Islam and Terrorism

Does Islam permit terrorism? When faced with this momentous question, most analysts reply with either an emphatic “No!, terrorism violates Islamic principles,” or a resounding “Yes it does!,” pointing to the bloody deeds performed by groups like al-Qaeda, Hamas, and Boko Haram. In the brief analysis that follows I, however, will offer an alternative answer and along the way reveal some staggering differences between Muslims’ and Westerners’ basic assumptions about violence and killing.

Our discussion must begin with a concrete definition of terrorism. According to most Euro-American scholars working on the topic, it can be defined as violence in the service of a political objective, often arbitrary in nature, and always designed to instill blind fear among an entire population. In addition, terrorism is characterized by a deliberate intention of inflicting casualties upon noncombatants.

Having defined terrorism, we need to examine why it is considered vile and reprehensible. Quite simply, terrorist acts violate those portions of international law that insist upon strenuous efforts to protect “innocent civilians” during wartime, such as the 1977 Geneva Convention. This celebrated document insists that combat can only be deemed acceptable if “the civilian population and individual civilians shall enjoy general protection against dangers arising from military operations … unless and for such a time as they take a distinct part in hostilities.”

A casual observer might suppose that international law’s condemnation of attacks on noncombatants is just common sense, or the fruits of basic humanitarianism, something that no “decent person” could reject. In reality, however, these guidelines, upon which our disdain for terrorism is drawn, are distinctively Western, stemming from a unique aspect of its religious heritage, to which we now turn—Catholic “Just War” theory. Developed during the Middle Ages by the Church’s canon lawyers, it established the precise conditions under which a nation could declare war (Latin, jus ad bellum), along with the conduct that armies must follow during hostilities (Latin, jus in bello). On pain of excommunication, the latter theory barred soldiers from harming women, children, the elderly, priests, pilgrims, and so on.  From this perspective, “terrorism,” as Graham Gordon explains, “could not be a tactic employed in a just war because far from observing the jus in bello distinctions between combatants and noncombatants, and respecting the immunity of the latter, [it] precisely depends upon rendering this distinction irrelevant.”

Now, since the understanding of terrorism presumed in contemporary international discourse, particularly seminal twentieth-century documents like the Geneva and Hague Conventions, originates from within the West’s unique religious heritage, we should not presume that Muslims will subscribe to that point of view. And, indeed, once such ethnocentric blindness has been lain aside, and Muslim thinkers permitted to define and evaluate terrorism from within their own religious heritage, we can detect two distinctively Islamic schools of thought on the topic.

First, a few Muslim commentators insist that terrorism is a mandatory feature of their faith. As evidence, they cite Qur’ anic passages commanding the faithful to “cast terror into the hearts of the infidels,” and to “muster against them all the men and cavalry at your command, so that you may strike terror into the heart of the enemy of God” (8.12, 8.60). Advocates of this sacred violence treat it as a commendable activity. Thus, in 2005, reflecting on Quran 8.60, Umm Nidal Farhat, Hamas activist and mother of three sons killed while attacking Israeli civilians boasted, “ I am happy to implement this Koranic verse myself and proud to be a terrorist for the sake of Allah.”

The second and more common perspective among Islamic spokesmen is to insist that “Extremism, violence, and terror have no connection whatsoever with Islam,” as the Islamic Fiqh Council, an association of prominent Saudi clerics declared in 2002. Non-Muslims often misinterpret this claim, perceiving it as a blanket condemnation of the armed men who frequently kill civilians in the name of Islam. In fact, when Muslim clerics and politicians declare that terrorist acts are alien to Islam, they mean something quite different. In a nutshell: Muslim violence against unbelievers constitutes jihad. And since this sacred duty is “meant” for upholding right, ending injustice, ensuring peace and security, and establishing mercy,” in the Fiqh Council’s glowing words, it “could never be equated with terrorism.” In other words, Muslims cannot be terrorists because their violent acts against the unbelieving foe’s civilians are driven by the most noble of motives—spreading the “One True Faith.”

