Islam – Important Distinctions

Jim Bennett makes points that should be made more often:

. . . [it’s] important to distinguish between Islam in general, radical Islamism, and even within Islam, the more extreme fundamentalist varieties such as Saudi Salafism from the interpretations to which the great majority of Muslims pertain. “Islam”, as a civilization and a phenomenon, is hardly about to collapse, as did the Soviet Union. Soviet “civilization”, as they used to pretentiously call it, was always a fraud, a thin veneer of idological nonsense laid over Russian civilization, which for all its problems is also one of the distinct civilizations of this planet. Once the fraud collapsed, Russian civilization re-emerged and is now trying to undo the damages done to it. Radical Islamism is another fraud, a mishmash of continental European fascism, scraps of anti-American ideologies picked up from the garbage heap of marxist and fascist propagandists, and an Islamism that is more flavoring and protective coloring than anything like a valid religion. It inspires young people to die for it; well, so did the mishmash of Odin-worship, absurd racial theorizing, and anti-Semitic resentment inspire some unfortunate German teenagers to go out and immolate themselves in the process of assaulting American tanks in 1945.

Jim’s post deserves to be read in full. There is too much broad-brushing Internet commentary about “Islam” that by failing to recognize the scope and complexity of intra-Islamic differences makes any policy prescriptions worthless. The non-Islamic West, if it is to understand how the Islamic world reached its present state of turbulence, must take account of such differences. If we are to defeat the Islamic fascists and imperialists it will also be crucial for us to have the support of other Muslims, and this will be difficult to gain if we won’t even bother to acknowledge the important divisions among them.

UPDATE: Commenters are taking me to task because they think that moderate Muslims aren’t really on our side or that excessive concern on our part about differences among Muslims is a drag on the war effort. I think, to the contrary, that our resources are at least as well spent on enlisting Muslim allies as they are on war fighting. The Islamists are in the minority in most of the Muslim world, which is why they generally rely on undemocratic means to gain and keep power. Any measure we can take to convince pro-western Muslims that we will support them against the Islamists makes it less likely that we will have to use direct military force.

47 thoughts on “Islam – Important Distinctions”

  1. Why do you think nuance is so important?

    If a policy position is not viable in its un-nuanced, oversimplified public version, it’s basically useless except for academic debate.

    Similary, anyone who judges war policy by a standard of near zero incompetence is objectively a pacifist (not Bennett of course).

  2. Roman Catholicism, Greek Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Lutheranism, Anglicanism, Mormonism: it’s all Christianity so who cares about unimportant details? My point is precisely that these matters are no more nuance than were the controversies of the Protestant Reformation and other major ideological disputes during Christianity’s maturation. We do ourselves no favors by being indiscriminate about similar issues in Islam, not least because Muslims who oppose the Islamists are less likely to do so openly if westerners ignorantly lump them with the fascists and terrorists.

  3. It’s important to lump them altogether because that states the depth of the threat they pose more clearly. As many people have noted, if the so-called moderate muslims haven’t taken to the streets to protest the actions of the more radical ones, then we should treat them all the same. I was alarmed to read the other day that what we’ve clearly identified as islamo-fascists are actually far worse: they’re islamo-socialists! Remember the posts we had about what to call the enemy, and the poster who related how our astute military boys were going over there to put the righteous fear of god in those communists. Our response was rightly that if we call them by some other name it doesn’t matter because they’re our enemy, and they hate our freedoms, and they want to destroy america.

  4. It’s also been noted on many blogs (and in their comments) that “nuance fatigue” may be setting in with the American public. That is, the prevailing public perception seems to be that there’s too little wheat and too much chaff to make separating them worth the time and effort required to do so. Sad but, I’m afraid, all too true.

    The argument can (and already has) also been made that it may not make a difference in the end anyway. In WWII our fight was with the Nazi regime, not the German people as a whole, but in the end we couldn’t fight the former without either killing or making life hell for the latter, and the same is true of Islam.

