August 5, 2006
Dialogue onBy Vernon Schubel and Henry Wickham
[On July 2, 2006 The American Thinker published an interview from the Kenyon Alumni Bulletin with Professor Vernon Schubel. Kenyon alumnus, Henry Wickham, commented on the Schubel piece, and concluded that it was a whitewash of Islam. Professor Schubel has responded. His comments and the response of Henry Wickham are published below. Mr. Wickham's comments are indented.]
I read with interest the reply to my interview published in "The American Thinker." I don't have much to say. Mr. Wickham's reply seems more full of invective and rhetoric than arguments rooted in fact. I particularly object to the ad hominem closing line that states "Professor Schubel should send this sweet little 1960s message to his favorite mosque and imam, or perhaps, to his pals at the Council on American—Islamic Relations." It demonstrates a degree of venom and a set of assumptions about me that I find unfortunate. His letter reads like a rant against Muslims pieced together from various anti—Muslim blogs and web sites.
In his Kenyon Alumni Bulletin piece, Professor Schubel presents a version of contemporary Islam that pretends to be fair and accurate. When compared to the contemporary reality that a significant number of Muslims are willing to murder innocent people who do not subscribe to their religious orthodoxies, that this is State policy for some Islamic states, and that many more Muslims apologize for these actions, Professor Schubel's version of Islam should incite indignation in any fair—minded person. It demonstrates a blindness not unlike those who diminish or deny the many corpses produced by Stalin or Hitler. The propaganda of denial will not spur decent Muslims to rescue Islam from its own worst elements. For these reasons Professor Schubel's whitewash of Islam merits a forceful response, and that is what my response is.
Let me answer just two of Mr. Wickham's statements. First, his assertion that warfare is the only connection between Europeans and the western world or that trade between Muslims and the West is limited to the oil "we discovered and developed and they expropriated" is simply wrong. I suggest he might read Janet Abu—Lughod and Richard Bulliet on these subjects.
I did not say that warfare and oil are the only connections between Islam and the West. The issue is the appropriateness of saying that the cultures are 'intimately connected.' I challenged the assumption that Islam is "intimately connected" with the West in some currently relevant way beyond trade and war. If the Professor's point is merely historical, I will readily concede that, like the Irish Monasteries, Muslim scholars were indispensable to preserving great early works of philosophy and nascent science, and that there certainly has been trade.
Here is a little thought experiment for our readers. Imagine that all the oil in the Middle East were located in, say, Australia. Imagine that there was no connection or communication between the Muslim world and the Western world for the last 300 years. In what material way would the West be different today? What ideas or scientific breakthroughs would the West have missed? Are there any philosophical, sociological, or religious developments that would have taken the West in any materially different direction? I suspect that the West would be virtually the same, which suggests something other than a meaningful "intimate connection" between the world of Islam and Western civilization.
Secondly, Daniel Pipes does indeed assert that Muslim extremists make up ten to fifteen percent of the population of the Muslim world but most scholars in the field disagree with him.
Let's assume that Daniel Pipes miscalculated and that he incorrectly doubled the number of Muslims who subscribe to radical Islam. So, instead of between 130 million and 200 million fanatics who blow up wedding receptions, buses, and pizza parlors or who support this barbarism, there are only between 65 million and 100 million. Assume that there are only 25 million. Should we all relax now, Professor? I will leave it to the reader to decide whether even these lower numbers should be described as "very few" as the professor does.
Finally, Mr. Wickham asks, "Is there an Islamic Plato or Shakespeare? Where in the Muslim world do they read Plato and Shakespeare?" Answer: Muslims have been reading Plato for centuries. Perhaps Mr. Wickham should look into Leo Strauss' reading of Al—Farabi, just one of the great Muslim readers of Plato and Aristotle. And Shakespeare and Plato are read throughout most of the Muslim world.
The issue is the narrowness of Islamic education and its effects. The Professor fails to mention all of those schools whose curriculum is limited to the memorization of The Koran. Nor does he mention the curriculum in many schools (not to mention the media) that is loaded with venom against the West in general and against the Jews in particular. We have all seen the maps in the Muslim world where there is no state of Israel. None of this is compatible with the works of Plato and Shakespeare, which are humane and civilized, unless the Professor is arguing for Richard III as the Islamist role model.
I am familiar with Leo Strauss' "How Farabi Read Plato's Laws." Strauss portrays a subtle and serious commentator on Plato's work. But Farabi lived over 1,000 years ago. I am at a loss to see how this refutes my point that current Islamist education is, in all too many instances, xenophobic, anti—Semitic, and anti—Western.
Professor Schubel mentions no Muslim Shakespeare. If there is a Muslim playwright with such genius at exploring the universal human condition, please let us know so that we can read him.
He should look at college catalogues from the region to get some sense of what Muslims read.
