If Islamic doctrines are inherently violent, why isn’t every single Muslim in the world—that is, approximately 1.5 billion people—violent?
This question represents one of Islam’s most popular apologetics: because not all Muslims are violent, intolerant, or sponsor terrorism—a true statement—Islam itself must be innocent.
Let’s briefly consider this logic.
First, there are, in fact, many people who identify themselves as Muslims but who do not necessarily adhere to or support Islam’s more supremacist and intolerant doctrines. If you have lived in a Muslim majority nation, you would know this to be true.
The all-important question is, what do such Muslims represent? Are they following a legitimate, “moderate,” version of Islam—one more authentic than the terrorist variety? That’s what the media, politicians, and academics would have us believe.
The best way to answer this question is by analogy:
German Nazism is a widely condemned ideology, due to its (“Aryan/white”) supremacist element . But the fact is, many Germans who were members or supporters of the Nazi party were “good” people. They did not believe in persecuting Jews and other “non-Aryans,” and some even helped such “undesirables” escape, at no small risk to themselves.
Consider Oskar Schindler. An ethnic German and formal member of the Nazi party, he went to great lengths to save Jews from slaughter.
How do we reconcile his good deed with his bad creed?
Was Schindler practicing a legitimate, “moderate,” form of Nazism? Or is it more reasonable to say that he subscribed to some tenets of National Socialism, but when it came to killing fellow humans in the name of racial supremacy, his humanity rose above his allegiance to Nazism?
Indeed, many Germans joined or supported the National Socialist Party more because it was the “winning” party, one that offered hope, and less because of its racial theories.
That said, other Germans joined the Nazi party precisely because of its racial supremacist theories and were only too happy to see “sub-humans” incinerated.
Now consider how this analogy applies to Islam and Muslims: first, unlike most Germans who chose to join or support the Nazi party, the overwhelming majority of Muslims around the world were simply born into Islam; they had no choice. Many of these Muslims know the bare minimum about Islam—the Five Pillars—and are ignorant of Islam’s supremacist theories.
Add Islam’s apostasy law to the mix—leaving Islam can earn the death penalty—and it becomes clear that there are many nominal “Muslims” who seek not to rock the boat.
That said, there are also a great many Muslims who know exactly what Islam teaches—including violence, plunder, and enslavement of the kafir, or infidel—and who happily follow it precisely because of its supremacism.
In both Nazism and Islam, we have a supremacist ideology on the one hand, and people who find themselves associated with this ideology for a number of reasons on the other hand: from those born into it, to those who join it for its temporal boons, to those who are sincere and ardent believers.
The all-important difference is this: when it comes to Nazism, the world is agreed that it is a supremacist ideology. Those who followed it to the core were “bad guys”—such as Adolf Hitler. As for the “good Nazis,” who helped shelter persecuted Jews and performed other altruistic deeds, the world acknowledges that they were not following a “moderate” form of Nazism, but that their commitment to Nazism was nonchalant at best.
This is the correct paradigm to view Islam and Muslims with: Islam does contain violent and supremacist doctrines. This is a simple fact. Those who follow it to the core were and are “bad guys”—for example, Osama bin Laden. Still, there are “good Muslims.” Yet they are good not because they follow a good, or “moderate,” Islam, but because they are not thoroughly committed to Islam in the first place.
Put differently, was Schindler’s altruism a product of “moderate Nazism” or was it done in spite of Nazism altogether? Clearly the latter. In the same manner, if a Muslim treats a non-Muslim with dignity and equality, is he doing so because he follows a legitimate brand of “moderate Islam,” or is he doing so in spite of Islam, because his own sense of decency compels him?
Considering that Islamic law is unequivocally clear that non-Muslims are to be subjugated and live as third-class “citizens”—the Islamic State’s many human rights abuses vis-à-vis non-Muslims are a direct byproduct of these teachings—clearly any Muslim who treats “infidels” with equality is behaving against Islam.
So why is the West unable to apply the Nazi paradigm to the question of Islam and Muslims? Why is it unable to acknowledge that Islamic teachings are inherently supremacist, though obviously not all Muslims are literally following these teachings—just like not all members of any religion are literally following the teachings of their faith?
This question becomes more pressing when one realizes that, for over a millennium, the West deemed Islam an inherently violent and intolerant cult. Peruse the writings of non-Muslims from the dawn of Islam up until recently—from Theophanes the Confessor (d. 818) to Winston Churchill (d. 1965)—and witness how they all depicted Islam as a violent creed that thrives on conquering, plundering, and subjugating the “other.” (Here are Marco Polo’s thoughts).
The problem today is that the politically correct establishment—academia, mainstream media, politicians, and all other talking heads—not ones to be bothered with reality or history, have made it an established “fact” that Islam is “one of the world’s great religions.” Therefore, the religion itself—not just some of its practitioners —is inviolable to criticism.
The point here is that identifying the negative elements of an ideology and condemning it accordingly is not so difficult. We have already done so, with Nazism and other ideologies and cults. And we know the difference between those who follow such supremacist ideologies (“bad” people), and those who find themselves as casual, uncommitted members (good or neutral people).
In saner times when common sense could vent and breathe, this analogy would have been deemed superfluous. In our times, however, where lots of nonsensical noise is disseminated far and wide by the media—and tragically treated as serious “analysis”—common sense must be methodically spelled out: Yes, an ideology/religion can be accepted as violent or even evil, and no, many of its adherents need not be violent or evil—they can even be good—for the reasons discussed above.
This is the most objective way to understand the relationship between Islam as a body of teachings and Muslims as individual people.
Raymond Ibrahim is a Middle East and Islam specialist and author of Crucified Again: Exposing Islam’s New War on Christians (2013) and The Al Qaeda Reader (2007). His writings have appeared in a variety of media, including the Los Angeles Times, Washington Times, Jane’s Islamic Affairs Analyst, Middle East Quarterly, World Almanac of Islamism, and Chronicle of Higher Education; he has appeared on MSNBC, Fox News, C-SPAN, PBS, Reuters, Al-Jazeera, NPR, Blaze TV, and CBN. Ibrahim regularly speaks publicly, briefs governmental agencies, provides expert testimony for Islam-related lawsuits, and testifies before Congress. He is a Shillman Fellow, David Horowitz Freedom Center; a CBN News contributor; a Media Fellow, Hoover Institution (2013); and a Judith Friedman Rosen Writing Fellow, Middle East Forum . Ibrahim’s dual-background — born and raised in the U.S. by Coptic Egyptian parents born and raised in the Middle East — has provided him with unique advantages, from equal fluency in English and Arabic, to an equal understanding of the Western and Middle Eastern mindsets, positioning him to explain the latter to the former.