I can’t figure out whether Emma Green and Shadi Hamid are providing an incompetent interviewer’s apologism for Islam, and an Islamist’s propaganda, or they have colluded to show Islam to be the violent authoritarian political religion it is.
The Meaningless Politics of Liberal Democracies – An interview of Shadi Hamid by Emma Green.
Emma doesn’t get off to a good start. I worry we have a regressive left apologist for Islam here.
Ben Affleck has become an unlikely spokesman for a view on Islam held by many on the American left. In 2014, the actor made a now-famous stand against Bill Maher and Sam Harris in defense of Muslims
You mean infamous embarrassment of apologist blindness, surely. In that interview Affleck was shown very clearly not to listen to a word Harris said. Harris says not all Muslims, Affleck hears “All Muslims are terrorists”; Harris says some small but significant percentage, and still Affleck hears “All Muslims are terrorists.”
It’s very telling that the Grenwalds and Uygurs of the regressive left heard what Affleck thought he heard – they listened to Affleck, not Harris.
Uygur even got a very explict point made by Maher wrong. This is how dumb or deaf these regressives can be.
Back to these muppets (or is it geniuses).
Most Islamists—people who, in his words, “believe Islam or Islamic law should play a central role in political life”—are not terrorists.
No kidding. We know that. But it seems that for some strange reason it’s necessary to keep pointing that out. Maybe that’s because Islam has a bit of a problem, and it isn’t just reputation, it’s substantive. Not all Muslims are terrorists, but far too many are, and the Quran is a good guide for Islamic violence. The subject of he interview, Hamid, will confirm this for you below.
I am arguing that Islam is exceptional. I think there’s a general discomfort among American liberals about the idea that people don’t ultimately want the same things, that there isn’t this linear trajectory that all peoples and cultures follow: Reformation, then Enlightenment, then secularization, then liberal democracy.
Funny thing that. They feel the same way about the excesses of monarchy, fascism, communism, dictatorships and other authoritarian governments. When doing what it claims it should do, is what Islam is pretty much like that.
Green: Are you endorsing the incorporation of theology into governments of predominantly Muslim nations?
You could have predicted it: you don’t get a straight answer to this question, but evasion and a slow slide into explaining why a theocracy is great without actually saying it.
Hamid: For me, the question of whether it’s good or bad is beside the point, and that’s not the question I’m trying to answer. Clearly, some people think it’s good. Certainly in the Middle East there are millions of people who think it’s good. There are many of us here in the U.S. who are skeptical, but ultimately I think it’s up to the people of the region to decide what’s best for themselves through a democratic process that would play out over time.
Well, that’s not quite the whole story, is it, Hamid. What you have there are theocracies where Muslims are programmed to hate Jews, Christians and any non-Muslim, are even discouraged from being friends with them, are encouraged to be dishonest in the sincerity of relationships with non-Muslims – and all that right there in the Quran.
And what about the millions who are scared shitless of saying, actually, no, I don’t like this authoritarian theocracy. And what about the Middle East states that aren’t actual democracies so they don’t get a choice over whether they think it’s a good thing or not. And even where theocratic Islamic democracy rules, Islam is very specific in excluding non-Muslims from that democratic process.
Hamid is a totally clueless idiot, or he’s infiltrated Islam with the intent of exposing how bad it is. Surely he can’t be that much of an idiot.
I see very little reason to think secularism is going to win out in the war of ideas. But the question is: Why would it in the first place? Why would that even be our starting presumption as American observers? It’s presumptuous and patronizing to think a different religion is going to follow the same basic trajectory as Christianity.
It’s not following the trajectory of Christianity, it’s following the path of those who saw how bad the Christian trajectory had been in Europe and wanted something else.
Secularism isn’t Christianity. It isn’t atheism. It’s the removal of religion from governance so that theocrats can’t persecute people who believe in some other religion or none at all.
Next we come to Indonesia and Malaysia. If I hadn’t seen Hamid, I’d swear it was Reza Aslan’s pen name.
Green: How monolithic is “the Islamic world”? Can you make generalizations about Indonesia that extend to the Middle East, etc.?
Hamid: Different countries are very different in how they interpret Islam or Islamic law and how they apply those ideas in everyday public life.
Malaysia and Indonesia are very interesting cases. People don’t pay a lot of attention to them because they’re not very central to U.S. national-security interests.
And, they’re not at the centre of the Middle East that has been the centre of human conflict since the dawn of civilisation. And in no small way thanks to differences of religious belief; or at the very best, religion has been used as a divisive measure of whose side you’re on in otherwise tussles for power and land. Religion has played a big part in Middle East strife. Islam just happens to be the overwhelmig cause of it now because of its colonian imperial past.
Hamid: Those two countries are often described as models of pluralism, tolerance, and relative democracy. But there are actually more sharia bylaws on the local level in those two countries than you see in much of the Arab world, including Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon, and certainly Turkey, in the broader region.
