Calling the Islamic Reform Bluff

When I wrote recently about how Ronald Reagan’s confrontation of Communism could and should serve as a model for confronting today’s global jihad, many pointed out that the man himself had amassed a less than stellar track record in the 1980s against the fathers and elder brothers of today’s mujahedin. After all, they said, he cut and run after the bombing of the Beirut barracks in 1983. He cozied up to the mullahs in the Iran-Contra imbroglio. Above all, he breathed life into today’s jihadist Frankenstein by helping the Afghan mujahedin fight and, ultimately, defeat the Soviet Union. A model for the defense against jihad? Some even suggested that he was one of its forefathers. While the idea that Reagan fostered the growth of today’s jihadist movement is grossly overstated, I am unaware of any evidence that he ever surveyed the Islamic world with the same penetrating insight that enabled him to see that the collapse of the Soviet Union was imminent at a time when the far-seeing analysts were drawing up plans for twenty-first century détente initiatives. He was a religious man, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he looked upon the Afghan mujahedin and at least some of the Iranian mullahs with a certain kind of trust — perhaps born out of the awareness that they, too, were religious men, and were thus (somehow) honorable. This wouldn’t be surprising; it is the way that many, if not most, of those who have followed him into American government regard Islam and Muslims to this day. Eisenhower once famously said that he wanted Americans to have a religion, but he didn’t care which one, and that is that. But Islam is different — and it isn’t just Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell who say this, but Muslims themselves. At the Jihad Watch website I recently posted a link to an article in which the author recommends that the United States make repudiation of violent jihad a condition for peace and alliance. One would think that moderate Muslims in America, given their claims about themselves, would be tripping over themselves in haste to make this repudiation, but no such luck. One Muslim responded at Jihad Watch: “It is indeed amazing that the unbelivers [sic] presume not only to define Islam, but also prescribe changes (‘reforms’) to Allah’s (swt) commands. Just how do you imagine that you will impose your will on the ummah? … The Islamic Caliphate will soon encompass the Earth, and all corrupt and unjust man-made law will be replaced by Allah’s (swt) holy Sharia (Islamic law).” Ah, but he was no doubt an extremist. Here, then, is an exchange I had recently with another Muslim, an English convert and self-proclaimed moderate. I wrote: “I would like nothing better than a flowering, a renaissance, in the Muslim world, including full equality of rights for women and non-Muslims in Islamic societies: freedom of conscience, equality in laws regarding legal testimony, equal employment opportunities, etc.” He retorted: “So, you would like to see us ditch much of our religion and, thereby, become non-Muslims.” In light of attitudes like these, the widespread Western assumption about Islam — that because it is a religion, it contains core teachings of love, peace and brotherhood that people of good will can emphasize against those who would twist the religion to contrary purposes — begins to ring hollow. Self-proclaimed moderate Muslims in the United States have insisted that they be regarded at all times as unflaggingly patriotic and filled with civic zeal, whatever unpleasant evidence to the contrary that individual cases may provide. But the forthright rejection of some of the central beliefs of the Western world by the Muslims I have quoted here and millions of others at least raises the possibility that those professed moderates are bluffing. Americans should call their bluff whenever and wherever possible by insisting that they acknowledge the elements of Islamic theology, law, tradition and history that radical Muslims use to justify violence and terrorism, and repudiate those elements not only in words, but in forthright and honest anti-terror efforts within the Islamic community. It may be, however, that American Muslims as an aggregate will reject those calls to clean their own house, as they have done implicitly up to now. That in itself will be revealing. Those in the West who are as decent as Reagan was must avoid the cardinal temptation of decent men: to assume that others share their fundamental goodness. It is long past time to regard Islam more realistically.