RD recently received the following email from reader HK, in reference to my recent post, “Dear Reader, I’m Assuming You Don’t Know Any Muslims”:
I am writing to offer a suggestion for an RD piece (or series?) that would be extremely useful to me, and I suspect to many other RD readers:
Please discuss some of the problematic aspects of the Koran, and of Islam.
why are there no majority-Muslim countries that are democracies, or that recognize civil liberties?
why are majority-Muslim countries so concerned with matters like sex (and particularly adultery), which are, after all, about private behavior?
why is Islam science-phobic? And what does that tell us about Islam and Muslims? With all the Muslims in the world, how many have been awarded prestigious prizes in science?
what about that verse in the Koran that advises readers to lie, if necessary, to protect Islam?
what about dhimmitude and the Koran verses that impose taxes on non-Muslims?
These are only some of the most obvious questions. No doubt there are many others.
I can understand how RD might be reluctant to do a piece (? series?) dealing with these matters. But I think such a piece would help educate lots of folks, including me (and obviously I have a negative view of Islam), and would say something about the courage and intellectual integrity of RD and its writers and editors.
Thanks for writing in.
First, the majority of the world’s Muslims live in democracies. That includes Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mali, Tunisia, Nigeria, etc., most of which are Muslim-majority. Are these perfect? Of course not. But they are democracies, and they aspire to democracy.
Many of the countries that aren’t democracies have attempted democratic transitions, and have been actively or indirectly blocked by our country. Which is a democracy. So, why does our democracy actively hinder the development of democracy?
Second, name a single country to me that isn’t obsessed with sex. Sex, being part of human nature, is of concern to humans, because they are human. We just had a state try to block the recognition of gay marriage, which I think comes down to private behavior. Actually I’d be kind of weirded out if we weren’t talking about sex.
It is, after all, integral to us.
Third, I can’t tell you how many American Muslims I know whose parents simply refuse to allow them to major in anything except science. We are, as a community, obsessed with science. Not that science itself is a good thing. I might as well turn the question around and ask, Why did Western civilization invent industrialization, which in turn has led to global warming? Environmental destruction is a product of the West.
You can’t have your cake and eat it, too. If you want to claim the good, own the bad. If you want all the good, you get all the bad.
Fourth, I don’t know of a single ethical system that doesn’t permit lying in certain circumstances. Sometimes it’s out of kindness—nobody answers, “do I look fat in this?” honestly—and sometimes it’s because we fear for our lives. If I lived in Soviet Russia, would I be honest about my political opinions? Would it be immoral not to? You could spend all day with that one.
Fifth, verses of the Qur’an do not create obligation or prohibition even if the verses themselves claim to. They are read only and ever in context with the wider Islamic tradition, and create arguments. These arguments can be inconsistent. One could read Islam’s sources and produce an argument for monarchy just as one could democracy. Which prevails depends on any number of factors—but Islam does not contain a political system.
Yes, some Muslims believe it does, but so what? Some Christians believe Vladimir Putin is a good leader. Others believe the war on Iraq was righteous. Some want to recognize gay marriage. Some practice plural marriage. Nobody agrees on anything, even though, half the time, they’re using the same texts and invoking the same principles. If you can accept that in every other sphere of life, the only reason you can’t accept it concerning Muslims is because of a double standard.
Sixth, “dhimmitude” was an accommodation to diversity as a reality. Should it be practiced today? No. Is it necessary? No. There were times in Islamic history when treaties created mutual obligations to defense instead of jizya.
In a democratic age, I believe in a democratic alternative. Though let’s not get carried away. We in the U.S. practice dhimmitude as well. We believe we have the right to attack anyone, anywhere in the world, and we have the right to prevent others from defending themselves.
I’m tired of people talking about Dar al-Harb and Dar al-Islam as if it’s the only instance in the world of discriminatory politics. (It is, by the way, and I don’t agree with it, and don’t believe it is grounded in Islam—it’s a product of the post-Prophetic era.)
For a simple example of this, look at the Permanent Five of the United Nations Security Council. Is it reasonable that four of the five are overwhelmingly white, Christian nations? For what reason do France and England get a say in who does or doesn’t get bombed, and not, say, South Korea, South Africa, Brazil, Australia, Indonesia, or Kazakhstan?
How is it that one member state, China, has more people than the other four combined, and yet is treated equally? The Palestinians were told, in the run-up to 1948, that their country would be divided according to international law.
In order to be a part of the body that made that decision, however, they would have to first forfeit half their land. Then they could be part of it. If that isn’t dhimmitude, I don’t know what is. My struggle is to build a more just and equitable planet. I believe that work starts here, where we live, and not in ascribing blame to the other end of the planet. We are responsible for ourselves.
We live in a democracy. Let’s make it more democratic, and treat others the way we wish to be treated.