By Jerry Coyne
As ISIS slaughters its way though Syria and Iraq, it became inevitable that we’d hear from apologists who claim that ISIS is not in fact “true Islam,” and that its depredations are due to something other than religious motivation. Those motivations, say the apologists, are political (usually Western colonialism that engenders resentment), cultural (societal tradition), or anything other than religion.
These apologists, of course, which now include President Obama, are motivated by a desire to avoid criticizing religion at all costs—especially Islam. In America, criticizing religion is political suicide, and Obama naturally wants to do all he can to encourage “moderate” Muslims. As Sam Harris concluded on a post on his website, some “scholars and pseudo-scholars” cling to a ludicrous notion that the actions of jihadis like those of ISIS aren’t motivated by religion. As he noted: “experts claim that one can’t take Islamists and jihadists at their word: Their incessant declarations about God, paradise, martyrdom, and the evils of apostasy are nothing more than a mask concealing their real motivations.”
The apologists are also motivated by another form of denial. Yes, they say, jihadis may be motivated by Islam, but it’s not “true” Islam. True Islam is peaceful, and its adherents would never slaughter apostates, behead journalists, or forcibly convert non-Muslims. This is what Obama said the other night when explaining his plan to dismantle ISIS (or “ISIL,” as he calls it):
Now let’s make two things clear: ISIL is not Islamic. No religion condones the killing of innocents, and the vast majority of ISIL’s victims have been Muslim. … ISIL is a terrorist organization, pure and simple.
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