Apr 1, 2008

Is Islam inherently violent?

There's been a lot of talk, both on the conservative and the liberal side, about this movie "Fitna" that has just come out. It's a short movie with a clear ideological purpose: to show that Islam is an inherently violent religion.

I'm reminded of the Jon Krakauer book a couple years back Under the Banner of Heaven, which was about these Mormon guys who killed their sister-in-law and baby niece and claimed that God had told them to do it. According to Krakauer, these guys were supposedly influenced by the peculiar Mormon doctrine of revelation to commit this crime. Mormonism does have this rather ridiculous history of disavowing bits of its dogma that become politically inconvenient--it was only when the US threatened war that they had a revelation and gave up polygamy, and it was 1979 that they allowed blacks to become full members in the same way. Thus the argument went that this history uniquely prepared these men to believe that God was talking to them, and in some way helped these crimes happen.

Now, that analysis carries some weight in my opinion, and undoubtedly so does the argument that Islam is susceptible to violent demagogues. There are a lot of competing threads here--the conservative Christians like "Fitna" because they don't like Islam, the liberals don't like it because it's racist, and the atheists think all religions are violent and the reaction to suppress the video is shameful.

I sympathize most with the atheist side, but I think often they shading toward a kind of anti-Islamic bigotry:
Islam without violence is like an egg-free omelet. The religion is predicated on violence and the threat of violence. It's a religion of peace in the same way North Korea is a People's Democratic Republic.
I think there is much more to the story, especially when we look at history. Yes, it's true that throughout the Islamic world the political leaders tend to be quite violent and the theology of the religion is dominated by extremely conservative views that advocate things like wife-beating. The Islamic swaths of the world are obviously some of the more backward bits in terms of human right and so forth. However, I see this more as a socioeconomic phenomenon than anything else. Christians forget that 500 years ago they were still burning people alive for believing the incorrect thing, and atheists forget that for many centuries that same Islamic area was the intellectual and cultural center of the world. It would be simple to make a Christian version of "Fitna." All religious texts are littered with violent bits--my favorite from the Bible is Exodus 21:17, which deals with the rules for selling your own daughter into slavery.

I believe this shows that religion is mainly controlled by the society and not the other way around. With a liberal society the religion tends to be liberal and vice versa. And let us not forget that half the reason the place is so screwed up is western imperialism, mostly by Britain (which used to run Palestine and Iraq), but a little by the USA (i.e., the Shah), France (which used to run Syria). Perhaps religion can exacerbate violent tendencies, but it hardly seems the root cause of all violence.

Moreover, I think the kind of harsh criticism given by Pat Condell above only feeds into the whole culture war thing and is counterproductive. Islamic people have been merging into American society rather well--let's not cock that up now.

So here are my suggestions:
  1. Stop calling Islam inherently violent.
  2. Emphasize that people have the right to believe whatever they like, including Muslims.
  3. Emphasize ideas of "free speech" whenever possible to prevent confusion about government-sanctioned press.
  4. But also, stop trying to suppress criticism of Islam.
As for the last point, I do agree that there has been some shameful cowardice on the part of liberal westerners on this score. We must always uphold our fundamental democratic values, and if some Muslims can't deal with it, tough. If some people want to censor themselves because of their religious beliefs, that's fine, but you can't impose your personal obligations on others. Period.


  1. Yes, Russell, (I’m sorry to be the one to tell you)…Islam is inherently violent. Islam is intrinsically violent, in the same way as American football is intrinsically violent. Football cannot be played without violence. The nature of the sport encourages toleration for and even promotion of violence. Players attempt to injure each other to take them out of the game. Many young men are seriously injured while playing football. So too, Islam’s goal is to take out all opposition to Islam by all means, especially through violence and the threat of violence, through terror.

    Mohammed said: "I have been ordered (by Allah) to fight against the people until they testify that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and that Muhammad is Allah's Apostle, and offer the prayers perfectly and give the obligatory charity, so if they perform that, then they save their lives and property from me except for Islamic laws and then their reckoning (accounts) will be done by Allah." (Sahih Bukhari 1.24)

    This should make it clear to you that there is no way around “fighting” in Islam. Either you do all the above “perfectly” or Islam is obligated to “fight” you, rob you, slay you and take your wife and children as slaves. These 7th century commandments have not been abrogated.

    I am delighted you mentioned the film “Fitna”. Over 90% of the film’s material comes straight and uncommented from the Koran, Hadiths and leading Muslim preachers. “Fitna” is a complicated word to translate into English, since it has so many meanings, but the most succinct definition (imho) would be “a criminal wrong thought.” Any thought that does not support Islam is “fitna” and must be punished either by death, fines or imprisonment, according to the Islamic religious legal system governed by about one million mullahs worldwide. Please note: “incorrect thoughts” are punishable by death. “Fitna” is worse than murder in Islam. Pray, Russel, how do you compromise with the call for decapitation in response to “wrong thinking”? Is there a rational argument that you think will convince such people? Perhaps you would like to read up on Salman Rushdie? Even the gentle “Cat” Stevens hoped for Rushdie’s murder by a freelance assassin.

    I can see you have not gone to the sources of Islamic doctrines, and for that reason, you do not take seriously that Islam cannot be weaned off, cajoled or induced in any way to leave its violent 7th century ways. The Saudi flag bears the sword of jihad. That sword of Damocles is poised over your head according to every mullah in the world. That is “official” Islam talking.

    Let me illustrate.

    “Jihad until victory” is the central doctrine of Islam. Dying in jihad is the only way a Muslim may be assured of entrance to paradise. “Victory” for Islam is defined as that condition where Islam is the only official religion on earth…a decidedly political goal which can only be achieved by the use of military force involving the suppression of all freedoms in all countries.

    Robert Spencer has pointed out that Islam is “the vehicle by which the bloody, deceitful practices of the Arabian tribal system have been thrust upon the globe.”

    Many quotes from unimpeachable Islamic authorities could be provided, but I leave with the following two:

    According to articles on the Islamic site www.qoqaz.com (in Arabic http://www.qoqaz.com/qoqaz.asp?9=4&pp=1&sec=7, www.qoqaz.com/qoqaz.asp?p=4, www.qoqaz.com/qoqaz.asp?p=4&pp=1&sec=8) the killing of prisoners is permitted. The author of the articles draws upon religious sources such as the Qu’ran and traditions about Mohammad’s conduct. The following are the main elements in the articles:

    “1. A polytheist prisoner must be killed. No amnesty may be granted to him, nor can he be ransomed.
    2. All infidel polytheists and the People of the Book (i.e. , Jews and Christians) are to be killed. They may not be granted amnesty, nor can they be ransomed.
    3. Amnesty and ransom are the only two ways to deal with prisoners.
    4. Amnesty and ransom are possible only after the killing of a large number of prisoners.
    5. The Imam, or someone acting on his behalf, can choose between killing, amnesty, ransom or enslaving the prisoner.”

    The following quotation is taken from a chapter of the book "Behind the Veil".
    "The Holy War, as it is known in Islamic Jurisprudence, is basically an offensive war. This is the duty of Muslims in every age when the needed military power becomes available to them. This is the phase in which the meaning of Holy War has taken its final form. Thus the apostle of God said: `I was commanded to fight the people until they believe in God and his message .." (Dr. Muhammad Sa'id Ramadan al-Buti, an al-Azhar scholar, in "Jurisprudence in Muhammad's Biography",7th ed., p. 134)

    Ignoring Islam’s intrinsic violence will not make it go away. Russell, you are attempting to whistle past the graveyard.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.