A friend posted the classic optimistic perspective:
“I live in an area with a sizeable Muslim population, and all the Muslims I know have been forcefully condemning terrorism to anyone who asks for as long as I’ve been here. It’s a rightwing myth that mainstream Muslim opinion is pro-violence.”
Hmm – this is tricky.
The problem is two-fold. What is the definition of mainstream, and how do we assess what Muslims actually believe.
1) There is no debate that the prophet of Islam was a successful war leader who united the tribes of Mecca under his rule. To achieve this he used military force. Following his example in the years immediately after his death the Islamic Caliphate conquered large swathes of territory, only being turned back in France after its absorbsion of Spain.
The Ottomans were last repulsed from Vienna in the 17th century.
There is a strong belief in many schools of Islam that the imposition of Sharia law by any means possible, including violence, is a legitimate way to spread the benefits of Allah’s rule to infidels. This is blatantly expressed by Khomeni in his comments:
‘Islam’s jihad is a struggle against idolatry, sexual deviation, plunder, repression, and cruelty. The war waged by [non-Islamic] conquerors, however, aims at promoting lust and animal pleasures. They care not if whole countries are wiped out and many families left homeless. But those who study jihad will understand why Islam wants to conquer the whole world. All the countries conquered by Islam or to be conquered in the future will be marked for everlasting salvation. For they shall live under [God’s law]…. Those who know nothing of Islam pretend that Islam counsels against war. Those [who say this] are witless.’
[Barry M. Rubin and Judith Colp Rubin, eds. Anti-American terrorism and the Middle East: A documentary reader. (Oxford: OUP, 2004) 29]
There are many Muslims who claim to reject this belief. Are they mainstream, or is it legitimate to point to the historic tradition and explicit views of many ‘mainstream’ to challenge this?
2) The problem is exacerbated by the fact that Islam allows its believers to lie as required to achieve its aims. Specifically the fact that Islam is at war with the world and seeking to use war to bring Allah’s rule to all means that lying about their true attitude to violence is wholly consistent with being a good Muslim. This means that holders of the ‘right wing myth’ that Islam is pro-violence can’t be disproved. The concept is that of Taqiyya
Having said all that, I have no doubt that there are many Muslims who honestly don’t espouse violence as a means of spreading Islam. Sadly however the nature of their religion means that they can’t be trusted; that’s a choice which they must live with.