Islam, Political Islam, and the Diaspora Jewish Divide

One cannot stand up for the Jewish people, today, if one fails to speak out against political Islam.

This assertion represents a significant dividing line among Jewish people, particularly throughout the diaspora.  The Jews of Israel do not need much convincing that political Islam is a threat.  The reason for this is the obvious reason that they live in the Middle East and have a far better understanding of their neighbors – who are doing a terrific job of murdering one another these days – than do either diaspora Jews or the dithering Obama administration.

The so-called “Arab Spring,” which was (and is) the rise of political Islam, is not the great up-welling of Arab democracy – as we were so enthusiastically informed by naive western progressives, including many naive western progressive Zionists – but represents a murderous political movement that stones women to death on the grounds of adultery and that is chasing the Christian population out of the Middle East entirely.

The question is, however, just what is the source of the problem?  Is the problem with Muslims, in general?  Is the problem with the religion of Islam?  Or is it, as I maintain, the problem of Islam as a rising political movement throughout the Middle East.

The biggest geo-political problem facing the Jewish people in the world today, particularly Jews in the Middle East, is political Islam.  The problem is not Muslims, in general, nor is it the religion of Islam as it is practiced by many millions of Muslims throughout the world.

As someone who lives in an exceedingly diverse community, I know this first-hand.

Although there is unquestionably elements within the American Muslim community that represent the Jihad, stealth or otherwise, the great majority of American Muslims have no particular interest in harming either their fellow Americans or in any way undermining the well-being of the Jewish people or in introducing al-Sharia into the United States.  This, of course, is a tad different from what we see in Europe and miles apart from what we see in the burning Arab-Muslim Middle East.

It is therefore necessary to consider the nature of Islam as it manifests itself differently in different parts of the world.  Islam in the United States does not express itself in the same way that it does in Europe or the Middle East or India or Australia or elsewhere.

Thus, it has to be understood that Muslims as people are not the problem.

There is nothing in the Muslim people that is essentially, or inherently, hostile to either Americans or Jews.  This should not even need to be said and I absolutely refuse to consider the nice lady across the street to be an enemy to the Jewish people merely because she happens to be Muslim.  There are something like 1.5 billion Muslim people in the world.  To consider each and every one of them an enemy of the United States, and the west, and the Jewish people, not to mention Gay people, if not women, is not helpful, nor is it accurate.

It’s also simply not true.

Some would argue, however, that the problem is not with the Muslim people, per se, but with the religion of Islam.   While almost everyone who concerns themselves with such things, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, do not blame the entirety of the Umma for the Jihadi hostilities in recent decades, there is an ongoing conversation around the question of whether the riots and the violence and the murders and the wars and the genocidal chatter against the Jews and hatred towards Gays and oppression of women and the subjugation of Christians is due to Islam, the religion, or because of some radical, extremist interpretation of the religion.

That’s the question that counts and the latter has been the stance of consecutive American governments.  George W. Bush called Islam “the religion of peace” and Barack Obama was outspoken in his appreciation of Islam and said the Islamic call to prayer was “one of the prettiest sounds on Earth at sunset.” 

I don’t doubt that it is.

Nonetheless, there is also little doubt that the religion of Islam is, today, retrograde when it comes to questions of human rights as it is practiced in the Middle East and much of Europe.  The same, of course, can be said for particular parts of the Jewish community and the Christian community.  The difference is that Islam is very, very big and Judaism is absolutely tiny.  The difference is that Islam controls many countries and Judaism informs only one.  The difference is that while Evangelical Christianity opposes abortion, it controls no central governments, while political Islam hangs Gay people from cranes and controls, or is gaining the control, of a number of important governments throughout the Middle East.

Yet another difference is that the Bible does not call for violence against either Muslims or Christians and the violence in that book is descriptive, not prescriptive.  The Koran and the Hadith, on the other hand, call quite specifically for violence against both Jews and Christians when those Jews and Christians refuse to bow to the rules of dhimmitude.  Islamic jurisprudence holds Jews and Christians as beholden to inferior doctrines and as people who must be held low in submission to the religion that carries that name.

But the primary source documents of any religion are only meaningful to the extent that the followers act upon the essential views.  While it is true that the doctrines of political Islam are not inconsistent with mainstream Islamic doctrine, this is irrelevant if those beliefs are not acted upon by the Muslim people, and the leadership, as they pursue their daily interests.

What this means is that the problem is not Muslim people.  It is not.

Nor is the problem the Islamic faith.

But the movement to politicize that faith, as we have seen in recent years from Morocco to Tunisia to Libya to Egypt to Syria, and to establish al-Sharia as the form of government within either individual countries or through a larger united Muslim caliphate, is the problem.  As people who care about the well-being of Israel, it is that which should represent our primary concerns on this question.

