Andrew McCarthy graciously wrote an elegant Foreword to Sharia Versus Freedom: The Legacy of Islamic Totalitarianism. Today National Review Online kindly reproduced an adaptation of McCarthy’s Foreward, entitled “Sharia and Freedom.” Key extracts are provided, below:
… To understand and elucidate the something that is the core of classical Islam has been the mission of Andrew Bostom’s scholarship for well over a decade. A professor of medicine by education and training, Dr. Bostom has brought the uncompromising rigor of that discipline to the study of Islamic history and doctrine. It is the saddest of ironies that such rigor is sorely needed in an age of jihadist supremacism.
Western elites, however, have abandoned the field — or, better, put it up for sale to Islamic activists and their apologists. Lushly endowed by the Wahhabist rulers of Saudi Arabia and schooled by the Salafist program of the Muslim Brotherhood, these partisans make little secret of their dedication to “the Islamization of knowledge.” That’s the stated mission of the International Institute of Islamic Thought, a Virginia-based think-tank founded by Brotherhood operatives in 1981. The goal is clear: to make Islam appear unthreatening, to limn its detractors as irrational and racist (“Islamophobes”), and thus to control the narrative about their doctrine even as they pursue its hegemonic ambitions.
Dr. Bostom is one of the precious few who dare make the counter-case, based on nothing so noxious as bigotry or dreamy as hope. In the best Western tradition, Bostom’s quest for knowledge is rooted in reason, applied gimlet-eyed to an assemblage of evidence drawn painstakingly from the historical record.
The contributions of this approach have already been immense. Most notably, Bostom has edited two essential compendia: The Legacy of Jihad: Islamic Holy War and the Fate of Non-Muslims (2005) and The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism: From Sacred Texts to Solemn History (2008). These collections, featuring accounts of Islam in word and deed for over a millennium, as well as the critiques of scholars of Islam — Muslim and non-Muslim — over the centuries, put the lie to conventional wisdom. Jihad, despite assiduous efforts to reinterpret its meaning and bleach away its history, originated as the mission to spread Islam by forcible conquest. Strains of Jew hatred inhere in Islamic scripture and tradition — neither were they inculcated in Muslims by shameful anti-Semitic chapters in the history of Christendom, nor are they strictly a byproduct of Israel’s modern establishment as a nation-state in the Promised Land inhabited by Jews for many centuries before the birth of Mohammed.
These treatises set the stage for Sharia Versus Freedom: The Legacy of Islamic Totalitarianism. The traditions of holy war and animus toward Jews are critical to our understanding of classical Islamic doctrine. Sharia, however, is the doctrine’s essence. It is Islam’s legal and political system. Its establishment is the necessary precondition for a society’s Islamization, and it is thus the objective of both violent jihad and stealthier methods of pressuring a society’s major institutions to bend to Islamic norms. Sharia is the animating force of classical Islam — its claim to ultimate truth. To the extent that doctrine, preponderant among the world’s 1.4 billion Muslims, is challenged by reformist movements within Islam, one cannot apprehend what those tensions are about, or assess how uphill is the reformer’s quest, absent an understanding of sharia and its doctrinal centrality.
As for our own challenge, preserving Western civilization and American constitutional republicanism, Bostom’s title is aptly succinct: “Sharia Versus Freedom.” To borrow again from Cardinal Ratzinger, by exhibiting their trademark “indifference as to the content of what is believed or not believed,” Islam’s Western apologists depict sharia as gnomic and aspirational. It is not a regulatory code, they assure us, but a mystic, private compass by which the believer comes uniquely to experience the divine. Of course, when a woman who has been sexually assaulted is sentenced by a sharia tribunal to death for extramarital fornication, or a homosexual is similarly condemned for consensual relations, or an apostate for renouncing Islam, the executioners don’t hurl aspirations; they hurl stones.
In point of fact, sharia is a manifestation of bedrock convictions: that there is no division of private belief and public conformity, no separation between mosque and state, between the demands of the sacred law and the governance of civil society. Sharia is authoritarian — unapologetically so. It is, to the believer, Allah’s gift to mankind, the path divinely prescribed for human flourishing. Consequently, it brooks no repeal or refinement by legislation — what right does man have to change or try to improve upon the writ of his Creator, to whom he is obliged to submit? And, as Bostom’s subtitle intimates, sharia is “totalitarian” in the sense that it really does endeavor to control everything — theological principles, economics and finance, domestic relations, social interaction, crime and punishment, the use of force, even hygiene.
Most significantly, sharia is juxtaposed to freedom because it strangles individual liberty, the catalyst of progress. Sharia, we have noted, eschews our fundamental premises that the people are sovereign; that they may control their own destiny irrespective of any predetermined code; and that, while civil society may be profoundly influenced by spirituality, it is governed by secular laws.
Equal protection under those laws is the glue of a free, pluralistic society — but sharia rejects it, elevating Muslims above non-Muslims and men above women. Our basic liberties fare no better — sharia rejects freedom of conscience (apostasy from Islam is not merely a crime but a capital offense), freedom of speech (expression that casts Islam in an unfavorable light or sows discord among Muslims is a transgression as grave as apostasy), freedom of association, privacy, economic freedom, humane punishments, and the social commitment to tolerate and even appreciate most of our differences — not extinguish them by violence and coercion.
Sharia-compliant Islam is ascendant. In the Middle East, about 80 percent of Muslims in Egypt and Pakistan tell pollsters they desire to live under sharia strictures. Even in the Far East, in Indonesia, where the practice of Islam tends to be more moderate due to its syncretism with other traditions of worship, sharia is on the march — preferred by half the population . . . and rising. Throughout the West, including in the United States, governments are under pressure from their swelling, aggressive Muslim communities to accept and adopt sharia standards — legitimizing them in our law and our culture, even as their brute repression of speech degrades our capacity to assess the wages of conferring legitimacy.
The price will be high. The “spirit of Assisi” is a sweet-sounding invitation to abandon our defenses and our inconvenient knowledge that convictions matter — that liberty, equality, and the elevation of reason are not just another way of life but a better way of life. Supremacist Muslims are a grave threat to that better way of life because they make an unabashed claim to truth and they are acting on it.
We cannot defend ourselves from the threat unless we see it for what it is — unless, as Andrew Bostom puts it, we examine “sharia without camouflage.” We cannot defeat the threat until we once again revel in what makes us different, for it is also what makes us better