Michael Wolraich's picture

    Islam and Intolerance

    There is a touch of hypocrisy in Mitt Romney's strident defense of free speech. It is hard to imagine that "freedom of speech" would be the first words out of his mouth if Jesus Christ were the target of ridicule instead of Muhammad.

    Still, though Romney and his supporters would surely bristle at an offensive caricature of Jesus, the ambassadors of Muslim nations have nothing to fear from mobs of Christian fanatics. The United States has its fair share of religious zealots, but they are not prone to rioting and violence when their sacred symbols are profaned.

    Why is that? Why are the Middle East and Indian subcontinent so much more more susceptible to religious explosions of mob violence than Western countries?

    Answers to this question tend to come in one of two flavors. Liberals often focus on anti-American hostility as a reaction to U.S. imperialism. According to this rationale, the "Innocence of Muslims" video catalyzed the simmering resentment of the Arab street, which has at its source decades of poverty, indignity, and repression.

    Conservatives tend to contrast the cultural and ideological differences between Western countries and the Middle East. Such explanations often harbor a not-so-subtle hint that Islam is simply an intolerant religion.

    Neither explanation is satisfying. The liberal answer might address anti-American reactions to the YouTube video and Qur'an burnings, but it does little to explain the far more common repression of "blasphemy" and "heresy" within intolerant Muslim societies. Before the attack on the American consulate, Pakistani mobs howled for the blood of a poor Christian girl accused of burning the Qu'ran, Libyan fanatics systematically demolished Sufi shrines, and an Egyptian court sentenced a comedian to prison for insulting Islam. What do such examples have to do with America?

    On the other hand, the conservative answer ignores centuries of Western heresy trials, pogroms, and other examples of Christian intolerance, not to mention contemporary Christian bigotry in Africa. Even the United States, proud land of the free, evolved from a colonial foundation that included the famously intolerant Puritans. Anti-Catholic violence proliferated in the 19th century, and blasphemy laws survived in some states until the 1930s. If Western societies have lately become more tolerant than those of the Middle East, how did they become so?

    It is tempting to look to advances in education. Religious violence is often associated with poor, illiterate subcultures--from historical Europe to the modern Middle East. Therefore, we might reason, the root cause of religious intolerance is ignorance.

    But if accurate, this answer begs the question. Not just any education can cure a society of intolerance. A madrasa system, for example, can have the opposite effect. Education can only reduce intolerance if it teaches tolerance. So there had to be a more fundamental social shift that caused Western countries to promote education--specifically secular liberal education--in the first place.

    Without attempting to present a definitive answer, I'd like to suggest a way of thinking about religious intolerance that may point the way. One intriguing aspect of such intolerance is that minority sects rarely practice it against the majority. Christian Pakistanis do not attack Muslims for blasphemy. Sufi Libyans do not desecrate Sunni mosques. Brooklyn Hasidim do not throw rocks at cars that drive on the Sabbath. American Muslims do not storm the White House when someone burns a Qu'ran. It is only when a religious minority approaches the majority in population and power that it becomes aggressive. And even then, it tends to follow a tit-for-tat formula, as occurs between Muslims and Hindus in India.

    So why do minorities seem to be more tolerant than majorities? Some people suppose that the experience of persecution produces a sense of enlightenment. Jews, for example, often proudly cite centuries of Jewish suffering to explain their open-mindedness.

    But more often than not, such tolerance only applies to outsiders. The Jews of Europe certainly did not prosecute Christians for heresy, but they did prosecute other Jews. Indeed, the smaller the sect, the more likely it is to execute cult-like reprisals against dissenters within its ranks. And when minority groups become majorities--like the Puritans in Massachusetts, the Mormons in Utah, and the Jews in Israel--they often become aggressive towards outsiders as well.

    What does this mean? I suggest that religious intolerance is at its root a social phenomenon. The primary motivation behind religious violence--from the lynching of blasphemers to the storming of consulates--is neither resentment against imperialist repression, nor ideological commitments to brutal religious doctrines. These are simply the excuses, the rationales. Instead, I argue that religious intolerance is usually an attempt by one powerful segment of society to bully a weaker segment into submission. It can occur at the macro level, as when nations enact and enforce blasphemy laws, or at the micro level, as when Amish zealots cut off their neighbors' beards.

    What the Western world has developed, gradually and often painfully, are societies that constrain and sublimate our bullying tendencies. We have laws against discrimination, schools that teach tolerance, and values that encourage diversity.

    We have not eliminated intolerance of course, but we have repressed it and channeled it into less violent expressions. Some of Mitt Romney's supporters may dislike atheists or Muslims. They may bridle at perceived offenses against Jesus or Christmas or Christian values. But they will, for the most part, exercise their anger at the ballot box and obey the laws that protect religious freedom in the United States.

    If history is any guide, the Middle Eastern countries that currently lack such constraints and protections will develop them eventually, but it will take time.


    Smart stuff.  I think the question that emerges then is... can you build a democracy first and then develop the constraints against bullying?  Or do the constraints have to be largely in place before you get to the democracy part?  Because, if the sequence matters, we might be in very new territory.

    It's a good question. Historically, some of these constraints existed before democracies were established, and some came later, so democracy is certainly compatible with some degree of intolerance. Indeed, I think that the U.S. is somewhat unusual in explicitly protecting religious freedom at the exact moment of democratic inception.

    Rather than explicit dependence, I suspect that the conditions that lend themselves to successful democracy--educated voters, strong institutions, independent judiciary--also lend themselves to effective constraints on intolerance.

    Funny you should say that.  Reuters just asked me to make the same argument and, if you don't mind me plugging in your thread I'll do that... right... here...





    Plug away. Good piece.

    Weird that we were writing our pieces around the same time.  They really do go together.

    Great minds...

    I did my part and clicked and read (I only wish I had more than one ISP to give to my destor23 getting more gigs at Reuters!) You've got a lot of good examples there, you really think about this a lot, doncha? (When's the related play coming out?)

    You got me thinking, scrounging my brain for what you and Genghis might have missed: and I came up with: "it's the literacy level, stupid." I'd sure like to have a poll of the intial mobs every time there's one of these incidents to know the literacy level It so often seems to happen that the original instigator is later found out to be lying to them or scamming them or at the very least exaggerating somehow. And once a mob gets going, literate angry people get seduced into the mob.

    I'm thinking how you might not need to teach tolerance as much as just having a much higher literacy rate to have a great effect as far as ginning up mob violence is concerned. I'm not saying it's always as simple as "the literate ones can spot a demagogue." (Though I do remember my devout Catholic Polish immigrant grandpa, who had rudimentary reading skills in Polish, and then taught himself to read English when he immigrated, saying: no priest is ever going to tell me how to vote. I suspect he learned that sentiment from reading newspapers, because that is basically all anyone saw him read by choice, except for prayerbooks, of course)

    It's more like what Juan Cole wrote convincingly about back many years ago in starting a project to translate western works into Arabic because so many people in Arab-speaking countries are illiterate, there is very little except the Koran, sermons and fatwas, and state-controlled media to read or even hear! (This is why Al-Jazeera was so revolutionary at it's conception.) Ignorance rules because there is no alternative, and no profit in providing any, because so many people can't read. And yeah,  it follows, if you learn to read at the local madrassa, it isn't much benefit, as chances are all you'll ever have available to read is the Koran and some propaganda, probably by your government.

