Yair Lapid was correct when he wrote, “Jihadi terrorism is global, it has grown rapidly, and its aim is the destruction of Western civilization”. The recent terrorist attacks in Paris are only the latest reminder of this threat. There are currently two approaches that the West adopts to respond to this threat, and they are both badly misguided.
One approach adopted by the likes of Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer is to claim that all of Islam is the problem, with no distinction between Islamism and Islam. These self-proclaimed “counter-Jihadists” advocate isolating the West from Islam by taking measures such as refusing all Muslim immigrants and refugees, and stopping all aid to Muslim countries. This approach is generally associated with the hard right.
The second approach is to claim that any criticism of Islam is unacceptable. The naïve left refuses to condemn evils such as anti-Semitism, homophobia, gender discrimination, and even sometimes terrorism if it comes from a Muslim source. This approach is adopted by much of the Western left and by many on the center and right.
Lapid, an Israeli centrist politician, understands that Islamism cannot be ignored, and he understands that Islamism is not Islam. The West, unlike Israel, has been mostly insulated from the Islamist threat, and its politicians are in denial, but the Islamist threat is becoming harder to ignore. A new approach is needed.
Failures of the Geller/Spencer approach
Islam (the religion) and Islamism (the totalitarian political ideology) are not the same, as has been explained by a range of Muslim authors (see note 2). Islamists are Muslim just as the Ku Klux Klan is Christian, but not all Muslims are Islamists just as not all Christians belong to the KKK.
These non-Muslims aim to change Islam, but forcibly changing the religion of 1.6 billion people is not only morally unacceptable but also impossible. The existence of Liberal Muslims is very real (see notes), and they are the ones who must reform Islam.
Bigotry towards Muslims is contrary to Western values
Islam is not uniform. The animosity between Shias and Sunnis is well known, and Islam also includes smaller groups, such as the Ahmadis, who are themselves victims of violence at the hands of Islamists. Another indication of the lack of uniformity is a recent Pew Research poll showing that Daesh has very little support among Muslims.
This approach serves Islamists because their main recruiting tactic is the claim that they represent all Muslims against all “infidels”. “Counter-Jihadist” David Solway approvingly quotes Turkish Islamist Tayyip Erdogan, “There is no moderate or immoderate Islam. Islam is Islam and that’s it”. Solway adds, “It is ludicrous to affirm that an army of moderates would offer any pushback to the fanatics, since moderates are exactly that — moderate.” Solway trusts Islamists but not liberal Muslims.
Isolationism is not viable in an increasingly interconnected world. Some of the worst Islamist terrorists were not from Muslim countries but native converts, including Michael Zehaf-Bibeau in Canada.
The Geller/Spencer crowd continues the tradition of xenophobia and paranoia that was described by Richard Hofstadter in 1964. It relies on half-truths and lies to peddle an ideology of hate, just like the Islamists. Both Spencer and Geller quickly praised Angola in November 2013 after a bogus story hit the Internet about Angola banning Islam. Geller also engaged in Bosnian war-crimes denial and more denial, as did Spencer, claiming that there was no genocide, and that the West was the accomplice of Islamists.
I have written previously that someone who is anti-Islam is no friend of Israel. Similarly, bigotry towards Muslims is contrary to Western values.
Failures of the naïve left’s approach
The naïve left hides its head in the sand about the problems in Islam and about Islamists being Muslim. Hussein Aboubakr, who was raised Muslim in Egypt, wrote, “The Muslim world is dominated by bad ideas and bad beliefs”. Sinem Tezyapar, a Turkish Muslim journalist, wrote, “Today bigotry, backwardness, radicalism, fanaticism or extremism -with whichever term you describe it- is the biggest problem confronting the Muslim world.”
Yet in the words of Lapid, the naïve left “cannot make the connection between Islam the religion and violent terrorism because somebody might, God forbid, get offended”.
