Islam dare not reform or modernize for fear of destroying itself, Barry Rubin conjectures.
He writes that first the Reformation, and then the nineteenth century attempt to adapt Christianity to the modern age, worked a disenchantment among Christians resulting in an irreversible decline of the faith itself, and that in the light of this history Islam fears to change.
Scholars in the Age of Science hoped to reconcile science and religion but found them irreconcilable. Others went in search of the historical Jesus, and the more they discerned of that dim figure, the more effectively they disentangled him from the Christian religion.
By the time this process was finished, huge numbers had fallen away from belief, while what remained in many churches, especially among the elite, is a sort of pious-flavored combination of social justice and social-climbing without much presence of divinity. Such arid religion is not particularly successful in inspiring, much less retaining, members. …
Western political, cultural, and intellectual elites today are, whatever patina of hypocrisy remains, overwhelmingly atheist. I’m not saying this is a good or bad thing. It’s simply my observation and analysis.
We see it as a distinctly Good Thing.
Rubin goes on to say the churches are aware that the more their members know about science and history, the more likely they are to defect:
Evangelical churches retain their enthusiasm, but they have a difficult choice: do they try to shield their members, deeming knowledge unsafe for them, or can they really create an alternative elite that remains steadfast? The unpalatable alternatives often seem to be ignorance or defection.
To be conventional rather than consciously hypocriticial, politicians pretend t0 believe.
Still, it is necessary for at least those members of the elite engaged in politics to pretend they have some religious faith….
Then he goes on to suggest that Islam, seeing what happened to religion in the West, fears to start a process of reform which could be similarly lethal:
My interest is how this affects Islam and the Middle East. In light of this Western history, how strong is the motive to reform Islam?
The answer is that it is far less strong than outside observers may think. The year is 2010, not 1517 when Martin Luther proclaimed his revolt against the Catholic Church and could in full confidence believe his reform would strengthen Christianity, as it arguably did for several centuries. Can Muslims believe the equivalent of that idea today?
It is 2010, not the 1820s or 1830s when [scholars] could believe that a thorough critical inquiry into Christianity would preserve its hegemony in European society. Can Muslims believe the equivalent of that idea today?
Islam suffers not due to any military or economic aggression of the West, but from the pervasiveness of apparently Western — but really more generically modern — ideas. For the great majority of believing Muslims, any serious reform of their religion is risky, probably too risky, to undertake and still expect the patient will survive. …
Here, then, is the paradox. Only massive social change, secularizing intellectuals, open debate, a critical examination of the most basic religious beliefs, a transformation of the role of women, and similar things can open up a modern society in Muslim-majority societies. Yet … the 2010 Muslim would see [such change] as suicide…
He thinks that fighting to preserve and spread their religion is a “logical response” on the part of Muslims who fear change, and the jihad we are being subjected to is a struggle against modernity.
Conversely, to dig in, kill the critics, raise the walls higher, try to shut out (or severely constrain) modernity, and demagogically stoke the fires of jihad really is a logical response for those who want to preserve their religion and society as it has existed for centuries.
And he pessimistically expects that the fight could be continued for centuries, since there are “many in the Muslim-majority world ready to die trying” to avoid adaptation to the modern world.
Many who would rather cling to their belief in the unknown than trust themselves to the known!
But we ask, what if the secular world fights back?
We think that when the West comes round (as surely it must?) to recognizing that Islam is its enemy, and uses its political, military, economic, and above all intellectual resources to beat it, that old time religion will soon shrivel, and eventually, along with all irrational beliefs dating back thousands of years, fade away.