December 4, 2002
Religion of Peace? Prove it!
by Jonah Goldberg
If every German I meet or see is a Nazi, it's reasonable for me to say all Germans are Nazis. It may not be true, of course, but having no evidence indicating otherwise it's certainly understandable that I would draw that conclusion. If, however, I constantly hear Germans condemn Nazism and anything which remotely resembles Nazism, if I see them repudiating German Nazis, and working to repair the damage done by German Nazis, it would be outrageously unfair and malicious for me to say all Germans are Nazis.
Now, under both hypothetical circumstances, the actual number of Germans who are Nazis can remain the same. The only difference is what the non-Nazi Germans do. As the saying goes, all that evil needs to triumph is for good men to do nothing.
This goes for public relations too.
But first, let's bring things up to date. Right now there's an interesting debate going on, mostly on the right - which makes sense as that is where most interesting debates take place these days (think about it). It's basically about the nature of Islam and how the Bush administration deals with the Muslim world. On the one extreme are folks like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, who say Islam is soaked-to-the-bone violent and, according to some, just plain "evil."
On the other side, I suppose, are folks like David Forte, a law professor and reported adviser to the White House who, according to critics, believes religiosity is more important than the content of a religion. (He's written for NRO defending this view) I'm sure there are people in the White House who truly believe "Islam means peace," but - with the exception of George W. Bush - their names elude me.
In the middle of these two extremes - Islam is bad versus Islam is wonderful - are lots of pragmatists and agnostics of various flavors. Indeed, most of the folks who reject the "Islam means peace" bumper sticker, including Robertson himself, concede that as a matter of geopolitics President Bush has no choice but to make nice on the Islamic world. Asked by George Stephanopoulos whether Bush is being politically correct, Robertson replied "No, he's not being politically correct.
Now - just to be clear - on the substance, I guess I'm closer to the Islam-is-a-violent-religion party. I think Falwell was silly to call Mohammed a "terrorist" because the word as we know it simply cannot be applied with any validity to conquering Arab generals of the 7th
Furthermore, the first few generations of Christianity were marked by suffering and oppression. The first few generations of Islam were marked by conquering. In its harshness, I suppose you could say Islam resembles pre-Christian Judaism in some ways. Jews, too, believe in the importance of geography and the use of the sword to protect it. Of course, they believe in holding onto only one narrow strip of it.
Anyway, Muslims tend to believe that once a strip of dirt becomes Muslim it's gotta stay Muslim for ever and ever. And if a burg's population becomes majority Muslim, it must be ruled by Muslims (see Kashmir for details). This is one of the primary understandings, historically and religiously speaking, of "jihad." "Until fairly recent times," writes Bernard Lewis, "[jihad] was usually, though not universally, understood in a military sense. It was a Muslim duty - collective in attack, individual in defense - to fight in the war against the unbelievers. In principle, this war was to continue until all mankind either embraced Islam or submitted to the authority of the Muslim state."
According to Islamic tradition, the world is divided into the House of War and the House of Islam - and once real estate is brought into the House of Islam, there's no getting out. And, eventually, the House of War will be brought into the House of Islam too. That's why Osama bin Laden says that he won't rest until he gets most of Spain back. And this is partly, though not entirely, why - as Samuel Huntington noted - "the borders of Islam are bloody."
IT JUST DOESN'T MATTER
But now that I've given you some indication of where I come down on the question "Is Islam a religion of peace?" let me say none of this matters.
Look: I take law-abiding, tolerant, and peaceful Muslims at their word when they say to me that they believe Islam means peace. Further, I take them at their word that they live by that interpretation. But the fact remains that other Muslims surely believe that Islam means death. Death to Christians, Jews, and Hindus; death to unbelievers, heretics, blasphemers, adulterers, and plenty of other categories of human being. And guess what, it's those Muslims who are killing us. And guess what else? Those other, peace-loving, Muslims aren't doing enough about it.
I've written before that in the realm of public policy, theology doesn't matter nearly as much as morality and behavior. You can believe that murder is wrong because it depletes the ozone layer for all we care - so long as you believe murder is wrong. The differences between, say, Greek Orthodox Christians and Quakers are fascinating, rich, storied, and significant.
So, to a certain extent, I couldn't care less if Islam is, on paper, factually, textually, objectively, and in all other academic senses a religion of war and bigotry - so long as actual Muslims are decent and upstanding people. And, similarly, the fact that Christianity is a religion of love and compassion would be equally meaningless if Christians spent their days poking me with red-hot metal thingies - out of love and compassion no doubt - in order to get me to convert. Sure, I might take note of Christian hypocrisy while I waited for Torquemada to bust out his scrotal tongs, but, truth be told, scoring debating points wouldn't be at the forefront of my agenda.
Which brings me back to the Nazis and Germans. Human beings draw conclusions from what they see. All around the world, Muslims are declaring, in the name of Islam, that they are at war with the West. More important, all around the world self-declared Muslims are actually waging war on the West. They may be a tiny minority of the global Muslim community.
Closer to home, consider our friends at CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (which has orchestrated endless spam campaigns against this publication). CAIR had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the business of denouncing terrorists. They do it now from time to time, but it sure doesn't sound like their heart is in it. Scroll through these "News Releases" from CAIR over the last year or so. You'll find a couple of denunciations of terrorists (followed by demands that Jews do the same to Israel, in a cute game of moral equivalence).
When the FBI recently came out with its numbers on hate crimes against Muslims in America, American Islamic activists like Ibrahim Hooper were all over the airwaves and newspapers outrageously comparing American Muslims to Jews in Weimar Germany. But you can hear crickets chirp or, at best, you can read torpid boilerplate, when it comes time to denounce Muslim atrocities.
By the way, I'm outraged by the Germany comparison not as a Jew but as an American. There isn't a scintilla of validity to the insinuation that America has been anything but the antithesis of what Hooper and self-pitying whiners claim.
Oh, and speaking of denouncing fellow Jews, I've done it plenty of times. For example, when Irv Rubin of the JDL was arrested for plotting a terrorist attack I denounced him in the strongest possible terms, as did pretty much every prominent Jewish figure in America within 48 hours. (See Jeff Jacoby's excellent column from December 20, 2001. You need to scroll down.)
I bring this up not to brag about my consistency but to make the point that it's important not to let others speak in your name if you disagree with what they're saying. Especially when they're saying it with bombs and guns. I will have a lot more sympathy for the complaints of Muslim activists once they put even a fraction of the energy they dedicate to portraying themselves as victims of bigoted America - or Europe - toward policing and condemning their own co-religionists.
Religion and History
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