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Muslims Speaking Against Terrorism [Updated]

[UPDATE 09/30/06: Well, I’m happy to be proved wrong, at least in part. MSNBC runs this article:

At Ramadan, TV turns up heat on extremists:
Satirical Saudi show makes mockery of militants, draws fundamentalist ire

which talks about the impact of “Tash Ma Tash”. I’m glad to see it and wish there were more.]

Opening the Discussion on Terrorism and Islam

‘Tash’ Takes Saudi Satire to New Levels
Samir Al-Saadi, Arab News

JEDDAH, 30 September 2006 — For years comedy has been used to satirize the state or society in the Arab world. It is said to be the only way to criticize the systems in the region without having to spend a night or two in lockups. More than two decades have passed since Syrian icon Dareed Laham starred in his hit motion picture “The Border”. In the film, Laham criticized Arab-style bureaucracy in a production that has become a landmark for the modern history of political satire in the Middle East.

Today, Arabs can get a little relief from the sometimes-frustrating realities of politics and society by watching “Tash Ma Tash,” which first appeared on Saudi TV during Ramadan 14 years ago.

“Tash Ma Tash” is somewhat of a phenomenon in the Middle East. It’s one of the most widely viewed TV programs during the month of Ramadan, popular for its ascerbic attacks on the status quo. What’s somewhat surprising (at least to those who have little knowledge of Saudi Arabs) is that it is a Saudi production, in Arabic, and so clearly for domestic consumption.

One episode this year satirized the recruitment of terrorists, having the would-be terrorists compete in an “American Idol” type show. You can imagine how well that went down in some quarters. This Arab News article talks about some other episodes as well as about audience reaction. It’s pretty hotly debated.

Do read the whole piece, particularly if you think of Saudi Arabia as monolithic in its beliefs. Or if you think Muslims–even conservative, Wahhabi, Saudi Muslims–are incapable of saying “No!” to terrorism.

Even better, than saying “No!”, the show mock those who seek to use religion to promote terrorism. Mockery is one of the sharpest pens there is, particularly in an honor-based society. The fact that this program is seen by millions of Muslims, throughout the Arab world and Europe, should put paid to some of the Islamophobia. But I’m not holding my breath, unfortunately.

[Cross-posted at Crossroads Arabia]

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About John Burgess
Former US Foreign Service Officer serving predominantly in the Middle East. Probably best defined as an East Coast Conservative. I blog about Saudi Arabia, the importance of US-Saudi relations, and efforts toward reform in that country at Crossroads Arabia.

Comments

  1. INDCJournal says:

    Ma Tash,” a wildly popular Saudi TV series that is deploying satire to poke fun at the fundamentalists. Encouraging news; read the whole thing. Sounds like some Muslims – even in the homeland of Wahhabism – are speaking out. Via John Burgess, who adds: “Tash Ma Tash” is somewhat of a phenomenon in the Middle East. It’s one of the most widely viewed TV programs during the month of Ramadan, popular for its ascerbic attacks on the status quo. What’s somewhat surprising (at least to those who have

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  2. My WebLog says:

    New York Times – Developed and published by Introversion Software Ltd. for Windows 98 and later; for ages 7 and up (as rated in Europe); $15 Defcon is a nuclear war simulation played out with minimal graphics on a world map. Muslims Speaking Against Terrorism [Updated] Outside Beltway – The fact that this program is seen by millions of Muslims, throughout the Arab world and Europe, should put paid to some of It is Muslims worldwide that desire the eventual removal of Israel from the map. If you choose to willfully

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  3. Photomatt» FOWA Presentation Dean’s World» Early Democratic Pickup In Florida? Outside the Beltway» Muslims Speaking Against Terrorism Unclaimed Territory» Mark Steyn and Hugh Hewitt reveal the true impulses underlying yesterday’s vote INDC Journal» untitled QandO» Sloganeering ScrappleFace» Poll: Dems Fear Torture, Wiretaps More Than Terrorists

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  4. Haven’t you read the NYT. Its our being in Iraq that causes people to become terrorists. How can a show slipping in the ratings counter that.

    It will be interesting to see where this goes. If it starts a trend and more “Methodist Muslims” start speaking out against the extremists, then great. If it gets silenced like a Berlin opera, that will be very unfortunate.

    I agree that satire poking fun of the terrorists is one of the more effective ways to counter within the culture. It has to be done from legitimately within the culture. If (and I am in no way saying this) it was found the show was paid by the CIA to make the satire, I would expect it would be a lot less productive and likely even counter productive. Plus the local view can make a bigger impact because it will have the inside nuance that outsiders never could get right.

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  5. John Burgess says:

    This isn’t a one time thing, nor is “Tash Ma Tash” the only media to take on the religious establishment. The program has run anti-terror themes for the past several years. This doesn’t get reported much in the West, though, which is a real pity.

    Did you know, for instance, that a Saudi paper republished one of the Danish cartoons while most American papers couldn’t steel themselves enough? The editor got a couple of weeks in jail; the paper was suspended from publishing for a couple of weeks too. Not a great instance of freedom of the press, but still a rather ballsy act on the part of the editor and publisher. They knew there’d be consequences, but acted anyway.

    Did you read about that in the NYT? Or on the Islam-bashing blogs? Didn’t think so…

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  6. lunacy says:

    No wonder Dean and Michelle are in conflict. Even these Arabs can’t agree on whether Islam is a terrorist religion.

    More from the linked article:

    “The episode on terrorism has caused a stir placing viewers in the “pro” and “con” camps. Twenty-eight-year-old Ahmad Ali called the episode on terrorism “disgusting”.

