William Kilpatrick is an author and lecturer who taught for many years at Boston College and whose articles on Islam have appeared in numerous publications, including Investor's Business Daily, FrontPage Magazine, the National Catholic Register, and World magazine. He has written several books, including Psychological Seduction and Why Johnny Can't Tell Right from Wrong, and his most recent book, Christianity, Islam and Atheism: The Struggle for the Soul of the West, will be released next week from Ignatius Press. Kilpatrick recently spoke with Catholic World Report about Islam and its growing significance for the West.
CWR: You begin by noting that, yes, there is some common ground between Christianity and Islam, but the differences are far more important. What are the most important differences between the two religions?
William Kilpatrick: Beneath the surface similarities lie important and largely irreconcilable differences. Islam rejects the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection. In fact, associating partners with Allah—as Christians do—is considered the very worst sin. Chapter nine, verse 30 of the Koran says, “the Christians call Christ the son of Allah…Allah’s curse be on them: how they are deluded away from the truth.” Moreover, the God of the Koran bears little resemblance to the God worshipped by Christians and Jews. Although he occasionally expresses solicitude for Muslim widows and orphans, he shows little in the way of mercy, compassion, or justice, and he appears to hate non-Muslims with a vengeance. The Koran is full of lurid descriptions of the fate that awaits unbelievers in hell.
The two faiths also differ sharply in their vision of paradise. Heaven for Christians means union with God and the fellowship of the saints. For Muslims heaven means union with 72 “high-bosomed” and eternally youthful virgins. That’s for males, of course; the Koran is unclear about what sort of heaven women will enjoy. These differing views of paradise have very serious practical implications in the here and now. The Islamic version of paradise creates quite an incentive for young men to try to get there as quickly as possible. And, according to Islamic tradition, the only sure route is by “killing and being killed in the cause of Allah.” Take Mohamed Atta. Due to an airline mistake his luggage was left behind in Boston on the day of the 9/11 flight. When authorities later opened it they found a wedding suit, a bottle of cologne, and a letter expressing his anticipation of marriage to his 72 heavenly wives. As Richard Weaver wrote, “ideas have consequences.”
CWR: The Second Vatican Council and the Catechism of the Catholic Church mention Islam briefly and rather positively. Otherwise, there isn’t much in the way of official Church statements on Islam. Why is that? Is there a need for such?
Kilpatrick: Nostra Aetate, the Second Vatican Council’s declaration on the relation of the Church to non-Christian religions, includes two short paragraphs sketching out several commonalities between Christians and Muslims. It must be remembered, however, that finding commonalities was precisely the task set forth in the initial paragraph of the declaration: “She considers above all in this declaration what men have in common….” In light of this and in view of its brevity, Nostra Aetate can hardly be considered to be the Church’s final word on Islam—although some Catholics have taken it to be just that. The statement about Muslims in the Catechism is even shorter—only 44 words—and merely echoes Nostra Aetate’s observation that both Christians and Muslims worship the One God.
How do you account for this minimalist treatment? The probable answer is that at the time of the Vatican Council, militant Islam was fairly quiescent, and the Church fathers were far more concerned with the threat from atheistic communism. Now that Islam is once again set on subjugating the rest of the world, Catholics need to be given a fuller picture of Islam, if for no other reason than that their survival may depend on it. Catholics and other Christians have been lulled into complacency by the simplistic notion that Christians and Muslims share much in common. For example, when a Catholic reads that Muslims worship the same God and revere the same Jesus he does, he might easily jump to the conclusion that Islam is really a religion of peace and that terrorists are “misunderstanders” of their Islamic faith. That is a very naïve view to hold in these very dangerous times.
CWR: “This book,” you write in the introduction, “is intended, in part, as a wake-up call.” What is the Western world missing? And, more specifically, what are Catholics missing when it comes to rightly gauging and studying Islam today?
Kilpatrick: One thing that the West doesn’t grasp is that Islam is a political religion with political ambitions. Omar Ahmad, the co-founder of the Council on American Islamic Relations, has said that “Islam isn’t in America to be equal to any other faith but to be dominant. The Koran should be the highest authority in America, and Islam the only accepted religion on earth.” Numerous Islamic authorities have expressed similar sentiments. The supposedly moderate Imam Feisal Rauf, the initiator of the Ground Zero mosque project, wrote an article for the Huffington Post containing the observation, “What Muslims want is a judiciary (in the US) that ensures that the laws are not in conflict with the Qur`an and the Hadith.” What he means is that US law must be brought in line with Islamic sharia law. Since very many provisions of sharia law are considered criminal under US law, that would mean the overthrow of much of our legal code.
