Taking Islam (And Religion) Seriously
Andrew Sullivan gets pushback from readers for pointing out the violence inherent in Islamic belief. He responds:
Perhaps I should have put it this way: All religion, including Christianity, is susceptible to the violence associated with tribalism and fundamentalism. Christianity’s murderousness through the ages is a matter of historical fact, from the Crusades to the Inquisition and beyond.
What distinguishes Islam is that its founder practiced violence, whereas Jesus quite obviously favored the exact opposite – nonviolence to the point of accepting one’s own death. Unlike Christianity, but like Judaism, Islam also claims sacred land, and, along with extremist forms of Judaism, the divine right to repel intruders from it. Religion is dangerous enough. A religion founded by a violent figure, with territorial claims, and whose values are at direct odds with modernity is extra-dangerous. Which other major world religion believes that apostates should be killed? Or regards negative depictions of the Prophet as worthy of a death sentence?
This is true, and it’s important to say. It gives Islam the respect of taking it seriously. When a Christian murders, as many have done, sometimes with church sanction, he acts in direct contravention of Christ’s example and command. When a Muslim murders, he sometimes carries out Muhammad’s command, which is to say, Allah’s.
Now, it must be said that not all Muslims are bound to be murderers. That would be cruel and foolish, and demonstrably untrue. But it is also true that the Quran contains a number of verses ordering the Islamic faithful to commit violence against unbelievers (e.g., “Slay them wherever ye find them…”). You simply don’t have that in Christianity (and please don’t say, “But the Old Testament!”; you simply reveal that you’re ignorant about how mainstream historical Christianity thinks and works).
Obviously many, many Muslims choose less bloodthirsty interpretations of these verses, and this is the sort of thing that non-Muslims should encourage, for the sake of peace. Nevertheless, the existence of these verses, and the extremely high regard Islam has for its holy book, makes it harder to come against those who wish to kill in the name of Islam.
People with murder in their heart will always find a justification for it — in religion (or anti-religion), in politics, in racism or tribalism, in nationalism, etc. A religion that gives explicit divine warrant for killing apostates and infidels in the name of that religion is not the same as those that do not. To say that all religions are basically the same is ahistorical, ignorant, and even dangerous.