Let us re-examine the question that launched this brief analysis: Does Islam permit terrorism? By now, it should be obvious that multiple answers are possible, depending upon the questioner’s worldview and cultural baggage. From the Western perspective, which is predominant, Islam does permit terrorism, and a good deal of it. On the other hand, from a Muslim point of view, grounded in Sharia, members of their faith are either incapable of conducting terrorist actions or divinely-commanded to commit such deeds with pride. Either way, the cultural gulf on this topic is immense and probably unbridgeable.

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Is Islam a Religion of Peace?

Over the past decade Americans have been looking for the answer to a puzzling question: “If Islam is truly a religion of peace, then why do Muslims carry out so many bloody deeds on behalf of their faith?” That question rests upon two basic assumptions: (1) Attainment of peace and the use of deadly force are mutually incompatible activities; (2) When Muslims discuss “peace,” they share the understanding of that term now standard in contemporary Western culture: outright pacifism. Both of these presuppositions are inaccurate, as I will demonstrate through a brief analysis of Islam’s teachings on war, peace, and violence.

Islamic political thought divides the planet into two hostile realms, the dar-al-Islam (House of Peace), whose inhabitants enjoy the One True Faith, and the dar-al-Harb (House of War), whose unbelieving residents live in a state of religious ignorance.  Muslims are commanded to spread their religion until the dar-al-Harb has been conquered and merged into the dar-al-Islam.  Persuasion is best, but if the kuffar (Arabic, infidels) reject a friendly summons to Islam, Muslims must wage holy war or “jihad” upon them, in accordance with the Quran’s order “to fight against them until idolatry is no more and God’s religion reigns supreme” (2.193).

Vesting jihad with incredible urgency is Islam’s insistence that anyone who practices shirk (worshipping a deity other than Allah) will suffer an awful fate at the Last Judgment: “Whoever gives partners to God, for him God has forbidden the Garden, his abode is the Fire” (5.52). Now, if one accepts that terrible truth, waging war on non-muslims is actually a favor to them. In this spirit, the “Tafsir Ibn Sa’ Di,” a classic Quran commentary, insists that “The Kufr whom we fight will themselves benefit from jihad to fight and strive against them, so that they will enter the religion of Allah, which is acceptable to Him, which lead to their salvation in this world and in the hereafter.” From this perspective, peace is not synonymous with the absence of war. Rather, it refers to the blissful state that humanity will experience—on earth and in Paradise—after embracing Islam. And the horrors of war are a small price to pay for achieving that blessed and permanent variety of peace.

Before drawing any conclusions, we must first take a brief look at our own culture. After six decades of relentless anti-war activism, with its call to “give peace a chance,” the West now views war as the ultimate disaster, a misfortune to be avoided at all costs. Indeed, regardless of age, gender, or political affiliation, most Westerners would subscribe to the argument that “armies dehumanize us” because “we are asked to risk our lives in order to discipline, maim, and kill other human beings,” whereas “resources” should “instead be used for caring, to reduce hunger, disease, and poverty.” (refusingtokill.net) Moreover, when contemporary Euro-Americans refer to “peace,” they have in mind complete rejection of violence or coercion. This association of pacifism with peace, is beholden to the Judeo-Christian tradition, with its hope for a world in which “swords” shall be “beaten into plowshares,” and the warning that “they who take up the sword shall die by the sword” (Isaiah 2: 2-4; Matt. 26: 52). The contrast with Muslim thought, as described above, is simply staggering.

By now, it ought to be quite clear that the question which initiated this discussion: “Is Islam a religion of peace?” has two possible answers.  If by that term, one means, as Westerners invariably do, a faith that perceives of warfare as evil, that places the preservation of human life above all other considerations, and looks with favor upon pacifism, then the answer must be: no! If, however, by “peace,” (Arabic, salaam), one means, as Muslims usually do, the state of harmony and bliss that will color human existence after jihad has extirpated shirk and brought everyone under sharia, finally establishing the circumstances that will assure admittance to the ultimate place of peace, heaven, then Islam is undoubtedly the “religion of peace!”

