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The Diversity of Islam?

by Robert Spencer

…One irony (among many) of all this is that Islam is, in point of fact, one of the least diverse entities on the planet. A few years I came across a group photo of a summit meeting of Southeast Asian government officials. The Vietnamese, Thai, Laotian, Cambodian, Thai, Burmese and Chinese officials all had names indigenous to their nations; the Malaysian and Indonesian ministers had names like Muhammad and Abdullah – names indigenous to Arabia. Converts to Islam the world over give up a bit of their cultural diversity to take on Arabic names, and in many cases feel compelled to adopt the dress of a seventh-century Arab. This is not diversity, it’s homogeneity.

Nor is there, despite numerous claims to the contrary, significant diversity in the understanding of Islamic law, Sharia. Wherever Sharia is fully implemented around the world today, from Sudan to Saudi Arabia to Iran, it looks largely the same: freedom of speech is restricted, women and non-Muslims are denied basic rights, apostates from Islam are ostracized or even killed, “heretics” and “blasphemers” are hounded by legal authorities and/or lynch mobs. The four major Sunni schools of Islamic jurisprudence agree on 75% of all rulings, and those matters upon which they differ are not central to Islamic faith or practice.

Nonetheless, the diversity of Islam is a key number in the liberal hymnbook, and Kristof gives it a game rendition in last Wednesday’s Times. The goal, of course, is to buttress Affleck’s claim that it is “gross” and “racist” to suggest that there is anything particularly violent about Islam – well, there are those jihad terrorists, yes, but the whole thing is so diverse, you see.

Kristof attempts to illustrate this by asserting that “historically, Islam was not particularly intolerant, and it initially elevated the status of women.” This is a common myth; that Kristof would retail it indicates he is unaware of, or unwilling to confront, the unpleasant facts of the institutionalized oppression of dhimmitude that made for the violent oppression of religious minorities in the Islamic world until they were abolished in the mid-nineteenth century.

But what about tolerant, pluralistic al-Andalus? The philosopher Maimonides, a Jew who lived for a time in Muslim Spain and then fled that supposedly tolerant and pluralistic land, remarked,

You know, my brethren, that on account of our sins God has cast us into the midst of this people, the nation of Ishmael, who persecute us severely, and who devise ways to harm us and to debase us….No nation has ever done more harm to Israel. None has matched it in debasing and humiliating us. None has been able to reduce us as they have….We have borne their imposed degradation, their lies, and absurdities, which are beyond human power to bear.

Kristof follows up this wishful thinking with a frankly bizarre sentence: “Anybody looking at the history even of the 20th century would not single out Islam as the bloodthirsty religion; it was Christian/Nazi/Communist Europe and Buddhist/Taoist/Hindu/atheist Asia that set records for mass slaughter.” “Christian/Nazi/Communist”? “Buddhist/Taoist/Hindu/atheist”? These conflations render Kristof’s argument utterly incoherent. Islam is not “the bloodthirsty religion,” but “Christian/Nazi/Communist Europe” is? Is “Christian/Nazi/Communist Europe” a religion? Is it any single thing at all?…

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