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April 05, 2006

Orson Scott Card On Reforming Islam

Interesting, but...

What I find most amusing is the widespread belief among Muslims that this Sharia law is essential in order to preserve Islam. Don't they see that it is exactly this law that destroys Islam wherever it is enforced?

To the degree that the law demanding the death of anyone who converts away from Islam is actually enforced, to exactly that degree the nation that enforces it is not a Muslim nation. Indeed, there are no Muslims at all, wherever that law is enforced.

Because religion is absolutely not about mere outward compliance with the law. It is about belief -- it is about what a person believes in his heart. But in a nation where conversion away from Islam means death, then no believer can be sure that his own obedience is purely a matter of conscience . . .

There is no faith under compulsion. Any nation where Sharia is enforced is not a Muslim nation, and none of its people are Muslims. If they cannot choose not to be Muslim, then they have not chosen to be Muslim. Without freedom not to believe, faith is a sham even if you think you are sincere.

It makes sense, but he's guilty of the grave sin (as Islamists would have it) of "orientalism," that is, viewing Islam through the prism of Western traditions. Christianity is an evangelical tradition, relying on persuasion for converts; Judaism is less evangelical, but converts still do so willingly. (And yes, Christians coercively "converted" pagans to Christianity, some 500 or more years ago. But they have reformed in that respect.)

The trouble is that Islam, according to the literal words of the Koran, is not a tradition that places great emphasis on voluntary, free conversion to the religion. It is a religion, according to the text of the Koran, to be imposed by the sword, and there is no distinction made between those who accept willingly and freely and those who are coerced into accepting Islam. Christianity and Judaism rely on actual belief; Islam seems to not distinguish between true belief and mere coerced compliance.

If someone outwardly pays homage to Allah and his teachings, it seems to matter little if he believes it in his heart or not. Allah must be respected and acknowleged as supreme in the public square; whether or not that respect and acknowlegement is genuine seems not to matter too much at all.

Christianity and Judaism grow by gaining converts, by gaining souls; fundamentalist Islam grows by gaining territory. So long as Allah's law is imposed on a region, it is in the House of Peace. It matters not very much at all what people in that region might think about it.

This is a fundamental difference between Islam and other religions, and, as this difference is pretty central to the religion, I'm not sure it can easily be reformed out of the religion. Card's entire thesis would be branded by a literalist Muslim as unislamic and blasphemous.

Card is not suggesting some minor tenet of Islam be discarded; he's critiquing the heart of the religion. It would be as if someone argued that Christianity should not necessarily call Christ a redeemer through his sacrifice.

Which, by the way, a lot of people do; there are a lot of secular Christians and non-Christians who argue just that. We heard a lot of that when The Passion came out, the odd suggestion that Christianity was a nice enough philosophy, as long as one didn't believe in that silliness about the divinity of Christ, or that "I am the Way" nonsense.

I expect that Card's critique will be as well received as that suggestion was among true Christians.

Islam doesn't mean peace. It means submission. It does not necessarily mean "volunatry submission;" coercive submission, through violence or the threat thereof, does Allah just fine.

In addition, there are other things in play here. Islam is not just a religion--it is cultural identity and source of ethnic/racial/tribal pride. Asking angry, ego-bruised fundamentalist Islamists to change the one thing they feel makes them superior to Westerners is probably asking too much of them. It would be like asking the KKK to abandon that whole "White Supremacy" bugaboo.

I think a lot of radical Islamism is driven by a cultural chip on the shoulder, and the belief that they are chosen by God Himself to spread his word by the sword is the only thing they have to amelioriate their feelings of insecurity and inferiority.

Thanks to Adolfo.

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posted by Ace at 12:58 PM

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