Thursday, April 7, 2011

Separation of Mosque and State? Robert Spencer Vs. Zuhdi Jasser

by Diane Schrader

Newsrealblog Editor’s Note: Diane Schrader attended the David Horowitz Freedom Center’s West Coast retreat this past weekend and will be filing several reports on the various speakers and panels. This is the second; read the first here.

I have to give props to David Horowitz – his recent Freedom Center weekend featured a significant diversity of thought. A particularly fascinating element was a debate between Jihad Watch director Robert Spencer, author of Stealth Jihad, and Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, a former U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander who advocates the “separation of mosque and state.”

The crux of the debate is the million dollar question – are jihad, terrorism and sharia law inextricably linked to Islam itself, or can so-called moderate Muslims embrace American concepts of liberty and justice, independent of the political aspects of Islam?

Jasser, of course, believes that type of separation can indeed happen – that Islam on its own is not inherently violent or hateful. Part and parcel of this perspective is the whole concept of “radical Islam” being some type of extremist outworking of an overall less malevolent Islamic worldview.

Spencer, who unlike Jasser is not a Muslim, argued that anyone who studies the scriptures of Islam must come to the conclusion that so-called radical Islamists are merely acting on the actual tenets of their faith – in other words, that the Islamic worldview is indeed malevolent. And Spencer’s got me convinced that he’s a lot closer to the truth than Jasser.

History teaches that Islam has not always been aggressive, as Jasser pointed out, but Spencer noted that just because Muslims were not powerful enough to wage violent jihad at certain historical moments does not mean that their goal had ever changed.

Jasser also argued that how Muslims perceive Koranic teaching is somewhat affected by their particular imam (or teacher,) the implication being that radical imams produce radical followers. He drew a parallel between that and a Jew or Christian deferring to their rabbi’s or minister’s view of scripture. But the Bible urges followers to test any teacher’s interpretation against the scripture itself – effectively minimizing the danger of a teacher leading people astray. Not to say it hasn’t happened – virtually every cult is birthed by someone twisting the words of scripture – but therein lies the point. Jasser’s analogy falls apart because any “radical minister,” for example, is soon exposed as a teacher of anti-biblical thought. In comparison, the so-called radical imams are teaching a doctrine that is in fact what the Koran says.

Another implication of the argument that Muslims can separate some of the Koran’s teachings from their everyday lives is the idea that Islam simply needs to “grow up” – that it needs to evolve into something more compatible with modern values. An unspoken assumption behind this idea is that Judaism and Christianity have already gone through such an evolution, which is why those belief systems are compatible with Western thought.

This is nonsense. Judaism and Christianity are compatible with Western thought, all right, because Western thought owes much of its lineage – the concepts of individual responsibility, private property, and fallen human nature, among other valuable lessons – in part to Judeo-Christian thinking. But Jasser misunderstands the fundamental nature of both Judaism and Christianity. They have both maintained the same teachings for thousands of years. They have not “evolved” (although they have been bastardized, by some – but that’s a discussion for another day).

So quite frankly it seems kind of insulting to Muslims to imply that, if we just give Islam some more time, it will “grow up” and become a faith we can all learn to love. The only change that can happen and is compatible with our American system of government is when individual Muslims decide that living in liberty and freedom is of higher value to them than fully embracing Islam (which, although he might not characterize it exactly so, is indeed what Jasser has chosen to do).

Regarding sharia law in particular, Jasser says that any system of law that may be said to be “of God” becomes manmade law when humans implement it – but this is a very weak argument that somehow sharia itself can be separated from Islam. In another discussion during the Horowitz event, Jasser indicated that he thought a person could embrace sharia “just for themselves” – but this is illogical. No one can embrace any system of law all by themselves, because systems of law include such things as judgment and punishments. More than one person is required for a legal system.

In defending attacks against the prophet Mohammed, Jasser implied that other faiths look up to men who were flawed, like Abraham. Jasser of course entirely misses the point that neither Judaism nor Christianity hold Abraham to be equivalent to deity, or in any way impervious to criticism. (Nobody gets killed if you draw a picture of him, either.) And the Bible is fairly clear about Abraham’s personal failings. Spencer agreed, however, that calling Mohammed out for his pedophilia does not win over most Muslims.

Dr. Jasser, somewhat poignantly, asked what he was to teach his children if Islam could not be separated from its violent, anti-Western tendencies and political visions of conquering the world. I would argue, with great respect for Dr. Jasser and his noble but misguided mission of trying to fuse his faith with American values – that in fact Islam is not a faith that he wants to pass along to his children.

Other presentations throughout the weekend underscored that reality, as speakers like Andrew McCarthy and Karen Lugo brought home, again and again, the sobering reality of fatwas, terrorism and jihad. Watch the NewsReal Blog site for video of the Enemies Within panel, in particular.

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Diane Schrader

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