Radical Islam?

Recently on "Meet the Press," former British P.M. Tony Blair was interviewed following his visit to the inauguration of the new George W. Bush Presidential Library on the SMU campus in Dallas. One of the his key observations was that the second Iraq War unearthed the real elephant in the room for the next several decades. No, it wasn't the WMDs that were the official reason for the mishandled war. The elephant was, and is, the dangerous mixture of ideologies, religious, and culture clashes sweeping the Middle East: the history of arbitrary post-Ottoman national borders that put uneasy multicultural, religious, ethnic, and tribal groups into the same "country;" a history of powerful strongmen and dictators who hold onto power for decades; wrenching poverty and illiteracy for the large underclasses in several areas; and the historic fundamental schism between the two two primary branches of Islam, Shia (10-20%) and Sunni (80-90%).

Iran is the spiritual and economic center of the Shia branch, although there are sizable Shia populations as well as other minority tribal and philosophical offshoots in many other African and Asian counties. Saudi Arabia is the spiritual and economic center of the more numerous Sunni branch and the home of many of the most sacred locations where an "understanding" exists between the religious leaders and the House of Saud to couple the royal family's sovereign right to their support of very conservative interpretations of Islam, called Wahhabism. The potential for regional war lies both in the spiritual friction between the Shia and Sunni, many of which consider the Shia as infidels, the economic domination the Sunni leadership imposes on the majority Shia in several countries, as well with attacks of radical Muslims on western interests.

Unfortunately, highly visible worldwide acts of terrorism have brought to light a perverse radicalization of Islam in a tiny, but committed, fraction of its adherents. No one factor appears to dominate, but widespread poverty and illiteracy in many areas, bitterness toward western values—and to some degree historic exploitation of the natural resources—and the lack of a central religious authority in many Muslim populations, along with numerous Internet sites that incite hatred and vengeance allow extremism to germinate.

I have read the Qur'an, a book considered by its adherents to be the literal verbatim word of God. Islam is based on the Abrahamic foundation, recognizes many or most of the same figures of the Christian Old Testament, and designates Mohammed as the one true prophet of Allah, "the one true God." It is written in Arabic from the seventh century. Like the Bible, the Qur'an has great and glittering prose, and like the Bible, it includes specific sentences and phrases that are outlandish to most, if taken literally. These phrases are used by fundamentalist adherents of both major religions to justify positions that most people feel are artifacts of the culture of that period of time, and are not eternal truths.

Strife and unrest between Islam and other religions and secular interests exist currently in many portions of the world, including western Myanmar (Burma), parts of India, the southern Philippines, and northern Nigeria. In addition, concentrated Muslim populations who live in majority secular, Christian, or Hindu societies often demand Sharia Law. The Qur'an specifies that observant Muslims are to live under the divine Sharia law—that mankind is not authorized to make laws that are different from those written in the Word. A fundamentalist interpretation of Islam prohibits any form of government or legal system other than that described in the Qur'an, since "only Allah, not mankind, is able to proscribe the laws to be followed." Democracy and other forms of participatory government forms are not allowed by this belief system.

Islam has instructions for conversion of non-believers as follows: Muslims are commanded to fight unbelievers until they are either dead, converted to Islam, or in a permanent state of subjugation under Muslim domination.  Allowing people of other faiths to live and worship independently of Islamic rule is not an option. Here is the source of this insert: http://www.thereligionofpeace.com/Quran/013-forced-conversion.htm

Islam certainly is not the only religion with fanatic outliers.  Christianity also has its radicals, including anti-government extremists as well as twisted logic that powers a tiny number who murder abortionists, convinced that one form of an act that they consider murder justifies another. Judaism includes ultra-fundamentalists who believe God gave them the land, and it's not only acceptable but an act of divine order to murder and/or harass anyone else who claims it. But Islam now personifies in many parts of the world the extremism of people who are radicalized to hatred by a perverse and evil interpretation of their religious beliefs. They are a minority of tens of thousands out of 1.3 billion believers worldwide. But a determined, embittered group carries out public acts of violence that sicken all civilized people, represented by organized groups such as the various Al Qaeda branches, as well as "lone wolfs" such as the twisted Boston Marathon bombers. Until we, and by this term I mean both the West as well as Muslim leadership, honestly recognize radicalized Islam as a real factor, will it be possible to start to deal with the ideology from both ends and begin a closure?


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James Kennedy George, Jr (Jim George)
Author, Reunion, a novel about relationships.

