It Isn’t Our Business To Define Islam, But To Contend With It As Its Adherents Define It

Writing at National Review’s The Corner blog, Andy McCarthy makes a very important point in the context of the sentencing of Times Square wanna-be bomber Feisal Shahzad.  Since 9/11 — and starting with George W. Bush — we have been bombarded by statements from Western leaders attempting to define Islam as a “religion of peace” or some similar construction. 

McCarthy’s point is that it isn’t our business to define Islam, whether as a religion of peace or otherwise, but it is essential for us to deal with Islam as a large number of its adherents have defined it:

I do not presume . . . to pronounce on what the “true” Islam says, or on whether there even is a true Islam. Wholly apart from any jihad against the West, Muslims have been killing each other for 14 centuries, and most of the internecine warfare is over competing scriptural interpretations and claims of apostasy (a capital offense in Islam, according to the most authoritative sharia authorities). Obviously, there is plenty of internal Islamic controversy over what Islam and its law truly stand for. Americans should be very wary of people who claim to know, however well-meaning they may seem.

The point is that, whether they are right or wrong, there are millions upon millions of Muslims who believe exactly what Shahzad believes about the nature of jihad and the demands of sharia. It is of no moment to them that we do not see ourselves as at war with Islam, or that we see the victims of terrorism as “innocent.” They see things as Shahzad sees them, even if they are not willing to go the next step of commiting acts of terrorism, as Shahzad is.

From the perspective of American national security, it does not matter if those Muslims are wrong about Islam. What matters is that there are a lot of them and they constitute a mainstream current of Islamic thought. They have the support of influential Islamic scholars who tell them Islam is under siege, and they don’t care in the slightest whether Western intellectuals (at whom they scoff) or Muslim reformers (whom they regard as apostates) think they have interpreted Islam incorrectly.

Precisely.  In our multi-cultural melting-pot attempt to embrace diversity, we run the risk of missing something big.  A large number of Muslims don’t really care what we think of them or their faith.  They hate us regardless.  And regardless of our interpretation of their faith, they interpret it in a manner that justifies the slaughter of innocents.

That is not to say that all adherents to the Islamic faith have that view.  But just as we should not defame moderate Muslims with the charge of radicalism, we cannot pretend that all of Islam has peaceful intentions because some Muslims do.

It helps to look at it from a slightly different perspective — such as Fred Phelps of the Westborough Baptist Church.  Among other things, Phelps and his followers picket military funerals to protest the existence of gays for some incomprehensible reason.  In my view, the teachings and actions of Fred Phelps are wholly incompatible with the Christian faith (in general terms as opposed to any specific denomination). 

I do not accept Phelps as a representative of the Christian faith.  But his followers do.  Fortunately, Phelps’ followers appear to be little more than a rag-tag bunch of extended family members. 

But imagine that Phelps were part of a widespread branch of Christianity rather than a fringe idiot.  Imagine that he had thousands or millions of followers, and that they decide that terrorism against gays is necessary to “defend” Christianity.   At that point, a debate over whether Phelps is a “true Christian” or whether his beliefs are in accord with obscure Christian doctrine is academic at best.

Under this hypothetical, it would not matter that Phelps is wrong about Christianity.  It would not matter that his interpretation is a perversion of Christianity’s teachings.  It would be enough if a large number of people agreed with his interpretation, and the risk imposed by those people would not be lessened if people ran about braying that true Christianity is a religion of peace. 

When faced with real people in substantial numbers who hold an extreme view and act upon it, as a matter of security we have to deal with the people we have in the world, not the people we wish they were.

Published in: on October 5, 2010 at 9:23 pm  Leave a Comment  

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