How the new COVID relief bill is emblematic of our willful misunderstanding of the Islamic worldview.

by Bruce Thornton,

The recently passed $2.3 trillion bill to provide Covid-19 relief programs and fund the government, as usual contains billions of dollars for feeding whole herds of Congressional legislative pork. One of the most egregious is $10 million to fund “gender” programs in Pakistan. Nothing bespeaks our continued misunderstanding and dismissal of Islamic doctrine and practice than this arrogant program that violates fundamental precepts of sharia law.

Such blindness is nothing new, but has characterized our government’s assumptions that guide policies involving Muslim nations. Under the guise of “respecting” Islam instead we insult observant Muslims by assuming our secular, technocratic, globalist paradigms are the default ways to live for the whole planet. But our smug righteousness and certainty reaffirm for traditionalist Muslims our spiritual poverty and ultimate moral fragility.

Like nearly all Muslim majority nations, Pakistan’s constitution encodes sharia law, the totalizing guide and authority for every aspect of human life. One product of this code is the social and juridical inequality of women. And many of the dysfunctions like honor killings and legal inequality that this ill-conceived $10 million program seeks to eliminate derive from these strictures. That’s why Pakistan is ranked second to last in sex equality. Given this simple reality, how successful can any program be at correcting sexist laws and customs predicated on deeply held religious beliefs?

Such myopia has for four decades impaired our understanding of the Islamic world. First our foreign policy establishment misinterpreted the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Trapped in the postwar anticolonialism narrative that peoples once under the thumb of European powers or the U.S., who installed illiberal autocrats to do their bidding, would rebel against those leaders in order to enjoy democratic freedom, economic opportunity, and full national sovereignty.

Except the leader of the Iranian Revolution was not the leftists, “technocrats,” or liberals. It was the Ayatollah Khomeini, who led a religious assault on the Shah’s modernizing regime that comprised “enemies of Islam,” as Khomeini put it. Nor was the revolution about nationalist sentiment. “We shall export our revolution” Khomeini vowed, “to the whole world. Until the cry ‘There is no God but Allah’ resounds over the whole world, there will be struggle,” that is, jihad. But Khomeini, the most revered cleric in Shia Islam, was dismissed in the U.S. as just another “beard from the fringe,” a “fanatic,” in the words of Time magazine, “whose judgments are harsh, reasoning bizarre, and conclusions surreal.”

This arrogant dismissal of a faith that conquered the Persian and Byzantine empires and occupied two-thirds of the Roman Empire has typified the West’s response to subsequent jihadist violence. Even after the spectacular carnage on 9/11 made explicit Islam’s intentions founded on canonical texts, “nothing to do with Islam” remained the foreign policy establishment’s assumption. As a result, the punitive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan took on the idealistic aim of providing Western-style democracies and human rights to peoples the majority of whom were traditional Muslims who saw that liberal democratic cargo as a stealth weapon for destroying Islam.

As Muslim Brotherhood theorist Sayyid Qutb––a seminal influence on Osama bin Laden––put it, “It is necessary to revive the Muslim community which is buried under the debris of the man-made traditions . . . and which is crushed under the weight of those false laws and customs which are not even remotely related to the Islamic teachings.” These alien imports that had followed Western powers into the Middle East must be resisted and destroyed, since “the only principle on which the totality of human life is to be based is Allah’s religion and its system of life,” which is sharia law. Hence the necessity of jihad, for “Islam came into this world to establish Allah’s rule on earth, to invite all people toward the worship of Allah.” And according to the Koran, if they refuse the “da’wah,” the “call” to convert, then they are legitimate targets of violent jihad.

Khomeini, Qutb, and many other theorists of jihad ground their prescriptions on the traditional writings of the faith. These arguments are not “heresies,” they are not distortions of Islam. Those who say Islam needs a Reformation don’t get that modern jihadism is the “reformation,” the attempt to restore the faith to its original purity and storied history of martial success and expansion. Of course, there are many Muslims, most of them living in the West, who talk about revising Islam to make it more compatible with the modern world and its political ideas like democracy and equal rights, or who reject the violent traditions of the faith and its supremacist intolerance. But they are a minority of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims, who are receptive to jihadist arguments grounded in the Koran, the perfect, timeless words of Allah.

Why, then, do our leaders dismiss the truths of Islamic doctrine, truths documented on every page of history? Mainly because no matter how disguised with good intentions and professions of respect for the “religion of peace,” they have made the Western paradigm of political freedom, equal rights, separation of church and state, sex equality, and cosmopolitan tolerance into the paradigm for all of humanity. This is the assumption behind the “rules-based, liberal democratic global order,” an assumption that ignores the fact that this global order was not accepted on principle, but imposed on an intricately diverse world by Western military and economic power.

This is not to say that non-Westerners don’t desire or can’t adopt the freedom, peace, and prosperity that the “new world order” promises. All human beings are capable of desiring and adopting those boons, as the one-way flow of migration to the West demonstrates. And once there, over time many become Western. The mistake is believing that the whole world desires those goods to the exclusion of all others, goods like fidelity to one’s god, customs, and traditions, or a desire for conquest and expansion at the expense of other peoples. Humans are notorious for their capacity to simultaneously want mutually exclusive goods. So today we witness Muslims who live in the West and enjoy its freedom and prosperity, even as they seek through terror to destroy the principles and ideas that make those goods possible.

Finally, the triumph of secularism in the West, the transformation of our civilization into one that thinks it can do without God in the public square, leaves us incapable of imagining people who are passionate believers, passionate enough to kill and die on behalf of their faith. At the same time, paradoxically our fashionable self-loathing for alleged global crimes like “colonialism” and “imperialism’ inhibits us from criticizing a faith practiced by exotic “others” we allegedly have victimized. Few see the hypocrisy of decrying the West’s imperialism in order to cater to a faith that inspired one of the world’s most successful empires, one still occupying extensive tracts of land once the homeland of the West’s foundational forefathers, the Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian cultures. We see this apologetic posture as a sign of superior righteousness, while our enemies, who never apologize, see it as a sign of craven weakness.

Because of “new world order” globalism and its incoherent, racialist, masochistic identity politics, we distort the motives of Islamic jihadists and dismiss the doctrinal authority on which they rely, as though secular Westerners are better authorities on Islam than Khomeini, Qutb, or Yusuf al-Qaradawi, one of the Muslim world’s premier Islamic scholar, an associate of the Muslim Brotherhood and chairman of the International Union of Muslim Scholars. And he is an apologist for jihadist terror, anti-Semitism, and suicide-bombings even as he talks to the West in the language of “moderation.”

The misguided appropriation of U.S. taxpayers’ money to promote our ideas about “gender” in an environment foundationally hostile to it is a reminder of our half-century willful distortion of Islam, and cringing policies that airbrush out Islam’s theology of violence against unbelievers. But spending what amounts to couch-change in a $2.6 trillion bill is just a sign of a deeper incoherence. If Biden becomes president, he will try to return the U.S. to the disastrous Iran agreement, itself a product of the same ignorance and arrogant righteousness about our superiority over those poor benighted peoples still clinging to faith and their own traditions.

Of all the disasters that those assumptions have caused over the last half-century, letting Iran off the hook and facilitating its acquisition of nuclear weapons may turn out to be the worst. And it will cost us much, much more than $10 million.

Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.