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A ‘jihad of self-examination’ is long overdue for Islamists

January 27, 2009

Other Voices: A ‘jihad of self-examination’ is long overdue for Islamists

Posted by Steve Pastner January 22, 2009 12:43PM

By Steve Pastner

Other Voices

Steve Pastner
The writer is a retired anthropology professor and sculptor who specialized in the tribal regions of the Islamic world, conducting fieldwork in southwest Pakistan and the Horn of Africa, among other places.

Sigmund Freud jokingly noted that the Irish are the only group impervious to psychoanalysis. If by that he meant “resistant to constructive self analysis and criticism,” it’s obvious Freud never met Islamists or their supporters, both within and beyond the Muslim community. This is indicated by the spate of demonstrations locally and globally in support of Hamas extremists and associated calls for the abolition of the state of Israel – not just cessation of its Gaza operation.

If pro-Hamas Muslims truly possessed honor, you’d think that to protest the dishonorable horrors perpetrated in the name of Islam by the terrorist likes of Hamas, they’d practice either mass apostasy or a major internal “jihad al aql”- an Arabic term I coined for a thus-far-hypothetical “struggle for rational self-improvement” along the lines of the western “age of reason.”

After all, Jihadi misdeeds not only target “infidels” (in Israel, Mumbai, Beslan, London, Madrid, the Twin Towers, etc.) but also co-religionists in Darfur, Iraq, Afghanistan and indeed Palestinian areas, among others, where they constitute a good chunk of the undeniable misery of many Muslims.

Yet rather than self-criticize, even when they are victims, the most vocal/visible Muslim spokesmen continue to disproportionately blame others for largely self-generated problems.

Numerous factors internal to the Islamic world are behind such problems. Start with endless violent and shifting intra-Muslim ethnic, sectarian and other conflicts down to the level of clans and even families, all as acute in Palestinian areas as anywhere. These make reliable treaties difficult, if not impossible, to achieve and maintain.

Add to this patterns of graft and corruption in many Muslim settings that would shame even the Illinois governor and you’re incubating a homegrown petri dish of problems, quite apart from “zionist” and “western imperialist” whipping boys. The latter scapegoating is particularly hypocritical given Islam’s own history of imperialism that is far older than the West’s, while Israel has no such history at all, beyond U.N.-legitimated ancient claims to a Vermont-sized scrap of real estate. Sadly for all concerned this scrap includes strategic border areas reluctantly occupied in wars Israel won (but didn’t start), about which there is enormous agonizing and debate within the Israeli and wider Jewish communities and which its genocidal, uncompromising enemies won’t even let it return without a fight.

Then throw in an unhealthy dash of religiously sanctioned “taqiyyah” or “say anything if it’ll forward the cause of Islam” on the propaganda and diplomatic fronts. Toss in a generous pinch of children weaponized into homicidal and suicidal “martyrs” via toxic madrassah indoctrination and you’ve got messes that spill into others’ backyards, from the World Trade Center, to Hamas rockets into Israel and a possible war between India and Pakistan over the latter’s stonewalling about its links to the Mumbai massacre.

To contribute essays to Other Voices, contact Bob Needham, opinion editor, at 734-994-6825 or bneedham@annarbornews.com.

When that happens it’s not surprising that Muslims, many innocent, suffer. While this is tragic, it’s not a morally equivalent “cycle of violence” at all but instead often has a genesis – and also, importantly, remedies – within the “umma” (Muslim community of believers) itself.

The ineffectiveness of moderate Muslims in reining in extremists should also be a source of embarrassed self-criticism. But this much cliched “vast majority” may, in fact, be numerically overstated, as witnessed by large violent turnouts that can be mobilized for nonsensical cartoon protests and to demonize Jews while few show up to decry, say, the recent Mumbai carnage, or the indiscriminate suicide and rocket attacks on civilians in Israel which are at the root of the current Gaza crisis. In any case, a constructive internal Islamic critique has not materialized in any significant public (a key word!) measure, thereby minimizing opportunities for real peace.

In his “Murder in Amsterdam,” author Ian Buruma addresses the killing by a Dutch Muslim of filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, who was rightly concerned about the dramatic increase in Islamic radicalism in Europe. This book raises the unhappy need to explore “limits to tolerance” when dealing with such extremism in western countries, where liberal values have become a shield protecting grossly illiberal acts and aspirations. Much of the anti-Semitic postering and vocalizing in recent Dearborn and Ann Arbor anti-Israel protests, and elsewhere in the U.S. and Europe, raises just such a troubling specter, as does recent Gaza-related vandalism against Jewish schools in Chicago.

In contrast to well-documented neo-Nazi links to radical Islamists (see George Michaels’ “The Enemy of My Enemy”), many non-Muslim groupies of Hamas and other jihadis, such as Ann Arbor’s longtime synagogue harassers, describe themselves as of the “left.” Frequently they are part of the “International Solidarity,” Green Party (once respectable before its environmentalism was trumped by boosterism for Islamic extremists) and “boycott Israel” movements (a version of which was, happily, trounced at the local food co-op last year). They too, a la Freud’s observation, could profit from cognitive readjustment therapy. This might reconcile the huge “disconnect” between their sanctimonious self-proclaimed status as “peace-loving progressives” and “human rights activists” and their strident, unambiguous support for some of the most repressive, aggressive and bigoted ideologies since Hitler.

News readers should check out the blog site “zionistsout.blogspot.com” affiliated with the local synagogue picketers and boycott advocates. It is a disgrace that local Muslims have not forcefully repudiated these views.

As a former, once-sympathetic professional student of the Muslim world, I hope an internal reformation of Islam, based on more Muslims publicly engaging in constructive self-criticism (a la the brave Somali activist Hirsi Ali, currently under death threats for her criticisms of her own religion, and my friend Akbar Ahmed, the Pakistani scholar-diplomat in exile) makes possible my renewed respect and affection for a rich but currently deeply flawed religious culture (the essence of any religion being what it motivates believers to do in its name).

Until that happens, the growing domination of extremists, both extra-governmental and elected, as in Iran and Gaza , supported by western apologists (whose motives range along a spectrum from well-meaning gullibility through opportunism to anti-Semitic malice) makes Islam hazardous not just to others but to itself.

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