One of the more interesting phenomena of recent times has been the cultural elite's aggressive defense of Islam. Whether they're decrying the alleged "Islamophobia" of their fellow Americans, storming off TV sets, offering impassioned defenses of religious liberty, or offering uninformed theological statements about the religion's alleged true nature, many of our most educated and politically aware citizens are united in outrage. A great religion is under attack, they say, and it's under attack by a bigoted citizenry who let the actions of a tiny few define the nature of the many.
But what do they actually know about Islam?
Isn't the "true" nature of a religion defined through its theologians and adherents? "True" Islam has been debated -- and fought over -- for more than 1,000 years. The existence of Sunni and Shi'ite divisions demonstrates that there is no monolithic definition of Islam even within the Islamic world. And yet men like our most recent presidents purport to define it as a "religion of peace" (President Bush's favorite phrase) or a "religion that reaffirms peace, fairness, and tolerance" (President Obama's recent description).
Again and again when I face outraged and indignant liberals -- people who defame Ground Zero mosque opponents as bigots or pass around the latest Jon Stewart video as if it were more documentary than comedy sketch -- I find their knowledge is skin deep, at best. "Jihad is really the inner struggle," they say. "Islam had a glorious civilization in the Middle Ages," they argue. Some cite the Muslims they know -- kind-hearted, hospitable people -- who serve as stand-ins for Muslims everywhere.
As for me, I spent a year in Iraq, talked to countless Muslims, have read the Koran and much of the Hadith, and I still don't know what "true Islam" is. How could I? I struggle enough to define (and live) "true Christianity." Can I really purport to understand Islam in all its complexity?
But I'm not entirely ignorant. Some things I do know, and I know them all too well.
We face an enemy that is recruiting its followers using explicit, religious themes. To them, jihad is not an "inner struggle" but a call to war. The call to jihad has grown so strong that thousands of young Muslims have served as suicide bombers, hundreds of thousands have served as jihadist fighters, and untold millions more support armed jihad through donations, public demonstrations, and in public opinion polls.
Even allegedly moderate Muslims, like a key investor in the Ground Zero mosque property, have been caught giving money to terrorist organizations, and the imam at the center of controversy has a history of radicalism that would shock the conscience of most Americans (declaring America an "accessory to the crime" of September 11 is moderate?).
And it's sometimes tough to tell the difference between moderates and extremists. Anwar al-Awlaki, one of the world's most-wanted terrorists, served as a Chaplain at George Washington University, and the Fort Hood shooter was not only an Army officer, he gave briefings on the "Koranic World View" to physicians at Walter Reed Hospital.
Moreover, anti-Semitism is rampant in the Muslim world, with children's shows in Gaza featuring such characters as Assud, the Jew-eating rabbit, ancient anti-Semitic hoaxes like the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" aired as a "documentary" in Egypt, and Saudi-written and distributed textbooks preaching hate to Muslim children around the world.
Let's flip the script for a moment. Let's imagine that in the United States our Christian population was producing thousands of suicide bombers, recruiting tens of thousands of Jihadists, financing hundreds of millions of dollars of arms and ammunition, and distributing literature proclaiming Jews and others as worthy of death. Would Joy Behar and Whoopi Goldberg walk of the set at criticism of Christians? Would Time magazine decry "Christophobia"? Of course not. They would argue that Christianity was in crisis, and they would be right.