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Regarding the series of coordinated attacks by Islamic terrorists in Paris that claimed the lives of 150 people, I can only express my absolute disgust and anger. Some arguments have cropped up on social media since these attacks.
There is the argument over whether or not doctrinal problems of Islamic theology are part of why groups like ISIS thrive and why they operate with such brutality. In their letter claiming credit for the attacks, ISIS mentions Allah 14 times in the short letter (518 total words to be exact). Nothing about this letter lists any secular grievances with France. ISIS simply declares that France is evil and that Allah wills that its citizens be destroyed by the “righteous and just” soldiers of Islam. To deny that Islam is part of Islamic fundamentalism or jihadism is preposterous and dishonest. It would be akin to denying that the Crusades had anything to do with Christianity.
The common refrain amongst religious apologists is that groups like ISIS have perverted and twisted Islam. Which begs the question: how exactly does one pervert a religion? Is it when the tenants of a particular interpretation are not palatable to you, personally? It seems to me that ISIS has not perverted their religion.
There are 532 instances of cruelty in the Qur’an. Most of these verses deal with the fate of non believers and how they will suffer. There are also 109 verses in the Qur’an that command Muslims to use violence against nonbelievers. Even if we are to somehow come to the conclusion that ISIS is perverting Islam, that still doesn’t really let Islam off the hook. It’s still being used to justify the evil acts of terrorists. This is what a big part of what religion does in general: it gives people an excuse to justify their evil acts.
Muslim reformists should not deceive themselves into thinking that this extremist ideology is only in a tiny minority of “fake” Muslims that is being exaggerated by the media. While extremists terrorists such as ISIS indeed are a minority within the Muslim community, they are not the disease. They are merely the symptom of a greater disease that is much more prevalent. And Muslim reformists, in alliance with secularists, have a duty to cure this disease. This disease is the prevalent attitude towards blasphemy and apostasy within the Muslim community. The first step is admitting, stop shifting blame and accept that the demon lies within and not without.
Another argument from liberals (friendly reminder, I am a liberal) is that violent acts perpetrated in the name of Islam, like honor killings, are a geographic problem pertaining to the Middle East and Northern and Central Africa. They would argue that civilized countries like Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Great Britain, do not share these values. But many polls conducted over the last five years have reached different conclusions. A PEW Research poll (1) conducted in Indonesia found that 82 percent of Indonesian Muslims believe honor killings are justifiable and that 72 percent of Indonesian Muslims favor making Sharia the official law of their country. The same poll found that 82 percent of Muslims in Bangladesh favor enforcing Sharia law and 44 percent of Bangladeshi Muslims support the death penalty as punishment for leaving Islam. The Institute for the Study of Civil Society (2) found that over one third of British Muslims believe that Muslim conversion is forbidden and punishable by death and a BBC poll (3) found that 27% British Muslims say they have some sympathy for the motives behind the attacks on Charlie Hebdo in Paris. A 2011 PEW Poll (4) found that about one-in-five (21%) American Muslims see either a great deal (6%) or a fair amount (15%) of support for extremism in the Muslim American community. Admittedly I take this poll with a grain of salt because the world has changed a lot since 2011, and the numbers may have either grown or shrank dramatically. Either way, these polls are not indications of a tiny minority. Whether in countries where these hateful attitudes are a majority, and whether in those countries where the opinion is the minority, the numbers are not small and insignificant.
Abortion clinic bombers are a minority. School shooters a minority. But whenever these people surface, we need to ask what cultural situations led them to be created. Progressives usually do this, but they exempt Muslims from a similar examination, which is an unfortunate lack of coherence on their part. I am certain that the Islamic community will move towards a better and more tolerant attitude. But until they do, it is our moral duty to mention the problem. To quote British PM David Cameron: “No more turning a blind eye on the false basis of cultural sensitivities.”