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27 September 2014


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Colin Brace

Maybe because they tried secular nationalism and it was destroyed each and every time by the West?

William R. Cumming

Great post but IMO control of the female body underlies males interest in Islam not religion or other issues.



that is plausible in some places. It doesn't work well in Iran unless you are sentimental about Mossadegh. It doesn't work at all in Saudi Arabia. In Egypt the West (USA) fostered a revolution to install liberal democracy and an MB government resulted. In Lebanon the society has been trying since WW2 to make itself into some sort of secular nationalist thingy with little success. Syria? The French left a secular government there. you can argue that the US is now attempting to destroy that secular tradition but IMO that is just clumsy ignorance. pl


Lordy! Lordy! you need to get out more. pl


Pretty cool picture of some grunt not making sure his back blast area was clear in that article.

The idea that there's a "separation of Church and State" is a myth pushed at every opportunity by the globalist neoliberals and their Jacobin allies. Both are parts of the greater whole, but the current trend seems to be that the State will function in the Church's role as well because a bunch of egghead social "scientists" have Big Data to tell us the most efficient way to live our lives.

Regardless, Europe better hurry up and rediscover its Christian roots. I've said before that while IS/ISIS is wrong, they at least have something powerful to die FOR. Right now Western Civ seems only able to fight about ridiculous things like the "rights" of a mentally disturbed man who thinks he's a woman to use whatever bathroom he decides.

Not exactly the kind of thing that people are going to lock and load over.

Here comes the diversity, Europe!


Duncan Kinder

The same article concludes:

"After a bumpy beginning, secularism has undoubtedly been valuable to the west, but we would be wrong to regard it as a universal law. It emerged as a particular and unique feature of the historical process in Europe; it was an evolutionary adaptation to a very specific set of circumstances."

This gives rise to two questions:
1) Are the factors that gave rise to the Westphalian nation state, well described in this article, still adaptive for the West in the 21st Century? Recent events in Scotland as well as upcoming events in Catalonia are but the easiest examples to cite to suggest the nation-state does not function well for many people.

2) What specific factors cause "primitive and atavistic" Islam apparently to be more adaptive for so many people? Previously many had been Christian, Zoroastrian, Buddhist, etc.? Why is the demand for Islam so inelastic? Thomas Merton and others have engaged Islam. What factors favor or, conversely, hinder such efforts? http://catholicsensibility.wordpress.com/2006/02/07/113935137530363615/


In reply to Duncan Kinder 27 September 2014 at 01:53 PM

"Recent events in Scotland as well as upcoming events in Catalonia are but the easiest examples to cite to suggest the nation-state does not function well for many people."

!!! Are you sure that's what you wanted to say? Because if so you have it precisely backwards.

Scotland and Catalonia are two places that meet the classic definition of the prerequisites for a nation state - ethnic homogeneity in a discrete geographical unit. In each of them there's a demand that they be allowed return to being an independent nation state (and in Catalonia there's the added factor of language Catalan is NOT Spanish) but according to what you that's somehow evidence that the nation-state doesn't function well for many people. On the contrary it's evidence that a nation state, - their own nation state not one imposed upon them and in which they're a minority is what people want and that they want it precisely because it does function well.


Babak Makkinejad


Dr. Armstrong is a scholar of religion but does not understand religion.

She also has swallowed, hook, line, and slinkier, the Normative of Europe and thus prescribes it to the all non-Europeans.

And "primitive & atavistic" could equally well be applied to Jews, Hindus, Jains and many others.

I am amused that she has studiously avoided mentioning the State of Israel; for that state also suffers from all the pathologies that she enumerates.

Babak Makkinejad

As a speaker of Persian, written in Arabic script which emphasizes consonants rather then vowels; I find Catalan, Spanish, and Portuguese to be the same language.

Incidentally, like South Carolina in US, Catalonia has the distinctions of having started a civil war.


"primitive & atavistic" IMO intended as ironic. pl

Babak Makkinejad

I think your second question is an interesting research topic with many ethnographic and historical thesis that could be written.

Zoroastrian religion at the time of the advent of Islam was more rational in that it posited the essential and immutable difference obtaining between a god of light and a god of darkness (evil, disease, death).

In Judaism, in Christianity, and in Islam - like in Hinduism, a believer has to accept the idea that God is a Mad Savage - creating and destroying Life (including Human Life) for no purpose discernible to Human Reason.

