Is Islam Too Big To Fail?

If the West’s bailouts to it were taken away, its fragility might be exposed.

In many occasions over the last two years we have heard that various giant companies had to be bailed out by the federal government because they were “too big to fail.” AIG, Fannie Mae, Merrill Lynch, Citigroup, G.M.—all were considered too big to fail. Although some argued that it might be a healthy thing to let failing companies fail, the consensus among those who make these decisions was that these companies had to be propped up or else, in some mysterious way, the entire global economy would collapse with them.

There seems to be a similar, although unspoken, assumption about Islam— that it also is too big to fail; that somehow it is in the interest of us all to keep it going, to prop it up, to bail it out. Ever since 9/11 Western elites—government officials, the media, academicians, even Jewish and Christian clergy—have been providing bailouts to Islam. Immediately after 9/11 several Western leaders, including President Bush, made it a priority to visit local mosques in order to assure one and all of their belief in the peacefulness of Islam—a phenomenon that Mark Steyn dubbed “get me to the mosque on time” syndrome. The next bailout was provided in the form of a quickly devised and widely adopted formula: Islam was a great religion that had been hijacked by a handful of radicals. There was nothing to fear from the true Islam.

More bailouts followed. History books for American schoolchildren were rewritten to present Islam as a model of interfaith tolerance; those who were troubled by Islamic aggressiveness were labeled “Islamaphobes”; the word “jihad” was put through the political correctness translation machine and came out as an “interior spiritual struggle.”

Almost 10 years and 13,000 terrorist attacks later, Western leaders are still intent on portraying Islam as a great religion with which we share much in common. That was the thrust of President Obama’s Cairo speech in June, and even Pope Benedict seemed to lend legitimacy to Islam in his speech to Muslim leaders in May at the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. “Here,” said the Pope, “the paths of the world’s three great monotheistic religions meet, reminding us what they share in common.” Whenever its capital reserves of trust and good will run low, Islam can always count on a pope, a president, or a prime minister to provide a new infusion of capital in the form of reassurances that it is a great religion with which we share plenty of common ground.

Sometimes the bailouts are bailouts in the sense we have recently become accustomed to: direct financial support. Of course, the US sends large amounts of foreign aid to Muslim states which, depending on how you look at it, may or may not be the prudential thing to do. But beyond that there is a new twist. Most of the major Western financial institutions have now established sharia-compliant finance regulations intended to bring financial practices in line with Islamic norms.

In addition to lending legitimacy to sharia law, these initiatives also have the effect of giving Islamic interests increased leverage over Western markets. One of the stipulations of sharia finance is that companies establish sharia advisory boards composed of Islamic clerics and scholars. Another rule requires that 2.5 percent per year of portfolio funds goes to charities. Who decides which charities will benefit? Answer: the Islamic scholars and clerics. What sort of charities do they favor? In a nutshell, those “charities” that promote Islamic ideology.

Perhaps the biggest and most ill-considered bailout that the West has given Islam is its willingness to go along with the Islamic project of stifling all criticism of Islam. Individuals as diverse as Mark Steyn, Oriana Fallaci, and Brigitte Bardot have already been tried on charges of defaming Islam—and not in places like Tehran or Lahore, but in places like Vancouver and Bergamo. Numerous others have had books or speeches cancelled on the grounds that Muslims might otherwise be offended. Increasingly, Islam is off-limits to critical examination. In the world of bailouts, this puts it in a class by itself. At least in the case of the AIG bailout, the bailers were allowed to look at the books.

Is Islam too big to fail? That seems to be the working assumption behind the various forms of life support provided to Islam. How do you account for this assumption? There seems to be two answers. First, Islam is a religion—a big religion. And religion is generally considered to be a good thing because it is thought to be a stabilizing force in society. Even nonbelievers tend to subscribe to a belief in the beneficial effects of religion. It’s widely recognized that churches encourage believers to be hardworking, family-oriented, and law-abiding; so even those who doubt the truthfulness of religion are often willing to concede its usefulness. The question is, if religion equals stability, what would happen if one of the largest religions were to collapse? The apparent answer?

