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FROM THE MOYERS FILES: Bill Moyers moderates a roundtable discussion at the Aspen Institute about Islam and 9/11.

ZAKARIA: I would suggest that the root of the rage, I would argue it's not religious, that it is political. And that's why you notice ... you can talk all you want about Islam and radical Islam, all this stuff is coming out of a few countries in the Middle East, a few countries in the Arab world.

Islamic fundamentalism has very little sway in a country like Indonesia, which is by the way the largest Muslim country in the world. Pakistan has had the oldest Muslim fundamentalist party in the world, and at its peak it got five percent of the vote. So I think it's important to recognize that this is at ... at root a political dysfunction and ... and extremism that has wrapped itself with the mantle of religion. And it's a recent phenomenon.

KRAUTHAMMER: I want to return to the point you made, Bill, in talking about analogies to a Christian fundamentalism or Jewish religious extremism, and talking about fundamentalism as perhaps the problem here. And I think that's wrong. I think if the problem is Islamic fundamentalism, it's not the fundamentalism, it's the Islamic part. It's a specific kind of it as we see in the world today.

MOYERS: And you're saying that this radical Islamism ...

KRAUTHAMMER: Yes.

MOYERS: Is unique in its expression of ...

KRAUTHAMMER: It does not have serious analogies in Christianity today, it does three centuries ago ...

AHMED: I have ... I must ...object to this. You have to separate Islam from Muslim behavior, you cannot fuse the two and attribute everything that Muslims do to Islam, similarly, you cannot attribute what the Nazis were doing in the 1940's to Christianity.

KRAUTHAMMER: You ... you can't deny the modern history. Which is that the chief source of anti-Semitism in the world today, the propagation in the media, in textbooks, is coming out of the Arab world. It's unfortunate but it is a fact.

KRAUTHAMMER: comes out of official, semi-official media in Egypt ...

KRAUTHAMMER: ... in Saudi Arabia.

ZAKARIA: But that means it's a political phenomenon, not a religious phenomenon.

AHMED: It's not an Islamic

ABDO: And it doesn't come out of a vacuum. I mean, Arabs are not anti-Semitic.

KRAUTHAMMER: ... is claiming it's a religious phenomenon, but it is a ... a real phenomenon

MAKIYA: Nobody's denying that.

ZAKARIA: Islam in the West have existed for 14 centuries together. Why is it happening now? It's happening now because of a particular his- ... history.

MOYERS: Let's get to that. What is it? Why is it? What's changed?

MAKIYA: Let's face it. There is a death wish, a death instinct in Islam.

That is a phenomenon that we have to live with. I think it's a serious phenomenon. Bin Laden represents it, but it's wider spread than he is. It wasn't there before. it is there now. We need to understand where it came from. It has roots. It has a history. We have to explicate that. I would say if you had to choose a benchmark here, '67 is a crucial year in the formation ... I

MOYERS: When the Arabs lost the war to Israel.

MAKIYA: Yes. I was shaped politically by the 1967 Arab- Israeli war, as was my whole generation. That generation has in ... in effect failed. We are failures. We talk about social failures, political failures, political failures, economic failures, but there's also intellectual failures. The Arab-Israeli question, the Palestinian question, became the central discourse of the Arab intelligentsia.

I'm not saying that was wr- ... wrong, but nothing else beside that. I'm the perfect example. For ten years I was an activist in one Palestinian movement or another Our ideas were tested on the ground in places like Lebanon, and found wanting. The Palestinian resistance movement which we had idealized was tested and found to be a bunch of different mathia- ... mafia organizations running protection rackets in different part of Lebanon and so on. A civil war which cost enormous human toll was … was the result.

Now, you go further than that, you go before to my father, you have an entirely different Muslim. You have an entirely different landscape out there. It ... it ... it's just utterly different. I learned, bits and pieces of folk Islam that I got from my grandmother, who used to sit down and tell me stories. My grandmother is unrecognizable as a Muslim in the eyes ... what we think of as ... as Muslims today.

She used to tell stories. She accepted foreigners into her house. She was a simple illiterate woman. Her Islam was folk, it was a faith restricted entirely to herself. She ... she didn't try to project it or impose it on anybody.

She just told stories, the way grandmothers do. And that ... nowadays ... something new has happened in dealing with this whole phenomenon, bin Laden, Islamic radicalism, whatever you want to call it, we have to begin with its historicity, its political nature, and we have to look at the … social milieu that it's created.

