I searched Google to find out if anyone had written about Islam as a meme (if you don't know what a meme is, click here
). I found several articles, but none were what I was looking for. Then I came across an excerpt from the book, Thought Contagion
. It was exactly what I was looking for. But here's the funny thing: I already owned the book and had even read it!
But when I read it, the World Trade Center was still standing and the information was only mildly interesting to me at the time. Things have changed. I read it again, and it felt like I was reading it for the first time.
The author, Aaron Lynch, looked at several institutions in his book — families, politics, and religion — and in the religion section, he looked at most of the major religions, including Islam. What can memetics (study of memes) tell us about Islam and the trouble in the Middle East?
Memetically, Islam is a very successful memeplex (group of memes). Several embedded memes help make it so. For example, if Muslims drift away from Mohammed's teachings, Allah will end the world. That makes converting others and promoting Islam a matter of survival. It also motivates Muslims, as Lynch points out, "to dissuade each other from losing faith."
It is also a requirement of Islamic faith to make a public prayer five times a day. The unusual posture attracts attention, and the prayers can be heard by nearby people. Under some circumstances, this might help Islam spread. And the fact that the Muslim is repeating his prayers five times a day makes it very easy for him to stay focused on Islam. It would be almost impossible for him to forget it.
Islam is different from other religions in at least one important way: It began at a time and in a place where no empire constrained its spread. In other words, if you start a religion within the Roman Empire, you're going to have certain limitations. The Romans would see any new religion — especially a militant or political religion — as a threat to its power and would make sure it stayed peaceful. A religion that preached tolerance and goodwill toward others might survive, but a violent or militant or political new religion would be quashed immediately.
But Islam had no such restriction when it began, so it could incorporate "conversion by warfare" into its memeplex, and it did. As Lynch wrote, "The faith provides for a jihad or holy war, which historically led to Islamic rule over whole societies." Once a country was conquered by war, pagans were often given a simple choice: convert to Islam or die. That is written into Islamic law. If any members of the newly acquired country were Christian or Jewish, they were required to pay a special tax
and became a second-class citizen, unless they wanted to convert.
This information answered a question I had for a long time. Why are there "Muslim" countries? Do you see Buddhist countries? Hindu countries? Christian countries? I know there are countries where these religions are in the majority, but has the religion taken over the government?
No. But the way Islam was created, taking over the government is what the faithful will do. Not the extremist. Not the crazy ones. The faithful
Muslims, if they follow the teachings of Muhammad, will take over the government, establish the religion as the national religion, and rule using the law of Allah.
MEMES FOR WAR
According to the Koran, if you die while fighting for Islam, you are guaranteed
eternal paradise. This meme not only encourages bravery in battle, but it encourages continual warfare against non-Muslim nations. You cannot die fighting for Islam if there is no fighting going on. This answered another question I had for a long time: Why can't the people in the Middle East just work out their differences and get on with their lives? That question assumes that warfare is not desirable. I was assuming war is a temporary break in an otherwise peaceful, productive life. But that is an assumption that was not shared by the writer of the Koran.
So continual warfare is part of the teachings of Islam. And another meme has been added to reduce the costs of war. When men die, the ratio of women to men changes, of course, leaving widows childless or unable to take care of the children they already have. But the Koran says each man can marry up to four wives. This makes the men more at ease with going to war, and makes sure warfare doesn't reduce the numbers of the next generation of the faithful.
This is all very interesting in a detached, academic sort of way, but as you can easily surmise, this has profound implications. How then, should the rest of the world interact with Muslim countries? The religion has slowly spread and taken over countries. Should they be stopped? How can you stop such a thing?
In the heyday of Islam, Muslims were invading India, China, Europe, and Africa all at the same time, spreading rapidly, taking over countries, building an Islamic empire. They were fought back and contained, and had been contained for a long time. But they are inventing new methods to fight.
What can we do? The first thing is to know what we're dealing with, and political leaders repeating "Islam is a religion of peace" doesn't really help clarify the situation.
I have heard from several people saying they are Muslims and they have no desire to fight anyone. Obviously, it is possible to be moderate about anything. But Islam requires a lot from its followers and appears to inspire more commitment more often and with more militancy and governmental aspirations than any other religion.
If you'd like to know more about the memes in Islam, the best way is to read the Koran (you can do it online
) and find out for yourself what it really says. This is the manual orthodox Muslims are using. Since you and I are their target, it seems like a good idea to know what they are basing their actions on and why. I think you'll find it surprising.
Read more: The Terrifying Brilliance Of The Islamic Memeplex