Bill Moyers on Faith & Reason
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NOW with Bill Moyers Special. Islam v. Islam . 7.12.2002

BILL MOYERS: Now that we've heard what those Muslims in Egypt think about America and Israel, it's now for a different take÷. on Islam itself. Muslims are a monotheistic people - they believe in one God- Allah. but Muslims around the world are not of one mind. This was driven home to me at a recent conference sponsored by the Aspen Institute. The institute was exploring great collisions of the 21st century, beginning with the collision between Islam and the West. This was the subject of the conference I moderated. We filmed that conversation, and part of it we want to share with you now.

The eight journalists and scholars . . . among them Muslims, Christians, Jews, and Agnostics, began by talking about their own reaction to September 11. And as they moved on found themselves discussing what events since 9/11 reveal about Islam's own contradictions. Here is part of the conversation in progress÷.

FAREED ZAKARIA: For me, as an immigrant, the most striking thing I remember about 9/11 was the sense that the furies of an older world had come to America ... had sort of violated this, this innocence that the United States was all about. One of the reasons ... one of the reasons ... not the only one ... one of the reasons I think many immigrants come to America is to get away from these raging furies. I remember having debates with friends of mine ... Americans who felt that there was a lack of grander purpose about politics, particularly in the 1990's. And I always said, believe me, it's better this way.

You don't want all the ... the noise and fury that comes from politics that's about life and death. And when 9/11 happened, particularly since I live in New York, you had this feeling that you had suddenly been struck by politics that was a matter of life and death. And that it had come to a ... to this new world where politics had really usually been about tax cuts.

GENEIVE ABDO: This was always an artificial barrier between East and West. What I think is surprising about September 11th was how they did sort of transport ideology and these kinds of ideas to the West. And why were they able to do this? Because of the modern world. Because of globalization. Because these people had somehow absorbed and engaged in the globalization process that didn't exist before. This sort of geographic division If you go back and look at say Said Katub ... Islamic thinker ... when he came to America, he became radicalized. But the way that he channeled his ... his radicalization process was to go back to Egypt, and to ... to inspire followers in Egypt. Perhaps if he had the kind of modern tools, and this is where modernity comes into this whole discussion, he would have had a different response.

ZAKARIA: When ... when the attack happened, the thing I taught was not that it was Islamic fundamentalists or things, I did think it was Arabs. And I don't mean that in any kind of racist sense of the word. But these ... these demons are coming out of a very specific part of the world. And I remember trying to figure out very early on where ... where the people were from and of the 19 of course 15 are from Saudi Arabia, four from Egypt.

These people tried to topple their regimes which they see as repressive, which they are, and secular which they ... they mostly are. failing to do that it turns out it's very difficult to do terrorism against a police state. You know, and so they were crushed ruthlessly. They ... and this is bin Laden's evil genius. He says, why not go after the supporter and the protector of all these regimes, the United States.

KANAN MAKIYA: With his own country in my mind, however.

ZAKARIA: Of course. And that's why I say there's a relationship ... Absolutely. Because the United States protects Saudi Arabia. The United States funds Egypt. And so there is a relationship.

ABDO: There has always been opposition, say, over the last 30 years, with ... among all these Islamic groups toward their respective governments. The same group that some of the people around Osama bin Laden emerged from, Islamic Jihad, this has been a very important group in Egypt in trying to overthrow the Sadat and now Mubarak regime. Under ... in the ... in the back of their resentment toward their own government has always been the United States. Not only because we finance these governments but the Islamists believe that we are an obstacle toward any sort of democratic process in their own country.

BILL MOYERS: So they blame the United States because there are no elections in Egypt?

ABDO: They blame the United States for its direct support financially, spiritually, morally, for a repressive regime.

ERIC ROULEAU: We're ... we're using the terms, Islamic fundamentalism. I think we need some clarification because there are many kinds of Islamic fundamentalism.

ABDO: Absolutely.

ROULEAU: Because otherwise we wouldn't be able to ... to understand what's happening with bin Laden. I think the great difference between the bin Laden so-called fundamentalist Islam and the others is that it is trans-national. All the other Islamic movements are national. The Egyptians are Egyptians, the Moroccans are Moroccans. And they have nationalist objectives.

MOYERS: But these people ...

ROULEAU: These people are trans-national.

ABDO: They're global. Yeah.

