Is Islam evil?

In the entry, “The WSJ calls on the Netherlands to stop the trial of Geert Wilders—but guess why?” the question arose whether Islam should be understood as evil. Thucydides wrote:

Islam is not a “religion of peace,” but one which calls on its followers to do evil, i.e., to do morally unjustified harm unto others.

To which I replied:

I’ve never seen this point stated as succinctly and persuasively. And I say that as someone who has refrained from calling Islam “evil,” because I don’t feel comfortable characterizing the religion of a billion people as evil; I describe it as tyrannical and as mortally dangerous to non-Muslims .

Thinking further about that exchange, I agree that there is a sense in which it is correct to say that Islam calls on its followers to do evil, and therefore Islam itself is evil. Many people describe Islam or Islamic extremism or Islamic jihadism as “evil” or equivalent words. At the same time, however, we must remember that what we think of as the evil of Islamic jihadism is only evil from a point of view external to Islam. From the point of view of Islam itself, Islamic jihadism is not evil but good, or, rather, it is Islamically correct, in conformity with the will of Allah. If our main way of understanding Islamic extremism is that it represents a moral flaw, we will fail to understand how Muslims see themselves, and we will arrive at tragically misguided solutions to the Islam problem.

Exemplifying this wrong way of understanding the Islam danger is Melanie Phillips. As I wrote in 2007, Phillips thinks that the problem with Islamic extremists is that they are behaving in violation of common Western moral norms. Therefore, she argues, if Britain stopped yielding to the Muslims and instead told them in no uncertain terms that they must conform themselves to Western moral and political norms, they would do so, and the Islam threat would go away. The problem, of course, is that from the Muslims’ own point of view, when they push sharia, demonize Western society, and express their fond desire to topple the West, they are not violating any norms, they are following the norms of Islam. For them to follow Western norms would require them to cease being Muslims.

Therefore, while it is true that from the point of view of objective morality Islam is immoral or evil (e.g., because it teaches that non-Muslims do not have human dignity and can be killed, as Andrew Bieszad has pointed out), it is more important for us to understand Islam from the Islamic point of view. Once we see that Muslims seek to destroy our way of life and our notions of human dignity, not because they are following an immoral impulse, but because their god and religion tell them to do it, then we will understand that Islam cannot be reformed; and once we understand that it cannot be reformed, we will be able to take practical steps to weaken its power and secure ourselves from its depredations. But if we believe that Muslims can be morally reformed, we will try to make them follow our moral precepts; but since they cannot follow our moral precepts and remain Muslims, the reform effort must fail. In the end, instead of having taken the efficacious steps that we could have taken to protect our society from Islam, we will have unsuccessfully tried to make the Muslims be like us. And they will still be in our midst, unreformed as ever, more powerful and more confident than ever, and aggressively seeking to Islamize our society and enslave us.

For a full discussion of the fallacy of seeing Islamic extremism as immoral, read the 2007 blog article I linked above, “The unreformable Islamitude of Muslims, and why Melanie Phillips doesn’t get it.”

- end of initial entry -

Richard W. writes:

Yes, Islam is evil. That is an important insight that far too few people have.

I think that Geert Wilders has made an excellent analogy with Nazism. Like Nazism the core beliefs of the charismatic founders cannot be changed, and will ultimately drive those who adhere most closely to the founders’ vision to do terrible things. Just as with Nazism there were many Nazis who did not share or agree with those beliefs. Famously Albert Speer claimed he was not anti-Semitic and found Hitler’s hatred of the Jews distasteful. None the less he supported the ideology and the regime, and was ultimately judged to have committed crimes against humanity for his services running factories for them.

The victory of the Allies over Nazism was complete. The ideology itself was outlawed. Thus one cannot buy copies of Mein Kampf in Germany, Austria or the Netherlands. A complete cultural cleansing was required by the victors, and is still held to by today’s leaders of much of formerly Nazi controlled Europe.

Soviet Communism was perhaps just as evil, but we did not choose to confront it as rigorously. Eventually it fell of its own contradictions, helped along by the Cold War. But the ideology has not been discredited and denounced as universally as Nazism was. And, of course, pockets of Communism still exist.

It seems unlikely that we will take the path we took against Nazism in fighting Islam. The Cold War is therefore probably a better model, but with the realization that Islamic evil will continue to haunt us just as Communism does today. The basic goal of the Cold War was to contain Communism. That is, the Communists were not allowed to spread their ideology further. This suggests that a better focus for fighting Islam would be on the periphery, not at the center. It is probably more important to prevent Thailand from being overrun than effecting change in Saudi Arabia.

And of course isolation is key, as you have suggested. It should be explained clearly to the states that are isolated that “you are being isolated because of your ideology.” Average people in the Soviet Union eventually pulled it down because they were tired of isolation. The clear words of Ronald Reagan and others made it clear how we saw them and their ideology.

It seems the best model for the long term project of defeating Islam.

Peter G. writes:

What kind of relationship would we want to have with a cancer? Islam, like all living systems, assumes a moral imperative to exist by virtue its existence. Our political and intellectual classes have a tremendous stake in covering up what they’ve done, exposing those they’ve been sworn to protect to a lethal ideology vectored by committed fanatics. What Muslims perceive about themselves is irrelevant, all that matters is that exposure for us is ultimately fatal. Ask any Iraqi Christian exposed to the now unattenuated Islam.

LA replies:

There are two possible ways of understanding the statement, “Islam is evil.”

The first is that Islam, ast least insofar as its policy toward non-Muslims is concerned, is by its nature evil and cannot be changed, and therefore we must simply expel it from us, as you say.

The second is the Melanie Phillips angle that I was discussing in this entry—that Islamic extremism is a form of immoral or wicked behavior which is susceptible to being reformed, and therefore it’s up to us to try to reform it. This approach, because it is based on a false premise about Islam, leads to our ruin. My emphasis on the need to understand Muslims’ view of themselves—that they are Muslims following Islam, not morally weak people failing to live up to the Western moral code—arises as a corrective response to this false way of understanding Islam.

James N. writes:

Interesting discussion. I’m a bit under the weather and am having a hard time collecting my thoughts.

Here’s one, though. Does Melanie Phillips (and Dennis Prager, and all the other opponents of so-called Islamofascism) believe that Muslims have the right to practice Islam, as defined by their holy book and subsequent learned commentary, or not? If not, who put these Westerners in the position to define Islam for Muslims?

I hate the Nazi analogy, by the way. It’s extremely sloppy thinking and was actually invented, post-hoc, to make the Al-Qaeda in Iraq forces an enemy the American people could come to grips with hating.

Nazism is a modernist heresy (a variation, that is, on modernism). It flared like a comet for 30 years at most, and vanished except as a handy villain for cowardly film directors who needed white European villains.

Islam is 1400 years old and the antithesis of modernism. It is strong where modernism is weak, and may yet bring it down.

If only our enemies were Nazis, or like Nazis! That would be a much simpler problem.=

Posted by Lawrence Auster at January 31, 2010 07:42 PM | Send

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