05 May The Boston Bombings and Understanding the Islamic Worldview – Interview with Mark Durie on Christian Worldview Radio
This in an edited transcript of an interview of Mark Durie by David Wheaton on Christian Worldview Radio.
Mark Durie: I think we do have precious common ground with Muslims, but it’s in our humanity, not in faith.
I think it’s really important to hold love together with truth, and not to abandon one for the other, or to pit them against each other. Truth means acknowledging the differences, which are great and significant, and not glossing over them or pretending they don’t exist. When you’re dealing with a very different faith it takes an effort and care to really understand those differences. That’s been part of my work, to help people understand what seems incomprehensible, what those differences really are.
MD: I think there are certainly Muslims who regard the West and America as the enemy and rejoice in what they regard as inflicting pain and harm on their enemy. So there are some like that. I think some Muslims in American also really prefer to emphasize that Muslims are the real victims – that’s a theological theme in Islam, that Muslims are the victims – so they don’t want the attention to be taken away from that. Also some Muslims don’t want to apologize for Islam. It causes them distress to have to engage with this [incidents of Islamic terrorism] and they resent being held to account for their faith. So there’s a deeper denial sometimes, at least among Western Muslims about Islamic radicalism. All these factors sometimes make it difficult for Muslims to engage.
[Mother here:] “What happened is a terrible thing, but I know that my kids had nothing to do this.”
[Father here:] “Somebody clearly framed them. I don’t know exactly who framed them but they did. They framed them and then they were so cowardly that they shot them dead. There are policemen like that.”
[Mother:] “They were being killed just because they were Muslims. Nothing else.”
[Interviewer:] “Do you think they’ll get a fair trial?”
[Mother:] “Only Allah knows it. I don’t know.”
MD: I think there’s an emotional world-view gap that drives the truth gap. Shame and honour are very powerful forces in Islamic culture, and there’s a desire to claim the moral high ground of being a victim. They did this to them “just because they are Muslims,” the mother of the bombers said.“We are the victims!” one Muslim scholar was screaming on al-Jazeera, in a debate with Wafa Sultan, who is a doctor who left Islam. She had challenged him, saying, look Muslims had done some bad things, but he just began to scream at her: “We are the victims!”
This sense that “We are the victims: there’s nothing wrong with us, it is someone else’s fault”: that is what drives these wild conspiracy theories and denial of obvious and plain truth. I think underlying it is something like shame or just some sort of fear, and this creates the sense of unreality. The Muslim world is awash with bizarre conspiracy theories. There is a truth gap, but it is because of an emotional world-view gap.
[Clint Van Zandt, FBI Profiler:] “The pieces we don’t have Chris is “Where was their inspiration? Where did they get their guidance? Who taught them how to build the bombs? Where did they build them? These are a lot of questions.”[Chris Matthews, interrupting and shouting over Van Zandt:] “Why is that important? Why is that important to prosecuting? Is that important to prosecuting? I mean, what difference does it make why they did if they did it? I’m being tough here but I don’t know whether, when you look at all this evidence…”
MD: Well the first thing is that it is not just Americans that are being attacked by radical Muslims. Just recently the Coptic cathedral in Cairo was attacked and someone was shot. Actually Christian minorities in Muslim countries are attacked and hated as well, so it is not just America.The root of the problem is in the Qur’an. The Qur’an says “Fighting is obligatory for you, though you dislike it.” [Sura 2:126]. The word in Arabic for fighting means “to kill.” And it says also “I shall cast terror into the hearts of the disbelievers. Cut off their heads, and cut off their limbs.” [Sura 8:12]There’s a stream that’s at the core of Islam that generates hatred against non-believers. Christians are being killed and attacked in Nigeria and in the Sudan, and that’s not because they are a world power or a dominant force.There is an old Islamic doctrine that the blood of infidels is halal: it can be taken. It’s not a crime to attack a non-Muslim, and the radicals, like the Tsarnaev brothers, they are taught this sort of worldview. It’s the devaluation of the lives of non-Muslims in these radical versions of Islam that’s the real problem.
The blame-the-victim response – “it’s our fault that we’re being killed” – that’s a terrible mistake to fall into. That’s just what the terrorists want you to think – that it’s your fault.
MD: Oh absolutely. The hostility would only increase. America stands for the freedom and the power and might of the non-Muslim world, and that’s enough to justify the jihad. You won’t get peace by withdrawing from those places. It’s not going to happen.
MD: Well, there’s two reasons. One is, as the Qur’an says, to strike terror in the hearts of the enemy [Sura 8:60, see also 3:150, 8:], to condition fear in who they [the terrorists] regard as the enemy, which is non-Muslims.
And the other is, as a leading scholar in Syria [Al-Bouti see here] said in a ruling made about suicide bombings, it is permissible to do it to spite the enemy, that is to hurt them. So there’s the desire to hurt someone who is thought to be an enemy. That’s the pleasure of inflicting harm on your enemy.
MD: For one thing he has a secular liberal view that all religions are much the same. So he denies that Islam is the reason or makes any contribution to these acts.
Furthermore he identifies with Islam – as he has explained to the Muslim world – because his father was a Muslim and he was exposed to Islamic worldview and background when he was a kid. So he is very deliberate about deflecting attention away from Islam. He has forbidden his spokespeople to make any links between Islam and terrorism. It is his deliberate policy to do that.
MD: It’s true, David, that those on the left wouldn’t last long in an Islamic state, but they support the Islam project. That’s a really fascinating thing and there’s a number of reasons that all come together. One is that the left hasn’t really come to terms with the failure of communism, and they don’t actually have an ideal to hold out as a result, except that they hate capitalism, and thus they hate America as well, and they share that hatred with radical Islam. So on the basis that “Whoever is my enemy’s enemy must be my friend,” there’s a natural partnering there.