  5. American newspapers run by non-Muslims won’t even print a few mild cartoons out of fear of being victimized. Imagine how it must be for Muslims living in Muslim countries, particularly Arab countries with strong terrorist presence. I think that many of the Muslims who oppose the Islamists are simply intimidated. I don’t blame them. At any rate I think it’s important that we support such Muslims overtly, because doing so puts pressure on the Islamists and also means we are more likely to get help from pro-western Muslims, which would be extremely valuable to us.

  6. Folks – After the first debate when it was reported that George Bush was losing the election to John Kerry, women in Afghanistan held vigil/prayer sessions and made sacrifices to Allah for the right (no pun intended) outcome. According to the latest polls, GWB’s popularity in Afghanistan is double his ratings in the US even though the American puppet Hamid Karzai has lost quite a bit of popularity.

    Ever wondered why juries in the U.S. don’t indict petty drug dealers? The very same juries whose neighborhoods are threatened by the local bullies? It is because friends of the thug on trial sit outside the courtroom and point to the jurors just before the court convenes. And because the jurors know that the White cops could care less about what happens to the powerless locals. It is the same story in Islamic world. The Islamic world watched very closely when George Herbert Bush instigated the Shiites against Saddam and when the local thug moved with tanks, helicopters, and other heavy armor against the weak and suppressed majority, the White cops watched from across the street. Similarly, the thug responsible for 9/11 is reported to have watched the White cops betray the very weak and starved that they supposedly came to help in Somalia. Also, all jurors of Islamic world closely monitor the bodily gestures of Saudi prince-cum-oil-supplier — the financial sponsors of 9/11 — when he, clad in jeans, walks freely into Crawford ranch and lifts his legs up on a couch facing the very same president who believes that democracy is a human right. No wonder these jurors, like those in Southeast DC, are skeptical of idealistic promises.

    Folks – if we want the masses in Islamic world to be on our side, we have to abide by our own principles first.

  7. I thought Jim’s comparison with the Soviet situation was telling. Yes, a lot of people referred to them all as Russkies but surely the difference between Russian and Soviet is an important one (though that does not mean Russian has to be trusted now as it was not in the past). There may be nuance fatigue and there may be a great deal of shoulder shrugging but think how many more people came out in Lebanon on the anniversary of Rafiq’s assassination than for all the carefully organized demos in the Middle East about the cartoons.

    Given that not a single British newspaper or magazine dared to publish those cartoons, I am not sure we can criticize people who are completely at the mercy of those thugs.

  8. Jonathan,

    Bennet’s “distinction” is completely ahistorical. Yes, the concept of “Islamism” is indeed a fraud. But not of the kind Bennet states. It is a fraud cooked up by those who can’t or won’t come to terms with what Islam truly is – an evil ideology on par with communism and fascism. The similarities between Islam, communism and fascism are no accident. They are all ideologies drawn from the dark side of human nature.

    The 1400 years of uninterrupted brutality committed with the full support of classical Islamic jurisprudence, and documented by Islamic scholars themselves cannot be denied:

    It is time to send Islam to the ash heap of history with its evil bretheren. Let’s not make false distinctions between Islam and “Islamism” that don’t have any basis in reality and prevent us from doing what needs to be done.

  9. To quote Ginny on broad-brushing: “despite the fact that the generalizations in no way explain reality or literature, they apply them with abandon.”

  10. HA,

    You make broad assertions about Islam but do not support them. Why should we accept them?

    There are many Muslims who are not hostile to the West. Should we be hostile to them merely because they are Muslims? Should we write them off as irrelevant? Please advise.

    By your standards Christianity is at least as deserving of condemnation as is Islam — the Crusades! the Inquisition! the Nazis! Should we condemn modern majority-Christian societies because of past abuses committed by Christians?

  11. The Nazis were anti-Christian. Not because of past horrors but because they saw it as the religion of the weak and because of the Judaeic roots. Otherwise, I agree with you. The question is whether the atrocities are an integral part of the ideology or religion. With Communism we can say yes, definitely. With most religions we can argue.

  12. Right. However, as individuals the Nazis were mainly Christians or at least were born Christians. Certainly to outsiders they appeared to be Christians. By HA’s logic Nazism and Christianity would be confounded.

