Saturday, April 02, 2005


Christianity and Islam (2)

The Clergy… and the Case for Secularism

This essay is more a defense of secularism than it is an attack on religion or any religion’s clergy. I hope it will be read in this spirit. I have no quarrel with the clergy as long as they don’t force their own interpretation of God’s words (or intentions) on the rest of mankind!

Let them be there to offer spiritual and religious guidance to people. But they should not govern them!

Non-believers, who include some people whose opinions I respect, tend to dismiss this whole issue because they are not convinced by the original dictum! To them I say, you cannot dismiss things that have had, are having and will continue to have enormous effect on all our lives.


If you examine the histories of Christianity and Islam objectively, you will find that they display some similar characteristics:

• The established religion fought the newer one relentlessly as heresy.
• The newer one initially spread mostly under its own power of appeal and the example of its founders.
• The older (of the three main monotheist religions) denies the more recent.
• The more recent recognizes the older one(s) within the constraints of the newer one.
• Each is seen as the last true word.

Sects and differences within each religion were established by people who tried to “interpret” the religion to make sense of the ‘gaps’, the ‘grey areas’, the unanswered questions and unaddressed details in it… or to make it more compatible with their vision of human life and society.

Both religions, in refraining from defining everything in great detail (Islam to a much lesser extent) and yet attempting to encompass all aspects of life, allow for such interpretation. And who does the “interpretation”? The clergy! It is truly fascinating to consider the wide spread of sects and denominations in both religions and how they started!

Sometimes it seems to me that these religions, in addressing so many issues of human life and attempting to construct a unifying ‘umbrella’ for everything within the philosophy of a single religion, end up, through interpretations, like huge very elastic bands that can envelope a wide variety of ‘shapes and sizes’ of beliefs!

We can probably assume that many of those ‘interpreters’ acted in ‘good faith’ within the framework of their mentality and the prevailing social norms of the time. But also, in both religions, there have been, and still are, people who have distorted the ideals behind these religions… making use of the enormous scope, complexity and contradictory nature of human life. When such people have the upper hand, they can interpret the basic wide-encompassing teachings according to their whim and doctrine and turn them into oppression machines.


When the clergy were established as a “political” power with much sway over the kings and princes of Europe, that love-based religion was not benevolent anymore. It was the clergy who wanted to decide what God said or didn’t say about the position of the earth in the cosmos, or about the shape of the earth, or what constituted scientific method, witchcraft, heresy, and a multitude of other issues.

Looking back at that time in history, would anyone find it reasonable to condemn the other dissenting parties to Hell and to eternal suffering based on the judgment of a simple mortal? Some of those people were violating some of the most fundamental basics of the original doctrine!

Looking at the history of some of those Popes, for a long time the symbols of Christianity, I frankly find it hard to see some of them as Christians (i.e. followers of the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.) They were so entangled by ‘palace conspiracies’ and earthly power struggles and even wars. Power, and its corrupting effect, had something to do with it.

Martin Luther’s Protestantism and King Henry VIII’s rebellions are basically “revolutions” against that dominance of a particular doctrine, or a specific official view of Christianity. They were not revolutions against Christianity itself. Another important feature is that in Christianity, under Protestantism the priesthood’s role is reduced compared to Catholicism. The Catholic faith ultimately followed.

Sometimes it may be worthwhile to ask simple questions: In that wide maze of sects, creeds and differences, where do the teachings of Jesus lie? The answer of course would be that no Christian sect can contradict those teachings; they are all Christian. But these sects have so many incompatible differences (both theological and in matters concerning aspects of common life, e.g. birth control, divorce, etc.). Are they all equally holy?


Many Muslim scholars maintain that Islam had abolished the whole concept of priesthood and the clergy… and the very act of life-dedication to worship. There is no role for a priest in birth, wedding or death. Even the act of leading prayers is left to the ‘most knowledgeable’ among those present. The class arose again from society’s need for ‘specialists’.

In any case, a distinguishing feature of Islam perhaps is that the clergy were never given the ‘power’ to judge, absolve or condemn to start with. Yet, we can find that some of them gave themselves these powers later. Furthermore, the ‘specialists’ were reduced in status much sooner after the establishment of the religion as a ‘state’ than was the case with Christianity. It was done by those seeking earthly power and un-heavenly glory! Also in Islam, Shiism, the ‘newer’ sect gives more prominence (and, to some extent, more reverence) to the clergy. This was primarily because that sect was developed in opposition to the prevailing political power and sect!