    “They should be stopped and should pay for their actions,” said Ali. “It’s enough that the Western media are negatively feeding the image of Islam; now they’re getting in-house help.”

    He said in the episode the terrorism issue was not tackled in a productive way. “There were a lot of misleading arguments in the episode that portrayed Islamic beliefs in a wrong way just for a laugh,” he said. “We are all against terrorism but we don’t allow any one to criticize or make fun of our beliefs, which are purely against terrorism.”

    According to some Jeddawi residents, the show has been attacked by local imams. One resident said a preacher strongly criticized the show’s producers on a cassette sermon being distributed: “The preacher said ‘May Allah throw them into hell’.”

    On the other hand, there are the supporting crowd who argue what was said is nothing but the truth. ”
    “We control our own image, not the West. The show was making fun of terrorists by satirizing their warped perceptions of Islam. I think the show was a defense of Islam, personally,” said Abu Nasser, adding that Saudis should have more of a sense of humor about issues that affect their lives. “The show’s producers and actors could be putting their life on the line. Terrorists could target them for what they did. It wouldn’t be the first time. And that’s sad.”

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  7. The world is blind. A menace is growing every day. It does not grow on a unified front. It is not organized as a country. It does not have a seat at the UN. Some of its membership worldwide are not participating in open acts of violence, yet the insidious oppressive nature of this force finds its ways in through the front door of openness and inclusion. Openness and Inclusion are doctrines of the West. They are noble and just. But taken to the extreme, these doctrines can bring in division and oppression. Peace at any price, meaning the absence of conflict, is the most costly form of peace. It means submission. The world, primarily the West, is submitting. This is the aim of the adherents to the peaceful force that I am describing. Islam.

    To offend somebody in the western Islamic community can bear either violent consequences or western societal submission. The moment speech is abridged, true freedom dies. The moment a woman in Western Civilization hesitates going into public dressed in a certain manner, true freedom dies. The moment law enforcement turns from protecting law abiding citizens, true freedom dies. When the predominating reason for tolerance is precipitated by fear, freedom dies.

    Western society has two choices. Vanquish, or be vanquished.

    Islam, by its nature, is not a status quo worldview. It is a jealous master. It will not submit by choice. If you doubt, open your eyes and read the Quran and the Hadith. Then read history. You can not come away from this study and find a worldview compatible with Western Civilization. This study coupled with today’s headlines is a loud message from over a billion Muslims. It is visible everywhere, even in the UN. To miss this, one must willfully choose to disbelieve glaring evidence.

    Understand, these encroachments on liberty will continue, and like a snowball at the top of a mountain, the onslaught will grow in size and speed. Ask yourself, why do I want to accept and appease Islamists? Is it because of your openness, your respect for multiculturalism? Or are you now starting to fear deep down inside. The hurried frenzy to negotiate and appease a fascist dictator in Iran is a great example of this problem. Iran will become a nuclear power if the world just keeps on negotiating.

    How does it make you feel? Ahmadinejad, Iran’s President, has stated numerous times that the Holocaust did not happen. He has also on numerous occasions called for the Muslim world to envisage a world without Israel. He is very direct in his statements. Ahmadinejad is not alone. There is a hunger in the Muslim world to see the destruction of Israel. It is not just Arabs. It is Muslims worldwide that desire the eventual removal of Israel from the map.

    If you choose to willfully ignore the facts and believe that the threat can be negotiated with and contained, you are mistaken. Again, I ask you to conduct your own study. Read the Quran and the Hadith. Then read history. You can not come away from this study and find a worldview compatible Western Civilization. This study coupled with today’s headlines is a loud message. It is visible everywhere, even in the UN. To miss this, one must willfully choose to disbelieve glaring evidence.

    Bubba’s Pravda
    bubbaspravda.blogspot.com

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  8. John Burgess says:

    Bubba: You’re certainly welcome to your opinion, no matter how ill informed it is. I’d suggest doing a little more reading outside the scope of LGF. Like more of what I posted above.

    That post clearly shows that there are Muslims sincerely trying to retake the high ground in a fight over their identities as Muslims. You can deny it, of course, but then you’d be wrong.

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  9. Bithead says:

    John;

    Both the people in your examples and you yourself for making them an example, are laudable. Certainly, such a show has the approval of the Saudi government.

    Just as certainly, however, that the Saudais are allowing such a show to go on, is a reaction to what can only be characterized as a threat to their power.

    THe fact remains that what you point out is hardly to be considered a majority Muslim attitude. And until such time as you are capable of pointing to that being a majority Muslim attitude, you are no more than whistling in the dark, I fear.

    It is here, I think, where Bubba and his comments come into play. And within that context, Bubba’s got it right.

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  10. John Burgess says:

    Help me out here. Saudi Arabia, the country deemed the most fundamentalist of all Islamic states, permits the broadcast of this program which is highly critical of violent Islamism. It’s the most popular program in the country and also claims huge viewership across the Arab world.

    Instead of being a sign that there is a strong pushback of violent jihad and terrorism, this is somehow a sign that “most Muslims don’t agree” with the anti-terror message?

    The Saudi public is not disenchanted, by and large, with the Al-Saud regime. You can go to Saudi blogs to verify that. They think that Abdullah is just great and have high hopes for his reform initiatives.

    That’s not to say that there aren’t critics. There are definitely Saudi opposition groups, from irredentist members of tribes that got pushed out of power 70+ years ago, to Al-Qaeda, to some who resent the fact that the Al-Saud came out of nowhere back in the 18th C. and dominate more “noble” tribes. They do not, however, represent that majority of Saudi Arabs.

