In order to fight Radical Islam…

In order to fight Radical Islam… December 5, 2015

…it will be necessary to understand Islam, since making common cause with the enemies of Radical Islam within the Islamic tradition will be an absolutely essential part of that fight.

This piece in First Things on the conflicting understandings of the use of violence within Islam is the best thing I have ever read on the subject. It is a tonic and relief to hear an informed discussion after listening to the umpteenth clash between ignorami declaring that radical Islamic terror “has nothing to do with Islam” and ignorami declaring “The only true Muslims are radical Islamist butchers. Moderate Muslims are either bad Muslims or liars trying to lull you into a false sense of security” (with the inevitable corollary, “The only good Muslim is a dead Muslim.”)

More sane people like the author of this piece please.

We need to strongly resist the view that Islam is the problem, that the Qur’an is the problem, that Muhammad is the problem. To denounce Islam as a death-loving religion—or the Qur’an and Muhammad as a constitution and example, respectively, for terrorists—provides excuses for twisted zealots. It reinforces their deluded belief that they and only they are the true Muslims. Moreover, it inspires fear and mistrust among the great majority of Muslims, who are not jihadists. If the Qur’an and Islam are the problems, what is the solution? Drop bombs on the Ka’bah in Mecca? Ban the use of the Qur’an?

Those who argue that jihadi groups represent the “essence” of Islam actually reflect a very Western way of thinking. Wittingly or unwittingly, they presume a scripturalist interpretation of Islam, imagining that we can explain Islamic terrorism by drawing a straight line between authoritative texts and the actions of jihadists. To prove their point, these Islam-is-the-problem critics tend to link specific acts of jihadi groups to a string of references from Islamic scripture, traditions, legal texts, and Muslim scholarly opinions. Perversely, this sola scriptura approach is no different from the jihadists’ own “Qur’an and sunna alone” approach.

The truth about religious lives is not so simple. The vast majority of Christians and Muslims don’t live by sola scriptura, or by Qur’an and sunna alone—and this is the case even when they claim to do so. A complex, shifting web of sociopolitical, geopolitical, racial, ethnic, cultural, economic, historical, and existential realities inform the way all of us live out our faith. My own view is that Islamic texts contain seeds of violence. In the corruption, illiteracy, poverty, and oppressive governments that plague many Muslim societies, those seeds find fertile ground in which they take root, sprout, and flourish—as well as in historical memories, foreign-policy missteps by Western governments, and alienation felt by Muslim youth in Western societies


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  • Dave G

    The good news is that moust who I’ve seen and read in the last couple days are closer to this piece than the two extremes given.

  • Clifton Wolfe

    You’re quite right that Understanding Islam is absolutely necessary But what you and the author of the article do not seem to understand Is that we cannot Find common cause With the Islamic enemies of radical Islam because the average Sunni Muslim the average moderate Sunni MuslimTruly believes in the oppression of women in the murder of homosexuals And the oppression of Christians and all who are not Islamic. The only hope for peace Between Islam and the rest of the world is the conversion of Muslims to Christianity.

    • Neko

      Good luck with that.

  • Similar to what I’ve read or determined myself. Although

    “An exception is made when a Muslim land comes under attack or occupation
    by an enemy force, which renders jihad or resistance an individual

    Might explain why I’ve seen Muslims who abhor ISIS, Boko Haram, etc be mild to almost supportive of Hamas or Palestinian groups. For our nation this is maybe always going to be a bit of a difficulty as Israel is our ally.

  • Re_Actor

    ‘We were required to end anything we wrote on a hopeful note, because liberalism is a hopeful creed. And so, however appalling and black the situation that we described, we would always conclude with some sentence like: “It is greatly to be hoped that moderate men of all shades of opinion will draw together, and that wiser councils may yet prevail.” How many times I gave expression to such jejune hopes! Well, I soon grew weary of this, because it seemed to me that immoderate men were rather strongly in evidence, and I couldn’t see that wiser councils were prevailing anywhere.’ – Malcolm Muggeridge, ‘The Great Liberal Death Wish’

    To denounce Islam as a death-loving religion—or the Qur’an and Muhammad as a constitution and example, respectively, for terrorists—provides excuses for twisted zealots. It reinforces their deluded belief that they and only they are the true Muslims.

