The Volokh Conspiracy

Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent


'Muslims do not believe in the concept of freedom of expression'


Contrary to popular misconception, Islam does not mean peace but rather means submission to the commands of Allah alone.

So writes "a radical Muslim cleric in London and a lecturer in sharia," Anjem Choudary, in a USA Today op-ed. USA Today has performed a valuable public service here—I mean this entirely sincerely—in reminding people that there is a very dangerous religious denomination out there, which is willing to teach the propriety of murder of blasphemers, which supports the death penalty for apostasy, and which would more broadly suppress the liberty of both Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

To give one more example, a survey touted by CNN as showing that "Around the World, Muslims Heralded Religious Freedom" actually showed that, though "Ninety-seven percent of Muslims in South Asia, 95% in Eastern Europe, 94% in sub-Saharan Africa and 85% in the Middle East and North Africa responded positively to religious freedom, according to the poll," in many countries huge percentages of Muslims favor "the death penalty for people who leave the Muslim religion." For instance, in South Asia, death for apostates is favored by 79% of Afghan Muslims, 75% of Pakistani Muslims, and 43% of Bangladeshi Muslims. In the Middle East and North Africa, the numbers were 88% in Egypt, 83% in Jordan, 62% in the Palestinian Territories, 41% in Iraq, 18% in Tunisia, and 17% in Lebanon.

So there is a religious group—what we might call a "denomination," to use the Christian term, or "stream," to use the term sometimes used as to branches of Judaism—that is a deadly enemy to Western democracies and to our most fundamental values. And it's a large religious denomination: My sense is that it has tens of millions or perhaps hundreds of millions of adherents (though different beliefs of this religious denomination may get more or less support).

What makes all this especially difficult, though, is that some of our most important allies in fighting this religious denomination are other Muslims. They are allies (often) in the military sense, in that we need and often get their logistics and intelligence support, the cooperation of their armed forces and police forces, and permission to operate in their territory. Western police and intelligence organizations also need as much cooperation as possible from their Muslim citizens (and noncitizen residents), in trying to identify and locate the radicals who kill (or who plan to kill).

And, most importantly, my sense is that such extremist ideologies decline because of ideological competition within the religion—more tolerant forms of Islam (or Christianity) drawing adherents away from the less tolerant ones. (Consider Egyptian president Sisi's call for a "religious revolution" within Islam.) At the same time, unfortunately, the competition goes both ways: Large pools of moderate members of a religion can be substantial sources of new recruits for the more extreme versions of the religion.

Condemning all Muslims as having such murderous and illiberal views (views that blasphemy or apostasy, for instance, should be suppressed through either private or governmental violence) is thus both factually mistaken and counterproductive. If you were trying in 1800 to fight the excesses of the Catholic Church—I use this just as a structural analogy here—doing so by condemning all Christians would be a pretty poor tactic. At the same time, the fact remains that there is within Islam a religious denomination, stream, sect, movement, or whatever else that is a deadly ideological, political, and military enemy to us and our way of life.