How to Alienate Moderate Muslims

The recent “draw Muhammad” contest in Garland, Texas not only drew fire from two armed jihadists, it also drew fire from Christian leaders and media critics. One of the chief objections was that events of this type will alienate moderate Muslims and possibly drive them into the radical camp.

It can just as easily be argued, however, that caving on the cartoon issue is more likely to result in a defection of moderate Muslims than the drawings themselves. And caving seems to be the order of the day. The Muhammad art exhibit and cartoon contest has been roundly criticized not only by the usual suspects in the liberal media but also by conservative journalists and conservative religious leaders such as Franklin Graham. In general, the critics say that free speech is a wonderful thing, but that it should never be used to insult what is most sacred to others.

When Franklin Graham registers his disapproval, it’s undoubtedly because he genuinely believes that it’s wrong to mock another person’s deeply held faith. On the other hand, when secular opinion-makers voice the same concern, it’s probably because they are genuinely afraid. Any moderately informed moderate Muslim knows that secular pundits have no problem if someone mocks the things held sacred by Catholics or Mormons. He will understand that what’s at issue is not whether religion is insulted, but whether Islam is insulted. And, if the most powerful players in the media are afraid of Islam, why wouldn’t he be?

If the moderate Muslim was inclined to resist the radicals, he will be less likely to do so if he looks around and notices that no one else is resisting, except for a handful of people whom the media has labeled as “haters.” Why should he stick his neck out? If the supposed guardians of free speech who are relatively safe from retaliation nevertheless bow to Islamic law, then prudence suggests that he do the same. The constant kowtowing to Islamic demands has the result of putting increased pressure on the moderate Muslim to do some kowtowing of his own. He won’t necessarily join forces with the jihadists, but neither will he do much to oppose them.

One of the ways that the ever-helpful mainstream media is helping the public come to the “right” conclusion about the Garland event is by neglecting to say much about the context surrounding it. Three months before the cartoon contest, Islamic activist groups staged a “Stand with the Prophet” rally in Garland calling for restrictions on speech that is offensive to Islam. It was held in the same room in the same conference center. So the Muhammad art exhibit didn’t pop up out of nowhere. It was a response to the earlier event.

The cartoon contest is best understood not as a gratuitous provocation of Muslims, but as a wake-up call to non-Muslims. It was meant, in part, to show just how far down the road to capitulation we have gone. If we have to abide by Islam’s rules about drawing Muhammad, we may be further down the road than most realize.

Where’s the line at which Americans will take their stand against encroaching Islamization? Judging by the media reaction to the Garland event, the right to robustly criticize the prophet is a line too far. What then? Will Americans draw the line when Muslims request that the sculpture of Muhammad be removed from the Supreme Court chamber? Probably not. Why make a fuss? How about demands for sharia law courts? I’m guessing that many Americans won’t find it difficult to convince themselves that Muslims should be allowed to settle disputes among themselves in their own courts of law. Burqas on buses? Compulsory courses on Islam? Court imposed fines for critics of Islam? All along the road to complete sharia compliance there will be numerous places where one might draw the line—and numerous reasons why it will be deemed prudent not to.

Islam is a religion that respects strength. As Osama bin Laden famously said, “When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature, they will like the strong horse.” This is not simply the idiosyncratic view of one extremist. As Lee Smith writes in The Strong Horse, it “represents the political and social norm” of the Middle-East. And of much of the rest of the Muslim world, as well. When Muslims view the controversy surrounding the cartoon event, they look upon it not as a contest between the forces of tolerance against the forces of “hateful” provocateurs, but as a contest of Islam against non-Islam. The Muhammad cartoon exhibit was a battle in a campaign to see whether or not Islam will dominate. The event organizers understand that. And so do most Muslims.

Many Americans think that if the contest organizers lose the opinion wars, then pluralism is the winner. Most Muslims will look at the issue in a different way. A defeat for the organizers makes it more likely that there will, indeed, be no future for those who slander the prophet of Islam. And that means not much of a future for those moderate Muslims who have only a lukewarm regard for the prophet.

The craven reaction to the cartoon incident comes on top of a number of other Western capitulations to sharia culture, if not always to sharia law. In view of these numerous victories, the moderate Muslim will reasonably conclude that militant Islam is the strong horse. When he places his bets for a secure future for himself and his family, he will place them on the side that looks to be the winning side.

If the citizens of the West are interested in keeping moderate Muslims moderate, they had better start showing more backbone when it comes to defending their freedoms. Many American Muslims no doubt hope that they can continue to live in a sharia-free society. But if their fellow Americans continue to kick the can down the road, it will become increasingly dangerous for them to express that hope. The surest way to push moderate Muslims into the arms of the radicals is to signal to them that if they resist sharia, they’re on their own—they can expect little sympathy and even less in the way of government protection. The response to the cartoon controversy suggests that no one will cover your back if you stand up to extremists. After all, it will be argued, people who won’t conform to Islamic norms are just asking for trouble.

William Kilpatrick

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William Kilpatrick taught for many years at Boston College. He is the author of several books about cultural and religious issues, including Why Johnny Can’t Tell Right From Wrong; and Christianity, Islam and Atheism: The Struggle for the Soul of the West and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Jihad. His articles have appeared in numerous publications, including Catholic World Report, National Catholic Register, Aleteia, Saint Austin Review, Investor’s Business Daily, and First Things. His work is supported in part by the Shillman Foundation. For more on his work and writings, visit his website, turningpointproject.com

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