Yet, in 2003, thousands of Iranians were crossing the border into Iraq to go to pilgrimage to Najaf, Karbala, Khaneqeyn paying scant attention to the war in Iraq.

They love their religion - regardless of Dr. Armstrong's musings.

Duncan Kinder

I'll simply concede that you've done a good job of pointing out the complexities of the current situation. I'm not as well versed regarding Catalonia as I am Scotland, but many Highlanders would be a bit surprised to learn that they are homogenous with Lowlanders.

Duncan Kinder

I, of course, do not expect people to pay any particular attention to me or my posts, but I did recently on this blog somewhat fancifully post a comment citing J.K. Rowling's Wizard society of a model of how a secessionist movement might work sans any specific geographic delineation.

If you want a concrete historical example of a powerful, cohesive social organization without sich delineation, read Lords of the Rim 2010: The Invisible Empire of the Overseas Chinese by Sterling Seagrave. This describes how networks of Chinese clans have extended primarily over the Indian Ocean basin but also across the Pacific to the United States and Canada.

"For 2,000 years, China's merchants and adventurers have fled tyrannical dynasties to make their fortunes in other countries. Seagrave reveals for the first time the invisible empire of the Overseas Chinese, how it controls some adopted countries, and how it is tightly knit by a web of dialects, secret societies, triads, and financial networks worth over $2-trillion. Seagrave shows how the tide has reversed and rich Overseas Chinese have helped create China's boom making it now the world's No.1 economic power, while the West struggles to stay afloat. The result is a Chinese renaissance that has put a friendly smile on the face of the dragon in the Chinese century."



As someone once said religion begins where Maslow's hierarchy of needs ends. I think it is why academics find it so difficult to understand. Did you read the review of Dawkin's book that was linked above? I'd say he's a guy with an axe to grind who demands conformity to his intellectual concepts.


Tyler, so the United States Of America, the worlds biggest and most successful humanist experiment is a waste of time?



What is interesting about the article is that it completely avoids reporting on the fate of secularism in the West where government no longer gives a damn for its citizens and is being superseded by NGOs and supranational organizations (EU or NAFTA). This is documented by the endless holy wars in the Middle East, the restart of Cold War 2, too big to fail banks and austerity. Right now about 33+% of Americans know that the founding founders established a Christian United States of America when in fact they purposely separated church and state.

Just as the neo-Nazis were resurrected in Hungary and Ukraine, a theocracy is not far away in the USA as the middle class disappears and the surveillance state takes charge. I just don’t see how the elite will survive in their gated communities as holy wars swirl around the world with thousands of nuclear missiles ready to be ignited and the people’s government is flushed down the toilet. Move to Mars?


Hmmm. I guess you don't like Islam Karen. Well you don't have to. 1.6 Billion Muslims do.

Sh'ia- Sunni violence has as much to do with Islam as Protestant- Catholic violence did in Northern Ireland or throughout European history.

It was and is never a war about religion. It was and is ALWAYS a war about POWER!

And the joys of modern secular states Karen, is that they have no spiritual core.

So that vacuum is easily filled with the modern religion of the Mega Banks and Corporations. That is careerism and competitive credit based materialism.

Wow that religion is just sooo cool. People of faith everywhere are in awe of your broken families and new IPhone.

dilbert dogbert

The lady seems to have experienced some of the "Controlling of the Female Body" during her time in one of the orders. Maybe it is a universal "male" thing?



Can't say I did, but Dawkins is an intellectual lightweight. A biologist who tries (and fails) t dabble in physics and handwaves everything that he can't explain.

Him and Neil Tyson Degrasse are the two biggest intellectual frauds and egotistical blowhards running right now. Good work, I guess, if you can get it.



I don't know if USA is strictly an experiment only in secular humanism. It is also the biggest experiment in "people's religion" in the Christian West, where an unusually "bottom up" religion where the role of the clergy and expert theology are minimized sprang up, especially in the form of Fundamentalist Protestantism (but also many others, including those with roots in the Old World, and not always of Christian variety). United States is and has always been, a fundamentally (no pun intended), a deeply religious country where so many people really do take their religion seriously and with utmost sincerity. I think it is central to understanding America that we are simultaneously the most areligious and religious country, and have been from the very beginning...and many Americans themselves refuse to acknowledge the legacy of "the other," which is probably at the core of the central cultural divide here.

