CNN is running an opinion piece by Jocelyne Cesari, an Ivy League scholar, assuring Americans (you know, all those bigoted, Islamophobic, ignorant Americans) that Islam is a religion and has nothing to do with terrorism. What’s interesting is that the article doesn’t actually take a doctrinal approach to Islam, one that would explain why it is a religion, and why people are wrong to cry terrorism by relying either on (a) the Koran’s text or (b) the various unsavory practices self-identified Muslims indulge in based upon their understanding of that same text. Instead, I’m sorry to say, the article is one long whine, complaining that it’s just so unfair that nobody claims that the troubles in Ireland proved that Christianity was a terror ideology or that Gush Emunim proves that Judaism is a terror ideology.
Ah, where to begin? I think I’ll begin with the harder, analytical stuff, because, at the end of it all, it proves just how ridiculous Cesari is with her attempts at extremist equivalence (“Your extremist is worse than my extremist! Nyah, nyah, nyah!”).
The first thing to do, always, is to define terms. So, what is a religion? Random House defines “religion” thusly:
A set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.
I’d say that’s pretty accurate. In simple, non-dictionary terms, a religion has four core elements: It attempts to define or explain an otherwise indefinable and inexplicable universe (often through a creation myth); it attributes powers to a supernatural being denominated, in English, as a god; it binds its followers together with ritual practices; and it states a moral code. The Jewish faith, in its holy books, adds on a solid (archaeologically provable) history for good measure.
Hewing to that core definition, Islam is a religion. Although it doesn’t have a creation myth, it definitely has a god (that would be Allah); its followers must observe myriad rituals and rules; and it has a moral code that is deeply concerned with the relationship between Man and God, on the one hand, and between Man and Man on the other hand.
But contrary to Cesari’s unsubstantiated assertion that Islam is only a religion, and that it theref0re cannot be a terrorist ideology, there’s more to Islam than just Allah, daily prayers, and behavioral strictures in Man’s dealings with God and his fellow man. As we all know, Islam is also a political system, so that it also concerns itself, at a micromanaging level, with Man’s relationship to the State. States, of course, can be terrorist states.
It’s therefore time to go back to our definitions. What is a terror ideology? It’s one that is founded on the use of terror, which is defined in relevant part as follows:
1. intense, sharp, overmastering fear: to be frantic with terror.
2. an instance or cause of intense fear or anxiety; quality of causing terror: to be a terror to evildoers.
3. any period of frightful violence or bloodshed likened to the Reign of Terror in France.
4. violence or threats of violence used for intimidation or coercion; terrorism.
A terror ideology, therefore, is one that, in order to achieve its social, political or religious ends, relies upon violence or threats of violence to create an intense fear that coerces and intimidates others to act in accordance with the ideology’s demands.
Just as Islam can readily be slotted into the religion category, so too can it neatly fit into the “terror ideology” category. After all, its adherents, relying on the carefully spelled out strictures the Prophet enunciated in the Koran, routinely use violence or the threats of violence, all of which leave people suffering overmastering fear, in order to intimidate and coerce those same terrified people into getting with the Islamic program.
What I just said is not connect-the-invisible-dots conspiracy thinking. I make these statements based on the Prophet’s own words. A few examples:
Sura (2:191-193) – “And slay them wherever ye find them, and drive them out of the places whence they drove you out, for persecution [of Muslims] is worse than slaughter [of non-believers]…and fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is for Allah.”
Sura (4:74) – “So let those fight in the cause of Allah who sell the life of this world for the Hereafter. And he who fights in the cause of Allah and is killed or achieves victory – We will bestow upon him a great reward.”
Sura (4:89) – “They wish you would disbelieve as they disbelieved so you would be alike. So do not take from among them allies until they emigrate for the cause of Allah. But if they turn away, then seize them and kill them wherever you find them and take not from among them any ally or helper.”
Sura (4:91) – “You will find others who wish to obtain security from you and [to] obtain security from their people. Every time they are returned to [the influence of] disbelief, they fall back into it. So if they do not withdraw from you or offer you peace or restrain their hands, then seize them and kill them wherever you overtake them. And those – We have made for you against them a clear authorization.”
Sura (5:33) – “Indeed, the penalty for those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and strive upon earth [to cause] corruption is none but that they be killed or crucified or that their hands and feet be cut off from opposite sides or that they be exiled from the land. That is for them a disgrace in this world; and for them in the Hereafter is a great punishment.”
Sura (8:17) – “And you did not kill them, but it was Allah who killed them. And you threw not, [O Muhammad], when you threw, but it was Allah who threw that He might test the believers with a good test. Indeed, Allah is Hearing and Knowing.”
Sura (9:111) – “Indeed, Allah has purchased from the believers their lives and their properties [in exchange] for that they will have Paradise. They fight in the cause of Allah, so they kill and are killed. [It is] a true promise [binding] upon Him in the Torah and the Gospel and the Qur’an. And who is truer to his covenant than Allah? So rejoice in your transaction which you have contracted. And it is that which is the great attainment.”
