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article: The Gentle Jihadist

Lee Smith authored The Gentle Jihadist which appeared in The American Prospect. This magazine is hardly a bastion of right-wing reactionaries: it counts Robert Reich and Robert Kuttner among its founders, and its editors likewise represent the American left. Smith identifies Ramadan as a "gentle jihadist" who, although not violent, still sees an Islamicized West, rather than an assimilated Muslim community living in a religiously pluralistic society:

Ramadan believes that the problem with the West is its spiritual malaise. "The Jewish or Christian origins have faded or simply disappeared," he writes. Unlike traditional Christian and Jewish thinkers who merely lament the loss of religious life in a culture of abundance, Ramadan has an answer. The solution, as the Muslim Brothers like to say, is Islam.

To understand fully the scope of Ramadan's conception, it's important to understand that for the Islamists, Islam is not just one of the three monotheistic faiths, nor is it merely the completion of the Abrahamic tradition. As Ramadan writes, it "corrects the messages that came before it." Islam doesn't complement the Torah and New Testament; it supersedes them. Today in the West, the Jews and the Christians have again lost their way . . . That's why he calls the West dar al-dawa, or the place for "inviting people to God." Ramadan quotes a source as saying that in the eyes of the first Muslims, "The Arabian peninsula was dar al-dawa." The West is awaiting the call to Islam, just as the 7th-century Arabs were.
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That Ramadan believes Islam will replace Judaism and Christianity may come as a surprise to those who thought he was just saying Islam is compatible with liberal values (it will certainly surprise the fathers at Notre Dame). Rather, Ramadan is a cold-blooded Islamist who believes that Islam is the cure for the malaise wrought by liberal values. His revision of the jihadist paradigm -- peaceful but total -- is brilliant in its way, and he may well turn out to be a major Islamist intellectual, far surpassing even his grandfather's influence. His cry of death to the West is a quieter and gentler jihad, but it's still jihad. There's no reason for Western liberals to try to understand that point of view.

Whether or not Islam is after all compatible with liberal values is . . .  overshadowed by the fact that a lot of Arab and Muslim individuals do subscribe to liberal values, regardless of how the compatibility question is finally to be answered. Many are pressing for them in their home countries, while others have fled to the West to find them here. To the extent that Western liberals see Ramadan as an "authentic" spokesman of Arab and Muslim culture, while dismissing Arab and Muslim liberals as too Westernized, they've forgotten their own universal values.

This is hardly compatible with the traditional e pluribus unum vision of the USA, let alone an affirmation of a multicultural, tolerant society along the lines of the EU.

November 7, 2004 | Permalink


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