The Islamic Vortex (Note-2)
The claim that modern Sunni ‘fundamentalism’ (Salafism, Wahhabism) is the Islamic Reformation is well-established (this blog has grazed upon the background here). The persistence of this proposition attests to its significance, and is at least suggestive of credibility. It can reasonably be placed alongside the Moldbug Ultra-Calvinism Thesis (on the cladistic identity of ‘secular’ democratic progressivism) as a central religious-historical argument, of profound relevance to the cultural tendencies of our time.
A fairly recent post at Patheos by Philip Jenkins (via Henry Dampier) presents this proposition with remarkable force. Mustering its case in terms of iconoclasm, it integrates the phenomenon helpfully, in particular by emphasizing the essential unity of militant anti-idolatry and mass violence. Smashing idols is no mere intellectual or doctrinal position. Iconoclastic militancy is a social operation, which is not only instantiated within the history of revolutionary turmoil, but occupies a privileged position within it. The revolutionary — or ideologically-mobilized — mob is epitomized by iconoclastic irruption, which foreshadows its potential for violent abstraction. Doctrinally-motivated vandalism, from the European Reformation, through the Chinese Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, to the ravages of our contemporary radical Islam, is the archetypal form of modern revolutionary (com)motion.
For present purposes, it is the Wahhabi tradition that has unleashed the savage destruction of shrines and holy places that has been so widely deplored in the past half-century or so. This includes the Taliban’s destruction of the Buddhas in Afghanistan, the attempted eradication of the glorious shrines and libraries of Timbuktu, and the annihilation of most of the ancient shrines and tombs around Mecca itself. Some Egyptian Islamists fantasize about eradicating all the ruins of pagan ancient Egypt, including the Pyramids themselves.
Modern Westerners are rightly appalled by such acts as desecrations of humanity’s cultural heritage. But such outrage demonstrates a near-total lack of awareness of the West’s own history. Nothing that the Islamists have done in this regard would cause the sixteenth century Protestant Reformers to lose a moment’s sleep. They would probably have asked to borrow hammers and axes so they could join in.
I am sometimes bemused to hear Western commentators call for contemporary Islam to experience a “Reformation,” by which they mean an opening to freedom and toleration. That is of course an extremely distorted view of Christianity’s own Reformation. Arguably, Islam has been going through its own Reformation for a century or so, which is exemplified by the Wahhabis and Salafists. That’s the problem.