hat the rise and fall of a 12th-century Islamic empire does (and doesn’t) tell us about the rise (and fall?) of ISIS.” Before comparing the vastly different Islamic movements, Fromherz reviews the history of the Almohads, a radical Berber sect which briefly ruled in Muslim Spain (A great history lesson in its own right).
He is careful to note the many differences between the groups, but notes one important “possible comparison.” He observes that it is likely that “the process of routinization—that is, the process of ideological compromise and moderation needed to practically govern as state—will probably begin soon. There is no reason to believe ISIS will not follow the path of so many religious and millenarian movements before it. In this case, the best long-term strategy for ISIS’s would-be targets and victims may be to wait for ISIS to destroy itself.” I like this option!
Fromherz is not the only to note this trend toward routinization as a factor in bringing down radical movements. Rationally, based on a cost-benefit analysis, this is probably our best strategy. But, realistically, this is not emotionally or psychologically appealing, and therefore it is unlikely to be adopted. But we should heed Fromherz’s warning: “If parties and politics in the West become increasingly intolerant and nativist in their reaction to ISIS, the West may indeed inflict more harm on itself than anything the charismatically apocalyptic minds behind ISIS could imagine.”
Source: ISIS vs. History – The American Interest
The historian Timothy R. Furnish examines the history of Islamic thought concerning images of Muhammad and concludes that the current “iconophobia” is not representative of all Islamic traditions. He also argues that the best way to confront the current radical reaction to drawings of Muhammad “might be to eschew modern drawings of Muhammad (and certainly intentionally insulting ones
) and, rather, stage exhibits with examples of ISLAMIC paintings of him. That would make the point more historically and legitimately, and less provocatively, in my opinion.” I agree!
Read his review of the history here:
History News Network | Showing Pictures of Muhammad Is Ok.
Mohammed and Jesus
The debate between the “religion is the culprit” camp and the “circumstances” camp continues. As I’ve said before I don’t think it’s an either/or problem. Particular circumstances drive people toward certain kinds of beliefs. Or, to put it another way, certain circumstances, such as lack of opportunity, perceived or real oppression, etc., make certain ideas appealing. This does not mean that those who take up those beliefs do not hold them wholeheartedly. For example, the post-war conditions in Germany made Nazi ideology appealing. Without the Great Depression, the Nazis may have remained a fringe group.
But unfortunately the current debate over Islamic terrorism is driven by the it’s either religion or its circumstances narrative. Those putting forward the circumstances are rightly concerned that some will blame all Muslims if we attribute the violence to religion. But the solution to this problem is not to ignore the evidence that those associated with terrorist organizations like ISIS are not motivated by a particular interpretation of Islam (one that most Muslims reject!). Instead we must make it clear that it is wrong to indict an entire group of people based on the actions of a few of them.
At the History News Network, Timothy R. Furnish describes the polemics between these two camps at a recent conference (“Apocalyptic Hopes, Millennial Dreams and Global Jihad”). In doing so, he gave some great advice on how to deal with the problem of the eschatological thinking characteristic of the current Islamic terrorist groups. He argues that “modern attempts to de-fang apocalyptic groups (overt ones like ISIS; quasi-eschatological ones like Syria’s Jabhat al-Nusrah) need to emulate the Ottoman example: that is, actually employ Islamic religious texts (Qur’an, hadiths, scholarly works) to undermine eschatological jihadists (as I first called for in August 2014). Simply labeling them “non-Muslim” will not do the trick.” Read the entire article here:
History News Network | Talking Honestly About Islamic Hate Speech.
Peter Manseau reminds us that “[t]he American conversation about Islam may be noisy and confusing, but it isn’t new. And these forgotten images remind us to avoid the old tendency to portray Muslims—now millions of our fellow citizens—solely as caricatured villains in scary stories or cardboard paragons in moral ones.” Read the entire article at:
America’s Forgotten Images of Islam – WSJ.
WSJ: “A painting of U.S. Navy Lt. Stephen Decatur battling Muslim sailors, Tripoli, August 1804. Photo: Naval Historical Center, Department of the Navy, Washington Navy Yard”
Obama’s refusal to call ISIS (or ISIL) a radical Islamic organization has sparked a debate over the relationship between religion and violence. The controversy escalated after he reminded Americans of Christianity’s violent past at the recent national prayer breakfast. Much of the outrage over his comments was motivated by the belief that Obama had fabricated the claims and insulted Christianity. At the same time many in this camp also believe that Islam is responsible for the violent behavior of ISIS. To them Christianity is the good religion and Islam is the bad one. This opinion is grounded in bias rather than evidence and we can safely dismiss it. That leaves us with the two contradictory views presented by Obama: 1) religion has no relationship to ISIS, or 2) religion, at least in part, is responsible for the violent behavior of Christians in medieval and early modern Europe as well as ISIS in the Middle East today. In the above cited essay, the historian Jeffrey Herf argues that both are culpable in the same way. Different traditions and selective use of sacred texts result in different behaviors and versions of the same religion. As Herf points out,
“Western governments have tied themselves in knots to the point of foolishness because they refuse to state what is obvious to many millions of people about the importance not of the religion of Islam per se but of interpretations of Islam in this era of terror. Just as it makes no historical sense to discuss slavery or the Holocaust without examining Christianity’s contributions, so it is ridiculous to assert that the Islamic State, the Hamas Covenant, the fanaticism of the Iranian mullahs, al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, and the Muslim Brotherhood have nothing to do with Islam. It amounts to saying that its adherents either do not mean what they say or that they don’t know what they are doing. Both assumptions are condescending. To be sure, these varieties of Islamism differ from one another, but they all engage in the labors of selective tradition. They did not invent the texts that they quote but they have selected and emphasized some rather than other components of the tradition. They can all point to passages in the Koran and in the commentaries about it that in their view justify attacks on the Jews, on Muslims of whom they disapprove, on Christians and on other assorted ‘infidels.’”(“One Standard, Not Two, for Christianity and Islam”)
Mustafa Akyol argues in The New York Times that it is time for Muslims to have their own Letter Concerning Toleration. I couldn’t agree more! He points out that many Muslims support harsh punishments for “heresy,” “blasphemy,” and other practices that are deemed offenses against Islam. However, within Western Christendom it took more than Locke’s influential Letter. Locke was only one (albeit an important one) of hundreds who wrote passionately against intolerance, both before and after him. And it took years of bloodshed, violence, and oppression before the idea of toleration took hold, and then only begrudgingly at first. This is not to say that Muslims should not take up the cause of toleration, but to say that it is going to take more than a Muslim John Locke. It will take a determined movement over a long period of time. I hope some Muslims will take up the challenge! Thanks for the suggestion Akyol!
A Letter Concerning Muslim Toleration – NYTimes.com.
This dad doesn’t actually say that he does not want his daughter to know that Muslims are real, but he did say that he doesn’t want his daughter to learn about Islam because it is “a faith he does ‘not believe in.’” He refuses to allow his daughter to do the assignments in her word history class even though she will receive zeros on those assignments (see Gazette.net). Wow! That’s just what we need: more ignorance!
History News Network | Hero Marine Dad Will Unleash Hell Itself If Daughter’s World History Class Says Muslims Are Real.