In the present revival of both religions, the clergy, particularly the militant clergy and the ‘populists’, are having more influence. I see beliefs and convictions that to my mind are not true to the spirit of the original doctrines.

In Islam, this trend is particularly alarming, as many of these clergy are gaining earthly powers over the ‘flock of the faithful’ that they never had. It was always said jocularly in Iraq (when in doubt about the proper thing to do, religiously speaking) something that roughly means: “Take it from a scholar; he will bear its responsibility and you will be safe”! This attitude seems to dominate now. People are increasingly turning to religious scholars of all creeds for guidance on a great variety of things. Knowledge is power! Some horrible crimes are justified because some scholar or someone seen as a religious authority had sanctioned them! In one instance, someone with basic education up to 6th grade followed by rudimentary religious training was followed and obeyed by a violent religious group. The examples are numerous. Theocracy cannot be far behind such trends.

Again I ask: in that wide maze of sects, where do the teachings of the Koran and Prophet Mohammed lie? Muslims are asked to follow the precedence of Prophet Mohammed. But he is not portrayed as infallible; the Koran says that “Mohammed is only a Messenger”. There are several instances in the Koran where he is scolded for not doing the right thing. Yet, some of those Muslim ‘sect leaders’ have acquired holiness that seems to me to be greater than that of Prophet Mohamed himself.


My own personal conviction is that those ‘interpreters’ of both religions assume that the rules they set are what God, Jesus or Mohammed intended. Isn’t that rather presumptuous? Aren’t they giving themselves more authority than they should? How can they, no matter how ‘theologically’ versed they are, ascribe intentions to Jesus, Mohammed… or even God? And if they are so absolutely correct, why do other versed theologians contradict them?

Why can’t they leave ‘the flock of the faithful’ live in those ‘grey’, undefined areas as they please? How do they know that that’s not what God intended? Sadly, it seems that most of the time ‘the flock of the faithful’ themselves seek such guidance. Given mankind’s need for prejudice and us-versus-them attitude, the rest (of mankind’s bloody religious conflicts) naturally follow.


This is to my mind what constitutes the case for secularism in as far as it means the separation between religion as a faith satisfying people’s “spiritual” needs and the state which regulates their living. This naturally leaves the question of whether that state is compatible with this religion or that and to what extent… conveniently open. This is why I believe that secularism need not be anti-religion. So many people in Iraq and elsewhere today seem to think that it is! I am told that in Australia, secularism has the opposite meaning!

Secularism need not be anti-religion!

One problem is that people holding one of the two faiths in question feel that they have a duty not only to defend the faith but also to ‘spread the word’ to others, to guide them to the correct path in life for healthy material and spiritual living. They are basically “missionary” in nature. This is why they spread so widely. This is not a problem in itself. The problem is that when these people have the upper hand in any society, they tend to be tyrannical. Not only that, but society has to accept the interpretation of the particular clergy (and sometimes the interpretation of a small group or even a single person) holding the reigns of that particular religion.

If the clergy want to govern our daily lives, my proposal is this: let the clergy of the various sects of any religion agree to the common ground between them first! As to the differences between the clergy of the different religions, I do not think there is much hope of reconciliation in the foreseeable future. A true Christian cannot accept the whole of Islam and cannot agree that the Koran is the word of God. On the other hand, although a Muslim recognizes Christianity as a true religion, he believes he has the latest word from God. Yet, there are a large number of well-intentioned people from all religions attempting that formidable task.

For Islam, I feel that the solution is already there. No matter how sects may differ in their interpretation of the ‘grey’ areas in religion, none can contradict the constitution of the religion, namely the Koran. In this respect, the Koran unequivocally states: “There is no compulsion in religion”. Yet, this clear, explicit code was broken more times than I care to list.


“There is no compulsion in religion”. Yet, this clear, explicit code was broken more times than I care to list.

Do you agree then that Sharia law in itself is against this explicit code? Why should an adulterer be stoned? Maybe that person is not muslim. Why should a muslim who decides to leave the religion be killed?
Religion is too full of contradictions and hypocracy.

“There is no compulsion in religion”. Yet, this clear, explicit code was broken more times than I care to list.

Do you agree then that Sharia law in itself is against this explicit code? Why should an adulterer be stoned? Maybe that person is not muslim. Why should a muslim who decides to leave the religion be killed?
Religion is too full of contradictions and hypocracy.

