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Paris, Muslims, and moderation

November 15, 2015

MarianneA hundred Islamic scholars wrote an open letter to ISIS criticizing the jihadist attack in Paris. Making a religious argument is appropriate. Graeme Wood wrote a few months past describing the religious character of ISIS, which sincerely wants to establish an Islamic state suited to its own sectarian belief.

It wasn’t just those scholars. Attacks like the one in Paris are routinely followed by a plethora of Muslim organizations denouncing such acts.

I’m not much impressed. I don’t give a damn about theological argument over when it is right to burn a witch. “It is forbidden in Islam to declare people non-Muslim unless he (or she) openly declares disbelief.” Why should it matter if someone is Muslim or not? “It is forbidden in Islam to harm or mistreat — in any way — Christians or any ‘People of the Scripture’.” What about atheists and Hindus and Buddhists and those who don’t follow an Abrahamic religion? “It is forbidden in Islam to force people to convert.” What about those who wish to deconvert?

Many of the those condemning the Paris attack routinely support acts that are not much less barbaric. Iran executes more people than any other state, including for the crime of moharebeh, enmity toward Allah. For failing to fast during Ramadan, it merely flogs people. Saudi Arabia infamously punishes people for insulting Islam. Blasphemy is punished in Egypt, Pakistan, and many other Islamic states.

A popular meme on the internet is that the jihadists behind the Paris attack no more represent Islam than the KKK represents Christianity. No doubt. But it’s also true that the jihadist cause is not entirely separate from a larger desire in Islam to put state power behind religious law. So I don’t think the right question is which Muslims condemn terrorism. That’s far, far too low a bar. That’s like giving a pass to every white supremacist during the 60s who opposed church bombings.

Where are the Muslims who condemn laws against blasphemy and apostasy? Where are the protests by Muslims when Iran or Saudi Arabia executes or punishes people severely for religious transgressions from adultery to apostasy? Where are the Muslims who stand up for the right of any Muslim anywhere to leave their religion freely and safely? That is moderation and what is required to live in peace in the modern world. Those are the lines we need to draw. Not merely who opposes ISIS terrorism.

There are organizations working for religious freedom and women’s rights in the Islamic world. But as far as I can tell, those efforts are small starts, not yet getting much broad support.

Liberté, égalité, fraternité.

And laïcité.

Update: An interesting followup to Graeme Wood’s article, about the kind of Islam ISIS preaches.

One Comment leave one →
  1. November 18, 2015 12:25 pm


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