Sunday, May 16, 2010

Good Ibish Blogging

Hussein Ibish has a very good post up that simultaneously upbraids a really ridiculous post by Phyllis Chesler, and gives an interesting exogesis of Islamic holy texts that really should be required reading for all those who subscribe to the view that Islam is somehow an inherently violent religion. A snippet on the latter point:
Green was asking me about faith and violence in the context of Islamist extremists, and I said I didn't care for the phrase "religion of peace" which she mentioned, because all religions are social texts determined by the interpretations of their followers and all major religions had historically proven amenable to legitimating both peaceful and aggressive intentions. Green disputed this, saying that the Bible contains a narrative in which the relatively more violent, militaristic Old Testament texts can be reinterpreted in light of the New Testament texts in order to create a peaceful ethos, but that no such narrative existed in the Koran. "Or does it?" she asked me.

I noted first of all that while Green is absolutely right about the way many Christians have interpreted the chronology of scripture composition to allow more peaceful texts to condition the interpretation of more violent ones in the Bible, historically that hasn't stopped many Christians and Christian societies from behaving in an extremely violent manner, frequently in the name of God. However, I also pointed out that Muslims too have a narrative, which Green was clearly unaware of, that allows for the same kind of interpretation of more violent passages of the Koran in the context of more peaceful ones. I pointed out that the Koran was revealed over a period of historical time and that Muslims are well aware of and have discussed in detail throughout their history the understanding that most of the aggressive and militant passages had to do with the period in which the early Muslims are said to have been persecuted by pagan tribes. It is therefore possible, and indeed common, to find Muslim scholars interpreting the more militant texts in the context of more peace-oriented ones, in a manner that is indeed analogous to the way many Christians interpret the more militant Old Testament texts in the context of the more peace-oriented New Testament ones. Indeed, this process of contrapuntal interpretation is supported by the several passages of the Koran itself, including Surah 2:106. This is an absolutely accurate explanation of an important element of Muslim religious thinking that Green was unaware of and was suggesting doesn't exist, and it was important to correct her misapprehension. What I was "really saying" was, of course, that there is a strong basis in Islamic theology and doctrine for interpreting more violent texts in the context of more peaceful ones just as there is in Christianity. It's as simple as that. And it's true.

I'd also note that -- if doing something as radical as replacing the Old Testament with the New is what it takes to sanitize an otherwise "violent" faith, then Jews are in seriously trouble (who's surprised to see Christian-oriented thinkers utterly neglect to consider how Jews are affected by their analysis? Not me!), since our faith ensconced in the "Old Testament" whose rejection is apparently the saving grace (pun intended) for Christianity. Of course, Jews too have reinterpreted our holy texts via Talmudic expansion and other means, to emphasize peaceful behavior and minimize violence. So unless you want to say Judaism is an inherently warlike religion, then one has to give Islam the same opportunity for spiritual adaptation as we have.

Relatedly, Ignoblus has a good post on Ibish's good post on Paul Berman's good book (well, I haven't actually read the book, but it's gotten pretty positive feedback from what I've heard) The Flight of the Intellectuals.

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