Democracy Arsenal

« Bill Clinton is Angry - and so am I | Main | Torture: anti-military, unChristian, unAmerican »

September 27, 2006

Islam, Andrew Sullivan and The Pope
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Is it a coincidence that two of the most satisfying prose stylists are English? I suspect not. Andrew Sullivan and Christopher Hitchens are two writers that, political disagreements aside, are an unqualified joy to read. It is, therefore, somewhat unfortunate that both seem to stumble whenever they attempt to parse matters having to do with “Islam.” Hitchens, on this count, may be excused for he is an avowed secularist and atheist. I respect his consistency in disliking all religions equally. (With that said, Hitchens's recent criticism of Pope Benedict's pathetic speech and his perhaps more pathetic apologies are quite on target). There is, however, no reason why someone as perceptive as Andrew Sullivan - commenting on the Pope/Islam controversy - should feel compelled to write the following kinds of sentences:

[The Pope’s] essential point was the resistance of Islamic thought to Greek conceptions of reason. It is indeed the crux of the matter, and reveals how hard it will be for Islam to have the kind of reformation it needs if it is to become compatible with the rest of the modern world.

What in the world is Sullivan talking about? Even a cursory study of Islamic history would render such suppositions wildly off-base. It was, after all, Islamic scholars during the Abbasid era who revived Greek thought, incorporated it within the Islamic canon, and helped transfer it to Europe, a process which would lay the foundations of the renaissance to come. There is nothing inherent within Islam which makes it “irrational” or “unreasonable.” Here, Sullivan conflates a religious problem with a political one. The crisis of the modern Middle East is, first and foremost, one of a political nature. For example, if one wishes to explain the meteoric rise of Islamism in the 1970s, then one can find the source of this ideological shift in the aftermath of the Arab world’s crushing defeat to Israel in 1967. If you want to explain how Sayyid Qutb - who was once a dapper secular literary critic who wrote novels about the pains of love and romance (see Ashwak or Thorns) - became the intellectual godfather of a violent, extremist strain of Islam, then you need to understand how being brutally tortured in President Gamal Abdel Nasser's dungeons radicalized him and his followers (a lesson that the Bush administration appears wholly unaware of).

As I argued in a recent article, one has to make a careful distinction between political and religious imperatives:

Political reform leads to religious reform, not the other way around. Islamic thought and practice has been stifled by an undemocratic atmosphere in which Muslims are not exposed to the full diversity of opinions on issues of importance. Democracy, as Madeleine Albright argues in “A Realistic Idealism,” will “create a broader and more open political debate within Arab countries, exposing myths to scrutiny and extreme ideas to rebuttal.” In free societies, Arab liberals will finally be allowed to organize politically and communicate their ideas to a larger audience.


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Islam, Andrew Sullivan and The Pope:


"Ironic" is perhaps an overused adjective today, but surely it applies to a post that insists on the primacy of the political over the religious and supports that insistence entirely with statements of faith.

I agree wholeheartedly about Hitchens and Sullivan, two brilliant writers, both a pleasure to read.

The issue is not that at one time Arab and/or Muslim culture did not contribute to the rise of modern civilization but rather that today it appears on many levels that this same culture is at odds with moderity.

The number of books translated into Arabic is so tiny that in the entire history of the world less books have been translated into Arabic than are translated into Spanish each year. If the oil industry is removed from the 300 million or so Arabs those same Arabs have an economy smaller than Finland.

The issue is not what once might have been good but people in foreign lands demanding how others in other lands thousands of miles away live. What cartoons, books, or opera they choose to listen to. The issue is killing people one disagrees with instead of learning one basis of the modern world- tolerance. The issue is half of a given nations population living as slaves.

That Islam today needs some kind of reformation that begins with what we strive to teach 3 year olds with the words and concept behind "sticks and stones" seems to many to be so blantantly obvious as to be a truism.

It does not seem to millions and millions that Islam is really compatible with the rest of the world. It seems this way to Bashir Goth in the Washington Post (journalist from Somalia, link from Sullivan), among many others. Either one is free to read and write what one wishes or one is not free. To not be free is to be a slave.

