August 06, 2005
Who Speaks For Islam in the West?
After doing a bit of follow-up reading on secretdubai’s discussion of UAE government control over mosques, I came across an interesting article in the Globe and Mail (linking to Google results to avoid registration prompt, just click on the first result):
Leaders clash over who speaks for Muslims in Canada - July 29, 2005
As a small group of conciliatory Muslim leaders met with Prime Minister Paul Martin last night, a war of words broke out between two other leaders whose irreconcilable world views stand as bookends to the diverse opinions of nearly 600,000 Canadian Muslims.
"Imams like Aly Hindy are holding the entire Muslim community as a hostage. A vast number of Muslim Canadians don't want to have their leadership from almost medieval imams," Tarek Fatah of the Muslim Canadian Congress told the CBC yesterday.
Meanwhile, Mr. Hindy -- who has given more than 20 news media interviews this week urging Muslims not to co-operate with Canadian security agencies -- once again took to the airwaves to say that people like him, and not Westernized Muslims like Mr. Fatah, are the true voice of Islam in Canada.
The controversial imam defended his decision not to put his name on the recent sheaf of signed statements from Islamic leaders condemning recent terrorist strikes in the United Kingdom. "We've already condemned terrorism, this is obvious," Mr. Hindy said. "Why don't the churches, for example, condemn terrorism done by George Bush and Tony Blair?"
The Muslim Canadian Congress is a liberal, inclusive organization that defines a Muslim as “as any person who identifies himself or herself as a Muslim” (see: MCC mission statement). The Canadian Islamic Congress, a larger organization with a slightly narrower definition (requiring endorsement of the shahada, see: CIC Statement of Objects) is somewhat more conservative, and appears to be threatened by MCC’s recent increase in profile (actual article is archived). Aly Hindy...well, he's not winning any friends with his inflammatory rhetoric.
I’ve indirectly referred to the MCC before, in a comment about Irshad Manji being criticized by someone she acknowledged in her book, The Trouble with Islam Today. That person, a founding member of the MCC, asked that his name be withdrawn from future editions of her work. This bit of trivia is for those people who think that only conservative Muslims have a problem with Manji, who is criticized by traditional and progressive camps alike for having a monolithic, poorly-informed view of Islam and Mideast history. But I digress.
Returning to the Globe and Mail article, it seems there is confusion around which groups can claim to speak for all Muslims. Nader Hashemi, who apparently teaches Mideast studies at the University of Toronto (probably a PhD candidate, since I can’t find him on any of the faculty listings), claims that the dominant strain of Islam practiced in Canada is more hard-line than people realize:
"The imams who have been preaching in Canadian mosques have been imports, people not born and raised in Canada, and their training tends to be in the theological seminaries of the Muslim world," he said.
"When they come here, there is an intellectual chasm between the training they've received in the Muslim world and the reality of secular modernity here in Canada," Mr. Hashemi said. "It's not changing yet but it's going to have to change."
He said that younger Muslims who were born in Canada are seeking a newer generation of leaders whose opinions are more in keeping with their own. In fact, he said, young people cringe at the "often embarrassing" remarks of older leaders.
This statement mirrors one made in a Dutch article (still reading it), Institutionalization and Integration of Islam in The Netherlands:
According to the Waardenburg Committee (1983) and to several Dutch researchers the "traditional" imam who has obtained his training in the Muslim world is far from able to fulfil his tasks adequately, because of his lack of proficiency in the Dutch language and his deficient understanding of the history and culture of Dutch society. His understanding of the day-to-day problems of the members of his community, and especially of those of the younger generation, is thought to be quite insufficient.
The view that “imported imams” do not have the skills to address the daily concerns of Muslims living in Western countries is interesting. It might explain why the more extremist imams advocate rejectionism (e.g. Qutbist thinking) and encourage Muslims to believe that there is no way to reconcile Islamic values and Western culture. Imams that have successfully integrated into Western society are far more likely to present alternatives to this either-or worldview.
In light of recent events, it is not surprising that inward-facing conservative appeals to tradition are attractive to Muslims. But rejectionist thinking does little to increase exposure to wider society, nor does it help them reconcile their faith with Western culture. Liberal Muslim groups, while presenting a positive image to non-Muslims, run the risk of appearing too secular and Westernized (“Westernized” having a negative connotation) in their own community. Conservative groups, on the other hand, have to choose between reinforcing counterproductive behavior (e.g. issues ignorance, anti-Western attitudes) and actually shaping the opinions of their broad support base.