Let’s not think about it. Let’s just give Islam whatever help it needs.

The second reason for thinking Islam is too big to fail is really a tautology. Islam is too big to fail because…well, because it’s too big. Most people have a hard time coming to terms with the disappearance of a big familiar fixture in the social environment, especially one that has been around for so long that it seems to have become a permanent fixture. If you have difficulty imagining a world without Fannie Mae or General Motors, try to imagine a world without its second biggest religion. Something of that size and longevity eventually acquires a fixed status. And since we can’t imagine anything other than its continued existence, we can only imagine strategies for coming to terms with it.

But consider that many in the West had the same attitude toward Sovietbloc communism. It also seemed permanent, something that was too big to fail—and, therefore, something we had to come to terms with. Yet it did fail. And it failed in large part because the West removed the ideological life support apparatus, and began to challenge communism.

In his recent book, Defeating Political Islam, political analyst Moorthy Muthuswamy contends that the West needs to confront and challenge Islamic ideology in the same manner that the West confronted Soviet ideology. In short, he is calling for the West to engage Islam in an ideological Cold War. And that means going after the religious foundations of Islam. Like many other observers, Muthuswamy thinks Islam is more a political ideology than a religion, but he admits that the theology can’t really be separated from the ideology. After all, as he points out, the chief distribution centers for radical Islamic ideology are not urban apartments or mountain caves, but mainstream mosques, madrassas, and seminaries.

It seems then that if we are to halt the steady Islamization of the planet, there is no choice other than to discredit Islam’s theological underpinnings. Instead of propping up Islam, it’s in our interest to expose the shaky foundations upon which it is built. At one time Soviet communism had an air of inevitability about it. But once America dropped the let’s-not-do-anything- to-upset-the-Soviets policy of the Carter era, the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union came with surprising speed. We might be similarly surprised at how quickly Islam loses credibility once the bailouts cease and the tough questioning begins.

Like communism, Islam may prove to be more fragile than it appears. The mighty effort on the part of the 57-state Organization of the Islamic Conference to criminalize criticism of Islam is one testament to its fragility. The death penalty for apostasy is further testament. When one of the chief motives for remaining a believer is the non-theological one of saving your skin, it suggests that the theology itself isn’t very convincing. But the most striking testament to the hollowness of the ideology can be found in the Koran itself. Someone once said of Los Angeles that “there’s no there there.” Much the same can be said of the Koran. It has surprisingly little to say. The sum of the revelation is simply that there is one God and Muhammad is his prophet. Almost everything else is a variation on that limited theme.

Raising questions about the Koran is a ticklish business, but some questions simply beg to be answered. Take, for example, the depiction of Jesus. He is considered a great prophet by Muslims, but one has to wonder why, seeing as he has almost nothing to say or do in the Koran. Moreover, to put it bluntly, he lacks personality. The Jesus of the New Testament is a recognizable human being; the Jesus of the Koran is more like a phantom. He seems to exist in neither time nor space. On the one hand you have Jesus of Nazareth, and on the other someone who might best be described as Jesus of Neverland.

Why bring this up? Well, because Muhammad brought it up. The simple fact that there is a Jesus in the Koran naturally invites a comparison with the Jesus of the Gospels. Which is the real Jesus? In a normal world this is the kind of historical question which might be expected to generate some curiosity. Yet few seem to want to look into it.

In a sense, it’s another bailout extended to Islam. The Jesus of the Koran is not very convincing. Like the Koran itself, it’s unlikely he would survive any serious critical/historical inquiry. And so, with the exception of a few Christians and former Muslims, the inquiry is never made. The Western media engage in endless speculation about the Christian revelation—for example, cover stories uncovering the “real” meaning of the Gospels have become a Newsweek holiday tradition. But the Islamic revelation is given a free ride.

Ordinarily one keeps one’s reservations about another’s religion to oneself. But if we are in a fight to the death with Islamic ideology/theology, why wouldn’t we want to examine it more carefully? Why wouldn’t we want to call into question the revelation on which it is all based? And, further, why not seek ways to disillusion and demoralize the proponents of that ideology? In short, why shouldn’t we want Islam to fail?

