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.

Philips remarks:

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.

August 29, 2014admin 33 Comments »
FILED UNDER :Discriminations


33 Responses to this entry

  • neovictorian23 Says:

    Famous European example circa 1936. The logical end point of scientific socialism.


    Posted on August 29th, 2014 at 4:17 pm Reply | Quote
  • Lesser Bull Says:

    Interesting. Very interesting.

    Progressivism is immune from a taste of its own medicine because it hasn’t built anything worth preserving. The “mana” (for lack of a better word–I mean something like cultural power) that you get from tearing down something beautiful and meaningful is denied to the enemies of Progress because there is nothing beautiful and meaningful that is also progressive. Statues of Lenin and MLK make a poor substitute–they’re shoddy enough that its really just urban beautification, not revolutionary defiance.

    There are historical antecedents. The first wave of Islam was fueled by iconoclastic violence. There was a curious echo in Byzantium. Christianity spread into the pagan German areas that way. It wasn’t revolutionary mob violence so much, though, because it was usually one man–the missionary would march up to the sacred tree or whatnot and chop it down. The method as used by the Christians originated with the Jews. You have Moses casting down the golden calf and other Old Testament episodes of mob violence led by the prophets of Israel against the graven images. Or single-handed revolutionary violence, as with Gideon chopping down the grove of Ishtar. There may be reasons why its suited particularly well to monotheistic religions, but it isn’t unique to them. We have the famous Athenian episode, for instance, where someone ran around and desecrated all the dongles.


    Dan Reply:

    “Progressivism is immune from a taste of its own medicine because it hasn’t built anything worth preserving. ”

    That and the fact that the definition of what is an object of progressive worship keeps changing. Indeed it would just as likely be an anti-Israeli with ties to the left, as a radical right-winger, who would deface a Holocaust memorial in 2014.


    Harold Reply:

    Neither have jews. Ever. It is one of the most remarkable phenomena almost never remarked upon. It is as if they lack any visual aesthetic sense. Synagogue is the only term for a house of worship that has no connotation of visual beauty. Every other culture of any sophistication has produced unique and beautiful artifacts or clothing or architecture or gardens…


    Chris B Reply:

    Erm. Interestingly Ashkenazim have lower spatial visual IQ then normal.


    Posted on August 29th, 2014 at 6:07 pm Reply | Quote
  • spandrell Says:

    The parallel with the Red Guards is interesting.

    Maoists had their mouths full with futurist optimism, talking about destroying the “4 olds” to bring in a new world. The Salafists on the other hand think they’re bringing back Muhammad’s world, and want to destroy the “new” to bring back the old.

    Yet another proof that you have to pay attention to what people do, not what they say.


    Posted on August 29th, 2014 at 6:52 pm Reply | Quote
  • scientism Says:

    There’s something very deep and interesting in this direction. You can view atheism as a kind of linguistic iconoclasm: the purging of images from language. It does this through a systematic over-literal interpretation. “God is a man in the sky, that’s goofy and you’re an idiot.” Of course, atheism evolved through successive phases of this process applied to Christianity. The modernist aesthetic, too, is incredibly austere. “Ornament is crime” was the rallying cry. Today iconography is confined to logos. We seem almost incapable of understanding the role it played in traditional religion and esotericism. It makes us uncomfortable.

    What does this have to do with our current predicament? I have a feeling that perversion, degeneracy, nihilism, etc, is something that particularly besets a literary elite. That there have been successive waves of conflict between the literary elite and the iconographic masses. That the modern world is the ultimate triumph of the literary over the iconographic (consider the role that literacy plays in the illusion democratic goal of an “informed citizenry”).

    There’s something we’ve lost here that is very difficult to get back in touch with in a serious way.


    Lesser Bull Reply:

    This is the most tantalizing thing I’ve read all week (yes, I’m aware of the irony of us communicating in writing). Could you expand on it?


    scientism Reply:

    I’m not quite sure how to make sense of it myself. It’s obvious imagery plays an important role in both traditional religion and in esoteric traditions and it’s equally obvious (to me, at least) that there are huge interpretative difficulties in this area (this is the sense in which I mean something has been lost). It’s very difficult to know how to interpret these traditions because they have oral and practical elements that haven’t been preserved. Once the chain is broken, it’s broken for good. There have also been successive purges, so that, for example, when we talk about “Western rationalism” we’re really talking about the fact that religious and esoteric elements were systematically purged from the historical record (for example, from Greek philosophy) by relatively modern movements.