    The Saudis have a lot of problems, many of them self-inflected. But when things like this happen (and it’s only one of many instances) can’t that be acknowledged?

    I’d deeply appreciate a citation for your claim that the “majority Muslim attitude” that is extremist.

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  11. Bithead says:

    Help me out here.

    Glad to.

    Saudi Arabia, the country deemed the most fundamentalist of all Islamic states,

    Arrrhhh… Hold da phone.

    Actually, if I’m not much mistaken, I believe Iran has held that distinction since the middle seventies. By comparison, the Saudis have been remarkably flexible.

    The Saudis have a lot of problems, many of them self-inflected. But when things like this happen (and it’s only one of many instances) can’t that be acknowledged?

    I believe I have done precisely that. Your problem, apparently, is that I also have recognized the reason behind what they’re doing. Specifically, a threat to the power structure of the house of Saud.

    In more basic terms, allow a comparison;a government voicing an opinion while reacting to a threat against its power, does not directly translate to that react being approved of by the inhabitants of the country of that government.

    Because the King has an opinion on something or another, does not mean that people are following suit.

    Once, (and IF) you get to the point where you can show us where the majority of the people agree with the sentiments of the house of Saud on this matter, you’ll have something.

    You can’t yet.

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  12. John Burgess says:

    Okay, let me rephrase: “most fundamentalist Sunni country”, though given the difference between women’s rights in the two countries, I think Saudi Arabia comes off as the more fundamentalist.

    The program is not a product of the Saudi government. Saudi media, while certainly limited by government, is not owned by government. Nor does the government exercise prior restraint. If it doesn’t like something in the paper, it gets the editor fired (or sometimes jailed) and the paper suspended.

    MBC–the Middle East Broadcasting Centre–is a business venture, not an arm of the Saudi government. Its programming is often at odds with typical Wahhabi sentiments, including such “un-Islamic” things as kissing, scant clothing, etc. It’s also home to Al-Arabiya TV, a strong counter to Al-Jazeera.

    Within Saudi Arabia, MBC has stronger market share than Al-Jazeera [See P. 20 of the linked PDF report]. Look, too, at the demographic breakdown of TV viewership on P 29 of the report. That should indicate whether or not the message being sent is one people want to receive, regardless of who’s sending it.

    Saudi Arabs have access to international satellite channels; at least 98% of them do. They are not forced to watch unwanted messages.

    You might also be interested in this piece from Le Monde Diplomatique that discusses “Tash Ma Tash” as a vector of social change.

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  13. Bithead says:

    I see an editing error in what I posted… sorry.

    And, let me expand a point a bit;

    Because the Ruling House in one country… the Saudis…. a house whose power over the country is seriously threatened by a rebel member of that family, reacts in the manner you report, cannot be taken as an indication of there being widespread support for that position, even in Saudi Arabia, much less in whole of the Islamic world.

    In fairness, one of the reasons the Saudi family has been able to act as they have, is that they are relatively impervious to attack, particularly as compared to the average everyday Iraqi citizen for example. Or the Iranian citizen. These latter are far less likely to raise objections to extremist Islam than somebody who is as well protected as the Saudis have traditionally been.

    But therein, lies a problem… in that situation one can only assume one of two possibilities, either that assuming they exist, the moderates are mostly too scared to speak out, or that they simply do NOT exist.

    Even given the reports that you cite, there is no concrete evidence whatever that moderate Muslims exist, in any substantial number.

    It is entirely possible that they do exist, and believe me, when I say that I will be out in front of the cheering crowd, and among the loudest cheering, when these supposedly moderate Muslims start speaking out, and loudly and forcefully ejecting the extremists from their midst. But that hasn’t been happening.

    All that we have his reports of one very frightened government, dealing with a rebel within its own family, allowing programs on which refer to his movement, his barbarism, his hatred, and his followers, in jest.

    A positive report, certainly, and particularly outstanding, given that we haven’t had too many from that area of the world of late. But it’s not earth shattering.

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  14. John Burgess says:

    First, I’d dispute your characterization of the Al-Saud as scared of the terrorists. They’re no more or less scared than any heads of state in the region, even though they are a direct target. They believe they’ve taken appropriate precautions and they are, in fact, very popular among Saudis.

    And yes, a terrorist “spectacular” could change this all overnight, if it got lucky.

    Second, UBL isn’t “one of their own”. His father certainly was; his siblings certainly are. But when Saudi governmental efforts to rein in UBL during the 90s failed, they dumped him. They stripped him of his citizenship in 94 and froze his bank accounts. In 96, they seized those accounts. That’s far beyond what they’ve done when “one of their own” (See Pr. Talal in the 60s) goes off the policy reservation.

    UBL was useful in the 80s. By 1990 and the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, he was a pain in the ass.

    They realize, too, that UBL isn’t the only danger they need to worry about. Iran, for geo-political reasons, more than sectarian ones, represents what they see as their greatest threat.

    I would say the majority of moderates are, in fact, intimidated sufficiently to avoid speaking out as much as we might like. There are several things at play here. First is a general cultural thing, where you don’t air dirty laundry so others (particularly those who might hurt you) can see. If Islam is under attack from the outside (which it is presumed to be), then you don’t want to attack it from the inside. That’s true treachery.

    Second, religion is a trump card within Islamic societies. Most Muslims, as most members of any religion, are not really prepared to go to the mat with their understanding of “what the religion is really about”. Anyone who seems to know more, has accreditation or certificates in religion, will win the arguments, hands down. This is especially so when that “expert” can do serious damage to one simply by saying “He’s a bad Muslim”. In a shame/honor-based society, what the neighbors think and say about you is important on a daily basis.

