Saturday, January 30, 2010

Public Opinions

Most adult Americans have an opinion about the connection between Islam and the attacks by Muslims that have been carried out against Americans in America over the last several years.

The majority opinion, among Muslim and non-Muslim Americans, is that these attacks have been carried out by criminals who all just happen to be Muslim. These Americans, including President Obama, believe that the attacks have no source in Islam and should be treated as criminal actions.

Politically active members of this group believe that the motivation for the attacks comes primarily from American foreign policy, not religious dogma. The attackers are viewed as nationalists defending their countries against invasion by America. They conclude that if America were to remove all military presence from the Middle East and stop supporting Israel, the attacks would end.

The members of this majority are often self-described as ignorant of Islamic dogma and history while fearful of Islam’s militancy and sheer size.

The minority opinion is that there is a religious element in the attacks in addition to the criminal and political elements. (The attackers generally claim religious motivation but these claims are ignored, with increasing difficulty, by the majority opinion holders.) This group sees the conflict in the context of 1400 years of conflict between Islam and Judaism and Christianity.

This group is divided into at least two sub-groups. One of these sub-groups sees Islam as implacably hostile and indivisible—monolithic and not capable of reform. These people say we are in a religious war against all of Islam.

A second sub-group sees the enemy differently and thinks there may be some way to avoid an all out religious war. These people (including me) say that the attackers are attempting to start a religious war in the name of Islam—a war most Muslims do not presently support.

We say the attackers and their supporters are composed of specific, ideologically identifiable parts of the umma (the world-wide membership of Islam) that can be separated from the majority of the umma and fought on ideological grounds. We say that not all Muslims are willing to die for the Salafist interpretation of Islamic law that the attackers cite and that we non-Muslims can create conditions that could identify the members of these two parts of the umma.

(Physical attack is not the only threat from Islam. The Islamist political threat from the Muslim Brotherhood is different in strategy, though not in goals, and calls for a political solution.)

The first step in creating this identification of our enemies within Islam is to recognize that they all subscribe to the Salafist interpretation and that actions which promote the Salafist interpretation are seditious and incitements to violence. The second step is to start prosecuting violators of these American laws, removing the sheep skins from the Muslim wolves.

We must learn how to identify our Islamic enemies before they blow things up and shoot people, not afterward. We have been playing defense against an enemy we cannot see. We must go on offense. The alternative is to live for the foreseeable future as we do now--in a defensive posture, waiting for the next attack.

We can do better.

Update: 2/1/10

The upcoming trial of Sudbury, Ma. resident and US citizen Tariq Mehanna will be the first test of the viability of prosecuting proponents of Islamic law on the charge of incitement to violence.

Better late than never.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Two Models of the Future

The manner we choose to describe the war we are fighting in Afghanistan depends on which view of the future we have. If we agree with Samuel Huntington that the world is becoming more and more defined by cultural, religious and ethnic differences, we define the war as part of a conflict between the Islamic and Western civilizations.
If we agree with Francis Fukuyama that liberal democracy is turning the world into one civilization, the war is just a bump in that road. The United Nations is the totem of Fukuyama’s future, the Organization of the Islamic Conference is a symbol of Huntington’s.

People tend to choose one of those frames of reference and place inside it facts that make sense within that frame. So have I. My personal preference is to keep the present regime of nation states and cultural identities and to minimize supranational governmental authority.

In American political terms, the Right agrees with Huntington more than the Left, religious people agree with Huntington more than secular people. This separation also exists among Muslims. The leaders of the global jihad see a threat to traditional Islam from the Western led global economy because it is infused with un-Islamic values. They claim that Islamic culture is the superior model for the world. Muslims who have no desire to live under present Islamic law disagree.

Those who agree with Fukuyama see the mass emigration from the second and third world nations to the first world nations as a good thing, those who agree with Huntington’s clash of civilizations model see problems ahead for Muslims in Western countries. Attempts to create a synthesis of Islamic values and the values of liberal democracy have not shown much success. The conflicts surrounding the interpretation of free speech rights in Europe are an example of this failure.

