A World without Islam.
Graham E. Fuller
Little, Brown and Company, 2010
The current book, with its provocative title, is likely to entice those who believe that the Christian West, with the United States as its vanguard, is locked with Islam in a life-and-death struggle, a "clash of civilizations". Current foreign policy is related to this premise and if Islam in general can be contained, and "radical" Islam in particular neutralized, then anti-western terrorism and current troubles in Muslim countries would disappear. However, author Graham Fuller argues that differences in doctrine between Islam and Christianity are not the primary sources of conflict and points out that other social forces would have engaged the West in conflict had there been no Islam. The world would still not be as conflict-free as those who image a world without Islam would like to believe.
Fuller's main theme is that religion serves as a vehicle to further social and political ends of the ruling elite--and if a god is truly on our side, then so much the better. Like political institutions, Fuller notes, religions have spent a great deal of time "striving to preserve orthodoxy" and quashing dissent. Religious dogma reflects contemporaneous secular interests and like secular institutions, religions have evolved over time to accommodate changing social norms and ideology. Both theological flexibility and rigidity can be readily observed in Christianity as well as in Islam. It should not be surprising that ruling elites have closely linked religious institutions to secular institutions, to shape social behavior towards a desired end, rather than for the purpose of mass spiritual salvation or enlightenment. Such social engineering has had disastrous consequences for the non-believing segment of the population, particularly for "heathen" minorities. Religious institutions, of course, do not have a monopoly on evoking behavior that leads to mass atrocities, as modern secular states have demonstrated. Thus, a closer examination of "religious-based" violence will frequently reveal profound socio-political and possibly ethnic roots.
Fuller states that there is little "serious analysis" of the consequences of US foreign policy actions. In fact, analysis tends to focus on "others"--"why do 'they' hate us" and "why can't 'they' accept America's values" and abandon their "negative intentions". This leads to policies that inflame instead of reduce anti-US hostility. Without actually speculating on what the world would be like without Islam, Fuller argues that other institutions would have come into conflict with the West had Islam not been established. The main value of this book is the historical narration, from the fragmentation of the Roman Empire, the conflict between different factions within Christianity, the rise of Islam within this environment and the experience of non-western regions that have come in contact with Islam. Rather than seeing them as mutually exclusive, Fuller points to the close relationship between "religion, power and the state," and views the "clash of civilizations" through this lens. Religions are "vehicles for political power," a phrase that appears repeatedly in this book.
Ethnicity, which "may or may not be augmented" by religious differences, is also viewed as significant, though secondary to political power. In contrast to the ethnic exclusiveness of Judaism, Islam preached universalism, similar to Christianity. However, early Islamic practitioners perceived their religion in ethnic terms, as an "Arab religion"--the Qur'an was written in Arabic and the Prophet was an Arab. Initially, conversions of conquered non-Arab peoples were discouraged. With further expansion out of Arabia into non-Semitic cultures, the need to secure cooperation from multiethnic populations superceded ethnocentrism.
Just prior to the rise in Islam in the early seventh century AD, Eastern Orthodox Christianity dominated much of the Middle East. Instead of a "disruptive" force hostile to the existing Judeo-Christian milieu, Fuller portrays Islam as a natural outgrowth of contemporary social trends within Arabia. Semitic "anti-Westernism" existed long before the establishment of Islam, due to continuous conflict with interloping westerners, from the ancient Greeks and Romans to the Byzantine Greeks. Arabia was a repository of numerous tribal gods and was prosperous due to its location along international trade routes. The growth of "capital market economies," which led to the expansion of one's interests beyond one's own society, initiated the weakening of kin-based ties. Mohammad was divinely inspired to overturn the existing pagan order in Arabia and promote a "new" social order based in part on Judaism and Christianity. However, with various Christian factions split over issues such as the humanity vs. divinity of Jesus and the metaphysical meaning of the "Holy Trinity," Islam entirely avoided such issues, such as by declaring that Jesus was a prophet and Mohammad denying divinity for himself. Instead, Islam was to be a "prescription for a moral community". Fuller's narration points out that Islam's triumph in the Arabian Peninsula and beyond was the result of quashing the existing, fragmented social and religious orders and imposing a new, more unified sociopolitical order.
Extensive fragmentation and factional conflict characterizes the seventh century Middle East and nearby Europe and when viewed from a modern sociopolitical angle, the book makes for fascinating reading. However, viewing history in modern terms can be easily colored by the author's own ideology and given the book's theme, there will those who heartily agree with Fuller's interpretations while others will dismiss them outright.
One issue that the book raises is the sociobiological function of religion. Interestingly, Fuller suggests that the underlying source of faith and religious tension is "individual psychology". But the persistence of Islam up to today in the Middle East, in the face of previous conflicts with Europeans and other Asians, demonstrates its resilience as a "civilizational glue". Rather than merely serving as a guide for the proper treatment of others and explaining man's place in the universe, religions serve as "social glue" that "sustains a community"--a "social glue" which promotes intra-group cooperation and altruism quite distinct from and often antagonistic to the ancient bonds of kinship and bio-ethnic competition. Going further, beyond the scope of the book, is the unanswered question of why the religious "module" evolved in human minds in the first place (Dunbar, 2010).
