The most recent round of terror in London has spawned a renewed round of explanations along the lines of David Cameron’s “there is no justification for this murder in Islam,” accompanied by musings over “isolated act of psychopaths."
Though these views have lost some currency after the attacks of 9/11, Madrid, Moscow, Burgas, Toulouse and Boston, it is time to ask ourselves why our political and intellectual elites still pay homage to such platitudes. Political and diplomatic expediency aside, the origin of such statements lies in the fact that Western academics, diplomats and journalists tend to cavort with highly-educated Muslims whose worldview has been influenced by thorough exposure to the Judeo-Christian heritage of the West.
Yet this is not a piece about the shallow knowledge of our elites about the Muslim world, nor one about the distinction between elite Islam and the pugnacious one popularized by Salafi or Muslim Brotherhood preachers. This is an article about the fine line Westerners need to draw between demonstrating goodwill on the one hand and forfeiting freedoms they have struggled centuries to secure.
Muslims have the right to practice Islam the way they wish in Saudi Arabia and Sudan. Westerners have the right and the duty to expect that those who move to their countries respect basic ethical tenets, one of them being that to kill in the name of God is always immoral; and regardless of whether Christians and Jews adhered to this principle centuries or millennia ago.
To this day Islamic bookstores in cities such as London and Paris sell children’s books where the first Muslims are celebrated as sword-brandishing knights vanquishing enemies in glorious battles. Does it take a PhD in psychology to guess that boys fed on such narratives will wish to do likewise when they grow up? When such literature is the staple religious diet of millions of young Muslims is it genuinely surprising that jihadists are recruited without difficulty even from well-integrated families?
No one would tolerate Christian children books that portrayed the Crusaders as exemplary Christians, yet to this day the highest honors in Islamic literature are reserved to Muslim “crusaders.” Most Muslims are sincerely appalled by the attacks in Toulouse and London, but it is no longer enough to draw subtle distinctions between legitimate and illegitimate jihad. As long as it is admirable for most Muslims that Islam conquered the world through the sword in the seventh and eight centuries, there will be more than enough Muslims in our days who welcome the murder of infidels in Madrid and London. And as long as Western illuminati tolerate the apologetic attitude Muslim leaders adopt towards the murder of Jews in Palestine, it will be impossible to draw an unambiguous line elsewhere between acceptable and unacceptable rhetoric and behavior.
In fact, we must demand from all Muslim lay and religious representatives to publically abjure all violence in the name of God, without ifs and buts, and regardless of whether religious sentiments are slighted in the process of doing so. Those for whom this demand is too taxing can emigrate to Saudi Arabia or Gaza and stay there.
It is worth remembering that the price of not demanding such a stance from Muslim clerics and lay leaders will be paid most dearly by Muslims themselves. Although this fact is often overlooked, we ought to remember that those who have suffered most from jihadist incitement and violence have been Muslims. Not only does the silent majority of Muslims bear the brunt of the jihadist bloodshed, but its reputation is soiled by those who wish to import seventh century practices into the 21st century. And Western leaders who in this clash choose caution over courage are no less to blame for harming the prospects of long-term peaceful coexistence between Muslims and non-Muslims.