Monday, April 24, 2006

Reacting to Karen Armstrong

and all the Islamic apologists

Last night Xavier hosted the World Affairs Council in a Town Meeting featuring Karen Armstrong the author of the international bestseller, The History of God: The 4000 Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Dr. Baher Foad, director of adult religious education at the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati, Farooq Kathwari, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Ethan Allen Interiors Inc., and Jerry Leach, president of the World Affairs Council.

Karen's new book, The Great Transformation, was in prominent display and she will be speaking about it and Islam in more detail on Tuesday night by herself. I'll be there.

Last night, though, gave me cause to pause.

I admit it. I am not enamored with Islam no matter how much I read about it, no matter how many professors and scholars show me the error of my judgments. It's not that I don't believe them. I read many, many articles by Riffat Hassan, Pakistani woman now professor at University of Louisville. She is known as a prominent voice for the injustices against women perpetrated by Muslims and she spends a great deal of energy reclaiming her tradition through showing the misuse of the Qu'ran and then reinterprets difficult passages through a historical social context to relieve them of their dangerous implications for women.

Good.

Fine.

More power to her.

But what is it about this topic of Islam that makes otherwise smart people dump the burden for the problems in the middle east on the western caricature and stereotype? It's not that I mind being berated. Guilt me, shame me, show me my racism, my heterocentrism, my selfish middle class waste. Make me beat my chest and repent of my sins. Force me to admit, California snob that I am, that Kentucky, for instance, is a beautiful state with hospitable people!

But don't try to convince me that the American media, the United States government and its European allies are actually responsible for Islam being the debacle of a faith that it is! There are a billion Muslims in the world, and somehow the vast majority of them have the wrong impression of their own religion. The problems may be exacerbated by our prejudices and blindnesses, but no way are we responsible for misinterpreting the faith to Muslims themselves. Whose fault is that?

When Karen repeatedly makes jabs at the media, at American culture, at Fox News, at President Bush, at westerners for thinking Islam is not a religion of peace and social justice, as though we are ignoring some vast body of evidence that shows Islam to the contrary, I want to laugh. We do not see Islam living up to its principles in the countries where it is practiced.

And what of these very countries where freedom of speech doesn't exist and Muslim stereotypes of westerners contribute to their deeply held misperceptions of who we are? Who berates them? (Fortunately last night Farooq Kathwari made this very point. Hats off to him.)

I would love to give you lots of reasons why I'm right and Karen is wrong. And I'll do that tonight.

4 comments:

Dave said...

Armstrong's infatuation with Islam doesn't make a lot of sense to me from my vantage point, but I've never really had much contact with the religion or its followers so it's hard for me to judge. For the most part, I consider Islam to be a religion in need of some serious reformation and have yet to find a spokesperson on its behalf that is able to persuade me that it's worth my time to study it further. Most of what I've seen on various websites or on video indicates to me that this is a religion where the "fundies" are pretty much allowed to go unchallenged, and I have little patience or admiration for any ideology that remains so stubbornly resistant to self-critique.

I'm waiting to see what kind of positive contribution Islam has to make to world culture outside its own sphere of immediate influence. I'd have a hard time choosing between North Korea or Saudi Arabia if I could only live on place or the other - both seem unacceptably repressive to their own citizens, regardless of whatever level of privilege I might personally enjoy in either place myself.

jim said...

Provacative as usual! I've wanted to comment on a few other posts, but time's been slipping away on me.

Did Amrstrong cast any of the discussion in terms of economics/politics of the region? I admit that I've not done much studying on Islam, but am signed up to take a short course when I am at Princeton Sem this summer for their week long theology institute.

Anywyay, I keep wondering how much of the struggle within Islam itself is due to oppressive regimes that stamp out free expression and do nothing for the welfare of their citizenry.

The more extreme and violent elements of the religion provides a voice for those struggling with no hope and no way to be heard.

The west then of course ends up bearing a good part of the violence because of our "freedoms" but more importantly our wealth.

australisa said...

<<< as though we are ignoring some vast body of evidence that shows Islam to the contrary, I want to laugh. >>>

That made me laugh!

<<< But don't try to convince me that the American media, the United States government and its European allies are actually responsible for Islam being the debacle of a faith that it is! There are a billion Muslims in the world, and somehow the vast majority of them have the wrong impression of their own religion. The problems may be exacerbated by our prejudices and blindnesses, but no way are we responsible for misinterpreting the faith to Muslims themselves. Whose fault is that? >>>

Ugh, did she really say that the west is reponsible for what has happened in the Islamic faith? Yikes!

blog: <<< We do not see Islam living up to its principles in the countries where it is practiced. >>>

Agreed.

Tell me more about Farooq Kathwari. What did he have to say?

From a quick google I can tell that he is quite a wealthy and influential man from Kashmir and is now Director of the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University as well as being on the board of several well known organizations. I also saw that his son joined the jihadists in Afghanistan and was killed in 1986. That's when the jihadists were on the US side, of course. :P

What about Dr. Foad?

julieunplugged said...

I'll post a new entry tomorrow but I have to say Karen was better tonight. I also got to talk to several others tonight who gave me some other perspectives to consider.

Lisa, thanks for the questions. I'll write more about it tomorrow.

Julie