Thursday, March 31, 2016

A Cataclysmic Clash of Cultures

Why is it that over the last 40-50 years that Christianity has gotten more liberal and tolerant and Islam has gotten more conservative and less tolerant?

This is a question that I have asked myself a lot over the last few years.

It is a puzzling paradox as conventional thinking suggests that as societies age and mature they tend to become more progressive. For example, they advance from a primitive, barbaric system of justice to a system that recognizes individual rights and equal justice. They become less authoritarian and more flexible.

I have searched for answers on the internet to this question and found nothing that explains the dichotomy adequately as why we are seeing such vastly different arcs to the Muslim and Christian worlds today.

Here are a couple of examples that are in today's headlines.

From the Muslim world...
Saudi government demands death penalty to curb homosexuality
Saudi Arabia currently hands out fines, prison sentences and whippings for being openly gay. Due to an increase in public displays of homosexuality, especially on social media, Saudi lawmakers are considering imposing the death penalty on gay people who show their sexuality in public or on social media. This is currently reserved only for second offenses!

From the Christian world..
Marquette University moves to fire Professor who defended student's traditional marriage views
Marquette, a Jesuit Catholic institution of higher learning, has moved to suspend and fire a professor who supported a student who tried to defend traditional marriage in an ethics class after a teaching assistant for his class said the student's views were "homophobic", "racist" and "sexist".  He was told that he needed to drop the class if he did not change his views.

Professor John McAdams wrote a blog supporting the student and he was then brought before a faculty panel of the Catholic university and told to admit "guilt" and "apologize" or face dismissal for a "blog post that he wrote that was reckless and incompatible with the mission and values of Marquette University"

This is from a Catholic university?

Why is Islam returning to the 10th century and why are Christian institutions like Marquette "progressing" so far that it is hard to recognize the existence of any traditional or core values at all?

How different it was just 50 years ago. What has happened? I wish I knew but, if we cannot figure it out, the world is heading for much more conflict and bloodshed in what is becoming an even bigger cataclysmic clash of cultures.

I have written before of the stunning transformation of countries like Iran, Afghanistan and Egypt over my lifetime. In years past, we looked like we were living in the same world. That is certainly not the case today. And the gap is getting even larger when you compare the two headlines above.

For example, this is a picture of a female soldier in the Iranian Army in 1979.

Credit: Pakistan Defence

These are female soldiers in the Iranian Army in 2011.

Credit: Pakistan Defence

These are Afghanistan women in the 1950's compared to 2014.

These are Egyptian students at Cairo University.



A related question is what causes a young man to strap on a suicide vest or take an automatic weapon into an opera house or office building with the intent to kill or maim shouting "Allahu Akbar"?

I recently came across an interesting paper by Dr. Tawfik Hamid, "The Cause of Jihadist Terrorism and How to Combat It" in a publication by the Air Force Research Laboratory (credit to Viable Opposition for pointing me to this) that attempts to explain this question.

Dr. Hamid knows something about this subject because at one time he was a Islamic extremist himself in his native Egypt.

The radical Islam we see today has its roots in what is called the "Salafi Movement" within Islam. Its followers believe in taking a very fundamental approach to Islam. They believe that Islam has strayed from its roots and has become decadent over the years. They reject any religious innovation and support the implementation of sharia law. One of the key signs of spreading Salafism is for the women to wear the hijab, a key part in the imposition of sharia law.

Interestingly, Hamid sees the wearing of the hijab as an important indicator of increased radicalism in a Muslim community. This is how he describes how this takes hold.

The process begins with the propagation of Salafi jihadist ideology within a community. Increasing numbers of women begin to wear the hijab, which is both a symptom of Salafi proliferation and a catalyst for Islamism (see, e.g.,Mahmood, 2005). In turn, the proliferation of militant Salafism and the hijab contribute to the idea of passive terrorism, which occurs when moderate segments of the population decline to speak against or actively resist terrorism. 

The chart below shows the process of radicalization as well as the reinforcing cycle that continues to make the problem worse as times goes on. Hamid makes the point that while only a small percentage of Muslims become active terrorists, there are a very large number of what he calls "passive terrorists" who support the ideals of the cause but will never become violent.

However, it is a numbers game. The more adherents of Islam who follow the fundamentalist view of Salafism, the greater chance that a few more will become violent extremists. The first step in combating jihadist terrorism is to reduce the number of "passive terrorists" as Hamid calls them.

The solution to all of this is exceedingly complex. "No single, magical solution for defeating Islamism" exists according to Hamid.

However, Hamid sees a critical first step that can be taken is to weaken what he calls the "hijab phenomenon" .

Weakening the hijab phenomenon is pivotal to stopping the growth of Islamism at the ideological level. Wearing the hijab is discussed as a cultural phenomenon, rather than an individual choice, as many Muslim women are peaceful people (Hamid, 2007, pp.120-121). I have observed that, over the last few decades, terrorism was preceded by an increase in the prevalence of the hijab. In Sunni Muslim areas such as Kurdistan in Iraq, most women did not wear the hijab; these areas experienced fewer acts of terrorism than areas where the hijab was common, such as Al-Anbar Province.  
There you have it.

I still am looking for why Islam has become the retrograde force that it is today at the same time that Christianity has become so liberal and tolerant that calling it progressive is using a term that it much too mild.

However, I have a better understanding of why all of the hijabs have appeared over the last 50 years...and what it tells us.

If anyone can explain the more puzzling paradox of Islam and Christianity in the world today, please post a comment below.

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