A couple of weeks ago, Reuel Gerecht published a bizarre article at the New Republic in which he deplored conservatives such as Newt Gingrich who supposedly "blur the line between militant Muslims and the everyday faithful." Specifically, Gerecht was critical of Gingrich's statement in a speech in July that: “I believe Sharia is a mortal threat to the survival of freedom in the United States and in the world as we know it. I think it’s that straightforward and that real.”
I say Gerecht's article is bizarre because it is difficult to tell, after reading through all the posturing and moral lessons, exactly what his point is. It is also notable for the fact that he appears to contradict himself from one paragraph to the next.
(On a side note, the article comes with a headline and a picture of Bill O'Reilly, who is never mentioned once thereafter. Not sure what that's all about.)
Gerecht makes some salient points; for example:
There is, to be sure, absolutely nothing wrong with non-Muslim Americans engaging in a debate about faith and violence that ranges far and wide. Western history offers a lengthy chronicle that encourages an exploration of why devout men kill for God; Christian-Muslim parallels provide a lens through which to see where—and where not—sincere believers in the Almighty have interpreted how violence and religion intermarry. So, no, there is no sin in non-Muslims querying Muslims about why so many terrorists tend to be Muslim and why those terrorists advertise their acts of violence as a defense of their faith. There is nothing wrong with asking why so many Muslims have such a difficult time saying that Palestinian suicide bombers have committed acts of evil. There is nothing wrong, either, in asking why it is that Islamic radicals melted two skyscrapers and blew out a side of the Pentagon and yet prompted so little soulful reflection, produced no Émile Zola, no Captain Dreyfus.
And a little further on:
True, the Holy Law applied can be ugly, not least for women. Westerners, especially Europeans, are quite right to be outraged by the importation of Sharia practices to their shores. And Westerners should cast a very dim eye on any financial institution that sets up Sharia-compliant offices that could, if left unchecked, discreetly normalize anti-Semitic practices in big global institutions.
But despite these admissions, Gerecht still criticises the "blanket demonisation of the Holy Law", and spends the rest of his piece excioriating those who make these same points, peddling the completely false claim that Gingrich - let alone anyone else, anywhere, ever - is saying that "all Muslims are, basically, nuts."
He also errs when he acts as if Gingrich's sole concern with sharia is that Muslims might use it to justify "terrorism" - saying nothing of the amputations, the stonings and the general barbarism that Islamic law entails, which does indeed threaten the West if allowed to take a stranglehold on the secular, democratic values our ancestors fought so hard to define and defend.
Aside from the internal and logical inconsistences, Gerecht makes a number of basic factual errors - whether out of ignorance or willful obfuscation, I'm not certain.
For starters, he lionises as "moderates" Iraq’s Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, "the most revered Shiite thinker in the world, and one who tried desperately and selflessly to keep his country from descending into internecine savagery", and the late Grand Ayatollah Ali Montazeri, "the spiritual father of Iran’s Green Movement and the nemesis of Ali Khamenei, Iran’s ruler, himself a very mediocre student of the Sharia".
Doesn't Gerecht know that in 2006, Sistani issued a fatwa calling for the execution of homosexuals "in the worst, most severe way possible", which led to an increase in homophobic killings in Iraq? Similarly, doesn't he know that Sistani upholds the bigoted classical Shi'ite doctrine of najis, which declares that non-Muslims are not only ritually impure, but also physically unclean? On his website, his list of the top ten "unclean" things includes dogs, pigs, faeces.....and "kafir", or unbelievers.
As for Montazeri, in her in-depth analysis of the status of non-Muslims under the Iranian theocracy, Eliz Sanasarian demonstrates how, as a direct result of najis policies which were championed by the "moderate" cleric, non-Muslims in Iran were subjected to institutionalised discrimination. For example, non-Muslims were denied production jobs because Muslims refused to touch goods that had been manufactured by infidels, for fear that Muslims would be "contaminated" by them. According to Sanasarian, Montazeri also taught that if a non-Muslim man has a sexual relationship with a Muslim woman, he must be executed.
Later in the piece, Gerecht makes the absurd claim that "If Saudi Arabia, at home and abroad, would just welcome Hanafis, the most open-minded of Sunni Islam’s law schools, it would be an enormous triumph over Wahhabi intolerance and the hatred that spews forth from that oil-rich land."
