A Misconceived Book Seeks to Combat Bigotry by Romanticizing Islam

Nov. 21 2017

In What the Qur’an Meant: And Why It Matters, Garry Wills sets out to educate his readers about the Islamic holy book with the goal of countering anti-Muslim prejudice. Shadi Hamid, while sympathizing with the aim, argues that the book both betrays its author’s ignorance and subverts his purpose:

[Wills] writes of al-Qaeda and the soldiers of Islamic State: “[these] minority fanatics seem to be unaware of their own traditions.” Here, he shows that his own knowledge of Islamic State’s theology is sometimes limited. The problem isn’t that Islamic State’s chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is unaware of more broad-minded interpretations of the Quran; it’s that he thinks they’re wrong. . . .

Wills [also] sometimes seeks to present Islam as something it never was. For instance, he claims that a “mountain of evidence” demonstrates that “Islam favors peace over violence.” But Islam is not a pacifist religion. For centuries, Muslim jurists developed a body of law on the waging of war, including how to treat prisoners and civilians caught in conflict and the definition of what properly qualifies as jihad. [But] why should Islam be pacifist in the first place? Since religions are more than just private belief systems, they inevitably must account not only for the ideal of peace but for the reality of war. The Quran was revealed to a prophet and a people engaged in battle, so Islam would necessarily have to address questions of violence and the conquest of territory by force. . . .

Wills makes other claims that are simply misleading, as when he asserts that “there are no ‘portions’ of the Quran that discuss sharia.” In support of his argument, he says that only about 500 of the Quran’s 6,235 verses deal with legal matters. The Quran is not a legal manual, but 8 percent of a book isn’t exactly nothing, either. The holy book is one of the major sources for interpreting sharia. Wills’ presumption appears to be that a religion having something to say about law is a bad thing and must therefore be played down.

I . . . worry about the unintended effects of trying to soften Islam’s image or dilute its content. Trying to make Islam digestible to non-Muslims by making it peaceful and legally ambivalent may only inspire more confusion. What happens when, after reading about this palatable, peaceful, and unthreatening religion, Americans are confronted by a version of it that is unapologetically assertive and uncompromising?

You have 2 free articles left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at Washington Post

More about: Islam, Islamic State, Quran, Religion & Holidays, Sharia

No, Israelis and Palestinians Can’t Simply Sit Down and Solve the “Israel-Palestinian Conflict”

Jan. 17 2019

By “zooming out” from the blinkered perspective with which most Westerners see the affairs of the Jewish state, argues Matti Friedman, one can begin to see things the way Israelis do:

Many [in Israel] believe that an agreement signed by a Western-backed Palestinian leader in the West Bank won’t end the conflict, because it will wind up creating not a state but a power vacuum destined to be filled by intra-Muslim chaos, or Iranian proxies, or some combination of both. That’s exactly what has happened . . . in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. One of Israel’s nightmares is that the fragile monarchy in Jordan could follow its neighbors . . . into dissolution and into Iran’s orbit, which would mean that if Israel doesn’t hold the West Bank, an Iranian tank will be able to drive directly from Tehran to the outskirts of Tel Aviv. . . .

In the “Israeli-Palestinian” framing, with all other regional components obscured, an Israeli withdrawal in the West Bank seems like a good idea—“like a real-estate deal,” in President Trump’s formulation—if not a moral imperative. And if the regional context were peace, as it was in Northern Ireland, for example, a power vacuum could indeed be filled by calm.

But anyone using a wider lens sees that the actual context here is a complex, multifaceted war, or a set of linked wars, devastating this part of the world. The scope of this conflict is hard to grasp in fragmented news reports but easy to see if you pull out a map and look at Israel’s surroundings, from Libya through Syria and Iraq to Yemen.

The fault lines have little to do with Israel. They run between dictators and the people they’ve been oppressing for generations; between progressives and medievalists; between Sunnis and Shiites; between majority populations and minorities. If [Israel’s] small sub-war were somehow resolved, or even if Israel vanished tonight, the Middle East would remain the same volatile place it is now.

You have 1 free article left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at New York Times

More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Middle East