Islam Must Engage Critics

By Ali WyneJunior Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Geert Wilders was, until recently, an obscure Dutch parliamentarian unable to … Continued

By Ali Wyne
Junior Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Geert Wilders was, until recently, an obscure Dutch parliamentarian unable to gain traction for his views – notably, opposition to dual citizenship, immigration from non-Western countries, and Turkish membership in the European Union. In mid-2008, however, he exploded into public view with the release of his film, “Fitna,” which juxtaposes passages from the Qur’an with descriptions and acts of violence by Muslims. He was set to attend a screening of the film at the Palace of Westminster early last month, but the British Embassy in Hague informed him a few days beforehand that he risked being arrested if he went to Britain because he was viewed as a threat to “community harmony.”

When the British government indeed denied Wilders entry, it was rightly criticized for cowing to political correctness. Less discussed was another crucial consequence of that decision: it further legitimized the perception that Muslims are fearful of Islam’s detractors and unable to defend their religion on its merits. That perception is especially discouraging because the response to Wilders far overstates the seriousness of the challenge that he poses.

As suggested above, he is far to the right of the mainstream. Wilders believes that “Islam is a totalitarian ideology” that “has to be defeated,” and in late 2007 he urged the Netherlands to “ban this wretched book [the Qur’an] like Mein Kampf is banned” (an ironic posture in light of his professed commitment to free speech). More importantly, he does not challenge Islam in a way that others have not. The extremity of his rhetoric aside, in fact, his views are banal; denunciations of “Islamofascism” and the like are now staples of mainstream discourse. The appropriate reaction to Wilders would accordingly have been one of disinterest.

By attempting to silence him, his fiercest critics have shifted attention away from the actual content of his views to the perceived heroism of his campaign – the campaign, that is, to air his views. In doing so, they have compelled “undecided voters,” as it were, to weigh more seriously the very arguments of Wilders that they had hoped to expose; given mainstream visibility to an erstwhile marginal personality; and transformed his image from one of a fringe figure into a courageous fighter. This last point is critical, because where his initial defenders voiced support for Wilders’ assessment of Islam, the growing numbers of individuals who champion him now care far more about his right to speak than about what he says.

Should his views begin to command mainstream respect – an unlikely but important possibility – Muslims should defeat him in the marketplace of ideas. The Qur’an makes an excellent case for Islam – not as a faith that is free of contradiction or always accessible, but one that, on the whole, offers a rich blueprint for living virtuously and purposefully.

It is not enough, however, to understand its core teachings and challenge those who distort them. Islam’s reputation suffers greatly because we have not rejected with sufficient force those Muslims who have misappropriated Islam for destructive purposes.

We cannot hope or expect that people will continue to distinguish their distorted interpretation of Islam from the one that the vast majority of us hold; we must earn that understanding. Thus, we must engage Islam’s constructive critics and issue unqualified denunciations – not “form-letter” condemnations – of every violent act that is committed in its name. Most importantly, we must shatter the stereotypes that people may have about us – not by telling them that they are mistaken, but by proving that they are through our deeds.

Ali Wyne is a Junior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, researching democratization and governance in China.

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  • clearthinking1

    INTERESTING ATTEMPT AT OBFUSCATION:HOWEVER:SO:BUT:Leave others alone. If your prophet or god or book or beliefs are truly superior, you will win anyway. No killing needed.

  • clearthinking1

    INTERESTING ATTEMPT AT OBFUSCATION:HOWEVER:SO:BUT:Leave others alone. If your prophet or god or book or beliefs are truly superior, you will win anyway. No killing needed.

  • halozcel1

    Dear Ali,*Islam must engage critics* Yes,correct.But,from the beginning to present day,there was/is No dissident tradition in submission/islam.Islam means to submit Unconditionally.Dear Ali,

  • Br0nwyn

    I wonder why you insist on pointing the public to a reality which does not in fact exist. There is no moderate Islamic culture anywhere on earth. Not a single nation anywhere in which a dominant Muslim culture has produced and sustained a democratic, representative government that flourished in peace. This alone should silence you, but it does not, so I will press you further.