Hello Abu Khaleel,
I have always lived in the USA, and was raised as a Catholic. It is easier for me to talk about what I know personally( and not Islam). Let me say first that the USA was NOT founded as a Christian nation but a secular one. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, our first and third Presidents were Freemasons, an anti-clerical non-denomenational association. In the US, secularism means a wall of separation between the church and the law and Congress shall pass no law establishing a religion,(or give any preferential treatment)etc.
Where you fear Islamic fundamentalists, I fear Christian fundamentalist Taliban-they are not mainstream Catholics or Protestants, but 'evangelicals'. These people have twisted the Constitution around to say 'Secularism is also a religion and therefore it can not be 'established' either. This also goes for 'Evolution is also a religion','science is religion', , i.e. 'anything you can believe in is religion',etc--so just ignore that crazy 'wall of separation' stuff[ that gives me the impression they really don't understand what the word 'religion' means]. Then they go on to say that we need morality, that the world is going to hell and promptly pull the Ten Commandments out of their pockets(never the Beatitudes/Sermon on the Mount)and say 'this is all you need'.'God said it..that settles it..I believe it!'They have a very narrow focus, often they pray for money or job success[yes,to the same Jesus who said 'It is easier for a camel to pass thru the eye of a needle, than a rich man to enter the kingdom of God!]. In return for obedience, God will bless them materially. Before Bush ran, these people often did not vote-their lives were in God's hands. But now they see their chance to drive the secular liberals out of the 'temple' and please their gift-giving-God, giving them peace of mind and 'final victory' over the atheists, their primary enemy. They claim to respect Muslims and Jews but no Jew I know trusts them as far as he can spit. Some believe that it is God's will that Israel be re-established(so it can be totally destroyed, of course) as a means of getting Jesus to return[Early Christians thought Jesus would return within living memory of his death...this got metamorphosed into a 'spiritual' interpretation when it turned out this prophecy was bogus.]
If these people would try to look beyond their noses and read God's message of humanity to an imperfect world, they might get 'the big picture' as in,
'This is my commandment, that ye love one another.' [Jesus John 15:12]. Somehow they seem to forget--
‘Many will say to me on that [judgement]day "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and drive out demons and perform many miracles?" Then I will tell them plainly "I never knew you. [Jesus Matthew 8:]
Praise the Lord!

Call me a cynic if you like. But I've always seen religion as a major faultline running through the tectonic fabric of human existence.

It's glaring flaws and inconsistencies are comprehensible only to simple minds that are vacuous and reaching, subsetable to fallacies, wild tales and intangible promises.

Heaven and Hell ? Angels and Demons ? Seventy two virgins, doe-eyed and spread-eagled, in somebody's wetdream fantasy of everlasting paradise ? Don't make me laugh !

Religion simply hasn't done enough good to offset the suffering, spawned, over the aeons, by it's own fractured dogma. Mostly, all we get out of it is the promise of Nirvana when we die.

Well, I'm sorry, but that just isn't good enough. And should you bother to delve beneath the frantic, serve-serving exultations of the Evangelists and Ayatollahs of this world, it probably wouldn't be good enough for you either.

Phil, London.


you just have no imagination! I'm sooo glad that God does!

Comment from the sidelines from Circular
Still keeping out of this, but I see from the preceding discussion (Christianity and Islam (1)) that Charles is still trying to imply, very politely I must admit, that Islam is possibly or potentially a more violent religion that Christianity. Meanwhile Abu is no going on about the role of the clergy in Islam.
One thought occurs to me that people may like to comment on. I don’t even know the right dates for the birth of Islam, (and can’t be bothered finding out) but its around 800 AD, right?
Doesn’t this mean that Islam is in a sense several hundred years "younger" or "newer" than Christianity? And that comparisons should therefore most fairly be made not with the present state of Christendom but that of the late middle ages and later? Which for several hundred years included I understand such things as the Crusades, the corruption of the Papacy, the Inquisition, witchcraft hysteria, and the religious wars and persecution attendant on the Reformation? And the paternalistic subjection of females?
In a way it’s rather reminiscent of Western intolerance of newly emergent ex-colonies failing to implement instant "democracy" in perfect imitation of Western examples, forgetting the civil strife and revolutions out of which many current Western democracies arose. (Which is one reason one tends to be a bit cynical about the prospects for Iraqi "democracy" over the next ten years or so, once their US friends have left, if they ever do.)
Oh, and by the way, an unrelated thought: in the last Blog Abu said, "Hooligans are the problem, not football." Is one allowed to suggest that if there was no football, there would be no hooligans? Or that some sports seem more productive of fanatical or hooligan followers - you don’t generally get Rugby hooligans, just the odd "streaker," and you certainly don’t get hooliganism, or violence on or off the field, at women’s Netball?