Sura (9:123) – “O you who have believed, fight those adjacent to you of the disbelievers and let them find in you harshness.”
Sura (48:20) – “Allah has promised you much booty that you will take [in the future] and has hastened for you this [victory] and withheld the hands of people from you”
You cannot dance around or avoid the fact that the above words, which are the Prophet’s own, are explicit, detailed and demanding when it comes to the violent pillage, overthrow, destruction, rapine, etc. of “the other,” i.e., the non-Muslim, wherever in the world that “other” lives. This is a terror ideology writ large.
Moreover, this terror ideology, one that Cesari so neatly ignores, resides in the Muslims’ own Good Book, so it’s (a) part of the core doctrine and (b) part of the unique Islam requirement that Islam spells out, not just Man’s relationship to Man or God, but also Man’s relationship to the State. In other words: state-sponsored terrorism.
History has shown that, since its inception, a significant percentage of Islam’s followers, rather than quietly tilling their fields, tending their animals, or writing their poetry, have taken these strictures to heart. Nor does one need the distant past as a guide. The last ten years should be more than adequate to establish that a statistically significant number of Mohamed’s followers view his myriad blood-saturated strictures as a living, active doctrine, not as dry, historical relics that are best ignored.
So yes, Islam is a religion, complete with a God, rituals, and a moral code. And yes, Islam is a terrorist ideology, complete with carefully articulated directions for its followers to use extreme violence to achieve its statist goals. Contrary to Cesari’s implied “either/or” analysis, there’s nothing binary about the nature of Islam. Instead, it comfortably exists in both definitional worlds.
But what about Cesari’s point that Christianity and Judaism are just as bad? This is, as it always is, a red herring. Christianity is the easiest religion to address when rebutting this silly argument.
While Christ may have been somewhat aggressive with those money changers, the fact remains that his teachings are exceptionally pacific. To the extent that Christians in the pre-modern era used their religion to justify sometimes quite horrific violence, that violence resulted from their willingness to place their own pagan, or power-hungry, or immoral glosses on his teachings. Christ was not, and is not, the reincarnation of Mars.
Further, even the human overlay of violence has been removed from Christianity. Thanks to the reformation, and the ugly 17th Century wars that followed immediately in its wake, Christianity is indeed a religion of peace. That the men and women who profess the faith are not always peaceful or, despite their best desires, are called to war, is irrelevant to the nature of the religion.
The troubles in Ireland do not change this conclusion. What happened in Ireland was not a religious war, with the two sides fighting over doctrinal control. Instead, it was a territorial war, with the two sides defined by their religious affiliation. They did not kill in the name of God, although some might have had God’s name on their lips when they killed (and when they died). Instead, they killed in the name of national identification and decades (nay, centuries) of tribal divisions between the English and the Irish.
Judaism is also, in modern days, a religion of peace, and has been so since the destruction of the Second Temple. To the extent the Bible contains violence, it doesn’t actually advocate all that much violence. God can indeed be a vengeful God, but he is careful to preserve that power to himself: “To me belongeth vengeance and recompence; their foot shall slide in due time: for the day of their calamity is at hand, and the things that shall come upon them make haste.” (Deuteronomy 32:35.)
Man may periodically be God’s vehicle, as was the case with Canaan’s conquest, but there are no overarching instructions for Judaism’s adherents to go out and conquer the world. Likewise, while the Bible is hostile to witches and homosexuals, few of its directives t read like a drug-lord’s crime manual.
To the extent the Jewish Bible has a great deal of violence, that violence is purely man-generated. It is, as I mentioned above, a history, recounting centuries of national warfare, warfare carried out by individual people who were acting, not according to God’s counsel, but according to their own. Significantly, too, this Biblical history, as well as the post-Biblical Jewish era, essentially reflects the same pacific reform process that played out in Christianity, only it took place a thousand or so years before. That there are small sectors of extremists who place themselves under the Jewish banner should garner nothing more than a big “so what?” These are infinitesimally small blips on the radar.
Only someone dedicated to fallacious arguments (and why do those someones always reside in the Ivy League) would conclude that Christians are violent because when man shoots an abortion doctor; or that Jews are homicidal maniacs because a handful advocate land clearance. Neither of these groups engage daily in terrorist activities against members of their own faith (as happens in Iran and Saudi Arabia, for example), or against non-religionists, sometimes on a mass scale.
The tightrope for Americans, and for all Enlightened people in the west, is to force Muslims to recognize the two strands in their faith, and to winnow out the terror ideology, leaving only the ritual and moral code. Distinguishing those two separate strands of thought enables Americans to show fidelity to the First Amendment, even as they ensure their own national security. Moreover, we must be loud and clear in making this call, before the Cesari-like academics and pundits (unanalytical name callers), destroy us.