September 20, 2005

Where Are All the Moslem Methodists II

Hatched by Dafydd

Matt Barr over at New World Man has an interesting response to my previous post in this thread. He suggests that rather than needing more "Moslem Methodists," as I called them -- Moslems who took their religiosity with the seriousness of 21st-century Americans, rather than 12th-century crusaders -- what they really need are more "Moslem Republicans." He recounts a good history of the radicalization of several organizations originally set up for mainstream purposes (NOW, labor unions, and the teachers unions) but which metastisized into radical organs of the New Left, leaving the American people behind... and sparking a surge of voters to switch from the Democratic Party to the GOP.

I'm sure Barr is correct that more Moslem "Republicans" would be great for Islam, but I'm not sure the analogy works as well as the religious one I used (for all the controversy it sparked!)

The biggest problem in analogizing Democrats to Moslems is that the former did have other voices surrounding them, voices that were pointing out the radical nature of those organizations Barr mentioned (NOW, the unions, and the teaching establishment): first, the Republicans, of course; in our republic, the critiques from the GOP could not be entirely shut out, even back in the 60s and 70s.

But second and more important, we need to bear in mind what Barr himself noted: Democratic leaders and organizations were not always so insane. The switchover (I'm using Judge Bork's timeline here from, I think, Slouching Towards Gomorrah) was when the New Left began to arise following the Port Huron Statement, released by the SDS in 1962 (the Students for a Democratic Society was the group from which the radical faction the Weathermen later spun off).

Most older Democrats never particularly embraced the New Left -- which was radicalized, hard-core, and Stalinist, inexplicably combined with feverishly anti-science, anti-technology, Luddite "environmentalism" -- and the New Left didn't take over the Democratic Party until, to be blunt, the older generation died off.

Thus, there has been reasoned resistance to the radicalization of the Democratic Party from the very beginning, coming from sources with unassailable liberal credentials, such as Hubert Humphrey and Pat Moynihan. Many Democrats retained their basic love of America... and unfortunately for the new radicalized Democratic Party (but fortunately for the country), that meant a lot of people left the Democrats and joined the Republicans, bringing the two parties into rough parity (during World War II, I would guess the Democrats enjoyed at least a 2-1 advantage over the GOP).

Alas, the Moslem world did not have any history of modernity, and they did not suddenly became radical; as Bernard Lewis discusses in many sources (e.g., Freedom and Justice in the Modern Middle East, Foreign Affairs, May/June 2005), the history of modernity in the Moslem (especially Arabic) world is depressingly stunted. The first introduction of modernity was when Napoleon, then a general in the French revolutionary republic, invaded and conquered Egypt with nearly casual ease in 1798. He imposed French ideas of equality (concept well understood in the ummah) and "liberty" -- which the Arabs at first thought meant simply the lack of being a slave but later translated into their concept of justice, as in a just ruler vs. an unjust ruler.

During this period, the Moslem world was forced to confront its woeful technological and sociological retardedness, compared to the Europeans. Alas, what they most took from their abrupt contact with modernity was the technological tools of war and oppression; they were eagerly embraced by low-level local leaders to make themselves into caliphs and sultans. Thus, I believe (this is my analysis, not taken from the Lewis article above), the ordinary Moslem and especially the Moslem cleric would come to associate modernity with oppression by unjust rulers and despots using surveillance and control techniques never before seen in Islam.

And the second period of modernist influence -- back to Lewis's history, now -- was when the French government surrendered to Hitler, and the elements of the erstwhile French empire had to decide whether to declare alliegance to the Nazi-controlled French government of Marshal Philippe Pétain at Vichy, or to the Free French Forces under Charles de Gaulle, then in exile in London. The French Arab colony of Syria-Lebanon chose Vichy, and Syria became a haven for Nazi forces. Thus, the Moslem "education" in modernity that began with Napoleon ended with Hitler; the Baath Party was nurtured and eventually hatched just after the war, and many Arabist rulers embraced first Naziism and then Stalinism as a way to further their personal goals of pan-Arabism, totalitarianism, and empire.

