Saturday, January 22, 2011

Bloody borders

The late Samuel Huntington, author of The Clash of Civilizations, sometimes remarked that Islam has "bloody borders". He meant that everywhere in the world that Muslims share a border with non-Muslims there is violence: with Christians in Bosnia, Lebanon and Philippines, Jews in Israel, Hindus in India, Buddhists in Thailand and Burma.

This controversial narrative attracted lots of attention after 9/11 and the beginning of the war on terror. Long-ignored Islam became a story, fought over bitterly by rival political groups.

I witnessed this struggle first hand on the Orkut discussion forums, where anti-Muslim Westerners allied with anti-Muslim Hindus, moderate Pakistanis allied with leftist Westerners, and Islamists fought everyone.

Other weird alliances of convenience popped into existence for only the few seconds it took to make a point. The most radical anti-Muslim zealots and the Islamists could agree on one thing: there is no moderate Muslim!

Debates became almost comical at times as these bitter enemies put aside their differences because the one thing they agreed about was Islam. Both anti-Muslim and Islamist radicals agree that Islam is locked in a battle to the death with the US and its allies, a battle that will be won only with the destruction of the other civilisation. Both agree that a real Muslim is extremely violent, responding to the slightest challenge to Islam with aggression. Both think true Muslims hate the cultures of the kufr, force women to wear hijab or niqab, and want to sweep Israel into the sea.

It can be odd to see chilled-out Pakistani Muslims taking time out of chatting about rock music to tell off the extreme Islamists, only to be stabbed in the back by vicious Western or Indian anti-Muslimists!

The idea of Islamists and anti-Muslimists is that any Muslim who shows tolerance towards liberal politics or other faiths is not, in fact, following Islam as described in the Quran. Therefore, they reason, there are no moderate Muslims.

I haven't read the Quran, but I have seen every shade of Christian, each interpreting Christianity for their own ends: communist Christians, anarchist Christians, conservative Christians, pacifist Christians, fascist Christians, pro-war Christians, feminist Christians - you name it. Which ones are the real Christians? Whichever - demographers count all of them as Christian when totting up populations, just as every kind of Muslim from liberal to radical is included in official numbers.

From my Orkut experience, moderate Muslims are a-plenty. The Islamic Republic of Pakistan (IRP) community is the battleground of their struggles with the extremists: here is one of the bloody borders Huntington described, but it is within Muslim communities, not at the edge. They are fighting to define Islam, the winners will decide what Islam is and how it relates to non-Muslims.

Yesterday one Muslim member posted a link to a video allegedly shown on Iqra TV, an Islamic television station based in Saudi Arabia, in which a speaker explains that a wife must consent to her husband's demand for sex and, therefore, Islam has no concept of marital rape. The Muslim member said he had been arguing with another Muslim who supported this idea, the latter blaming adultery on men who are dissatisfied with their marital sex lives. The former asks:

"Do you think it's a valid reason to have forceful sex?"

To be clear, he was being sarcastic - the same member is renowned for provocative sarcasm in making anti-extremist points. A good deal of the responses are in mixed English and Urdu, which I can't read, but here are a sample of those in English:

A): "!!!! I cant belive u asked this question bro?

rape is never justified..

so it's not valid"

B): "LOL...Saudi Mullahs are insane.

Use of force or doing something against someone's will is wrong, no matter what."

C): "There's never a valid reason 4 rape 2 occur. NO means NO the world over."

Another thread highlights the struggle between extreme and liberal Pakistani Muslims. Many of the liberals want a shift towards secularism in Pakistan, i.e. a country where all religious people are free to follow their own faiths, with no blasphemy laws, no official religion. The Islamists sometimes dismissively call the liberal secularists "sickulars". Bear that in mind when reading on:

"Who still says Islam is peaceful...
Oddly ... only the 'sickulars'

The rest of the Muslim world believes in violence and murder and the rest of the world thinks Islam is a violent religion.

Did someone say Irony?"

