No Exit (from Islam)

The world is abuzz with talk of Brexit—the British vote to leave the European Union. Britain’s reclamation of its independence is now prompting talk that other nations might exit the EU—the Netherlands, Denmark, Greece, Italy, and a dozen more. Over on this side of the Atlantic, the Brexit initiative has renewed discussion about the U.S. exiting the UN.

What you won’t hear about is any discussion of Exslam—exiting Islam. No one seems to want to suggest that it might be a good idea for Muslims to consider leaving Islam. That’s curious because Islam figures prominently in the Brexit decision. It’s no secret that the chief catalyst for Brexit is Muslim immigration. It’s for the same reason that numerous other Europeans want out of the EU. Their countries are being Islamized before their eyes and there seems little they can do about it as long as policies on borders and immigration are set by bureaucrats in Brussels. The move to leave the EU is, in large part, a move to keep Islam out of Europe.

Which prompts a question. Why not encourage Muslims to leave Islam? Islam is not only a major problem for the rest of the world, it is also a major problem for many Muslims. How many? It’s difficult to say because expressing dissatisfaction with Islam is not something that Muslims are free to do. Criticism of Islam or its prophet is a violation of sharia blasphemy laws and is punishable by prison and sometimes death.

One of the complaints of those in Britain and Europe who want to part company with the EU is that it has evolved into a soft totalitarianism—a milder version of the old Soviet Union. Indeed, it’s been suggested that one of the reasons the pre-Brexit polls were so far off the mark is that Brits are afraid to tell pollsters what the really think for fear that Big Brother will be listening in on the phone conversation.

If the EU is a soft totalitarianism, then Islam is a hard form of the same. It suppresses dissent more effectively than the EU could ever hope to do. It is arguably as oppressive as the Nazi regime in Germany and the Communist dictatorship in the Soviet Union.

The chief evidence for this totalitarianism are the blasphemy laws and the apostasy laws. The first make it a crime to criticize Islam, and the second make it a crime to leave Islam. The apostasy laws perform a function similar to the border walls and fences erected by the communists in Eastern Europe. Just as at the Berlin Wall kept East Berlin residents firmly within the communist camp, the apostasy laws keep Muslims inside Islam. Except that the apostasy wall is moveable. If you are a Muslim, it follows you wherever you go so that, wherever you are, any Muslim can execute the death sentence on you if you fail to remain faithful to the faith. Like Trotsky in Mexico, you are never completely safe from the reach of the purists.

Without the blasphemy laws, Muslims would be free to criticize Islam, and without the apostasy laws, many would leave it. How many? Again, it’s difficult to say. But as Yusuf al-Qaradawi, perhaps the most influential cleric in the Muslim world, once put it, “if they [Muslims] had gotten rid of the punishment for apostasy, Islam would not exist today.” Coming as it does from a true believer, that is a fairly frank admission of the totalitarian nature of Islam.

Islam is a religion that is held together by force. Western societies profess to be opposed to such constraints on freedom of religion. In other matters, we are quick to say that people should free themselves from such oppression. Yet very few are willing to apply this principle to Islam.

The absence of any well-organized Exslam campaign can be explained in part by two basic misunderstandings about Islam. The first is a failure to understand that it is both a religion and a geo-political movement for world domination (James Bondish as that may sound). The second misunderstanding is to assume that, insofar as it is a religion, Islam is a religion just like ours. That would mean, of course, that it is a freely chosen religion. Therefore, if Muslims wanted to leave it, they would.

It’s true, of course, that converts to Islam have for the most part, freely chosen Islam. But once in, they are not so free to opt out. As for those who are born into Islam, they learn from the cradle that they must never think of leaving. Every year in the U.S. and in Europe, millions of Christians abandon the faith of their parents and choose some other faith or no faith at all. We mistakenly assume that Muslims are free to do likewise.

Another common mistake that skews our understanding of Islam is to assume that religion is a purely private affair between an individual and his God. Therefore we have no business trying to persuade people one way or another. That may be true of some rarefied versions of Western Christianity, but in most places and throughout most of history, religion was and is a very public matter. This is particularly the case with Islam, a religion which maintains that there are no private spaces—that every aspect of life must be governed by religious law.

Like Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, Islam believes there can be no such thing as a naked public square. Unlike him, it wants to take control of every public square in sight. You may think that religion is a purely private affair, but Muslims do not.

Islam is not a religion just like ours. Although some Muslims practice a peaceful (because diluted) version of it, it is at its core an aggressive, expansionist system. Consequently, it needs to be questioned and challenged. As Fr. James Schall, S.J. recently wrote:

I also think that Islam’s ideas and texts need directly to be confronted. They cannot be simply set aside and unexamined as too controversial to talk about, analyze, and criticize.

He argues that the current policy of only discussing things “about which everyone could agree” has been a failure. “It is what we do not agree with in Islam,” he says, “that needs to be talked about most.”

Because Islam is almost completely opposed to Western values, it makes sense, as Schall says, to confront its “ideas and texts.” It also makes sense to encourage Muslims to exit Islam.

Some “leave Islam” groups do exist. But the ex-Muslims who organize them don’t receive much support from Western governments which, by and large, have bought into the multicultural belief that cultural identities are set in stone and must not be changed. In addition, the leavers don’t seem to get much support from Western churches. Indeed, the Catholic Church seems to have adopted a policy of validating Islam as a member in good standing of the club of world religions. Although Catholic leaders agree that there is a problem with ISIS, many fail to see that the main problem with ISIS is its strict adherence to traditional Islam. Such naïveté among Western leaders does not provide much consolation to all those Muslims who, though they live outside ISIS-controlled territory, still live in virtual bondage to the same sharia system.

Eastern Europeans who chafed under communist rule at least had the reassurance of knowing that the West shared their opposition to Soviet ideology. But as long as the West continues in its Islam-is-just-fine mode, there will be little reason for Muslims to believe that anyone understands their plight, and thus little incentive to break free of the system. In their well-intentioned effort to be tolerant of all belief systems, naïve Westerners may be inadvertently helping to reinforce the prison bars.

William Kilpatrick


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,