Friday, June 22, 2007

Reflections on Islam

Whether Islam is a religion of peace or if Islam is different from Islamism is really rather irrelevant, as George Jonas has said repeatedly in his essays in the National Post. Essentially all terrorism in the world today is done in the name of Islam by Muslims. To repeatedly moan that such terrorists are not real Muslims is increasingly unconvincing and misleading. It is true that the face of terror and religious violence is not the only face of Islam. But it is one of them. Islam is not a united faith. To change metaphors, Islam is a house with many rooms and a number of them are occupied by those who believe that offensive violence is a legitimate tool in the service of Allah. Even moderates will admit that Islam is going through a difficult transition in recent years; for some, the transition is one that would take it back to its violent past if they are successful.

There are the voices who will sanely speak to this reality? They are, admittedly, few. George Jonas, whom I mentioned earlier, is one of them. Over the weekend, I finished reading his latest book, Reflections on Islam (Key Porter Books, 2007). Jonas is a columnist with the National Post and the CanWest News Service and one of the finest writers in Canada in my opinion. Reflections on Islam is a collection of his essays on Islam written between early 2001 and late 2006. Many of them I had read when they were first published and found them helpful then just as I still do. His arguments and opinions reflect an uncommon common sense that has been almost wholly lacking since 9/11. This is how the publisher describes the book (and while I often distrust publisher descriptions, this one is accurate):

On September 11, 2001, four hijacked airplanes changed the world. Or did they? The 9/11 attacks shattered the modern illusion about Islam as a wholly peaceful faith. They raised the possibility that this seemingly new struggle between East and Westbetween secular democracy and Islamist theocracyis just the latest variant of a much older contest between Islam and the non-Islamic world that has been now simmering, now flaring up, for the last 1,400 years. If we have failed to see the skirmishes along Islams perimetersin Kashmir and Kosovo, in India and Pakistan, in Chechnya and Xinjiangit is simply because we have refused to look.

In Reflections on Islam, award-winning author and columnist George Jonas explores a range of issues that have come to occupy our daily attention. Is there a difference between Islam and Islamism (and does it matter if there is)? Are we in the midst of a clash of civilizations? How is the confrontation between theocracy and democracy manifesting itself outside of the Middle East? Was it a mistake to invade Iraq, or simply a mistake to stay? At what point do liberal impulses on matters such as multiculturalism and immigration becomes short-sighted and dangerous?

Witty, provocative, and eloquent, this collection of essays written between early 2001 and late 2006 showcases Jonas at his best. Reflections on Islam should be required reading for anyone grappling with the defining issues of our age.

Reflections on Islam can be ordered online from both Chapters and Amazon. I heartily endorse it.


Michael said...

Interesting review and opinion. I agree very much that Islam is certainly not a united faith. It takes different forms in different places.

But what religious faith is totally united? And, moreover, why single out Islam as the cause of 1,400 year old conflict? Any strong but underdog culture, whether built around faith (Israel) or not, will be more prone to militant streams of thought. The overwhelming majority of Muslims live in poorer underdeveloped countries---this just isn't true of Christians.

I think it's kind of amazing that so many people swear by Islam the way many Christians swear by their faith, despite the tarnishing of Islam's image. I also think that if we are to reach out to that overwhelming majority that does not see the Qur'an as a call to bloodshed but feels powerless to stop the violent trends, we need to better understand the Muslim perspective.

Glenn Penner said...

The overwhelming majority of Muslims live in poorer underdeveloped countries---this just isn't true of Christians" ???

This only shows just how little you understand Christianity. Christianity today is strongest in the developing world, not in the West. Most Christians today are not white, western, rich and living in countries with religious freedom. See my blog of February 23 Click here

Michael said...

I am not saying Christianity is not strong in the developing world. What I am saying is that Islam, unlike Christianity, is based overwhelmingly in developing countries. Christianity has many people in developing countries, but it is not a faith solely of the developing world.

This makes a great deal of difference, because the modern Christian culture has greater access to more diversified strata of world society. When the cardinals come to Rome or international churches meet up, they come firmly from all kinds of places---the "Western" world, the developing world, and the poorest parts of the globe. Islamic discourse, however, is not very well linked into the cultures of developed countries (the OECD member states, let's say), and that's why it makes sense that the relationships between Islam and Western cultures are so poorly established.

The most powerful people in the world are Christians or represent mostly Christian constituencies. George W. Bush, Stephen Harper, Gordon Brown, Vladimir Putin, Nicolas Sarkozy, Angela Merkel, John Howard, etc. No leader of a predominantly Muslim country, be it Turkey or Iran or Saudi Arabia, has this kind of world power influence. That makes a great deal of difference. Those world leaders that are not Christian are not Muslim.

Muslims sense that their faith does not have this access to the commanding heights of the world economy. Far from all of them believe that bombs are necessary---but many of them will indeed be more zealous about guarding their faith and their way and at times this may take on an harder, more assertive appearance, but it really is not representative of Islam to characterize it as violent any more than it would be to characterize Christianity as violent because of hundreds of years of killings and enslavement done in the name of the Bible.

You can be a real submitter to the will of God, or you can be a "Muslim" in name only. You can be a real disciple of Christ, or you can be a "Christian" in name only. It is my belief that the real believers of the world, whatever their faith, have more in common with each other than they do with people who simply call themselves members of the same religion. The real believers understand the need to appreciate each other's differences, work across spritual lines, and respect each other. That's where the best future lies, in my opinion.