Back to my own reading, not Bernard Lewis. There are basically two types of Islamic societies now: those that embraced modernism, which are still heavily influenced by totalitarian European political systems, such as Iraq, Syria, Egypt, and others; and those who rejected modernism, either all along (like Yemen and Sudan) or at least for decades, such as Iran. Since Islam never had a Reformation, they never had an Enlightenment (I believe the former, which leads to intellectual freedom, is necessary for the latter.)

Moslems, whether they live in pre-modern Islamic countries or modernist-socialist Islamic countries, probably reject the ideas of modernism with equal fervor: the former out of fear of the unknown; the latter out of memory of the particular form in which they did, in fact, know modernism. Leaders from both types of Islamic nation would reject the modernist ideas of freedom of speech (or thought), of the press, dissent, and democracy, as both radical Islamism and also Baathism and its ideological cousins condemn individualism.

But Moslems do have communication with the modern worlds of Christianity, Buddhism, and Judaism; they see the infidels living very different lives that seem better, easier, and richer. Western Civilization (especially American) is incredibly infectious, and a great many Moslems, especially in countries that are not majority Moslem, have succumbed ot its lure (thank goodness) and, well, westernized themselves. Their lives are materially better, but there is still that conflict with the religous leaders, hence with the religion itself. This conflict between how they actually live and how they are told they should live leads to feelings of guilt and restlessness.

In the West, Christians frequently "get religion" and become more conscious of and committed to their religion. Here, that means going to church more often, participating in charity drives, becoming a volunteer to help the poor, preaching to prisoners about self-control and taking personal responsiblity for their mistakes, and so forth.

In Islam, people often feel the same impulse to become more committed to their religion; it's a natural human trait. But in Islamic countries, while that often includes all of the above, it also typically includes leaders who preach jihad, hatred, and the denigration of the lives of infidels and apostates.

This, in longer form, is what I meant in my first post: before they can have a political divergence into peaceful parties separated by philosophy -- an Enlightenment -- as we have here, they first have to have a religious Reformation. Remember, even in the West, the Reformation caused the Enlightenment, which culminated in the rise of democracy in America and then everywhere else in Christendom. Look at the language our Founding Fathers used in creating democracy: the basic argument was that God had created human beings with freedom of choice... so who is Man to take it away from them?

Thus I say that without a Reformation to make Islam itself less all-encompassing and more modern, less like a crusader and more like a contemporary Catholic, Episcopalian, Baptist, or what have you, I cannot see how democracy can work.

The two Islamic countries we have been fairly successful at "democratizing" both came through a period of forced modernity. Iraq had been a secular Moslem state for decades before the war, due to the influence of the Baath Party; it's not so surprising, even given the tribal nature of Iraq, that democracy has caught on there... the people already had the taste of modernity -- and even though it was bitter, they could not go back again to the pre-modern beliefs of, say, Saudi Arabia: once tasting the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, you cannot go back to the Garden. (The Kurds even had a fairly democratic society in the North during Saddam Hussein's reign).

Similarly, Afghanistan had been forcibly exposed to the brutality of the Soviety Union for a dozen years, from 1979 to 1991-1992, when the Soviets were finally driven out. But during those years, they too got their taste of modernity, both its abuses (Communism) and uses (the American Stinger missile that helped liberate them from Soviet occupation). In 1996, the Taliban religious maniacs imposed upon them by brute force the harshest form of sharia around. The contrast must have been shocking; fortunately, no generation had time to be raised entirely under it before we destroyed it. Thus, I believe many Afghans, especially in Kabul, are thrilled at the ability to select their own leaders by the vote.

We seem to do better with states that have already been exposed to the advanced ideas of modernity. I would imagine that Egypt is another likely target, as Hosni Mubarik (and Anwar Sadat before him) are more in the mold of the Baathists than the Taliban; the same goes for Syria and Lebanon, of course. Iran might be a good match for democracy too, because of the history of the shahs, who were modernist "Moslem Methodists." Likewise Pakistan under Musharaf; and of course Turkey is already the very model of a modern Moslem nation-state.

But we're likely to have a harder time creating real democracy in Saudi Arabia, the home of Wahabbism... because that has always been a strongly Islamic religious state. Likewise, the states in Africa have already demonstrated a serious inability to modernize, as do many of the smaller Islamic countries in the Middle East. I don't know enough about the Philippines and Indonesia (the largest Moslem county in terms of population) to guess how well democracy could take hold there.

