May 17, 2004

Civil heresy

Every now and again, the question of whether Wahhabism (they prefer the term "Salafism," but I think there's some danger in conceding this point -- rather like allowing the minority of communists who followed Lenin to call themselves "Bolsheviks") can be compared to the Reformation -- with Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab in the role of a Luther or Calvin. I have by and large rejected the comparison (most recently here, here and here). Somewhat in this vein, although probably closer to the article cited here, is this piece I mentioned last week, which argues that Wahhabism is a heresy, the root cause of Muslim terrorism specifically and, by implication, of Middle Eastern tyranny generally, and that its closest correlative are various Christian heresies, ranging from the Cathars and Bogomils to the Ranters and the Free Spirits, with the flagellants thrown in for good measure. Orthodoxy, zealously asserted, is stipulated as the corrective.

The article, "Heresy and History" by Angelo M. Codevilla, contains some odd ideas, or perhaps what appear to be odd ideas because of his trying to cover roughly 800 years of heresy in a few thousand words. Still, I read the parts on the Crusades a couple of times and still can't figure out whether, when he writes, "Medieval Muslims, after all, gave orthodox Christianity a big, indirect hand by defeating the Crusades," he means that the benefit was an end to the ad hoc, and in some cases heretical, groups that sprung up around the Crusades to slaughter Jews in Europe (not an entirely unorthodox thing to be doing, at the time) or an end to a series of religious wars sanctioned by the orthodox authorities. Similarly, lumping the Cathars in with, say, Thomas Muntzer's Anabaptists is equating the victims of religiously motivated violence with the perpetrators.

I'll finish quickly, because this has already gone on too long, but I find it odd that Wahhabism is the focus of the article to the total exclusion of the political Shi'ism of Ayatollah Khomeini, which I suppose could be counted as another heresy, although the author doesn't even bother to reference it. Secondly, it's strange that orthodoxy is upheld as a means to ending religious strife, when it was the acceptance of heterodox religious beliefs within a secular framework that by and large defanged religious motivated warfare in the West (though there are holdouts -- Ireland being the prime example). Walk into any Borders and you can find, yes, the Bible, but also the Qur'an, the Upanishads, and half-baked demonologies and astrologies and books on witchcraft, to name but a few. Yet despite all these "heresies" in the West -- some of which have formed their own political advocacy groups -- we maintain a fairly peaceful civil society.

Posted by Ideofact at May 17, 2004 11:22 PM