Like so many others, I’m reading the papers about the terrorist attacks in Paris with concern and consternation. But I do so also as a scholar of modern Judaism, Jewish thought and philosophy, and Religion Studies. In these capacities, I don’t want to fall into either trap set by apologists or racists.
Islam is not “this” or “that.” It is just like anything else, only different, just like everything else. Apriori, I want to commit myself to the view that Islam is a great world religious culture or civilization, which today is stressed and strained by destructive and disintegrating political and religious forces that are specific to “the Arab world” and its history. Any provisional conclusion about this or that aspect that I might want to draw would stem from this basic assumption.
I’m not sure if “understanding” is the right word. I don’t think I am in a position to “understand Islam.” That seems like too big a claim, meaningless in its largeness. As a scholar whose primary field of expertise is not Islamic Studies, all I can do is try to know a little more than I do right now, and to do so with clarity. I’m grabbing time in the week to read if only just a little about this and that –scripture, history, religion, philosophy, politics, art.