Bin Laden's Burial at Sea: Are We Undermining 'Moderate' Muslims?

Ever since 9/11, so-called moderates in the Muslim world have been telling us that the murderous behavior of al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden is not justified by the Quran. The Saudi-funded Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has taken great pains to make this point (while allying itself with terrorist “charities”). They claim that they, not the terrorists, represent Islam, which is a religion of peace. Such people have reportedly rejoiced in the death of Osama bin Laden, as a man who has murdered tens of thousands of Muslims and created a huge rift between Muslims and Westerners.

Others have claimed, with significant justification, that historically, it is the bin Ladens and Ahmadinejads of the Muslim world who truly represent the religion and the dictates of Mohammed’s supposedly holy revelations. This question, still unresolved, is crucial to understanding the way forward in this war. If a “moderate” Islam exists -- one that does not, despite its history, wish to establish a world-wide caliphate in which women and unbelievers are subjugated -- then encouraging its growth is the least violent way to win.

If, on the other hand, those supporting bin Laden or the radical Shias of Iran are correct, the only ultimate victory for the West will be as bloody, or more bloody, than that over Nazism and Japanese imperialism. This would be a tragic end,  killing millions of its adherents and completely discrediting the belief system, which is as much, or more, political ideology than religion. Thus it is in our interest to make every effort possible to nurture those who want to reform a religion badly in need of a Reformation, and to weaken the claims of those who hold a more traditional violent view.

As a point of contrast, let us consider a religion that did go through a successful reformation. During the Middle Ages the Christian church had a violent history. Even ignoring the Crusades, which can be viewed as a response to Muslim aggression in the Holy Land, the persecution of the Jews and others such as Huguenots (and particularly, the Inquisition), the numerous inter-faith wars in Europe, and the enslavement and forced conversion of the Native-Americans that the Spaniards found in the New World were acts that most modern Christians would have trouble defending. As James Lileks noted years ago, if he were sitting in a Lutheran Church in Minnesota, and the pastor started to call for beheadings of the infidels, most congregants would sit up, startled, and think, “Well, that was certainly different.”

Imagine that a man today had murdered thousands in the name of Christ (and lest anyone ignorantly cite Timothy McVeigh, he was an avowed agnostic). Would any significant number of Christians defend his actions? More to the point, would most Christians demand, or even think it proper that, after his unrepentant execution, he be given Christian service and burial? Would that not be viewed by many as an insult to Christianity itself?