30 September, 2006

Needed - an honest debate

There's a very thought provoking article from the celebrated NYT editor, journalist and author, Thomas L Friedman, that was reproduced in Gulf News print edition today. (Unfortunately, it is not available free online - not even in NYT)

It talks about the fundamental issue of Muslims attacking Muslims, which has perhaps heavily tarnished the image of Islam as a compassionate religion and repeatedly increased the distance between Muslims and Non-Muslims.

"Part of the problem in getting answers is that Islam has no hierarchy. There's no Muslim pope defining the faith. There are centres of Muslim learning, in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, but their credibility with the masses is uneven because they're often seen as tools of regimes"

He feels that "...there's a huge body of disenfranchised Sunni Muslims, who are neither violent fundamentalists, nor wannabe secularists. They are the people who'd like to see a marriage between Islam and modernity. But right now there's little space in the Sunni world... for that synthesis to be discussed and defined".

When I see the progressive Arabs and non Arab Muslims here in UAE, I tend to agree with Friedman. I feel UAE, by lieu of its economic status and a model of progress, could take the first step towards initiating a debate within the Muslim community to find a common progressive message for the world.

No sensible Muslim - who has understood the teachings of Islam - would want to see violence as an precursor to solutions. Like all other communities of the world, all the Muslims also like to share, enjoy, and live life in peace, friendship and togetherness. Isn't UAE one of the best examples of this?


The Media Pirate said...

Islam and the Pope

We need to stop insulting Islam. It’s enough already.

No, that doesn’t mean the pope should apologize. The pope was actually treating Islam with dignity. He was treating the faith and its community as adults who could be challenged and engaged. That is a sign of respect.

What is insulting is the politically correct, kid-gloves view of how to deal with Muslims that is taking root in the West today. It goes like this: “Hushhh! Don’t say anything about Islam! Don’t you understand? If you say anything critical or questioning about Muslims, they’ll burn down your house. Hushhh! Just let them be. Don’t rile them. They are not capable of a civil, rational dialogue about problems in their faith community.”

Now that is insulting. It’s an attitude full of contempt and self-censorship, but that is the attitude of Western elites today, and it’s helping to foster the slow-motion clash of civilizations that Sam Huntington predicted. Because Western masses don’t buy it. They see violence exploding from Muslim communities and they find it frightening, and they don’t think their leaders are talking honestly about it. So many now just want to build a wall against Islam. It will be terrible if Turkey is blocked from entering the European Union, but that’s where we’re heading, and the only thing that will halt it is honest dialogue.

But it is not the dialogue the pope mentioned — one between Islam and Christianity. That’s necessary, but it’s not sufficient. What is needed first is an honest dialogue between Muslims and Muslims.

As someone who has lived in the Muslim world, enjoyed the friendship of many Muslims there and seen the compassionate side of Islam in action, I have to admit I am confused as to what Islam stands for today.

Why? On the first day of Ramadan last year a Sunni Muslim suicide bomber blew up a Shiite mosque in Hilla, Iraq, in the middle of a memorial service, killing 25 worshipers. This year on the first day of Ramadan, a Sunni suicide bomber in Baghdad killed 35 people who were lining up in a Shiite neighborhood to buy fuel. The same day, the severed heads of nine murdered Iraqi police officers and soldiers were found north of Baghdad.

I don’t get it. How can Muslims blow up other Muslims on their most holy day of the year — in mosques! — and there is barely a peep of protest in the Muslim world, let alone a million Muslim march? Yet Danish cartoons or a papal speech lead to violent protests. If Muslims butchering Muslims — in Sudan, Iraq, Egypt, Pakistan and Jordan — produces little communal reaction, while cartoons and papal remarks produce mass protests, what does Islam stand for today? It is not an insult to ask that question.

Muslims might say: “Well, what about Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo or Palestine? Let’s talk about all your violent behavior.” To which I would say: “Let’s talk about it! But you’ll have to get in line behind us, because we’re constantly talking about where we’ve gone wrong.” We can’t have a meaningful dialogue if we, too, are not self-critical, but neither can Muslims.

Part of the problem in getting answers is that Islam has no hierarchy. There is no Muslim pope defining the faith. There are centers of Muslim learning, in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, but their credibility with the masses is uneven because they’re often seen as tools of regimes. So those Muslim preachers with authenticity tend to be the street preachers — firebrands, who gain legitimacy by spewing hatred at both their own regimes and the Western powers that support them.

