This is a familiar controversy to longtime Jihad Watch readers; in November 2011 I published an article in National Review responding to a piece by Andy McCarthy and criticizing the Islam/Islamism distinction for obscuring the fact that doctrines of warfare and subjugation are found in Islam’s core texts.
I’ve long rejected the term “Islamist” for reasons I explained in that piece: “…the distinction is artificial and imposed from without. There are not, in other words, Islamist mosques and non-Islamist mosques, distinguishable from one another by the sign outside each, like Baptist and Methodist churches. On the contrary, ‘Islamists’ move among non-political, non-supremacist Muslims with no difficulty; no Islamic authorities are putting them out of mosques, or setting up separate institutions to distinguish themselves from the ‘Islamists.’ Mevlid Jasarevic [a jihadist in Sarajevo] could and did visit mosques in Austria, Serbia, and Bosnia without impediment before he started shooting on Friday; no one stopped him from entering because he was an ‘Islamist.’”
And so to say we must work with ordinary Muslims while eschewing collaboration with Islamists is not precisely a distinction without a difference, but a distinction that is practically imperceptible and, in many cases, in fact not there at all.
This is not to say that Islam can never be reformed. Many strange things have happened in history: events that no one 100 or 50 or sometimes even 10 years before they happened would have or could have predicted. The Berlin Wall came down in 1989, but in 1986 and 1987 there were still plenty of learned analysts all over the airwaves and in the corridors of power in Washington talking about how we were going to have to deal with the Soviet Bloc for generations to come. So I will never say that something can never happen. But we have to recognize fully and honestly the obstacles in the way of it happening so as to make a truly realistic assessment of the situation we’re in, and apply remedies that are most likely to work, as well as to accord with our own fundamental principles.
“Islam and its infidels,” by Daniel Pipes in the Washington Times, May 13:
What motives lay behind last month’s Boston Marathon bombing and the would-be attack on a Via Rail Canada train?Leftists and establishmentarians variously offer imprecise and tired replies — such as “violent extremism” or anger at Western imperialism — unworthy of serious discussion. Conservatives, in contrast, engage in a lively and serious debate among themselves: some say Islam the religion provides motive; others say it’s a modern extremist variant of the religion, known as radical Islam or Islamism.
As a participant in the latter debate, here’s my argument for focusing on Islamism.
Those arguing for Islam itself as the problem (such as Wafa Sultan and Ayaan Hirsi Ali) point to the consistency from Muhammad’s life and the contents of the Koran and Hadith to current Muslim practice. Agreeing with Geert Wilders’ film “Fitna,” they point to striking continuities between Koranic verses and jihad actions. They quote Islamic scriptures to establish the centrality of Muslim supremacism, jihad and misogyny, concluding that a moderate form of Islam is impossible. They point to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s deriding the very idea of a moderate Islam. Their killer question is “Was Muhammad a Muslim or an Islamist?” They contend that we who blame Islamism do so out of political correctness or cowardliness.
To which, we reply: Yes, certain continuities do exist, and Islamists definitely follow the Koran and Hadith literally. Moderate Muslims exist, but lack Islamists’ near-hegemonic power. Mr. Erdogan’s denial of moderate Islam points to a curious overlap between Islamism and the anti-Islam viewpoint. Muhammad was a plain Muslim, not an Islamist, for the latter concept dates back only to the 1920s. And no, we are not cowardly but offer our true analysis.
Not only do moderate Muslims “lack Islamists’ near-hegemonic power”; they also lack the justification in the Qur’an and Hadith that Islamic jihadists always point to in order to gain recruits among peaceful Muslims, as well as to justify their actions. And this is a key point: if Wafa Sultan and Ayaan Hirsi Ali (both, not incidentally, ex-Muslims) are right that there is a “consistency from Muhammad’s life and the contents of the Koran and Hadith to current Muslim practice,” and they most certainly are, as Daniel Pipes apparently acknowledges when he says that “certain continuities do exist, and Islamists definitely follow the Koran and Hadith literally,” then attempts to prescind from Qur’anic literalism in order to reform Islam and create a more peaceful version of the faith will always be challenged by the literalists (who are and have always been the mainstream in Islam) as heretics and apostates.
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