Here he was poking fun at the common Islamist claim that Islam is "the religion of peace", while simultaneously advocating intolerant and violent policies. His point was that the Islam of the despised seculars is truly peaceful, while the Islam of the radicals is not - and their violence has won Islam enemies all over the world. He adds:
"If bullets, bombs and chopped off heads are peaceful then we might need to update dictionaries."
One Muslim objected, arguing instead that:
"Islam blvs in Justice and justice brings peace."
Another joked in response to this:
"Islam blvs in killing and killing brings peace.

FTFY" (FTFY is internet geek-speak for "fixed that for you"!)
The thread-starter later remarks:
"Now that I think of it, I can't even recall anyone in IRP who has used the term 'sickular' to ever preach patience or tolerance.

They are all about killing people or stonning them etc etc."
The same member had a thread asking what "Islamophobes and Mullahs agree upon", pointing out my earlier observation that both extremes hold very radical views of Islam. This is a rather tongue-in-cheek thread, as Muslim Pakistani members list the extreme ideas about Islam that radical Islamists and anti-Muslim foreigners hold in common. A few examples:
A): "Adultery is punished by stoning to death"

B): "Music is Haram" (forbidden)

C): "Osama Bin Laden is a Jihadi role model for muslims"

D): "Both Mullahs and Islamophobes believe that Islam is incompatible with democracy."

E): "Muslim women should remain covered from head to toe in a black garment all the time"

F): "Both Mullahs and Islamophobes believe that in Islamic law a women's intellect is considered inferior and oft faltering hence her testimony is not equal to that of a man."

Remember, these are the words of practicing Muslims, some of them quite serious and devout about their faith, but nonetheless rejecting the sexist and puritanical views of the extreme clerics. We have seen plenty of the other kind too, radicals who advocate forcing women into niqabs the world over to prevent rape and admit wishing Hitler had succeeded in exterminating the Jews (then immediately denying that the Holocaust had happened). One cheerful fanatic even announced that Israel would be swept into the sea, and then it would be called "Fishrael".

But the moderates weary of that radicalism, and spend more time fighting their Islamists neighbours than arguing over American foreign policies.

Yesterday the debate shifted even further against the Islamists. Members were discussing a news story from Tajikistan where the state has intervened aggressively in religious activity, hoping to crush Islamic extremism. Religious leaders are forbidden from giving sermons on controversial topics; there are stories even of police forcing men to shave their beards. This is an oppressive step unthinkable in "Western" countries. The debate on the IRP community is varied, with some Muslims supporting the oppressive moves, others rejecting it - but on liberal grounds, not religious.

A): "Good step.

Pakistan should follow this now.

We need to take counter radical steps to stop this growing religious and islamic extremism in our land.... If militants can try to force us to keep beards, we should do the exact opposite."

B): "Then you are also a militant. Shame on you bro... You cannot fight fascism with fascism."

C): "Extremely bold step.
Unusual circumstances require unusual rulings."

D): "Good Step. Nip the evil in the bud. this tumor had to be stopped."

E): "Great, should to be followed everywhere...need of time."

F): "Education is the key, not government high-handedness."

G): "lol and here people give speeches in the support of freedom of speech

and also supporting this law that a person doesnt have the freedom to keep a beard"

H): "This sounds so suffocated. Once you start using the iron fist it won't start anywhere then the same people who are supporting this would cry for freedom of expressions."

I): "fascism in any form is wrong."

What we see is Muslims here divided between those who are willing to use the state to destroy Islamic extremism by force and those who prefer more liberal routes.

Yes, liberal, pro-democracy, secular, but devout Muslims exist. These moderate Muslims stand between the violent radicals and the non-Muslim world, sometimes literally dying in defense of liberties for the kufr. They constantly expose and undermine the simplistic global narratives promoted by Islamists.

...So it might not be clever for the rest of us to deny they exist, or to weaken their position by promoting the rival Islamist narrative of a violent, beseiged Islam. For the liberal Muslims stand at the real bloody border - not at the edges of Islam, but at its heart - and it's rather important that they come out of this victorious.


  1. Two small points to add:

    1) I use "anti-Muslimist" here instead of Islamophobe for starters because I don't think this is a true phobia. Next, an aversion to an ideology is not particularly worrying, while hatred for a people is much more so. Professor Fred Halliday advocated the clunkier, but more accurate, "anti-Muslimism" so I follow his lead.