Foundational protections of individual liberty must remain the bulwark of liberal democracy. That shared value, held dear with determination, must continue to thrive among us as the least common denominator to binds us together as allies, whatever other allegiances of thought and preference may separate us. Without at least this shared assent and adherence to the self-evident truths that gird our system, then any variety of coercive movement, whether it is secularist utopian fantasy or theocratic frenzy, is a potential exterminator.

The challenge to democracy must be met with the tools of democracy. This is a hampering factor, a reality that demands careful husbanding of those assets which can be deployed in our fight for survival, without destroying the integrity of democratic institutions. In a sense, the current threat from violent religionist ideology at war with modernity is only the most recent and obnoxious wave of the same, sad totalitarian impulse that has waged a Herodian assault against individual rights since the Magna Carta was signed.

Overt and originating from outside the system, or in occult and insidious forms, we have merely forgotten, yet again, that the price of democracy is vigilance against the human species' unabated appetite for tyranny. The present assault wave still seeks dominance over the mind, predation of personal and collective material resources, intrusions on protected forms of personal autonomy, bloody suppression of resistance when other strategems fail. Yet, we have recourse only to the legitimate tools of liberal democracy. Ethnic cleansing, for example, is a simple and blunt tool available to tyranny, unthinkable to democracy.

The aresenal of democracy includes action by persuasion not by imposed fiat, unity in commitment to democratic ideals and a willingness to permit the formation of collective resolve to defend at all costs the heritage of freedom.

There must also be a literal arsenal of warriors and weaponry to preserve these ideals and the way of life that embodies them. Peace and Security is a very good formulation of the preferred mindset to this task. Having said that, it is a sad reality that the little David of democracy always seems to confront the Goliath of brute totalitarian aggression with the scant arsenal of five smooth stones.

How does the fractious and indolent West expect to prevail against the determined, fanatically violent assault against its existence without drawing upon every strength legitimately available to it?
We cannot discard any asset or resource in the arsenal of freedom. We need to select our "five smooth stones" sorting through the best that secular genius can offer. We will also need the positive values and inspiration that inform our populace, the religious strain that is a wellspring of life within our democracy.

The political, cultural and intellectual streams that have nurtured the West must all be harnessed, despite divergent motivations. If legalism, ideological axe-grinding, and power politics are not transcended, or at least held in abeyance, then we cannot hope to stand firm against an implacable, deadly enemy. We must be ready to meet in a rational manner unnecessary and damaging encroachments on freedom at home, whether from draconian domestic policies or domestic terrorist actors. We also must confront and prevail over the violence directed against us from across the world. The challenge is to unify, to agree on the mission, to husband our collective strengths and commit to the necessity at hand.

We need Christopher Hitchens. We need the Judeo-Christian heritage. We need the intellectuals and the poets and the inspired and stable streams of our diverse people, to be equal to this moment.

At this moment in America, if you desire the survival of freedom, then it is time to find your "five smooth stones," in your beliefs, your reason, your hopes and ideals. Select these and turn aside from our jeering brothers so that we can face what must be.

You use the term "prose stylist" a bit too much. I wouldn't entertain the thoughts of Andrew Sullivan too much. He's clearly demonstrated that he is a duplicitous individual, whose words and deeds clash quite blatantly.

There are certain things in life related to smoking that simply cannot :)
parça kontör
parça kontör bayiliği
parça kontör bayilik

I am so happy to earn some angels gold . In fact at first sight I have fallen in love with angels online gold . So no matter how much I have spent to buy angels gold , I never regret. My life changes because of cheap angels online gold .

It is the silkroad gold which make me very happy these days, my brother says sro gold is his favorite games gold he likes, he usually buy some silkroad online gold to start his game and most of the time he will win the silk road gold back.

I hope i can get mabinogi online gold in low price.
i buy mabinogi gold for you.

Once I played 12sky, I did not know how to get strong, someone told me that you must have twelve sky Gold. He gave me some 12sky gold .

Once I played 12sky, I did not know how to get strong, someone told me that you must have twelve sky Gold. He gave me some 12sky gold.

