Conservatives vs Islam – reply to Oceanaris

oceanaris – author of a blog post strongly, even uncharitably criticized in our thread discussion – began his rebuttal via comment as follows:

perhaps if one considers the repeated victory chants of hundreds of thousands of Muslims in Cairo or Riyadh or Baghdad or Damascus after every single military loss to the Israelis,

A discussion based on, at best, highly imprecise language, is not likely to be a very useful discussion.  For example, what can be meant by “every single military loss”?  For that matter, the perfervid hyperbole of such a description tends to re-legitimize what is about to be discarded as “disconnect[-ed] with reality” – suggesting that those “losses” were not entirely losses, that those zillionate crowds and crowds may have in fact been connected to something more authentically real than the superficial adjudications of “victory” vs. “defeat,” something real enough to justify, for instance, in the writer’s mind at least, the panic over a little mosque in lower Manhattan…

there is a disconnect with reality that runs like a thread through the modern history of the Ummah.

Though I have my suspicions, I’m not sure whose “modern history of the Ummah” oceanaris is referencing.  I do know that there is a disconnection from reality running like a weave throughout any ideologically purpose-built historical narrative, Muslim or non-Muslim, and further like a Scotchgard protective film over its surface, and, further, like a multi-ply polymer-infused border closing off such a narrative from its alternatives, by design, conscious or not.

The re-connection of that kind of narrative with a larger reality, typically taking the form of a socialized return of the repressed, is often disruptive to the ideological fabric (“ab-reactionary”), and sometimes catastrophic, psychologically as well as materially, not just to the narrative and its weavers, but to everything that stands on it.

We have frequently and extensively discussed histories of Islam and the West at this blog, and I won’t attempt to recapitulate that discussion. I’ll instead refer oceanaris to recent posts on “The Other(‘s) 9/11 Truth” and “Cordoba,”and otherwise ask him and all readers impressed by recitations on the supposed excessive and unique aggressiveness and imperialism of Islam, to consider how someone who, like apparently oceanaris, viewed the entirety of non-Islamic Judeo-Christian culture, including its secularized/materialist successors, as a single civilization, but who, unlike apparently oceanaris, did so without presumptions as to the universal, eternal, and unchanging validity of that civilization’s self-justifications and value systems, might assess the Conquest of the Americas; the colonization of Africa, India, and the Far East; the African slave trade; the economic colonization of the Ottoman Empire, China, and other nations; the European religious persecutions, wars, and genocides; and the modern world wars and wars of re-division of empire and neo-empire, up to the present day.

In my view there are plenty of horror stories, heaps of corpses, records of unimaginable woe to go around, even without involving the Mongols, the Romans, the Persians, and other geographically and temporally near or distant conquerors, and, if you do the math… well… a chauvinist of the West may prefer not to run the equations, even and especially if confined to the last generation or so (further discussion here).

oceanaris appears somewhat confused about a criticism that is ideological in a different way, and which relates to theoretical matters that may appear esoteric at first, but which I believe we have no choice but to confront – to seek a way of confronting, and which anyway I’ve been wanting to discuss more systematically.

I’ll begin with a question of his that is based on a usefully confused misreading:

What impossibilities of fact, Mr. M[a]cLeod?

In my thread comment, I had referenced “the assertion of falsehoods and impossibilities as fact,” and I provided as an example oceanaris’ notion of an “unchanging nature of Islam.”

Here is why oceanaris’ idea can be dismissed immediately – that is, taken as an obviously ideological assertion, a falsehood asserted as fact.  The idea of an “unchanging nature of Islam” is either, 1) an inherently irrelevant mysticism – a reference to an indeterminable essence that ceases to exist as such as soon as it is applied to, or in any way comes into contact with, any determinate reality – or, 2),  more likely and more frequently, the same fallacy embedded within an ideologically distorted narrative.

The text of the Qur’an, as assembled subsequent to the death of Muhammad, is “unchanging” as a materially reproducible set of signs, but as text it can exist – be actualized, enter into concrete reality – only as constantly evolving and re-adjusted interpretations. The text does not exist as text until it is read, and only as it is read, and reading is always and inherently interpretation (any other operation treats the text as object, in its materiality).  The naive, totemizing view of the sacralized text, including the possibility of any absolute “strict construction” of any text, is common to fundamentalist-literalists of all faiths and ideologies.  It is the origin of much behavior – among Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Marxists, Democrats, Republicans, and so on – that can be described as psychopathological, because it is inherently contradictory, paradoxical and self-contradictory, in concept.

Inevitably, and contrary to oceanaris’ assertion, the interpretation of the Qur’an and of Islamic doctrine and dogma – or, under the fallacy in question, the interpretation of a supposed non-interpretative/eternally fixed meaning – has undergone profound change over the course of Islamic history. Seeking a general overview, we can say that, by the 11th Century, Islamic schools of interpretation split generally into three perspectives – the rationalist or Mutazalite school, the Sufi or mystical school, and the fundamentalist-literalist school. For a number of reasons, the Mutazalites, who were identified with the high culture of Abbasid Islam and by extension with Ummayad al-Andalus at its pinnacle, and who offered a modern (modernized/modernizing) view of the text and its uses suffered defeat.  Islam since that time has largely been developed – and understood especially by 1) outsiders and 2) politically empowered fundamentalists – under the Sufist-Fundamentalist synthesis of the great al-Ghazali (The Incoherence of the Philosophers), on the claim that the “Gates of Ijtihad [independent interpretation] are closed” – an interpretation calling for the end of interpretation.

