How the Islamic Enlightenment Came and Went

In The Islamic Enlightenment: The Modern Struggle between Faith and Reason, Christopher de Bellaigue chronicles the attempts of 19th- and 20th-century Muslim intellectuals, clerics, and rulers to come to terms with Western civilization and what it has to offer. Eric Ormsby writes in his review:

Muslim intellectuals, both reformers and traditionalists, as well as ruthlessly reforming sultans and pashas, were simultaneously attracted to and repelled by Western achievements and practices. The fact that these unfamiliar foreign novelties arrived wrapped in an aura of sheer godlessness and ignorance of the one true faith confounded Muslims. How was it possible that Allah, who had bestowed the final truth on Muslims in a revelation that superseded both Judaism and Christianity, would permit such infidels to triumph over them?

The question, which vexed Muslims from Napoleon’s first incursions into Egypt in 1798, remains tormentingly pertinent today. It perplexes traditional Muslim preachers and it fuels the rage of jihadists. God cannot be unjust, and yet, how to account for the overwhelming material superiority of the sinful West? At the same time, once Muslim leaders witnessed the devastating effect of Western weaponry and military tactics on the battlefield, they had to obtain and master them. Other novelties, such as printing with movable type or medical and scientific research (including human dissection), took longer to be accepted but eventually proved equally irresistible.

De Bellaigue’s title turns on a paradox. We seldom, if ever, think of Islam, at least in its current form, as exemplifying, let alone promoting, “enlightenment.” Yet his intention “is to demonstrate that non-Muslims and even some Muslims who today urge an Enlightenment on Islam are opening the door on a horse that bolted long ago.” He goes even further when he states that “for the past two centuries Islam has been going through a pained yet exhilarating transformation—a Reformation, an Enlightenment, and an Industrial Revolution all at once.” This seems to me somewhat overstated. After all, one of the obstacles to any reformation within Islam is not solely the intransigence of its well-ensconced clergy, both Sunni and Shiite, but also the simple fact that the emergence of Islam itself represented a reformation, at least in the eyes of its adherents. It grew partly as a reformation of what the Prophet Muhammad and his earliest followers saw as the distortions of monotheism present in both Christianity and Judaism. Many Christian doctrines, such as that of the incarnation or the Trinity, scandalized early Muslims because they infringed upon the overriding conception of God’s absolute oneness.

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More about: History & Ideas, Islam, Napoleon Bonaparte

Hamas’s Deadly Escalation at the Gaza Border

Oct. 16 2018

Hamas’s weekly demonstration at the fence separating Gaza from Israel turned bloody last Friday, as operatives used explosives to blow a hole in the barrier and attempted to pass through. The IDF opened fire, killing three and scaring away the rest. Yoni Ben Menachem notes that the demonstrators’ tactics have been growing more aggressive and violent in recent weeks, and the violence is no longer limited to Fridays but is occurring around the clock:

The number of participants in the demonstrations has risen to 20,000. Extensive use has been made of lethal tactics such as throwing explosive charges and grenades at IDF soldiers, and there has been an increase in the launching of incendiary balloons and kites into Israel. At the same time, Hamas supplemented its burning tires with smoke generators at the border to create heavy smoke screens to shield Gazan rioters and allow them to get closer to the border fence and infiltrate into Israel. . . .

[S]ix months of ineffective demonstrations have not achieved anything connected with easing [Israel’s blockade of the Strip]. Therefore, Hamas has decided to increase military pressure on Israel. [Its] ultimate goal has not changed: the complete removal of the embargo; until this is achieved, the violent demonstrations at the border fence will continue.

Hamas’s overall objective is to take the IDF by surprise by blowing up the fence at several points and infiltrating into Israeli territory to harm IDF soldiers or abduct them and take them into the Gaza Strip. . . . The precedent of the 2011 deal in which one Israeli soldier was traded for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners has strengthened the feeling within Hamas that Israel is prepared to pay a heavy price for bringing back captured soldiers alive. . . . Hamas also believes that the campaign is strengthening its position in Palestinian society and is getting the international community to understand that the Palestinian problem is still alive. . . .

The Hamas leadership is not interested in an all-out military confrontation with Israel. The Gaza street is strongly opposed to this, and the Hamas leadership understands that a new war with Israel will result in substantial damage to the organization. Therefore, the idea is to continue with the “Return March” campaign, which will not cost the organization too much and will maintain its rule without paying too high a price for terror.

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More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security