Yep. Reza Aslan. Look how great these countries are, and they’re Islamic!
That tells us something: It’s not just an Arab problem. It’s not just a Middle Eastern problem. What I do think is quite different is that Malaysia and Indonesia have come to terms with this reality. [Islam] doesn’t have the same kind of polarizing effect on the body politic [in those countries] as it does in the Arab world, because those two countries have reached a conservative consensus, where people say, “Yes, Islam does play an outsize role in public life, but we’re going to agree to adjudicate our differences through a democratic process, or at least not through violence.”
It actually tells us that it is indeed not an Arab problem. It’s a Islam problem. And the reasons you’re giving of why these states are not quite so bad is because they don’t actually implement the governance requirements that Islam demands, because they are built on the democratic model:
- Malyasia: Federal parliamentary democracy under an elective constitutional monarchy.
- Indonesia: Unitary presidential constitutional republic.
They have removed the political aspect of Islam, even if Islam is privileged in being the official religion. On top of that, the part of Indonesia suffering under Islam is where Islam has the stongest influence over local government.
This is part of your case for which Islamic governance might be better? Can you see why I suspect you’re actually an anti-Islamic infiltrator set out to destroy Islam by exposing its reality?
Green: You emphasize the importance of taking the “metaphysical” propositions of Islam seriously, over and above the material circumstances of violence. What is lost in focusing on the material rather than ideological factors in the politics of Muslim countries?
Why didn’t you just ask him Mohammed going off to heaven on a winged horse is a significant metaphysical proposition that should be taken seriously.
Hamid: As political scientists, when we try to …
Whaoooo there partner. Political scientists? You’ve got to be kidding me. Proponents of a given political religion are not remotely scientists. They are not evaluating politics with objective balance, they are finding reasons to support their agenda.
Hamid: But sometimes it’s even simpler than that. It [can be] about a desire for eternal salvation. It’s about a desire to enter paradise. In the bastions of Northeastern, liberal, elite thought, that sounds bizarre.
It sounds bizarre because it is, when 21st century people believe these childish fairy tales.
Hamid: Political scientists don’t use that kind of language because, first of all, how do you measure that?
Good point. The answer is staring you in the face. You can’t measure fantasy figures.
But I think we should take seriously what people say they believe in.
Oh, believe me we do. We take it very seriously when ISIS make the same metaphysical claims you do, and then use them to excuse their butchery.
But, Hamid, we’re taking them seriously in that we believe they mean what they say, when they treat non-Muslims with the contempt they do. What we don’t take seriously is the actually content of the fantasy they are peddling.
Hamid: It’s interesting that we’re having this conversation at a time when many people, including outside the Middle East, are loosing faith in technocratic, liberal democracy. There’s a desire for a politics of substantive meaning. At the end of the day, people want more than economic tinkering.
It’s the loss of liberal democracy that’s frustrating many people – whether it’s the resurgence of political Islam, the power of big money and the way that other crazy religion, Christianity, props up the conservative right in the US. American theocratic pretensions is one of the forces that are fucking up the US and polluting the principles of the Constitution that was intended to keep religion out. It’s not liberal democracy that’s unwanted – most Americans want democracy; most Americans want liberty; many of them are very disappointed because the regressive left has failed them and they are looking elsewhere. That’s why Trump has been a threat. That’s why in Europe there’s a backlash to the accommoddationism afforded to Islamists over the last few decades.
Hamid: I think classical liberalism makes a lot of sense intellectually. But it doesn’t necessarily fill the gap that many people in Europe and the U.S. seem to have in their own lives, whether that means [they] resort to ideology, religion, xenophobia, nationalism, populism, exclusionary politics, or anti-immigrant politics. All of these things give voters a sense that there is something greater.
Why didn’t you stick Islam in there more explicitcly with these other failures of human politics? Only Islam is explicitly exclusionary: in an Islamic theocracy non-Muslims are excluded from high office. Islam is an ideology. And of course it’s a religion. And it’s popularist in appeal, because like all populist ideologies it is presented overly simplistically and often dishonestly.
Liberalism isn’t merely an intellectual persuit, it’s a humanist one: the most liberty to the individual while doing the least harm to teh collective. It is set against the horros of collectivism that persecute the individual for not following the party or theological line. Islam is athoritarian collectivist oppression backed up by the autority of an ever threatening but never seen fantasy figure – political control through mind control.
Hamid: What we can learn from the Middle East can also apply to some extent to other regions that are struggling with similar questions of what are the ultimate purposes of politics.
They are struggling because they are trying to become free of dictatorships and monarchies. They’d had little chance to evolve into and adapt a secular democracy. And there are theocratic forces coercing them all the way to a full theocracy. But there are many among them that have tasted liberal democracy and like it – even if they retain religious belief, because it makes them free to practice it without state persecution.
