How thin can excuses wear every time an atrocity is committed in the name of Islam?
When 13 people were killed and scores more injured this week in a vehicle-ramming attack in Barcelona, Spain, and stabbing men shouting "This is for Allah!" on London Bridge and in Borough Market in June, what the victims least cared about was the Western elite pontificating that the latest atrocity "had nothing to do with Islam".
British Prime Minister Theresa May said, "It is time to say enough is enough" and promised a review of her country's counter-terrorism strategy.
In the absence, however, of an honest and tempered look at the root causes of this terrorism, sacred or not, and a painful soul-searching by Muslims themselves of the grounds in their religion that give rise to such violence, it will never be "enough".
On June 4, British PM Theresa May said, "It is time to say enough is enough" and promised a review of her country's counter-terrorism strategy. In the absence, however, of an honest look at the root causes of this terrorism, and a painful soul-searching by Muslims of the grounds in their religion that give rise to such violence, it will never be "enough". (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)
One need not go back centuries to the Muslim conquest of the Christian late classical world -- the medieval Barbary corsair raids, the Ottoman yoke in Central and Eastern Europe or the slave markets of Kaffa in Tatar Muslim Crimea -- to understand that this violence clearly predates the European colonial era, the creation of the modern state of Israel, or the issue of climate change.
Only a fortnight ago, 29 Christian Copts were killed for refusing to say, "There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet" while on a trip to an Egyptian monastery on May 26. Separately, an unconfirmed number of Christians were killed and taken hostage by a mix of Saudi, Pakistani, Chechen, Moroccan and local jihadists in the southern Philippines during the past few weeks. In addition, 90 people were killed in a bombing in Kabul on May 31, and 26 people were killed at an ice cream parlor in Baghdad during Ramadan. None of these massacres had anything to do with "Bush's war" in Iraq or U.S. President Donald J. Trump's proposed "Muslim ban".
Countries such as China, Nigeria or Kenya that are not Western, not "imperialist", not whatever the excuses that Islamists make, are still spectacularly attacked by similar stabbings. Month on month, there seems almost nowhere Islamic terror did not strike. In January 2014, there the kidnapping and forced conversion of Christian Chibok girls by Boko Haram in Nigeria. In March 2014, there were stabbings at China's Kunming Railway Station in by eight terrorists of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement -- male and female attackers pulled out long-bladed knives and stabbed and slashed passengers. In May 2014, there was the shooting at the Jewish Museum in Brussels. In June 2014, there was the murder of 48 people in Mpeketoni in Kenya, and the list goes on for just the first half of 2014 alone.
The slaughter at London's Parliament Square; the Manchester Arena; the St. Petersburg Metro; Paris's Bataclan Theater and sports stadium; the three bombings targeting travelers in Brussels; last Christmas's truck-ramming attack on a packed festival market in Berlin, to name but a few of the further incidents -- all really had nothing to do with avenging the Congolese from the onerous legacy of King Leopold.
Rather, volumes of revered Islamic texts establish in great detail the grounds of violence and oppression of non-believers and those deemed heretical. These supposed grounds -- made alive daily in madrassas and mosques across the world before being acted upon by religiously trained terrorists -- are childishly dismissed by Western liberals as immaterial.
Meanwhile, men, women and children are being offered as human sacrifices on the altar of political cynicism. Divine justice will doubtlessly judge not only the murderers and a creed that often seems bloodthirsty, but also those who insist, against all evidence, that this creed has nothing to do with those deaths.
The first step towards a solution is to question the received knowledge tirelessly dished out by media pundits in the West, and confirmed by too many supposed Muslim "moderates" both at home and abroad. What is lacking is simply seeing a huge body of evidence of theological justification for Islamist terror.
Have the statements by politicians in the 1990s (for example, at the time of Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman's plot against the World Trade Center) changed from those uttered in the wake of 9/11, or again from those repeated after the San Bernardino attack in 2015? Do politicians give their "Islam is a religion of peace" platitudes out of political expediency or even the slightest knowledge of the ideology of Islam? Do they know actually know more about Islam than many of Islam's learned ulema (scholars), including Ibn Taymiyyah, or the authentic hadith (actions and sayings of Muhammad)? One says:
"Allah's Apostle said, 'I have been sent with the shortest expressions bearing the widest meanings, and I have been made victorious with terror.'" (Sahih Al-Bukhari 122)
How does one read verses in the Quran such as:
"I will instil terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers. Smite ye above their necks and smite all their finger-tips off them. This is because they contended against Allah and His Messenger. If any contend against Allah and His Messenger, Allah is strict in punishment." (8:12-13)?
