The wrong way to ask a very important question
RightGirl has put the blogosphere in a bit of a tizzy, and rightly so. And no, I couldn't find a way to say that without making a cheap pun. For those few who haven't yet read her original call to action, here's a sample:
If everything from smoking to lead paint to pitbulls can be banned because they are dangerous and deadly, why can't Islam? At what point is a death cult afforded the status of legitimate religion, and why? What makes Mohammed any better than Jim Jones?
Islam must be labelled for what it truly represents: wholesale slaughter and a corrupt ideology of sex and death. It must be stopped.
While her post is clearly bigoted - it castigates all of Islam when her real beef is with the extremist element within it - I don't believe she is bigoted, given the fact that she was engaged to be married to a 'moderate Muslim' at one point. Perhaps that is a distinction without a diffence, but I choose to give her the benefit of the doubt.
Moreover, I think that her overly-broad and poorly worded original post has been somewhat mitigated by her clarifying comments (scroll down to RightGirl | Jul 25, 2006 8:15:39 AM, and RightGirl | Jul 25, 2006 9:27:46 PM) - she doesn't count moderate Muslims like those she grew up with, the one she was engaged to marry, and those she works with as Muslims at all, as they are considered apostates by fundamentalists anyhow.
That is a weak line of argument, since I believe it's up to the individual to determine his or her own religious status - who is RG to determine who is a true Muslim and who isn't?
So yes, she takes her point way too far, into the realm of bigotry. And in so doing, she brings every kill-the-ragheads-and-pakis-before-they-kill-us hateful nutjob out of the woodwork to rally to her cause (read the rest of the comments at The Shotgun link above). I would gently remind her of the maxim about being judged by the company one keeps.
But her intemperate and ill-advised post does raise a more reasonable question: if extremists are hijacking a cause (religion, political movement, organization, etc), at what point does the identity of the cause become reasonably conflated with the hijackers' agenda? Remember the tired coffee-house cliche that Communism isn't bad, it was just corrupted by the Russians and the Chinese?
It is a statement of fact that there are moderate Muslims. It is a statement of fact that there are Muslim extremists. I have no idea what the proportion between the two groups, or more accurately, the spectrum between these two cardinal points looks like worldwide. But if the adherents to Islam should at some point become overwhelmingly immoderate, assuming they haven't already, then will we be free to label Islam itself an extremist ideology? At what point will that be acceptable? At 51% extremist? Three quarters? 99.99% pure hatred? Or will we forever cling to an idealized definition that does not exist in reality?
Hopefully we'll not have cause to find out; hopefully Islam will be rescued by the moderates, and the extremists will be marginalized as they are in other major religions the world over. The sad fact is that this entire question is of far less importance to me and the vast majority of my audience than it should be to Muslims everywhere. The character of their system of belief is at stake.
Update: James Bow, as usual, has an exceptionally clear-headed and reasonable post up on this same topic.