    This is changing, though. In 2004, two school teachers were arrested, tried, and sentenced because some Shariah judge said that they were defaming Islam. Days after his ascention to the throne, King Abdullah pardoned them. That sent a rather loud message to the would-be judges. Now, Saudi papers consistently run articles, columns, and cartoons complaining about the excesses of the religious authorities. “Tash Ma Tash” is right in the middle of this.

    And it’s having an effect, albeit a slow one. The religious police, for instance, have been getting their wings clipped. The gov’t cannot abolish them, but it can get them to heel.

    This is a traditional culture in which the traditions worked perfectly well for 1400 years. Changing them isn’t going to happen overnight. But I see very clear signs that the changes are happening. Those seeking to reform their religion, culture, and society need support, not complaints that they’re “not doing enough”. At the least, they need acknowledgement for what they are doing.

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  15. Bithead says:

    First, I’d dispute your characterization of the Al-Saud as scared of the terrorists. They’re no more or less scared than any heads of state in the region, even though they are a direct target. They believe they’ve taken appropriate precautions and they are, in fact, very popular among Saudis.

    and

    Second, UBL isn’t “one of their own”. His father certainly was; his siblings certainly are. But when Saudi governmental efforts to rein in UBL during the 90s failed, they dumped him. They stripped him of his citizenship in 94 and froze his bank accounts. In 96, they seized those accounts. That’s far beyond what they’ve done when “one of their own” (See Pr. Talal in the 60s) goes off the policy reservation.

    I’m quite sure you would say so. I was quite sure of that when I wrote what I did. But the bottom line is, they are the only ones that are direct targets at the moment.

    Disagree all you want; even you’re forced to agree that they are direct targets specifically because of the familial involvement of BinLaden…. involvement that their stunning and “casting out”, did nothing to assuage… and they know it, and so are reacting accordingly.

    They realize, too, that UBL isn’t the only danger they need to worry about. Iran, for geo-political reasons, more than sectarian ones, represents what they see as their greatest threat.

    Neither that fact, nor the perception of it has changed since Carter was being chased out of the pool by rabbits. Personally, I’ve always considered it possible, and nigh on likely that Saddam Hussein was waging war on Iraq because he was being aided in the doing by the Saudis.

    I would say the majority of moderates are, in fact, intimidated sufficiently to avoid speaking out as much as we might like. There are several things at play here. First is a general cultural thing, where you don’t air dirty laundry so others (particularly those who might hurt you) can see. If Islam is under attack from the outside (which it is presumed to be), then you don’t want to attack it from the inside. That’s true treachery.

    I would say that is an interesting comment, in light of the people here in America who were attacking it from the inside whilst it is being attacked from the outside. I would call that treachery, as well.

    Second, religion is a trump card within Islamic societies. Most Muslims, as most members of any religion, are not really prepared to go to the mat with their understanding of “what the religion is really about”. Anyone who seems to know more, has accreditation or certificates in religion, will win the arguments, hands down. This is especially so when that “expert” can do serious damage to one simply by saying “He’s a bad Muslim”. In a shame/honor-based society, what the neighbors think and say about you is important on a daily basis.

    Well, here, you’ve started the juices flowing. I’d advise you to strap yourtself in.

    This is certainly typical fourteenth century thinking. It is, in fact, the kind of thing that Martin Luther had so much problem with as regards the catholic church. Hence, we have the question before us, “Where is Islam’s Martin Luther?”

    I bring this up, because prior to Luther’s arrival, there was no such thing as a moderate catholic. Similarly, then, there is no such thing as a moderate Muslim today. You’ll see where I do agree with some of your observations, as I go on, here. However, it’s that agreement on some individual points which causes me to disagree with your conclusion, as you’ll see.

    The more I investigate this the more I’m convinced that the Pope, of all people, got this one right. Islam, being Islam, simply cannot reform itself. Therefore I submit, that there is no such thing as moderate Islam. More correctly, that there is no such animal as a moderate Muslim.

    At least, at the moment. Which, translates into “it may be possible to inject some change down the road.”

    I consider it an open question, whether or not reform can ever occur. But to the point we’ve been discussing, certainly, it has not, thus far… not in any truly significant way.

    Consider the state of Islam vs the state of Christianity, so as to understand the relative timelines of each.

    Most of these discussions come from perception of each side. From an objective standpoint Christianity at least has the advantage of viewing government and religion on two separate levels. It was Christ himself who urged us to give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God that which is God’s.

    At least part of this is a problem of point of view from the average Muslim; The Islamic world looks forward to the 15th century. So, perhaps viewing it from this angle will help your overall perspective. If you were a citizen of 14th century Spain, let’s say… would you have been able to envision such a seperation between Rome and Madrid?

    OTOH, and by the same token, the point of view differences from our standpoint…part of our inability to get our mental arms around this one is due to the fact that were as we deal with religion and social values on separate levels, those in the Islamic world do not, as a rule…. and that’s not much different than the point of view of the denizen of fourteenth century Spain, is it?

    Now, understand please, I still take the question of Islam’s ability to reform within the bounds of the religion framework an open question. Mostly this is due to a lack of understanding of what the religion encompasses at it’s foundations. But what if the problems of reforming Islam are due to a lack of understanding of the religion by its adherents, as you’ve suggested here? Once again I draw the parallel to Christianity;

    Consider the state of the church in Martin Luther’s day, and before. Most of the people of that day you call themselves Christian really didn’t understand the religion they claimed as their own. That’s because the majority of them couldn’t read, and were therefore utterly dependent on what the priest told them the book said. I’m willing to bet that’s the case in Islam… who steadfastly refuses, for example, to provide education for it’s women.