    Back to your specific argument. Here's what Angry Arab (As'ad AbuKhalil) has to say on "Muslim film critics;" they are short quips as is his tendency:



    Interesting theory but I had a look at literacy rates. While Egypt's is pretty low (666.4%), Libya's is high (97.7%). I suspect it could have more to do with what people are reading. If the only reading material they have access to is religious and incendiary in nature, that could be a contributing factor.

    I think that's part of what AA is saying - that the available global reading material in Arab culture is insufficient. For a culture like Benghazi's, which was a bit of a backwater under Qaddafi as well, it's worse. 

    Imagine a typical fundamentalist Christian group where they want to read Christian books and go see faith-based or inspirational movies, and then just switch the handwriting, and we've got much of the situation - philosophically, it's not a diverse enough philosophical diet to drive a modern society. You'd hope the Arab Spring helps cure this, but it takes time - think of how many decades your favorite books took to work their magic on you.

    Most of the news coming out now is suggesting that there wasn't much uncontrolled mob action in Libya, or even much of a protest (according to eyewitnesses as well as others,) just a pre-planned attack for the anniversary of 9/11 by militant Islamists that have been in nearby Derna  for a very long time. That initially the Libya attack was incorrectly assumed to be the same as what was already going on in Cairo, but  now it appears it may have been something different. Rachel Maddow had a good summary of the current reporting on the Libya story; of course, that story may change again.

    But on the literacy issue, yeah, Gaddafi made sure that most citizens could read his Green Book. He believed in education. How and what did the average citizen who never traveled learn? Stay tuned, developing, as they say in the TV news business.

    Peracles is correct, I wasn't saying that every Arab-speaking country had high illiteracy, I was saying that overall, Arab illiteracy is so high that it has never been worth it to publish much besides "approved texts," whatever those may be in the particular area. That educated Arabs have learned about the rest of the world by learning to read another language, not from Arabic-language texts. Rectifying that has been one passion of Juan Cole's.

    It should be said, of course, that there are lots of Muslims that aren't Arabs. I leave it up to everybody else how many of those have violent mobs about blasphemy (rather than relatively peaceful protests) and how often.

    Iran is a special case; are very literate and educated and have a considerable amount of translated texts. I will just say it's amazing (not) that whenever they have anti-Western violence-how should I say it--how controlled it is. The mullahs don't seem to like "mobs" that don't follow directions, see Green Revolution (hooligans!)


    You raise an important point, destor. Across much of the Greater Middle East, independent, secular civil institutions (media, schools, unions, political parties) have been controlled, suppressed or co-opted by authoritarian regimes -- and religion-based groups have moved to fill the resulting void.

    As they gain popular legitimacy and governments lose it, the two find themselves in conflict; suppression and radicalization follow. A cleric emerging from a lengthy prison term isn't likely to preach boycotts and peaceful demonstrations to his followers. He'll preach revolution and violence, and hatred for that regime's foreign allies.

    Yet for some atavistic reason, these are the kinds of government Western leaders gravitate toward, prop up or install. (Few remember it, but France's initial reaction to the Tunisian revolt was to offer help suppressing it.) Not just in the Middle East; Latin America is only now recovering from a century of identically misguided American policy.

    What I'm trying to say is that tolerance is an organic thing. It grows out of the cultural soil it's planted in, and needs careful tending. And if you start with the wrong kind of seed, you get nothing.

    A tiny point: you several times write "heresy" -- a doctrinal dispute within a religion -- when what you mean is "blasphemy" -- denigration of a religion, often by outsiders.

    Thanks Genghis.  Good piece.  I believe that there are few incidents of mob violence in the United States and Western democracies today because would-be lynchers and rioters know that there is a very high risk that they are likely to be prosecuted and convicted if they take the law into their own hands.  For nearly a century after the Civil War, groups of whites often were free to act out their most violent fantasies against blacks and they did.  When anti-lynching legislation was finally enforced, the lynchings stopped.  While race-based violence is not identical to persecution based on religion, it's not too far removed.

    I agree. The laws--and more importantly the enforcement of the laws--are a huge part of what makes a society tolerant. And while I was writing about religion rather than race, there's a clear corollary, as you noticed.

    Haven't thought this through carefully, but... while not followed exactly through the ages, proselytizing from Jesus' time was spreading the word, even in tongues, persuasion, such as with Paul & later acolytes. Jesus gave himself up to death, Peter said to have asked to be crucified upside down. (don't know if any of these stories true, but important to religious myth). Islam was conceived in internecine warfare, and spread the 1st century (Islamic calendar) by the sword from Atlas Mountains/Gibraltar to Indonesia. 

    During the Crusades and Reconquista it was fashionable to kill for Christ, and Latin America was not converted peacefully.  But the principle of "turning the other cheek" is a strong symbol whether practiced well or not. Aggressiveness isn't much condoned in the New Testament.

    I'm not strong in Islamic knowledge, but I think there are principles like being a good host that are even more vibrant when militant - i.e. protecting your guest from danger, not just being open and generous.  While Christians often  think of a tough convert as a challenge to persuade, I don't know if Islam has the same engaging attitude to resistance or religious affront, especially from non-believers.

    However, it's also hard to delimit this from the legal & cultural systems we've put in place, which might constrain us more & in different ways than the Muslim world. We do have "violence is wrong" despite our ways to get out violence in accepted ways. We've more enshrined multiculturalism rather than adherence & support for 1 people and 1 religion. While liberals may be happier with this development, it seems to be anathema to conservatives & Mideast fundamentalists alike.

    PS - I also recall how Latin America saw mores vicious sub-currents in our programming and worldview. For example Tom and Jerry - Tom always being patient patient patient until forced to overreact with unrestrained force. But we always see our level of response as sane and patient and proportionate, while theirs is crude and brutish, violence worn on sleeve.

    The piece is about tolerance, not violence. And the point (one of the points) is that doctrine doesn't really matter. The Bible hasn't changed, but most Christian societies have evolved from extreme intolerance (worse than Islamic societies) to extreme tolerance.

    I was saying key symbolism for tolerance and liberal discourse lay in Christianity from the start - turn the other cheek, submission, give unto Caesar what is Caesar's, convert through persuasion/learning to speak in tongues.... Jesus gets his way not by fighting Rome but by accepting its authority on earth while asserting it has a higher moral path.

    I'd have to think about the evolution - were original small Christian societies intolerant, or was it Christianity as adopted by intolerant states like Constantine's?

