Sunday, September 24, 2006

Reuel Marc Gerecht and praktike

Reuel Marc Gerecht is a fellow of the AEI. His WSJ Opinion piece is this week's must-read. In a civil, adult manner he basically says the Pope was doing his job last week and those who are taking him to task for doing so are out of line. (I recall how many people seemed disappointed when he became Pope that he was actually Catholic at all. Popular ignorance to the contrary notwithstanding, it's easy to forget that the Pope is, after all, a Catholic.)

...Even if one is not a believer in any revealed faith, or has some memory of the conflict, daily cruelty and forced conversion meted out by representatives of Rome's bishops, or has some skepticism about the church's commitment to defending the liberal ideas of the Enlightenment, one can be thankful that the pope sees Christianity as a vehicle of peace and tries to explain why he thinks this is so. And by extension why Islam is so often today the loudly proclaimed faith of men who define their relationship to God through violence. Joseph Ratzinger's explanation, as befits a former professor of theology and philosophy, is an abstract one, but it is in the broadest sense undeniably true.
...We might not be able to put our finger precisely on it--the problems of a radicalized British Muslim of Pakistani ancestry are not the same as a Sunni Iraqi suicide bomber who blows up Jordanian and Palestinian women and children--but we know there is something wrong within Islam's global house, something that cannot be blamed exclusively on Western prejudice, bigotry, military actions or colonialism.

Many Muslims know it too, even if they are not inclined to say so publicly--it's often dangerous and always enormously difficult for believing and nonbelieving Muslims to aggressively critique their own when they know non-Muslims are listening. Self-described Muslim intellectuals (often meaning the traditionally devout, clerics) really have a hard time engaging in self-criticism that fortifies non-Muslim critiques of Islamic society.
We need to stop treating Muslims like children, and viewing our public diplomacy with Islamic countries as popularity contests. Given what's happened since 9/11, a dialogue of civilizations is certainly in order. To his credit, Benedict has at least tried to approach the invidious issues that will define any helpful discussion.

Solid piece of work.

*** ***

Praktike is the screen name for one of the most durable, informed and prolific progressive voices on the net. He is in Egypt and has been for some time, studying and learning the language. His observations are a cut above the average traveler or journalist. And he was a critic of the Iraq adventure long before it was fashionable.

His response to this piece is a good illustration of how "being there" can have an impact on one's point of view. I dare say that the realities of daily life in Egypt has opened his ears and eyes in a way that toiling away in the Yale library never could. He offers a measured endorsement of Gerecht's piece, tacking on a coda regarding US Palestine-Israel policy and the damage it has done and continues to do to the "dialogue" that Gerecht is promoting.
Yesterday I went to Al-Azhar mosque to watch Friday prayers, where, to be frank, Iexpected to see several thousand angry Muslims chanting angry slogans about the Pope, perhaps clashing with security forces violently in the process.
The sermon itself was fairly ordinary; while I didn't understand all of it by any means, it was mostly about the duties of Muslims during the month of Ramadan, which begins at dawn tomorrow here.

After the group prayer that follows the sermon, however, several crowds of people rushed to prepare for the political speeches that would follow. A small crowd of about 40 women came out of the women's area on the right-hand side of the courtyard, chanting "bi roh, bi damm, nafdeek ya Islam" or "With spirit, with blood, we sacrifice for you O Islam." Inside the mosque itself, the green banners with the crossed swords of the MB had come out, and youth wearing green headbands denoting them as Muslim Brothers had taken over the minbar (standing at the pulpit is an act symbolizing the seizure of power).
I would be lying if I said that I felt comfortable and at peace during this event (both the sermon and the demonstration afterwards). I would also be lying if I said that I didn't have enormous problems with the dominant Islamic views on women, clothing, and a host of other issues. Living in Egypt for more than a year now, I been uncomfortable on many occasions having religious discussions where I needed to fend off attempts at conversion, or where I was told point blank that I was going to hell (my stock response is "we'll just have to wait and see"). I have had to clench my fists and set my jaw to keep from flying off the handle at the behavior of guys on the street towards my girlfriend. This is not to say that I haven't met many kind people; in fact, on numerous occasions I have had deep and meaningful discussions about religion with Muslims, and through working at an Egyptian NGO I have made great

Still I have to admit, too, that I read Reuel Marc Gerecht's WSJ op-ed with a receptive mind...
I tend to be leery of embracing this position without putting in my caveats, because I've seen this argument used to make the case that America doesn't really need to pressure the Israelis to get out of the Palestinian territories, that the Iraq war was a good idea, that the entire Arab world needs to democratize before Israel can pull out of the West Bank, or that political Islamists should be thrown in jail rather than being integrated into the political system peacefully.

But Gerecht is right, if you phrase it this way: there is something about the way Islam is used in politics that seems unhealthy. I would differ with Gerecht in that I don't think Western lecturing is liable to be productive.

He writes, "If we withdraw from this civilizational debate, the decent men and women of the Middle East, most of whom are faithful Muslims, will have a very hard time defeating those who have brutalized and coarsened their culture and religion."

Where I would have written: "If we don't find a solution to the Palestinian question that Arabs and Muslims view as legitimate, and if we keep backing disasters like Iraq and the recent Israeli war in Lebanon, the decent men and women of the Middle East, most of whom are faithful Muslims, will have a very hard time defeating those who have brutalized and coarsened their culture and religion."

He didn't bring it up, but I will add that the use of the word Islamofascism also has to be counterproductive to any civil discussion. And the president's use of the word is, from a diplomatic standpoint, obscene. It is the equivalent of a white bigot using the N-word while trying to reach agreement with a black adversary.

No comments: