Rarely is a speech widely praised before it is even delivered. But such was the case for the speech Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal delivered to the Henry Jackson Society, a London-based think-tank, on January 18. In that speech, Jindal spoke forthrightly about the rising menace of “Islamic extremism.”
And the critics, as the saying goes, went wild. Larry Kudlow’s article, “Jindal’s Brilliant Take on Radical Islam,” exemplifies the reaction of conservative pundits to Jindal’s speech. In his article, Kudlow specifically praises this quote (emphasis mine):
Muslim leaders must make clear that anyone who commits acts of terror in the name of Islam is in fact not practicing Islam at all. If they refuse to say this, then they are condoning these acts of barbarism. There is no middle ground.
I admire Bobby Jindal (and, for that matter, Larry Kudlow), but, with all due respect to the governor, amid a speech that otherwise is indeed brilliant, a “brilliant take on radical Islam” is lacking. What is brilliant about calling on respectful, law-abiding Muslims to say that “anyone who commits acts of terror in the name of Islam is in fact not practicing Islam at all”? On the contrary, this writer struggles to remember an aftermath of an incident such as the recent Paris attacks, when Muslims have not hastened to declare that the perpetrators were “not practicing Islam.”
More distressing is that Jindal, in fact, violates his own dictum, when he first says…
When a country or a movement is behaving badly on the international stage, we must not pretend otherwise.
You cannot remedy a problem if you will not name it and define it.
… and then, in the very next sentence, says (emphasis mine)…
One of the most prominent examples in our day is ISIS and all forms of radical Islam.
Yes, Governor Jindal, “[w]hen a country or a movement is behaving badly on the international stage, we must not pretend otherwise.”
Now, what about when a country or a movement or a religion is behaving badly?
What if, in fact, we are not fighting “radical Islam”? What if we are fighting orthodox Islam?
Has Bobby Jindal read the Koran?
On a personal level, I have a Torah, Christian Bible, and Koran, all of which I read from time to time. Given the times we live in, there is no excuse for anyone occupying or aspiring to national office not to read the Koran and perhaps a bit of Islamic history and explanations of Islam, such as the works of Bernard Lewis (and for contemporary geopolitical issues, at least for conservatives, I highly recommend Efraim Karsh). And finally, there is Robert R. Reilly’s The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamist Crisis, which I would recommend as essential reading for anyone who wants to understand how we got to where we are today vis-à-vis the rise of jihadism and why it is proving so intractable.
At the very least, one could avoid errors, such as this one by Larry Kudlow:
[W]hat Bobby Jindal is saying is very similar to what Egyptian president al-Sisi said earlier in the year to a group of Muslim imams.
Said al-Sisi, “It’s inconceivable that the thinking we hold most sacred should cause the entire umma [Islamic world] to be a source of anxiety, danger, killing and destruction for the rest of the world.”
He then asks, “How is it possible that 1.6 billion Muslims should want to kill the rest of the world’s inhabitants…? … [I]f this is not changed, “it may eventually lead to the religion’s self destruction.”
First, in fairness to Muslims, “1.6 billion Muslims” do not want to “kill the rest of the world’s inhabitants.” But it is equally fair to note that a mere 1 percent of 1.6 billion Muslims is a recruitment pool of 16 million potential jihadists.
As for Sisi’s question, “How is it possible that 1.6 billion Muslims should want to kill the rest of the world’s inhabitants…?,” I’ll let the ultimate Islamic authority, Muhammad, answer that one:
I have been ordered to fight with the people [sometimes translated as “all men”] till they say, none has the right to be worshipped but Allah.
And then there is Muhammad’s famous command, uttered as he lay on his deathbed: “Let there not be two religions in Arabia.” And there is this:
The Last Hour would not come unless the Muslims will fight against the Jews. The Jews would hide themselves behind a stone or a tree and a stone or a tree would say: ‘Muslim, or the servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me; come and kill him;’ but the tree Gharqad would not say, for it is the tree of the Jews.
A search of the internet yields a wealth of apologetics, such as this, claiming that, despite their apparent plain meaning, none of the above are calls to violence or intolerance of non-Muslims. But that is hardly the point when the plain-meaning interpretations seem also to be the most commonly accepted ones, including by Muslim authorities:
Asked … whether he would “visit Israel with a Palestinian visa,” [Egypt’s minister of religious endowments] said: “This is premature. Let’s wait until it happens. However, we hope that the words of the Prophet Muhammad will be fulfilled: Judgment Day will not come before the Muslims fight the Jews[.]
And so on. Therein lies the difference – a major and very important difference – between what Jindal said and what Sisi said. What Sisi said, pace Jindal, is that such Muslims are practicing Islam, with numerous Koranic and hadithic quotes to back them up. So anyone expecting a moderate Muslim to talk an ISIS jihadist out of beheading an infidel by reciting an alternate, and, often (if one takes the trouble to read some of them), byzantine interpretation of this or that Islamic text will be sorely disappointed.
Or to put it even more bluntly: does the Roman Catholic governor of Louisiana propose to tell the Muslim Egyptian minister of religious endowments that the latter “is not practicing Islam”?
Good luck with that.
Jindal is absolutely right when he says, “Islam has a problem,” but saying that much and no more falls short of the goal. Sisi, to his great credit, takes the baton and, unlike Jindal, courageously places the blame – and in front of an audience of religious authorities, no less – precisely where he – and you, and I, and all civilized people – know it belongs (emphases mine):
I am referring here to the religious clerics. … It’s inconceivable that the thinking that we hold most sacred should cause the entire umma [Islamic world] to be a source of anxiety, danger, killing and destruction for the rest of the world. …
That thinking … that corpus of texts and ideas that we have sacralized over the years, to the point that departing from them has become almost impossible, is antagonizing the entire world.
All this that I am telling you, you cannot feel it if you remain within this mindset. You need to step outside of yourselves to be able to observe it and reflect on it from a more enlightened perspective. I say and repeat again that we are in need of a religious revolution.
You, imams, are responsible before Allah. The entire world … is waiting for your next move because this umma is being torn, it is being destroyed … and it is being lost by our own hands.
“That Sisi would criticize the Muslim world and Islamic texts and thinking,” writes Raymond Ibrahim, “in ways his Western counterparts [including Bobby Jindal] could never [do] … is unprecedented.”
Unprecedented? Yes. But something Sisi’s “Western counterparts could never” do? On the contrary, this writer considers it something every “Western counterpart” could, and should, have said long ago. Perhaps, now that a Muslim leader has broken the ice, Western leaders, including the next U.S. president (I have no illusions about Obama), will speak up.
In the meantime, we should all wish Sisi good luck and Godspeed. The task he has set for himself and the Muslim Egyptian clerisy – to directly confront, reinterpret, and if necessary (if I read Sisi correctly) contradict the specific text of the Koran and haditha, not to mention making the religious revolution Sisi calls for the mainstream of Islamic thinking, is enormous.
Let us hope it is not also Sisyphean.