    I'd guess that those key seeds of tolerance in the New Testament kept Christianity relevant after the Gutenberg Bible during the Reformation, when people could read the Bible for themselves and some philosophers would be developing a more humanistic non-denominational view of the world - one that could grow in the supposedly non-denominational colonies mixed with the "escaping religious persecution" meme. It's worth considering it in terms of the highly mystic leaders of the Renaissance like those gathered under King Rudolf, who in his anachronistic café/court society allowed a weird mix of tolerance towards and cultivation of Jews and the arts and mystic ideals to grow out a robust, multidimensional and surely non-traditional Catholic philosophy of life, the arts & science in the heart of Europe. It's bizarre reading works of Francis Bacon as he ties in his religious imagery with his humanistic and cosmological studies, deriving a tuned-in optimistically Christian-but-scientific/mathematical/philosophic worldview. 

    I know it doesn't fit perfectly - it's a bit more like Bucky Fuller's "having the right tech for when people are ready for it" - in this case some key bit of philosophy as Europe scrapped stringent Catholicism and re-evaluated the Bible, tried to blunder out of its continental religious wars, and new Americans built up their own mythology enshrined in the non-denominational Constitution  and separation of church and state and come all/"give us your tired and poor" for a country that's anything but detached from religion and far from welcoming all. (similar to the fraternite/egalite/liberte from the French revolution that turned so ruthless)

    In some ways we're trapped by our own mythology and strictures into embracing tolerance despite our druthers. And possibly World War II gave this tolerance meme a better chance of growing in modern Europe where there was a need of a break from the past, and an American mythological meme of tolerance proved easier to adopt in the rubble out of expediency.

    This of course suggests some hopscotching around of a "tolerance" dynamic, almost a recessive gene, and puts me in peril of counter-example where what we call tolerance existed widely in earlier times that I'm not familiar with. And suggests I shouldn't write when too late...

    The original Christian communities were internally intolerant--meaning that the tried to repressed fellow Christians with different ideas, such as the Gnostics. They became externally intolerant when Christianity advanced from a minority religion to a majority religion.

    In the Middles Ages, most Islamic societies were more tolerant than most Christian societies, so it's hard to see how the doctrinal differences destined Christians to become more tolerant.

    Well, you have to look to see if they're there and they were used.

    The points I brought up were 1) initially it was a community religion, word of mouth, 2) the values were expressed pretty clearly, 3) it was taken over by statism (Constantine merging it with Persian religions), 4) when the religious scriptures became accessible to popular interpretation post-Gutenberg, the more experimental philosophers began incorporating this tolerance and similar concepts into their cosmology, 5) the same terms mixed well with new uprisings in the colonies, in France, etc.

    The main point still being that this message overrides other impressions of the religion. The people practicing it aren't necessarily tolerant, but no matter how the GOP roughrides the Bible, they can't erase verses like "love thy neighbor". Eventually their kids can notice the discrepancy and decide for themselves.

    I've read that around the time of Saladin, the more fanatical elements of Islam purged the more moderate elements. In any case, Islam never had the tolerance of the public interpreting the Koran for itself (something grabbed by Martin Luther), and the core 5 pillars of Islam don't give any of these communal values - they're all about service and ritual.

    So whether one society is more tolerant than another at a particular time, the main Christian memes as popularly adopted & recited drive the intolerant audience more towards being tolerant in spite of themselves. 

    I don't mean that Islam's memes lead towards intolerance - at least the ones that stick out are focused on other qualities.

    They have the principle and practice of ijtihad.

    Islam never had the tolerance of the public interpreting the Koran for itself (something grabbed by Martin Luther),

    If you read the definition of ijtihad, it can't be an area already covered in doctrine, and has to be based on the Quran and hadith. Let's just say putting together your own cosmology based on the Quran and secular reasoning & observations is probably not appreciated.

    Do Christians are Jews do that?

    I mean all schisms are based on that, but then they become their own orthodoxy.

    I supposed Unitarians don't believe Jesus was God, but then most Christians don't think Unitarians are Christians.

    I discussed Francis Bacon and the mystic artists under Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II. Serious enquiry, heady stuff that I can't imagine happening under what little's approved to question in Islam these days. Try this out.

    These days, yes. But Islam's Golden Age under the Abbassid Dynasty featured plenty of "serious enquiry" and "heady stuff" while the Europeans were focusing their energies on burning heretics, witches, and Jews.

    My sense is your comment is based on a lack of knowledge about Islam and its history. No snark here, really. Just that ALL of us know precious little about the religion.

    They have had mystics, scientists, and mathematicians galore, especially during the Golden Age. We just don't study them. And I'm sure there's a lot of material that remains untranslated.

    Really good piece, G.  Although sometimes I feel like too many voices rely on even-handedly dismissing liberal and conservative tropes without actually getting much further than that, you really pushed your thinking into different territory here.  Your argument attempts at being universal, which I think is important when considering issues of tolerance.

    If we grant that your argument is more or less correct, then doesn't that mean that certain strains of Islam, or any other ideology that insists on codifying intolerance in social custom if not explicitly in law, are probably the biggest threat to tolerance?  If your frame is correct, I can't imagine a bigger enemy to the codification of the opposite.

    Thanks, DF. I appreciate that.

    I do think that codified intolerance--such as the salafist conception of sharia--inhibit institutions and conventions that promote tolerance. It's hard to pass a law to protect religious freedom if blasphemy law is enshrined in your constitution.

    That said, I'm not sure that codified intolerance is the polar opposite of codified tolerance. Lawless intolerance may be just as pernicious or worse.

    I didn't mean to say that codified intolerance is necessarily the opposite of codified tolerance, but I think it's clear that intolerance and tolerance are opposites.  What I meant is that I can see no greater barrier to a system that codifies tolerance than the existence of a system that codifies its opposite.  Lawless intolerance may well beget its own mayhem, but it doesn't necessarily pose as great or obvious a barrier as when intolerance is law.

    I think the issue here is developed vs. less-developed countries, rather than East vs. West or this religion vs. that.

    Violent Christian mobs in Western Europe used to be a fairly regular thing. Religious mob violence was, for example, fairly wide-spread in 16th-century France.

    Economically developed countries have less mob violence. Underdeveloped countries have much more.

    There is some correlation between economic development and tolerance, but it's not rigid. Modern Pakistan is more economically developed than pre-industrial America but less tolerant.

    That said, my whole criticism against the conservative position was that there is nothing inherent about Christianity or Islam that led the West to develop tolerant societies earlier than Islam. Indeed, a few centuries ago, Islamic societies were more tolerant than Christian societies.

    G, from what I know of economic literature, it isn't absolute wealth that matters, but rather people's perceptions of it - much as we find in research on how economics influences decision-making in elections.  People compare themselves to those around them and also to those above them.  Interestingly, they don't tend to look down.  And they also don't look back into the past.  So, I'm not sure it's really relevant Pakistan is more developed economically compared to pre-industrial America.  Generally, the world has gotten more wealthy and less violent all over the place during the last couple of centuries.  I think it's perfectly fair to observe that the correlation isn't absolutely rigid, but it's also true that there would appear to be a relatively low occurrence of what we would agree is significant intolerance amongst OECD nations, for example.

