Sunday, December 13, 2015

AHA Moment: 'Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now'

Review by Bill Doughty

"Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now" by Ayaan Hirsi Ali (2015 HarperCollins).

Ayaan Hirsi Ali (AHA) says there is a war going on within Islam: "a war between those who wish to reform ... and those who wish to turn back to the time of the Prophet."

Those who wish for reform, while not uniform in their thinking, reject a culture of fatalism and death. Reformers want a culture where blasphemy, heresy and apostasy are not punishable by death – where anti-modernity, martyrdom and murder are not celebrated – where belief in an afterlife does not conflict with being alive here on earth. Where freedom is sacred.

Martyrdom is a common thread in radical jihadists' attacks against the United States and U.S. military – from the Marine Barracks bombing in Beirut, Lebanon to the USS Cole terrorist attack in Aden, Yemen; from attacks in Africa and Europe to suicide bombings in the Middle East and on U.S. soil on 9/11.

Two believers in a cult of death, with apparent influence of ISIL, massacred innocent Americans earlier this month in San Bernardino, California.

In the wake of that horrific act of violence, Commander in Chief President Barack Obama addressed the nation. He spoke of ongoing airstrikes and taking the fight to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as IS, ISIS and Daesh – without starting another extended ground war. He also offered perspective and advice similar to that of the reformers.

In part, the president said:

"We cannot turn against one another by letting this fight be defined as a war between America and Islam. That, too, is what groups like ISIL want.  ISIL does not speak for Islam. They are thugs and killers, part of a cult of death, and they account for a tiny fraction of more than a billion Muslims around the world – including millions of patriotic Muslim Americans who reject their hateful ideology. Moreover, the vast majority of terrorist victims around the world are Muslim. If we’re to succeed in defeating terrorism we must enlist Muslim communities as some of our strongest allies, rather than push them away through suspicion and hate. 

"That does not mean denying the fact that an extremist ideology has spread within some Muslim communities. This is a real problem that Muslims must confront, without excuse. Muslim leaders here and around the globe have to continue working with us to decisively and unequivocally reject the hateful ideology that groups like ISIL and al Qaeda promote; to speak out against not just acts of violence, but also those interpretations of Islam that are incompatible with the values of religious tolerance, mutual respect, and human dignity."

Obama's words and ideas in support of moderates are reflected by Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Power of Reason

True reform must come from within, says Ali.
AHA: "I believe that each human being possesses the power of reason as well as a conscience. That includes all Muslims as individuals. At present, some Muslims ignore their consciences, and join groups such as Boko Haram or IS, obeying textual prescriptions and religious dogma. But their crimes against human reason and against human conscience committed in the name of Islam and sharia are already forcing a reexamination of Islamic scripture, doctrine, and law. This process cannot be stopped, no matter how much violence is used against would be reformers. Ultimately, I believe it is human reason and human conscience that will prevail."
She identifies three types of dissident-reformers: those in the West, those within the Islamic world, and a growing number of Muslim clergymen.

Dissidents in the West: "These individuals are not clergymen but 'ordinary' Muslims, generally educated, well read, and preoccupied with the crisis of Islam." For example, Zuhdi Jasser of American Islamic Forum for Democracy in Phoenix, Arizona, launched "Jefferson project" calling for "the separation of mosque and state."

Citizen reformers and dissidents in the Islamic world: Taslima Nasrin, for one, calls for a "uniform civil code of laws that is not based on religious dogmas, and that is equally applicable to men and women." AHA: "The rule of civil law rather than sharia law will ensure all citizens are treated as equals, regardless of their private religious affiliation."

Clerical reformers: AHA differentiates between true reformers and those who condemn the violence of ISIS and Al-Qaeda while working behind the scenes to nevertheless impose sharia. She writes: "Independent thinking, outside of the shackles of orthodoxy, is necessary for a civilization to flourish."

Like Fighting the Cold War

Ayaan Hirsi Ali calls for using Cold War strategies to counter radical extremist ideologies, attacking the ideas as was done against Communism decades ago. " ignoring the ideas that give rise to Islamist violence we continue to ignore the root of the problem."

"Just as critics of communism during the Cold War came from a variety of backgrounds and disagreed on much, today's critics of Islam unreformed are not in agreement on all issues."

AHA calls for assistance and "where necessary, security" for those calling for a reformation of Islam.

"The dawn of a Muslim Reformation is the right moment to remind ourselves that the right to think, to speak, and to write in freedom and without fear is ultimately a more sacred thing than any religion," AHA writes.

She says Islam needs a Voltaire, the French historian and philosopher who witnessed the birth of freedom in the West and saw it take root in a secular democratic nation: the United States.

