I disagree. However, I like the fact that you invited discussion, lets see what I can do:
First, I recommend you read what the terms "Jihad" and "Fundamentalist" mean. What you implied them to be and what their actual definitions are don't match up.
Now, let me go to Islam's defense:
- "Islam is constantly touted as the religion of peace, and yet fundamentalist Islam is responsible for much of the mayhem inflicted on the world at the moment."
Well, actually South America has had the highest incidence of terrorism for a while now, followed by Western Europe. Rebels, drug cartels, and government corruption are causing all sorts of problems there, but I wouldn't blame Christianity (the dominant religion of the continent). Therefore the majority of terrorism is not related to the Middle East, Muslims, or Arabs.1 They're just in the media spotlight at the moment. Also, terrorism is on the decline, 2002 had 44% less deaths by terrorism(all types & groups) than 2001.
- "Historically, Islam has been in a nearly constant state of war with; the governments attempting to rule the societies in which it exists, with its neighboring states in those cases in which it has ruled via fundamentalist theocracies, and at war with itself in the form of bloody and enduring hatreds and brutal feuds between its numerous sects."
Historically, that's quite wrong. The Islam brought by Muhammad started its real growth in the 7th century, spreading from Saudi Arabia. For centuries an Islamic empire flourished in the Middle East, the peak of civilization at the time. They were at the forefront of science and medicine and mathematics.2 They permitted freedom of religion, gave money to the construction of churches and synagogues, and allowed equal treatment of muslims and non-Muslims under the law. Free public universities were opened, attended by non-Muslims as well as Muslims. The Moors controlled southern Spain for 700 years, and their Islamic state provided protection to Christians and Jews under the law. It is known today as the Golden Age of Judaism since they were treated better there than anywhere else in the world at the time.3 It ended when Ferdinand and Isabella reconquered the land and expelled and killed the Jews and Muslims there, it was the Spanish Inquisition.
For a really good example of how Islam has NOT spread by war, look at Indonesia. It is home to over 200 million Muslims; the largest Muslim population in the world, yet no Muslim armies ever set foot there. Islam spread there through both contact with traders and Islamic missionaries. Nobody believe there was coercion there. Look at India, they have had long periods in their history of rule under Muslims, but India is 85% Hindu today. It's a pretty unanimous consensus among the historians that there was never any forced mass conversion, for the most part of history they let the Hindus be.
Islam is 1400 years old. The violent fundamentalism you speak of is not even a century old. The reactionary Wahhabist movement, which plenty of people blame as the the real problem, only spread to Arabia in the early 1800's, and is tied into the dictatorship in control. Iran's theocracy is only recent; brought about in 1979 as a result of a popular revolution supported by the people. The terrorism we have been seeing lately is partially in response to the dictatorial governments in place in many of these countries today. Go read some of Osama Bin Laden's interviews before 2001, for years he complained about how the holy cities and his country is under "occupation." At the same time, there have been no "brutal feuds" among sects. Sunnis and Shias for the most part have been getting along quite peacefully.
- "Islam is touted as inclusive and tolerant, and yet every modern expression of the violent Islamic Jihad has specifically targeted Jews, Christians, or both, as ideal targets."
That's not true. First, Muslims are commanded to respect and tolerate "People of the Book" which means fellow monotheists like Christians and Jews. Not only is forced conversion absolutely forbidden4, but Muhammad is reported to have said "Whoever kills a Christian or Jew will not even smell the fragrance of Paradise."5 Failing that, let's look at the statements of terrorists. Osama Bin Laden wrote in his purported declaration of war to attack the US, not because they're Christian, but for political reasons involving Israel/Palestine and US military bases in Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Ayman al-Zawahiri's organization, al-Jihad al-Islami, had tried very hard to overthrow the Egyptian government and kept failing. Al-Zawahiri thought it was because of US backing for Egypt. They believed that the US' backing also allows Israel to be aggressive and dominant in the Middle east, and backs Saudi Arabia's royal family, both charges that hold true. Al-Qaeda was attempting to push the United States out of the Middle East so that Egypt, Jordan, Israel and Saudi Arabia would become more vulnerable to overthrow, without a superpower nation giving them support.
- "Islam claims to venerate women, and yet in the most fundamentalist Islamic societies, women aren't even allowed a rudimentary education. The daily lives of muslim women the world over are repressed and constrained beyond what any modern western society would tolerate."
