Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Adolescent World Religions

There's an interesting discussion going on in the comments section about hard-line Islam and the extent to which it influences Islam in general. Which reminds me of a tongue-in-cheek column written about 15 years ago by B. Michael, who used to be a left-wing satirist around here, unusual in that he was also an orthodox Jew.

His thesis was that adolescence of world religions look quite a bit like adolescence in individuals, only it's measured in centuries rather than years. Look at how crazy the Jews were at 1,400 years, he said, with brutal internecine strife and repeated revolts against the Romans, who always won. Look at medieval Europe: clearly, Christian adolescence was pretty awful. Now, look at adolescent Islam. Frightening, huh?

The good news: everyone grows out of adolescence eventually.

The bad news: it takes centuries.


NormanF said...

Except Islam. I don't think reformers are welcomed in Islam. Even mild suggestions of reform are enough to get one killed. Never mind discussing Mohammed anywhere rationally. Such a change would take centuries. Right now Islam can get every infidel on the planet killed as it is now.

4infidels said...


Even if I accept B Michael's premise, it doesn't change how we need to deal with the threat we (Israel, US, Europe, India, Thailand and Infidels everywhere) face today. Islam in the 21st century remains supremacist, imperialist, anti-democratic and anti-intellectual. It is inherently hostile and discriminatory in its application to non-Muslims under its rule. Not all Muslims, maybe not even the majority of Muslims, follow all tenets of their faith. Some are ignorant of its precepts and others are apathetic Muslims-In-Name-Only. But those with the guns, the money, the mosques, the organizations, the charities, the textbooks and the microphones seem to overwhelmingly support, or incite others to, jihad against infidels.

Given what Israel and Western Europe face today from Islamism, B. Michael's comforting formula is not helping those threatened. It seems to discourage examination of Islamic texts, ideologies and the nature of Islamic societies as motivating factors explaining the "craziness" emerging from Muslims. That may not have been B. Michael's intention, but there are far too many otherwise intelligent people who look for every thesis or historical context for Muslim "craziness" except for the most obvious: they are acting in accordance with the commands in the Koran, the example of Muhammad and the inspiration of Imams whose interpretation of Islam is consistent with centuries of mainstream Islamic jurisprudence.

Anonymous said...

I agree if the qualification of Islam TODAY is made
- when it comes to always or LESS than 1400 years (still 12 to go to that anniversary;) I have my qualms.

Having been raised on a Christian compost heap I don't feel fully comfortable by including the past (Christians competed quite well in the atrocity compartment - as I see it, it was always one on top and then the other for centuries) notwithstanding that I was told from an early age on what a catastrophe it would have been had the Turks won at Vienna (both times).

I always have my eyes on the "little" ones and there was this sweet with eachother Turkish couple cleaning our office toilets every evening. I guess they were pious and modest because he didn't let her enter the men's toilet and vice versa but she didn't wear a head scarf. I tried to chat with them and succeeded to a point but it was even for me a real challenge and I consider myself to be quite a talent in the language bridging department.

Ever since those evening chats with them I keep asking myself, how does one reach these people, every time they get told that somebody has bashed their Koran they probably wince and that is all they have access to.
Somewhere along the line even that lovable woman will have been brain-washed to the point of considering me an enemy at first sight instead of being open to enter in "we women" mode with me.

I have tried in a certain thread context to come up with an approach that feels more true to my European background. (Somehow it seems to "inspire" me, when I know I have to publish it better as if I try to write about it all for myself i.e. this is no attempt by me to show off.)
Please keep in mind that it is my first try on coming up with some line that hopes to open channels of communication without sucking up to fanatics and that it leaves the language gap problem completely out of the picture as if it were not of prime importance.


Anonymous said...

Living in the Age of Nuclear Weaponry, we do not have the time to wait some several hundred years.

Keep in mind, that a LOT of Imams are trying to keep islam in the 7th century.

deeply concerned, André

Lee Ratner said...

