Do Blasphemy Laws Really Protect the Best Interests of Muslims?

June 8, 2008

We have witnessed a series of Muslim outrages over Westerners’ remarks or art about Islam. To name a few, there’s the movie Submission, the Danish Mohammed cartoons, the Pope’s quotation of Pope Benedict XVI, and recently, the movie Fitna. These outrages are always followed by (or even, as in the case of Fitna, preceded by) calls for self-censorship and/or hate speech laws.

Self-censorship, typically called ”showing respect for religion” or “responsible free speech”, in this case basically comes down to a voluntary internalization of Islamic blasphemy laws. Who decides what kind of speech regarding Islam is “respectful” or “responsible”? Why, that would be Muslims.

Hate speech legislation, or laws against “defamation of religion”, basically comes down to a government’s official adoption of Islamic blasphemy laws. Who decides what speech regarding Islam is “hateful” or “defamatory”? Why, that would again be Muslims.

It’s difficult to imagine how anyone could think Muslims should determine what non-Muslims can and can’t say about Islam, any more than Christians, Republicans, Democrats, Communists, or any other group of people should decide what non-members can and can’t say about their ideology. This notion is indefensible on its face, and to even consider going down that road is to take the fist step toward a theocracy.

Muslims don’t get the notion of what constitutes an outrage out of thin air, but from centuries-long traditions of dhimmi laws, subjugating non-Muslims under Islamic rule. Just one small part of this subjugation is controlling non-Muslims’ speech. Andrew Bostom notes, following Muslims’ outrage over the Pope quoting Pope Benedict XVI:

The ultimate source of the convulsive reaction to the Pope’s speech is the Islamic belief that spiritually and physically debauched infidels have no right to express opinions—least of all negative opinions—regarding Islam’s sacred text, the Koran, the Muslim prophet, Muhammad (Ecce Homo Arabicus), or the sacred Islamic Law (Shari’a), which includes the permanent institution of jihad war.

Such deep-seated intolerance has always predominated under Muslim rule….

Blasphemy laws and their first cousins, heresy laws, are currently used to persecute religious minorities including Christians, Hindus, and Bahais. Accusations of blasphemy can also provide cover for the murder of non-Muslims in Muslim countries.

Many observers have commented about the dangers to non-Muslims of restricting our speech concerning Islam in the West.

Islamic Blasphemy Laws Are Bad for Non-Muslims. But Are They Good for Muslims?

It may seem as though blasphemy laws are bad for non-Muslims, but good for Muslims. However, the question is: Which Muslims? Unorthodox Muslims are among the primary victims of blasphemy laws. For example, in Muslim countries, the peaceful Ahmadiyya sect is typically deemed heretical and is stifled, even in a “moderate” country like Indonesia. Other “heretical’ sects are persecuted elsewhere in the Muslim world, such as the Alevis in “secular” Turkey. Then there are the well-known conflicts between the Sunnis and Shias, much of which is kept alive through charges of blasphemy. Pretty much any Muslim sect can be considered heretical by other Muslim sects.

In addition to heretical sects, individual Muslims are punished for blasphemy. Arifur Rahman, a 20-year-old cartoonist in Bangladesh, was recently sentenced to six months amid public demonstrations calling for his death. He wrote a cartoon making fun of a local custom involving the name “Mohammed”. Parwiz Kambakhsh, a 23-year-old Afghan student journalist, has faced the death penalty for downloading and distributing articles that were said to question some tenets of Islam. (So far as I know, he is still in prison pending final appeals.) Street thugs sometimes mete out punishment vigilante-style: Naguib Mahfouz, an Egyptian novelist, was stabbed in the neck by a Muslim who was angry at his portrayal of God. Jawaad Faizi, a Pakistani journalist in Canada, was beaten for criticizing an Islamic organization. Mohammed Ahmed Mohammed Taha was kidnapped and killed in Sudan for publishing an article which he personally disagreed with, questioning the ancestral lineage of Mohammed. These are just a few examples.

Muslims who choose to leave their religion, even in the West, had better keep quiet about their thoughts on Islam. Just ask Salman Rushdie.

Muslim and ex-Muslim reformers are often hurt by blasphemy laws and Muslim vigilanteism. Rashad Khalifa in Tucson, Arizona, founder of the “Submitters” sect, was declared to be an apostate due to his blasphemous ideas and assassinated. Farzana Hassan Shahid, president of the Muslim Canadian Congress who receives death threats from other Muslims for her views, explained: “There is an underlying fear all the time…that uneasy feeling is part of my daily life. I have been declared an apostate twice, for opposing the Sharia [Islamic law]….” Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the well-known Somali ex-Muslim, wrote “…the reformists are shunned by their families and communities and live under the constant fear of assassination.”

