I wrote last week about the virtually universal political despotism that has accompanied Islamic societies wherever they appear, citing Paul Marshall’s editorial in The Washington Post and juxtaposing it with the furor raised by the Swedish artist Lars Vilks and his depictions of Mohammed as a Rondellhund.
Any country with an Islamic majority tend to be repressive towards religious minorities, and reduces their numbers through discrimination, harassment, and violence. The Koran contains explicit guidelines about the treatment of infidels within the Ummah, and the best they can hope for is to be barely tolerated as despised inferiors.
But Islam is also hard on Muslims who fail to stay within the severe limits imposed by religious doctrine. Questioning any aspect of the Koran and the Hadith can cost an independent thinker his livelihood, or even his life.
In addition, the entrenched political establishment in a Muslim autocracy tends to justify its crushing of dissent in religious terms. Mr. Marshall gives some examples:
Egypt has been unusually active of late in imprisoning its critics in the name of Islam. On Aug. 8, it arrested Adel Fawzy Faltas and Peter Ezzat, who work for the Canada-based Middle East Christian Association, on the grounds that, in seeking to defend human rights, they had “insulted Islam.” Egyptian State Security has also intensified its interrogation of Quranist Muslims, whose view of Islam stresses political freedom. One of them, Amr Tharwat, had coordinated the monitoring of Egypt’s June Shura Council elections on behalf of the pro-democracy Ibn Khaldun Center, headed by prominent Egyptian democracy activist Saad Eddin Ibrahim. Prominent Egyptian ‘blogger’ Abdel Kareem Soliman was sentenced earlier this year to three years for “insulting Islam.”
The question, as I noted in last week’s post, is whether a culture of political liberty is even feasible within a predominantly Islamic society. There are no such examples in the history of Islam; the best that the Ummah has managed is the modern secular state in Turkey, which has maintained a precarious democracy only with the support of the military.
But there are Muslim organizations that fight for political liberty; they just don’t exist in predominantly Islamic societies. Within the Western democracies, under the protection of the rule of law, Muslim dissidents can and do exercise their constitutional rights and propose alternative interpretations of the Koran and revised versions of Islamic theology.
Take, for example, the American Islamic Forum for Democracy. In response to the recent (and brief) elevation of Dr. Esam Omeish to membership in the Virginia Commission on Immigration, AIFD had this to say: “The AIFD stands in opposition to the appointment and in support of the resignation on the ideological grounds that Dr. Omeish has repeatedly represented an Islamist agenda (political Islam) in his activism.”
The same article goes on to make a case for religious and political liberty from an Islamic perspective:
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While the engagement by government of the Muslim community is to be lauded and a necessary component of victory against the ideology of militant Islamism, that engagement must be done in the setting of clear ideological benchmarks. Those benchmarks could be articulated as follows:
I. The Rejection of Islamism as a political ideology — Simply being ‘anti-terror’ does not make a Muslim necessarily moderate in the American context. It simply gives him or her a seat at the table of humanity. It is a core belief at AIFD that political moderation within the Muslim community is manifested most significantly in a rejection of political Islam (anti-Islamism).
II. A Rejection of the concept of the ‘Islamic state’ — Islamist Muslims may endorse democracies, elections, citizenship, and the rule of law, but they are driven by an overriding vision of a Muslim majority society led by theologians (imams and clerics) who run government through their interpretation and enactment of Islamic law (sharia). Our government should engage anti-Islamist Muslims predominantly and at the minimum — non-Islamist Muslims. The ideology of Islamism — or the desire to put into place an ‘Islamic state’ — runs against the interests of the United States. Muslim moderates are those who embrace both Americanism and a spiritual Islam while wholly rejecting Islamism as a movement for the body politic and government of every nation, and not just the one they happen to live in as a minority.
III. Identification of radical Islamist organizations by name as enemies of the United States — Moderate Muslims are able to both condemn terrorism as an act and condemn, by name, the individuals and organizations which utilize terrorism as a tactic for political change. Thus, a moderate Muslim should be able to identify radical Islamist organizations by name such as Al Qaeda, HAMAS, Hezbullah, and Islamic Jihad as ideological enemies of America. Similarly, moderate Muslims should condemn by name global Islamist organizations which seek to put into place Islamic states such as the Muslim Brotherhood, Hizb ut-Tahrir, or Tabligh Jamaat. While these organizations may at times condemn terrorism they often offer apologetics to terrorism and seek the establishment of Islamic states and a caliphate which runs against the security interests of the United States and our Constitutional republic. Anti-Islamism is central to being moderate in the American context.
IV. The acceptance that the root cause of terrorism is political Islam. Terror is only a means to the ends of the Islamic state. While many Islamists may be anti-terror, moderate Muslims accept the fact that the root cause of terrorism is the ideology of Islamism and its intoxicating dreams of the Islamic state poised against the ascendancy of western secular democracies. To blame American foreign policy and other conspiracy theories for terrorism is to live in denial and immoderation.
V. To articulate the central impact which Wahhabism has had upon the radicalization of some members of the Muslim community.
VI. To unequivocally recognize the state of Israel and its right to exist. Moderate Muslims accept the fact that the Israeli-Palestinian situation is not a religious conflict but rather a local Middle Eastern national conflict.
I’ve only quoted the first six of twelve points in AIFD’s list, but it’s worth reading the whole thing. Their response comprises a manifesto for liberty within Islam. They are not mealy-mouthed or equivocal in their stance, and I find myself in complete agreement with all their points.
Just as the Virginia Bill of Rights led to our national one, this early draft — written in response to a single event — of a possible Virginia Bill of Religious Responsibilities may have national import
We keep saying that Islamists use our constitutional liberties, especially freedom of religion, to advance their goal of a global caliphate through legal and illegal means. States can begin resisting that Islamist advancement, in the best federalist tradition, by adopting their own version of the Virginia Bill of Religious Responsibility.
What is most important about it is that it begins to change the terms of the debate. Up until now the focus has been on the religious sensibilities and privileges to be accorded easily offended Muslims. If we use this as a starting point, the argument can be reframed. This can give a us blueprint for the genuine integration into American political and social culture for a previously imperialistic religion, and show how to define the political terms of victory for authentic Muslim reformers who wish to become Americans, and who do not wish to colonize America for the Ummah.
I’m aware of the argument that AIFD and similar organizations are practicing a form of taqiyyah. But if they are, their methods are sophisticated and subtle enough to earn them a fatwa and may eventually cause them to be killed.
It’s easy to dismiss groups like this, with their relatively few members as marginal, to see them as unimportant and not representative of Islam in general. It’s easy to insist upon an uncompromising opposition to Islam in all its manifested forms. But doing so ignores the fact that there are courageous Muslims who retain their faith while rejecting political Islam, and who in the process risk their lives and their well-being.
The problem is how to help American Muslims who resist the imperative for a separate and parallel society of shari’a in the United States, and how to support their victory over the Islamists who have previously intimidated them.
The creation of a space in the United States where political liberty, religious freedom, and Islam can coexist would open possibilities for the liberalization of countries where Muslims form the majority. The chances are admittedly slim, but — given the number of people involved and daunting task the Counterjihad otherwise faces — we cannot afford to discard the idea preemptively.