Monday, February 2, 2009

Islam and Christianity--Modernity v. Tradition

This morning Spengler's column--Who are the 'extraordinary' Muslims?--made two points of interest to me. The first is one that's been on my mind lately:

“My job is to communicate to the American people that the Muslim world is filled with extraordinary people who simply want to live their lives and see their children live better lives,” United States President Barack Obama told an Arabic television channel on January 26. Really? What are their names? Word has come to the West of no extraordinary Muslim thinker since the 12th century. There is one first-rank Arab writer working today who tries to explain why there are no extraordinary Muslims--but on that more below.
By “extraordinary,” to be sure, Obama means no more than Garrison Keillor meant in saying that the children of Lake Wobegon all are above average. There is no “there” in Obama's “patchwork,” as he characterized America in his inaugural address. America is all patches and no quilt, arranged in no particular order, as in his remark in the same interview that America is “a country of Muslims, Jews, Christians, non-believers.” Everyone is ordinary, or maybe extraordinary--whatever. If Obama had said that “the Muslim world is filled with ordinary people, etc.,” his meaning would have been clearer. 

This really is an extraordinary (!) statement that Obama made. Think about it. To be “extraordinary” means no more than “to simply want to live your life and see your children live a better life.” No statement about the content or the quality of that life, the connectedness of that life to others, of an overarching meaning to that life. Presumably, the meaning of life is the meaning we give it--a concept familiar to students of modern atheistic ideologies. One can be extraordinary, according to Obama, while leading a life of the utmost ordinariness, while having no ambition beyond mere living--and wishing for your children more of the same!