Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Can Muslims Beat the Islamists?

Andrew McCarthy sheds some interesting light on the ever-present debate over Islam and sharia.  In a well formulated editorial, McCarthy outlines the need for continued focus and discussion on sharia's interaction with the state and the tensions between secularism, moderate Islam, and Islamism (eg. radical Islam).  He argues that it is fair to critique radical interpretations of sharia in order to support moderate Muslim ideology.  He writes:
The hope, of course, is that between Muslim reformers who embrace our liberty culture, and the millions of Muslims who are peaceful, moderate people regardless of what their scriptures may literally command, alternative constructions of sharia will eventually discredit and marginalize the Islamist interpretation. It is a tough row to hoe.... But it is not impossible.
McCarthy develops his argument by poignantly, although admittedly imperfectly, contrasting modern Islam's trials to those experienced in the West's own history.  He outlines a few instances where the West had to move past strict interpretations of religion and reject the commingling of religion and state.
Government [in the US colonies] was based on God’s law, loyalty oaths were mandatory, Sabbath observance was strictly enforced, and brutal corporal punishments were carried out: Philip Radcliffe, for example, was whipped and had both ears cut off for “invectives against our church and government.” Others were executed, usually by hanging, for what, in effect, was the preaching of novel religious doctrines. 
Nor would we today recognize the original Virginia settlements as consonant with what we think of as our way of life. In Jamestown, too, religious duty blended seamlessly with civil law. We need not belabor the centrality of slavery to the developing agricultural economy. But for a time, a bachelor in Virginia was permitted to purchase a wife from among the young, unmarried women sent from England in order to make the colony more attractive. The price was 125 pounds of tobacco.
His conclusion is one of cautious optimism.  Islam has the ability to rise above the backwards, anti-liberal ways that are practiced in so many Muslim countries and preached by many fundamentalist scholars.  But this is only achievable if moderate Muslim voices join with those in the West to challenge and criticize the Islamist perspective.
It took a very long time to find the right balance between the sacred and the secular [in the West], and there is good reason to believe that our most serious problems today are caused by too much suppression of faith, not too little. But Islam has to be given a fair chance to strike this balance. We can’t tolerate jihadist atrocities, and we must fight Islamist efforts to erode our freedoms. But it will not do to smirk and say that Muslims have already had 14 centuries to get it together. How would we have done under that test? 
We have had to come a very long way to arrive at what we are rightly proud to call Western culture and American civil liberties. Our current battle is about preserving that inheritance for ourselves and making sure the Muslims in America who want it are free to have it. In factoring sharia into that battle, we need to be as humble as we are forceful.

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