Now that three years and three months have passed since nearly 3,000 died on a day that will live in infamy, the hills are alive with the sound of musings about Islam. Publishers Weekly reports that many new books on the religion are hitting the bookstores, with most assuring readers that Islam is a religion of peace.
Our cover story about our Daniel of the Year, Caroline Cox, shows that some Christians under attack know differently. So do many Dutch citizens, shocked by last month's jihad-inspired murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh. Wishful thinking about Islam also runs up against the Quran itself, which shows that Islam offers peace only to its adherents and (under defined conditions) gives them a license to kill.
Tying down the definition is sometimes difficult. Some Christians think it's easy to quote some Quranic verses and best Muslims in debate. One internet site portrays a Christian asking a Muslim, "'All followers of Allah have been commanded to kill everyone who is not of your faith so they can go to heaven. Is that correct?' The expression on his face changed from one of authority and command to that of a little boy who had just gotten caught with his hand in the cookie jar. He sheepishly replied, 'Yes.'"
If only it were that easy. In reality, Muslims contest such a definition of jihad. When a Muslim says that he can fight and receive reward from Allah only when defending Muslim lands, it's vital to find out what he considers to be Muslim lands. Is Israel a Muslim land? What about Spain and the Balkans, which Muslims ruled for centuries?
Similarly, when a Muslim says he opposes the murder of civilians, it's vital to ask, What do you mean by civilian? Is a non-soldier Israeli who has military training and could be called into active service a civilian? A worker at the Pentagon? How about those at the World Trade Center who advanced the capitalism that undergirds U.S. military efforts?
Some American Muslims stop after a layer or two. Islamic terrorists peel away all of them, all the way down to killing pregnant women and their children, even making sure that unborn children are blasted away. After all, the unborn could eventually become soldiers occupying land that belongs to Islam.
Should all Muslims be blamed for such brutality? Clearly not; many Muslims are pro-life concerning the unborn. Should Islam be exonerated? No: Muslims should take responsibility for what is all too frequent in Islamic history and in the culture that grows out of the Quran.
Past outrages by Christians and those who called themselves Christians should not be ignored. And yet, instead of hyperventilating about the misogyny of some church fathers, the bloody entry of the Crusaders into Jerusalem, or the pro-slavery rhetoric of some antebellum fire-eaters, we should compare the normal practice of Christianity and Islam.
Christianity grew by the blood of its martyrs, but Islam grew by killing those who opposed it. Christ's teaching eventually led to the development of complementary roles for men and women, but Muhammad's teaching led to subservience. Christians looked at slavery critically over the centuries and often fought for its abolition, but Muslims began the practice of enslaving Africans, and some Islamic countries today still allow slavery.
A useful book in this regard is Alvin Schmidt's The Great Divide (Regina, 2004). Do you want to know whether beheading is part of traditional Islamic practice? Mr. Schmidt notes that Muhammad himself ordered such killings, and that when Ottoman caliphs finally took over Constantinople in 1453 the embalmed head of Emperor Constantine XI became part of a traveling exhibit.
Mr. Schmidt also quotes the Gospel reference to Jesus telling those who accused an adulterous woman without sufficient evidence, "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone." He compares that to the story of a prostitute confessing to Muhammad, who is said to have participated in her execution by throwing the first stone.
We are far from the end of our war against terrorism, most of which these days is Islamic in origin, but we may be at the end of the beginning. It's certainly time to enter into discussions with Muslims without offering either appeasement or shotgun-blast aggression.