(I know this is long, but it is written for a chapter in a monograph I’m putting together on Democracy and the Arab Street for a group of policy analysts. I hope they like it too.)
Moses Sands, in his 2004 talk about the prospects for democracy in the Middle East, mentioned in passing that world democracy came through Martin Luther’s Reformation, and hinted that the reverse was also true; that the process to religious reformation was through a loosening of the power ofÂ kings.
Moses said this before Iraq’s first election, which has since proved a qualified success. He had his doubts then, and they still persist. But not because of an obdurate Islam, but rather, narrow-minded, bureaucratic, even stupid, “nation-builders” who didn’t know the opportunity they had when they had it. That opportunity is still not lost…in Iraq or even Afghanistan, but it has been made more difficult.
I suggest you reread what Moses had to say.
Since 2005, public opinion, while rarely correct, has swung decidedly against the idea that Muslim people can be democratized, or that Islam could ever have its “reformation” a la Martin Luther in Christian Europe in the 16th Century.
“Christianity is by word, if not always deed, a religion of peace, while Islam, by word, and often deed, is a religion of conquest.” I’m told this often. Therefore, I’m told,Â there can never be an Arab religious reformer come along who can set people on the right path, because the right path in Islam is war, not peace.
That is probably true, but what is likely missed is just what Martin Luther unleashed.
Compare Three Religious Traditions
Islam is a tough system to work through legally, but it has parallels in both Judaism and Christianity. The Deuteronomic Code is the basis for the Law as Jews understand it. It was handed down to Moses from Jehovah and from himÂ to the Hebrew people. This is the Torah, the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament. But Old Testament scholars who study various eras have to search beyond the Torah to see which legal tradition held sway at any period to understand the Hebraic rules underpinning any particular story. I just did a Bible study on Ruth coming into the House of Boas, and “the law” that umbrella’d that union. That “law” is not found in the Old Testament, but rather, in the Talmud, which is an oral tradition passed down through the generations. Look it up, for there are several Talmudic traditions, covering several periods of the Hebrew and Jewish existence.
We know the Old Testament itselfÂ had also undergone several changes, the Jerusalem Bible giving some great renderings about this process. Similarly, the Qu’ran (literally “recitations” since Mohammed could neither read nor write) had problems almost from the time of Mohammed’s death in 632. People were squabbling over exactly what Mohammed said almost from the beginning, because what he said was over 23 years of recitations to a number of scribes. People who wrote down what Mohammed said often told it somewhat differently, just as the Four Gospels sometimes reported the same event in Jesus’ life a little differently.
And like the Talmud, Islam too has its “law” beyond the Qu’ran, called “hadith” of which there are also several, all from an oral beginning. Hadiths are often memorized, so susceptible to even more corruption, sometimes even unintentionally. Sort of like Democrats.
I’m not a scholar, so have never read original texts of the Maccabees, but assume the religious “laws” these Jewish militants used in taking over Judea in the 2nd Century BCE were not exactly in line with earlier Talmudic tradition elsewhere in the Hebrew world. Just a guess, mind you, but I think about the Maccabees when I think about the Wahhabi’s storming out of their desert recesses in Arabia Incognita to “reclaim” the Holy places of Mecca and Medina for the “one true Faith” according to their readings, by taking it away from…you got it…other Muslims they thought had gotten snotty and too big for their britches. They stomped on gilted Qu’rans, tore down images and tried to make those holy cities look more like their old mosques back in Possum Hollow, but which today look remarkably like they did in the gilded age of the sharifs they replaced. Everything that goes around…
(My mother felt the same way every time she drove by a Catholic Church, so I have some understanding of the Wahhabi’s…but not an ounce of empathy.)
This small revolt in the 1890s (almost no one noticed, since they hadn’t found oil yet) on the Arabian peninsula pitted Islam against Islam in a way similar to just about every other Muslim war of succession from the very beginning, when the various caliphates would change hands every few hundred years…an old decadent and opulent regime replaced by a newer, fresher zeal for the Faith, which then quickly turned to orthodoxy and complacency, opulence and decadence.Â Wannabe-kings turning out king, etc, etc. A broken record. And but for nukes, and a twist, we’re in the middle of one of those attempts at succession change now.
Involved in all these changes were two separate Qu’rans, two separate sets ofÂ laws, and a totally different understanding of just what sharia law should mean on the Arab Street. This has not changed.
So, when someone quotes to me that part of the Qu’ran that says Muslims are enjoined to always make war against the infidels, including their “cousins” (other people of the Book), I want to know which Qu’ran, which law, which sharia. Most of you can’t tell me. Most Muslims can’t either.
