After Paris, what to think about radical Islam

After Paris, what to think about radical Islam January 10, 2015

After the Paris attacks, what are we to think?

Is all Islam evil? Do all Muslims want to kill us? Should we take drastic measures to fight this world-wide militancy?

Several recent articles help us with these questions. The most insightful is by John Azumah, “Challenging Radical Islam,” in the January First Things. Azumah grew up in Ghana among Muslims.

He explains that there are four schools of thought in Islamic law, ranging from the most liberal Hanafi, which allows for analogy and individual reasoning, to the most conservative, Hanbali, which is suspicious of scholarly reasoning. Al-Quaeda and ISIS are spinoffs from the Hanbali school, while Boko Haram is also related to the Hanbali school through the influence of Salafis and Wahhabis. The latter are well-known as the Sunni movement that is supported by the Saudi royal family. Azuma relates that “Wahhabi scholars have warned against taking non-Muslims as friends and against smiling at or even wishing them well on their holidays.”

Because of these origins in one of the Muslim schools of thought—albeit the most conservative—Azumah warns us that it is “simplistic if not misleading to argue that groups like IS[IS] and Boko Haram have nothing to do with Islam.”

Jihad against non-Muslims and the ultimatum to convert to Islam, pay a special tax, or be killed are in fact based on Islamic law. The same is true of the tactic of capturing women and children as war booty and keeping or disposing of them as slaves. Islam also promises rewards and pleasures awaiting the martyr.

But there is a serious qualification. “In Islamic law only legitimate governments can declare jihad, not individuals or nonstate actors. . . . By declaring and conducting jihad on their own, al-Qaeda, IS, Boko Haram, and other such groups act as heretical usurpers.”

Furthermore, all four schools, including the conservative Hanbali school, declare that women, children, and noncombatant civilians are not to be targeted in a jihad attack. Churches and monasteries are not to be attacked or destroyed. Indiscriminate assaults on civilians and bombings in markets “violate the clear limits set in Islamic law for the conduct of a jihad.”

Azumah reminds us that Muslims leaders around the world have repeatedly and publicly denounced al-Quaeda, IS[IS], and Boko Haram.

And yet . . . Azumah nevertheless avows, “My own view is that Islamic texts contain seeds of violence.” By that he seems to mean the texts of Hadith more than the Qur’an, which he suggests teaches Muslims to love Christians. (I have argued recently that I do not find this injunction in the Qur’an.)

But Azumah urges us to realize that Islam is a huge community of 1.7 billion people, and that many—perhaps most—Muslims condemn these fanatical Muslims.

If it is right to judge Islam as a whole on the basis of the barbarism of jihadi groups, how should we explain—and encourage—the actions of Kurdish Muslims and many other Muslims who are standing up to the jihadists and paying with their lives to protect Christian and Yazidi minorities in Iraq? They read the same Qur’an, follow the same Muhammad, and perform the same daily prayers.

These Muslims, he says, care about truth, and not only about God but about their duties to their neighbors as well.

Last week Egyptian President Sisi stunned much of the world by calling for a revolution in Islam, what we might call a Reformation, to put to death (certainly philosophically and religiously and perhaps also militarily) this militant brand which makes the rest of the world fear that Islam wants them all dead.

Azumah points to the civil war now raging in Islam.

A wind is blowing in the house of Islam, and a battle for the soul of Islam is earnestly underway. ­Disillusioned young Iranians are leaving Islam in droves and giving up on religion altogether. Other ordinary Muslims are turning away from Islam to other religions, including Christianity. We see also in Islam a growing progressive trend toward a critical rereading of Islamic texts and history. These are signs that a serious introspection is taking place across the Muslim world.

Last but not least, Azumah calls on Christians to stop working undercover in Muslim societies and to openly challenge the “criminalization of Christian missions and evangelism in Muslim contexts.” In other words, call on Muslims in the public square to permit religious freedom. Perhaps he is suggesting that making these calls public will make it harder for Muslims to defend religious persecution in the court of world opinion.

At the Public Discourse Jennifer Bryson calls on Muslims and Christians alike to go beyond apologies and condemnations to “more constructive avenues of action.” Director of the Zephyr Institute and scholar of Islam, Bryson relates how she was angry when radical pro-lifers shot an abortion doctor and NOW spokeswomen claimed to be speaking for women generally. But they were “trying to usurp my voice in support of evil.”

She chooses to act instead by marching on January 24 in the streets of San Francisco at the Walk for Life West Coast. She says other Christians should be peacemakers by engaging with one another—intrafaith dialogue instead of simply interfaith dialogue.

In the wake of Charlie Hebdo, Bryson calls on Muslims to conduct programs to counter violent extremism within their own communities. She commends the Islamic Networks Group for going on the offensive with an Affirmation of Values that offers condolences to the families of the victims in Paris, affirms the rights to freedom of conscience and speech, and states that “no belief, cause, or grievance justifies such senseless violence.”

The distinguished French intellectual Bernard-Henri Levy called on January 8 in the Wall Street Journal for us all to “finally break from Leninist reasoning about the sociology of poverty and frustration behind terrorism.” We need to realize, he argues, that it was not deprivation that led to the radicalism of radical Muslims, and that trying to remedy their social ills will not stop their hating us and wanting to kill us.

Soberly, he calls on Western leaders to wake up and smell the coffee, or rather the smell of war.   They need to finally “take the measure of a war they did not want to see.” It is a “Churchillian moment” for France. I would add “for all of us.

But at the same time he advises us not to lose ourselves in the catastrophic measures of state of emergency.

Muslims need to proclaim “very loudly, very often” their rejection of this theocratic passion.

Like Sisi and others, he says “Islam must be freed from radical Islam.” He suggests they follow the example of Catholics and have something like a Second Vatican Council pursuing aggiornamento (bringing up to date).

Recalling Charlie Hebdo, he protests that to debate and even “laugh at” other ideologies is the “inalienable right of every citizen.”

Finally, David Brooks calls on us Americans not to join the crowd trumpeting “I am Charlie Hebdo.” To do say, he suggests, is hypocritical. For our college campuses would have driven Charlie Hebdo off campus in 30 seconds, accusing the satirical magazine of hate speech.

Just look at all the people who have overreacted to campus micro-aggressions. The University of Illinois fired a professor who taught the Roman Catholic view on homosexuality. The University of Kansas suspended a professor for writing a harsh tweet against the N.R.A. Vanderbilt University derecognized a Christian group that insisted that it be led by Christians.

Provocateurs, he argues, fill useful public roles. They bring the mighty low, humbling them, and instigate useful public discussions. They provoke laughter, “one of the ultimate bonding experiences.” Those who satirize, like Ann Coulter and Bill Maher, “sometimes say necessary things that no one else is saying.”

But as long as we put up with campus speech codes and banned speakers, we should not be surprised that conversation is strangled and we—who routinely condemn censorship—put up with censorship. In the name of not being offensive or hurtful. Or keeping our campuses and classrooms “safe.”

So let us have a vigorous discussion of Islam and Islams, religious persecution, religious evil, freedom of speech, freedom to ridicule, the reality of a present war . . . without the soft censorship that would ban offensiveness.


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