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Politics, religion, and culture where East meets West

Posts Tagged ‘Ash’arism

An irony of Islamism

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So to follow up on this post, I read Robert R. Reilly’s Closing of the Muslim Mind in hopes of gaining a better understanding of what Reilly is all about. But before I start criticizing his understanding of Sunni Ash’arite occasionalism—something to be saved for later posts—I’ll say that he wrote a pretty good book. Not only is it an extremely accessible primer on Mu’tazilism and Ash’arism, but it also has an interesting take on modern Islamism as a totalitarian ideology. The only real problem is his thesis—that there is a causal link between Ash’arite ascendancy and modern Islamism.

But, ignoring that for a moment, here’s an interesting bit that relates to a recent post about Turks’ inability to break out of a Western framework, even when criticizing the West. Reilly seems to think that this inability plagues the entire Muslim world (p. 176):

As already stated, the Islamic world was jolted out of its several centuries of torpor only by intrusions from the West. By the early nineteenth century, the West had demonstrated such a decisive superiority over Islamic culture that Islam’s defensive attempts to recover from its influences have been indelibly marked by the very things against which Muslims were reacting. To resist the West, they became, in a way, Western. As Raphael Patai pointed out in The Arab Mind, the very standards by which Muslims measure their own progress are Western. This is amply evident in the UN Arab Human Development Reports, written by Arabs themselves. In a final irony, the most rabid ideological reactions against this state of affairs in the Muslim world are also infused with Western ideology. Islamists practice a perverse kind of homeopathy which uses the very disease from which they are suffering to combat it, but with dosages that are lethal.

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Written by M. James

June 1, 2012 at 11:19 am

A Response to Robert R. Reilly

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Robert R. Reilly (AFPC)

Robert R. Reilly pleads insanity on behalf of Sunni Islam.

When I read this post by Robert R. Reilly, author of The Closing of the Muslim Mind, I intended to respond to it, as it did not make sense based on what I had read of Sunni Ash’arite theology. But after my written request to post a response on The Catholic Thing was ignored, I convinced myself that it was simply not worth responding to.

Since then, I have been finding Reilly’s view—that today’s Islam is inherently unreasonable—more prevalent, and thereby more worthy of attention.

I would first like to emphasize, before addressing his argument, that my response is not a philosophical vindication of Sunni Ash’arite theology but a practical endeavor. The practical implications of the view that Sunni Islam is unreasonable is that the ideas and actions that result from it are incoherent—unexplainable. If we accept this, then there is no use in trying to explain or justify anything that the Muslim world does. Suddenly, all the things that we cannot understand are not even worth understanding. Suddenly, the proximate cause of everything (disagreeable) that happens in the Islamic world becomes misguided fundamentalism. Consciously or not, Reilly is justifying the ultra-expedient “talking to a wall” mentality that has pervaded Western foreign policy—and the violence that naturally comes with it. The additional fact that he “has taught at the National Defense University and served in the White House and the Office of the Secretary of Defense” is telling, and perhaps worrying.

For the sake of space, I will provide no synopsis of Reilly’s post, so before I continue, I encourage the reader to read his argument.

Abubakar Shekau of Boko Haram

In his post, Robert Reilly is seeking to explain the murderous practices of Boko Haram, an Islamist group in northern Nigeria. He does so by describing their practices as consistent with the theology of Sunni Islam—specifically the dominant Ash’arite school. The implication of this consistency is, significantly, that mainstream Islam is supportive of the terrorism of Boko Haram and organizations like it. But Reilly bases this supposed consistency on two troublesome premises: (1) an oversimplification of Ash’arite theology and (2) an unprecedented assumption.

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