MOYERS: Are you suggesting that the the most blatant and concrete new reality is the creation of the State of Israel? Is that what made the difference?

MAKIYA: No. I'm not saying that. I'm saying that was in ... in the reaction to that, from within the Arab world itself, we failed, we failed. And we turned Israel, which caused all kinds of real problems there are legitimate grievances out there that the Palestinians have, very deep, very important, that have to be dealt with. But in dealing with them, my generation in particular failed. That is it did not come up with the right answers. It did not come up with the right approach. It found in Israel an excuse for its own failures at home.

AHMED: I would want to push this a little bit further. Look at the statistics in the Muslim world. Look at the gap between the rich and the poor. It's growing wider. The illiteracy rates, very high, probably the highest, if you did see the human development report of the United Nations. The Muslim world has got the worst figures. If you see the number of young below 19 or whatever, it's the highest anywhere compared to any other civilization. Now, you combine all this, unemployed, young, ... urbanized, gaps between rich and the poor, and you have a explosive situation.

KRAUTHAMMER: The gap between the rich and the poor, the illiteracy, the,... the, uh, high levels of population among the ... the young and the desperate, applies to a lot of Latin America, applies certainly in Africa, applies to large swaths of East Asia, and you don't have September 11th coming out of that. So you've got to be able, uh, to ... to explain this, not by social conditions, which exist in all ov- ... other parts of the world, but you have to ask, Why here and not, uh, there? And the answer is it's not the social condition, that's a constant around the world, what's different here is the ideology, and it is an Islamic ideology. That's the fact.

BENHABIB: Bringing up culture as an explanatory variable, or worse still, religion, it renders people defensive. Individuals will defend their culture. So the minute you point to culture, I don't think much of it as a social-scientific explanation, but you also stop the conversation politically. Because everybody says, Well, my culture, my religion, you stop the dialogue.

KRAUTHAMMER: But if it's true?

BENHABIB: Well, I don't think you're correct, I'm sorry.

KRAUTHAMMER: Well(?) ...

BENHABIB: We have to look at the dynamit- of ... of the dynamics, uh, of this, uh, region where there were a lot more ideological options available, uh, in the last 40 or 50 years. And, I ... I come back to, the failure of modernization paradigms. ...

MOYERS: Well, how does that connect, Seyla, to ... to radical Islam and bin Laden and the ...

MOYERS: .. attack on the US and our fears now? Draw the ... draw the

BENHABIB: Well, you have discredited regimes, you have discredited elites. Elites not only who have been militarily, discredited, but also proven to be technologically inferior…. I have been in hospitals in Israel where there were Bedouin sheiks coming to receive medical treatment because that was the best place they could go in the Middle East. Now, there is a double movement in that. On the one hand, this was a period when people acknowledged, Israel's superiority, but there was also a sense of inferiority. Why couldn't we do this? Why couldn't we do this ourselves?

AIKMAN: Yeah, I quite agree with you. I think it is a failure to cope with modernity. But then you have, has to ... you have to ask the question, why have Muslim regimes all over the world been uniquely incapable of dealing with modernity? of human organization, culture, art and so forth, and philosophy, that is preventing the same kinds of societies, Is- ... Islamic societies, from functioning successfully today? Has something happened to Islam that caused it, if you like, to rot from within? That's a very important question.

MAKIYA: Islam has a relation to politics which is different. Not a problem. It's a relation to politics that's very different from Christianity and ... and Judaism. Judaism very simply because it hasn't exercised power for 2000 years, with the exception of ... of the State of Israel, has had no reason to deal with power.

But ... Islam from day one begins with the Islamic polities, city, state basically established by a ... by the Prophet Mohammed in the City of Medina after he was expelled from Mecca. From then onwards, Islam lives always with political states, by contrast with Judaism. It always has one political experience after another.

And as opposed to Christianity, which begins you could say as a way deliberately of separating, crisises. "Render unto God the things that are God and unto Caesar the things that are Caesar," for a reason. Because he is coming to ... at a time when the Roman ... the power of the Roman Empire is being used to crush Jewish nationalism. And he precisely seeing that, in a certain kind of way, and lo and behold, in fact that was going to happen.

