“Who cares whether it's a perversion of Islam or not?” The subject was terrorism, specifically the attack at London Bridge, and after the politicians had made their usual statements to the effect that this atrocity had nothing whatsoever to do with Islam, or was (at most) a terrible betrayal or perversion or hijacking thereof, several of us expressed the usual outrage over this barefaced lie. But one friend of mine, quoted above, wasn't having it. “Who,” he asked, “cares?”
It's a common question, posed routinely by millions of people who sincerely think that focusing on Islam in the wake of terrorist acts only makes things worse. Yes, the politicians may be lying through their teeth when they accuse terrorists of hijacking Islam, but these lies, we're told, are benign lies, which help to avoid giving unnecessary insult, to prevent increased radicalization, and to preserve social cohesion. Why, then, not just go along with the pretense that the terrorists' ideology is a perversion of Islam?
Quick answer: It's a matter of living with the truth. For some of us, that's important. People who have lived under totalitarian regimes but who now enjoy freedom understand this in a way that suburban American twenty-somethings may not. No, none of us can ever know the whole truth about any subject. But if we live in a free country, we are free to inquire, to study, to struggle for knowledge of the truth, and that is a freedom to be cherished.
Equally precious is our right to articulate the truth and act responsibly upon it. There are whole lives based on lies, whole marriages based on lies, and whole societies based on lies. To study Communist history is to see what kind of society takes shape when people feel compelled to assent to the truth of a proposition that they know to be false. I've just begun reading Orlando Figes's 2007 book The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia, described on its back cover as “the story of ordinary people in Stalin's Russia, a world where everyone was afraid to talk and a society spoke in whispers.” A society, in short, of necessary lies and forbidden truths.
I know that that is not the kind of society my friend and most of those who share his views would like to live in. Presumably they believe that universal voluntary assent to a single lie about the subject of Islam would be, on balance, a positive pragmatic act, not a major sacrifice. I could not disagree more. Even if universal assent to a lie begins as voluntary, the assent soon ends up being mandatory and speaking the truth becomes a crime. And freedom, just like that, is lost.
We've already seen this grim reality start to take hold in the West, with people like Lars Hedegaard in Denmark, Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, and Ezra Levant in Canada being prosecuted merely for speaking the truth about Islam. I wrote a whole book, Surrender: Appeasing Islam, Sacrificing Freedom (2009), about self-censorship and state censorship in the West on the subject of Islam. This brand of censorship is a phenomenon that emerged, and has spread, with unsettling rapidity.
My friend, after expressing his indifference to the question of whether the terrorists' ideology is a perversion of Islam or not, proceeded to ask: “What difference does it make to the security situation? What good does escalating the rhetoric do, what use does it do to try and increase our number of enemies by declaring the religion rather than its militants as our enemy? It is so pointless and counterproductive.”
This, too, is a common view. Two points: First, when you're capable of viewing the telling of simple truths as “escalating the rhetoric,” and calling terrorists “militants,” you've already headed some distance down a dangerous path. Second, it's not just about “militants.” While only a small minority of Muslims are violent jihadists, polls show that large percentages of Muslims in the West actually support violent jihad. They may feel moral qualms about killing, or may just not be gutsy enough to kill, but they recognize that violent jihadists are following the Koran and they respect them for it. As good Muslims, they can't do otherwise.
Similarly, large percentages of western Muslims accept women's subordinate status under sharia law, agree that apostates and gays and rape victims should be executed, and consider wife-beating and honor killing to not just be permissible but (under certain circumstances) obligatory. In the long term, they look forward to the replacement of Western democracy with sharia law, and seek a West in which infidels are either killed, converted, or subordinated to Muslim authority.
Yes, many self-identified Muslims – there is no way of knowing just how many – are good people who reject the whole kit and caboodle. They even have Christian, Jewish, and/or atheist friends. All of which disqualifies them from being considered legitimate Muslims. If they nonetheless claim to be Muslims, it's presumably because they know that apostasy is a death sentence. They're good people – but by being good people they are, by the religion's own definition, being bad Muslims.
They may parrot the line that the terrorists have hijacked the faith. But in doing so, they're telling the same lie that my friend wants all of us infidels to tell. Let's face it: why should any of us want to live with such a lie? Wouldn't it be better for all of us infidels – both those of us in the West who have worn the label since birth and those of us from Muslim backgrounds who feign piety to dodge trouble – to live openly with the truth about ourselves and about the “religion of peace”?
There are, of course, already some brave ex-Muslims in the West – I am proud to know a few of them personally – who are open about their apostasy, as well as about the Islamic roots of violent jihad. If there's anyone these ex-Muslims despise more than the theological bullies they came West to escape, it's the Western leaders who turn a deaf ear to them, the apostates, even as those same leaders welcome true believers to the West and appease them – by, among other things, meekly parroting the lie that violent jihad has nothing to do with Islam.
Those of us Westerners who join in echoing that lie are not only betraying the truth and selling out our posterity; we are spitting in the faces of the freedom-loving ex-Muslims with whom we should stand shoulder to shoulder, and from whose courage we would do well to learn.