Many Catholics also fail to realize the political nature of Islam and imagine that a mosque, like a church, is simply a place of worship. But a mosque is more than that. Political and community issues are dealt with in a mosque, and calls to jihad are frequently issued in mosques. For example, many of the “Arab Spring” demonstrations were set in motion from mosques following the Friday sermons. Moreover, there are many instances of mosques being used for mentoring terrorists or for storing arms and explosives. According to a popular Muslim poem:
The mosques are our barracks,
the domes our helmets
the minarets our bayonets
And the faithful our soldiers
Many Muslims think of Islam not only as a religion but also as an army—an army with a mission of subjugation. That’s why the penalty for apostasy is death. Just as a deserter from an army in time of war may be punished with the death penalty, so also a deserter from the army of Islam.
The political nature of Islam ought to give pause to Catholics who think they can dialogue with Muslims in the same way they dialogue with Baptists or Jews. A recently concluded series of Catholic-Muslim dialogues sponsored by the USCCB highlights the problem. It turns out that the bishops’ dialogue partners are all members of Muslim activist groups with links to the Muslim Brotherhood. One of the counterparts, Sayyid Syeed, is a prominent figure in the Islamic Society of North America—a group that was designated as an unindicted co-conspirator in a massive terrorist funding scheme. One wonders if the bishops fully understand who they are dealing with.
CWR: How has Islam, worldwide, changed since the mid-20th century?
Kilpatrick: It’s changed for the worse. The Muslim world was far more moderate in the mid-20th century than it is now. That’s in large part because secular strongmen in Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and elsewhere acted as a restraining force on the more extreme manifestations of Islam. But as these rulers were swept aside, often with the help of the West, traditional Islam was able to assert itself, and traditional Islam is, in many senses, more oppressive and dictatorial than the dictators it replaced. Egypt, Iraq, and Iran, for example, were far more Westernized and secularized than they are now. Young women didn’t wear hijabs or ankle-length chadors, and as Ali Allawi—a former Iraqi cabinet minister—writes, “Muslims were more likely to identify themselves by their national, ethnic, or ideological affinities than by their religion.” Allawi observes of Iraq in the 1950s: “It appeared to be only a matter of time before Islam would lose whatever hold it still had on the Muslim world.” The recent revival of traditional, militant Islam is, in many respects, a reaction to that loss of faith. The new breed of Salafist and Muslim Brotherhood preachers are intent on recalling Muslims to the full practice of their faith—including the “forgotten obligation” of jihad.
CWR: Why is it that so many secularists attack and mock Christianity but treat Islam with a strangely milquetoast sort of respect? How much of this is rooted in a flawed multiculturalism?
Kilpatrick: The attacks on Christianity are not rooted in a flaw in multiculturalism, but rather in the nature of multiculturalism. The multicultural creed is based on the fiction that all cultures, religions, and traditions are roughly equal. But there is no equivalence between the achievements of Western Christian civilization and Islamic civilization. In order to equalize them it’s necessary to pull down Christianity and the West while applying affirmative action whitewash to Islam. This, of course, leads to any number of bizarre double standards. For example, Mayor Tom Menino of Boston stated that the Chick-fil-A restaurant chain was not welcome in Boston because its president does not approve of gay marriage, while the same Mayor Menino has been very welcoming to Islamic groups that, in addition to wanting to abolish gay marriage, also want to abolish gays. Mayor Menino gave a speech at the ribbon-cutting ceremony of a very large mosque built by the Islamic Society of Boston. Not only that, he donated a $1.8 million parcel of municipal land to the project. One of the seven trustees of the Islamic Society of Boston is the world-renowned Imam Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who believes that gays should either be burned to death or thrown from a high place. So, in Boston, what’s sauce for the goose is not necessarily sauce for the chicken fillet.
A more ominous development is that there now exists a tacit alliance between radical secularists and radical Islam. The most obvious example of this is the alliance between Islamic Iran and leftist Venezuela, but there are many other examples. Leftist professors regularly work with members of the Muslim Student Association (a Muslim Brotherhood offshoot) toward furthering Islamic goals. The campaign against the supposed hate crime of Islamophobia has been largely engineered by the left. And the leftist Justice Department has done its best to undercut the ability of law enforcement to investigate terrorist activities. Muslims, for their part, quickly learned to employ the methods pioneered by secular militants. Muslim activists groups portrayed themselves as civil rights groups and labeled any resistance to their agenda as hateful, bigoted, racist, and Islamophobic. At the same time, these Muslim groups can rely on the secular media to portray them in the best possible light.
CWR: Many parts of Europe appear to be succumbing, in one way or another, to Islamization. What about the United States?
Kilpatrick: The US is on the same river as Europe, but not as close to the falls. It appears, however, that it’s trying hard to catch up. During the last three administrations, Muslim activists have worked hard to gain positions of influence in the government, and with great success. Muslim activist groups convinced the Department of Homeland Security to delete words like “jihad,” “Islamist,” and “terrorist” from their lexicon. In compliance with Muslim demands the Justice Department ordered the military to delete from its training manuals any suggestion that there is a connection between Islam and violence. And the State Department played a major role in enabling the Muslim Brotherhood to come to power in North Africa. Moreover, the State Department has been working with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation for more than a year toward the goal of establishing anti-blasphemy laws or something akin to them. If the effort succeeds, criticism of Islam will then be a crime—as it already in many European countries. Meanwhile, a steady flow of Saudi money helps to ensure that college students learn only an Islam-friendly version of history and current events.
