No that question is not the punchline to a bad joke.
Irshad Manji, a Muslim woman who was born in Uganda and emigrated at the age of four to Canada with her family, has written an extraordinarily hopeful book, The Trouble with Islam. Published in 2005, the book argues that the Muslim world's fanaticism stems directly from an overly literal reading of the Koran. Manji advocates the revival of an early Muslim tradition -- the ijtihad, a process in which theological answers are determined by Muslims using other Islamic works as well as a process of dialogue and inquiry.
Her goal is to establish a worldwide network of moderate Muslims who reject the violent fanaticism of jihad.
A very encouraging start that suggests a couple of thoughts.
First, notice the eerie parallel between the difficulties caused in 19th Century America on the topic of slavery by an adherence to a rigidly literalistic interpretion of the Bible.
Second, consider the extraordinarily poor job we in the West have been doing to aggressively advocate and support the growth of the type of moderate Islam championed by Ms. Manji.
Lest I overestimate the optimism one can associate with Ms. Manji and her philosophy, consider her very "feel good liberal" suggestions made earlier this month on 3 ways to improve the world.
1. If this hellish war [in Iraq] is all about democracy, why not hold a simultaneous referendum in America and Iraq about what to do? Politicians from each country would go to the other country to make their case to the people. American politicians would have to get out of the green zone -- which the Iraq Study Group barely did -- and Iraqi politicians would have to stump in those states where the loss of U.S. soldiers has been highest.
Imagine an established democracy and an emerging democracy working together to resolve a conflict of global proportions. If nothing else comes out of this cross-cultural referendum, the people of each nation would learn something about each other. Like "Wow, they're just as confused as we are." Empathy can only be a good thing.
2. Which brings me to another nagging problem -- American power. I'm not one of those resentful Canadians who screams that the United States lies at the root of all evil. (Sorry to disappoint.) But as a global citizen who's affected by Washington's decisions, I have the right to propose this idea: The American constitution should be amended so that any president who declares war must commit a family member to the front lines.
Consider the pressure this would put on the president at the next family gathering, when the relatives interrogate him or her about why their own flesh and blood is on the firing line. The price of launching a premature war is that you could become an outcast in your household. That's sure to make the commander- in-chief think twice (or, in the case of pure ideologues, think once).
3. None of this is to let Europe off the hook. The European Union can be an honest broker between the U.S. and Iran to defuse the nuclear issue. The key is to engage Iraq's top Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Here's the idea: Europeans should quietly lobby al-Sistani to issue a fatwa (legal opinion) against Iran's efforts to go nuclear.
All three of these suggestions are relatively naive non-starters, but, on balance, I can do nothing but cheer Ms. Manji on in her efforts to create a worldwide network of moderate Muslims.