A thoughtful post for someone who "is not interested" ;) Too frequently, people tend to compare the two religions out of historical context. This will actually be my next post.

Your prejudice for rugby notwithstanding, you do have a point… but what if people like (perhaps even need) their football? Do you suggest banning it? Can anyone? Should anyone? Isn't there a way where people can enjoy their football without harming anybody else?

[Personal note: I know that you and Bruno are bored stiff with this subject, but please bear with me for a while, it will come back to politics. Here is a tidbit to muse upon meanwhile:

Iraq's must be the first democracy where the leader of the National Assembly is a member of one of the smallest parties in the assembly.]

1) Regarding your tidbit, are you talking about the Speaker or the just-announced President?
If the former, it’s surely of no great significance - a parliamentary Speaker is basically just a referee to keep order in the debating chamber, he has no influence over policy, he’s not a "leader?" In a multi-party setup a Speaker from a minority group seems appropriate.
2) Actually, who are the hooligans? The clergy or their followers? I suppose from the Catholic Church’s point of view, Galileo and Martin Luther were hooligans?
If you like my question about historical context, consider this: I was frankly appalled a few years ago to read about a major debate in a Cairo Theological University about how many virgins a Jihadi martyr can expect to get in Paradise. (The answer was 72, apparently. It wasn’t clear whether they had to be rationed throughout eternity, or if they were recycleable - I mean even at one a month you’ve only got 6 years’ worth.) I must confess to some repugnance at a culture that could treat young girls as consumables. But then I considered the mediaeval Christian theological debate about how many angels can stand on the head of a pin, which seems at least equally fatuous. I’m proud to be "not interested."
"Isn't there a way where people can enjoy their football without harming anybody else?"
Yes, remember that it’s only a game.
Actually, just to stir things along, can I add this: the most interesting religious thing I read in the past couple of weeks was the Newsweek article following up the fate of the children of the Iraqi couple murdered by US troops at Tal Afar. (They were murdered - it wasn’t a checkpoint, just a patrol at dusk that the motorists had little chance of seeing in time.)
It quoted the US unit’s Chaplain as consoling the troops that "Thou shalt not kill" does not apply in wartime, and not to "collateral damage."
Jesus would have to tread carefully in Texas today. "Insofar as y’all do it to one these my little ones, y’all do it to me. ‘Ceptin’ of course for c’llateral damage, that’s just the Amerkin way of war, Big Daddy unnerstands that."
The eldest boy will apparently never walk again, unless someone comes up with a lot of money. His elder sister said of the troops, "I would like to kill them and drink their blood."
You can see her point of view, and the Old Testament Big Daddy probably would too.

Abu Khaleel --

I'm not bored stiff, just a little detached. Personally I went through the whole "is the Bible really the word of God or not" phase when I was at the age of about 6 to 8. Logic has extended that conclusion to all religions.

However, despite the fact that I have not read the Bible in quite a while, I did read the whole thing several times when I was younger. What amazes me in the current "Muslims are evil, look at the Koran" trend in some circles, is that most of those saying that are hard core Christians.

I must say that either they have not read their Bibles completely, or they have two standards for interpreting different texts, because much of the core text of Christianity is soaked in blood.

..."much of the core text of Christianity is soaked in blood."
--by Bruno

That is the reason I (emphasis on I) believe that God sent Jesus to pay the ultimate sacrifice, to be the Lamb led to the slaughter so that man would stop killing, torturing raping and all the various forms of sinning. And then man would awake and take notice of this great unselfishness, this great generosity and then go back and learn from Jesus' teachings and follow his example.

From Saint Isaac the Syrian (7th century), monk at Nineveh. 2nd paragraph, Discourse 1st series,

"Because of his great love for us, he did not want to violate our liberty, even though he could have, but he preferred that we come closer to him through love, love of what we could understand."

Also Jesus Himself was against any harm to children:


"But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea."

Matthew 18:10

"Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, that in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my father which is in heaven."

Matthew 18:14

"Even so it is not the will of your father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish."

And it follows that we know Jesus taught men to respect women even the fallen like Mary Magdelene--

John 8:3-5

" And the scribes and pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, they say unto him, master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.
now moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?"

John 8:7

"So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, he that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her."

John 8:10-11

"When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, woman, where are those thine accusers? Hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And jesus said unto her, neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more."


"Doesn’t this mean that Islam is in a sense several hundred years "younger" or "newer" than Christianity? And that comparisons should therefore most fairly be made not with the present state of Christendom but that of the late middle ages and later?"

