The duties of moderate Muslims

Nakoula Basseley Nakoula or “Sam Bacile,” the man behind the blasphemous YouTube video that has set the Islamic world on fire, may be a twisted man but it is only naive to demand his arrest, and delusional to believe that it would be any sort of a fix to the real problem.

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects free speech — inclusive of hate speech — therefore Nakoula cannot be arrested. That said, there are still people like Anthea Butler, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, who are lobbying for Nakoula’s arrest “because he deserves it.” By that argument, any person who offends another may be arrested. Where is the logic in that determination of who deserves punishment?

Yes, Innocence of Muslims is disrespectful to Islam; just about as disrespectful as The Last Temptation of Christ was to Christianity, or Pope Benedict’s recent comment against gay marriage was to the LBGT community. Yet we didn’t see mass violence over those and that underscores the existence of a deeper problem, one that we cannot make-believe one arrest will fix.

There are violent extremists in every ideological group — the Hindu Sri Ram Sene, the far-right Ku Klux Klan, the feminist Rote Zora are testimony to that. Thus Islam, as a belief system, is not to blame for the actions of those among its people who are misguided; its fundamental teachings and core values are not the cause for the hatred towards nonbelievers. And yet it is undeniable that in recent years Muslim extremism more than any other has been growing — in terms of number of extremists, frequency of activity and degree of extremism — and this raises the question of what then, if not belief system itself, is responsible?

I believe the answer is two-fold; first, the response of the moderate segment of the Muslim community to religious extremism is insufficient, and second, the response of non-Muslim Western communities is at times overkill.

The moderate Muslims: Arsalan Iftikhar, now a regular contributing writer for The Economist and Al-Jazeera among others, initially gained widespread attention for publicly condemning the 9/11 attacks as a Muslim. In 2008, he won the acclaimed Doha Debates with teammate Ed Husain, arguing for the motion “This House believes Muslims are failing to combat terrorism.” The crux of their argument was the selective moral outrage of the Muslim community; the fact that there are vocal protests and riots during the Danish Cartoon controversy but not against clerics who issue fatwas of suicide bombing and endorse the killing of innocent human beings.

A second factor is the continued prevalence of radical groups and literature that promotes the rhetoric of unfettered jihad and violence towards non-Muslims.

Extremism is less tolerated and more spoken out against in other groups; the public outcry in India following radical incidents by Hindu fundamentalist groups and the reduction of the KKK to a largely powerless organization are proof of this. Islamic extremists make up only a minority of Muslims and hence to dis-empower them, the remaining majority need only publicly and strongly oppose their doings.

The overreacting non-Muslims: In recent years Islamophobia has proliferated Western societies. In a poll conducted in 2010, 48 percent of Muslim Americans reported they had experienced religious discrimination compared to 18 percent of Protestants. The same poll found that at least one in five Americans believe that most Muslims around the world are not accepting of other religions and of people of different races other than their own; both statistics indicate an unfair generalization of the nature of Islam based on the actions of its minority.

The result of the West’s hyperbolic reaction to Islam is to widen the divide between Muslims and non-Muslims. For example, more than half of the Muslim societies sampled in the poll believe that Muslims in the West are not treated as equal citizens; a belief that would reinforce anti-Western sentiments that may exist in these societies. A key step towards breaking the positive feedback anti-Islam/anti-West loop is therefore for Western nations to overcome Islamophobia.

Innocence of Muslims is not the first, nor will it be the last, of excuses Islamic extremists use to practice the hatred they so desire; neither will it be the last instance of the resulting growing anti-Islam sentiment in the world. It is only a manifestation of a far larger and more serious underlying problem.

Arafat over 5 years ago

The Torah or the Bible are not considered to be dictated by God. The Quran is. The Quran is supposed to be, word by word, Allahs work, dictated directly in Arabic, literally and unchangeable in all eternity, to Muhammad. There is no historicity, there is no societal evolution, there is no modernization regarded as legitimate.

How many Jews do you know today who want or even conceive of slaying both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass?

How many Muslims are there who can conceive and want to enact these or similarly horrific acts? You may say its a minority, but this very far from tiny minority has the theology on its side.

You shant find any mainstream Islamic theologian, accepted as such in an Islamic country, to ever talk about more radical parts of the Koran. Given that the Quran is the direct and literal Word of God, no part of the Quran can be judged as less than eternal and perfect by the submissive Muslim.