    I wonder where the author would place Mahomet on the spectrum from terrorist to moderate.

    We cannot make sense of the jihadi mindset, let alone work out a credible and sustainable response, without taking such background conditions seriously. Undoubtedly the disorientation caused by modernity and postmodernity is key. Economic development and an increasingly global commerce in movies, TV, and other forms of popular culture weaken traditional Islamic institutions and disturb and disorient many Muslims.

    As they have weakened traditional Christian institutions and disturbed and disoriented many Christians, to the extent that the West would appear to be no longer Christian in any meaningful sense. Modernity won its war against the Church but its sickly descendant postmodernity has no stomach for a war against Mahometanism.

    If the Qur’an and Islam are the problems, what is the solution? Drop bombs on the Ka’bah in Mecca? Ban the use of the Qur’an?

    The problem is that large, assertive Mahometan communities have been allowed to become established in the once-Christian Western lands. Stopping all Mahometan immigration into Western countries and encouraging Mahometan emigration would go a long way towards solving the problem. Unfortunately the time has probably passed when this could be achieved humanely, so the only question is whether the future belongs to Mahometanism; a rediscovered militant secular modernity a la Jacobinism and communism; some kind of quasi-fascist nationalism; or resurgent Christianity. If it’s a peaceful solution you want above all, you’re probably best off accepting Mahometanism meekly.

    • Solon

      This is a sober, courageous reply to an article that misses the forest for the trees.

    • Great response.

    • Heather

      I’m sorry, but “Mahometan”? Is that the latest quirky shibboleth to distinguish Real True Christians from the hoi polloi who insist on using the boring old words that the rest of the world including its actual practitioners use? Its use gives your comment about as much weight as that of one who referred to Catholics non-ironically as “papists and mariolaters” and the Catholic Church as “Romanism.”

      • Re_Actor

        I’m sorry, but “killing babies in the womb”? Is that the latest quirky shibboleth to distinguish Real True Christians from the hoi polloi who insist on using boring old words like “women’s reproductive rights” that the rest of the world including its actual practitioners use?

        • Heather

          How is that in any way analogous? “Islam” is not a euphemism, it’s the actual name of the religion. “Mahometanism” is a pejorative that sounds like it came out of some 18th century tract.

          • Re_Actor

            “Islam” is not a euphemism, it’s the actual name of the religion.

            What is dignifying a false religion with the title ‘Submission to God’ if not euphemistic? Particularly when the false religion in question has been unrelentingly hostile to the true one.

            “Mahometanism” is a pejorative

            Followers of Christ are Christians. Followers of Buddha are Buddhists. I don’t see a problem. It is a term traditionally used by Christians to describe the followers of Mahomet — one which, AFAIK, was purely classificatory, not derogatory (eg did not imply that his followers worshipped him as a divine being).

            that sounds like it came out of some 18th century tract

            If there is any prickliness in my use of the archaic term, it is not directed at the infidel Saracen dogs but at the ethnomasochist elites in Western lands who poison the air we breathe by their cultural self-abasement before the idolised Other. One symptom of this is the creeping abandonment of hitherto common Western or romanised/anglicised forms — ‘Qu’ran’ instead of Koran, ‘Beijing’ instead of Peking, ‘Mumbai’ instead of Bombay etc.

            • Artevelde

              Some have even gone so far as to call La Florida … Florida, in a horrendous surrender to a bunch of Calvinisers.

          • Artevelde

            Either Le Reacteur is French, or some weird stuff is going on in Champaign County, Illinois.

  • wlinden

    Speaking of “sola scriptura”…. I have seen the anti-Islam crowd dismiss what the hadith teach about “jihad” on the excuse that “the hadith are not holy books”… never mind that they are an authoritative source of Moslem law.

