Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber

Ray HarrisRay Harris is a frequent contributor to this website. He has written articles on 9/11, boomeritis, the Iraq war and Third Way politics. Since 2007 he took to writing his novels Navaratri, Wild Child and Eden. See for more information his website Harris lives in Melbourne, Australia and can be contacted at: [email protected].



Ray Harris

A frieze of Mohammed in the US Supreme Court in Washington
We are seeing a return of the tyranny of religion. We must complete the task of the Enlightenment for once and all.

A superficial integral analysis of the current crisis over cartoons of Mohammed would perhaps rely on Spiral Dynamics and talk about the clash of Red, Blue and Green vMemes. That's easy to do. But a deeper integral analysis has to juggle an accurate and truthful analysis of multiple perspectives. Yes, Wilber's quadrant system helps us to understand that there are objective, subjective, exterior and interior perspectives. Wilber has even gone further to talk about eight perspectives and first, second and third, etc. person perspectives, and so on.

All of this is well and good but it is actually meaningless unless we are both truthful and accurate about each of those perspectives. Wilber has been criticized for misrepresenting the views of others and he has certainly been strident in saying that others have misrepresented his views.

And this is, in essence, the problem with the cartoons – misunderstanding. So part of the solution to this problem is greater understanding. My previous article 'The Myth of Islam as a Religion of Peace' was designed to impart information in order to begin to gain some sort of understanding of Islam.

A map of the conflict

I see an ecology of ideas. I have a map in my head that connects time lines of ideas to other time lines. It's a shifting map of course – I'm always adjusting it as I learn new things. It's a really a map of relationships and meta-relationships. There are no definite territories, after all, the concept of territory is itself an idea – as is Wilber's AQAL map. Can I suggest that reality is less like a neat box with four quadrants and more like an ecosystem that is complex and constantly shifting? This current conflict is a micro environmental disruption within a slightly larger micro environment within a larger micro environment (but then, this ecological metaphor has its limits, we could use the metaphor of multi-dimensional mathematics and topology, but ecology will do.)

So, one of the time lines begins with Taqi al-Din Ibn Taymiyya (1263-1328), an Islamic jurist of the Hanbali school. I will return to him later. Let's jump forward in time to the present and a series of rather banal cartoons published in September 2005 in a Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten. The motivation for the publication of the cartoons was a response to another controversy. A publisher of a children's book on the life of Mohammed could not find an illustrator because many illustrators were fearful of reprisals from Muslims for breaking a taboo against representations of their Prophet, especially after the murder of the film maker Theo van Gogh. Jyllands-Posten decided to make this an issue of freedom of speech and invited cartoonists to draw cartoons of Mohammed to see how many, if any, would respond. Jyllands-Posten did not say the cartoons should be critical, that was left up to the cartoonists. Many cartoonists did not respond, but twelve did. Of the twelve cartoons two were actually critical of Jyllands-Posten for being provocative but there was one that was rather stereotypical, this is the one of a bomb in Mohammed's turban.

The publication of the cartoons created a small controversy and a fairly civil debate about the issues surrounding their publication. The Danish Muslim comedian, Omar Mazouk, did not find the cartoons offensive, instead he found them rather banal and unfunny. Mazouk is noted for his routines mocking religion. The noted Islamic scholar, Dr Tariq Ramadan was also in Denmark at the time and he was similarly unmoved by the cartoons. Some of the cartoons were then reprinted in October, during Ramadan, in a small Egyptian weekly, al Fagr – to thunderous silence.

So why the reaction and why now? It turns out that a group of radical imams connected to the Muslim Brotherhood decided to politicise the issue in the Middle East. A fatwa was issued by sheik Yussuf al-Qaradawi, who has a segment on al-Jazeera. Not to be outdone a rival Islamist group, Hizb al-Tahrir al-Islami (Islamic Liberation Party) and Ghuraba (Movement of Exiles) joined the fray. But the cartoons themselves were not enough. These radical Islamists also included three other illustrations, one of the Prophet being screwed by a dog, one of him with a sign accusing him of being a paedophile and a badly reproduced photo of a man dressed as a pig, who they claimed was meant to be the Prophet (this was actually a photo of Jacques Barrot, a French farmer who entered the local town's pig squealing contest[1] ). These Islamists also incorrectly stated that the Danes were burning copies of the Koran and this is has now become part of the folk lore of the controversy. Then the Ba'athist party of Syria decided to use the protests to their advantage, especially in Lebanon, where a Maronite church was attacked. Iran also joined in, using the cartoons as an excuse to whip up anti Israeli and anti US sentiment.