Another is the victimhood thing. The left loves a victim, and Islam promotes itself – Muslims promote themselves – as victims, so there’s a partnering there.
And another is that both ideologies are totalitarian, so there’s somehow an affinity where the two work together. But as you say, radical sharia law would just destroy many of the projects that the left holds dear.
MD: I think there’s two reasons. One was explained by their uncle, Uncle Ruslan, [here] who had absolute contempt for them. He said they did not ‘settle’ – that is, they couldn’t find a meaningful way of making a path for themselves. Tamerlan had wanted to be an engineer, but he did not do well enough; then he wanted to do boxing, but he wasn’t quite good enough at that; he felt superior but he wasn’t getting on.
But the [second] key factor then was that they were exposed to radical teachers who told them about their superiority as conservative Muslims, and offered them this sense of significance, the hope of achieving paradise if they gave their lives in jihad. It’s that radicalisation, the teaching, the doctrine, which was the key issue.
MD: It’s interesting David that quite a lot of women are converting to Islam in the West, more perhaps than men. One woman explained to me that sometimes Muslim men are good looking and attractive, so there’s that factor.
And for some young women, the modern secular west seems rootless, and morally and spiritually lost and Islam seems to offer safe-haven, a place where you know what you are supposed to do, where you’ve got a clear place, and where you don’t have to put yourself on show.
Sometimes women are ignorant and deceived.
There’s also the issue of dominance. It seems that Katharine Russell partnered with a young man who was abusive and dominating and he put a lot of pressure on her. All those factors can come together.
MD: I think it’s true that Islam does emphasize death, and the Qur’an criticizes the Jews for loving life [Sura 2:96]. And it’s also true that Islam is in many respects very antagonistic to core values of the gospel. Muhammad, for example, hated crosses and would destroy anything that had a cross on it. Also Islam has been the most devastating ideology in terms of its impact on the Christian world. Most of the ancient Christian world was overwhelmed. His track record is really incredibly devastating. I believe Muhammad was a false prophet. His message was not true. He did not lead people to God but away from God.
Is it the ultimate? Is it the worst expression of the Satanic delusion, that all of us can be affected by? I’m reluctant to say that, but certainly militant Islam has had a hugely devastating effect.
This is one reason why I find it very distressing when people in the West speak of “the prophet Muhammad”. He’s not a prophet. He’s a false prophet. And we need to find ways that really distance ourselves from the claims of Islam, so that we don’t just accept them or speak about it with reverence and respect. Because it is not a true religion.
MD: I think it’s tempting to think that people of a different faith just believe more or less the same things that we do. We look at another faith and think “Oh it must be the same.” But that’s just too easy. You need to pay attention to what people actually teach and believe. And even some leading Christian thinkers and writers like Miroslav Volf from Yale University have said “Islam teaches love of the neighbor.” It’s not true. Islam teaches love of the Muslim neighbor, but not of the non-Muslim neighbor.
The Qur’an actually teaches Muslims to show harshness to non-Muslim neighbors and to fight against them [Sura 9:123, Sura 48:29] so you shouldn’t look to religion to be the basis of working together. You should look to common humanity.
I think Christians and Muslims can work together, but not based on a shared religious belief, but rather on their shared humanity, their conscience, their awareness of right and wrong that’s not necessarily based on religion at all, but is just part of the human condition.
MD: I think it’s really important to study Islam for yourself. Look at the original sources. There are some very good books that make those sources available. Take the Life of Muhammad: to understand how different it actually is, you really need to be confronted with teachings that say do not love non-Muslims. You need to read those things thoroughly. My book The Third Choice explains Islam clearly, and that’s a resource.
Another thing is you need to set aside the need to be comforted, such as thinking that all religions are the same, or everyone is basically decent: that’s not a good basis for examining these differences. You have to pay attention and look at the issues for what they are.
Another is don’t try to find solutions too quickly. Solutions come later. First you have to understand the problem and live with that and understand that first. The solutions will come as you allow those facts to come to your mind.
MD: About 2.4% of the Australian population is Muslim. They come from many, many different countries, so their stories are very diverse, because they come from different places. Some Muslims have had difficulties settling here, and we have certainly have the radicals here too – as in the US, where I think there have been hundreds of potential Boston bombings that have been thwarted by the FBI – we’ve had issues here too: people have been arrested and imprisoned for plotting here. In general most Muslims are doing pretty well and adapting well to Australia, but it’s not all roses by any means.
One really good thing that’s happened here is that both sides of politics have repeatedly said very clearly we’re not going to have sharia law here. There’s one law for all. All people are going to be equal before the law. That’s our common law tradition. And if you want to live in Australia that’s what have to put up with, and that’s the way it works. That’s been good: our government has made very clear statements about our values and our legal system to the Muslims that have come into the country. And I wish government leaders around the world would say that very clearly to their Muslim immigrants.
MD: I’ve had a range of responses. Sometimes Muslims have been intrigued by what I’ve had to say and I’ve had some very interesting interactions with them. Understanding the religion enables that to happen. Occasionally people have just been offended and they dismiss you, but I find that if you love people and you express your views graciously, and you don’t assume that the person who you’re speaking to has certain beliefs, and you ask them what they believe, and inquire about what they believe, you can have a very good relationship with them. I have friends who debate with Muslims in Hyde Park in London, and often if you can engage in a very frank and open way you can connect very powerfully, much better than if you have a wishy-washy fearful “Oh we’ll all the same” approach. You are much less likely to have a significant engagement with Muslims if you have that view.
Mark Durie is the founding director of the Institute for Spiritual Awareness, a Fellow at the Middle East Forum, and a Senior Research Fellow of the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.