Friday, September 19, 2003

le parcours

Via Winds of Change, a post on the compatibility of Shiite Islam and democracy. This is a subject that fascinates and frustrates me. The author believes there's room for compatibility, but notes the obstacles in the way:

Shi'ites have not historically run states: when Christ said to render unto Caesar, it made clear that there is no theological imperative that the State in which a Christian resides be Christian itself. In fact, Christianity was a religion of slaves, not of masters. Judaism likewise was a slave religion and, for thousands of years, until the founding of Israel, had control of no State. No religion which has so little experience of governance is likely to craft a doctrine that requires theocracy or religious totalitarianism.

This contrasts sharply with Islam, which in the Prophet's own life time became not merely a faith but a politics, as it took control of government. This allowed Islam to stray into a very destructive error, the adoption of the view that religion, politics, economics, etc., are all part of one seamless whole. It is by nature totalitarian, a statist religion.

This is immediately followed by a glimmer of hope:

However, the Shi'ites background, not entirely dissimilar to that of Christians and Jews, suggests that they could be susceptible to the same ideology of separation. Indeed, many analysts argue that the Khomeinism of Iran was an aberration--the seizure of state power by the clerisy--and, with the Republic tottering after just 25 years, they'd appear to be right. That so many in Iran--the great white hope of Islamicism--are now demanding liberalization and closer ties to the West, holds out the possibility that this experiment in Islamic rule could evolve into a state that, though it would certainly retain a distinctly Islamic identity, more closely resembles what we think of as a liberal constitutional democracy, with consensual government tempered by restrictions on government power and protections for the rights of citizens, including non-Muslims.

But do you buy this? After suggesting that Judaism's and Christianity's anthropology of fallenness is what allows for "decent societies of free men" (i.e., men who, conscious of their imperfection, are not as prone to warping society into a utopianist death factory), the writer contends:

This belief that Man is capable of living in accordance with God's will probably has to be broken before Islam generally can support liberalized politics.

Two words: tall order.

Maybe this is where the battle lies; maybe it isn't. I think the argument that Islam lacks secularism is a strong one, and I agree with it. As things stand, the cosmos is divided into the House of Islam and the House of War, the latter of which, despite being a theological rubric, also includes secularism. But as we parse this further, I wonder whether it really comes down to a salvific anthropology of fallenness that exalts Judaism and Christianity over Islam. Christianity, certainly, grew into a powerful political force very early in its career (powerful in the full temporal sense of the word, not just symbiotically alongside kings), and it could be argued that it wasn't until the Renaissance-- or maybe the Enlightenment-- that something approaching what we nowadays call a "secular(ist)" viewpoint emerged: cf. any history of medieval Europe as evidence. Europe-- the West-- has long known nonsecularism. Even the term "atheist" has undergone a radical shift in meaning over the centuries; it did not mean "one who believes in no God" originally. The current meaning is a rather recent convention.

The article mentions the same biblical quote that Bernard Lewis has focused upon in books like Islam and the West: "render unto Caesar what is Caesar's; unto God what is God's." (Mt 22:21, Mk 12:17, Lk 20:25) Lewis sees this as a prototype for what has eventually widened into the separation of church and state enjoyed (somewhat) in America today. I certainly see this separation as a necessary ingredient for religious pluralism in modern American society, and Lewis may be right to cite this biblical sentiment as a major root of secularism. Whether it's necessary to take the argument further back to the question of humanity's fallenness is debatable; Lewis has already provided a good point of departure.

The focus on fallenness as advantageous also ignores the flip-side of Christian biblical theology: Christ, as second Adam, reversed the Fall and redeemed humankind, so it is no longer entirely correct to assume we are incapable of perfection. Jesus himself is portrayed as demanding this: "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect." (Mt 5:48, the Sermon on the Mount).

A lot has been made, recently, of the anthropology of fallenness. I'm not quite sure I buy it. I think Lewis is on the right track to suggest there is at least one scriptural source for secularism; there are certainly other, nonscriptural, sources, many of which I would locate in the Renaissance and the Enlightenment.

Islam needs secularism if it is to retain its dynamism. While it's true that plenty of worldly Muslims are, in their personal practice, already quite secular, I'm speaking more about what needs to happen on the governmental, societal, cultural level-- i.e., a publicly acknowledged and embraced secularism (not Saddam's pap, either). Acquiring/achieving this secularism is no less a tall order than what the article's author is suggesting; I don't have any easier proposals. My personal hope is that Muslim theologians will themselves begin, as a result of long and patient dialogue with people of other faiths, to reinterpret their own scriptures in light of what they learn through dialogue, and thereby create a hermeneutical window through which a brave cleric can step forward at some point in the near or far future and say, "Look! It's there in the scriptures! Allah wants us to reserve space in our hearts for the world, and not just for him!"

When I read the previous paragraph, I cringe. I know my proposal is unrealistic, idealistic, naive-- especially right now. But in the end, I don't particularly care how secularism arrives and installs itself in Islam; it simply needs to happen. Whether through a scriptural hermeneutics approach or through a reappropriation of the anthropology of fallenness, it matters little. But Islam's fanatical focus on God and God alone is unhealthy in the extreme; the radical separation of God from the mundane and the simultaneous absolute centrality of God play right into Ludwig Feuerbach's hands: religion can indeed cause alienation, and that's what Islam, at least in its past and current forms, seems to do so well. Alienation and suffering.

The more laws and restrictions there are, the poorer people become.
The sharper men's weapons, the more trouble in the land.
The more ingenious and clever men are, the more strange things happen.
The more rules and regulations, the more thieves and robbers.

