Here’s the money quote:
I think liberals, almost by definition, don’t know what it’s like to really believe in God. They don’t know what it’s like to be sure that the book they keep by their bedside is the literal word of the creator of the universe and that death is merely a passage to an eternity of happiness. And so they find it very difficult to believe that anyone actually believes this stuff and is motivated by the content of their religious beliefs. And so liberals, when they see the jihadist look into the video camera and say things like “we love death more than the infidels love life” - and then he blows himself up – it’s the liberal in our society, the religious moderate or the secularist, who is left thinking that’s just propaganda.
Indeed. This disbelief in belief, as it were, helps explain the extraordinary denial of jihadists’ and former jihadists’ self-declared motives, and the hugely selective, often absurd, declarations of “root causes.” As Tawfik Hamid, a former member of Jemaah Islamiya, pointed out:
Without confronting the ideological roots of radical Islam it will be impossible to combat it... It is vital to grasp that traditional and even mainstream Islamic teaching accepts and promotes violence… The grave predicament we face in the Islamic world is the virtual lack of approved, theologically rigorous interpretations of Islam that clearly challenge the abusive aspects of Sharia. Unlike Salafism, more liberal branches of Islam typically do not provide the essential theological base to nullify the cruel proclamations of their Salafist counterparts.
It is ironic and discouraging that many non-Muslim, Western intellectuals have become obstacles to reforming Islam… They find socioeconomic or political excuses for Islamist terrorism… If the problem is not one of religious beliefs, it leaves one to wonder why Christians who live among Muslims under identical circumstances refrain from contributing to wide-scale, systematic campaigns of terror... All of this makes the efforts of Muslim reformers more difficult. When Westerners make politically correct excuses for Islamism, it actually endangers the lives of reformers and in many cases has the effect of suppressing their voices.
As explained at length here, the size of an extremist “fringe” and how it relates to mainstream conceptions of the faith, and its theology and history, is a matter of some importance and has to be considered as it actually is, not as one might wish. And, as Tawfik Hamid, Tanveer Ahmed, Hassan Butt, Tahir Aslam Gora and others have argued, omitting the role of Islamic theology, whether for reasons of preference or embarrassment, leads one to inaccurate or perverse evaluations of what we are faced with and how it might be stopped.