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Thursday, November 03, 2005
Contemporary Islamism and Historical Protestantism

Apropos of this disturbing news article on what are most likely Muslim riots in France, here's Francis Fukuyama in Opinion Journal on the challenges posed by Islamic fundamentalism to Western Europe. Citing the French scholar Olivier Roy, he argues that Osama bin Laden's primitivist (primitivistic?) theology appeals to European Muslims (particularly second and third-generation ones) because it
tells them exactly who they are--respected members of a global Muslim umma to which they can belong despite their lives in lands of unbelief. Religion is no longer supported, as in a true Muslim society, through conformity to a host of external social customs and observances; rather it is more a question of inward belief. Hence Mr. Roy's comparison of modern Islamism to the Protestant Reformation, which similarly turned religion inward and stripped it of its external rituals and social supports.
Roy's comparison of contemporary Islamic fundamentalism and Reformation Protestantism on these grounds leads me to wonder what other meaningful parallels can be drawn between these theologies. I'll try to say more at a later time.


Fukuyama is profiled here in this Washington Post article, which says that:
Fukuyama even compared bin Laden to Martin Luther, a suggestion that, taken out of context, would inflame just about everyone but atheists. But there's always context, and what Fukuyama is really saying (perhaps) is that to some disaffected Muslims, bin Laden looks like a radical reformer and a visionary, standing astride history, saying no to the oppressive forces that belittle Muslims in a foreign world. European society has abetted his cause because it holds Muslims at arm's length while giving them an unwholesome, neglectful freedom to stew in their alienation, until some cross the line that separates the civilized from the barbaric.
This is a bizarre comparison. Bin Laden and his fellow jihadists advocate violence against secular authorities, which they regard as obstacles to the creation of a pan-Islamic caliphate. By contrast, Luther, as Steven Ozment reminds us in The Age of Reform (a book that I've been reading lately), "permitted individuals to resist tyranny and persecution only passively; revolution and regicide were unacceptable remedies." While many Germans who rebelled against their princes claimed Luther as an inspiration, he was always swift to condemn their actions as "contrary not only to Christian law and the gospel, but also to natural law and all equity." His theology, divorced from ethics and social justice, stands apart from fundamentalist Islam's "drive to power." As Martin Kramer writes:
[Fundamentalist] Islam must have power in this world. It is the true religion—the religion of God—and its truth is manifest in its power. When Muslims believed, they were powerful. Their power has been lost in modern times because Islam has been abandoned by many Muslims, who have reverted to the condition that preceded God’s revelation to the Prophet Muhammad. But if Muslims now return to the original Islam, they can preserve and even restore their power.

That return, to be effective, must be comprehensive; Islam provides the one and only solution to all questions in this world, from public policy to private conduct. It is not merely a religion, in the Western sense of a system of belief in God. It possesses an immutable law, revealed by God, that deals with every aspect of life, and it is an ideology, a complete system of belief about the organization of the state and the world. This law and ideology can only be implemented through the establishment of a truly Islamic state, under the sovereignty of God. The empowerment of Islam, which is God’s plan for mankind, is a sacred end. It may be pursued by any means that can be rationalized in terms of Islam’s own code. At various times, these have included persuasion, guile, and force.