    In that case, I don't understand the suggestion. How do perceptions of relative wealth encourage tolerance or intolerance?

    I wasn't really making a suggestion as such.  I was just observing that I don't think there's a good case for saying it makes any difference that some nation now is wealthier than some other nation that was more tolerant in the past.  I'm not really aware of any evidence that there's an absolute wealth effect on perception or behavior like that.  Before, you wrote that modern Pakistan is more economically developed than pre-Industrial America, but less tolerant.  I'm just trying to point out that, as far as I'm aware, there isn't necessarily a good reason to think that this kind of comparison matters.  People don't respond to their economic conditions in absolute terms.  They don't look back in history and say, "Well, understanding the whole history of human economic condition, my placement is 67th percentile."  To the extent that they put their own economic experience in context, it would seem to be by looking chiefly at their neighbors and then up the economic ladder in wider society.

    All of which is to say I think is the wrong tree to bark up, at least if the meaning is to try to compare economic conditions in absolute terms.  I'm just not sure that your particular objection is correct, though I do agree with you that it isn't simply a matter of elevating economic conditions, whether absolute or relative in comparison.

    Modern Pakistan is more economically developed than pre-industrial America but less tolerant.

    "Pre-industrial America" covers a lot of ground. I could talk about 17th-century executions of Quakers, or the public whipping of Baptists for their faith, or, of course, the Salem witch persecutions.

    But let me stick with an industrial-age example: the mob that killed Joseph Smith in the 19th century.

    I would argue that you've rested your narrative on selective memory. American history gets taught as the narrative of tolerance and progress, which means moments of conspicuous tolerance are presented as major events in the main story, and moments of persecution and intolerance are either politely forgotten or spun as brief, inexplicable aberrations. But the tolerant pre-industrial US is a story about history, not what actually happened.

    Which narrative were you reading? This is what I wrote in my post:

    Even the United States, proud land of the free, evolved from a colonial foundation that included the famously intolerant Puritans. Anti-Catholic violence proliferated in the 19th century, and blasphemy laws survived in some states until the 1930s.

    So yes, I certainly acknowledge substantial intolerance in American history, including the murder the Joseph Smith (though for the record, Carthage, Illinois didn't even have a railroad in 1844).

    Nonetheless, I maintain that the U.S. has been more tolerant than modern Pakistan since the late 18th century, even though Pakistan is at least as economically developed as the U.S. ws in the early 20th century.

    For comparison, consider the 1787 preamble to the constitution of the United States of America:

    We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

    And the 1973 preamble to the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan:

    Whereas sovereignty over the entire Universe belongs to Almighty Allah alone, and the authority to be exercised by the people of Pakistan within the limits prescribed by Him is a sacred trust;

    And whereas it is the will of the people of Pakistan to establish an order;

    Wherein the State shall exercise its powers and authority through the chosen representatives of the people;

    Wherein the principles of democracy, freedom, equality, tolerance and social justice, as enunciated by Islam, shall be fully observed;

    Wherein the Muslims shall be enabled to order their lives in the individual and collective spheres in accordance with the teachings and requirements of Islam as set out in the Holy Quran and Sunnah...


    What I hear you saying is that despite exceptions the US has been more tolerant than Pakistan. The religious violence is imagined as the exception, and tolerance the rule. Let me note my historiographical suspicions and move along.

    And let me take another stab at the economic argument. The issue isn't material wealth per se, which is inflated by technological progress (although sometimes basic needs are not met even when niftier technological luxuries are available). It's about income distribution. The fact that poor folks in Peshawar have it better today than they had it 200 years ago isn't as important as the fact that there are still large amounts of very poor people in Peshawar.

    A society with a large class of people vastly poorer than the ruling class is a society with lots of people available to form mobs. If this hypothesis seems disquieting in a country where income inequality is widening, it should. Perhaps a correlation between inequality and irrational religious outbursts explains some of the differences between America's religious culture and Europe's.



    CIA Factbook actually ranks Pakistan better than Canada (and way better than the U.S.) in equality of distribution of family income. Its literacy level, however, doesn't quite crack 50%. Afghanistan is worse, at 28. I didn't check jobless stats, but it's logical those would also play a role in susceptibilty to radical messages.



    I don't know why you suspect me of whitewashing or excusing American history. I have written nothing to express that sentiment, and I feel like you're projecting someone else's naive views onto me.

    I say that the U.S. has been more tolerant than Pakistan not because the U.S. is so wonderfully tolerant but because Pakistan is so horribly intolerant. Read the Pakistan section of this book, and tell me if you think it sounds remotely comparable to religious intolerance in the U.S. at any point in the past 250 years. It's not just the mob violence. What's even more disturbing is the way the intolerance is embedded in the national laws and institutions.

    I'll be the recipient of those projections if you like, happy to take 'em off of your shoulders. I think you're being way too mild. The creation of Pakistan makes our Civil War look like children playing war with just-pretendin'-didn't-really-mean-it animosities.

    It was created out of ferocious intolerance (breaking Gandhi's heart in the process*) and it not only codified that intolerance but glorified it. A nightmare of a "two state solution," with religion substituting for ethnicity, a state who abysmal failures since then (despite being a democracy, and despite the best intentions and work of some great people and minds,) should really make people think about the possible wisdom of some "one state solutions" as an alternative.

    People who don't believe that must not have had much interaction with Pakistani emigre culture (those of the small sane minority who managed to escape the insanity!) Nor of the constant frightening level of mistrust between the artificial Hindu one-state and artificial Muslim one-state with a border between them that could destroy the whole world. </rant>

    * "My whole soul rebels against the idea that Hinduism and Islam represent two antagonistic cultures and doctrines. To assent to such a doctrine is for me a denial of God."--Mahatma Gandhi

    It was created out of ferocious intolerance (breaking Gandhi's heart in the process*) and it not only codified that intolerance but glorified it. A nightmare of a "two state solution," with religion substituting for ethnicity, a state who abysmal failures since then (despite being a democracy, and despite the best intentions and work of some great people and minds,) should really make people think about the possible wisdom of some "one state solutions" as an alternative.

    Another topic for, perhaps, another thread, but were you also thinking about (another) I-P?  There are at least a couple of more-developed arguments for one-state approaches in that context.  (Ali Abunimah, One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse, and Virginia Tilley, The One-State Solution)  Or were you referring only to India-Pakistan with your comment?

    Aargh, it's a bummer to have to explain, that's why I took so long to answer you,  I thought my language was clear that I was referencing it. I presume when I use the terminology "two state solution" that virtually everyone on this type of site will think of the commonly suggested solution for I-P; if I was trying to avoid that I would have used different terminology.

    Plus, if this thread does not fall under the "comparative cultures and religions" topic, I don't know one that does.I didn't do it to end up discussing IP, however, just to reference the comparison.

    Most people interested in IP seem to avoid the idea that it is comparable to India/Pakistan (or don't even know or realize it,) that one couldn't learn anything from studying what happened with Pakistan and apply some of those things to IP. I think too many treat IP as if is such a very special problem, that it's like nothing else that ever happened in the world. I think they are highly comparable.