Okay, so that's one of the time lines. Another important time line is actually a collection of related lines that cross and find focus at various points in European history. One of those focus points is Voltaire who articulated the importance of freedom of expression and reason. But this actually goes even further back to the time when the Judeo-Christian tradition over powered the Greco-Roman tradition and plunged Europe into the Dark Ages. As Europe rediscovered the riches of the Greco-Roman world it underwent a struggle to free itself from the restrictions of the church - the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. The Greco-Roman tradition includes the concepts of satire and parody. Greek theatre often poked fun at the gods and at Greek society. In fact the word satire is related to the Greek word satyr and the plays were called satyr plays. This tradition of parody and satire became a powerful weapon against the absurdities of the church and European culture has a long tradition of satirical cartooning. And so too, does the Middle East. The Sheik Nasruddin stories also poke fun at religious pomposities, but this line returns us to Taymiyya, who we will return to.

The fact is that most Muslims were not offended by the cartoons. The more erudite Muslims will know that the prohibition against images of the Prophet is disputed and has been ignored at various times. There is a tradition of images of the Prophet, some of which were commissioned by Muslim rulers and some of which are on display in museums in Muslim countries.[2]

The ruling against images of the Prophet is not based on the Koran. It appears around one hundred and fifty years after his death in a disputed Hadith and it arises as part of a debate about all images. This debate also came to the conclusion that all representational art was indicative of human arrogance, an attempt by mere mortals to represent the magnificence of Allah's Creation. Thus even paintings of nature were considered sinful by the orthodox. Nonetheless Islamic culture did have a tradition of representational art – sculpture, painting and in traditional craftwork - usually commissioned by the wealthy elites.

This was also an argument about man's relation to Allah and His Creation. Orthodox Muslims hold that the purpose of man is to honour Allah. Islam means submission. They believe that it is arrogant and blasphemous for man to exalt himself in any way. The Western ideal of humanism is abhorrent to orthodox Muslims. It is a prime example of man arrogating himself to the status of Allah. There are a range of time lines that stem from this central argument, including the rejection of democracy and human rights.

Ibn Taymiyya and the Salafi

Taymiyya is part of a reactionary trend in Islam. As Islam conquered non-Arab lands it encountered non-Arab ideas. Mohammed actually said that Muslims should pursue knowledge as far as China – and they did so with some skill. They absorbed knowledge from the Zoroastrian Sasanian empire and they also absorbed a good part of the Greco-Roman tradition of the Byzantine empire. Many of the great Islamic philosophers, like their Christian counterparts, were inspired by the Greeks, particularly Plato and Aristotle – Ibn Arabi, Ibn Rushd, Ibn Sina, Al Ghazali. Islamic civilization effectively carried the torch of high Greco-Roman culture until it was handed to the Italians during the Renaissance. Islamic culture also made discoveries and improvements in a range of disciplines – but these were primarily developments of Greco-Roman discoveries, traditional Arab culture has actually contributed very little to the mix.

Somewhere around the tenth century the political climate in Islam changed. As all empires discover, expansion brings with it a host of almost insoluble problems. This is a key to understanding the current crisis. Expansion necessarily involves encountering other cultures and these cultures can bring ideas and values that are in conflict with the primary culture. The Roman empire struggled with this, especially in its encounter with the Jews. Overall the Roman empire was tolerant. It allowed many ideas and religions to have some space within the empire. Exceptions arose when various religions started to challenge either the republican religion or imperial power. Recent historical research has shown that Christianity, one of the most famous challengers, was not as persecuted as the Christian narrative suggests and further, that Christians had a cult of martyrdom much like modern Muslims – they provoked the Romans in order to be martyred like Jesus, it was an end in itself.