NormanF, reformers were not welcome in Christianity for most of its history after Constantine because an imperial religion had to be universal and consistent in its beliefs. Until Martin Luther, the Catholic Church successfully crushed any Christian who tried to deviate a little from Church teachings more successfully than any Muslim qadi ever did. Even after Martin Luther, the Catholic Church tried to impose Orthodoxy on the Protestants and Protestants tried to impose their truth on the Catholics and other types of Protestant reformers.

Anonymous said...

Humans have the unlimited capacity to selectively take and emphasize single ideas of any philosophy, religion or even science to promote any agenda, whether for good or evil.

What we call "radical Islam" is a program heavily influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood. The Arab world was heavily propagandized by the Nazis. The MB (and the Mufti) in turn were influenced. The radical Islam we see today, is the ideological descendant of Nazism. No, this is not Godwin's Law I am using, but history.

Please read this interview with Paul Berman:

It is very long, but worthwhile.


AKUS said...

George Friedman ("The Next Hundred Years") says civilizations have three stages - adolescence, adulthood, and decadence.

Unfortunately, Europe is in the decadence phase, exhausted by 5 centuries of wars, while Islam is emerging into adulthood (I may not like them as adults, but that is what is happening) and Turkey is trying to ride this wave by once again trying to take leadership of the the most extreme Islamic nations. He has the idea, which seems strange to me, that the powers for this century will be the US, Poland (!!) and Turkey, with China playing a marginal role due to its geopolitical situation and internal contradictions.

Only the US, also heading to adulthood, stands between and them and the takeover of Europe.
Interesting idea.

On the other hand, every time Islam has pressed too heavily on Europe, the Europeans in the end have forced them out and destroyed their efforts to instate, or reinstate, a caliphate across the Indo-European landmass.

Anonymous said...

Lee at 1:37

the latest I've heard Catholics still strictly refuse to acknowledge Protestants as a church but in real life here and now to the best of my knowledge they don't send suicide bombers into subways to send as many people as possible to eternity and they don't threaten it and no matter how impolite their behaviour towards Israel may be they don't express their desire to get rid of it, at least not publicly.

Whether they were worse or better than Christians over the millenia over the whole spectrum of what we would call these days "decent" has as yet not been figured out. If you concentrate on their behaviour towards Jews their record may be as a total a bit better than the Christian record but what relevance does that have for today?

If however dhimmi-status is all that they have on offer, no matter how comfortable in real life that may be, do you real find that to be a goal to strive for?


Anonymous said...

me too André
and first whiffs I get indicate that Putin must have liked it yesterday at Istanbul.
What a triumvirate:
Erdogan, Putin and Ahmadinejad
are their effective prayers available suitable for agnostics?


Anonymous said...

Lee at 1:37

come to think of it
- the pope who forced the king to submission at Canossa certainly was a reformer, maybe not in the direction you would a reformer want to move but he succeeded at a game change i.e. a church independant from the sovereign's supervision, something which it is said the Byzantines never got around to (Russia is said to be the heir there though I doubt Kiev likes that claim). The Ottomans in turn are said to have incorporated a lot of Byzantine attitudes.

It all has a lot to do with perspective, doesn't it?

which is why I think the past is endlessly fascinating to read about and maybe find out that there are some very basic constants to human behaviour but that all the rest is a highly unpredictable result of endlessly mixable ingredients.


Anonymous said...

I didn't know that Friedman was back in the predicting business I got the impression he stopped that after having gotten the financial crisis slightly wrong ;-)

As to this image "adolescence, adulthood, and decadence"
- Athens declined after the Peloponnesian war, Alexander made Greece starting from Macedonia great again albeit for a short time that was 333 BCE after that came all kinds of Greek states fighting eachother somewhere along came Rome and in 330 CE Constantinople was consecrated and remained the capital of the I think longest lasting empire ever until the Turks took over in 1453.

