Are Islamists Undermining the West?
Is it possible for Islam to undermine and replace the core values of Western civilization? By core values, I'm referring to deeply held principles such as inalienable rights, religious and personal freedom, equality of the sexes, free speech, and the separation of religion and state.
According to some, even posing this question places you in the company of conspiracy theorists and "Islamophobes." Perhaps that accusation would be true if we assumed that all Muslims are engaged in an effort to bring North America and Europe under Muslim rule. But, Islam is not a monolithic faith and many Muslims who live in the West have internalized Western values. Some have even championed the cause of human rights within Islam.
There is, however, a substantial minority of Muslims in our midst who adhere closely to the teachings of traditional Islam (albeit with some modern adaptations) and believe that every nation must submit to Allah's rule. They seek to do this by gradually implementing some form of sharia in society, one precept at a time, blurring the line between mosque and state. In their view, the only legitimate form of government is an Islamic theocracy ruled by a caliph- -that is, a successor to Muhammad. These Muslims are often referred to as "Islamists." Based on an analysis of surveys conducted by Pew Research, globally, over two-thirds of Muslims are Islamists.
But, how many Islamists are there in North America, and do they really pose a threat? There are no direct polling numbers for measuring Islamism, but using responses to individual questions from different polls, we can approximate the number of Islamists. According to a 2017 poll by Pew Research, 31% of U.S. Muslims believe there is only one true way to interpret their religion and 38% believe that traditional understandings of Islam are all they need. A 2015 Canadian poll showed more dramatic results: 42% of Canadian Muslims said that Islam is "irreconcilable" with the West.
Even more telling, is a 2012 poll by Wenzel Strategies.1 In that poll, 73% of American Muslims said that if the Constitution and sharia law conflict in any way, a Muslim should follow the Constitution (20% were not sure). But, when asked if sharia should be the supreme law of the land, 32% agreed. The Wentzel poll also revealed that, 58% of Muslim-Americans believe that criticism of Islam or Muhammad should not be permitted under the First Amendment, and 46% say that those who engage in such criticism should face criminal charges.
Since specific questions relating to sharia and free speech are a more reliable gauge for identifying Islamist behavior than broad philosophical questions which are open to multiple interpretations, we can conclude, based on the Wenzel poll, that 32% to 58% of American Muslims are Islamists (assuming this poll is reliable). This aligns with the 42% of Canadian Muslims who said that Islam is "irreconcilable" with the West, and with the 38% of Muslims, identified in the Pew poll, who believe that traditional understandings of Islam are all they need.
What this means is rendered academic: Take nearly any mosque, any Muslim neighborhood, or any Muslim demographic group, and it is virtually certain that a percentage of the sample population will work towards the implementation of sharia law in society and, in rare cases, even commit violent acts in the name of Islam.
"But," someone will object, "there were only 3.45 million Muslims in the U.S. in 2017, comprising 1.1% of the population. Even if half of U.S. Muslims are Islamists, we are talking about a population group numbering less than 2 million out of 326 million. Such a small population of Muslims, no matter how determined, would have little chance of making headway against the prevailing culture."
The mistaken assumption behind this objection is that a group's influence is proportional to its numbers. Yet, consider the dramatic, legal and social gains made by gays and lesbians who comprise, at most, 4.5% of the population. Same-sex marriage, unthinkable 20 years ago, is now the law of the land. Though transgenders, made up only 0.6% of the population in 2016, their cause is highlighted in the media everyday and their participation in society has garnered substantial popular and legal support in the last few years.
The same is true for Islamists. Their small numbers belie their influence. In my book, Can Islam Transform the West?, I present several lines of evidence to support this, including the Islamist impact on free speech, their antisemitism, their propagation of hate, and their influence on Congress and American universities. In this article, we will consider only one of these elements: Free speech.
Free speech is a right guaranteed under the First Amendment. Traditional Islam does not have such a right. In fact, Islamic blasphemy laws prescribe severe punishment and even execution for those who criticize Islam or Muhammad. A substantial number American Muslims have been influenced by these blasphemy laws. According to the 2012 Wentzel poll, mentioned above, though 90% of Muslims in America agree with the First Amendment, 58% also believe that criticism of Islam or Muhammad should not be permitted under the First Amendment, 46% agree that those who criticize or parody Islam in the U.S. should face criminal charges (17% not sure), and 12% agree that those who criticize or parody Islam should be put to death (9% not sure). The poll also revealed that 43% of Muslim-Americans believe that U.S. citizens do not have a right to evangelize Muslims (28% not sure).
Though most Muslims do not engage in terrorism, a number of terrorist threats and attacks on Western targets have been provoked by words or pictures which some Muslims found offensive. The most infamous of these confrontations is the Charlie Hebdo massacre of 2015 in which 12 staff members of the French magazine were gunned down in retaliation for publishing satirical images of the Prophet Muhammad. That same year, two terrorists were killed in an attempted attack at an exhibit in Garland, Texas which featured cartoon images of Muhammad.
Islamists have come to realize that they don't need to change one jot or tittle of the U.S. Constitution or European human rights laws to suppress criticism of Islam, they only have to render those rights ineffective. Their plan is working. Following the Charlie Hebdo attack, 42% of the French people wanted the press to avoid publishing cartoons that would upset the Muslim community.
Overall, the mainstream, Western media, both in Europe and the U.S., have responded to such attacks with fear and self-censorship. You will find little, if any, serious criticism of Muslims and Islamic beliefs in these sources, much less cartoons or satire about Muhammad. Unwittingly, nearly every major media outlet and publisher- -both electronic and print, both popular and academic- -are acting in dutiful compliance to traditional Islam's blasphemy laws.
The impact of Islamism on free speech goes beyond the media. Islamists have aligned themselves with Progressives in Europe and America to suppress criticism of Islam by labeling nearly all criticism, even reasoned criticism, as "Islamophobic, racist, and bigoted."
Forsaking the time-honored tradition of free speech in the West, hate speech laws in Europe and Canada, along with speech codes on social media, and in businesses and universities here in the U.S., have made it more difficult or virtually impossible to criticize Islam without incurring considerable social, financial, and even legal consequences (e.g., legal harassment, fines). Facebook and YouTube now routinely ban, financially punish, or suspend critics of Islamism including prominent ex-Muslims like Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
In our society there is a collective punishment for those who criticize Islam. Critics risk being defamed, labeled as bigots, boycotted, harassed, threatened, and even physically attacked. This is how Islamic blasphemy laws are entering the West through the back door. Free speech rights are suffering the death of a thousand cuts.
To repeat the question I posed at the outset: Is it possible for Islam to eventually undermine and replace the core values of Western civilization? The answer, based on the evidence presented here, is that it is not only possible, but it is happening in plain sight. And, it will continue as long as we empower Islamists by our ignorance, indifference, and lack of courage.
William DiPuccio, Ph.D. is the author of Can Islam Transform the West? The Evidence Considered, Director of the Muslim Global Demographic Project, and the producer of What a Billion Muslims Believe. You can find his publications and videos at Science Et. Cetera.
1 Unlike political views which change frequently, religious beliefs tend to remain stable over time. Consequently, using a 2012 poll is appropriate. Moreover, data from this poll aligns with more recent polls as indicated above. In a recent course on Islam, offered by Pew Research, most of the data was derived from global surveys conducted between 2008 and 2012.