The Muslim World Doesn’t Need a Luther; It Needs a John Locke—or a Moses Mendelssohn

On the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, Mustafa Akyol examines the suggestion that Islam needs its own reformation to rid it of its more intolerant, bellicose, and brutal strains. He argues that the historical analogy is inapt—not least because Martin Luther sought to free Christianity from the church hierarchy, for which there is no Muslim equivalent:

[T]hose who hope to see a more tolerant, free, and open Muslim world should seek the equivalent not of the Protestant Reformation but of the next great paradigm in Western history: the Enlightenment. The contemporary Muslim world needs not a Martin Luther but a John Locke, whose arguments for freedom of conscience and religious toleration planted the seeds of liberalism. In particular, the more religion-friendly British Enlightenment, rather than the French one, can serve as a constructive model. (And . . . special attention should also be given to the Jewish Enlightenment, also called the Haskalah, and its pioneers such as Moses Mendelssohn. Islam, as a legalist religion, has more commonalities with Judaism than with Christianity.) . . .

Because there is no central religious authority to lead the way, one should consider the only definitive authority available, which is the state. Whether we like it or not, the state has been quite influential on religion throughout the history of Islam. It has become even more so in the past century, when Muslims overwhelmingly adopted the modern nation-state and its powerful tools, such as public education.

It really matters, therefore, whether the state promotes a tolerant or a bigoted interpretation of Islam. It really matters, for example, when the Saudi monarchy, which for decades has promoted Wahhabism, vows to promote “moderate Islam,” as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman recently did, giving some hope for the future. It is especially significant that this call for moderation implies not just fighting terrorism but also liberalizing society by curbing the “religion police,” empowering women, and being “open to the world and all religions.”

This argument may sound counterintuitive to some Western liberals, who are prone to think that the best thing for a state is to stay out of religion. But in a reality where the state is already deeply involved in religion, its steps toward moderation and liberalization should be welcome. It’s also worth remembering that the success of the Enlightenment in Europe was partly thanks to the era of “Enlightened despots,” the monarchs who preserved their power even as they realized crucial legal, social, and educational reforms.

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More about: Enlightenment, Islam, John Locke, Moses Mendelssohn, Reformation, Religion & Holidays

The Struggle for Iraq, and What It Means for Israel

Oct. 17 2018

Almost immediately after the 2003 invasion, Iraq became a battleground between the U.S. and Iran, as the latter sent troops, money, and arms to foment and support an insurgency. The war on Islamic State, along with the Obama administration’s effort to align itself with the Islamic Republic, led to a temporary truce, but also gave Tehran-backed militias a great deal of power. Iran has also established a major conduit of supplies through Iraq to support its efforts in Syria. Meanwhile, it is hard to say if the recent elections have brought a government to Baghdad that will be pro-American or pro-Iranian. Eldad Shavit and Raz Zimmt comment how these developments might affect Israel:

Although statements by the U.S. administration have addressed Iran’s overall activity in the region, they appear to emphasize the potential for confrontation in Iraq. First and foremost, this [emphasis] stems from the U.S. perception of this arena as posing the greatest danger, in light of the extensive presence of U.S. military and civilian personnel operating throughout the country, and in light of past experience, which saw many American soldiers attacked by Shiite militias under Iranian supervision. The American media have reported that U.S. intelligence possesses information indicating that the Shiite militias and other elements under Iranian auspices intend to carry out attacks against American targets and interests. . . .

In light of Iran’s intensifying confrontation with the United States and its mounting economic crisis, Tehran finds it essential to maintain its influence in Iraq, particularly in the event of a future clash with the United States. The Iranian leadership has striven to send a message of deterrence to the United States regarding the implications of a military clash. . . .

A recently published report also indicates that Iran transferred ballistic missiles to the Shiite militias it supports in Iraq. Although Iran has denied this report, it might indeed attempt to transfer advanced military equipment to the Shiite militias in order to improve their capabilities in the event of a military confrontation between Iran and the United States and/or Israel, or a confrontation between [the militias] and the central government in Baghdad.

From Israel’s perspective, after years when the Iraqi arena received little attention from Israeli decision makers, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman have mentioned the possibility of Israel’s taking action against Iranian targets in Iraq. In this context, and particularly in light of the possibility that Iraq could become an arena of greater conflict between the United States and Iran, it is critical that there be full coordination between Israel and the United States. This is of particular importance due to [the American estimation of] stability in Iraq as a major element of the the campaign against Islamic State, which, though declared a success, is not yet complete.

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More about: Barack Obama, Iran, Iraq, ISIS, Israel & Zionism, U.S. Foreign policy