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“Islam, the West, and Rape: Can We Agree?”

No topic more highlights the differences between Muslims and Westerners than their markedly different perceptions of an issue vital to women—rape.  We can appreciate the vast gulf by turning, first of all, to theUnited States.

Only forty years ago, American men who violated women sexually had little reason to fear retribution. Society—including the police—often assumed that the female victim had no one to blame but herself because she had “led the man on: through a combination of provocative attire and flirtatious talk.  Even if a woman possessed the strength to handle this “blame the victim” mentality and demand her day in court, the legal system made conviction very unlikely.  Operating on the presupposition that an accusation of rape was “easily made and difficult to defend against, even if the accused is innocent,” judges advised juries to convict only in the most clear-cut cases.  Consequently, if defense lawyers could demonstrate that the plaintiff had not fought the assailant with “all her might” or prove that she had a prior sexual history, jurors were encouraged to conclude that the sex had been consensual.  Due to the preceding cultural and legal factors, rapists usually went free. For example, in Chicago, during 1972, police received 3,562 complaints of sexual assault, but arrested only 833 men, and of these only thirty-three were convicted.

Today, after four decades of feminist activism, best-selling books, like Susan Brown Miller’s “Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape,” blockbuster movies, such as “The Accused” (1989), not to mention thousands of “Take Back the Night” rallies, with their warnings about “date rape,” Americans have “zero tolerance” for sexual assault. And any man who dares to justify his violation of a woman with once-acceptable statements like “she was asking for it” or “she led me on,” can expect sympathy from neither the police nor a judge and jury.  Reflecting the nation’s profound disdain for rapists, in 1994 theUS. Congress passed its “Violence Against Women Act,” with overwhelming bipartisan support. This powerful piece of legislation increased the amount of prison time for those found guilty of gender violence and categorized rape as a male “hate crime” against females. It also allowed victims to seek financial damages from the men who attacked them, on the grounds that their civil rights had been violated. In terms of severity, then, rape has been put on a par with racial, religious, and ethnic discrimination.

Upon turning to the Muslim world, however, we find a diametrically opposite state of affairs, as the following case reveals. In 1992, during the sacred month of Ramadan, three men gang-raped a teenage girl in a crowded Cairobus-station. Although the girl had been impeccably veiled and accompanied by her mother, upon learning about this attack, the Egyptian public hurled abuse at the young woman and her parents, saying almost nothing about the culpability of those who had seized her virginity. Shortly thereafter, Egypt’s People’s Assembly began debating a “proposed law that would lay blame for rape on the victim’s family for allowing their daughter to leave home in the first place.” This perception of rape may seem antiquated and cruel to Westerners, but it flows from one of Islam’s bedrock assumptions about human nature.  Quite simply, men have been “created weak” (Quran 4:28) and are utterly incapable of restraining their sexual appetites in the presence of females.  Indeed, the sight, sound, touch, even the scent of a woman is deemed sufficient to “turn men into scary, irresponsible beasts,” in Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s words, who have no choice but to satisfy their lusts.  So powerful is this assumption that Muslims—past and present—have enforced strict gender segregation and required females who leave their houses to put on ill-fitting and all-covering attire (Arabic, hijab), in order to avoid inflaming men’s passions.  If one subscribes to this view of make sexuality, it follows, quite naturally, that a woman, like the Egyptian girl mentioned above, is to blame for her own rape because by leaving home and crossing into the public sphere—male space—she was “asking for it.” Had she heeded the Quran’s admonition to “stay in your house” (33:33), the helpless man would not have been tempted to “jump” her.