ROULEAU: Which ... which in fact was born in Afghanistan while they were fighting the Soviet Union. This is, I think, the birth of trans-national Islamic movement of bin Laden is in Afghanistan. The other Islamic movements, practically all of them,"A," they are not terrorists. They are ... they are political movements. I think we should make this clear, it's political Islam. Practically all of them use political means to further their aims.


ROULEAU: You have one or two exceptions. Algeria, Egypt at some point. Now it's finished. But beyond that you don't.

MAKIYA: There is still something very new about what happened. I mean, 15 Saudis out of 19? ... I mean, the Muslim radical movement has been everywhere and I ... I see your comments from that point of view, absolutely. But nonetheless there's been a very interesting change. The bin Ladens of the world, it's not even operating out of their own countries but operating out of places like Afghanistan, forming some sort of ... and you're right, Afghanistan is crucial to this. That's new.

And also something else. Who would it target? Shayla mentioned that, no targets, no goals. A ... a blow to the United States with no known purpose. And you said that yourself, Bill. But what if their target was their own home constituencies? you hit the United States in order to recruit more people to your cause. They actually seemed to have believed in some demented sort of way that they would get sort of recruits into their, organization as a result of this act. They don't need to have programs and policies because they're only hitting the United States to grow in strength in the Middle East, in order to change governments in the Middle East and I don't think in a Democratic direction myself. I mean, but, you know, in ... in a totally different direction, a very dangerous direction ...

MOYERS: But did it work if ... if ... if their purpose was to hit New York, the center of ... where CNN could transport it immediately to the rest ... back home. I mean, if they had done this in Saudi Arabia there would not have been nat ... international television.

AKBAR AHMED: I think that one of his objectives was to create a sense of anarchy. And in that he has succeeded.

ABDO: Yes. Yes.

AHMED: The anarchy in the Muslim world always simmering under the iron rule of the dictators that we have been talking about is now just erupting. It is becoming very difficult to contain. By doing this act he nonetheless evokes support, admiration, approbation in the Muslim world. So I believe that it is a much more serious debate that he has generated inadvertently within the Muslim world which is really now going to plunge us into a debate about the understanding, the soul of Islam itself. And you cannot avoid that, you cannot skirt around it.

Because in the West we are reacting as sort of outrage, anger, very justifiable after September, we are not being able to understand what's happening in the Muslim world. And what is happening is this: the two categories of commands that the Koran tells a Muslim, one, rituals, a set of categories which link the individual to God. And number two, the second category which links the individual to other individuals. And while Muslims are able to implement the first set of categories, that is the prayers, the fasting and so on, they're failing in the second, which is justice, which is Ilm education, Eric will appreciate this. This is not happening in the Muslim world.

So you are having Muslims being able to implement the first set of categories, not the second. The Taliban according to the first set of categories are excellent Muslims. They fast, they pray, they do all these things. According to the second category they're treating women terribly, they're treating minorities in a disgraceful manner, in a very un-Islamic manner. And they're failing. It is this imbalance that needs to be identified. And unless this happens the problems of the Muslim world will continue.

ABDO: This ... this crisis within Islam This ... this isn't a clash of Islam versus the West. This is Islam versus Islam. This is a search for the road to salvation in the modern world. Every Muslim from Pakistan to Egypt to Jordan to Saudi Arabia is trying to find a path towards salvation where the modern world intervenes and is an obstacle to this path towards salvation. That's when we become the target.

DAVID AIKMAN: I think underlying all of the rage in much of the Muslim world, particularly the Arab world, against corrupt rulers, against the United States whom they perceive to be supporting the corruption and the lack of democracy, is a battle over very fundamental notions of human organization. And the rage that bin Laden has articulated in the form of very much totalitarian ideas. There are many Muslims who believe that if you have a certain implementation of Shariah ... this is happening in northern Nigeria ...

MOYERS: law, the law ...

AIKMAN: ÷Yeah, it's happening in Indonesia ... you will solve all human problems. There won't be any rape, there won't be any murder, there won't be any theft because the Shariah will be implemented and that will be the just society. This is a series of ideas that are, like it or not, rooted in one aspect of Islam. And what bin Laden has managed to do, I think extraordinarily skillfully, is to channel the anger, channel the sense of frustration, the sense of defeatism that has characterized certainly much of the Arab world in a way that has definite results. Knocking down the World Trade Towers is a definite result, like it or not, it is something that has been achieved.

