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October 03, 2003

This ain't Martin Luther

Since 9-11 it seems that the Western media has been on the look-out for the "Muslim Martin Luther." Astute observers have noted that the Reformation ushered in over a century of religious wars, the destruction of Roman Catholic artistic masterpieces and the emergence of robust European nationalisms. Nevertheless, the quest continues.

So here comes The New York Times with an article titled An Unlikely Promoter of an Islamic Reformation. The individual in question is a lesbian. Let me repeat, a lesbian. As the probability approaches zero, we might change unlikely to impossible. In an age where being black, lesbian and a quadriplegic can give you a leg up in a literary or artistic career, it makes sense that a publisher is open to a Muslim version of Martin Luther's 95 Theses from someone who is totally marginal in relation to the mainstream of her community. But where being a member of a small ignored (reviled?) minority is a bonus in getting a book published, it detracts from the project of moving the discussion forward and affecting genuine change. Traditional Muslims are going to be angry about the book, but they'll be more enraged by the homosexual provocateur who is trying to be honest about the faults of their religion[1].

I'll be candid myself and admit that getting published in Frontpage & The American Conservative had in large part to do with my background as an apostate Muslim. But because I'm an apostate, an atheist, I'm not going to lecture Muslims about the details of their religion or how they should change-I'm hopeful that the religious tradition can evolve-but my primary focus is on alerting Westerners to possible erosions of the liberal status quo that might occur because of accommodation with Islamic illiberalism. Islam is going to change from within, perhaps due to prodding from non-Muslims, but all we as Westerners can do is wait & watch and be steadfast in maintaining our own liberal values[2].

Update: She's got a website (thanks Diana).

Update II: Interesting site titled Apostates of Islam.

fn1. I agree with the distillation of her substance as presented by The Times-but I assume she'll be ignored and discounted just because of her background, in addition to the revisionism of her beliefs.

fn2. Yes, the standard objection is that there is no conflict between being Muslim and Western, but I don't buy that this is a normative mode of thinking in immigrant Muslim communities. Perhaps it will be in the future, but it isn't now.

Posted by razib at 10:31 PM

A quick note: Lest we all forget, even though Martin Luther was a reformer, he was still a strongly ideological religious fanatic. Further, he was not a liberal, but a dissenter. Luther and many other schismatics did not advocate relgious toleration, but simply a change of the official creed (which wouldn't necessarily be any more liberal than than Roman Catholicism). He also didn't advocate a religious reformation at the expense of political order. He supported the massacre of revolting Protestants in Germany at the hands of a Catholic army, arguing that God would claim his own.

If an Islamic equivalent of Martin Luther is is a relgious leader who attempts to restore a relgious tradition to its roots in response to mounting decadence, then one has already existed: Muhammed Ibn Al-Wahhab. The world doesn't need another -- at least not any world that I would want to live in.

Posted by: Chris W at October 4, 2003 03:36 AM

I'll also say that because I was raised Protestant, I usually think of Protestantism specifically when the myriad negative qualities of Christianity spring to mind. The only benefit to civilization that I credit to Protestantism is that it allowed much of northern and western Europe to break with the Catholic church. (And England's Anglican church wasn't inspired by Lutheran Protestantism anyway.) Most political liberal thinkers were not pious Protestants, but secular deists who broke with the religious traditions of the day. Locke was a notable exception, but his plea for relgious tolerance was in response to *in*tolerance that was far more prevalent among the devout. Contrary to what relgious conservatives say, Protestantism doesn't possess any essential qualities that requires it to be "liberal" in the classical sense of the term. It is especially ironic that many of those same religious conservatives advocate political measures that would collectively constitute a softcore theocracy if passed.

It just so happens that the European countries I admire most are the "Protestant" ones: Great Britain, Denmark, Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Holland. With the exception of Britain, all of these are officially "Lutheran" countries, but they are probably the most secular countries on the planet once you subtract the Muslim newcomers.

Posted by: Chris W at October 4, 2003 04:01 AM

Martin Luther wrote 'The Jews and Their Lies', so I find it hard to believe the West's media is looking for an Islamic Luther. With Osama, they already have one.

Posted by: fredrik at October 4, 2003 06:10 AM

Razib: " But because I'm an apostate, an atheist, "

Well, being an apostate is even worse than being a lesbian under islamic law. ;-) If I am not mistaken, the punishment for apostasy is death!
I suppose you know the risks you´re taking, Razib, and I respect you for that.

Posted by: eufrenio at October 4, 2003 06:55 AM

Well, that's the NY Times for you.

However...I find this phenomenon of Islamic freethinkers/apostates/what-have-you's fascinating. It's kind of like what the Jews went thru in the 19th century. Freed from the ghetto and pouring into the universities in one generation. Educated daughters of illiterate mothers. And so on. We are seeing the same thing, but on a more gigantic scale, because there are so many more Muslims.

Will the world be able to take it?

Posted by: Diana at October 4, 2003 01:00 PM

Yo Razib,

I agree that the chances of her being a Muslim 'Martin Luther' are nil. A Muslim Martin Luther would have to be a well-regarded cleric who has a revelation on the road to Damascus. OK, I mixed a metaphor but you get the point.

However I don't think she's 'totally marginal'. She's a good daughter of a prosperous immigrant Canadian family. There must be thousands of disaffected Muslims like her, only they suffer in silence. Well, more & more will come out, and not necessarily out of a sexual closet. They'll come out of the closet & admit that they can't stand mainstream Muslim bullshit shoved down their throats, their kids throats, and they'll drift off. Maybe that's not Martin Luther, but it's something.

Posted by: Diana at October 4, 2003 01:06 PM