Andrew Medworth (whose blog
I recommend enthusiastically), recently put up a link to this article
which argues that the English government must radically change its approach to dealing with Muslims if it is to have any hope of preventing future violence by Islamic terrorists. And while it is worth reading, to me it illustrates just how far we still have to go in getting the proper ideas into our culture.
First, even though the author, Charles Moore, makes the excellent observation that for the religious fanatic "in principle, there is no end to his killing until everyone who does not share his particular version of truth is exterminated", he does not go on to say that this arises from the essence of following a religion: faith. Unable to name the root issue of reason vs. faith, Moore observes that in its modern incarnation, Christianity is a less violent religion than Islam, yet can only explain it by saying that Islam is a "much more literal religion than Christianity". If he could see that reason and faith are opposites, then he would realize that modern Christianity is only better because it has been "watered down" by secular, pro-reason values and methods that are completely at odds with its essence (and the essence of any other faith). Similarly, he would realize that to act on faith is
to take a doctrine “literally”. The extent to which one interjects one’s own reason into the process of religion (by interpreting and judging) is the extent to which one places oneself above and outside of the religion. That is why, regardless of which religion is being practiced, someone who follows its doctrines literally is given the name “fundamentalist”. Thus fundamentalist Christians follow the same approach as “literal” Muslims. And there is no doubt (and much historical evidence) that if fundamentalist Christians continue their rise, the results they will produce will be the same as those currently being wreaked by their Islamic counterparts.
So, when evaluating the danger from religion, the important question isn't which religion is better, but which is being practiced more consistently.
Also, though in some portions of the essay Moore calls for more self-criticism from within the Muslim community, in others he seems to have no answer to the moderates claiming to be pressured by the fundamentalists. For example, he says (explaining why Muslim leaders don't speak out against the fundamentalists): "The second reason is that the leaders are frightened. In private conversations with the moderates, one is always told that they are under "enormous pressure", that they risk losing control of their own people, and therefore they cannot say very fierce things against the extremists. One must accept that this pressure exists, which only goes to show how serious the problem is."
Leaving aside the idea that "controlling" others is not a proper goal to be sought, if Moore saw the importance of principles, rather than accepting this excuse he might ask: "If they can't speak out now, when will they be able to do so?" Surely the more they appease the fundamentalists, the more the fundamentalists' power will grow, and the less likely it will be that the so-called moderates will be able to oppose them in the future.
But in truth the excuse given by the moderates rings hollow.
The more likely explanation is that the “moderates” agree with the essential ideas and goals of the fundamentalists, it’s just that they won’t go to “extremes”, i.e. that they won’t act consistently on their beliefs. And because they share the basic ideas and goals (but perhaps not the violent methods) of the fundamentalists, the moderates can offer no opposition. Such is the power of ideas.