Over the past few days, I’ve had several sustained exchanges with friends and acquaintances about Islam. The most ardent and influential of these correspondents insisted that my effort to distinguish between Islam and Islamism is a waste of time. He made the following points:
1) Islam itself is the problem. Its objective is not to disseminate a religious vision, but to enforce a body of law upon the rest of the world.
2) Its scriptures are replete not with descriptions of historical violence, but with “how to” varieties of “instructional violence”.
3) Its exhortation to follow Mohammed’s example (even before Koranic teaching, so my friend argues), drives such behaviors as the merciless execution of enemies and the marrying of child-brides.
4) ISIS, Al Qaeda, et al. are merely following Islam to the letter; civil, peaceful, amiable Muslims (of which my friend concedes there are many) are in fact far less true to their faith than the terrorist is.
5) Islam continues to spread unrest of the most sanguinary sort around the world, and has done so without respite throughout its history: e.g., Boko Haram’s predations in Nigeria, which doesn’t “take their oil or support Israel or any of that crap.”
I can’t maintain that I have ever found reading the Koran particularly uplifting—or, I should say, that the uplifting parts seem to me sufficient motive to brush away the disturbing parts. And I will quickly add that parts of the Old Testament have always deeply troubled me, from Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son to the programs of genocide in the books of Samuel. But I rarely hear those sections of the Bible recommended in Christian culture as paradigms for how we should conduct ourselves in daily life or how our nation should construct a foreign policy. Another friend made the oft-repeated point to me that this resistance to ignoring certain bellicose sections of the Koran—or this acquiescence to the decisions of leaders not to ignore them—is a major stumbling block to those of us who would reach across the barriers of traditional practice.
I mentioned Zuhdi Jasser to my most vocal contact. He revealed that he had actually worked with Jasser and found him completely sincere… but that the good doctor’s humane secularism was doomed to failure in the broader Islamic world.
Honesty compels me to say that I can’t disagree with most of the points made in these exchanges. I suppose one of my reservations would qualify as pragmatic. It’s this: I don’t know where moderate Muslims like Jasser and Qanta Ahmed are to turn if we say, “You’re lovely people… but your diabolical faith must either devour you or transform you. Your one chance is to cross entirely over to our side.” Isn’t that an ideal strategy for pushing all of the moderates over to the other side?
I have one more objection, which is not at all pragmatic but has a much stronger grip upon me. As a Christian, I am fully persuaded that God is not morally inscrutable to us, but rather that He speaks very comprehensibly of basic right and wrong to every ear that listens. Nevertheless, I cannot tell a Muslim, “Your god is too distant, too arbitrary and morally unmoored from humanity”—not when it is we who practice wholesale abortion and insist that mainstream culture admit one deviant sexual practice after another. I am ashamed of Christendom, on the whole. Perhaps so many Muslims are convinced that Christianity is not the answer because they see how self-styled Christian populations behave on TV, at the movies, through the medium of pop music, and even in legislative decisions.
Marrying a child-bride is pretty awful. Slipping off on weekend junkets from Frisco or Seattle to Thailand so you can wallow through fields of child-prostitutes… well, I think I’m okay with beheading in those instances.