July 13, 2005

When government says what the "true religion" is.

Tony Blair spoke out yesterday about stamping out the virulent version of Islam that (apparently) led to the 7/7 bombings:
Talks are to begin on bringing in new laws covering preparations for attacks and to make it easier to deport people trying to "incite hatred", he told MPs.

The "moderate and true voice of Islam" had to be mobilised, he said....

"This is not an isolated criminal act we are dealing with," he said.

"It is an extreme and evil ideology whose roots lie in a perverted and poisonous misinterpretation of the religion of Islam."...

Those behind the bombings were perverting the teachings of Islam, he argued....
Of course, I understand his motivation for saying this, and I agree with his opposition to a dangerous, violent ideology, but how can he say what the true intepretation of a religion is? I realize Britain does not have as robust an approach to the separation of church and state as we have, and I can see the role of government promoting the more socially beneficial versions of religion -- quite apart from the truth -- but who is Tony Blair to say what is the "true" version and what is the perversion?

If the bombers' version was in fact the more accurate interpretation of the Islamic tradition and moderating fundamentalism was the perversion, he'd be for the perversion, wouldn't he?


sean said...

Jefferson Davis, when various states' rights supporters hampered the national Confederate war effort, stated that the epitaph of the Confederacy should read: "Died of a theory." I fancy Tony Blair doesn't want to say the same about the U.K.

Mister DA said...

"If the bombers' version was in fact the more accurate interpretation of the Islamic tradition and moderating fundamentalism was the perversion, he'd be for the perversion, wouldn't he?"

Well, yes, and, yes. You've put your finger on the exact issue that confronts us in trying to understand and deal with the jihadists. What is the true face of Islam?

RiverRat said...

And what is the true face of Christianity; Old Testament Fundamentalism? Unfortunately these radical Islamists reflect the true face of Islam.

Just ask yourself why their actions do not result in widespread outrage and attempts at repression by "so called" moderate muslims. Spend some time reading the Koran and the answer will be clear.

There are no moderate true believers...just many non-violent believers.

Sloanasaurus said...

It seems impossible for a religion such as Islam to last as long and spread to so many people if the proper interpretation of it is death and militant jihad. One would think such an ideology would hamper the popularity of the religion. Thus, perhaps Blair can rely on pragmatism and history in assuming that militant Jihad is not the proper practice of Islam.

RiverRat said...

It's survived because it requires total submission and because it had, until the 20th century, been able retain it's insularity. Very little of interest to western or oriental culture was known to exist in it's lands. I'm sure you know what was found.

RiverRat said...

If you enjoy Science Fiction, read about Paul Maud D'ib and the Fremen in Frank Herbert's Classic; Dune. The treasure on that planet was "spice".

Bruce Hayden said...

A lot of reasons that I love this blog, but one of them is Ann's way of saying things, including: "I realize Britain does not have as robust an approach to the separation of church and state as we have".

Maybe the answer is that Islam has to moderate in order to survive. It is fine for the Saudis et al. to sit there in their petro financed Wahabi paradise. But they were extrodinarily lucky - being pushed onto a desolate section of peninsula, only lush enough to support nomadic herding, only to find that it contained the largest reserves of oil in the world.

But there are a billion or so other Moslems in this world who are not this lucky. They are bombarded daily with pictures of our wealth (and decadence), only to be told that Mohommed would not approve of them joining the rest of the world's material abundance.

So, yesterday, again, in the Islamic paradise of Iran, the students revolted. Again. Looks like none of them were killed - this time. No surprise really - they are too young to remember the corruption of the Shah, but do know that two Islamic countries on their borders have been liberated by us and are being steered towards democracy. And, no surprise, they want to join in.

james said...

If one of the antagonists thinks of a war as a religious war, I'd think that would be enough to make it a religious war whether the other side liked it or not.
Insofar as these Islamic sects have the military goal of overthrowing the state, I think we can remove from them the protection of "freedom of religion."
But since these sects (spiritual heirs of the Kharajites?) don't seem to represent all of Islam, Blair has to carefully distinguish between sects of a religion that he isn't an authority in. I'd think that as long as he makes the distinctions on practical military and political grounds (are you British or a citizen of the caliphate?) he won't be causing any long term problems.

Mr. I said...

