What’s more, the controversy seems perfectly formed to dramatize for a global audience the more authoritarian, intolerant, and illiberal aspects of a faith that George W. Bush has called a “religion of peace.” ~Justin Raimondo
The “more authoritarian, intolerant and illiberal aspects” of Islam? As opposed to the “more democratic, tolerant and liberal” aspects? What would those be exactly? Where would we find them? There is always the appeal to the “silent majority”–most Muslims aren’t really on board with this sort of authoritarian, intolerant and illiberal style, we are reliably told. Good people, great values, some would like us to believe. The point is not whether there are good people with great values, so to speak, among Muslims in the world today or in the past, but whether Islam works to encourage what is best in those people or if it instead drags them down. I am reminded of C.S. Lewis’ reply to the atheist’s comparison of the morally ugly Christian and the relatively “moral” atheist: how much worse would the Christian be if he were not Christian, and how much better would the atheist be if he were? It is a bit of a rhetorical escape, perhaps, but not without truth. Now apply the same idea to Islam: imagine how much better all those decent, upstanding Muslims we keep hearing about would be if they were not Muslims and were not required to live and believe as they do.
This is rather like hoping that most self-styled conservatives aren’t really on board with Mr. Bush’s policies. Except that they are, and keep endorsing those policies at every election and in every poll. In fact, the more conservative one considers oneself on these polls, the more often he supports Mr. Bush and the bizarre policies Mr. Bush favours. Will they continue to support the GOP as they have Mr. Bush? Maybe not, but it becomes increasingly difficult to say that “conservatives” are not the ones doing a lot of the damage to the country right now, even if we can make very powerful arguments about why they are not real conservatives. Maybe in this sense the Muslims who manifest all these “authoritarian, intolerant and illiberal” aspects of Islam really are not “real Muslims.” But, judging by this standard, there haven’t been any “real Muslims” since the beginning, except perhaps for the big losers in Islamic history, and perhaps not even among them.
If we skip past the Lawrence of Arabia romanticism surrounding the “glory that was Cordoba” to understand all of Islamic history (which is rather like redefining the entire Russian historical experience by the exceptional case of Novgorod rather than the typical examples of Vladimir, Suzdal and Moscow or understanding the South by way of eastern Tennessee), we look in vain for an Islam that is not at bottom authoritarian, intolerant and illiberal in the sense that those words have today. The Muta’zila are dead, and I am not so sure that they would have helped create a markedly improved Islamic civilisation (it was actually their Caliph, not that of the orthodox Muslims, who instituted a formal inquisition to root out their opponents). Even if their views on the Qur’an and free will had won out, exegesis can only as good as the text one interprets, and providing a theological defense of free will in no way would have guaranteed that political Islam (or, rather, Islam) would not become more or less what it has been for these many centuries. The Qur’an as literary inspiration? A dubious proposition, that.
Maybe there is something to be said for a certain kind of authoritarianism, intolerance and illiberalism in some measure, but we have seen what the Islamic variety of these things mean, and what they mean for their Christian subjects, so there really is not much to say on their behalf. If we cannot find any other “aspects” to Islam, or if we find them only at extreme margins or among those whom most orthodox Muslims regard as vaguely heretical, who are we kidding to call them “aspects”? These represent the character of the religion, not simply some partial view of it.