Peddling PC to the Alumni

Publications sent by colleges and universities to their alumni are meant to be soothing. We are treated to profiles of accomplished alumni, hard—working and reasonable professors, and those students whose futures are so bright we gotta wear shades.  Alumni don't expect overly serious or contentious articles, but they do expect truth. 

As many long time readers may know, AT's Thomas Lifson and Richard Baehr are alumni of Kenyon College, and they certainly have this expectation of truth  from what they receive from the College. Both remember fondly their own pursuit of truth as students there.

So both were left wondering why Kenyon College, in its Alumni Bulletin, published a stunning puff piece interview with Professor Vernon Schubel attempting to soft peddle the threat of jihadist Islam?  Do alumni need to be treated to such a happy comic book version of a major religion, whose adherents by the millions are engaged in armed conflicts around the world? 

Kenyon alumnus Henry Wickham responds (in the indented comments below) to the Schubel article with a few facts and arguments that the Professor may find inconvenient.

Q. Question for religious studies professor Vernon Schubel: Disturbing headlines from Iraq to Europe leave many Americans seeing the Muslim world as alien——anti—Western, anti—modern, anti—secular, and violent. Are we heading into a "clash of civilizations"? Has Islam been hijacked by radical fundamentalists who despise Western culture?

A. To my mind, the notion of a "clash of civilizations" is wrong—headed and parochial. The Muslim world has always been intimately connected with cultures of both the "West" and the "East," from Europe and North Africa to Central Asia, China, India, and Indonesia. 

What, pray tell, does it mean to be 'intimately connected'?  For centuries Islam made war on Europe, though there also has been trade. Yes, we buy the oil that we discovered and developed and that they expropriated. But does this make Islam 'intimately connected' with the West? Does making war on one's neighbors, as Islam has done for centuries, make them 'intimately connected' in any meaningful sense or in the sense that Professor Schubel means this?

There are approximately 1.3 billion Muslims in the world. Yet our media seem to focus only on the very few Muslims whom I would call radical exclusivists, people who define their own particular interpretation of Islam as the only acceptable form of religion and also the only acceptable way to constitute a society.

Daniel Pipes has estimated that those who subscribe to radical Islam (al Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Wahhabis, Hamas, Hesbollah, the Islamic Jihad, et al.) make up between ten and fifteen percent of the Muslim population around the world.  If true, this would constitute approximately 130,000,000 to 200,000,000  not—so—peace—loving, 'exclusivist' Muslims. If we were speaking of galaxies in the universe or bacteria, these numbers might be described as 'very few,' but I cannot see how these numbers are a 'very few' when we are talking about people who believe that killing non—Muslims and imposing Islamic law is an obligation.

These exclusivists are in fact relatively marginal.

Relatively marginal? I have seen polls that say that a majority of Muslims support bin Laden and his tactics, and they applaud those people who strap on suicide jackets and blow up Israeli pizza shops and busses, London subways, and Spanish trains. These West—hating 'exclusivists' control Saudi Arabia, the Palestinian Authority, and the soon—to—be—nuclear Iran.  They have significant presences in many other countries including the Sudan and Pakistan, all of which hardly suggests marginalization.

Most Muslims in my experience see their religion in personal and particular ways.

I love this slight of hand.  First, Professor Schubel makes a general statement that the 'exclusivist' lunatics are 'relatively marginal.'  Then he makes his case by describing those Muslims of his 'experience.'  A particular or personal instance doesn't prove a general proposition.

They'd like to live in societies where issues of piety are left up to individuals and families. They don't want to force their version of religion down the throats of other people, and they don't want the state to dictate how you have to pray or how your daughter has to dress when she goes out in public.

More unsubstantiated assertions. I ask the Professor, where are the million Muslim marches protesting the following Muslim—inspired atrocities: the brutal murders of innocent non—Muslims in Bali, the murder of Catholics in Nigeria and the Philipines, the burning of Christian churches in Nigeria, the murder of innocent London subway riders, the killing of Buddhist Thais in that mini—civil war started by the Islamists in Southern Thailand, and the blowing up of Hindus by the Islamists in Western India?  Did I mention the genocide in Darfur? Give us the names, Professor, of the mosques and their congregations who have expelled the ayatollahs and imams who have preached hatred of the West and that current version of anti—Semitism not seen since the Nazis. 

Actually, rather than be expelled, the preachers of these hate—filled attitudes continue to be encouraged in the madrasas around the world and to be provided with educational materials by America's 'good friends', the Saudis. In these Saudi—produced materials, young Muslims are still taught that Jews are swine and that the West generally and the US in particular must be destroyed.

We have fundamentalist Christians in the United States who are just as exclusionary as the more radical Muslims.

This is the most offensive statement in this dishonest interview.  Note the not—so—subtle moral equivalence of fundamentalist Christians with fundamentalist Muslims. 

