You can always and in every case be sure: whenever a mainstream media outlet asks whether or not Islam is violent, you can be absolutely sure that the answer will be no. That is particularly true when the mainstream media outlet in question is the New York Times. This piece by David D. Kirkpatrick is more frustrating than most, as he raises several important questions but then flatly asserts the answer that it was inevitable he would prefer, mostly without any argument or supporting evidence at all.
Some comments below:
“Raising Questions Within Islam After France Shooting,” by David D. Kirkpatrick, New York Times, January 8, 2015:
…The rash of horrific attacks in the name of Islam is spurring an anguished debate among Muslims here in the heart of the Islamic world about why their religion appears cited so often as a cause for violence and bloodshed.
The majority of scholars and the faithful say Islam is no more inherently violent than other religions. But some Muslims — most notably the president of Egypt — argue that the contemporary understanding of their religion is infected with justifications for violence, requiring the government and its official clerics to correct the teaching of Islam.
Kirkpatrick opens and shuts the key question in a single sentence: “The majority of scholars and the faithful say Islam is no more inherently violent than other religions.” He dismisses the possibility that Islam might be more inherently violent than other religions — an assertion for which all too many Muslims make the case on a more or less daily basis nowadays — without any examination of Islamic texts and teachings, or those of any other religion. “The majority of scholars” — who? — “and faithful” think it, so it must be true. He only grants the possibility that “contemporary understanding” of Islam justifies violence. How did the “contemporary understanding” of the religion get so far from the genuine article? David Kirkpatrick didn’t say.
“It is unbelievable that the thought we hold holy pushes the Muslim community to be a source of worry, fear, danger, murder and destruction to all the world,” President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt lamented last week in a speech to the clerics of the official religious establishment. “You need to stand sternly,” he told them, calling for no less than “a religious revolution.”
Others, though, insist that the sources of the violence are alienation and resentment, not theology.
One would think that that would call for at least some cursory reference to the actual contents of Islamic theology, but no such luck.
They argue that the authoritarian rulers of Arab states — who have tried for decades to control Muslim teaching and the application of Islamic law — have set off a violent backlash expressed in religious ideas and language. Promoted by groups like the Islamic State or Al Qaeda, that discourse echoes through Muslim communities as far away as New York or Paris, whose influence and culture still loom over much of the Muslim world.
“Some people who feel crushed or ignored will go toward extremism, and they use religion because that is what they have at hand,” said Said Ferjani, an official of Tunisia’s mainstream Islamist party, Ennahda, speaking about the broader phenomenon of violence in the name of Islam. “If you are attacked and you have a fork in your hand, you will fight back with a fork.”
Khaled Fahmy, an Egyptian historian, was teaching at New York University on Sept. 11, 2001, after which American sales of the Quran spiked because readers sought religious explanations for the attack on New York.
“We try to explain that they are asking the wrong question,” he said. Religion, he argued, was “just a veneer” for anger at the dysfunctional Arab states left behind by colonial powers and the “Orientalist” condescension many Arabs still feel from the West.
So what explains all the jihad attacks before the colonial era?
“The Arab states have not delivered what they are supposed to deliver and it can only lead to a deep sense of resentment and frustration, or to revolution,” he said. “It is the nonviolence that needs to be explained, not the violence.”
Only a very small number of Muslims pin the blame directly on the religion itself.
“What has ISIS done that Muhammad did not do?” an outspoken atheist, Ahmed Harqan, recently asked on a popular television talk show here, using common shorthand for the Islamic State to argue that the problem of violence is inherent to Islam.
Harqan’s question is not answered. Kirkpatrick doesn’t even bother to trot out Karen Armstrong or some other apologist for Islam to explain that Muhammad was actually a proto-Gandhi whose jihad was delivering candygrams to Infidels.
Considered almost blasphemous by most Egyptian Muslims, his challenge provoked weeks of outcry from Islamic religious broadcasters and prompted much-watched follow-up shows. In subsequent debates on the same program, Salem Abdel-Gelil, a scholar from the state-sponsored Al Azhar institute and former official of the ministry overseeing mosques, fired back with Islamic verses about tolerance, peace and freedom.
The mainstream Islamic theological idea that the verses of intolerance, war and authoritarianism supersede verses about tolerance, peace and freedom is, of course, not addressed.
But then he warned that, under Egypt’s religion-infused legal system, the public espousal of atheism might land his opponents in jail.
Odd. Egypt’s legal system is “religion-infused,” and yet it is not suffused with “tolerance, peace and freedom”?
“When a person comes out and promotes his heresy, promotes his debauchery, and justifies his apostasy on the basis that ‘Islam is not good,’ then there is the judiciary,” Sheikh Abdel-Gelil said. “The judiciary will get him.”
