10/28/2010—This was the question debated on October 6 at NPR Intelligence Squared at NYU. Four scholars took part: for the affirmative, Zeba Khan and Maajid Nawaz, and for the negative, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Douglas Murray. The audience concluded in the negative: “In the end, the audience agreed. The majority of voters— 55%— ended up saying Islam is not a religion of peace. 36% said it was, and 9% still remained utterly confused and undecided.” (account here).
There is something wrong with the approach of this debate. Forget for the moment the presumption in judging the religion of a billion people, as if the audience has a right to decide whether these people ought to practice their religion. And forget the arguments that Christian and Jewish sources (and other religions as well) are just as violent as the Qur’an.
What about the following question—is secular democracy a political system of peace? One could debate the peacefulness of Islam in many places in the globe—a Muslim country would have been nice. But how could the question be debated in America, which has been more or less continuously at war for forty years? And as for blowing up buildings, that is what military air campaigns do.
I am not claiming that the actions of America have been wrong. I agree with most of them right back to dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. (I did draw the line at the Iraq war.) I am merely pointing out that even to hold such a debate implies that the debaters in some sense occupy a privileged place with regard to the question. With regard to this question, America occupies no such privileged place. Surely people in America have no business debating this particular question about Islam.