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August 02, 2002 - Image 29

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2002-08-02

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`Modernizing Islam'

SLAM IS EVIL. That's the mes-

sage a U.S. Secret Service agent
illicitly left on an Islamic prayer
calendar on July 18 as he was
raiding a suspected Al Qaida opera-
tive in Dearborn, Mich.
His crude graffito sums up a point
of view increasingly heard since 9/11
in the United States. It's also one that
is troubling and wrong.
Here is the rub: It is a mistake to
blame Islam (a religion more than 14
centuries old) for the evil that should
be ascribed to militant Islam (a totali-
tarian ideology less than a century
old). The terrorism of Al Qaida,
Hamas, the Iranian government and
other Islamists results from the ideas
of such contemporary radicals as
Osama bin Laden and Ayatollah
Khomeini, not from Islam's holy
book, the Koran.
To which you might respond —
but bin Laden and Khomeini get
their ideas from the Koran. And they
are only continuing a pattern of
Muslim aggression that is centuries
Not exactly. Let's look closer at
both points:
• Aggressive Islam: The Koran and

Daniel Pipes is director of the Middle

East Forum. His e-mail address . is

other authoritative Islamic scriptures
do contain incitements against non-
Muslims. The eminent historian Paul
Johnson, for example, cites two
Koranic verses: "Strongest among
men in enmity to the Believers will
you find the Jews and Pagans" (Sura
5, verse 85) and "Then fight and slay
the pagans wherever you find them.
And seize them, beleaguer them and
lie in wait for them." (9:5).
• Aggressive Muslims: Fourteen cen-
turies of Islam have witnessed a long
history of Muslims engaged in jihad
(literally "struggle," or holy war) to
expand the area under Islamic rule,
from the early conquests of the
caliphs to what Samuel Huntington
terms Islam's "bloody borders" today.
Yes, these points are accurate. But
they are one side of the story.
• Mild Islam: Like other sacred
writings, the Koran can be mined for
quotes to support opposing argu-
ments. In this case, Karen Armstrong,
a best-selling apologist for Islam,
quotes two gentler passages from the
Koran: "There must be no coercion in
matters of faith!" (2:256) and "0
people! We have formed you into
nations and tribes so that you may
know one another." (49:13).
•Mild Muslims: There have been
occasions of Muslim moderation and
tolerance, such as those in long-ago
Sicily and Spain. And in one telling

no Jewish or Christian body
endorses slavery or has reli-
gious qualms about paying
reasonable interest.
Muslims, in contrast, still
think the old way. Slavery
continues to exist in a host of
majority-Muslim countries
(especially Sudan and
Mauritania, also Saudi Arabia
and Pakistan) and it is a
Commentary taboo subject. To enable
pious Muslims to avoid inter-
est, an Islamic financial
The Long View
industry worth an estimated $150 bil-
lion has developed.
At present, admittedly, it is hard to
The challenge ahead is clear:
recall the positive side, at a moment
must emulate their fellow
when backwardness, resentment,
by modernizing their reli-
extremism and violence prevail in so
gion with regard to slavery, interest
much of the Muslim world. But the
and much else. No more fighting jihad
present is not typical of Islam's long
history; indeed, it may be the worst era to impose Muslim rule. No more
endorsement of suicide terrorism. No
in that entire history.
more second-class citizenship for non-
Things can get better, but it will not
Muslims. No more death penalty for
be easy. That would require Muslims
adultery or "honor" killings of women.
to tackle the huge challenge of adapt-
No more death sentences for blasphe-
ing their faith to the realities of mod-
my or apostasy.
ern life.
Rather than rail on about Islam's
What does that mean in practical
alleged "evil," it behooves everyone ---
terms? Here are some examples:
Muslim and non-Muslim alike — to
Five hundred years ago, Jews,
help modernize this civilization.
Christians and Muslims agreed that
That is the ultimate message of
owning slaves was acceptable but pay-
9/11. It is much deeper and more
ing interest on money was not. After
ambitious than Western governments
bitter, protracted debates, Jews and
presently seem to realize. ❑
Christians changed their minds. Today,

example, Mark R. Cohen, a
professor of Near Eastern
Studies, notes, "The Jews of
Islam, especially during the
formative and classical centuries
(up to the 13th century), expe-
rienced much less persecution
than did the Jews of
In other words, the scriptures
and history of Islam show varia-

Is God Laughing?

Los Angeles

y girlfriend "E" was the
first to declare what oth-
ers had been observing
for a while.
"God sure is having a good laugh,"
she said. "You write a column called (A
Woman's Voice.' And yet you have no
The irony had crossed my mind.
Lance Armstrong, the bicyclist, had
testicular cancer. Beverly Sills, the
opera singer, has two daughters who
are deaf. Is there "meaning" in the fact
that I, who have for some years trav-
eled the country public speaking, and
whose professional identity is hung up
on the moniker of this column, can-
not be heard?
I haven't had a speaking voice in
more than a month. I whisper, a frog


Marlene Adler Marks is a columnist for

the Jewish Journal of Greater Los
Angeles. Her e-mail address is

croaking through the bulrushes.
My right vocal cord is paralyzed.
While speaking, which I assure you
doesn't hurt, I puff like I'm running a
marathon. I take an hour to eat
scrambled eggs.

I listen for God's
comfort at night,
and offer the silence
of praise.

Still, if you ask me, God has noth-
ing to do with it.
The loss of a voice carries a surpris-
ing spiritual threat: friends act as if
some crucial part of me were gone.
Inside my head, I still yammer away,
brilliant on the topics of WorldCom,
ImClone and Israel. But when I open

night by the natural and
my mouth, I become like
unnatural sounds of the uni-
Hannah before the
verse: the roar of the wind,
Tabernacle. My every chortle
the bray of the ass, the bark of
and grimace is subject to mis-
a dog, the sound of a baby's
The phone rings. The caller
I listen for God's comfort at
is disoriented: Who am I? I
and offer the silence of
rush to reassure them: I'm
OK. I feel fine. When I had
But is God laughing?
chemotherapy, I continued to
has struggled since
sound like myself. I would call
to remove God
my parents in New York right
after treatment ended.
Wanted" list — the ((interven-
Sitting tall, I was convinc-
ing punisher God" with a
ingly strong and congruent.
sense of humor.
These days, without a voice,
me, the good people
identity is not so much gone as taken
that had things happen to, we're our
on faith. I have faith that the situation
own worst enemy: we keep asking
is only temporary. My community has
"Why?" as if there's an answer. We
faith that I'll be restored to myself,
remain committed to a God who can't
New York accent and all.
to pull the tablecloth out from
We are known by how we sound.
Sound — our laugh, our cry, the
out "God the sadistic enter-
song we hum — is the beginning of
MARKS on page 30
We know that God stands watch at



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