Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Troubling Question of Fundamentalist Islam

Admittedly, I am a critic of all religious thinking. The more I’ve learned, the less plausible all religious belief systems appear to me. Maybe my brain is hard-wired for skepticism or perhaps there is some evil satanic force that keeps me from hearing that still small voice, but I don’t think so. However, as I’ve read about religious traditions and practices, I will say that some religions are not as bad as others. This isn’t meant to sound bigoted. I still may regard good people who belong to an especially bad religion with as much respect and love as someone from a more benign one.

However, I’ve come to be very concerned about the worldwide impact of fundamentalist Islam. I’ve always had this concern, but the events of the last decade or so has left me shaking my head wondering how on earth can a civilized world survive the onslaught of this religion. Let me give you a pertinent example. I Obi wan liberali, having been born of Mormon parents and having been born into the covenant, have never the less become an apostate. How do Mormons treat apostates? Generally, ostracism is the norm, sometimes rumors are spread regarding the reasons for the apostasy, usually discussion of possible moral failings of the apostate in question that caused them to “lose the spirit.” Some experience a loss of business, loss of social contacts, loss of friends, associates, even family members may disown them. Life can be hard on an apostate. I think that is why many doubters in Mormonism keep those doubts to themselves, because of the consequences of openly stating your disbelief.

As harsh as that may seem, contrast that with apostasy from Islam. The Koran is very clear what is to happen to apostates. They are to be killed immediately. Not only are they to be killed, but whom-ever might be accused of leading them astray is to be executed as well. Islam has been better to Christians and Jews than it has been to perceived apostates. Jews for example lived in lands controlled by Islamic empires, first under the Arabs and then the Turks. Christian populations also managed to live in Muslim dominated lands, notwithstanding that they faced an apartheid that could be rather severe. Because Christians and Jews believe in some of the same scriptures as Moslems, they were treated better than those who followed idolatrous religions such as Buddhism or Hinduism.

Now, I don’t just view a religion on the basis of how they treat apostates, I also want to see if there are those whom are persecuted or marginalized and how discipline is meted out against those who don’t follow the letter of the law. Islam in this regard tends to be extremely harsh in it’s treatment of women, homosexuals, and common every day criminals. There is a primitive ruthlessness that makes me wonder how Islam can make it in a civilized society.

Ultimately, that is the question. Can fundamentalist Islam survive in a civilized society, or can a civilized society survive fundamentalist Islam? I’m still looking for answers to this question. Seeking those answers has led me to read books on middle eastern and Islamic history that I never would have read before, and I’m still reading. Can Islam shake off fundamentalism and embrace any sort of compromise with modernity and the values of the European Enlightenment?

We entered into war in Iraq under the assumption that our values have a universal appeal and that Iraqis, once liberated from tyranny, would embrace those values. I have had my doubts all along about those prospects in addition to questioning the wisdom of invading a country on the basis of what they might do to us in the future. But as we sit here in 2007, quickly approaching 2008, the fate of our enterprise is less in our hands as Americans, than it is in the hands of Iraqis. Will Iraqis be able to live together in peaceful coexistence or even as reasonably amicable neighbors? My search for answers has led me to believe that anyone very sure of themselves on this issue must know somethings I've apparently missed, or they are in serious denial.


David said...

If you are reading books on Islam to learn more about this let me suggest one that I have found very informative. It's called "No God but GOD" by Reza Aslan (assuming you have not already found it)

Obi wan liberali said...


I appreciate the tip. I'll take a look at reviews of the book at and see if I can get it for a reasonable price.

I recently read Bernard Lewis's book "The Middle East" and I've been reading essays on Islam from the Brookings Institute and a couple other thinktanks.

Best regards.