Monday, November 27, 2006

Violence in the original meme of Islam?

A video of a HistoryChannel documentary Inside Islam.

It's a very positive take on the early history of Islam. That doesn't mean it is false, just that it gives a certain slant. It is historically accurate if, as I said, one-sided.

The question on violence in Islam and its origins is always a key issue. I've referenced it before but never I think shown arguments from both sides and tried to make a decent integral-ish determination.

Multi-perspectival thoughts (warning: this is long and detailed)

--Muhammad was known, prior to his revelations, as al-Amin "the faithful one". Muhammad was early on recognized as a faithful, wise tribal leader (sheyk) irrespective of his more unorthodox (by those days standards) intense religious introspection and concern for social justice already evident in his thirties and flowering with the revelations/mysticism in his 40th year.

--Muhammad was called to Yithraib (later named Medina) to arbitrate in a blood feud between two tribes. He successfully brokered peace and united his early followers with the later-named Helpers into one community, one faith.

--The rules of tribal warfare were brutal, as brutal as the harsh Arabian climate. Given the climate all energy had to be paid to the continunace of one's family-clan and secondarily tribe. There was no trans-tribal identity. The Muslim community alone introduced this radical idea--one God, one people.

--The Medina community was attacked by Mecca. Their first war was a defensive one. At the Battle of the Badr, the Muslims were outnumbered by 3 to 1 but were victorious. This victory in battle interpreted as a sign of God's favor is involved in some degree or another in the darker sides of Islam. Just as Jesus' death on the cross, when viewed through the lens of an omnipotent God meant that God ordained Jesus to die, hence you must beocme like Jesus hence the unhealthy at times evil glorifying of suffering in Christianity. To be a Muslim is to follow Muhammad and given the circumstances this victory--though necessary for their own survival--has I think created this meme which is bound to flourish in moments when Muslims are/feel under attack. Not whem dominant. Really key point.

--Muhammad did order the execution of 600-800 Jewish Arabian tribesman (Qanuqba). This tribe twice betrayed Muhammad in his war with the Meccan community. The first time, against all tribal custom and "right", he forgave them. The second time he abstained from judgment on the matter and his lieutenants followed the traditional tribal law of the ban. This attitude existed across the region: the books of Joshua and Judges repeatedly speak of God commanding the Israelites to put Canaanite tribes under the ban....kill the men, enslave/make concubines the women, sell off the children.

But this execution, though horrific and I'm not excusing it, was not an anti-Jewish act. It was a tribal attack. Whatever frustrations Muhammad was probably having with Jews (and Christians) not receiving his message in Arabia, the Jewish question was not involved here. The proof of that assertion is that the other Jewish tribes in the region did not protest at his execution of the Banu Qanuqba and continued to maintain alliance with Muhammad afterwards.
--Muhammad conquered Mecca and did not slaughter the city but forgave them. Again tribal custom would have called for their total extinction.

--The spread of Islam quickly through Arab lands, North Africa, Middle East was not under this image of convert or die with the sword. The conquered lands were generally corrupt and failing imperial powers. There is no way they could have so quickly demolished and conquered so much if the previous powers were not already crumbling. Impressive military strength and unity through faith notwithstanding.

In general the conquered populations did not massively convert to Islam. Hence no convert or die swords to the neck. Egypt likely remained a mostly Christian underclass country. Muslim rulers, in general, were much better about keeping the peace and allowing conquered populations to keep their own traditions, religion, rules.

--It was an imperial (blue meme) regime. It was unbalanced but so was every empire in the world. The Islamic world was the newest and strongest evolutionary force at that time in Eurasian history: the Chinese at an equal level we might say but not expansive beyond their borders. The Muslims were the leading thinkers, philosophers, text keepers, scientists, doctors of the day.

Conquered populations, like Christians and Jews, had to pay a special tax and were humilated in public ways by having to kneel before the ruler, but that again was common practice the world over, nothing particularly Muslim about that.

--As a mythic empire it of course created a vision of the world as the true believers and the damned: Dar al-Islam, Dar al Gharb. Again that was a universal pattern of blue-meme mythic ideology. It had an Islamic tint certainly, but was not unique in any regards to this religion. It certainly taught that the world would be peaceful once everyone converted (technically returned) to Islam. Again read any medieval Christian texts on the apocalypse, nothing really special here.

--The khalifas, successors to the Prophet, exiled Christians and Jews from Arabia but did not have to. Muhammad did not.

