Stop Being “Shocked” and Start Being Honest

Our leaders, on the whole, refuse to acknowledge the truth about Islamism, and so they acquit themselves poorly while treating us like mindless subjects.

“No Logos, no ratio.” That is how Robert R. Reilly, author of The Closing of the Muslim Mind (ISI, 2010), summed up matters during a brief e-mail conversation yesterday about the shooting in Orlando that killed 49 people and wounded 53. My own thoughts were not nearly as pithy:

Many Muslims, following a schizophrenic and often irrational religion, recognize that homosexuality is wrong, but they don’t know how to deal with anything wrong (or perceived as “blasphemous”) except through through violence and raw will. Because Islam has such a lacking and often distorted understanding of human nature, God, and morality, it often addresses the failings and sins found in this world through inhuman, violent means.

To be clear, I’m not blaming the specific, vile acts of Omar Mateen on anyone other than Mateen. However, it’s difficult to overlook the pattern that is readily evident to those who pay attention: an angry, abusive, and apparently unstable young man latches onto radical Islamic thought and eventually takes it to its logical conclusion. As numerous news outlets have reported, Mateen “called 911 during the attack to pledge allegiance to ISIS and mentioned the Boston Marathon bombers, according to a U.S. official.”

And, yes, there was a logic to Mateen’s actions, a logic rooted in Islamic belief about how homosexuality and other actions are to be addressed. As Andrew McCarthy plainly puts it: “The mandate that homosexuals be killed is not from ISIS or al-Qaeda. It is from sharia — which draws on Muslim scripture.” McCarthy emphasizes, rightly, there “are various ways to interpret Islamic scripture in order to attempt to evolve it out of violence.” But:

This, of course, does not change the fact that supremacist, fundamentalist Islam is a legitimate, mainstream, virulently anti-Western interpretation of Islam; but it does at least mean that there can be other mainstream versions of Islam that reject violence and Islam’s politico-legal system. Sharia, on the other hand, is basically set in stone. (Or should I say “stoning”?) Even most Islamic reformers acknowledge that it badly needs reform — not that it can be reinterpreted, but that it needs to be changed. Its provisions and especially its draconian punishments were largely fixed a millennium ago.

Is it fair to say, as I did above, that Islam is irrational? It is, admittedly, a broad statement. However, Islam is a man-made religion, and its roots are deeply set in violence, even if most Muslims are not themselves violent. Its history, of course, is complex, and there have been several different strands and streams of philosophical and theological thought within it, some of them set in direct opposition to one another, as Reilly shows in his exceptional study.

However, radical Islam, or Islamism (as Reilly puts it, emphasizing its ideological—ism—character), is not a political aberration but an apocalyptic belief system that seeks to establish—here and now, in history itself—the perfect society, ruled by sharia law. As Reilly puts it, its adherents have constructed a “reality” that revolved around the “inner perfectibility of history—the achievement of perfect justice here…” The ideological vision leads to the belief that those who commit acts of terrorism are committing acts of moral goodness—”holy” acts that are ushering in a new reality. In the words of Sayyid Qutb (d. 1966), a key member of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, transcendent ends will be achieved by earthly means in order “to establish the Kingdom of God upon earth” and “to create a new world.”

This is not a political objective ultimately, as Reilly notes, but a metaphysical one. And the foundation for such a belief system is hatred, as Bin Laden stated: “If the hate at any time extinguishes from the heart, this is great apostasy! … Battle, animosity, and hatred—directed from the Muslim to the infidel—is the foundation of our religion.”

The same facts can be found in the essential March 2015 essay “What ISIS Really Wants” by Graeme Wood of The Atlantic. Over a year later, his insistence that all of us, including our political and religious leaders, take seriously the theological premises of ISIS in order to confront Islamism directly and intelligently sounds even more urgently upon us:

The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.

Virtually every major decision and law promulgated by the Islamic State adheres to what it calls, in its press and pronouncements, and on its billboards, license plates, stationery, and coins, “the Prophetic methodology,” which means following the prophecy and example of Muhammad, in punctilious detail. Muslims can reject the Islamic State; nearly all do. But pretending that it isn’t actually a religious, millenarian group, with theology that must be understood to be combatted, has already led the United States to underestimate it and back foolish schemes to counter it. We’ll need to get acquainted with the Islamic State’s intellectual genealogy if we are to react in a way that will not strengthen it, but instead help it self-immolate in its own excessive zeal.

Alas, many leaders refuse to be so acquainted, and thus acquit themselves poorly. President Obama, in a statement made yesterday, said that “this was an act of terror and an act of hate”, refused to indicate the obvious connections to radical Islam, and then managed to turn the horrific event into a litmus test of American tolerance:

In the coming hours and days, we’ll learn about the victims of this tragedy. Their names. Their faces. Who they were. The joy that they brought to families and to friends, and the difference that they made in this world. Say a prayer for them and say a prayer for their families — that God give them the strength to bear the unbearable. And that He give us all the strength to be there for them, and the strength and courage to change. We need to demonstrate that we are defined more — as a country — by the way they lived their lives than by the hate of the man who took them from us.

