Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Reformation or Enlightenment

This is a topic I have often pondered and bandied about with friends, with the usual contention that Islam needs a reformation to enter the modern age and become peaceful. However, Chrenkoff has a take on it I had not considered: the Reformation in the Church took a long time to reach the modern, tolerant for it is today. We may not be able to wait that long for Islam.

This leads me to consider other analogies, not as exact answers but as general guidance for general movements. One that I have been pondering for the last week is the idea of pride and shame as motivators in national, religious or ethnic movements. One of the events leading to WWII was the shame that Germany felt through their defeat and humiliating terms of surrender in WWI. We did the opposite after WWII because we did not want national shame to motivate them again to strike out at neighbors. Shame can also be seen as a factor in Russia’s overthrow of the Tsar at about the same time. Sanctions are often seen by the targeted country as a humiliation, and thus become a means of rallying people around the flag and consolidating power in a ruler. This is especially true in closed societies…

So getting back to the problem of Islam, I think that shame is used (justly or not) as a strong motivator in Wahabbism and other violent sects. They point to the storied years of the Caliphate and feel the shame of lost glory. If the glory was lost though fault of the ummah, then that leads to a path of repentance and reform through humility. In the Bible, the book of Lamentations, Nehemiah 9, Daniel 9 and Ezra 9 all show this sort or mourning and reflection.

However, there is another way to look at the past. Ecclesiastes 7:10 is a verse that has often confused me:
Do not say, "Why is it that the former days were better than these?" For it is not from wisdom that you ask about this.
Instead of asking ‘what did we do to deserve this?’ the person out to gain power blames failings mostly or completely on outside forces. On a national level, Saddam Hussein is a good example, as he blamed the poor Iraqi economy not on his war with Iran or poor financial management, but rather on Kuwaiti greed and avarice. The culture of victimhood here in the US among certain groups is another example, as are some of the homeless that I worked with in Boston: I am where I am today solely because of malicious actions by others in the past.

This is a temptation in for those in unfavorable circumstances because it preserves pride (I am not responsible), even as it hurts it (others have done me wrong and I could do nothing). In some ways Islam is promoting this attitude as it recalls the halcyon days when Arabia and Europe were one, the Sharia governed the world justly and the Mhadi was around the corner. However the evil crusaders and godless western ideas came in and destroyed this paradise on earth! Why promote such shame? Because it leads to pride, which, when combined with shame and the concept of religious duty, becomes a very powerful motivating and controlling factor. It gives followers something greater than the ‘here and now’ for which to live. And for which to die.

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