NYT: Choosing a Sect

March 4, 2007

Noah Feldman, always one of the brightest and most clued-in of his peers, discusses the which-side-should-we-pick issue in the NYT Magazine. Being a genius, he comes to the same conclusion I’ve always emphasized: that a secular state has no business ranking religious sects within or without its borders, and that the attempt to identify ideological similarities and historical parallels is pointless, if not ludicrous. A secular, democratic state needs to look for individuals and organizations who share particular goals with itself, and work with them towards achieving those goals. There is no need for anything more or anything less.
The article is also a great example of trying to write that which – fully explained – can never be squeezed into the confines of the Times. I must have tried to explain this point a thousand times, but I have never come up with such a perfect, succinct wording:

The same flexibility is characteristic of Sunni salafis, whose emphasis on the Protestant-style individual reading of the Koran may favor either democratic reform or bin Ladenism. It all depends on who is doing the interpreting.

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