This claim is intended to be obligatory by those who propound it.  It is accepted as such – or supposed to be accepted, since it is logically unacceptable – only by those who lack the intellectual and material means to resist the obligation.  Ibn Rushd of al-Andalus possessed the intellectual means (The Incoherence of the Incoherence), but lacked sufficient material means.  All the same, because the pseudo-synthesis requiring eternally foreclosed independent interpretation could only have been provisional; because the Mutazalite mode of interpretation is the only viable one in a vastly changed and ever-changing (human, dialectical) world – because Ghazalian Islam is, in short, reactionary and was intended to be – contemporary Islam itself is visibly evolving in alternative directions, just as the entire history of Islam since Ghazali is the history of astronomically wide orbital diversion from the impossible fixed/eternal/unchanging enforced/unenforceable Ghazalian interpretations (that are not supposed to be multiple).

The eventual victory of Ibn Rushd is inevitable either through the success of the global human project, or its shattering.  For now, even and especially the most reactionary schools of anti-interpretationalist Islamic interpretation are evolving: Because they must either evolve or die out, as with any other organic adaptation whose former utility has begun to disappear, and which has instead become, not merely vestigial, but survival-negative/non-adaptive. This imperative holds true at the center of reactionary Sunni Islam, Saudi Arabia, in an extended fight for its political and cultural life against neo-extremist Salafists and also unable to segregate itself permanently from modernity, and is also true in Iran, where the contradictions of Khomeinist fundamentalism have been dramatically exposed in acts that have shocked the Shi’a conscience.  The same patterns are visible in interpretations of sharia by people like Imam Rauf or the Grand Mufti of Cairo, and in the work of (even more) demonized figures like Qaradawi and the recently deceased Fadlallah.

In short, the notion that Islam could be “unchanging” is a fundamentalist-literalist notion, untenable in any real world. The attempt to “make it real” emerges as escalating violence. It is the task of the supposedly more advanced West to allow and where possible to encourage a natural evolution from within Islam in the direction of its overwhelming material and moral self-interest, which also happens to coincide with philosophically defensible “truth” and the emerging syncretism of globalized culture – which is also Americanized culture, because American culture is pre-eminently syncretic in operation (negatively syncretic in foundational concept).  Instead, rightwing conservatives, pursuing their own particular political self-interest against the larger interest of the West and of Islam, and of the world, insist on reinforcement of the same pathological tendencies, and their own conduct increasingly betrays the parallel pathologies.

The remaining question for me, possibly not a political question strictly speaking, is the extent to which the dramatic embrace by conservatives of their own starkest self-contradictions, the expenditure of whatever remnant moral and intellectual authority on separating rightwing culture from the bases of that authority (Americanism), may serve the opposite of the intended parochial aims – and at what material cost.

7 comments on “Conservatives vs Islam – reply to Oceanaris

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  1. Quradawi, along with Abdel Rahman, called a fatwa on Sadat and Istambouli carried it out. He spoke positiively of martyrs in Iraq,
    he didn’t it like when a bomb went off in his current recent in Doha
    some years ago, he was friends to clueless lefty Livingstone, up until
    the bombs went off in the London Metro,

    Yes Islam was more flexible before the 13th century and Ibn Tammiyah, and it was more flexible in Ottoman times, then now, their proxy Mohammed Ali, the original. boxed the Wahhabs into the Nejd in 1818. But the imperative for Conquest hasn’t changed since
    Tarik crossed the straights that now bear his name.

  2. I don’t do revisionism, relativism, nor deconstruction. There are certain facts in history that are immutable from which we must take objective lessons.

    The voices of those crowds chanting “Death to Israel” were heard in every Middle Eastern capital in 1948; in 1956; in 1967; and in 1973. They were also heard throughout the Islamic world on 9/11 crying “Death to America”.

    There is no compromise with Islamic radicalism simply because, as the Germans say “es kommt nicht im frage”, it does not come into question. It arises from the same atavistic ur – dogmatism we saw in National Socialism and Communism.

    While it is right to point out the different schools, it is the threads of Qutb, Wahabbism, and virulent Shiism that are at issue today mixed in with nationalism, paranoia, and xenophobia. Whether Al Q’aeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, the state fascism of Iran or the Pakistani craziness, the mix of religion, hatred of the other, and zeal is a dangerous cocktail that no manner of polite discourse is going to change.

    The dogmatism of Islam in its adherence to the Q’uran is fact. Sects may interpret certain surahs more liberally or less so, but the same words have been studied in similar manners for 1,300 years. Study of the Q’uran is memorization at its core. And after all, the word “Islam” means submission.There is no Muslim version of apologetics nor of theology in the Western (or Eastern) sense.

    Sufism is simply the mystical practice of the faith. The differences between the two major sects traces to the inheritance of the mantle of the Prophet rather than to significant differences in the interpretation of his words and upon this alone empires have risen and fallen.

    Compared to Western theology, Muslim theology is remarkably consistent across the ages. It is, in fact, the diversity of thought in not only Western but Eastern culture to which the historians and sociologists have attributed the strength and resilience of those cultures.

    In the end, it is often simply greed and power at issue. It is politically expedient for the rulers or those seeking power to use religion as a tool.This does not diminish the facts stated above in any way, but simply informs the discussion of the on the ground realities.

    In the end, it is Islam in conflict with itself and with the world that is at issue.

  3. An Op-Ed by Efraim Karsh in the New York Times points out that if the Palestinians really want an independent state, it is up to them to work with Israel to get it.
    The rest of the Arab world, and indeed, the whole world of Islam, doesn’t care for the Palestinians and never has. Their hatred is not based on any cause. Everyone simply takes it for granted that one must hate Israel. The non-Muslim world has never noticed that the anti-Zionism of Islam is simply gratuitous. As I always say, the hardest hatreds to combat are those that have no motive.

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