What motives were behind last month’s Boston Marathon bombings and the would-be attack on a VIA Rail Canada train?
Leftists and establishmentarians variously offer imprecise and tired replies such as “violent extremism” or anger at Western imperialism, which are unworthy of serious discussion. Conservatives, in contrast, engage in a lively and serious debate among themselves: Some say Islam itself provides motives, others say only a modern extremist variant of the religion, known as radical Islam or Islamism, does.
As a participant in the latter debate, here’s my argument for focusing on Islamism.
Cairo’s Al-Azhar Mosque, completed in 972, represents one height of Muslim culture.
Those focusing on Islam itself as the problem (such as ex-Muslims Wafa Sultan and Ayaan Hirsi Ali) point to the consistency from Muhammad’s life and the contents of the Koran and Hadith to current Muslim practice. Agreeing with Geert Wilders’ film “Fitna,” they point to striking continuities between Koranic verses and jihadist actions. They quote Islamic scriptures to establish the centrality of Muslim supremacism, jihad and misogyny, concluding that a moderate form of Islam is impossible. They point to Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an’s deriding the very idea of a moderate Islam. Their killer question is: “Was Muhammad a Muslim or an Islamist?” They contend that we who blame Islamism do so out of political correctness or cowardliness.
To which, we reply: Yes, certain continuities do exist, and Islamists definitely follow the Koran and Hadith literally. Moderate Muslims exist but lack Islamists’ near-hegemonic power. Erdo?an’s denial of moderate Islam points to a curious overlap between Islamism and the anti-Islam viewpoint. Muhammad was a plain Muslim, not an Islamist, for the latter concept dates back only to the 1920s. And no, we are not cowardly, but are offering our true analysis.
Islam is the 14-century-old faith of a billion-plus believers who include everyone from quietist Sufis to violent jihadis. Muslims achieved remarkable military, economic and cultural success between roughly 600 and 1200 C.E. Being a Muslim then meant belonging to a winning team, a fact that broadly inspired Muslims to associate their faith with mundane success. Those memories of medieval glory remain not just alive but central to believers’ confidence in Islam and in themselves as Muslims.
The modern Muslim trauma begins: Napoleon at the Battle of the Pyramids, 1798, as imagined by Antoine-Jean Gros.
Major dissonance began around 1800, when Muslims unexpectedly lost wars, markets and cultural leadership to Western Europeans. It continues today, as Muslims bunch toward the bottom of nearly every index of achievement. This shift has caused massive confusion and anger. What went wrong? Why did God seemingly abandon His faithful? The unbearable divergence between premodern accomplishment and modern failure brought about trauma.
Muslims have responded to this crisis in three main ways. Secularists want Muslims to ditch Shariah (Islamic law) and emulate the West. Apologists also emulate the West but pretend that in doing so they are following the Shariah. Islamists reject the West in favor of a retrograde and full application …read more