She also calls for a John Locke – someone like the English scholar who will call for truth and knowledge over blind belief.

"In Locke's formulation, protection against persecution is one of the highest responsibilities of any government or ruler."

Voices and Rights of Women

Reformation ought to begin with "half of humanity," AHA says. "Today, more than two hundred years after Voltaire and three hundred years after John Locke, the rights of women are in retreat throughout the Muslim world." In some corners of the world people still tolerate and practice female genital mutilation, death sentences for rape victims, forced marriages for girls before the age of ten, and torture and death for women adulterers.

She sees civil rights as "a beacon" into the 21st century. Reformers question ideas that are considered by some to be unquestionable.

Should we tolerate intolerance? Should we live in fear? Should we accommodate hate? Should we accept political correctness over freedom of speech?

AHA says that we must not bend to fundamentalist sensitivities or demands; instead, reformation calls for accommodation to Western ideals of freedom.

Ten years ago Asra Q. Nomani called for the equal rights of women, including equality in mosques. ("Standing Alone in Mecca: An American Woman's Struggle for the Soul of Islam," 2005, HarperCollins. "While we challenge the status quo, we are busy creating a new reality," Nomani writes.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, bestselling author of Infidel.
For her part in the new reality, AHA compares the internet in this century to the printing press 500 years ago. Books helped bring about the Reformation in Europe.

While terrorists are using new technology, the communication network across the Muslim world is reaching millions of more peace-loving people and helping turn the tide through freedom of expression. Among the peace-lovers, she includes Malala Yousafza, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning student; "here, surely, is the authentic voice of a Muslim Reformation."
AHA: "The Muslim Reformation is not fiction. It is fact. Over the past few years, dozens if not hundreds of developments have convinced me that, while Islam's problems are indeed deep and structural, Muslim people are like everyone else in one important respect: most want a better life for themselves and their children."
Reading Reasoning Reforming

Ali and Booklist senior editor Donna Seaman in February 2015.
Reading is at the root of reformation, rationality and reason. Education leads to freedom of thought. The first step in resolving a problem is studying and understanding it – in other words, being well read.

The last voice in "Heretic" is from reformer and dissident Iyad Jamal al-Din, a cleric from Iraq who says the choice is fundamentalism as represented by radical jihadists like ISIS or "man-made, civil enlightened law."
AHA concludes: "To repeat the words of al-Din: 'We must not embellish things and say that Islam is a religion of compassion, peace and rose water, and that everything is fine.' It is not. But the fact that such words can be uttered at all is one of the reasons I believe the Muslim Reformation has begun."
As for those who have declared war on the West:

USS Arleigh Burke (DDG-51) launches Tomahawk cruise missiles in strikes against ISIL in 2014. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Carlos M. Vazquez II/Released)
The U.S. military, with ally partners, is engaged in Operation Inherent Resolve to attack and defeat the Islamic State In the Levant.  Even those of us on the sidelines can be part of the battle against radical fundamentalist ideology, albeit indirectly.

President Obama's weekly radio message yesterday focused on combatting ISIL, as reported by Jim Garamone on

"American service members are doing their parts to root out and kill the ideology. 'Our men and women in uniform are stepping up our campaign to destroy ISIL,' the president said. 'Our airstrikes are hitting ISIL harder than ever, in Iraq and Syria. We’re taking out more of their fighters and leaders, their weapons, their oil tankers. Our special operations forces are on the ground — because we’re going to hunt down these terrorists wherever they try to hide.'

"It is not limited to Iraq and Syria. 'In recent weeks, our strikes have taken out the ISIL finance chief, a terrorist leader in Somalia and the ISIL leader in Libya. Our message to these killers is simple — we will find you, and justice will be done,' Obama said.

"But the most important thing Americans can do is 'stay true to who we are as Americans,' he said. 'Terrorists like ISIL are trying to divide us along lines of religion and background. That’s how they stoke fear. That’s how they recruit.'"

If defeating radical jihadists relies on turning away from fear and hate and embracing our commonality, Ayaan Hirsi Ali says we can begin by rejecting fatalism, martyrdom and a cult of death:

"The next step in dismantling the ideological foundation of Islamist violence will be to persuade Muslims raised on an alluring vision of the afterlife to embrace life in this world, rather than actively seeking death as a path to the next."

A U.S. seaman directs an E/A-18G Growler to the catapult on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt in the U.S. 5th fleet area of operations, May 28, 2015. The Theodore Roosevelt is supporting Operation Inherent Resolve, which includes strike operations in Iraq and Syria as directed.
(U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Josh Petrosino)

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