Green: You open the book by asking about this inscrutable yearning for violence that seems to be felt among a small minority of Muslim extremists. What do you make of this yearning?
Hamid: On a basic level, violence offers meaning. And that’s what makes it scary. In the broader sweep of history, mass violence and mass killing is actually the norm.
Well, that’s true of the Middle East. Is there anywhere else on earth that has had perpetual strife over so many millennia?
Hamid: It’s only in recent centuries that states and institutions have tried to persuade people to avoid such practices. That also reminds us that when institutions and social norms are weakened, those base sentiments can rise up again quite easily. And that’s what I saw
Well done Hamid. Secular liberal democracies have eventually evolved to a state of low internal strife. And when those institutions are weakened, the old divisions and violence erupt. Point well made.
The thing is that Hamid seems to be saying that, yes, secular liberal democracies bring peace and freedom, but they are delecate, so let’s give up on them and have a monolithic theocracy that beats the crap out of anyone that steps out of line, and then we’ll have true peace and love. Terrific.
Green: You also frame violence as a way of grappling with theodicy, or the problem of evil. How does this play out in the Islamic tradition?
Hamid: That is the question many Muslims have been asking not just recently, but for centuries, ever since the fall of the various caliphates and empires: Why is God doing this? Why is God permitting this fall from grace? The Muslim narrative you hear a lot is that when Muslims were good, God rewarded them with success and territory. When Muslims went astray, then perhaps God decided to send them a message to encourage them to return to the straight path.
Or perhaps there’s no God, or if there is it’s not your God – do you not see how secularism and liberalism makes you free to believe? I know it’s difficult to grasp for an indoctrinated Muslim, but all these different religions making claims about their gods, based on sources that are nothing more than some guy popping up in history and saying, “Hey guys, God spoke to me. Listen.” and the credulous ignorant ancients took it all in. But, you know what, secular liberal democracies don’t persecute you for believing any of that crap. Islam does persecute you if you believe some other crap or if you reject all that crap entirely.
Hamid: A question I get a lot is, “Wait, ok, is Islam violent? Does the Quran endorse violence?” I find this to be a very weird question. Of course there is violence in the Quran.
What? No. The Quran? Violent? You heard it her first. Obama, are you listening?
Hamid: Muhammad was a state builder, and to build a state you need to capture territory. The only way to capture territory is to wrest it from the control of others, and that requires violence. This isn’t about Islam or the Prophet Muhammad; state building has historically always been a violent process.
What? It’s state building through violence and conquest, by Mohammed, using his Quran as a weapon of persuasion and control, and Obama-like, it’s still nothing to do with Islam? Please, someone, is it me? Am I really reading this right?
If ISIS were defeated tomorrow morning, we would still have to consider ISIS one of the most successful Islamist state-building groups. And that’s what makes it scary and frightening as an organization: They have offered a counter model. They’ve shown that capturing and holding territory is actually an objective worth striving for. An overwhelming majority of Muslims dislike ISIS and oppose them. But ISIS has changed the terms of the debate, because other Islamist groups in recent decades have not been able to govern. They have not been able to build states, and ISIS has.
I don’t want to do what regressives do with Sam Harris and shoot the messenger. You know, when he tells us what he hears Muslims say when they read the Quran, literally, and then we (I mean Greenwald, Uygur et al) jump all over him for taking the Quran so literally. I don’t want to say that Hamid is actually endorsing ISIS. But he’s making that pretty difficult.
Hamid puts my mind at ease about him, a little, when he goes on the address Islamism.
If I had to sum up mainstream Islamism in a sentence, I would say it’s the attempt to reconcile pre-modern Islamic law with the modern nation-state. But the problem is that Islamic law wasn’t designed for the modern nation-state. It was designed for the pre-modern era. So the question then is, “How do you take something that wasn’t meant for the modern era and adapt it to the modern era—the era of nation-states?” That is the conundrum that Islamist movements are facing.
How? But why would you want to take that old nonsense and adapt it? Why do we need it?
I’m not sure if Hamid classes himself as an Islamist, or whether he’s quite far enough down that road for us to label him as such. That might be too strong. I need to know more about him.
Hamid appeared recently on Mehdi Hasan’s show, which addressed the issue of the compatibility between Islam and democracy:
Hamid seems to be pretty clearly in favour of some form of Islamic governance. No thank you, Shadi. Islam is not compatible with democracy. In the conversation the other speakers were actually explaining the extent to which Islam is trimmed down to make it less incompatible, to make it so that it can at least co-exist as a religion within a democracy. Only Hamid expressed views that suggest they’d rather actually have Islam instead of democracy.
Is Shadi Hamid an Islamist?
Is Emma Green an apologist for Islam, or merely giving him an easy time? Regressive blinded by Islam, because, you know, Muslims are a minority?