The American Gazette

Commonsense political and social commentary from "Flyover Country"

Location: Rural Michigan, United States

Sunday, October 10, 2004

John Kerry and "the state of Islam"

From an interview with the New York Times Magazine

''We need to engage more directly and more respectfully with Islam, with the state of Islam, with religious leaders, mullahs, imams, clerics, in a way that proves this is not a clash with the British and the Americans and the old forces they remember from the colonial days,'' Kerry told me during a rare break from campaigning, in Seattle at the end of August. ''And that's all about your diplomacy.''

First let me ask-Is there a state of Islam? Yes and no.

Perhaps it is important to understand that in Islam there has never been a religious hierarchy that mimacs the religious hierarchy of Christianity, at least not until recent times. It is only in Iran that one finds a religious hierarchy that has mimaced what has been the norm in Christianity for hundreds of years. So then why does John Kerry think he can appeal to religious leaders, mullahs and Imams etc... and somehow convince them they are not clashing with British and Americans and the old forces they remember from the colonial days. Actually this entire paragraph that quotes John Kerry shows his complete lack of thought process.

There is no specific state of Islam to negogiate with. Believe it or not there are differences inside Islam and how they practice just like there are differences inside Christianity. Those differences are not as visible as they are in Christianity but they are nonetheless there. It is not as if there is some Islamic "Pope" one can go to and have a meeting with the expectation that single voice will be able to communicate certain thoughts to the followers of Islam. That kind of person simply does not exist. Islam has no Sacraments and no ordained Priesthood. An Imam has no Priestly duties, he is the leader of prayer.

A frequently quoted verse of the Qur'an bids Muslims to "obey God, obey his prophet and obey those in authority over you" This verse was interpreted as conferring authority equal to the Qur'an on the traditions of the Hadith. A collection concerning the actions and utterances of the Prophet who was divinely inspired by not only revelation but also in all that he said and did. This was an oral tradition that was handed down for generations and later put to writing. Together the Qur'an and the Hadith form the basis of Holy Law, Shari'a. Over generations of jurists and theologians this has been elaborated on throughout time.

As Islam spread the way Shari'a was elaborated on was fairly consistent. Without getting too much into detail Islam had various Empires that while held sway over a multitude of various ethnic peoples with various backgrounds the common theme of Islam and Shari'a law was consistent coming from one powerful source, the ruler of the Empire. The last of the great Islamic Empires was of course the ottomans. The purpose of the law ws to define a define a system of rules, the observance of which would enable believers to live a righteous life in this world and to prepare for the next. The principal function of the Islamic state and society was to maintain and enforce those rules.

Under the Seljuks and even more later the ottomans, the ulema became ever more important. The ulema is a Muslim scholar trained in Islam and Islamic law. From the 11th century onward the ulema, especially those concerned with law, became much more involved with the state, in fact becoming basically part of the apparatus of the state. Even so, they never became a "church".

Islam has never produced an orthodoxy in the Christian sense of the word. There are no synods, no councils in Islamic history meant to define the truth or denounce error. The ulema, the theologians and jurists of Islam may as individuals or in schools or as noted in later times under the Ottomans as public office holders, formulate dogma and interpret scripture, but they form no ecclesiastical authority to lay down a single orthodox dogma.

In the history of Islam there were different schools of shari'a law, each with it's own principals and textbooks. Each with it's own judiciary, yet living in mutual toleration. There needed to be limits but characteristically theologians disagreed where to draw the line. Muslim theologians were ready to denounce charges of excess or deviation against other doctrines but were usually reluctant to pursue those charges to any type of conclusion. Accusations of apostate were not uncommon in early Islamic history, however few theologians were willing and able to invoke the penalties for apostasy against those whose belief differed from their own. The accused were for the most part left unmolested and some even held high office.

The absence of a single, imposed dogma in Islam is not an omission but a rejection of something that was felt by Sunni Muslims to be alien to the genius of their faith and dangerous to the community at large. Tolerance was to be extended to those who reached the required minimum of belief, that is those who profess what Islam recognized as the last revealed religion. Tolerance however may in no circumstances be extended to the apostate Muslim, the one who denies that Islam is the proper religion. The penalty for that is death. The profession of Islam is that God is one and Muhammad is his Prophet, the rest is in the details, and as we have seen there may be differences in those details but as long as one stuck to the basic premise that God is one and Muhammad is his Prophet there was much tolerance within the religion of Islam. Seen as best for the community. If there is anything even close to orthodoxy in Islam it is simply the five pillars of the faith.

As long as there was one central government authority in Islam this seemed to work well within their society. However it also placed no emphasis on individuals or their abilities or lack thereof. With the principal of the state to maintain and enforce shari'a there was no separation of religion and state. The idea of individual freedom or liberty was an alien concept. A tribal religion that never was able to go beyond a tribal thought process of what was good for the group's survival was therefore good for the individual. After the Reformation in Western Europe the differences between East and West became more and more profound. Even though Western Europe was consistently racked with internal religious wars, the ottomans were unable to conquer that part of Europe.

