Science and Religion as Concepts: A History

Article excerpt


My emphasis will be on science and religion in Christianity and Islam, on the history as well as the present-day situation, and on the Muslim world and the West. I will start with the present day, to try to establish the political context which has probably brought about an Oxford Round Table on this subject. It will have little to do with science. That will follow.

Islam and Muslim countries facing the West--jihad, clash of civilizations, the role of religion, Israel & Palestine, etc.

So much is driven by western foreign policy and is given an Islamic gloss after the fact. Huntington 1996 (of "clash of civilizations" fame) says otherwise; but Kinzer (2003, 2007), Lewis (2002), Meddeb (2003), Ramadan (2003), Sen (2006) and many others suppport this. Re. the Middle East especially the Israeli-Palestinian conflict it is widely agreed that muslim anger and creation of the terrorist form of jihad is driven by the colonial history and by western, especially US, foreign policy (Albright 2006, Ali 2002, Armstrong 2001b, Khalidi 2005, 2006, Neumann 2005, Said 1995, 2002). Rightly or wrongly, resentment is still great of the western-backed establishment of Israel on top of 700,000 Palestinian Arabs who had to leave their land. The typical western attitude is that it was sad, for both the Jews during and after the Second World War and for the dispossessed Palestinians, but that it's in the past and everyone ought to just get on with it. Probably that is close to my attitude because it is difficult to see any other way out. But the problem is that it isn't really in the past. The Palestinian population has grown since 1948 to more than 4 million Palestinians living in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza, mostly living in squalor and without any real political control of their lives. Four million Palestinians today from 700,000 in 1948 seems like a lot but in fact if one takes the 2006 rate of population increase of 3.71% per year and applies it over the 60 years since 1948, there should be twice that many Palestinians today. Of course many have given up and migrated, mostly to western countries. Edward Said's family was a case in point. As Palestinian Christians they illustrate the reality that there were many Christian as well as Muslim Palestinians dispossessed by the creation of Israel, and also the reality that non-muslims have migrated in disproportionate numbers so that an indirect effect has been to reduce the Christian (and Jewish outside of Israel) presence in the Middle East. Western foreign policy has caused that.

Thus the consequences remain after 60 years and especially for Muslims it is difficult to say "It's the past, let's forget the wounds, let the anger go, and just get on with it". I can understand that too. Perhaps a real Palestinian state, contiguous and functional and with all the rights of a nation (Oz 1994; Khalidi 1997, 2008; Quigley 2005) , would change things, but with Israel blocking that and the US backing Israel "right or wrong", it is hard to see it on the horizon. The Muslim world is very aware of how things still are and why they don't change--so the anger remains. In the West, especially in the US, there is little awareness of this history and these causes of Muslim resentment and anger. After 9/11 any American who said maybe we should investigate why these young men would carry out such a murderous and suicidal act, which was clearly against the precepts of their religion on several grounds, was shouted down. Rudy Giuliani the then mayor of New York was typical, saying that there could be no reason for such a heinous act, so even talking about there being one was unpatriotic and treasonous. It's odd - the British dealt for many years with IRA terrorist bombings without resorting to such silly logic, and in the end they reached a peaceful settlement in Northern Ireland. The US often seems naive, not working in its own long-term best interests, or even of Israel's. …