Islam, after all, is far less dangerous if it doesn’t wield heavy weaponry, as it does in Iran and did, until very recently, in Egypt.

Thus we should be grateful to the Egyptian military and the Egyptian people for giving the Muslim Brotherhood the boot.

The Obama administration has been reprimanded by the Egyptian people and that’s a good thing because no American administration should be in the business of supporting political Islam.

Political Islam in its contemporary form started with Hassan al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb in the late 1920s in Cairo, but gained its most impressive victory with the Iranian revolution of 1979.  In recent years the movement’s fortunes were bolstered under the misnamed “Arab Spring” and, in part, through the offices of the president of the United States under the Obama administration.

The movement to politicize Islam is the most racist and backward-looking large-scale political movement in the world today.  Throughout the Middle East, and certain parts of Europe, large numbers of Muslims wish to see Islam as the basis of government.  What this means is oppression for Muslim women and all non-Muslims and eternal hostility toward the Jewish people.  And what that means is that political Islam must be opposed and the first way it must be opposed is through speaking out against it and simply not funding it.

The EU and the UN and the US fund various Islamist organizations and that is a terrible mistake because those organizations do not support the civil liberties of anyone who does not support Islamic Supremacist ideology.

It is thus a matter of basic human rights.

Yet the Obama administration is waiving a ban on arming terrorists for the alleged purposes of helping the Islamist authoritarian forces to stand against Assad and the secular authoritarian forces in Syria.

One of the dividing lines within diaspora Jewry – if not the Jewish people as a whole – is between those of us who acknowledge political Islam as a highly significant threat and those of us who prefer to turn our eyes away.  Given the fact that political Islam, as a movement, is now, since the “Arab Spring,” taking over entire countries, it would serve the Jewish people well to recognize it and oppose it and and strategize against it.

If those of us who wish to do so are castigated and condemned in malicious terms by our fellow Jews as “racist” then we have far less chance against a rising political movement that is directly in opposition to the well-being of the Jewish people, not only in the Middle East, but throughout the world.


Michael Lumish is the editor of Israel Thrives.

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  1. Michael, as usual, an excellent overview.
    While, indeed, the issue is here the political form of Islam, its agenda, the existential principles of a religion fighting for supremacy in a State condition, perhaps the inner struggle in the Islamic world for political supremacy will give us an added dimension to the current problems.
    Since the end of WWII countries dominated by Islam have encountered fundamental movements of sectarian forces.
    As anti Imperialism cum nationalistic movements took shape, religious authority in Islamic countries under Western AND Eastern (Soviet) influence was relegted to insignificant positions, practically excluded from state power structures. The emergence in the Middle East of the socialist ideology expressed by the Ba’ath political movement, alongside nationalistic Nasserites, brought into power political forces still in place today, albeit Syria being far from being controlled entirely by it right now.
    Briefly, the oppressed, dormant religious forces have emerged lately as a genuine politcal expression. Political Islam relies…fundamemntally on the “ideology” of the Koran and it requires the only kind of loyalty capable to regain its dominance from a secular State system far better structured. Hence the resort to civil terror. Political Islam, kept illegal and oppressed, had no other form of expression but immediate, physical, brutal assertiveness . Its fundamental enemies are all Western Imperialist powers ( and Israel is , in fact, Western ) as well as traditional , archaic, royal hegemonies of the Saudi type. Russia is also there, but in a way that renders Islamic terrorism less efective, due to the far more stringent methods of dealing with internal matters by a system still functioning the old KGB way ( save, of corse for the Chechen situation ). Indonesia, the largest Islamic country still functions on the “glorious” nationalistic Pancasila, an alive and very well “gift” inspired by Imperial Japan of WWII memory. Problems are serious also in less “attended” places, such as Bangladesh and Pakistan. Eastern Africa is aparently localised, except for the epidemic of Islamism, a recruitement method which had to include, engulf if you want, all Islamic political targets.
    To this extent, the notion of Islam not being necessarily a source of terror is valid, as long as RADICAL political alternatives are created and maintaned. The current situation in Egypt, as salutary as we see it, is radical in the sense of drastic measures necessary to deal with religious sentiments dominant within a large section of any Islamic country.
    Let’s talk about Iran later…………..

    • Interesting Otto.

      Thank you for this comment.

      What should also be noted is that contemporary political Islam, as it arose in the 1920s, has certain characteristics in common with Germany’s National Socialists during the same period.

      The go-to guy on that question would be Paul Berman.