Of course, blasphemy laws and fear of vigilante punishment also cause immeasurable harm to all the unorthodox Muslims we don’t know about because they dare not speak or publish their views freely.

Islamic blasphemy rules for non-Muslims are somewhat different from those for Muslims, because non-Muslims endure the added element of dhimmi subjugation, as noted above. Certain things could be considered blasphemous for non-Muslims to say, but not for Muslims to say. Nevertheless, all Islamic blasphemy laws share a common assumption: the Islamic orthodoxy gets to regulate what people can and can’t say about Islam. Any time the West gives any credence to this assumption, we strengthen and legitimize it.

So even if, in a fit of madness, we non-Muslims cared nothing about our own interests and only about the interests of Muslims, we would still need to decide which Muslims’ interests would be important to uphold. It would be absurd to throw the peaceful Ahmadis and reformers under the bus, to “respect” the religious thought police who would persecute them. Given the harm caused to unorthodox Muslims by blasphemy laws, we should think twice before adopting them ourselves. We may not be able to do a lot for the Ahmadiyya sect in Asia or for young cartoonists like Rahman, but at least we can set a good example by protecting freedom of expression in the West. If we do not protect it here, freedom of expression may well disappear from the world.

How Can We Screen Out Jihadist Immigrants if Muslims Themselves Can’t Tell the Difference?

May 26, 2008

According to an article in the Orlando Sentinel, some immigrants to the US from Muslim countries are frustrated that their citizenship applications are taking so long. Some are even suing the federal government. They believe their civil rights are being violated if it takes longer for them to gain citizenship than it does for an immigrant from a non-Muslim country. The immigration authorities take longer with Muslim applicants so that a thorough background check can be performed.

It is common sense that for would-be immigrants, US citizenship is not a right but a privilege. Immigration, within certain limits, is good for this country. However, it does not make sense to bring in immigrants from demographic groups that have a higher risk for committing acts of terrorism, or crimes of mass destruction, unless there is a reliable way to distinguish between those who are potentially violent and those who are not. Screening out potential Islamic terrorists protects all people in this country, both Muslim and non-Muslim. A background check is the least we can do; but is it enough?

Is There a Reliable Way to Screen Out Potential Jihad Terrorists?

Robert Spencer and others have stated many times that there is no reliable way for immigration authorities to tell the difference between potential Jihadists and those who will never participate in Jihad. They are correct, and here’s more evidence:

Even Muslims Can’t Tell the Difference!

It would be reasonable to assume that Muslims, being intimately familiar with the various strains of Islam, could spot a potential Jihadist more easily than a non-Muslim, especially if they are close friends or family members. However, this does not seem to be the case in every situation.

Nail Bomber’s Muslim Friend “Stunned”: Nick Reilly, aka Mohammed Rasheed, a British convert to Islam, was recently arrested for attempting to detonate a nail bomb in a restaurant. Omar Siddiqui, Reilly’s friend and president of the Islamic Society at the local university said, “I believe the Islamic community will be stunned by what he is alleged to have done because he always seemed so calm and nice.” According to neighbors, Reilly had a screen saver of the twin towers coming down on 9/11.

Accused July 21 Bomb Suspect’s Sister “Surprised” He Had Jihad Book: When Adel Yahya was being prosecuted for his alleged involvement in the July 21 bomb plot in Britain, his sister Lina evidently knew nothing about a Jihad book he had in their home. Lina said, “This is a surprise. He’s never really had these sort of views.” (Adel’s jury failed to reach a verdict, after which he pled guilty to a lesser charge.)

SUV Jihadist’s Sister “Shocked”: Mohammed Taheri-Azar drove an SUV into a crowd of people on the UNC campus to “avenge the deaths of Muslims around the world.” His sister, Laila, describes her brother as “a kind, gentle and pure soul.” She says his actions are “as much a source of shock and distress to us as they are to you.” This is despite the fact that he admitted plotting the act for two years.

July 7 Bomber’s Wife “Had No Idea of His Plans”: Germaine Lindsay, aka Jamal Lindsay, was one of the bombers in the attacks on London’s public transport system on July 7, 2005. His own wife, Samantha Lewthwaite, a British convert to Islam who was pregnant at the time of the bombing, said, “He was a good and loving husband and a brilliant father, who showed absolutely no sign of doing this atrocious crime.”

So, since it’s apparent that Muslims who are close to the Jihadists can’t predict what they will do, how does anyone expect the immigration officials to do so?

By now, you may be saying, “Wait a minute. These people may have known more than they’re admitting.” This is true, but it doesn’t matter. If the Jihadists’ closest friends and family members could not tell they were Jihadists, that’s a good reason to stem the flow of Muslim immigration. If the Jihadists operate in a community that conceals their activities from the authorities, that’s a good reason to stem the flow of Muslim immigration.

