Friday, January 28, 2011

Why the "Islamic Reformation" Won't Happen

I have been cheered a good bit by the protests against the autocrats which are now raging in Egypt and seem to be spreading through the Middle East generally. It's possible that old neo-con, George Bush, was right that liberty really is the desire of every human heart, and that freedom in South Sudan, Iraq, and Afghanistan is inspiring a desire for something similar in other places as well. It's possible that Tunisia is the first domino, to be followed by the rest of the Middle East, everyone will open their societies, their cultures, and their religious beliefs to challenges from the outside world and Islam will be replaced with other, more peaceful religious beliefs or at least with a more moderate, peaceful version of itself. It's possible that the radicals and terrorists then become an embarrassment rather than a model of faithfulness. But I don't think any of this is very likely to occur.

Let me speak first about the revolutions now occurring: If there is any place less well stocked than the Middle East with classically liberal people (i.e., free markets, separate of mosque/state, limited government), I don't know where it would be. And the organized, the willful, and the bloodthirsty are usually those who come out on top during a revolution. Normally speaking, that means the various Islamist groups, like Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, or Lebanese Hezbollah, Gaza's Hamas, etc. So there's a high probability that even if revolution comes and the House of Saud, Mubarak, Baby Assad, Qadaffi, the Iranian mullahs, and even King Abdullah are overthrown, whoever replaces them might actually be worse. (I know, what could be worse than the Iranian mullahs? But such people do exist and want power bad enough to kill for it). So reformation probably isn't coming through some sort of "Cairo Spring" in 2011 a la Eastern Europe in 1989. We're probably looking more like either Tienanmen Square (if the army and police shoot the protesters) or at best, the March 1917 revolution that brought Kerensky to power before he got killed by Lenin in Red October.

Reformation also probably won't come through the realm of theology. Though there were a lot of causes bringing about the Protestant Reformation (including the flood of biblical manuscripts that came West after the fall of Constantinople to the Turks), the most major reason was theological: A plausible (I would say virtually airtight) case was made by the Reformers that Rome's teaching and practice had strayed from the Bible's teaching. Yet it is virtually impossible to do this within Islam, because the radical, Islamist version of the faith now overtaking the Islamic world's seminaries and mosques is the version presented in the Koran. There is no case to be made for a moderate, non-violent Islam, because it isn't in there to find. Or to say it another way: There won't be an Islamic Reformation in the future, because it already happened--and the moderates lost.

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