I mean, sev- ... 40, 50 years after his death, the Roman Empire crushes Jewish national aspirations in Palestine. But Christ in a sense foreseeing that, constructs a way of thinking about spiritual life separate from the State.

Now of course Christianity four centuries later becomes ... associated with politics. But it has in its foundation in that inherent sense some way of separating from it. There are things in the text which allow it to make a distinction between State and politics. Islam ...

BENHABIB: Saint Augustine, the City of God ...

ZAKARIA: Yes, right

BENHABIB: ... the City of Man ...

MAKIYA: It's possible to start to do that. There, the tradition has got it. In Islam, it's born with ... with politics. the dealing with this question, which has not occurred yet, I believe, it's a question, it's on the table, it's a serious issue, right now more than any time else ... we'll have to come up with new ways of doing it. I mean, we ... I don't know how it's going to do that.

ZAKARIA: And ... and ... and, you know, Kanan, the,... the odd thing is people often think of ... that the problem in Islam is that there are all these ... you know, priests who ... and that's what makes a reformation difficult. It's actually the opposite. The problem in Islam is that you don't have a pope. Because what made the Reformation possible? There was a pope who accumulated political power and then the ... the ... the, rulers of the various states rebelled against him.

And that clash, that took place for hundreds of years, produced a separation between Church and State. In Islam you have no pope. So you have nobody to rebel against. What ends up happening is Islam is very democratic in its theology, much like Protestantism. So anyone can claim to be interpreting the religion. Bin Laden had ...

MOYERS: Priesthood of the believer, we call it.

ZAKARIA: Right. Bin Laden has as much right to issue a call to jihad or a fatwah, as a Pakistani cabdriver in New York.

ROULEAU: I would like to jump in, if you don't mind, with a question which is more fundamental I think you can then intervene. This thing hasn't been said until today, until now.

I believe that Islam is not fundamentally good, it's not fundamentally bad, and exactly that I don't think Judaism or Christianity are fundamentally good or bad. Religions throughout history have been used by criminals and by saints. Islam is being used. It's being used by the fascists, and it's being used by democrats. So, we should go back, as Seyla says, to politics. This is the only thing we ... the only reference which allows us to see clearly.

BENHABIB: Look here's the question. What is it that is required if you're going to have halfway functioning liberal or a democratic society? You need at least two preconditions. Some separation of the private and the public realms And in the second way, you need something called the "rule of law." The question about Shariah that, I'm ... asking is ... whether, in effect, this Islamic tradition is compatible with the kind of predictability, uniformity, accountability in the issuance of law that we associate with the rule of law traditions

MOYERS: ... you can't have democracy with Shariah, can you?

MAN: Look, could I answer that question

WOMAN: Well, you don't surely believe that ...

ABDO: Okay, let's ... let's use

ABDO: If you use the concrete example of Iran, … parliament votes on legislation, the battleground in Iran now for the Reform Movement is in the parliament. Not the presidency.

KRAUTHAMMER: But the issue is

ABDO: The parliament votes on ... on issues, and the clerics, in a body that supersedes the parliament, vetoes the legislation. But I think the thing that we have to remind ourselves is that this is all being sorted out. It's a long process…

KRAUTHAMMER: The issue is deeper. It's not just institutional. It's not just a badly or insufficiently thought-out con- ... constitution. As Bill indicated, there is a ... a ... a ... a fundamental contradiction between the idea of a society ruled by canon law and a society that is democratic.

The Declaration of Independence defines a government as being instituted in order to protect individual rights. That's a radically different interpretation of what government is ... and why it is ... than a government made to impose canon law. If you have a democracy, the people, through representatives, are in- ... inventing new laws.

Now if ... if you live in a society in which you're accepting a system of law already in place as divine ... that's a ... a ... that's a complete contradiction of that notion.

ZAKARIA: You ... you see, I think that this is still,... somewhat theoretical in the sense that ... whether you can combine ... Shariah Islamic law in the abstract with democracy or liberalism ... I ... I don't think ... where ... societies work like that. There is an actual experience in a place like Turkey, in a place like Indonesia ... and the reality is ... that you have to borrow from other models

ABDO: So this is

ZAKARIA: ... I don't think you can

ZAKARIA: ... I don't think you can make a modern democratic society work using ideas out of 7th century Arabia. Just as you couldn't make a modern society work if you were to use the liberal interpretation of the Talmud

ABDO: Okay.

ZAKARIA: ... or the Bible.

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