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. He is waging a war, and he’s waging a war against terrorism and he doesn’t want to take on the whole Arab world. He doesn’t want this to be a Muslim-Christian fight or a Muslim-America fight.” And this is why Bush has gone out of his way to either condemn or distance himself from comments by Robertson, Falwell, and others.
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 century. I see no reason not to think of Mohammed as an enlightened ruler as far as things went back in those days and in that place. But let’s also face facts: Mohammed was a general, and his generations of successors and disciples were conquerors. There is just too much in Islam about the importance of grabbing and holding territory to ignore. Jesus was a nonviolent martyr who argued for rendering unto Caesar what was his. Mohammed was Caesar. The seed of the notion of a civil society outside the scope of religious authority was planted by Jesus in Jewish soil; it was subsequently nurtured, with much bloodshed, over two millennia until today where the separation of Church and State is a bedrock of Western Civilization. This separation of the City of God and the City of Man, to use Saint Augustine’s formulation, is still quite alien to Islamic society.
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. (Prediction: Jewish militants will never claim, say, Cleveland as rightfully theirs.) And, it should be said, many Jews do not see modern Israel as the fulfillment of any Biblical or religious imperative — lots and lots of Zionists are very secular. And, it should be noted, Jews haven’t spent most of the last two millennia ruling empires and conquering land so much as being brutalized, oppressed, or — at best — tenuously tolerated.
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. But in the public square they do not matter one bit so long as Greek Orthodox Christians and Quakers alike abide by the law and our common sense of morality. If one group wants to burn incense and the other wants to make oatmeal, nobody cares. So long as each group leaves the other alone.
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. I have no doubt that’s true. But if the decent and peace-loving Muslims of the world sit on their hands and do nothing, you can hardly fault many in the West who draw the conclusion that Islam is anything but peaceful. Why is it so hard to find, for example, a Muslim “leader” to condemn the death sentence against the journalist who wrote about Mohammed and the Miss World pageant — without some moral-equivalence weasel words about how she should have known better?
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). But you will find these are the needles in the giant haystacks of whines and complaints about how unfair America is to Muslims. The folks at CAIR, and other Muslim activists, are much, much more concerned, it seems, about the U.S. government or American pundits saying vaguely un-nice things about Muslims than they are about the fact that Muslims around the world are insulting their faith through mass murder in Mohammed’s name.
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. According to the very FBI statistics they cite, twice as many Jews as Muslims were the victims of hate crimes in the United States since 19 Muslim fanatics murdered 3,000 Americans on 9/11. And, by the way, if a Jew used those numbers in order to justify saying America feels like Weimar Germany I would call him an idiot who should be ashamed of himself for slandering America (and demeaning the Holocaust as well). The fact is that, while even one crime is too many, the post-9/11 “backlash” against Muslims in America has been astoundingly mild by historical standards. Compared to what happened to German-Americans during WWI or Japanese-Americans in WWII it barely even warrants an asterisk in the history books.
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. If they’re afraid for their personal safety or even their lives — not an unreasonable fear — that’s no excuse. Al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, and the rest may constitute hijackers in the cockpit of a peaceful religion, but they will define Islam if the folks in the main cabin don’t fight the hijackers. That’s what happened with Nazis in Germany, and that’s what will happen with militant Islam if non-militant Islam continues to insist that its biggest enemies are the open and tolerant nations of the West that gave them the opportunity to live decent lives in freedom. If they persist in that complaint, nobody will be able to justly blame average Americans for scoffing at the suggestion that Islam means peace.