Yes, there are some serious problems in certain countries involving the rights of women. You're probably making reference to the monarchy in Saudi Arabia, where women are forbidden from driving and discouraged from education. That is entirely un-Islamic and there are many many Muslims worldwide who criticize them for such strict rules which can't be justified by Islam. It's a cultural problem and religion can be the solution. Islam requires that women must be educated as well as men and that women are guaranteed natural rights as well as men. Women have rights as individuals, they can vote, own and run businesses, divorce their husband of their own free will, and get a share of inheritance. Reactionary governments such as Saudi Arabia follow more of Wahhabism than Islam, which is also what the Taliban mixed with Deobandism to justify repressing women. They're not following Islam correctly, and one of the reasons Osama Bin Laden hates the USA is because the US has backed the monarchy, whereas if there wasn't American military might keeping them in power, they would probably be overthrown. Other Muslim countries aren't like that; for example, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh is a woman. Women are supposed to be given honor and respect in Islam, and Islam's actual rules towards women do not contradict modern western society. If you don't believe me, it's a fact that twice as many women convert (revert) to Islam than men, especially in "Westernized" countries like the US and France.
"Islam is been claimed as a religion that encourages self-inquiry and yet it is one of the few faiths in the history of humankind that is commonly interpreted as allowing, and even encouraging, a true believer to commit suicide as a religious act of faith."
Islam does NOT allow that. The Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar University, considered by many to be the highest authority for Sunni Islam, condemned suicide bombings as a hellworthy sin.6 Islam considers anyone who kills an innocent person as killing the whole of humanity, according to the Quran. Other prominent scholars such as Hamza Yusuf have done the same7. Suicide is unanimously considered a hellworthy sin. Murdering innocent people is also a hellworthy sin. Two wrongs don't make a right. And as a Muslim, watching television and hearing how sucide bombing killed women and children really upsets me, its enough to make me cry.
- "Islam is proclaimed to be tolerant, but at least in its current evolution, it refuses to support any form of reconciliation between muslims and Israel short of the complete destruction of Israel and the Israeli people."
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a political struggle, with religious overtones. There are PLENTY of Muslim moderates out there, and it is ridiculous to say that the worldwide religion of Islam refuses peace. I should also point out that there are Palestinian supporters who aren't Muslim, including Christians and Jews (Jews for Palestine, Jews Against the Occupation, etc). The Palestinian Christians aren't very supportive of Israel either. Islam is an extremely diverse religion, and saying that the entire religion in general wants that is absurd. There are millions of Muslims living there, and it is plainly stupid to generalize and say that they are all right-wing and can't coexist with Israel. Both sides have left and right-wing advocates, and if you show me a Palestinian quote that says "get rid of all Israelis" I can also show you a quote from an Israeli government official that says "drive out the Arabs." Most of the millions of people on both sides, in both countries, are willing to coexist. Israel has a very large Arab minority, and I'm sure they don't want their homes destroyed. The two-state idea is popular among the majorities. Not only that, but the Qur'an says that if one side offers genuine peace, then they are commanded by God to stop fighting. Making the argument that Islam wants no peace aside from the destruction of Israel is like saying that Judaism wants no peace aside from the complete destruction of Palestine. Incorrect.
- "Islam supposedly embraces a quest for knowledge, and yet the Qur'an is the only book offered in the Islamic madrassas schools of Pakistan, Saudia Arabia, UAE, Syria, etc. The syllabus at these schools includes a strong focus on hatred of America and the Jews."
