The choice for the West: help root out Muslim extremism, or face a worldwide confrontation with Islam

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Nov 24, 2015

When gunmen charged into a hotel in Bamako, Mali, last week, they were shouting “Allahu Akbar. It’s probably safe to conclude that they were not familiar with the writings of Father Thomas Rosica.

But that’s not why they stormed the hotel. The gunmen—who left 22 people dead—evidently believed that they were serving the cause of Islam.

You can argue—as many prominent people have argued—that terrorism is a perversion of true Islam. But you cannot deny that Islamic terrorism is a major worldwide threat, and that Islam and terrorism have been all too closely associated. To counter the threat we must do one of two things. If the penchant for brutal violence is a sort of virus that has infected Islam, we must eliminate the infection. If violence is in inherent aspect of the faith, we must defeat Islam.

Which is it? At Regensburg, Pope Benedict gently suggested that we should discuss (among other things) whether Islam will accept the rule of reason. The reaction to that suggestion was, to put it mildly, discouraging. As Robert Reilly explained in The Closing of the Islamic Mind, there was a time when Muslim scholars could argue rationally about the interpretation of the Qu’ran. But that time ended with the triumph of the Ash’arite school, which insisted that the teachings of Allah cannot be subjected to logical analysis by mere humans. The Ash’arites were ready to use force to silence what they considered the blasphemous suggestions of their intellectual opponents. So began the great divorce between faith and reason in the Islamic world. And so began the trend toward the use of violence to resolve disagreements.

Some prominent Islamic leaders today are prepared to denounce violence, and even to cooperate with the West in a campaign to root out extremist imams. They are wise to pursue that sort of alliance, because if the extremists continue to gain power and influence, the “moderate” Muslims will lose their positions and quite possibly their lives. The men with guns tend to win all the arguments.

It behooves the Western world, too, to ally with Islamic leaders who are committed to a peaceful exchange of ideas. Most Christian-Islamic dialogue today is based on a polite pretence: a deliberate choice to ignore the radical differences that make any real meeting of the minds impossible. As Robert Reilly has again demonstrated the only real hope for constructive cooperation is an alliance with those Muslims who accept the rule of reason.

Are those potential partners in dialogue—the Muslim leaders who accept reason—representative of true Islam? That’s the question we must answer. Many Americans are now convinced that Islam is intrinsically prone to violence. Perhaps they are right; certainly Muslim extremism is widespread, and it is spreading at an accelerating rate. But if there is a form of Islam that will eschew violence—even if it is a form that has been submerged for centuries—making common cause with those Muslims is a far more attractive option than making war on the radicalized faith of one billion people.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: JDeFauw - Nov. 26, 2015 9:12 PM ET USA

    The explanation I heard is that before 1740, Islam defined an infidel as anybody who is not a Muslim, a Christian, or a Jew. In the 1740's, the Islamic theologian ibd al-Wahhab redefined "infidel" to mean anyone who was not a Sunni Muslim. So while pre-1740 Islam taught that Christians and Jews ought to live as 2nd class citizens in a Sharia state, the goal was not to kill all Christians and Jews.

  • Posted by: FredC - Nov. 25, 2015 4:19 PM ET USA

    The existence of non-Muslims is a temptation for Muslims to apostasise and thereby be condemned to hell. It is better for 5 billion people to die than for one person to go to hell. Therefore, the Koran is easily used to justify the violence.

  • Posted by: ljlc48358 - Nov. 25, 2015 12:02 AM ET USA

    I agree with you in your title for this story. But it seems you're trying to find a way around it. To be kind. Have you actually read the Koran? It tells people to kill infidels. We Christians are infidels to them. So they are told by their holy book to kill us. I speak from experience as I've traveled deeply and repeatedly through the holy Lands and love Muslims. But their prophet Mohammed raided and killed. We must do all we can to protect ourselves and posterity. And that right soon!!

  • Posted by: james-w-anderson8230 - Nov. 24, 2015 11:10 PM ET USA

    Making war on one billion christians is exactly what Islam is doing today and has been doing for a log time.

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Nov. 24, 2015 6:00 PM ET USA

    My most fundamental problem with Islam was explained to me about 30 years ago by a "devout" Muslim scholar. He insisted that the Quran cannot be understood in any language but Arabic. Since I did not read Arabic, there could be no discussion between us about the religion. Two weeks ago I asked one of my graduate students from Saudi Arabia if I was capable of understanding the Quran without reading Arabic. He confirmed my previous interlocutor that I could not. Islam is thus a mystery religion.