Nov 23rd 2016

Is Lt.-Gen. Flynn Right that Islam is not a Religion?

by Juan Cole

Juan Cole is the Richard P. Mitchell Professor of History and the director of the Center for South Asian Studies at the University of Michigan. His latest book, Engaging the Muslim World, is just out in a revised paperback edition from Palgrave Macmillan. He runs the Informed Commentwebsite.

The new National Security Adviser to incoming President Donald J. Trump, Lt.-Gen. Michael Flynn, has called Islam a “cancer” and maintained that it is a “political ideology” masquerading as a religion. He made this generalization about the religion of 1.6 billion people out of the 7.4 billion humans on the planet, i.e. 21.6% of everyone alive. Moreover, because of high birth rates in Africa, South Asia and Southeast Asia, the proportion of the world that is Muslim will increase dramatically through the 21st century, so likely they will be a third of humankind.

One of Flynn’s arguments is that Christians don’t kill people in the name of Christ. But of course they do. Christian president George W. Bush said God had made him president, and Bush told French president Jacques Chirac that he went to war in Iraq because Iraqis are the Gog and Magog of the Bible, barbarian hordes menacing Christendom. I wrote at the time of this revelation,

“a bewildered French President Jacques Chirac told a journalist in a book published this spring that Bush had tried to enlist him in the Iraq invasion one last time in February, 2003, by emphasizing that the threat of Gog and Magog had gathered in the Middle East against the West and only overthrowing Saddam would forestall a catastrophe of biblical proportions . . .

“Chirac called a Swiss theologian to have him explain what this Gog and Magog was whereof Bush spoke. Chirac complained that the problem with people in the Bush administration was that none of them knew anything about the really existing Arabs. Chirac reads Arabic, and he used to ask the Bush people he dealt with to name one Arab poet. None could. France has been directly involved in the Arab world since Bonaparte invaded Egypt in 1798, so French political leaders could only lament the earnest evangelical nonsense spewed by crazies who had taken over Washington.”

A majority of US air force pilots who bombed the bejesus out of Iraq for 8 years thought of themselves as Christian warriors putting down a Muslim horde, just as Bush did. Indeed, American evangelical militarism is well-documented by social scientists.

I’m not sure why it is worse for American Christians to kill Iraqi families from the skies than for Muslim fanatics to wield less high tech weapons.

I have also pointed out that the Christian “Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda initiated hostilities that displaced two million people . . .”

As is common among these Washington gadflies with extreme views such as Flynn, he is not consistent. He seems to be in the back pocket of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan , a big supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood and of Hamas in Gaza, and leader of a country of 75 million . . . Muslims. (There is nothing wrong with all this, it is just weird that Flynn supports Erdogan and Turkey’s pro-Muslim Justice and Development Party or AKP, while demeaning all Muslims as a “cancer” and denying they belong to a religion).

So is Islam a religion? I guess it would depend on how you define a religion and who gets to do the defining. Anthropologist Clifford Geertz put it this way:

“A religion is a system of symbols which acts to establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods in men by formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and clothing those conceptions with such an aura of factuality that the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic.”

Islam would obviously fit this definition.

In American law and practice, it is the Internal Revenue Service that defines a group as a “church,” i.e. organized religion, because it has to determine whether groups are eligible for tax exemption. These are the criteria the IRS uses:

Distinct legal existence
Recognized creed and form of worship
Definite and distinct ecclesiastical government
Formal code of doctrine and discipline
Distinct religious history
Membership not associated with any other church or denomination
Organization of ordained ministers
Ordained ministers selected after completing prescribed courses of study
Literature of its own
Established places of worship
Regular congregations
Regular religious services
Sunday schools for the religious instruction of the young
Schools for the preparation of its members”

Again, Islam obviously meets these criteria, with a recognized creed (“there is no god but God and Muhammad is is prophet”), forms of worship (5 daily prayers, Friday communal prayers), forms of religious governance (mosque congregations), formal code of doctrine, distinct religious history (I have written a lot on this subject), clerical corps who undergo seminary training, literature of its own (Qur’an, hadith), mosques, regular religious services (communal prayers), and schooling for youngsters.

In fact I am not aware that the IRS ever had any question but what Islam is a religion (“church”) according to American law.

Not only is Islam a religion, but the US courts have even recognized Santeria as a religion, and overturned municipal statutes forbidding adherents from practicing animal sacrifice. Santeria is an assimilation of Yoruba religion to Roman Catholicism in the Caribbean, and if it is a religion in American law, then Islam certainly is.

Ironically, Flynn’s line on Muslims being a political movement rather than a religion is exactly the one the ayatollahs in Iran use to deny Baha’is their religious rights.