Some Jihad plots are foiled due to Muslim informants, and they deserve credit for helping keep us safe. But not every plot is foiled by informants, and it only takes one successful plot to do a whole lot of damage.

How Do We Screen Out Peaceful Islamic Supremacists?

In addition, since our Constitution is not compatible with Sharia law, we should also be attempting to screen out Muslims who believe Sharia should one day be the law of the entire world. Our system of representative government with individual rights cannot be maintained if a significant portion of the population is hostile to our basic system, whether or not they are potentially violent. Since no one seems to be able to tell with certainty who is a Jihadist, how is anyone to tell whether someone is an Islamic Supremacist?

How Do We Screen Out Those Whose Children Will Be Islamic Supremacists?

In addition to the risks of terrorist immigrants and peaceful Islamic Supremacists immigrants, there’s also the risk of homegrown terrorists and peaceful Islamic Supremacists. More than once, moderate Muslim parents in the West have been appalled to find their children becoming more radical than the parents are. We already have this risk with the population we currently have. However, the larger our Muslim population, the more this risk grows.

I believe it would be good policy to drastically reduce or stop immigration from Muslim majority countries, as well as Muslims from Europe and elsewhere, until this threat has been dealt with successfully. If we allow any immigration at all from Muslim countries, we should give preference to peaceful religious minorities, apostates and heretics from those countries. This is not because all Muslims are Islamic Supremacists, nor will their children all be such. It’s because we have no way of knowing which are which.

Note that this policy protects not only non-Muslims, but also those Muslims already living here who value our way of life and don’t want to change it. Those are the Muslims we should be concerned about, not the ones who want to replace the Constitution with Sharia.

With Friends Like Esposito….

May 8, 2008

When a terrorist organization associated with millions of radicals declares war on our country, we might expect that our enemies will spread deceitful propoganda while our friends will put forward the most truthful information possible to aid us in understanding what we’re up against. Right now, it’s crucial we understand who the radical Muslims are, what they believe, what motivates them, and how many there are. It does not help for Western scholars and commentators to deceive us about these important topics.

As a case in point, John Esposito and Dalia Mogahed have coauthored the book, Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think, which reports on world-wide polling of Muslims done by Gallup. Gallup’s polling is described by Esposito and Mogahed as “six years of research and more than 50,000 interviews representing 1.3 billion Muslims who reside in more than 35 nations that are predominantly Muslim or have sizable Muslim populations. Representing more than 90% of the world’s Muslim community, this poll is the largest, most comprehensive study of its kind.”

What Is a Radical?

At a luncheon hosted by the Washington Institute, Dalia Mogahed made some interesting admissions. To be brief, it appears Esposito and Mogahed have cooked the numbers. To determine who was a Muslim radical, they used responses to two questions from Gallup’s polling. To be considered radical, a Muslim would need to answer both questions in a “radical” manner. They would have to say the 9/11 attacks were “completely justified” and they would need to have an unfavorable view of the US.

However, it appears the authors changed their criteria for what constitutes a radical from their original plan, in a way that skewed the data to create the appearance of less radicalism. In an article published before the book was released, they explain their criteria for who is a radical and who is a moderate:

”Note: Respondents who said 9/11 was unjustified (1 or 2 on a 5-point scale, where 1 is totally unjustified and 5 is completely justified) are classified as moderates. Respondents who said 9/11 was justified (4 or 5 on the same scale) are classified as radicals.”

Of course, this means the 3’s would be neither radical nor moderate, which is unexplained, but that’s not the worst of it.

In the recent Washington Institute luncheon, Mogahed tells another story. For the book, only those who said the attacks were “completely justified” (the 5’s on the 5-point scale) are classified as radicals, which accounts for 7% of the Muslims surveyed. Those who said the attacks were “largely justified” (the 4’s on the 5-point scale) are now classified as moderates. They accounted for another 6.5%. Another 23.1% said the attacks were “in some way justified”. These are, presumably, the 3’s. So, altogether, 36.6% thought the attacks were justified to some degree. Of these, 13.5% (176 million people) would have been called “radical” by their original definition, and only 7% (91 million people) by their final definition. None of this 36.6% would have been considered “moderate” by their original definition, and 29.6% (385 million people) by their new definition.

Even Mogahed, co-author, admits at the luncheon this is not accurate: “Yes, we can say that a Four is not that moderate .  .  . I don’t know. .  .  .You are writing a book, you are trying to come up with terminology people can understand. .  .  . You know, maybe it wasn’t the most technically accurate way of doing this, but this is how we made our cluster-based analysis.” This is an astonishing admission from a co-author.