    I brought it up, the India/Pakistan "2-state solution," on I-P threads at TPMCafe, and did a couple of posts bringing it up, too with lively discussions Not interested in revisiting it, more interested in Genghis' bigger topic.

    I have no idea why what I wrote upset you so, but I'm sorry that I did.

    You know what, Genghis? You're right and I'm wrong.

    My apologies.

    I'm not so sure you're all wrong. Religious intolerance may not have been as pervasive in the U.S. as it is in places like Pakistan, but racial intolerance certainly has been. I've been putting that aside as a separate issue, but it's not unrelated.

    In any case, I appreciate and salute your willingness to acknowledge error, a rare and admirable gesture. No apology necessary.

    There are between one billion and 1.5 billion 'Muslims' on this planet and about the same number of 'Christians'.

    We have a 'Christian Coalition(s)' in this country who really do not have any love for tens of millions of 'Christians' residing south of our borders--or any immigrants who arrive therefrom.

    Arab 'Muslims' have little love for Persian 'Muslims' and vice versa.

    Hell, there are tens of thousands of Iraqi 'Muslims' who despise Iraqi 'Muslims'.

    Maybe I am a-theistic because I cannot stand to get 'into the fray' as they say!

    Bolton and others like him espouse strange philosophies whereby America would not even open up discussions with peoples of different faiths and color all Muslims for instance as instruments of the devil. And Bolton is a chief advisor to the Romney campaign!

    We are six months from the Arab Spring and now we are in the midst of an Arab Fall.

    Cable news just keeps expanding their maps in order to include more and more centers of discordance.

    I can see where libertarians like Ron Paul would simply pull all our embassies and all of our troops out of the Mideast and North Africa; cut all aid to the countries in these areas and hide our collective heads in the sand.

    People like Bolton & McCain & Lindsey would just send in more troops.

    How many wars has McCain championed over the last decade?

    I was not even going to respond to this post because the number of life and death issues are mind boggling.

    So I try to accept the fact that there are a billion and more Muslims on this planet and the same number of Christians.

    Muslims appear (at this time anyway) to enjoy killing each other more than Christians and these Muslims will punish any party that gets in the way of their blood letting.

    Idiots in the Bush Administration maintained that 'democracy' would be the tool that would bring peace and sanity to these countries.

    Well democracy appears to be the catalyst for even more blood letting.

    I do know this.

    We do not have the funds or the available troops to police the entire world.

    And any neocon who says otherwise is a goddamn liar.



    One facet to keep in mind.  Benghazi has a population of 650,000+ and Cairo a population of 9,100,000+.  When one considers the size of the protest crowds, those who are exhibiting the current wave of violent protests make up a miniscule percentage of the population, and so one has to ask to what extent it is reflective of the culture of the larger society. 

    Another facet to keep in mind - which is along the line of power, although not necessarily one of majority / minority, and that is the violence which is perpetuated in order to maintain the patriarchy.  In ME society, the patriarchy is much more embraced openly, and thus the violence associated with its perpetuation more tolerated if not encouraged.  In western societies it is only recently such violence has had to go underground so to speak.  For most of the world, including those in western world, conservative and liberal, it is religious and spiritual views that inform views on gender (as well as the legitimacy of the patriarchy).

    Well reasoned, Genghis. You covered a lot of good points well, especially the difference in how the same groups behave when in the minority as opposed to the majority. It's notable that many majority-Muslim nations are overwhelmingly Islamic: not just 90%, but 98%, 99% or more. Couple the lack of internal diversity with lack of education and contact with the outside world, and it's amazing there's any tolerance for outsiders, heretics or "blasphemers" at all. Thank God Mohammed remembered to spell out that other "people of the book" were A-OK.

    Historically, I think homogeneity translates easily into intolerance. And where power and religious authority are intertwined, as they were for a millennium in Catholic Europe, violence against heretics, schismatics and "others" inevitably becomes a political tool. Extremists on both sides dream of, or have nightmares about, the re-establishment of the caliphate. I see no evidence that's where the Muslim world is heading. Rather, we're seeing the rocky start of Islam's reintegration into political life, after decades of heavy-handed exclusion. It's tricky, but I believe it can be done with respect for democracy and minority rights.

    But I digress. 

    I'm not sure that it's true that homogeneity translates into intolerance. It usually takes a relative substantial minority to make the majority feel threatened. You see it in Europe where the influx of Muslim immigrants into homogeneous societies has actually increased intolerance.

    Also keep in mind that 98% Muslim does not necessarily mean religious homogeneity, as the majority sects tend to oppress the minority sects--demonstrating once again that the doctrine is not the primary driver of intolerance.

    I do hope that the we're seeing a rocky start and not a slide. It can be depressing sometimes.

    Skeptic regard of models that depend entirely upon the logic of battling ideologies is always a good thing. Not only because there are so many other ways to look at change; economy, social practices, biology, and psychology, but because emphasis upon articles of different beliefs do not have to explain anything by any other measure than difference itself.

    I am not able to provide a model capable of explaining everything that has happened but am of a mind to suggest the following has something to do with why European Society has become more tolerant than it used to be:

    We killed each other for centuries. The wars of religion morphed into the wars of States. The Twentieth Century was an orgy of killing that my mind can't wrap itself around.

    Now I know that other people have killed each other for centuries and it didn't lead to the same result. But I am not making a model that explains everything. I am only saying that the generations upon generations of war in our society have something to do with the culture of tolerance that I prize most highly.


    The European movement towards tolerance began long before the 20th century, somewhere around the Enlightenment if not the Renaissance.

    There was a lot of religious conflict related to the Reformation, but it's not clear that was the spark.

    I didn't mean to imply that war replaced the development of ideas as a cause or that toleration just popped up out of the blue during the twentieth century. By referring to the wars of religion, I should have also mentioned the peace agreements that ended them.

    The Peace of Westphalia was a grudging moment of toleration in its acceptance that the One Church would no longer be the only arbiter of belief and moral authority. The grudging part is why the wars of religion kept on happening well after that event but the later conflicts did not cancel the dialectic started by that Peace.

    The English Civil War and rule of Cromwell is an example of a war that saw the extremes of intolerance on both sides of the conflict. The more tolerant and secular society that happened afterwards may have something to do with people having reached for the complete manifestation of their convictions and not wanting to go there again.


    I see. I think it's an intriguing scenario. If true, it might suggest that Sunni-Shia warfare could eventually lead to more tolerant states. Lebanon could be one example of that.

    What has happened in Lebanon could be an example of that dynamic.

    What has been going on in Central Asia between Wahhabi and Sufi groups over the last thirty years could be added to the list. I would provide a link but the struggle is not reflected well by looking at this or that event or any single report about it.

    The only way in is to listen to the protagonists speaking for themselves over a period of time.

    It is a ghost war as far as the U.S. is concerned.

    Some good ideas here I think, G. And I have no idea what the right "answer" is. so, just a couple of thoughts.

