June 17, 2017


Muslims today face a deep malaise. We must confront it (Nabil Echchaibi, 17 June 2017, The Guardian)

How can we reconcile the anarchic savagery of our worst Muslims today with the humanist generosity of our best Muslims of yesterday? What have we to offer the world today?

Besides the brutality of colonialism and imperialism, I often wonder about our own responsibility in this squandering of energy. Our humanist ancestors of a bygone golden age towered over the world because they chose, at their own peril at times, to engage history and project their knowledge in favor of all humanity.

Sadly, Isis is only the cumulative result of people who have long expelled themselves from history, neither moving things forward, nor bringing back anything new. This is the tragedy of being rendered superfluous. In fact, the viscerality of Isis has deep and painful roots in a relentless process of atomization of the Muslim individual. The vast majority of Muslims have not resorted to violence, but they have not effectively risen up against the closing of free thought, either.

Many have written about this historical decline and often in unsavory ways, assigning Islam an unflattering place in the waiting room of history. My aim here is not to disparage a civilization, but to diagnose its current malaise, one that inflicts Muslims today and prevents them from thinking themselves into the world, not because they are incapable of doing it, but because of a coordinated campaign to deny them the right to do it. Like many Muslims, I feel the weight of this tension everyday because the distance between our religious leaders and the world in which we live is a gaping hole.

The biggest orchestrator of this campaign is not Isis. That is only one of its sad manifestations. It is Saudi Arabia and its rampant Wahhabi religiosity which cripples everything Muslim today. Its literalist theology is suffocating and has no place in the modern world.

How can we tolerate a religious system which still flogs its people in public squares, denies its women basic rights like driving and looking out windows and criminalizes any form of dissent? Weighty words fit for a colossal peril that is Saudi Arabia. I do not mince my words because this tragedy has gone on for too long and it robs Muslims around the world of their ability to think their religion anew.

In fact, I agree with Algerian author Kamel Daoud who made a subtle distinction between a "black Isis" and a "white Isis". Black Isis, he says, beheads, pillages, kills indiscriminately, and destroys the cultural heritage of humanity, whereas white Isis - Saudi Arabia - is better dressed and cleaner, but it does more or less the same thing.

Saudi Arabia has produced, according to Daoud, a "fatwa valley" and a massive industry of theologians, imams, mosques, books, cartoons and religious editorials and satellite television channels. Oil has not only polluted the planet, but it has significantly stalled the intellectual and religious march of Islam by erecting prison walls around thinking and innovation. This is not an extreme view to hold. It is one largely shared in the streets of Muslim-majority countries. Yet, we don't act on it.

This should also explain the pain I endured after watching Donald Trump dance with the royals of Saudi Arabia last month. The violence of that scene is infuriating because it tells every Muslim that no matter how the Saudis, the custodians of the most sacred sites in Islam, violate human rights, bomb and starve the children of Yemen, or foreclose any opening for religious moderation, the US will simply look away because oil and free trade have far more value than Muslims fighting for their right to freedom.

Posted by at June 17, 2017 12:04 PM


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