… and then Jim posted Mark Steyn, demography and the pattern of global change, a thoughtful follow-up to his previous post on blogging and legal matters, but focussing on a divide (not just in the blogging world) which was manifest also, I feel, in the long and sometimes, admittedly, rather funny conversation I had with my “frenemy” (his word) Kevin from Louisiana in my post Christianity’s coats of many colours — which led to Kevin stalking off, for now, shocked at my linking him to women in hijabs on Salam Cafe.
My reading of the situation is that we are all living in fact in a world where ancient certainties are irrecoverable, because very often their foundations were uncertain indeed, except through conscientious self-delusion, where what some call loss of moral confidence may actually be a rather more sophisticated and realistic moral sense, one rooted more in actuality than in dogmatism. Our questioning our own histories may have arisen because we have realised that the histories we thought we knew were not History after all, but rather were stories designed in large part to give us comfort and bolster a sense of identity — which no longer works because we are no longer immune to others and their voices. In the end this need not put such stories beyond recovery, or even utterly negate their value, but it does reconfigure their significance or weight, as they find a place amid previously suppressed parts of the past we share.
Islam is one such repressed voice — or rather voices — in that mix. Until quite recently most of us in places like Australia could live without hearing those voices, or needing to attend to what they say.
In short, this is a postmodern world we are in, and a shrinking world, and that is inescapable. It is like an adult but rather more cosmic discovery that Santa Claus, after all, does not exist. Fundamentalisms, and other forms of all-embracing utopianism, thrive because this postmodern world is a very scary world indeed. They thrive too because the world order is quite patently unjust.
My feeling about the Mark Steyn approach, to generalise from the particular writer to a generic attitude, is that it is virtually assuming that unlike other people Muslims can’t change. There are of course Muslims who don’t want to change, or who want to reclaim a centrality in the world they see as a duty imposed on them by God, but neglected during centuries of western dominance. But then there are other Muslim voices, such as the woman I quote in my comment on That Post:
It is true that not all followers of the Abrahamic religions are into the bloodier and more bigoted parts of their traditions, and that applies to very many Muslims too. Islam is a close relative of Judaism and Christianity though, and that is a matter of fact, not of opinion. It is simply true, whichever way you spin it. Judaism and Christianity have grown used to ignoring (or sifting and winnowing) a great deal about their own pasts, probably a healthy development, and there are many Muslims who are quite prepared to do the same. See for example people in Indonesia recently who have been prepared to do so at considerable personal risk: here is one in the Jakarta Post.
It is we, the tolerant and peaceful Muslims, who comprise the bigger number compared to those small numbers of paramilitary members. And what is astonishing is that the government prefers listening to them than taking into consideration the bigger number of tolerant Muslims in Indonesia.
Neither the government nor the MUI is interested in taking into account the voices marching on the street demanding a peaceful Indonesian Islam.
Other “Islamic” paramilitary groups claim constantly that they are the true defenders of Islam, saying Allahu Akbar (Allah is great) while at the same time lashing women with bamboo. I murmur Allahu Akbar in prayers as well, but in a different way, expressing love for universal humanity, filling and recharging the soul with positive energy. It is certainly the same Allahu Akbar articulated by Indonesian Muslims during their five daily prayers. But it is not the FPI’s hijacked Allahu Akbar and their brutal fascism.
Is this Islamic? Definitely not. It is a hijacked Islam. It is a politicized Islam. It is indeed an androcentric and misogynist “Islam”.
The problem I have with the siege mentality of a Mark Steyn is that it makes life even harder, I would have thought, for such Muslims, who are drowned out by the fears people like Steyn feed on. In other words, Steyn is, like the Taliban, a polariser. That, I submit, is the last thing we need.
I was pleased to see when I revised my links page just now that Charles Notess** has restored his invaluable COUNTERING POLARIZATION – A Key to Peacemaking, to give it its new title. An engineer in his professional life, Charlie has devoted himself to working with his fellow Americans to get to the heart of these problems in a way I find quite admirable. Another who is it seems to me on the right track from another perspective is Amin Maalouf, a French writer of Lebanese Christian background, with his concepts of multiple and also deadly identities: On Identity is one of the best books I have read in the past decade. Then there are those within Islam whose views converge with people like those two: Indonesia’s Wahid Institute: the development of moderate Islamic thought, for example, or Liberal Islam Network Indonesia. The people on Salam Cafe may or may not agree with the viewpoints of those organisations, but they do make a contribution by bringing Muslims into the human realm — not as inhabitants of Planet Islam, or Barbarians at the Gates, but as sharers of one small planet with the rest of us.
What worries me about the Steyn approach is that it cuts us off from the very voices which just might save us.
Down with the polarisers, whoever they are! That much I am certain of; the rest of what I have said I offer tentatively indeed, but it is something that has occupied my thoughts for decades now, one way or another…
UPDATE 11 June
**I have just added a sub-page to my links page: Expanding on a link: Charles Notess, PEACEMAKING IS NOT SIMPLE….