Aren't you being a wee bit too generous? Couldn't the exact opposite argument be made? Namely, that since Islam developed in more recent times it should therefore have a more 'advanced' ideology from the get-go?

Imagine a newly minted aeronautical engineer in 2005. He has all of the knowledge of previous inventions and engineers to draw upon to design his next plane. If he came up with a design that was cutting edge circa 1920, we would all decide that he was a rather crappy engineer.

But perhaps we shouldn't try to find some direct timeline correlation. Time seems to move at different speeds in different places.

Japan transformed itself from a feudal society with bows, arrows and swords into a world military/industrial powerhouse in 50 years. If we can agree that trouncing the russian navy in 1905 was a signal that they had 'arrived.'

It seems time in the ME moves very very slowly. Now doubt there is some binary relationship between the development/progress of the ME and Islam. It could be that Islam would have developed quite differently had it been established in Europe in an ideological vacuum had Christianity never taken hold. I don't know. Or maybe there is something in Islam that slows down time.

Islam developed during the period that Christianity was being imposed on the Roman Empire, and Zoroastrianism was being enforced in the Persian Empire. On the other hand, Christianity developed during a period when the Jews had a somewhat precarious status in the Roman Empire--sometimes protected, frequently despised, sometimes attacked.

Be Well,

Charles (again),
Islam began outside of both the Roman and Persian Empires, during a time when the expositors of the dominant religions of each empire believed it to be appropriate to enforce that religion by military or judicial means.
The amount of tolerance in Islam has varied over the centuries, and from culture to culture. In this, it does not differ from Christianity.
Be Well,

My impression is that the growth of secularism in the West is the reason for the increase in religious tolerance in Europe and North America.
The Pilgrims tended towards religious intolerance, as did many other Western European & American Christians.

Myself--I'm a devout Christian (an ex-fundamentalist).

Be Well,

You described yourself in the last Blog as "rather agnostic/neutral," which sounds very wishy-washy: remember the old quip that an agnostic is an atheist who lacks the courage of his convictions.
Yet you seem determined to pursue your line of subtle denigration of Islam, with the implication that Christianity is somehow "better." Presumably this is because of your absolute fanatical determination to assert that the US is totally perfect, incapable of fault, and has committed no errors or crimes in the course of its Iraq adventure. And is nominally Christian.
If you had the courage of your convictions, you would acknowledge that debating how many virgins a jihadi gets in paradise, in 2000 AD, is no different from debating, in 1200 AD, how many angels can stand on the head of a pin. Both activities are equally delusional. And, harking back to an earlier discussion, interfering in education because of lunatic mid-western fundamentalist ignorance about the theory of evolution is also delusional. So is assuring the troops that "thou shalt not kill" doesn’t apply to collateral casualties. So are Marines playing loud "Christian rock" and praying before heading off to kill anything that moves in Fallujah.
What you seem to be saying is that Christianity figured out about 300 years ago, with as Bob Griffin suggests a lot of help from the growth of secularism and rationalism, that burning suspected witches at the stake was not a good idea, really. Therefore Islam is inferior because its present equivalent (beheading infidel hostages in a filthy war) should have been abolished at the same time as witch-burning. Since the US has proven the wonders of unfettered capitalism, the benighted natives on the newly discovered Charles Islands are to be condemned for not instantly abandoning their ancient tribal ways and embracing the modern delights on display. Allow them no time to grow, develop, adapt. Embrace now or the Marines will come and civilise you.
If you really were "agnostic/neutral" you would be able to stand back equally from both religions and see the unfairness of what you are saying.


Regarding wishy-washy, I just have to admit that I do not yet know the meaning of life so I'm not going to go around pretending I do. I find people who do that, from an either secular humanist or religious fundamentalist perspective, can become rather annoying. The serious ones I find utterly humorless, while those simply latching on to an all encompassing ideology to give their lives meaning can simply be avoided.

I don't know what gave you the impression that I think the US is perfect. Iraq, as all conflicts and wars, has been full of mistakes, cruelty, destruction, etc. In that context, I am naturally not surprised that a car rushing a checkpoint or patrol could get shot up, or a journalist on a roof overlooking a firefight gets shot, etc. In that context, the US is doing a fine job.

Right now I am reading about the fledgling US army in north Africa in '42-43. You think Iraq was full of mistakes? Iraq is a friggin dream boat compared to that (it again confirmed my opinion of the French though...).