There is considerable evidence to suggest that empires collapse when they cease to be open and flexible. The Roman empire collapsed after it became Christianized. Whilst the reasons for the collapse are complex a major factor was the suicidal rejection of diversity under the direction of fanatical priests intent on ridding the known world of heresy.

A similar mood began to infiltrate Islamic society and Taymiyya gave expression to the growing xenophobia. He argued that Islam should reject all infidel ideas and all innovation not based on the sunnah.

“The religion of Islam turns on these two principles: worshipping God alone and worshipping Him by what He prescribed. He is not served by innovation…”

These ideas were further developed by Sheikh Mohammed Abd al-Wahhab (1703-92), the founder of Wahhabism - or as they refer to themselves, the Salafi (pious). Here we may note an interesting counter point – Voltaire (1694-1778) was a contemporary of al-Wahhab. One thinker represents the ideals of open intellectual inquiry based on reason and the other represents a closing of inquiry based on a narrow interpretation of faith.

The modern Islamists, the people behind the protests, are the inheritors of the Salafi tradition. Their campaign against the cartoons are just one small skirmish in a much larger project – to protect Islam from the corruption of all infidel ideas and to expand the reach of Islam. The danger for all infidels (not just Europeans) is that they are prepared to kill and die for the cause – they are zealots. They are also prepared to lie. Islam has a contradictory attitude to the truth. One the one hand Mohammed praises honesty, but he also makes exceptions. It is permitted to lie in times of war and to achieve a greater good. The principle of al-takeyya permits a Muslim to lie to a non-Muslim to protect the faith. Of course, much hinges on the definition of 'defending the faith', to a zealot it is permissible to tell the most extraordinary lies if the intention is to defeat the enemies of Islam. Furthermore, this principle allows a Muslim to deny their faith to an infidel just as long as he still holds to the faith in his heart. It is permissible for a Muslim to place his hand on the Koran in an infidel court of law and promise to tell the truth – then lie. It's a version of crossing your fingers behind your back. No doubt the radical Islamists lying about the burning of the Koran and misrepresenting the pictures of the Prophet consider themselves protected because they see themselves engaged in jihad and such propaganda is a legitimate tactic of war.

The schizophrenic Islam

So, essentially you have two Islams - an Islam than emphasizes the earlier Mohammed and an Islam that emphasizes the latter.

There is a tradition is some Hadith that say that on his death bed Mohammed told Umar that only one religion should exist in Arabia. Umar then used this as an excuse to expel all non-Muslims from the land. Saudi Arabia still uses this tradition to justify banning the public worship of any religion other than Islam. It is also used to justify banning all non-Muslims from the cities of Mecca and Medina (with rare exceptions).

Islam is a religion of contradictions. One of the most dramatic contradictions is the difference between the early Mohammed of the Meccan period and the latter Mohammed of the Medina period. The Meccan Mohammed speaks of peace and tolerance. When he is ridiculed by the Meccans for being a false prophet he urges his followers not to react.

“and when the unbelievers shout at them, they reply: Peace”

The former mufti of Marseilles, Soheib Bencheikh, has argued that Muslims should not protest at the publications of the cartoons because the Prophet urged his followers to ignore ridicule.

However, the tolerant Mohammed of Mecca is somewhat different to the more belligerent Mohammed of the Medina period. After being rejected by the Jewish tribes of Medina Mohammed devised the concept of jihad, or Just war. After years of violence he finally defeated the tribes of Mecca. And then what does he do? He sets about systematically wiping out all traces of the traditional religions of the region. According to some Hadith the Mohammed of this period is no longer tolerant or peaceful. Many non-Muslims seem to gloss over this period in his life. They also ignore the example set by the Companions, the men who knew Mohammed personally and who became the first four caliphs. These men continued a violent process of converting all the tribes to Islam, expelling non-Muslims and then invading other lands. The vicious anti-Semitism of the radical Islamists comes from this latter period where Jews are seen as inherently treacherous.

This contradiction within Islam has caused Muslims no end of internal conflict. How do you reconcile the earlier peaceful Mohammed with the jihadist of the latter period? Well, with great difficulty. The moderate Muslim tries to modify the latter Mohammed with the earlier Mohammed. They will always quote the earlier passages and try and construct a peaceful Prophet. The problem with this is that involves quite a bit of convoluted argumentation and it ignores the principle of abrogation, which says that the latter passages necessarily modify or 'abrogate' the earlier passages.