At first glance it would appear that Islamization is unlikely here because the Muslim population is small and, unlike Europe, America is a churchgoing nation with a healthy birthrate. But there is still reason for alarm. Although Christianity is in much better shape in America than in Europe, there has been a significant decline in the number of those who self-identify as Christians and a significant increase in the number of atheists, agnostics, and those who identify with no religion. Moreover, if American Christians haven’t been able to resist the growth of anti-religious secularism, how likely is it that they will be able to resist the efforts of dedicated and well-funded cultural jihadists?
In addition, America’s healthy birthrate is not as healthy as it first appears, because 41 percent of those births now occur out of wedlock. Fifty-five percent of Hispanic children are born out of wedlock, as are 72 percent of black children. As they grow older, children born into unstable families are more likely to see the structured life of Islam as a solution rather than as a problem.
Islamization is not simply a numbers game. For an analogy, consider that homosexuals make up only 2 to 3 percent of the population, but have nevertheless exerted an outsize influence on public policy and school curriculums. Of course, they have been able to do this with the help of liberal elites in media, academia, the courts, and the entertainment industry. But remember that Islamic activists have the backing of the very same people.
Islamization won’t happen tomorrow in America, but there is a distinct possibility that our children will grow up in an America dominated by Islam. It’s not necessary to be a majority or anywhere near a majority in order to dominate. Throughout history Islamic warriors have managed to subdue populations much larger than their own. If America is eventually subjugated, however, it won’t be the result of armed jihad, but of cultural jihad—the steady incremental advance of sharia law through agitation, propaganda, lawfare, political activism, and infiltration of key governmental and educational institutions. Many Muslim leaders have made it plain that they plan to subjugate America under Islam. We should take them seriously.
CWR: What do you think of the current approach taken by our government toward Islam in the Middle East?
Kilpatrick: Our policies have enabled the creation of a Middle East that is far more radical than it once was. The media likes to refer to terrorists as “misunderstanders” of Islam, but it is our government that misunderstands Islam. In failing to understand Islam we have cooperated in the ascendancy of the most extreme types of Islamists. As a result, much of the Muslim Middle East is falling into the hands of our enemies. One of the immediate results has been intensified persecution of Christians. As bad as they were, the previous secular rulers at least provided some protection to Christians. Now, Christians are increasingly subject to intimidation, confiscation of property, forced conversions, rape, mob attacks, and murder.
Another result of our misguided policies is that Israel is now surrounded by people who seek its annihilation. Hatred of Jews is deeply rooted in the Koran and in Islamic tradition. In helping to bring to power those Muslims who adhere most closely to the Koran, we have put Israel in a precarious position. The new, Muslim Brotherhood-led government of Egypt has already signaled its intention to break its peace treaty with Israel. All of this was entirely predictable for anyone with a basic knowledge of the Muslim Brotherhood.
CWR: What must Christians do to address and cope with the problems presented by the spread of Islam?
The first thing Christians need to do is inform themselves about Islam. Christians, like secularists, tend to view Islam through a multicultural lens and assume that Islam is like other religions. But it is not. Islam is not a religion of peace, but a religion of conquest that aims to subjugate non-Muslims. This isn’t just a theory. Look at every nation where Muslims rule and you will find that non-Muslims are assigned an inferior status. In studying Islam, Christians will also find that the Jesus of the Koran is nothing at all like the Jesus of the Gospels. In fact, he seems to have been introduced into the Koran for the sole purpose of contradicting the Christian belief in Jesus as the son of God. The Church also has an obligation to more fully inform Catholics about Islam. The treatment of the subject in Nostra Aetate and the Catechism of the Catholic Church are brief and inadequate. Catholics need to know a great deal more about Islam and have to move beyond the simplistic assumption that because God and Jesus and Mary are in the Koran, everything must be okay.
As I said earlier, Christians must realize that Islam is a political religion, and they need to be aware that religious overtures on the part of Muslims are often nothing other than political maneuvering. For example, Christians should avoid being pulled into Islam’s anti-blasphemy/anti-defamation campaign, because the ultimate goal of this campaign is to criminalize criticism of Islam. And, by the way, simply to assert the divinity of Christ is a blasphemy of the highest order according to the Koran.
Likewise, Christians should be careful about aligning themselves with Islamic activist groups on religious freedom issues. When Muslim leaders talk about freedom of religion, they mean freedom to practice sharia—a legal, social, political, and theological system that is inimical both to Christianity and the First Amendment. Muslim spokesmen are quite willing to affirm their belief in religious freedom because according to Islamic tradition there is only one religion—Islam. Under Islamic law, all other religions are considered abrogated. In Muslim countries, religious freedom for non-Muslims is either non-existent or greatly restricted. Christians who are tempted to partner with Muslims in the cause of religious freedom need to recall Christ’s words about “sheep in the midst of wolves.”