This September, in a speech at the University of Regensburg in Germany, Pope Benedict XVI quoted an ancient source that identified Muslims as violent. “Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new,” wrote the 14th century Byzantine emperor quoted by the Pope, “and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.” It is unclear whether the Pope intended to endorse this quote, or to himself imply that Muslims today are violent. What is clear is that Muslims responded with violence. They attacked churches, burned the Pope ineffigy, kicked the ashes, and possibly even killed a nun (though it was not proven that this murder was specifically motivated by revenge against the Pope).
The gangs of Muslims responsible for this violence did not notice the irony: insulted by the insinuation that their religion demanded violence, they used violence to squelch the too-accurate insult. The very manner of their response demonstrated the accuracy of the Pope’s accusation. Nevertheless, the Pope apologized, and that particular furor died down.
These events made the news, but no one seemed all that shocked. The reaction against the Pope’s speech was just another instance of a growing trend. Violence perpetrated by Muslims in the name of Islam is a pervasive problem in the modern world, just as it was in the 14th century. Indeed, violence in the name of Islam is by far more frequent than in the name of any other religion-probably more so than all the rest combined.
Since the destruction of the World Trade Center five years ago, terrorist plots by Islamic jihadists are uncovered on a monthly basis. From Israel, to India, to Africa, to Russia, to Europe, governments are struggling to circumvent Muslim activists committed to violence.
This violence isn’t limited to avowed terrorists. Last winter, more than 100 people died when thousands of Muslim youth across the world, following the encouragement of their religious leaders, took to the streets in angry protest of the Danish Mohammed cartoons. This September, a Berlin opera company disrupted its schedule to cancel production of Mozart’s Idomeneo. The company worried that a scene in which the king presents the head of Mohammed might spark a response similar to that evoked by the cartoons. (In the same scene, the king presents the heads of Jesus and Buddha, yet the company did not worry that Christians or Buddhists would riot and issue fatwa.)
Going back a few more months, Comedy Central cancelled a portion of a South Park episode depicting Mohammad because it was too dangerous. South Park then nonchalantly proceeded to a show a skit that outrageously insulted Jesus. Go back a few months more, and one finds the Museum of World Culture in Sweden removing an erotic painting from their walls in response to Muslim outrage.
Are all Muslims violent? Clearly not. American Muslims in particular do not seem prone to violence. The trend described above is not a reason to condemn individuals merely because they are Muslim.
The trend itself, however, is undeniable. Around the globe, Muslims attack those who offend their sensibilities. A disproportionate number of Muslims clash violently with non-Muslims, and a disproportionate number of Muslim countries clash violently with non-Muslim countries. As Samuel Huntington put this point in his essay, “The Clash of Civilizations,” “Violence occurs between Muslims, on the one hand, and Orthodox Serbs in the Balkans, Jews in Israel, Hindus in India, Buddhists in Burma and Catholics in the Philippines. Islam has bloody borders.”
More Muslims endorse violence than are violent themselves. Falling into this camp is any Muslim who accepts, loudly or tacitly, the political ideology of totalitarian Islam. Totalitarian Islam is the view that Islamic law should govern human action in all spheres, and especially in politics. To achieve this goal, Muslims must wage a war on the rest of civilization, and forcibly impose Islam, the only law sanctioned by God, on the world. Those who espouse this idea do not call it totalitarian Islam; they simply call it Islam. But the idea that the religious should coerce all non-religious to obey God’s dictates means a totalitarian regime in the name of that religion. Any Muslim who agrees with totalitarian Islam is by that fact endorsing violence. Violence perpetrated by Muslims is on the rise because the ideology of totalitarian Islam is on the rise.
Muslim political and religious leaders (there is little difference between the two) make no bones about endorsing this ideology. The Middle East Media Research Institute (www.memri.org) translates Arab news, television, and other media into English. Read a transcript of a televised sermon. These are diatribes on the theme of Islamic supremacy and the need to fight to spread Islam throughout the West. Together, Muslim congregations chant to their leaders: “Allah Akbar. Allah Akbar. Death to those who oppose the rule of the jurisprudent. Death to America. Death to England. Death to Israel.” An Indonesian cleric recently told his flock: “The Quran has all the guidelines, rules, norms, laws and punishments we need. If the Prophet carried a spear then we can carry an M-16.” An Egyptian cleric recently hosted a children’s program encouraging children to devote themselves to jihad. From his story of a child martyr: “Sa’id, the 15-year-old child, was martyred for the sake of Allah. He died happy.” The examples from the clerics of Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Indonesia-the leaders of the Muslim world-are endless.
Too many Americans are hostile to the observation that Muslims are increasingly violent. The factual claims reported in this article are sure to be met by the cry of “Racism!” Racism, though, has a specific meaning. To be racist is to judge or discriminate against an individual based on his membership in a group. It is not racist to judge a system of beliefs, or to notice that that system of beliefs leads to a certain type of behavior. If it were, then you would be racist any time you disagreed with someone. It is not racist to criticize conservatives who are against abortion, liberals who favor socialized medicine, Christians who want to demolish the barrier between church and state, or Muslims who believe that violence in the name of Islam is morally justified.
Individuals choose what beliefs to hold. Adult Muslims, like all individuals, have the power to reject any belief they have grown up with. If they choose instead to endorse the ideology of totalitarian Islam, it is rational, not racist, to judge them on those grounds.
It’s hard to think of a religion that hasn’t been used as a banner for violence at some point in its history. Certainly it is fair to call the Pope a hypocrite for ignoring Christianity’s own bloody past. The difference is that Muslims are in the midst of an active, long-term crusade to forcibly impose Islam, in the form of sharia law, on the rest of the world. They are already succeeding. They have silenced cartoonists, authors, artists, musicians, journalists, and comedians. They have destroyed embassies, murdered their ideological opponents, and toppled the World Trade Center. The ideal of totalitarian Islam does not drive isolated pockets of radicals, but a widespread, organized movement that threatens America. Until Americans have the honesty to admit it, they will be at the mercy of an unnamed enemy.
Rebecca Knapp is a law student at the University of California, Los Angeles