Islam Versus The Enlightened World by Austin Young Michaels

islam-vs-westCertain principles have ushered the Western world into the most technologically advanced culture to ever inhabit the Earth. Many of these principles are the direct result of the Enlightenment period in Europe. These principles include free speech, freedom to pursue happiness, life, liberty, freedom from tyranny, equality, and more. These principles, through fighting and revolution, replaced the surf-ridden and theocratic “Dark Ages” of Europe. Over a hundred years after the Enlightenment, Western principles face another obstacle: Islamic Law (sharia law). Islamic Law, when taken literally not only withholds free speech, equality, and other such building blocks of Western Culture, but it holds others, who do not belong to Islam, responsible for breaking those laws. Because the laws spelled out in the Hadith and other Muslim texts are expansionary, the conflict of ideas cannot simply be overcome by ignoring one another. Furthermore, Muslim texts allude to the idea of Jihad, which encapsulates the idea of the violent martyr.  In any humanitarian sense, these acts of violence and self-sacrifice are unjustifiable, and the people who commit them hold with absolute conviction that they are taking the moral high ground. This type of delusion threatens the stability of the world and of all those who hope to enjoy a peaceful and free life full of the liberties granted through the European Enlightenment. Modern thought on the idea of Jihad has many implications for Western society today. Violent fundamentalist groups are rising up against democracy and Western ideology with little backlash from moderate Muslims due to justifications given in the holy texts and through religious leaders. This conflict of ideas between Western and Muslim society does not seem to have a clear peaceful resolution.

This conflict first must boil down into a contest of morals, namely the question of “Who has the right to decide whose morals are correct?” While no one can objectively compare moral sets, it is possible to look at the consequences of each system and demonstrate which produces the best outcomes.  According to the Hadith, a collection of the writings on the prophet Mohammad and on Islamic law that is often as highly regarded as the Koran, and the Koran, women who are raped should be given capital punishment for having committed sexual acts outside of a sanctioned marriage and apostate children should be put to the sword.  This is most clearly demonstrated in the Sahih Bukhari, one of the six canonical books of the Sunni Hadith, when it says, “Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him” (Hadith, Bukari 84:75). Furthermore, infidels, or unbelievers, are often regarded as subhuman. Kitab al-Siyar writes that, “The Apostle of God said: You may kill the adults of the unbelievers, but spare their minor – the youth” (Katab al-Siyar, Muhammad  ibn al-Shaybani, 62). While it is awfully kind for Islamic Law to spare the children (provided they are not apostates), the principle of killing people for disagreements about worldview seems at its core immoral. Western Principles advocate for freedom of thought, speech, print, and expression under the grounds that censorship is unjustified as it presupposes that the censor is infallible. It calls for fair trials, equality, education of youth, and the promotion of secular thinking. As a result, Western society has rocketed into the technological age where infant mortality rates are lower than anywhere else in the world, life expectancy is some of the longest in the world, and the standard of living is exponentially higher, as demonstrated in the CIA world fact book (Afghanistan ranks 2nd highest in infant mortality, Iran is 59th, Iraq is 61st, the US is 176th). (CIA world fact book, Comparison by Country Infant mortality rates) The studies are conclusive; the West is a much nicer place to live as far as human quality of life is concerned, and consequently the ideals that such civilizations are based on produce much better societies in which to live.

People critique the idea that militant Jihad is directly related to Islam and instead argue that politics, poverty and the lack of education are the real problems. The West has a long history of malfeasance in the Middle East, from training and then abandoning the Taliban to seizing their land and creating a Zionist state that is less than welcome; however, the argument that this is wholly political issue fails under further scrutiny. When a Dutch cartoonist makes a satirical piece on the prophet Mohammad, and the consequence is almost 140 dead and millions of dollars done in damages, including the burning of a Dutch embassy; or when Sir Salman Rushdie, an author in London, has a price on his head endorsed by leaders of Middle Eastern countries (namely Iran) for a fictional novel, the problem is more than just political. There are reasons for these groups of people to be angry with the West, but not allowing them to commit genocide in East Timor, having a pastor burn a holy book, or simply showing a caricature of their prophet are not justifiable reasons to declare war on Western thought (Hitchens, Why Ask Why? 4-6). Furthermore, there are oppressed, impoverished, and uneducated people all over the world who do not feel it necessary to become suicide bombers and kill civilians. Simply looking at the 9/11 hijackers, many of whom had master’s degrees from prestigious Western universities, demonstrates that it is not a lack of education or funds that cause people to behave this way. Both the expansionist nature and the thought that Islam is beyond criticism are the problems. Unfortunately, both ideas lie at the heart of the Muslim faith and are defended violently. As David Cook, in his article Islam and Jihadism: The transformation of Classical Ideas Notions of Jihad into an Ideology of Terror, points out that, “Jihad is a process that begins with the summoning of the enemy to Islam, and either leads to Muslim victory, in which case the enemy is either killed, enslaved or accepts the protection (dhimma) of the Muslims, or to a tactical ceasefire (hudna)” (Cook, Islam and Jihadism: The transformation of Classical Ideas Notions of Jihad into an Ideology of Terror, 2). The question the quickly becomes “Who is an enemy of Islam?” The West has certainly committed enough crimes in the past to be considered enemies, and the Koran and Hadith writings seem to imply that all infidels are enemies (see appendix A).