    Along comes Luther with his printing press, who teaches them how to read the Bible for themselves, and gain the needed understanding of it… who tells them that a personal relationship with God is necessary, and with that personal understanding comes the reform of tolerance, which over hundreds more years becomes the chruch we know today.

    In light of this, I would suggest to you a trend.

    Here in western society, people tend to be better educated than they are in everyday Iraq, or even Egypt and Turkey, for example. This results in vastly different perceptions of everything in the world, including religion. They tend to read more, for one thing, having the ability. While I am sure that the western civilization tends to breed more placid people particularly in regards to spiritual matters, because of cultural influence alone, I would also suggest that the violence we see inherent with Islam is directly connected to the education level and therefore the understanding of that religion by its adherents.

    Muslims we see here in the west are at least somewhat more peaceful than what we’ve been seeing in the MiddleEast. Is this a result of their having a better understanding of the religion, I wonder?

    This is one reason I’ve always been somewhat uncomfortable with the phrase “Islamic fundamentalism”; there is still a great deal of argument as to specifically what that phrase means, because the fundamentals of Islam are still in the discussion stage, even among its most adherent followers.

    If greater understanding of the religion by the very people involved in it is the answer, does this suggest a path for us to take?

    If it does, then that path is going to be made somewhat more complex by the fact that there is no real hierarchy within the Muslim religious world as there is in say the various offshoots of Christianity. Even the various Christian sects are not nearly as disperate in their beliefs (and thereby the definition of being within the religion) as Muslims would seem to be. This presents some complications in terms of getting the “true Islam” message out; the various leaders themselves because there is no hierarchy cannot seem to agree on the tenants of the religion; Without the strong leadership model, the messages being sent on mixed at best. In a very real sense, there’s nobody to question as regards religious tenants.

    Think about this; when it came time in the Christian church for reform, Luther had the advantage of having a Pope to proverbally set on fire. A focal point, if you will, to aim at. I daresay that Luther would not been able to be nearly as effective had he needed to fight a decentralized authority.

    OTOH in the Islamic world, there is no such person, no such leader, no such group, even, to ask such questions of. That makes the process of questioning these radicalized versions of Islam all the harder, even assuming one isn’t going to get killed for asking the questions, or rasing challanges. To whom does one go for an authority of view on what, specifically, Islam is? I have asked that question many times in the past and usually get referred to the Koran. That answer of course, is problematic, given the number of different slants on the meaning of the Koran that there are. Certainly there are a number of different slants as well on the Bible, as well. However I would point out that there is still an authority structure in place there, which tends to narrow the Interpretations down by quite a bit.

    Without such a structure, all kinds of things pop up… The religion becomes whatever certain protagonists say it is… as you’ve suggsted here, John… such as the afore-mentioned Wahabi… And there’s nobody of authority within the religion to say ’no’.

    The Catholic church certainly had its bloody periods. And why did these stop? Someone sitting in authority, was there to challenge, and once that authority saw the reason in the challenge that somebody within the church said “stop”.

    Who is of the like in the Islamic world? Nobody that I can see.
    Yet.
    And that’s a problem. But more;

    Islam is still waiting for its Luther.

    I figure that was part of the idea, going into Iraq in the first place: Establishing a democracy in such a place, after all, would certainly lend itself to work toward altering, and, need I say it, pacifying, Islamic society, and controlling the more violent and radical elements. My take is that if such a person or group is to rise up against the Wahhabits or Salfi, they will be the product of a freshly reformed, and democratic Iraq. Which would do a fair job of explaining why the Syrias and the Jordans and the Irans are so very concerned, just now.

    The very reason that hardline Islamic states are so concerned about the insertion of democracy into Iraq is because they see ….apparently more clearly than we… that democracy, for all its faults, has one major advantage ; That it by its very nature injects social change, by what I will call “Social Darwinism”. Such evolution has no chance whatever under, say, a Saddam… but it DOES stand a chance under a Democracy. Under a democracy, the ideas and ideals of western culture will filter through, as they have every other place where Democracy has been installed. Japan, for example. South Korea. Etc.

    This change will undoubtedly allow a more western attitude, and thereby will create the environment in which Islam’s Luther can stand forth. But this isn’t going to be a quck process. It’s going to be along slow and likely (given whom we’re dealing with) very bloody process, because changing hearts and minds is always the longest , slowest, hardest job there is.

    We in the west, cannot expect that kind of seed change to occur overnight. What we’re talking about, is dragging Islam and its followers fast forward from the fourteenth century. We cannot do that quickly, or by force and not expect violent reaction. Forced change, is never long lasting , and seldom satisfactory for anybody concerned. What needs to be done therefore, is to create an environment in which an Islamic version of Luther can stand forth, s that the culture chan change ITSELF.

    And all of this is exactly why I’ve said that a democracy in Iraq is a good place to start.

    As you have said, and correctly, John, this is going to be a slow process. However, that process is not being helped by jumping up like a man dying of thirst, when they see a mirage on the horizon.

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  16. G.A. Phillips says:

    Any one can twist any thing to make it evil, as you can twist the teachings in the bible to evil as God himself said many would do. So some one please tell me how to twist something that is based on domination, murder, terror, and servitude into good?

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  17. John Burgess says:

    As I look over Bin Laden’s various writings, I find that the Al-Saud are only one of his targets. He also targets all the heads of Islamic states that do not toe his line. He targets the US specifically and the West generally. He targets “bad Muslims” around the world. He’s got some serious issues of anger management.

    His anger is so diffuse, in fact, that what he’s really railing against is modernity in all its forms.

