I appreciate its friendly and irenic tone, but I also feel that I need to comment on it, if only for the sake of clarity.
Referring to me, Dr. Poonawalla writes that
He has unwittingly recycled what I call “the silence libel,” which has 3 parts:
. the assertion that Muslims do not sufficiently condemn the abuses of terrorism in the name of Islam,
. the implication that Muslims have a greater responsibility for the acts of their co-religionists than do members of other religions,
. the idea that Islam is particularly unique in history as a faith which drives people to commit acts of evil.
All three of these are false.
“I am not inclined to begin a debate on points 2 and 3,” Dr. Poonawalla continues, “as I think that they are outside the scope of the conversation that Dan is trying to begin, though I do think that anyone invoking the silence libel needs to be aware of the context they are (willingly or unwittingly) imposing by their assertion of point 1.”
I am, as a matter of fact, very familiar with points 2 and 3, and, though they are indeed beyond the scope of what I had in mind with my recent blog post, I want, before proceeding further, to make my position unmistakably clear on both of them: I agree that they are false. I reject them. And I’ve been at pains for many years, in lectures, in my writing (including newspaper columns), on my blog, and elsewhere, to combat them.
But back to the first point, which is the most directly relevant one here:
I’m well aware that many Muslims and many Muslim organizations have condemned extremist violence. I don’t dispute that for a moment. And I’m grateful for Dr. Poonawalla’s links to places where such condemnations have been compiled and/or listed. These are very useful, and I hope that my readers (and his) will consult them.
I’m fully aware, too, that the large majority of American Muslims are good citizens — even model citizens, in some cases. I don’t deny for a moment that they are productive, good people, contributing to the wider communities in which they live. And I certainly have not the slightest desire to impose some sort of special “loyalty test” (as Dr. Poonawalla calls it) on America’s Muslims. I understand that, in many cases, Muslims themselves have helped law enforcement officials to thwart planned terrorist attacks.
And I’m not accusing the Muslim community of “doing nothing.”
What I am saying, though, is that, thus far, the Muslim community hasn’t done enough.
But I want that assertion to be properly understood. It has at least two parts:
First, there are still too many young Muslims—including, as the identities of those who committed the recent barbarism in Nairobi’s Westgate Mall may have illustrated and as their participation in other comparable atrocities most certainly has, young American-born Muslims—who have been, and continue to be, seduced by the extremists. Their number can probably never be reduced to zero. That would be unrealistic. Humans are flawed creatures, and there will always be a certain percentage of thugs, crazies, unbalanced fanatics, dupes, fools, and the like. In every community, mine included. But just as the rest of us can’t simply say that “enough” has been done as long as murders and poverty and child abuse and drug addiction and infant malnutrition exist, so the Muslim community shouldn’t tell itself that it has “done enough” as long as even a small number of its youth are being radicalized and recruited for nihilistic violence.
But I’ve already likely said too much on that score, and it isn’t for me to lecture Muslims. They must deal with this problem. I cannot solve it, just as they cannot solve the problems internal to my own Mormon community. Finding and implementing such solutions for their respective communities is the responsibility of, respectively, Mormons and Muslims, and they alone are competent to do so.
The second part, though, is what I most want to discuss here:
Dr. Poonawala says that “the assertion that Muslims do not sufficiently condemn the abuses of terrorism in the name of Islam” is “false”—and, in several respects, I agree with him.
In a very important way, though, I do not. (Perhaps, of course, we’re simply talking past one another.)
When I suggest that the Muslim community hasn’t done enough to distance itself in the general public mind from these acts of violence, it’s important to know what specific standard I have in mind. In what sense am I saying that their efforts, thus far, have been insufficient?
In fact, I have a very particular and very simple standard in view.
It isn’t some sort of objective standard—meaning, for example, that they should have done 967 things but have only done, say, 802. And it isn’t some sort of standard by which I propose to measure their sincerity or the fervor with which they repudiate extremist violence. It’s not a cosmic standard of justice, but a realistic, practical measurement.
No, my standard is simply that, for whatever reasons, good or bad, fair or unfair, the message that American Muslims overwhelming reject and repudiate extremist violence hasn’t reached enough of the broader public. Therefore, the effort to get the message out has been, in that sense, insufficient.
I give scores of public lectures to large and small non-specialist audiences regarding Islam in any given year. Accordingly, I think I can plausibly say that I have a pretty accurate finger on the public pulse in this respect. And I can’t remember a single one of them over the past ten years or so in which, during the question-and-answer session that follows, I haven’t been asked “Why don’t Muslims speak up to denounce all of this terrorist violence?”
There is the occasional crank, bigot, or loon, of course. But, overwhelmingly, the question is asked by good, earnest, decent, sincere people who really want to know. They want to be reassured. They want to feel good about their Muslim neighbors and co-workers. They’re not hostile. They want to understand.
Dr. Poonawalla himself is plainly aware of the image problem that Islam has in America and in the West — his post is obviously intended to address it — and one scarcely needs to search very far before finding evidence of it. (See here and here and here, for example.)
My simple point to the American Muslim community, therefore, is that, no matter how many thousands of press releases have gone out, no matter how many meetings are held, the message hasn’t been conveyed loudly and clearly enough until such people have heard and understood it.
I’m not an enemy of the Muslim community. I’m a friend. I sincerely wish it and my Muslim friends well. I’m simply trying to give some good—or, even if not good, some sincere and heartfelt—advice.