Critical Podium Dewanand Islam
Has a Third World War, with Islam, begun by Paul Kurtz
Sacrificer Paul Kurtz
Sacrifice code wfor0402
Sacrifice date 25 march 2009
Has a Third World War, with Islam, begun
by Paul Kurtz
The dramatic growth of fundamentalist Islam is engendering conflicts throughout
the world. These are likely to intensify in coming decades unless there
are profound changes in the Islamic mentality. Hence the question can
be raised: Has a third world war, between Islam and the democratic world,
There are many flash points at present: Western confrontations with Iraq;
anti-Western passions in Iran; Western occupation of Somalia (for humanitarian
purposes but also to defend oil fields newly discovered by Western companies);
Hindu-Muslim communal riots in India; the brutal war being waged against
Christians and animists by a radical Islamic regime in Sudan; and the
violent provocations of the Hezbollah, the only viable militia left in
Lebanon, which is opposed to any peace talks with Israel. There are also
major confrontations between Islamic fundamentalists and regimes in Algeria,
Pakistan, Egypt, and the West Bank of Palestine, and there is a resurgence
of Muslim fundamentalism in the former Soviet Union. The growing presence
of Muslim minorities in Britain, France, Germany, and other Western countries
is also a surprising development, because for a long time the Muslims
of the West were silent majorities. As they increase in population size,
provocations on both sides may intensify: witness the death sentence against
Salman Rushdie; the popularity of Malcolm X, Louis Farakhan, and Sheik
Omar Abdul Rahman and the Muslim movement in the cities of the United
States; or the campaign of terror against innocent Muslims in Germany
by fascist skinheads.
There are presently forty-six sovereign states that are members of the
International Islamic Conference, but only Turkey may be said to have
even a modicum of democratic freedom.
The liberal democratic humanist agenda, I submit, offers the best defense
against such conflicts and a basis for genuine progress. First, the state
should be secular, allowing for pluralism to develop. Unfortunately, the
Koran grounds legal structures on religious revelation. It leaves little
or no recourse for heretics who do not accept Muhammad as the prophet
Recent efforts in India by the Hindu Janata Party to declare India a Hindu
state is no doubt a reaction to Muslim theocracies. It would be tragic
if India, which was founded as a secular state, were to move the clock
back. Similarly unwise is the movement in the United States to define
America as a "Judeo-Christian" nation. Likewise for the efforts
of those who wish to reestablish Croatia, Poland, and other countries
in Eastern Europe as Roman Catholic states. The war in Yugoslavia is symptomatic
of the problem. Atrocities have been committed on all sides by diehard
religious nationalists, and no one is without guilt, as Serbs, Croatians,
and Bosnians kill each other with impunity.
The New York Times recently reported that many Serbs living in Bosnia
are fearful that Bosnian Muslims wish to establish a theocracy. It quotes
a Serbian Muslim student of philosophy in Sarajevo, Edin Lazovic (a pseudonym),
to the effect that, "Muslims are trying to drive all Serbs out of
Bosnia and to make an Islamic fundamentalist state." Muslims, he
fears, plan to use their higher birthrate to gain a majority, up from
the 44 percent of the population they now constitute: their goal is to
legislate the Koran as the basis of the political and social order.
Second, democratic humanism entails respect for freedom of conscience,
without limitation or fear of punishment. A free society will permit a
wide range of political opinions to flourish, and it will encourage political
parties to emerge. Freedom of conscience, however, must also apply to
moral and religious convictions. Here fundamentalists are violently opposed.
But unless freedom of belief is recognized in these domains, there can
be no fully functioning democratic society.