Huntington’s model has been quite accurate since its appearance in 1993 at predicting events, Fukuyama’s is less so. While the success of Barack Obama fits Fukuyama’s predictions, larger events are overwhelming that trend. The culture-flattening effects of the global economy push us toward one civilization, but in ways that Huntington described as relevant but shallow. He agreed that the Davos Culture is important, but asked how many people share it. It is an elite culture with shallow roots--one tenth of one percent to maybe one percent of the world population outside the West.

The fact that Americans now eat falafel and Arabs drink Cokes is sometimes offered as an example of the emergence of one civilization. Huntington described this as an irrelevant and insignificant fact because it does not change any conflicting cultural values. Where conflicting religious values collide, interfaith efforts show little success.

If Huntington’s predictions continue to come true, the more extreme versions of multicultural coexistence, and especially the idea of cultural relativism, will not succeed. Nations will preserve a distinct cultural identity provided by the dominant or majority culture of each nation and some inter-civilizational conflicts will be accepted as irreconcilable.

I believe the conflict between our Western civilization and the Islamic civilization is one of these and separation is the answer. Those who prefer to live under Islamic law should live in Islamic countries because Western liberal democracies cannot accommodate them. Muslims who choose to live in the West and American citizens who choose Islam will have to accept the implications of this fact. Being Muslim in America does not include the option to bring Islamic law to America because the Constitution and Islamic law are irreconcilable.

President Obama was wrong when he said America is now an Islamic nation. It never can be.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Koran v. Qur'an

Among the people who criticize and defend the religion of Islam, some use the Koran spelling, some use Qur’an.

I use Koran, and there are reasons. First, that spelling has a long history in the English language and I choose to respect that tradition of usage for the same reasons that I resist passing fads in language. Second, the Koran usage means something to me personally.

Scholars of Islam mostly use the Qur’an spelling and I want to mark myself as not one of them. I do not write from the scholar’s disinterested point of view but as a polemicist.

The practice of polemics, the attack on and defense of doctrine, has fallen into an undeserved ill repute. Argument about Islam is exactly what is needed. The boiling pot of controversy between Islam and the West since 9/11 does not need benign neglect or a tight lid, it needs public debate. A tight lid on a boiling pot has a predictable outcome.

I am a polemicist because, like Bill Warner of, my interest in Islam is only in its effect on me as an unbeliever. I see that effect as totally negative and respond accordingly. Islam’s effect on me is mostly political, so most of my criticism is of a political nature.

Islam’s negative effect on unbelievers should be seen by unbelievers as an attack on them and their response should be seen as self defense.

What I see as self defense others see as an unwarranted attack on religious freedom. I have two responses to those who consider my self defense to be offensive:

• First, find out what your status is according to Islamic law, also known as sharia and Political Islam.

• Second, understand that religious freedom, like all freedoms, has limits. Just as Mormons were not free to believe in and practice polygamy because it is illegal in America, Muslims are not free to promote Islamic law that does not offer political equality to all.

When I say that the active promotion of Islamic law in America is sedition, people are predictably upset. Sedition is an extremely serious charge and one that has a painful past of misuse. Sedition is also a dangerous charge because of its threat to the civil liberties of some. It should be used only when the protection of the civil liberties of others is needed. I believe the implementation of mainstream Islamic law would threaten the civil liberties of all non-Muslims.

I do not make the charge lightly. The Turkish Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights have upheld the foundational argument of my assertion that Islamic law does not forbid the use of force in the spreading of the faith.

I also assert that any society under the jurisdiction of Islamic law illegally discriminates between Muslim and non-Muslim and between men and women. To the extent that any government uses Islamic law, it denies Western human rights--as Pope Benedict has observed.

This explanation of my complaint against Islamic law should make it clear that I have no complaint against those Muslims who do not subscribe to the political agenda in the law.

Muslim women lose the most rights under it.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Irredentist Islam and Multicultural America


It should now be clear that we are facing a mood and a movement far transcending the level of issues and policies and the governments that pursue them. This is no less than a clash of civilizations—that perhaps irrational but surely historic reaction of an ancient rival against our Judeo-Christian heritage, our secular present, and the worldwide expansion of both. It is crucially important that we on our side should not be provoked into an equally historic but also equally irrational reaction against that rival.

