July 16, 2003

Hammer and crescent

Fatima of Secular Islam had a post a while back on the tendency of some Muslims, and their Western apologists, to glorify the Islamic past:

You'll often see Muslims or non-Muslims defending Islam by saying that, although the recent past has been bad for women, or non-Muslims, or for Muslims themselves, that's because Islam has been corrupted and hijacked from its "pure" form in the 7th or 10th centuries (any time is OK, as long as it is in the distant past), which somehow provides for all the things that citizens from the 21st century think desirable, such as:

voting rights for women

complete equality for women

a fair and equitable distribution of wealth and power

tolerance and peaceful co-existence for non-Muslims

banning of slavery

banning of racism

Obviously, there are some absurd claims here (equality for women being one; I seem to recall that Sayyid Qutb argued that as opposed to the West, women enjoyed absolute equality under Islamic law, which of course made some allowances for their natural inferiority). That the tendency Fatima describes exists is undoubted.

I generally ascribe to Bernard Lewis' argument that, compared to their Christian contemporaries, Muslims were for the most part far more tolerant than their European contemporaries prior to the Enlightenment. Thereafter, the West led the way.

I also found this part of her post of interest:

You'll also see writings proclaiming Islam Is The Solution, in which somehow the application of Islam to all aspects of life and society will solve all problems, and which will turn into a paradise on earth. But then why are actually existing "Islamic states" so miserable and poor? Shouldn't people be flocking to them if they worked? If Islam has all the solutions, shoudn't even the partial application of it result in a noticeable improvement? I'm reminded of the claim that the USSR and China should not be seen as "failures" of communism, because they weren't "really" communist!

I've read a few polemics along these lines: that Marxism (and even Leninism) are still viable theories because those left to implementing the dream fell far short of the ideals. It's also interesting to note that during the heyday of the Cold War, the Soviets and their puppets argued that they, and not the West, offered true freedom. I recall attending a meeting of Marxists (Trotskyites, to be exact) in Boston in 1981; the subject of the night was "What we like about the Soviet Union." Even then, the line of Trotsky's few adherents was that the Soviet leadership had betrayed the ideals of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky. I was treated to an evening of hearing that at least in the Soviet Union, there was freedom of conscience, religion and the press, that the material well being of the proletariat was far greater than in the United States, that women were granted full political rights and participation in society, that the Soviet Union was the liberator of nations whereas the United States enslaved them, and on and on.

When I read and blogged Sayyid Qutb (the whole series is on paleo ideofact), I occasionally thought of that event. There was a certain resemblance: just as the Trotskyites argued that freedom of religion meant the state's active attempt to free the proletariat from the opiate of the masses, so did Qutb argue that it meant the state's endorsement of the one true faith, removing the impediments that the governments of the infidels put between man and Islam.

In any case, I've added Fatima's interesting blog to the Favorites list.

Posted by Ideofact at July 16, 2003 12:00 AM