A second presupposition underlies Muslims’ normative perception of sexual assault: the raped woman has dishonored her family, the attack’s true victims.  In Arabic/Islamic societies nothing is more treasured than a household’s honor or “sharaf.” This commodity is dependent, however, upon the chastity (Arabic, ird) of a family’s female members. Should a wife/sister/daughter indulge in illicit sex, the entire family suffers a humiliating loss of face.  Whether or not she consented is irrelevant because the final outcome remains the same: her ird has been tossed into the trash can.  And only cleansing violence against the tainted one can restore the family’s sharaf to an acceptable level.  Driven by this reasoning, Muslim men routinely dispatch their “just-spoiled” women folk.  Here is a graphic example from Turkey, but it could be Jordan, Egypt, Pakistan, or many points in between: “Ignoring the pleas of his 14-year-old daughter to spare her life, Mehmet Halitogullari pulled on a wire wrapped around her neck and strangled her—supposedly to restore the family’s honor after she was kidnapped and raped… ‘I decided to kill her because our honor was dirtied…I didn’t listen to her pleas, I wrapped the wire around neck and pulled it until she died.”

In conclusion, let me state the obvious: despite their constant pleas for open-mindedness and sensitivity to others, Americans (and Westerners, in general), cannot accept the standard Muslim interpretation of rape.  Instead, they will perceive it as insane and primitive, the product of an unenlightened civilization that oppresses women.  Nonetheless, Muslims cannot jettison their faith’s views on women and sexuality, nor stop being preoccupied with family honor, the factors that underlie their distinctive attitudes toward rape.  Consequently, in this troubling matter, common ground between the two cultures appears totally unattainable.

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Islam, Adultery, and Death by Stoning

In July 2010 Iran ignited a firestorm of controversy by announcing that a 43-year-old woman, Sakineh Muhammadi Ashtiani would soon be stoned to death for adultery. Westerners responded to the proposed execution with a mixture of outrage and disbelief. UK Foreign Minister Alistair Burt complained that stoning is “a medieval punishment which has no place in the modern world.” Likewise, President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso called the sentence “barbaric beyond words.” Throughout that summer human rights organizations, the governments of France, Italy, and Brazil, not to mention well-known entertainers like Emma Thompson, Juliette Binoche, and Carla Bruni, demanded that Iran either free Ashtiani or lessen her punishment.”

Behind the West’s high-powered campaign to save this woman stood two unspoken assumptions. First, only a savage or a lunatic could execute someone for a “minor” impropriety like adultery. Second, those Muslim states that criminalize adultery—such as Iran, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia—should update their “backward” and “unenlightened legal codes to sanction all forms of consensual sex whatsoever. These suppositions, which are in grounded in feelings of profound cultural superiority, prevented the West’s politicians, journalists, and human rights activists from posing a rather obvious question: “Why do Muslims feel compelled to execute adulterers in the first place?” When we actually listen to Muslims it becomes clear that they have some powerful and logical reasons for treating adultery as a major criminal act.

First, if this variety of unlawful intercourse (Arabic, zina) is allowed to take root, other forms of illicit sexual activity are bound to spring up: fornication, homosexuality, pedophilia, and incest. These sins will then usher in a tidal wave of fitna (Arabic, moral chaos), that will destroy the family unit, then civilization itself, as people surrender to “a fllod of lusts and self-gratification,” in the words of Sheykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi. Second, in Muslim eyes adultery must be suppressed because it leads to eternal damnation. Speaking about the adulterer/ and or fornicator, the Qur’ an promises that “the torment will be doubled to him on the Day of Resurrection and he will abide therein [hell] in disgrace” (25:68-69). Likewise, in a celebrated hadith (saying of the Prophet), Mohammed himself warned that “a most foul smell will emanate in hell from the private parts of an adulterer.”

Since adultery has such pernicious consequences, both in this world and the next, it should come as no surprise that Islamic law (sharia) insists upon the most stringent measures to prevent it. In the words of Sheikh Burhaddin Ali, “A married person convicted of whoredom is to be stoned … The Prophet condemned Maaz to be thus stoned to death … and he also declared it unlawful to spill the blood of a Muslim, excepting only three causes, namely apostasy, whoredom after marriage, and murder.” Non-Muslims may find stoning a particularly loathsome form of execution, but from the perspective of Islamic orthodoxy, as Abdur Rahman I. Doi explains, “The idea behind awarding such a severe punishment for adultery in an open place is that it should serve as a deterrent to other evil-minded persons in society.”

