One annoying (and much worse, dangerous) development that always accompanies Islamic terrorism is the array of “respectable Islamic leaders” who march out in front of TV cameras and declare that the perpetrators of misdeeds “do not represent Islam.” While they are correct that they do not, it is equally true that these respectable folks do not represent Islam either. Islam, especially the Sunni Islam, does not have a clearly defined religious hierarchy. No one represents Islam. No one speaks for whole of Islam. Each believer represents Islam as he or she believes it and speaks for it with validity equal to that of any other.
The all too oft-repeated (and ultimately misleading) mantra that Islam is a “religion of peace” is thus wrong: it can be a religion of peace, but it can also be a religion of war and violence–and it is not as if Christianity or Judaism is exempt from this. We repeat that mantra because we want Islam to be a peaceful, multiculturalist religion that plays nice with the Western sentimentality, but we err believing that we can forcibly convert Islam to something we like without a backlash. Indeed, that is where the Richard Dawkins problem comes in: how dare do nonbelievers who don’t respect a religion’s traditions and sensibilities try to dictate what it should and should not be? All that we can do is not to try to force Islam to become what it is not, at least for the time being, but treat it with both due respect and due caution–and I want to emphasize the latter, for the threat represented by a major strand within Islam, representing many millions worldwide and and supported by powerful persons and organizations, to the safety and well-being of many in the West is indeed very real. The real challenge is to properly balance the respect and the caution, without being too carried away by either….