    Why this incredible purging of imagery and of traditions that make use of imagery? Why the over-literal interpretation of language (i.e., the purging of imagery/metaphor from language)? If you look at the course of contemporary Western philosophy, it has pursued an increasingly narrow form of deductive reasoning, culminating in formal logic. Meanwhile, you have efforts to modernise everywhere that involve expelling imagery, iconography and “intuitive” reasoning (I think there’s a case for interpreting the latter as analogical). Modern art becomes non-representative and narcissistic. Architecture and design become minimalist. Mathematics undergoes a “foundations crisis” and is rebuilt atop set theory (to purge intuitive/analogical reasoning). Geometry is given an analytical foundation and diagrams are consigned to an illustrative rather than demonstrative role. It seems like this is all somehow related. How much of the “loss of meaning” we have experienced in the modern world is due to a loss of imagery and analogical reasoning?

    It seems obvious that this is something that has its origins among the literary elite. They got there first and then set about changing the illiterate, rural masses so they’d measure up. They did this through a program of modernisation that appears monomaniacally obsessed with purging imagery and analogical reasoning. This looks tantalising to me, but I’m not sure what it is yet. I wonder if perhaps we are no longer capable of understanding what was lost in the transition to modernity. But if that’s the case, we won’t know how to rebuild.


    Mark Yuray Reply:

    This is definitely tantalizing. I felt a similar feeling when I wrote my last article on language. As wide awake Westerners in 2014, we notice when progressives try to debase words like “courage.” But progressives have been around for hundreds of years. How many other words have we already “lost” that we just don’t know about? Could we even rediscover them if we tried?

    Alia D. Reply:

    I think the nihilism aspect is very interesting. Looking at some of the fringe statements around things like Travon Martin’s hoodie and slutwalk protests there seems to be an animist against the very idea that things like dress and posture could be communicative. At the same time that much of the left seems very image focus when it comes to things like race there is a denials that there could be any true meaning in images. I think it is a rejection f the complexities of reality and falling against the fact that these subtle ways of communicating can have something other than a negative meaning.

    blankmisgivings Reply:

    Intriguing, but much of what you say here is par for the course in Left discourse: especially postmodern, third worldist and eco-feminist discourse. See for example the writings of anarcho-leftist James Scott (a seminal figure for the academic left), or Indian Luddite Vandana Shiva (a crucial conduit for leftist anti-globalization types). In fact I would have thought the ‘revolt against abstraction’ has been a leading meme for at least one faction of the academic Left for half a century (since the failure of 1968) and is intimately tied to ‘multiculturalism’, ‘resistance’, ‘difference’ and other memes. Something interesting is certainly going on here, but I’m not sure what it is! Perhaps we could go back to the 18th century to see the ambiguous way abstraction and its enemies has divided up between Left and Right. Take Burke and Blake for example – the right and left versions of the revolt against abstract reason in that century in England, or Schmitt and Benjamin, a 20th century pair.
    Having said that, I can’t really agree with the binary way of seeing things in your post: iconoclasm (bad), versus analogical thought (good). I know neo-reaction dislikes dialectical/Hegelian thought, but isn’t there a potentially productive process here of iconoclastic defacement, followed by a re-embodiment in newly imagined forms of the traditional/local – something like Victor Turner’s understanding of the ritual process? (Of course I wouldn’t count Islamic iconoclasm as part of that dialectic! That seems to be more a sorry relic out of phase with the leading curve.)

    Kgaard Reply:


    I can’t help but think of Joseph Campbell when reading this exchange. He was all over this problem and made it his life’s work (Power of Myth, Hero of 1000 Faces, etc). I don’t know why he isn’t considered a more important philosopher. He completely grasped the wisdom embodied in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions (and Buddhist and Jewish). I grew up protestant (raised by existentialist parents) in a catholic town. At the time I thought the catholics were sort of knuckle-draggers intellectually … but at a deeper level I felt they were on to something — something I didn’t have access to. As I got older I realized what that was: They had kept in direct touch with Truth via the wisdom contained in the IMAGES and rituals of the Catholic Church. I, of course, did not — and am sure I’ve paid a cost as a result. I’ve had to go re-learn and re-find all the stuff the Catholics have held on to all these centuries.

    Actually, modern philosophy and modern science are in many ways probably more sympathetic to the Catholic, experiential form of religion than to the hyper-intellectual, anti-visual protestant form. Seems to me protestantism largely traces back to the blank-slate concept of Locke, no? But if we know that’s not how people are (and they’re not) … then protestantism is just flat-out wrong from the get-go. We need the rituals and the visuals and the incense and all the rest of it to stay in touch with Truth. This is why the protestant churches are EMPTY and the Catholic church down the road from me packs them in for five services every Sunday …


    darius Reply:

    Campbell, the neo-Platonist?


    Kgaard Reply:

    Yup … that’s him. Help me out here … What am I missing about Campbell that annoys people so much? Perhaps it’s something obvious (i.e. some sort of value relativism).

    Peter A. Taylor Reply:


    I know a Santera priestess with a Ph.D. in religious studies from Rice U. who thinks Campbell got a lot of stuff wrong. For example, she claims that the Oedipus myth is a European thing, not universal at all. Specifically, it has no analog in African religion.