  • hsnkhwj

    In an article,titled “Muhammad’s Sword” published in Sept, 2006 Uri Avnery, an Israeli peace activist and a former member of the knesset wrote: “The treatment of other religions by Islam must be judged by a simple test: how did the Muslim rulers behave for more than a thousand years when they had the power to ’spread the faith by the sword’?”For many centuries, he says, the Muslims ruled Greece. “Did the Greeks become Muslims? Did anyone try to Islamise them? On the contrary, Christian Greeks held the highest positions in the Ottoman administration.“The Bulgarians, Serbs, Romanians, Hungarians and other European nations lived at one time or another under Ottoman rule and clung to their Christian faith. Nobody compelled them to become Muslims and all of them remained devoutly Christian.”Then he points out that when the Crusaders invaded Palestine, the majority had remained Christian in spite of 400 years of Muslim rule. Then “in the name of gentle Jesus”, he says, the Crusaders “massacred its Muslim and Jewish inhabitants”.He adds: “There is no evidence whatsoever of any attempt to impose Islam on Jews. As is well known, under Muslim rule, the Jews of Spain enjoyed a boom the like of which the Jews did not enjoy anywhere else until almost our time.”He adds: “In Muslim Spain, Jews were ministers, poets, and scientists” and “Christian, Jewish and Muslim scholars worked together and translated ancient Greek philosophical and scientific texts. That was indeed the Golden Age.”“How would this have been possible had the Prophet decreed the ‘spreading of the faith by the sword’?” Then he refers to the re-conquest of Spain by Catholics and says: “The Jews and Muslims were presented with a cruel choice: to become Christians, to be massacred or to leave.”Then he asks, “Where did the hundreds of thousands of Jews … escape? Almost all of them were received with open arms in the Muslim countries. The Jews settled all over the Muslim world, from Morocco … to Iraq, from Bulgaria (then part of the Ottoman empire) … to Sudan. Nowhere were they persecuted. They knew nothing like the tortures of the Inquisition … and the terrible mass expulsions that took place in almost all Christian countries up to the Holocaust.”He asks, “Why?” and then he answers, “Because Islam expressly prohibited any persecution of ‘peoples of the book’. In Islamic society, a special place was reserved for Jews and Christians …” Is this fascism?Then he says something touching: “Every honest Jew who knows the history of his people cannot but feel a deep sense of gratitude to Islam, which has protected the Jews for 50 generations, while the Christian world persecuted the Jews and tried many times ‘by the word’ to get them to abandon their faith”.The story about “spreading the faith by the sword”, he says “is an evil legend, one of the myths that grew up in Europe” during the many wars with Muslims.

  • clearthinking1

    What happened to the Zorastrians in Iran?Christians in Europe are guilty of their own sins against Jews, Muslims and others, but that does not absolve the Muslims of their supremacist, destructive, and disrespectful behavior towards others.Islam is in conflict with others wherever it is in contact with others. This is true from the Phillipines to Central Asia to the Middle East to North Africa. To deny the role of the sword in the history of Islam is just wrong and disingenuous.

  • hsnkhwj

    Clearginking:Hindus of India are known for urine drinking, burning alive brides for the sake of dowry (which is never enough), burning alive widows in the name of Sati, painting homes with cow dung, killing of female fetuses (so that when the girls are not in the family, no dowry would have to be paid), and discriminating against the Dalits (the untouchables).WHY DO HINDUS DO ALL THESE THINGS? ANSWER THE QUESTION.The Aryan king Ashoka killed millions of the people to win and expand his empire.After the victory, he repented for the bloodshed he caused and became a Buddhist.Ashoka was before Christ or Islam. Two centuries following Ashoka’s death were extremely bad for the Buddhists in India because Buddhism was against the caste system. The Buddhists were killed by the millions. There are some caves outside Bombay in the hills, where many Buddhists hid themselves.Today, in India there are only 2% Buddhists, in a land where Buddhism was born.Hinduism has always been a violent religion. You should discuss these evils in Hinduism instead of attacking Christianity and Islam.

  • hsnkhwj

    Clearginking:Hindus of India are known for urine drinking, burning alive brides for the sake of dowry (which is never enough), burning alive widows in the name of Sati, painting homes with cow dung, killing of female fetuses (so that when the girls are not in the family, no dowry would have to be paid), and discriminating against the Dalits (the untouchables).WHY DO HINDUS DO ALL THESE THINGS? ANSWER THE QUESTION.The Aryan king Ashoka killed millions of the people to win and expand his empire.After the victory, he repented for the bloodshed he caused and became a Buddhist.Ashoka was before Christ or Islam. Two centuries following Ashoka’s death were extremely bad for the Buddhists in India because Buddhism was against the caste system. The Buddhists were killed by the millions. There are some caves outside Bombay in the hills, where many Buddhists hid themselves.Today, in India there are only 2% Buddhists, in a land where Buddhism was born.Hinduism has always been a violent religion. You should discuss these evils in Hinduism instead of attacking Christianity and Islam.

  • hsnkhwj

    Clearginking:Hindus of India are known for urine drinking, burning alive brides for the sake of dowry (which is never enough), burning alive widows in the name of Sati, painting homes with cow dung, killing of female fetuses (so that when the girls are not in the family, no dowry would have to be paid), and discriminating against the Dalits (the untouchables).WHY DO HINDUS DO ALL THESE THINGS? ANSWER THE QUESTION.The Aryan king Ashoka killed millions of the people to win and expand his empire.After the victory, he repented for the bloodshed he caused and became a Buddhist.Ashoka was before Christ or Islam. Two centuries following Ashoka’s death were extremely bad for the Buddhists in India because Buddhism was against the caste system. The Buddhists were killed by the millions. There are some caves outside Bombay in the hills, where many Buddhists hid themselves.Hinduism has always been a violent religion.