--Islamic society as the last great blue-meme empire (in fact probably the greatest), the last of the world's great religions (seal of revelation) has been the most difficult to transition to modern (orange) reality. For a number of reasons.

1. Because they were last and greatest, they are youngest AND most clearly impinges on their sense of identity to make the evolutionary leap.
2. They were brought into modernitiy under the racist humiliation of European colonialism. The West choose to undergo the great suffering of modern life--it enforced it on others.
3. The discovery of oil which allows states not to open up economically which then leads to middle class groups which bargain for political rights.

--Tribal and imperial backdrop very strong, perhaps stronger due to the harsh climate of Arabia as founding element, created soil for modern authoritarian, depostic rulership. Saddam Hussein, secularist used the Sunni tribal code to his advantage.

--European colonialism destroyed the imperial structure of Islamic history (blue) but because of the racist element within the European stream, did not seek participation/learning/evolution from the conquered populations. It was breakdown (to red) not breakthrough.

--The importation of foreign Western notions like nationalism and secularism as deeply destructive to the evolutionary drive of the regime. Actually stalled the drive as we see today. Qaddafi, Naser, Arafat, Asads, House of Saud, etc. The secularist and royalists crass co-option of Islamism to suppor their own regmies.

--Flirtation with Western fascism by authoritarian ME rulers as entrance of anti-Semitic ideology into Arab (and larger Muslim) holon.

--The Quran explicitly rejects suicide bombing, killing of civilians in war, targeting women and children, etc. The Quran also calls for--given the historical circumstance--struggle (jihad) against occupation and external militant enemies.

--The deep pain/horror in the Islamic psyche from the Crusades and worse the Mongol invasions of the 13th century. It was that latter experience and the inability of Muslim rulers to protect their peoples (blue morality) against the tribal warlords (red--raping, pillaging, desecration, idolatry from blue pov) that caused one radical scholar ibn Tamiya to declare that it was the duty of Muslims to overthrow their Muslim rulers, who had abandoned the faith and were not true Muslims. This as basis for Islamism, Sayid Qutb, assassination of Anwar Sadat and the rise of neo-puritannical Muslim ideology (Taliban).

--What the Crusades, Mongol invasion, Colonialism all speak to is the confusion and the non-answer (yet) within Islamic theology as to how God gave military victory to the Prophet and the flowering of the empire and yet that is not permanent. One ansewr of course, the rise of Islamism. We never lost. We simply strayed from the path and must return to the source. Qutb argued that the Quran was the handbook for the defeat of the jahiliyah ("ignorant', paganism) and not primarily a source for religious instruction. Or alternatively the argument that political victory is the religious duty (offensive jihad as religious duty for all a completely modern notion).

The answer yet to come--though there were moments of it in Asharite medieval Islamic theology and philosophy--God's ways are mysterious. God is one, the great Islamic confession, but God's ways in this world, by our human minds, appear many and varied. The deep existential letting go of the imperial mythology and the entrance into the pluralistic globalized modern world. Embraced in part (as for Catholics at Vatican II) as the gift of Al-lah but not all aspects. Not the isolation and meaningless of modernity.

--Last reason for difficulty of jump to orange Islam. The West's failure to bring make the leap into modernity correctly. Brilliantly pointed out by Wilber. In IS this is called the Level Line Fallacy. Spirit, Art, Morals, and Science as lines through each level/worldview. Spirit became associated completely--both by religion and secularists--with the blue meme. Science became identified solely with orange whereas there was lots of blue science, transcended and included in orange. The Fallacy is to mistake any level of a line with the line itself. Spirit/religion is blue, science orange. Once Spirit fell, the Big 4 became the Big Three--Art, Morals, Science, which then became the Big One: Science--unconsciously filled with Spirit and became scientism, a religion an ideology (Dawkins, Sam Harris as contemporary versions of this phenomena). Postmodernism then was the complete breakdown of even the Big One and the total fragmentation, exhaustion, and non-development of the Western (esp. European) mindset.

Islam has seen this and does not want this secular/religious split characteristic of the West, aided by Protestant individualistic theology.

--Martyrdom in battle grew directly out of their experience. Martyrdom in late Judaism and Christianity was standing up against a foreign godless system, refusing to recant in the face of political extermination. Marytrdom is therefore in Islam the hope that grows out of living in a situation of pain and violence. Every religion has its martyrs (witnesses) but Islam does have a special pain and shadow around this issue that it must confront. Only under perceived occupation/oppression.

--Islam in America is proto-orange. It shows that it is perfectly compatible with Western world in terms of politics and economics--and they choose their own moral-social-cultural-religious values.


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