But just because war is terrible and cruel and all those other things, it does not necessarily follow that I am against the use of military force in general, or in this case in particular. In fact I think there ought to be a more concerted effort to use military force against rogue regimes. We could clean house rather quickly and one or two examples would suffice. Even in the medium term, it would mean far far far less of all of those bad things I mentioned above.

Now on to religion. Am I getting you right that your position is basically that Islam should be forgiven its current and past violent influence on society because it just needs a few more centuries to mature?

That's kind of the gist of it right? Personally I think its a bit more complicated, but I think it will suffice for the sake of discussion.

Hmmmmm. If that is the case than I think it provides a strong argument for 'forced' change in the ME. We don't have several hundred years Circ. On the one hand you have feudalistic dictatorships or brutal autocracies with their boots on the heads of oppressed populations who are becoming radicalized inside of an ideology that has been prone to excess. On the other hand you have a post industrial world developing new and ever more lethal concoctions the technologies behind which are transferable. It seems to me that your premise is the foundation of the neocon argument.

I do find it rather disingenuos when I see that anti-US slogan " You can't force people to be democratic" regurgitated all over the place. Its really quite a hyperbole. Saddam was a nasty brutal SOB and his sons were no better. The UN should have finished him long ago. It would have been much easier in the aftermath if more countries had supported the operation. Democracy comes in many forms and Iraq will work out its own version. It won't be smooth. But neither would your 300 year reprieve be to the ME or the rest of the world.

Most people everywhere are decent. Whether they are kiwis, muslims, or christians. Empower them with the rule of law founded upon democratic principles, and they will work things out more efficiently in the long run, than any other form of government, and certainly better than what they had.

Hi Abu Billy,

I shouldn't say much now for a while or Abu Khaleel will scold me.

I hope you are well.

How are the ChaldoAssyrians holding up? Didn't I read that some of them got prominent positions in government? Or something along those lines?

Charles --

“If that is the case than I think it provides a strong argument for 'forced' change in the ME. We don't have several hundred years Circ. On the one hand you have feudalistic dictatorships or brutal autocracies with their boots on the heads of oppressed populations who are becoming radicalized inside of an ideology that has been prone to excess.”

This is the fundamental reason as to our disagreement, and the reason as to why you are groping for some underlying, inherent ‘cause’ for the violent Middle Eastern tendencies. Unfortunately, you are NOT going to ‘get it’ because you are trying to find this cause for explosive anger and autocracy while divorcing your search completely from the external, foreign influences that have led up to the current impasse.

Trying to ignore the effect that countries such as Israel, the US, Britain and France have had on the political and social development of the Middle East while attempting to analyse the situation is ludicrous. It is like watching a soccer game, and trying to work out why your team is losing 3-0 while completely ignoring the opposing team and it’s efforts.

The US and Britain supported the death of democracy in Iran in 1953. They US interfered in Lebanon in 1958, Oman in 1970 and Lebanon again in the ‘80’s. France supported the cancelled democratic elections in Algeria when it was obvious the Islamic parties would win. Egypt, a recipient of billions of dollars in US aid, cancelled elections when it became obvious the Muslim Brotherhood was going to win. The Kuwaiti monarchy was restored (what, no election?) after the US-Iraq Gulf War, and despite their non-democratic status, enjoyed excellent relations with the US. As did Saudi Arabia. As did Jordan. As did all the other small potatoes Emirates in the region. In the 1970’s the US via the CIA vigorously supported radical Muslim elements in Afghanistan against the USSR, creating the basis for the fractured Afghan state. The US also supported Saddam Hussein while he was in power , and aligned with US interests.

I may warn you, additionally, that the same pattern of supporting brutal dictators is currently being followed in Central Asia, where the US is actively working with an array of dictators including the abominable Islam “Boiled or poached?”Karimov. And, when in a decade or two, this policy comes back to bite you in the ass, who are you going to blame it on then?

The roots of Islamic violence have nothing to do with what the Prophet did or did not do, and little to do with the ‘maturity’ or otherwise of the religion. Historically, tens of thousands were killed even in the name of Buddha in SE Asia, for example. Currently there are many Muslim democracies that are quite functional, such as Indonesia and Turkey for example. Why are they also not backward autocracies? Your thinking is, unfortunately, fallacious.

Islamic violence stems from the socio political realities of the Middle East, from anger against those countries who are perceived to have caused these realities, and for the simple fact that religious conviction breeds courage, and that the Mullahs are invariably the people with the balls to stand up to the current oppressors.

I agree with the need for the democratization of the Middle East.

