We all know that the number of Muslims who explicitly put forward a systematically coherent moderate theology of Islam is very small. We also know that radical Islamists pretend to be moderates and fool people in the West. We also know that foolish or dishonest people in the West claim that Islam is innately moderate; that Sharia law as it will inevitably be interpreted at present is no big deal; and that the radicals are a minority, hijackers, or will soon become moderate. People must know the truth about these issues.
However, it is also true that the number of Muslims who are anti-Islamist in politics and relatively moderate in their politics and practice of Islam number in the tens and even hundreds of millions. Their motives range from liberalism through ethnic (Berber; Kurdish) or state nationalism, conservative views that do see Islamism as improper, those who find refuge in the West and want to acculturate to it, ruling groups and their supporters who don’t want Islamists to cut off their heads, etc. These people are our actual or potential allies in the battle against Islamism, and we better understand that and find ways to work with them, even if we don’t agree on everything.
How can we find a way to blend those two different factors and combine them into a standpoint and strategy?
At a moment when we should be analyzing existing political movements, ideas, actions, and the Western failure to meet this threat there is a wasteful, unending battle that subverts the effort to understand and explain what’s happening.
In one corner, we have those who claim—and these are by far the more powerful people today, controlling academia, media, and government policies in many places—that Islam is innately good, a religion of peace. Those who are revolutionaries and terrorists simply misunderstand their own religion. Naturally, the idea that non-Muslims, who are usually quite ignorant of Islam and its history, should define Islam is ludicrous.
There are many important points the religion-of-peace crowd misses but here are five of them:
–Islam, like any religion, is subject to interpretation, which is not always the same in different times and places or among various individuals or even—in Islam’s case—countries and ethnic groups. Thus, to say that the proper interpretation of Islam that is moderate and peaceful interpretation is absurd. Even to say that there are a lot of people who hold a moderate interpretation of Islam–as opposed to a conservative but anti-Islamist one–is absurd.
–If revolutionary Islamism is such a heresy why is it that it can often muster overwhelming support? Why are Islamic clerics, who know far more about Islam than the Western apologists, often supporting such a movement or at least its basic assumptions?
–There is much in Islam’s main texts, historical beliefs, and history that is not at all so peaceful. In fact, the revolutionaries, as a number of scholars have ably shown, base themselves on totally authentic portions of the Koran, the hadith, and the respected commentators of the past. To divorce Islam and revolutionary Islamist political ideology is absurd. The Islamists make clear they see themselves as fulfilling religious commandments and are acting as “proper” Muslims.
To ignore the reality of Islamism’s rootedness in Islam is to ensure that you are fooled by stealth Islamists, underestimate the power of the revolutionaries, and even—worst of all!—are ready to help your worst enemies.
–The idea that Islam has been “hijacked” by Islamists ignores the fact that they have a strong claim to legitimacy. They are not heretics or hijackers but contenders for power. And they may well succeed—helped by the blindness and foolish policies of the apologists—in seizing control of Islam. In fact, that seems to be happening.
–To claim there is such a thing as “moderate Islamism” is so ridiculous that it boggles the mind. Yet this is what mainstream academics, journalists, and policymakers argue without any evidence but the most superficial and easily disprove propaganda of the Islamists themselves.
This school tends to be apologetic and even to lie and conceal. By doing so, these “Islam is good” people make it impossible to have a successful foreign policy or to understand revolutionary Islamism.
But in the other corner are those who claim that Islam is innately bad, meaning that its followers are inevitably prone to giving full support to revolutions to seize state power and install radical Sharia-imposing regimes. In this concept, Iran, the Taliban, Hizballah, Hamas, al-Qaida, and the Muslim Brotherhood—as well as the far more subtle revolutionaries running Turkey today–have gotten Islam right and any Muslim who doesn’t support them misunderstands his own religion.
There are many important points they miss but here are five of them:
–For most of history, the systematic interpretation and praxis of Islam held by contemporary revolutionary Islamists did not exist. Thirty years ago, the radicals and their ideas were marginal, viewed as crackpot by most Muslims. The Islamists are well aware of this, and are themselves quite critical of Islam as it has been practiced since the seventh century or so.