M. Steven Fish, a political scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, sought to quantify the correlation between Islam and violence. In his book, “Are Muslims Distinctive?,” he found that murder rates were substantially lower in Muslim-majority countries and instances of political violence were no more frequent.
Irrelevant. If the Qur’an teaches warfare against and subjugation of non-Muslims (cf. 9:29, etc.), this would have no necessary relationship to murder rates or instances of political violence. I doubt that Fish considered in his book the fact that the rates of believers in the majority religion killing or brutalizing believers in minority religions are much, much higher in Muslim countries than in non-Muslim countries.
Over a 15-year period ending in 2008, Islamist militants were responsible for 60 percent of high-casualty terrorist bombings, his study found, but almost all were concentrated in just a handful of Muslim-majority countries in the context of larger conflicts that were occurring — places like Afghanistan after the American invasion or Algeria after the military takeover.
“Is Islam violent? I would say absolutely not,” Mr. Fish said in an interview. “There is very little empirical evidence that Islam is violent.”
The mind reels. Even one instance of someone being violently attacked by a Muslim who invoked the texts and teachings of Islam to justify his action would cast Fish’s statement into doubt — but there are now nearly 25,000 such 9/11. In the same span, there are virtually no attacks by Christians or Jews who quoted their scriptures to justify their actions. How many attacks does Fish need for there to be more than “very little empirical evidence”?
…A handful of non-Muslim researchers in the West — typically outside the academic mainstream —
That’s Kirkpatrick semaphoring, “Don’t take these guys seriously.”
seek to build a case that Islam is inherently more violent than Judaism or Christianity by highlighting certain Quranic verses. But they struggle to explain away approving passages about violence in other religious texts, such as the book of Joshua in the Old Testament, the Book of Revelation in the New Testament, or the statement attributed to Jesus by the Gospel writer Matthew that “I come not to bring peace, but a sword.”
Do people like David D. Kirkpatrick ever get embarrassed writing things like this? Do they never look around the world and notice that there are Muslims quoting the Qur’an to justify violence all over the world and not a single Jew invoking Joshua or Christian invoking “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” to justify violence? And in fact, these “non-Muslim researchers” don’t “struggle to explain away” such passages. It’s really quite simple. As I have explained many times, both Judaism and Christianity have developed interpretative traditions that for various reasons reject the literal understanding of verses appearing to enjoin violence. Mainstream Islam has not. Nor is there actually any open-ended and universal command in the Jewish or Christian scriptures for all believers to wage war against and subjugate unbelievers; in the Qur’an, there is.
Raymond Ibrahim, the author of “Crucified Again: Exposing Islam’s New War on Christians,” argued in an interview that the passages in the Bible are descriptive but the Quranic ones are prescriptive. But most scholars say such distinctions are matters of interpretation.
Actually I argued the descriptive/prescriptive distinction back in 2007, in my book Religion of Peace?. And it is a valid distinction — indeed, it goes a long way to explaining why there are no armed Jewish and Christian terrorists quoting scripture to justify violence, while there are so many Muslims quoting the Qur’an to incite and justify violence.
Mainstream Muslim scholars in the Arab world or the West emphasize the Prophet Muhammad’s injunctions to mercy and forgiveness, his forbidding of “coercion in matters of religion,” or his exhortation to restraint even in self-defense. “Fight in the cause of God against those who fight you, but do not transgress limits,” reads one verse. “God does not love transgressors.”
This paragraph illustrates Kirkpatrick’s ignorance of his subject, as these passages are from the Qur’an, whereas Kirkpatrick gives the impression that they’re sayings of Muhammad. Muslims believe the Qur’an is the word of Allah, not Muhammad. Anyway, as for sayings of Muhammad, how about these?
“Allah’s Apostle said, ‘I have been ordered to fight the people till they say: “None has the right to be worshipped but Allah”. And if they say so, pray like our prayers, face our Qibla and slaughter as we slaughter, then their blood and property will be sacred to us and we will not interfere with them except legally.'” — Bukhari 8.387
“Allah’s Apostle said, ‘Know that Paradise is under the shades of swords.'” — Bukhari 52.73
“When the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) appointed anyone as leader of an army or detachment he would especially exhort him… He would say: Fight in the name of Allah and in the way of Allah. Fight against those who disbelieve in Allah. Make a holy war…When you meet your enemies who are polytheists, invite them to three courses of action. If they respond to any one of these, you also accept it and withhold yourself from doing them any harm. Invite them to (accept) Islam; if they respond to you, accept it from them and desist from fighting against them… If they refuse to accept Islam, demand from them the Jizya. If they agree to pay, accept it from them and hold off your hands. If they refuse to pay the tax, seek Allah’s help and fight them.” — Muslim 4294
And of course there are many more like these. When will there be an honest discussion of them in the New York Times?