As a result, there is a huge body of disenfranchised Sunni Muslims, who are neither violent fundamentalists nor wannabe secularists. They are people who’d like to see a marriage between Islam and modernity. But right now there is little free space in the Sunni Muslim world — between the firebrand preachers and the “official” ones — for that synthesis to be discussed and defined.

I had hoped Iraq would be that space. Whenever people asked me how I’d know if we’d won in Iraq, I said: when Salman Rushdie could give a lecture in Baghdad. I’m all for a respectful dialogue between Islam and the West, but first there needs to be a respectful, free dialogue between Muslims and Muslims. What matters is not what Muslims tell us they stand for. What matters is what they tell themselves, in their own languages, and how they treat their own.

Without a real war of ideas within Islam to sort that out — a war that progressives win — I fear we are drifting at best toward a wall between civilizations and at worst toward a real clash.

MJ said...

I want to read this article!

Sans said...

To understand the hypocrite in Friedman, please read this.

bandicoot said...

"Part of the problem in getting answers is that Islam has no hierarchy. There's no Muslim pope defining the faith"

Thank God! With a pope like Benedict, who needs another? Imagine the “pope of Islam” declaring in a theological lecture that Christianity has brought nothing new except evil and inhumanity and violence!

The lack of hierarchy in Islam should be seen as part of the solution, not as a problem. The pope's statements on Islam show this very clearly; there's just nothing "dignified" about them and no amount of half-hearted “apologies” and repackaging by ignorant journalists can change that. There are many Muslims who are fighting to save their faith from distortion and extremism and they can do just fine without some wacky "advice" from Tom the Moustache.

Aro said...

Some of what this Friedman guy says makes some sense. The bit about Muslim-Muslim dialogue is poignant.

Sans: Don't be fooled by stupid klnowledge-simulating bloggers when it comes to make a judgement on other people's thoughts. Read one of Friedman's books. You'd feel (and look for that matter) smarter.

Till then..

bandicoot said...

“We should arm the Shiites and Kurds and leave the Sunnis of Iraq to reap the wind. We must not throw more good American lives after good American lives for people who hate others more than they love their own children.”

This is yet another example of the poverty of analysis and bankruptcy of advice of Tom the Moustache, from his column in 28 Sept of last year. Yeah, read him and get “smarter”!!!

One more, with a comic touch, that shows Friedman’s repeated failure to read the situation in Iraq, despite his 3 pulitzers; here's
Tom's Forecasting

Who's simulating knowledge I wonder? Smart indeed!

shansenta said...


I guess the objective of the post was not to either glorify or mortify Friedman or his ideologies. As I said, it raised a fundamental issue of Muslim attacking Muslims, despite Islam being a compassionate religion (as I understood thru my experience in KSA).

Yes, there are certain points of view raised by Friedman, but you cannot deny the fact that no Muslim wants to indulge in violence to derive solutions for pressing problems of (or injustice to) Islam. Had there been a central authority (perhaps Mecca could generate one!) having the last word, some of the selfish organisations would not have interpreted this religion to justify violence.

Aro said...

Thanks for the brilliant counter-strike Bandicoot. Please be careful when using selected out of context quotations. I am confident you know how misleading that can be.
Nevertheless, you completely missed my point here.
Let me help.
We Muslims do NOT practice any form of "self review". If anything goes wrong we always blame the others: the devil, the evil, the Americans, the Jews, the Zionists, the governments(ours and others’), the aliens, just name it. And when nothing else works we get spiritual and claim it is the “Kadar” or “Maktoub”. It is never our fault. I am not sure at what era in our history we made that tremendous leap of thought and decided that it was no more only Islam that was perfect, but we Muslims were perfect as well.
Commonsense 101: if you can’t see where the problem is, you will never ever be able to fix it. So yes, Friedman has a point: Muslims need mirrors, a lot of mirrors.
Friedman tells bullshit. A lot of it when he strays away from his field of specialty. But hey, we can’t expect any better from a mere mortal can we. Yet I stand and maintain that “some of what he says makes some sens”. The only book I expect to be perfect is the Holy Quran. For all the rest I pick and drop as I believe fits and my mood permits. Do the same. Even if you don’t like what the guys says, it should at least start your thinking.
It just kills me to see how inapt at discussing ideas and concepts we muslims became. We can’t stand the different opinion. We feel insulted by the challenging thought. We lost sight of what matters and what does not. We became too lazy to think for ourselves.
My wish of the day: reading someone with a little more than a shallow understanding of life and the world we live in.
Till then…

PS: I am not the smartest guy around. I do not pretend knowledge. I have nothing to teach. All I preach is free thought. Give it a try.

Aro said...
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