Constantinople started out as a Roman city but Greek culture became soon dominant. Between Alexander and Constantine there was a long period where Greek culture mattered - I seem to remember that Cicero learned rhetoric on Rhodos.

by all this I want to say that " adolescence, adulthood, and decadence." - arguments are good for bullet points in power point but that's about it. If you want the original I guess Friedman is feeding on google Halford Mackinder the book is online (I have only looked at it) or listen to this alas not very inspiring audio

IMO pundits are always switching back and forth between Mackinder's and Mahan's point (Mckinder is a solid earth man while Mahan is a Navyman and available at the Atlantic) to be able to tell the public that this time they have finally finally found the philosopher's stone and they are the only ones who possess it.

And here's one for Lee:

the worst looting/killing/raping you name it rampage Constantinople has ever been subjected to in its long history was performed by one of the crusades with the participation of Venice i.e. definitely co-Christians albeit non-Orthodox both of them.

and to Nycerbarb
Berman's is one of the voices out there which I consider to be serious.
He was the first one BTW to alert me to the fact albeit maybe unintentionally how dangerous the without-borders-crowd was via his long essay on Kouchner which for some time was online at the TNR - I think it was an excerpt from a book of his.


4infidels said...


What we call "radical Islam" is a program heavily influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood. The Arab world was heavily propagandized by the Nazis. The MB (and the Mufti) in turn were influenced. The radical Islam we see today, is the ideological descendant of Nazism. No, this is not Godwin's Law I am using, but history.

Another example of what I referred to above as a "comforting formula" that even if accurate makes no difference for what non-Muslims must confront in the coming decades.

However, the comforting attraction to this increasingly popular thesis, IMHO, is if "radical Islam" is a European import to the Muslim world, then its ideas can be more easily abandoned than something grounded in the foundational texts and backed up by centuries of Islamic jurisprudence.

Nazism found such fertile soil in the Muslim world because it was so similar to Islam: genocidally anti-Semitic, elevating one race or community (umma) as superior to the rest of humanity, a totalitarian philosophy, division of the world into a state of war between believer and infidel or Aryans and other races, the prophet or fuehrer as the idealized man, and a game plan for conquest of the world. Upon reading Mein Kampf ("My Jihad"), Winston Churchill compared it to the Koran.

The Muslim Brotherhood was formed in 1928 in response to the elimination of the Caliphate. What the MB practices is well within the mainstream Islamic tradition. They are believing Muslims who act upon the tenants of their faith. In reality, the radicals in the Middle East are those who reject the command to struggle to bring the rest of humanity under the rule of Sharia law.

The marriage between Muslim brotherhood activism and organization and Saudi petrodollars, along with the inspiration provided by the Islamic Revolution in Iran and the defeat of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, has reenergized the jihad movement in the past 40 years. But make no mistake, the doctrines that MB acts upon are authoritative in Islam, not a perversion or a European import. That doesn't mean Muslims can never reinterpret or reform their faith; rather it is an acknowledgement of how difficult a task that will be.

4infidels said...


Iran is perhaps two months away from having deployable nuclear weapons.

Are you saying that the Muslim world can reform in time that we don't have to feel threatened by that reality?

Do you think Islam will reinterpret its foundational texts or the role of Muhammad as the perfect man and example for all Muslim conduct in time for us to not have to address the demographic threat in Western Europe?

Saying the it was difficult for Christian reformers, or that many religious wars were faught between believing Christians with different interpretations of their faith, doesn't support the notion that infidels can count on a reformation in Islam as our best defense.

If the religion of "turn the other cheek" had trouble with tolerance, how much harder will it be for a religion whose authoritative Koranic verses call for fighting non-believers until Allah's law reigns supreme over the entire world.

Anonymous said...


by your permission I will plagiarize you shamelessly with that one

"If the religion of "turn the other cheek" had trouble with tolerance"


4infidels said...


Feel free to plagiarize whatever you like.

I would much rather be plagiarized than have my words mischaracterized as Lee likes to do.

Anonymous said...

getting mischaracterized is certainly not due to your "faults"

- though I'd sometimes like to argue nuances with you or try to brainstorm with you for solutions of how to get across to my nice Turkish couple. On the whole I enjoy reading you and I profit no end. I imagine taking a how-to-debate course would be somewhat similar.


4infidels said...


how to get across to my nice Turkish couple

Did you try food? I'm sure they wouldn't pass up a chance to enjoy a good (Halal) meal and would appreciate the gesture of friendship.

