Islam is not The Enemy

Islam is not The Enemy August 29, 2010

There is a particularly dangerous idea being pushed in the Catholic-right blogosphere that Islam is the Enemy We Fight in the war on terrorism. (Let me hasten to add that Mark Shea is (occasionally, anyway) a notable, and honorable, exception to this.)

The political right more generally, especially what I think of as the activist, “tea-party” right, is working very hard to establish this particular narrative as The Story whenever the topic is the “War on Terror.” (I have problems with even defining things that way, which I’ve described before.)

Anyway, here’s Glenn Greenwald, today:

One of the most under-reported political stories is the increasingly vehement, nationwide movement — far from Ground Zero — to oppose new mosques and Islamic community centers.  These ugly campaigns are found across the country, in every region, and extend far beyond the warped extremists who are doing things such as sponsoring “Burn a Quran Day.” And now, from CBS News last night, we have this:

Fire at Tenn. Mosque Building Site Ruled Arson

[…]

Earlier this summer opponents criticized the planned mosque at hearings held by the Rutherford County Commission, as supporters held prayer vigils.

At one such prayer vigil, WTVF reported opponents speaking out against construction.

“No mosque in Murfreesboro. I don’t want it. I don’t want them here,” Evy Summers said to WTVF. “Go start their own country overseas somewhere. This is a Christian country. It was based on Christianity.”

The arsonists undoubtedly will be happy to tell you how much they hate Terrorism.  And how there’s a War on Christianity underway in the U.S.  The harm from these actions are not merely the physical damage they cause, but also the well-grounded fear it imposes on a minority of the American population.  If you launch a nationwide, anti-Islamic campaign in Lower Manhattan based on the toxic premise that Muslims generally are responsible for 9/11 — and spend a decade expanding American wars on one Muslim country after the next — this is the inevitable, and obviously dangerous, outcome.

Well, yes.

One problem with riling up anti-Islamic feeling in this country is that it violates the American values of pluralism and tolerance. The far bigger issue is that this narrative is precisely the one that Osama Bin Laden wants to be told: namely, that there is a Clash of Civilizations between Islam and The West.

I don’t think a good strategy in defeating an ideology is accepting and enacting its core premises.

I think a good response to 9/11 would be to include a memorial on the WTC site commemorating the dead of that day, along with features designed to undermine, and decisively counter, the story Bin Laden wants to tell: some formal re-dedication to, and celebration of, the principles of religious tolerance and diversity which have always been one of America’s strengths and attractions to the rest of the world.


Browse Our Archives

TRENDING AT PATHEOS Catholic
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment

23 responses to “Islam is not The Enemy”

  1. Isn’t a core premise of Islam, stated in the Quran, that all people should be converted to Islam, even if violence needs to be used? I have never seen any response by a non-terrorist Muslim to this question.

  2. Actually, “Islam” is as divided on this and other matters as Christianity is.

    Certainly the Koran DOES advocate the killing of apostates (with “apostasy” being very narrowly defined, of course). And “Islam” explicitly rejects the Christian dictum of “Turn the other cheek” as being the failed prescription of a “failed prophet,” Isus (PBUH), who is, nevertheless, God’s Beloved, who will judge the living and the dead, at the end of time.

    What it amount to, I think, is this: all fundamentalist religions are friends and allies of each other, and are absolutely bound together in spirit. Doesn’t “Old Testament” Christianity, as narrowly professed by American Protestants, guarantee the right of Zionists to the “ethnic cleansing” that must precede the erection of “Eretz Israel?” Don’t Christians have the right, just as much as Muslims or Jews do, to command obedience to slave-owners and to execute homosexuals–or to criminally prosecute adulterers?

    The refusal to admit a historically developed human consciousness, subject to the ministrations of a “Holy Spirit” acting through a sacred and Apostolically-descended human community, leads inevitably to blindness to all but the inconsistent “fundamentals” of other–perhaps even more dogmatic–faiths.

    It is not surprising that fundamentalist American Protestants should be doing this, but for Catholics to be doing it here speaks eloquently for the total capitualation of traditional Catholic religious culture in this society to Protestant ways of thinking about God and about man’s relationships with God and his fellow human beings.

  3. Henry

    the relevant quote is “No compulsion in religion” la ikrah fi’d-din – Suratul Baqara 2:256.

  4. Currently studying the following:

    La Escatoligia Musulmana En La Divina Comedia aut. Miguel Asin Palacios.

