Earlier today I posted an blog entry in which I took to task some conservatives who deny the existence of moderate Islam. I am pleased and honored that David Swindle and David Forsmark have entered the fray. However, I regret that they did not do so more successfully. Both gentlemen, unfortunately, sidestep the salient issues, which are twofold:
- First, does moderate Islam exist?
- Second, if moderate Islam does not exist, then what do they propose? What public-policy options do they recommend?
As it concerns the first question, Swindle and Forsmark seem to think that moderate Islam does not exist. I say “seem to think” because both gentlemen refrain from directly answering the question. Instead, they answer — and ask — a series of other questions, all of which reveal their biases and prejudices.
Swindle, for instance, suggests that I lack adequate standing even to address the issue of moderate Islam because, in his estimation, I haven’t read enough books nor the “right” books. Moreover, he complains, I haven’t identified specific moderate Muslims whom the West should be encouraging and promoting.
Forsmark, meanwhile, devotes himself to reprinting passages from his 2007 diatribe against Dinesh D’Souza’s excellent book, The Enemy at Home: the Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11.
Forsmark complains about D’Souza’s allegedly numerous “factual errors”: however, these so-called factual errors don’t really amount to much. They certainly don’t refute one of D’Souza’s key points, which, as I cite in my blog post, is this: Traditional or moderate Islam isn’t the problem; radical Islam is.
Nonetheless, Forsmark caricatures D’Souza’s argument, which he describes thusly:
Osama struck the U.S. because he was so offended by homosexuals and abortionists and depraved American culture in general.
Oh, come now. Forsmark knows full well that’s not D’Souza’s argument.
D’Souza persuasively explains why many Muslims worldwide seem to have some sympathy for the Jihadists — not because Islam instructs them to wage Jihad, but because bin Laden and the radicals skillfully tap into deep-seated Muslim concerns about the depraved aspects of American culture.
I certainly saw this concern firsthand while serving as a Marine in Iraq.
Indeed, I met with hundreds of ordinary and elite Muslims from Iraq, Kuwait, Egypt, Pakistan, India, and elsewhere. The Muslims I met expressed admiration and respect for America, but also a profound sense of foreboding over the more blatantly sexualized aspects of our culture.
D’Souza, of course, grew up in India and surely has had similar experiences with Muslim friends and neighbors.
In any case, it is, I think, telling that non-Muslims like myself and D’Souza are far more favorably disposed to Islam than non-Muslims like Swindle and Forsmark.
The key difference between us, I think, is this: D’Souza and I likely have had far more personal and direct contact with Muslims abroad than Swindle and Forsmark. Thus, our perspective, I believe, reflects a basic “ground truth” which is seriously lacking in the narratives put forth by Swindle, Forsmark and others.
Our belief in moderate Islam, however, is based on far more than impressionistic perceptions. I’m not going to play Swindle’s game and offer up a list of books or “experts.”
Sure, I’ve read more than a few books about this issue, including The Middle East, The Crisis of Islam, and The Heart of Islam — but so what? What matters, after all, is not: “Who’s read more books?” What matters is: “What’s right and true?”
Suffice it to say that the esteemed Islamic scholars Bernard Lewis and Daniel Pipes both reject Robert Spencer’s notion that Islam is inherently radical and irredeemable. Pipes, in fact, described well the crux of our disagreement in a blog post published at FrontPage magazine:
At the core of his [Lawrence Auster's] argument is the view that “moderate Islam cannot exist.” To which I reply that Islam can be whatever Muslims wish to make of it.
I commend to him the study of Muslim history, so that he can for himself understand how (to take two extremes) Bosnian and Najdi Islam turned out the way they did, with one among the most tolerant and the other surely the most stringent.
The religion has changed momentously in the past and surely will continue to do so.
Most of us can agree that the Muslim world is in the throes of terrible crisis now, but Auster sees this as a permanent condition. I see it as temporary — comparable, perhaps, to Germany’s in the interwar period.
In particular, Auster’s argument is based on a static understanding of the Koran, ignoring how much Muslim views have changed in the past and continue to do so.
Interpretations already exist (such as that of the Sudanese scholar Mahmud Muhammad Taha) that upturn centuries of Koranic interpretation and would make Islam compatible with modernity. They exist, ready for the taking.
Of course, Swindle and Forsmark aren’t eager, it seems, to support or promote moderate Islam because they think moderate islam is an impossible fiction. But even if they’re right, what is the alternative? What do they propose? What public-policy options do they recommend?
That the United States declare war on all of Islam? That we invade Saudi Arabia and take over Somalia? Or maybe they want to do an Ann Coulter and “invade their countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity”?
We don’t know because Swindle and Forsmark don’t say. But it seems to me that before they reject out of hand the notion of moderate Islam, Swindle and Forsmark have an obligation to explain the practical, real-world implications of their analysis. Those implications, it seems to me, are clear, foolish and unwise — albeit unstated and unacknowledged by Swindle and Forsmark.
John R. Guardiano is a writer and analyst in Arlington, Virginia. Follow him on Twitter.