Thinkers such as Taymiyya and Wahhab emphasize the latter passages and I have to say that their argument is more logically consistent. This is why their view still attracts adherents – it actually makes more sense. That is, if you accept that Mohammed was a genuine prophet.

So, essentially you have two Islams – an Islam than emphasizes the earlier Mohammed and an Islam that emphasizes the latter. Now, here's the confusing part; the principle of al-takeyya permits a 'latterist' Muslim to argue that they are a moderate.

Confused? Not surprising. Many non-Muslims simply don't know who or what to believe. This situation is made worse by the fact that there is no central authority in Islam. You can cherry pick passages of the Koran and the Hadith, and select from a wide range of legal opinion to make Islam say whatever you want it to say – much like the situation with Christianity. There are many Christs and there are many Mohammeds.

The Western response

It's been interesting to see many in the West seek to place the blame for this fiasco at the feet of the newspapers who published the cartoons. There has been much comment about freedom of speech also carrying with it the responsibility to exercise judgment and to not seek to deliberately offend. I agree. Freedom of speech is not absolute. But this unfortunately gloriously and dramatically misses the point.

The problem was never that the cartoons were published. The problem is that we, the West, exist. The radical Islamist knows the solution to this problem. To them it is as clear as bright sunlight. We must convert to Islam. We must disappear.

Sometimes the radical Islamists are disarmingly candid about this. An Australian Muslim, Wassim Doureihi, spokesman for Hizbt ut-Tahrir, said recently:

There is no possibility of harmonious co-existence between Islam and the West because there is a fundamental conflict. Ultimately, one has to prevail.

In the face of such a brutal demand many in the West are at a loss to know how to respond. The West tries to enter into dialogue and it tries to appease, but most of all it tries to apologize and seeks to find the fault within Western society. It must be something we are doing to them that is making them angry. Yes, what makes the Islamists angry is that we reject Islam. It's all so devastatingly obvious – convert or face their wrath.

Post-colonialist guilt

If the 20th century is about European influence in the Middle East then the early 19th century is about Europe finally throwing off the shackles of Muslim imperialism.

A basic misunderstanding of post-colonial studies has left a lot of progressive Westerners with a rather large guilt complex about the injustices done to indigenous cultures as a result of European colonialism. The Americans are perhaps less affected by this because they are still very much a imperialist power, but it still affects 'liberal' politics in that country.

There are two broad problems with post-colonialist guilt:

  1. It focuses on the sins of European colonialism and ignores the fact that colonialism is a function of all imperialist powers, including Islamic imperialism.
  2. It ignores the fact that the colonialist stage is part of a developmental spectrum from tribal societies to early state societies to imperialist power to post-imperialist power.

If the 20th century is about European influence in the Middle East then the early 19th century is about Europe finally throwing off the shackles of Muslim imperialism. The second Serbian uprising of 1817 finally succeeded in defeating the Ottoman Muslims. In 1827 the Greeks finally won their independence after a bitter war that lasted six years. Not many people seem to understand that for centuries Islam tried to conquer Europe. The Ottoman Muslims tried to conquer Vienna twice, once in 1529 and again in 1683. Moroccan Muslims had conquered Spain and Sicily and attempted raids into Italy, Germany and France. During this long period around a million Europeans were forced into slavery. Might there be a good reason why Europeans have a cultural mistrust of Islam?

Where are the post-colonialist critiques of Islamic imperialism? The crisis in North Africa and in Darfur stem directly from Islamic imperialism. The Janjaweed that are now persecuting Black Africans in Darfur are the descendents of Arab slavers. They are continuing a centuries old practice of harassment.

Some of the problems of India and SE Asia also stem from a period of Islamic colonialism. Now that the European colonial powers have gone from the region the tensions caused by Islamic imperialism are surfacing. Hindu nationalists always believed they had to remove two imperialist powers, the British and the Muslims (around 80% of Hindus never converted). The conflicts in Indonesia, in East Timor and now in West Papua, are examples of Javanese Muslim imperialist ambitions in the region. West Papua's only link to Indonesia is that it was a former Dutch colony. The Papuans are ethnically distinct from Indonesians. The tensions in Thailand stem from Muslim incursion into Buddhist lands.