  • clearthinking1

    hsnkhwj,Your rants are full of false statements and are illogical. So, please keep ranting. Your writings help clarify the issues in your own unique way.And, thank you for not answering the questions I posted. This is a another good example of Islamic dialogue – anger, hatred, & supremacist beliefs.You wrote “Hindus are known for …” Really? Sounds like your desire to believe negative things about others. Perhaps you are known for a deep insecurity about the credibility of Islam as a religion of peace.Regarding Ashoka and Buddhists, you are regurgitating a familiar falsehood. No Budddhists were ever massacred in India. The Buddha is respected and considered a sage in India today. Please feel free (and safe) to visit those sites. Tolerant and peaceful people don’t kill over spirituality.

  • hsnkhwj

    Clearthinking wrote:”Regarding Ashoka and Buddhists, you are regurgitating a familiar falsehood. No Budddhists were ever massacred in India. “*****************************************************yeah, you deny everything damaging to Hindu practices or philosophy. Readers can look for themselves COLUMBIA ENCYCLOPEDIA and go to index and find the account on Buddhism. It clearly mentions that following 2 centuries the death of Ashoka, Buddhists were massacred in India. That was the worst period for Buddhists in India.2,000 or more years ago the boundaries of the Indian sub-continent and Afghanistan were not clearly defined and Buddhists and the Aryans lived in all those places. But Buddhists were massacred by the Hindus of that time in Afghanistan as well.Regarding your question as to what happened to Hindus of Indonesia. You can type on your search engine “History of Indonesia” and you will find the answer.Muslim armies never went to the Far East. Indonesians came in contact with Arab Muslim traders and were influenced by their religious practices and began to embrace Islam over a period of time.Your question implied that Hindus of Indonesia were forcefully converted or were killed by Muslims. Nothing could be farther from the truth. They accepted Islam by their own volition and peacefully.You profess that you are follower of Vedanta. But you love to spread lies about monotheistic religions. At the same time you advocate that Hindus could do wrong.You also ignored Manu’s philosophy and his analogy of the human body, i.e. Brahmins (priests) represent the head, kshatriya (warriors) represent the arms, Vaish (business men)represent the stomach and Shudra (the artisans represent the legs and the Dalits (untouchables) represent the feet. Is this Vedantism you are preaching?

  • DRPrice

    Fine post, and a very well-stated argument.

  • clearthinking1

    hsnkhwj,The problem with moderate muslims, and I assume you consider yourself one, is that you are constantly struggling to resolve the conflicts and inconsistencies of Islam. You will probably struggle with this for the rest of your life. So, consider these points:1) You can always find exceptions to the rule in any group. The point is that the core teachings and culture need to be nonviolent. There are murders, rapists, and thieves who are Hindu, but does that mean Hinduism promotes violence and intolerance. The concern throughout the world for 1400 years has been that the Koran is ambiguous at best about violence against nonbelievers. The history of Muslims is full of violence, and there is no clear contradiction to this violence from the Koran. Supremacism is intrinsic to Islam, and consequently, so is conflict and violence.2) Unlike the Koran, books like Manu Smriti are just that. They are one of innumerable books in Hinduism that can be questioned and reformed. The Manu Smriti is a 2000 year old book that is not commonly read or quoted (except by anti-Hindus). The pluralism and tolerance in Hinduism allows for different philosophies and points of view to coexist, and one can pick and choose. This is why progress can be made in peaceful and tolerant societies. Just like in America the goal of the constitution was to create a “more perfect union”, acknowledging imperfection and the need for reform. Blacks were owned as property 150 years ago in America, and today Obama is President.Can Muslims do the same with the Koran? Can you openly question the validity of the parts that promote violence? The answer is no. The Koran is the word of God and cannot be questioned. Practically, any Muslim who even obliquely questions will have a fatwa against him. Just ask Salman Rushdie. Are you willing to openly state that the ideas of supremacy and violence in Koran should be deleted or ammended for the modern world?Interfaith dialogue is useless, until changes are made in the faiths themselves. Otherwise, all this talk of interfaith dialogue only serves as a distraction from the elephant in the room, which is the supremacist attitudes that are at the core of the Abrahamic faiths.

  • hsnkhwj

    Clearthinking wrote:”books like Manu Smriti are just that. They are one of innumerable books in Hinduism that can be questioned and reformed….”****************************************************************Hinduism is non-reformable. Manu Smriti is still the basis of the caste system in India. Hindu religion is deeply entrenced in the caste system.Nehru tried in early 1950s to reform Hinduism through the Hindu Code Bill and tried to outlaw the dowry system and eliminate the caste system.What happened? The dowry is still given and taken among the Hindus of India.Caste system is still very much alive. Elections are fought on the basis of caste loyalties or alliances. Universities are run on the basis of what caste is in power at a given time.Cow urine is still drunk by orthodox Hindus. Bottled cow urine is being sold and promoted as a “holy drink” as cure for all the ailments.PHYSICIAN HEAL THYSELF.

  • clearthinking1

    hsnkhwj,I have previously referred you to some facts like: the constitution of India was written by a dalit, a recent President was a dalit, the current chief justice is dalit, discrimination is outlawed, and reservations are kept in universities even in a country with limited resources. But I suspect you don’t want to hear about progress or good news. As I said before “Your rants are full of false statements and are illogical. So, please keep ranting. Your writings help clarify the issues in your own unique way.”