Riverrat: To be clear, there were significant western and Russian influences in the middle east during the 20th century and prior to that. So, Islam's surviving was not a matter of insulating itself as you suggest.

knox said...

I remember seeing an author of a book on Islam speak on BookTV (if I remember correctly, she was an Iraqi, now living in the US).

Anyway, her contention was that "Mainstream Islam" is in fact, what westerners would consider "Fundamentalist Islam". In other words, Muslims are expected to accept the Koran as word-for-word truth, to be taken literally, and absolutely not questioned.

She claimed that this:

1. makes it easy for radicals to recruit people to their cause using Islam and its teachings; and

2. makes it very difficult for average, non-violent Muslims to speak out against terrorism. Because basically, they feel like the terrorists are, after all, carrying out what the Koran says and they can't really argue against it.

Kathleen B. said...

It seems impossible for a religion such as Islam to last as long and spread to so many people if the proper interpretation of it is death and militant jihad. One would think such an ideology would hamper the popularity of the religion. Thus, perhaps Blair can rely on pragmatism and history in assuming that militant Jihad is not the proper practice of Islam.

great point!

also Riverrat: your comments totally ignore the history of Islam as a shining beacon for learning and culture during Europe's Dark Ages. Islam scholarship is what saved Greek learning and knowledge. This history is partly why I believe you are wrong, and there is a future for our world with moderate Islam.

P_J said...


Your point is debatable, but I will grant that Islam still is a shining beacon of medieval culture. And that's the problem. Its central theme is submission -- to Allah, the caliphate, and shariah law. Unfortunately, Islam finds itself now in a world moving away from lords and vassals -- and that's perceived as a threat to Islam and Muslims (violent or not).

Kathleen B. said...

Pastor Jeff: please explain further how my point is debatable.

The rest of your post certainly makes sense. If Christianity and The West can arise out of medieval thinking, why not Islam?

somross said...

As someone who just finished working on a guide for students on documentation and formatting, I will add the completely inconsequential information that Britain and the U.S. have opposite rules for placement of punctuation around quotation marks. (See Ann's excerpt of Blair.) U.S.: commas and periods inside. Britain: commas and periods outside. Tricky for those who quote from British sources in American academic papers.

Freeman Hunt said...

I don't mind government officials expressing personal sentiments of faith, but I don't like them making broad religious pronouncements such as "this is true, this is not."

I agree with Ann.

John said...

I'd just like to observe that Islam is practiced in many forms and encompasses many kinds of beliefs and value systems. Some of the folks on this thread have used the word Islam to mean specific variants of that faith -- perhaps Wahabbism, although no identification is ever given.

Take a look at the countries with the largest Muslim populations: (1) Indonesia, (2) Pakistan, (3) India, (4) Bangladesh, (5) Egypt, (6) Turkey, (7) Iran, (8) Nigeria, (9) China, (10) Ethiopia. (Except India, China and Ethiopia, at least half of the people in each of these countries is Muslim.) A very diverse group of societies, and it's hard to pick out the "medieval" one.

chuck b. said...

John Yoo made this point in the LA Times today:

"...the U.S. must discredit Al Qaeda's fundamentalist vision of Islam, and it must support moderate versions compatible with democracy and markets. The U.S. must ask the courts to give us flexibility to combat fundamentalist Islam as it would any other hostile ideology, such as communism during the Cold War."

Sounds fine to me.

P_J said...


Islam was a source of learning and Islamic cultures had positive points -- but they were also known for ruthless and bloody expansion, piracy, slavery, religious persecution, torture, and brutality. Perhaps they were no worse than many "Christian" nations, but they were not shining beacons in comparison. Islam was not the bugbear of Europe for no reason.

You are also aware that apart from "radical" Islam, the everday variety is actively engaged in harassing, torturing, enslaving and killing non-Muslims in almost every Muslim country today?

It's possible that Islam can arise from medievalism - but remember that freedom and human dignity are not core Islamic values. I think our best hope is within already relatively secularized countries like Iraq.

leeontheroad said...

If the bombers' version was in fact the more accurate interpretation of the Islamic tradition and moderating fundamentalism was the perversion, he'd be for the perversion, wouldn't he?

well, yes, of course.

