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The Coordinates of Radicalism
Sharia compliance correlates with violent attitudes among American Muslims.


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Andrew C. McCarthy

What is it that radicalizes Muslims, including American Muslims? Is it American foreign policy? Israeli “occupation” of the ancient Jewish territories of Judea and Samaria? Cartoons depicting the warrior-prophet as a warrior? Korans torched by obscure Florida pastors? The life of Osama bin Laden, or, perhaps, his death? Any of a thousand claimed slights, real or imagined, that purportedly provoke young Muslims to “conflagrate” — if we may borrow from the forgiving rationalizations of Faisal Rauf, would-be imam of the would-be Ground Zero mosque?

Here is the unsettling but sedulously avoided truth: What radicalizes Muslims is Islam.

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Political correctness requires that we becloud this simple truth with a few caveats that, in most any other context, would be regarded as distractions by sensible people. So it is necessary to say that there is more than one interpretation of Islam. We must further note that the fact that Islam itself is the radicalizing catalyst does not mean that all, or even most, Muslims will become radicals. But here is another disquieting truth: Even the terms “radicalization” and “radical Islam” get things exactly backwards. The reality is that the radicals in Islam are the reformers — the Muslims who embrace Western civilization, its veneration of reason in matters of faith, and the pluralistic space it makes for civil society. What we wishfully call “radicalism” is in fact the Islamic mainstream.

These are the principal takeaways from an important study just competed by Israeli academic Mordechai Kedar and David Yerushalmi of the Center for Security Policy in Washington. As detailed in a just-published Middle East Quarterly essay, “Shari’a and Violence in American Mosques” (available here), the authors’ “Mapping Sharia” project surveyed 100 randomly selected mosques across the United States. Onsite, fully 81 percent of the mosques featured Islamic texts that advocate violence. In nearly 85 percent of the mosques, the leadership (usually an imam or prayer leader) favorably recommended this literature for study by congregants. Moreover, 58 percent of the mosques invited guest lecturers known for promoting violent jihad.

Kedar and Yerushalmi sought to study two intimately related sets of correlations. The first focused on sharia, the Islamic system of law that is based primarily on the Koran and the Sunnah (i.e., the words, deeds, and traditions of Mohammed). The authors homed in on observable sharia-compliant behaviors. These are not actions unique to terrorist groups but conduct reflective of the broad consensus of sharia jurisprudence that cuts across the Sunni/Shiite divide — for example, women wearing the hijab or niqab (respectively, the head covering or full-length covering of the entire female form), the segregation of men from women during communal prayer, and the enforcement by imams of the requirement that male worshippers form up in tight, straight lines during mosque prayer.



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