After the ottomans were turned back from the gates of Vienna in 1683 for a second time, and from there the long decline of the Ottoman empire began. In time the ottomans attempted to mimic certain Western innovations in war but little else. It was a matter of distress that while they had the instruments of war that Western Europe and Russia had the ottomans were still unsuccessful on the battlefield except for the occasional battle win. Perhaps the biggest downfall for the Ottomans' was the rise of Nationalism. The divergent groups of people under their control began to agitate for their own nation, their own state. The fight for independence of these people from the Turkish Ottomans delighted liberals, but many also saw much trouble ahead as the institutions being developed in those new nation states were but a caricature of the institutions in the West. With no Reformation, with no Enlightenment those states leapt into liberty from the ottomans unprepared to impart true liberty and freedom to their people's.

By the late 1800's the ottomans were charaterized by the Russian Czar as "The sick man of Europe." The conflicts between Russia, the agitation of those looking for independence and the fear of the Western European powers of a stronger Russia culminated in WWI. By 1920 the Ottoman Empire no longer existed, it's provinences spun out into newly independent states and into a mandate for the British and French in the Middle East.

The British and the French, having lived and breathed nationalism for hundreds of years at this point formed nation states out of their mandate, yet maintained control. Those colonialist times so often cited now as the true problem in the Middle East, yet it bears understanding that those colonial times lasted for less than 30 years in some areas, a mere blick of time when compared to the reign of the Ottomans. For John Kerry to adhere to the line that the colonial past is a basic problem in the middle east is for him to have such a poor understanding of history that it is quite astounding to me. This is a man who has had what is purported to be the best educational advantages, one can only assume that his line regarding colonialism is litte more than pandering to the far left who blames all the world's ills on Western Colonialism, as well as pandering to an Islamic mind set that all the ills of the Muslim world are the doing of someone outside their culture.

It is important to realize that without one central authority that could impose some sort of power to keep the different schools of shari'a from competing for followers, such as when the Ottomans' dissolved the Bektashi order of dervishes, various schools of thought were allowed much more political latitude than had been previously given. While Muslims had allowed tolerance within their ranks, rulers kept a strong hand on things felt to threaten the internal whole. The colonial powers drew nation/state lines with no regard of the dominating religious sentiment in the area nor of it's ethnic makeup. Following WWII and the breakup of the British and French mandate those nations became nations in fact, and not nations under colonial rule. Without going through the whole historical process suffice it to say that each nation also then had it's own Islamic jurist, ulema's and theologians. The concept of Jihad as a armed struggle is not a new concept in Islam, the ottomans Turks used it for hundreds of years, and by the end of the 19th century Muslim leaders in West Africa proclaimed and fought a jihad against pagans, against back sliding Muslim and invading imperialist Westerners. It was familiar to the different schools of the Shi'a, for whom the Sunni rulers were upsurpers and tyrants. It gained support from Sunni's who lived under the rule of heathen Mongols or of what were considered nominally Muslim Mongols whose religious commitment was always suspect, it acquired a new meaning in modern times as a way to oppose modernizing rulers who were seen as having betrayed Islam from within, as when the Shah of Iran was overthrown. It gained more speed with the creation of the state of Israel.

We now have a situation in which Iran is a Shi'a theocracy, while Saudi Arabia is a Wahhabi theocracy, and no they are not the same. They are competing views of Islam, and while they share many of the same tenets they also have significant differences. The Wahhabists of Saudi Arabia are a fundamentalist form of the Sunni sect of Islam. While the Shi'a form is a minority of Islamists in the Middle East, they are a majority in Iran. Under one central authority that characterized Islam for centuries co-existence under the toleration shown to other Muslims was possible, at this time it increasingly seems that is not the case. In Iraq of course there is a Sunni majority with a Shi'a minority, and then throw in the Kurds. Muslims yes, but of a different ethnic makeup and for reasons too extensive to go into here, the bottom of the rung in nearly every Muslim country I can think of. It is important to realize that what is happening in the Middle East right now is not simply jihad against the foreign Christian "invaders" but a jihad that is meant to bring all back to the "true faith of Islam" as called for by Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab, the founder of the Wahhabist sect.

So tell me what common authority will John Kerry appeal to? The Saudi's who have Mecca and Medina within their borders, and who are the keepers of Islam? The Iranians who are not Sunni's be that the fundamentalist or not, who are busy enriching uranium? Will he speak to the divergent groups in Iraq for common ground and understanding while they are busy blowing up those who are available, killing far more Islamic Iraqis than the American's have. Or perhaps he can appeal to the kidnappers, not just those who have kidnapped foreigners but those who have kidnapped their own. I know he can start with Pakistan where the Shi'a are under assault by other Muslims.

