Thanks for taking the time to respond at length. In general, I share your understanding that a religious revelation can only be well understood by compiling multiple (emic, etic) perspectives, by attending to all the forms of representation that it generates. But it is just this sensibility, I think, that led me to wonder why you were (or, more to the point, why this is a common instinct of much liberalism) so dismissive of the "Islamophobes". I hardly take Robert Spencer & Co. to be a sufficient guide to Islam, but then who is? My question was along the lines of why make the claim that their approach is useless or dangerous to understanding the complex that is Islam and modernity? Especially if you claim that they are the mirror image of the Islamists, I would think we should take them seriously in an age when, whether it is singular or multiple, Islamism is on the rise. This is not to say we should not re-present, supplement, change, etc., their conclusions. But you seem to imply that we could somehow better understand the complex of Islam by absenting those who are proving successful in drawing warring lines. Why? Why simply take it on faith that Geller & Co. are either A) a sideshow of little importance to understanding what history will reveal about Islam in the long run, or B) an important, but dangerous force with potential to corrupt what history will/should reveal? Why assume that the "Islamophobes" are only fostering a hopeless dead end; why not think that Islam has come, in its historical evolution, to a major roadblock and only by taking seriously the terms of the Islamist/Islamophobe conflict can we hope to join and broaden the debate and find a way around to a point where a religion truly compatible with liberal society can grow in various forms freed by a radical revelation of what was truly a dead end? If we go looking for another, more expert, more liberal, center of opinion around which to discuss Islam and the West, just what is it about the present situation that makes our quest likely to succeed? How come all the liberal and "moderate" Islamic experts have so far done little in way of focussing the debate? Is it really because Pamela Geller (etc.) keeps getting in the way?

I don't quite understand why you think my statement implies that Islam can be funneled into a singular mediating process. No doubt any mediation is something of a funnel; how could I begin to discuss Islam without some such device? But yes, there are many scenes on which questions of Islam and modernity are being mediated.
Nonetheless we have to make bets, if we are to make political choices (a point you make but whose implications remain unexamined). And, as a non-expert with a rather modest understanding of Islam, it's not satisfactory simply to be told that we must wait some time for history to show what are and aren't the more powerful trends. While it is more important for us to focus on what we love and to advance its claims for renewal over our desires to express resentment of others, attending to the latter is necessary to help clarify the former and create terms for alliances and honest enemies.


We have no objective standard for declaring unitary and abstract mediation – televised terrorism or high-level political negotiations – as more authentic or more important than countless, polymorphous “mediations.”

This evolution cannot be televised: That doesn’t mean, of course, that changing relations, perceptions, and possibilities will not show up as more or less discrete expressions in the funhouse mirror of the television screen or computer monitor.

-historical evolution is not the product of hidden "material" forces, howevermuch biological forces must be taken into account, but rather a question of what can, at any point in time, be represented/organized. The evolution may not be televised but if something can't appear on some kind of screen somewhere it's not really happening because it is quickly forgettable.

You are right that modernity includes all manifestations of Islam. But it is just this ready "screenability" that the Islamists and terrorists contest: their aim is to destroy the world, with its decentralized capacity endlessly to stage scenes within scenes, in order to return the world to the kind of "classical" scene in which there is but one public scene on which everything politically knowable and memorable takes place.

The question of what Islam is is perhaps the question of how readily the scenes of Islam can be multiplied or differentiated. As Roger Scruton notes (

ASSOCIATION TAKES a very different form in traditional Islamic societies, however. Clubs and societies of strangers are rare, and the primary social unit is not the free association, but the family. Companies do not enjoy a developed legal framework under Islamic law, and it has been argued by Malise Ruthven and others that the concept of the corporate person has no equivalent in shari’ah [2]. The same is true for other forms of association. Charities, for instance, are organized in a completely different way than are those in the West: not as property held in trust for beneficiaries, but as property that has been religiously “stopped” (waqf) [made non-negotiable]. As a result, all public entities, including schools and hospitals, are regarded as ancillary to the mosque and governed by religious principles. Meanwhile, the mosque itself is not a corporate person, nor is there an entity which can be called “the Mosque” in the same sense as we refer to the Church—that is, an entity whose decisions are binding on all its members, which can negotiate on their behalf, and which can be held to account for its misdeeds and abuses.