Where are the Christians blowing up busses and pizza shops? Did Christians riot and commit acts of mayhem when Andres Serrano gave us 'Piss Christ' and called it 'art'? If the Christians have commandeered airplanes and flown them into buildings saying 'Jesus is Great', I must have missed this. Interestingly, about one—third of the Palestinians were Christian. Why are virtually all the suicide bombers who murder the Jews in Israel only Muslims? Of course, at this point Professor Schubel will dredge up the one or two guys who have killed the abortionists or bombed an abortion clinic.  However, these few crimes really are exceptions, and Christians of all sorts very publicly condemned these actions rather than rationalize them in the way the professor rationalizes murder in the next two sentences.

The difference is that in our society the exclusivists have a voice through the ballot box, interview programs, letters to the editor. In some of the more authoritarian political environments in the Muslim world, those voices get pushed underground, and in the end the most radical of them resort to violence.

This point is simply blather. The US in Iraq has attempted to establish a democracy and we have replaced what Professor Schubel calls an 'authoritarian political environment' with one where there is a meaningful ballot box and a vibrant Iraqi press (I have read of around 160 independent publications now in Iraq). Yet those 'very few' radicals, evidently bitter about those missing letters to the editor, continue to blow up innocent Iraqis.  They don't even distinguish between Muslims and non—Muslims when they blow up an Iraqi market place. They made using that ballot box, so yearned for by Professor Schubel, as dangerous as possible for Iraqi Muslims. 

Were there demonstrations anywhere in the Middle East protesting this obstruction of self—government? Were there any public protests by Muslims of this obstruction of the ballot box in either the US or Europe, where there is absolutely no risk or danger in protesting? Maybe I missed these protests, Professor.  Did Professor Shubel publish any letters to the editor protesting this obstruction of the Iraqi democratic process?

The exclusivism I'm talking about is not traditionalism; it's nostalgia for a created past, a past that never really existed. Take the idea of "going back" to the time when sharia, Islamic law, was the law of the state. Sharia was never the law of the state. On the contrary, throughout much of history sharia was invoked as a more benign overarching law that could protect you from the capriciousness of a ruler. If the ruler engaged in torture and oppression, there might be some jurist who would say, "That's against sharia, you can't do that to people."

One reason that today's Islamic exclusivists are so virulent is that in many ways the struggle between exclusivism and pluralism has already been decided. Most Muslims want the ability to read whatever they like; many of them want cable television; they want their kids to learn English. They are not always pro—American, but their argument is not primarily with American culture; it's with American foreign policy and American power.

More unsubstantiated assertions. Why should these Muslims, who are supposedly so fond of freedom, have a problem with 'American foreign policy and American power,' when that power has just liberated millions of Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq (as well as Bosnia and Kosovo last decade) from what Professor Schubel calls an 'authoritarian political environment'? In Iraq and in Afghanistan they can now read what they like and watch Western cable television cahnnels and learn English.  They cannot do any of these activities in those bastions of civil liberties, untainted by 'American foreign power,' such as Pakistan and Yemen, or in that new kid on the block, Somalia, where the next version of the Taliban has just taken over. 

Could it be that Islamic hatred of America has little to do with American power and far more to do with the fact that America is not a Muslim country and that Americans are not in the habit of bowing toward Mecca?

Islam has always been a religion of deep diversity——cultural, linguistic, political, and theological diversity. Islam is dynamic, not static. It's a serious misunderstanding to think that Islam is a timeless, medieval entity clinging to the past and unable to deal with change, or to reduce it to a few visual cues, like minarets, beards, and head scarves.

In what meaningful sense is Islam 'dynamic'?  Have they invented anything in the last five hundred years worth having other than those nifty suicide vests? Are women in Saudi Arabia allowed to drive an automobile yet, or am I just 'misunderstanding' Islam and mistaking it for a 'medieval entity clinging to the past'? Who says that Muslims are 'unable to deal with change' when many Muslims still believe in and practice 'honor killings,'?  But who are we to judge, right, Professor Schubel?

We have to get past the essentialism that maintains that Muslims and Westerners are fundamentally different kinds of people, that we belong to something called the West, which is normal, and they belong to something "other." We are all part of a shared global human heritage. Plato is part of that heritage. So is Shakespeare. So is the Buddha. So is Muhammad.

My clich� meter is going off the charts here.  These lines make me want to hold hands and sing 'We are the World.' Is there an Islamic Plato or Shakespeare? Where in the Muslim world do they read Plato and Shakespeare?  Salman Rushdie is a Muslim who wrote literature that is considered of high quality, and for his trouble he received a death sentence from the Islamic state of Iran, that not—so—worthy protector of what the Professor calls our 'shared global human heritage.' 

In fact it is the Islamists who are obsessed with 'the Other' and it is they who want to kill the Other. Perhaps 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.)

Professor of Religious Studies Vernon Schubel teaches a variety of courses about Islam. His research has taken him to Pakistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkey.

Henry Wickham is an attorney and a graduate of Kenyon College.