Monday, February 06, 2006

Muslim Protestants

The title of this blog entry echoes something that you hear pretty often—that the Islamic world is in need of a Reformation, and badly. But that’s not quite right. As Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon point out in The Age of Sacred Terror, groups like Al-Quaeda and its affiliated entities are Muslim Protestants. Sixteenth century Christian Protestantism was a violent, theocratic, iconoclastic movement that sought to purge a corrupt Christendom of pagan and secular influences. The destruction of churches and idols and the adoption of a brutal code of religiously-based law were among the top priorities of early Protestants, just as much a they are among the Islamist radicals today. What is Iran if not a nuclear age version of Calvin’s Geneva? Baldilocks might be right that “Islam is in the same stage of development that Christianity was in when proponents of the latter religion were burning so-called witches and other ‘infidels’ at the stake,” but remember that there were more witch-burnings during the Reformation than during the Renaissance or Dark Ages periods, and Protestants burned at least an equal number of witches.

What the Muslim world needs is not a Reformation but an Enlightenment. The separation of church and state, the concept of individual rights and limited government, open markets, international peace, respect for women, tolerance for learning and diversity—all of these are not Protestant values but Enlightenment values. They were as much the result of humanistic Protestants in Britain as of humanistic Catholics in France, and they have much, much more of Athens than of Jersusalem about them. So, if it’s going to happen at all, in the words of the great moral philosopher George Harrison, it’s gonna take time. A whole lot of precious time. It’s gonna tame patience and time. To do it, to do it, to do it, to do it, to do it, to do it right, child.