A Jew (me) weighs in on Islamic Countries.


I decided to take a step back and rethink how I view Christanity and Islam. I tend to take a tolerant, liberal view on many issues regarding these religions. But because of the seemingly disproportionate amount of posts that tend to attack Islam, I find myself siding with Islamic apologists more often then I should. And I forget that as a Jew living in a Christian dominate country, I can (generally) write any critique of Christianity I want, still respect the religion and not have to worry about losing my life.

On the other hand, if I was a Jew living in a Muslim country and wrote a similar critique about Isalm, I don’t think I could get Prudential to renew my term life insurance policy.

This is a very basic and real difference that I think I need to keep in the forefront of my mind on these boards.



Religious freedom, as we know it in the US, is certainly a gift.


Yes, and I see a real dilemma in our future. Will Muslims continue to have freedom of religion if they are preaching the overthrow of our government in their mosques? Interesting constitutional question.


As a Jew living in Europe, when thinking of Islamic countries (or Islam in general for that matter) I believe that we really need to shift ourselves back to mindsets in ‘our world’ that existed in the 19th and 20th Centuries.

Judaism’s internal crisis with the ‘Modern’ produced new movements and even more reasons to row with one another but we were too small a group to affect anybody else. The experience of Christian societies in the face of the ‘Modern’ shattered old ‘certainties’ and generated a search for substitute ‘certainties’ – violent nationalism, imperialism, communism, revolution and fascist/authoritarian reaction that devastated Europe – and created in the aftermath of the Second World War something of a dread of ‘certainty’ and an aversion to people who believe in it.

I’d suggest that what we see in the Muslim world is very much a product of its inability to deal with the ‘Modern’ – they want the toys but not the world that created them. It’s as if they can’t create an ‘agenda’ for the future so they’re driven back onto old certainties like ‘honor’ and being continuously/continually affronted by anything that could possibly be considered as an affront.

In other words, what we’re seeing are societies (with odd, small exceptions) in a kind of existential crisis – not something to be appeased but not something to be surprised about. We’ve all ‘been there’ and suffered consequences - industrially, in the Jewish case.


I was listening to a debate today that is old news but, rearing its ugly head now. Its about the Chicago OHare expansion (airport) and how they are MOVING graves to make way for this.

The bottom line here is- its a christian burial ground.

If it were a Muslim one, would the expansion go through? Would Mayor Daley be brave enough to even try it?


Interesting. I for one would be curious as to whatever conclusion you eventually draw after such reconsideration.


Nice analysis. A couple years back I spoke with a former state department employee who had lived in the middle east for twenty plus years and he stated basically what you have just said-much of the extremism can be seen as a reaction to the modern world and its attitudes and perspectives.


Likewise an Arab living in Israel is free to express his opinion. A Jew doing so in an Arab country would put his life in jeopardy.


I agree with Peregrino – Kaninchen, yours is an excellent analysis.

Modernity has been violent in confronting the violence in pre-modern civilizations, and the heirs of those pre-modern worlds have often been violent in return. And yet, let us not forget, the encounter cannot be reduced to violence alone.

What I find ironic (and hardly eirenic) is that there are people who on the one hand criticize the lack of freedom of speech and thought in Muslim societies while on the other hand siding in effect with Muslim extremists in silencing non-extremist Muslims’ endeavors to articulate a peace-promoting interpretation of Islam by saying that any version of Islam that discourages violence is a “fake” Islam.

Is that what one calls having one’s cake and eating it too?


I agree with the overall thrust of your post, but many would say that “Modernity” has been offering its own substitute certainties, and that “violent nationalisms, imperialism, communism, revolution, and fascist/authoritarian reaction” are no less modern than liberal democratic capitalism - that what we have before us is not simply a clash between the Modern and the Pre-Modern but also, and perhaps more importantly, a clash *between **competing **modernities. *

Even the scriptural literalism whose acceptance as a guide for the thinking of whole societies was made possible by the invention of printing is more part of modernity, indeed is its vanguard, than the religious mindset (e.g. that of medieval Catholicism) that it challenged.

I wouldn’t underestimate the impact of Judaism’s own encounter with Modernity – weren’t many of the most influential theorists of the Modern (from Spinoza to Marx and Freud) refugees from Judaism’s own “culture wars”?


