In “Theocons of the World, Unite” in Reason magazine, Cathy Young takes issue with Dinesh D’Souza’s ridiculous book The Enemy At Home, and with me also.
Cathy Young has previously attacked Jihad Watch — you can read about it here and here and here, in exchanges that demonstrated that she had little awareness of the realities of the global jihad, and little interest in actually engaging in discussion of the issues, rather than just setting up straw men and knocking them down, like D’Souza himself, Karen Armstrong, and “Spengler.”
Why does this keep happening — why do writers keep insisting that I say things that I don’t say, and then criticize me for these positions that I don’t hold? Well, it may indeed be because I am a very poor writer and have failed to communicate what I really mean. But I still rather suspect that it is, as I have noted before, because I have become a symbol for a certain perspective, and if the facts of what I actually say don’t fit the symbol, then so much worse for the facts. Supporting this suspicion today is the fact that what Cathy Young says I say is rather easily shown to be inaccurate.
The Enemy at Home targets not just the cultural left but the anti-Muslim right””conservatives such as Robert Spencer, author of Islam Unveiled, who argue that Islam itself is inherently violent, oppressive, and prone to breeding terrorists. “There is probably no better way to repel traditional Muslims, and push them into the radical camp, than to attack their religion and their prophet,” writes D”Souza, and on this point he is on to something””not just with regard to “traditionalist Muslims” but to moderate Muslims as well.
In the first place, I have never said that “Islam itself is inherently violent, oppressive, and prone to breeding terrorists.” I have pointed out again and again that jihadists use elements of Islam to justify violence: the mainstream Islamic interpretation of the Qur’an, which exalts the violent verses over the peaceful ones, and the rulings of all the schools of Islamic jurisprudence, which justify violent jihad against and the subjugation of unbelievers.
Is this a distinction with a difference? I believe it is, as it allows for the development of a non-literalist Islam, which explicitly rejects these elements of Islamic tradition. Is that development likely on a large scale? It isn’t, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t encourage individual reformers like Tashbih Sayyed and others. And since Cathy Young says below that she would like to see the Islamic world “embrace modernization and individual liberty,” she should know that it will never do that unless the elements of Islamic tradition and law that militate against that embrace are confronted — not ignored, or denied, or downplayed, but confronted. You can’t fix what you won’t admit is broken.
I have replied before, in the exchanges with D’Souza, to the nonsense that to speak about the elements of Islam will drive peaceful Muslims to join the jihadists. It’s absurd to think that a group that abhors and rejects violent jihad will suddenly take it up if they think some non-Muslim is insulting their religion — if they’d do that, they must not have rejected it in the first place.
But to drive the point home, since it obviously hasn’t taken, let’s try a thought experiment. Are there any Christians reading this? In Christopher Hitchens’ new book God Is Not Great, he argues — quite engagingly and entertainingly — that Christianity is absurd, destructive, and responsible for a great deal more human misery than it has alleviated. Now: does that make any of you Christians want to go out and kill Hitchens, or anyone else? Now, be honest.
No? Then why should we expect that Muslims will react this way to critical examination of their religion, and instead of responding by asking them to grow up, voluntarily prescind from such examination? Why don’t we hold them to the same standard that we ourselves adhere to?
Back to Young:
Spencer’s critique of D”Souza in the neoconservative webzine FrontPage illustrates the problem with anti-Islamic polemics: Spencer cites the atrocities perpetuated by medieval Muslim armies in Jerusalem, Constantinople, and other conquered cities as evidence that barbaric “jihadism” is endemic to Islam, without acknowledging that the Christian crusaders” actions were at least as bad.
On page 137 of my book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), I call the Crusaders’ sack of Jerusalem in 1099 an “atrocity,” an “outrage,” and a “heinous crime.” I compare it to the Muslim sack of Aleppo in 1148, of Antioch in 1268, and of Constantinople in 1453, and never say that the actions by Muslims were worse.
But of course Young isn’t referring to my book, but to my article about D’Souza, in which it’s true: I don’t refer to the actions of the Crusaders. So I am being inconsistent, as she says? No, because I didn’t cite the actions of Muslim armies in the D’Souza piece, as she claims, as “evidence that barbaric ‘jihadism’ is endemic to Islam.” In fact, I brought up the actions of Muslim armies because D’Souza said that “It is only contemporary Islam that provides an inspiration for suicide missions and attacks on civilians.” So I brought forward some evidence that Islamic armies had transgressed this law not infrequently in Islamic history. Cathy Young would apparently have me interrupt a discussion of the treatment of civilians in Islamic law and practice to start talking about Crusader atrocities — is her thirst for politically correct moral equivalence so strong?
Yet D”Souza’s critique of Spencer falls flat because he shares some of the same basic assumptions””for instance, that Islam is inherently incompatible with secularism and is inherently “fundamentalist” in the sense of relying on a literal reading of the Koran. It’s just that, for D”Souza, these are not vices but virtues. The anti-Muslims regard secularized but Islamic Turkey as an anomaly; so does D”Souza, who writes mostly with approval of the push to reverse Turkey”s secularization: “Muslims have the right to live in Islamic states under Muslim law if they wish.”
Sure. But Western states should have the courage to say that when they oppress non-Muslims under that law, this will not be tolerated — particularly in states that are nominally Western allies.
It is quite true that, in the age of militant Islamic terrorism, it is not very helpful to tell millions of peaceful Muslims that their religion is inherently violent, evil, and oppressive. It is equally unhelpful of D”Souza to deny the obvious: The best hope for peaceful coexistence is for the Islamic world to embrace modernization and individual liberty, not for the West to turn its back on those values.
Great. The best hope for peaceful coexistence is for the Islamic world to embrace modernization and individual liberty, but don’t talk about the aspects of Islam that are keeping that from happening! That will only cause even more Muslims to reject modernization and individual liberty!
That this piece of incoherence was printed in a magazine that calls itself Reason is incongruous, but there is indeed no reason to be had there. The editors declined to print a letter I sent them responding to Young’s earlier attack, and Young herself has refused to debate and now won’t even answer my emails. Reason? Prejudice is more like it.