Of course this begs the question: how does a government encourage the cultivation of Western-integrated imams without appearing to meddle in religious affairs?
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"how does a government encourage the cultivation of Western-integrated imams without appearing to meddle in religious affairs?"
By doing it covertly. Encouraging the cultivation of religious leaders whose opinions you prefer is meddling in religious affairs, there's no way around it. The encouragement/meddling would have to be done through proxies of proxies and/or secretly. Perhaps some apparent meddling wouldn't be too damaging to a government's popularity.
"to reconcile Islamic values and Western culture"
Western culture is greatly (perhaps even primarily) characterised by the Enlightenment. Christianity was "reconciled" with the Enlightenent by basically gutting most Christian denominations. The ones that haven't been gutted (e.g.:Baptists, Pentacostals) are quite hostile to the Enlightenment. The movement of Judaism that is adapted to the Enlightenment (Reform, I'm not conting Reconstructionism as significant but it doesn't exactly counter my argument) has also been gutted. The Conservative movement is half reconciled with it and it is half gutted too.
You can be godly and wordly in different proportions, say (to simplify, of course quantifying such things is difficult/impossible) 80% godly and 20% worldly or 50/50 or 0/100. But the sum total of both proportions cannot be above 100%.
Posted by: Baal Shem Ra at August 6, 2005 07:00 PM
In a discussion with (generally) like-minded people a few weeks ago, I put forward the very same idea about establishing an official government-sponsored regulatory body in Canada comprising Muslim scholars and intellectuals who would approve Friday sermons and oversee appointment of imams and the like in Canadian mosques. My friends thought it was unconstitutional and would prove to be a reason for Muslims to discredit the scholars on the body as being government lackeys. This is entirely possible, unless maybe the covert approach suggested is employed, but even then there is a chance that the whole thing might blow up in everyone's face - and then watch out for conspiracy theories like never before.
Posted by: Ali at August 7, 2005 12:29 AM
Well, there's only so much you can do "covertly", especially when it involves large amounts of government funding. Transparency & accountability, etc.
I think the whole thing could be done transparently, as long as it appeared that Muslim leaders were taking the lead and applying for funding through normal channels. Terrorism isn't helping the Muslim community. Even if it seems like al-Qaeda is fighting on their behalf, where are the positive results? That point alone could be enough for broad consensus among Muslim leaders, who should be ostracising extremist imams and fostering a message of cooperation, rather than isolation, disdain and victimization.
Posted by: eerie at August 7, 2005 06:04 PM
A note on structural limits when talking about positive results and how far it can get you:
The target audience might not think in terms of positive results. You (and I and pretty much everyone here) think in terms of consequences in this world. In large part, we go from the perspective of a quasi-homo economicus to that of a quasi-utilitarian. That's not a very big range and it's based on instrumental rationality. We evaluate an action in much the same way that orthodox (utility-based) decision theory does.
But when talking with people who believe that the next life matters more than this one, talking about consequences in this life might not be as convincing as it sounds to us.
When talking to someone with romantic notions, statistics about GDP, HDI etc don't matter, it's the theatrical high point of expression that does (If Arendt is anything to go by as a romantic). Standing up to the Western oppressor and defending the Land of Islam and Western colonialism while preserving the True Islam and all that poetic crap might be the bottom line for them.
Much like Marxists or Jehovah's Witnesses, the payoff (positive results you talk about) might be in the future, some-time-we-don't-know-when-but-it'll-come-eventually-when-the-time-is-right. This makes their claims of Al-Qeada fighting bringing about positive results unfalsifiable. Just like the stupid Marxists.
They might also see positive results in a different way than we do. For example, you and I think trade and gay rights are both great. But a conservative Muslim might assign a low utility function to trade and a very high utility function to keeping gays out of the country/hidden. Hence to them the Saudi/Iranian arrangements work well even though, to us, it's woefully counter-productive.
When such structural limits are present and that one wants to go beyond them, some painful changes might have to be made.
Second part: If an anti-Western imam applied for funding, he wouldn't get it (or much) right? If so, then he would consider himself a victim of dscrimination (which he would be). Then it would become apparent that the government is meddling in religious affairs and that is favours some clerics/schools. That might be ok, but we shouldn't believe that letting clerics come to the funding will make it look like the government is impartial.