I another friend do not like twelve sky Gold. She like in home along 12sky gold.

when you do not have requiem lant, you must borrow requiem money from friends,

There are certain things in life related to smoking that simply cannot :)

when you do not have requiem lant, you must borrow requiem money from friends,

Newspaper by China printing is very good quality and good prices.
Plastic products made by plastic injection molding services with low costs and supeior quality
Shoring scaffolding for construction is a very useful tool.

Thank you for your sharing! I like i very much!

The Nike air max Shoe lives up to its name with plush cushioning and a sleek silhouette. It brings you just what you need to style it up wherever you go. you can look at the Air max 2009,air max 90,Air max 95,Air Max 2010
* Minimalistic construction of leathers and synthetics in the upper
* Nike Shox technology for optimal cushioning
* Rubber outsole for excellent grip

ghd IV salon styler,ghd purple roll bag.

product features:

Auto sleep mode(A built in safety feature that gives you peace of mind by turning off if the ghd IV styler is left unallended for 30 minutes.)

Universal voltage(So that you can use your styler in any country without an adaptor.)

Advanced ceramic heaters(The ultimate heating technology for the ultimate shine and style creation.)

All our products are cheap,if you want to find cheap ghd,come here and that is right.

If you want to find GHD hair products,you can write GHD straightener,GHD hair straighteners,GHD straightners,GHD hair,straighteners GHD in google browse.

Chanel Handbags are woman’s dream come true.

Chanel, a fashion name that has become synonymous with femininity since 100 years, is on the must-have list of every fashion-conscious woman.? And we bring these must-have Chanel Handbags at never before discounts, just for you.

It is only when you come across an Chanel New Arrivals, do you realize the power of her words.? Chanel handbags are crafted not just to be trendy, but trend-setting.? Hardly has lived a celebrity who has not been seen carrying a Chanel handbag under her arm; such has the influence of Chanel handbags as a fashion statement.

Chanel handbags have been so popular in the elite classes of the society, that their pricing is usually prohibitive for everyone else.? Discount Chanel handbags are really difficult to come across, but today should be your lucky day.? We bring you a superb unbeatable range of Chanel Flap bags, all at fantastic discounts.? With us, you have an incredible chance to buy your favorite Chanel handbags at rock bottom prices!

Chanel Handbags have always been at the forefront of luxury and style.? The Chanel classic quilted leather handbags and its reinventions have ruled fashion since forever.? Chanel handbags have remained extremely popular as they continue to merge evolving modern trends with the class and simplicity of its original avatar.

An Chanel 2008 Collection and Chanel 2009 Collection single handedly enhances the look you are carrying.? The reason you would buy a Chanel handbag is own a bag that mingles with your charm and intensifies it with its inherent simplicity.? If you have owned an authentic Chanel handbag before, you know what we are talking about.? If you are one of the unlucky people who haven’t yet gotten a chance to own an Chanel Cambon, now is your chance to shop for an authentic Chanel handbag and discover its ability to transform your look completely.

Buy Chanel handbags with us, and get fabulous discounts which you will never get at your favorite store.? We offer cheap authentic Chanel handbags and they are all up for grabs!

Good article, Each and every point is good enough.Thanks for sharing with us your wisdom.

before talking about Islam know what Islam is

thanks for sharing Sohbet many people are pay more attention to one's swearing than before, especially a watch.Muhabbet.
Perhaps when you went to some place far away Sohbet you must borrow it from friends you can get everything you want in this game Chat money to invest in other industry which will return you good profit. Sohbet when you look at Chat
the surface of the watches viaload great any cool Exsohbet from the city you live in and thought you knew nobody there Egitim Fourth, there were various signs of political conflict among shia. If they split 3 ways or 4 ways, the sunnis and the kurds could often be the Sohbet swing votes in the politics. If they felt they had political clout out of proportion to their numbers, they could settle in Sohbet and do politics and not feel oppressed.

Thanks for your sharing,and you will enjoy the sunshine service

Post a comment

If you have a TypeKey or TypePad account, please Sign In.

Guest Contributors
Sign-up to receive a weekly digest of the latest posts from Democracy Arsenal.
Powered by TypePad


The opinions voiced on Democracy Arsenal are those of the individual authors and do not represent the views of any other organization or institution with which any author may be affiliated.
Read Terms of Use