So everything Flynn said is false. Christians have made piles of bodies as high as mountains in committing violence against non-Christians, ever since they took over the Roman Empire. Islam is experienced as a moral and spiritual good by over a fifth of humankind, not as a cancer. Muslim radicals are a tiny fringe and not representative of the religion as a whole. And the religion is really a religion by any definition you would want to pick, not a political grouping.

You only hope that all these crackpots Trump is elevating to the highest offices in the land have been shining us on all these years with their lunatic theories and that once in power they’ll start acting like responsible adults.



For Juan Cole's web site, please click here.

TO FOLLOW WHAT'S NEW ON FACTS & ARTS, PLEASE CLICK HERE!


  

Browse articles by author

More Essays

Jan 18th 2023
EXTRACT: "In 2018, former US president Bill Clinton coauthored a novel with James Patterson, the world’s bestselling author. The President is Missing is a typical “Patterson”: a page-turner of a thriller, easy to read, with short chapters and large font. Patterson is accustomed to collaborative writing ..... He is as much a producer as he is a writer, using a string of junior collaborators to run his factory of novels. Patterson outlines the plot, the coauthors write the story, Patterson offers feedback. While he doesn’t seem to do much writing himself, it is a system that has made Patterson a rich man."
Jan 14th 2023
EXTRACT: "With hindsight, 2022 will be seen as the year when artificial intelligence gained street credibility. The release of ChatGPT by the San Francisco-based research laboratory OpenAI garnered great attention and raised even greater questions.  In just its first week, ChatGPT attracted more than a million users and was used to write computer programs, compose music, play games, and take the bar exam. Students discovered that it could write serviceable essays worthy of a B grade – as did teachers, albeit more slowly and to their considerable dismay."
Jan 14th 2023
EXTRACT: "The thought of her, as always, gave me a jolt of hope, and a burst of energy. And a stab of sorrow."
Jan 14th 2023
EXTRACT: ".....if academic discourse and campus debate are shut down every time a person feels offended, how can universities possibly examine controversial topics? Without intellectual freedom – one of the great achievements of American civilization – they can’t."
Jan 5th 2023
EXTRACTS: "London's Tate Britain and Paris' Petit Palais have collaborated to produce a wonderful retrospective exhibition of the art of Walter Sickert (1860-1942).  The show is both beautiful and fascinating. ----- Virginia Woolf loved Sickert's art, and it is not difficult to see why, because his painting, like her writing, was always about intimate views of incidents, or casual portraits in which individual sitters momentarily revealed their personalities.  ------ Sickert's art never gained the status of that of Whistler or Degas, perhaps because it was too derivative of those masters.  But he was an important link between those great experimental painters and the art of Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, Frank Auerbach, ...."
Dec 5th 2022
EXTRACT: "One of the great paradoxes of human endeavour is why so much time and effort is spent on creating things and indulging in behaviour with no obvious survival value – behaviour otherwise known as art. Attempting to shed light on this issue is problematic because first we must define precisely what art is. We can start by looking at how art, or the arts, were practised by early humans during the Upper Palaeolithic period, 40,000 to 12,000 years ago, and immediately thereafter."
Dec 3rd 2022
EXTRACTS: "As a portrait artist, I am an amateur at this compared to the technology gurus and psychologists who study facial recognition seriously. Their aplications range from law enforcement to immigration control to ethnic groupings to the search through a crowd to find someone we know. ---- In my amateur artistic way, I prefer to count on intuition to find facial clues to a subject’s personality before sitting down at the drawing board. I never use the latest software to grapple with this dizzying variety.
Dec 1st 2022
EXTRACT: "In the exhibition catalog Lisane Basquiat writes: 'What is important for everyone to understand… is that he was a son, and a brother, and a grandson, and a nephew, and a cousin, and a friend. He was all of that in addition to being a groundbreaking artist.' "
Nov 24th 2022
"The art of kintsugi is inextricably linked to the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi: a worldview centred on the acceptance of transience, imperfection and the beauty found in simplicity.....nothing stays the same forever." --- "The philosophy of kintsugi, as an approach to life, can help encourage us when we face failure. We can try to pick up the pieces, and if we manage to do that we can put them back together. The result might not seem beautiful straight away but as wabi-sabi teaches, as time passes, we may be able to appreciate the beauty of those imperfections."
Oct 25th 2022
EXTRACT: "The prime minister of India, Narendra Modi, was quick to congratulate Sunak, referring to him as “the ‘living bridge’ of UK Indians”. In the difficult waters of British and indeed international politics, all eyes will be watching to see how well the bridge stands."
Oct 5th 2022
EXTRACTS: "In the Guardian, Peter Bradshaw eulogized Jean-Luc Godard as 'a genius who tore up the rule book without troubling to read it.' This is a fundamental misunderstanding." ----- " As had been true for Picasso - and Eliot, Joyce, Dylan, and Lennon - it was Godard's mastery of the rules of his discipline that made his violation of those rules so exciting to young artists, and his work so influential.  But perhaps these innovators' mastery of the rules can only be seen by those who themselves understand the rules."