I suppose this is my ignorance about the Middle East talking, but I always wondered if there is an analogue between American Fundamentalism and Sunni Islam, in the sense that both place the lay believers in the central position. If so, American liberal elites will understand the Muslim fundamentalists no sooner or later than they understand rural Kansas.


Perhaps at some point in time some currents in Islam lost the understanding of what submission to God could also mean. In a sense we could say that [the useful parts of] science arose from a choice of submission to the expression of God we call Nature. True, utmost submission to Nature. Islam used to practice that quite well. whereas Art, in its meaningful sense, could be said to be submission to the expression of God we call Beauty. Islam used to practice that quite well also, as did the West.

A useful religion would come from a meaningful submission to the expression of God we call Death. Refusal of submission to Death leads to extreme secularism, the total rejection of the notion of a Spiritual World, whatever that means (and that means as many different thing as does the notion of what is beautiful.) In that regard, it seems to me that (to explore an angle pointed out by Imagine) at present some muslims have come to accept a young's man notion of submission to Death, that is a desire to conquer it by force rather than earn it by the hard road of the spiritual awakening that comes from earthly struggle.

But the purpose of life seems to be to accept the preeminence of the Game (of good versus evil, perhaps,) and our presence in it as a given opportunity for awakening, with neither short-cuts nor long blissful pauses (though the right RV might help it,) so neither refusal of submission to Death nor jealous embrace of it leads to real advancement on the human condition. As westerners fall into fear, anxiety and meaningless life at the mercy of worshippers of money, muslims fall into poverty and chaos at the mercy of worshippers of death. So pitted against one another, either we learn to deal with our own errors or exaust from their consequences.

Personally I accept the idea of living in a combinatorial world. That there can be found completeness under a certain Truth even if said Truth is not unique. That's why I think there would be more for us to gain not from separation of Church and State, but from separation of Church and Mosque. We are not meant to be all the same, so we would better right our own wrongs by ourselves, in our own places.

FB Ali

It is obvious that many people haven't bothered to read the article by Karen Armstrong before commenting.

The quote above does not represent her views. In it she is setting up the popular view in the West, which she then proceeds to counter in her piece.


The excerpt you see in this blog post is only the opening. It is a long article(i would recommend, it be read in entirety) and the author is actually trying to suggesting empathy and context on the issue of religious radicalism. Here is the conclusion to clarify the main thrust of the article:

"...After a bumpy beginning, secularism has undoubtedly been valuable to the west, but we would be wrong to regard it as a universal law. It emerged as a particular and unique feature of the historical process in Europe; it was an evolutionary adaptation to a very specific set of circumstances. In a different environment, modernity may well take other forms. Many secular thinkers now regard “religion” as inherently belligerent and intolerant, and an irrational, backward and violent “other” to the peaceable and humane liberal state – an attitude with an unfortunate echo of the colonialist view of indigenous peoples as hopelessly “primitive”, mired in their benighted religious beliefs. There are consequences to our failure to understand that our secularism, and its understanding of the role of religion, is exceptional. When secularisation has been applied by force, it has provoked a fundamentalist reaction – and history shows that fundamentalist movements which come under attack invariably grow even more extreme. The fruits of this error are on display across the Middle East: when we look with horror upon the travesty of Isis, we would be wise to acknowledge that its barbaric violence may be, at least in part, the offspring of policies guided by our disdain. "


"It was and is never a war about religion. It was and is ALWAYS a war about POWER!"

Religion is always about power, even for the "innocuous" Buddhists.
Didn't you notice that EVERY religion is somehow "designed" to be understood even by the most retarded people?
A simple explanation for the complexity of the world and a perfect tool to coach and coerce all members of any society.


I agree. But her description goes a very long way to explain the incredulousness of 'rational' western liberals in face of the Middle East. Actually, it IMO describes it perfectly.

When the neo-cons set on to demolish the states of the Middle East to allow Israel to have her clean break (with reality/ from the US) already, they thought the problem were the repressive Arab regimes that held the 'Arab Street' in their filthy claws.

With the tyrrants gone the locals would find their natural state and, as good flat earthers, would let out their little Americans they had hidden inside and have their countries blossom. Or so the well dressed, english speaking and whiskey drinking emigrees promised.

Now that a good number of these regimes have been demolished the violence has, if anything, gotten worse.

The delusion that the problem was about the regimes can no longer be maintained. This, the problem must be in the religion that is invoked to justify all that violence.

