In daily conversations and media so-called “good” Muslims are typically labeled as “moderates” today.
The debate was moderated by John Zmirak who later wrote a story for Crisis Magazine with his observations about the evening’s event. A full transcript of the conversation can be found at the end of Spencer’s book Not Peace but a Sword: The Great Chasm between Christianity & Islam.
Among the most fascinating aspects of the dialogue was the context of the word “ignorance” which has distinctly different meanings for both sides of the argument. Many observers, be they educated analysts or average Arab citizens on the street, emphasize that much of what drives Islamic extremism is ignorance that is frequently combined with poverty and a submissive mentality.
The word “Islam” itself means “submission” which translates to signify blind obedience, even if it results in death.
Spencer uses a more philosophical approach to his description but his meaning is the same when he writes, “In his absolute and unfettered sovereignty, Allah had doomed the Islamic world to over a millennium of intellectual stagnation and anti-intellectualism. A recurring idea in the Islamic world is that the Qur’an and Sunnah contain all that is needed for the proper functioning of human society, and everything else is either superfluous or heretical.”
That paragraph speaks volumes about the irreconcilable differences between the Arab world and the West for more than 1,400 years.
An article by Hadi Yahmad, chief editor of the Tunisian daily newspaper Al-Haqaiq, expressed a similar view on September 11 when he wrote, “We must acknowledge without shame that we in the Arab and Islamic region have become a breeding ground for terrorists… due to (our) cultural and ideological backwardness.”
Yahmed continues to chastise the Arab-Islamic mindset by saying it fails to recognize its own weaknesses while blaming others for all that is culturally wrong in Arabic society. “(How) many of us have never asked themselves (sic) why these horrors, massacres, and cold-blooded murders take place on our lands?! Must we always lay the blame on others, so that we can (continue) to deny (reality), to forget (it) and to wreak vengeance?!…”
It is here that the debate takes on new meaning and the word “ignorance” changes context. Spencer’s analysis of “ignorance” as defined by Western media provides powerful insights as to why it is so difficult to negotiate with the Islamic world.
“The charge that the people are ignorant, rather than simply sinful and rebellious, is noteworthy, for to this day Islamic spokesmen and apologists charge non-Muslims with ignorance, including those who demonstrate that they understand the religion well. The mainstream media present us with surveys alleging that people who dislike Islam or distrust Muslims are simply suffering from a lack of knowledge. This is in line with the Islamic scheme of things; Allah did not send his prophets and revelations so much to save people from sin but to save them from ignorance.”
In this sense, “ignorance” is defined as being “uninformed” rather than “illiterate.” Therein lies a major distinction. Though the terms are frequently used interchangeably, the comparisons are significantly dissimilar.
One final statement by Spencer highlights Western/Islamic differences even further and, again, emphasizes the chasm that is so deep between the two ideologies. “Whatever the reasoning, in Islam God is not a father to human beings. To a pious Muslim, a prayer like the Our Father is utterly alien. He would consider it presumptuous in the extreme to call Allah his Father. Instead, Allah is the master of the universe and human beings are his slaves. The hallmark of Islamic religious observance is external obedience, not likeness with the divine through an interior transformation.”
When dealing with the complexities of today’s Middle East, be it Syria, Egypt, Iraq or any other Islamic country, these are the sort of deeper understandings required to have any realistic hope of dealing with cultures so incompatible with our own.