    2) Some Muslims resent being called "moderate" as they believe their peaceful interpretation of the religion is the true one, while the radicals distort it. However I think most people understand the meaning of "moderate" here, and I use the word positively to describe other groups elsewhere: so "moderate" does not necessarily imply a half-hearted adherence to Islam.

  2. Interesting and intriguing analysis, Shane. I find myself returning more and more to your blog!

    As a Muslim, I do beleive every religion has been under the spotlight at some point or another over history, it's just the methods of scrutiny that have changed because the world we now inhabit is a world without borders and lies literally at our fingertips!

    Promotion of violence in religious texts is not a phenomeona restrictied to any one scripture - and is mostly taken out of context to make a point through motivated reasoning. Islam is today perceived as a much-controversial philosophy than ever before with claims of peace and violence equally attributed to it.

    Well, I personally think it all just boils down to who we are as individuals: If one Muslim finds inspiration from an out-of-context assertion "kill the infidel", another looks at "We created you to be a nation of the middle road", "You do not do evil to those who do evil to you. You deal with them with forgiveness and kindness", "Killing one human being (note: not one MUSLIM, but human being) is equivalent to killing the whole humanity","Let there be no compulsion in religion" and " To your yours, and to me mine".

    We are who we are, Shane, and everything else is a crutch we use to justify our actions.

  3. This issue of "true Muslim" vs "false Muslim" is meaningless. Yes, I admit that there are inhumane verses in the Quran [that's why I don't believe in it in the first place] but that doesn't mean we shouldn't leave room for Muslims who ignore them/interpret differently. The Bible says that women should be silent and obey their husbands. (1 Timothy 2:11). The Torah says that promiscuous people must be stoned to death. (Deuteronomy 22:21) Christians and Jews completely ignore these verses today. Nevertheless, the world accepts them as what they are. I don't know why the world shouldn't similarly accept a Muslim who can ignore jihad by the sword? -- Umut

  4. Thanks very much Tahera.

    Growing up in Ireland, Islam was seen as some foreign religion, of little or no importance to us and of little significance to world events. That was just after the end of the Cold War, with its strong US-USSR dichotomy.

    Through the 1990s what little news I heard about Muslims was, if anything, positive. They were depicted as victims of Christian Serbian violence in Yugoslavia, for example, and the Gulf War had the US and allies rally around to defend Kuwait; I heard no mention of Islam as a deciding factor in the conflict.

    Even after 9/11, when I was just starting in university and discussing the world with classmates, Islam barely cropped up. The debate was focused on the US and its foreign policy, not on Muslims.

    So I was amazed when I joined Orkut and discovered that Islam was a huge issue to so many people. As I mention here, both the anti-Muslim extremists and the Islamist radicals viewed Muslims as a monolithic group, inevitably in conflict with the "West". As far as I can see, that simplistic perspective simply strengthens both extreme groups, while weakening the moderates. It seems sensible to expose that narrative to some critical thinking, and build some middle ground.

  5. Umut, absolutely. I've found a great variety of self-identifying Muslims on Orkut and elsewhere, as great a diversity as among the self-identifying Christians. I cannot say which of these are the "true" Muslims (or Christians) - indeed they disagree among themselves on that point too.

  6. "I haven't read the Quran, but I have seen every shade of Christian, each interpreting Christianity for their own ends"

    You are comparing apples to oranges. Jesus was a religious leader, while Mohammed was a religious, political and military leader. The Quran clearly mentions Mohammed as the perfect role model of conduct.

    Followers of Islam are supposed to be as similar to Mohammed as possible in every aspect. That makes Islam a religious, political and military ideology. As against christianity which is only a religion.

    Those muslims who follow Mohammed only partially, that is follow only the religious looking aspects like prayers, fasting etc, you call them 'moderates'. And those who follow islam completely, i.e. follow religious, political, and militant aspects are true muslims, and we decry them as extremists.

  7. Thanks energyquant, but even the "true" Muslims can't seem to agree with each other: the forum is full of more conservative Muslims asking whether or not some activity is halal. They rarely agree!