    The question is whether the atrocities are an integral part of the ideology or religion.

    That’s the big question. Judaism and Christianity have mainly transcended their violent pasts. If we live long enough we may see what happens with Islam. We do ourselves and the Muslims no favors by lumping all Muslims together rather than encouraging those Muslims who want to coexist peacefully with the non-Muslim world.

  13. How we think about these groups and how we talk to these various groups is apparently significant. Here’s one take:

    US dials back the volume on ‘democracy’
    Bush’s public pronouncements on Islamic democratization take on a softer tone, as his recent trip to Pakistan showed.
    By Howard LaFranchi | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

    In a revised Bush administration approach to democratization in Muslim nations, an essential element must be a better understanding of Islamist movements and a willingness to work more with the moderates among them, experts say.
    “We need to talk more to all these Islamists who are not the violent extremists,” says Ottaway. Islamist moderates have been “in the ascendency” in many countries, she says, but a botched US approach to the Hamas puzzle could set back reformists and stoke the fires of Islamist hardliners for years.

  14. HA has fallen in the trap that Bin Ladens of Islamic world have set up for Muslims: Identity by religion ALONE.

    There are couple of good articles in the past few days related to this discussion:

    Islam Has to Become A Religion Again
    Two Blasphemies

    I continue to stick with Tom Paine that “all national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.”

  15. Jonathan,

    You and Bennett haven’t supported your assertions any more than I have. He made one assertion that you agreed with, and I made an opposing assertion. So how are people going to decide which assertion is correct?

    I suggest that they start believing their own lying eyes. The barbaric pathologies we observe on a daily basis throughout the Islamic world are not an anomaly. The kinds of atrocities we see in Sudan and Darfur have been a permanent feature of Islam ever since it was invented. There are not similar atrocities being carried out in the Christian, Hindu, Buddhist or secular worlds.

    The only reason you can point to events like the Inqisition is because they were episodic, brief, and anomalous. Jihad, on the other hand is a permanent, unchanging institution “revealed” to a 7th century desert nomad in the Arabian Peninsula.

    If the Inquistion had started with the birth of Christ and continued uninterrupted through to this day spanning from the Iberian Peninsula to the Indian subcontinent, then yes you could equate Christianity with Islam with credibility. But you can’t. So you only descredit yourself by attempting to do so. If you are unable to make distinctions between Islam and Christianity, then why should anybody believe that you are even capable of making “important” distinctions within Islam itself?

    Islam codified the kind of barbaric “moral” code one would expect from 7th century desert nomads. Mohammed himself was a brutal savage who slaughtered and plundered whole tribes and villages. If he did the same thing today, we would have no hesitation in calling what Mohammed himself perpetrated genocide. When the Janjeweed militia are waging a campaign of genocide, they can look to the example of Mohammed for spiritual guidance.

    I offer you a challenge. Read “Why I Am Not A Muslim” by Ibn Warraq, and “The Legacy of Jihad” by Andrew Bostom. Then come back and claim there are “important distinctions” to be made between Islam and “Islamists”.



    The methods of Jihad are very clearly laid out in the Quran. Use deception (taqiya) when you are weak, and force when you are strong. How do you tell the difference between an authentic moderate Muslim and one who is waging Jihad through deception?

    I would suggest that at a minimum they agree that one could view the Quran as a methaphorical creation of man and still be a good muslim. And they agree that Mohammed committed atrocities in his lifetime and that he would be viewed as a war criminal by modern standards. And they should agree that many tenets of Sharia are primitive and and barbaric and must be rejected by any decent human being. If a Muslim cannot agree with these basic concepts, then I suggest to you he is not a moderate.

  16. Sulaiman,

    Folks – if we want the masses in Islamic world to be on our side, we have to abide by our own principles first.

    I want the masses of the Islamic world on our side. But on our terms, not theirs. That means they must accept that Islam be open to analysis and criticism like any other ideology without the threat of violence. And they must reject Sharia law.

