Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Islam Really Does Need Reform: ISIS Is A Death Cult


Penny drops at the ABC: maybe Islam really does need reform. Maybe there really is a “death cult”. Tony Abbott was mocked by much of the press gallery for referring to the Islamic State as a “death cult”.  He was attacked as rude for calling for Muslim clerics to reform Islam to make it the “religion of peace” they claimed.

Much of this criticism was driven by ABC presenters. So Lateline last night was a surprise - or maybe confirmation of my adage that the difference between a conservative and a Leftist is often just time.

Host Tony Jones in his introduction still tried formulaically to stick to the script about the “religion of peace” (Or Religion of Pieces):

TONY JONES, PRESENTER: A very different program tonight. We’ll devote most of it to a dialogue between two men who began on opposite sides of the great debate on religion and ended up working together on a project to reform Islam.

Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz are the co-authors of a new book called Islam and the Future of Tolerance. Well despite their differences, they share disgust at the way in which extremists resort to sacred Islamic texts to justify medieval brutality such as the beheadings, torture, sexual slavery and rape which are routinely celebrated in Islamic State propaganda…

The use of a distorted version of Islamic beliefs about paradise to justify the slaughter of innocents is at the extreme end of the debate, but it’s an indication of what’s at stake…

JASON OM: As the West struggles to contain the home-grown threat of jihadists, some provocateurs argue that Islam itself is to blame. But Jones’ interview with Harris and Nawaz suggests that Abbott was right about Islam, and way ahead of his sniping critics:

SAM HARRIS:  We have not created this phenomenon of global jihad. This is a phenomenon that is, on some level, over 1,000 years old and now we’re dealing with the modern variant of it. But what we have to recognise is that there are specific ideologies that are delivering us what we’re calling Islamism and jihadism here and until those - until we win a war of ideas against these ideologies - a belief in martyrdom, a belief in paradise - we are going to continue to confront this evil, a kind of evil which should really be unimaginable in the year 2015…

TONY JONES: Sam Harris, do you see something distinct in the nature of Islam as opposed to other religions that gives rise to the particular brand of brutality practised by the adherence of Islamic State?

SAM HARRIS: Yeah, I do, I do… As a matter of history, Islam has not had a proper collision with modernity and secularism and science the way Christianity has… But there are theological differences between Islam and Christianity and Judaism and other faiths that I think make Islam more difficult to reform…

TONY JONES: Sam, briefly on specifics, you maintain pretty much that everything a jihadist needs to justify their beliefs and their actions can be spelled out unambiguously in the Koran and the Hadith…

SAM HARRIS: Yeah and I would add to that the biography of Muhammad.... What is ISIS doing that Muhammad didn’t do or wouldn’t have approved of? ... And the example of Muhammad is, as just an exemplar of the faith, is - doesn’t square very well with modern, cosmopolitan, secular, tolerant values.

He was not a hippy who got crucified… He was a warlord who did many of the things that you see members of ISIS doing and that’s why they can kind of paint by numbers and justify what they’re doing with a very literalist, and as Maajid would say, a vacuous reading of Islamic theology. And that’s a very inconvenient fact which we have to confront head on and find some way to disavow the intolerant readings of these passages in scripture.

MAAJID NAWAZ:  It’s incorrect for we, as Muslims and generally, actually, I’d say, those on the left of centre in this debate, to insist that Islamists and jihadists have nothing to do with Islam. That’s actually an exercise in dishonesty. Of course they have something to do with Islam… As Sam correctly mentioned, there are passages that they can resort to. So they have a plausible reading of scripture.

The challenge, and this is more a plea that I make here on your show to my fellow Muslims in Australia and that is that we, as Muslims, have a task ahead of us, a monumentous task ahead of us and that is to begin the process of adapting, of reinterpreting our scriptures for the modern day and age… Unfortunately, many Muslims today, instead of rising to that challenge are incredibly defensive when it comes to this.

TONY JONES: Sam Harris, ... you ... confront one of the worst forms of depravity. One in particular stays in my mind. It was a Taliban attack on a school in Peshawar, Pakistan where 132 children were murdered for which the jihadists gave a very grim justification…

SAM HARRIS: Ah, yeah. This was a discussion with a Taliban supporter who after this massacre at the school in Peshawar justified it to a friend of ours, Ali A. Rizvi, a ex-Muslim online, and he said, “You don’t understand. You’re a materialist. You think death is the end of everything and so this is why you think something bad happened here. But those children are in paradise. We did them a favour. And the last thing they heard was “Allahu Akbar” and they will be at the right hand of God.”

Children massacred by Pakistan Taliban.
And what you see in this justification, and I’ve been worrying about this for years, is that a sincere belief in paradise really takes the guard rails off of civilisation. If - you become undeterrable by death and you think that it’s impossible to kill the wrong people because if you blow up a crowd of even Muslim children as a Muslim, well you’ve sent the children to paradise and you’ve sent all the bad people to hell, which is where God wants them, so you’ve done - it’s impossible to kill the wrong people, it’s impossible for anything to go wrong and this world is just fit to be destroyed because there’s nothing about it that matters in light of eternity.

Now there are obviously other religions that have this - a problematic conception of paradise, in particular Christianity, but within Islam it’s married to a notion of martyrdom and a notion of jihad in defence of the faith that I think really is almost the perfect recipe for the kind of death cult behaviour we’re seeing in the Muslim world....

MAAJID NAWAZ:  In fact Islamism, when implemented, without exception leads to nothing but misery, leads to nothing but darkness and gloom over those societies upon which it’s implemented and eventually people do want their own freedom and they want their own choices to make for themselves… I believe that there is absolutely no other choice but for us to actually get through this and to continue this process of reform, but it does require people to speak up.

Congratulations to Jones for having the guts to feature this frank conversation. I would only add that a handful of conservatives have being trying to have this conversation for some 15 years already, for which the response has been little but abuse, cries of “Islamophobia” even ”madman”, and deadly delay.