Following every Islamist terror attack on a Western soft target, like the recent one in Brussels, we hear the same refrain from certain corners: “Why won’t Muslims stand up to Islamic extremism?” The rhetorical question is meant to imply its own answer: that Islam is unavoidably a religion of violence which impels its adherents to at least sanction terrorism, if not partake in it.
But the argument contains a false premise. Plenty of Muslims are standing up to Islamic extremism, both in word and deed. In fact, it is Muslims who are doing all the heavy lifting in this regard, while the chief contribution of the self-righteous Western powers has been to add to their burden.
First of all, Muslims have opposed extremism ideologically. This goes for Muslim leaders, including top clerics and such groups as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the 50-million strong Nahdlatul Ulama (NU).
It also goes for the general Muslim populace. The 2008 book Who Speaks for Islam: What a Billion Muslims Really Think was, according to its publisher Gallup, “…based on six years of research and more than 50,000 interviews representing 1.3 billion Muslims who reside in more than 35 nations that are predominantly Muslim or have sizable Muslim populations. Representing more than 90% of the world’s Muslim community, it makes this poll the largest, most comprehensive study of its kind.” Gallup itemized several of the study’s conclusions, including the following:
“* Muslims and Americans are equally likely to reject attacks on civilians as morally unjustifiable.
* Large majorities of Muslims would guarantee free speech if it were up to them to write a new constitution AND they say religious leaders should have no direct role in drafting that constitution.
* When asked about their dreams for the future, Muslims say they want better jobs and security, not conflict and violence.”
Moreover, according to a more recent Gallup article, “…Muslim Americans are the most likely of all religious groups to disavow military as well as individual or group attacks against civilians, with large majorities saying these are never justified.”
If only more Americans would disavow military attacks against civilians, instead of agreeing with apologists for carpet bombing (Ted Cruz) and targeting families (Donald Trump).
Muslims are also doing the lion’s share of standing up to extremists militarily. As an anti-statist, I do not endorse any military or act of war. But who else do you think is retaking towns and territory from ISIS and Al Qaeda in Syria and Iraq, under Russian air cover, and to the chagrin of the U.S. State Department? What religion do you suppose is practiced by the foot soldiers in the Syrian army of Bashar al-Assad or the Iran-backed militiamen from Iraq and Lebanon? One is tempted to ask the Western laptop bombardiers lobbing this accusation whether actually standing in the line of fire to defend your homeland against heavily-armed foreign jihadis counts as “standing up to extremism.”
What makes the accusation particularly galling is that it is the accusers’ own governments that provided many of the bullets and shells that these moderate Muslims are dodging. For years, and especially since the Arab Spring, the U.S. and other Western governments have flooded the insurgencies being led by Al Qaeda and ISIS in Syria and Libya with guns, artillery, and money. Furthermore, the West also arms and sponsors Saudi Arabia, while that extremist theocracy also backs Al Qaeda in Syria and Yemen, terror-bombs and starves civilians in Yemen, and finances radical madrassas around the world.
And the West has done all this in order to overthrow secular-Arab nationalist regimes that hate and are hated by Islamic fundamentalist groups. In pursuit of these irrational vendettas, Western governments have created chaotic failed states throughout the greater Middle East, which have served as vast breeding grounds for the very extremist groups that are now regularly launching terror attacks on Western civilians.
Muslims are doing plenty to stand up to violent extremism. If you really want to prevent terroristic blowback, you should worry less about wagging your finger at over a billion men, women, and children, and worry more about standing up to your own government’s support for and perpetration of violent extremism.