The naïve left prefers to indulge in moral relativism
In Canada, the naïve left claims that banning the niqab (even in a limited case) is anti-Islam, yet very few Muslim women in Canada wear the niqab. Banning it is not an attack on Islam but an affirmation of the values of openness and women’s rights. Muslim Canadian woman and author Raheel Raza wrote, “The niqab and burka have nothing to do with Islam. They’re the political flags of the Muslim Brotherhood, ISIS, the Taliban, al-Qaida and Saudi Arabia”. Claiming that a ban on the niqab is an attack on Islam implies that all Muslims are Islamists.
Before the recent election, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared that all his party’s candidates must support a woman’s right to choose abortion, showing that he is capable of enforcing values despite the Catholic Church to which he belongs. Yet he refused to enforce liberal values when he supported the wearing of the niqab, when he took a stand against revoking the citizenship of dual citizens convicted of terrorism, and when he decided to end Canada’s combat mission against Daesh.
The naïve left cowardly refuses to confront Islamism. It is afraid to stand up for Western values, preferring to indulge in moral relativism (Christians must abide by liberal values but Muslims need not do so), which plays right into the hands of Islamists. Lapid wrote, the naïve left “serves their [the Islamists] aims and helps them achieve a global Islamist revolution”.
Two sides of the same coin
The naïve left and the “counter-Jihadists” coincide on important points:
- Their inability to distinguish between political Islam (Islamism) and the spiritual religion of Islam.
- The lack of recognition of the Muslim reformists who are trying to bring Islam to the modern age, as a spiritual religion and not as a political system aiming to control Muslims and non-Muslims.
- Their approaches benefit Islamists, making both “counter-Jihadists” and naïve liberals the most reliable allies of Islamists in the West.
A new approach – Standing up for Western values
We in the West must defend our values, not only for our own sakes, but also for the sake of Muslims who wish to escape tyrannical regimes. If Western countries become replicas of Muslim countries, they would be of no use to Muslims or anyone else. Muslim Pakistani policy analyst and journalist Raza Rumi wrote, “The greatest victims of the violence and social upheaval and backwardness caused by Sharia literalism and sectarian division have been Muslims. If they are to escape their fate, it is imperative that the Muslim world cultivates reformers at ease with modernity and its institutions.”
Liberal values –which are Western values– must stand on their own, not in opposition to Islam nor in fear of Islam. While the West has tamed Christianity, thus marginalizing Christian hardliners, it is afraid to affirm its values in the face of Islam, thereby giving a free rein to Islamists in the West.
Our values are the reason for our success and for the fact that many Muslims want to come here
The West has very clearly defined values. Islamists see those values and they hate us for them because they are threats to their control over other Muslims: education, gender equality, sexual equality, freedom of speech, and freedom of thought.
Islam itself is not the problem. Let us be specific. The problems are female genital mutilation, forced marriage, sexism, homophobia, honor killings, anti-Semitism/anti-Zionism, terrorism, and any other behavior that goes counter to Western values. None of these problems afflicts all Muslims, and none is unique to Islam.
Newcomers to the West, regardless of religion, must be screened not only based on security checks but also based on their ability to adapt to Western values. Once they are here, their integration must be monitored, facilitated, and enforced.
The naïve left must stop applying a different standard to Muslims than to non-Muslims under the guise of respecting cultural differences. Social ills are not acceptable cultural differences. Moroccan Muslim scholar Moha Ennaji wrote, “Like all other citizens, Muslims must abide by the fact that religious law does not in any way take precedence over civil law.”
This approach treats Islam the same as other religions, and by standing up to Islamists, it also supports reformist Muslims. Preserving our liberal values should not be the cause of self-doubt or self-flagellation. Our values are the reason for our success and for the fact that many Muslims want to come here. This is something to be proud of.
Note 1 – Muslims fighting against Islamism
Signatories of a full page appeal in the New York Times on January 11, 2015, by Muslims fighting against Islamism:
- Sherkoh Abbas, Chair Kurdistan National Assembly of Syria, Washington, D.C.
- Tarek Fatah, Founder, Muslim Canadian Congress, Toronto, Canada
- Farid Ghadry, Reform Party of Syria, Washington, D.C.