What we all agree on is that if that person who is quoting the Qu’ran as authority for his actions is also holding an AK-47, or strapped to a bomb, we should shoot him.
What we don’t agree on is whether Islam can cure this on its own. Most of you say “no.” I saw “yes…probably.” But it can’t cure it by sitting down and having a Council in Medina where all the factions of Islam can come together and hammer out a consensus, like the Council of Nicea tried. Besides, the guys with the guns won’t show up. Sinn Fein never did.
Like Moses Sands, I’m always looking for that “resilient Islam” underneath the radical face we now see, which is driven, as with all other peoples in the world, by certain basic desires. Moses laid that out in his democracy piece, above. And what I see as keeping Muslims from that quest is not Islam, but kings, the kingly tradition of Islam, which I argue can be severed…just as the kingly traditions of Europe were.
We can remove the kings, for indirectly that’s what Martin Luther did. But what is as important as what Martin Luther did was why and how he got away with it.
Not letting Christianity off the hook…
Just so you’ll know the Christian churches went through the same problems Judaism and Islam went through…
It all started with Pentecost. I’m one of those who believe the “speaking in tongues” 50 days after Easter was not the language of angels, but rather an anointing ofÂ the gathered disciples with the gift of language to go out and preach far and wide around the world.
Over the next generations what developed was, as you can imagine, a lot of oral traditions about the teachings and resurrection of Christ in a lot of different languages. Somewhere along the line they all knew they’d have to come to terms with these several versions, so they began to meet to hammer out the different traditions, and come to some agreement about what is and is not canonical texts.
There were heresies from the beginning, Arianism being a main one, having to do with theological differences much like those that separate Baptists from Catholics today. The Church of Rome and the Church of Byzantium would eventually split up and never speak to one another again until just this Thursday, past (thanks to Pope St John Paul). Later Rome was sacked by the Gauls (in 387), then three of four more times, so that the dominant, more powerful church was in the East, in Constantinople, now known as the Eastern Orthodox Church…about which most Americans know very little…even though it was the big he-bull in the Christian barn even into the era of the Crusades.
Some say Constantine made a deal with the devil when he declared Christianity to be “the state religion” of the Roman Empire in Constantinople in 320 AD. (It wasn’t a good thing.) But some say the Roman church doubled down with the devil when it declared Charlemagne (a Frankish hoodlum) “holy Roman emperor” in 800 AD. It didn’t last, as the Carolingian line more or less died in 888, but it sounded like a good idea at the time. And the idea of the pope in Rome crowning Holy Roman Emperors went swimmingly well and hung around all the way into Martin Luther’s day, at least on paper.
Rome’s deal with the devil was: The Church (who Chesterton defends rather vigorously, and very well I might add) decided to bestow the rank of God’s nobility on a bunch of barbaric tribal thugs who called themselves kings, and would eventually proclaim a “divine right to rule” if they would 1) take up the cross, i.e., attend mass from time to time, 2) hand over their vassals, and purportedly their vassals’ souls, to the Church, and 3) provide the Church physical protection, and 4) promise not to tax the tithe the Church would take from their vassals. The original Mr 10%.
Now if this sounds like a basic betrayal of its true beliefs, yes it does, but as I said, consult Chesterton before going off half-cocked.
In short, the Church became an arm of the state, only, in the Churches’ eyes alone, the state had become an arm of the Church. There had separate courts, separate powers, and separate taxes, er, tithes. As I said, and Chesterton argues, it sounded like a good idea at the time.
With this sort of set-up, and the center of Church power in Rome (a brief sojourn in France) it became very rich and opulent, much like the Wahhabis in Riyadh today. Fat and sassy.
Enter Martin Luther, stage right. What you need to know about Luther first is that if he had been named Martini Lutherini, and had a parish in Naples, there would never been a Reformation. He’d have been burned within a fortnight. Ask Savonarola, a Dominican friar in Florence who was burned at the stake 20 years before Luther hung his 95 Theses on that church door at Wittenberg.
Luther got away with his “apostasy” because the long arm of the Church in Rome couldn’t do in Germany what it could do in Italy. This was because, while still a part of the Holy Roman Empire, the German states, under the authority of dukes and barons were more or less autonomous. Kingly, central authority was already breaking down in much of Europe, being displaced by cities and traders. Yes, commerce, the free market, which wasn’t all that free in those days, but it did a helluva job at whittling away kingly power. The power of kings were getting smaller, and the buying and selling power of people were getting bigger.