  • LurkNoMore

    Many muslims are moderate in spite of Islam. The way I see it, God is the creator of their hearts, and as such, many of them turn away from the very religion they are allegiant to–not mindfully, but viscerally they try to be far more decent than Islam calls them to be. But Islam itself is evil, and it coaxes them into evil ways of thinking that permeates their civilization, culture, and psyches. They are in some sense victims of the demon Islam, and must be treated with pity and love. But to look at Islam as anything but evil is just naive. Avoiding that truth will not help us solve the problem.

  • Elmwood

    the other issue is that islam is broken into hundreds of splinter groups, much like christianity, and most of them (outside of wahhabism) exist peacefully with christianity. i spent time in oman and noticed how devout the muslims were and also saw catholic churches there as well. you can’t simply equate devout islam with fundamentalism or violence.

    the problem is simply fundamentalism, which is advocated in great lengths by the saudi government. fundamentalism is also a problem in catholicism and affects all religions.

    im skeptical of first things as they were spectacularly wrong about the war in iraq. i always feel they are just promoting some hidden political ideology in the end.

    • Dave G.

      I know that it’s suddenly the vogue thing to lump fundamentalism and terrorism together and declare them the problem based on the other, but two things keep coming back to me. One, an episode of the show The West Wing. Not exactly a hard right production. Yet I remember a show in which the whole point was that fundamentalism and terrorism are not the same. Fundamentalists can be rotten for sure, but we shouldn’t confuse them with extremists. That was commonly said back in the day, and usually by those who were more left of center. That seems to have gone the way of the leisure suit.

      Second, exactly how do we define fundamentalism? I know that is one of those terms that, in the past, has received a lot of attention in journalism circles. Exactly what is a fundamentalist? Does it mean anyone willing to do violence in the name of their belief, even if it is a liberal one? Does it have any thing to do with violence? Does it mean someone who thinks they are right an everyone else is wrong? Someone who has a narrow idea of God? And just how narrow? If we are going to say it, we should be able to define it.

      Again, I know at this point taking old 50s rhetoric and scratching out ‘Communist’ and replacing it with ‘Fundamentalist’ is all the rage, and can get you praise, adoration and apparently high fives from Pope Francis. But I can’t help but get the feeling this is just shooting with a shotgun rather than focusing with a rifle, which, sadly, us humans seem so inclined to do.

      • Elmwood

        I don’t see extremism as inherently wrong, but i do see fundamentalism that way. i know pope francis has explained fundamentalism in a deeper way, but i think of it as a separation of faith from reason. maybe it has the most meaning when talking about inter-religious dialogue and multiculturalism.

        so fundamentalism is about religion and how people idolize ideas rather than trying to follow God. catholics are fundamentalists when we think we alone have the only path to God. you see that with traditionalists who abhor anything post-1955. it’s really about pride.

        • Dave G.

          I wonder. Again, so much was made back in the day about distinguishing between fundamentalism and radical and violent extremists and terrorism, I’m finding it hard to see it suddenly as the great evil of the age. I also have a hard time seeing it as the problem with the Church. I realize that Pope Francis has, in only a couple weeks, said it’s time to get over conservatism, condemn fundamentalism and embrace various aspects of the modern ways, but I find it hard to believe that it’s all just boiled down to fundamentalism. That we were wrong back then, and it’s really that rascally fundamentalism that’s the mischief. Not that fundamentalism is right. And we can certainly define it in such a way to make sure it is wrong. But it just seems like the newest Red Scare. All of a sudden, fundamentalism is what everyone is running around condemning, blaming, and associating with the evils of the world. Maybe this time we’re right. But given the track record of previous ages and their tendency to do this, I’m a little hesitant to jump on the bandwagon. Even if it appears to be driven by Pope Francis.

          • Neko

            You wrote:

            I realize that Pope Francis has, in only a couple weeks, said it’s time to get over conservatism, condemn fundamentalism and embrace various aspects of the modern ways…

            Like what did he actually say?

            • Dave G.

              He basically said we can’t hold onto conservatism but must be willing to engage with the modern world. His statements on fundamentalism have been repeated several times.

