There’s been quite a cross-blog conversation going on the subject of which is the alleged vileness and irredeemability of Islam. It began, I guess, with Dean Esmay’s great post, “Fisking the Islamophobes”. The next phase of the discussion consisted of a number of emails exchanged between Dean and Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch. That’s explained in this post of Dean’s.
James Joyner of Outside the Beltway then weighed in with the post, “Muslim Moderates”. My contribution to the discussion consisted of a comment I made to that post:
Although I’m a contributor to Dean’s World and I consider Dean a friend, I haven’t commented on the argument over there.
I think they’re arguing at cross-purposes—about different things.
Religion just doesn’t work that way. Whether you’re talking about Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, or any other religion there are two rather different things: the formal doctrine of the religion and the folk religion—the religion as it is actually practiced by its adherents.
There’s an enormous variety in practice within Christianity from Opus Dei (which is getting considerable press these days) to Congregationalism (or even, arguably, Unitarianism). Within a single Christian denomination, Roman Catholicism, there’s considerable variety in the folk religion.
I’m not an expert on Islam but it’s obvious to me that there’s a separation between the formal tenets of the relgion and the folk religion in Islam as well and an enormous variety in practice.
You can study the formal tenets as represented by the Qu’ran and the various associated texts for an eternity and learn little about the folk religion. Just my two cents.
In a related vein you might want to check out the extensive quotation fromn the social anthropologist, philosopher, and student of Islam Ernest Gellner in this post of mine (out-of-print and, apparently, not available elsewhere on the web).
John Burgess of the excellent blog Crossroads Arabia, who’s also a contributor to OTB, then made a tremendous comment in support of mine and posted his own thoughts here in which he describes what he believes the real problem is and proposes some solutions.
Dean has fired the next salvo and this time it’s aimed at someone named Pierre LeGrand. The short version of Dean’s post is “It’s not that simple”. I won’t try to summarize Dean’s post. He makes a number of important points and cites some good resources. Go over and read it yourself.
The one point I’d like to make in closing is that there’s an extremely obvious reason that those in the Muslim world who believe in peace, tolerance, and liberal values haven’t risen up to eject those that are genuinely vile from their midst: many are scared. They’ve been beaten down for a very long time, they live cheeck-by-jowl with some of the vile and intolerant, and it’s far from certain what or when the outcome of the current struggle might be.