I do NOT, repeat ** NOT ** agree with it if it is tied to foreign interests and is selectively indulged in as a means to promote the designs of the US, France, Britain … or any other country who feels that they have a right to dictate or influence the form or leaders of such a ‘democracy’ because they have vested interests in a given country.

Remember the furore when it was discovered that China had had the audacity to try and monetarily influence US elections? Yet – this is only a pale shadow of the interference that the Western powers and the US in particular have indulged in.

The problem is not Islam, or a tribal culture, or the whacked notion that Muslims / Arabs are too stupid to work out how to put a piece of paper in a box. It is the constant undermining of whatever structures do arise by foreign countries.

That’s the problem, and that’s why Muslims are angry.


First of all you are ignoring Circ's premise. What follows from you is an argument along an entirely different tac. That's ok of course, but its apples and oranges.

"Unfortunately, you are NOT going to ‘get it’ because you are trying to find this cause for explosive anger and autocracy while divorcing your search completely from the external, foreign influences that have led up to the current impasse."

Who said anything about an impasse?

And trying to blame what I would broadly call the 'west' is way too simplistic and faddy (if that is a word).

People, tribes, and empires have been slaughtering and oppressing each other throughout history. The middle east is no different. Brutal ME autocracies have been the historical norm since before the US even existed. That's jsut the way people did business. Most of the world has moved on though.

One thing that has led to a lessening of the mayhem in the world is the establishment of the liberal democratic rule of law. Not that democracy is perfect of course.

It seems to me that the combination of conservative muslim ideology, and dictatorships, have stunted the political development of the ME. The dictators smothered political and economic reform, the clerics smothered the ideological and social reform. Very strange bedfellows indeed. But in the end what you get is very little acceptance and implementation of new ideas (progress).

We need to get rid of the brutal dictators and show the reasonably benign ones which way the wind is blowing. That will open up waves of political and economic reform that will alter the social balance of power and create the possibility for reform within conservative Islam.

Has serious reform ever happened in Islam? I think the bahai's were a bit of a hybrid offshoot and they were crushed - weren't they?

Any others in the last few hundred years that 'stuck'?

Abu Khaleel:

I have been traveling in South East Asia for the last several weeks and had the opportunity to visit Singapore. The concepts of religious and cultural tolerance are stressed so forcefully in their education system that nearly every native Singaporean I encountered mentioned them. To mind, this is a major cultural achievement, which should be emulated world wide, but as I will explain below may still not go far enough.

I agree with nearly all of your thoughts on religion to the extent that reading your last several postings was like a journey through my own tangled thoughts on the matter. The convergence of our ideas on this issue is almost eerie, since I suspect we differ significantly on a number of political issues.

We do differ in one significant respect concerning "intolerance," that is, I would go much further than you in condemning it. The kind of dogmatic intolerance that you find distasteful is not confined merely to religion, but often rears its ugly head in politics. For example, authoritarian political systems have, by definition, little or no tolerance for political dissent. Such political intolerance can lead to just as much cruelty and oppression as religious intolerance. The depravity of Hitler's Nazi regime and the cruelty of Stalin's Soviet Communist regime directed at dissenters from their political orthodoxy provide good examples of this point.

I further agree that religion has both the potential for tremendous good, when combined with the virtue of tolerance, and for tremendous evil, when lacking it. Throughout history the misuse of religious authority to supress dissent has been largely an attempt to achieve the political objectives of religious or other leaders. The history of the "fighting" Catholic Popes of the middle ages that you cite should be read in this context. Similarly, much of the current misuse of the Islamic faith by militants seems to follow the religious/political intimidation strategy of those battling medieval Papists. I absolutely agree with you that religion is at its most dangerous when coupled with political power or an intolerant political agenda. Let us all hope that Iraq can avoid either fate.


Charles --

[charles] “It seems to me that the combination of conservative muslim ideology, and dictatorships, have stunted the political development of the ME. The dictators smothered political and economic reform, the clerics smothered the ideological and social reform.”

You are unfortunately still avoiding the presence of the other team in the football game.

Let us, for the sake of argument, assume that you are correct in this above statement. That still does little to change the fact that a vast amount of those dictatorships were either friends of, or supported by, Western powers. If all the indisputable meddling I have already mentioned had NOT taken place, and IF the situation was the same as it is now, I would probably agree with your sentiments.

The religious aspect is also a similar case. How can you expect a religious order to undertake internal reform when its people are under attack by external forces?

Secondly, although I’m hardly an expert on Islam, I must ask: Is there a need for reform? Honestly, I’ve been reading various (English, it must be admitted) forums and corresponding with Muslims, and they all seem pretty balanced in their views. No bin Ladens yet. Simply because their society is different from ours, is it necessarily inferior? (The opposite could be argued.) And to what extent has the West contributed to the status quo?