Sep 29th 2022
EXTRACTS: "For many of us, some personality traits stay the same throughout our lives while others change only gradually. However, evidence shows that significant events in our personal lives which induce severe stress or trauma can be associated with more rapid changes in our personalities." ----- "Over time, our personalities usually change in a way that helps us adapt to ageing and cope more effectively with life events." ----- " ....participants in this study recorded changes in the opposite direction to the usual trajectory of personality change." --- "....you might like to take the time to reflect on your experiences over the past few years, and how these personality changes may have affected you."
Sep 21st 2022
EXTRACTS: "It might seem like an obscure footnote among the history-making events of 2022, but the year of Queen Elizabeth II’s death coincides with the 300th anniversary of Adam Smith’s birth." ----- "As a committed Stoic, Smith had little patience for greed. The whole point of Roman Stoic philosophy was to use personal moral discipline to support the rule of law and constitutions, and to make society a better place." ----- "When we read Smith, we are better served to think of the example of Elizabeth II than of those driven by personal greed. It might sound archaic, but, as Britons’ response to her death suggests, these values still appeal to a great many people today."
Sep 14th 2022
EXTRACT: "On the day of Queen Elizabeth II’s death, the former Prince of Wales was proclaimed King Charles III. Although it’s been known for decades that Charles would succeed his mother, there were rumours that he might, once king, choose the name George due to the contentious legacies of Kings Charles I and Charles II."
Aug 25th 2022
EXTRACT: "An over-emphasis on looking for the chemical equation of depression may have distracted us from its social causes and solutions. We suggest that looking for depression in the brain may be similar to opening up the back of our computer when a piece of software crashes: we are making a category error and mistaking problems of the mind for problems in the brain. It would be wise to observe caution with drugs whose effectiveness is not certain, whose mode of action is unknown, and which have many side-effects, especially for use in the long term."
Jul 29th 2022
EXTRACTS: "China uses incarcerated prisoners of conscience as an organ donor pool to provide compatible transplants for patients. These prisoners or “donors” are executed and their organs harvested against their will, and used in a prolific and profitable transplant industry."
Jul 29th 2022
EXTRACT: "In the first episode of season three of The Kominsky Method (2021), there is a funeral service for Michael Douglas’ character’s lifelong friend Norman Newlander (played by Alan Arkin). By far the most inconsolable mourner to give a eulogy is Newlander’s personal assistant of 22 years who, amid a hyperbolical outpouring of grief, literally cannot bring herself to let go of the casket. It is a humorous scene, to be sure, but there is something else going on here that is characteristic of employer-employee relations in this era of neoliberal capitalism. “Making him happy made me happy,” she exclaims, “his welfare was my first thought in the morning, and my last thought before I went to sleep.” That isn’t sweet – it is pathological. ----- Employee happiness is becoming increasingly conditional on, or even equated with, the boss’ happiness. As Frédéric Lordon observes in his book, Willing Slaves of Capital (2014), “employees used to surrender to the master desire with a heavy heart…they had other things on their minds…ideally the present-day enterprise wants subjects who strive of their own accord according to its norms.” In a word, the employee is increasingly expected to internalize and identify with the desire of the master."
Jul 20th 2022
EXTRACT: "For three decades, people have been deluged with information suggesting that depression is caused by a “chemical imbalance” in the brain – namely an imbalance of a brain chemical called serotonin. However, our latest research review shows that the evidence does not support it."
Jul 13th 2022
"But is he “deluded”? " ---- "....we sometimes end up with deluded leaders because we ourselves can be somewhat delusional when we vote." ---- "David Collinson, a professor of leadership and organization at Lancaster University, associates this predicament with excessive positive thinking, or what he calls “Prozac leadership,” in reference to the famous antidepressant that promises to cheer people up without actually fixing what is wrong in their lives. “ ---- "In politics, Prozac leaders come to power by selling the electorate on wildly overoptimistic views of the future. When the public buys into a Prozac leader’s narrative, it is they who are already verging on the delusional." ----- "Another potential example is Vladimir Putin, who has conjured a kind of nostalgic dream world for his followers and the wider Russian public."
Jun 25th 2022
EXTRACT: "Many veterans, refugees and other people who have experienced trauma and have mental health issues spend little time thinking about the future. Instead, they are narrowly focused on the negative past. However, people who have experienced trauma and developed a healthy future perspective report being better at coping with life, having fewer negative thoughts about the past, and getting better sleep compared with those who have a negative future perspective. So, instead of dwelling on the past, people who have suffered trauma should be encouraged to think about the future and set goals that help them develop hope for a good life."