It is often claimed that the Jihad endorsed in the Hadith and the Koran is not military Jihad, but instead spiritual Jihad, and that it is a misreading on the part of “extremists” that accounts for these horrific acts of violence. This idea is in direct contradiction with both of the writings. A line from the Hadith reads, “I am commanded to fight with men till they testify that there is no god but Allah, and that Muhammad is His servant and His Apostle, face our prayer, eat what we slaughter, and pray like us. When they do that, their life and property are unlawful for us except what is due to them. They will have the same rights as the Muslims have, and have the same responsibilities as the Muslims have” (Sunan Abu Dawud, 14:2635). Of course, they should then be given the same rights as Muslims; they would then be Muslims. The line that their lives are saved after they abide by Muslim tradition shows exactly the type of “tolerance” that is being expressed. The amount of mental gymnastics that must be done in order to come up with meanings that are truly benign is incredible. Military Jihad is clearly advocated as martyrdom, and the idea is well respected in Islam. By fight, it literally means fight (see the appendix A for further examples). This selective reading of the books to mean what one wants invariably destroys the original meaning that is clearly behind the texts. Furthermore, denying the reality of these texts and replacing it with “Western friendly” ideas does not change the fact that people are motivated to kill themselves and others for these ideas (although it does attempt to place the blame off the religion and onto other sources). Even Westernized Islam has demonstrated that it has problems. Not long ago, a survey demonstrated that one-third of young British Muslims wish to live under Islamic law. This research shows that the problem is not a localized misinterpretation. Whether or not the militant Jihad idea is a misinterpretation of Islam, it does not change the fact that a large number of people can be, and are, motivated to perform terrible crimes against humanity in the name of military Jihad. Sam Harris demonstrates that the problem originates within the religion itself when he states, “The rise of Islamic fundamentalists is only a problem because the fundamentals of Islam are a problem. A rise of Jain fundamentalism would endanger no one”. (Harris, The End of Faith, 148) If the principles of Islam were not a threat, than the people who took them the most seriously would also not be a threat; however, this is not the case. The fundamentals of this religion are almost never benign and this is clear in the behavior of those who take Islam most seriously.

Another common criticism of the conclusion that Islam is against Western thought is that only the Muslim extremists feel this way. The few studies that have been conducted show that the support for suicide bombings is much higher than originally expected. Turkey, the most secular of all the countries polled, has an approval rating of the militant Jihad (suicide bombing in defense of Islam) of about 13% (+/-3 %) and about 20% Turkey when posed the question “Is suicide bombing ever justifiable?” (Harris, The End of Faith, 125-126). Lebanon topped the list with 73% saying that suicide bombing in defensive of Islam is justified and 82% said “yes” when asked if it suicide bombing was ever justifiable (125-126). These statistics are simply horrifying, especially because countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iraq, Yemen, and Iran were not included in the survey (125).  Even if only 1% of the Muslim world had claimed that suicide bombing was justified, that is still over 10 million people on a conservative estimate (more likely the number is around 15 million) (CIA fact book). While the majority may not be calling for militant Jihad, the sect that does is large enough to threaten global peace. Furthermore, the backlash from the Muslims who do not support suicide bombing is nearly nonexistent. This is very well may be due to the fact that Islam, at its core, is a religion of expansion and explicitly speaks about martyrdom in the name of Islam (see appendix A). As Kajid Khadduri demonstrates in his article The Doctrine of Jihad, “There is a universal element in Islam which made it the duty of every able-bodied Muslim to contribute to its spread. In this Islam…create[d] something which was not in either [Christianity or Judaism]: a divine nomocratic state (a state governed by codified laws) on Imperialistic basis.”.(Khadduri, The Doctrine of Jihad, 90)

