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Lewis: Muslims Act Like People

By Matthew Yglesias on October 25, 2006 at 12:59 pm

"Lewis: Muslims Act Like People"

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One of the weird ticks of our current political culture has been a tendency to embrace characterizations of Muslims or Arabs that, at the end of the day, are just truisms about human culture but then turn around and attribute these characteristics to Islam or Arab nationalism specifically. In his book, for example, Andrew Sullivan quotes Bernard Lewis:

What is truly evil and unacceptable is the domination of infidels over true believers. For true believers to rule misbelievers is proper and natural, since this provides for the maintenance of the holy law and gives the misbelievers both the opportunity and the incentive to embrace the true faith. But for misbelievers to rule over true believers is blasphemous and unnatural, since it leads to the corruption of religion and morality in society and the flouting or even abrogation of God’s law.

Strip this of the portentious rhetoric and Islam-specificity and what you have here is the banal objection that people prefer to be members of political communities where their own faith is dominant. Here in the USA, Christians chafe at public policies they see as imbued with the spirit of secular humanism. More secularly oriented people, meanwhile, are happy to let Christians go about their merry way but greatly fear and loath public policies inspired by the spirit of evangelism or orthodox catholicism. Israelis want to live in a state of their own — a Jewish state — and not be a minority in some Muslim-dominated Middle Eastern polity. Just a bit north, Lebanon’s Christians long fought — and quite violently — to maintain Christian domination of Lebanese politics.

In short, this is not some quirk of Islam, it’s how the world works — people don’t like to be ruled over by Others, but tend not to mind the idea of ruling over Others. People are, in other words, self-interested and a little hypocrtical. Muslims, too! The fascinating question is why folks influenced by this view of the Islamic world thought it would be a good idea to conquer a patch of Muslim land and try to rule it. The common thread, I suppose, is an extreme level of condescension.

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