And if the Queen had said this, I'd look askance at the comment. She is both a state figurehead and the "legal" (lay) leader of the state religion, to the extent there is one (and there is a moribund if not exclusive one, deeply rooted in English history). And she is no theologian.

Blair, however, is exclusively a secular state leader, and he leads, if only nominally, a diverse nation that includes a well-organized, vocal group of moderate Mulims that has made essentially the same claim he has. While Britain has also tolerated the speech of a small group of radical Muslim clerics, I think it fair to consider that Blair's speech is politically representative of part of his constituency.

Both may be wishful thinking, in comparison to the speech of the radical clerics.

But literal readings of the Koran that some suggest support violence/terror/wat against non-Muslims (cast as aggressors) are perhaps just more commonly expressed by radical Muslim clerics to fan political objectives. Close readings of the Holy Writ of other religions can be construed to support political objectives, as well, in contemporary society and historically.

Religion in the service of politics is so often politically difficult (and I woudl argue, bad for both religion and politics). When there are moderate Muslims, even those drowned out by the noise radicals make, I don't think any interpretation in the public square is objectively without political meaning, for good or ill.

in_the_middle said...

is it a matter of 'moderating a religion' or moderating the behavior or expanding available choices of those who follow it?

i'm bothered by the succession of two posts in a row, one where the question is posed whether blair knows what the 'perverted' part of the religion is, then we go directly to theo van gogh and then ann answers her own question simply by quoting the testimony and ridiculing 'purity'.

clearly religious fundamentalism in ANY religion can lead to impressionable minds being led to carry out deadly things, "purely" for a religion. while it may not mean car bombs here with religious fundamentals, we do teeter close with a few christian fundamentalists in regards to gays and abortion, terri schiavo and stem cells. so i don't agree with the postings here about 'christianity' having come out of it's medieval roots. not all sects have, and while most practice in the fringe, certainly it exists.

perhaps islam needs their own version of a new testament and those who follow the old one will get caught up in the same hypocritical circles that christian fundamentalists do today (wives as slaves, wearing cotton and wool together, put to death for working on a sunday, etc).

that could transform a heap of people into moderates, and give those impressionable (and very young) islamic minds an opportunity to stick with their faith but to have choices how to live a happy life with allah yet belong to a peaceful western society.

gosh, who should write this... hmmm.

Ann Althouse said...

In the middle: You are quite wrong to suggest that this post is answered in the previous post. This post is (mildly) critical of Blair for purporting to say what the "true" version of Islam is. He's simply not in a position to know or to be persuasive on the subject. The previous post is critical of a religious idea with absolutely no regard to whether or not it is a true or accurate interpretation of that religion. I'm calling it BAD, not purporting to properly interpret someone else's religion.

Kathleen B. said...

Pastor Jeff: thanks, I appreciate the response.

I wasn't saying that Islam was a shining beacon for peace and freedom, I said it was a shining beacon for learning and culture. which it was. And no, Christian nations were no better when it came to brutality, piracy, conquering etc.

"remember that freedom and human dignity are not core Islamic values."

I am afraid that I cannot agree with this at all. I don't know how to suggest learning some more about Islam without sounding condescending, so I won't.

Moreover, I would certainly disagree that either "freedom" or "human dignity" was a core value of either feudalism or of the medieval Church.

miklos rosza said...

kathleen b.,

"islam" means submission. explain where freedom enters into that.

P_J said...


You managed to sound condescending quite well anyway. I think we're coming back the start of the thread - the difference between Islam as it's practiced and Islam as it "ought" to be. Islamic nations (current and historic) have terrible track records on freedom and basic human rights. You and Tony Blair seem to argue that's because they're not practicing "real" Islam. 95%+ of the Islam we see when Muslims are in charge is brutal, repressive and violent (and towards not only non-Muslims but also their own citizens). I contend that tells us something about Islam and its core values. Reading history, the Koran and what Muslims say among themselves backs this up.

PatCA said...

You're right, Ann. After the last five years observing the true Islam, I'd settle for a mild fake Islam any day.

pinkprincess said...

Maybe you are all taking the wrong aproach. Why is it that the religion of Islam always seem to be interpreting their sacred texts incorectly. You don't see Budhists or Hindus reading the sacred texts and misinterpreting it to blow up cities or gang rape women. Maybe we should all question this thought...