When it is said that Islam has nothing to do with verses such as these, is that meant to appease Muslims, comfort the victims of Islamic terror or support the comfort of the non-Muslim community? If it is the first, well, as history teaches, appeasement simply does not work. Besides, it would be an offensive to presume that Muslims, all Muslims, are to be held responsible for a creed that, in their own understanding of it, greatly varies from one individual to another. If the denial is intended to comfort victims, it does not. And as for the comfort of the non-Muslim community, what is being served up has to be based on what is visibly true. Should such arguments not first be pitched to try to convince those who are willing to kill and be killed in the name of Islam, rather than to those out to have a good time on a Saturday evening?
Will the time come when reformers in the Islamic world will have louder voices in scrutinizing Islam -- despite the obvious dangers to their lives -- than Western elites, who are merely afraid of being falsely accused of being "Islamophobes"? Why should it be "Islamophobic" to want to defend yourself?
For nearly two years, a prime-time TV program by a young Egyptian reformist, Islam el-Beheiry, has called for an overhaul of the millennium-old compilation of hadiths. He argues that much of it is incompatible with modernity and the best understanding of divinity and prophethood:
"Such tradition has very little good amid a multitude of evil, least of which is the insistence by all the Four Schools of Sunni Islam that Christians can be killed with impunity. A Muslim life is 'superior' to that of a non-Muslim. Such is the Ijmaa' (jurisprudence consensus)."
Beheiry was sentenced in May 2015 to five years in prison with hard labor for "defamation of religion" -- thanks to Egypt's blasphemy law. The sentence was reduced in December 2015 to one year. After serving most of his sentence, he was released on a presidential pardon.
Still, this Ramadan 2017, Beheiry was back again on the screen with a program he calls "The Map", in which he is trying to build a scientific way of judging what he thinks is divine and what is not in the mass of Islamic literature.
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, an army general who in 2014 came to power following vast street protests against the short-lived rule of the Muslim Brotherhood, said it was no longer feasible that the Muslim World would set itself "in enmity against the whole world".
Now, in Europe, some rightly ask: If one in a thousand is a bad apple, why should we judge all the apples. One also needs to ask: If one in a thousand apple blows up in my yard, how many more violent incidents will Europe get after bringing in a cartload of millions more? Or, what if the problem is not really with the fruit, but with the tree itself?
Why is a desire to preserve one's own culture deemed racist? I do not believe that I am better because I am or am not a Muslim. Is it "xenophobic" to ask such questions when the violence keeps edging closer and closer to home? Why should it be "Islamophobic" to want to defend yourself?
I do not fear Muslims, but I fear that a tolerant culture is being replaced by an intolerant, misogynistic, anti-Semitic and supremacist one -- espoused, even semi-consciously, by much of the Islamic world today. It is a world that is being assured by its scholars that such intolerant, misogynistic, anti-Semitic and supremacist manifestations are, in all ages, in the best spirit of Islam.
Is it "Islamophobic" to be angry at such atrocities committed every day, or to be angry at politicians who lie about what Islam is and is not, and merely call their challengers names while failing to do anything to stop the atrocities?
Should European courts and parliaments criminalize free speech that criticizes this understanding of Islam among the bulk of Islamic jurists, when those jurists stand at the head of an assembly-line of suicide bombers targeting Western nationals?
Should those who ask questions about Islamic terror be ostracized by the mainstream media and academia, while those institutions themselves give no answers to the jihadist problem of "holy hate" in our midst?
I do not wish the world to turn against Muslims. I only wish the sages would stop and think if all this really has "nothing to do with Islam." Can we not say, "stop justifying murderers in the name of your religion"?
Can we not simply say that such creeds will not be allowed here in the West, will not be whitewashed, glossed over, or explained away by Westerners through a mixture of cultural cringe and a misguided sense of guilt? Can we not reject jihad, accept apostasy, and be able freely to ask questions in our public spaces, on our television shows, in our schools and on our streets?
Saher Fares is an Arabic linguist and researcher from the Middle East.