Bernard Lewis: The Roots of Muslim Rage, 1990.

The last battle of every war is fought by historians. It’s too soon to think of historical objectivity concerning the war we are in, but not too soon to try to say who we are and who they are and what we each want.

Germans have come to an understanding of why the events of two world wars occurred. Japanese have an explanation of why Pearl Harbor happened.
Someday Arab Muslims will understand why 9/11 happened.

Americans need a better understanding of the ideological forces that produced 9/11.

Immediately after 9/11 a significant debate started that still goes on. The question was on the relationship, if any, between the perpetrators of 9/11 and Islam. It is the pivotal question of our time because we can tolerate ideological competition in the world, but not if representatives of that ideology attack us physically. The question has two parts. Are bin Laden and Al Qaeda acting in accordance with Islamic law? Is Islamic law compatible with liberal democracy?

One side said that the perpetrators were common criminals who were attempting to hijack a peaceful religion for their own purposes. The other side said the perpetrators were following traditional Islamic guidance in carrying out defensive jihad. This book is my attempt to explain the answer I found. Its tone is polemical rather than scholarly and I make no apology for that.

My argument is that the perpetrators are mass murderers in the eyes of Western law, and in the West there is no disagreement on that conclusion. Under Islamic law, the answer is more complicated. There is some Muslim opinion that the perpetrators violated some details of Islamic law. The crucial fact is that, under Islamic law, their actions in killing infidels were legal. The Islamic world is not seeking to prosecute them for 9/11.

America has not always been on the right side of ethical issues, starting with slavery and women’s rights. But in this fight between the ideology of liberal democracy and the ideology of Islamic supremacy, we are on the right side.

I am attempting to make the argument that our foreign and domestic policies regarding Islam need revision. At the very minimum we must understand that war has been declared against us by people who represent a significant part of Islam and that this declaration is supported in Islamic law.

I argue that certain elements of our national character cause us to misperceive the nature of Islam. This misperception can have catastrophic consequences, including global war between Christianity and Islam.

We need to realize that traditional Islam and liberal democracy are incompatible ideologies that are destined to compete. I argue that one cannot be a pious traditional Muslim and be loyal to the liberal democratic tradition of America. I say this to bring full daylight to a fact that has been shoved into shadow. If we must be enemies, let’s at least know why. I am proposing that America should confront the political ideology of traditional Islam as we did the ideologies of communism and national socialism. The fact that this political ideology is embedded in a religion should not deter us. Confrontation now may avoid a conflagration later.

Acknowledging this incompatibility and competition is the first step toward avoiding all-out war. Identifying traditional Islamic theology as the opposite of liberal democracy warns Muslims about the possible ramifications of supporting the global jihad. This warning could possibly light a fire under attempts at Islamic reform that could produce a compatible form of Islam.

I predict the defeat of traditional Islam in the long run because the more exposure traditional Islam has worldwide, the more it will be understood in detail. The world will not accept the doctrine of Islamic supremacy and subjugation through jihad. An Islam without the body of Islamic law that supports those two doctrines is not traditional Islam, and no threat to anyone. The Islamic world and the Western world can agree to disagree about many things but not about supremacy.

My secondary argument is that our response to an Islamic challenge could well result in vastly expanded Christian political dominance in America. Further weakening of the separation between religion and state is the last thing America needs. The most clear-eyed evaluators of Islam come from the conservative segment of Christian America. If secular America fails to step up and recognize the incompatibility of the Islamic ideology, Christian America certainly will.

Neither secular liberal democracy nor Christianity can co-exist with equality in one state with traditional Islam. Some alert Christians know this, most secular liberal democrats do not.

I want to see America emerge from this conflict a tolerant society with a secular government that protects only those religions that accept the terms of liberal democracy.

Trying to incorporate an incompatible ideology into our democracy is not the way to get there.

Jan McDaniel

The book is available at:, and at