I'm not completely against the idea of funding clerics we disagree the least with. But I don't think arguments based on instrumental rationality, benefits in this world and the like will work with the people who aren't already Western-minded. We might find ourselves preaching to the converted, so to speak.
Posted by: Baal Shem Ra at August 7, 2005 07:12 PM
Sorry for the double post:
If we want to change minds, perhaps looking into anthropological/sociological literature concerning generational changes of opinion might tell us which options are most effective. Especially research in changes of opinion in groups of immigrants/descendants of recent immigrants. Mikhael Elbaz has done some work there. The fact that he's a post-modernist shouldn't completely discredit all of his work.
And then there's the Zine el Abidine Ben Ali route.
Posted by: Baal Shem Ra at August 7, 2005 07:20 PM
Intangible positive results (e.g. some misplaced sense of retribution vs. the Western world) can be identified as intangible and compared with tangible negative results (e.g. discrimination, profiling, radicalization). Leaders could use this approach to show that support for al-Qaeda is misplaced and, taken to its logical conclusion, will result in a world that is more hostile to Muslims. Most Muslims aren't so "far gone" that they can't see the direct economic consequences of an isolationist, hostile stance vs. the West. The key is to stop pretending that one side can "defeat" the other and start being more frank about the downsides.
Re funding: I'm talking about funding for a faith-based group, or for a Western-based school that trains imams. Not individual clerics. Countries with hate speech legislation can attach conditions to this funding, since there are legal definitions for hate and incitement. Many Western governments already subsidize faith-based initiatives (e.g. building mosques/temples) and sometimes attach requirements for those who operate places of worship. It's much harder to accuse governments of discrimination if the intervention/regulation is highly indirect and delegated to the community itself.
I don't think understanding and responding to incentives requires one to be "Western-minded"
Posted by: eerie at August 7, 2005 07:48 PM
Hello everyone, I was invited to this blog by one of your partners, I am an Emarati National, I do occasional military analysis.. please feel free to visit my blog
Posted by: Emirati at August 8, 2005 02:36 AM
Re: Baal Shem Ra. Can you please specify what the "Zine El Abidine Ben Ali" route is and who this individual is. Your posts are pretty informative, as are the others'. I hope to the Almighty that this site doesn't get blocked by Big Brother.
Posted by: AEDisillusioned at August 8, 2005 05:13 AM
Ben Ali is the President of Tunisia, Tunisia to put it modestly, has taken a rather creative route in this area. Successful, I don't know, but certainly interesting.
I might call it better a modified Bourgiba approach, but never the less.
I agree with BSR, the motivational analysis can go astray here in misunderstanding what the incentives are. I'm an economist by training (although a sketchy one certainly), I love the framework, but here BSR is correct that the Defence of the Umma angle may trump other engagements, to take an example, and BSR's comparision with secular millenerian radicals (e.g. Communists to an extent, certainly hard left utopians) is useful in reminding us of that.
Speaking to "the converted" -like minded rationalists as it were- is indeed an issue then. Addressing the mystical is possible, just have to find the right handles....
For the Emiratis: sorry one has to worry about
Posted by: The Lounsbury at August 8, 2005 05:56 AM
A further thought on the statements cited supra by eerie regarding imported Imams and their comprehension of 'modern living' - it strikes me that the problem exits in the Arab world as well. There is a vast disconnect between the world the average Imam or the Faqih "sells" and what the average urban dweller lives.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at August 8, 2005 06:18 AM
AED, well, ahem, thanks.
Ben Ali: He is the current dictator of Tunisia. He is an economic liberal and (for a leader of a Muslim country) a social liberal. Not so much a political liberal. He is an enlightened despot.
Before he lead a coup to remove President Bourguiba (who was a soft Ataturk) he was a colonel in military intelligence. His tactics have been what one would expect a colonel in military intelligence to use when in power. It's strong armed when he thinks it's required but as quiet as possible. He would be unlikely to fire on protesters and the like. He mainly appears to use persuasion (which version of Islam gets taught in schools, the training of imams, I think what gets said in sermons is also controlled but I'm not sure about that), intimidation and prison sentences. The media is also controlled. The Tunisian government shapes the religious message and puts much emphasis on people like Averoes. Itjihad is greatly promoted. He may use very stealthy methods that are effective without being noticed but, being if they do exist and are indeed very stealthy, then I don't know about them.