But in any country, religious Reformation must come first, then an Enlightenment, then democracy, and only then can we even begin to imagine "Moslem Republicans." Thus, while Barr’s history of the radicalization of the Democratic Party is accurate, in those areas of the ummah that did not pass through the forced secularization of socialism, we need "Moslem Methodists" before we can have "Moslem Republicans."

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, September 20, 2005, at the time of 8:43 PM

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The following hissed in response by: RBMN

In the most "fundamentalist" regions of the most "fundamentalist" Islamic nations, even the poorest man in the poorest village has something that almost no Western man will ever experience; complete control over his wife and family. That power is so extremely seductive that they don't want to give it up. Not for peace. Not for money.

If traditional Muslims and their followers think that their choice in life is between power (complete control of their own family) on the one hand, and a more prosperous Western-style "good life" on the other hand, they'll keep the power over their family. They probably believe that's the choice they face, and they're probably not too far wrong about what they lose if they become more secular, more open, more democratic. Power can be more seductive even than money.

The above hissed in response by: RBMN [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 20, 2005 9:34 PM

The following hissed in response by: matoko kusanagi

Dafydd, historically there were methodist moslems, the mutazili, the faylasef...they were persecuted out of existance. Why? What is the difference in the cultural environment of the time? The sufi are moderates, and certainly not a populous sect. Will they die out? why did the protestants prosper and multiply, while the faylasef winked out of existance?
And why was the RCC successful at disappearing the albigensian sect, and the "penitantes" but not at disappearing the Lutherans or Calvinists? There is just a tickle of truth in the republican argument. Perhaps it is neccessary but not sufficient for me.

The above hissed in response by: matoko kusanagi [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 20, 2005 9:53 PM

The following hissed in response by: matoko kusanagi

RBMN, you sort of get it. ;-)

Boyer-- "Fundamentalism is a reaction against religious and cultural competition, especially acute in the case of Third World societies confronted with powerful, ex-colonial western influence. In this view, fundamentalists want to return to a (largely mythical) past, when local values were taken for granted because no one was aware that there were other ways of living."

It is not about power, per se, but about coalitional thinking and the structure of all (not just marital) social interaction. The very fabric of society.

Boyer again--..."the message from the modern world is not just that other ways of living are possible, that some people may not believe, or believe differently, or feel unconstrained by religious morality, or (in the case of women) make their own descisions without male supervision...but that people can do that without paying a heavy price..."

Who wouldn't do that? So the coaltion has to enforce a heavy price for defection. That is why many internal moderate sects are persecuted fiercely by fundamentalist religions (and, incidentally, that why the DLC is persecuted by Kos). And that is why the faylasef and the albigensians are extinct. But what i am curious about is, why are there methodists at all? My hypothesis is that the fundamentalism of the RCC underwent some sort of graphic change between the Spanish Inquisition and Luther's nail in the door. What caused it?

The above hissed in response by: matoko kusanagi [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 20, 2005 10:36 PM

The following hissed in response by: matoko kusanagi

and, if we can figure out what caused it, can we work the same environmental change for Islam?

The above hissed in response by: matoko kusanagi [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 20, 2005 10:39 PM

The following hissed in response by: RBMN

Re: matoko kusanagi at September 20, 2005 10:36 PM

I think part of Luther's popularity stemmed from, put simply, tax revolt. At the time, the Catholic Church had one hand on everyone's shoulder, and the other hand in everyone's coin pouch.

The above hissed in response by: RBMN [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 20, 2005 10:56 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh

Matoko Kusanagi:

But what i am curious about is, why are there methodists at all? My hypothesis is that the fundamentalism of the RCC underwent some sort of graphic change between the Spanish Inquisition and Luther's nail in the door. What caused it?

Instead of some spectacular, individual event, consider the possibility of a tipping point.

(Which would also explain why earlier attempts at reformation failed: society had not yet reached a tipping point.)


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 20, 2005 10:58 PM

The following hissed in response by: cdquarles

Hey Dafydd,

Isn't a spectacular individual event a tipping point in itself?

Charles from AL

The above hissed in response by: cdquarles [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 20, 2005 11:54 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh




The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 21, 2005 2:21 AM

The following hissed in response by: Matt Barr

Thus I say that without a Reformation to make Islam itself less all-encompassing and more modern, less like a crusader and more like a contemporary Catholic, Episcopalian, Baptist, or what have you, I cannot see how democracy can work.