By now it ought to be clear that Muslims do have powerful reasons both for banning adultery and punishing it with death. Nonetheless, the West cannot accept their logic on this matter. Why? Quite simply, the majority of Westerners are now accustomed to a prodigious degree of sexual freedom and find the thought of prohibiting consensual relations—even adultery—preposterous. On the other hand, Muslims, who consider chastity to be a divine commandment that guarantees  both morality in this life and salvation in the hereafter, find suggestions that they should turn a blind eye to adultery, or decriminalize it, utterly insane. On this issue, then, the gulf between civilizations appears gigantic and unbridgeable.

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Islam, the West and Gay Marriage

On 24 June 2011, New York became the sixth (and largest) American state to legalize same-sex marriage. Proponents of this development heralded their victory as a triumph for basic human dignity and tolerance. Typifying that sentiment ‘80s pop icon Cyndi Lauper proclaimed that “I have never been prouder to be a lifelong New Yorker than I am today with the passage of marriage equality.” Nonetheless, the redefinition of marriage taking place in New York (and five other states, not to mention Belgium, Holland, Spain, and Hungary) is provoking great fear and loathing among one particularly large segment of humanity: Muslims. In the discussion that follows I will explain why and then offer a recommendation to prevent this contentious issue from igniting a war of civilizations.

Let me start by pointing out that Islam is bitterly opposed to any and all varieties of same-sex intimacy. In the vehement words of Muzammil Siddiqi, formerly President of the Islamic Society of North America: “Homosexuality is sinful and shameful. In Islamic terminology it is called ‘al-fahsha,’ or an atrocious and obscene act … it is important that we should speak against it. We should warn our youth and children from this devilish lifestyle.” Lest it be assumed that I exaggerate the depths of Muslim antipathy toward gays, here is some confirming evidence from the 1999/2000 World Values Survey. Here are the percentage of respondents in several geographically-diverse Muslim societies who replied “never justifiable” to the question: “Is homosexuality ever justifiable?: Jordan, 98.6, Iraq, 98.3; Indonesia, 94.5; Saudi Arabia, 82.4; Bangladesh, 96.1; Iran, 90.4; Egypt, 99.9; Morocco, 99.7.

Muslims have two powerful reasons for opposing homosexual activity. First, they are convinced that if same-sex intimacy is permitted, it will become commonplace, leading to one horrible outcome—annihilation of marriage, family, and, eventually, the entire social order. Writing in that vein Dr. Tahia Jaher Al-Alwani explains that “gayness and lesbianism must be wiped out” because they “clash with the aims of the Lawgiver, one of which is the establishment of sexual instincts between males and females so as to encourage the institution of marriage,” which provides the “means for the survival of human kind [sic] and fostering a web of social relations that aid in building sound families.” Second, Allah will punish homosexual deeds severely in the hereafter. As the Prophet Mohammed explained: Whoever has intercourse with a woman and penetrates her rectum, or with a man, or with a boy, will appear on the Last Day stinking worse than a corpse. People will find him unbearable as he enters hellfire, and God will cancel all his goods.”

Certainly, if one subscribes to the preceding assumptions about homosexuality, as the vast majority of Muslims do today, it follows, quite logically, that gay marriage is a blasphemy beyond belief, a frontal assault on God’s handiwork, if you will. The words of Mohammad Mohammad Abu Laylah, Professor of Islamic Studies at Egypt’s prestigious Al-Azhar University epitomize his coreligionists’ thinking. Abu Laylah writes that “gay marriage is an atrocious and obscene act … an ugly sin God forbids in all religions … That poses a threat to the whole human race and destroys our fabric of society like cancer,” adding for good measure, “this is one of the deadly germs that are injected into the veins of modern civilization.”

