I don’t believe Islam can be reformed unless the moderate majority unites behind the cause of reform. As I see it, reform will require outright criminalization of religious violence: at least, in jihad – and, preferably, repeal of whipping, caning, stoning, amputations, etc. in sharia law as well. The idea here is to distance Islam from ALL forms of violence. Islamic countries will need to prosecute all instances of religious violence. They could start with a blanket amnesty then crack down on subsequent violations. This means shutting down terrorist camps and outlawing radical teachings in madāris and mosques or anywhere else for that matter. Needless to say, this will require unity of will within the ummah of Islam – which will not be easy to accomplish because the Quran insists that it is perfect: infallible, immutable, clear and complete. We can’t revise the Quran, so Muslims will have to reform Islam the same way Christians reformed Christianity: by emphasizing positive verses over less positive ones. Some (most?) already do this, of course, but now they must stand up publicly and be counted.
To accomplish reform, Muslims will need to admit that literal interpretations and implementations of Islam is no longer viable in the modern age. Many (most?) Muslims will insist that there’s nothing wrong with the Quran. But that’s simply not true. There’s direct linkage between religious violence and the Quran. ISIS – who pride themselves on their literal implementation of the Quran – is clear and present evidence of that linkage. They may misinterpret some suwar but not all of them.
Criticism of Islam stirs an emotional response in most Muslims. Yet, reform will require these same Muslims to be critical of Islam. Most criticism of Islam is a criticism of ideologies and beliefs and their disastrous consequences – amply demonstrated all over the planet every day. Invariably, apologists for Islam respond by conflating criticisms of ideologies with intolerance of adherents. Their intent is obvious: intolerance of Muslims is racist (even though Islam is not a race) but criticism of their ideology is not; so they need to shift emphasis from ideologies to adherents before they can label their critics as racist. The charge of racism has become obligatory: a procedural appeal to the politically correct crowd. It’s dishonest but it’s smart. For some, the mere mention of racism will taint anything a critic has to say.
In contrast to the charge of racism, apologists for Islam do have at least one very valid point: that there are courageous moderate Muslims, like Maajid Nawaz, who condemn Islamic violence and advocate reforms that embrace freedom and human rights. And I totally agree. I admire their bravery and integrity. But what these apologists for Islam don’t seem to realize is that they are making my case for me. Vocal, moderate, Muslim, critics of Islam put themselves in the same precarious position as their infidel counterparts: specifically, they’re painting targets on their backs. By now, even the most ardent apologists for Islam know that vocal criticism of Islam can be dangerous to one’s health. It takes a certain disconnect to assert with one breath that Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance then invoke ‘courageous’ moderate Muslims with the next breath. Don’t you think?
The point is that, if Muslims are to reform their religion, they have to admit it has problems . . . not deny those problems. They have to quit making excuses before they can start making changes for the better.
In many ways, Muslims aren’t much different than Christians. Most are just people who want to get through life with as little unnecessary drama as possible. Adherents from both religions cherry-pick scripture for what they choose to believe and practice. The vast majority of them cherry-pick positive verses. However, unlike Christianity, Islam has not yet enjoyed a reformation of its ideology. It’s just as fundamentalist as it ever was. And, without reform, fundamentalists are more likely to cherry-pick negative verses: ayat that emphasize militant jihad and a xenophobic us-versus-them mentality. To them, Islam is more of an ideology than a religion. That’s a bit simplistic but I think this distinction between the religious and the ideological is an important one. To me, it’s the difference between a Muslim and an Islamist.
The peaceful, religious, Muslim majority has allowed the radical, ideological, minority to dominate their religion. The word, Islam, is Arabic for submission to Allah. But, sometimes, it seems that, to the majority of Muslims, it means submission to the vocal minority. It’s time for the Muslim majority to reject dominance from the minority. Until they take control of their religion, their influence is irrelevant. Moderate Muslims need to unite and shun religious violence. And that includes Islamist doctrines that promote militant jihad and martyrdom – as well as sharia laws that (potentially) punish blasphemy, heresy and apostasy with death.