If there are college course catalogues that list the study of Plato and Shakespeare, I would be interested to know how these writers are approached by Islamist instructors. Here in the West, we can find plenty of college course catalogues that offer Shakespeare and Plato, only to have them trashed by the politically correct professoriate. So college catalogues don't tell us much. If these great writers are studied respectfully by Muslims, is there any evidence that these Western thinkers and artists actually influence the behavior of so many Muslims? For instance, both Shakespeare and Plato revered courage. Where are those courageous Muslims speaking out against the Muslim mass murder of non—Muslims?
Finally, Mr. Wickham attacks me for arguing from my own experience in the Muslim world, that Muslim extremism is not the center of Islamic thought and practice in the contemporary world.
Here, the Professor pummels a straw man. Nowhere in my response did I say that "Muslim extremism" is the "center of Islamic thought and practice." I pointed out that 10% to 15% of Muslims subscribe to the most violent and narrow versions of Islam, and that a majority of Muslims, according to polls, support Islamic acts of terrorism. These facts can certainly be true without being at the "center of Islamic thought and practice." If the Professor denies this, then he is asserting a peculiar defense of Islam.
That is my opinion based on years of scholarship and many visits to the Muslim world. I stand by it. Please note that I do not say that there is no such thing as Islamic extremism or that Muslims are incapable of bad or violent actions. Of course, there is violence in the Muslim world. But contrary to Mr. Wickham's opinion it is not only Muslims are capable of violence and hatred.
The Professor pummels another straw man, and this pummeling is worthy of "Al Jazeera." Nowhere in my piece did I suggest, nor could I, that "only Muslims" are "capable of violence and hatred," and I suspect that this misreading by the Professor is willful.
European Christians have committed their own fair share of violence in this century, as have Hindus and even Buddhists. I would not argue from this that we should condemn Hinduism, Buddhism or European civilization. Professor Schubel gives the reader his version of the "everybody does it" defense. Current terror and mass murder at the hands of the likes of the IRA, the Basques, or the Hindus, while deplorable, pale in significance to what the Islamists are currently perpetrating. Neither the IRA, the Basques terrorists, nor Hindu terrorists are trying to get the nuclear bomb, and none has pledged to destroy a state and murder its people.
But I do condemn those acts of violence as I also condemn violence by Muslims.
It is nice that Professor Schubel condemns violence by Muslims. Where are these condemnations made? To whom? Can he point us to any publications where he has condemned the murder of non—Muslims by Muslims? Since the Islamists started their mass murder of innocent people as a matter of State policy under Ayatollah Khomeini, these Muslim "condemnations" have taken on a ritualistic quality, the substance and tone of which are much like Claude Raines saying "Round up the usual suspects."
Here is a challenge for the Professor. The next time an Israeli bus or pizza parlor is blown up by Hamas or Hesbollah, the Professor should travel up to Detroit. It is only about a three hour drive from Gambier, and it has a sizeable Muslim population. There, the Professor can organize and lead a public march where decent Muslims very vocally condemn the murder of non—Muslims. The fact that the victims are Jews will make this accomplishment all the more admirable. It will give the Professor's "condemnation' real substance.
I am, in fact, a longtime critic of Muslim exclusivism. Mr. Wickham on the other hand speaks with a great deal of authority based not on personal experience but on information seemingly stitched together from books and articles that support his position that seeks to condemn Islam as a religion and a civilization. Our respective readers can decide for themselves who is more credible.
I wouldn't dream of condemning 'Islam as a religion and a civilization.' It doesn't deserve it. I condemn the behavior of a sizeable minority of Muslims and those who supposedly condemn it while sitting silently.
The Professor mentions Leo Strauss. One of the many things that I have learned from reading Leo Strauss over the years is that we can learn as much from what a writer does not say as from what he explicitly says. The Professor leaves most of my comments unanswered, and I doubt that this is because the Professor agrees with my points. Let's apply this Straussian principle to Professor Schubel's response:
(a) There is no mention by Professor Schubel of the liberation of millions of Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan or the bravery of Iraqi Muslims when they exercised their right to vote. It seems fair to assume that Professor Schubel would have preferred Saddam and the Taliban, respectively, to an American—driven liberation of these millions of Muslims.
(b) There is no retraction of his slur against Christians. It seems fair to say that, after his "years of scholarship and many visits to the Muslim world," Professor Schubel is not capable of seeing any distinction between fundamentalist Christians and Islamic suicide bombers.
(c) In his Bulletin piece, the Professor claims that the Muslim fanatics have been "marginalized." In response I cited many of the places in the world where they are carrying out terror and genocide with impunity. I also mentioned some of the states where the fanatics have actual control or where they have a significant presence. The Professor is silent on these points. So, after his 'years of scholarship and many visits to the Muslim world" the Professor either (1) has developed a definition of "marginalize" that is as bizarre as his definitions of "very few" or "intimately connected", or (2) has failed to notice the rather obvious power and influence of these fanatics in the Muslim world.
The Bulletin editors, when introducing this series of interviews that included Professor Schubel's interview, promised readers observations by 'some of the smartest, most thoughtful, most insightful people' at Kenyon. Yes, Professor, by all means, let's let the readers decide for themselves whether you meet the editor's promise and the readers' expectations.