Friday, December 22, 2006

Islam and Victimhood

Part IX: Victimhood and Muslim Identity (December 2006)

“No one admits that his own yoghurt is sour.” --Syrian proverb

I want to suggest in this post that victimhood has become an integral and essential element in Muslim identity today. There are a number of reasons for this, some of them are valid, but many of them are not. I want to explain why and how this has come to be the case today.

If I may quote Sam Huntington, “The problem is not Islamists, it is Islam: a civilization convinced of its superiority and obsessed with its inferiority.” Islam is unlike Christianity in that it makes certain guarantees, namely that if a society is faithful in following Islam (and the sharia’) then certain consequences must follow: material wealth, political power, an ever-widening scope of authority over non-Muslims, scientific and economic advancement, justice and good governance, and so forth. It is very clear though to people throughout the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) that other than sub-Saharan Africa their region is near the bottom of the list in all these areas. With globalization, migration, increasing ease of travel, and of course the internet, it has become clear to Muslims everywhere that this is not at all the case today.

(It must be stressed that Christianity does not make any such promises. While there are verses from the proverbs that speak of God rewarding hard, honest work, and many of us have seen this in our lives, even stronger is Jesus’ insistence that the Kingdom of God is characterized by opposition which may well be violent, and indeed resulting in martyrdom.)

And the tension is not just between MENA and the West. Rapid development and the growth of a middle class have moved forward in nations like India and China, not to mention the astounding development of places like South Korea and Japan in the 20th Century.

So there is a very tense situation because the empirical evidence and experience of the people run directly against the claims of Islam. There are two common ways of trying to reconcile the evidence and the religious doctrine. The first is simply to say that none of the Muslim countries are actually practicing Islam correctly. I hear this a lot: this country is too strict, that country is too liberal; this country is not democratic enough; that country has a corrupt monarchy; and so on. My answer: There are more than 20 Arab Muslim countries, and you mean to tell me that not one of them can get Islam right? If that is the case then Islam is more of a dream than a realistic system that can actually work. It’s like someone telling you that you can get a million bucks for walking from the ME to North America. You can easily spend all your life trying to do it, but ultimately it is simply impossible, no matter how wonderful the promised reward is.

The second response though is my primary concern here: victimhood. The reason that Muslims nations are not the prominent world powers, that their governments are extremely corrupt, that nepotism and tribalism and rampant, that five million Israelis publish more scientific papers in a year than 400 million Arabs, that no Muslim nation in MENA actually has freedom of the press, assembly, or speech, and that the governments are not accountable to the people—the reason is simple: we are being oppressed.

The culprit changes from place to place and time to time: the French, the British, the Israelis, the Americans, but tomorrow it will be someone else. Sometimes the culprit is other Muslims, but even then (as is the case of fighting between Shiia’ and Sunni in Iraq) the real culprit is outside of Islam.

The rise of the sense of victimhood is integral to the recovery of jihad which we have witnessed in these last years. Historically Jihad need not be related to self-defense at all, but the appeal to self-defense strengthens those who advocate it. And here is the critical tie: If all Muslims are victims of Western anti-Islamism then any act of Jihad against the West becomes an act of self-defense. This was OBL’s explicit rational for the 9-11 attacks: they were a defensive measure. And since all Americans contribute to the American oppression of Islam by virtue of paying taxes, all Americans (children and women included) are in fact military targets and their execution is an act of worship to God. Such is his logic, which, while novel, has great appeal throughout Dar al Islam.

Victimhood is a central element of contemporary Islamic identity. When the West does not help Muslims it is oppressing them. When the West intervenes in the region it is imperialism and occupation. When the west opts for the long, messy, and sometimes ineffective path of diplomacy, they are indecisive. When the West makes dramatic moves they are brash and militant. Victimhood confers on one’s self the ability to abuse power in the name of protection and self-preservation.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only remedy because, as I outlined above, political and social efforts to help will always be interpreted by some as further persecution. Moreover, they lack the ability to bring about the profound moral and spiritual conversion that we call being born again. Only within the Gospel do we find a point of reference for victimhood and power because we understand that in the ultimate sense of the word no one is a victim because no one is absolutely innocent except for Jesus Christ. As the Gospel transforms our minds and our communities, the imperative is to be generous and forgiving rather than to assert the rightness of one’s cause. This is the transformation we should hope for in MENA.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Films from KSA?!

