern tyranny in the twenty-first century will not come from armies but from the lack of capacity and courage to use them wherever they are needed to protect justice, freedom, and truth. “If war is not the “answer,” what is? How do we rid ourselves of tyrants or protect ourselves from ideologies or fanatics who attack us with their own principles and weapons, not ours?”

In short, Schall is a Machiavellian like the neocon, Michael Ledeen, who seeks to apply Machiavellian principles to the modern world when he says – in his book “The War Against the Terror Masters” - that as “we wage this war (against terrorism), we must constantly remind ourselves of five basic rules of successful political and military leadership, as defined half a millennium ago by Machiavelli.” He stresses that these Machiavellian principles are as true today as they were during the Renaissance, at the beginning of the modern era:

1. Man is more inclined to do evil than to do good.
Good people are rare, and are constantly threatened by the evil-minded. Peace is not the normal condition of mankind, and moments of peace are invariably the result of war. Since we want peace, we must win the war. Since our enemies are inclined to do evil, we must win decisively and then impose virtue, until the people learn the rules of civil society.

2. The only important thing is wining.
Machiavelli tells us that if we win, everyone will judge our methods to have been appropriate. If we lose, they will despise us.

3. If we have to do unpleasant things, it is best to do them all at once.
Strike decisively, get it over with quickly. The diplomats will always say that we can achieve our goals with a little bit of nastiness and a whole lot of talking, but they are wrong.

4. It is better to be feared than loved.
We can lead by the force of high moral example. It has been done. But it’s risky, because people are fickle, and they will abandon us at the first sign of failure. Fear is much more reliable and lasts longer. Once we show that we are capable of defeating our enemies, our power will be far

5. Luck can wreck the finest plans.
Machiavelli played cards whenever he had the chance, and he knew that a bad run can ruin the finest player. Machiavelli ruefully admitted that the best one could hope for was to have good luck about half the time. But that should be enough for us. We’re a lost stronger than the terror masters.

One may ask, do we see implementation of these principles in the disproportionate use of force and indiscriminate bombings and killings in Afghanistan and Iraq because the neocons and their supporters believe that they are "fighting evil?"

Going back to Schall’s argument on clash of civilizations, one may also ask if the current “war against terror” was not to stop the expansion of Islam, but for oil and also for hegemony that is the main thrust of Huntington’s theory.