Bill Maher’s controversial comments on Jimmy Kimmel Live (which have been condemned as bigoted by some on the Left, of course) and several of Allahpundit’s posts this week have focused my mind on two troubling, unpleasant questions. First, in defining our terms in the debate over Islamism, what constitutes a fair application of the word “extreme”? This is the point Maher has been getting at for some time. Many westerners like to believe (understandably so) that radical jihadists — and those who may not be overtly violent, but who nonetheless generally share the jihadists’ profoundly illiberal worldview — represent a “tiny fraction” of worldwide adherents to an otherwise great and peaceful religion. It is absolutely true that most Muslims in the world reject violence and the evil ideology typified by Al Qaeda, ISIS, etc. Virtually no one is arguing otherwise. Except, it seems, those who maintain a perverse interest in dismissing criticism of Islam’s problematic strains as an indiscriminate slander against all Muslims. It is nothing of the sort. That specious, discussion-stifling straw man must be dispatched and buried.
It is equally true that a worrying number of Muslims hold views that are at the very least diametrically opposed to Western values, and that far too many embrace violence and celebrate death. Egypt’s new president sounded this alarm in a watershed address to top clerics last week, warning that the Muslim world “is being torn, it is being destroyed, it is being lost—and it is being lost by our own hands.” He pleaded with the religious elders to help spark a “religious revolution” in which advocates for peace and moderation unite to stamp out the malignant elements of the faith. (Surely he is not an Islamophobe, intent on slandering the entirety of his own religion, out of ignorance. Can we agree on that, at least?) Back to my initial question. At what point does a minority viewpoint, no matter how odious, graduate from “extreme” to “mainstream”? AP has linked to this 2013 Pew poll on global attitudes among Muslims on several occasions. Among its more disquieting findings is significant support for the proposition that death is the appropriate punishment for leaving Islam, at least within the not-insubstantial subset of Muslims who support the imposition of strict Sharia Law in their home countries:
The same international survey details much lower support for suicide bombings against civilians as a legitimate method “in defense of Islam,” which is certainly a welcome result. Nevertheless, the pro-terrorism viewpoint garners support from frighteningly high numbers of respondents — including seven percent of Indonesian Muslims, 13 percent of Pakistanis, 15 percent of Turks, 18 percent of Malaysians, 29 percent of Egyptians, 39 percent of Afghans, and 40 percent of Palestinians. Those numbers alone account for tens of millions of people. On the issue of free speech and the Mohammad cartoons, the supposed “reason” behind the Charlie Hebdo massacre (though we’ve also seen Abu Ghraib and the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki blamed), it seems clear that most Muslims agree with the explicitly anti-freedom viewpoint espoused by radical (?) Islamist scholar Anjem Choudary. Strong majorities ascribe the sometimes violent uproar over the cartoons to “western disrespect” of Islam, as opposed to “Muslim intolerance.” A 2006 NOP/Channel 4 poll of British Muslims teased out a number of additional eye-opening results:
Asked about attitudes towards free speech, there was little support for freedom of speech if it would offend religious sensibilities. 78% of Muslims thought that the publishers of the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammed should be prosecuted, 68% thought those who insulted Islam should be prosecuted and 62% of people disagree that freedom of speech should be allowed even if it insults and offends religious groups…NOP also gave respondents a list of people and asked them if they respected them or not. The most respected figure amongst British Muslims (out of those in the survey) was the Queen (69% respected her highly, or a fair amount), followed by Sir Iqbal Sacranie (48%) and then, perhaps surprisingly, Tony Blair (44%), narrowly ahead of George Galloway on (40%). More worryingly 19% say they respect Osama bin Laden (6% say they highly respect him), 17% respect Saddam Hussein and 16% respect Abu Hamza. NOP also found a tendency for British Muslims to believe some, well, strange things. 45% thought that 9/11 was a conspiracy between the USA and Israel. 36% thought that Princess Diana was murdered to stop her marrying a Muslim. More seriously, only 29% thought that the holocaust occurred…
9/11 trutherism is empirically nutty and extreme. But does “extreme” lose its meaning when nearly half of a given population holds the position being described? I’m honestly not quite sure what to make of all of this data, and I’m reluctant to land on any sort of definitive conclusion pertaining to my internal struggle on these subjects. Again, I don’t want to fall into the trap of unfairly painting with too broad a brush, nor am I interested in doing the opposite by blithely ignoring data like this (or worse, attacking those who mention it as bigots). Which brings me to question number two: How can anyone fairly examine any of this data then loudly declare that Islamisms’ worst excesses have nothing to do with Islam itself? It’s one thing to argue over whether the “tiny fraction” narrative is accurate, or whether it does more harm than good. It’s a dangerous brand of delusion, however, to pretend that Islamist extremism (there’s that word again!) is entirely divorced from Islam. The many millions of people represented in the statistics above obviously identify as practicing, faithful Muslims. Shouldn’t that be enough for us, especially based on the Left’s own standards? Ben Shapiro made this provocative comparison on Twitter earlier in the week:
Leftists: You’re biologically male, but if you say you’re a gal, ok. Leftists: We’ll judge if you’re a real Muslim, no matter what you say.
— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) January 8, 2015
If we’re willing to subordinate biology to people’s self-perception on gender, who are we to overrule religious people’s self-image? Erick Erickson went a step further today with this intentionally inciting tweet:
Dear France, wrap their bodies in the carcasses of pigs. — Erick Erickson (@EWErickson) January 9, 2015
His point was that those who insist that Islamist terrorists aren’t real Muslims — the approved, “sensitive” position du jour — ought not be offended by this admittedly ugly suggestion. Not real Muslims = no need to treat them as such. Right? Shouldn’t these same people agree that, say, Guantanamo Bay guards could deny Al Qaeda detainees access to the Koran and special Halal diets without violating their human rights? How do the new “true Muslim” rules work? I’ll close by again conceding that I don’t know what the appropriate balance should be when it comes to criticizing large elements within Islam. I’m confident, however, that evading the questions I’ve raised by way of self-righteous preening (“I’m saying these things, regardless of the facts, because I want everyone to know that I’m a compassionate, non-judgmental person!”) does this important discussion a tremendous disservice, and literally endangers lives.