Of Moderates and Mu’tazilites: How Islam Wins

In an important article for FrontPage Magazine, “recovered” Muslim Bosch Fawstin acknowledges that “Muslims who take Islam seriously are at war with us and Muslims who don’t aren’t. But,” he continues, “that doesn’t mean we should consider these reluctant Muslims allies against Jihad…they give the enemy cover..indifferen[t] about the evil being committed in the name of their religion…prov[ing] in their silence and inaction against jihad that they are not on our side either.” Whether they know it or not, or whether they are merely indifferent to the activities of the “radical” wing of the religion they profess, or whether some -- a very few -- are doctrinally committed to the reinterpretation of the canonical literature, “moderates” in their adherence to traditional dogma or even in their obliviousness to the axioms of Islamic orthodoxy are the sine qua non for the perpetuation of Islam as understood and pursued by those who would subjugate the liberal West to their totalitarian creed. And the latter’s understanding of the faith is correct, as David Hayden methodically shows in his masterful Muhammad and the Birth of Islamic Supremacism, a must-read for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Islam is jihad. There is nothing moderate about it.

We might say, metaphorically, that “moderate” Muslims resemble the innocent and unwitting carriers of a deadly virus. They have not deliberately caused the epidemic of Jihaditis from which millions of their fellows suffer, but they allow it to spread unchecked if they do not recognize the affliction and seek appropriate treatment. For Islam itself is the pretext and warrant for both overt violence against and covert subversion of Western cultural and institutional life, and there is no Islam without the sustaining habitat provided by the moderates. It is in this sense that moderation is complicit with extremism, the former supplying the empirical ground in which the latter can take root. The one is dependent on the other for its viability, substance, and effect. Put plainly, there is no jihadi violence (al-Qaeda, etc.) or internal sabotage (Muslim Brotherhood) without Islam, and there is no Islam without the enveloping milieu afforded by the vast community of believers, nominal or otherwise. “The nature of the problem,” writes British lawyer Gavin Boby, who directs the Law and Freedom Foundation, “may be doctrine rather than people, but the harsh fact is that doctrines are sustained by people” (personal communication). The logic is unassailable; regrettably, “moderate” Muslims are impervious to it.

There is a temptation to regard “moderate” Muslims of a special stamp -- namely those whom Fawstin calls the “very rare Muslim[s] who help us against Jihad” -- as contemporary Mu’tazilites and heroes of a reforming faith, who see themselves as allies of the democratic West. The Mu’tazilites were the eighth-and-ninth century sect thought to have struggled for the primacy of reason, freedom of the will, and the value of the individual, and their legacy has been revived by certain Islamic philosophers.  The Iranian scholarly dissident Abdolkarim Soroush, for example, who has been called the Martin Luther of Islam, describes himself as a “Neo-Mu’tazilite,” stressing that “the rationality of their school is extremely valuable” and can “bring new gains [in] using tradition and…extricating ourselves from tradition.”

However, Andy Bostom, erudite scholar of Islam and respected friend, has taken issue with this characterization. The Mu’tazilites, for all their relatively advanced thinking, were a truly nasty bunch and acted as a mihna or an Islamic inquisition against their opponents. Citing the doyen of Islamic studies Ignaz Goldziher, Bostom writes “the Mu’tazilites’ own orthodoxy was accompanied by fanatical intolerance” and “advocated jihad in all realms where their doctrine was not ascendant” (Sharia versus Freedom, Chapter 30, “Mutazilite Fantasies,” pp. 383-389).

It is tempting to see the minim of Islamic reformers as the Mu’tazilites of our time. But Bostom’s research reminds us that in the history of Islam, even the so-called enlightened reformers were zealous and bloody-minded -- a fact that we should keep in mind in our search for Muslim confederates today. Perhaps more to the point, such “enlightened” Muslims, even if they are, or appear, comparatively benign and staunch votaries of reason, are acting against their own religion, repudiating aspects of the faith they find troubling or unacceptable yet nonetheless maintaining its larger dimensions intact. They do not speak for authentic Islam but, gored on the horn of a unicorn, they lobby for a figment of the same name that does not and cannot exist. As Fawstin writes, “Islam -- not any alleged deviant form of it -- means misogyny, censorship, anti-Semitism, homophobia, wife-beatings, beheadings, honor killings, pedophilia/child marriages, murdering infidels, etc.”  Daniel Pipes, founder of the Middle East Forum, concurs, at least in part, listing such “characteristically Muslim crimes” as gruesome murders, honor killings, female genital mutilation and slave holding as “among Islam’s contributions to the lands of immigration.”