Saturday, April 9, 2016

What They Hate

Fareed Zakaria, a CNN commentator, recently did a series titled Why They Hate Us. The final installment might better have been subtitled What They Hate. The "They", of course, refers to Muslim extremists around the world. Zakaria makes a couple of important points. He writes:
The next time you hear of a terror attack -- no matter where it is, no matter what the circumstances -- you will likely think to yourself, "It's Muslims again." And you will probably be right. In 2014, about 30,000 people were killed in terror attacks worldwide. The vast majority of those perpetrating the violence were Muslim but -- and this is important -- so were the victims. Of the some 30,000 dead, the vast, vast majority were Muslims.

That's crucial to understand because it sheds light on the question, "Why do they hate us?" Islamic terrorists don't just hate America or the West. They hate the modern world, and they particularly hate Muslims who are trying to live in the modern world.
This is no doubt true, and it's worth pondering. Why do they hate the modern world? The Ostensible answer is because they see modern values and cultures as conflicting with Islam. This is not just an artifact of Islamic extremism. Zakaria tacitly admits that when he declares:
Let's be clear. While the jihadis are few, there is a larger cancer within the world of Islam -- a cancer of backwardness and extremism and intolerance. Most of the countries that have laws that restrict the free exercise of religion are Muslim majority, while those that have laws against leaving the faith are Muslim majority.
In other words, majority-Muslim countries enforce laws that are antithetical to the freedoms we take for granted in the West. The populace of these lands may not sympathize with the methods of the extremists, they may even themselves be victimized by the extremists, but they share in common with the extremists a view of the way the world should be that is innately hostile to the principles enshrined in our Bill of Rights and our Declaration of Independence, particularly freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the principles of human and gender equality.

Up to this point Zakaria has not written anything that could be gainsaid, but while admitting that this is a cancer in Islam, a cancer afflicting a great many Muslims who are not themselves terrorists but who sympathize with the ultimate goals of the terrorists, he is at pains to deny that this affliction is inherent in Islam. Here he embarks upon much more controversial terrain:
When experts try to explain that in the 14th century, Islamic civilization was the world's most advanced, or that the Quran was once read as a liberal and progressive document, they're not trying to deny the realities of backwardness today. What they are saying is that it can change.
It's not at all clear that Islamic civilization was ever the world's most advanced, nor is it clear what metrics should be employed to ascertain such a thing, but never mind. Zakaria has a more important question to ask:
Islam, after all, has been around for 14 centuries. There have been periods of war and of peace. Before 1900, for hundreds of years, Jews fled European pogroms and persecution to live in relative peace and security under the Ottoman Caliphate. That's why there were a million Jews in the Muslim Middle East in 1900. Today, Jews and Christians are fleeing from Iraq and Syria and radical Islamists take control of those lands. It's the same religion then and now. So what is different?(emphasis mine)

It's not theology, it's politics. Radical Islam is the product of the broken politics and stagnant economics of Muslim countries -- they have found in radical religion an ideology that lets them rail against the modern world, an ideology that is now being exported to alienated young Muslims everywhere -- in Europe, and even in some rare cases in the United States.

How can we bring an end to this?

There's really only one way: Help the majority of Muslims fight extremists, reform their faith, and modernize their societies. In doing so, we should listen to those on the front lines, many of whom are fighting and dying in the struggle against jihadis. The hundreds of Muslim reformers I've spoken to say their task is made much harder when Western politicians and pundits condemn Islam entirely, demean their faith, and speak of all Muslims as backward and suspect.
I want very much to agree with everything he has said here, but speaking only for myself there's a huge impediment standing in the way of my assent, and I suspect it stands in the way for a lot of devout Muslims as well. It's this: Among the obligations imposed upon pious Muslims there are two which are perhaps most important: Follow the example of the Prophet Mohammad, and follow the precepts of the Koran. The reason these obligations are a problem is that Mohammad himself practiced brutal war against infidels, and it's hard to read the Koran without getting the sense that it, too, endorses an any-means-necessary strategy for spreading the faith.

If this is true, perhaps the most intractable of the three measures Zakaria commends to us for ending Islamic terror is the second - reforming the faith. Accomplishing this would seem to be as difficult as convincing devout Christians that they must change their views, not only of the authority of the New Testament, but also of the authority of Jesus Christ. Most Christians would properly see such a demand as an attempt to extinguish Christianity altogether and most Muslims would, mutatis mutandis, probably view attempts to reform Islam the same way.

If reformation of the faith is the linchpin of the strategy to end terror, prospects for success don't look particularly promising.