An article, by Michael Walzer, in Dissent gives his view on the Left’s response to Islamist extremists and zealots; in a nutshell, the Left’s response has been, and continues to be feeble, intellectually dishonest and disturbing. Walzer, in saying the obvious, is sure to lose some of his friends on the left for writing this, they having their feelings hurt, I am sure.
For myself, I live with a generalized fear of every form of religious militancy. I am afraid of Hindutva zealots in India, of messianic Zionists in Israel, and of rampaging Buddhist monks in Myanmar. But I admit that I am most afraid of Islamist zealots because the Islamic world at this moment in time (not always, not forever) is especially feverish and fervent. Indeed, the politically engaged Islamist zealots can best be understood as today’s crusaders.Why it is hard for those on the Left to admit that “jihad of the sword” is very much alive today? That it is normal, sane and rational to fear being killed by those who hold an extreme (they would say normal) view of Islam? That it is rational to fear a determined enemy that wants to attack and destroy the West, western ideas and culture and the fruits of the European Enlightenment and Scientific Revolution? It requires all kinds of sophistry and intellectual gymnastics to avoid agreeing with this essay. I would recommend that you read it in its entirety.
Is this an anti-Muslim position, not a fear but a phobia—and a phobia that grows out of prejudice and hostility? Consider a rough analogy (all analogies are rough): if I say that Christianity in the eleventh century was a crusading religion and that it was dangerous to Jews and Muslims, who were rightly fearful (and some of them phobic)—would that make me anti-Christian? I know that crusading fervor isn’t essential to the Christian religion; it is historically contingent, and the crusading moment in Christian history came and, after two hundred years or so, went. Saladin helped bring it to an end, but it would have ended on its own. I know that many Christians opposed the Crusades; today we would call them Christian “moderates.” And, of course, most eleventh-century Christians weren’t interested in crusading warfare; they listened to sermons urging them to march to Jerusalem and they went home. Still, it is true without a doubt that in the eleventh century, much of the physical, material, and intellectual resources of Christendom were focused on the Crusades.
The Christian Crusades have sometimes been described as the first example of Islamophobia in the history of the West. The crusaders were driven by an irrational fear of Islam. I suppose that’s right; they were also driven by an even more irrational fear of Judaism. They were fierce and frightening religious “extremists,” and that assertion is not anti-Christian.
One can and should say similar things about Islamists today—even though jihadi violence is not required by Islamic theology, even though there are many Muslim “moderates” who oppose religious violence, and even though most Muslims are quite happy to leave infidels and heretics to their otherworldly fate. I know that there is a “jihad of the soul” in addition to the “jihad of the sword,” and that Mohammed famously declared the first of these to be the greater jihad. And I recognize that the Islamic world is not monolithic. Reading the daily newspaper, anyone can see that even Islamist zealotry is not all of a piece. Al Qaeda, the Taliban, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Hezbollah, Hamas, and Boko Haram, to take just a few leading examples, are not the same; there may well be significant theological disagreements among them. I should note, also, that the many millions of Muslims in Indonesia and India seem relatively untouched by zealotry, though Jemaah Islamiyah, a Southeast Asian Islamist network, has followers in Indonesia and has been accused of significant terrorist attacks there.
Despite all these qualifications, it is true without a doubt that the “jihad of the sword” is very strong today, and it is frightening to non-believers, heretics, secular liberals, social democrats, and liberated women in much of the Muslim world. And the fear is entirely rational.
For more, go to [Dissent]