Saturday, July 07, 2007

Cancerous Religion? Islam's Cult of Death

Michael Hirsh has a provocative commentary up at Newsweek online: "Exploring Islam's Cult of Death":

It is the question at the back of many people's minds as they absorb the frightening details of the terror plot in Britain. Yes, we understand that many Muslims are angry—about the Iraq War, about Israeli policy toward the Palestinians and the usual list of grievances. But there are many people, in many different societies and cultures, who are angry about many things. Would any other culture or religion produce a group of doctors and professionals who apparently deemed it morally correct to kill innocent people in large numbers? Has something gone wrong with Islam itself, or at least the culture it has produced?

To merely pose that question, of course, is to play with political dynamite. But it must be asked. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote that “a death cult” …“has taken root” in Islam, “feeding off it like a cancerous tumor.” The conservative commentator Cal Thomas also used a cancer metaphor in comments that provoked an outcry from the U.S. Muslim community in recent days. “How much longer should we allow people from certain lands, with certain beliefs to come to Britain and America and build their mosques, teach hate, and plot to kill us?" Thomas asked. "OK, let's have the required disclaimer: Not all Muslims from the Middle East and Southeast Asia want to kill us, but those who do blend in with those who don't. Would anyone tolerate a slow-spreading cancer because it wasn't fast-spreading? Probably not. You'd want it removed."

Read the whole thing. Hirsh notes that much of Islam's history has been marked by peace, and not all Muslims are driven to kill Western infidels. There's apparently something new to Islam's violent militancy:

In fact, there is an argument to be made that “death cult” Islam is a relatively modern illness. Its genesis goes back to the 19th century, but it really took off in the latter part of the 20th century with the Wahhabist-influenced jihad movement in Afghanistan, and the advent of the Saudi petrodollar, which helped spread this extreme puritanical version of Islam. Even suicide bombing, the Muslim diplomat points out, was taboo only a few decades ago: Khalid Islambouli, who assassinated Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981, didn't dare kill himself because “it was a big sin in Islam.”

The irony is that this virulent strain began with the removal of Islam from public life during the “modernization” of the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century, when Western legal structures and armies were created. That led to "the devalidation of Islamic education and Islamic law, the marginalization of Islamic scholars," who until then had collectively acted as counterbalance to tyranny and extremism, Bulliet says. Instead of modernization, what ensued was what Muslim clerics had long feared: tyranny. "You had the implicit notion that if Islam is pushed out of the public sphere, removed from public life, tyranny will increase," says Bulliet. "By the 1960s that prophecy was fulfilled. You had dictatorships in most of the Islamic world." Egypt's Gamel Nasser, Syria's Hafez Assad and others came in the guise of Arab nationalists, but they were nothing more than tyrants.

Yet there was no longer a legitimate force to oppose this trend. In the place of traditional Islamic learning—which had encouraged science and advancement in medieval times—there was nothing. The old religious authorities had been hounded out of public life, back into the mosque. The Ottoman Empire had been destroyed in World War I, and the caliphate was abolished. Arrogant autocrats ruled the political sphere. There was, in other words, no legitimate authority of any kind. Into that vacuum roared a fundamentalist reaction led by brilliant but aberrant amateurs like Egypt's Sayyid Qutb, the founding philosopher of Ayman Zawahiri's brand of Islamic radicalism (he was hanged by Nasser), and later, Osama bin Laden, who grew up infected by the Saudis' extreme version of Wahhabism.

Hirsh is confident that Islam and the West are not on a long-range path toward a clash of civilizations.

I'm not so sure. We'd have to refer to the experts, but my reading of the Islamist challenge sees militant forces as implacable, and we risk appeasment at our peril. As commentator Christopher Hitchens noted last week in reference to the London bomb plot and the Glasgow attack, there is a liberal reluctance to confront the fact that Islamists are intent to destroy us. Hitchens argues that we shouldn't "mince words." If there's a "radical evil" tormenting Britain and the West, at least we should recognize it for what is it, and prepare accordingly. For more of Hitchens' recent writings on the Islamist threat, click here.

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