    - It's important to avoid from the start, the extremely stupid position that a lot of liberal/secular people take, which is that "all religions are intolerant," or somesuch ignorant mumbo-jumbo. This makes no more sense than to say the Republican party is equally as sane as the Democrats and as the Nazis and the Communists. There are differences amongst things with the same label on them. Even religions.

    - My personal experience of Islam has been up close, personal, and very very hot. i.e. Intolerant and violent. And this was in a supposedly somewhat "liberal" Muslim nation, Malaysia, and on its more progressive West coast, and in 1979. We saw riots, we saw people hauled up directly before the Minister, we saw people we thought we knew lose their minds and begin screaming about how they would kill non-Muslims in the group, and eventually, we saw mobs with torches surrounding houses. And when I say we, I mean me. Our crimes? Ummmm, someone hugged someone at the national airport. Someone asked about coops. And someone danced. We very nearly all died. i.e. Were killed. We were 18 and 19 years old. Try to imagine North Americans surrounding Muslim kids on an international exchange program and doing the same. 

    In addition, I think it is important to mention that many of us foreigners visiting in these nations are actively and consciously having to work hard, to focus on our every single action or word, in order to avoid giving offense, causing conflict and violence. This is the case in Saudi, Pakistan, Malaysia and other nations that I know of. Otherwise, we could easily see these sorts of events daily. 

    - I'm not in any way convinced that literacy or poverty or even Imperialism explains what I saw, or what I have heard. Your suggestions may come closer. There were definitely local power plays going on, led by the Mullahs. And coming from a fundamentalist Christian background, I can say I absolutely recognized the type of person in charge. But there were lots of weapons already pre-placed, like land mines, in the religion it seemed to me. 

    - Intermediate institutions and civic society and such seems to me to be an incredibly important thing. During the whole anti-Gaddafi thing, I mentioned a number of times that he had deliberately attempted to wipe out any such intermediate institutions, and avoided delegating legal, political and various other powers down to local levels. What this left was just what I pictured as "bare wiring," of a residual tribal or clannish or religious nature. One downside of this is that people don't feel the multiple, conflicting "pulls" and "allegiances" that are often what keep us from going berserk on any one issue. 


    I think that I would put it: All religions have intolerant tendencies. That is not to say they are equally intolerant or that all religious people are intolerant. But if you know a religion without a significant share of adherents who try to repress alternative views (at least internally if not externally), please let me know.

    I deliberately avoided discussing power plays by individual manipulators to avoid muddying things, though that too plays a part. In such cases, those manipulators are exploiting intolerant tendencies that already exist in the population. One way to constrain intolerance is to marginalize such manipulators.

    I think you are on to something in regards to the influence of "intermediate institutions."

    Cats like Bernard Lewis went to great lengths to explain why Islamic cultures have less of those institutions now than European cultures. But BL never talked about how ugly things got when "we" played the zero sum game.

    The zero sum game is a helpful notion in these discussions. Desperate people do desperate things. The claustrophobia you describe doesn't belong to any alignment of the stars or set of beliefs by themselves, it happens when options become very few very quickly with little recourse to anything else.

    At the very beginning of His active career Jesus was walking on a path outside of Jerusalem. Mary was with Him. And they came upon a crowd of men preparing to stone a woman.


     Let whoever is without sin cast the first stone.

    First stone whizzes past His head.

    Jesus : Mom.!



    Don't forget the intolerance became significantly less after WWII when the vets came home after witnessing what it can lead to first hand.

    When you live in a bubble, you become intolerant of that which lies outside of it.

    There have been Pro-American demonstrations in Libya denouncing the attack.


    Of course. I never suggested that all Libyans or all Muslims are intolerant. But the many Muslim societies are intolerant insofar as suppression of religious dissent is common and permitted or even encouraged by authorities.

    There is no question that the religious intolerance rules the day, but there are moderate voices who do not believe that Islam encourages the violence..

    Genghis, this should sound vaguely familiar to you, my bold:

    The politics of outrage is still an irresistible temptation

    By Issandr El Amrani, The National, Sept 13

    [....] Islamist movements (even if they are not alone in this) have shown that they excel in using an insult (real or perceived) as part of their culture wars....[....]

    There is more on his blog The Arabist; I posted that in the News column here.

    This comment was written just as some random thoughts before I read this one of yours so it is not exactly a response. I read looking for a place to put it and the "real or perceived' in yours has relevance to a part of mine so I'm sticking it here.


    I am one of those people who think television is a huge factor affecting our culture and by extension would expect it to be potentially as powerful an influence in any culture. Doing a little traveling and always having been interested in travel stories has led me to notice the spread of television to virtually everyplace I have been no matter how poor or how remote. Satellite receivers and VHS players  started showing up everywhere in the second half of my life. I have seen an American gangster flick in tiny remote jungle village in Honduras, the hum of the generator easily ignored. This is a relatively new influence in many places which have forever been under the thumb of dictators.

    I have seen quite a few times in the recent coverage interview subjects in Egypt or Libya say they haven’t seen the movie trailer that has them pissed off. There always seems to be the nuanced implication in the commentary, much more so on Fox, that it is significant that they haven’t even seen the movie or the trailer. They must just be using it as an excuse. I have a friend from Iran and he says everything is available and everyone watches anything they want to, they just don’t necessarily talk about it. I am betting that they probably have seen the trailer but that their denial is much like a person at the church picnic saying they haven’t watched porn.

    Well, I haven't seen any porn either, pass the corn, please, but if someone convinced me there was a porn movie in which a look-a-like played my daughter, and it was passed off as the true story of her life, I would go looking for the s o b that was responsible for the movie and I would have bad intent.

    Just some random thoughts.

    Books leave more to the imagination than movies.

    Spoken texts leave more to the imagination than books.

    So where "news" and received wisdom is more through word of mouth, there's bound to be confusion.

    John Bennett told about being an officer in Salonica after WWI, and he was to investigate some mass atrocity between Turks and Greeks in a distant Turkish village, where people had been slaughtered and stuffed down the well.

    The closer he got to the village, the more the story changed, until when he arrived, he found out it was just a goat had fallen in the well and as it decayed, poisoned the well.

    This kind of reason is hugely susceptible to manipulation.

    (recommend reading - some of - Bennett, real interesting character & worldview)

    And by the way, your daughter was a credit to the family, a real pro. (wait, that wasn't really her? I want my Netflix charge back)

    What brought you into contact with JGB?

    That famous Armenian, of course.

    I would not have guessed. (No offense..)

    No offense taken. The mystic circle takes many directions.

    The problem is not intolerance, it's violence. The world is full of people who are quietly intolerant but don't riot or kill. I can think of dozens among my acquaintances, can't you?

    Conversely violence happens in all sorts of societies from  post reconstruction Dixie to Cristalnacht Germany to 1948 India to 1990  Rwanda .All  sorts of religions , all sorts of ethnicities, education, living standards

    Violence is not as American as Apple pie. That's too limiting.To be human is to have the capacity to be violent.