    Islam isn’t lacking a Luther, a Reformation. It’s had several. Ibn Taymiyya, Abdul Wahhab, Sayyid Abu Ala Maududi, the Deobandis of the Indian sub-continent all sought to reform Islam by stripping its practice of the accretions and variances that developed over Islam’s history as a world religion. Hassan Al-Banna, Sayyed Qutb, and others like Ayman Zawahari and even UBL (though he’s not a religious scholar) seek to continue that work of purifying the religion.

    What’s lacking is an Enlightenment, when humanistic values–such as individual rights and freedoms–play roles equal or superior to religion in daily life.

    I think you’ve correctly identified one of the major problems: lack of a central authority. Islam is, in fact, far more democratic than other organized religions. People follow the religious leader they wish to follow–in ideal circumstances. Modern Islamic states interfere with that process by imposing particular interpretations on major issues, but for most daily matters, Muslims go to the local imam or find one whose interpretations are more to their liking. As an example, Sunni Islamic jurisprudence allows one to choose which of the four “schools” of jurisprudence to follow on a particular issue. Call it “forum shopping” if you wish, but Sunni Muslims do have the right to find the religious authority who will best suit their needs and desires.

    Attacking dysfunction within the system, though, gets difficult, as you say, because there’s no one seat of authority to make universal judgments or declarations. It means changing minds, one mind at a time and that’s a lot of work.

    Don’t confuse the various states that call themselves “Islamic” though. The issues in countries like Iran or Saudi Arabia are not at all those of countries like Syria or pre-war Iraq. Iran is certainly the more theocratic state, with one imposed religious interpretation of Islam. (I’ll not address those who are not Shi’a Muslims in Iran.) Saudi Arabia has a preferred interpretation of Sunni Islam (Hanbali, with strictures coming through Ibn Taymiyya and Abdul Wahhab), but it must also deal theologically with two different groups of Shi’a. It hasn’t done that particularly well, but gradually, beginning in 1979, but accellerating since 2003, it is making public and political space for variant forms of Islam. It’s also opening space for Sufis. This isn’t all that surprising to me because the government has had to make accommodation for other manifestations of Islam in Mecca and Medina, particularly during Hajj. There are certainly frictions, but it’s being worked out.

    Syria and pre-war Iraq, though, were secular states for the most part. The Baath Party tried to be inclusive to the extent that it invited followers of all or no religion as members. Neither, though for different reasons, wanted religion to play a role in politics, until it became useful to do so, anyway. At heart, they were/are Marxist states who disdained religion.

    For the past 40 years, Syria has been ruled by members of a truly heterodox Shi’a minority, the Alawites. The government stays in power be combining all the religious minorities (Druze, Christians of about a dozen stripes, other Shi’a) against the Sunni majority. By permitting no one religion or religious interpretation to be supreme, it protected its own interests. It’s reaction to Islamicism (see Hama) was always negative.

    Similarly in Iraq, the government found its strength in playing one religious interpretation against the others. The Baath government included Christians. But the picture there is complicated in a different way. The real authority, rather than a religious point of view, was that of a family and region that happened to be Sunni. All sorts of prejudices against Kurds, on racial grounds, and Shi’a (of at least two different schools) on religio-ethnic grounds, played a greater role than did pure relgious POV. Only when Desert Shield/Desert Storm made it useful did the government “get religion”, even to the point of putting “Allahu Akbar” on the flag.

    Now, of course, without a strong central government, the frictions that had been suppressed are finding oxygen to fuel the flames.

    I certainly understand your point about not cheer-leading ephemera. I do see real reform efforts taking place though. These efforts are taking place at the right level, too: civil society. Increasingly, Muslims are demanding transparency of government and the judiciary; they seek judicial reform and codification of laws so that the courts are no longer subject to the whims of any given judge; they are insisting on the protection of human rights, even if those rights cannot be explicitly found in the Quran. Women are demanding their own space in economic, social, and political life, and going back to early Islam to find their authorities.

    There are still deep and important issues to be discussed that are not permitted to be discussed. “Deep criticism” of the Quran and Hadith, for instance, is needed. But it’s very dangerous to do so right now. That some Muslims are willing to do so is noteworthy, even if it did lead to their having to flee the region. It is a clear step forward.

    Because I lived and worked in the region for 25 years (and have lived in Islamic societies as far back as 40 years), I think I have a valid perspective on the changes taking place. Some things have clearly taken a step back, primarily since 1979. Some of that ground has been retaken by reformers. A lot of important new ground has been broken, too.

    Luther had the printing press. Contemporary Islam as the Internet. And just as a lot of scabrous, contentious materials were circulated through the medium of books, so are jihadists and extremists making use of a newer medium. But it is an error, I think, to focus only on that. There are voices crying out, currently in the western media wilderness, for change and modernity within Islam. We need to at least acknowledge those voices and to help them when we can.

    “Democracy” comes in many forms. The form that takes root in the Arab Islamic world probably won’t be perfectly congruent ot American representative democracy. It’s more likely to be akin to a British constitutional monarchy. It will also have a stronger role for relgion than most contemporary, European democracies do. Keep an eye on Kuwait, Bahrain, the UAE for hints.

    A few years ago, Bahrain changed its form of government from an imarate to a constitutional democracy. It’s going through some ups and downs, for sure, but the trend is pretty clear. The same in Kuwait, which gave women the right to vote earlier this year.

    Change is happening.

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  18. John Burgess says:

    G.A. Phillips: That’s a good question. But it assumes that Islam is what you say it is. That’s simply not the case.

