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Wednesday, December 04, 2002

Reformation or Enlightenment?-Tony Adragna points out this Tom Friedman piece on Hashem Aghajari, a Iranian reformer with a death sentance for bucking the mullahs.
This struggle in Iran is symbolized by one man, whose name you should know: Hashem Aghajari, a former Islamic revolutionary and now a college professor, who was arrested Nov. 6 and sentenced to death by the Iranian hard-liners — triggering a student uprising — after giving a speech on the need to rejuvenate Islam with an "Islamic Protestantism." Mr. Aghajari's speech was delivered on the 25th anniversary of the death of Ali Shariati, one of the Iranian revolution's most progressive thinkers. In the speech — translated by the invaluable MEMRI service — he often cited Mr. Shariati as his inspiration. He began by noting that just as "the Protestant movement wanted to rescue Christianity from the clergy and the church hierarchy," so Muslims must do something similar today. The Muslim clergymen who have come to dominate their faith, he said, were never meant to have a monopoly on religious thinking or be allowed to ban any new interpretations in light of modernity.
The problem with this hypothesis is that if the people could read the Koran for themselves, that they would make the right and progressive decisions. It ain't necessarily so. Iran is a example of Shia Islam, which has a hierarchical system. Breaking up the hierarchy might help, but that has already happened in the Sunni part of the world. There, the believer is left to interpret the Koran on his own. If the reader takes the militant verses and uses an hermeneutic that makes them just as militant today, you have modern Wahhabi Islam. Thus, getting the Islamic people to make up their own minds isn't enough, it's making up their minds in a small-l liberal direction that is the trick. If we can use the Reformation example, there was a lot of harshness in the early reformers. Calvin, Luther and Zwingli weren't exactly ACLU types. It was the Enlightenment that followed in Europe, where man and nature became the focus rather than the supernatural realm, which blended with the democratic concept of the priesthood of all believers of the Reformation to create the modern liberal democracy. The Islamic world needs a Locke or a Voltaire more than it needs a Luther if it is to coexist in peace with the west, for the Luther could turn into a bin Laden very quickly. [Update 11:40PM-Check out this David Warren essay on Islam noticed via David Frum's blog-he hits the same point at the end of a good piece
These are, still today, cultures of the "pre-Enlightenment"; people not incapable of sympathy, for their own, but not yet versed in the imaginative projection of that sympathy into people who are not their own. And at this level, it is not Islam, but the Enlightenment, that stands between East and West in these matters. For we have largely lost the category of an "infidel", and they still have it.
Go give the piece a read]

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