You're probably right, and these have been a couple very well done posts. My deal was just taking a snapshot from your first post and exploring the ways in which what you described sounded like the once-normal Democratic Party post-radicalization. You're right about the different ways the two institutions got there.

No doubt the solution isn't as simple as "let's give these guys another political party." It's not a strictly political siutation to begin with; we have the luxury here of having open discourse where, theoretically, the ideas we collectively like best find their way to the surface. And even if you don't go that far, if as I suggest there could somehow be another set of voices that speak for and to Arabian Muslims that say different things, regardless whether they have political power or not... well, you're not going to get there, either without other more fundamental reforms, as you suggest.

Something I didn't explore in my post which I should sometime is another parallel: The desire of the intellectual leaders of each institution to perpetuate misery on the part of its subjects to esnure its continued power. We haven't figured out a solution to that yet here beyond welfare reform.

Great posts, and thanks.

The above hissed in response by: Matt Barr [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 21, 2005 5:27 AM

The following hissed in response by: Matt Barr

Sorry, I didn't preview, so I didn't realize italics didn't show up in the above, esp. the first paragraph, which is a quote of yours. We newbies have a hard time.

The above hissed in response by: Matt Barr [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 21, 2005 5:29 AM

The following hissed in response by: Linh_My

To me, based on my experience as an advisor in Viet Nam, the issue is slightly different. A common joke of the era was, "We (the US) are loosing because we are trying to drag Viet Nam kicking and screaming into the 20th century. The Communist are winning because they are satisfied with dragging Viet Nam into the 19th century." The VC in Viet Nam that I've told the joke to seem to agree.

While Viet Nam is not a true parallel, many things about living in the 12th century are not only attractive, they are admirable as well. It is quite understandable that people, especially those in a position of privilege would attempt to violently protect their 12th century world. Unfortunately, the world has gotten too small for both the 12th and 21st century to both exist. One or the other will be destroyed.

I am going back to my house in Viet Nam in a couple of weeks. The loss of much of the old Viet Nam is sad. Still the post doi moui (1990) Viet Nam is a much nicer place than the old Viet Nam. We may have lost the war. The South, Viet Kieu (expats), and the US seem to be doing very well with the peace

The above hissed in response by: Linh_My [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 21, 2005 6:37 AM

The following hissed in response by: Mr. Davis

The expat Vietnamese lady who does my laundry is doing very well here indeed. I'm not sure she's too keen on the 10 years she spent in a re-education camp shortly after "the peace" began. Especially as it robbed her of most of her child-bearing years and most of the chances to marry.

We are doing well only by forgetting what really happened to those we betrayed. We need to keep that in mind when consigning the Iraqis to the 12th century.

The above hissed in response by: Mr. Davis [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 21, 2005 7:35 AM

The following hissed in response by: matoko kusanagi

but Matt, maybe democracy is part of the critical mass needed to make a tipping point. Islam is intrinsically better armored against reformation than the RCC, but the environment of the 21st century is more information rich than medieval europe. I think the invention of the printing press and private copies of the Bible were part of the "tipping mass" in reformation. The Qu'raan is interpreted by the "guild", just as the Bible used to be. The monolithic hold of a single book that can only be interpreted by a few is a large part of fundamentalism.
If some sort of democracy emerges in Iraq, that will contribute to the tipping mass.
People here in known blogspace were freaked out that Islamic law is still goining to be part of the new constitution in Iraq. What they don't see is that this is AMAZING progress. In places the constitution and sha'ria law contradict each other. Nothing has officially contradicted sha'ria in 700 years.

The above hissed in response by: matoko kusanagi [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 21, 2005 7:39 AM

The following hissed in response by: Linh_My

Mr Davis

My wife is Vietnamese. Many of our relatives and friends went through the re-education camps.

Reconstruction is still a very dirty word to Southerners in the US. The point is that like Reconstruction, Re-education is also in the past. Neither Re-education or Reconstruction will, nor should be, forgotten. But the past is past. As Reconstruction was followed by reconciliation, I hope that Re-education will also be followed by reconciliation in Viet Nam.

The above hissed in response by: Linh_My [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 21, 2005 7:48 AM

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