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Sherman's march on Iraq

Reader comment on item: [Finding Moderate Muslims:] Do you believe in modernity?
in response to reader comment: Are all Muslims extremists?

Submitted by B (Malaysia), Jul 10, 2007 at 01:28

...You Americans have no choice buy to either leave Iraq or "Do a Sherman's march on Iraq". You cannot both at the same time defend civilians who are themselves terrorist. It is a losing fight. Either wipe them out or leave. But if you leave, remember, they will come back someday. Islam is EVIL. See article below.

To get to the heart of Islam, start with its founder: Muhammad. Like Christianity, Islam's essence is tied to the nature of a central figure who gives the religion its distinctive soul. Muhammad's professional life as a religious leader can be divided into two, roughly equal periods. In the first, he preached tolerance while he struggled for acceptance in Mecca. But in the second period, after he rises to power in Medina, he became increasingly harsh, mean-spirited and warlike.

In Medina, he inaugurated his reign of terror by assassinating two critics who posed no physical threat: an elderly man and a poetess. Unaccustomed to the farm life of Medina, he tried his hand at raiding caravans traveling to and from Mecca. After several failed attempts he finally succeeded -- during the holy month. (As usual, he conveniently had a revelation to justify this breach of regional ethics.) Muhammad had found his calling: plunder.

The mere existence of the Jewish tribes in Medina threatened Muhammad's authority. Muhammad packaged his religion as the completion and perfection of the monotheistic religions: Judaism and Christianity. His converts were Arabs; Jews refused to accept him as an authentic prophet of their religion. In a policy of ethnic cleansing, he banished two of the three Jewish tribes and slaughtered the third. Of the several dozen battles fought either by Muhammad or in his behalf, only one, the Battle of the Ditch, was defensive. Islam, however, classifies them all as defensive, virtually removing any meaning from the word. Muhammad had perfected his technique: slaughter.

The chapters in the Koran, called "Suras", are Muhammad's "revelations" from God. The Suras from the Medinan period reflect the corruption of Muhammad's rule. Sura 9, one of the last revelations, contains some of the most uncompromising doctrines of aggression and belligerence. The progression from the early Meccan Suras to the latter Medinan Suras transforms the nature of the religion. The Koran and the Hadith (the collection of Muhammad's deeds and sayings, often called "the living Koran") paint a bleak but unmistakable picture: Islam is a warrior religion of conquest and oppression.

Compare and contrast Muhammad's life to the life of Jesus. Is Jesus a violent warrior? His worst act of violence is overturning the tables of the money-changers in the Temple. In fact, in one part of the Gospels he appeared to be advocating pacifism. Although he is called "King of the Jews," he never ruled and gave no indication of ever wanting earthly rule. According to the followers who recorded his deeds and sayings, Jesus' career consisted of a few years as an itinerant preacher ending with his crucifixion. According to the Gospels, he didn't rise to power but rose to heaven.

As a devout Jew, Jesus' holy book was the Old Testament, which does have some harsh passages and violent episodes. But the Jesus of the Gospels is more concerned with the spirit of the law than with the letter. (Witness his preaching on the Sabbath.) He boiled his religious beliefs down to two essentials: love God, and love thy neighbor. In effect, Christianity modified the religion of the Old Testament's ever-jealous, ever-vengeful, take-no-prisoners Yahweh and his never-ending rules and regulations (see Leviticus and Deuteronomy) with a more benevolent and less legalistic message. Paul solidified this transformation by exempting converts from Jewish law.

By contrast, Islam is a more of a throwback to the harsh old days when, for example, Moses (acting on God's orders) had a man stoned to death for gathering wood on the Sabbath. It is true that Muhammad's early revelations have the more tolerant and peaceful aura we associate with the New Testament. (Interestingly, it is these early passages that are often shown to American audiences and university students, creating a distorted picture but one that more closely matches the Western view of a religion.) But his revelations grew more "Old Testament," as it were, as his power grew.

Christianity began as a reformation of Judaism. Early Christians didn't focus on living well in this life but on saving their souls before the impending return of the Messiah. As a result Christianity has no political doctrine, except, perhaps, "Render unto Caesar, What Is Caesar's." Thus, the Roman Empire could become Christian while remaining an empire. Many centuries later, Christian apologists for the monarchy preached the doctrine of the divine right of Kings to justify royal supremacy, but John Locke could argue for individual liberty and against the Devine Right doctrine while still remaining a devout Christian. The lack of an explicit Christian political doctrine enabled Christians to consider differing political forms and philosophies without clashing with the authority of a revealed text. Muslims have no such advantage.