    Kgaard Reply:

    I can totally believe he got a lot of stuff wrong. He did cover a lot of ground: Myths the world over plus all the major religions and a fair chunk of psychology. I guess what I’m really looking for is somebody to say, ‘Campbell was totally full of shit at his core, and here’s why.”

    Short of that, I’m tempted to think this is case where he was just so timely in his research — focusing on symbology and the universal mythic themes at a time when millions of people were craving exactly that kind of work — that Campbell is written off precisely because he was so popular.

    I would venture that the number of people led back to Catholicism (or Judaism or Buddhism if that’s what they grew up with) by Campbell is well into the 7 figures …

    Chris B Reply:

    IMHO at the bottom of your discussion is Chaos aka God, truth or the void. Understanding which can only be expressed in imagery, and analogy. the protestants, wahabis, progs are all rejectors of this, and are headlong into logos. They are creating a man made heaven on earth. The link between the enlightenment, the reformation and progism is this.


    Posted on August 29th, 2014 at 8:33 pm Reply | Quote
  • Cledun Says:

    It is not inaccurate to call Wahhabism/Salafism “Islamo-Fascists,” in that their stated goals are palingenetic. In this sense, the Jihadists have affinities with Radical Traditionalists that run far deeper than admitted by the superficial Neocon analysis, which states that they are “Fascists” because they are authoritarian and bigoted.


    Posted on August 29th, 2014 at 9:47 pm Reply | Quote
  • an inanimate aluminum tube Says:

    If this is the Islamic Reformation, is Islam going to swing leftwards at some point?

    Or this it? Have we finally found a situation where Cthulhu swims right?

    Right into a right singularity[1], but right nonetheless.



    James A. Donald Reply:

    If this is the Islamic Reformation, is Islam going to swing leftwards at some point?

    Already has. As with communism and progressivism, we are likely to wind up with two slightly different variations on a theme, each trying to assimilate and transform the other.


    an inanimate aluminum tube Reply:

    I’d be interested to hear your take on the unconventional leftism of the Caliphate.

    Because so far they’ve
    – elevated a monarch and some emirs
    – restored rule by warriors and priests, at least to a small area
    – restored or reinforced the patriarchy
    – restored what they see as traditional Islamic law


    I guess you could make a case that Sunni Islam in general is tainted by “demotism” because “The Sunni branch of Islam stipulates that as a head of state, a caliph should be elected by Muslims or their representative”. But I’m not sure that this Caliphate has focused on this angle much, seeing as their Caliphate is entirely self declared. Hard to say though, I can’t read their PR.

    And there is something to be said for the idea that the Sharia of the modern Caliphate is probably not the same as that of the traditional Caliphate. But then “Tradition is not something one can ever simply hold on to, or to which one can truly return.”

    Their version of their tradition is probably more atavistic than that put forward by any Westerner calling himself a reactionary, neo or otherwise.


    Posted on August 29th, 2014 at 11:16 pm Reply | Quote
  • darius Says:

    Perhaps there is a semblance between the Protestant destruction of idols during the reformation and the sunni “militant anti-idolatry and mass violence” we see today, but the parallel is weak on a number of accounts.

    1. Protestant iconoclasm was mainly aimed at Catholicism in a way that the sunni version is not mainly aimed at Catholicism’s alleged parallel, Shia Islam. Sunni iconoclasm is not locked into an internal war within Islam as Protestant iconoclasm was more or less locked into a war within Christianity. There was no significant equivalent to the kuffar, no significant parallel to the globally distributed and religiously differentiated body of non-believers. Today the idols that are broken belong not merely to Islam – Sufism, for example – but to every shade of alternative belief. Science and democracy are also deemed idolatrous and its icons – including the twin towers – are also in the firing line, however practically difficult to attack or strategically down the list of executable priorities they currently are. Protestant iconoclasm manifest as part of a war within Christendom. The Sunni iconoclasm we see today is not strictly a war within Islam but a war that Islam has waged upon the entire world. This is, of course, to do with the different situation that Islam finds itself in today – the world is a very different place and the main power it confronts for its own survival and reproduction is not a rival Islam.

    2. Protestantism was a reaction to and within Catholicism – it was an attempt to escape from the bonds of the Vatican. Sunni Islam is not the equivalent to a breakaway movement since it is the mainstream Islamic current. Sunni Islam’s iconoclasm is conservative, not revolutionary.