Interesting article here on some recent films from KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia). While this is not about religion explicitly, I think it offers some good insights into the tension we see throughout Dar al Islam regarding change. In KSA many households have sat TV and can watch most anything they like, but actual movie theatres which are much easier to monitor are completely forbidden. Amazing.

I like Izidore's attitude about her work. I also appreciate her family's artistic qualities. Very few people here in the ME are interested in art unfortunately.

Saudi Filmmakers

Monday, December 11, 2006

Jesus was a good Muslim, and stuff on being a dhimmi

Here is a review by Bat Ye'or of a recent book.

Bat Ye'or is one of my great historians. Her name means Daughter of the Nile, and she was born in Egypt to Jewish parents. She is not a citizen of France where she does most of her writing.

She is the world's foremost scholar on dhimmitude, that is, the continued existence of Christian and Jewish communities in the Muslims world. Unfortunately the Western press has often mutilated the term and spoken of rights of "religious minorities". This is utterly absurd and shows their absolute ignorance regarding Islam. Dhimmitude only requires a Muslim ruler. Indeed, if a European country were taken over by a Muslim government then all the non-Muslims would be dhimmis--even if that is 80 or 90% or the population. This was in fact the case in much of Turkey, at times there were entire regions that were over 80% Christian, yet they were still under the dhimmi.

In any case, a fine review from a brilliant scholar:

Do we Worship the Same God?

An excerpt:

"In the first section, the author provides information about and reflections upon the Muslim Jesus (Isa). He stresses as fundamental the Koran’s teaching that Islam is the first, primordial religion, preceding Judaism and Christianity, which are dismissed as invalid traditions, being falsified versions of Islam. Because Christianity and Judaism are thought to be a corruption of the pure message of Islam, anything true in these religions comes from their Islamic roots. Consequently, to obey their true religion, Jews and Christians should “revert” to Islam and accept the prophethood of Muhammad."

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Liturgy? Hmm....

Liturgy, translated from the Greek word (which occurs a few times in the NT, see my post below for more on that) means 'work of the people'. Recently, my friend Erik, who is studying theology at Oxford, preached the sermon below. Please check it out, it is very insightful from a Western point of view.

Liturgy refers to, in modern terms, the flow of the worship service. Don't get me wrong: every church has a liturgy. Sometimes it is written down, like in most Lutheran or Episcopal churches, sometimes it is simply memorized by the congregation, like in most Baptist or non-denom churches. There is music, then a prayer for this, then a prayer for that, then a sermon, then a prayer for X, then there is Y, and finally there is Z. That is liturgy, to put it in rather vulgar terms.

This is what he is talking about. Please read his homily carefully and post your comments on his blog at Priests and Paramedics

In terms of our work here, the question for us is: what kind of liturgy works well for Christians who comes from a Muslims background? That is a complicated and--really--a very difficult question. Should they separate men and women? Should they baptize children or not? Should they read from the Qu'ran and the Bible, or only the Bible? Should they kneel facing Mecca? Jerusalem? The rising sun in the East? (Most Christian churches face east, because Jesus is the Sun of Righteousness and the Light of the Word.)

"The Gospel does not destroy cultures, it fulfills them," said Pope Paul VI in his letter to the church called, "The Gospel is Preached." A great insight. Our task here is to figure out what exactly that looks like. Erik is trying to do that in post-modern Europe and post-Christian USA, we are doing that here in our home country in Dar al Islam.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Harsh Sentiments

It has been tough these last few weeks to talk with Christians here in the ME. Many people have a very bitter attitude towards Islam.

One pastor I spoke with told me point blank that Muslimss are evil, and they may act like they know God but it is all false.

Another brother complained about the election of a Muslim to the USA House of Representatives. "Islam is like a cancer, once it enters in it destroys everything. You will see."

God have mercy on us.