Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Islamism, traditionalism, and secularism: important article in The American Interest

Amir Taheri has an important essay, "What Do Muslims Think?" in the May / June 2007 issue of The American Interest. The link is here. The author contests the idea that radical Islam has advanced so much in contrast to the mass of Islam as a whole, much of which obviously benefits from modern capitalism and it hidden form of "freedom." The author discusses the effects of traditionalism and secularism on Islam, with respect to such issues as usury or "no interest" religious laws, prohibition of limited liability of an individual (which used to prevent liability companies and partnerships common in the west). On social issues, Islam (despite supposedly strict sharia) has become more pragmatic, often willing to at least accept a "don't ask don't tell" approach to homosexuality. He writes "The absence of a central authority has allowed Muslim societies to adopt pragmatic approaches to many controversial scientific issues" and, earlier, "Radical Muslim advocates today are standing on soapboxes suspended in very thin social air."

But his most astonishing statement comes when he discusses Western ideas of personal equality. He writes "Islam is based on a baroque hierarchy of inequality." That almost sounds like the way Charley Chaplin characterizes the ideology of Nazism when he gives his famous impromptu speech at the end of the film "The Great Dictator." Capitalism and the free market accept the idea that people will not perform equally or be rewarded equally. But to have the freedom to compete in a market, one must first be an equal person before the law (or in the church or mosque). The inequality mentioned here is that defined in religious or political laws, the notion that some arbitrary characteristics, or, more likey, situation with respect to familial or tribal ancestry, make one person superior to another. It's hard for markets to keep this separated, so its easy to understand why people become disillusioned and attracted to radical ideology when the rules of competition are unfair.

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