It’s something I’ve been thinking about for some time. I’ve always had an interest in the Weimar republic and the conflict between modernity and the longing for past certainty that provided the backdrop to the failure of Germany’s first attempt at democracy and recently I’ve been reading books set in the world of the authoritarian reaction that was Franco’s Spain – a number of years ago I read a number of the influential writer Maududi’s works on Islam and ‘theo-democracy’ and somehow a kind of link was forged in my mind about ‘certainty’ and the ‘Modern’.


Which was why I said that we had to look back to our pasts to understand Islam’s present.

I was careful to use the phrase ‘the Modern’ rather than ‘Modernity’ or ‘Modernism’ and I was putting forward “violent nationalism etc” as ‘replacement’ certainties in the face of what I’d argue were/are impersonal forces which are far, far more difficult to deal with than ideologies – you can attempt to defeat ideologies, economics and technological development are another matter all together.

I think that the idea of ‘mass society’ and technological change is key to understanding what is and has been going on. The agrarian and industrial revolutions that came out of England in the late 18th and early 19th centuries set loose enormous impersonal forces in worlds that had changed only very slowly over the centuries for the ‘mass’ of the population and this was replicated in country after country. Old ways of seeing and doing were in many ways helpless against the rapidity of change and many of the forces for change (the old farm-leasing/owning, commercial middle and artisan classes, four example) were very much on the back heel – they were eventually even to become the backbone of the fascist and authoritarian parties.

Meanwhile, one of the ironies of the Reich was that, while the Party program and NSDAP idealists sought for a return to a Germany of earlier age – peasant farming, artisan production, small shops etc and the end of the era of what it considered as alienation from the true nature of the ‘Volk’ – the means necessary to achieve that required levels of industrial production and centralization that would have furthered destruction of those very aims. On the other extreme, ‘Socialism In One Country’ in the USSR not only failed to produce ‘Communism’ (in the original sense of the word in Marxism and Marxism-Leninism) but drove the society further and further away from it – leaving it in the end as a de-industrialized (through obsolescence of technology and management systems) hulk. As for the petty tyrannies of countries like Spain and Portugal, they couldn’t escape the contradiction that stasis is impossible and economic development brings with it the need for training, education and contact with the outside world, which constantly undermined the established certainties – something from which not even the far more cohesive (but democratic) society of Ireland (DeValera’s ‘peasant country for a peasant people’) proved to be immune.

I’d suggest that Islamic clericalism and all the various theorists of Islamic reaction are making the same sort of ‘category error’ that featured in European history – you can’t achieve stasis without the kind of isolation seen in Tibet or Japan for centuries and, even then, eventually, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army turns up or an American admiral parks his boat in your harbor and everybody realizes that the game is up.


The enemy of your enemy can be your friend. But be careful.


We seem to be assuming that things were rosy before the modern age (1650-present). But sin, totalitarianism, socialism, and Muslims who saw off people’s heads were around for quite some time before that.

I believe that Kaninchen’s analysis, engaging though it may be, is seriously flawed.

At most, I’d suggest that modernity has just made us richer and given us more opportunities to sin.


I am beginning to wonder if the U.S. Constitution isn’t becoming outdated. Certainly there have been several (if not many) situations that have arisen in my lifetime that would have the framers spinning in their respective graves.


Totalitarianism and socialism before 1650?

Volksgemeinschaft in the Roman Empire? The Peoples Republic of The Commonwealth of Lithuania? ‘Socialism In One Country’ in the Kingdom Of Naples? ‘Towards A Planned Economy’ in the Hansa League?

We must hear more!



Alexander the Great was a totalitarian.

Ancient Egypt was socialist.

The list is as long as history itself.


You exactly right on all counts.

Sin: Present from day one. Good call.

Totalitarianism: Many examples would suffice. We should not forget the democratic nature and history of our own Church.

Socialism: The earliest Christians were some of the most despicable socialists, advocating that fruit of evil, “communal property”.

Muslim brutality: The truly medieval methods of torture would qualify to make your point. We shouldn’t forget that the Inquisition of the 17th had standards; shedding the blood of a heretic was a no-no, hence the use of the more humane method of execution: burning at the stake.


How about in the Book of Acts where all the believers gave money to the Apostles to hand out on a needs basis back to the community -each according to his ability, to each according to his needs


Collective ownership of the means of production and distribution in ancient Egypt. Alexander controlling every aspect of human life throughout the empire.

Only in America.

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