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October 20, 2006


Christopher Cassidy

Passport's "Fortress Europe" (http://blog.foreignpolicy.com/node/2016), along with your argument above, bode ill for the 21st century.

Patrick S. O'Donnell

An incisive analysis with helpful links to well-written material. And I think the differences discussed here between the U.S. and Europe are telling, as Europeans might learn a bit from the U.S. on this score (of course there are any number of things the U.S. might learn from Europeans, but that involves other matters).

For what it's worth, I believe much hinges on the economies of the European countries, thus, for instance, if unemployment rates can be driven back down and many Muslim immigrants can find decent jobs, the 'clash of civilizations' rhetoric will lose much of its suasive power.

In any case, it is interesting to consider, with Richard Bulliet, that 'If the Muslim societies of the Middle East and North Africa, and the Christian societies of Western Europe and America, are conceived as belonging to the same civilization, then conflicts between the two constituent elements of that single civilization would automatically take on an internecine character, analogous historically to past conflicts between Catholicism and Protestantism. Whatever the level of hostility between parties in conflict, the presumption of a common heritage would prevent their being conceived of as different civilizations, and consequently make it easier to imagine their eventual reconciliation. Russia "rejoining" Europe after the fall of the Soviet Union affords a comparison. Blood is thicker than holy water.'

Bulliet makes the provocative point that Western critics of Islam persistently and rather accusingly propose 'civilizational litmus tests' (re: gender equality, human rights, secularism, etc.) that are 'conceived in willful denial of the appalling failure of most Western societies, as recently as a hundred years ago, to live up to the same standards, [and] intended as rhetorical devices for finding Islam wanting....' This is not to deny the importance of such topics, as Nema Milaninia's posts below remind us, but it does obscure, for instance, how much Islam has contributed to European culture, conspicuously evidenced in the influence of Islamic philosophy and theology on medieval Catholicism, in particular, on the work of Aquinas (indeed, the cherished Greek logos cited by the Pope in his recent controversial address that became wedded to Christian faith, seeped into Christianity by way of Islam, as early Christians had rejected (the pagan) Greek philosophers).

In short, Bulliet's thesis is that, 'as a whole, and in historical perspective, the Islamo-Christian world has much more binding it together than forcing it apart. *The past and future of the West cannot be fully comprehended without appreciation of the twinned relationship it has had with Islam over some fourteen centuries. The same is true of the Islamic world.*

So, if I may, readers interested in the topic treated here might want to look at Bulliet's The Case for Islamo-Christian Civilization. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004.


I wrote a post about this on my blog which I thought is worth sharing some parts of it since it touches upon your points.

There is an undeniable growth of Islamophobia around the world. The fact is that there is clearly evidence of growing demonization of Muslims. A quick search on wikipedia alone reveals the following facts.

In 2006, a YouGov poll conducted in the UK found that 53% of people polled feel threatened by the religion of Islam (in contrast with fundamentalist Islamists). Only 16% of those polled believe “practically all British Muslims are peaceful, law-abiding citizens who deplore terrorist acts as much as anyone else.”

Islamophobia is even higher in the US. A 2006 Gallup survey of American public opinion found that “many Americans harbor strong bias against U.S. Muslims.” The numbers are not only stark, but disturbing:

1. 22% say they would not like to have a Muslim as a neighbor.
2. 34% believe U.S. Muslims support al-Qaeda.
3. 49% believe U.S. Muslims are loyal to the United States.
4. 39% advocate that U.S. Muslims should carry special ID

We often forget, but as Doudou Diène, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, warns us; even the current row over the Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad are less about tenets on Islam which prohibit such depictions, but more about the Islamophic ideologies which led to those depictions.

What I see is not a question about whether Islam is compatible with the West. There's so question that all persons are compatible with each other. Rather the issue is whether Muslims are todays Japanese, Jews, and Chinese. The fact is that people both in Europe and in America want to view Muslims as the "other." The arguements about incompatibility is simply a cover for what is inherently a racist, bigoted belief. In turn that has causes the Muslim world to view the West similarly as the "other." Thus, prejudice and bigotry has beget even more of the same. Right now we should be looking at incompatibilities. We should be looking at the fact that these arguments stem from religious prejudices.

Patrick S. O'Donnell


I realize this is incidental to your point above, but reference to 'tenets on Islam which prohibit such depictions [of the Prophet Muhammad]' is out of place because wrong: there are no such tenets in Islam, and Muhammad has frequently been depicted throughout the history of Islamic art.

All good wishes,

Christopher Cassidy

Yuck. The row continues: http://www.economist.com/agenda/displaystory.cfm?story_id=8096860

Sirajul Haq Khan


There are clear tenets within the sources of Islam which discourage the depiction of people, let alone the Prophet Muhammad.

To this day there are orthodox Muslims scholars and Sufis who refuse to have their pictures taken, let alone someon depicting them through other mediums in art.

The old adage, "the eyes are the windows into the soul" is of significance - It is considered unlawful to paint people and persons because the pagan arabs and the christians venerated such depictions of their holy peronalities and in turn worshipped them - leading to idolatry - something which strikes at the very root of Islam.

It is in this background that depiction of the Prophet, and indeed other Islamic or non-islamic personalities, is seen of as being against the tenets of Islam - in essence it is against the fundamental foundation of Islam - to not associate any partners in God's divinity.

Even some Shi'a sects who rever Imam 'Ali (the cousin of the prophet) depict him and other members of his family, as well as depicting the awaited Imam (who is said to be in occultation). Such sects are regarded by the orhtodox muslims as deviating from the essence of the Unity and absolute divinity of God - not associating any partners with God.

To say that Islamic art has depicted the prophet throughout the ages is slightly erroneous. Much of these depictions came about through the new sects within Islam - who are seen of as less strict in their practice - such as some Sufi sects who were known for their intoxicating habits, etc. Most Sufis nowadays are much stricter than these liberals that came about in Iran and the middle east and were a bye-product of colonialisation and conversion to Islam of people who were unfamiliar with certain aspects of the faith and thus merged their traditions with Islam, creating a deviation from the original.

Notably, such depictions of the prophet came about in Iran and afghanistan, as well as turkey - all areas in which Islam was preached and former pagans entered Islam.

Yours sincerely,

Siraj Khan

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