As prejudice and fear make objective facts irrelevant, how can we still manage our differences?
When has truth ever mattered where people’s prejudices were involved and their sense of security was on the line? Fear and prejudice trump all other considerations, and since they are perennial traits of our common humanity, the challenge is never about finding ways to eradicate them but to cope with their too logical consequence, namely: the irrelevance of truth, of facts which, no matter how objective they happen to be, often fail to alter our perceptions of unfolding events. Indeed, we are condemned forever to see and understand things differently. This is our curse and, on occasions, it may also be a blessing. But no matter how we view or choose to deal with it, this is always our destiny.
Have Muslim organizations in the U.S. issued any guidelines to Mosques and Islamic centers on how to deal with troubled youths and extremist elements who are trying to recruit in their midst? Have they created outreach programs to Muslim families dealing with radicalized youths in an attempt to help them come back to the mainstream? Have they set up special camps that can help in these matters? Are they providing specialized training to Imams on how to deal with these and other related issues? Have they created educational guidelines on how certain issues related to Islamic teachings, such as Jihad and Dhimmitude, among others, should be breached?
The Qur'an and other traditional religious texts may indeed contain verses that are objectionable by modern standards, but that does not mean that we can reduce all these texts to these verses. Beyond the arcane mythology and certain specific objectionable rulings, there is also much wisdom contained in these texts, wisdom that allows them to keep their followers inspired and capable of coping with the requirements of modern life provided that they can understand the true nature of the relationship between the specific and the general in these texts.
In his treatment of Islam, and of traditional religious faiths in general, Bill Maher seems to be oblivious to this simple fact of life: people are mostly hypocritical in nature, not puritans. They want the best out of both: the here-and-now as well as the hereafter. This makes it difficult to judge people on the basis of the holy books in which they believe, because, while they might refuse to challenge the authority of these texts, in part or as a whole, their actions and inactions come as a much better measure of what they really want.
The answer to the extremism prevalent in Muslim communities around the world will not come from any allegedly “enlightened” or “moderate” set of religious scholars, but from the average Muslims’ changing attitude towards religiosity. Historical precedents have indeed shown that the religious establishment has often to play catchup with the people in this matter. In the meantime, however, establishment figures, motivated by a variety of ideological and parochial considerations, will often lead the fight against modernization using the pulpits and whatever social, economic and political institutions under their control.