The term “Islamist” is an invention by non-Muslims who want to differentiate between what they insist is the ”the vast majority of peace-loving law-abiding Muslims” from the “radicals”, or “extremists”, or “Islamofascists” for whom they think “Islamist” is a politer word. Islamists are, in the eyes of the well-meaning tolerant non-Muslims who coined the term, a minority with whom the vast majority of “moderate” Muslims do not agree and of whom they do not approve. Even though few of them actually express disapproval, the well-meaning, respectful, tolerant non-Muslims assume it to be strongly felt, and wish the wider public would believe and appreciate this.
For convenience, let’s call the well-meaning, respectful, tolerant non-Muslims who advance this view the Defense. The Defense hopes to persuade non-Muslim public opinion that the law and values of Islam are compatible with the laws and values of what is generally called the West.
The question then arises, what do “moderate” Muslims believe that is different from what the Islamists believe? For both moderates and Islamists the Koran is the holy word of Allah. The holy word of Allah cannot be changed. So what does the Defense say to that? It is, the Defense argues, a matter of interpretation. (For a thoughtful and wide-ranging discussion of this idea in connection with the Ground Zero mosque dispute, see an article by Ron Radosh at PajamasMedia. We usually find much to agree with in his writing, but in this article we find much to criticize. Rather than do so, because we think a point-by-point exegesis would be boring for us and our readers, we’ve chosen to make our own statement on the issue.)
What interpretation can be put on commandments to beat wives (sura 4.32), amputate limbs (eg sura 5.38), treat women unequally (eg sura 4.11), kill apostates (eg 4.89) – to take just a few instances of Allah’s writ? They are laid down in the Koran, from which Sharia derives. It is hard to read them and think of an interpretation that cancels, contradicts, or even merely softens their meaning. Even by the most liberal definitions imaginable by the most elastic of legal minds – one that could find, for instance, gradations of meaning in the word “is” – the words of the commandments cannot be made to mean their opposites. But some have tried to make them less apodictic, and the Defense depends on the possibility.
The Defense maintains that if the Koran is interpreted as meaning in many essential instances something different from what it says, it can be made compatible with American Constitutional Law. But wouldn’t that require deeply radical change, even complete reversal? And if such a radical change were to be made (by whom?), how, or to what extent, would it still be Sharia? Wouldn’t such a profound alteration mean, in effect, the obliteration of Islam? And if so, how likely is it that it will be accepted by (at least a large enough part of) Islam?
One point often made by the Defense that needs to be answered: The Bible also orders cruel punishments, including, for instance, stoning adulterers. True, but there is no country on earth that declares Biblical law to be its constitution, or makes the commandments of Jehovah, or God the Father, or Jesus Christ, the law of the land, even though some laws agree with some of the ten commandments. Israel decidedly rejected the idea of basing its state laws on Jewish religious law (though for political expediency governments have made some concessions to the religious political parties, causing more nuisance than oppression – such as that marriage must be by religious rite).
But every state in which Islam is the religion of the majority – even including Iraq when it was ruled by the ostensibly secular socialist Ba’athists – has Sharia as the basis of its law. Turkey was an exception that is now changing under an Islamist government to conform with the rest.
Islam wants the world to be Muslim. It declares that every Muslim must help achieve its goal. It prescribes violence as the chief if not exclusive means. Clearly by this alone Islam has set itself up as the enemy of all non-Muslims. In pursuit of its supreme goal and in obedience to the word of Allah, millions of Muslims, including the 19 who perpetrated the crimes of 9/11 in the name of Islam, have dedicated themselves to waging war on the rest of the world, and more will do so in the years to come.
They need to be stopped; by peaceful means if possible, by force whenever necessary. If “reinterpretation” of Islam’s holy writ is a way that can work peacefully, it should be pursued. But can it be done? Our answer is – almost certainly not.