- Iftikhar A. Hai, President, United Muslims of America, San Francisco, CA
- Tawfik Hamid, International Center for Countering Radicalism, Oakton, CA
- Husain Haqqani, Former Ambassador of Pakistan to U.S., Washington, D.C.
- Jamal Hassan, Council for Democracy and Tolerance, Baltimore, MD
- Sheikh (Dr.) Usama Hassan, Quilliam Foundation, London, UK
- Farzana Hassan, Director, Muslim Canadian Congress, Toronto, Canada
- Arif Humayun, President, Circle of Peace, Portland, OR
- Farahnaz Ispahani, Director, Americans for Pakistan, Washington, D.C.
- M. Zuhdi Jasser, American Islamic Forum for Democracy, Phoenix, AZ
- Naser Khader, Former Member of Danish Parliament, Copenhagen, Denmark
- Zainab Zain Khan, United Nations Association, Chicago, IL
- Courtney Lonergan, Arizona Interfaith Movement, Phoenix, AZ
- Hasan Mahmud, General Secretary, Muslims Facing Tomorrow, Toronto, Canada
- Salim Mansur, PhD., Professor, University of Western Ontario, London, Canada
- Maajid Nawaz, Co-Founder and Chairman, Quilliam Foundation, London, UK
- Raheel Raza, President, Council of Muslims Facing Tomorrow, Toronto, Canada
- Munir Pervaiz, President, Muslim Canadian Congress, Mississauga, Canada
- Oubai Shahbandar, Principle, Dragoman Partners, Washington, D.C.
- Jalal Zuberi, MD, Associate Professor, Morehouse School of Medicine, Atlanta, GA
- Ahmad Vanya, Fellow, American Islamic Forum for Democracy, San Jose, CA
Note 2 – references on the Muslim reform movement
- “As a Muslim, I Think Canada Should Ban the Niqab and Burka in Public”, September 25, 2015, Raheel Raza
- “We Need to Talk About Islam’s Jihadism Problem”, September 15, 2015, Maajid Nawaz and Sam Harris
- “The need to reform Islam”, June 1, 2015, Moha Ennaji
- “The Prospects for Reform in Islam”, March 30th, 2015, Raza Rumi
- “Charlie Hebdo attacks: time for Islam to reform”, January 9, 2015, Usama Hasan
- “An open letter to all Canadians – Canada is under attack!”, October 22, 2014, Raheel Raza
- “Islam in the Rear-View Mirror”, September 29, 2014, Salim Mansur
- “Does moderate Islam exist?”, September 14, 2014, Tawfik Hamid
- “Discriminating Islam from bigotry”, September 14, 2014, Sinem Tezyapar
- “The false belief that Muslims are at war with non-Muslims”, May 13, 2014, Sinem Tezyapar
- “Farzana Hassan: Islamic Reform — Daunting But Needed”, April 29, 2014, Ryan Mauro
- “Islam and Islamism”, July 23, 2013, Salim Mansur
- “Bassam Tibi: Islamism Is Incompatible With Democracy”, June 6, 2013, Ryan Mauro
- “Ideas About Modernizing Islam “, January 30, 2013, Farzana Hassan
- “Dr Amina Wadud: For a Progressive Islam”, November 19 2009, Trisha Sertori
- “Reform is Islam’s best kept secret”, August 30, 2005, Ziauddin Sardar
- “Rethinking Islam”, May 2002, Ziauddin Sardar
- “Islam and the Future of Tolerance: A Dialogue”, October 6, 2015, Maajid Nawaz and Sam Harris
- “Inside Jihad: How Radical Islam Works; Why It Should Terrify Us; How to Defeat It”, September 10, 2015, Tawfik Hamid
- “Their Jihad NOT My Jihad: Or How Can You Possibly be an Anti-Terrorist Muslim?”, Nov 2, 2014, Raheel Raza
- “Political Islam, World Politics and Europe: From Jihadist to Institutional Islamism”, July 11, 2014, Bassam Tibi
- “Radical: My Journey Out Of Islamist Extremism”, October 15, 2013, Maajid Nawaz
- “Unveiled: A Canadian Muslim Woman’s Struggle Against Misogyny, Sharia and Jihad”, October 27, 2012, Farzana Hassan
- “Islamism and Islam”, May 22, 2012, Bassam Tibi
