Karen Armstrong – The Battle For Good

Sommige mensen vroegen om de aantekeningen waar ik het vanmorgen over had. Welnu, die komen misschien volgende week. Voor hetzelfde vak moesten we voor vandaag ook nog wat hoofdstukken uit Karen Armstrong’s ‘The Battle for Good’ lezen, daar heb ik wel een samenvatting van. De eigenlijke tekst is 70 blz, ik heb het in 1 blz gepropt. Ultra-ultrakort en daardoor niet echt te volgen ben ik bang, maar ach. Het is in het Engels. Voor de geinteresseerden. 🙂


Around the 1750’s Judaism wasn’t so strong as it was before. Besht (Israel) tried to oppose the decline in public morality and the spiritual vacuum Jews found themselves in and by 1750 he had around 40.000 followers, under the name of Hasidism. Divinity is everywhere, according to them. The Torah was important, but the real importance lay in ‘looking beyond the words and become aware’. Hasidism denied the separation of modernity and adopted a holistic vision that saw holiness everywhere. The Gaon on the other hand used the Torah as their basis: studying Torah means communicating with God. Gaonists also studied sciences, and clashed with Hasidim followers.

There was a common enemy however. Enlightenment turned against Judaism and Mendelssohn was up next to defend it. He insisted that Judaism was a rational faith. Then finally (1806) Napoleon announced that Jews would become full citizens of the Republic of France. However, in 1808 the Infamous Decrees were imposed and Jews were once again prosecuted, which got worse after Napoleons defeat at Waterloo in 1815. The constant struggle led to Reform Judaism, which aimed to abolish the mythos of Judaism. Rationality and pragmatism were the key. This again caused an uproar and yeshivot (later ultra-orthodox jews) arose, to counter the threat of Hasidism. Commitment to tradition was demanded. As a fourth, there was a middle-road too: Hirsch created Neo-Orthodoxy.

Muslims had a different experience. Napoleon took over Egypt, and the muslims there didn’t understood the French. After the British kicked the French out Muhammed Ali took charge and dragged Egypt into the modern world. His successors, Said and later Ismail, were naive and built the Suez-canal. Europe was interested immediately in the (trade) opportunities this provided and Egypt’s fragile economy was ruined and its independence lost.

On a whole, the experience of modernization in the Middle East was difficult, it was not one of empowerment, autonomy and innovation, but a process of deprivation, dependence and imperfect imitation of Europe. Iran for example was debilitating dependent, but had none of the advantages of serious investment and colonization. Karim Khan saw Western ideas as a threat and opposed it, but without success. Then Sayyid Ali Muhammad (1819-1850) created the Babi movement, that concentrated on the here and now. It ended up in terror and bloodshed however.

And then fundamentalism awakened. It has roots in the idea that life must have ultimate meaning and value. Reason can not address the ultimate question however. Wars were all over the world, and modernization was a high speed train not all could follow. ‘Biblical truths’ were unravelled by logic and rationality and this frightened people, who withdrew in their beliefs and radicalized. The Christians did this, the Jews with Zionism and in the muslim community Afghani and Abdu sparked fundamentalism by choosing to unite Islam to counter the threat of Western imperialism. Ironic enough something like the veil did not used to be very common in Islam, until Western writers said it was a bad thing. Wearing a veil then became a symbol of resistance against colonialism and has remained so ever since.

By the end of the nineteenth century Jews, Christians and muslims all felt that their faith was in danger of being obliterated. The defensive mechanisms they used to counter this danger sometimes led to fundamentalism.

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