Seeing Two Faces of Islam in One Terrorist Tragedy

This article was last updated on April 16, 2022

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Another New Year’s celebration; another bullet dodged, at least here in the United States and many other places. Sadly, not so in Istanbul, Turkey, where the upscale Reina nightclub was the scene of carnage as what has been described as a lone gunman shot the policeman standing guard out front and then entered unmolested, to kill 39 and wound at least 70—many of them foreigners. The gunman is still at large and being sought, although finding him will be no easy matter given Turkey’s geographic proximity to Syria on one side, the European Union and Balkan nations on the other.

This attack follows many others of recent vintage in an increasingly unstable Turkey, and the two main perpetrators of past attacks have been Kurdish separatists and Islamic State (IS) jihadists. While the Kurds have very clearly evidenced a willingness to tolerate collateral damage among innocent civilians, their targets are almost inevitably instruments of the Turkish state: military and police. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, as of this writing, but it has the hallmarks of IS, which has no compunction whatever about targeting civilians, and in fact seeks out such soft targets, particularly when those targets are objects of Islamist hate and ire.

The Reina would seem to be such a place, being so un-Islamic as to have New Year’s Eve parties including music, dancing, drinking, and commingling of the sexes. But interestingly, many of the people patronizing Reina (including the foreigners) are, in fact, Muslims. They simply were/are not fundamentalists, leaning more toward the moderate-to-secular way of life. Preliminary reports of the victims’ nationalities, in addition to the Turks, include Saudi Arabian, Moroccan, Lebanese, and Libyan citizens, and even an Israeli of Arab extraction.

There are lessons to be learned here for all. The first is the mistake of many in the West of presupposing that all Muslims are inevitably extremists or devoted followers of a severe brand of Salafist (or even Shia) form of Islam with its attendant insistence that sharia (Islamic law) is the politico-religious “theory of everything” to which all Muslims must adhere.

The second, equally important, mistake is that of many apologists, usually also in the West, who underestimate the power and danger of those Muslims who do subscribe to such severe beliefs, and who therefore consider moderate Muslims as apostates to be slaughtered with abandon, just as they have done and will continue to do with Christians, Jews, Yazidis, Bahais, animists, agnostics, and atheists, and, indeed, anyone who does not hew to their intolerant, violent, and self-righteous views.

If we are to encourage those with moderate views of Islam to come to the fore and ultimately predominate, for their own sake as well as for the security of the West and for the globe more generally, then the challenge for our incoming new administration will be to find vetting methodologies that, to the extent it is ever possible, probe the minds and values of prospective entrants to the United States and encourage decisions to exclude based not so much on religion, per se, as on agreement with (or tolerance for) a totalitarian view of the world that excludes everyone except the select “devout.”

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