    The great philosopher Calvin on religion and tolerance:

    First they came for our glue guns, but I didn't stand up because I didn't have a glue gun. Then they came for our acetylene blowtorches but I didn't stand up....

    What the Western world has developed, gradually and often painfully, are societies that constrain and sublimate our bullying tendencies. We have laws against discrimination, schools that teach tolerance, and values that encourage diversity.

    Is it not where the principles of the Enlightenment have taken hold and basically rule that these bullying tendencies have been checked?

    I know the Arabs at least experienced a Golden Age which involved great learning. But I don't know whether it also involved political enlightenment.

    I do think religion plays a greater role than you give it credit for simply because it deals in ultimate, ultimately important and controlling, non-negotiable truths. If the prophet is The Prophet...or Jesus is the Lord...there's no arguing with subsidiary truths that fall out of that basic truth. It underlies and interpenetrates everything.

    Religious minorities would be just as intolerant as the majorities IF they were the majority as, in some cases, and as you point out, they've become.

    In the "Christian West" broadly and fuzzily defined, Enlightenment principles have carved out a "secular zone" which keeps even majority religions from getting too out of hand. It's Thomas Jefferson's great gift to us. Though, as we've seen of late, this "secular zone" is always under attack and, indeed, TJ was accused often of being an atheist and worse by his Federalist opponents.

    Maybe what I'm saying is, "Yes, it's bullying and social phenomenon, but religion is the jet fuel for the bullying, and Enlightenment principles are the cure."

    Under religion, I might want to list some secular movements--communism in some manifestations and fascism--whose adherents pursued the aims of those movements with a religious and even messianic, end-of-time ferocity that brooked no dissent or differences .

    I would call religion the delineator, rather than the jet fuel. In addition to religion, we have many other ways of segmenting the community, including race, caste, class, region, language, age, and political ideology, to name a few. Any of these distinctions may facilitate bullying, but I would put religion, race, and class into the top three in terms of potency and universality.

    Genghis, you're actually beginning to sound.......progressive.

    {checks to see if sky is falling, world is ending and pigs are flying}

    Progressives also delineate by class. They just take it in the other direction.

    Not sure exactly what you mean by "delineator." And it does strike me that religion has greater potency than the other two, but if we think back to slavery, for example, you may have a point.

    Then the big question would then seem to be: Why the Muslim world and why the Muslim world now?

    I don't know the answer to that. That's a big Jared Diamond sort of question. Maybe I'll tackle it in book 3. ;)

    Instead, I argue that religious intolerance is usually an attempt by one powerful segment of society to bully a weaker segment into submission.

    Aren't there some difficulties in applying this to the situation that sparked your blog (as I understand it)?

    In 9/11...who is the stronger and who is the weaker?

    In the conflict between Muslims and the West, who is the stronger and who is the weaker?

    Or even in the trashing of the embassies, who is the stronger doing the bullying and who is the weaker?

    As I try to think it through, the roles keep reversing.

    It FEELS to many in the West that they are being bullied by violent Muslims who, it at least feels, are more numerous already flooding Western Europe and overwhelming Christian whites.. "Millions of Muslims," one often hears.

    OTOH, it seems that the "Arab street" feels bullied by Western culture which is stronger economically and militarily and exerts an insidious influence around the world, eroding traditional values, putting ideas into women's heads, causing the young to stray from the "modesty" commanded by the Koran, etc.

    It feels to me that, by turns, each side (if we can group millions of people into two sides) feels bullied and reacts by bullying the other or by using lethal force to redress to the "initial" bullying. Blowback.


    It FEELS to many right-wingers that Christmas is under attack by liberals. Even if it isn't close to being true. Europe is not being "flooded" by Muslims, much less violent ones.

    Nevertheless, there can be a pro-immigrant, anti-tradition PC bias that Pim Fortuyn complained about - more attention to providing Islamic cultural centers than fixing the roads in a reasonable time (and a completely congested city/autobahn system can send these complaints into spiral, which did happen).

    At the same time, the US waged war in Iraq and Afghanistan, regular drone incursions in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, overthrew Qaddafi using air attacks in Libya, has CIA advising Syrian rebels, and has Iran surrounded including agreements with Turkmenistan and battleships in the Persian Gulf plus threats every week from Israel launch unilateral strikes. Oh, did I forget innocent Muslims locked up at Gitmo?

    So I don't know why you've written this as if it's a philosophical issue or one of impressions, when the core of it is military facts on the ground all over the Mideast since 9/11. Which unfortunately makes it easy to dismiss as "those people are just paranoid", or "both sides feel threatened". There hasn't been a serious militant attack outside the Mideast for at least 5 years?

    I don't think I'm arguing what you think I'm arguing.

    I'm really asking whether the bullying paradigm has explanatory power in this case.

    For one thing, I'm not sure it matters to the dynamics whether one side has more facts on its side.


    I'm suggesting that the American embassies are being used as proxies in an internal ideological conflict.

    Terrorism, particularly on American soil, involves other elements, but the internal bullying plays a part in that too. Al Qaeda's ultimate aim is to establish a global Caliphate in Muslim countries. Attacking the U.S. is just a means to that end. They hope to push the U.S. (and Israel) out of the Middle East and topple Western-backed regimes.

    We could probably get to the bottom of this in five minutes, face to face. And maybe I'm just dense...

    But let me ask this: In the terrorism on the embassies or in the acts perpetrated by AQ against the West, WHO is the bully and who is being bullied?

    Okay, just re-read your comment.

    Are you saying that the attacks on the embassies and the US is an acting out of the internal struggles between Sunni and Shiites? The Sunnis are the majority (worldwide) and AQ is Sunni...so all of this is just an attempt by the Sunnis to bully the Shiites?

    Iraq, I believe, is majority Shiite and is home to the most holy Shiite sites--but the Sunnis ruled under Saddam. So when we overthrew Saddam, we were, in effect, siding with the Shiites against the Sunnis. Is this your thesis?

    If so, it doesn't really explain 9/11 which came before the invasion, as did the first attack on the Towers. Or does it?

    No, he means Al Qaeda vs. anyone else. Elsewhere it could be Muslim Brotherhood looking for a leg up, or Hezbollah who's now calling new strikes, or someone else jostling for position. Has little to do with ancient schisms. Think of it as competing car brands, but they don't do manufacturing.

    I figure Genghis just meant "detonator." 

    He's shit at coming up with terms that'll make his books sexier. 

    I mean, come on, which would sell better:

    The Muslim Detonator.


    The Muslim Delineation.

    Fer Chrissakes, Genghis, there's only about 3% of Americans can PRONOUNCE a goddamn word like delineation. 

    Just steal stuff from science fiction books.

    "Muslim girls are easy"

    "Night of the Living House Appropriations Committee"

    "Health Care is a Harsh Mistress"

    "I have no funding and I must scream"

    "Invasion of the policy snatchers"

    Okay, they all suck, but at least journalists can repeat them.


    As we all learned as teenagers - even though parents thought they were equivalent - "suck" was good, where as "blow" was lousy.