Christianity and Islam are significant shifts away from the previous forms of social bonding that emphasized kinship. Multiple layers of "social glue," including language, behavioral norms, dress and sacred rituals, define individual membership in a group and distinguish groups from each other. The social glue that is culture is influenced by local conditions but is also a reflection of the group's inherited tendencies. A shared, common culture facilitates in-group cooperation and altruism, serving to perpetuate the group's unique genes in a world of competing groups striving for control of limited resources. The universality emphasized by Christianity and Islam displaced kinship and extended cooperation, altruism and resources to persons outside the kinship group, thereby decreasing Darwinian competition and the survival of unique genes. The ultimate Darwinian impact of insular, ethnic religions, such as the pre-Christian and pre-Islamic Semitic tribal religions, was the propagation of their unique clusters of genes. With the application of altruism to strangers, and the introduction of other behaviors that do not promote in-group interests, what is the ultimate genetic impact of Christianity and Islam?
Fuller's contention is that the source of the East-West clash is geopolitical rather than ethnic. It is true that in the West today, religious affiliation does not effectively flag ethnicity to the extent it did in the past. An ethnic component, however, is plainly visible upon reading Fuller's survey of modern East-West clashes. Following September 11, 2001, the Russians and the Chinese "joined ranks" with the U.S. and launched their own "war on terror" against sizable and restive Muslim minorities within their own borders. The current Muslim immigration into Europe, which is concurrently undergoing a steady depletion of its original inhabitants due to sub-replacement birth rates, is seen as the inevitable process of "Islamization" of Europe (Murphey, 2005, 2007). That Muslims demand both the retention of their non-European identity and their acceptance by non-Muslim communities indicates the intractable nature of large scale Islamic immigration issue into western countries. The Muslim tendency for consanguine marriage suggests at the very least a subconscious effort to maintain their genetic as well as their religious distance from non-Muslims (Bundey et al., 1990; Tadmouri et al., 2009). Social distance is reinforced by the chronic low socio-economic status of European Muslims. As generally espoused by the political elites, Fuller's prescription to the problem is vigorous multiculturalism, allowing Muslims to be Muslims and yet somehow integrating them into the European social fabric and that natives should learn to "deal" with their "xenophobia". Despite strong overtones of the current East-West clash as geopolitical, it is difficult to ignore the ethnic component.
Fuller's proposals aimed at ameliorating Muslim anti-US hostility could lead to reduced terrorism, but fundamental changes in western thinking will be needed, particularly with regard to territorial integrity, which includes the right of peoples to be secure within their own border and non-interference of domestic affairs by outsiders (Salter, 2006). Current tensions in the multiethnic Middle East and North Africa, as acutely demonstrated by the violent uprisings early in 2011, will persist without acknowledgment of the right of ethnics to choose their own evolutionary path behind secure borders. And it could perhaps be no mere coincidence that the Muslim organization that sought to build a new mosque in New York City, adjacent to Ground Zero, had chosen to call itself by the name of the Spanish city of Cordoba, which Muslims regard as a symbol of successful medieval Muslim conquest in Europe.
There are a few flaws that detract from an overall fascinating historical analysis. For example, the term "schizophrenic," is misused in the context of Russia's conflicting national character, being both pro-western as well as staunchly Greek Orthodox; "split" or "dual personality" would be the appropriate clinical term. A "schizophrenic Russia" implies that the Russian are detached from reality--are they? Every so often, the September 11 terror attacks are referred to as "kamikaze" attacks, and the current book is no exception. As point of fact, during the Pacific War, Japanese "kamikaze" missions were strictly confined to military targets. Finally, the Arabs are overly credited for allegedly bringing Europeans out of the Dark Ages. Although Arabs did have access to Greek and Roman classical texts (largely suppressed under Christian rule in Europe), had built an extensive commercial civilization, and maintained an impressive military force, Europeans eventually rediscovered the classics, threw off the restrictive controls of the Church of Rome, and caught up with and then outpaced the Arabs in scientific discoveries. (1) Perhaps some of the contemporary Arab hostility against the West is due not just to religious and ethical differences, but to their contemporary technological inferiority and an awareness of their former vaunted status as the rulers of a vast military and religious empire.
Bundey, S. et al. (1990) Race, consanguinity and social features in Birmingham babies: a basis for prospective study. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 44: 130-135.
Dunbar, R.I.M. (2010) How Many Friends Does One Person Need? Cambridge, MA: Harvard University.
Murphey, D.D. (2005) Review of The West's Last Chance, in: Journal for Social, Political, and Economic Studies 30: 524-531.
Murphey, D.D. (2007) Review of The Last Days of Europe, in: Journal for Social, Political, and Economic Studies 32: 519-522.
Salter, F. (2006) On Genetic Interests, New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.
Tadmouri, G.O. et al. (2009) Consanguinity and reproductive health among Arabs. Reproductive Health 6: 17.
(1) The higher average IQ of Europeans compared to Arabs has been suggested for the differential in profound and lasting cultural achievements. M.H. Hart, 2007, Understanding Human History, Augusta, GA: Washington Summit.
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|Publication:||The Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2011|
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