  2. Michael
    your suggestion of Nazzi analogies terrifies me only because certain parallels are bound to be found. I would venture, however, that the rise of national socialism in post WWI Germany had an inner politcal conflict character within the spectrum of a democratic Weimar Republic, whereas the nationalistic drive behind the rise of radical political Islamism was a reaction against a religiously exclusive cum oppressive AND corrupt monarchic arsistocracy in Egypt.
    The rise of nationalist socialism in post WWII in Syria and Egypt (mainly ) and the brief creation of the United Arab Republic of Egypt and Syria, as well as the emergence of Ba’ath branches in Iraq, even Lebanon and Lybia were clear movements of urban middle class asserting their ascent to power, finding organic allies in the army, all these clear secular sections. The existence and participation of the respective COMMUNIST parties in the loose alliances in Syria and Iraq was a Soviet inspired element. Nasserism was akin to Ba’ath, however a nationalism strongly residing with the army. Soviet influence was essential in the anti Imperiastic Western type ideology, as against the Eastern type, much more discretely on the ground.
    In all these, the main, implicit socio-political force left disenfranchised was the omnipresent religious element. Far more cohesive than the political myriad of factions within the secular spectrum, they were bound to explode at the weakest political-economic moment. I would place some emphasis on the ECONOMIC circumstances befalling the international environment !!! ( just concerned that I may be a bit excessively marxist in these approach, but I can live with it….)

  3. Michael, an excellent and very well reasoned article, which avoids villifying Muslims, while acknowledging that “The biggest geo-political problem facing the Jewish people in the world today, particularly Jews in the Middle East, is political Islam.”

    Obama certainly did a lot to encourage the spread of political Islam in Egypt when he reached out to the Muslim Brotherhood in his Cairo speech. This certainly raises questions as to where his loyalties lie – to enlightenment values which foster human rights, or to a repressive racist misogynist homophobic ideology which suppresses human rights.

    As you say, a rift has grown within diaspora Jewry between those who acknowledge the threat of political Islam, and those who prefer to turn away, accusing Jews who express concern of being racist – as if Islam was a race!

    Sadly, there is a large interfaith industry attracting massive government grants, dominated by Islamic societies with links to political Islam. Our Jewish leadership gets involved, partly because if they refuse, they will be accused of ‘racism’, partly out of naivety, believing that dialogue with political Islam is possible.

    • I suppose what frustrates me the most, Pam, is that our co-religionists in my part of the world generally refuse to face the fact of political Islam – they won’t even discuss it – yet they oppose Jewish people who choose to live in Judaea and Samaria.

      It’s mind-bogglingly unjust.

      And from an analytical perspective it’s just weak.

      They still tend to think that if only the Jews of Israel would jump through Obama’s hoops and Abbas’s hoops, then there will be peace. If only all the Jews of Israel would hold hands in a line toward Mecca and jump up and down on one foot, while blowing the kazoo, then there will be peace.

      I don’t know what it’s like in Australia, really – although I am learning a thing or two – but Jews in the US, at least among those of us who are politically inclined, still tend to think that it’s all our fault for being mean to Muslims.

      That’s ultimately what it comes down to, is it not?

      The Jews, we are told, are racist, imperialist, colonialist, militarist, apartheid, racists and therefore deserve whatever beating they get. The Jews in the US do not say this, of course. Some merely shrug their shoulders. Others apologize and beg for forgiveness, while others politely disagree.

      What I think is that we need to change the terms of the discussion entirely in a manner that more accurately represents the history of the Jewish people under 13 centuries of dhimmitude and abuse.

      And that, my friend, with a little help, is precisely what we are going to accomplish.

  4. Pam

    the latest regarding the Muslim B/hood in Egypt is that there all but gone as a political authority.
    In these new circumstances, I am trying real hard to see any Obama condemning the new Egyptian REALITIES. As such, the notion of Obama – implicitely the US Admin.- supporting the MB is at least redundant, wouldn’t you say !!??
    I am not a US Democrat supporter.

  5. Michael

    your (USA) problem, ours (Aust) and let’s pick UK Jewish big problem is called at communal level: “Willingness for Activism” . The shoulder shrugging you mentioned is a clear reflection of it.
    Ignorance in the details necessary to argue convincingly is another. But the general disposition to engage in a sometimes necessarily high temperature polemics PUBLICLY is THE most acute problem.
    The other side seems to be rich in aggressive disposition, most of it in lieu of any logical argument. This may intimidate or put off the necessary Jewish respondent. It is considered both “unhealthy” and in bad taste.
    You, Michael Lumish, on the other hand, are, first, much better endowed intellectually, stronger psychologically – aided by the said intellectual self support, of course – and seem to have little ragard for social elegance, almost as if infested with that Sabra brand of contentious disposition.
    A good ol’ early days American Kyke brute, a gheto hooligan, the product of intransigent Yidish cultured Lower East Side kosher vyosher Yids, the type that nothin’ is hoytin ( hurting, Engl.) their Jewish pride, the tough bastards with a tatooed message on their tongues ” you wanna pieceovme ??!!” In one word, MY HERO !!
    Ahhh, incidentally, down here in Australia, you have not been invented yet !! So there.