Alan Sullivan says:
Robert Spencer has written a book to challenge conventional views of Islam. He contends that the jihadists have interpreted their tradition correctly. It is the ‘religion of peace’ apologists who promulgate a heresy. The Islam of Osama bin Laden is quite authentic. I wonder if the American President realizes this, but attempts to conjure a milder version of Islam by promoting a fraud, or whether he’s simply clueless. The latter, I fear.
I have various problems with this. Firstly I have a general uneasiness about people who proffer opinions about the ‘correct’ form of religions which they themselves are not members of. This isn’t out of some kind of cultural relativism; I just think it’s dishonest for George Bush, or Tony Blair, or, I assume, Robert Spencer, to claim to identify the true nature of Islam when they presumably believe that Muhammed was a false prophet and that all forms of Islam are, fundamentally, false. I certainly feel that for myself; as an atheist I’m not about to offer an opinion about the ‘true’ version of Christianity, or Islam, or Hinduism – what the hell would it mean?
Islamic cultures have varied considerably from place to place and over the 1400 years of its existence. Theological interpretations have also varied. I have strong opinions about some kinds of society and behaviour being preferable to others, and for that reason I would look favourably on any strands of Islam that tend to fit with my views; but I’m not about argue the case in terms of Islamic theology. It would be intellectually dishonest and, I should think, counter-productive. If you can persuade people of the moral case, they’ll find ways to adapt the religion to fit. That’s what Christianity has always done.
I’m especially uneasy with the use of terms like ‘heresy’. I can see no reason at all to start using the language of fundamentalists and arguing on their terms.
I also don’t see what the advantage is of branding Islam as some kind of evil ideology fundamentally opposed to the Western way of life. It’s not a polticial system like Nazism, with a single leader and administration that can be conquered, or even a broader ideology like communism which is the product of a recent historical moment and which can easily(!) be replaced by a new political structure; it’s a centuries-old religion which is a deeply-held part of the identity of what, 1.5 billion people? What are you going to do to combat that – invest in missionaries? As far as I can tell, the only advantage to be gained by demonising Islam is that, by dehumanising Muslims, you make it easier to blow them up. But again, are you going to blow up all 1.5 billion, in an attempt to exterminate the religion from the surface of the earth? Obviously you can start with the most threatening states, like Iran, and pick off the Islamic world one country at a time, but I can’t help feeling that all the other Islamic countries would start getting pretty peeved pretty quickly, and you might find it rapidly got harder to keep the situation under control.