virus: The Evil Isn't Islam by Daniel Pipes

Date: Sun Aug 11 2002 - 19:09:57 MDT

The Evil Isn't Islam
by Daniel Pipes
New York Post
July 30, 2002
"ISLAM IS EVIL." That's the message a U.S. Secret Service agent
illicitly left on an Islamic prayer calendar on July 18 as he was
raiding a suspected al Qaeda operative in Dearborn, Mich.

His crude graffito sums up a point of view increasingly heard
since 9/11 in the United States. It's also one that is troubling and

Here is the rub: It is a mistake to blame Islam (a religion 14
centuries old) for the evil that should be ascribed to militant Islam
(a totalitarian ideology less than a century old). The terrorism of
al Qaeda, Hamas, the Iranian government and other Islamists
results from the ideas of such contemporary radicals as Osama bin
Laden and Ayatollah Khomeini, not from the Koran.

To which you might respond: But bin Laden and Khomeini get
their ideas from the Koran. And they are only continuing a
pattern of Muslim aggression that is centuries old.

Not exactly. Let's look closer at both points:

* Aggressive Islam: The Koran and other authoritative Islamic
scriptures do contain incitements against non-Muslims. The
eminent historian Paul Johnson, for example, cites two Koranic
verses: "Strongest among men in enmity to the Believers will you
find the Jews and Pagans" (Sura 5, verse 85) and "Then fight and
slay the pagans wherever you find them. And seize them,
beleaguer them and lie in wait for them." (9:5).

* Aggressive Muslims: Fourteen centuries of Islam have
witnessed a long history of Muslims engaged in jihad (holy war)
to expand the area under Islamic rule, from the early conquests of
the caliphs to what Samuel Huntington terms Islam's "bloody
borders" today.

Yes, these points are accurate. But they are one side of the story.

* Mild Islam: Like other sacred writings, the Koran can be mined
for quotes to support opposing arguments. In this case, Karen
Armstrong, a bestselling apologist for Islam, quotes two gentler
passages from the Koran: "There must be no coercion in matters
of faith!" (2:256) and "O people! We have formed you into nations
and tribes so that you may know one another." (49:13).

* Mild Muslims: There have been occasions of Muslim
moderation and tolerance, such as those in long-ago Sicily and
Spain. And in one telling example, Mark R. Cohen notes that
"The Jews of Islam, especially during the formative and classical
centuries (up to the 13th century), experienced much less
persecution than did the Jews of Christendom."

In other words, Islam's scriptures and history show variation.

At present, admittedly, it is hard to recall the positive side, at a
moment when backwardness, resentment, extremism and violence
prevail in so much of the Muslim world. But the present is not
typical of Islam's long history; indeed, it may be the worst era in
that entire history.

Things can get better. But it will not be easy. That requires that
Muslims tackle the huge challenge of adapting their faith to the
realities of modern life.

What does that mean in practical terms? Here are some examples:

Five hundred years ago, Jews, Christians and Muslims agreed that
owning slaves was acceptable but paying interest on money was
not. After bitter, protracted debates, Jews and Christians changed
their minds. Today, no Jewish or Christian body endorses slavery
or has religious qualms about paying reasonable interest.

Muslims, in contrast, still think the old way. Slavery still exists in
a host of majority-Muslim countries (especially Sudan and
Mauritania, also Saudi Arabia and Pakistan) and it is a taboo
subject. To enable pious Muslims to avoid interest, an Islamic
financial industry worth an estimated $150 billion has developed.

The challenge ahead is clear: Muslims must emulate their fellow
monotheists by modernizing their religion with regard to slavery,
interest and much else. No more fighting jihad to impose Muslim
rule. No more endorsement of suicide terrorism. No more second-
class citizenship for non-Muslims.

No more death penalty for adultery or "honor" killings of women.
No more death sentences for blasphemy or apostasy.

Rather than rail on about Islam's alleged "evil," it behooves
everyone - Muslim and non-Muslim alike - to help modernize this

That is the ultimate message of 9/11. It is much deeper and more
ambitious than Western governments presently seem to realize.

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Sun Sep 22 2002 - 05:06:18 MDT