    The number of "true" Muslims must be relatively small.

    In any case I'm always surprised by non-Muslims undermining the liberals (who, presumably, we want to win) by agreeing with the radicals that they're not really Muslim!

  8. "The number of "true" Muslims must be relatively small."

    Actually the word "true" muslim maybe misleading. It's more a matter of how serious and how knowledgeable they are about islam. The only way to check for yourself is to do your own research on the political ideology Islam. Instead of casually saying, any interpretation goes, just like in other religions.

    Considering your example,
    "Yesterday one Muslim member posted a link to a video allegedly shown on Iqra TV, an Islamic television station based in Saudi Arabia, in which a speaker explains that a wife must consent to her husband's demand for sex and, therefore, Islam has no concept of marital rape."

    Notice in that video, the cleric provides with specific references from Islam, to make his point. He didnot make that stuff up. You can easily verify each word of that cleric.

    On the other hand, all those commenters, so-called moderate muslims disagree with the cleric based on their personal sense of morality. And you will notice this pattern repeatedly. The so-called radicals come armed with specific facts, references, which link their opinions to Islam. While your 'moderates' come up with vague reasoning or even outright lies to show islam in line with their personaly sense of morals.

  9. Let's say if a rabbi or a priest says crazy stuff about adultery and woman's status and quote the references I mentioned above. Women should obey their husbands and promiscuous people should be stoned until death. They wouldn't be making it up. It's written in the Bible. How convenient it would be to call the Christians and Jews who wouldn't agree with them as "so-called moderate" or those who follow it "so-called radicals"? What's the benefit?

    All religions have dogmas. That's why they are called religions. Technically, not any interpretation should go. But we are letting them go because it's convenient.

    Shane is making a good point. People don't quit their religion just like that. So the first step is taming them. It's a better strategy to encourage the moderates, rather than alienating them as fakies, no matter what the original says. Actually it's a better strategy and more pragmatical to call the radicals fakie. The radicals should be alienated and marginalized. Not the moderates. You are on the same side.

    ***Fixed the profile name hehe

  10. Perhaps I chose poor examples of discussions. The IRP community also includes regular debates over Islamic religious texts, including, for example, discussions on the veracity of hadiths. Some Muslims argue that hadiths were faked, and Islam should be understood by reference to the Quran alone.

    Others emphasise the Islamic principle of ijtihad - independent interpretation of the religious texts for legal use.

    "The day the doors of Ijtihad were closed - was the day that Islam's downfall started", one member says. Another suggests that the availability of DNA testing for crimes could replace the historical emphasis on witnesses through Ijtihad.

    So while some of these members are half-hearted Muslims or non-Muslims, others are devout and knowledgeable about Islamic principles.

    Islam is up for grabs, with lots of rival voices claiming to be the true religion. It seems sensible not to empower the most violent and intolerant of these by denying that their peaceful rivals exist.

  11. "Some Muslims argue that hadiths were faked, and Islam should be understood by reference to the Quran alone."

    Shane, anyone who has bothered to pick the Quran and even read half a page would find that argument ridiculous.

    The verses in Quran are not arranged in chronological order, and there is no context whatsoever. Try to read and make sense of it. It's the hadiths which provide the context and historical background.

    Some of the hadiths are very embarassing. Naturally, u find a lot of liberal 'muslims' wanting to disown them. They don't realize that Quran makes zero sense without them.

    A slightly more nuanced argument is to disown the particularly embarassing hadiths as fake. We can atleast discuss with the latter group. The former Quran 'purists' are just exposing their ignorance.

  12. "The day the doors of Ijtihad were closed - was the day that Islam's downfall started"

    First of, this statement only applies to Sunni Islam. Shias didnot close these doors and they aren't exactly models of moderation.

    For Sunnis, these gates were closed way back in 10th century after 4 main schools of sunni jurisprudence had been established. And all 4 of them, Shafi, Hanafi, Maliki, Hanbali agree that a male apostate should be killed. The more 'moderate' ones allow a few months for the apostate to reconsider and regret his decision.