    A lot of Catholic thought owes much to its encounters w/ Islam: especially Thomism which is extensively borrowed from the work of Ibn Rushd and written as a counter to Averroeism and especially the premis of the coeternity of the Universe with God.

  5. I think it really needs to be pointed out that Islam is often at war with itself, as is described in the following article:

    http://tinyurl.com/33pbo2z

    In India / Pakistan, there were delightful Sufi poets who challenged the mullahs and fundamentalists of a few centuries ago, and were venerated by the people because of it. It is just a case of when a religion has to grow up in the midst of plurality, it will adapt to that situation. Where a religion has become hegemonic, especially through violence, it will use any parts of its scripture or doctrine to justify that fundamentalism. That’s just how the game goes.

    • Actually, I’d be more inclined to say Islam is the enemy, but that not all Muslims are.

      Mark – I know that’s what you say (I read and enjoy your blog) – this post is meant as (in part) a counter to that.

      There seems to be a tendency on the political right to believe… actually, to need to believe… that there is some “them” that it is “our” job to oppose; there is obviously some validity to this (to pick the usual consensus example, the Nazis really were a pretty comprehensive threat to civilization) but I’ve noticed a tendency to go too far – to make those you oppose into an absolute enemy, with no redeeming features or qualities. This caricaturization – especially if bought into hook, line and sinker – can lead to dark places indeed. I believe this is really the foundation of the calls for torture and obliteration of civilian population centers that (I’m being literal, here) you, Mark Shea, do God’s work in opposing. The more one makes Islam (a category) THE enemy, and not some of its practitioners, the more one feeds the eliminationist impulses that dwell in the human Id.

      • …adding, Mark – as I say in the post, to make All of Islam The Enemy has the effect of reinforcing the story Bin Laden wants to tell, and is thus counter-productive, yes?

    • Thank you for clarifying. You just saved yourself from losing a large portion of your republicatholic base. Sadly, though, your views do not square with official Catholic thinking on Islam.

      Michael, whatever the merits of your position (and as I recall you and I share a lot in common in our politics…), I think that comment is bound to generate more heat than light. Kapeesh?

  6. There seems to be a tendency on the political right to believe… actually, to need to believe… that there is some “them” that it is “our” job to oppose

    Oh come. After just reading that desperate rant right here on this blog about how the Right is so vastly more powerful and organized than the Left and We all have to find a way to oppose Them and get organized? Could have been written by Karl Rove for a Bush fundraiser about the Muslim threat tunnelling under our houses. Seriously, dude, what cracks me up is how similar partisans of both sides sound when talking about how The Other Side is mounting a vast, well-organized campaign against beleagured and disorganized (but noble and brave) Us. Don’t kid yourself that this is somehow a disease of the Right.

    Meanwhile, your point makes no sense as a response to what I said precisely because I tailored my language to exclude Us v. Them and emphasize that it is an idea (Islam) and not a class of people, that is the problem. My point is that humanly speaking, it is not Them but It that must be opposed. The It is Islam (among other dangerous systems), not the people enmeshed in it. Indeed, Islam is but one manifestation of antichrist at work in the world today. I take Paul seriously. The real enemy is not human beings ultimately, but the only real conspiracy Scripture actually encourages us to take seriously: powers, principalities, etc. Those spiritual forces of wickedness in heavenly places do not afflict only Muslims. But then again, neither do they afflict only jingo Americans. Indeed, one might even dare to suggest that they could, now and then, blind with pride some of those who proudly congratulate themselves by saying, “I thank you O Lord that I am not like that Catholic Fascist over there.”

    Indeed, such powers might even, incredibly, play on my pride too, living saint though I am.

    • Don’t kid yourself that this is somehow a disease of the Right.

      The fellow bloggers you refer to can speak for themselves; that said, I read enough commentary in left-blogistan to acknowledge your point more generally.

      Meanwhile, your point makes no sense as a response to what I said precisely because I tailored my language to exclude Us v. Them and emphasize that it is an idea (Islam) and not a class of people, that is the problem.

      That’s actually a fair point – I apologize for (unintentionally) mis-characterizing your views.

      My point is that humanly speaking, it is not Them but It that must be opposed. The It is Islam (among other dangerous systems), not the people enmeshed in it.

      Fair enough…

      Indeed, Islam is but one manifestation of anti-christ at work in the world today. I take Paul seriously. The real enemy is not human beings ultimately, but the only real conspiracy Scripture actually encourages us to take seriously: powers, principalities, etc.