And, even if we agreed that Islamic society is inherently inferior than Western societies (which we do not) which of these two methods would have the greater chance of initiating genuine change: leading by example and cultural cross pollination coupled with respect and gentle pressure … or bombs, tanks and troops ?

To me, one of the greatest ironies of this entire Iraqi debacle is that the social benefits that Saddam’s regime established (for whatever reasons – that’s not the point) – equal rights for women, religious moderation, secular government – are in danger of being swept away again, through this invasion. Yet again Arab/Muslim society must start from zero.

In twenty years time, we are going to be hearing about those mad Iraqi Shiite extremists, and how they are destabilizing the Middle East, and how force will be necessary to sort out this crazy Islamic religion. Democrats and Republicans will be blaming each other for the mess, and comments will be made about how Arabs are inherently unable to reform their society. All the while, everybody will studiously ignore whatever new policies have been the cause of this new anger, and focus on the symptoms.

This is all just SO sick.

Why can’t you understand it?

Charles, circular –

Oh, I’m not ignoring the premise of ‘Islam is younger, give it time to grow up’. I just think that in the light of the political and military realities, this premise is subordinate to other factors. For example, there was a time when Christian lands were pits of barbarism and iniquity and Islam was by comparison a beacon of learning and light. The Crusades, for example, brought back many ideas of worth and helped Europe in the process. Yet Islam was still the younger religion then.

Mark --

“I absolutely agree with you that religion is at its most dangerous when coupled with political power or an intolerant political agenda. Let us all hope that Iraq can avoid either fate.”

Amen to that.

(bad pun intended, btw.)


You asked about the ChaldoAssyrians--their disenfranchisment is apparently being ignored by the US and the UN. There were only two ChaldoAssyrians (I think) who were elected based on the votes for their party. Two others received office as members of a Kurdish party, and thus owe political allegiance to Kurdish interests as opposed to ChaldoAssyrian interests.
I don't know if there are any on-going protests regarding the political situation.

Be Well,

The Bahai's are not an Islamic reform movement, any more than Islam was a Christian reform movement. Rather, the Bahai's claim that the Baha ul'lah is a prophetic successor to Muhammad. This makes them heretics from a Muslim point of view, and it is due to this heresy that they are persecuted.
There are a number of movements for more openness in Islam. I am not as aware of them as I would be were I Muslim---it's not personally important to me, so I am only academically aware. I believe I have referred you to That's a good starting place for looking for such.
Be Well,

Regarding the situation of the Assyrians, the first article in the following document gives an Assyrian perspective of the current situation in Iraq:

Be Well,

The "cartoon war" - says it all. The God-loving people are willing to kill each other over a cartoon. Isn't this pathetic?

I think that the cartoons themselves are not the reason for the "Cartoon riots". They are an excuse. There is a lot of anger among the poor brainwashed Muslims, which originates in their poverty, lack of education and lack of future. Politicians and clerics channel this anger toward the West to control this fuming population and/or to pursue any other agendas they might have (like power and money, what else?). There is nothing new in using religion as a tool for manipulating the masses. Think Crusades. Think about what Bush Administration does in the US. The brainwashed Evangelists are destroying their own country.
The current conflict in the World may be not between the Judo-Christians and Muslims, as many people think. It may be the conflict between the religious conservatism OF ALL KINDS and the 18th Century European Enlightenment. (The Muslim Enlightenment - we all know that Arabs invented zero, etc. - had been strangled in 16th Century, so it does not count). Fortunately, the European Enlightnment has not been strangled yet, despite the attempt to do so in the US.

I think all the newspapers that cherish freedom of speech should have the courage to reprint the cartoons. I think JW Bush put cowboy hats with a smoldering fuse on himself and all of us. I think we should buy more Danish and Norwegian products, these guys have been good boys since the Viking times. I think Jewish cartoonists should participate in the Iranian newspaper contest and try winning it. Humor is the last resort letting people survive, in war, Nazi camps or GULAGs, after their freedom, food and loved ones are taken away.

I think we should put reason ahead of ancient beliefs and have the courage to face real problems: poverty, energy, equality, AIDS, bird flu, etc. Lenin=Hitler=Bin Laden=Bush. There is always a "hero" on the horseback driving the crowd to an abyss. Isn't that clear? Can we stop following these "strong" men, these oppressors?
Lets EVOLVE, for God’s sake!
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