    After all, critical thought and free speech are fundamental principles of Western Civilization. Self-rule and man-made law are fundamental principles of Western Civilization. Would you sacrifice these principles to get the Islamic masses “on our side”?

  17. HA,

    First of all, if you are going to post monster URLs please format them as specified in the guidelines that appear under “Post a Comment”. Otherwise it screws up the page formatting and make comment threads difficult to read. I have reformatted the URLs in your recent comment.

    On your arguments you continue to miss the point. Hundreds of millions of Muslims are not participating in the anti-western jihad, and the jihadis are disproportionately from particular regions and backgrounds. Anyone who looks can see that the Muslim world is not monolithic and indeed is riven by ideological and other conflicts. The history of Muslim hostility to non-Muslims does not change these facts.

    Muslims are going to have to figure out for themselves how to reconcile Islam with the West and the modern world. It will be (and continues to be) a long process. Some Muslims choose jihad, and I think it’s clear that in the long run they are going to lose. I think it’s also clear that many more Muslims are not choosing jihad, and your broad-brush characterizations are worse than useless for dealing with these people. I do not think, for example, that the people of Turkey are using democracy as a jihadist tactic.

    You say that you want the Muslim masses to be on our side. How do propose to convince them to do so on your terms, particularly when you have contempt for their beliefs? There is inevitably going to be a long period of adjustment on the part of Islam. We should not confuse the outcome that we desire with the means used to achieve it. The important thing now is for us to distinguish our friends from neutrals from our enemies and treat each group accordingly. This means fighting our enemies while supporting our friends and encouraging neutrals to become friends. Bennett’s comments are valuable because they improve our understanding and help us to make the right distinctions.

  18. HA,

    No, I would not! And this is why I appreciate living in the US so much. And this why on domestic front, politically organized Christian Right and some elements of the Republican Party scare me.

    My problem is with theocracy, not personal religious beliefs. You seem to isolate Islam and leave others (particularly Christianity) alone. One thousand years of barbaric darkness in European history was a result of Christian theology in action. Shinto religion, married to politics, almost destroyed Japan; Hinduism can equally be violent if not checked by a secular political structure in India, ditto for Sikhism; Russian Orthodox religion (quite different from Christianity known in the West) is not exactly a lover of mankind either.

    Muslims masses (I am one of them) are voting with their feet and moving to the West. Only a tiny fraction of them – the ones who have been given the loudspeaker in the US thanks to Saudi petrodollars – are radicals. The vast majority of them want a peaceful suburban way of life.

  19. I am not worried about Christianity because Christianity no longer threatens non-Christians. The only thing comparable to a jihad in the Christian world, AFAIK, is the Irish conflict. Christians barely even respond as Christians when other Christians are being persecuted. As for the other groups, Hindus and Sikhs may victimize Muslims but do not stage terror attacks in the USA or Europe or seek to dominate the world. The only people who fear Jewish theocracy are Israeli leftists. I single out the Islamists because I think they are by far the biggest threat.

    As for Muslims voting with their feet, I assume that there are many Muslims in their countries of origin who share the views of those who emigrate but are unable to leave.

  20. Post dated “Posted by HA on March 9, 2006 09:09 AM” is by the undersigned, not HA to whom it is addressed. Apologies for the mistake.

    Jonathan – there are quite a few even in the US who want to make Christian Shariah – sorry, the Bible – the law of the nation. Christian theology is not a threat but history (European religious bloodsheds, killing of native Americans under the banner of the Cross, Crusades, etc.) is not easily erased by the last 225 years. There is a reason why the US Founding Fathers clearly separated church and state. It is not only in the 1st Amendment of the Constitution but also was affirmed in the Treaty of Tripoli that the US is not a Christian nation.


  21. Separation of church and state was more for the protection of the church than for the protection of the state. Historically, whatever religion the ruler of the nation claimed was used as an extra arm of power, horribly warping that religion AND giving the ruler some cover for his stupidity.

    There are some Christians who want to make the Bible the law of the land. Most of these don’t even understand the Bible. But aside from total wackjobs like Fred Phelps (who is widely opposed by Christians as a whole), I don’t know of any who want anything like Sharia — they don’t want death for gays, or women to be forced to wear headcoverings, or anything like that.