Let me finish this discussion with a word of caution: Muslims will resist any effort to impose same-sex marriage upon them. Indeed, according to the Muslim World League, should outsiders try to overthrow “God’s commandments,” by “encourag[ing] acceptance of illegitimate families,” particularly “those between two females or two males,” that endeavor will be construed as “a declaration of war against the Muslims.” Consequently, for the sake of peace, gay rights activists and other secular Westerners should simply “agree to disagree” with Muslims in regards to the appropriate definition of marriage. The alternative to that “hands off policy” is bound to be a cultural clash of monstrous proportions.

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Bin Laden, Pornography, and the Temptation of Islam

Following his bloody demise on May 1, 2011, media outlets announced that “a large collection of pornography was found in Osama Bin Laden’s house by the US Navy Seals who killed him. The material was described by officials as ‘modern, electronically recorded video and is fairly extensive.’” Upon learning about Osama’s “porn stash” Americans asked a compelling question: “How could he hate the West do much, yet take great pleasure in its erotic entertainment?” Let me offer an answer to this apparent contradiction. In large part, Bin Laden wanted to destroy Western Civilization because he (like millions of other Muslims) found its relaxed attitude toward sex irresistible and, therefore, a mortal threat to Islamic morality. To appreciate my argument fully we must begin by analyzing Islam’s stringent perspective on human sexuality.

Islam forbids all extramarital sex (Arabic, zina), whether fornication or adultery. The Qur’an is adamant upon this point, telling Muslims to “go not near zina,” because “it is an indecency and an evil way (17:32).” Likewise, in a famous saying or “hadith,” the Prophet Mohammed warned that “there is no sin after shirk [worshipping someone or something besides God] greater in the eyes of Allah than a drop of semen which a man places in the womb which is not lawful for him.” And those misguided souls who defy Islam’s call for chastity can expect a terrible fate in the world to come. The Book says about the person who “commit[s] zina, his “punishment shall be doubled to him on the day of resurrection and he shall abide therein [hell] in disgrace (25:68-69).” So damaging to public morality and salvation is illicit sex that “Islam not only prohibits zina,” in the words of a major Islamic website, “but also closes all the avenues and means leading to it. This is achieved by prohibiting every step and means leading to stimulating desires, opening ways for illicit sexual relations between men and women, and promoting indecency.”

Where does pornography fit into this worldview? That should be crystal clear: by glorifying fornication and increasing the viewer’s animal appetites, pornography mocks, defiles and denies Islam’s most cherished principles on the appropriate scope of human sexuality. According to Muslim clergy, pornography falls under the heading of “fuhsha,” a term that refers to “obscenity, vulgarity, indecency, shamelessness and something that is dirty.” Consequently, it must be suppressed to ensure society’s moral and spiritual wellbeing.

Nonetheless, Islam’s fight against porn’ is not going well. A new and indispensable marvel of Western technology, the Internet, is making this “fuhsha” material available to young Muslims with the click of a mouse. As an example, in January 2003, Pakistan Telecommunications’ officials announced a plan to provide families with free filtering software “to stop its one million Internet users from accessing adult websites.” The Pakistani government had called PTL to action because “over 60% of the online population, mainly youngsters,” were visiting pornographic sites. And according to a 2003 survey conducted in Saudi Arabia, “57% of males and 63% of female Internet users have been accessing porn websites and chatrooms.”

Keeping in mind that the overwhelming bulk of the $10 billion per annum porn industry is housed in North America and Europe, a region described by Lawrence O’ Toole as “Pornocopia,” it should come as no surprise that many Muslims detest the West for tempting them. Making Muslim outrage even stronger is their inability to resist our culture’s “fuhsha” entertainment. Even Bin Laden, a man who publicly lambasted America for “the immoral acts of fornication, homosexuality, intoxicants, [and] gambling” found himself drooling over pornographic videos in private. This humbling experience probably made him more zealous in seeking our destruction. And Osama is not alone: today a vast number of Muslims possess a nagging desire to jettison Islam’s restrictions on sexuality in favor of the almost unlimited sexual freedom now available in the West. That toxic mix of shame and lust impels such people to seek the West’s annihilation before it can lead them to fleshly sin and, eventually, hellfire.

