Jihad as Liberals See It

As we know, “moderate” Muslim apologists insist that it is a slur on Islam to understand Jihad in the sense that Muslims themselves have always understood it, as the ongoing political and military campaign to expand the territories under the rule of Islamic authorities (the Realm of Islam or dar al-Islam) until the rest of the world (the Realm of War or dar al-harb) is brought under subjection. Instead, these moderates claim, Jihad should be understood only in a moral and spiritual sense, as the internal battle to overcome one’s own evil tendencies.

From a Western liberal point of view, this spiritual definition of Jihad is certainly preferable to the definition of Jihad as literal war aimed at world conquest, since it downplays any unpleasant image of Islam as a threatening Other that we Westerners may be called upon to resist or exclude. However, the notion of morally overcoming one’s own evil tendencies—indeed the very concept of an objectively existing good and evil—is also anathema to Western liberals, since, like war itself, it betokens differentiation, inequality, and exclusion. So, how do liberals respond to the spiritual redefinition of Jihad?

The answer comes from Harvard dean Michael Shinagel. Last year a graduating senior at Harvard named Zayed Yasin was selected to give the Commencement address. In the talk, which he provocatively entitled “My American Jihad,” Yasin argued for the spiritual view of Jihad that I’ve described above, denying that Jihad had any military or aggressive connotations. In the ensuing controversy, Dean Shinagel, as Daniel Pipes reports, enthusiastically endorsed Yasin’s “thoughtful oration.” Jihad, said Shinagel, is a personal struggle “to promote justice and understanding in ourselves and in our society.”

Note the subtle shift of emphasis from Jihad as internal moral struggle to Jihad as the external reformation of society. In effect, Shinagel has done to traditional Islamic morality what liberals have always done to traditional Judeo-Christian morality—he has redefined it as the pursuit of mutual understanding, tolerance, and social justice. In short, he has redefined Jihad as liberalism. Now there’s a view of Jihad that liberals can be completely comfortable with.

What becomes clear in all this is the exquisite—and, for the West, suicidal—complimentarity between these two global ideologies. Even as totalitarian Islam defines the entire non-Islamic world as the dar-al harb, which it seeks to conquer and subject to the dar-al Islam, tolerant liberalism defines the entire non-Western world—including totalitarian Islam itself—as a harmlessly diverse embodiment of that same tolerant liberalism.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at November 02, 2002 12:53 AM | Send


Remember the firestorm that erupted when Candidate Bush spoke at Bob Jones University? Bush was pilloried for speaking at a university that was “intolerant”, that is, non-PC. Ironically, since 9/11 the political, journalistic and academic elite have been trying so hard to convince the public (and themselves I guess ) that Islam is a religion of peace and people like Osama have simply deviated from it. So we have George W. Bush hobnobbing with Islamic activists and proclaiming Islam a religion of peace, whereas during his campaign he obediently renounced Bob Jones University after being criticized for speaking there.
So a Christian fundamentalist university is considered “intolerant”, while a religion that seeks to subdue- by force if necessary - the entire planet is not. Bizarre!

Posted by: Allan Wall on November 3, 2002 8:09 PM

My comment is perhaps only obliquely related to Mr. Auster’s post, but I feel it isn’t completely out of place here. It is really aimed at members of the American Jewish Community such as Abe Foxman, Ben Wattenberg, and Jonah Goldberg who fanatically oppose curtailment of current excessively high levels of immigration from non-traditional source nations and cultures.

I wonder what these gentlemen think of the following two very alarming articles?

this one:


and this one:


The same Dan Pipes article is also here: http://www.nypost.com/postopinion/opedcolumnists/61312.htm

Posted by: Unadorned on November 6, 2002 1:10 AM

Allan, as I recall, BJU was pilloried for its policies on interracial dating, not its Christian fundamentalist underpinnings. And I do not recall GWB criticizing the Christianity that is the foundation of BJU…perhaps you could refresh my memory.

Posted by: Jane on November 13, 2002 11:27 AM

If Jane is going to serve as an all-round critic of the comments at VFR, she should try to read them more carefully. Mr. Wall did not say that Bush criticized “the Christianity that is the foundation of BJU.” He said that Bush “renounced Bob Jones university” and considered it “intolerant.” Jane’s recollection of the BJU affair itself is also incorrect. In addition to being attacked for its ban on inter-racial dating, BJU was pilloried primarily for documents at its web site condemning the Roman Catholic Church in fierce terms reminiscent of the 16th century.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on November 14, 2002 2:01 AM

Well, excuse me…if you just want to preach to the choir, I’ll leave.

And Laurence, I’d suggest that you stick to grading papers and not posts. The post I responded to was placed in the context of religious tolerance, in my opinion.

Posted by: Jane on November 14, 2002 8:22 AM

“And Laurence, I’d suggest that you stick to grading papers and not posts.”

You’re lucky he’s NOT grading papers, Jane. Half of yours would get F’s.

Posted by: Unadorned on November 14, 2002 9:42 AM

Jane’s response to my comment is strange. I simply corrected her mischaracterization of what Allan Wall had said and her mistaken memory of the BJU affair, and she takes that as meaning that I only want to “preach to the converted”! She seems to think that pointing out a factual error is the same as trying to silence people.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on November 14, 2002 10:25 AM

I suppose Jane might be reacting to Mr. Auster’s statement “If Jane is going to serve as an all-round critic of the comments at VFR” as if it reflected a desire for her to cease commenting rather than admonishment that when responding to a lot of different comments on a blog it is important to respond to what is actually said.

Posted by: Matt on November 14, 2002 10:31 AM

Matt has put it well. I had no intention of discouraging Jane from criticizing other people’s comments, though I can see how my wording might have made it appear that way. Jane, criticize away!

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on November 14, 2002 10:49 AM
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