Anonymous said...

- that's one for Lee also on how we mistreat "them"

as to food
- our hospitals now routinely offer Halal food as a choice - last couple of times I spent in hospital (minor stuff) I opted for "their" food because it is much more palatable than what is on offer for us "infidels".

I understand patients are figuring that out in ever greater numbers - maybe they employ Turkish cooks for Halal food and they are just better at doing well with limited money? ;-)

BTW I'd be quite surprised if somebody told me that there was routinely food fit for Jews on offer in our hospitals before 1933 (thereafter the idea seems preposterous) There were of course Jewish hospitals but I doubt they were available in every small city.

We are terribly negligent of their desires, aren't we Lee? and remember that even today probably the majority of our hospitals is run either on public funds (cities universities etc) or by one of the churches who get public funds in order to do it also.


Anonymous said...

I am so glad that the mass media do not pick topics from the daily flood of wire copies but report comprehensively on everything which is going on in the world. Surely they would inform us about reform movements in Islam if only there were any, and as we do not pick stories ourselves, we would read such articles and remember them all. Had they ever lived, we would have heard about people like Yousef Sanej or Fethullah Gülen, wouldn't we. That is why we can safely say that Islam is uniform and rigid and lacks the ability to change in any way.


4infidels said...

Hello Judith,

Had they ever lived, we would have heard about people like Yousef Sanej or Fethullah Gülen, wouldn't we. That is why we can safely say that Islam is uniform and rigid and lacks the ability to change in any way.

For the 1000th time, Islam can change if powerful Muslims or enough of a popular movement develops among Muslims demanding that change.

But taking comfort in that happening, and happening quickly, seems to defy reason, logic and reality...and to be offered as a way of saying that we have nothing to worry about from the believers in Islam at the present time.

I am well aware of Yousef Saanei, including his belief that Islam is opposed to nuclear weapons. I am also aware that Iran's nuclear program moves full speed ahead and that in January of 2010 the top clerical body in Qom demoted Saanei.

The existance of a reformer doesn't mean that the religion of Islam is going to reform anymore the the existance of Islamists in the positions of influence in the US means that America is on its way to adopting Sharia anytime soon. And I would say that Islamists and Marxists have made more progress in changing America in recent years than Muslim reformers have in changing Islam.

Perhaps you could explain in more detail the point you are trying to make.

Anonymous said...


as Judith tends to show up rarely I presume to say in her stead that I had to read her sentence a couple of times until I got her meaning and thus think that Lee would strongly disapprove of her.

As to reformers there is a guy born in Damascus who has taught for ages in Germany and campaigns for Euro-Islam - his name is Bassam Tibi and he is very very careful not to hurt any feelings. Paul Berman tells in his new book that even Bassam Tibi needs body-guards every now and then.

If a guy like him as non-abrasive as he (I have listened bunches of his interviews) is in danger then there is nothing to be hoped from reformists.
Also I heard one lecturer quite some time ago who claimed that no movement from below could succeed as long as the elite stuck together. Therefore the first aim should be to make the elite disagree with eachother, quarrel over strategy.

That the current supreme leader is not a full grand-ayatollah by traditional standards is hopefully exploited by some western "villains" by needling the others constantly on how they are humiliated and unappreciated by having to defer to that unfinished scholar.

This morning I checked up some chronology: Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1440
- would anybody have expected the reformation coming out of that given that Luther translated the Bible only in 1521 (Luther could be successful - and stay alive - because some reigning aristocrats chafed at Catholic exploitation)

So then and there it took 80 years from a new technology to another game changer and from then on almost a 100 years until full scale religious war followed.

I have a private internet since about 2000 and it has changed my ability to access knowledge, real knowledge to a degree which before then was reserved probably for professors at prestigious unis. The internet became publicly accessible a bit earlier but I think I have been one of the early not tech-nut users. If it changed things for me so much, it is likely that it did that for others too.
So this time around we have a new technology going viral with unforeseeable consequences within one at best two decades. It is scary no matter how much I enjoy it.