November 2007

Islam v. Radical Secularism:

Which Is the Greater Enemy?


By Justin Soutar

December 2, 2005 (Revised November 9, 2006; January 2, 2007; and July 23, 2007)



           Ever since the dreadful terrorist attacks of 9/11, neoconservatives have made dire predictions about the looming threat of Islam. At all levels of American public life from government officials to university professors to respected magazine editors to radio talk show hosts, from Catholics and non-Catholics alike, we hear the same ominous warnings. The underlying fear is that, if the Muslim world continues growing in numbers and religious fervor, it will eventually be poised to annihilate our Judeo-Christian Western civilization. Those who subscribe to this analysis point triumphantly to repeated violent reactions by fanatics to real and perceived insults against the Islamic faith, as well as to the long-running terrorist conflagrations in Israel and Iraq, as proof of what they have warned us about for five years—that Islam is the greatest enemy of the US and the West.

           But this view contains two serious flaws. First, it muddies the water with fallacious generalizations that cover up and distort reality. Second, it leaves too many important facts crying out for explanation, the most remarkable of which is the near-universal, deeply rooted Muslim hatred for the evil of Western radical secularism.


Muslims: Image v. Reality

           Why do Muslims hate the West? According to conservatives and neoconservatives, they hate the fundamental ideas of Christianity, democracy, and freedom that America represents. Their impression seems to be that Muslims in general are becoming utterly depraved, evil, almost subhuman creatures, bent on annihilating the Christian West because it is so full of goodness. Upon forthright examination of the evidence, however, this opinion is shown to be a fallacy.

           First of all, contrary to what the US news media leads Americans to think, the Muslim people have not committed en masse to terrorism. It is fairly well-known that ninety percent of all Muslims worldwide belong to the Sunni branch of Islam, which emphasizes individual interpretation of the Koran and from which the majority of terrorists have emerged. Al-Qaeda is estimated to include 50,000 devoted members; all “Muslim” terrorist networks combined amount to some one hundred thousand persons; and several million “lone wolves” who are willing to use violence without the help of a terrorist organization exist in Asia, Europe and Africa. In addition, those “Muslim” individuals who deliberately assist terrorists in performing their acts could constitute a worldwide number as high as ten million. But all these numbers still add up to barely one percent of all self-proclaimed Muslims worldwide. So even though most Muslims are Sunnis and thus vulnerable to extremism, only a mere handful can be called terrorists. The vast masses of those who call themselves Mohammed’s followers, together with most imams and other religious leaders, are upright, peaceful people who condemn atrocities against innocent civilians. Yet they have been demonized “evildoers” as though the majority were terrorists! As Muslims grow in numbers and gradually anchor their presence in all the Western countries, neoconservative commentators are quick to sound the alarm that “Islam” is a greater threat than Adolf Hitler. However, given that terrorists remain a small, deviant, heretical “Islamic” movement, “Islam” itself should not be considered the main problem.

           But perhaps a growing, resurgent, radical branch of Islam teaches hatred of Christianity and the West? In the context of the current wave of Muslim terrorism, neoconservatives remind us of the Muslim threat to Europe which the Crusaders had to drive back in the first part of the second millennium. But neoconservatives fail to point out the sharp differences between the Crusader Era and today’s situation. To begin with, the earlier centuries of Islam, when the great dynastic empires stretched across the Middle East, were the time of conquering the world for Islam. Catholics from Palestine to Europe refused to commit apostasy, making it necessary for them to take up arms to defend their religious freedom and civilization. Generally, the Turks were undeniably aggressive and could not be negotiated with. But Islam today does not have an empire. And the few terrorists, by their very nature, are eager to negotiate because terrorism is a weapon of negotiation used to wring demands out of an inflexible government. It is the systematic failure to achieve the right to a redress of grievances that drives “Muslim” terrorism, especially in Iraq.

           A second difference between that time and today is that the Turks were military warriors in the vast armies of the Seljuk Empire, whereas a tiny fraction of modern Muslims are bands of civilian terrorists. Neoconservatives totally ignore the difference in terms of both numerical representation and status. First, the Muslim armies officially represented the colonialist ambitions of an empire—which is by definition a colonizer—in contrast to terrorists, whose acts of murder are condemned by 90 percent of Muslims. Secondly, these were real wars between nations. The European Catholic nations declared wars of liberation to protect the Holy Land. A Muslim empire declared war on European states. But Muslim terrorists are engaged in a broad international campaign to force America, Israel, and their allies to change their unjust, decades-long Middle Eastern policy.


Terrorism and Extremism

           It needs to be emphasized that terrorists are civilians and criminals under international law. Since they do not belong to the armed forces of any nation, terrorists lack the power to declare war. In that respect, terrorism is simply a crime like any other--and the US should deal with it in accordance with international norms, as Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have repeatedly insisted. The attacks of 9/11 were a crime against humanity, not an act of war. When Osama bin Laden rallies millions of Muslims to a “jihad” (“struggle”) against the West, he uses the term literally—as well as spiritually, to indicate a rejection of the evils of immorality, murder, unrestricted capitalism, and imperialism into which the United States, Israel, and Iraq have sunk.