Is Islam too big to fail? Soviet bloc communism was a big thing at one time, but it eventually failed, thanks in part to the willingness of a few Western intellectuals to break ranks with their politically correct colleagues and tell the truth about communism. The world is better off without Soviet communism. It’s also a better place without the child-sacrificing religion of Moloch or the bloody rituals of the Aztecs. Religion is not always and everywhere a good thing. It’s time that the West reconsiders its excessive deference to Islam, and starts thinking instead of ways to create a future in which, to quote Winston Churchill’s seldom- quoted wish, “the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men.”

Let’s pause here to anticipate an objection. Is imagining a world without Islam just the mirror image of President Ahmajinejad’s call for imagining a world without Israel? No, it’s not. There’s a big difference between wanting to eradicate a people and a nation as Mr. Ahmadinejad does, and wanting to discredit a belief system. Just as a world without communism does not mean a world without Russians or Ukrainians or Georgians, a world without Islam does not mean a world without Egyptians or Saudis or Iranians. Of course, it would be a world in which the Egyptians, the Saudis, and the Iranians would have to make a lot of adjustments, but perhaps, for a change, it’s time for them to start making the adjustments.

Another likely objection is that Islam is too deeply rooted to fail. But deeply held beliefs are not always as deeply rooted as they seem. For example, in the space of about a dozen years the civil rights movement managed to overturn what were thought to be deeply held racial prejudices. In the 20s, fascism was an enormously popular worldwide movement; by the late 30s it was almost totally discredited. More to the point, the deeply held beliefs of millions of Muslims were tightly constrained under the secular regimes of Ataturk in Turkey, Nasser in Egypt, and Hussein in Iraq. The discrediting or delegitimizing of widely held and fi rmly held beliefs is not a rare phenomenon in history.

Deeply held beliefs? Consider the following passage from an article for The Chronicles of Higher Education, by Ali A. Allawi, a former Iraqi cabinet minister:

I was born into a mildly observant family in Iraq. At that time, the 1950s, secularism was ascendant among the political, cultural, and intellectual elites of the Middle East. It appeared to be only a matt er of time before Islam would lose whatever hold it still had on the Muslim world. Even that term—“Muslim world”—was unusual, as Muslims were more likely to identify themselves by their national, ethnic, or ideological affi nities than by their religion.

To an impressionable child, it was clear that society was decoupling from Islam. Though religion was a mandatory course in school, nobody taught us the rules of prayer or expected us to fast during Ramadan. We memorized the shorter verses of the Koran, but the holy book itself was kept on the shelf or in drawers, mostly unread.

The hold that Islam exerts over believers has waxed and waned over the years. Sixty years ago Islam seemed on the way out in much of the Middle East. It would be a mistake to assume that its current dominance in that region is now permanently fixed. It would be an even bigger mistake to think that Islam’s momentum in the West is irreversible.

With the recent pro-democracy rallies in Iran, the world is once again hopeful that a new regime will bring moderation to that country. But there have been many regime changes in the Muslim Middle East, and litt le to show for it. It’s true that many Muslim nations have been more moderate—if not more democratic—in the past, but the evidence suggests that Muslim societies become more moderate to the degree that they are able to move away from Islam. Moderation seems possible only in those places where the power of Islam is weakened or restricted, or where people come to look upon Islam as a traditional folk religion whose harsher mandates can be safely ignored.

Yet even in these situations, radical Islam—that is, the Islam handed down by Muhammad—always manages to reemerge. Muslims surely deserve bett er regimes, but as long as Islam remains the ruling spirit in Muslim lands, it’s unlikely that regime change will ever be enough.


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About William Kilpatrick 77 Articles
William Kilpatrick is the author of several books on religion and culture including Christianity, Islam, and Atheism: The Struggle for the Soul of the West (Ignatius Press). His new book, What Catholics Need to Know About Islam, is available from Sophia Institute Press. His work is supported in part by the Shillman Foundation