Anonymous over 5 years ago

Anything can be twisted to extremism, whether or not religious. Millions suffer in North Korea in the totalitarian rule that sustains itself through misinformation. Nakoula Basseley Nakoula is Christian and, while he may not have committed violent works himself (although he does seem to have a large criminal history), the hatred he demonstrates certainly could be used as an excuse for others to.

You ask how many Jews do we know and then how many Muslims are there (and even append similarly horrific to the latter). Obviously the answer to the first will be less than the answer to the second; but I can say I don't personally know anyone in either category.

And in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, there are always people who take the text literally. Just because the Quran is meant to be the literal word of God doesn't mean that it is taken literally. There are plenty of Muslims who believe it is metaphorical and must be interpreted as such.

Arafat over 5 years ago


Your comparing Islam to other religions is commonplace and understandable and is indicative that your understanding of religions is quite superficial. Just as Buddhism is unique, Hinduism is unique, Animism is unique, Christianity is unique so is Islam. Yes, they are all religions, but that does not make them similar in most details.

Islam is the only religion where we find a prophet (Mohammed) who pillaged, tortured, who condoned murder and enslavement as tools to spread his faith and to enrich it at the same time. All of these barbaric acts are enshrined in Islamic texts and encouraged. When Islamists are released from Guantanamo, or from confinement elsewhere they are given a heros welcome back home. Street names and town squares are named after jihadists who have murdered women and children intentionally. Is this also true of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism? Obviously not.

In Islam it is considered a holy act to die in the act of violent jihad. We may hear otherwise from Muslim apologists, but these gentle admonitions are nothing more than smokescreens intended to confuse.

So, yes, it is easy to find Christians, Jews and people of other religious faiths who violate their religious tenets but these people are not lionized or if they are it is in violation of their religions true teachings they are accused of crimes instead.

This is just one way in which Islam stands alone, and it explains why we see Muslim conflicts with all faiths, even today. Be it in southern Thailand where thousands of Buddhists have been killed, Pakistan where the ethnic cleansing of Hindus is happening, Iran where the Bahia are being ethnically cleansed, Nigeria and Egypt where the Christians are being ethnically cleansed, Sudan and Somalia and Mali where black Africans are being wiped out, or the UN yesterday where Ahmadinejad called for the annihilation of Jews; Islam is unique and comparing it to other religions as if this were not the case only serves to muddy the waters.

Anonymous over 5 years ago

If you actually read what I wrote, you would see that I never compared Islam to any other religions; I merely pointed out that you were incorrect in suggesting that the Quran being the literal meaning of God implies that Muslims believe the Quran must be taking literally.

Not even going into the inaccuracies in your second paragraph, I'm just going to say that even if that were true (which it obviously isn't), these represent believers in the religion and not the religion itself. However, you seem to somehow believe that the concepts behind Islam support aggressive acts and cannot be interpreted in any other way, which as I already said is absolutely false.

If you're calling these "Muslim apologists" liars, then are you really afraid of every Muslim on the planet, including the ones at MIT? Or if you're saying that they're not true Muslims, then what defines a true Muslim? What's stopping a definition of similar definition of a true Christian?

You say that when believers of other religions commit crimes then they're actually going against their religion. This is a completely artificial distinction; within every religion there are factions that think about the religion in very different ways, some of them violently and some of them not. Believing that true teaching of every religion except Islam does not condone terrorism, and that Islam's true teaching do happen to condone terrorism, is irrational.

Your last paragraph exemplifies your ignorance of the distinction between hatred and intolerance, which are emotions, and Islam. Anyone can commit violent acts, and whether or not Muslims in general are more violent, Islam by itself does nothing. The Quran and other Islamic texts are meant to be interpreted metaphorically, and reading it as though it advocates terrorism suggests a violent state of the reader.

The Nazi were certainly not Muslim, yet they exterminated millions. That doesn't mean that every German is a murderer.

Anonymous over 5 years ago

This article captures the crux of the problem brilliantly - now let's hope that the wildfire of the Libyans who protested AGAINST the extremists continues to spread to the other Muslim countries and to the world, and that the next Arab spring is an Arab autumn and full on denunciation of violence in the name of Islam. Thank you for your article.

