By the time you read this column, you will probably have heard countless people trying to figure out the best way to defeat the Islamic State, variously known as ISIS, ISIL or Daesh. Bombing ISIS’ strongholds in Syria, strengthening border controls and enhancing surveillance measures are all indispensable steps for any state that wants to protect its citizens, but these are crisis management solutions that won’t insulate us in the long term.

ISIS is but one face of the hydra-headed culture of Islamic extremism. As an organization, ISIS may be degraded into insignificance, but the theology that inspires it – like a torrential stream – courses mightily across the Islamic world and will always inspire the birth of countless new jihadis.

This situation is unlikely to change unless people in Muslim-majority nations start questioning their sacred traditions without fearing for their lives.

For this to happen, Western nations, along with all freedom-loving people around the world, need to stand firmly by the critical thinkers who want to inject some light and air into the stifling corners of their faith, and provide them with all the support systems they need to express themselves.


For this strategy to have a chance of succeeding, we need to stop apologizing for the values that gave us our modern civilization and, in fact, demand that other nations embrace them or endure marginalization in the global community.

The United States and Europe are heirs to the 18th-century culture of the Enlightenment, without which we would not have the separation of church and state, freedom of expression and a culture of human rights. If we don’t stand up for these precious achievements, we could lose the will to counter the barbaric certitudes of extremists.

We must rethink our conventional narratives, too. When incidents like the Paris massacres of 2015 happen, politicians and the media are quick to exonerate mainstream Muslims from the actions of Muslim terrorists. Instead of finding scholars who study Islam from a secular perspective, reporters find “good” Muslim leaders to assure audiences that Islam is a religion of peace. This approach doesn’t help the public understand the theology that undergirds terrorist acts. The people who killed Charlie Hebdo journalists to avenge the honor of their prophet had ample justification in the canonical texts to do so.

Many historians and writers feel that they cannot deal with the topics of the prophet or the Quran critically without feeling endangered. Muslims believe that Muhammad is the last prophet and the best human being to have ever existed. They feel obligated to defend his honor at all costs. The same attitude extends to the Quran. For them, it is the eternal and uncorrupted word of God. Any attempt to question these facts is met with suspicion and hostility. Consequently, most of the world, including the vast majority of Muslims themselves, know little about the origins of Islam.


It is understandable why pious Muslims want to shelter their religion from critical examination; the problem is that the world’s cultural and political elites have caved to Muslim threats and continue to walk on eggshells when it comes to probing the early history of Islam. This attitude is counterproductive. If Western scholars can speak freely and critically about Judaism and Christianity, they should also enjoy the same right when it comes to Islam.

It’s time for the world’s secular leaders to embark on a massive cultural mission to bolster their cherished principles, educate their citizens and empower critical thinkers in the Muslim world and elsewhere to step out of the shadows and do their work without fear.

Muslims everywhere need to understand that the West is no longer willing to tolerate despotic beliefs and brutal behaviors in the name of supremacist religious beliefs. Moreover, Muslims should expect to hear views that challenge their faith and not resort to violence.

Our politicians and media outlets may be sensitive to Muslims’ feelings and cultural practices, but I sure hope they are not willing to appease those who are determined to destroy their heritage.

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