But somehow progressive Westerners have concluded that Islam is a victim of western colonialism. This is based on a selective view of history that seems to magically begin after the end of WW1 and the collapse of the Ottoman empire. It's a view that forgets that the winning side takes the spoils and it especially forgets that the Islamic world lives by exactly the same principle. The rules of jihad enshrined in sharia allow Muslims to essentially loot and enslave a defeated people. What the European powers did was create new countries and try and establish stable governments. Here is not the place to go into the complex internal politics of the region, suffice to say the one of the aims of many radical Islamists is to reconvert the Middle East to something like the way it was supposed to be – a pan-Arabic Islamist state. This would see the disestablishment of several countries, including Israel and Palestine.

The sleight of hand where the West is blamed has been accomplished because Islam has always had a narrative of victimhood. First Mohammed was persecuted by the polytheists of Mecca and forced into exile, then he was persecuted by the Jews of Medina. After he conquered Mecca and established a Muslim state, Islam was persecuted by internal enemies. Then after it conquered Christian lands, including the city of Jerusalem, they were persecuted by the Crusaders who tried to take it back. Today Islamists still use the term Crusader to refer to both Europeans and Christians as persecutors. This narrative of persecution feeds rather neatly into some European's post-colonialist guilt narrative. Of course, they are right! We have persecuted them! Except that history actually tells a quite different story – of an aggressive, expansionist and persecutory Islam.

And what of the poverty in the Middle East? Again, perhaps too complex to go into in depth here but we can say briefly is that the Middle East's economy was based primarily on trade and slavery. When the Europeans took over Muslim controlled trade routes (as the Muslims had previously taken over Byzantine and Persian trade routes) and pressured Islamic countries to end slavery the economy effectively collapsed. The Ottoman empire had the means to engage the European industrial revolution but internal concerns about infidel technology and ideas prevented them from doing so. On top of this is the simple fact that much of the Middle East is arid and resource poor. If it were not for oil many Muslim countries would be in dire circumstances and the simple fact is that the Muslim oil industry could not exist without Western technology. If it were not for Western investment the Middle East would be in a worse position.

Which now gets us to the fact that the imperialist stage is developmentally inevitable. At various times in history societies have developed enough surplus to undertake a massive expansionary phase. The island of Bali is Hindu because of the expansion of Hindu empires out of the bounds of India. The cultures of Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Korea and Japan were molded by the influence of China, Japan borrowed heavily from Chinese culture. In South America the Aztecs grew to absorb many tribal cultures.

Jared Diamond has argued that the natural advantages of Europe, including geography, meant that it was inevitable that it succeed where others had failed. Does this excuse the excesses of Western colonialism? No – but it says that Europeans were no better and no worse than other imperialist powers. By way of contrast one can examine how Ottoman imperialism worked in the Balkans, this included the enslavement of boys to form the corps of the janissaries and girls were sent to be domestic servants or concubines in the harems of the wealthy.

The world is now heading toward the post-imperialist stage. At some point the natural expansionist impulse crashes up against the fact of a limited globe. European expansion was global and led to the exposure of all cultures to its influence. There are very few cultures that have not been substantially affected. All of this was inevitable.

What those who suffer from post-colonial guilt syndrome need to explain is how this process could have been prevented. Here in Australia the debate around the treatment of the indigenous population gets stuck on notions of guilt and blame but no Aboriginal would actually want to live the way his or her ancestors did. The indigenous inhabitants of Sydney lived a precarious life. The first settlers reported starvation amongst the aborigines as fish stocks declined in winter. As the first settlers themselves found out Sydney Cove was not rich in food sources and could only sustain an indigenous population of a few thousand, and even then mortality rates were high. The truth is that those groups that have been affected by colonialism would not want to turn the clock back. European expansion has brought clear advantages and progress. The real problem is continuing patterns of prejudice and adaptability. The cartoon conflict is a symptom of an inability for some Muslims to adapt to the post-colonial reality. It is a futile attempt to wind the clock back to a romanticized past.