The United States and other Western powers went to war with Iraq to liberate
Kuwait from Iraqian occupation. Yet democratic institutions have not yet
been permitted to emerge by the ruling oligarchy. Saudi Arabia, the bastion
of sheik oil wealth, allows very little political dissent and there is
almost no moral and surely no religious liberty. "The Committee for
the Preservation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice" is the guardian
of Islamic "moral virtue." Abdullah Mohammadi, director of the
religious police in Gidda, capital of Saudi Arabia, claims, "We are
fighting against an influence of vice." What this means in practice
is that the theater and many Western books and magazines are banned and
women's rights are denied, (women and men are segregated in the workplace,
schools, and restaurants). "Immoral" behavior by definition
includes alcohol use, gambling, adultery, homosexuality, begging, prostitution,
pornography, and wearing "suggestive" clothing. These repressive
policies a re rooted in Wahabism, a puritanical Islamic sect which is
embraced by the ruling Saudi family. The key point of democratic humanism,
by way of contrast, is that men and women ought to be free to follow their
own convictions, religious and moral, so long as they do not harm others.
This means that neither the state nor mosque has the right to impose its
code on belief or conduct.
Third, and no doubt of great importance, is the right of an individual
or group to question the dicta of the Koran. Unfortunately, the most heinous
crime for a "true" Muslim is to blaspheme Allah or Muhammad,
and that means that heretics and unbelievers have no rights. For the fundamentalist
Muslim the Koran must be accepted as Holy Writ. Anyone who doubts or denies
this can be repressed. The The New York Times recently reported that many
Serbs living in Bosnia are fearful that Bosnian Muslims wish to establish
a theocracy. It quotes a Serbian Muslim student of philosophy in Sarajevo,
Edin Lazovic (a pseudonym), to the effect that, "Muslims are trying
to drive all Serbs out of Bosnia and to make an Islamic fundamentalist
state." Muslims, he fears, plan to use their higher birthrate to
gain a majority, up from the 44 percent of the population they now constitute:
their goal is to legislate the Koran as the basis of the political and
of democracy remains in question.
Matters are not hopeless, however, for Islam has a rich intellectual
heritage. Indeed, Muslim scholars kept alive for many centuries the study
of the classics of Greece and Rome--long before they were revived in Europe.
What Islam has lacked is a secular Renaissance, a Protestant Reformation,
a scientific revolution, and especially an Enlightenment.
There is a beginning appreciation of this in many Muslim countries today,
and there are restive, though small, minorities of educated people who
would like to be liberated from the authoritarian vice. Indeed, over the
years we at FREE INQUIRY have received numerous letters from people in
Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, and elsewhere in the Muslim
world who agree with the ideals of democratic humanism. They express a
longing to have contact with those who believe in humanism and to engage
in free inquiry. But in many cases they are fearful for their lives. Perhaps
it is unrealistic at this point to call for the emergence of outright
secular humanism, atheism, and agnosticism in Islamic lands. At the very
least we should attempt to moderate the repressive policies of those regimes,
to democratize and humanize them, and above all to develop an appreciation
for the right of freedom of conscience. This is particularly the case
since the Universal Declaration of Human Right s, now accepted by virtually
all of the nations of the world community, names freedom of conscience
as a basic human right.
If the current conflicts with fanatic Muslim fundamentalists all over
the world are to abate, and if we are to learn to live in peace, then
some appreciation for the ideals of democratic humanism--tolerance, pluralism,
and dissent--need to be further developed. The battle for human rights
ought to be pressed forward vigorously.
Byline: THE WASHINGTON TIMES
In Moroccan Ambassador Aziz Mekouar's March 15 Op-Ed column, "Islam
and democracy," he writes, "There is nothing in the Islamic
faith inconsistent with human rights, democracy, equality of men and women."
But religious freedom is not mentioned once.
Are believers of other faiths allowed to openly practice their beliefs,
build houses of worship or evangelize in Morocco? I hope so, but such
freedoms are not allowed in Saudi Arabia, the land of Islam's holiest
shrines. In the majority of countries where Islam is the dominant religion,
religious freedom does not exist. If faiths other than Islam are allowed
to exist, Islamic law says non-Islamic believers have to pay an extra
religious tax, and they are not allowed to evangelize or maintain their
houses of worship.
It is ironic that Saudi Arabia is allowed to provide millions of dollars
to construct mosques in America, while Islamic law prohibits Jews or Christians
from openly practicing their faith in Saudi Arabia. Democracy in America
was founded on the vital principle of freedom of worship. Is Islam compatible
with the concept of religious freedom?
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