MOYERS: But why do you knock down the World Trade Center if it is indeed a battle for the soul of Islam?

AIKMAN: Because the World Trade Center represents everything that this vision of Islam ...

MOYERS: This vision ...

AIKMAN: The vision of bin Laden, is opposed to. The notion of freedom of trade, the notion of western or non-Islamic ideas flowing back and forth across borders. The notion of an ever expanding world of knowledge ... of ideas.

SEYLA BENHABIB: Isn't that the modern Tower of Babel?

AIKMAN: Yes, exactly ... it is ...

MOYERS: The what?

BENHABIB: The modern Tower of Babel ...

AIKMAN: The Tower of Babel.

BENHABIB: The Tower of Babel ...

AIKMAN: It represents something profoundly evil. And the Egyptian newspapers, many of them, in the wake of September 11th, were gleeful that globalization itself had suffered a body blow.

MOYERS: But why didn't this attack come from Christian fundamentalists? Why didn't it come from orthodox Jews if it's the Tower of Babel ... if it's modern ... if it's modern society they want to strike it.

AIKMAN: Well ... let me respond to the first part of that question. First of all, Christian fundamentalists, whether you agree with them or not, have come to terms with modernity. They are happy to live in the United States, which has embraced modernity. They don't like certain aspects of the culture, but they don't believe the best thing to do for their version of the kingdom of God is to destroy modernity.

KRAUTHAMMER: And the key word here is totalitarian.


KRAUTHAMMER: That's very important, that's the distinction here. What we have with radical Islam as represented by bin Laden and which we ... we saw in action on September 11 is a totalitarian revision of a certain ...... vision of Islam itself which sees America as the obstacle to a chain ... to achieving its utopia.

AHMED: This ...... word totalitarian just cannot be applied to Islam at all, and in that sense if it is the act of Muslims it is not the act of Islam.

KRAUTHAMMER: But would you ...

AHMED: I want to ... Charles let me finish÷just let me finish ... let me just finish this ... go back to Spain where for centuries Islam allowed the Jews, the Christians and Muslims ...

KRAUTHAMMER: Oh I agree with you ...

AHMED: To have one of the richest, most tolerant, most harmonious societies with books and arts and debate and so on. That is hardly the idea of a totalitarian state.

KRAUTHAMMER: Absolutely.

AHMED: So therefore to apply words ... and immediately you have a vision of fascism and Hitler and Nazis ... to Islam, I think is not going to help us understand what's going on.

ABDO: And also to use the word totalitarian to describe this certain strand of Islam is not really ... in my mind ... a good characterization.

MOYERS: How would you describe the Taliban in Afghanistan?

AHMED: I would describe the ... I know the Taliban, I come from Pakistan, I know how they operate, I know how they think they're tribal people, they're tribal societies

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 ...


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 ... 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 to ... to explain this, not by social conditions, which exist in all other parts of the world, but you have to ask, Why here and not 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 the dynamics of this region where there were a lot more ideological options available 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, crises. "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.

MOYERS: Of all the people in the circle, you have most recently been out talking to fundamentalists and the people in the refugee camps. Is fundamentalism growing in Egypt ÷ because of resentment of the United States or resentment of the Mubarak government's oppressive and repressive hand?

ABDO: Well, I don't really like to use the word fundamentalism because I think it's too sort of ambiguous.

MOYERS: What word would you use?

ABDO: Well, we're talk ... the way I define these groups are moderates who are ... are on board sort of ... who are trying to create a religious state, and militants who are trying to overthrow governments. The people that I wrote about in Egypt are moderates, they are activists who don't in any way believe that violence is the way to improve Egypt. They want to have a free press, they want women to have rights, they want to participate in parliament. These are the people I wrote about, they're moderates. Now they want an Islamic state in Egypt, and they want a ...

MOYERS: As ruled by Islamic law ... Shariah...

ABDO: By Shariah, as we discussed, but it would be a moderate enforcement of Shariah it wouldn't be the Taliban, it wouldn't be the kind of extremism that we see in some other places in the world. It would be a moderate state, and they really believe this is possible. They believe that they can have a moderate Islamic state that will give people more rights than they have now in Egypt under President Mubarak. A lot of the people I interviewed, for instance, I went to these very private sessions in people's homes in Egypt where rich women would invite a very radical sheik, he was called the women's sheik in Egypt ...

