Such an equivalence is plainly misleading. The Spencers and the Qaradawis may agree on the seamless and unified nature of authentic Islam, but they do not agree on the consequences, practical application or designated action motivated by their conviction. The jihadists enjoin the necessity of violence against, and/or infiltration of, the West, with a view to subverting and conquering it. Critics who fear the political and historical ascendancy of Islam, regarding it as a coherent and triumphalist adversary brandishing a core doctrine of perpetual war against the infidel, argue on the contrary that Islam must be combatted, both understood and withstood. To place, let us say, Geert Wilders and the Ayatollah Khomeini in the same ideological realm, as unbending hardliners and carnivorous hawks, is an act either of obliviousness or disingenuousness.
Another important distinction or acknowledgment needs to be made here. No responsible critic of Islam is saying that all who profess the faith are jihadists, fundamentalists, or corrupt and dangerous people. Many, at any rate in the West, wish for nothing better than to live at peace with their neighbors, to raise their families, and to prosper economically. They are the benign exemplars of their faith, practicing their cultural usages and ceremonies, suppressing everything in the Koran that would disturb their equanimity, living peaceably by omission, as it were.
The trouble is that, for all its noble verses, its persuasiveness, and its softer, more tolerant ayat, the Koran is nonetheless, in its concatenated summons to violence and its comprehensive textual climate, a manual of war. Its injunctions and dictates requiring slaughter, oppression and every manner of cruelty against the unbeliever and the apostate fill surah after surah, and establish the incendiary and bellicose quality of the text, especially the larger Medinian portion. There is nothing to be found in its pages like the Sermon on the Mount, nothing like the bewildered questioning of God’s will (The Book of Job), nothing like Abraham’s bantering with the Lord, nothing quite like the gorgeous effusions of the Song of Songs, so compellingly erotic. The Pauline concept of agape is foreign to the Koran. There is no distinction between Caesar and God, between the political and the religious. Allah is remote and unapproachable. His Prophet issues commands to kill, dismember, repress, coerce, tax and enslave — commands that far outnumber his more humane utterances.
This is the book whose fissile core is always ready to be activated by its rigorous adherents, who feel they possess a divine mandate to confirm their depredations. Those whom we quaintly describe as “moderate Muslims” are either unaware of all that is in their holy book or claim that they have “reinterpreted” Islam as something other than it has, for the most part, historically revealed itself to be — and as it is visibly and forcibly proclaiming itself at this very moment, whether in the form of sectarian bloodshed or projection of power and tumult abroad. One recalls the verdict levied by Winston Churchill in The River War. While admitting that “Individual Moslems may show splendid qualities,” he had no doubt that “No stronger retrograde force exists in the world,” since Islam is “a militant and proselytizing faith [threatening] the civilization of modern Europe.” Churchill wrote in 1899; as in so many other instances, his foresight was remarkable.
One of my dinner-party interlocutors, noting my misgivings, accused me of wishing to “ban Islam.” This is a most unfortunate canard. For one thing, how does one go about banning a religion wholesale — unless, of course, one lives and holds power in an Islamic country? For another, no person in his right mind would ever entertain such a prospect. My argument was simply that nothing will change for the better and for any significant length of time unless the Koran is subjected to the Higher Criticism and the same kind of stratigraphic analysis — by Muslims — that the Bible underwent in the 19th century — by Westerners. That is why there is no danger of the two Testaments being used as weapons in an unfinished war against the rest of the world. The Jewish and Christian scriptures don’t impose the obligation to slaughter non-adherents. They are not teeming with decrees to murder, rape and maim and they are no longer universally believed to have been written by the finger of God — stratigraphic analysis has put paid to that notion.