The mother of all evil (I)

The mother of all evil (I)

This is going to be a three-part series attempting to unmask the devout Muslim argument to forcefully rationalize the Quranic commandment forbidding “even a drop of alcohol.” Those readers who may be (probably rightly) bored with the topic - which this columnist often feels obliged to visit and revisit - may skip all three.

Last month, an interesting analysis was published in the Atlantic, recalling a July quote by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan: “Can anyone allow alcohol to be sold on a school [university] campus? Will the student go there to get drunk on alcohol or find knowledge?” (“Alcohol Apartheid: The New Turkish Laws That Segregate Drinkers,” by Dorian Jones, the Atlantic, Aug. 18, 2012).

And, more recently, Mr. Erdogan’s government forced an angry audience to enjoy the Red Hot Chili Peppers concert in Istanbul with orange juice and milk instead of beer.

For the dogmatic Muslim, a can of beer (see “Tempest in a Beer Can,” this column, July 20, 2012) or a glass of wine often amount to “getting drunk on alcohol” (see “Storm in a Wine Glass,” this column, April 3, 2010). I am curious, though, does Mr. Erdogan think he actually meets with groups of drunks when he meets Western leaders who probably enjoy a glass or two at dinner?

However, I shall first try to illustrate in which countries students go to campus to get drunk on alcohol, where they “find knowledge.”

According to data put together by Times Higher Education and Thomson Reuters, there is only one university from an overwhelmingly Muslim country in a global list of top 100 universities: the Middle East Technical University, Ankara. In that list, there are 43 U.S. universities, nine British universities, as well as five from each of the Netherlands and Japan, four from Australia and France, three from Canada, Germany, Hong Kong, Sweden and Switzerland, and two from South Korea, Israel, Singapore and China.

And in a top 400 universities list (2011-2012) put together by Times Higher Education, there are only six universities from Muslim countries (four from Turkey and one each from Egypt and Iran).

Thus, it can be very easily seen both from any credible scientific citation or university ranking list, as well as empirically (since most of the foreign student flow is from Muslim to non-Muslim countries and not the other way round), students tend to find knowledge mostly on campuses where students can drink a can of beer, rather than on campuses where religion and/or laws strictly ban alcohol.

Mr. Erdogan should rethink his black-and-white analysis in which the student either gets drunk or finds knowledge. The truth is that the student can drink, perhaps can even get drunk, while also finding knowledge. Unfortunately, the all-too-sober students in Muslim countries fail to find knowledge despite their sobriety.

It was not a surprise that Turkey was the best-performing Muslim country in the top 400 list because of its decades-long secular tradition, which allows students (and academics) to drink and find knowledge at the same time, like the rest of the 394 not-so-sober universities on that list.

But the Atlantic’s analysis highlighted a more worrying, albeit not surprising, aspect of the rise of Turkish piousness. The article quoted influential Islamic intellectual Hayrettin Karaman as saying that: “Those who don’t believe in Islam can freely live according to their beliefs. [Thank you, Mr Karaman, for your generosity!] But if this kind of living negatively affects the life, morality, religiousness and education of new Muslim generations, measures need to be taken to create ‘special zones’ for their improper actions.”

Mr. Karaman continues: “Now we live with many people side by side ... from gays to drunks to unmarried couples ... A Muslim won’t like these actions, they hate them and if there is an opportunity he keeps the intention to correct and prevent these actions.”

Perfect. “Whereabouts do you live in Turkey?” “I live in the infidel quarter. And you?” “I live in Muslim Turkey.”

And that “intention to correct and prevent these actions” is at the heart of my perpetual pessimism as to why devout Islam cannot be pluralistic.