The betrayal of progressive Muslims

Democracy can only succeed when a set of civic virtues have been established. Free speech happens to be one of those civic virtues.

The spectrum of development, including the spectrum of socio-political and economic development, tells us that much of the Islamic world has not yet entered the modernist stage. The ideal form of Islamic governance is the Caliphate. It is a religio-political authoritarian regime that closely resembles divine monarchies. It is a model found in the imperial system of China, the Rajas and Sultans of India and the Monarchies of Europe.

It is difficult to impose democracy onto such a system. Democracy actually arises out of the natural development of a complex set of ideas and values. Democracy can only succeed when a set of civic virtues have been established. Free speech happens to be one of those civic virtues. We can also list pluralist tolerance, open inquiry, civil restraint, civic participation, goodwill and so forth. Democracy also needs the support of other principles and institutions – the separation of religion from the state, a state based on secular principles (a government that favours no religion protects all religions), the separation of the state and the legal system, a system of civic institutions ranging from public libraries, museums and galleries to sporting and special interest clubs to a free and independent press – in short, the creation of a civil society.

I'm not sure how many Westerners understand just how monolithic religion is in Islamic societies, just how much it controls the public space and curtails the creation of a civil society. There is a belief in Islam that man has been created to worship and obey Allah and that any human based activity is somehow arrogant and blasphemous. There is not a strong tradition of literature or the liberal arts in Islam. The idea of the humanities is itself considered a blasphemy.

Yet there are many Muslim progressives; novelists, musicians, playwrights, artists and intellectuals, who are attempting to reform Muslim society. At the moment Islamist forces in Indonesia have been agitating for the introduction of draconian censorship laws which will severely curtail freedom of expression for the creative class.

It is my view that many Westerners who regard themselves as progressive have betrayed progressive Muslims. How did this occur? It has happened through a simple Pre/Trans fallacy. Conservative Islam has become adept at using progressive sounding rhetoric to frame their political ambitions. They expertly play on post-colonial guilt by claiming they are the victim of Western imperialist aggression; they use the human rights argument to seek the inclusion of Islamic religious law as a basic right (Canada entertained the idea of introducing sharia courts as a parallel system to the civilian system); and they use multiculturalist arguments to defend their exclusionary religious and cultural practices.

The problem is however, that their objective is entirely different to that of Western progressivism. These leftists have fallen for the old Arab principle of 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend'. To wit - because conservative Muslims are opposed to the US, naive leftists embrace conservative Islam. However, Islamists are actually not against cultural and political imperialism – they are just against Western imperialism. They are quite happy to have an Islamic imperialism.

One of the most appalling examples of this betrayal is the support for the Iraqi insurgency amongst sections of the European left, particularly the socialist left. It is falsely assumed that the insurgents are freedom fighters resisting the US occupation. The reality is that the insurgency is an attempt by Sunnis to reassert their traditional authority by violence and intimidation. Much of the violence has been directed at the Shia majority as an act of political pressure to secure a greater say in the government than their numbers permit. This political violence has cost the government a lot of money that might have gone to rebuilding Iraq.

Progressive Muslims are trying to build a civil culture in which freedom of expression is permitted. It is worth noting that television talent shows are enormously popular throughout the Middle East, yet conservative Islam continues to seek to ban such shows. But Reality TV is only the tip of the cultural iceberg. It extends into serious literature and press freedom.

Yet I consistently hear progressive Westerners lend support to conservative Muslim voices, whether it is over the issue of the wearing of the hijab (progressive women do not wear the hijab) or sympathy for supposed offences against Islam out of a misguided cultural sensitivity.

The betrayal of the Age of Reason

We seem to be in a new Age of Unreason. A misguided and ignorant cultural relativism has embraced an equally erroneous epistemological relativism. There have been a number of assaults on reason and these assaults have led to the bizarre situation where bad and destructive ideas are accorded the same respect as good and constructive ideas.

