Those who claim Islam is an inherently terroristic religion are branding one of the world’s most popular religions as essentially anathema to freedom and any other modern value system. The result is the need for a permanent war. Islam cannot be removed from the world and the Taliban demonstrated that it can persist in the face of overwhelming Western force. Furthermore, as it is a collection of apparently very persuasive ideas, Islam cannot be checked at a border and prevented from crossing. The answer to such a threat seems to be suspension of our own values in the pursuit of restricting Islamic ones. But even that seems ineffective – France does not exactly play with kid gloves, but they are unable to enter vast neighborhoods dominated by Islamic forces.
On the other hand, those who claim it is essentially a religion of peace face an uphill climb in terms of evidence. Right now, anti-Jewish Islamic mobs the world over are demonstrating that terroristic Islam is seemingly spreading. England has been cowed into a position of open acceptance of Islamic violence. Policy decisions behind the ‘religion of peace’ model seem to have led us to where we are – with vast Islamic populations posing an increasing threat to a well-meaning Western world.
The lack of hope in these answers forms the way in which I ask the question ‘Is Islam the religion of terror?’ I don’t particularly care about whether my answer is right. I care about whether my answer can be effective.
Is there an answer that makes the world a better place.
For effective answers we need to go to the heart of the Islamic world – Saudi Arabia, Iraq, the Gulf and Iran. As pretty much every reader of this platform knows, the 9/11 terrorists, their money and their inspiration came from Saudi Arabia. The U.S., not wanting to attack an ally, went after the Taliban government in Afghanistan. Saudi Arabia, after all, had close ‘personal’ relationships with many American leaders.
After al Qaeda attacked Saudi Arabia itself in 2003 the Saudi government began a campaign meant to curtail the most extreme versions of Islam (Yes, Saudi Arabia routinely executes people and cuts off hands for theft and yes, Saudi Arabia practices feud law between families.). The government – which is undeniably a religious government – established religious retraining camps for extremist clerics and their allies. This campaign was renewed when Saudi-funded members of daesh (ISIS) attacked Saudi Arabia itself. The Islamists attacked because the ruling family wasn’t living their even more extreme ideals. Of course, the ruling family wasn’t just failing to impose their version of Islamic law, they were personable questionable. One common theory was that the old King’s IV was pumping him full of the very finest of whiskeys.
All that said, the government campaign appears to have reduced the sheer volume of terrorism within (and originating from) Saudi Arabia. In addition, the society has become much more accepting of the canaries in the coal mine – Jews and even Israelis openly travel within the Kingdom and the media routinely discusses making peace with Israel while criticizing Hamas.
Another, more impressive, example is the UAE. The UAE was formed from 7 of (effectively) 10 Gulf Emirates. Their reality is indicative. The 7 members of the UAE haven’t suffered from terrorism and don’t seem to be exporting it either. The leader of Dubai has project a very different concept of what Islam means. Yes, locals and men are definitely dominant in his society and, yes, there is slavery. But day-to-day life for many people – including much of the 85% of the population who are not citizens – is open and far more free than Islamists in Europe and the US would be likely to accept. Bahrain has followed on a similar path – encouraged by its military sponsor, Saudi Arabia.
The remaining two Emirates (Kuwait and Qatar) remain dedicated to another form of Islam. Qatar is one of the world’s great centers of Islamic terrorism (Hamas has offices there for a reason) and propaganda (Al Jazeera). Islam in these culturally almost identical places has taken very very different paths.
Then there is Iran. The government is extreme and easily outstrips Qatar in terms of practical terrorism (rather than the spread of terrorist ideology). On the other hand, the people aren’t extreme. For many, their Islam is not a central driver of Jihad and violence. They celebrate, for example, a Jewish-Persian history that is far longer than the history of Islam.
Even as extreme radicalism washes over Western Islam, that extreme radicalism is becoming far less potent in the very places that it originated.
To borrow a phrase, the swamp is draining.
The core question is: why?
The core Islamic argument against the West is that it is empty. I’m sure many people on this platform would agree. It is fixated on personal happiness and any sense of a greater cause has fallen by the wayside. Many in the West are focused on seeking their own personal happiness through activities as limited as sexual exploration, pronoun experimentation or the constant measurement of wealth. They think they’ll find themselves when people are actually in a constant state of self-definition. They are seeking where there is often very little to find – or looking where there is nothing at all. Self-realization is seen as the path to fulfillment when it actually leads to a closed loop of deep misery. At the same time, a purely material worldview is an open road to nowhere. A fundamental sign of our weakness – from almost all ideological angles – is the collapse in birthrates across society. People are living for today – not for anything beyond their own time (the only wealthy exception to this is Israel, where every group including the secular is well above replacement rate).
In the face of this, Islam offers meaning. Islamism unashamedly embraces a greater purpose and the pull for young people living empty lives is overwhelming. There is a reason moderate Muslims will immigrate to the West and their children will turn into terrorist radicals. There is a reason young Caucasian women from the West joined ISIS training camps and remain in those camps even now.
Qatar remains fixated on this violent approach to Islam. But the UAE has begun to refocus. Consider these famous quotes from Sheikh Zayed (the leader of Dubai):
- “No matter how many buildings, foundations, schools and hospitals we raise, all these are material entities. The real spirit behind the progress is the human spirit, the able man with his intellect and capabilities.”
- “Wealth is not in money. Wealth lies in men. This is where true power lies, the power we value. This is what has convinced us to direct all our resources to build the individual, and to use the wealth which God has provided us in the service of the nation.”
- “It is my duty as the leader of the young people of this country to encourage them to work and to exert themselves in order to raise their own standards and to be of service to the country. The individual who is healthy and of a sound mind and body but who does not work commits a crime against himself and society.”
- “It is the scholars’ duty to explain to people the essence and great message of Islam, which calls for tolerance, wisdom and fairness, so that people reject terrorism and killing in the name of religion.”
Notice the emphasis on something more than the material – but the focusing of that greater effort on something other than violent jihad. His recipe is working – there is purpose without extremism. Lacking anything deeper, many a secular Westerner visits Dubai and become converts to the wisdom of Sheikh Zayed. I know Israeli Jews who have done the same.
For their part, Persians can hearken back to a long national tradition that precedes Islam. It incorporates Zoroastrianism and many local customs and ideals. Even more critically, they willingly drank the Islamist Kool-Aid and have now realized where is leads. They are, once again, redefining what it means to be Muslim.
Islam – like Judaism and Christianity – is what is people make of it. Christianity certainly has its own form of Jihad – saving souls through conquest – but it has fallen by the wayside. It has become unacceptable to convert by force. Judaism was never really big on forced conversion – nonetheless there are records showing suggesting that the Hashmonians (think Chanukah story) were as extreme as any Islamist today. They certainly weren’t loved by their neighborhood Hellenists (Greeks). Even today there is an extremist fringe within Judaism.
All of this leads to a completely different answer to the question: Is Islam a Terrorist Religion?
The answer isn’t ‘yes’ or ‘no’. The answer is: what are we?
What are we providing that can give people meaning and greater purpose? So long as we have no decent answer to this question, Islamic radicalism will flourish within our societies. To push back, we need to follow the path of the UAE. As strange as it may seem, this totalitarian dictatorship offers an answer to arguably the greatest threats of the modern era.
The West needs to focus on meaning – without war and without terror.
The dark ideology of violent Islamism be only checked when we find our purpose.
If we can find our purpose, then we can convert even our most ardent enemies to a vision greater than their own.