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Burning the Qur ‘an: Why Does it Make Muslims Mad?

On March 20, 2011, Terry Jones’ ultra-conservative Dove Outreach Church held a mock trial of the Qur’ an. After finding Islam’s holy book “guilty,” members of the tiny Gainesville, Florida, congregation watched as pastor Wayne Sapp burned a copy. Western media ignored the church’s provocative deed, but on March 24, Afghan President Hamid Karzai issued a formal complaint and brought the Qur’ an burning to his countrymen’s attention. Within a few days angry Afghans initiated a series of bloody reprisals against symbols of Western/ American influence. Hence, on April 1, stirred up by three mullahs at Friday prayer, a mob, 20,000 strong, assaulted the United Nations compound in the southern town of Mazar-i-Sharif. After overrunning police guards, the protesters broke into the building, where they killed “four UN guards from Nepal and then three foreign workers … a Norwegian, a Romanian, and a Swede.” On Saturday, the second, and Sunday, the third, angry mobs took to the streets of Kandahar. Waving Taliban flags, screaming “death to America” and “death to the slaves of the infidels,” the rioters headed toward the United Nations offices, seeking to slaughter the staff. After a series of violent confrontations with the police at least twenty-one people, including four police officers, lay dead.

Western commentators found Muslims’ bloody defense of their faith utterly repugnant. In a typical statement, Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, exclaimed that “along with all Southern Baptists, I condemn the burning of any religious book. That is not the mark of a good neighbor, a good citizen, or a civilized being.” Nonetheless, he added, “I also condemn the riot and the killings of human beings in supposed retaliation for the burning of the Qur’ an. In civilized society one does not kill people for disrespecting the symbols or instruments of one’s faith.” Likewise, while “deploring any action that shows disrespect to any religious faith,” American ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, insisted “that to attack and kill innocent people in response to the deplorable act of one individual is outrageous, and an affront to decency and dignity.”

In other words, insulting someone’s sacred beliefs constitutes bad manners, but is hardly something that warrants death and destruction. This perspective, so common among Westerners, is, however, the product of a civilization that has been thoroughly secularized and which now places greater emphasis on the sanctity of human life than the preservation of religious truth. And it is a point of view utterly at odds with Muslim thinking, to which we must now turn.

Today, Muslims feel justified in using violence as a means to protect their religion from even the slightest hint of mockery or criticism. As an example, one need only look back to 1989/90, when Anglo-Indian novelist Salman Rushdie belittled the Prophet Mohammed, his wives, companions, and the Qur’ an itself. Upon learning about the book’s blasphemous message, Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini issued a celebrated fatwa sentencing Rushdie and the book’s translators to death. More recently (2005), after Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published a series of cartoons depicting Mohammed as a suicide bomber and mocking the notion that such people will enjoy seventy-two virgins in heaven, Muslim mobs went on a rampage all across the planet. Typifying their fury, hundreds of Muslims in London, England, marched to the Danish Embassy waving placards that read “behead those who insult the Prophet” and “free speech, go to hell.”

At this point, the average Westerner, accustomed to religious jibes and jokes aimed at Christianity, Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and the pope, will ask a simple question: “Why are Muslims so touchy about criticism and so inclined to use violence against those who engage in it?” Let me offer an answer to that vital query: Muslims just know, beyond a shadow of doubt,  that Islam is true, and they are sure that failure to follow its teachings will cause chaos in this life then hellfire in the life to come. Killing is a small price to pay if it will stop those calamities—especially the latter—from taking place. Bearing that point in mind, we can understand why the enraged Afghans described earlier went on a homicidal rampage to protest Terry Jones’ Qur’an burning. If one does believe that “the Qur’an is the final revelation sent by God to humanity,” as they do, “the holy Scripture which guides humanity to being both prosperous in this world and in the hereafter,” then murdering its foes is a lesser evil than submitting to soul-destroying blasphemy.

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