Those who can’t recognize the harm done by jihad, martyrdom and the criminalization of non-Muslim beliefs – but cry out against the ‘extremism’ of ISIS – apparently feel no sense of cognitive dissonance. ISIS, like the Taliban and Al Qaeda, prides itself on its literal interpretation and implementation of the Quran. Condemnation of ISIS is also condemnation of the literal interpretation and implementation of the Quran. Muslims need to admit this if they want to reform Islam. They must choose to be selective Muslims. I admit, this seems like a tall order but, if ISIS prevails, perhaps the ummah of Islam will agree that something needs to be done.
The Quran insists it should be taken literally. So take literally the positive, peaceful, suwar and ignore the negative, militaristic ones. Violence in the Quran needs to be rejected because it gives license to the small percentage among us who are susceptible to radicalization. If only 1% of the world’s 1.55 billion Muslims are radically inclined, they represent a pool of 15.5 million Muslims who can be persuaded to: finance jihad; or be recruited as jihadis or terrorists; or fill other roles in support of jihad. ISIS is a relatively new organization, yet they have no problem recruiting jihadis from around the world or securing financing (often by robbing banks and taxing their captive subjects). Whether or not ISIS jihadis are ‘true Muslims’, their implementation of jihad and Islamic doctrines clearly inspire and give license for violence to many Muslim recruits honored to fight and die for ISIS. The ummah of Islam doesn’t want an ISIS caliphate and have united to renounce and discredit them. This is the perfect opportunity to begin reform of Islam and, hopefully, do away with jihad.
Both Muslims and infidels will read this answer. Both sets of readers know, without doubt, that we could intentionally stir up a world-wide hornet’s nest of murderous rampage and riot by using our freedom of expression to symbolically protest Islamist extremism. By, ‘symbolically protest’, I mean burning Qurans or effigies of Muhammad or something similar. Such symbolic protests are legitimate methods of free expression in a democracy. And protest of Islamic extremism is certainly a worthy cause. But some European governments have outlawed such protests because they lead to rampage, riot and death around the world. I take issue with that. The problem is not freedom of expression: the problem is intimidation and extortion by religious violence. Just as we wouldn’t encourage inappropriate behavior from our children by rewarding it, neither should we encourage or reward religious violence. I’m not a Muslim. And I’ll be damned if I’ll be intimidated or extorted into acquiescing to Islam in any way, shape or form.
In the name of Allah, Islamists kill both infidels and Muslims in prodigious numbers, mounting into the hundreds and thousands, every month. Muslims killing Muslims; executions of apostates; murderous Muslim riots and rampages; the subjugation of women; child brides . . . these have nothing to do with western imperialism. They’re purely manifestations of Islam. Jihadis and terrorists don’t merely shoot people or blow them up . . . they crucify, torture, rape, behead and bury them alive. It’s sadistic and barbaric! Why don’t Muslims riot and rampage over these sickening atrocities? Aren’t they far worse to Allah than a cartoon of Muhammad?
How many murderous riots and rampages have we seen from the ummah of Islam for ‘disrespecting’ the Quran or Muhammad? We’re not Muslims, yet these protesters expect us to behave like Muslims. No, wait, that’s not accurate enough: they insist that we behave like Muslims . . . and they will resort to violence around the world to make sure we comply. The religion of peace and tolerance is quick to intimidate, extort, rampage, riot and kill if you don’t conform to their expectations. It’s always been that way. This is one of the first things that need to change.
Liberal, progressive, ideals like human rights and equal rights are the cornerstone of democratic freedom. The human desire to include and accommodate is normally laudable: but it has its limits. Freedom may be nonnegotiable but it’s all too easily compromised. For instance, if you support human rights but make excuses for the subjugation of Muslim women, then your hypocrisy compromises the ideal of freedom. More to the point, you’re a racist. By treating Muslims with lower expectations, you’re tacitly treating them as inferior. That’s racism. Human rights are for all humans: not just western ones. And freedom of expression? Well, is it essential to democracy or not? If we censor ourselves, we are allowing intolerance and intimidation to compromise our freedom – and that exceeds the acceptable limits of liberal inclusion and accommodation. Not only do we need to hold fast to our freedom: we need to represent it with integrity and consistency.
The central conflict is not a ‘clash of civilizations’: it’s a clash between the free and the unfree. Western civilization can’t expect Islamic civilization to reform itself if we’re not ready and willing to reform ourselves as well. We can’t advance freedom abroad if we abandon it at home.