Revisiting “What’s the Matter With Islam?”

Commenter McDaddyo caught me in a bit of bloggish sloppiness in my recent post titled “What’s the Matter With Islam?” In that post I quoted Phyllis Chesler:

Have the Princes of Saudi Arabia, the mullahs of Iran, the imams of Cairo, Baghdad, and London, the various Palestinian factions condemned the carnage? Did I miss it?

I missed it too.

Turns out I missed it because I didn’t look for it — I accepted without challenge a widespread meme. As McDaddyo noted in the comments:

You openly confess that you are not aware of Muslims condemning the violence by radicals. Yet such condemnations are easily found in three minutes via Google.

Oops. Multiple examples available. There’s even a useful compendium of Muslim condemnations of terrorism since the 9/11 attacks, although it’s not up to date. So I’ll eat some humble pie and apologize to the brave Muslims who have spoken out against terrorism.

I have to say, however, that I stand behind the rest of the post. In particular:

I want to make very clear what I am not saying here. I am not saying Muslims are inherently evil. I am not saying there are no good Muslims, or that Islam has nothing positive to offer humanity. I most certainly am not condoning random violence or discrimination against Muslims. Every individual Muslim on the planet is a child of God and a sinner, traits they share with me. I am eager to treat them as brothers and sisters if they will do the same.

What I am saying, and the reason I express these sentiments with some passion, is that it is dangerous to ignore the elephant in the room. We must stop hiding behind euphemisms like the “war on terror.” “Terror” is not the enemy, any more than V-1 bombs were the enemy in World War II. Terror is a weapon, and it’s being wielded against America and against civilization by theocrats and fascists who fly the flag of Islam.

Islam may not be the enemy, but the enemy is Islamic. It is not atheists or Buddhists or Quakers or Catholics or fundamentalist Christians who have committed virtually every major act of terrorism (except Oklahoma City) in the past three decades. From an earlier post:

Militant Islamists declared war on America in November 1979 by taking hostages at the U.S. embassy in Tehran. This was followed by 1983 attacks on the U.S. embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut; the Pan Am 103 bombing over Lockerbie in 1988; the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993; the Khobar Towers bombing in 1996; the simultaneous 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania; and the attack on the U.S.S. Cole in 2000; along with smaller atrocities too numerous to list.

And all of that is before 9/11. Since then there have been major attacks by Islamic terrorists in London, Madrid, Bali, Mumbai, the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as smaller attacks throughout the world.

You can find an extensive yet incomplete list of such attacks at I hesitated before linking to them, because they employ a gleefully mocking tone that I find distasteful. But they perform essential work by compiling and listing attacks large and small by Islamic terrorists — at this writing, more than 12,000 such attacks since 9/11. They are careful to distinguish between Islam and individual Muslims: “Don’t judge the Muslims that you know by Islam and don’t judge Islam by the Muslims that you know. ” But they make it clear, starting with the name of their site, that they consider Islam itself to be the root of the problem, and they document the dozens of verses of the Qur’an that call Muslims to war with nonbelievers.

I’ll close this by quoting a heroic Muslim, the author of Infidel, one of the most important books I’ve ever read. Ayaan Hirsi Ali escaped from a traditional Muslim childhood in Somalia, Saudi Arabia and Kenya to become a member of the Dutch Parliament. Her searing indictments of Islam and Islamic culture led to the 2004 murder of her filmmaker colleague Theo van Gogh, and she lives under armed guard.

She declares (p. 282) that Islam needs to undergo an Enlightenment similar to the process that purged Christian culture in Europe of the worst of its dogmatic excesses. Although she now rejects the faith of her childhood, she saves her harshest criticism for the culture into which it was born (p. 347-348, emphasis added):

I first encountered the full strength of Islam as a young child in Saudi Arabia… Saudi Arabia is the source of Islam and its quintessence. It is the place where the Muslim religion is practiced in its purest form, and it is the origin of much of the fundamentalist vision that has, in my lifetime, spread far beyond its borders. In Saudi Arabia, every breath, every step we took, was infused with concepts of purity or sinning, and with fear. Wishful thinking about the peaceful tolerance of Islam cannot interpret away this reality: hands are still cut off, women still stoned and enslaved, just as the Prophet Muhammad decided centuries ago.

The kind of thinking I saw in Saudi Arabia, and among the Muslim Brotherhood in Kenya and Somalia, is incompatible with human rights and liberal values. It preserves a feudal mind-set based on tribal concepts of honor and shame. It rests on self-deception, hypocrisy, and double standards. It relies on the technological advances of the West while pretending to ignore their origin in Western thinking. This mind-set makes the transition to modernity very painful for all who practice Islam.

It is always difficult to make the transition to a modern world. … Having made that journey, I know that one of those worlds is simply better than the other. Not because of its flashy gadgets, but fundamentally, because of its values. The message of this book, if it must have a message, is that we in the West would be wrong to prolong the pain of that transition unnecessarily, by elevating cultures full of bigotry and hatred toward women to the stature of respectable alternative ways of life.

America and the West face an implacable global enemy — an enemy motivated by a perverse ideology that inspires them to commit evil in the name of Allah and Muhammad. Any individual Muslim who observes Islam in a peaceful manner is entitled to respect. But we disregard the driving force behind the enemy at our peril.

To McDaddyo and others, if you feel I still overstate my case, I welcome your feedback in the comments.

3 thoughts on “Revisiting “What’s the Matter With Islam?”

  1. Here is why I don’t like this “war on Islamic” terrorism: it is true that the much of the terrorism that effects us comes from radical Muslim terrorists.

    But they are not a monolithic bunch; for example Al Qeada and Hezbola (sp) are both Muslim but are very, very different organizations with very different political goals and are mostly at odds with each other.

  2. ollie, it’s certainly true that Shi’a and Sunni Muslims are often at odds with each other, and it’s important to be aware of that for tactical reasons. But both branches produce terrorists who are willing to murder and die for Allah — al-Qaeda is Sunni, while Shi’ite Hezbollah is believed to be behind the 1983 embassy and barracks bombings.

    In Iraq, the U.S. military has learned to take advantage of divisions even within branches — the Sunni Awakening in that helped pacify Anbar Province came about when the local Sunni tribes were disgusted by the atrocities committed by al-Qaeda (Sunni) extremists.

    Islam is not monolithic, and any hope for an Islamic Enlightenment will have to draw on the energies of Muslims who renounce terrorism. But I don’t see that as any reason to disregard the Islamic roots of our enemies.

  3. Pingback: A Trifecta of Persuasive Punditry | All That Is Necessary...

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