I’d like to make a course correction in the posts that I’ve done lately on Islam.
For one thing, although I think it’s rather humorous how often they use the term on conservative talk radio (Islamo-fascists), I do believe that there are several similarities between Muslim extremism and the fascism of the last century. They, and when I say “they” I mean the extremist groups like Hamas in Gaza, or Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt, and of course groups like al-Qaeda, who rely heavily on the use of violence as a means to getting what they want in the world. They are militaristic. They use charitable avenues to win the support of the people but rely on violence and intimidation, also. They teach their children to hate. They use lies and propaganda without ceasing. They prey on the hopelessness of the people. That’s the sense I get from what I’ve seen.
Even so, this view does not require me to hate all so-called Arab peoples or all Muslims. Nor does it mean I think all Muslim people are like this. I’ve met some very fine families over the years that were Muslim, and I don’t intend to start hating them now.
In an earlier post, “Challenges for Islam,” I wrote that I wished the Muslim nations of the Middle East success. What I meant by that is that their societies might become successful — and that would include political, economic, environmental and intellectual success. It means that I hope Islam’s emphasis on social justice would somehow, finally, find a way to bring about just and equitable societies.
What I did not mean in that earlier post was that Islam would be able to expand and control a much greater part of the world through its religious outreach. I would not want the U.S., for instance, to become a Muslim nation. But the suggestion that there is any real chance of something like that happening is to me mere fantasy. Islam is a growing religion, but to know the strength of the Christian tradition in the U.S. is to realize such a thing is just not going to happen. In other countries, however, there is some good possibility of Islam expanding.
I saw the editor of a new book of translations, called The al-Qaeda Reader, on C-SPAN recently. He talked about some of the verses in the Qur’an that espouse violence.(1) He said that although Muslims are under no compunction to become violent in the propagation of their faith, the extremists always will or at least will always be able to point to those verses to support violence. It’s something we have to get used to. The vast majority of Muslims don’t want violence, many even condemn it as sin, but if only a few individuals do espouse violence, it is still a paramount problem. As I read the Qur’an, I learn more about their faith, but knowing these weaknesses of the religion is going to be, I’m afraid, just a part of being an educated person. I’m sure there may even be weaknesses in our own religion, Christianity. I think we can know some of those things and still have a positive outlook.
The other thing I wanted to correct was the suggestion in my post, “What’s Wrong with the Hijab?,” that we should not continually criticize other countries or faiths about matters we disagree with. The case in point was the hijab, sometimes just a scarf, other times a complete covering of a woman except the face or eyes. I do think we must be candid about women’s rights. I also think, if there are opportunities, for instance in diplomatic discussions, for us to influence Muslims in legitimately better ways, we should do it. But get this: we should also expect them to criticize us in the same way.
Finally, I admit to being divided about this personally, but I think there is room for some hard pressuring from us on these extremist groups, and that includes when they are democratically elected. Most of us think that if a party or administration is democratically elected we should leave it be. And I used to think this also. This is hard for me, because I am basically an idealist. Maybe if it were just one country in which a group like Hezbollah was popularly elected, it would not make much difference. But now we have several countries — again, Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, etc. What if all those countries elected extremist governments? I don’t think there is anyone who would say that, if before the Nazis came to power they could have been stopped, then they wouldn’t have stopped them (saving us from World War II). Most people would say, Sure if they could have been stopped at that time we would certainly have done it. I think the situation is very similar to the Middle East today. Of course, I think there should be some cautions about this strategy (much more than we exercised in the Cold War, for instance). We should be very careful about how, why, and in what situations we become involved, and to what extent, but I think we should try. It may be that the people of the Middle East will likely never appreciate this decision of ours, but I think it has to be.
(1) The editor of The al Qaeda Reader on C-SPAN was Raymond Ibrahim and the main verses he mentioned were Sura 9, verse 29 and Sura 9, verse 111. These are verses often mentioned by the terrorists. Also, he noted that the attacks of 9/11/2001 may have been timed to coincide with the latter of these two verses — 9/11/2001.