THE ULTIMATE LESSON OF EGYPT'S FAKE PHOTO:
The Muslim World Needs a Cultural Reformation,
As Opposed to Merely a Religious Reformation
By Raymond Ibrahim
Why the outlandish deception by an internationally recognized newspaper founded in 1875? Al Ahram Editor Ossama al-Saraya defended the fraudulent photo by referring to it as an "expressionist photo a brief, live and true expression of the prominent stance of President Mubarak in the Palestinian issue, his unique role in leading it before Washington." All well and good, but beyond the euphemisms and rationalizations, the fact remains: by portraying something that was not true, the state-run Al Ahram intentionally tried to deceive the people.
On the one hand, as Wael Khalil, the Egyptian blogger who first called attention to the altered photo pointed out, this anecdote is a snapshot of the routine deception the Egyptian government foists on the people: "They lie to us all the time. Instead of addressing the real issues, they just Photoshop it." On a deeper level, this incident reveals that, contrary to common belief, the fundamental problem facing the reformation of the Islamic world is not merely doctrinal; it is cultural.
Consider: even though Shari'a law promotes various troubling doctrines the subjugation of non-Muslims and women, animosity to the non-Muslim world, even the use of deception, as in the case of the Mubarak picture the one hope has been that only "radical" Muslims follow these mandates. And this is true, consciously speaking. Unconsciously, however, Shari'a teachings have become so imbedded in the Muslim psyche, permeating the worldview of all people born or bred in the Islamic world, regardless of whether they are "moderate" or "radical," indeed, regardless of whether they are Muslim at all.
Marshall Hodgson coined the term "Islamicate" to describe this phenomenon, which refers "not directly to the religion, Islam, itself, but to the social and cultural complex historically associated with Islam and the Muslims, both among Muslims themselves and even when found among non-Muslims" (The Venture of Islam, vol. 1, p.59). Daniel Pipes agrees:
In other words, if Muslim culture is more mind-molding and consequential than Muslim doctrine, still, the former has strong roots in the latter. Thus, while radical Muslims consciously seek to uphold the letter of the law, moderates unconsciously adhere to its cultural, social, and political manifestations.
In this context, then, Egypt's Al Ahram's Photoshop deception is consistent. Because Muhammad, and by extension Shari'a, permit deceit, or taqiyya, it was only natural for deception to find its way into the socio-political culture of Islam. So, whereas the radical Osama bin Laden consciously tries to implement Muhammad's injunction that "war is deceit," secularist Hosni Mubarak and his regime, including at Al Ahram, have been unconsciously molded by it. More to the point, aside from the Western media and opposition groups to Mubarak, the socalled "Arab Street" is hardly scandalized by this event, seeing it as a natural occurrence not so much because the Mubarak regime is particularly deceptive, but, rather, because the use of deceit to stay in power is consistent to the Islamicate mindset.
Lest one still doubt that aspects of a religion can become casually embedded in the social fabric of a civilization, one need look no further than to Christianity, which continues to exhibit an unconscious influence on the secular West, including upon those who most disavow it. After all, tolerance, human rights, a desire for peace, being the "nice guy" indeed, all of those concepts most championed by today's Liberal secularist, did not develop in a vacuum, but rather from precursor concepts held by a 2,000 year old religion, concepts which were then absurd and today aberrant, but which nonetheless conditioned the West's secular mindset accordingly.
In short, the teachings of a religion can subtly color the worldview of its non-observant posterity. This is especially so for Muslims: for if Western secularists, who disclaim Christianity, are still influenced by its teachings, how much more Muslims who openly avow Islam? Not only Photoshop deceit, then, but any number of "Islamicate" aspects from a tribal sense of loyalty to fellow Muslims to hatred for dogs, because Muhammad said so remain part of the average Muslim's intellectual framework.
Let it be known, then, that well meaning, moderate Muslims have yet another obstacle to tackle in their quest to reform the Islamic world. After they manage to revise some of Islam's intolerant teachings and archaic doctrines a feat difficult enough they must then figure out how to eradicate the fourteen-hundred year old epistemology borne of them.
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Islamist Terrorist Attacks on the U.S.A.
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Raymond Ibrahim, a historian of Islam, Islamism and the Middle East, is the Associate Director of the Middle East Forum, a guest lecturer at the National Defense Intelligence College, and the editor of The Al-Qa'ida Reader, a collection of tranlations of key texts and documents of the Islamist movement. Ibrahim's translations of the religious texts and political propaganda comprising this collection help readers comprehend the origins, development, history, and serious danger of the Islamist war doctrines of Usama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Founders of Al-Qa'ida and implacable enemies of the U.S.A. and the West.
The foregoing article by Raymond Ibrahim was originally published in Pajamas Media, September 22, 2010, and can be found on the Internet website maintained by the Middle East Forum, a foreign policy think tank which seeks to define and promote American interests in the Middle East, defining U.S. interests to include fighting radical Islam, working for Palestinian Arab acceptance of the State of Israel, improving the management of U.S. efforts to promote constitutional democracy in the Middle East, reducing America's energy dependence on the Middle East, more robustly asserting U.S. interests vis-ΰ-vis Saudi Arabia, and countering the Iranian threat. (URL: http://www.meforum.org/2752/muslim-world-culture-reformation-islamicate)
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