Looking at today's Islam, a growing number of Western long-chinned pundits have been suggesting that what Islam needs is reform -- much as Christianity and Judaism have reformed over the past 500 years. Christian reform, driven by the Reformation and then the Enlightenment, brought itself into comfortable compatibility with modernity. But what if, in the context of Islamic history, for today's Islam, Bin Ladenism is the reform? That is one of the startling suggestions of a deeply informing article by Max Rodenbeck in this month's New York Review of Books, titled "Islam confronts its demons."
While that journal is almost always filled with high-toned and scholarly anti-Bush hysteria, Mr. Rodenbeck's article, free from partisan cant and scholarly axe-grinding, should be required reading for thoughtful supporters of President Bush -- as well as his opponents. In four long pages of small type, the author discusses nine recently published books on the subject of whither Islam in the current maelstrom. The authors range from French Muslims to former CIA agents to British scholars. (Admission: I have ordered all the books from Amazon but have not yet read them -- when I have, I will report back to you. But just the review article, itself, gives one much to contemplate.)
Since September 11, Americans have started reading and thinking more about Islam. Much of that debate has focused on the nature of historic Islam. The advantage of this review is that it is assessing not what we Westerners think about Islam, but what Muslims themselves are thinking and arguing about today. No American or Western strategy intended to deal with the terrorism that is inspired by parts of today's Islam can afford to misunderstand the nature of Islam today -- the good, the bad and the likely path of its current rapid change.
As Mr. Rodenbeck reviews 14 centuries of Islamic reform history, he explains that there have been some reform efforts aimed at modernism and enlightened manners, which tried to break free from Koranic textual literalism. But that "more often than not, 'reform' in Islam has pushed in the other direction, toward the reassertion of the primacy of founding text ... using the double-barreled power of the sword and the book ... to launch jihad-minded movements."
Blankley, who had been suffering from stomach cancer, died Saturday night at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, his wife, Lynda Davis, said Sunday.
In his long career as a political operative and pundit, his most visible role was as a spokesman for and adviser to Gingrich from 1990 to 1997. Gingrich became House Speaker when Republicans took control of the U.S. House of Representatives following the 1994 midterm elections.