Here are the numbers (as best I can know them) in chart form. I have not found any report of the distinction between 1’s and 2’s, so I’ll lump them together as Esposito and Mogahed did in their earlier article:

Scale Number Response Original Classification Final Classification Percent Number of Muslims
1 & 2 Attacks Unjustified Moderate Moderate 63.4% or Less 824 Million or Less
3 Attacks In Some Way Justified Neither Radical Nor Moderate Moderate 23.1% 300 Million
4 Attacks Largely Justified Radical Moderate 6.5% 85 Million
5 Attacks Completely Justified Radical Radical 7% 91 Million

What About Undecided Muslims?

Since Esposito and Mogahed did not provide complete polling data in their book, and some information is also missing from the luncheon report, there are still some unknowns. Normally, polling data includes some percentage of respondants who don’t know or are undecided. Where are these people accounted for in this study? Are they left out of the numbers altogether? Or have the authors assumed that those who haven’t made up their mind about this question are all “moderate”? Because we do know the numbers have been cooked in other ways to create the appearance of fewer radicals and more moderates, it’s possible that either the 1’s or 2’s are actually undecided, yet are counted as “moderate”. This is pure speculation, of course. It would be helpful if we knew exactly how the 1’s and 2’s responded to the question, and how many there were.

Evidently, although Esposito and Mogahed have reported a specific percentage of radicals (7%), they have not reported anywhere the actual percentage of people they call “moderates”. The closest they come is a statement that “about 9 in 10 Muslims are moderates” (p. 97). The media has been assuming that everyone not counted as radical is moderate, which would be 93%. But because the undecided Muslims are not accounted for, we can’t make this assumption.

It would also be very interesting to know what percentage of persons approached by pollsters refused to participate at all. It would be a very different scenario if it was 5% or if it was 50%. It’s quite possible there could be a higher percentage of “radicals” among the non-responders than among the responders.

What About Peaceful Islamists: Aren’t They Also Radical?

Here are some things most sane Western people would consider to be “radical” under ordinary circumstances:

  • Supporting a requirement for women to wear an oversized pillowcase in public
  • Supporting enormous legal disadvantages for women
  • Supporting stoning for gays and adulterers
  • Supporting the death penalty for people who leave a certain religion, or criticize that religion
  • Supporting extreme systematic persecution for religious minorities
  • Believing that Jews are descended from apes and pigs
  • Denying the Jewish Holocaust
  • Believing 9/11 was orchestrated by the US government

However, all of the above could describe a Muslim, and he could hate the US to boot, yet he would still be considered “moderate” by Esposito and Mogahed, so long as he only thought the 9/11 attacks were “largely justified” (but not “completely justified”). Of course, there are Muslims who do not have any of the views listed above, but those who have several of these radical views should certainly be considered “radical”.

Additional Inaccuracies

Here are some additional inaccuracies in the book, pointed out in The Weekly Standard:

”Take the very definition of ‘Islam.’ From Karen Armstrong to Bernard Lewis–and that’s a pretty broad range–virtually every scholar of note (and many who aren’t) has translated the term ‘Islam’ as ‘submission to God.’ But ‘submission’ evidently sounds off-putting to the American ear, so Esposito and Mogahed offer a different, more melodious translation–’a strong commitment to God’–that has a ring to it of everything but accuracy.”

”Twice… they cite as convincing evidence for their argument poll data from ‘the ten most populous majority Muslim countries,’ which they then list as including Jordan and Lebanon, tiny states that don’t even rank in the top 25 of Muslim majority countries. Twice they say their 10 specially polled countries collectively comprise 80 percent of the world Muslim population; in fact, the figure is barely 60 percent.

General Vagueness

Here’s a description by Hillel Fradkin of the lack of specificity in the book:

”So who does speak for Islam? Apparently, Esposito and Mogahed do. For the book does not actually present the poll. It provides a very small and partial account of the responses to some questions, but fails to include even one table or chart of data. It does not even provide a clear list of the questions that were asked. The appendix, where one might expect to find questionnaires, charts, and tables, provides only a short narrative discussion of Gallup’s sampling techniques and general mode of operation.”

What Is Esposito’s Agenda?

John Esposito’s bio is worth reading. He clearly has the credentials to indicate a supreme mastery of his subject, and he is one of the most influential experts on Islam today. He knows what he’s talking about. Therefore I cannot escape the conclusion that the obvious flaws in his reporting of Islam indicate not honest mistakes, but deliberate deception to further an agenda. In fact, his agenda is not well-hidden.

