How does the State of Israel figure into the crisis for the soul of Islam?
These questions are raised, and more importantly answered, in an important double edition of Bill Moyers’ critically acclaimed "NOW" weekly news show airing July 12 on PBS.
The two episodes, one called "Islam vs. Islam," and the second titled "Justice and Jihad" features eight scholars and journalists (Muslims, Jews and Christians) struggling to understand and explain whether Islam can reinterpret itself to join modernity in peace, or whether it will be locked into a battle to the death with Western society.
"I think those people say something that needs to be heard," Moyers told The Jewish Week. "There are some surprising admissions, confessions and insights."
The dirty little secret in interfaith discussions these days is that many Islamic representatives appear unable or unwilling to confront the evidence of what has happened to Islam in Arab lands.
But the two episodes feature candid and tough exchanges between the participants about the state of Islam.
"Let’s face it. There is a death wish, a death instinct in Islam," declares Kanan Makiya, a Baghdad native and former pro-Palestinian activist. "I think it’s a serious phenomenon. Bin Laden represents it, but it’s wider spread than he is. It wasn’t there before."
Makiya says the Arab defeat by Israel in 1967 marks the transformation of Arabic Islam.
He compares it to an earlier, gentler form of Islam ("unrecognizable today") when his grandmother would accept foreigners into her house and tell folk stories.
This new radical Islam "found in Israel an excuse for its own failures," to battle overpopulation, poverty and illiteracy in the Muslim world.
Fareed Zakaria, an Indian Muslim who is now an American citizen and editor of Newsweek International, says he doesn’t think it’s possible to combine a democratic society with Shariah, the Muslim religious code of law.
"I don’t think you can make a modern democratic society work using ideas out of seventh-century Arabia. The question is how does a society come to terms with the fact that religious texts are really not blueprints for organizing modern society, they’re blueprints for organizing faith in your heart. And that’s the distinction you have to make."
Genieve Abdo, a Lebanese-American journalist who has reported on the growth of Islamic activism in Egypt and Iran says, "This crisis within Islam isn’t a clash of Islam versus the West. This is Islam versus Islam. This is a search for the road to salvation in the modern world."
In response to Moyers’ asking how knocking down the World Trade Center figures into Islam’s internal struggle, British journalist David Aikman, responds: "Because the World Trade Center represents the vision bin Laden is opposed to; the notion of freedom of trade, the notion of Western or non-Islamic ideas flowing back and forth across borders."
American political columnist Charles Krauthammer declares, "I think if the problem is Islamic fundamentalism, it’s not the fundamentalism, it’s the Islamic part."
Over the objections of Pakistani scholar Akbar Ahmed, who says one must separate Islam from Muslim behavior, Krauthammer declares: "You can’t deny modern history. Which is that the chief source of anti-Semitism in the world today, the propagation in the media, in textbooks, is coming out of the Arab world. It’s unfortunate but it is a fact."
The roundtable discussion was part of a larger seven-hour seminar on Islam and the West sponsored by the Aspen Institute.
The "Islam vs. Islam" segment also features a discussion of the increasingly politicized moderate Muslims in Egypt, where citizens are more intensely identifying with the Palestinian cause and condemning their ally, America, as well as spewing greater anti-Jewish insults in the official media.