Islam: a religion of peace?

Posted: Nov 20, 2003 12:00 AM

A "religion of peace," says President Bush about Islam. But investigative journalist Robert Spencer, in his new book "Onward Muslim Soldiers: How Jihad Still Threatens America and the West," argues that what we call "Islamic extremism" stems from a straightforward reading of the Koran and interpretative Islamic texts.

On Nov. 10, 2003, I interviewed Spencer.

Larry Elder: Is Islam a religion of peace that's been hijacked by Islamic extremists, as George W. Bush says?

Robert Spencer: There are millions of peaceful Muslims . . . but the fact is that radical Muslims are using core texts of Islam that are deeply rooted in Islamic theology, tradition, history and law to justify their actions, and those radical Muslims are able to recruit and motivate terrorists around the world by appealing to these core Islamic texts. . . . As far as the radical, violent elements of the religion go, they are very deeply rooted, and we are naive in the extreme if we don't recognize that and try to get moderate Muslims to acknowledge it so that real reform can take place.

Elder: Have some translations of the Koran taken out the more extreme statements?

Spencer: The only Koran that really matters is what's in Arabic, because as far as traditional Islamic theology goes, Allah . . . was speaking to Muhammad through the angel Gabriel, and the language is intrinsic, can't be separated from the message. The fact is that what's in Arabic is very clear . . . but in two opposite directions. What you have are very many verses of peace and tolerance, and also very many verses sanctioning and mandating violence against non-believers. . . .

You find many moderate Muslim spokesmen and American-Muslim advocates in this country, who quote you the peaceful and tolerant verses, and no reference to the violent verses. . . . When you read Islamic theologians themselves . . . you find they actually confront this problem directly. . . . Some of the most respected thinkers in Islamic history say that when you come upon these kinds of disagreements -- where you see peace in one place and violence in the other -- you have to go with what was revealed last, that cancels out what was revealed before. Unfortunately, for the moderates, the violent verses were revealed later and they cancel out the peaceful ones -- but you won't hear this from the American Muslim advocacy groups. . . .

What we need to see is a forthright acknowledgement of it and reform from moderate Muslims themselves, the same way that the Pope has apologized for the Crusades and Christianity at large . . . has repudiated the theology that gave rise to them. So we need to see . . . moderates on a large scale repudiating the theology that has led to violent jihad, which the radicals are using to justify their actions.

Elder: You write, "Muslims must present non-Muslims with the three choices of Sura 9:29 of the (Koran): conversion, submission with second-class status under Islamic rule, or death."

Spencer: Correct. This is a deeply rooted tradition in Islam. Islam is unique among religions in having a developed doctrine theology in law that mandates violence against non-believers. Not all Muslims take it seriously, but the radicals do, and they are working to recruit and motivate terrorists. So . . . whenever anybody says we want to institute Sharia Islamic law in a country, they mean these laws. They do not provide for the equality of rights and dignity of non-Muslims in a Muslim society . . . (but) mandate just the opposite -- that non-Muslims are not to be given equality of rights, but denied various jobs because they're not allowed to hold authority over Muslims.

They must pay a special tax called the jizya, which is referred to in the verse you mentioned. . . . Their humiliation and inferior status is enforced with numerous other regulations, still part of Islamic law, and liable to be enforced by radical Muslims and who want to gain power and institute Islamic law. . . .

Anybody who is concerned about human rights would be resisting and be happy to join in the War on Terror.

Larry: So, when the president says that Islam is a religion of peace, is he saying that because it's a politically correct way of phrasing it so that people don't get the impression that we are at war against a religion?

Spencer: Your guess is as good as mine in terms of what the president is thinking. . . . He's aware that radical Muslims are trying to make this into that kind of a war . . . and he's trying . . . to keep that from happening. . . . The problem with what he's saying is that it's misleading. If it's followed through, it might hinder law enforcement efforts against radical Muslims who are operating in the United States . . . and it could have very serious consequences.

Elder: What should he say?

Spencer: I think he should say nothing. As Pat Robertson said, he wasn't appointed the Chief Theologian of the United States . . . he doesn't have to tell Americans what Islam is all about. All he has to do is fight against the enemies that are threatening . . . our freedom and our continued life in the United States.