In the third week of February 2015, the Anti-Extremism Summit commenced. At the behest of President Barack Obama and the White House, said Summit was held over a three day period and welcomed some world leaders to discuss reasons why someone might become “radicalized” or turn to an “extreme” belief system and engage in acts of terrorism. Remarks by the President and United States attendees centered around the argument that we could curb the desire to join an extreme group by offering better employment opportunities or more integration, less separation in society. Or maybe better, inclusive government. Or maybe education? Yet, for all the time spent on the subject of what draws someone into a radical view, one thing wasn’t said: That this summit was really all about Islamism.
If it weren’t for the assassinations at satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo and the rise of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, we wouldn’t have held this summit. So why not call it what it is? The Anti-Islamism Summit. Well, actually, I can understand why not. It would immediately shut out the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims, thinking that their religion was on trial. So calling it Anti-Extremism is fine and would have allowed the Summit to talk about all groups, like neo-nazis, if they wanted to. But they didn’t. Without saying it, this was really about what’s been happening in Islam’s name. So call it Anti-Extremism if you want. But whereas I am certain Adolf Hitler and Mein Kampf would have been brought up to discuss neo-nazis, we never heard about how Islam may be part of the Islamic State.
Islam is a religion.
Muslim is a person who practices the religion of Islam.
Islamism is the desire to govern under the rules of Islam, Sharia Law.
Most Muslims practice bits and pieces of Islam, most ignoring the violent parts, engaging in Ramadan and other peaceful festivals. In summary, they keep it to themselves. Just like most practitioners of other religions, you might not even know someone was a Muslim if you just saw them in a shopping mall unless they wore clothing associated with Islam. Even then you might be wrong.
And then there are the few who want everyone to live under Sharia Law, live under the rules of Islam. These are the Muslims that make up the Islamic State. These are the ones who shoot up cartoonists. These are the ones we are at war with. These are the ones violently working to achieve Islamism.
It is Islamism that should have been put on trial. This is what the Summit danced around. Yet no one said it. Why?
On February 20, 2015, TIME published “Obama is Right Not to talk about ‘Islamic’ Terrorism” (1). Said opinion piece claimed that President Obama was right not to say we’re at war with Islamic terrorism because doing so would eventually lead people to believe we’re at war with Islam itself. In other words, people would start to think all Muslims are terrorists. Maybe. Maybe not. But it is what was on the table without a label at this summit. I suspect there is a taboo so big here that we risk continued violence if we avoid saying it.
My attention to the TIME article was from a Tweet from the Counsil on American-Islamic Relations (@CAIRNational), clearly in support of the opinion piece and reasoning not to call a spade a spade. And it occurred to me, the problem is going to have to start with Muslim organizations themselves. These organizations are going to have to stop pretending their holy books don’t say what they say. It has to start with them. After that, it’ll be okay for everyone to say such things. We can poke fun all we want at Moses and Jesus without being shot, right? We’ve yet to see that kind of tolerance about Muhammed.
What if King Salman of Saudi Arabia held this summit and declared Islam has a problem? What if Iran held such a summit? Here’s the point: The problem has to be recognized, named and analyzed by those practicing Islam. Then maybe all of us outsiders can join in without being told we’re being bigots or racists. Maybe we’ll have some momentum.
A collective group of, primarily atheists, have been pointing out that cases like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, or Boko Haram or any other organization operating like them, are not radical Islam, but Islam per se. That is, Islam exactly as it’s written. We have it backwards. It isn’t the radicals that are promoting violence. The radicals are the majority of Muslims who don’t fight Christians, Jews and unbelievers. The radicals are not the ones who are beheading. The radicals are the Muslims not taking the Qur’an or Hadith seriously, the ones who practice like most Christians and Jews, taking the “good” parts and ignoring the bad. The radicals are the ones who have integrated into a secular society, living under secular rules and laws and not attempting to put their country under Sharia Law. We need Islam’s version of Martin Luther, who needs to pin the list of grievances on the doors of Mecca.
Consider the Catholic religion. The Vatican has laid out it’s rules: No birth control, no abortions, observe Lent, go through the acts of Catechism and so forth. But lots of Catholics use birth control, have had abortions and still call themselves Catholics. These are the radical Catholics. The real Catholics are the ones practicing Catholicism as close to Vatican orders as possible. The radical Muslims are the majority who operate the same as the radical Catholics. Those adherents that take seriously the exact word of the Qur’an and Hadith, those are the ones to be worried about. Just as I’d worry about a Christian who suggested we bring back Deuteronomy.
I’d like to stop using radical to name the problem Muslims. The radicals are the good guys. They are thankfully more numerous and work and play and do business with and make enjoyable company with the rest of us. The problem is Islamism, those Muslims using violence to make everyone convert to Islam. And they are honoring their rule book as close to what is written in it as possible. By not naming the problem, all the wrong reasons for why someone would join the Islamic State or shoot up editors over cartoons is missed. Instead of just saying what the problem is, in order not to offend the majority of Muslim people, we act like it’s bad economics or adventure seeking or anything but Islam.
We must say that yes, the world, not just the United States, is at war with Islamism. We are at war with people who wish to force Islam onto the world. Any part of the world that wishes to live free must start calling it like it is. Any part of the world that wishes to not be held hostage to the rules held in an old book, written by a not so humble merchant thirteen-hundred-years ago.
According to the Wikipedia article on the Smiths’ album, “The World Won’t Listen”, the reason Morrissey named it such was out of his frustration with radio and record buyers ignoring his band. I couldn’t help but title this essay the same, feeling like an outsider, an atheist but raised as a Catholic, trying to make the world listen.
I’m afraid we’ll end up with more cartoonists dying over this ideology or men and women joining groups like the Islamic State, until Islam has its reformation. Until we stop thinking these men and women are joining these groups because they don’t have a good education or jobs or enough likes on Facebook, we’ll never solve this.
The first step is getting Muslim organizations and governments to admit the Islamic State is practicing according to the orders laid out in their holy books. Second is to admit that today (never mind back then) living under such orders is not reasonable. Third, calling for a complete separation of mosque and state.
Then…the President of the United States can say it.
Then…other world leaders can say it.
Then…everyone can say it.
Then…the world will listen.