  22. Sulaiman, what a letdown. I thought that HA was starting to sound like you and that we were making progress with him. But OK, I take your points, though I think that you yourself are doing some broad-brushing WRT Christianity. As LotharBot points out, any Christians who want to impose a theocracy are marginal in American Christianity, and they aren’t killing people they disagree with. It’s all about relative threats, and it seems to me that the Islamists are a bigger threat by far than are any Christian, Hindu, Jewish or other theocratic extremists.

  23. May I point to a work that seems to think that Christians are impelled by such belief’s – The Handmaiden’s Tale. That novel is so deeply stupid, it is hard to see it as offensive. (Well, I think it is; I started it and stopped very very early.) But it is widely assigned in college classes.

  24. Jonathan – another point that HA did not respond to was that we do not abide by our principles. To most Muslims, American democracy means access to crude oil: American support for the house of Saud is unconditional to the point of disrepect for America by Saudi princes while law abiding Muslims (witness the Dubai Port deal — home country of the company hosts US military bases and took a stand against Saddam!) are rejected as a security threat. I have no doubt that Muslims have brought misery upon themselves in the past 500 years but Western support for tyrannical and clerical regimes have made things worse.

    WRT Christianity: have you ever watched 700 Club TV shows? Whatever happened to Northeast and West Coast Republicans? All we are hearing from jingoist backbenchers nowadays is limits to immigration (I doubt their ancestors were native Americans!) and banning of abortion so that they can collect the votes of those whose minds are commanded by Mullah Pat Robertson. Christianity may be harmless TODAY but that is because of the secular nature of Western political institutions which the church fought against for centuries. This has not been the case historically nor will it be the case in future should we let our guard down. Rasputins (the beards, the look, the superstitions, their dislike of commerical culture, the message are no different than the illiterate mullahs of Islamic world) are still calling the shots in Eastern Christianity. Tartuffe is well and alive — he is just keeping a low profile. Do not be fooled.

  25. Sulaiman,

    I agree entirely with your first paragraph. On your other points, we disagree on the risk of Christian theocracy. I don’t think it’s a significant danger, especially as compared to Islamism and various resurgent forms of socialism.

    BTW, the reason some state legislatures are banning abortions today is that leftist activists got abortion legalized by judicial fiat thirty years ago. What we’re seing now is part of the extended political reaction to that SC decision. Without the decision there would have been less political and I think religious polarization in this country. A lot of anti-abortion people were radicalized by Roe and a lot of right-wing careers were made. That’s much more the fault of the Left than of the Christians. Where would Pat Robertson be today without Roe, busing, racial preferences and similar beloved-by-leftists govt intrusions into ordinary people’s lives?

  26. Jonathan,

    I do not think, for example, that the people of Turkey are using democracy as a jihadist tactic.

    Maybe you should ask yourself why Kemal Ataturk was not so complacent. Why did he ban Islamic parties and constitutionally empower the Turkish military to overthrow democratically elected Islamic governments at the military’s discretion? Why has this power been use repeatedly since the establishment of the modern Turkish republic, and even threatened in the last election in 2002?

    What did Ataturk know about Islam and the Turkish people that you don’t?

    On your arguments you continue to miss the point.

    I’m not missing the point. I was ignoring it because it was a distraction from the main issue which is the nature of Islam itself. Whether or not segments of the Islamic world follow every aspect of their faith has no bearing on the demands of their faith. There are plenty of Catholics that have abortions. Does that mean Catholic doctrine supports abortion?

    So, your point is irrelevant from a theological standpoint. Do you make this point out of real conviction, or is it a matter of expediency? Are you practicing Western-style taqiya?

  27. My problem is with theocracy, not personal religious beliefs. You seem to isolate Islam and leave others (particularly Christianity) alone

    This comment reveals a complete ignorance of both Islamic and Christian theology, along with a very loose grasp on reality.

    Seperation of church and state is a central tenet of Christian doctrine straight from Jesus himself – “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s”. Theocracy is anti-Christian.

