01: The conservative evangelical newsweekly World devotes its March 8 cover story to press coverage of the world’s religions.
Editor Marvin Olasky examined “several thousand” newspaper articles from January, 2000 to January, 2003 covering the world’s religions and finds two tendencies — “superficiality and syncretism.” In coverage of Islam, the press tends to portray Muslim and Christian beliefs as converging, claiming that both revere Jesus and that both religions pray to the same God. Olasky writes that his informal study shows that the newspaper coverage suggests extremism represents a small minority of Islam rather than a “sizable chunk.”
He finds that reporting on Hinduism and Buddhism likewise stress the peaceful nature of these religions and downplay violence and controversies in these faiths and ignoring their theological content. “Journalistic skeptics who scorn Christian revivalists have become weak in the knees when writing about visiting Buddhist biggies,” according to Okasky.
Some of the remedies that Okasky proposes for correcting these tendencies may strike some reporters as more polemical than unbiased. Olasky writes that reporters should list the “signs of impact” among participants who claim their lives have been affected by the visit of a leader such as the Dalai Lama. ” They should also interview these adherents a year later to “see if the impact was lasting.”
The issue is on World’s Website: http://www.worldmag.com/world/issue/03-09-03/cover_4.asp
02: The spring issue of the journal National Interest features a special section on the “Sociologies of Islam.”
One of the articles, by French Islamic specialist Olivier Roy, provides an interesting overview of “EuroIslam,” which he sees as fomenting a good deal of the extremism today. Roy makes it clear that it is not the Islamic diaspora communities in Europe maintaining ties to their traditions that are the seedbed of extremism; these groups range from traditionalist to moderate. The danger comes from an alienated subculture — both from their own nations of origin and their adopted societies — who revive their faith (and in the case of white Europeans, sometimes even convert) and join networks like Al Queda to create a universal Islamic “umma” (or community) shorn of national traditions.
A similar (though less extreme) rapidly growing movement based in London is Hizb ut-Tahrir, which started out Palestinian but is now transnational, even exporting itself to the Middle East and Asia.
A second article by David Martin Jones asks how a country such as Indonesia could, in the process of modernization, make such a dramatic switch to the fundamentalist Islamic track, catching most experts by surprise. Jones writes that a new sociology of Islam is needed which accounts for how these revivalist movements feed off technology and modernity and thrive among people existing outside of actual traditions, communities and family structures.
For more information on this issue, write: National Interest, 1615 L Street, N.W., Washington, DC 20036; http://www.nationalinterest.org
03: The new book Modernizing Islam (Rutgers University Press, $24) edited by John Esposito and Francois Burgat brings together 10 scholars to examine Islam’s growing influence in public life, both in the Middle East and Europe.
Unlike the above articles, the emphasis in this book is less on the threat of terrorism and more on how the traditional Muslim communities are changing in the process of modernizing and globalizing, defying clear-cut divisions between moderate and militant. Several of the chapters contend that what has been called Islamic fundamentalism (or “Islamism”) is the route by which many Muslims are modernizing, as it generates the activism and organizations that help disenfranchised groups, such as women and the poor, gain a place in society.
The chapters on Islam in Europe also demonstrate how difficult it is to generalize about this trend; the various historic “church-state” stances and multicultural policies of these nations have created different forms of Islamic organizational life (nations requiring official recognition of Islamic groups, such as France and Belgium, tend to generate a good deal of unofficial hostility and activism). The book’s tone of guarded optimism about the acceptance of Islam within the European community is tempered by the events of September 11, with one chapter concluding that a new mood of suspicion and isolation will make it a long time” before Muslims can “return to the path of social integration.”
04: Ira Rifkin’s Spiritual Perspectives On Globalization (Skylight PathsPublishing, Rt. 4, P.O. Box 237, Woodstock, VT 05091, $16.95) explores the different meanings of globalization and how they relate to the world’s religions. Rifkin looks both at globalization in its political and economic sense (as personified, for instance, in the demonstrators against free trade) and as a cultural force.
He provides interesting profiles of how globalization impacts each religion–ranging from Christianity to Islam to Baha’i and “Earth-based religions. Throughout the book, Rifkin alternates between examining how religions address issues of globalization in their visions of social justice and how they themselves are affected by this process. In a chapter on Catholicism, Rifkin looks at how Catholic social teaching is critical of some of the tenets of economic globalism, while the church is facing strong competition from evangelicals due to the global reach of new communications technology.
The Islamic protest against globalization is growing, although there are movements that welcome these currents, such as the Daudi Bohra Isma’ili community in India (although Rifkin pays less attention to how Islamic militancy and extremism have also taken on global dimensions). He concludes that globalization will inevitably change religious groups, though they can also provide the meaning and restraints that may help keep this process from spinning out of control.