Religious tyranny is a really bad idea. I would have thought that many in Europe would have understood this from their own history. The Age of Reason arose as a reaction to centuries of religious tyranny. The dominance of the Christian church plunged Europe into the Dark Ages. In the fury to eliminate heresy the Church also destroyed a considerable body of scientific and engineering knowledge. It took centuries, in some cases over a millennia, for this knowledge to be recovered. The Greeks had theorized that the earth was a sphere and had accurately estimated its circumference. Christian doctrine declared the earth to be flat. What many may not know is that Salafi clerics in Saudi Arabia were teaching that the earth was flat up until the early 1990's.

The Greeks also theorized that humans were descended from animals. In this new Age of Unreason. Christian fundamentalists in the US have increased in influence. The latest outrage is the interference in NASA. A young Bush appointee to NASA's PR department was caught telling senior scientists what to say. He had urged them to refer to the Big Bang as a theory because of pressure from the Intelligent design lobby and he had tried to censure findings on climate control.

Islamic fundamentalists exert the same sort of pressure on their scientists.

It is essential from a developmental perspective that reason be secured against unreason.

Progressive Muslim voices on the cartoon controversy

One of the confusing elements of this problem is that progressive Muslims have been called reactionary. This is because they are forced to challenge some of the cherished assumptions of progressive Westerners. They paint a picture of Islam that adamantly dismisses the idea that Islam is any kind of victim. Instead they point to countless examples of Islam as an aggressive and regressive religious force that is a perpetrator, not a victim.

In one of the strange twists in this sorry story some of these progressive Muslims find themselves embraced by conservative Westerners. Muslims who argue for democracy, freedom of expression and secularism find themselves labeled as conservative. Again this a crude example of 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend'. They assume that because some conservative support them they must be conservative.

Ibn Warraq is the pseudonym of an apostate Muslim born in India. The epigraph of Ibn Warraq has been used by Muslim dissidents throughout history. Ibn Warraq has written several books including 'The Search for the Historical Mohammed' and 'Leaving Islam: Apostates Speak Out'. He has been a serious critic of the Orientalist theory of Edward Said[3].

Of the current controversy he has said:

A democracy cannot survive long without freedom of expression, the freedom to argue, to dissent, even to insult and offend. It is a freedom sorely lacking in the Islamic world, and without it Islam will remain unassailed in its dogmatic, fanatical, medieval fortress: ossified, totalitarian and intolerant.

Are we in the West going to cave in to pressures from societies with a medieval mindset, or are we going to defend our most precious freedom – freedom of expression, a freedom for which thousands of people sacrificed their lives?

Unless we show some solidarity, unashamed, noisy, public solidarity with the Danish cartoonists, then the forces that are trying to impose on the free West a totalitarian ideology will have won; the Islamisation of Europe will have begun in earnest.

Another progressive voice is that of the Dutch MP, Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Hirsi Ali was born in Somalia where she became a devout Muslim and joined the Muslim Brotherhood. She understand their worldview intimately. She recalls hearing about the Salman Rushdie affair and thinking that he should be killed. Her parents emigrated to Holland to escape political persecution. Hirsi Ali has since renounced Islam and campaigns to protect Muslim women from oppression. She has been labeled a conservative because she has questioned some of the assumptions behind multiculturalism. She has argued that a pluralist society cannot absorb people who do not accept pluralism. She is also known as the writer of the film 'Submission'. It was the director of this film, Theo van Gogh, who was killed by a radical Islamist who had declared he had offended Islam. It was this murder that has led to a furious debate over intimidation that has as one of its consequences the publication of these cartoons.

She has said:

Once again, the West pursued the principle of turning first one cheek, then the other. In fact, it's already a tradition. In 1980, privately owned British broadcaster ITV aired a documentary about the stoning of a Saudi Arabian princess who had allegedly committed adultery. The government in Riyadh intervened and the British government issued an apology. We saw the same kowtowing response in 1987 when (Dutch comedian) Rudi Carrell derided (Iranian revolutionary leader) Ayatollah Khomeini in a comedy skit (that was aired on German television). In 2000, a play about the youngest wife of the Prophet Mohammed, titled "Aisha," was cancelled before it ever opened in Rotterdam. Then there was the van Gogh murder and now the cartoons. We are constantly apologizing, and we don't notice how much abuse we're taking. Meanwhile, the other side doesn't give an inch.

