Robert Spencer and Dean Esmay are having a rather heated, ongoing exchange about the nature of Muslim moderates and the extent to which jihad is an integral teaching of Islam. Aside from the ad hominem and questioning of motives, it’s worth a look.
I’ve been reading Esmay’s site for years and have only passing familiarity of Spencer’s. Still, on this issue, I’m much more closely aligned with the latter.
. . . I have been bitterly attacked simply for observing that there are millions of Muslims who have no interest in the jihad, and I am just as eager as is the rest of the world to find Muslims who will renounce jihad and Sharia supremacism and stand with us to defend the equality of dignity of all people, freedom of conscience, and other principles denied by the mujahedin.
However, in my eagerness to find such people I am not going to allow myself to be fooled. I have read the Qur’an many, many times. I have read Bukhari, Muslim, and other Hadith collections. I have read the Sira of Ibn Ishaq. I have read treatises of Islamic law and first-hand accounts of Islamic history. All that brings me to certain inescapable conclusions about Islamic doctrine, Muhammad’s character and behavior, and more — conclusions which I have documented in my books. Then when I read various Muslim moderates, they state that the Qur’an teaches, and that Muhammad taught, and that Islam as a whole teaches, very different things from what I know to be the case.
What should I do then? Clap my hands and shout, “Yea, here’s a Muslim moderate”? Well, I haven’t done that. Their omissions, distortions, and misrepresentations make me suspicious. As I have said many times, it is easy to convince Westerners who know nothing of Islam that Islam is peaceful. It is harder to convince mujahedin. I am all for real moderate Muslims. I am not for getting deceived. If I can see that a moderate’s account of Islamic teaching is inaccurate, a mujahid will certainly be able to also. And if that moderate’s moderation won’t convince Muslims, what’s the point of it? To make non-Muslims feel better? I would rather have the truth than feel better on the basis of half-truths, thank you.
As to the argument that there are numerous radical groups that claim Biblical inspiration, Spencer writes:
The Lord’s Resistance Army and Christian Identity movement are fringe groups that teach things that no mainstream Christian sect teaches or has ever taught. Nor do they have global networks of violent Christians committing violence all over the world in the name of Christianity. In contrast, every Muslim sect (except the Ahmadiyya and some others who are considered heretical by maintream Sunnis and Shia for precisely this reason) and madhhab teaches jihad to establish the Islamic social order over the earth. What that amounts to is this: mainstream Christians around the world are not in danger of falling prey to the Christianity of the LRA or Christian Identity. For most of them, these groups’ version of Christianity is self-evidently absurd. But in Islamic communities, the mujahedin recruit by presenting their Islam as true, pure Islam — as I have documented many times at this site (do a search at JW for “pure Islam”). That is something the moderates must counter, if they can, or that recruitment will continue.
While I claim no special expertise in religious studies, it does not take much historical reading to understand that Jesus was a purely religious figure who taught his disciples to follow the path of peace whereas Mohammad was a political-military-religious leader who led his followers in violent conquest and taught a message of imperialism. Jesus was “the Prince of Peace;” Mohammad was a warrior-king.
It’s also the case that, as the Christian faith came into ascendancy, there was a substantial period where church and state essentially merged and there was substantial violence and wrongdoing conducted in the name of Christianity. The tide turned centuries ago, with the weakening of the papacy as a political force following the Thirty Years War and the Protestant Reformation. Even during the Church’s dark period, however, a great body of scholarship grew up from within about Just War and the proper relation between church and state (the Two Swords debate).
Further, Christianity has managed to evolve and adapt to modern life in a way that Islam has not. Islam is mired in the time of its founder in a way that Christianity simply is not. Even the most “fundamentalist” Christian sects do not advocate that we run society in the way we did in Christ’s time–or even the 7th Century.
I certainly do not underestimate the danger of Islamic-inspired terrorism. But I do look at the numbers. Even if there were a million violent jihadists out there, they would represent 0.000625% of all Muslims. Go ahead and estimate 10 million jihadis, 100 million jihadis—they still represent an insignificant fraction of those who call themselves Muslims.
To paint a stereotype based on an infinitesimal portion of the whole is simply wrong. It begs to be labeled as some form of phobia.
There are two things that need to be done:
1) Keep your eye on the real target, extremist jihadis. Even if they are unrepresentative of the whole, they are still the danger.
2) Help those who want to paint a more representative picture do so by not demonizing them. By giving them earned respect, we empower them to claim back the title to Islam.
Robert errs because he cannot recognize that the vast majority of Muslims do not take part in jihad. Even the vast majority of Wahhabis live quiet daily lives and abjure violence, focusing instead on things like putting food on the table and getting their kids into good schools and jobs.
Tarring them with the same brush does not help them make their own arguments. It does not help them see that while some of the goals of the jihadis may be noble, the means they use to achieve them are not and must be rejected.
Because Robert’s point of view are wildly intemperate—and those of his commenters even more so—it’s quite easy to dismiss him. But because he gives good interview and writes a lot, his voice is louder than even the majority of Muslims, living their own faith. He’s accomplished a lot by becoming conversant with the ins-and-outs of Islamic exegesis. But he’s missed a lot by not recognizing that the instruction manual, written centuries ago, has been superceded in practice by a lot of functional work-arounds. He’s critiquing the manual that very few still use.
Much more at the link.
This is the essence of the problem. It is simultaneously true that Muslim teachings lend themselves to exploitation by extremists, that the jihadist-Islamist movement is large and has quiet support from some substantial plurality of Muslims, and that most Muslims are apolitical human beings simply trying to get by. How to simultaneously combat the former without further alienating the latter is not something we’ve figured out.