              • Neko

                I’m aware of the speech you appear to be referring to, and of Pope Francis’s past rhetoric. Of course, we rely on English translations, but being “open to the challenges of the present” does not mean to “embrace various aspects of the modern ways” (although personally I see nothing wrong with that). And by “conservatism” he appears to mean insularity and institutional rigidity (after all, he was addressing the bishops) and an unwillingness to engage the world in our time. His exhortations are a lot more nuanced than reducing everything to “fundamentalism.”

                All of a sudden, fundamentalism is what everyone is running around condemning, blaming, and associating with the evils of the world.

                The critique of fundamentalism has been going on a lot longer than “all of a sudden.” Because fundamentalism can become very problematic when it leads to dissociation from reality and, of course, violence.

                • Dave G.

                  Critique of Fundamentalism has gone on since the term was first coined. My point is, all of a sudden I’m seeing a 180 from where we were just a decade and change ago, when that critique went out of its way to say fundamentalism does not equal extremism and terrorism. Now, I’m seeing that circle – vaguely defined as it is – widened to include being linked to those same things. Sure, we can change definitions. Say the word gay today and it means something other than it used to. But I’m leery because of the track record we humans have of doing such things. In fact, that’s the problem with such terms. As you point out, Pope Francis uses terms that may mean to Pope Francis different things than it does to others. Which is another reason to be hesitant to start grouping more and more in the “terrorism and extremists killers’ category.

        • Neko

          Fundamentalism usually refers to religion, but not always. Fundamentalism is any ideologically rigid belief system.

          There was a 19th-century religious movement concerned with “The Fundamentals” that sought to distill essential Christian principles, but of course the term is now used more broadly to describe inflexibly dogmatic religious belief.

          You wrote:

          catholics are fundamentalists when we think we alone have the only path to God…

          That is so!

          • LFM

            No it isn’t.

          • wlinden

            “The Fundamentals” was not a ‘movement’, but a series of pamphlets. This is where “Fundamentalist” came from, before it became a swear word.

            • Neko

              Fundamentalism as a movement arose in the United States, starting among conservative Presbyterian theologians at Princeton Theological Seminary in the late 19th century. It soon spread to conservatives among the Baptists and other denominations around 1910 to 1920. The movement’s purpose was to reaffirm key theological tenets and defend them against the challenges of liberal theology and higher criticism.


            • Dave G.

              Initially The Fundamentals was a reaction to the growing excesses that came from 19th century liberal theological movements. By the mid 20th century, however, reactionary movements against the cultural and social changes happening in America fused with the original Fundamentalism that merely sought to figure out, from a Protestant POV, what the essentials of the Faith were in light of the challenges to orthodox Christian beliefs.

              That movement would change, of course, over the decades. New definitions would be coined. But until fairly recently, most, even on the Left, were careful to avoid linking a person clinging to a belief that God’s word is only in a translation of the Bible in the King’s English with people who gun down abortion doctors or fly jets into skyscrapers. That suddenly we’re widening the circle to associate, without really a clear definition of who or what we are talking about, a growing part of the population of believers with that group of killers and terrorists is what has me worried. And just because I assume I’m not in that group doesn’t give me any more comfort, FWIW.

      • LFM

        The term ‘fundamentalist’, applied to Christians, used to mean ‘Biblical literalist’. Look up the usage (not in dictionaries but in actual practise) in the 1980s and you’ll see that definition come up over and over again. It wasn’t terribly illuminating as definitions go, but it made sense and it could be readily understood. It also pointed clearly to a particular type of Christian believer. Now? I have no idea what it means when applied to Christians, and certainly not when applied to Muslims. It’s become, like ‘Fascist’, a vague term of strong disapprobation.

        • Neko

          No, it hasn’t. It still refers to Biblical literalists and other rigidly dogmatic religious and ideological persuasions.

          • LFM

            I disagree, and so do you, to judge by the tail end of your second sentence, ‘and other rigidly dogmatic…’ etc. The phrase ‘Biblical literalist’ has a clear and precise meaning, and at one time the word ‘fundamentalist’ was only – it seemed to me – applied to Biblical literalists. Now the meaning of fundamentalist has become much broader.

            • Neko

              Right. So what? The vernacular changes. Just because the meaning has become broader doesn’t make it “a vague term of strong approbation.” It still has specificity.

