The Corner

Hijackers of a Religion

Nine days ago I gave a talk at the Yale Political Union, mentioning the scandal of the missing Mohammed cartoons in the Yale University Press’s The Cartoons That Shook the World. In the course of my talk I referred to the Islamists as “hijackers of a religion.” Andrew Bostom e-mailed me:

[Do] over a millennium of Islamic Law — the Sharia itself — and modern expressions of this jurisprudence from Pakistan’s blaspemy code, to the efforts of the entire 57 Muslim member nations of the Organization of the Islamic Conference representing well over a billion Muslims to impose universal Islamic blasphermy law – all of these phenomena somehow reflect merely the “…the hijackers of a religion who wish to impose their views of its laws?”

I have been late responding because I happened at the same time to begin reading Infidel, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, which turned out to be on point. (I was late reading Infidel because great books, which this is, have no sell-by date.) The author’s story is well-known — birth in Somalia, childhood and youth there, in Saudi Arabia and in Kenya, flight to Holland and freedom from an arranged marriage, service in the Dutch Parliament, the murder of her colleague Theo van Gogh, with a coda at the American Enterprise Institute. It is a remarkable story, remarkably told — as if a character in a V. S. Naipual novel reached up from the pages to grab the laptop and write a memoir.


The author decides that the sufferings of Muslim women, and of Muslims generally, can be attributed to their faith. As a result she rejects Islam and all religion, cleaving instead to the European Enlightenment. But she also notes that the practice of Islam changed during the twentieth century, and even in her lifetime, thanks to the evangelizing of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the agendas of Saudi Arabia and post-Shah Iran.


Religions are many things, but one thing they all are is what the faithful think and do. Religions change in response to new revelations, and to new understandings of old ones. My correspondent and the Islamists say that Islam is unchanging, because the Koran says so. They are right — so long as Muslims think so. It is a motion of the heart for believers to believe something else.

So why doesn’t it happen? Could millions and millions of petro-dollars spent in the opposite direction explain it?

Richard Brookhiser — Historian Richard Brookhiser is a senior editor of National Review and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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