    This is why books with "suck" in the title sell millions, where as books with "blow".... ummmm.... looking at title of recent wolraich volume.... stopping now.

    Your idea, however, has merit.

    As long as we both understand I'm using the term "merit" to mean roughly its opposite.

    Just to throw this into the mix as food for thought. I read an article some years ago that attributed the violence to unfilled sexuality transformed into aggression. The premise was that there are large numbers of young men in the prime of their life that can't find a wife due to polygamy. I'm not suggesting this as a cause though the idea may have some merit. Honestly I don't know why muslim states seem so prone to violence, I can't even figure out why anyone would watch Faux news.

    Seriously, kat? "Large numbers of young men" who can't find wives due to polygamy? For that to explain why "Muslim states seem so prone to violence," what percentage of marriages would have to be polygamous? Ten per cent, 15, 20? Food for thought, indeed.


    No, not seriously. I'm not an anthropologist or a psychologist so I really don't know. But anthropologists and psychologists have done considerable research over the years on the connection between violence and polygamy and seem to come to similar conclusions. Shrug, who knows?


    I am reminded that Hamas activist Muhammad Abu Wardeh admitted on US TV that he actually did use the "72 virgins" offer with young prospective Palestinian suicide bombers. That was before 9/11, and after 9/11, his admission became a trope that was twisted and waaay overused where it wasn't applicable, but still, he did admit to it, proudly.

    Interesting study - my first reaction was "you're full of shit", but seeing as the took into account Nepal, China, etc., seems thought out with potential validity (i.e. it can be a good study and still be wrong...). As you say, "who knows?"

    I certainly wouldn't defend this idea as the cause of violence and Muslim bashers often use these studies in crazy ways that tend to discredit them in the eyes of reasonable folks. But I've seen enough university level studies over the last  20 years to consider polygamy as a possible factor in the mix.

    Mentioning 9/11 in my comment above made me think of something else, something a lot of us learned in the late 90's , and others learned after 9/11, but tend to forget these days.

    And I think it does have something significant to do with this issue of outrage over blasphemy.

    Perhaps if a lot of training of imams and funding of mosques worldwide wasn't so dependent on Wahhabi zakat (tithing), there would be more tolerance in Islam.

    Wahhabism is not tolerant, period, end of story.

    I do need to shout the the moral of the story, however: in this case,


    Oil money is why intolerant Wahhabism is the type of Islam that a lot of people are taught these days, especially in poorer countries.

    Back in the day, pre and post 9/11, there were a lot of good articles and investigative reports about how the type of Islam that dominated had changed in many countries since Saudi Arabia got their oil money, round the world. How when the old iman died, in Indonesia or France or wherever, a new one came fresh from studying in Saudi Arabia, started saying a lot of different things than the elders in mosque were used to!

    A lot of "intolerant" Islam has been exported by Saudia Arabia in the last 30 years.

    Since they are in charge of the holy sites, Wahhabis will always have an effect. But not as much if they weren't so very wealthy.


    Excellent points, appraiser. The Saudis are also beginning to understand how to turn their wealth and military might into regional hegemony. Their agendas in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Yemen, Syria, Iran and beyond are not at all the same as the West's. We should worry that our allies of convenience are starting to call the shots.

    Kudos, Genghis and fellow dagbloggers for this thread of exceptionally high quality.  

    Getting to this late, of course, and the post and comments are terrific, as usual, but has anybody actually looked at that trailer/movie clip?  It's dreadful.  It's so amateurish it makes rank amateurs look good.  It's so bad it's hard to find words for how bad it is.  It wasn't seen by more than a handful of people before it got all this attention, and for good reason.  Yes, it's hateful and insensitive to Muslims and Mohammad, but it's a bunch of know-nothing jerks making a home movie.

    Here's what I saw.  See if you see the same thing:


    Not confirmed but I was told it's been out since the spring, viewable via youtube.  It was when it was aired on television in the Middle East that what happened happened.  

    Greenwald weighs in on the events themselves, or rather how those events are being spun:


    Issandr @ The Arabist recommends a Tariq Ramadan interview from Thursday at Democracy Now "on the Growing Mideast Protests and  'Islam & the Arab Awakening'"; there is a video and a transcript:

    "Everywhere the Salafis are pushing"

    Good comments by Tarek Ramadan on the struggle for who's going to be the biggest defender of Islam:

    And the second thing that we have to say—and this is important because you were talking about Mohamed Morsi and people, the Islamists in Muslim-majority countries—there is something which is going to be one of the main challenges in the Muslim world today, in the Muslim-majority countries in the Arab world, is the religious credibility. How are you going to react to what is said about Islam? So, by touching the prophet of Islam, the reaction should be, who is going to be the guardian? And you can see today that the Muslim Brotherhood are in a situation where the Salafis, then the literalists, are pushing. And they were in Libya, they were in Egypt, they are now in Yemen. So, everywhere the Salafi are pushing by saying, "We are the guardian, and we are resisting any kind of relationship to the West or provocation coming from the West."

    The Arabist, September 16, 2012 at 8:31 AM Comment

    And I recommend this, which relates to Ramadan's points, a reminder that political Islamism is involved, not just Islam and not just tolerance of different religions:

    Islamist Déjà Vu: The Lessons of 1979
    By Christian Caryl, New York Review of Books Blog, September 13, 2012

    The year 1979—when Iranian student revolutionaries stormed the US Embassy in Tehran and took dozens of American diplomats hostage, and Muslim radicals in Saudi Arabia, a staunch US ally, brazenly laid siege to the Grand Mosque in Mecca—marked the debut of a new political phenomenon known as “Islamism.” To be sure, the theorists and advocates of political Islam had been around for a while, and there was an extraordinary explosion of Islamic activism around the Muslim world in the 1970s; in some countries there was even talk of a sahwa, an “awakening” of Islamic political consciousness. But few people outside of the ummah, the global community of Muslim believers, were paying any attention, and the US was caught flatfooted as Ayatollah Khomeini proceeded to transform his theory of “Islamic government” into reality. “Political Islam” was no longer a theory. It had become an active, practical force in global politics.

    Perhaps it’s helpful to  recall the events of helpful to 1979 [....]

    Islamists are simply of a different world view than the one that colors your post. With them, you have to visualize how they do, that Muslims will be a majority under a Muslim government, and tolerance of other religions, minorities in their vision, will mean something different than what you are talking about.

    Saudi Arabia, for one example of the type of thing I am talking about, has been known to be quite tolerant of different cultures/religions being practiced within their borders if they build a little ghetto to live in and do that, like the ARAMCO compound, and don't let anyone in, or anything cultural out. Where there is no persecution within the ghetto, but if you want to go into the main society, you don't just not interfere, you follow their rules.

    I'm not sure that I follow your point. I certainly acknowledge that Islamists are cynically exploiting intolerant tendencies within their communities. But for them to exploit it, those intolerant tendencies have to exist. So I don't really see my hypothesis as incompatible with Ramadan's position.

    Latest Comments