        • wlinden

          As one of my associates noted “‘fundamentalist Muslim’ makes as much sense as ‘Hasidic Christian’.”
          Every day I expect to see references to “Ryan’s fundamentalist budget plan” and “Microsoft’s fundamentalist operating system”.

          • Neko

            Don’t hold your breath,

        • Andy

          I think that fundamentalism has morphed as term to move away from sola scriptura to sola my/ my group’s interpretation of scripture. We see in all faiths a sense that there is one leader who can tell us what scripture/qur’an means – especially if it ties in with our “political”/social beliefs. I think this what Pope Francis is getting at – he speaks of “In the Catholic church we have some — many — who believe they possess the absolute truth and they go on sullying others through slander and defamation and this is wrong. Religious fundamentalism must be combated. It is not religious, God is lacking, it is idolatrous.”
          This is not tied to conservative or liberal elites – it pervades much of interaction with others.

  • Gunnar Thalweg

    The fundamental problem with Islam is this: Islam claims it’s the truth, and it’s not. It claims the Koran is a holy book, and it’s not. It claims Mohammed is a prophet, and he wasn’t. Islam sows discord and confusion wherever it goes, it is an aggressive, false religion that leads people away from the Gospel and into a lifetime of fruitless lies, followed most likely by eternal damnation.

    Let’s not play games. Islam is of the devil. It leads people to hell. Muslims do not need to be moderate, they need to repent of their damnable allegiance to the lies of Mohammed and stop chanting the verses of the satanic koran, and turn to the God of truth, Christ and His Church.

    It is not good to slum with demons, and that’s what Muslims do. They need conversion and baptism.

    This is as much a spiritual war as a secular war. We struggle not against flesh and blood…

  • anna lisa

    I never really thought about the violence in the Bible until Muslims started using their “holy book” to justify violence.

    One of the primary differences between us and them (besides the obvious one) is that sola scriptura Muslims are about 1000 years behind us.

    Modern Muslims that have had the opportunity to share in our culture in a positive way seem to understand by instinct, Judeo Christian culture. This is fascinating, and also proves that the law of God is written not just in scrolls and books, but is written on our *hearts*.

    Those who murder and create mayhem in the name of a book, defy this truth, and do indeed appall balanced, educated Muslims who admirably don’t resort to atheism, and who must muddle forward without a teaching magisterium. The very thought of keeping faith in God in the midst of so much evil and misrepresentation must be daunting indeed.

    May they find faith in the Lamb, who is the great sign of contradiction to violence and evil.

  • AquinasMan

    At the very base of understanding Islam is coming to grips with the fact that this is a religion/political enterprise founded by Satan. Islam, as such, is already conquered by Christ in the same way He has already conquered Satan, but still allows his influence in the world. The upshot here is that conventional means of defending against ISIS, Al Qaeda, Al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, or any other phenomenon of Islam may work in the short term, however this is a spiritual battle at its heart. Until and unless the world embraces Christ the King, our power to end this once and for all must be found in the providence of our merciful and just God, not his distortion under the name of Allah. Simply put, the world does not recognize its Nineveh moment because we refuse to be the voice of Jonah. We’re too busy dialoguing.

    • Artevelde

      Two questions:
      1. What qualifies a faith, doctrine, or enterprise as founded by Satan?
      2. When you say ‘distortment under the name of Allah’, do you mean the faith of the Muslims is a distorted one, or that the God they pray to, and of whom they say he is ours as well, is a false one?

  • The “Great Heresy”, as Hilaire Belloc called it, comes in many variations as practiced throughout the world and throughout the past 14 centuries.

    You can analyze the nuances and variations of Islam until you’re blue in the face but that does not change the reality. I think it’s very naive for a Catholic to think he understands how any of the 1 billion practitioners of this heresy may believe that jihad is NOT the correct way to go about spreading their religion.

    Even the writer of the First Things piece seems to be aware that the Qur’an is a loaded gun and environment (illiteracy, poverty, bad foreign policy etc.) pulls the trigger for jihadists to spring forth.