--Tao Te Ching, Chapter 57

Could you apply the above TTC quote to the corpus of Islamic laws in the Koran, hadith, and shari'a? The above verses certainly explain much.

An article well worth reading.

A few gayness-related links from Andrew Sullivan. First:

A married Canadian couple have been refused entry to the United States because they refused to fill out immigration forms as separate, single people. Good for them. As marriage spreads throughout the West, this is going to become an even bigger problem. The U.S. is already a country that bans any foreigner with HIV from entering the country. We're spending $15 billion on AIDS in Africa out of "compassionate conservatism" but won't alloow a single African with HIV to visit here. Now the U.S. is going to keep gay people out, HIV or no HIV, - but only those who have decided to take responsibility for each other in marriage. (Thanks to DiscountBlogger).


The backlash against equal marriage rights in Canada is in full swing, but the odds are still in favor of full civil rights for gay citizens. The Parliamentary vote was extremely close, suggesting the deep divisions that this subject sill arouses. But it's worth considering a little historical perspective. The vote this time was 137 - 132 against a motion restricting civil marriage to heterosexuals. Four years ago, a similar motion passed on a vote of 216 - 55. In other words, in four years, pro-gay-marriage forces have gained 82 votes, while anti-gay-marriage forces have lost 84. Polls show the under 30s supporting equal rights for gays at around the 70 percent mark. The task of the social right now - here as in Canada - is to freeze this social change before it becomes irreversible. Meanwhile, Canadian dictionaries are changing the definition of marriage. The change is already here.

Finally, this link to a cartoon.

Marriage: a word describing a changing reality.

Satan's Anus links to this post about whether Russia is regressing into a Soviet-era state. I'll be watching this with curiosity; it's relevant to where I am.

China: "What? Us? Pressuring North Korea? The hell you say!" Living example of diplo-speak:

China denied moving 150,000 soldiers to its border with North Korea because of nuclear tensions, insisting yesterday that the frontier is calm and it is working with its reclusive neighbor to safeguard "stability and tranquillity" there.


Hurricane update: My family seems to be doing fine. There's some tree damage, but no windows got smashed, and no extra leaks have sprung. They're currently without power (I called their house by cell phone). Now I need to know how the Maximum Leader, his Air Marshal, and his Minister of Agriculture are faring...

The Washington Post has an article about what Isabel did in and around my hometown.

And damn-- power could be out a while. Good thing Mom did some heavy-duty cookin'.

Hey, MARMOT: Not even Georgetown was spared!

From Salon: praise for Clark.

From Andrew Sullivan: Reasons to wonder about Clark.

La France: L'ennemi? Merde in France offers a brief meditation; Satan's Anus also burbles on the subject.

Two movies I need to see when they're out in Korea: "Lost in Translation" and "Once Upon a Time in Mexico."

Bush puts blame for failure squarely on Palestinians' shoulders. But it's not for this reason that Arafat is threatening suicide.

Tacitus and his bullets. Did I say he was liberal?

I'm a bit late in acknowledging what the rest of the Koreabloggers have said: give Kevin at IA a read re: coverage of the controversy over the US request for Korean combat troops in Iraq. He does a great job and leaves me, once again, with little to do but pick and eat my head lice.

The Marmot's dug up something even more overpoweringly sexy than the NK cheerleaders. If you go to his main page and scroll down, you also get treated to some "Chosun Dynasty Porn." This is the same randy groundhog who brought us that educational link about Japanese women's changing attitudes toward blowjobs. I'm impressed with the gradual shift toward more ass on your site, man. That may be one side effect of a Jesuit-supervised education, though.

From Peking Duck: "China's Economy Unstoppable?" Question mark is definitely apropos. The Duck also links to an article about where that Bush-requested $87 billion might be going.

[More on China's properly pumptitude here.]

Internet Ronin has done exactly nothing since August 27th, and that's too bad. I'm currently considering dropping the Ronin from the blogroll in favor of other Japanbloggers. I hate to do this, but the lack of activity, coupled with my fly-like attention span, make certain cosmetic alterations necessary.

From PRC News: Warm remembrances of Tiananmen.

Cobb opines on the woes of being a black Republican. Great quote:

"This is a strong test for me. For if I'm willing to stomach the paleocons in the Republican party, I'm going to have to stomach first generation college churchboys from the 'hood."

Cobb doesn't know me, but I'm getting to know him. For those who don't know him, start with a post of his that's garnered a lot of comments (the thread is worth going through): "The Mystery of the Black Blogger."

If you've never visited the spoof site Landover Baptist, go now. It's a bit like the Onion, but it concentrates on spoofing fundie Christianity (and other fundie-isms). Try a "sermon" titled, "Alabama: A Preview of the Glories of a Christian America!" Or scroll down on the main page and read "Monogamous Homos Try to Spoil Traditional, Anglican Marriage." Enjoy. Oh, wait-- can't forget the Taliban Pinup Girl!

Maybe I shouldn't follow that up with a piece from the Middle East Times, But Oh Well. Here's an ME Times article questioning the use of mass graves in Iraq as justification for the war.

Damn: The Onion also gets the "I Outlived Jesus" meme! I thought it was all mine. Damn, damn, damn...

I didn't visit Insa-dong yesterday, and it's too late to head out there this evening. I may roll over there tomorrow (Saturday) and visit the wily, disappearing dojang guy. If he solves some cosmic mysteries for me, you'll be the first to know.

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