    In contrast, there is no theological distinction between mosque and state in Islam. They are a single, indvisible entity in the form of the Caliphate. This example was set by Mohammed himself when he became the first Caliph and made himself both Caesar and God.

    You’re crazy if you spend any time worrying about a bogeyman like Christian theocracy. Theocracy hasn’t existed in the Christian world for hundreds of years.

    In contrast, the Caliphate was only sent to the ash-heap of history a mere 80 years ago (much to Bin Laden’s despair) and there are little micro-theocracies littered throughout the Islamic world today.

    I have a question for you. I have said harsh things about your prophet and the religious law he invented. And you have chosen not to defend your prophet and his law. Furthemore, you have spoken out against theocracy, so I assume you don’t support restoration of the Caliphate.

    If you won’t defend your prophet or Sharia law, and you won’t support the Caliphate, one what basis do you consider yourself a Muslim at all? What remnants of your faith do you believe in?

  28. HA wrote:
    Maybe you should ask yourself why Kemal Ataturk was not so complacent. Why did he ban Islamic parties and constitutionally empower the Turkish military to overthrow democratically elected Islamic governments at the military’s discretion? Why has this power been use repeatedly since the establishment of the modern Turkish republic, and even threatened in the last election in 2002?

    The point was that Turkey has been able to accommodate itself to the western world. It didn’t do so by acting like Massachusetts, because the cultures are different and require somewhat different standards and institutions. If the Turks can do it, why not Iranians or Jordanians or Iraqis? It won’t be easy but — and I suspect millions of Muslims realize this — it’s better than the alternatives. We should do everything we can to help such Muslims, and the starting point is to recognize that they exist.

    I’m not missing the point. I was ignoring it because it was a distraction from the main issue which is the nature of Islam itself. Whether or not segments of the Islamic world follow every aspect of their faith has no bearing on the demands of their faith. There are plenty of Catholics that have abortions. Does that mean Catholic doctrine supports abortion?

    Ah, but this isn’t mainly about doctrine. It’s about what people do and are capable of doing. To the extent doctrine is a variable it is reasonable for us to draw distinctions and to discourage adherents of jihadist doctrines and encourage others. As in your example about Catholics, there are many Muslims who are not adherents of jihadist movements or are not devout or who are selective in their adherence to doctrine. As long as that is the case it makes no sense to interpret the behavior of all Muslims as mainly a function of the nominal doctrines of some narrow jihadist movements.

  29. Jonathan,

    The point was that Turkey has been able to accommodate itself to the western world.

    They have done so by taking extreme measures to guard against an Islamic resurgance. If these very same measures were adopted in the West, then “moderate” muslims would be screaming like hell against them.

    Ah, but this isn’t mainly about doctrine. It’s about what people do and are capable of doing.

    You seem to be missing your own point. The whole premise was that there are doctrinical distinctions between Islam and “Islamism”. And your hope is that by making this distinction the West can appeal to moderates.

    I think this is a dead end approach. You are arguing for an equivalent of detente with the Islam. I think idea is as likely to succeed as it was with Communism. It was only when Reagan characterized Communism as the evil it was that we were finally able to defeat it.

    So it will be with Islam. Islam is an even greater as Communism and Fascism. It is Communism and Fascism WITH God. We must confront this evil head on. We will not win this ideological battle by encouraging moderates to cling to their beliefs by making false doctrinal distinctions. They must be told the truth, just as the Commies were.

  30. I am arguing that the West should support pro-western Muslims who in many countries are analogous to dissidents in the USSR.

    You keep asserting that Islam as a whole is evil, based on your interpretion of Islamic writings. Meanwhile, in the real world, I see a diverse range of Muslims from self-proclaimed jihadis who are generally hostile to the West (and to Muslims who are more tolerant) to many Muslims who are friendly to the West. There was a rally in sympathy with the USA in Teheran after 9/11. You want to write those people off?

  31. Jonathan,

    I don’t want to write anybody off. Just the opposite.

