May 1, 2008
I’m generally astounded that people manage to suggest with a straight face that what the Islamic world needs is its own Luther and its own Reformation. I usually assume it’s because they’re too busy listening to themselves to think about the difference between reform and Reformation. Ironically, they’re often the sort who elsewhere spew all sorts of bile on America’s most visible inheritors of the Reformation. So I was a little surprised to see someone who apparently is actually thinking about the fact that the Reformation is a Sixteenth Century-phenomenon, though one can only wonder what they imagine the Sixteenth Century to have been like – maybe they’ve been watching too much of the Tudors:
Clearly, this is a debate of importance not only to Muslims but to non-Muslims as well, and for a Westerner listening in, the best way to understand it may be to translate it into the language of European history. Irshad Manji sees herself as moving Islam into the 16th century; Ayaan Hirsi Ali wants to move it into the 18th. It’s as if Luther and Voltaire were living at the same time.
Personally, I feel it’s more apt to “translate it into the language of” American suburban adolescence. Hirsi Ali’s approach is typical of the average 14 year old ex-Catholic, while Manji’s more nuanced critique is that of the 19 year old Liberal Arts student. (These ages are calculated for the New York suburbs, add five years and a heavy dose of embarrassing awkwardness in the embrace of High School antics during college for those from the Heartland.)