After the 7/7 London bombings many have raced to renounce the phrase “Islamic terrorism.” A London Anglican priest named Paul Hawkins said in a sermon: “We can name the people who did these things as criminals or terrorists. We must not name them as Muslims.” It may seem odd to deny to the likely perpetrators of the bombings the name that they themselves prize above all others, but such are the politically correct dogmas that prevail in most contemporary public discourse. No one is better versed in those dogmas, or more relentless in her pursuit of any dissenters from them (with a fury that the most ruthless Inquisitor would envy), than Karen Armstrong.
Armstrong, through her books Islam: A Short History and Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet and a steady stream of articles, propagates a tendentious version of Islam — as benign as Quakerism and as expansive as the most liberal form of Anglicanism. As rescue workers continued to dig bodies out of the rubble in London, she took up the cudgels again, arguing against use of the term “Muslim terrorism.” Yet Muslims commit acts of terrorism, by their own account, because of core Islamic teachings. Saying that we are supposed to ignore that is tantamount to saying that we must ignore what the enemy tells us about himself, who he is, what he wants, and why he is fighting. Which is tantamount to saying that we should surrender. We cannot defeat an enemy we are afraid to name.
Yet Armstrong says that “our priority must be to stem the flow of young people into organisations such as al-Qaida, instead of alienating them by routinely coupling their religion with immoral violence.” Armstrong here seems to be saying that if we ignore the elements of Islam that give rise to terror, they will stop giving rise to terror. On the contrary, if we are to have any hope of stemming “the flow of young people into organisations such as al-Qaida,” it can only come from speaking forthrightly about what it is in Islam that makes young Muslims flow into such organizations. No problem can be fixed by denying that it is a problem.
Armstrong would not accept that it is a problem in the first place: “Like the Bible, the Qur’an has its share of aggressive texts, but like all the great religions, its main thrust is towards kindliness and compassion.” In the Bible there are indeed aggressive texts, but there is no open-ended and universal command to all believers to make war against unbelievers, a la Qur’an 9:29. Islam, unlike Christianity, has a developed doctrine sanctioning and calling for this warfare. There is no doctrine like this in any other major religion.
Armstrong continues with another canard: “We rarely, if ever, called the IRA bombings ‘Catholic’ terrorism because we knew enough to realise that this was not essentially a religious campaign.” But of course the IRA was not claiming to blow things up in the name of their religion or justifying their actions by reference to Christian scripture. The jihad terrorists today, however, explain that they are acting in the name of Islam, and quote Qur’an copiously. Nor was the IRA an international movement with a program calling for the subjugation the world under its system of laws. Islamic terrorism is.
“There are too many lazy, unexamined assumptions about Islam,” complains Armstrong, and she notes that “precise intelligence is essential in any conflict.” Quite right. And she is right again when she says that “by making the disciplined effort to name our enemies correctly, we will learn more about them, and come one step nearer, perhaps, to solving the seemingly intractable and increasingly perilous problems of our divided world.” Yet ironically, it is clear from her own obfuscations and distortions of Islam that she herself has not made this disciplined effort. Her continuing influence, however, is just one indication of why it is so crucial today that other, less-biased analysts do so, and do so quickly.
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