Moderate Islam doesn’t exist (and neither does radical Islam)

I received lots of feedback on my last post, What Is To Be Done (apologies to Lenin). Some correspondents said that I should have distinguished between ‘radical Islam’ and plain old Islam. The radical kind is our enemy, they suggest, and I damage my case by attacking Islam in general. Some said that I was crazy to call for the West to fight 1.4 billion Muslims.

I have been writing this blog and its predecessor since 2006, and while I’ve been critical of Islam before, I’ve always drawn the distinction between radical Islam and the theoretical moderate or reformed Islam. My decision to stop making this distinction was a considered one.

Although there are those who would reform Islam (here for example) the public face of Islam is that it is what it is. With small exceptions (whose adherents are considered apostates by mainline Muslims) there are no counterparts to Reform or Conservative Judaism. The leading Islamic universities and madrasas all teach what they see as an orthodox Islam. Obviously there are differences between Sunni and Shia Islam and less important divisions, but in any particular case (both Sunni and Shia) there is no room for ideological divergence. And in many cases, the penalty for it is death.

Islam will not reform itself in the near future, and it goes without saying that non-Muslims are not able to reform it. There really is no such thing as ‘moderate Islam’. What there are are moderate Muslims who for whatever reason don’t strictly follow the dictates of their particular branch of Islam. While they may behave in a more civilized manner than their more ‘religious’ brothers, they don’t represent an ideological movement.

In other words, there is no such thing as ‘radical Islam’ either, just radical Muslims. This explains why radicals so often get support from the supposedly more moderate community. The community doesn’t disagree with the radicals in a theoretical sense; they just aren’t comfortable going out and blowing people away.

I don’t believe that we need to fight 1.4 billion Muslims. Clearly we need to fight the radicals, who are somewhat fewer. But we also need to fight the ideology of Islam, to establish that Western culture is superior and deserving of emulation. And one thing that stands in the way of doing that is multiculturalism and its partner cultural relativism, the view that no culture is any better than another.

Western culture has certainly made moral mistakes. Where were the vaunted values of the Enlightenment when the American continent was colonized? When black slavery was considered acceptable? In Nazi Germany? But unlike Islam, it is capable of learning from them.

There are about 7.3 billion humans living on Earth today. I’m convinced that only classical Western culture, with its tradition of moral contemplation and its ability to foster scientific and technological progress, can prevent the descent of this population – via a process accompanied by unimaginable misery and death – into a new dark age. Certainly its proposed solutions to humankind’s problems are far superior to those of Islam.

It is being challenged for supremacy on the planet today, precisely by Islam. At the same time, it is being corrupted from within by the cultural diseases of affluence – postmodernism, lack of intellectual rigor, narcissism, greed, and more.

But there’s no alternative. Either we get our culture back on track and defeat our enemies or we lose. And if we lose, all humanity loses.

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2 Responses to Moderate Islam doesn’t exist (and neither does radical Islam)

  1. Shalom Freedman says:

    I do not know how to answer this as I agree with so much of this but believe it nonetheless simplifies the situation of humanity now. I would agree that the ideas of openness of inquiry, democratic freedom, focusing on scientific discovery, equality before the law are crucial. But it is not Western civilization alone that exemplifies them-certainly not at this moment of discriminatory attack on the one democracy in the Middle East.
    I also would want to say that while Islam is responsible for the most immediate challenge, and that this challenge has become global there are also threats to the human condition from a wide variety of other sources. These range from global warming to a wide variety of cosmic events. Also the new technologies bring with them all kinds of new dangers.
    PS I also wonder about something else. 1.4 billion Muslims in the world. As you say the overwhelming majority do not engage in acts of terror. I do not know the percentages in terms of support and sympathy. But making the religion the enemy stigmatizes the vast majority who are not active terrorists. Wouldn’t it be wiser not to attack Islam in itself directly but rather to accept the distinction between the active jihadists and those who do not openly practice or advocate this ideology. ( Not because the genuine roots of the terror are not in Islam but because it gives a way out, and a way to self- respect to those who decide to live in contradiction to those tenets of Islam).

  2. Keefe Goldfisher says:

    Our morning paper, the Long Beach Press-Telegram features many nationally syndicated columnists in the opinion section with special regard for those most knowledgeable about matters Californian. One writer, Thomas Elias, has been tireless in exposing gasoline price gouging by the big three oil refineries in California to the tune of 100’s of millions of dollars of swollen profits for Tesoro, Valero and Chevron. The arguments and the facts are indisputable. Nothing happens, despite the exposure.

    Another writer has written about the well-established corruption of the state PUC. The institution bucks a little, suffers bad press, public meetings where commissioners are excoriated, there are even indictments… and the PUC keeps right on going the way it was.

    Closer to themes featured here, Judaism and Israel, for at least five years Isi Liebler has been exposing the corruption of the Claims Conference that pursues claims for Holocaust survivors by administering a trust that is incredibly large, billions of dollars, in providing some relief for the hardships of this elderly population. Monies have been stolen in the 10’s of millions, salaries have been exorbitant, the leadership castigated for malfeasance and avoiding fiduciary responsibilities… and nothing happens.

    For seven years, our President has worked determinedly to upset US relations with allies and to enhance them with enemies. Every one of his endeavors has been preceded by the pap of many public statements averring loyalty to allies, concern for the welfare of the American people, enforcing the spirit of our laws and prizing national security above all else. Then every one of these statements is then slowly and methodically undone: Allies are disdained and put in more dire straits; subclasses of Americans are pitted against each other; executive orders countermand black letter law and national security is undermined with deals and outreach to enemies. This President will skate through to the end without anything more than minor humiliations, despite the fact that so many Americans disagree with his policies.

    For over 1400 years Islam has practiced the same techniques, relentless war from without, penetration and subversion of cultures from within with the active cooperation of insiders, and finally subjugation of those cultures. Because Islam can portray itself as just a religion, it is uniquely poised to take advantage of cultures that prize religious tolerance. Despite the obvious nature of the means of attack, and the persistence of its style over centuries… nothing happens in our era to address the obvious danger.

    Avoiding the topic that Mr. Freedman elucidates–the extreme difficulty a person of compassion has for making an enemy of an entire religion, and by extension its practitioners, when there are obviously so many Muslims who are not hostile–one has to ask how those who take advantage of oil price hikes to gouge a gas-hungry public can persist in doing so, or how corrupt government agencies can keep doing underhanded business and not the public’s business, or how those charged with relieving the suffering of Holocaust survivors can steal from the very fund set up for their benefit, or how a President can keep doing what’s wrong and not be brought to a halt, or how those who are attacked over and over, by followers of Islam, can avoid the association of the religion with the conduct.

    This dissonance of recognizing a bad situation and allowing it to persist makes it a near certainty that something really awful has to occur before the balance swings in one direction.

    No matter how many Muslims are radicalized by their faith, the signal event for the West in our time will be how long we will allow our lives to be disrupted by the sorts of wanton acts inspired and countenanced by Islam before the status quo changes. Events will have either forced our hand and we will point the finger at Islam as the source of a set of problems and act accordingly, or we will avoid looking at the entirety of these issues, choosing to regard them as disconnected instead, wind up being disgruntled and disjointed in our pushback, nothing more, and let things go on as they have.

    The hardest thing in life is to change another person’s mind.

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