There should be solidarity. The cartoons should be displayed everywhere. After all, the Arabs can't boycott goods from every country. They're far too dependent on imports. And Scandinavian companies should be compensated for their losses. Freedom of speech should at least be worth that much to us.

Not a day passes, in Europe and elsewhere, when radical imams aren't preaching hatred in their mosques. They call Jews and Christians inferior, and we say they're just exercising their freedom of speech. When will the Europeans realize that the Islamists don't allow their critics the same right? After the West prostrates itself, they'll be more than happy to say that Allah has made the infidels spineless.

Irshad Manji is a Canadian Muslim and lesbian. She has written a book called 'The Trouble With Islam'. She also runs the website

Arab elites love such controversies, for they provide convenient opportunities to channel anger away from local injustices. No wonder President Emile Lahoud of Lebanon insisted that his country "cannot accept any insult to any religion". That's rich. Since the late 1970s, the Lebanese Government has licensed Hezbollah-run satellite television station al-Manar, among the most viciously anti-Semitic broadcasters on earth.
Similarly, the Justice Minister of the United Arab Emirates has said that the Danish cartoons represent "cultural terrorism, not freedom of expression". This from a country that promotes its capital as the "Las Vegas of the Gulf", yet blocks my website - - for being "inconsistent with the moral values" of the UAE. Presumably, my site should be an online casino.

The politics of intimidation

The sad fact is that the plea to not offend Islam has been used to suppress justified criticism of Islam for decades.

The sad fact is that the plea to not offend Islam has been used to suppress justified criticism of Islam for decades. This is not about a set of banal cartoons but a systematic suppression of opinion out of a seriously misplaced notion of cultural sensitivity.

This misplaced cultural sensitivity arises out of an equally misplaced post-colonial guilt syndrome that relies on false notions of cultural and epistemological relativism. Bad ideas ought to be ridiculed. Bad ideas ought to be challenged.

The twelve cartoonists are now in hiding and under police protection. This is bad enough but it is nothing compared to the sort of violence and intimidation faced by dissidents and progressive artists, writers and intellectuals within Islamic societies.

But what can we do about it? There are pragmatic considerations here, at least ten Muslims have died as police tried to restore order. The situation is extremely volatile and I do not blame people for trying to calm the situation. The problem we face is that the extremists are quite prepared to kill and die to defend their idea of Islam.

Is there an integral magic wand we can wave to miraculously solve the problem? Sadly, no. All integral theory does is allow us to understand that this is a complex issue. There are no easy answers and no monolithic solutions.

We can begin by clearly identifying and articulating the problem. I hope I have taken a small step toward that goal. There has been an air of denial amongst many Westerners. The guilt trip explanation is that this problem is due to things we have done and therefore that the solution must come from us. But this is not our fault and there is little we can do. This problem is largely an internal problem that lies deep within Islam. It is about an ideology that decided centuries ago to reject all foreign ideas and to hold a religious teaching to be the only possible truth.

Not all Muslims believe this. This is NOT about Islam versus the West. This is about a literalist ideology that cannot accept diversity and dissent versus diversity and dissent. The best we can do is support those Muslims and non-Muslims within Islam who dissent and who seek diversity. We can do this by reading all we can about Islam and making ourselves as well informed as possible. The defence against lies and disinformation is truth and facts.

I think the biggest error Westerners have made is to accept what they have been told by conservative Muslims. We need to ask who these spokespeople are and what school of thought they follow. We must be far more discerning and learn to read past the rhetoric. I have heard conservative Muslim women skilfully use feminist arguments in support of wearing conservative Islamic dress. We must become far more astute and challenge them directly. This is not about cultural sensitivity. This is about bad ideas and we must expose them as bad ideas.

We are seeing a return of the tyranny of religion. We must complete the task of the Enlightenment for once and all. Only when the Enlightenment is firmly established can we shift upward to a greater vision of humanity.


[1] Danish Imams Busted!, Neandernews.

[2] Mohammed Image Archive, Depictions of Mohammed Throughout History.

[3] Debunking Edward Said: Edward Said and the Saidists: or Third World Intellectual Terrorism by Ibn Warraq - you'll have to highlight with your cursor to read as the background color is dark.

Ray Harris, Feb, 2006

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