Saturday, January 16, 2016

Moderate Islam

Andrew McCarthy at National Review argues that the reason so many Muslims are violent terrorists is not because they've been radicalized but because they take their Koran seriously. McCarthy offers a critique in his column of an essay by Cheryl Bernard in which she makes the claim that the best way to win over Muslim radicals is by the influence of moderate Muslims. McCarthy has a lot of experience as a prosecutor of Muslim terrorists and his entire article is recommended, but here's the key excerpt:
[Bernard's] error is implicit from the very start of her essay (my italics):
Over the past decade, the prevailing thinking has been that radical Islam is most effectively countered by moderate Islam. The goal was to find religious leaders and scholars and community ‘influencers’ — to use the lingo of the counter-radicalization specialists — who could explain to their followers and to any misguided young people that Islam is a religion of peace, that the term jihad refers mainly to the individual’s personal struggle against temptation and for moral betterment, and that tolerance and interfaith cooperation should prevail.
Plainly, the “prevailing thinking” casually assumes “facts” not only unproven but highly dubious. Bernard takes it as a given not only that there is an easily identifiable “moderate Islam,” but also that this . . . what? . . . doctrine? . . . attitude? . . . is the most effective counter to “radical Islam.”

But what is moderate Islam? She doesn’t say. She maintains that there are countless moderate Muslims who, by her telling, embrace “Western values, modern life and integration.” In fact, she assumes there are so many such Muslims that they constitute the “mainstream” of Islam. Yet, that proposition is not necessarily true even in the West, where Muslims are a minority who might be expected to assimilate into the dominant, non-Muslim culture; and it most certainly is not true in the Muslim-majority countries of the Middle East.

Even worse is Bernard’s assertion — uncritical, and without a hint that there may be a counter-case — “that Islam is a religion of peace, [and] that the term jihad refers mainly to the individual’s personal struggle against temptation and for moral betterment.”

As is the wont of Islam’s Western apologists, Bernard is attempting to shield from examination what most needs examining. Her reliance on the potential of “moderate Islam” to quell “radical Islam” is entirely premised on the conceit that Islam is, in fact, moderate and peaceful. Her assumption that the vast majority of Muslims can be won over (indeed, have already been won over, she seems to say) to Western values is premised on the conceit that those values are universal and, hence, locatable in the core of Islam — such that “tolerance and interfaith cooperation should prevail” because Islam is all for them.

Islam, however, is not a religion of peace. It is a religion of conquest that was spread by the sword. Moreover, it is not only untrue that jihad refers “mainly” to the individual’s internal struggle to live morally; it is also untrue that the Islamic ideal of the moral life is indistinguishable from the Western conception.

To be clear, this is not to say that Islam could not conceivably become peaceful. Nor is it to say that jihad could not be reinterpreted such that a decisive majority of Muslims would accept that its actual primary meaning — namely, holy war to establish Islam’s dominance — has been superseded by the quest for personal betterment. To pull that off, though, will require a huge fight. It cannot be done by inhabiting an alternative universe where it has already been done.

That fight would be over doctrine, the stark omission in Bernard’s analysis. I do not think the omission is an oversight. Note her labeling of faux moderates as “aggressive traditionalists.” Citing “tradition” implies that the backwardness and anti-Western hostility she detects, to her great dismay, is a function of cultural inhibitions. But what she never tells you, and hopes you’ll never ask, is where Islamic culture and traditions come from.

Alas, they are direct consequences of Islamic scripture and sharia, the law derived from scripture. She can’t go there. She wants Islam to be moderate, but its scriptures won’t cooperate. She must rely on tradition and culture because traditions and cultures can and do evolve. Scripture, by contrast, does not — not in Islam as taught by over a millennium’s worth of scholars and accepted by untold millions of Muslims. Mainstream Islam holds that scripture is immutable. The Koran, the center of Islamic life, is deemed the “uncreated word of Allah,” eternal...

Bernard must blame aggressive traditionalism because if the problem is aggressive doctrine rooted in aggressive scripture, then it’s not changing any time soon — or maybe ever. Moreover, she is not in a position to challenge doctrine and scripture without deeply offending the believers to whom she is appealing. They are taught that any departure from centuries-old scholarly consensus is blasphemy.
A Muslim student once told me that there is no such thing as moderate Islam or radical Islam. There is just Islam as it is taught in the holy Koran. Unfortunately, the Koran is not a moderate book which is why those who follow every jot and tittle of the Prophet's teaching chafe at being told by such as the mayor of the city of Philadelphia that they're not true Muslims.