In an excerpt of their book, Esposito and Mogahed write:

”Did Muslims react so strongly [to the Mohammed cartoons] because they did not understand or believe in freedom of speech? Gallup’s data, which demonstrate Muslim admiration for Western liberty and freedom of speech, indicate otherwise. The core issues of this apparent clash, or ‘culture war,’ are not democracy and freedom of expression, but faith, identity, respect (or lack of it), and public humiliation. As France’s Grand Rabbi Joseph Sitruk observed in The Associated Press in the midst of the cartoon controversy: ‘We gain nothing by lowering religions, humiliating them and making caricatures of them. It’s a lack of honesty and respect.’ He further noted that freedom of expression ‘is not a right without limits.’

This is not a neutral statement, but one reflecting bias against freedom of expression. Evidently, the authors favor letting Musims decide what non-Muslims can or can’t say about Islam. Since Islam has a political side to it, this is equivalent to letting communists decide what can or can’t be said about communism. This has already been tried, with unfavorable results.

Another excerpt reveals another bias. This one addresses the fact that in most Muslim countries, a majority want Sharia to be at least one source of law: “Ironically, we don’t have to look far from home to find a significant number of people who want religion as a source of law. In the United States, a 2006 Gallup Poll indicates that a majority of Americans want the Bible as a source of legislation.”

This implies equivalence between American Christians who want the Bible as a source of law, and Muslims wanting Sharia as a source of law. Anyone making such an equivalence would need to account for the following facts:

  • Ex-Christians in America are not afraid to speak out about why they left their religion in fear for their lives; ex-Muslims are, even in America.
  • There is no world-wide Christian movement that’s for stoning for adulterers and gays; for the testimony of women to count half that of men; for the removal, by force if necessary, of all non-Christians from power; for non-Christians to pay an extra tax in lieu of being killed; etc. There is a world-wide Islamist movement promoting all this and more, substituting the word “Muslim” for “Christian”.
  • There are no large demonstrations of Christians calling for the death of anyone who has insulted them; there are such large demonstrations of Muslims.

These facts indicate that, regardless of Esposito’s ability to cook numbers, there is a vast gulf between the current state of Christianity and Islam. All of the examples above are examples of Sharia. There are also other indications of Esposito’s agenda.

John Esposito is the founding director of the Prince Alwaleed Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University, which has received “$20 million of funding from Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal”, as noted in Martin Kramer’s Sandbox Blog. Are the Saudis getting their money’s worth?

It’s understandable that our enemies would paint a deceptive picture of Islam and of the Muslim world. But what’s John Esposito’s excuse?

Disclaimer: I have not read the book in question, and am relying on reviews here, as well as excerpts published by the authors. If I have made any error resulting in any inaccuracy, I welcome corrections, so long as page numbers (or links) and quotes are included.

News Flash: Muslims Want Free Speech for Themselves!

May 7, 2008

Gallup has conducted world-wide polling of Muslims, described by John Esposito and Dalia Mogahed as “six years of research and more than 50,000 interviews representing 1.3 billion Muslims who reside in more than 35 nations that are predominantly Muslim or have sizable Muslim populations. Representing more than 90% of the world’s Muslim community, this poll is the largest, most comprehensive study of its kind.” It should be noted that John Esposito is the founding director of the Prince Alwaleed Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University, which has received “$20 million of funding from Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal”, as noted in Martin Kramer’s Sandbox Blog.

Esposito and Mogahed report about Gallup’s findings in their book, Who Speaks for Islam?, which has the “not-so-hidden purpose” to “blur any difference between average Muslims around the world and average Americans”, as described in The Weekly Standard. Truth, it would seem, is not an insurmountable obstacle to that goal. (I highly recommend this article).

According to a review published by Middle East Strategy at Harvard (MESH), Esposito’s and Mohaged’s book draws the following conclusion:

“It thus turns out that Muslims apparently want a different kind of ‘democracy,’ one which avoids moral and other kinds of risks. For example, although they would like freedom of speech, they would not like it to be unlimited, such that it might permit speech offensive to religious sensibilities. In other words, blasphemy laws should limit it.”

This means that they want freedom of speech only for themselves! Anyone who has views of Islam that are different from their own would be censored! What’s so great about that? Anyone can be in favor of freedom of speech for those who agree with them. Even in Communist countries, a person is free to express a pro-Communist viewpoint. Is that freedom of speech? A person is committed to freedom of speech only if they also want to protect this freedom for those who disagree with them.

In practice, blasphemy laws apply to any view deemed sufficiently unorthodox; for example, in Muslim countries, the peaceful Ahmadiyya sect is typically deemed heretical and is stifled, even in a “moderate” country like Indonesia. Other “heretical’ sects are persecuted elsewhere in the Muslim world, even in “secular” Turkey. And, of course, the views of Muslims can be considered heretical whether or not they belong to a heretical sect, as can the views of non-Muslims.