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  19. anjin-san says:

    I am just a bit curious. If Islam is a rising tide against us, if Muslims wish only to conquer or destroy us, convert us at the point of a sword, etc etc blah blah blah……

    Then why is Bush so friggin’ tight with the Saudis?

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  20. Bithead says:

    As I look over Bin Laden’s various writings, I find that the Al-Saud are only one of his targets. He also targets all the heads of Islamic states that do not toe his line. He targets the US specifically and the West generally. He targets “bad Muslims” around the world. He’s got some serious issues of anger management.

    I remain convinced, that the United States, and the west in general, are secondary targets. I agree there are psychological issues involved, but I suggest that most of those involved the family and what he perceives the demands of the religion to be.

    His anger is so diffuse, in fact, that what he’s really railing against is modernity in all its forms.

    True. However I suggest that the family arguments are were all of this started, they’re at the root of it, and it is in fact the central theme of his anger.

    Islam isn’t lacking a Luther, a Reformation.

    You seem to be operating under a misconception about Luther; that he was the first of its kind in terms of challenging the catholic church. They sure you he was not. However, as I have said, what is necessary is for an environment to be developed wherein there Luther can stand forth. In the cases which you site, that hasn’t happened. Nor did it happen with losers predecessors. Many of the attempts to reform the catholic church , the unsuccessful ones, at least, came from Rome itself. Thus, were they on successful.

    I’d like you to notice something specifically about Luther; remember he was German, and not of Rome. I daresay that a Luther could not have come from the city and the environment and the cultural pressures that surrounded the Vatican in Rome of the day. No, Luther had to come from the outside of that environment to be effective. There also had to be significant distances to make it dealing with Luther out of hand problematical for the Vatican. The attack, had to come from the outside, and yet ironically from the inside. To the end of his days, Luther considered himself to be catholic.

    Similarly, I submit that Islam’s Luther will not arise from the ranks of the Iranians, the Saudis and their subjects, rather, he will arise from somewhere else in the globe.

    I think you’ve correctly identified one of the major problems: lack of a central authority. Islam is, in fact, far more democratic than other organized religions. People follow the religious leader they wish to follow—in ideal circumstances. Modern Islamic states interfere with that process by imposing particular interpretations on major issues, but for most daily matters, Muslims go to the local imam or find one whose interpretations are more to their liking.

    Indeed, before I close the book on Luther, he saw this situation rather clearly, saying the Quran only contained HUMAN reasoning, and was without God’s word and spirit. which leads me to this conclusion about Luther’s ability to sway the Pope; Luther could appeal to principle. A Luther in the Islamic world has no such advantage given the situation that you cite.

    Luther had the printing press. Contemporary Islam as the Internet

    Perhaps, you had better start redefining “has”, given that many of the people under the sway of Islam have no access to the Internet, and for the most part are as yet unswayed by Luther’s printing press, either.

    I am just a bit curious. If Islam is a rising tide against us, if Muslims wish only to conquer or destroy us, convert us at the point of a sword, etc etc blah blah blah……

    Then why is Bush so friggin’ tight with the Saudis?

    Mostly because at the moment, they are taking on the appearance of , ironically, the most moderate in Islam. Which ought to tell you something about why I’m skeptical of the claim that there is massive change coming from within Islam.

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  21. John Burgess says:

    I remain convinced, that the United States, and the west in general, are secondary targets. I agree there are psychological issues involved, but I suggest that most of those involved the family and what he perceives the demands of the religion to be.

    That’s not what the various biographies of UBL say. They all point to his break with the Saudi regime coming when his plan to raise an army if jihadists to expell Iraq from Kuwait in 1990 was rejected. UBL was on record before them decrying the crusader presence in Muslim holy lands.

    I certainly don’t know what personal demons UBL is trying to exorcise–“Daddy didn’t love me”, “Daddy didn’t like Mommy”, “Mommy’s not really a Muslim” (apparently she’s a Syrian Alawite)–but it’s pretty clear that he got some deep ones. What’s also clear is that he’s using religion as his means of dealing with them. Maybe the Al-Saud are his most important target now, but that wasn’t always the case, particularly when they were funding (with USG approval) his mujahidiin efforts in Afghanistan during the 80s.

    Whether or not Luther’s being German led to his success where Roman(ce) reformers failed is an interesting question. There certainly were efforts toward reform coming out of France and Spain. But geographical distance makes as good an explanation, IMO, coupled with different facts on the ground and historical traditions. I guess you might even call it “tribalism” of a different sort, for the Germans couldn’t overcome their form of it until late in the 19th C. and arguably, until the end of WWII.

    Literacy and Internet access are things that vary, depending on just what part of the Islamic world you’re addressing. For the Gulf States, literacy is very high. The UN last year cited figures over 90% for male literacy and over 80% for female literacy in all of them. (Yemen, not on the Gulf, lags seriously.) Back in 2003, Saudi Arabia had Internet penetration of only about 2%. Last year, the figures were around 40% and rising. Take a look at Arab blogs and see how many there are. Look at the burgeoning of Iranian blogs. These are in addition, of course, to the older but still widely used bulletin board and chat facilities.

    Most of these are being run by young people, from high school to first job after university graduation age groups. There are some, like the now-defunct “Religous Policeman” (a Saudi in the UK) and “Mahmoud’s Den”, a Bahraini in Bahrain run by older people, but it’s primarily a younger group, as it is in the West. Reading Arabic is a big help, of course, but even such poor tools as Google’s Arabic-to-English beta translator can give you an idea of what’s going on.

    Most of them, like most blogs elsewhere, are pretty vapid. But not all of them. Young Muslims around the world are stepping up to say what they think is right or wrong with their religion.

