The Corner

Re: Jefferson, Luther, and the Muslim Brotherhood

Duncan, what Reuel Gerecht has to say is indeed interesting and well worth a read. His observation that “you don’t get to arrive at Thomas Jefferson unless you first pass through Martin Luther” is, to say the least, thought-provoking.


You can certainly make a case that Luther either set in motion or accelerated a process under which (a) what remained (despite the schism between Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox) of the notion of a universal Christendom — a Christian umma in some respects — was finally banished to the realm of fantasy and  (b) the church in many countries was subordinated, explicitly or implicitly,  to the national political system. You certainly can also credibly maintain that, in parts of northwestern Europe, the effect of those changes, combined with existing local traditions and expansion across the Atlantic, ultimately did indeed lead to Thomas Jefferson. You can even argue (albeit much less persuasively) that that’s a precedent that could in theory be followed in today’s Middle East. But, if so, where’s Martin Luther? If anything, the Muslim Brotherhood are, to stretch this historical analogy quite some way, the shock troops of some sort of Counter-Reformation, set on taking the Arab world even further away from Enlightenment values, intellectual diversity, the concept of an appropriately subordinate clergy, and, yes, a Jefferson.


You also write (correctly) that the quest for an Arab Ataturk has been a failure. True enough, alas. It’s worth remembering, however, that Mubarak never tried to be an Ataturk. As you so rightly said in a later post, Mubarak’s was never a liberal autocracy. He may himself have been a reasonably secularist sort, but, at its core, his quarrel with the Islamists seemed to be more about power than ideology. Mubarak simply didn’t want to share power with them. He was, however, prepared to make concessions to them in the religio-cultural arena (dreadful phrase, I know), concessions that Ataturk would have despised and, quite correctly, understood to have been storing up trouble for the future.

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