Factually incorrect. Islam is not only based on the Qur'an, but also on the Sunnah as well as their interpretations and the opinions of the various scholars who made the five schools of thought. Each of these iterms comprises several volumes. You're saying they only learn one book when in actuality there's a whole encyclopedia to teach. Even your own source refutes that idea, saying "The Koran AND the teachings of Muhammad(pbuh);" Definitely not one book. While Madrassas teach things in an Islamic context (it's just another Parochial school really), they do teach other things like literature and sciences. Not only that, but they teach Islamic history, and plenty of it. There's also a great deal of works by Islamic scholars to read. A person does not enroll in one of these schools for years just to learn one book, Islam encompasses all things. The Islamic schools, at least in the US and Indonesia (the ones I've heard from students about), give a well-rounded education, one student wrote "We have everything just like other public schools have - math, science, English, history. We may have other classes like Islamic studies and Arabic classes." Why don't you ask Yaqub0r, he goes to afternoon classes at a madrassa, just like a college. The one closest to me offers science, history, and math classes, its like a private high school and the state allows an equivalent diploma. I believe Pakistan and other countries also provide public education to complement the education given in a madrassa, assuming the school itself doesn't offer it. Islam DOES embrace a quest for knowledge, since wonders of nature and science and the universe all prove God's existance and help people prosper. Literacy is seen as a commandment. Some madrassas probably contain anti-American sentiment (for a number of actions such as the war on Iraq, the US' unconditional support of Israel, and US invasion of Afghanistan), but they're not out to teach hatred of Jews or Judaism. Their beef is with the Israeli government and its conflict with Palestinians. Anti-Americanism is not in the textbooks there, and not part of the curriculum. If you think about it, shouldn't people be condemning Jerry Falwell's Liberty University? Last I heard, they teach intolerance of Islam, homosexuals, Darwinism, etc. Why focus on the Muslims? I think its a subtle reason, because you and I know what Christians are truly like, but Muslims are still relatively unknown to many Americans and Europeans. I also know of American madrassas like the one run by Hamza Yusuf, where he teaches traditional Islam and has unimpeachable pro-America credentials. I know US military veterans who teach his classes.
"Islam is treated by Muslims as a single entity demanding their loyality, and yet it has no Pope or High Church to speak authoritatively on its behalf. Its spokesmen include such demonstrably evil individuals as Osama bin Laden, and Saddam Hussein, as well as the apparently disconnected opinions of a million mullahs."
They do NOT speak for Islam. It would be more accurate to refer to those people as self-appointed spokespeople, and dubious ones at that. Osama Bin Laden has been condemned by Muslims internationally8. The terrorist attacks attributed to him were condemned.9. He was condemned even before 2001. His superior, Taliban leader Mullah Omar, issued a statement in 1998 saying that Bin Laden was unqualified to issue fatwas or otherwise speak for Islam.10 The statements he did make were disproven by scholars of a higher rank and degree of study than him.11 Saddam Hussein, who ran a completely secular Iraq, is unfit to speak for Islam, and nobody has made any claim that he speaks for Islam any more than Adolph Hitler spoke for Christianity. Sure, he says things like "God willing" in his speeches, but he's basically paying lip service to Islam while he drinks alcohol at home with mistresses. In fact, he oppressed Muslims for decades. You're referring to a man who made it policy to execute people who prayed at the mosque too often, as it was a threat to his secular Ba'ath regime. Saddam Hussein sent out a videotape around August 15, 2001 calling on the Shiite clergy to declare jihad against the Americans (despite the fact that he's brutally oppressed and slaughtered the Shias in his country for decades). All of the major Shiite clerics, in Iraq and outside, rejected and derided the idea. Sunni leaders all over the world publicly condemned his actions and have done so for some time. You're only seeing infamous people from US/European news and think of them as "spokesmen." I'm much more inclined to listen to Siraj Wahaj, Anwar Al-Awlaki, Dr. Israr Ahmad, Hamza Yusuf, or even Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens) who, while prominent do-gooders, don't generate headlines in the mainstream press here.
Now, in regards to Islam's authority system, for the time being it's decentralized like Judaism. People can spend years in religious studies, and are given titles like sheikh or mufti or mullah. Shiites have a system of ayatollahs while the Sunnis don't have a leader. Instead, things proceed only if the vast majority of the scholars are in agreement. That means if one sheikh rules it's permissible to fight against Israel, it's not valid unless the majority of the scholars support the ruling. We don't have a caliph, nor an Islamic state (though the Shias have Iran), so we have no central authority, nobody can order the Ummah around.
Beyond that, the rest of your writeup gets sort of mean. "Inflicts misery and hatred on the world"? Save it for a religion that sponsored The Crusades.
Islam isn't bad, it's just that you've only seen one side to it. Untold millions of Good Muslims are all over this planet, but you only hear about the one or two bad apples. Catholics griped over the same thing when scandals involving priests caused only negative coverage of the Vatican and some say Catholicism itself. I myself am a Muslim, and what the extremists do sicken me. I know better than to blame my religion for what was committed, because I have about as much in common with them as I do with Jack the Ripper (thanks Jaez for the allusion). Islam rejects violence except as a last resort and for self defense. Completely. Totally.
