Islam, Islamism, and Moderation

Of course, it is more than a question of bringing the “higher criticism,” based on historical and textual principles, to bear upon the Koran alone, for the entire auxiliary corpus, the ahadith and the sirah (life, or way, of Mohammed), would also need to be reassessed. As William Kilpatrick reminds us, “75% of the sira is about jihad. These are inconvenient facts for those who hope Islam can be reformed.” He refers as well to Moorthy Muthuswamy, author of Defeating Political Islam, whose statistical analysis of the Koran is equally shocking: over 60% of its content is of a militant and hortatory nature. This interconnected library of faith, with the Koran at the center and the sunnah (ahadith plus sirah) radiating outward from the source through the chain of transmitters (isnad) into posterity, would seem far too complex, interfused and labyrinthine to yield to significant renovation. We are dealing with a vast and integrated canon that also includes the various schools of classical Islamic jurisprudence, or madh’habs. Good luck to anyone with the stamina and temerity to separate out the “offending” constituents of so resistant an amalgam in all its theological, political and legal reticulations. The chances of success would seem to be approximately zero.

One must be especially wary of well-meaning and tender-minded Muslim apologists such as Hamid or his distant colleague Nasr Hamid Abu Zaid, a professor in Leyden since having fled his native Cairo. They are not only tilting at windmills; they are also prone to oversimplification and misconstrual. In an interview with the Qantara.de website, for example, Abu Zaid argues that the calls to violence inscribed in the pages of the Koran were caused not by theological hatred but by the need to defend the nascent Muslim community from the enmity of their own tribes and families. In the context of indiscriminate warfare, slaughter and conquest, this seems, to put it gently, rather far-fetched.

The penchant to exaggeration or to advance a prettifying hermeneutic is difficult for reformist advocates to resist, if reform is their real intention. Nonie Darwish, author of Cruel and Usual Punishment and Now They Call Me Infidel, contends that “Muslims in America seem to teach, at least temporarily, religious principles that stand in stark contradiction with the core ideology of Islam. Such lies about what Islam is have worked in favor of Muslim expansion. The confusion and double talk in Islam works well in silencing others.” To take a recent example, a group of nine Muslim scholars representing the Muslim Public Affairs Council has released a video on YouTube meant to counter jihadist violence among radical Muslim youth. But the campaign is unconvincing. For one thing, the video is riddled with misconceptions and laundered interpretations of what is plainly set down in the larger Islamic text. For another, it is not reassuring that, according to The New York Times report, some of these scholars are “politically controversial” (the Times thinks this is a good thing!) and others are converts to Islam.

While such efforts, to the extent that they are genuine, are to be applauded, they tend nevertheless to resemble stopgap contrivances compromised by a mixed message. Injustice against Muslims is presented as a fact and, although it is affirmed that “Injustice cannot defeat injustice,” there is no mention of a major source of such injustice, the violence perpetrated by Muslims on their co-religionists. And then there are simple errors of historical fact. “The Prophet Mohammad,” says Imam Suhaib Webb, “when on the battlefield, saw that amongst the enemy there were innocent women and children killed, and he was openly angry. He is prohibiting us from killing the innocent. It is very clear.” Unfortunately, it is not “very clear” at all, as a study of the Koran and a knowledge of the early history of Islam makes even clearer.

A similar initiative launched by the MPJP (Muslims for Peace, Justice and Progress), which endeavors to “promote conflict resolution” and to “invalidate extremism and bigotry,” seems to be engrossed by the spectre of “Islamophobia and the negative stereotypes of Muslims in the West.” This is a very bizarre preoccupation, considering that there is very little Islamophobia to be found in the West. Europe bends over backwards to accommodate its Muslim communities (especially in Holland and Scandinavia), the UK is bristling with mosques and chockablock with Muslim organizations (the Muslim Council of Britain, the Muslim Association of Britain, the Islamic Human Rights Commission, the Federation of Student Islamic Societies, the Cordoba Foundation, the satellite TV Islamic Channel, etc.), and the U.S. is immensely tolerant of its Muslim citizens and their manifold representatives, to the point of scrubbing allusions to Islam in the reporting of terrorist events. In fact, the 2008 FBI “Hate Crime Statistics” report shows that 61.1% of hate crime victims were Jews; only 7.7 % were Muslims. In the UK, anti-Jewish incidents nearly doubled from 2008 to 2009; Muslims appear to be doing just fine, thank you. This is the real trend. “Islamophobia” is nothing but a rhetorical weapon brandished by radical and subversive Islamic groups and their leftist fellow travelers to facilitate their incursion into Western life and politics.

The common denominator in all such cases, apart from an acrid whiff of disingenuousness, is that the Koran remains untouchable. More reasonably, Abu Zaid, in the above-mentioned interview, sees the Koran not as an eternal book but as the product of “formative influences,” which is palpably true. Indeed, it has now come to light that ancient parchment pages of the Koran, recovered during the restoration of the Great Mosque in Sana’a, Yemen, reveal fascinating differences from the three standard Koranic texts preserved in the Library of Tashkent, the Topkapi Museum and the British Library. This cache incontestably proves that the Koran was a historically evolving document, although the Imamic consensus will certainly resist acknowledging the value of the find. For to dwell upon the stratigraphic nature of the Koran amounts to heresy.

But when Abu Zaid proceeds to assert, without the slightest wisp of either evidence or ordinary perceptiveness, that “the Prophet’s invitation to the people to follow him in their faith is based upon the assumption of their freedom to choose,” he has left the real world far behind and wafted off to Cloud Cuckoo Land on the wings of a radiant fantasia that neither the Koran, the history of Islam, nor the current evolution of the faith can sustain. Abu Zaid obviously believes what he is saying, which makes him, however unwittingly, a convincing apologist for the barbarians at the gates. Naturally, this is what we in the West want to hear: it soothes our fears, panders to our sense of ourselves as an open-minded and tolerant society that is entirely warranted in accepting an alien discourse and supremacist theology in its midst, and justifies our obsequious reluctance to stand up in our own defense.

Andrew Bostom cites the great scholar of Islamic law, Joseph Schacht, to exactly this effect. “Because they cannot face the problem, because they lack historical understanding of the formation of Mohammedan religious law, because they cannot make up their minds ... on what is legislation, the modernists cannot get away from a timid, halfhearted, and essentially self-contradictory position.” And as David Kupelian rightly observes in his recent How Evil Works, “As long as the West becomes continually weaker and more contemptible in its attempts to placate Islam, the conflict will just intensify ... it is our weakness that is fueling the growth of Islamofacism.” But we Westerners are intent on aggressively defending our weakness. We persist in dreaming in Islamocolor.

This is why Geert Wilders, who believes the Koran is not only a holy book but a war manual and an ideological treatise on the level of Mein Kampf, is currently being prosecuted in a Dutch court. As he deposed at an Alliance of Patriots meeting in New York in October 2008, in a speech called America, the last man standing, “in its essence Islam is a political ideology ... [it] is not compatible with freedom and democracy.” “Now you know why,” he continued, “Winston Churchill called Islam ‘the most retrograde force in the world’ and why he compared Mein Kampf to the Quran.” Wilders’ position is not to ban the Koran outright, as many have alleged, but to proceed consistently: either ban the Koran or remove Mein Kampf from the proscription list. Wilders appears to favor the latter option since, in the long run, at least in the West, censorship never works.

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I have no foolproof solutions to propose to our dilemma, only a faint hope and a strong recommendation.