Terrorist Jihad groups have been making progress in stifling free speech in the Western World. One example is the violent reaction to the cartoons of Mohammad that appeared in a Dutch newspaper. In reaction to this piece of poorly done literature, over 100 people were killed and over a million dollars’ worth of damage was done, including the burning of an embassy. Unfortunately, the Muslim response to the Koran burning in Florida has been just as juvenile. The President of Pakistan even went so far as to claim, “anyone who even thought of such a despicable act must be suffering from a diseased mind and a sickly soul… It will inflame sentiments among Muslims throughout the world and cause irreparable damage to interfaith harmony and also to world peace”.( Kurczy, 11Countries Speaking out against Koran burning in Florida, Section 8 paragraph 3-4) Again, people were burned as a result of this and an embassy was destroyed.  After the attacks following the Dutch satire piece,  the United Nations (UN) offered an anti-blasphemy resolution in order to “keep the peace”, which really appears to be nothing more than giving into demands of terrorists. Legal penalties against “blaspheming” are in direct contraction with the principles of free speech, which demands that everything has the right to be scrutinized, including religious faith. The common defense of this resolution is that it defends against “religious intolerance”; however, it defines intolerance as things that are offensive to a religious group. One consequence of free speech is that people do not have the right not to be offended. The problem is not free speech; rather, it is the thought that any idea (in this case Islam) is above criticism. Furthermore, the UN seems to be giving into violence and threatening by claiming that these laws will help keep the peace. While such resolutions may actually keep the peace, most people would agree that free speech is worth fighting for. When terrorist Jihad groups demand not to be offended at the threat of violence, giving in is the worst thing that can be done. Giving in to these threats simply justifies the use of violence as a method of silencing the masses and it gives credence to the idea that Islam is above criticism. This is unacceptable, and must be fought against in order to hold on to the Western values that give everyone their inalienable rights, and have built the most successful societies to date.

The real fear is for the future of Western culture. If Jihad continues to be a prominent idea in the Muslim world, Western ideas may collapse along with the rest of the world. In an age where long range nuclear weapons are becoming increasing more available (mostly because countries are learning how to obtain enriched Uranium), a group of people who welcomes the “glorious” death of martyrs is becoming increasingly more dangerous. If Al Qaeda had acquired weapons of mass destruction previous to the 9/11 attacks, the result would have almost diffidently been infinitely more devastating than the destruction of a few planes, the World Trade Center, and part of the Pentagon. This may be type of problem the West will face in a few decades: a group of people who are not afraid of death and are willing to sacrifice their own lives to end the “offensive” Western culture. If these ideas continue to run rampant through the Middle East (the way polls suggest they currently do), Western society may have a nearly unwinnable battle at its hands.

The real problem seems to be the lack of a clear-cut solution. As demonstrated, ending the poverty, educating the people, and emancipating the people may, in fact, do very little to prevent Muslim violence. It also appears that no matter how much better Western foreign policy becomes, the problem of Jihad will still remain. As Farhad Khosrokhavar writes in his book, Inside Jihadism: Understanding Jihadi Movements Worldwide, the leaders of Islam feel that “Democracy and Islam cannot be compatible since Allah does not accept anything but Islam and Islam is the exclusive Allah’s religion that stipulates legislation and the commandment of Allah alone”. (Khosrokhavar, Inside Jihadism: Understanding Jihadi Movements Worldwide, 111) The thought that democracy is a “religion” rival to Islam also means that going into the Middle East and establishing democracies for the people will most likely also not be helpful in stopping the violence of jihad.

Overall, the conflict between Islam and Western values appears to be just that: a conflict between two incompatible world-views. It is not the result of uneducated, oppressed or impoverished people (at least not directly); it is not the result of a misinterpretation of Islam (in fact it appears that the people making this claim are the ones misinterpreting their religion) and it is not directly the result of the foreign policy blunders of Western civilizations (although these blunders did not help). Western values build better societies, both economically and socially, but are constantly being challenged by the Muslim world-view. Because of the expansionist nature of Islamic Law, it cannot be expected to “live peacefully” with Western thought, which is free to criticize and scrutinize Islamic Law. The consequence of this incompatibility could easily be the continuation of holy wars, needless suffering, and an uncertain future for Western ideals.