    There are obviously many muslims in the world who are great human beings. However, I think this is true in spite of their faith rather than because of it. I think these people have to create some extreme rationalizations in order to maintain their faith.

    I think that these false doctrinal distinctions allow moderate muslims to cling to their rationalizations rather than confronting them. And I think it is better if people confront their rationalizations. Otherwise, we are just deferring the inevitable ideological showdown.

    I understand why you disagree with me. The consequences of what I’m advocating are pretty serious. But I think the distinctions you are making just give false hope.

    Anyway, here is a good David Warren essay on this topic (apologies in advance if I mess up the html):


  32. Why do you think the pro-western Muslims are the ones who are rationalizing? They are the realistic ones. When I think of the Islamists I think of that smirking bastard Bin Laden with his Timex watch and Japanese video camera. He wants to take over the world, yet his people lack the capacity to produce so much as a paper bag. Utter crackpots. They will lose eventually, and the big question is how many Muslims we will kill before that happens. It would be simple for us to wipe out a few million people to get there. I think the final toll will be a lot less if we can encourage democratization, and this means having some confidence in the ordinary citizens of Muslim countries. Given the record in Turkey and now Iraq and (to some extent) other countries, I think that’s the prudent way to bet despite theoretical concerns about immutable Islamic hostility.

    WRT “false hope,” I think that you and I simply read the odds differently. Time will tell.

  33. Jonathan,
    You say: “the big question is how many Muslims we will kill before that happens”
    We may have the big guns, but terrorists get drunk on violence and can only keep their followers in line through fear: the larger number will be how many Muslims the terrorists kill. We’re not going to nuke them into the middle ages, though that’s where their leaders want to take them.

    Sistani understands and seems to be acting, well, heroically. If enough people in enough countries see the rule of law, marginalization of fanatics, and respect for one another are reasonable goals, all of us are better off.

    The Palestinians (& the IRA for a long time) are a good example of people who seem to have lost the ability (or perhaps any real leaders) to see beyond such tribal vendettas.

  34. Jonathan,

    When I think of “Islamists”, I think of people like Bin Laden who carry Islamic faith to its logical conclusion. Islamic history has produced one Bin Laden after the next. As long as Islamic faith exists there will be Bin Ladens. You and I may despise Bin Laden, but he is the most popular man in the Islamic world because his actions are firmly rooted in Islamic faith.

    I agreee that democratization is the best way to proceed. But I think that unless democratization is coupled with an ideological battle, it is doomed to failure. We’d be better off with Scowcroft style realpolitik.

  35. Religions, like political ideologies, can serve the interests of bad people but also of good ones. I see no reason for grand generalizations.

  36. Sulaiman,

    a reminder that religion can be molded to serve the interest of bigots.

    The life of the “prophet” Mohammed is also a reminder. He slaughtered entire tribes, sold women and children into slavery, raped, pillaged and plundered. These are all historical facts documented by Muslim and “infidel” sources alike. They cannot be credibly denied. The bottom line is that Mohammed was a bigot who molded Islam to serve his egomaniacal interests.

    How can you condemn Hitler without also condemning Mohammed? The only difference between them is that Hitler’s 1000 year reich went down in flames, while Mohammed’s still threatens civilization.

  37. Ginny:

    –: The Palestinians (& the IRA for a long time) are a good example of people who seem to have lost the ability (or perhaps any real leaders) to see beyond such tribal vendettas.

    I don’t think this is quite the right way to catagorise our enemies.

    The Soviets and the IRA (for all that both were evil and contemptible) were at least rational in the last analysis, and it was possible, in the end, to negotiate and deal with them.

    The Nazis and Al-Quaida were or are, on the other hand, NOT rational. They cannot be negotiated with and quite simply have to be destroyed as co-existance with them is impossible.

    The only alternative is, they will destroy us. Period.

  38. Jonathan,

    An Afghan man faces the death penalty under Islamic law for converting to Christianity:,,3-2095263,00.html

    Islam is what it is. Primivitve and barbaric. There are no distinctions to be made from a doctrinal standpoint.