Intimidation and media control wouldn't make much sense here and if we do take some of his methods we still shouldn't go all the way. He is in much more difficult circumstances than we are and so means he uses would be overkill here.
If you want more information, there is a sympathetic source here: http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2751/is_73/ai_109220707
I say "sympathetic" more as a warning than anything else. As in "don't expect to hear the two sides". It's from the Nation Interest which is Neo-Con I believe.
One Neo-Con source (Robert Kaplan) has said that he has used little repression. I guess compared to other dictators he has.
Posted by: Baal Shem Ra at August 8, 2005 06:19 AM
"and so means he uses would be overkill here."= and so many means he uses would be overkill here.:
After some Gooling, I found that he someone asserted he had fired on peaceful protesters.
I perceive him as being a mix between Ataturk and Lee Kwan Yew or Chang Kai Chek, if that's not even more obscure...
Posted by: Baal Shem Ra at August 8, 2005 06:48 AM
In re Ben Ali, I am not sure I would be so indulgent. His economic policies have worked well but the regime is showing clear signs of sclerosis, and I am not certain how far Official Islam in Tunisia has penetrated.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at August 8, 2005 08:07 AM
"showing clear signs of sclerosis"
Not least on Ben Ali himself... He hasn't named a dauphin, has he?
Right, I thought I was painting too rosy a picture. There seems to be much corruption.
"I am not certain how far Official Islam in Tunisia has penetrated."
I wish I knew that too. If someone has statistics about the range and amplitude of Islamic opinion(s) on certain topics such as gender, suicide bombings etc, please share them.
All I could find was : http://www.worldvaluessurvey.org/library/index.html - Publications- Subject Index- Religion.
Posted by: Baal Shem Ra at August 8, 2005 10:40 AM
BSR - Tom posted something that you might find useful: Pew Global Attitudes Survey
Have only skimmed it myself.
Posted by: eerie at August 8, 2005 11:00 AM
Oh, yeah, I do remember that one now. Thanks.
Posted by: Baal Shem Ra at August 8, 2005 11:25 AM
In re Tunisian corruption, it actually is not that bad. World Bank just published a report ranking Tunisia fairly well.
It's simply not a very free place society wise.
Regardless, the regime is showing it is somewhat long of tooth.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at August 8, 2005 12:17 PM
Have done a bit of reading up on Canadian hate crime legislation:
If the speech promoted hatred against an identifiable group, but was not likely to incite a listener to violence, then a person could still be convicted. However there are many safeguards that could give that person immunity. A person could not be convicted if..."in good faith, he expressed or attempted to establish by argument an opinion on a religious subject." This would give clergypersons immunity from conviction for a hate-based sermon, for example.
Emphasis mine. The issue with revisiting this clause is that it also invites opposition by Christian clergy who deliver sermons against same-sex relations/marriage.
Sticky, sticky. UK law may be similar, since many Canadian laws are based on British models.
Posted by: eerie at August 8, 2005 02:40 PM
What kind of idiotic semiliterate bloody namby pamby drooling leftist tripe phrase is that? Clergypersons?
Posted by: The Lounsbury at August 9, 2005 08:42 AM
What kind of idiotic semiliterate bloody namby pamby drooling leftist tripe phrase is that?
Apparently, Canadian idiotic semiliterate bloody namby pamby drooling leftist tripe.
Posted by: matthew hogan at August 10, 2005 12:33 PM
Hah! Clergypersons! I love it.
Back to the point. Who speaks for Islam in the West? Don't think we have an answer yet. I was in London shortly after the 7/7 bombings. Didn't notice a whole lot of condemnation from MidEast leaders, except Jordan's King Abdullah on tv and a full-page ad in The Grauniad from the Govt of Kuwait.
And maybe it is my fault (as a Brit) that bits of London got blown up, but I never voted for Bush or Blair and I never gave approval for their adventures in the Middle East. Killing innocent people can never be justified.
Posted by: keefieboy at August 15, 2005 12:46 PM
I presume Keefie is being ironic in regards to the condemnation as in fact London attracted widespread condemnation in the region.
I'm not sure one can expect there to be someone to speak for something as diffuse as Islam. Who speaks for "Protestantism" in relationship to Catholicism?
Posted by: The Lounsbury at August 15, 2005 01:07 PM