IN A LONG email conversation with an intelligent, educated, successful man, he went from being totally against my criticisms of Islam to deciding to read the Koran to find out for himself. He told me he ordered a Koran. That was a big victory. But I thought, "If he gets one of those standard Korans, it is going to be difficult to decipher." So I asked him, "Which version of the Koran did you order?"
He said he signed up for a free Koran from a website, and he didn't know what version it was.
I told him, "There are a lot of Korans available to read online, but one of the problems with the Koran is its message is somewhat scrambled." And I explained in detail what I said in the article, Why the Standard Versions of the Quran are so Difficult to Decipher.
I made a classic mistake here: I gave too much information. I kept selling past the close. I wanted to prove to him I knew what I was talking about, but I went too far. He had already decided to read the Koran. I could simply have told him, "Well, this version is the easiest to read: A Simple Koran." But no. I said too much. This was his response:
Wow, thanks for the rundown. I can see that there are no answers on the behavior of the average Muslim in the Quran so I wouldn't gain much by wading through it.
You know, what I take away from this is that whatever is happening it is not fueled by the Quran anymore than what happens with our various Christian sects has anything to do with the Bible. The books are just props for the Imams, priests, ministers and miscellaneous zealots trying to make people live and act the way they want them to. It always blows me away that every religious leader tells his flock what God thinks, what God intends, what God likes, what God doesn't like, and what God is going to do to you or me or the heretics or the unbelievers or whoever the opponent is. They never say "I think this may be his/her motivation" instead they use simple declarative statements indicating that they have it straight from the Big Guy.
It's the religious leaders who control the people there for the most part just as in the religious communities here the people's thoughts and mores are pretty much set by the priests, preachers, ministers, politicians, Fox News comedians, etc.
We're fortunate here that we have a smaller group of fundamentalist religious leaders and they have less political power than in most Muslim countries. Imagine if the government was really run by the religious right, say, with fundamentalist Baptist ministers or Catholic priests in control. Fortunately, our supply of zealots is a minority. We can hope that witch hunts, inquisitions, ideologically-motivated murders (abortion doctors), persecution of minorities (homosexuals, women, Mexicans, etc) is nominally against our secular law which is supposed to trump religious law.
We seem to be moving in the right direction although we seem to be much more theocratic than many other countries — theocracy with a liberal dose of oligarchy to my way of thinking.
It would be wonderful if we really had total separation of church and state like some other countries. But that's not our tradition.
I was interested in seeing an article in the paper a couple of days ago citing a study that showed that on the average atheists had a better knowledge of the Bible and Christian dogma than Catholics, Jews, or the various Christian sects. That seems to indicate that people do just take what is fed them by the leaders and don't really study it for themselves. It also suggest that a lot of people who do study religion end up atheists.
What do you think?
This is how I replied:
I'm not a Christian, but Islam is significantly different than Christianity. Mohammad really did learn a thing or two from observing the Christians. The Quran, once it is unscrambled (and that really doesn't take that much trouble, once you know how it's laid out) is a much more straightforward document than the Bible, and it even gives instructions on how to deal with its own contradictions.
I think it's worth wading through the Quran, but just get an unscrambled version. The reason I think it's worth doing is that you'll be able to get the feel of the religion. It's not like Christianity. Muslims often make it a point to say it is similar to Christianity, but it's very different, and you'll get that by reading it.
You said what's happening is not fueled by the Quran, but that's completely mistaken. It is fueled by the Quran. You can predict what orthodox Muslims will do and how they do it by just reading the Quran. Osama bin Laden and the other Islamic terrorists of the world often quote the Quran, and they quote it accurately. The people who run the OIC — the largest voting block in the UN — quote it. They are running its "program." They use it for their guidebook (as it says they should). Islamic countries around the world either use it as their guidebook or they are constantly suppressing rebellious forces who are pressing to make them use it as a guidebook.
