Who's the Leading Authority in Defining Islam? Ayatollah Western Media

By Barry Rubin

The Washington Post has an article by Michael Gerson attacking Newt Gingrich’s warning that the imposition of Sharia law is a tremendous danger to U.S. interests. I’m only interested here in how the article reveals an element of Gerson’s worldview. (Don't miss the really cool observation at the end of this article.)

Gerson writes:

“Gingrich joins Iranian clerics, Taliban leaders and Salafists of various stripes in believing that the most authentic expression of sharia law is fundamentalism and despotism.”

So who is going to determine the “authentic expression” of Sharia law? Gerson? The Washington Post? The clerics most liked by Washington Post writers regardless of the size of their following? You can't create some ideal Sharia law and then say that there's nothing to worry about.

For all practical purposes, though, Islam and Sharia are going to be defined not by theories, debates by non-Muslims over theology, comparative readings of original texts, or your preferences. You, especially a non-Muslim, cannot "figure out" what Islam "really" is. All of that is irrelevant. Islam (and Sharia) will be defined by who has power as the actual political and religious leaders of Muslims. If moderates were running things--and it makes no difference whether you think Islam is a "religion of peace" or an inevitably aggressive ideology--then Islam would be moderate. And if revolutionary Islamists are running the countries, providing the most influential imams, and controlling the mosques, Islam will be radical.

The ideas that being critical of Islam as actually practiced is "Islamophobia" or that the West should understand that Islam is just great are equally fallacious. The idea that Islam "must" be radical is irrelevant.

What counts is the reality. Here's the reality: about 250 million people are going to be living in what basically are Islamist states in the Middle East, even if there are a few small compromises. Millions of people watch and listen to people like Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Brotherhood’s radical guru. How many followers do Gerson’s moderate guys who want to reform Islam have?

What's important is that any Islam defined and controlled by Hamas, Hizballah, the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaida, or the Taliban is going to be radical and anyone who is really moderate will have to shut up, flee, change sides, be murdered, marginalized, or get thrown into prison.

You notice that Gerson doesn’t mention the Muslim Brotherhood on his list of extremists. He must not have learned properly about them at the madrasa when he was studying the works of al-Qaradawi and the speeches of Muhammad al-Badri. The dominant assumption in the Western establishment today is that the Brotherhood is moderate. It isn't true and virtually everyone in the Middle East knows it isn't true, including both the Brotherhood's adherents and opponents.

Sometimes the Brotherhood is supposedly "defending" democratic society from the Salafists; sometimes they are fighting for democracy against the army. This idea that Salafists are the bad guys and the Muslim Brotherhood are the good guys is the most dangerous idea around in Western foreign policy and media foreign coverage today. The lyrics from Woody Guthrie's song "Pretty Boy Floyd" fit perfectly here:

"Well, as through the world I've rambled, I've seen lots of funny men

Some rob you with a sixgun, some with a fountain pen."

At present, the Salafists are happy to use force; the Brotherhood prefers to make laws. The outcome is the same, and the Brotherhood will use force when and if that's necessary.

What makes the Brotherhood moderate in the eyes of the Western establishment? First and foremost because they say so. Really! Oh, and perhaps they don't demand that all women must wear the veil. In Egypt, around 80 percent of Muslim already do and the rest will fall into line through peer or family pressure or intimidation. And if a tiny number defy all of those things, how important is it really?

Or, say, the Brotherhood will let tourists buy alcoholic drinks and wear scanty bathing suits. Again, big deal. The tourists will be on isolated beaches and resorts. Muslims won't be allowed to buy alcoholic drinks and after all isn't that what Sharia says?

And by the way, if the Brotherhood was so moderate they wouldn’t want to impose Sharia on all of society, now would they?

To extend the logic of Gerson’s worldview, it's those moderate Reform Muslims who want to impose Sharia. According to their interpretation of Sharia they will move the day of assembly from Friday to Saturday, the imams will tell people they don't need to eat halal food and will marry gay couples. Instead of having to make the pilgrimage to Mecca they will declare a junket to Vegas is acceptable. And tailgate parties at football games will replace jihad.

We used to have a consensus that to be a moderate Muslim one had to oppose Islamism, which is defined as the transformation of all society into one led by Islamist rulers with Sharia the law of the land and no law allowed to conflict with it. Now that’s gone in the mass media and mainstream public debate.

Incidentally, let's remember that the majority of mosques and Muslim community institutions in Europe--and a large number in the United States--are controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood or equivalent groups. There are genuine moderate Muslims but they aren't running anything. They spend more time running for their lives. Real moderates have almost no funding and are relatively ignored by the Western media. It is most painful for them to stand by and watch their radical persecutors be celebrated as "moderate" by Western societies. I know because a lot of moderates have told me how they are abused and ignored.

There's also another issue that should be considered: How can North American or European countries allow Sharia law to govern Muslims in those places when even a relatively moderate interpretation involves things against their own laws, say, for example, polygamy. I am not aware of any previous sub-group given a separate set of laws that in effect break existing laws. I doubt that any cleric with real power over Sharia is going to agree to outlaw polygamy. And that's just one example.

Notice also the profusion of prominently featured articles with titles like, "There's No Need to Fear the Muslim Brotherhood." Question: Where are the articles suggesting that there is something to fear? Wouldn't one expect to see both sides of the argument represented? Oh, I forgot. It's 2011 and "the science is settled."

Abd al-Rahman al-Rashid, a Saudi journalist who is one of the best political analysts in the Arab world, knows more on this topic than does Gerson:

“The Islamist party leaders hastened to embellish their image for the Western countries....Of course, these speeches are public relations acts, and could only be believed by someone ignorant about the region or by the logic of the religious parties. [At most, this claim of moderation] expresses the opinion of few leaders only, because the majority of leaders and cadres of these groups consider cleansing the society as their first duty, and it would not be long before they topple the tolerant leaders.”

This is, of course, precisely the thing that Lenin understood.  Here is one of many examples of his appreciation of how to pretend moderation, from 1922:

"Do everything possible and some things which are impossible to strengthen the pacifistic wing of the bourgeoisie and enhance even a little bit its electoral prospects." In addition, it is a high priority to "Divide the bourgeois powers that...will stand united against us." What's important in propaganda activities to the Western states is never 'to promote Communist views" when talking to them so as to split and weaken the enemy so it did not oppose the USSR or Communist takeovers of other countries.

Really Cool Observation:

What's really amazing about Gerson and the other media mammoths writing about the Middle East (and lots of other subjects) is that they are so totally smug and unselfconscious in their opinions that they don't notice when they've fallen into the  pit.  (The sad and inconvenient truth is that we cannot expect global warming to make them extinct!)

Is this alarmist? Well, the alarm is the part of a clock that wakes people up.

Meanwhile, those pushing the snooze button don't comprehend how they satirize themselves or make fools of themselves. Here is Gerson on Gingrich:

"The epochs of Newt Gingrich’s public life are defined by the books that have revolutionized him — generally of the type that sell well at airports."

Hahaha! Get it? Gingrich is a fool because he reads one non-serious book, gets wrapped up in some simplistic theory and thinks he's an expert, then spouts off silly ideas that have no relationship to reality. What a dope!

Hey! Wait a moment! Isn't that a perfect description of what Gerson and others writing in the big mainstream media outlets do when they spout off about Islamism and the Middle East?