Reviving Islam’s Enlightenment
Panicked attempts to march into Muslim countries and extirpate the threat have been counterproductive, only serving to increase the appeal of Islamic extremism. Western scholars who understand Islam and speak some of the many languages of its practitioners need to support these intellectual movements.
SEATTLE – In 1877, the great French novelist Victor Hugo wrote, “Invading armies can be resisted; invading ideas cannot be.” Nowadays, the power of ideas, for good or for evil, is something we need to take into account, particularly in contemplating Islamic radicalism. The recent terrorist attacks in France, Kuwait, and Tunisia are only the latest reminders of how important it is to understand that, behind these outrages, there are serious ideas, not simply angry, frustrated criminals.
Violent Islamic jihadist movements do not pose an existential danger to Europe or North America. They may occasionally be able to carry out deadly terrorist acts, but they have no chance of destroying or taking over Western societies. Panicked attempts to march into Muslim countries and extirpate the threat have been counterproductive, serving only to increase the appeal of Islamic extremism.
Most Muslims reject the harshest versions of Islam, but many – if not most – harbor sympathy for the idea of struggling against the dictates of the West and returning the faith to its past strengths and glories. It would be wrong to assert that only a tiny minority of Muslims back the actions of the extremists or that fundamentalist factions have hijacked a religion of which they are completely unrepresentative. Islamic radicals enjoy enough support to be a serious threat in their part of the world. It is important to understand how this happened.