Speaking in New York last April, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair issued a dire warning about Muslim extremism. This aberrant strain of Islam, he said ominously, constitutes a grave threat to international peace and security. We’d better take note.
In an earlier post, I argued that the terrorist menace to the West, specifically that with a Muslim persuasion, is highly exaggerated. The infrequency with which Americans in particular fall prey to it bears this out. The end isn’t nigh. Indeed, fear sown by false prophets of doom poses a far greater threat to our way of life than jihadis in suicide vests shouting “Allah hu akbar.”
But what about Blair’s assertion that “an ideology that distorts and warps Islam’s true (emphasis added) message” is responsible for the inflated danger he cites? Is he correct that Muslims’ operating system isn’t inherently flawed, but rather its occasionally flawed users?
To quote Blair’s predecessor, Margaret Thatcher: “No, no, no!”
While jihadism may not be the scourge that Chicken Littles like Blair suggest, to the degree that such fanaticism is a threat, Islam itself and not some perverted form of it is a key contributory factor. Suggesting otherwise would be like asserting that Christianity was not germane to the Crusades or the Inquisition. Such political correctness gone amok may make us feel good but it’s totally baseless.
For their part, jihdadists themselves believe with fevered conviction that their deeds are acceptable and even condoned by scripture. In 2005, Osama bin-Laden’s then-deputy and current head of al-Qa’ida, Ayman al-Zawahiri, justified the killing of Muslims and non-combatants (to say nothing of non-believers) by citing the principle of overriding necessity when waging jihad: “Islamic law states that the Islamic faith is more important than life, honor, and property.”
How common are such views among Muslims?
Mercifully, rare. A 2013 Pew poll found that the overwhelming majority of Muslims around the world disavowed such religious dogmatism, with roughly three-quarters rejecting suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilians as a means of protecting Islam against its enemies. Still, disturbingly high minorities in some countries disagreed, including four in ten Palestinian Muslims and almost 30 percent of Egyptian Muslims.
More heartening, the same poll found that about half of Muslims in 22 of the 36 countries where the survey was conducted said that they are at least somewhat concerned about religious extremists in their country. They specifically expressed disquiet about Muslim militancy, not that deriving from other religions.
Although all of the above may lend some credence to the notion that Muslim extremism is not widely endorsed the religion’s adherents and therefore aberrant, it does not necessarily vindicate Blair’s view that jihadism is a perversion of the faith. The two notions are distinct. One relates to the views of Muslims about a particular practice, the other to that practice’s scriptural basis.
About the latter there can be little doubt. The Koran, like its Christian and Jewish analogues, principally preaches charity, magnanimity, and selflessness. However, like the Old and New Testaments, the Islam’s holy book is a welter of contradiction, as more than a few of its passages are savagely intolerant.
Consider just two: (5:33) “The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His messenger and strive to make mischief in the land is only this, that they should be murdered or crucified or their hands and their feet should be cut off on opposite sides or they should be imprisoned;” and (8:12) “Strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of [disbelievers].”
Tony Blair calls those Muslims “warped” who don’t conveniently ignore such cruelty. But Blair’s endorsement of “true” Islam implies that the Koran is also true, and if the Koran is true then Muslim fanatics who cite the holy book to justify their own barbarity are also true, as either the holy book in its entirety is the word of the Almighty or it’s not. It can’t be both.
Noted atheist Sam Harris fleshes out the implications of this. “The problem with religious moderation is that it offers us no bulwark against the spread of religious extremism and religious violence. Moderates do not want to kill anyone in the name of God, but they want us to keep using the word ‘God’ as though we knew what we were talking about…To speak plainly and truthfully about the state of our world—to say, for instance, that the Bible and the Koran both contain mountains of life-destroying gibberish—is antithetical to tolerance as moderates conceive it.”
Thus, Blair at once foments hysteria about jihadism while offering no intellectual defense against such extremism where it does exist. Indeed, his defense of the Islam he endorses indirectly validates the sort he doesn’t, since both derive from the same source, a book that, however enlightened in the main, is also littered with intolerance.
But then the former British prime minister is well known for his lousy judgment. Just look at Iraq.