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7 Responses

  1. Brian
    Hi Jim, You'll probably get some push-back on this one but I'm sure you're aware of that. Well written - as always! Thank you for continuing to share. Brian
  2. Max Epling
    Very insightful and well researched. We need to heed what we are all witnessing. A good read.
  3. Carl
    A nice piece of research and exposition, JK. Facts and perspective are welcome elements for any important issue, and certainly so with highly charged issues such as this. Facts are too often missing in the public debate, even basic ones such as the tiny percentage of Muslims who are aligned with terrorist groups. Perspective can be even more evasive. And efforts to make comparisons between murderers from the Muslim, Christian and Jewish communities seem inevitably to fall short. What is also often missing, even when killings are carried out by Christian and Jewish radicals, is your powerful and distressing quote from the Koran; I’ve seen no comparable dictate cited in the Bible or the Torah. Also absent are meaningful comparisons either of scale (e.g., 2977 innocent civilians killed on 9-11) or target (e.g., a particular abortion doctor vs. anonymous bystanders in public settings). Real perspective requires an acknowledgment of such differences. As discouraging as such examples are, and as much as well-intentioned people seek to make meaningful comparisons, it remains undisputed that virtually all terrorist attacks (as the term is generally used) in recent history have been conducted by Muslims. That they comprise only a tiny percentage of Muslims is scant comfort. That efforts within the non-radical Muslim communities – including what you term “Muslim leadership – to condemn or otherwise quiet terrorist acts are not widely reported is all the more distressing. The closure that you seek may require divine intervention.
  4. SK Farley
    I'm glad to see a brief history and characterization of the reasons radicalization has occurred in some areas of the world. However, I take issue with a couple of statements you've written. First of all, unless you are fluent in Qur'anic Arabic and have read the Qur'an in Arabic, you have read only a translation, not the Qur'an itself. Also, exegesis (which is widely available) will give context to the narratives in the Qur'an that you and other casual observers often seem to miss. The Qur'an itself is an historical document, and many of the commands in the Qur'an are situation-specific to the newly formed Muslim community of the 7th century. This community was being heavily persecuted by the greater pagan population for preaching monotheism. As the times were characterized by tribal warfare, a good deal of fighting was necessary to survive the many attacks on the adherents of this new religion. Hence, you will see many commands on how to deal with developing situations included in the Qur'an. It's important to remember that, like the Bible, the Qur'an was assembled long after Muhammad's death from various recorded sources - people who were in his presence when he was delivering revelations. I was also dismayed to see that you quoted text from a website whose only expressed purpose is delivering hate against Muslims. That is hardly helpful when trying to understand the causes and cures for radicalism. At the center of the current wave of radicalism is still the one huge thorn that Muslims, and especially Arabs, hold the western powers responsible for: Zionism and the apartheid being perpetrated on Palestinian Christians and Muslims. The royal-family-endowed Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia are using this unrest effectively, with tentacles in every country, including the US. Their goal is to return the world to the 7th Century. Thankfully, most Muslims have no use for this warped, backward-thinking philosophy. I highly recommend a couple of books for a real understanding of how the current situation developed: Islam: A Short History by Karen Armstrong The Crisis of Islam: Holy War & Unholy Terror by Bernard Lewis And this one to understand, compassionately, the roots of the struggle in Palestine/Israel from the perspective of both the Palestinians and Israelis: The Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan
  5. Rob
    The youngest of the three major religions - Islam - has borrowed from Judaism and Christianity, as you point out. The big difference, though, is that Islam brooks no opportunity to interpret its foundations in a more modern context. So, Muslims who choose to ignore certain aspects of Islam, such as the call for Sharia law, are considered apostates. There is no modernist branch as we find in Judaism and Christianity. The difference between Shia and Sunni is about personalities, not precepts. The enmity between the two is quite strong. Sunnis and Shi'ites kill each other quite willingly and see nothing wrong with that. Orthodox and Conservative Jews disagree but not to the point of killing one another. And, after a few centuries of violence, even Catholics and Protestants can disagree without warfare. Northern Ireland was less about religious persecution than about class differences and nationalist issues, for example. As someone recently pointed out, there is no such thing as a modernist Muslim unless that person is willing to risk death. Modernist interpretations of the Quran are not allowed! And while Judaism and Christianity have large and vocal congregations that eschew literal interpretations of their Torah and Bible, there is no counterpart in Islam. As we saw with Rushdee, an individual that questions literal interpretations risks having a fatwah called upon him by an Islamic head of state. The situation is ripe for a global and cataclysmic confrontation between Islamists and everyone else. Because as Jim points out, everyone else has the choice of being killed, converted or subjugated. What a choice!
  6. John Zucker
    Is the elephant the problem or whomever is feeding it? That tiny minority of radical Muslims is being enabled by an entity that is being enabled by us.
  7. Tom
    Very well done Mr. George. The eloquent and diplomatic writing styles of the respondents is refreshing. Over the last few years, both positive and negative comments to blog subjects have changed mostly to barnyard lingo. Not much in between. As a result, my working-class upbringing makes me distrust both styles, one because I wonder if someone is trying to outsmart me by smothering me in this high-level vocabulary; and, secondly the barnyard responses, despite how to-the-point, fog up the issue with disgust. Its kinda like trying to figure out what was going on in some ancient religious character's mind the day he wrote his verse to the Bible or Kuran

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