Like the invention of the automobile and airplane (Some Russians still insist they invented both) “reform-ation” was on a lot of people’s minds in 1517. But note where the successful ones took place. Switzerland (Calvin) and Scotland (Knox). Europe was split asunder by the end of the 16th Century (the Catholic Church launched a counter-revolution) and tens of thousands died, and usually not at the hands of the reformationists, who were usually on the run. The Church lost England in a divorce suit. Essentially the absolute kings went with the Church in Rome, (France and Spain) while the reformers had better pickings with the weaker principalities.
As did the New World colonies, for within 200 years democracy would set down its first roots in America and would then scare the hell out of Europe and the world’s kings ever since. And it would all start with religious refugees from Europe, to be then taken up by ordinary farmers, tradesmen and clerks, seeking what Moses Sand told was “the ability to build their own House.”
I won’t go into the influences the reformationists had on early thinkers about human liberty, men such as Burke, but you can see where this all leads. True, the great liberty-thinkers (so as not to be confused with Ron Paul) of the period, including our Founders were all products of the Reformation.
Live and Let Live is Not Religious Tenet
“Live and let live” is not a part of Christian, or any other religious dogma. It is a by-product of freedom, based on the notion that every man who owns his House must always be in mind of the next man’s as well or he may lose his. Every man understands there are limitations to how far he can push his beliefs about anything, or where. (Until recently.) He cannot take his finger and shove his opinions into another man’s chest or onto his nose. Free people have public squares where even the most idiotic of ideas has a soap box just sitting there, waiting to be mounted. Today that’s the internet. But one cannot take his beliefs and crash through a man’s front gate or knock down his front door to make it heard. His private space is inviolable. Or used to be. That is the idea of the House, and it is not religious, for even the parson…or mullah…must keep his distance and mind his manners, once the man and woman own their own House.
This is what American democracy teaches the world. And every man wants it. Even the Muslim.
But his wannabe-kings do not. It is them we are fighting.
We already know, from the American Left and their allies, political correctness and the ACLU, long before Islam, that “live and let live” is under assault. That certain elements of Islam, certain readings of Qu’rans that have been corrupted just to justify jihad is nothing we should be overly alarmed about.Â It’s that “bomb in to the baby carriage” (Paul Simon) that should concern us.
This is why they have made common cause with the American and worldwide Left. (One will eat the other in the end, but no matter, we are not supposed to be around to see that occur.)
It is democracy, the freedom to build the House, they hate, and their religion is such it can be bent to destroy any ancient readings, any ancient understandings, as once were ours. No Muslim has to stand and shout, upon finding a democratic haven in America that he is free at least, free at last. Like the Irish and Sicilian and Slovak who came before him, he knows to stay quiet, as he would have in the old country. Only he knows when it safe. Still, he just knows he has something better and worth holding to, and we should too.
Our fight at home is to keep the more pernicious types of Islam out. And to shoot them when need be. But our greater fight is to see democracy win in the Middle East, for as every American pioneer who first climbed aboard a boat from the Mediterranean bound for America, knew, their valise filled with parting sorrows none of you can ever imagine…lost family, lost homeland, they shouldn’t have to come here when they can build their House in a free Iraq…or Jordan.
Nation Building on 3000 a Day
In 2006 Moses Sands was asked to amplify his remarks on Iraq with more particulars. He was reluctant to do so, not knowing the conditions on the ground in various parts of Iraq or Afghanistan. But I pressed him. I know he would have postponed all other forms of recreation to actually be part of a team in that region to start injecting “the House” into the consciousness of the people there. The idea of sitting down with a team of people who could make this or that happen simply with a phone call excited him.
In the old days Moses used to say that he could bring down any statist regime in the world for $3000 a day. I’m not sure he ever considered the reverse, nation-building, in those terms, but I and think, why not?
All this occurred before I knew him, since by the time I met him Moscow, he’d washed his hands of the federal government. By then he had more connections in Moscow than he did in Washington. But I expect he still had a few old pals at Langley.
In any case, by the time we could up with an outline of a plan for Iraq and Afghanistan (Moses had a natural liking of tribal peoples and would have loved to try them on for size..) he realized that such a plan would find no friends in Iraq. So we (he) decided to table it.
Still, it’s a good idea, not hard to construct or implement, and at $3000/day, well, a bargain. But you have to set your jaw the right way. Nation-building from the bottom up on $3000/day is something both our Iraq and Afghan experts should give worlds to see come true.
Or would they?