Friday, December 4, 2015

The War Between Enlightenment and Fundamentalist Political Islam—and the Choice All Muslims Must Make

ISIS’s attack on Paris has once again pushed Islamic terrorism into the forefront. And once again, The West is conflicted about what, exactly, we are at war with—or if we are even in a war. Some say we are in a struggle against Islam to one extent or another. Others won’t accept any version of that, accusing advocates of that view of “Islamophobia.” The second view is epitomized by an editorial titled ISIS video: A coward threatens to kill innocents, in which the New Jersey Star-Ledger calls terrorists who cold-bloodedly kill helpless civilians “cowards,” and ridicules the idea that “the Koran would countenance mass murder.”

But as the outspoken Muslim dissident Ayaan Hirsi Ali observes in her book, modern Jihadist Islam must be understood as a literal extension of the Quran, its violent and murderous commandments included. She compares modern Islam to a literal interpretation of Judaism's Talmud and Christianity’s Bible, both of which also countenance violence and murder. But whereas both Jews and Christians “gradually consigned the violent passages of their own sacred texts to the past.” Islam has yet to do so. (See  Craig Biddle’s review of Ali’s book in TOS.)

I left these comments, edited and expanded for clarity:

Call them cowards if you like. But don’t evade the truth: We are at war with fundamentalist Islam. Fundamentalist Islam is a political/religious movement committed to world theocracy under Sharia law as envisioned by early Islamic teachings.

This imperialist movement does not represent all Muslims. There is a branch of Islam—reformers, led by leaders like Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Muhammad Syed—who fight for an Islam much like post-Enlightenment Christianity. Prior to its Enlightenment, Christianity was where fundamentalist Islam is today, only thankfully without today’s modern weaponry of mass death. It took centuries, but Christianity subsequently reformed itself into today’s generally peaceful religion. Islam hasn’t yet had its Enlightenment.

All religions are by their very nature authoritarian, being based on “God’s Will” as the unquestioning and unchallengeable final authority. By “peaceful religion,” I mean it in the sense that Western Christianity renounces political power as a means of forcing others into submission to its ideals. By “Enlightened Christianity,” I mean it in the sense that Christians have embraced reason as the primary means of directing their lives, having pushed faith into the background. The rejection of faith as a driver of life's decisions and the rejection of force as a means of dealing with others are corollaries.

The intersection of political power and religion breeds horrendous brutality and violent tyranny. Whether we’re talking about Crusaders or Jihadists, killers of heretics or killers of infidels, political religion is evil. Political Islam is the merger of political power and religion. We are at war with Political Islam. We are not at war with reform Muslims, who seek an Enlightened Islam separate from the political realm—a separation of Mosque and state in the tradition of the separation of church and state under which Christianity exists in the West today.

Islam is at a crossroads, split between conservative political Islam and radical Muslim or ex-Muslim reformers. In the middle are the majority of Muslims, a great middle generally peaceful but who can go either way. We in the West deny that we are in an apocalyptic conflict with Islam at our peril. The two sides—the radical reformers and the conservative Jihadists—fight for the hearts and minds of middle Muslims. And we fail to recognize and embrace reform Muslims as allies at our peril. We must face the whole truth.  

As for middle Muslims worldwide, each faces a fundamental choice: Side with primitive, tyrannical, brutal, murderous Islam—the true to its founding ideals Islam—and the likes of Al Qaeda, ISIS, and Iran. Or renounce this fundamentalist Islam with its serious and consistent commitment to Quranic text, and embrace a radical reformed Islam (or leave Islam altogether) and join the fight for civilization. Embrace political Islam, or the separation of mosque and state.

Fortunately, most Muslims are likely ripe for a Christian style reformation, or are already there. But a substantial minority lean the other way. Westerners should recognize this rift within the Muslim population, declare the fundamentalist Muslim side the enemy, the reformists our allies. We are not at war with all Muslims. We are at war with fundamentalist political Islam.

Related Reading:

Winning the Unwinnable War: America's Self-Crippled Response to Islamic Totalitarianism, by Elan Journo


Mike Kevitt said...

I know a religious person who gives total allegiance to the Bible, but approaches it as a reformed matter like Christians of today do. He doesn't think Islam will be reformed. He believes the Koran gives no time line or other word on how Islam can be reformed. But he points out that the Bible provides for Christianity's reform, in Revelation Ch. 1-3. Supposedly that's why Christianity was reformed. If the Koran doesn't provide for Islam's reformation, that might give fundamentalists more 'spiritual' fuel for their jihad, and it might sway some in the middle toward fundamentalist jihad. Religious people go by signs like this instead of thought. But I'm sure Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Muhammad Syed and other, maybe many other Muslims and former Muslims, think otherwise. Islam can be reformed without anything in the Koran saying so. But the reformers will probably have to deal with that lack of Koranic word. That can make reform of Islam harder than reform of Christianity was.

Michael A. LaFerrara said...

Perhaps. On the other hand, Christianity was founded by a man of peace, yet Christianity went political-authoritarian for a thousand years, before transitioning to today's peaceful church-state separation. Religionists can and do read into their holy books whatever they feel like at any given time, even if it means deviating from their founders. Faith means accepting beliefs in contradiction to facts. The fact that Jesus would not approve of burning heretics at the stake or persecuting non-Christians didn’t stop Dark Age Christianity’s oppressive authoritarianism.

Bottom line: People have free will and reason. If Muslims choose to use those Earthly tools, they will follow their reason to peaceful coexistence no matter what their "sacred" texts say.