The Book of Mitt

The Book of Mitt


Will the candidacy of Mitt Romney produce — dare I say it — a teachable moment?

I’ve written before about my perspective on the state of Islam, the existence of moderate Muslims and the illogic of people who say “Islam, not Muslims, is the problem.”

First, to make such a claim one must ignore all the real-life examples of moderate Muslims — such as the moderate Muslim who helped the British foil a plot to bomb transatlantic jetliners. If they exist, it stands to reason that there can be moderate interpretations of Koran.

Second, the holy books of most major religions contain violent passages, passages depicting horrific punishments for nonbelievers or outsiders, passages rife with misogynism, racism and fourth-grade ethics. That’s what you get from books written between 1,400 and 4,000 years ago.

It makes no sense to point to such passages in the Koran and say all Muslims are violent or evil without applying the same logic to Christians and Jews and Hindus. The latter have (mostly) managed to overcome the violence and tribalism built into their books; it stands to reason that Muslims can, too — and have.

Which brings us to Romney. Because in his case I’m starting to see the roles reversed: Some liberals/Democrats bashing Mormonism (using sites such as this one) and conservatives/Republicans defending him.

All of which, with luck, gives us an opportunity to pause and think. Liberals should realize that by adopting the tactics of Islamaphobes, they become no better than those they oppose. Conservatives should realize that if the tactic is illegitimate when directed at Romney, it’s also illegitimate when directed at Muslims.

Some bloggers point to time as an important distinction: Christianity’s violence is in its past, while Islam’s is in the present. They are right, but that still does not make Islam the problem; the problem is certain medieval interpretations of Islam that still hold sway in some areas. Instead of attacking Islam as a whole, we should be attacking those vile interpretations. That way we get to be intellectually consistent, logically correct, and as a practical matter it minimizes the number of enemies we have to deal with (some Muslims instead of all Muslims).

As for Romney, he’s not in my top five list of candidates I would vote for. I find his new-found conservative views both wrong and a fine example of gross pandering. But who the heck cares if he’s a Mormon? Even if he was deadset on creating a Mormon version of Sharia law, does anyone seriously think he could do so? You think the distinctly non-Mormon Congress and courts would go along with him, not to mention the American populace and those trial lawyers that Republicans love to hate? I have yet to see any plausible scenario wherein Romney’s faith could have any meaningful impact on his presidency, and thus be a legitimate factor in his presidential campaign.

If we can absorb that lesson in tolerance (and the limits of power) and then transfer it to other religions, Romney’s campaign will have performed a public service, win or lose.

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  • damozel

    It’s wrong to dismiss him because he’s a Mormon—so is Harry Reid, actually—but I think people should be free to question what his religion (not one familiar to most) means about his values.

    And the questions arise because he’s a Republican, not because he’s a Mormon. Many Republicans, and I am not going to bother to name names because you know who they are, have shown that they are willing to make decisions driven by their faith and their feelings about issues.

    As for Congress “letting” him, suppose he makes the decisions based on the values that coincide with Republican/Christian ones? I have noticed that the traditional checks don’t seem to be so much in play then. I’ve liked every Mormon I’ve ever known, but they have much more in common with the christian right than those people seem quite willing to admit. If that’s the case, there is cause for someone like me—a small-c christian who believes in the first amendment wall—-to be concerned about his beliefs about his duty etc. to create a value-driven body politic.

    I think it’s fair to want to understand what a religion not well understood by outsiders means to the candidate. If he were a scientologist, you can be sure people from both sides would be asking these questions.

  • Joshua

    There’s also the question of how one distinguishes between a moderate and a radical – by the nature of their beliefs, or by the means they are willing to use to advance those beliefs, or both?

    If you judge by belief “content”, there’s really not much to separate extremists from the mainstream in any given branch of Islam, or any given denomination of Christianity. Then you have to compare and contrast the beliefs of each specific branch or denomination, of which there are dozens (hundreds? thousands?) in both faiths. That’s not exactly conducive to crafting a broad-based policy, either foreign or domestic.

    On the other hand, if methodology is your yardstick, that breaks down when the beliefs themselves are the same, but worthy of scorn in their own right. To revisit a hypothetical I’ve used before, given two Muslims actively pursuing the same goal of, say, replacing the U.S. political and legal system with shari’a law, how much difference does it really make that one employs violence to further that goal while the other one does so peacefully and within the law?

  • Jimmy the Dhimmi

    First you say:

    I’ve written before about my perspective on the state of Islam, the existence of moderate Muslims and the illogic of people who say “Islam, not Muslims, is the problem.�

    then you say:

    It makes no sense to point to such passages in the Koran and say all Muslims are violent or evil…

    Youve just contradicted yourself here. By advocating the former, one would exclude the latter.

    The church of latter-day saints has officially prohibitted the practice of polygamy and child marraige, despite the fact that the book of Mormon and Joseph Smith himself advocated such practices. One therefore could say, in the late 1800’s before the reform, that Mormon orthodoxy was obviously the reason for such archaine practices and therefore the religion itself needed a makeover in order to change the behavior of its followers. One could say the same about Judaism and Mosaic laws 2000 years ago.

    I think is is completely acceptable to note that Mohammad, the Koran, as well as every school of Islamic law (Muhadib) advocate violence, political tyranny and misogyny, but the modern institutions of orthodox Islamic thought ( such as the Muftis of every major Islamic university, and every Ayatolla ) have not updated the interpretations of scripture for a tolerant, ecumenical society. This would include first recognizing the archaine words and deeds of the prophet as morally reprobate, and then prohibitting those beliefs and practices for the modern world.

    Therefore, Islam, like pre-19th century Mormonism, is the source of the problems regarding terror and misogyny, until the religion gets hijacked by moderates. I see no evidence that this mainsteam institutional reform has occurred anywhere in the Islamic world.

  • wj

    Actually, Joshua, it makes a great deal of difference. Not only in the outcomes — I can see imposition of a new legal system by violence a lot sooner than I can see a complete replacement by legal means. But at least as importantly, in the fact that legal means assail a lot fewer people in pursuit of the goal.

    I don’t know about you, but I would far rather deal with fanatics writing letters and declaiming on street corners than with fanatics killing people “for” their goals. Call me small-minded if you will.

  • Sean Aqui

    Jimmy: Where’s the contradiction? The second sentence follows logically from the first. It’s illogical to blame Islam itself, rather than the interpretations of Islam by certain schools of Muslim thought.

    You say you’ve seen no evidence of mainstream reform in the Islamic world. But to claim that you must ignore the Western and Indonesian strains of Islam, for example, which are notably more moderate than the Middle Eastern strains.

    The thing to remember about Islam is that it is one of the more chaotic religions in the world. Scholars can’t even agree on the proper order of the books in the Koran, much less on which hadiths are valid and how to reconcile the myriad conflicting passages in those hadiths. Outside of a few broad principles, it is silly to claim that “all Muslims believe this” or “all Muslims believe that”, especially when it comes to things like jihad and sharia.

    Combat the Wahabbis and Sulafis and other extreme sects. As well, attempt to separate Islam from the medieval tribal cultures that lead to the more intolerant and extreme expressions of it. The problem with the tribal regions of Pakistan, for example, isn’t Islam so much as the tribal culture that holds sway there. They’d be trouble even if they were Christian or Hindu or what have you — they would simply bend those religions to fit the culture, as they’ve done with Islam.