As Jim Geraghty of National Review fumed in his “Morning Jolt” newsletter: “Some Islamist bastard goes on a killing spree, and suddenly Americans need to prove they have the right values?” In the world of progressive moral calculations, certain actions are always the fault, in some way, of the American people. Likewise, the Archbishop of Chicago was also unable to identify the ideological motives at hand:

“For you here today and throughout the whole lesbian and gay community, who are particularly touched by the heinous crimes committed in Orlando, motivated by hate, driven perhaps by mental instability and certainly empowered by a culture of violence, know this: the Archdiocese of Chicago stands with you. I stand with you,” the letter read.

“Let our shared grief and our common faith in Jesus, who called the persecuted blessed, unite us so that hatred and intolerance are not allowed to flourish, so that those who suffer mental illness know the support of a compassionate society, so that we find the courage to face forthrightly the falsehood that weapons of combat belong anywhere in the civilian population…”

What makes Abp. Cupich’s statement all the more disappointing is that he also states, “We all hope that ways may be found, as soon as possible, to effectively identify and contrast the causes of such terrible and absurd violence which so deeply upsets the desire for peace of the American people and of the whole of humanity.” But no mention of Islamism, radical Islam, ISIS, or related matters. Those are empty words. You might as well walk in the Sahara Desert and hope you’ll fall into an Olympic-sized swimming pool every time you jump off a sand dune.

This is not to deny that “mental instability” may have had a role in Mateen’s murderous actions (although the calculated, “calm” and efficient means he employed suggest something far more horrible), but to emphasize that grasping for straws while obvious clues are right in front of you is either an act of cowardice or a politically-correct refusal to admit that Islam has a serious, deadly problem—and it is being played out within our very borders.

We need not—and we must not—blame all Muslims or all of Islam for the actions of men such as Mateen. That would be like saying one’s entire body is “bad” and must be done away with because you have lung cancer. But, then, saying that lung cancer is not the real problem is surely the wrong way to fix the ailing body. However, as Fr. Samir Khalil Samir, SJ, has argued persuasively, many (or even most) Muslims are ambiguous about the cancer:

This means that when some fanatics kill children, women, and men in the name of pure and authentic Islam, or in the name of the Qur’an or of the Muslim tradition, nobody can tell them: ‘You are not true and authentic Muslims.’ All they can say is: ‘Your reading of Islam is not ours.’ And this is the ambiguity of Islam, from its beginning to our present day: violence is a part of it, although it is also possible to choose tolerance; tolerance is a part of it, but it is also possible to choose violence.

Benedict XVI’s great and often misrepresented Regensberg Address pondered the foundational matters at hand. As Samuel Gregg explains, a basic theme presented by Benedict over ten years ago “was that how we understand God’s nature has implications for whether we can judge particular human choices and actions to be unreasonable. Thus, if reason is simply not part of Islam’s conception of the Divinity’s nature, then Allah can command his followers to make unreasonable choices, and all his followers can do is submit to a Divine Will that operates beyond the categories of reason.” (I explored some similar ground in my essay “God and 9/11”.)

Murder is unreasonable and evil, but if Allah is complete will and if reason is essentially nonsense, then there really is not such thing as “murder”. In fact, murder can become a holy and necessary act. Such is the “logic” of Islamism, which is anti-logos and anti-ratio. In a world that rejects reason and objective moral truth, the “logic” of such a demonic ideology is increasingly attractive. And empty, strained responses about “tolerance” and “acceptance” become meaningless, especially when they are based on shallow, lifeless sentiment. As Gregg states:

These developments have left much of Christianity spectacularly ill-equipped to even begin grappling with Islamic jihadism, let alone making meaningful contributions to combatting this phenomena. One does not need to look hard within the Christian world—including the Catholic Church—to find those who endlessly repeat the “religion of peace” mantra, or who equate reasoned, carefully-worded, and historically-informed critique of various Muslim tenets and customs with “Islamophobia”. To this degree, they echo the same banalities of those Western political leaders who, immediately after an attack by Islamic terrorists, immediately assert that it has nothing to do with Islam. Unfortunately for them—and the rest of us—those Muslims who immolate themselves while carrying out suicide-bombings clearly believe their actions do owe much to their religious faith.

Many of our leaders insist they are “shocked” by what happened in Orlando. I say that if they are shocked, they should consider resigning (or at least stop issuing vapid, cringe-inducing statements). I fully understand being angry, horrified, and devastated, but I cannot understand why anyone, at this point in time, is shocked by what certain men and women will do in the name of Islam and of Allah. We are well past the point of being shocked; we need to be at the point of seeing, no matter how hard it can be. Otherwise, we are just the blind being led by the blind, only to be ambushed and devastated again by an enemy we refuse to name, to know, or to understand. 

About Carl E. Olson 1027 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind", co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Word on Fire. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications.