David Brooks and the Good Rules of Thumb

There are a number of good rules of thumb in life. One of them is don’t let a colorblind friend pick out your tie if you care what it looks like. Another is don’t take advice on religion from someone who is not particularly well-schooled or even observant in his own. In his most recent New York Times column David Brooks advises us that political violence in Islam can be eliminated by appealing to the Qur’an.

While possible I think that’s dubious. Jargon follows. Any religion or denomination that is sola scriptura and lacking in a magisterium will inherently allow for a wide variety of interpretations of scripture and some of those interpretations may be quite heterodox.

Both of those are the case with Islam and, consequently, Islam has even more variations in what is considered authentic belief than Christianity. That has also resulted in many Muslims being reluctant in the extreme to declare what is or is not authentic belief in Islam. Indeed, that’s one of the things that distinguishes the radical Islamists from others. They’re not reluctant at all. It’s why Pat Lang (and many others) refer to DAESH and Al Qaeda as takfiri, i.e. Muslims who accuse other Muslims of apostasy.

IMO non-Muslims arguing against radical Islam by citing the Qur’an is a sure formula for getting lost in the weeds. Muslims arguing against radical Islam by citing the Qur’an is already one of the “therapies” being tried to combat it. More of that is needed but we should recognize just how reluctant many Muslims are to criticize another Muslim’s beliefs.

16 comments… add one
  • CStanley Link

    Great post. Even among Muslims who want to take this approach, the results will be futile- I see there is a Twitter campaign where some are quoting some Q’uran verses about peace, but so what? What of the overall interpretation which allows plenty of room for Allah’s approval of violence.

    Pope Benedict at Regensberg asked the right questions…but look how well that worked out.

  • ... Link

    I don’t always want interpretations of the Koran, but when I do, I the opinions of a NYC Jewish man who votes for President based on how well someone’s suit has been pressed. – said no one ever

  • PD Shaw Link

    Ignoring Brooks’ milquetoast . . .

    The terrorist are not operating within a religious framework of strict adherence to text. The text of the Quran clearly forbids suicide. It forbids killing fellow Muslims. It forbids killing civilians, particularly women and children. There are numerous rules in the Quran governing violence, which is why the notion that “jihad” is not primarily about violent struggle is not credible. This is not the hill on which jihadists will be marginalized, they will be by calling them suicide bombers.

    The concept of suicide-bombers emerged in the early 1990s, and received some religious authorization narrowly in the context of Israel as Islamic land that had been conquered by enemies, and so long as there is a non-Muslim state anywhere in the Levant, everyone is a military target even by unconventional means. There is no textual support for any of this.

    After 9/11, al-Qaeda and its supporters wrote apologetics explaining the apparent heterodoxy of this mission. There was an extension of the Israel loophole to a supporter of a Jewish state, but mostly there are non-textual justifications based upon the unique circumstances Muslims find themselves in the modern age with no caliphate and a global system of trade, international norms, and media that appear to them as bent on the destruction of Islam. The problem here is that this is traditionally the language of apostasy because the Quran is eternal and to suggest that it has limitation based upon something unanticipated is blasphemous.

    I don’t how outsiders to the religion can use these divisions, but I wouldn’t want to dismiss them. (I also don’t think the “there is no compulsion in Islam” is particularly important; the jihadists are not trying to convert people, they are trying to kill people.)

  • PD Shaw Link

    I’m not sure what Lang and others have written about takfiri, but I think a distinction needs to be drawn. Islam does not have a robust means of policing religious orthodoxy, particularly due to the lack of a magisterium, but also due to the simplicity of the fundamental requisites of the faith. One does not cease to become a Muslim by violating Islamic laws, one just goes to Hell.

    Islam does necessitate determining whether a person or group is in the category of (1) Muslim, (2) People of the Book (Christian, Jew, etc.) or (3) Pagan. These categories determine various treatments obligated by the Quran, such as the rate of taxation, degree of protection afforded, rules regarding cleanliness and purity, etc.

    The Muslim concensus has been that Alawi are not Muslim. That link has a lengthy treatment of the issue, but I would analogize the Alawi as similar to the relationship btw/ Mormonism and Christianity. The Alawi are known by outsiders as Nusayri, which refers to an individual who claimed religious authority to dispense new doctrine because he maintained mystical access to the last Imam. The French during the mandate period convinced the sect to change their name to Alawi to emphasize their adherence to Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet. Basically though, they appear to mix Christianity and Islam, with touches of Phoenician paganism, Zoroastrianism, and Manichaeism, though the exact doctrines are unknowable because some practices are required to be hidden from outsiders. Over time, they would emphasize either Christian or Islamic beliefs depending on the political circumstances. The Ottoman Caliphate taxed them as non-Muslims.

    It is not for me to decide who or who is not a Muslim, but it is not at all radical within the region to view the Alawi as non-Muslims and believe that the term “Alawi” is itself a form of deception.

  • I’m not an expert but my reading suggests that Alawites may be Christian heretics. My understanding is that sometime in the last century some Shi’ite imam wrote an opinion declaring the Alawites to be Muslims which would be enough for people who followed that particular guy’s teachings.

    Of course, when I was a kid we were taught that Muslims were Christian heretics so I guess that wouldn’t be completely beyond the realm of possibility.

  • PD Shaw Link

    I think the difficulty in taxonomy is that by embracing secret practices, outsiders can say just about anything about their religion without proof or ability to disprove. Plus, a religion that has secret wisdom is essentially of a different nature than one that publicly presents its reasoning and basis. (See gnostic heresy) It is very likely that most Alawi don’t know their religious outlook, or how it fits into the surrounding world.

    Yes, in the 1970s in response to increasingly aggressive claims by Sunnis that the Alawi are not Muslim, the Syrian Alawi elites got a couple of religious rulings from Lebanese Twelver Shi’ites that pronounced that they were Muslims and indeed Twelver Shi’a. This was mostly contested by the Lebanese Alawites who saw a loss of independence as they were absorbed into a faction within and governed by the Shi’a community.

    These rulings are not going to mean much of anything to Sunnis, and probably not even the small Shi’ite community in Syria which is largely Seveners. These rulings are probably quite persuasive in Lebanon and in Iran which acknowledges Lebanon as the original source of their faith, plus there are strong political reasons in both countries to see the Alawi as one of them. I believe that if the Alawi were in Iran, they would be treated like the Bahai.

  • Gray Shambler Link

    🙂 I give up. You guys, especially Shaw , really seem to know what you’re talking about. I guess it’s just not my thing. You see , what I want to know is, can I turn my back on a Muslim, should we bring thousands of them into Nebraska? We actually like where we live, It’s a privilege to live peacefully and happily where we do. We welcome immigrants, but not murderers.

  • PD Shaw Link

    @Gray, Thanks, I was radicalized in 1979 by the Iranian Revolution and have had slight obsessive tendencies ever since. I may not know anything useful.

    The Muslims where I live tend to be highly educated (and in medicine) from South Asia (Iran, Pakistan and India) or Turkey. Often involved in charity work. My suspicion is that many are atheist. I think the question first comes to whether refugees lacking similar skills and job capabilities would have an economic life in today’s economy and whether they could assimilate without one. Non-assimilated ethnic groups in America, particularly if they congregate in one area, start to take on the appearance of gang-ridden, mob-run slums.

    The other issue is the extent to which second- or third- generation immigrants can maintain the success of the first- generation. This may not be a specifically Muslim issue, but I would assert that keeping them out of schools that stress that the bigotry and hatred America has for “brown” people is essential to help kids from giving up.

  • PD Shaw Link

    Shorter: I would not increase the number of Syrian refugees accepted to the U.S.

    The U.S. resettles more immigrants than any other country and has been accepting refugees from Afghanistan and Iraq since those wars. We have a better ability to evaluate these people from our embassy abroad, we have obligations owed to those that assisted our army and NGOs, and we have a foreign policy objectives being pursued.

  • TastyBits Link

    @Gray Shambler

    I doubt any terrorists will be coming to my neighborhood, but if they do, I have a few surprises for them. I still think it is insane to be letting in anybody claiming to be a Syrian refugee, but the Bellman knows what he is doing. At least, his crew assures us.

    The previous captain was no bellman, and he had no bell. Thus, he could not tingle, and we were not safe. What looked like calm was the lack of a ringing in your ears. Now, we are all perfectly safe because our Bellman tingles his bell, and what looks like chaos throughout the world is only ringing in your ears.

    Our Bellman is franticly tingling his bell to keep us safe, and we can tell it is working because it appears to produce such chaos.

    By allowing Syrian refugees into the US, the Bellman is keeping you as safe as the Walrus and the Carpenter walking with oysters.

  • TastyBits Link

    Why are Muslims the only group that are predicted to become terrorists when anything untoward occurs against the religion or its adherents?

    Black people do not become terrorists because of racism. White people do not become terrorists because they are marginalized. Illegal aliens do not become terrorists because they cannot get work visas. The French will not become terrorists.

    If the Muslims are the only group that become terrorists due to slights, they are truly radicals, and it is incorrect to limit the radicals to the minority. The non-radicals would be the minority. Radical Muslims would not have hijacked the religion.

    Or, it could be that Muslims are no different than any other group, but that would destroy the beautiful narrative. Radical Muslim terrorists are like every other criminal. They lie to idiots taking surveys. Otherwise, they would not eagerly join the biggest killers and torturers of Muslims.

    The new hires are psychotic. They want to kill people and blow up shit, and Islamic Terrorist groups kill people and blow up shit. If the environmental terrorists were killing people and blowing up shit, they would become environmental terrorists.

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