Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Why American Muslims are Different

Michael Lumish

I've been on a Mordechai Kedar kick lately and he has some interesting ideas on the difference between "radical Islam" and "moderate Islam." Kedar, who is a scholar of Arabic Literature at Bar Ilan University in Israel, suggests - along with Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan, by the way - that Islam is Islam.

There is no "radical Islam."

There is no "moderate Islam."

There is only Islam.

There may be divisions within Islam between Sunni and Shia and (my favorite) Sufi Islam, but there are no hard separations between anything that can reasonably be called "radical Islam" and that which we call "moderate Islam."

Think of it as more of a continuum of violence, all of which has a home within Islam.

An Islamic State (IS) murderer of children and raper of young girls is just as Islamic as a peaceful, mystically-inclined Sufi.

So, what accounts for the differences? Why are American-born Muslims, for example, generally, although obviously not always, peaceful, hard-working, and well-educated - what we would call moderate - while other Muslims, particularly some of those in the Middle East, and increasingly those in Europe, entirely out of control?

Kedar, who obviously well-knows the Koran in the original Arabic, suggests that it is an exceedingly contradictory book - I found it incomprehensible, myself. There is no coherent narrative. - and therefore one is likely to take from it what is encouraged within the culture one is raised in. There are parts of the Koran that are downright liberal, such as the idea that there should be no compulsion in religion. Although, you turn a page and suddenly there is compulsion, unto death, to submit to the authority of Muhammad.

In the Koran, there are other gentle suggestions such as the punishment which calls for the chopping off of one foot and one hand from opposite sides of the body. (Try not to think about it.)

However, if you were born and raised Muslim in, say, San Francisco there is an excellent chance that you would simply be another guy on a commute into the office downtown or to Silicon Valley. If you were a devout Muslim, having been raised in an open-minded part of the world within a local Muslim culture that reflected that, chances are your style of Islam would also reflect that.

You, in other words, would not likely be screeching for Jihad in the streets. You would not burn down churches merely because they are churches.

However, if you were born in a part of the world where people are killing one another over family honor or burying women accused of adultery up to their necks for the purposes of a good stoning, your interpretation of the Koran and the Hadiths and the Sira would reflect that.

It is not that, as Obama claimed, the Islamic State is un-Islamic. On the contrary, if anything those boys are uber-Islamic. They are going all the way back to the 7th century and it doesn't take much imagination to figure how much fun the Arabian Peninsula was in the 7th century. But this is not "radical Islam" because the Islamic State ideology is fully consistent with the historical behavior of Muhammad, the allegedly perfect example for all Muslims.

If anything it is a more orthodox, traditional form.

But the Muslim in the office next door in downtown San Francisco, if he is devout, is also a Muslim.

Then the question becomes, if the cultural environment is such a key factor in determining what type of Muslim one will emerge as, what accounts for all those French and German and British jihadis?

Well? Europe screwed up and is getting more and more screwed up by the day.

By allowing, or encouraging, these enclosed Muslim enclaves in their major cities they ensured that the next generation of European Muslims, who come out of those ghettos, are far more likely to interpret the Koran in jihadi fashion.

That was a big mistake and one that I bet we are well on our way to repeating in the United States.

And, needless to say, by flinging open the doors of Western Europe to violently dysfunctional Middle East Muslim cultures, European political leadership guaranteed the rape and murder of their own people.

Angela Merkel, as it turns out, should never have been let anywhere near public office.


  1. I hate analogies. They're unreliable. I don't know live and breath Islam so I can't comment with any authority on what it is or the subtleties of what to feel about it. I do know Torah, I do know Daf Yomi, I do know Gemara, I do know Shulchan Aruch, I do know Pirkey Avoth. I have stood in a room of children teaching them ethics and law and love of Judaism. That I know.

    I make no warranties about what I think I know about that depth of the sensibilities of the Mythical Moderate Muslim.

    I don't have to know what they feel or what their inner struggle feels like. I don't need to know their bedtime stories. I can only guide my own thoughts and actions according to THEIR actions. I can only evaluate their sense of justice against what they do, what they say. If there ARE moderate Muslims then THESE are the moderate Muslims we have - for better or worse - this is who they are and what they do and say. What I imagine they think is imaginary. I can only make my own best guess. If the Mythical Moderate Muslim is silent on the issue of what radical Islam is, then that is my answer.

  2. Who first mentioned Kedar around here? Oh yeah, that would be me. Anyway, I think all religions are Rorsschach tests. They are what you want them to be. I think it is the culture, not the religion, that is responsible for the violence and intolerance of the Middle East. When I discussed this with Dr. Kedar (note the name dropping), I got the impression that he thought there was a problem with Islam itself. He gave me his card and encouraged me write to him so that we could discuss it further. I have two thoughts on the matter, though. First is that Ruth Benedict wrote an important book about the honor/shame culture. She was writing about pre-world war two Japan. It is important to note that Japan seems to have graduated from that sort of culture to a more weternized one. The other thing is that Americans should be very familiar with tribal societies since native Americans were a tribal society. If I had the real inclination, and sometimes I do, U would like to do a comparison of Native American and Middle Eastern tribes.

    1. He does think that there is a problem with Islam in itself, in that he considers it a highly aggressive supremacist religion... which it is.

      But the cultural milieu that one grows up in partially determines one's interpretation of the faith. For example, I watched part of a debate on the question of "Is Islam a religion of peace?" Two participants argued in the affirmative and two, including Aayan Hirsi Ali, who argued in the negative.

      One of the people arguing in the affirmative was this very attractive young American Muslim woman from Toledo, OH. She spoke of the pluralism of her household and how her parents even sent her to Jewish day school for awhile.

      And I thought, snap!, this is just what Kedar was talking about.

      Of course, she thought that Islam is a religion of peace because that was her personal experience growing up in Toledo.

      Oh, and btw, are you in Israel?

      And how did you meet Kedar?

    2. I;m in Rockford, Illinois. Dr. Kedar was speaking in Chicago and our Rebbi convinced him to come here for Shabbas services and then he stayed for lunch. I sat across from him and had an excellent discussion for over an hour. It seems to me that all religions are supremacist in some way. The issue is tolerance. Even if I think my religion is best and has the best answers to the ultimate questions, am I willing to live in harmony with those who think the same of their religion?

  3. re: The bone chilling speech.

    It was bone chilling.

  4. Shirlee, what is the criteria by which you exclude Islam from world religions?

    Because I can tell you with great certainty that theologians throughout the world consider Islam a religion... whatever else it may be.

    Even Robert Spencer considers Islam a religion.

    Islam may be an enemy to Gay people and women and Jewish people and all non-Muslims, but that just makes it a highly aggressive and violent and fascistic religion, but a religion nonetheless.