Of course, atheists like Hitches have maintained that all along, IMO in error. Tom Friedman expressed his sympathy for an Islamic reformation (because it promised ... regime change?) in 2002, in Iran. He quoted Iranian dissident Aghajari:

"Just as people at the dawn of Islam conversed with the Prophet, we have the right to do this today,'' he said. ''Just as they interpreted what was conveyed [to them] at historical junctures, we must do the same. We cannot say: 'Because this is the past we must accept it without question.
We need a religion that respects the rights of all -- a progressive religion, rather than a traditional religion that tramples the people. . . . One must be a good person, a pure person. We must not say that if you are not with us we can do whatever we want to you. By behaving as we do, we are trampling our own religious principles."


Friedman is rather blissfully oblivious to the fact that the verdict for his statement would in Saudi Arabia or Wahhabi-land not have been any different.

People express themselves with the language that they have.

East European dissidents used socialist themes and narratives to express their dissatisfaction with the regimes they lived under. I think the use of religious language by Mr. Aghajari is similar.

Likewise, the US express their imperial ambitions in humanitarian and liberal language, because that is the language their populations understand and that gives them legitimiacy irrespective of the actual quite material and materialistic policy goals.

And yet, I think Aghajaris idea of reconciling Islam with western ideas of liberalism is an outlier. I doubt it is possible, and if so, it won't look like what we in then west would accept. The separation of church and state as we know it is inherently alien to Islam. To the best of my knowledge, there is no precedent in Islam akin to Luke 20:25

He said to them, “Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

To separate state and religion is to conservative Muslims a sin, and they would reject it. State and religion in Islam are one. Friedmann can love Aghajari for his enlighted views all he wants, but that isn't going to change this.

All that said, the western actors are true believers in their liberal creed, and that goes for neo-cons and Obana's R2Pers and liberal interventionists alike.

In the Middle East it is no different. The people there express their fundamental dissatisfaction with the local conditions they live in religious language because that is the language they speak themselves and that gives them legitimacy. Also, they are genuinely religious, whether we like that or not.

On the idea of an Islamic reformation itself there is reason for ample scepticism, since the emergence of Wahhabism might just have been that reformation:

"Those who call for an Islamic 'Reformation' are missing the point: it has already happened, unfortunately.

Since 2001 a plethora of writers have made calls for an Islamic "Reformation". Many hopes (and careers) are pinned on the idea, but there is no such thing coming. The Islamic reformation has already happened. The Muslim equivalent of nailing the 95 theses was the desecration of a graveyard and the stoning of a woman for adultery.

According to 18th century records, the Ottoman empire - Islam's ruling power - had not flogged, imprisoned, or passed the death sentence on adulterers for nearly 400 years. Under the kanun - secular Ottoman imperial law - the highest punishment for adultery had been a fine. The traditionalist Ottoman jurists had relied on the Quran's "four witnesses" rule, which had made proving adultery virtually impossible.

Along came a self-professed Islamic reformer named Abdul Wahhab. He was trained classically but attracted to Ibn Taymiya - who 400 years earlier had broken away from Sunni traditionalism. Wahhab said that procuring a confession was enough to stone someone to death and proceeded to do so.

At the time, the Ottoman sultan, backed by a class of traditionalist jurists in Istanbul, was considered the equivalent of the Muslim pope - "the shadow of God on earth". Wahhab (just like Luther in Germany) accused the religious elite of materialism, corruption and decadence, and rejected the "tradition-based" approach to Islam. He then found political protection under a rebel leader named Ibn Saud and instituted further "reforms" - which linked up nicely with Ibn Saud's expansionist agenda. Ibn Taymiya, who had once accused the ruling Muslim kings of hypocrisy in order to justify rebellion against them, guided Wahhab and Ibn Saud through the course of their rebellion. It was eventually put down militarily, but not theologically.

Wahhab's "reformation" started Sunnism's unmooring from traditionalism. The Quran and the hadith, long bound together in a legal system (and hierarchy) so complex that, according to the orientalist John Makdisi, it gave birth to British Common Law, were now left wide open for Wahhab and his followers to access. What they now had was the power to do ijtihad. Except, in their distaste of Ottoman scholarship, they made up their "method" as they went along. It was a mixture of Quranic literalism and deference to Hanbal's hadith corpus (which was much larger than competing versions)."


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