Is Islam inherently violent?
That’s the question the media and the political establishment are again debating in the wake of the deadly Islamist terror attack in Paris against a satirical magazine that has a history of publishing cartoons lampooning the Islamic Prophet Mohammad, among other religious figures.
The terrorists who killed 17 journalists, hostages and law enforcement officers in the name of Islam between Wednesday and Friday “have nothing to do with the Muslim religion,” French President Francois Hollande declared in a speech Friday, weighing in on the debate.
“This is not a systematic problem of the way the religion teaches people to go out and practice their religion,” MSNBC reporter Ayman Mohyeldin argued on “Morning Joe,” before stating Islam does not have a problem with tolerance. “The problem in the societies across the Arab world, where there is no plurality of ideas because they are such oppressive societies, you get one interpretation and that becomes the only way these individuals feel they have a right to defend their religion.”
“I stopped calling these people Muslim terrorists. They’re about as Muslim as I am,” noted Islamic theologian Howard Dean said on MSNBC. “I mean, they have no respect for anybody else’s life, that’s not what the Koran says.”
It is not my job to parse what is or is not true Islam — any more than it is Howard Dean’s. But the reality is, contra Hollande and Mohyeldin, there is a vast number of Muslims who seem to believe that their religion does demand the killing of those who insult their prophet or leave their faith.
Now, many of those who believe these things will not agree with the way “justice” was carried out in France. These relative “moderates” will argue that while those who insult the prophet should be put to death, they should only be killed after a trial in an Islamic court.
“And even for those who believe that the penalty for blasphemy should be death: by unanimous consensus of ALL the scholars of Islam, this must take place after a legitimate trial, by a qualified judge, appointed by a legitimate Islamic state,” American Muslim scholar Yasir Qadhi wrote on Facebook, where he has 500,000 followers, in a strange condemnation of the Paris terror attack. “Under NO circumstances does Islam allow vigilante justice, for to open this door leads to chaos, confusion and bloodshed.”
So Qadhi’s problem with the attack is not that the French cartoonists were murdered, but that they were put to death before going through a formal process where they would almost certainly be ordered to be put to death because, according to him, a “unanimous consensus of ALL the scholars of Islam” say that blasphemers should be killed.
This isn’t some fringe belief in the Islamic world, mind you. In 2013, Pew Research conducted a poll of several Muslim majority countries. While it didn’t ask whether respondents thought blasphemers should be put to death, it did ask if respondents thought those who decided to leave Islam should be put to death, which is a pretty good proxy. Majorities in Egypt, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Palestinian territories, for instance, all thought a person should be killed for converting to another faith or renouncing Islam altogether. Even a majority of respondents in supposedly moderate Malaysia thought this.
Now, some Muslims countries had majorities who disagreed. But the point is that there are hundreds of millions of Muslims who believe that their religion dictates the death penalty for the type of liberties that stand at the foundation of liberal Western societies.
Maybe these Muslims are interpreting the Koran wrong. I don’t know. But it’s irrelevant. What matters is that vast numbers of Muslims believe such violence is part of their faith and some — thankfully a much smaller minority — are willing to violently enforce their religious view on Western streets, as we tragically saw this week in Paris.
Before our leaders can confront the problem, they must first accept the reality and scope of it.