Leading up to the coalition of the willing waging war against ISIS much noise was made about getting the Muslim leadership to speak up.
Whenever there is any violent crime committed by someone suspected of being Muslim, like the recent beheading in Oklahoma, there are predictable calls for the Muslim leadership to speak up.
There is one major problem with this tried and found wanting method: there is nobody on the other side of the phone to pick up. It is not that they are sitting by the phone, anxiously hoping the phone will stop ringing. No, there is no phone! Nobody there either.
The vaunted Muslim leadership is clearly like a griffin in two ways:
1. It is as brave and magisterial as both a lion and an eagle.
2. Nothing in reality (outside of our imaginations) actually corresponds to it.
There is nothing new about civilizations or religious traditions projecting their own expectations onto its Others. In fact, there is a whole academic cottage industry built around dismantling the category of religion as a universal. Its best representative is Brent Nongbri’s Before Religion: A History of a Modern Concept. Nongbri argument pivots around demonstrating how religion is a recent mostly mainline Protestant scholarly invention. Its main assumptions are that private feeling and sincerity toward the infinite are the essence of something that is called “religion” that exists across cultures and can be found lurking behind all the various “religious” traditions as their secret core.
It is fascinating to see how much responses to ISIS seem to display the opposite tendency toward Islam. They nonetheless project prejudices as if they were universals. There is something I would call the “papist temptation” in interpreting Islam and what it is capable of doing in response to wrongdoing by its adherents.
You might also find both my TOP10 list of books on religion and world politics of interest and an earlier post on why Islam does not need a Reformation.