It is a common historical and factual error to compare the formidable Islamic aggression of one thousand years ago with the modern rise in terrorist incidents. Such comparisons only confuse the issue in the minds of many Americans. However, one tenuous argument remains for neoconservatives worried that “Islam” is the enemy: that unbeknownst to most Muslims, traditional Islamic doctrine actually teaches violence against Jews and Christians, and that we are witnessing a frightening “resurgence” of this doctrine. But no religion teaches violence. In all the three great monotheistic religions, a comprehensive body of teaching is set forth like a stained-glass window, and each individual doctrine or passage of scripture must be interpreted within the context of the whole picture. Extremists take a single passage or teaching out of context and give it undue importance to suit their own purposes; they do not submit to the whole body of teaching and thus cannot properly be called members of that religion.

There does exist a great deal of disunity, disagreement, and conflict within Islam. “Islamic” extremists themselves are torn by dissention, of which a major example would be how Osama bin Laden’s deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri thinks bin Laden has too much concern for the lives of noncombatants. But as Pope Benedict XVI reasoned in his famous address at the University of Regensburg in Germany last September, irrational acts such as the murder of innocent civilians are incompatible with the nature of God and thus with religion.

Once upon a time, Saint Francis of Assisi met a Muslim sultan who was invading Italy After the saint spoke kindly with him, the sultan said, “If all Christians were like you, I would become a Christian.” This is the attitude of Muslims toward Christianity. They do not hate our religion—they only hate the bad actions and unjust policies of certain people who call themselves Christian. In the same way, “Islamic” terrorists do not hate the West, only the grave injustice and evils it has committed against them.


A Clash of Values and Rights

Additional facts contradicting the “evil Muslim” notion and begging for explanation come (quite ironically) from the very people responsible for crimes of terrorism. Far from dedicating their whole lives to evil, “Islamic” terrorists demonstrate certain upright qualities. They adhere passionately to a set of moral guidelines based on the Ten Commandments. While we all know that Muslim terrorists appear deeply committed to worship of God, this is not a pretense; their misguided religious sincerity is evident. This truthfulness carries over into their explanations for their attacks—as is well known, they often state that such and such an attack is in retaliation for a crime committed against their people. Moreover, the rest of the world quickly realizes who the culprit might be because terrorist organizations boldly claim responsibility for their attacks.

Most of the dozens of terrorist groups currently operating in Iraq maintain that their frequent strikes against police, Shiite Muslims, Kurds, and Western soldiers are in retaliation for American mistreatment of Iraq as well as for Shiite and Kurdish cooperation with the US vis-à-vis Sunni Muslims—accusations which unfortunately contain more than a grain of truth. Contrary to the myth of a “gradual transition of power”, US forces are running Iraq, allowing profit-crazed Western mega-corporations to freely exploit the nation and plunder Iraq’s vast underground sea of oil.

           Furthermore, a wealth of psychological profiles compiled on numerous “Islamic” terrorists reveals that they share a deep and abiding love for their families. The principle of honor and respect for their parents is never questioned. Finally, the most apparent virtue manifested by Muslim terrorists is their moral cleanliness—they are scrupulous in avoiding occasions of sin, and they rightly reproach America as immoral and hypocritical because of our bad magazines, books and music which have saturated the Middle Eastern culture. Not only is the radical secularism of our Western culture alien to the Middle East; it is loathed precisely because of the religious and moral values that Muslims and terrorists alike hold dear.

Instead of merely using religion as a cover for malicious evil, “Islamic” terrorism springs from deep convictions and is not ill-intentioned. So notwithstanding their undeniable crimes against civilian lives, terrorists do have consciences and moral values--they are not animals or demons as neoconservatives often seem to imagine.

           But now we discover yet another problem crying out for explanation. If the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful and disapprove of terrorist attacks, then why did millions of people across Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, and Syria fill the city streets waving signs, pictures and banners of Osama bin Laden after 9/11? Because an important distinction exists between sympathizing with terrorists and praising or approving the murder of innocent people. When discussing sin, well-known preacher Father John Corapi has continually emphasized this approach of loving and sympathizing with the sinner while condemning the sinful act. We categorically condemn the objective sin of murder, which can never be justified. But at the same time, we should sympathize with the injustice, frustration, and despair of so many terrorists that drives them to take such drastic measures. In addition, we refrain from condemning those perpetrators to hell ahead of God’s official judgment because we are incapable of discerning whether their souls are subjectively in mortal sin or not. In order to combat the neoconservatives’ tendency toward a pernicious “denial of the very humanity of ‘the other’”, as Pope John Paul II warned against, American Catholics should be keeping this crucial principle in mind. We must avoid the temptation to hate terrorism and its perpetrators alike.

