It's the thoughtful opinion of Mark Lilla, in a new book titled The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics and the Modern West (excerpted last week in the Sunday New York Times Magazine) that what Islam needs, more than anything, is something of a reformation. What it doesn't need, he says, is a some kind of liberal, democratic reform--someone to come along and simply teach Muslims to keep their religion at home, after the pattern of the Christianity.
He's quite sure that Islamic radicalism can be cured only from within, and not by way of what he calls "the miracle" of American political thought. It's impossible to understand just how a place like America can exist--a true melting pot of religious people (80% of the American people consider themselves religious), who, for the most part, are somewhat content to refrain from flexing their spiritual muscles when it comes to politics. Just exactly how so many religious people can keep their religions in their back pockets in a system that deifies the separation of church and state is a mystery--and we shouldn't somehow hope that that kind of miracle will occur again in the Middle East.
Thus, he says, what they need is renewal, reformation. And what we need to do is understand.
And that's why my students are reading the article. We'll see if they do. It's not an easy read, and I'm not sure that they can. In about three hours, I'll know.
Maybe for too long I've been too easy as a teacher. I'm too much a late Sixties type even in how I handle my students. If the earth is a flat as Tom Friedman claims, then we really can't afford to be flabby. We've got to understand, Lilla says. I think he's right. The price of liberty is vigilance.