By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
The images are heart-rending and mind-boggling: A three-year old Syrian boy lying dead on a Turkish beach, a symbol of the refugee crisis that has European nations reeling; ancient and precious artifacts in Palmyra, Syria, being demolished; and religious authorities instructing ISIS terrorists to pray before and after raping their female hostages. And the list it goes on, like pages from a Medieval horror story played out in real time.
Is this God’s will according to Islam, a religion that is projected to supplant Christianity as the world’s largest religion by 2070? It is according to the radical Islamists of ISIS, and a number of young Muslims from Europe and America are heeding their call, joining ISIS to create a new caliphate that promotes murder and mayhem in the name of God. Radical Islam, or Islamism, is as much a part of Islam as the Crusades and Inquisitions were part of Christianity.
We are now witnessing the horrific effects of radical Islamism. They are caused by the imposition of a form of Islamic law, or shari’a, that denies the fundamental freedoms of religion and speech with apostasy and blasphemy laws and subjects women and non-Muslims to harsh discriminatory treatment. Brutal punishments imposed under this archaic code of religious law have caused thousands of refugees to flee areas controlled by radical Islamists.
There is a major disconnect here. In 2007 a distinguished group of Islamic scholars offered the greatest commandment as a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. That common word of faith is that we must love God and love our neighbors as ourselves, including our unbelieving neighbors (see the story of the good Samaritan). By way of contrast, the Islamist shari’a is entirely lacking in love for unbelieving neighbors.
Which is the true Islam? That is a question that only Muslims can answer. Islam is in transition and there is a window of opportunity for moderate and progressive Muslims to define their religion. How can we help moderate Muslims make a common word of faith a reality?
In the real world, religion, politics and the rule of law are inextricably woven together, but distinctions must be made for there to be legitimate governance. The freedoms of religion and speech require that governments do not favor or establish any religion. The libertarian concepts of democracy, human rights and the secular rule of law are essential to progress and modernity, and while they are an integral part of legitimacy in the Western world they are absent and considered contrary to God’s will wherever radical Islamism is the dominant form of Islam.
The root cause of the problem is an immutable and coercive shari’a, a problem that could be remedied if shari’a were interpreted to conform to the libertarian values of democracy, human rights and the secular rule of law. The refugee crisis is a predictable result of radical Islamism, and the U.S. should assist with the resettlement of refugees. One thing that the U.S. should not do is deploy combat forces or “boots on the ground” in Islamic cultures. That would only exacerbate the problem by undermining the legitimacy of moderate Muslim reformers. That is a lesson in legitimacy that we should have learned in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Radical Islamism is not the only religious factor in the refugee crisis. Viktor Orban, Prime Minister of Hungary, has warned Europe that Muslim asylum-seekers are threatening “Europe’s Christian roots.” It is an echo of Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant ravings about undocumented Mexican immigrants in the U.S. Germans, to their credit, are seeking to help the refugees in Europe. It is clear that religion has been a big part of the problem, but equally clear that religion must be part of the solution.
Saudi Arabia—a wealthy ally of the U.S.—has contributed to the problem but not to the solution. It has long promoted a Wahhabist brand of radical Islamism that gave birth to both al-Qaeda and ISIS, yet Saudi Arabia is doing nothing to help those Muslim refugees displaced by radical Islamism. Egypt is not as wealthy as Saudi Arabia, but as the bellwether of Sunni Islam it continues to deny the fundamental freedoms of religion and speech with an oppressive shari’a, lending legitimacy to radical Islamism. And another U.S. ally, Pakistan, does the same.
The indiscriminate bombing campaign of the Assad regime has killed many more Syrians than has ISIS, so the motivation of the refugees leaving Syria is not clear. The possibility that some refugees could sympathize with ISIS rather than oppose them is a complicating issue in the refugee crisis, but the number of Muslim refugees coming to Europe dwarfs the number of Muslims leaving Europe for ISIS. All Muslims will determine the future of Islam, and Muslims in libertarian democracies have opposed radical Islamism. Hopefully the influx of Muslims into Europe will help transform Islam with libertarian values and undermine the legitimacy of Islamist terrorist organizations like ISIS.
Xenophobic reactions in Europe to Muslim refugees could work in favor of the ISIS objective to polarize religions and instigate a holy war, but if the greatest commandment to love God and one’s neighbor is indeed a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims, then those people of the book will join together to alleviate the suffering caused by ISIS, and in so doing undermine the legitimacy of radical Islamism with God’s love. That is God’s truth.
Notes and References to Resources:
Previous blogs on related topics are: Religion and Reason, December 8, 2014; Faith and Freedom, December 15, 2014; Religion, Violence and Military Legitimacy, December 29, 2014; Religion and New Beginnings: Salvation and Reconciliation into the Family of God, January 4, 2015; The Greatest Commandment, January 11, 2015; Love over Law: A Principle at the Heart of Legitimacy, January 18, 2015; Jesus Meets Muhammad: Is There a Common Word of Faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims Today? January 25, 2015; A Fundamental Problem with Religion, May 3, 2015; Religion, Human Rights and National Security, May 10, 2015; De Oppresso Liber: Where Religion and Politics Intersect, May 24, 2015; The Future of Religion: In Decline and Growing, June 7, 2015; Christians Meet Muslims Today, June 14, 2015; Fear and Fundamentalism, July 26, 2015; Freedom and Fundamentalism, August 2, 2015; How Religious Fundamentalism and Secularism Shape Politics and Human Rights, August 16, 2015; Legitimacy as a Context and Paradigm to Resolve Religious Conflict, August 23, 2015; and What Is Truth? August 23, 2015.
Reference is made to the following commentary: David Brooks on Islamist authorization for rape, at http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/28/opinion/david-brooks-when-isis-rapists-win.html?rref=collection%2Fcolumn%2Fdavid-brooks&action=click&contentCollection=opinion®ion=stream&module=stream_unit&contentPlacement=2&pgtype=collection&_r=0; Michael Birnbaum and Griffe Witte on the European reaction to the refugee crisis, at https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/hungarys-leader-to-migrants-please-dont-come/2015/09/03/d5244c6d-53d8-4e82-b9d7-35ec41ca2944_story.html?wpmm=1&wpisrc=nl_headlinesl; Ishaan Tharoor on the reaction of Saudi Arabia and other Arab states to the refugee crisis, at https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/09/04/the-arab-worlds-wealthiest-nations-are-doing-next-to-nothing-for-syrias-refugees/?wpmm=1&wpisrc=nl_headlines; Thomas Friedman on Saudi Arabia’s support of radical Islam, at http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/02/opinion/thomas-friedman-our-radical-islamic-bff-saudi-arabia.html?emc=eta1&_r=0; the Editorial Board of the Washington Post on the refugee crisis, at https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/europes-abdication/2015/09/03/319e2cb0-5265-11e5-9812-92d5948a40f8_story.html?wpmm=1&wpisrc=nl_headlines; Hugh Naylor on the Assad regime killing more Syrians than ISIS, at https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/islamic-state-has-killed-many-syrians-but-assads-forces-have-killed-even-more/2015/09/05/b8150d0c-4d85-11e5-80c2-106ea7fb80d4_story.html?wpmm=1&wpisrc=nl_headlines.