So, despite Esposito’s and Mogahed’s attempt to portray the world’s Muslims as “just like us”, even this one statement reveals a vast difference. Individual Muslims should be judged on their merits, and there are Muslim individuals who do indeed believe in free speech for all. However, it is a mistake of monumental proportions to portray the Muslim community as freedom-loving.

Is Islam Dominated by Radicals?

April 20, 2008

The Rosenkranz Foundation recently sponsored a debate of the resolution, “Islam Is Dominated by Radicals”. Six experts debated the resolution, including two Muslim women, one on each side. It was very well done, although in a strictly time-limited format there are always important points left unmade (hence my comments here).

On the side for the resolution were Paul Marshall, with the Hudson Institute; Asra Nomani, a Muslim woman who has been fighting against radicalization of Islam; and Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a former Islamic fundamentalist. Against the resolution were Reza Aslan, professor of creative writing at the University of California, Riverside; Edina Lekovic, from the Muslim Public Affairs Council; and Richard Bulliet, professor of history at Columbia.

It is disconcerting that this panel included Edina Lekovic, who once edited a paper which published a pro-terrorist article, lied about doing so on national television, then personally attacked Steven Emerson, a terrorism expert, who made her dishonesty public. The very fact that a woman who has links to radicalism herself, and has falsely denied those links, gets invited to speak publicly about Islam supports the notion that Islamic radicalism has hegemony in this country. Why is it so hard to find spokespeople for Islam who have no links to radicalism?

The first speaker for the resolution, Paul Marshall, defined “radicals” as “those who are striving for a political order representing a reactionary version of Islam that denies legal and civic equality to men and women and also denies it on the basis of religion. It also denies freedom of speech and freedom of thought….” Those opposed to the resolution neither accepted nor refuted this definition, they simply ignored it and spoke as though violence is the only radical issue to discuss.

For purposes of this debate, this is an OK definition. At least it isn’t limiting the discussion to the Jihadists; it’s time we get past the idea that only the Jihadists are a threat. Islamic Supremacists desire a vision which is wholely unacceptable from the perspective of the West, whether they accomplish it peacefully or not.

The only downside to using the term “Radical Islam” to describe Islamic Supremacists is that it implies these “radicals” are advocating a form of Islam that is contrary to mainstream, traditional, scholarly Islam. This is, unfortunately, not the case. These people’s world view is radical as compared to mainstream Western thought, but not radical as compared to mainstream Islamic scholarship. For simplicity, in this article I will use “radical” as defined by Mr. Marshall, and “moderate” to mean those within Islam who oppose the “radicals”, even though these definitions have their problems in the larger picture.

Although this was not specifically the topic, some causes of radicalism were alleged, but they were not debated with any thoroughness. The Islamic doctrines that support radicalism were barely mentioned.

The basic argument for the resolution was that Islamic radicals, even if not a majority of the Muslim population, control all levels of power through the Muslim world, and thus they dominate Islam. Saudi oil money is one means used for disseminating a radical view, but not the only means. The debaters for the resolution were very persuasive, and the percentage of the audience who agreed with them shifted dramatically in their favor during the debate. There are just a couple points I’d like to expand upon, which I did not feel were adequately addressed during the debate.

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross (for the resolution) mentioned the UK poll which found that 36% of Muslim youth (ages 16-24) believe apostates should be killed. Richard Bulliet from the other side said this shows the radical view does not have hegemony (power), because it is a minority view. However, this ignores an important dynamic: a significant minority which is willing to use violence will have hegemony over an acquiescent majority. As we have discussed, apostates are, indeed, intimidated by “radical” Muslims, even in the West. There is no question but that their freedom of expression is severely curtailed even in the West, and it is virtually squelched in Muslim countries. Even if this were the only facet of Islamic Supremacy regarding which the “radicals” have hegemony (and it is not), it would be alarming by itself.

Reza Aslan (against the resolution) made a bizarre comparison between that 36% figure above and a poll showing that “46 percent… of American Christians believe that the Constitution and American laws should be changed in order to match Christian law and Christian values.” What kind of bizarre comparison is this? Christian “radicals” can be fairly compared with Muslim “radicals” when:

  • Ex-Christians worldwide are afraid to speak out about why they left Christianity in fear for their lives
  • Christians hold big protests calling for the death of anyone who has insulted them
  • Christians form a world-wide movement that’s for stoning for adulterers and gays; for the court testimony of women to count half that of men; for the removal, by force if necessary, of all non-Christians from power; for non-Christians to pay an extra tax in lieu of being killed; etc.
  • These things are not happening, obviously, so we can relax about the Christian radicals.

