The Mirage of Moderate Islam

Diplomatic lies notwithstanding, Islam is anything but a `religion
of peace’. Any honest scholar will tell you that Islam is a religion
of violence, martyrdom, and conversion by the sword. The duty to wage
war for the propagation of the faith is plainly written in the Koran;
Osama bin Laden’s suicide bombers are part of a tradition that springs
from Islam’s warlike origins and has been re-affirmed in every generations
by ghazis, hashishim, and numerous other varieties of holy warrior.

It is the interiorization of `jihad’ as a struggle for self-mastery
that is revisionist and exceptional, one proposed by only a few
Westernized and progressive Muslims and (one senses) not wholeheartedly
believed even by them. A truer window on the nature of Islam is the way
that it divides the Earth into the Dar al-Islam (the House of Islam)
and the Dar al-Harb — the House of War, the theater of battle to
be waged with zeal until the infidel is crushed and submits to the
Will of God. The very word, islam, means `submission’.

Conspicuous by their absence are any clear denunciations of
bin-Ladenite terror from the members of the ulama, the loose
collective of elders and theologicians that articulates the Islamic
faith. Such internal criticism as we do hear is muted, equivocal,
often excusing the terrorists immediately after half-heartedly
condemning them. Far more common, though seldom reported in Western
media, are pro-jihadi sermons that denounce America as a land of
devils and praise Al-Qaeda’s mass murderers in one breath with
Palestinian suicide bombers as martyrs assured of a place in

There has been some play given in the media lately to the notion
that the ideological force behind Islamic terrorism is not Islam per
se but specifically the puritanical
sect associated with the House of Saud. Some accounts
trace the rise in terrorism to Wahhabi prosyletization in Afghanistan,
Pakistan, and elsewhere. Most versions of this theory have it that
Wahhabism is an unattractive doctrine (by contrast with, say, the Sufi
tradition of the Caucasus or the relaxed syncretic Buddhist-influenced
Islam of Indonesia) but that it wins converts because, with billions
in Saudi oil money behind it, the Wahhabites can afford to field
missionaries and build schools that promulgate the puritan party

The trouble with this theory is that it ignores the history of
Islam and the internal logic of Islamic doctrine. The history of
Islam is a collection of cycles of doctrinal decay followed by
fundamentalist renewal. Believers tend to drift away from strict
Islam, but ever century or two some mad-eyed wanderer will come
screaming out of the desert and haul the faithful back on to the
Narrow Way with a blend of personal charisma, argument and force (the
latter generally administered by some allied warlord who sees political
gain in it).

This drama keeps getting re-enacted because, in general, these
charismatic fundamentalist looney-toons are correct in their
criticism of `soft’ Islam. The Koran, the actions and statements of
the prophet Mohammed, and the witness of the lives of his immediate
followers are pretty clear on what the religious duties of a Muslim
are. Long before the 9/11 attacks, I read large portions of the Koran
(in translation) and more than one history of Islam, because I collect
religions. I learned about the Five Pillars and the hadith (the
traditional sayings of Mohammed) and the ulama.

Moderate Muslims trying to argue against the latest version of
Islamic fundamentalism are in a difficult situation. All the
fundamentalists have to do to support their position is to point at
the Koran, which is much more authoritative in an Islamic context than
the Bible is in most Christian ones. Moderates are reduced to arguing
that the Koran doesn’t really mean what it says, or arguing from
hadith that qualify or contradict the Koranic text. Since the Koran
trumps the hadith, this is generally a losing position.

The grim truth is that Osama bin Laden’s fanatic interpretation
of Islam is Koranically correct. The God of the Koran and Mohammed
truly does demand that idolatry be purged with fire and sword, and
that infidels must be forced either to convert to Islam or (as a
limited exception for Christians and Jews, the “Peoples of the Book”)
live as second-class citizens subject to special taxes and legal
restrictions. The Koran really does endorse suicidal martyrdom and
the indiscriminate killing of infidels for the faith.

(The Koran does not, however, require purdah and the veil; these
are practices the Arab world picked up from Persia after the tenth
century CE. Nor does it require female genital mutilation, which
seems to have been acquired from sub-Saharan Africa.)

For both shallow diplomatic/political reasons and deeper
psychological ones, Westerners have trouble grasping just how
bloody-minded, intolerant, and prone to periodic murderous outbreaks
of fundamentalist zeal Islam actually is. But we must come
to grips with this. If we treat the terror war as a merely
geopolitical conflict, we will be fighting the wrong battle with the
wrong weapons.

It is not merely Al-Qaeda or the Taliban or even Wahhabism we are
fighting, it is a fanatic tendency wired deep into the origins and
doctrine of Islam itself, a tendency of which these movements are
just surface signs. That tendency must be cured or cauterized out.
No lesser victory will do for a world in which means and weapons of mass
destruction grow ever easier for terrorists to acquire.

(To be continued…)

Blogspt comments

One thought on “The Mirage of Moderate Islam

  1. >Islam is anything but a `religion
    of peace’

    Take it easy man! Maybe the naughty little Yale-boy meant “Religion Of Piss” :)

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