Yes, Of Course It Was Jihad, Ctd

Dreher notes why extremist Islam may be even more susceptible to violent expression than other religions that have proven extremely bloody in the past:

When a Christian murders, as many have done, sometimes with church sanction, he acts in direct contravention of Christ’s example and command. When a Muslim murders, he sometimes carries out Muhammad’s command, which is to say, Allah’s. … Obviously many, many Muslims choose less bloodthirsty interpretations of these verses, and this is the sort of thing that non-Muslims should encourage, for the sake of peace. Nevertheless, the existence of these verses, and the extremely high regard Islam has for its holy book, makes it harder to come against those who wish to kill in the name of Islam.

Millman counters:

If we were to test the proposition, “Islam is inherently more violent than other religions,” we’d need to compare Islamic civilization across time and space to other civilizations (and control properly for other factors). Are Dreher and Sullivan quite sure of what the result of such a comparison would be? Are they quite sure that, say, things like cousin marriage, or a burgeoning population of underemployed males, or the legacy of Cold War-era arms races, or the coincidence of massive oil wealth in the hands of a particularly puritanical sect on the Arabian peninsula, or the intrusion of Zionism, or the demographic decline of Christian Europe (and Russia), or the ructions of modernization meeting a subordination of women that pre-dates Islam, or . . . well, there’s a long list of theories for why Islam’s borders are bloody now. Are we quite sure that those theories are less-correct than the theory, “they are getting their ideas from a bad book?”

But Millman is completely misrepresenting my post, the third sentence of which is the following:

All religion, including Christianity, is susceptible to the violence associated with tribalism and fundamentalism. Christianity’s murderousness through the ages is a matter of historical fact, from the Crusades to the Inquisition and beyond.

That was also the core point of the essay I wrote over a decade ago and linked to this week and stand by:

[Osama bin Laden’s theology has] roots in an extreme and violent strain in Islam that emerged in the 18th century in opposition to what was seen by some Muslims as Ottoman decadence but has gained greater strength in the 20th.

I have long believed that this kind of Internet-based, tradition-free, radical Islam is a creation of modernity – not integral to the faith as lived by countless Muslims for centuries. I have long put it in the historical context of Islam’s long heritage of peaceful governance and human charity. And in many ways, Christianity has more to account for than Islam over the centuries.

After all, it takes a lot more evil to turn a radical non-violent homeless pacifist like Jesus into the cause for a murderous Crusade than it does to select justifications of violence from the Koran and re-enact them. But my reader’s point about the unique challenge modernity poses to religions that claim territory as sacred and that insist that doctrines cannot be altered one iota from texts written centuries ago is a real one. Christianity has reason and clear doctrines of nonviolence to guard against this. But is bombing abortion clinics Christianist terrorism? Abso-fucking-lutely. Freddie reframes the debate:

To me … the question isn’t whether Tamerlan Tsarnaev believed he was waging jihad. The question is, what’s the difference for our next step? How and why would a religious motivation matter? Where the question of Islamic extremism is made relevant is in our perception that there is a larger network of extremists who are eager and able to launch violent attacks against this country. As you know, I’m a skeptic about the size and destructive ability of that network. But it is ancillary to the conversation, because all of our current best evidence suggests that the Tsarnaev brothers worked alone, and had no connection to Al Qaeda or any other anti-American group. The analogy for the Tsarnaev brothers shouldn’t be to the 9/11 hijackers but to the Fort Hood shooter or the DC snipers. Sure: individuals or small groups have the ability to be inspired (in whole or in part) by Islam, along with personal anger and feelings of inadequacy and grievance against American foreign policy and plain old sociopathy. And because of the reality of modern technology, these people have the ability to kill other people. What they do not have, and should not be mistaken for having, is the ability to represent a serious threat to the basic security and prosperity of this or any other country.

On that I am in total agreement. I don’t think there’s much we can do to stop this kind of thing, except constitutional surveillance, public vigilance, and withdrawal of our troops from Muslim countries. The Tsarnaev brothers do not represent a resurgence of al Qaeda; they represent the permanent threat religious fundamentalism poses to modernity, especially if that religion believes itself under siege and has texts that sanction the murder of infidels and apostates. Of course, this threat may be magnified by psychological distortion, personal history, contingent events, and pure chance. But that does not mean it is a chimera. The blood on the streets of Boston was real and red enough.