           So the reason large numbers of Muslims peacefully demonstrated for Osama bin Laden was to express their anti-Americanism and support for his message to attack US troops on duty in the Middle East—conduct which is morally and legally justified. According to Muslim natives of the Middle East, bin Laden enjoys the status of a father figure among them. His tremendous backing can only be explained by the negative effects of American foreign policy in the region. This recurring phenomenon of overwhelming popular allegiance to anti-American leaders from Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979 to bin Laden in the 2000s is where the neoconservative logic breaks down. Should fifty million anti-American Iranians, or the hundreds of millions who quietly profess bin Laden’s anti-Americanism, be called terrorists or freedom fighters?


American Foreign Policy

Anti-Americanism is so popular, especially among Muslims in the Middle East, because the United States has mistreated them—and helped Israel to do the same. Hundreds of thousands of radically secular Zionists crowded into Palestine, subjected nearly one million Palestinians to exile and murder, and imposed on the Holy Land a Western-style state which has stripped Palestinians of their inalienable rights. During the Cold War, the US devoted substantial military and economic aid to Israel and its Arab allies to protect its Middle Eastern oil businesses. These petroleum companies earned US entrepreneurs and Middle Eastern rulers fantastic sums of money but largely failed to raise living standards for the average Arab. With the end of the Cold War and subsequent globalization of capital, labor and technology, this gap between East and West has only grown worse. The US and Israel, which account for less than one-tenth of earth’s population, now possess and control more than half of worldwide wealth through their transnational firms and military establishments. Anti-Americanism—and the terrorism springing from it—is a response to real grievances against the US, which has unjustly exploited the Middle East’s wealth and political systems.

           Iran under Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi some decades ago provides a classic example of this laissez-faire capitalist policy. The Shah was a cruel, intensely unpopular, multi-millionaire dictator whose radical secularist program legalized divorce, tortured opponents of his regime, forced Muslim children to attend nonreligious state-run schools, and caused millions of peasants to lose their farms through heavy taxes. Since the shah was America’s pawn, we did not overthrow him as he deserved; but the Iranian people rose up together and defeated him without our help—indeed, despite our best efforts to secure him in power.

           But the economic dimension of American and Israeli foreign policy alone does not explain Muslim resentment, nor does it explain the Muslim world’s hearty detestation for the entire West. Most neoconservatives (a notable exception being Dinesh D’Souza) have equally ignored the cultural dimension. They forget that, in the minds of pious foreign Muslims, radical secularism has replaced Christianity as the defining Western cultural trait. Thruout the United States, Europe, and Western-oriented countries of the Middle East, the evils of abortion, contraception, euthanasia, greed, unlimited gambling, drunkenness, nightclubs, dirty magazines, offensive clothing fashions, bad movies, and satanic music proliferate.

Even worse is the fact that the cultural and economic dimensions are intertwined, with one reinforcing the other: Western big businesses accumulate billions of dollars by deliberately exploiting human weaknesses through the spread of cultural filth.

The flood of wickedness that the US, Israel and Europe have dumped on our Middle Eastern allies has kindled the extremely flammable fires of Islamic righteous indignation. Moreover, the negative effects of the Western cultural dark side do not remain confined inside the borders of these Western and Westernized countries. Its poison has spilled across national lines and wreaked a great deal more damage than most Americans, regardless of political affiliation, will ever fully understand or appreciate.


Examination of Conscience

           The West needs to wake up and learn a lesson before it is too late. In contemporary American foreign policy, military adventurism, cultural imperialism, unfettered capitalism and immorality go together. In the Western world as a whole, society is coming apart at the seams as radical individualism becomes the chief god. The evil of radical secularism, foisted on the Middle East through Israel and its allies and vigorously promoted in Europe, has provoked a tremendous surge of anti-Western sentiment and hatred. The evil and emptiness of modern Western culture has caused the younger Arab generation to turn to God and their familiar religion for comfort and strength, just as we did after 9/11, bringing about a massive Muslim religious revival. Finally, the combination of two false “freedoms”—unfettered capitalism and immorality—has incited, fueled and sustained the recurrent waves of “Muslim” terrorism which the West is now suffering.

           Catholics and neoconservatives should refrain from denouncing “Islam” and especially Muslims collectively as evil and the most serious enemy of America simply because a small percentage of Muslims approve of criminal terrorism. The internal enemy lurking within our culture and within our foreign policy—the enemy of radical secularism—poses a greater threat to our national survival than the external foe of international “Islamic” terrorists. The notion of a monolithic Islam is derived from anxiety and fear, not rational thinking and facts. If we would only take to heart the cry of the great Pope John Paul II, “Be not afraid”, we could evaluate our situation so much better.

Arthur Goldschmidt, a prominent Jewish Middle East historian, wisely reflected: “Someday, perhaps, practicing Muslims, Christians, and Jews will settle their differences—even the Arab-Israeli conflict—in order to wage war on their common enemies: secularism, hedonism, positivism and the various ideologies that have arisen in modern times.” The motto “United we stand, divided we fall” is more true now than ever before. United and standing together, the Western and Muslim worlds must wage war on radical secularism—or both will fall.   


Copyright © 2006, 2007 by Justin Soutar. This article may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the explicit written permission of the copyright holder.


Title mod. 9/17/07.