You're not going to hear about good Muslims in the news, because they are humble low-keyed folks doing their thing; attending the mosque, working hard and giving charity, running soup kitchens, attending to their families, and teaching people.
You as well as President Bush say that Islam has been "hijacked." The religion hasn't been hijacked in the sense that "terrorists seized the podium at the mosque", but your perception of the religion has been hijacked. The stereotypes and preconceptions you hold of Islam have been dramatically slanted to only the negative. I'm saying that the weekly sermon for world peace and unity hasn't changed, but how YOU think of Islam (and Muslims) has been ruined.
I happen to be an American too. Islam is compatible with most of Western Civilization; ie. freedoms, science, representative democracy. Sure there's criticism of Bush supporting Ariel Sharon and not Yasser Arafat or the US's foreign policy in general, but nothing irrational.
=b= wrote "Islam appears to be having a very difficult time making a successful transition to a modern secular world." What gives you that idea, besides US-based news? Have you experienced the government systems outside the US, in the Muslim world? Do you know that Muslims in the US are promising to vote in record numbers in the 2004 US elections? Do you know how many imams and scholars in the US and UK are supporting participation in the "secular" communities that you and I live in today? Look at Egypt, they're Muslim but doing a fine job of running a modern country. Look at Muslim country Turkey, they've made it so painfully secular that female government workers are getting fired for wearing headscarves. I think you mean democracy, since I think secularism is a bad idea (Pluralism might be the term you are looking for). Did you know that Algeria democratically voted for an Islamic party by a clear uncontestable majority, and the secularists got so upset that a coup happened?
"Where is the outrage of these moderate Muslims? What sign is there of their burning desire to recapture their traditional Islamic values from the fundamentalists? What practical and efficacious steps have they taken towards that end?" Well, where are YOU looking? I work and keep company with muslims every day, and I see it so ubiquitously. You have to look, since its not a breaking news story that you will see on television. The outrage of muslims against terrorism is nothing new.
Bishop Fulton Sheen once wrote that "few Americans hate the Catholic Church, but millions hate what they mistakenly think is the Catholic Church." That is the same with Islam; people go by generalizations and stereotypes and plain misinformation. A long time ago I once disliked Islam, but when I confronted a Muslim with my qualms and beefs, it turned out that Islam was nothing what I had imagined it to be. I hated what I thought was Islam; the real Islam was and still is striving to destroy the things I once thought it supported; terrorism, oppression, and hatred. There are a huge number of Muslims who are standing up against terrorism and injustice. Look at Islamic websites like Islam.org and read books like "Taking back Islam." They'll show you what so many Muslims are really saying. It turns out they have been saying it for decades and yet they never got noticed by the non-Muslims until 9/11.
Rereading your w/u, =b=, I think your mistake is that you base your opinions of Islam on its stereotypes and generalizations. A few well-publicized cases of something bad does not mean it's an epidemic. Thanks to world news and the internet, one report of a bad muslim circulates. As a result, you don't hear of my neighborhood mosque opening up a soup kitchen to feed the homeless, you instead hear of the Taliban member who beheaded his wife. People are sure quick to denounce Islam, sharia, and Muslims, but did it ever occur to you to ask a real Muslim what he thinks of them? I could be closed-minded and say that so-and-so are evil (Liberals, French, Iraqis, etc) but unless you try to talk to them and try to understand their perspective/reasons/motivations, you'll never truly understand.
=b= pulled out a quote by a Sheikh who, by the out-of-context quote, sounds anti-semitic. He tries to use the quote to cast blame on the religion. I can tell you that in America, right-wing Americans (should I label them Christians?) burned Qurans and announced they supported the torture of Muslims and disregarding human rights. Typical Americans shrug them off as part of the lunatic fringe and not part of American culture or Christianity, oblivious to the fact that outside America, it perpetuates the negative stereotypes. Muslims and Americans are both stereotyped, and since I'm both, it hurts to see both sides oblivious.
1. http://www.state.gov/s/ct/rls/pgtrpt/ (Formerly at: http://www.state.gov/www/global/terrorism/ )
5. Hadith volume of Sahih bukhari
9. http://www.muhajabah.com/otherscondemn.htm http://groups.colgate.edu/aarislam/response.htm