Should the West be at war with Islam? In a critique of the hard-line stance against Islam, John Guardiano rebukes David Swindle, who has called for the “eradication” of Islam. Marine officer Guardiano is applying his firepower against a low-value target. Let me suggest to John that he turn his attention to some brave and thoughtful people who also stand against Islam with no less vigor but with much more sense: the Human Rights Service, located out of Norway. Contributors to HRS’s website are secularists of the left and right, including Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Ibn Warraq, and Bruce Bawer. These writers are at war with Islam too – a war of enlightenment ideals against a fundamentalist faith, exactly the kind of war that Hirsi Ali’s hero, Voltaire, waged against the Catholic Church.
The Human Rights Service writers (and I am one of them) reject the postmodern proposition that the plain words of a text are endlessly malleable; that they allow for any interpretation the reader wants from them. When the Qur’an states that the testimony of a woman is not worth as much as a man’s, it is not to be read as an esoteric, arcane piece of apocrypha that secretly holds a feminist message: it is instead simply to be taken for what it obviously says – and then condemned. There’s no hidden message beneath the contempt for women. It’s just sexist.
Like the Enlightenment tamed Christianity, Islam too must be moderated. But Volatire, Hume, Montesquieu, and Madison have not yet found their Islamic equivalents, perhaps because certain clearly specified Qur’anic values that simply cannot be reconciled with Enlightenment ones.
The great thinkers of the past tried to undermine the values of the Church. They did not do this by treating it with awed reverence and solemn respect. The entire point of Voltaire’s critique of Christianity was, indeed, to undermine the religion and drag it into the modern world. The Enlightenment was, at its core, a war on faith in the name of reason. It was a century-long process that involved much kicking and screaming, a lot of excess, and a few tragically misguided philosophies. But the glory of its end result can hardly be denied: the crowning achievement of the American project, and its secular, capitalist culture – the first country on Earth that placed full legal primacy in the individual.
Islam has not yet gone through that messy process. It must. To say so is no more “Islamaphobic” than Thomas Jefferson was “Christophobic.”
Some may concede that above point – but argue that criticisms must from “insiders.” Apostates like Hirsi Ali and Ibn Warraw, infidels like Bawer and me and achieve nothing. But why can we not speak for ourselves? If even Europeans won’t condemn the misogyny of the burqa, how can someone who’s grown up with it fight against it? The West cannot hope for Islamic reformers to come forward unless we affirm our confidence in our own values. Debates about tone and rhetorical approach are completely appropriate, but our fundamentals must be clear.