      Well…ok, Mark, but can you understand why I get nervous when people like you or me define what institution is and is not a manifestation of those Powers and Principalities too categorically? Doing that leads very often to Very Bad Things Indeed. I mean, one could make a case that Western Civilization in toto is evil, given the scores of millions of innocent people killed in our own fratricidal and imperial wars, the holocaust, etc. Except that isn’t really fair either, is it? To pick the worst aspects of a system, and then let that stand for the essence of that system, makes for easy point-scoring but misses a lot, yes? And as I’ve said previously,it is a very short leap from that to This Manifestation of Evil Must Be Destroyed (which has led historically to lots of those previously-mentioned scores of millions of innocent dead people being collateral damage.)

      Indeed, such powers might even, incredibly, play on my pride too, living saint though I am.

      Oh, mine too, Mark, believe me, mine too. Please pray for me.

  7. My dear Mr. Shea, your name reveals you to be of Irish ancestry.

    Are you aware that British Parliamentarians, diplomats and government ministers said the EXACT same thing about English and continental Roman Catholics–using almost the same words as you do, to demonize “it” as the “Antichrist”–throughout the 16th and 17th centuries?

  8. Matt:

    Thanks for your irenic spirit. It is appreciated. You write:

    To pick the worst aspects of a system, and then let that stand for the essence of that system, makes for easy point-scoring but misses a lot, yes?

    Yes. That’s why I said that Islam, not all Muslims, is the enemy. Islam, like every non-Catholic tradition, is not magisterial. There is no “The” Islamic faith. It is whatever it’s adherents think it is. The downside of this is that bin Laden’s version of Islam is *a* possible expression of the Islamic tradition and we kid ourselves when we say he isn’t “really” a Muslim. Of course he is. And there are a disturbing number of Muslims who don’t have that big a problem with his reading of their tradition. Without a Magisterium it’s just sola Quran and Islam becomes whatever the loudest and best-armed Muslims think it is. The upside is that there are also large numbers of Muslims who are groping for a better way and who know in their bones that this can’t end well for Islam if the nutjobs really piss off the West with some outrage that dwarfs 9/11. They too are authentic expressions of Islam because Islam, being (as I take it) a jumble of real revelation cribbed from Jewish and Christian sources, as well as stuff Mohammed made up on the fly, as well as (possibly, who knows?) genuinely satanically inspired lies has no really stable core and can be reinvented to suit the needs of the loudest mouth and the strongest arm with no Magisterium to say, “No, that’s not what we believe.”

    We Catholics often forget how privileged we are to have a teaching body and we forget that this is the exception rather than the rule. And even with it, the Faith is notoriously malleable in the hands of zealots and ideologue who seek to bend it to their purposes. It’s important to pray that Muslims of good will, alive to the natural law, will find ways to cooperate with Christians of good will in opposing the nutjobs in both our camps.

    • Thanks for your irenic spirit. It is appreciated.

      You’re welcome, Mark. Now, if you’re saying I’m some kind of saint, let’s…um…just say the Lord would like a word with you in private. 😉

      You do good work (as I acknowledged previously) in opposing the “nutjobs” in our camp – and while their addled ideas need opposing, I think it is worth asking: why do they advocate for the things they do? Did they wake up one morning, happy as angels full of pie (to steal a phrase from Mark Twain), and just spontaneously decide to promote wickedness?

      Confronting evildoers with Love is, or ought to be, the Christian Way, and this is more important than defining Why Exactly He’s Wrong. Part of Agape love is putting myself in the other person’s place – trying to see the world as he sees it – and thus begin the process of reconciliation.

      Martin Luther King:

      And then the Greek language comes out with another word; it is the word agape. Now agape is more than romantic love. Agape is more than friendship. Now agape is understanding creative redemptive goodwill for all men. It is an overflowing love, which seeks nothing in return. Theologians would say that it is the love of God operating in the human heart. And when one rises to love on this level, he is able to love the person who does the evil deed, while hating the deed that the person does. And he is able to love those persons that he even finds it difficult to like for he begins to look beneath the surface and he discovers that that individual who may be brutal toward him and who may be prejudiced was taught that way—was a child of his culture. At times his school taught him that way. At times his church taught him that way. At times his family taught him that way. And the thing to do is to change the structure and the evil system, so that he can grow and develop as a mature individual devoid of prejudice. And this is the kind of understanding goodwill that the nonviolent resister can follow if he is true to the love ethic. And so he can rise to the point of being able to look into the face of his most violent opponent and say in substance, do to us what you will and we will still love you. We will match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. And do to us what you will, and we will still love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws because non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. And so throw us in jail, and as difficult as that is, we will still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children and as difficult as it is, we will still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators and violence into our communities at the midnight hours and drag us out on some wayside road and beat us and leave us half-dead and we will still love you. But be assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. And one day we will win our freedom but we will not only win freedom for ourselves. We will so appeal to your heart and your conscience, that we will win you in the process. And our victory will be a double victory.

