On Feb. 23, 2017, national security adviser H.R. McMaster reiterated his stance that Islamic ideology is essentially irreligious, and that Jihadi terrorists are not true to the religion they claim to be part of.
He discouraged the use of the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” because “terrorist organizations like ISIS represent a perversion of Islam, and are thus un-Islamic.” In December, McMaster warned us to “never buy in or reinforce the terrorist narrative that this is a war of religion.”
Although commonplace, this argument is simply wrong. While I rightly acknowledge it’s perfectly possible to follow Islam without committing or encouraging terrorism, we cannot ignore the link between doctrine and behavior.
It is impossible to deny the role that Islam, as a set of ideals, plays in international terrorism and gross abuse of human rights in the countries where it is enacted by law.
When it comes to religion, doctrine matters. And how can anyone hope to have a productive discussion about the tenets that make up Islam when even the mildest criticism of the doctrine labels you bigoted, racist, or (gasp), Islamophobic?
As an atheist, I stand outside the reach of all religions equally, and recognize that religious history and doctrinal differences matter.
Generally, public criticism of any religion, ancient or contemporary, is completely acceptable, and should be encouraged. It is noteworthy, then, that criticism of any other religion nowadays will earn you at worst a dose of invective, whereas saying the wrong words or drawing the wrong cartoons about Islam will get you killed in any country where Islam is the official religion, and liable to earn you physical repercussions in countries where it is not.
Why is that it in Western countries, merely pointing out the similarities between the writings of the Quran and the Hadiths and the violent and intolerant preachings of groups such as the Islamic State is cause for censure?
We certainly have no problem holding Christianity responsible for its part in the horrific Spanish Inquisition, nor do we stutter at recognizing Christian scripture as having encouraged anti-Semitic attitudes along European history.
Ah, I can hear the rebuttal already: “Of course there are horrible passages in the Quran. It was written at a different time, and there are similarly horrible ones in the Bible!”
The Bible mentions war and atrocities like History book.
Islam, on the other hand, has become more intolerant than it was a millennium ago, when Muslims stole from Greeks algebra and algorithms and naming the celestial bodies after themselves. The result is that Christians can shake off most criticisms of their own scripture and their beliefs, but the Islamic world seems a lot more thin-skinned.
I, however, reject the often-brought-up and dangerous notion of this conflict being a “war of civilizations,” pitching the united secular West against the similarly united dogmatic Islamic world.
This is wrong simply because it is an inaccurate depiction of both sides. This particular struggle is far more complicated and it is certainly not contained by international borders or racial origin. This is a war of ideas, not of skin color.
Which is why the first victims of Islamic extremism are almost always Muslims: women, apostates, homosexuals, modern Muslims seeking the evolution of their faith, and yes, even just Muslims who belong to the wrong traditional Islamic sect.
Similarly, the people often most opposed to helping the victims of Islamo-fascism, those who refuse to hold Islamic ideas accountable for their role in these crimes, are not Muslims at all, but westerners brandishing multiculturalist arguments.
Meaningful change can only come from within the Islamic world, from the reformist voices that want to modernize Islam to fit today’s standards of human decency and compassion. These are the people whom we must try to empower today by giving them coverage, a platform to speak out of, and most importantly, by acknowledging their suffering and struggle.
It is for this reason that we must not delude ourselves with the idea that all cultures are equally good in every way. We should not shy away from sensitive conversations about the role of religious dogma, even at the risk of being called racist or Islamophobic. Such insults are minor and insignificant compared to the atrocities that the victims of this violent and intolerant doctrine suffer every day.
Louis Sarkozy is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. He is a student in philosophy and religion at New York University. He is the youngest son of former French President Nicolas Sarkozy.