    So it's not an issue of a monolithic interpretation. It's true that islam has different sects and legal interpretations of islamic law could vary, but none of the existing ones qualify as 'moderate' by any stretch.

    The only real moderate views u find are on orkut, and they are personal opinions with little connection to existing islamic law/interpretation, whether shia or sunni, itjihad or not.

  13. muslims do not assimilate into western society because islam is a theocracy and demands supremacy. there is no radical, moderate, hijacked or any other nuanced semanticism type of islam. there is only islam which is based on the life of a murdering 8th century warlord.

    the twin fogs of political correctness & ignorance must be dispersed before western society better understands this menace. even a brief review of islamic theology & history quickly exposes the deadly roots of this evil ideology.

    see the links in the pdf version below for more accurate info about islam

    islam is a horrible ideology for human rights

    5 key things about islam

    1. mythical beliefs - all religions have these (faith) because its part of being a religion: having beliefs without proof until after the believer dies. the problem is people will believe almost anything.

    2. totalitarianism - islam has no seperation of church and state: sharia law governs all. there is no free will in islam: only submission to the will of allah as conveniently determined by the imams who spew vapors to feather their own nests. there are no moderate muslims: they all support sharia law.

    3. violence - islam leads the pack of all religions in violent tenets for their ideology & history: having eternal canonical imperatives for supremacy at all costs and calling for violence & intimidation as basic tools to achieve these goals.

    4. dishonesty - only islam has dishonesty as a fundamental tenet: this stems from allah speaking to mohamhead & abrogation in the koran which is used to explain how mo's peaceful early life was superseded by his warlord role later.

    5. misogyny - present day islam is still rooted in 8th century social ethics: treating females as property of men good only for children, severely limiting their activities, dressing them in shower curtains and worse.

    conclusions ??

    there really are NO redeeming qualities for this muddled pile of propaganda.

    islam is just another fascist totalitarian ideology used by power hungry fanatics on yet another quest for worldwide domination and includes all the usual human rights abuses & suppression of freedoms.

    graphics version

    1 page pdf version - do file/download 6kb viewer doesn't show fonts well, has better fonts header footer links, great for emailing printing etc

  14. ecks why, how many Muslims do you think there are in the world? I ask because what you describe does not apply to many millions of people who call themselves Muslim. I know "Muslims" who drink alcohol, have premarital sex, love music and fashion. Are these not Muslims, or what?

    Christianity had one founder but today is split into a great number of churches. Which one is the real Christianity? I would argue that Christianity is whatever its believers think it is. After all, it is THEIR BEHAVIOUR that makes Christianity important as a force in society.

    Same is true for Islam. It is whatever its believers think it is. So if Muslims think that Islam is all about hugs and buttercups then that's what it is! If they think it's about expansionism and bigotry, then that's what it is.

    Aggressive Islamists agree with your interpretation of Islam. It seems to make more sense to me to undermine their interpretation, and to lend weight to the more liberal ones.

  15. hi shane

    the "how many muslims" question is just a lead into the old "1 billion muslims can't be wrong" line, are you really falling for that ? how many christians are there on planet earth ? does that make xnity the 1 true religion because it has so many believers ???

    as for which is the real xnity according to their theology it is roman catholicism which has the longest historical line etc, all the rest are offshoots. but of course why rely on xtians to define their own theology, why not let non-xtians define it for them ? do you see the problem here ?

    how can a non-believer define what it means to be a believer of ANY faith ??? be it judaism, xnity, hinduism etc etc this is what you are doing when you say there are "moderate" muslims which of course is an excellent approach to destroy a religion, let the unbelievers define it or even have a partial vote in what it means to be a believer of that faith

    and i have a very difficult time understanding how followers of a "religion" that idolizes a 8th century murdering warlord and his violent exploits against unbelievers can in any way be considered "moderate"

    from what i've read there are NO moderate muslims who live under sharia law, ie their nutcake theocracy. there is only a good muslim and various degrees of apostate muslims which is very bad. poke around the websites run by ex-muslims to get more info about this topic... etc

    otherwise yes let's undermine that crappy gdamn ideology as best we can before it & its followers destroy western society :)


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