    You might look at Etaraz or City of Brass. These are run, respectively, by Americans of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin. Their readership isn’t all American, however. For that matter, about 20% of the readers of my blog are Saudis, with lots of others coming from other Muslim countries. There’s a dialogue truly going on, but it’s largely invisible unless you look for it; it surely isn’t getting much press coverage.

    I have to say, though, that I’m hard put to find anyone (I mean anyone who claims that the Saudis are “the most moderate in Islam”. It’s nice to see a change from “It’s all about oil,” I’ll admit. But the Saudis are making considerable reform… it’s just that they’re starting from so far back….

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  22. Bithead says:

    That’s not what the various biographies of UBL say. They all point to his break with the Saudi regime coming when his plan to raise an army if jihadists to expell Iraq from Kuwait in 1990 was rejected. UBL was on record before them decrying the crusader presence in Muslim holy lands.

    .

    True enough. But the argument was with his family. Consider; who was it who was leaning that country toward western ways? (Granted, incrementally)

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  23. Bithead says:

    I have to say, though, that I’m hard put to find anyone (I mean anyone who claims that the Saudis are “the most moderate in Islam”. It’s nice to see a change from “It’s all about oil,” I’ll admit. But the Saudis are making considerable reform… it’s just that they’re starting from so far back….

    As compared to what? The Iranians?

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  24. John Burgess says:

    I’m not quite following…

    Are you saying that because the Al-Saud paid UBL’s father (and hence family) lots of money, then he holds the Al-Saud responsible for whatever drift to liberalism other members of his family took? The Bin Ladin/Laden family isn’t notorious for profligate ways. Their reputation is as astute businessmen and women. I think that line of reasoning on UBL’s part is more a manifestion of being nuts than anything else.

    On your second point, I think only the Taliban and various Al-Qaeda spin-offs are more conservative than the hardline Wahhabis. The non-hardline Wahhabis are something else. As I noted, in Iran women drive and vote, compete in athletics, work side-by-side with men.

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  25. […] Muslims Speaking Against TerrorismOutside Beltway – by millions of Muslims, throughout the Arab world and Europe their actions, said Ali. It s enough that the Western media are negatively feeding the image of Islam; now they re getting in-house help. […]

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  26. G.A. Phillips says:

    John, I have read what the prophet said and the what the prophet said about what his God told him and the History that surrounds when and how it happened. It is from their own holy books and the history of how their faith came about, what I have said is the truth, their own history, and their own words, and it is plain for all to see.I respect you John, but I think you look to find a good in a place that cannot contain such a thing. Luther gave the world a chance to know the true loving word of God as they were meant to know it, with their own mind, their own hart, with the Holy Spirit as their guide, not as the Dogma of a group of men. And I ask those who want to know the truth about both faiths and their history to go the source, and if you are brave enough pray for the holy spirit to be your guide. I will take this post as a chance to ask them that I have harmed in any way through my harsh words or wisea– remarks, or sharply spiked talent for being a di-k to forgive me once again, I have been letting my anger get the best of me, and I truly am regretful.

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  27. John Burgess says:

    G.A. Phillips: I think you’re confusing two very separate things: a) What the Quran and hadith say and b) The way that Muslms actually practice their religion, the “living interpretation,” if you will.

    The Bible says a lot of things that most Christians don’t take as matters of dogma anymore. Granted, some–usually termed “fundamentalists”–take the inerrancy of the Bible as, well, gospel. Leviticus and Deuteronomy are still parts of the Christian Bible. Contemporary Chistians do not, for the most part, consider any number of the laws spelled out in them to be pertinant to contemporary life.

    As is the case with most Christians, most Muslims are not exegetes. They can not argue the finer points of dogma and interpretation. So they follow what they’re taught, what they’re raised with, what they learn through sermons and exhortation. Most imams do not preach violent jihad; they preach about how to get through the ordinary crises that complicate day-to-day life.

    This is not to deny that there are those who will focus on the violent verses of the Quran, no matter the actual context, and try to use them to justify their own violent acts. Yes, you can find those very words, in black and white, in the Quran and various hadith of variable reliability. Does that mean that they need be acted upon in different contexts and circumstances? The moderate Muslims say not.

    And it’s clear that the majority of Muslims are, in fact, moderate. Were they not, then we would be seeing jihadist acts around the world–including in the US–daily, if not hourly.

    There are approximately 1.6 billion Muslms, worldwide. If 10 million of them were jihadists, they would represent 0.625% of all Muslims. No one, Muslim or non-Muslim, uses a figure anywhere near 10 million for the number of jihadists. The number usually cited is in the low 100,000s.

    That leaves 99.375% of all Muslims as non-jihadists. To lump them together not only does a disservice to them, it does a gross disservice to those attempting to deal with the real dangers. It also alienates those–the non-jihadist Muslims–from our goals. That should be the last thing we want to be doing.

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  28. Bithead says:

    Are you saying that because the Al-Saud paid UBL’s father (and hence family) lots of money, then he holds the Al-Saud responsible for whatever drift to liberalism other members of his family took?

    In that context, I said nothing about terrorism per se’.

    However, it cannot be denied that the Saudis have had a rather tight relationship, historically, with the US… Which by the way is the source of their wealth. In fact, the left here in the states is often bitterly complained about it, as regards George Bush. I merely suggests that Usama has made the same connection has our own left.

    Irony abounds, there.

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  29. G.A. Phillips says:

    Fair enough John, but I’m not trying to alienate any one, just trying tell them the truths I have come to know and where and they can look them up for themselves, sometimes I let my anger get the better of me and get a little colorful, but I’m trying to curb that, so once again if I have harmed any of you with my words please forgive me, even you liberals.

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