I always appreciate books that present a range of viewpoints on controversial topics. Some books by a single author attempt to do this, but I always find myself wondering how fairly the author has presented views that he himself does not hold. Even if he intends to be fair, he is unlikely to be able to put forward an opposing view as effectively as his own.
I was happy, therefore, to discover a series of books called Opposing Viewpoints, published by Greenhaven Press. Each book is a short anthology of differing views on various aspects of a controversial issue, such as the death penalty, abortion, and animal rights. I doubt I’ll read the one on sports in America, but I’m very interested in learning more about the range of views on criminal justice, education, genetic engineering, health care (especially in light of current events), human sexuality, illegal immigration, mass media, and women in the military. (I’ll skip the one on vampires – though I’m curious now just what the controversy is about.)
It was the one on Islam that interested me first. I’ve read a couple books by Muslims, acknowledging the problems with radical Islamists but presenting a favorable view of Islam as a whole. And I’ve followed the many discussions over at worldmagblog where certain commenters regularly point out books, events, and verses from the Koran as evidence of the great danger the West faces from Islam. Having a variety of views presented side by side seemed like a great way to get a better perspective on the matter.
It’s quite a short book, only 150 pages including an introduction to each author/viewpoint, and a periodical bibliography for each chapter. It is divided into four sections:
- Are the Values of Islam and the West in Conflict?
- Does Islam Promote Terrorism and Violence?
- What Is the Status of Women Under Islam?
- How Will Islam’s Future Be Shaped?
One thing I noticed was that the viewpoints arguing that the values of Islam and the West are in conflict were all written from the perspective of the West. I suppose that Muslims who see their culture as opposed – and superior – to the West likely do not write their views in English. But it would have been interesting to read that perspective also.
One question that was not addressed, which I have seen mentioned a number of times on worldmagblog, is whether Islam sanctions lying to infidels (e.g. non-Muslims). Claims that mainstream Islam can peacefully coexist with the West, based on the words of moderate Muslims, tend to be dismissed as untrustworthy. They want us to believe that, I am told, so that we get our guard down.
From what I read by one Muslim writer, such an attitude of deception is contrary to the purity of spirit at the heart of Islam. But of course, one might point out, that is exactly what a deceiver would say, to allay any suspicions. If they are deceitful to those outside their faith, there is nothing they say that can be trusted. On the other hand, if it is only a radical fringe that justify deceit in that manner, and mainstream Muslims abhor such dishonesty, it would be very frustrating to try to explain that and never be believed.
I also noticed, in this book, that most if not all the viewpoints emphasizing the dangers from Islam used examples of radical Islamists (or fundamentalist Muslims, as they are often called). Not one of them claimed that moderate Muslims do not exist, or that mainstream Islam is also dangerous. They simply made not mention of any Muslims but the radical sort. Whether this was intended to convey the message that all of Islam is dangerous, or only that the radical ones really are dangerous and therefore we need to be on our guard, I don’t know.
Having read all the different viewpoints, though, I was left with my initial impression confirmed, that Islam, as a religion, is not the danger some make it out to be. The threat from certain groups, however, is very real. So it does little good to call Islam either a religion of peace or an inherently violent religion. Like Christianity, it is not a monolithic religion. All Muslims practice the five pillars of Islam, but they differ in how they interpret the Koran, how they view modern Western culture, their political views, and much more.
Some have declared themselves our enemies, and no amount of talking will change them into friends. But after reading a variety of views from a variety of authors, I remain of the view that with many other Muslims, increased understanding of each other – on both our part and theirs – can contribute to some positive kind of relationship.