The irony of a religion without irony

Don’t miss Roger Scruton’s piece in the Opinion Journal on Islam and its “lack of irony.” Moving beyond labels such as “Islamofascism,” Scruton tackles the question of “whether terrorism is really as alien to Islam as we should all like to believe.” He writes:

[The] readiness to take offense is not yet terrorism–but it is a sign of the deep-down insecurity of the Muslim psyche in the modern world. In the presence of Islam, we all feel, you have to tread carefully, as though humoring a dangerous animal. The Koran must never be questioned; Islam must be described as a religion of peace–isn’t that the meaning of the word?–and jokes about the prophet are an absolute no-no. If religion comes up in conversation, best to slip quietly away, accompanying your departure with abject apologies for the Crusades. And in Europe this pussyfooting is now being transcribed into law, with “Islamophobia” already a crime in Belgium and movements across the continent to censor everything at which a Muslim might take offence, including articles like this one.

The majority of European Muslims do not approve of terrorism. But there are majorities and majorities. According to a recent poll, a full quarter of British Muslims believe that the bombs of last summer in London were a legitimate response to the “war on terror.” Public pronouncements from Muslim leaders treat Islamist terrorism as a lamentable but understandable response to the West’s misguided policies. And the blood-curdling utterances of the Wahhabite clergy, when occasionally reported in the press, sit uneasily with the idea of a “religion of peace.” All this leads to a certain skepticism among ordinary people, whose “racist” or “xenophobic” prejudices are denounced by the media as the real cause of Muslim disaffection.

Scruton notes that during the time of the Ottomans, Islam moved towards the Western notion that human societies should be governed by human laws, and these laws must take precedence over religious edicts. But “after the Ottoman collapse the Muslim sects rebelled against the idea, since it contradicts the claims of the Shariah to be the final legal authority.”

In my view, the recent success of this rebellion stems mostly from the failure of secular leaders in the Middle East from Nasser on to satisfy Arab ambitions, including territorial ones. If so, it may be that the best thing the West can do to promote democracy and the rule of human law in the region is to make sure that the fundamentalists don’t satisfy Arab ambitions either.


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