    The only distinction to be made is between muslims who follow what their religion in its entirety and those who don’t. The only moderate muslims are those who are willing to reject some elements of the Islamic faith. It is simply not possible to be moderate and civilized and still be a 100% faithful and observant muslim. The contradictions are too severe.

  39. HA,

    Islam is what it is. Primivitve and barbaric. There are no distinctions to be made from a doctrinal standpoint.:

    It was once the law in Eastern Europe that anyone (almost always applied to Jews) who converted a Christian to another faith could be put to death.

    It’s not a problem with Islam but rather a lack of modernity. Islam in any region looks very much like Christianity in Europe at the same level of technological and social development. Contrast Islam in the back country of Afghanistan with that of the Muslims of the Balkans. Balkanian Muslims are virtually indistinguishable from their non-muslim neighbors in the way there religious beliefs get translated into civil law and cultural norms. Those muslims have had the same experience with modernity as most Westerners and as a result, they behave like most Westerners.

  40. The moderate Muslims can be compared to the bulk of the non-Nazi Germans in the 1930s and WWII in that they can’t or won’t make the effort to change the direction of their society being driven by a radical, violent sub-group. Maybe a glimmer of light exsists in that (it seems to me) the above thought can’t be applied as generally in the modern mid-east as it could be in 30s Germany.

    An aspect of this that hampers progress is (paraphrasing the words of Mario Puzo’s “Godfather”) they can’t “go against the family”. “Blood” (of the tribe) will out.

    We can hope that that enough people will move away from the irrationality of the extreme movement. The West is playing for time.

  41. HA – Mohammed lived in 7th century and was a modernizer by the standard of his time when he declared that a woman was half a man instead of having the status of cattle. He also organized a bunch of barbaric tribes into one nation and may have created a nation-state, a concept still alien to the Arabs of 21st century.

    Hitler lived in the 20th century … politically the same era you and I live in.

  42. HA – also, you seem to judge all of Islamic world from what you hear from the mosque of your oil supplier. Saudi Arabia is by far the biggest financier of mosques in the US thanks to the special oil relationship and the country has substantially increased her (sorry, his) market share around the Islamic world since the oil shocks of 1970s. The Afghan war (the original one in the 80s — against the Russians) and the breakup of Russian empire further opened the door for the Salafists/Wahabis, who want to take us back to the barren deserts of 7th century Saudi Arabia, to spread their message across Asia. This is even a repudiation of how Islamic civilization evolved in cosmopolitan places like Baghdad, Tehran, Samarkand/Bukhara (Central Asia), Damascus, Cairo, Istabul, etc. Even Indonesians who were on the periphery of Islamic world have not remained immune to petrodollars. Only India (but not Pakistan) has managed to avoid this cancer thanks to the secular nature of political institutions in the country and perhaps the minority status of Muslims there. Also, there are NON-ARAB mosques in the US that have managed to keep their independence but chances are that you would never hear their message for bedouin Arabs dictators have managed to convince the Westerners to see the Islamic world through the narrow of interest of keepin them in power.

    Religion is an institution that can change easily to serve any interest. Religion can only serve a common good – and a limited one at best – only when there is a clear division between church and state. As such, I even find the non-profit tax treatment of churches in the US distasteful. Mixing religion and politics is toxic and fascists in Islamic world are molding religion for their political ends.

    Full Disclosure — I am Muslim by birth but went to a Catholic high school and I am quiet aware of their mythology. Currently I do not practice any faiths although I do appreciate religion’s importance in creating social – albeit exclusionary – networks in a free society. I do go to the Afghan mosque in Northern VA when there is a funeral but do not really pay attention to the service as it bores me to death. Also, I could not stand the sight of what I saw in the “official” Islamic center inside Washington DC, where a self-declared mullah out on Mass Ave was spewing anti-American slogans that were no different than leftist agitprop. The myths, fantasies, and the exclusionary nature of all religions are hard for me to accept.

  43. Sulaiman,

    Thanks for your measured comments. I was getting pretty provocative so I appreciate your measured response.

    I have a number of points I want to make in response, but I’m very busy this week and I don’t have time at the moment. I’ll get back this weekend.

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