Mr P over 5 years ago

Mr Arafat,

I'm not sure what picture of Islam and the Qur'an you have been exposed to.

The Prophet Huhammad's message is summed up as a mission of mercy to everyone:

"And We have not sent you, [O Muhammad], except as a mercy to the worlds." [Qur'an, 21:107]

The Qur'an condemns murder and pillaging, and this is reiterated in the hadiths (sayings of Prophet Muhammad). For example:

We decreed upon the Children of Israel that whoever kills a soul unless for a soul or for corruption [done] in the land it is as if he had slain mankind entirely. And, whoever saves one, it is as if he had saved mankind Entirely. [Qur'an, 5:32]

Among mankind is he whose speech impresses you in worldly life, and he calls Allah to witness as to what is in his heart, yet he is the fiercest of opponents. And, when he goes away, he strives throughout the land to cause corruption therein, and to destroy crops and lives. And Allah does not love corruption. [Qur'an, 2:204-5]

The Prophet Muhammad has said that, Indeed, God tortures those who torture people in this world. [Narrated by Abu Dawud and others]

He has also told us that God will be the adversary of someone who sells a free man. [Narrated by Bukhari and others]

The Qur'an is not pacifistic, but it lays down clear rules for just war, and these are reiterated and detailed further in the hadith. Those verses of the Qur'an that speak about warfare and the like are easily understood in immediate and larger context. I am disturbed by your brushing off Muslim condemnations of terrorism as 'smokescreens.' Whether Muslims speak out or not, you seem intent on condemning them. Isn't this a rather unfair, 'Catch-22' attitude? Condemnations by Muslim leaders, scholars and others are abundant. And the primary texts of Islam are in their favor, against the extremists.

I pray that God grant you felicity.

Anonymous over 5 years ago

Anonymous wrote:

"Anyone can commit violent acts, and whether or not Muslims in general are more violent, Islam by itself does nothing. The Quran and other Islamic texts are meant to be interpreted metaphorically"

I agree with much of what you said. And it is not my intention to disrespect Islam per se. Only it seems political in part to me. And in part opposed to high values, important laws of a full democratic system. Which is what I and many choose over all other political systems.

Islam can be studied wholly. It is from Quran-Hadiths-Sira and there are highly influential Islamic schools of thought (Shafi-Hanafi-Hanbali-Maliki and more).

I do agree that the interpretation of all that varies enormously, but that does not mean that "Islam does nothing" in my opinion. Islam would be useless in that case. Obviously Muslims think it does much good. And to deny both it's good and bad influences in relation to high democratic and human rights values and laws is both wrong. And judgements of Islam should not be always denied out of hand but thoroughly discussed. Then people can choose and understand and tolerate others better.

If Muslims interpret Islam in a anti-democratic way, let them be honest about it. Anjem Choudhary does so openly. If they do find Islam compatible with democracy let them discuss these matters openly and extensively with the so-called Islamophobes or counter-jihadists. Often people who know Islam and it's various interpretations well, often ex-Muslims, who fear Islam due to it's mighty influence so threathening to them.

Arafat over 5 years ago

Anonymous writes, You say that when believers of other religions commit crimes then they're actually going against their religion. This is a completely artificial distinction; within every religion there are factions that think about the religion in very different ways, some of them violently and some of them not. Believing that true teaching of every religion except Islam does not condone terrorism, and that Islam's true teaching do happen to condone terrorism, is irrational.

Anonymous, what I wrote is that all religions are unique and that Islam is unique in several ways including the fact that its prophet enslaved, raped, led battles and had his men kill helpless people, consummated the marriage with his eleventh wife when she was only none and he was over 50, tortured those who refused to convert or stood up to his authority, etc

All these actions are described in Muslim holy books as well as in the earliest recorded histories written about Mohammed.

Now you can argue until youre blue in the face that Mohammeds behavior and demands of his followers can be interpreted this way, that way, or some other way, but the simple truth is that he is considered as close to a perfect man as can be found (by Muslims) and his influence on Muslims is profound. Are you suggesting Buddhas life could be interpreted as a rationalization towards violent jihad?

FK Regs over 5 years ago

Arafat , you are trying to tell the world that you know the whole Islam ,but you know nothing about Islam. There are men who are seems like human but worst than human in their act. Its confirmed that world is filled with people like you , great news for you , isn't ?