    Reza Aslan cites a declaration of many leading clerics outlawing “takfir”, which means declaring a Muslim to be a non-Muslim. “Takfir” is often used by Jihadists who want to kill unsupportive Muslims: It is illegal under Islamic law for a Muslim to kill a Muslim, but if a Muslim is pronounced a non-Muslim with a fatwa of takfir, voila! It’s suddenly legal to kill him. Although the ban on takfir was cited as evidence that radicalism has no hegemony, this is a mixed blessing at best: the Jihadists do not consider themselves bound by a bunch of clerics, so they will continue to pronounce takfir as before; however, the moderates now are hamstrung in efforts to distance Islam from the Jihadists. The ban on takfir means that no one can declare Osama bin Laden to be a non-Muslim, which would actually be a good move for the moderates.

    Incidentally, Robert Spencer had been invited to participate in this debate for the resolution, and then was disinvited at the request of one of the speakers against the resolution (he does not know which one, nor does it matter). Mr. Spencer is extremely knowledgable, articulate, and backs up virtually everything with solid data. The fact that someone did not want to debate him is a compliment to him, and not to the someone.

    Sharia Utopia Is a Myth Part II: Where Is It?

    March 29, 2008

    Some Muslims defend Sharia by claiming that it creates a just, moral, ethical society. This is important because the quest for utopia is one reason Muslims are so motivated to impose Sharia, and it’s one of the ways they try to sell it to non-Muslims. According to many Muslims, all problems result from not enough Islam, and the cure is always more Islam. Let’s just examine the evidence of their claims.

    To begin with, Muslim claims of Sharia utopia are similar to claims of utopia made by adherents of other totalitarian and authoritarian systems: fascists, Nazis, and communists, for example, have all made the claim that their system would produce a paradise on earth, and none of these have ever produced a utopia. All have created massive amounts of misery, not utopia. Communist countries generally have to keep people from escaping, or their populations would be decimated. The failure of other totalitarian schemes should already make us sceptical of the notion of a Sharia utopia.

    I recently received a comment from “theveiledtsunami” who said:

    ”A society existing under judiciously applied Shariah law would have little to no cime, no homeless people, no unwanted abandoned illegitimate children, no rape…”

    I asked Tsunami: You give your vision of a country with Sharia utopia. Please give us an example of one Muslim country, out of the 50, which implements the full Sharia and exemplifies this utopia. Saudi Arabia? Iran? Please give us a specific example so the rest of the world can decide if this kind of utopia is for us. Her reply was:

    ”Unfortuantely (sic), I know of no country that does, to the absolute letter of the Islamic law.”

    The Sharia Utopia Is Fantasy-Based

    Since there is not a single Muslim country that exemplifies a Sharia utopia, the concept is fantasy-based. In this series, we will be looking at the qualities of Muslims’ utopian dream point by point.

    Is the Problem Sharia, Or Its Implementation?

    Muslims sometimes claim that any problems with Sharia result from flaws of its implementation, not from Sharia itself. This would be a fair claim–if there were any evidence for it. There are times in which cultural factors do play a role, as in honor killings and female genital mutilation. However, even in these instances, there are foundational Islamic texts that give support to the practices, and the perpetrators generally view their behavior as Islamic. If these practices were antithetical to Islam, why has Islam failed to eliminate them after 1400 years? Why are these practices carried out in various Islamic cultures, not just in one tribal area?

    A better argument could be made that some of the most livable Muslim countries owe their positive qualities to the fact that their local culture has survived sufficiently to give them some protection from the worst aspects of Sharia. The best Muslim countries are the ones with the least Sharia.

    Sharia has a poor historical record, as well. The Islamic Golden Age is a myth. Historically, as in modern times, life under Muslim rule was best when Islam was weakest and least orthodox, and when Islam failed to smother the positive cultural qualities remaining from pre-Islamic times.

    It is true that there can be a distinction between written religious dogma and the actual practice of a religion, but both belong to the religion. The practice of a religion is effectively determined by its followers. If large numbers of Muslims support honor killings and/or female genital mutilation and they say this is Islamic, then for them, it is. There are Christian practices that have no basis, or scanty basis, in the Christian Bible (e.g. Sunday worship, Christmas, Easter, et al), but they are so widely accepted among Christians that for practical purposes, these practices are indeed Christian.

    Sharia Utopia Is a Myth Part 1: Muslim Countries Among Most Corrupt

    March 14, 2008

    Transparency International publishes a Corruption Perceptions Index, ranking of 179 countries for corruption. In their most recent report (2007), there are no Muslim countries in the top 10 (least corrupt) countries. There are none in the top 20. There are none in the top 30. The least corrupt Muslim country on the list is Qatar, number 32, which means that 31 non-Muslim countries are less corrupt than the least corrupt Muslim country.