Of course, both Christianity and Islam share the problems of dogma and authority, elements that lend themselves to illiberal societies. In suppressing Christianity, Roman Emperors were fighting what they considered an intolerant monotheistic cult. After the Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity in 312 AD, Christians rose to power in the empire and by the end of the century nearly suppressed all other religions. It wasn't long before pagans were fed to the lions. It would be more than a thousand years before religious tolerance returned to Christianized Europe.

In theory, Islam allowed for some toleration for Christians and Jews. But they were subjected to slavery and a second-class status called Dimmis, which was far worse than "Jim Crow". Due to Islamic proscriptions on domestic slavery, Islam invented a large-scale race-based slave trade. Arab Muslims imported slaves from Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa. Islamic slave raids were common in southern Europe and sometimes reached the shores of Ireland.

Christians and Jews are called "People of the Book" in the Koran, and as such are allowed to live and practice their religion in subjugation. Polytheists, atheists, pagans and idolaters aren't so lucky: they must convert or be killed. One of history's bloodiest atrocities, prior to the 20th Century, took place during the Muslim conquest of India. Hindus were massacred wholesale. India's Buddhists, no military and political threat to anyone, were virtually wiped out. The vast destruction of Buddhist buildings, art and culture was a terrible loss to history.

It is true that the 1400 years of Islamic history were punctuated by periods of tolerance, in which Muslim scholars, with the aid of Christian and Jewish scholars, managed to salvage some of the ancient Roman and Greek wisdom. Under Islamic rule, mathematicians adopted Hindu numerals and advanced algebra. However, the greatest minds of the Islamic world, Avicenna and Averroes, were persecuted.

Averroes (ibn Rushd), one of history's preeminent Aristotelian scholars, was banished by the Caliph; his books burned. Aquinas did for Christianity what Averroes couldn't do for Islam: he reconciled Aristotle with Christianity -- thus setting the foundation for the secular, rational, scientific (and Hellenic) worldview, with its emphasis on living well in this world, that, with the Renaissance, became the dominant worldview in Europe; and via the Enlightenment, America. Along with the growth of secularism, religion also transformed. The work of Aquinas reformed Catholicism and ultimately set in motion the questioning spirit that led to Protestantism.

Why was the Christian West able to move forward while the Islamic East proceeded to decline? Was it just the fluke of Aquinas' demise on his way to a tribunal and possibly escaping a fate similar to Averroes -- with similar consequences for Europe?

Proponents of a moderate Islam point to a time when Muslim countries allowed the study of philosophy and science. But given its history, one has to wonder if Islam can furnish the environment for the stable and long-term development of modern civilization -- or if it is just a place to occasionally hide the great works and great thinkers during an otherwise vast period of darkness.

What is undeniable is that, over the centuries, the Islamic world decayed. For a while the stagnant systems Muslims lived under were limited in their harmfulness because the authorities had only primitive means of forcing submission. As soon as modern technologies became available, Muslim leaders had the tools to increase the oppression. They did so by adopting the modern collectivist policies of fascism and socialism while marginalizing Islam. The failure of this faux modernization sparked an Islamic revival. Instead of turning to the individualism and freedom welcomed in Eastern Europe and the Pacific Rim, Muslims turn backwards. With the Islamic revival came a renewed interest in the full practice of the religion -- including its bellicosity and its imperial ambitions of world conquest.

We are told that the answer to fundamentalist Islam is moderate Islam. The word "fundamentalist" comes from Protestantism, but used in a generic sense means a literal interpretation of a religion. In Christianity, fundamentalist denominations are considered different sects of Protestantism. In Islam, fundamentalism is called "Islamic Revivalism." Is this a different kind of Islam, or just a different degree of devoutness? Do moderate Muslims belong to a different Islamic sect, or are they just less dedicated (or perhaps even lapsed)? If by "moderate," we mean "reformed to reflect moderation and modernity" -- like reformed Christianity -- where are the reformed Muslim theologians and texts like there are in Christianity? Is there a "moderate Islam," or is this just an oxymoron?

Perhaps, in theory, there could be a reformed, tolerant Islam, based on the revelations of Muhammad's early Meccan period; but an omission of intolerant, political Islam could merely leave young Muslims enraged at the hypocrisy of the reformers who deviate or ignore the true Islam. We are left with the following problem: it only takes a few true Muslims, who want to practice Islam in its entirety and heed the call to Jihad, to take weapons of mass destruction into Western cities and destroy civilization. At this point in time, these weapons can only be created with state sponsorship – a temporary limitation. Thus, we must return with some urgency to our original question: Is Islam evil?


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