Clicking on banner ads enables JWR to constantly improve
Jewish World Review Jan. 29, 2002 / 16 Shevat, 5762

Diana West

Diana West
JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
David Limbaugh
Michelle Malkin
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports

Disconnected dialogue -- ON a personal level, there was something strangely comforting in watching a dozen or so well educated, philosophically astute Christian clergymen and religious scholars struggling to grasp the very elusive ins and outs of Islam as presented by several Muslim leaders during a Christian-Muslim "dialogue" sponsored by the National Clergy Council (and broadcast on C-Span 2) this week. That is, it looks as if it's not just the average layman -- or lay-columnist, as the case may be -- who's still having trouble getting a good look behind the veil. There are still too many questions hanging in the way of most of us looking on from the Judeo-Christian perspective.

For instance: How does a Muslim choose between the verses of the Koran that espouse tolerance and those that espouse a fairly excruciating death to all infidels? The answer -- Muslims must "debate" their varying interpretations -- offers an inkling as to how Islam may be "hijacked" by militants, but not much explicit instruction. Other topics floated during this unusual forum included the plight of non-Muslim minorities in Muslim countries, and the troubling (to Westerners) primacy of sharia, or rule by Islamic law (which may call for the amputation of a hand for theft, or death by stoning for nonmarital sex), in Islamic societies.

I say "floated" because such topics were never actually pinned to earth. Give the three Muslim leaders credit -- Imam Aly Abuzaakouk of the American Muslim Council, Imam Yayha Hendi of Georgetown University and Souheil Ghannouchi of the Muslim American Society -- for taking their places on a dais that at times must have felt more like a hot seat. Still, they let some of the most compelling lines of questioning go unanswered. James Beverly, author of "Understanding Islam," (Meridian Books, 1995) twice asked the imams to say whether, ideally, they would like to see Islamic law in force in America and Canada, but to no avail. The Rev. Aham Nnorom injected a shocking jolt of reality to the largely theoretical discussion by introducing evidence of Muslim massacres of Christians in his native Nigeria. His presentation heightened a mood of drama that hung undispelled over the gathering. But while the Muslim leaders never directly addressed such subjects, the salient disagreement between East and West was made perfectly clear.

At issue was, and remains, the antithetical ways the largely Christian West and the largely Muslim East regard religious liberty. Whether the point of discussion was the supposed Western "misunderstandings" or "mistranslations" of those verses of the Quran that go on about dismembering a hapless infidel's limbs (or merely slicing off his fingertips), or a dispute over the specific rights granted under Islamic law, freedom of worship was most often the underlying theme.

On this subject, the exchange was revealing. Elaborating on comments made by his Christian co-panelists, David Aikman of the Ethics and Public Policy Center asked his Muslim counterparts to "speak out forcefully and resolutely for the whole principle of living with freedom of conscience -- not just here in the United States where it already obtains, but in the Muslim world itself." He went on to say, "Let us see this principle of separation of state power from religious practice experienced in all of the Muslim world," adding that if such a thing came to pass, "the great conflicts between civilizations would evaporate almost overnight."

Sounds pretty good, right? But not necessarily to these Muslim leaders. While acknowledging the religious liberty they enjoy in this country -- "we have much more freedom in the United States than in 95 percent of the Muslim world," said Ghannouchi -- they appeared to regard the introduction of such liberty into the Muslim world as an imposition of the West. "No authority on earth should interfere with the choice of the individual to follow their faith," began Imam Abazaakouk, wending his way to a thought-twisting "but" that went like this: "Neither you nor I have the right to tell any Muslim community, if they want to apply Islamic law on themselves, to say, 'No,'" he said.

"Because Islam is a way of life. And when it is a way of life, if we believe in democracy ... (and) if the majority decides to have the sharia ... that is their right. Not our right to tell them, 'No.' It is as if somebody from the outside world telling us we have no right to apply the Constitution here."

Is it? There's a novel thought: that the abolition of our liberty-protecting Constitution would equate with the abolition of Islam's liberty-repressing sharia. New questions arise: Does the freedom of the Western world, expansive as it is, also include the freedom to be oppressed? Conversely, is there a place for liberty under Islamic law? It may be that what we face is less a clash of civilizations than a fundamental disconnection.

JWR contributor Diana West is a columnist and editorial writer for the Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.


01/23/02: Anti-Indiscrimination
01/18/02: How much is enough?
01/15/02: Oh brothers, where art thou?
01/10/02: Air on the side of caution
01/04/02: Blacks seeing red at Harvard
01/02/02: Clinton's campaign continues
12/26/01: A tale of two exhibitions
12/24/01: Taliban Idyll
12/19/01: Right is right
12/17/01: Hillary strikes out
12/13/01: Lost files, lost presidency
12/10/01: Revolutionaries never grow up
12/05/01: Immigration reform talk is not just for 'haters' anymore
12/03/01: A new symbol of justice
11/30/01: Beyond morality
11/26/01: Can't keep a good man down
11/20/01: Tough talk at the United Nations
11/19/01: Hollywood's other battle
11/14/01: What's the matter with Sara Jane?
11/09/01: A beef with bin Laden's Beef Noodles
11/07/01: Facing up to the FBI's past mistakes
11/02/01: A school that teaches patriots to shutup
10/30/01: The gap between Islam and peace
10/26/01: The ties that bind (and gag)
10/24/01: This war is more than Afghanistan
10/22/01: The fatuous fatwa
10/19/01: Left out
10/16/01: Whose definition of terrorism?
10/11/01: Post-stress disorder
10/08/01: How the West has won
10/01/01: Good, bad or ... diplomacy
09/28/01: Drawing a line in stone
09/21/01: Prejudice or prudence?
09/14/01: When our dead will finally rest in hallowed ground
09/07/01: We want our #$%^&*() audience back!
08/24/01: The transformation from Green Mountain State to Green Activist State is all but complete
08/17/01: Enlightenment at Yale
08/10/01: From oppressors to victims, a metamorphosis
08/03/01: Opening the dormitory door: College romance in the New Century
08/01/01: How-To Hackdom: The dubious art of writing books about writing books
07/20/01: Hemming about Hemmings
07/13/01: Justice has not been served in the Loiuma police brutality case
06/22/01: When PC parades are too 'mainstream'
06/22/01: When "viewpoint discrimination" in our schools was not nearly so gnarly a notion
06/15/01: Lieberman flaunts mantle of perpetual aggrievement
06/07/01: Is graciousness the culprit?
06/01/01: The bright side of the Jeffords defection
05/29/01: Campus liberals should be more careful
05/18/01: 'Honest Bill' Clinton and other Ratheresian Logic
05/11/01: Dodging balls, Bugs, and 'brilliance'
05/04/01: Foot in mouth disease and little lost Tories
04/20/01:The last classic Clinton cover-up
04/20/01: D-Day, Schmee-Day
04/06/01: For heaven's sake, a little decency!
03/30/01: The sweet sound of slamming doors and clucking feminists
03/23/01: America's magazines and the 'ick-factor'
03/09/01: Felony neglect
03/02/01: Who's sorry now?
02/23/01: 'Ecumenical niceness' and other latter-day American gifts to the world
02/16/01: Elton and Eminem: Royal dirge-icist meets violent fantasist
02/12/01: If only ...

© 2001, Diana West