    Looking at the most corrupt countries, 16 of the bottom 34 are Muslim: Somalia (the very worst), Iraq, Uzbekistan, Sudan, Chad, Afganistan, Guinea, Turkmenistan, Bangladesh, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Cote d’Ivoire, Azerbaijan, Nigeria, and Guinea-Bissau. To give you an idea of just how corrupt these countries are, they are ranked worse than Russia!

    Where’s the utopia? The reason this is important is that Islamists often justify Sharia by arguing it creates a utopian society. Why, then, are Muslim countries generally more corrupt than non-Muslim countries, despite having the “benefit” of Sharia and Islam? Muslim countries all have different ways of implementing Sharia, and a very few don’t use much of it if any, but they all share a common belief that Sharia is a valid source of law. If Sharia really were a benefit, you’d think one of them would produce a stunningly honest government.

    What is the relationship between Islam and the corruption in Muslim countries?

    Islam does not mandate corruption, but there are provisions in Sharia that provide the conditions in which corruption thrives.

    Checks on power: According to Transparency International, one factor allowing corrupt practices to flourish is the lack of institutional checks on power. This follows the maxim, “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Sharia is very authoritarian in nature, concentrating power in the rulers with no orderly process for holding them in check. A Quran verse often quoted to support this authoritarianism is 4:59: “O ye who believe! Obey Allah, and obey the Messenger, and those charged with authority among you….” Reliance of the Traveller: A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law also quotes a Hadith to emphasize the importance of obediance to the Caliph: “Hear and obey, even if the ruler placed over you is an Ethiopian slave with amputated extremities.” (pg. 645) Another Hadith quoted is “Leaders shall rule you after me, the godfearing of them ruling you with godfearingness and the profligate ruling you with wickedness. So listen to them and obey them in everything that is right; for if they do well, it will count for you and for them, and if they do badly, it will count for you and against them.” (pg. 639) A Caliph is supposed to have a list of qualifications which include being an upright person, but “it is valid, if forced to, to resort to the leadership of a corrupt person….” (pg. 642) Although there is currently no Caliphate, this authoritarian framework is in the Quran and seems to be hard for Muslim countries to shake off.

    Democracy: In addition, democratic systems are better able to fight corruption. Transparency International states: “In a modern democracy, the power of governing bodies is inherent in the political mandate given by the people. Power is entrusted and it is supposed to be used for the benefit of society at large, and not for the personal benefit of the individual that holds it. Thus corruption – misusing publicly entrusted power for private gain – is inherently contradictory and irreconcilable with democracy. That does not mean, unfortunately, that corruption cannot be found in democratic systems. Temptation remains a challenge anywhere. That is why it is all the more important to put in place control mechanisms and establish systemic hurdles to prevent people from abusing their power, as TI is seeking to do. Such mechanisms are more easily drawn up and introduced in established democratic systems, however, than in newly democratic or non-democratic ones.”

    Freedom House lists electoral democracies in the world. Of the 32 least corrupt countries, only 3 are not electoral democracies, and 29 are. Of the 34 most corrupt countries, 24 are not electoral democracies, and 10 are.

    Many Muslims believe that Islam is incompatible with democracy. If their views prevail, it is likely that the corruption currently entrenched in their societies will never get a whole lot better. Other Muslims are trying to redefine Islam as a personal religion only, with no political side. If they succeed, political reform in Muslim countries becomes more possible; however, they have a long way to go.

    Freedom: There is a very clear inverse relationship between freedom and corruption: the more the freedom, the less the likelihood of corruption, and vice versa. Looking at the Freedom House report, which gives countries a rating for freedom, in combination with the TI corruption report, we find that of the 32 least corrupt countries, only one is Not Free (which is Qatar, number 32 on the list); two are Partly Free (Singapore and probably Hong Kong); and the other 29 are Free, of which 26 have the very best score. (Hong Kong was not in the Freedom House report, so I’m arbitrarily calling it “Partly Free”.) In contrast, of the 34 most corrupt countries, 21 are Not Free, 13 are Partly Free, and not a single one is Free. Freedom and honest government go together, and Muslim countries are decidedly freedom challenged.

    Honesty: Another factor I would expect to make a difference is the society’s attitudes toward honesty: a more honest society would, logically, tend to be less corrupt. As we have examined extensively in other contexts, Islam and Sharia do not have an absolute commitment to honesty. Deceit is allowed if it’s for a permissible goal. Oaths can be broken if something better comes along. Truth-telling can be punished if the truth embarasses someone. This is not a winning combination for rooting out corruption. There is no such thing as a completely honest or dishonest society, but there are certainly differences nonetheless.

    To be clear, my sole interest in this information is to remove a common argument used to defend Sharia. Many people believe it’s “insensitive” to criticize another culture or religion. That would be fine, unless that culture and/or religion wishes to make us more like them. When that’s the case, as it is with Sharia, scrutiny is in order.