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Winter 2001
BETWEEN PEACE & TERROR
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As part of this paradigm, this puritanism tends to be distinctly anti-intellectual. Intellectualism or social thinking that attempts to have a critical approach to hermeneutics, or that introduces nuances of meaning to the text, or that attempts to integrate sociohistorical insights into the understanding of the doctrines of the Islamic law, is considered to be pure sophistry and a corruption of the purity of the Divine message.

Fundamentally, however, this puritan theology projects its own frustrations and aspirations upon the text. In fact, one notes that it responds to the feelings of powerlessness and defeat with uncompromising symbolic displays of power, not only against non-Muslims, but also against Muslim women. It is not accidental that this puritan orientation is the most virulent in flexing its muscles against women, and that it is also plagued by erotic fantasies of virgins in heaven submissively catering to the whims and desires of men.

This contemporary orientation is anchored in profound feelings of defeatism, alienation and frustration. It is a theology that is alienated not only from the institutions of power of the modern world, but also from its own Islamic heritage and tradition. Importantly, this puritan trend compensates for those feelings of defeatism and alienation with a distinct sense of self-righteous arrogance vis-à-vis the nondescript "other" — whether the other is the West, nonbelievers in general or even Muslim women.

It is certainly true that the extreme and violent form of puritan Islam does not represent the vast majority of Muslims today. But there are two ways in which contemporary Muslim culture, Arab or non-Arab, inadvertently contributes to, and feeds, these extreme trends. First, since the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the onslaught of colonialism, Islamic intellectuals have busied themselves with the task of "defending Islam" by rampant apologetics. This produced a culture that eschews self-critical and introspective insight and embraces projection of blame and a fantasy-like level of confidence and arrogance. Second, confronted by the challenges of modernity, many Muslim intellectuals and activists tended to give precedence to the logic of pragmatism over any other competing normative requirements. Invoking the logic of necessity or public interest to justify a variety of courses of action, at the expense of normative moral imperatives, became common practice. Effectively, Muslims got into the habit of paying homage to the presumed superiority of the Islamic tradition, but marginalized this idealistic image in everyday life.

The reality of contemporary Muslims is unfortunate. Easy oil money, easy apologetics, easy puritanism and easy appeals to the logic of necessity have all but obliterated the incentive for introspection and critical insight. Arab and Muslim organizations in the United States are

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