To defeat the extremists for good, Muslims must reject those aspects of their tradition that prompt some believers to resort to oppression and holy war
Ayaan Hirsi Ali writes: “Islam’s borders are bloody,” wrote the late political scientist Samuel Huntington in 1996, “and so are its innards.” Nearly 20 years later, Huntington looks more right than ever before. According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, at least 70% of all the fatalities in armed conflicts around the world last year were in wars involving Muslims. In 2013, there were nearly 12,000 terrorist attacks world-wide.
The lion’s share were in Muslim-majority countries, and many of the others were carried out by Muslims. By far the most numerous victims of Muslim violence—including executions and lynchings not captured in these statistics—are Muslims themselves.
“Let me make two things clear. I do not seek to inspire another war on terror or extremism—violence in the name of Islam cannot be ended by military means alone. Nor am I any sort of ‘Islamophobe.’ At various times, I myself have been all three kinds of Muslim: a fundamentalist, a cocooned believer and a dissident. My journey has gone from Mecca to Medina to Manhattan.”
Not all of this violence is explicitly motivated by religion, but a great deal of it is. I believe that it is foolish to insist, as Western leaders habitually do, that the violent acts committed in the name of Islam can somehow be divorced from the religion itself. For more than a decade, my message has been simple: Islam is not a religion of peace.
“For me, there seemed no way to reconcile my faith with the freedoms I came to the West to embrace. I left the faith, despite the threat of the death penalty prescribed by Shariah for apostates. Future generations of Muslims deserve better, safer options. Muslims should be able to welcome modernity, not be forced to wall themselves off, or live in a state of cognitive dissonance, or lash out in violent rejection.”
When I assert this, I do not mean that Islamic belief makes all Muslims violent. This is manifestly not the case: There are many millions of peaceful Muslims in the world. What I do say is that the call to violence and the justification for it are explicitly stated in the sacred texts of Islam. Moreover, this theologically sanctioned violence is there to be activated by any number of offenses, including but not limited to apostasy, adultery, blasphemy and even something as vague as threats to family honor or to the honor of Islam itself.
It is not just al Qaeda and Islamic State that show the violent face of Islamic faith and practice. It is Pakistan, where any statement critical of the Prophet or Islam is labeled as blasphemy and punishable by death. It is Saudi Arabia, where churches and synagogues are outlawed and where beheadings are a legitimate form of punishment. It is Iran, where stoning is an acceptable punishment and homosexuals are hanged for their “crime.”
“But it is not only Muslims who would benefit from a reformation of Islam. We in the West have an enormous stake in how the struggle over Islam plays out.”
As I see it, the fundamental problem is that the majority of otherwise peaceful and law-abiding Muslims are unwilling to acknowledge, much less to repudiate, the theological warrant for intolerance and violence embedded in their own religious texts.
It simply will not do for Muslims to claim that their religion has been “hijacked” by extremists. The killers of Islamic State and Nigeria’s Boko Haram cite the same religious texts that every other Muslim in the world considers sacrosanct.
Instead of letting Islam off the hook with bland clichés about the religion of peace, we in the West need to challenge and debate the very substance of Islamic thought and practice. We need to hold Islam accountable for the acts of its most violent adherents and to demand that it reform or disavow the key beliefs that are used to justify those acts.
As it turns out, the West has some experience with this sort of reformist project. Read the rest of this entry »