What’s behind the rush to separate the religion from its most notorious exponents.
Whatever they may disagree about, Western leaders are in complete agreement about one thing: the new self-styled caliphate, the Islamic State, has nothing whatsoever to do with Islam. It’s a comforting, reassuring vision for Western non-Muslims facing a massive influx of Muslim immigrants and jittery about the prospect of Islamic terrorism, except for just one problem: it’s entirely false.
Barack Obama has made it clear: “ISIL speaks for no religion. Their victims are overwhelmingly Muslim, and no faith teaches people to massacre innocents.” David Cameron intoned: “What we are witnessing is actually a battle between Islam on the one hand and extremists who want to abuse Islam on the other. These extremists, often funded by fanatics living far away from the battlefields, pervert the Islamic faith as a way of justifying their warped and barbaric ideology – and they do so not just in Iraq and Syria but right across the world, from Boko Haram and al-Shabaab to the Taliban and al-Qaeda.”
State Department spokesperson Marie Harf emphasized that Obama meant what he said: “ISIL does not operate in the name of any religion. The president has been very clear about that, and the more we can underscore that, the better.” British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond declared: “[ISIL]’s so-called caliphate has no moral legitimacy; it is a regime of torture, arbitrary punishment and murder that goes against the most basic beliefs of Islam.” The British opposition agrees: Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper said that Islamic State “extremists are beheading people and parading their heads on spikes, subjugating women and girls, killing Muslims, Christians and anyone who gets in their way. This is no liberation movement — only a perverted, oppressive ideology that bears no relation to Islam.”
Cooper’s statement was a bit more specific than most others of its kind, and shows up the weakness of all of them. For every Islamic State atrocity she enumerated, there is Qur’anic sanction:
Beheading people: “When you meet the unbelievers, strike the necks…” (Qur’an 47:4).
Subjugating women and girls: “Men have authority over women because Allah has made the one superior to the other, and because they spend their wealth to maintain them. Good women are obedient. They guard their unseen parts because Allah has guarded them. As for those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them and send them to beds apart and beat them” (Qur’an 4:34).
Killing Muslims: “They wish that you reject Faith, as they have rejected (Faith), and thus that you all become equal (like one another). So take not Auliya’ (protectors or friends) from them, till they emigrate in the Way of Allah (to Muhammad SAW). But if they turn back (from Islam), take (hold) of them and kill them wherever you find them, and take neither Auliya’ (protectors or friends) nor helpers from them” (Qur’an 4:89).
Killing Christians: “Fight those who believe not in God nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by God and His Apostle, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued” (Qur’an 9:29).
Even if the Islamic State is misinterpreting or misunderstanding these verses, it is doing so in a way that accords with their obvious literal meaning. Yet this denial from Western leaders is nothing new. Obama, for his part, excuses and apologizes for Islam every time a jihadist atrocity affects the U.S. in some way. Of course, most would wave away his denial as a political necessity, and ask why it matters anyway -- why does it make any difference whether or not what the Islamic State is doing is in accord with Islamic texts and teachings? Among other reasons, because it will help determine how much support the new caliphate will ultimately get from Muslims worldwide, and will serve as an indicator of how much we can expect to see the actions of the Islamic State replicated by other Muslims elsewhere.
The blizzard of articles and statements from Muslims and non-Muslims, including the leaders of the principal nations of the Western world, assuring us that what the Islamic State is doing has nothing whatsoever to do with Islam are designed to reassure non-Muslims in the West that they need not have any concerns about massive rates of Muslim immigration and the Muslims already living among them: “Not to worry, folks, your friend Ahmad down at the office will never start acting like those nuts in the Islamic State.”
One problem with this is that it prevents authorities from calling upon Muslim communities to teach against the doctrines that the Islamic State acts upon, and to work for genuine reform. And so the door remains open to the possibility that the actions of the Islamic State could be repeated in Western countries. Barack Obama and David Cameron would do far better to confront the Islamic State’s Islamic justifications for its actions and call on Muslims in the U.S., the U.K. and elsewhere to teach against these understandings of Islam that they ostensibly reject.
But they never do that, and apparently have no interest in doing it. Instead, they foster complacency among the people of the U.S. and Britain. For doing so, they may never pay a price, but their people will almost certainly have to pay, and pay dearly.
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