As a result of this long tradition of associating only under the aegis of the mosque or the family, Islamic communities lack the conception of the spokesman [3]. When serious conflicts erupt between Muslim minorities in Western cities and the surrounding society, we have found it difficult, if not impossible, to negotiate with the Muslim community, since there is no one who will speak for it or take responsibility for imposing any decision upon it. If by chance someone does step forward, the individual members of the Muslim community feel free to accept or reject his decisions at will. The same problem has been witnessed in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other countries with radicalized Muslim populations. When someone attempts to speak for a dissident group, it is very often on his own initiative, and without any procedure that validates his office. Like as not, should he agree to a solution to a given problem, he will be assassinated, or at any rate disowned, by the radical members of the group for whom he purports to be speaking.

Is it a stretch, CK, to say that your objections are but a variation on the problem of there being no legitimately representative figures in Islam? But if so, aren't we already on the road to intuiting what is and isn't going to be possible in the name of Islam, when it comes to liberalizing, or not, the ways this religion is represented?

For Ibn Khaldun, Islamic history was a great cycle between the claims of established political orders that inevitably grew decadent as their Islam came to terms with all manner of worldly and pragmatic realities, and the eventual return at the behest of angry tribesmen from the margins of the urban or imperial world of a more radical or literal or simplistic reading of the Koran, until the new order that any successful tribesmen established in turn faced the need to compromise with worldly realities and in turn face up to to its own "reformers". Can Islam now invent a quite new breed of reformers without developing the kind of representative figures on which Western civil society is based? The latter would seem to require some kind of fundamental shift in Islamic self-understanding, perhaps one that will require us fully to engage and not withdraw from present battle lines.


there is no way to measure the comparative significance of an international news event like the “Gaza Flotilla” versus the filtration of secular humanistic values and discourse via Arab Idol, a border-crossing Turkish Soap Opera, or the democratic capitalist lyric poetry of the television commercial.

-Maybe, but so what. First, if we are concerned with the survival of Israel, and the values it represents, we can hardly be nonchalant about what is unknowable about the future: we have to take seriously the apparent fact that what so many of the "polymorphous mediations" of the Islamic (and non-Islamic) world presently share is a desire or need for a "Zionist" scapegoat. Second, to return to Scruton, while soap operas are very popular in much of the Muslim world, and while they will change Muslims in varius ways, just how can they ever change how Islam can be represented by figures with more or less legitimacy to do so?


All “interactions” knowable to modernity are internal to modernity. In most of these, the radical Islamists must struggle at least as hard to keep up as everyone else. In many critical respects the response they represent puts them at an extreme material disadvantage. In other, perhaps even more basis respects, these material disadvantages are the original conditions calling forth the Islamist response.

-I'm not sure about this; let's remember the Muslim Brotherhood is known as the Engineering Brotherhood in Egypt - Islamism seems to be relatively more attractive to people in the West or with with feet in the global economy and knowledge sectors than it does to people still in the world of the village. So what are the relative disadvantages calling forth their response (you don't believe terrorism is the tool of the poor do you?), and just how much of a material disadvantage vis a vis Western powers should make us feel safe? Their project is to undermine and destroy modernity from within, to return the world to the kind of simplified place that can be ruled by Sharia and Caliphate. Destruction is much easier than production and requires far fewer resources. In any case, there seem to be many people unsatisfied with their modern lives willing to fund things like the Gaza flotillas that promise ultimately to be destructive of those same modern lives.

In short, if we are to defeat the more nihilistic forms of contemporary Islam, and if we are to avoid alienating all Muslim potential allies, can we really avoid the fight between Islamists and Islamophobes, instead of engaging it to represent it in ways that help push our fight along? The problem with Spencer, Geller, et. al, is that they are weak when it comes to articulating the faith that makes liberal society compelling. We should try to work on that without denying the necessity of at least some of their resentments.