MOYERS: We have them here too.

ABDO: And he would tell them how to become liberated within an Islamic framework, how they could become an Islamic feminist. And these were rich women ...

MOYERS: That's an oxymoron isn't it?

ABDO: No, people in this country think it is, but it's not. He told, he would tell them for example, don't make dinner for your husbands, go to the mosque and pray instead during dinner time.They don't want to overthrow President Mubarak's government, they don't want to attack the World Trade Center, they're just trying to find out how in their own lives they can become better Muslims. They would ask the sheik for example, what should we teach our children? If we have a problem with our husband ÷ Should we divorce our husband, should we try to do this, and this is what the sheik would sort of counsel them on.

So I think that we have to distinguish between this process, which is to me much more profound, what's happening in Islamic countries, the transformation of societies toward a more religious state, this is going to be with us forever. Osama bin Laden will die tomorrow and al Qaeda network may disappear in ten years, but this process is the one that we really should be focusing on.

BENHABIB: Now I ... I'm a little bit more skeptical, maybe ... actually much more skeptical than Geneive is about the potential of these groups once they come to power to be quote-unquote moderate. I believe that there are certain constraints in ...... the lull in the economy that will push them more ...... towards radicalism. I think it will not simply do to say that they want to be moderates, but when they come to power they turn out to be failures and radicals. Well they do, because there are certain constraints. You need certain kinds of minimum legal guarantees to be able to run a complex society.

MOYERS: And Islam does not give that.

BENHABIB: I am not sure that there are too many successful models.

ZAKARIA: Religion doesn't give that ... people ... ... people often say that Islam ... I've seen this in the newspaper actually say Islam bans usury, and so it's incompatible with modern economies. Well, that's true, but of course the Bible bans usury too. The question is how does a society come to terms with the fact that religious texts are really not blueprints for organizing modern society, they're blueprints for organizing the faith in your heart. And that's the distinction you have to make.

ABDO: This is one of the official views÷ This is one of the many official views of ... of this subject in the United States. Yes, this is the ...that if only they had a secular model that was somehow western ... it's the same argument if you give every Muslim a nice apartment and pave his street he's not going to the mosque.

ZAKARIA: I think we are playing word games, if I can just respond. Because the point I'm making is that you cannot use religious texts to construct legal systems, to construct modern economics. Now my sense is that what you're saying is we would use a smattering of religion but not use it in all the areas where it is in fact deeply liberal or discriminatory towards women. This is a kind of juggling act that I don't know how you would ... how you would be able to do. It says very clearly in these religious texts that women ...... should get half the inheritance of men, that men should be able to divorce women summarily. So in a sense we're not really disagreeing because I'm saying you have to ignore all that stuff and construct a civic model that is based on secular law.

ZAKARIA: : You're saying the same thing except you want to bless it all with some kind of Islamic name, fine, I mean I don't care-

MAKIYA: We're leaving out something very important. Islam and politics no longer come with clean hands. That is ... it was possible to make the argument that as a response to the failed experiences of Arab nationals and post-'67, the things we talked about, that Islam arose as a response the way Farhid said.

But that's no longer true. Now we have Muslim political actors, they're taking their hands in one place after another. Be it Iran, be it Sudan, be it Islamic militants of the type that we're talking about, bin Laden on the fringes and the extreme. We don't have ... Algeria is a basket case, I mean mass murder in the name of Islam, one ... killings, chopping off of heads, you know, barbarous kind of behavior in the name of Islam. One Islamic group against another, not even westerners, no non-Muslims involved here.

This kind of barbarous behavior will enter into the picture. It becomes part of the equation as people judge this historical experience, which I agree with Janine is very young, it's two or three decades in the making. But it's already enough to have left an impression. And when we come to new state making experiences, new attempts to re-fashion something, they're going to be presumably one hopes or one would aspire to, and certainly people like ourselves should aspire to, very, very different.

ABDO: The whole essence of... Islam is it is in a constant state of what is called Ishterhad, at least for the Shi'ah world. And that is a state of reinterpretation. This is the process through which the religion evolves over time and operates. This ... what we're trying to talk about today, which is how Islam can be reconciled with modernity, this question has existed for centuries, and the fundamental question in the Islamic world is do the holy texts, can they be interpreted to suit the times in which Muslims live or not?

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