    3. Iconoclasm is not, strictly speaking, Wahhabi or Salafi (these are not even separate ‘schools’). The Taliban, incidentally, are actually Deobandi, contrary to the linked article – Wahhabis follow the Hanbali school of Islamic Law and the Deobandis follow the Hanafi. Both Wahhabis and Deobandis are engaged in icon smashing and this is consistent with their respective schools of law since both proscribe idols. In fact, all four schools of Islamic law plus the mainstream Shi’ite law prohibits idols, yet the destruction of idols we see isn’t consistent across the Islamic continuum. Legal proscriptions alone do not therefore explain the willingness and ability of some Islamic groups to engage in iconoclasm and others not. Iconoclasm has not been a consistent feature of Islamic history (this presents the historical context:

    So, the Islamic iconoclasm of the Wahhabis, the Taliban and now the Islamic State is not essentially Islamic, even though they have a legal basis for it, but neither is it equivalent to that of the Protestant Reformation. Both aim to literally de-face opposing power – decapitation was a technique favoured by both – but the struggles ought not be seen as parallel. One was an attempt to break away from a top heavy power, one is an attempt to claw back and unify power. One was directed at the Pope – the imperial enemy. The other is directed outside – the enemy of the marketplace of other and free ideas.


    admin Reply:

    None of these objections strike me as hugely compelling. Sure, there are differences, but they don’t seem prominent enough to mess up the basic thesis.


    darius Reply:

    Sorry, what is the basic thesis? That “modern Sunni ‘fundamentalism’ (Salafism, Wahhabism) is the Islamic Reformation”? What does “Reformation” mean here then, if it doesn’t mean a revolt against imperial power from within a religious orthodoxy? Sunni fundamentalism is the mainstream Islamic current so this certainly differs from Protestantism splintering away from within Catholicism. There is a huge difference in the political organisation of Catholicism and Islam – there is no centralised authority in Islam – so how can you reduce what is going on with Sunni Islam to a Reformation akin to the Protestant Reformation? There is nothing being reformed with Islam, just a violent reaction to everything anathema to its persistent delusions of universalism – that includes nationalism (the nation state is an alien concept in Islam), modernism (rationalism and “science” are necessary restricted to support revelation), liberalism (there is no sense of the individual in Islam) and capitalism (interest is forbidden, tax regimes are conceived differently, the entire global system is permeated with sin). This is no reformation, no break away from Islam but a digging in of heels, possibly a last attempt to salvage an idealised world order that has completely different values (ethics but also epistemology, aesthetics, politics). You say there are differences, but what makes you think that these differences do not “mess up the basic thesis”?


    admin Reply:

    It’s always been far more internal than you’re allowing for. What do you make of this, for instance?

    Cledun Reply:

    The Wahabi/Salafi “Reformists” want to do away with over a thousand years of Islamic fiqh, madh’hab, tradition. They want to do away with the Hanafi, Hanbali, Shafei, and Maliki schools of Jurisprudence, they want to do away with the accumulated shariah of the Sunni Ummah, and return to a romanticised time of Early Islam, of the Rashidun Caliphs and of Muhammad himself, before the Gates of Ijtihad were closed (before they were even open!)

    In this sense, they are very much like the Protestants, who did away with over a thousand years of collective Church doctrine and tradition, who desired a return to the ways of the Apostles and Christ himself.

    Peter A. Taylor Reply:


    I am trying to classify people as “prophets” (moral innovators) vs. “custodians” (traditionalists). This is confusing because of a tendency a lot of people have to put new wine in old bottles. Martin Luther is one example of this, but NeoPagans are extremely blatant about it.

    “We are members of the oldest religion in the world. We practice it exactly as our foremothers did 10,000 years ago. We make it up.” — Unitarian Universalist Women’s Federation (UUWF)


    Posted on August 30th, 2014 at 2:28 am Reply | Quote
  • SanguineEmpiricist Says:

    The first sentence of Maistre’s “Letters on the Spanish Inquisition”, could not be more appropriate.


    Lesser Bull Reply:

    What sentence are you thinking of? Isn’t the first sentence something like “You liked what I had to say about the Spanish Inquistion when we discussed it, so I wrote a book”?


    SanguineEmpiricist Reply:

    Sorry, must be the copy I had. I misquoted Thomas J, O’Flaherty, a catholic pastor of Salem, of which scant information is available it seems.

    “At the memorable and melancholy period of the misnamed reformation, every expedient that human ingenuity could devise, or depravity intent, was brought into formidable action against the institutions of society and the religion of Heaven, rebellion struck at, and endeavored to annihilate, whatever wisdom the time had protected, morality cherished, patriotism and virtue held dear. A blasphemous effort had been made to blow up “the rock” upon with Jesus Christ had built his Holy Church”.

    I am an atheist of course, but very interesting. In that I doubt a cleric of today would write anything different.


    Posted on August 30th, 2014 at 4:24 am Reply | Quote
  • VXXC Says:

    You want to smash the Prog gods?


    The Televisions. Smash the Televisions, in public.

    Remember it’s a message, smashing their gods.


    Posted on August 30th, 2014 at 6:14 pm Reply | Quote

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