By what definition are Hanafis more tolerant or "open-minded" than any other school of jurisprudence or sect of Islam? The Hedaya, a classic manual of Hanafi law that is still used by sharia judges in Pakistan today, makes clear that the Hanafis, like all other Sunni schools of Islamic law, believe in the religious obligation of the global Muslim community to submit the world to Islam by way of offensive jihad:
“It is not lawful to make war upon any people who have never before been called to the faith, without previously requiring them to embrace it, because the Prophet so instructed his commanders, directing them to call the infidels to the faith, and also because the people will hence perceive that they are attacked for the sake of religion, and not for the sake of taking their property, or making slaves of their children, and on this consideration it is possible that they may be induced to agree to the call, in order to save themselves from the troubles of war...If the infidels, upon receiving the call, neither consent to it nor agree to pay capitation tax, it is then incumbent on the Muslims to call upon God for assistance, and to make war upon them, because God is the assistant of those who serve Him, and the destroyer of His enemies, the infidels, and it is necessary to implore His aid upon every occasion; the Prophet, moreover, commands us so to do.”
It also promotes the quite intolerant commandment that once non-Muslim nations have been invaded by the Muslims, their people must become dhimmis, or subjects of the Islamic state. These dhimmis are denied equality of rights with Muslims, and discriminated against in many ways, including such rulings as:
“Malik and Shafi [the founders of the Maliki and Shafi'i schools of jurisprudence, respectively] have said that [dhimmi testimony] is absolutely inadmissible, because as infidels are unjust, it is requisite to be slow in believing anything they may advance...the evidence of an infidel is not admitted concerning a Muslim...Besides, a dhimmi may be suspected of having invented falsehoods against a Muslim from the hatred he bears to him on the account of the superiority of the Muslims over him.”
The manual also contains instructions for the execution of apostates and homosexuals. True, it does reject the idea that non-Muslims who insult or criticise Islam should be killed, but it does so not because of any kind of "Islamic tolerance":
Shafi has said that the contract of subjection is dissolved by a dhimmi's blaspheming the prophet; because if he were a believer, by such blasphemy his faith would be broken; and hence, in the same manner, his protection is thereby broken, since the contract of subjection is merely a substitute for belief. The argument of our doctors is that the blasphemy in question is merely an act of infidelity proceeding from an infidel; and as his infidelity was no obstruction to the contract of subjection at the time of making it, this supervenient [sic] act of infidelity does not cancel it.”
In other words, the assumption is that blasphemy is an inherent part of disbelief, and since unbelievers are already being punished by being made dhimmis, further punishment is not necessary. Hardly open-minded, really.
Gerecht concludes with the naive hope that what he terms "the traumatic Westernization of Islam" will render sharia irrelevant. And yet attempts to Westernise Iraq and Afghanistan have clearly failed, as both countries are now in many ways worse off than before we went in, and enshrine sharia as the law of the land in their Constitutions. Furthermore, while Western influence led in many Islamic countries to improvements, most of those improvements have since been rolled back as orthodox Islam regains vital influence.
And there is much evidence to suggest that many Muslims simply don't want to be Westernised, and do revere sharia in all its ugliness. For example, according to a 2007 World Public Opinion poll, 65.2% of Muslims surveyed in four major Islamic countries (Morocco, Egypt, Pakistan and Indonesia) openly declared that they wanted to see a global Muslim state, or caliphate. Concordantly, 65.5% wanted strict (that word was emphasised) application of sharia law in every Islamic country. In early 2009, a follow-up poll by the same team achieved similar results. These facts pose an acute threat to the West, for these same Muslims are being encourage to migrate into our countries in large numbers, bringing these views and desires with them. A study in 2006 reported that as many as 40% of British Muslims would like to see the British legal system replaced with sharia.
To understand why Gerecht's optimism is so unwarranted, one also need only look so far as this recent Haaretz article on the death of Egyptian Muslim thinker Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd. According to the article, Abu Zayd advocated a rationalist approach to Qur'anic interpretation, which involved a "re-contextualisation" of the Qur'an to fit the standards of our time, as opposed to the orthodox views that have prevailed in effect since the early days of Islam, according to which the text of the Qur'an represents divine, absolute and perpetual truth, which is valid for all Muslim communities regardless of time and place. Specifically, Abu Zayd wrote: "If everything mentioned in the Koran must be obeyed literally as divine law, then slavery must be reinstituted...In our times the amputation of limbs cannot be considered a religious punishment that has divine approval."
For having such views, Abu Zayd was exiled from his native country and ostracised for the rest of his life. The obituary notes in summary that "Abu Zayd apparently died with his philosophy falling to a large extent on deaf ears, particularly at home." If Reuel Gerecht took some time to think about why this might be the case, he would surely have to abandon his entire untenable thesis.
In all, Reuel Gerecht's article epitomises the problem with the "learned analysts" that prevail even on the Right today. Although he is far from the liberal apologists who go so far as to fabricate a rosy picture of Islam and demonise as racists all those who think differently, his message is ultimately one of confusion and inconsistency. And that makes him, as far as inspiration to concrete action goes, not much better than those liberals. For if we all remain as vague on sharia, Islam and Muslims as Reuel Gerecht, then the threat that Newt Gingrich was able to articulate so clearly and concisely will certainly not be met by any practical defense solutions.