There’s an article in today’s Irish Times featuring Syyed Siraj H Zaidi and Susan Philips debating that most contentious of topics, Does Islam encourage terrorism? (Paid subscription required).
There are good points made on both sides, but I wanted to comment on just two or three that I thought were particularly startling, by Syyed Siraj H Zaidi.
The first startling statement was that “Islam considers murder as one of the gravest sins and as a capital crime.” The logic seems to be that murder is a grave crime, so being so serious it needs to receive the ultimate punishment: death. (In fairness, Christians have historically seen no contradiction in this either). But to my rationalist, humanitarian viewpoint, killing murderers in revenge for killing just seems inhuman and illogical. It is a punishment best written off as out-dated and inhuman.
Then he states: “One cannot even juxtapose the word terrorism with Islam – they are contradictory terms. In true Islam, terror does not exist.” As an argument, this is simple sophistry. If these “terrorists” happen to also be Muslim, and they claim they are conducting a jihad, and their faith is central to their belief system, then they are “Islamic Terrorists”. Moderate Muslims may protest that it is a mis-use of the term “Islamic”, but it is evading the central truth.
He then goes on to say: “In Islam, killing a human is an act equal in gravity to unbelief.” (my italics). This is scary! Killing someone is a terrible act. But if it is equal to “unbelief”, then it just shows how repressive and aggressive is the Islamic mindset. So, he is saying, I think, that if someone fails to believe in Allah, then that is an equal crime to killing someone? Well, I don’t believe in Allah. Am I as bad as a murderer in his eyes? And if the penalty for murder is death, what does that mean for the equal crime of “unbelief”.
Something is rotten in the state of Islam. It has to stop living in denial and start addressing the causes of this sickness (terrorism). And that is not to say that the Western world is blameless – I think the war being conducted in Iraq is shameful. But it is just a call to say that Islam has to address its inner contradictions before it can preach to the rest of the world. Using clever word-games and sophistry to deny that the problem lies with their religion is delaying the day when they address it.