    As 14 centuries of history have proven, containment, and not conversion, is the only thing that can truly work to keep a modicum of peace with Islam in the world.

    • The problem is if Islam was as bad as many of you believe how were there even Christians, and for a long time Jews, in Iraq from the Muslim conquest to modern times?

      If it were little different from ISIS than why did these Coptic monasteries and even Pharaonic temples in Egypt survive to modern times?

      • This would be a good example of how containment helps a Coptic monastery in Egypt function in a majority Muslim country over the centuries. In that particular case, the variation of Islam practiced in that particular part of the world was contained – in other words those Mohammedans contained themselves.

  • That article was informative, but in the end I think his conclusions are a bit naive. Once the Koran has established the language of jihad and once Mohammed’s life is an Islamic ideal, then the Wahhabi school will always win out. Rhetorically, a literal interpretation will always win out over an implied metaphor and analogical meaning. You may convince a good part of the public that it was not meant to be taken literally, and you may defer the carrying out of the literal for a generation or several, but you will never stamp it out. Literal interpretation trumps metaphor in persuasive argumentation. And Fr. Jmaes Schall has a great piece in The Catholic World Report on it. Here:

    Islam is a threat and a current danger. It should be regarded with the highest suspicion.

    • Elmwood

      thanks for that link, how we love to act so indignant over Trump and his comments to keep out muslims, and yet we find a very well respected jesuit who seems to agree with him.

      political correctness will be the end of the west.

      • I can’t stand Trump, and I will not vote for him, but I have to say his recent proposal to stop muslim immigration is right on the mark. Islam is destroying Europe. Why would we import those same problems here? It makes no sense, and immigration is a privileged we citizens grant. No one has a right to immigrate here.

        • Elmwood

          islam is God’s punishment for relativism in the west. if europeans and americans had bigger families and a stronger christian culture, islam would never want to invade in the first place at least through migration.

          • Husky Fan in Mass

            The punishment wouldn’t work if people just prevented Muslims from moving in.

  • Andy

    Is ISIS evil, is Islam violent – these questions miss the mark I think. For brevity lets assume the answer is yes in some part. Then what? Why do they exist? Why do they possess a hatred of the west? These are questions that need to be answered. I think that the hatred does not spring from being Muslim, nor from the Qur’an. The Wahhabi system that ISIS embraces, that al Queda embraces, that jihadist embrace is one of austerity, it one of little acceptance of things not Muslim, but more importantly it is one that the Saudi’s used to become what they are today. It is a belief system of rejection of the West. Wahhabism rejects the other schools of Islamic scholarship, jurisprudence and behavior. It is at the heart of the Saudi empire.
    Why is this important – because we embrace the Saudis as valuable allies. We give them scads of money through our reliance on their oil, I know changing slowly,. However, look at the current oil prices and how the Saudis are producing at incredible rates to it appears destroy other countries economies and devastate the west’s oil companies. We give the Saudis weapons and technology because they say the right words publicly. Bush held hands with the Saudi leader, Obama bowed to him – we genuflect to his demands in so many ways. Yet the Saudis are repressive beyond belief.
    We in the west have to examine our culture and see not how to change it to accommodate the Wahhabi system, but to remove our reliance on the oil of the region. We need to recognize that in supporting Saudi Arabia we are indeed supporting our own downfall.
    We might also ask as Msg. Pope did – are we also paying the price for our dismissal of God from our lives, both public and private and replacing Him with a golden idol?

  • Thank you for the pointer to the article. It’s very useful. The article seems relatively correct but it *is* incomplete as it’s missing the geopolitical side of things. Islam is in crisis because of both. It’s both the closing of the gates of ijtihad *and* the loss of Egypt to Napoleon in a lightning campaign. It’s the renaissance of the Kharjites *and* the loss of the Ottoman Caliphate.

    Islam’s earthly role has been a manifest failure for centuries and seeking to reverse these failures drives these movements just as much as the spiritual challenges posed. The geopolitics set is allergic to the theology and the theological set is allergic to the geopolitics. Until there’s an approach that sees both, we won’t fully get a handle on them and they will come back again and again.