      What better way to show Bin Laden (and his followers) that he is the sad, power-hungry, empty manipulator he is (and I believe he is a person in absolutely massive, self-inflicted pain) than to respond to him not with war and enmity, but with charity and the seeking of reconciliation?

      Truth is important, I don’t deny that; what I’m getting at is maybe one of the reasons that Aquinas described his writings (undeniably important as they were) as “straw”.

      It’s important to pray that Muslims of good will, alive to the natural law, will find ways to cooperate with Christians of good will in opposing the nutjobs in both our camps.

      A sincere and heartfelt “Amen!” to that.

  9. Matt:

    I have no doubt that bin Laden is a deeply miserable man. Great sinners, at some level, always are because sin is toxic to the human person. At the same time, my tendency is to think that, while prayer for him and those like him is always in order, the likelihood of repentance is low and that, as a prudential matter, the best thing to do is either capture or kill as many of him and his like-minded folk as possible. Should he somehow wind up in a Supermax somewhere, I would oppose the DP for him as I oppose it in general. But I would not weep much if some sniper got him in the crosshairs either. I’m not a pacifist and he is a mass murderer who still poses a threat as long as he is scheming to commit another 9/11.

  10. [NOTE To all: I unapproved some comments that constituted a side-thread to the main topic I want discussed. I ask my fellow contributors to respect my decision.]

  11. According to Mark Shea’s wisdom, Protestantism is the “enemy” as it too lacks a magisterium.

    No. But thanks for playing. A more healthy approach here that would not telegraph your ingrained ideological contempt for me as one of those damned republicatholics would be to *ask* me what I think rather than telling me what I think.

    Re: Protestantism (do you seriously mean *all* of it?)Mere disorganizational chaos does not mean that Protestantism has spawned a movement which is presently seeking means to slaughter (if possible) millions of people in rogue terror attacks all over the globe. One–quite legitimate–strain of sola Quran *is* producing this: precisely because Islam does have within it this strain of thinking and nothing to say its an inaccurate reading of the Islamic tradition except other Muslims. The *goal* of 9/11 was not 3000 people but 50,000 (the normal working population of the WTC on and average Tuesday). If the could have made it the whole city of NYC they would have. I’m not seeing that sort of goal setting among the Nebraska Missionary Alliance. So I don’t worry about them so much, nor indeed about any of the other religious traditions of the world that lack the unique Catholic phenomenon of a Magisterium. We are the exception to the rule in that department. It does not follow that all non-Magisterial religious traditions are in imminent danger of spawning a world wide network of murdering lunatics. But Islam has. And they draw great sustenance from… Islam, though not necessarily from their fellow Muslims–many of whom they murder with as much zeal as they murder Western post-Christians.

    For a look at Islam’s unfortunate history of engagement with reason, I recommend

  12. oops… I recommend Mike Flynn’ interesting piece on the way in which the Christian and Muslim traditions developed in their attitude toward reason

    http://www.dappledthings.org/easter10/feature01.php

    A tradition in which it basically became (and remains)heretical to consider the possibiity of the existence of secondary causes is a tradition in which the use of reason (not to mention the view of the human person) is going to be radically deformed. Muslims enslaved under it (like Westerners enslaved under atheistic materialism) can be good-hearted people who intuit that something is wrong somewhere in the system. But the system itself remains one of repression and anti-humanity. So, just as atheistic materialism, not atheistic materialists, is the enemy, so I think Islam, not Muslims, is the (or rather a) enemy. I say “enemy” rather than “problem” because, as a general rule, I think that when a system of though graduates from “making mistakes” to “producing a sizable number of people who want to slaughter millions of innocents” it’s an enemy. Protestantism *was* an enemy. These days, I’m not seeing Protestantism attempting the mass murder of millions (though some forms of liberal Protestantism, operating within US law) are enthusiastic enemies of the unborn and so, could be reckoned as an enemy in my view.

  13. Mark – I’m not a pacifist either, in the sense that I can conjure a set of circumstances where the waging of war could be justified.

    That said, I think there needs to be a whole lot more of “all other means of resolving the dispute…” than there typically is in the world.

Close Ad