There may be a higher percentage of "Muslims in name only" in America than other places, but America has a lower percentage of Muslims than almost any other country in the world. And in other countries, Muslims are much more openly and strictly Islamic. And we don't really know how Islamic they are here because they keep it to themselves if they are devout (as it says they should in the Quran). But we do know that in America, 75 percent of the mosques preach jihad. In Canada it is 80 percent.
It's worth knowing what's in the Quran because there is a whole PR arm of the Muslim Brotherhood that is actively producing disinformation about Islam, and they are getting their message across through all major media sources; it is being bought hook, line, and sinker by everyone from George Bush to Diane Sawyer. If you've read the Quran, you'll know better about the "true nature" of Islam.
I do appreciate what you're saying and you have a very logical approach to learning about the religion.
I can see that a thorough understanding of motivation and custom and tradition can help us in negotiating with people. It can help us decide how to modify our behaviour to affect our relationship with them and we certainly could use more understanding like that.
I get the impression that a lot of people who go to so much trouble to produce statistical arguments that Islam is x% different, worse, or ?? than Christianity are trying to say that the people are evil or motivated by evil desires. Like the proposition that Imam Rush puts out that (paraphrase) "These people want to kill us because they hate our freedom" That's a preposterous proposition.
Anyway, it seems like all this dissecting of the Qu'ran is a lot like looking at weather maps to see if it's raining instead of looking out the window. The best weather prediction in the world doesn't touch the accuracy of walking out of doors and observing.
What is happening in the world is a function of myriad traditions, emotions like greed, hate, as well as ignorance, religious and political manipulation and other unsavory forces. There are no simple answers like "We're good and they're evil" or "We're generous and altruistic and they're greedy and flawed" or "We're moral and they're without mores".
So I repeat — What is the point that you are making by all this analysis of Islam? It seems after a long explanation there should be a statement that sums up the speaker's point.
For instance I see the following possibilities.
- So therefore our best course of action is a pre-emptive strike to wipe out any Muslims that might threaten us.
- So therefore we should get out of Afghanistan and let them work out their own destiny.
- So therefore we ought to forbid the construction of mosques entirely and outlaw books that espouse jihad.
- So therefore we should terminate our dependence on their resources (oil) and leave them alone.
- So therefore the only sensible course of action is to learn to live with them and let them follow their own traditions as long as they don't break our laws.
Well, you get the picture. What is your point in all this analysis? What are you trying to convince people of?
My response to him was the best thing I did in this whole exchange. I backed off. I pulled back. I said:
That is a fair question. The short answer is, I want you to learn enough about Islam that you are no longer fooled by their PR machine because of where that will lead. But I just don't have the energy or time to explain that all to you.
My experience in learning about this is that there are people who have an intuition about Islam, and are self-motivated to learn more. And what they learn shocks and amazes them and they want to share what they've discovered with others. But nobody wants to hear it. Most other people have an entirely different motivation: They want to find out some information or adopt a point of view that will allow them to just forget about it and go on about their lives. They are not motivated to learn more on their own.
The topic is a big one, and there is a lot to learn. And maybe when you have seen enough, you will dig into it yourself. You gave me five options (the bullet points). I don't like any of them. I want you to know more about Islam so you are no longer fooled by the orthodox Muslims deliberately trying to fool you so they can accomplish their agenda.
He wrote back to tell me that was a good answer and it made sense. This is something I see very clearly now: There are those who want to learn more about it and who have an open mind. And there are those who have already decided what they want to believe, and they are merely looking for a way to confirm what they already have already decided must be true. Bertrand Russell wrote, "What is wanted is not the will to believe, but the wish to find out, which is the exact opposite."
It is very easy and enjoyable to share what you know with the first group. And it is difficult and frustrating to share what you know with the second group.
However, I think it is possible to influence the second group by talking about these differences between the two groups. If you're talking about someone who just wants enough information to be able to dismiss his intuitive fears, just point out the difference between the two people and then back off. You don't have enough time to waste talking to people like that, anyway. Find someone who is curious, and talk to them. Focus on the undecided.
Not only that, but backing off can help you change someone's mind. You have a greater ability to influence when you have "walk-away power," as it is known to salespeople and negotiators. Read more about that here.