- “Arab Spring Dreams: The Next Generation Speaks Out for Freedom and Justice from North Africa to Iran”, May 8, 2012, Nasser Weddady and Sohrab Ahmari
- “Allah, Liberty and Love: The Courage to Reconcile Faith and Freedom”, February 7, 2012, Irshad Manji
- “The Jew is Not My Enemy: Unveiling the Myths that Fuel Muslim Anti-Semitism”, December 6, 2011, Tarek Fatah
- “Chasing a Mirage: The Tragic lllusion of an Islamic State”, April 14, 2008, Tarek Fatah
- “The Trouble with Islam Today: A Muslim’s Call for Reform in Her Faith”, February 10, 2005, Irshad Manji\
- “Muslim Reform Movement”, December 5, 2015, M. Zuhdi Jasser and Raheel Raza
Note 3 – Other Muslim peace activists
The following are Muslims who, although not known to be involved in Muslim reform (and therefore not mentioned in notes 1 and 2), are publicly involved in denouncing Islamism and supporting peace with Israel:
- Abdel Bioud, graduate student at McGill University (Canada) and active member of the “Students for Israel” association.
- Abdul Hadi Palazzi, secretary general of the Italian Muslim Assembly and the Khalifa for Europe’s Qadiri Sufi Order.
- Abdullah Saad Al-Hadlaq, Kuwaiti journalist and writer.
- Abdurrahman Wahid, Former president of Indonesia (now deceased).
- Aboud Dandachi, Syrian refugee, writer, and blogger.
- Adnan Oktar, Turkish author.
- Ahmad al-Adwan, Jordanian Sheikh.
- Ahmed Meligy, Egyptian peace activist.
- Ali Salem, Egyptian writer and playwright (now deceased).
- Anet Haskia, Israeli Arab politician and mother of three IDF soldiers.
- Bassem Eid, Palestinian human rights activist.
- Dalia Ziada, noted Egyptian human rights activist.
- Ed Husain, Adjunct senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in the United Kingdom.
- Hasan Alsawaf, American immigrant from Syria, dentist, and Republican politician.
- Hasan Afzal, director of British Muslims for Israel.
- Kasim Hafeez, pro-Israel activist who was honored with the Speakers of Truth award.
- Khaled Abu Toameh, veteran award-winning journalist, and a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute.
- Khaleel Mohammed, Muslim scholar and professor of religion at San Diego State University.
- Lucy Aharish, Israeli-Arab news anchor.
- Mahdi Majid Abdallah, Kurdish writer and journalist.
- Maikel Nabil Sanad, Egyptian activist who leads the No Compulsory Military Service Movement.
- Maulana Jamil Ilyasi, Secretary-general of Indian organization representing 200 million Muslims.
- Mithal al-Alusi, Iraqi Member of Parliament.
- Mohammed Mostafa Kamal, freelance journalist based in the United Kingdom.
- Mohammed Zoabi, Israeli Arab student and outspoken supporter of Israel.
- Mudar Zahran, Jordanian-Palestinian politician and writer who resides in the United Kingdom as a political refugee.
- Muhammad Al-Hussaini, British Imam.
- Muhammad Ali Al-Husseini, Shiite cleric in Lebanon.
- Qanta Ahmed, Associate Professor of Medicine, State University of New York, and Honorary Professor Glasgow Caledonian University, School of Public Health.
- Robert Werdine, American self-employed and history enthusiast.
- Salma Siddiqui, founder and president of Coalition of Progressive Canadian Muslim Organizations (CPCMO).
- Sara Zoabi, Israeli Arab chef.
- Siavosh Derakhti, recipient of an award for his efforts to promote tolerance and educate about the Holocaust.
- Sohail Raza, director of Coalition of Progressive Canadian Muslim Organizations (CPCMO).
- Tahir Gora, CEO of Canadian Thinkers’ Forum.
- Tarek Shahin, Egyptian cartoonist, creator of RISE, a graphic novel about the Egyptian Revolution.