Andrew Sullivan writes that we may be on the brink of a regional conflagration in the Middle East in which the states of the region begin acting much as the nation-states of Europe did in the 16th and 17th centuries. This brings me back to a thought I’ve had again and again ever since we decided to take a hands on role in the religio-cultural evolution of the Arab Middle East and the Muslim world just after 9/11. As I have, you’ve probably read a hundred times from this and that pundit that what Islam needs is its own Reformation along the lines of the Reformation in Europe that took up, in one sense or another, the better part of two centuries.
But if what you care about is geopolitical stability, less religious extremism in the political realm, or just fewer people being sawed in half or burned alive, then you can really only say this if you know little or nothing about what the Reformation actually was. Or, perhaps better to say, that it was actually a pretty rough ride for something like 150 years.
In the Muslim world, we don’t have the break out of an entirely novel schism in the dominant religious culture. But in other respects, let’s go down the list: renewal of eschatalogical enthusiasm, check; heightened sectarian identification and inter-sectarian violence, check; breakdown of established mechanisms of state and social authority, check. I’d say we, or rather they, may be about set to have their Reformation. Or they may already be in thick of it.
Not to worry, though. By 2146 or so, after a century or so of bloodletting, there may be a broad political and ideological consensus in favor or relegating religion to the private sphere and leaving the whole thing to personal conscience.