The time honored history of toleration within the various Muslim faiths have lead to an inability to condemn horrendous acts of barbarism. It is a closing of ranks against outsiders who are not of the faith. Who do not understand. The rise of nation/states within the old Ottoman empire has lead to competing forms of Islam though, and a struggle within that has also boiled over onto the rest of the world as the "fundamentalists" attempt to take power. I put fundamentalists in quotes because it is something of a misnormer to call them that, in much the same way that the Calvinist brand of Christianity can be termed a return to fundamentalist Christianity, when in fact that form of Christianity never existed. It would perhaps be better to term either of them a literalist view.

Despite all the words expended in an effort to make what is going on in todays world not be about religion it is explicitly about religion. Usama bin Laden has made that perfectly clear by his own words, it is not only war of religion against the infidel American's it is a war against the Muslim who would work with the infidels, even though they maintain their own Islamic religion. Those who are willing to come into the modern world and allow shades of alien western culture into their world are as awful as the infidel westerners. Tolerance in Muslim history occured when the center of learning and culture existed in the Muslim world while Europe was in the dark ages. For the last 200 years the Muslim world has been under both physical and psychological assault from the west and that toleration has become less and less, perhaps culminating in the Taliban of Afghanistan and Usama bin Laden.

The Muslim world has never suffered through the religious wars that Europe did, and the lessons learned from that nearly three centuries of warfare were never learned. What President Bush has done by going to war in Iraq is to attempt to accelerate what would perhaps have been the same process by which Europe came to conquer the religious wars. With freedom to worship as one see's fit, with personal liberty not dictated by a government. When one looks to history it should be clear to anyone that this is not going to be an easy process, nor one that can be accomplished without death and destruction and great sacrifice from those who believe that for the good of the world it must be accomplished.

Perhaps because I have steeped myself in history since I have been a teenager, 20 plus years now, I tend to see much through the lenses of history and while it is not the most precise way to view the world, it can offer much in terms of lessons. Because I see things that way I cannot for the life of me understand how John Kerry can in today's world speak of the state of Islam, when one clearly does not exist. Nor how he expects to appeal to clerics who have no tradition of orthodox history, as if he could somehow get everyone on the same page. Throw in the divergent tribes and tribal custom and one can only shake their heads at the absurd idea that one can negogiate ourselves out of having Islamic fanatics kill us.

The American discontent that lead to the American Revolution is generally placed in 1765 with the enactment of the Stamp Act. It took 11 more years for American's to declare Independence from England, then 6 years of War. The first government was the established under the Articles of Confederation, and then finally in 1787 the US Constitution was ratified. In all 22 years before the US government was independent and took the form of government we have such pride in now. Understand that the result of this came from a couple hundred years of being physically separated from the English Monarchy, after the Enlightenment and by men well versed in not only the philosophy of the Enlightenment but also of ancient Greece Republicism and other ancient philosophies. Understanding that should make people understand the grave difficulties we have been forced to undertake in the Middle East, which has no such traditions, which has no Magna Carta, which has no tradition however small, of individual liberty or separation of religion from state.

This is going to be a long, long battle. It is going to take fortitude and a clear understanding of all the obstacles, as well as ardent building on the educational foundation that does exist in the area. It should also include the clear understanding that we were not first attacked on Sept 11, 2001 but that we have been repeatedly attacked since the 1970's.

I can think of very few politicians I feel are less able to do what is necessary to protect American lives and the American way of life than John Kerry. His very history of his life, the real one not the fake one he touts, should give all pause who believe that we are at another junction of time not unlike the times of WWII. History offers lessons to all who wish to find them, John Kerry does not, he attempts to live in nirvana, if he finds that he may find the State of Islam, but until then I'm betting neither exist.



Blogger Kurt said...

Kerry isn't suggesting that there is a state of Islam. He is simply suggesting that as a part of our war on terror, that we make an attempt to dismantle any prejudices or historical constructs that separate the Islamic world from the western world.

I think this is also fairly close to Bush's plan with respect to how to deal with the Islamic world. Remember when the Bush administration didn't want the US soldiers to be seen as occupiers and in the wake of the soldier putting an American flag over the fallen statue of Saddam, the administration made it a point to make sure things like that don't happen? I think we all agree that this was the proper thing to do. Why was it the proper thing to do? Because we don't (as Kerry said in your quote) want to be seen as part of the old colonial powers...don't want to be seen as occupiers.

I just don't see your beef with this quote- it's logical.

I see you doing a lot of what you hate about the far-left. That is taking nebulous or random actions and manipulating them into how you want to see the candidate.

For example, a far-left liberal wants to see Bush as a Nazi, so he/she takes a word or a phrase that Bush uttered and turns it into something it's not. Like how people say Bush has a god complex because he mentioned it in a speech once or twice.

1:14 AM  

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