Leaving Islam






The Reality of Cognitive Dissonance among Muslim Apologists

By  Syed M. Islam    

Many Islamist writers contend Wahhabism is an "extreme" version of Islam. Yet when I've asked whether such "extremism" is inevitable if one interprets relevant Quranic guidance literally, a clear answer has been elusive.   

While Wahhabism might be an extreme variant of Islam, since it is based on the Quran the problem might also be that Islamic ideology itself lends scriptural support to the surge of terrorism within Islam.   

It is at this crucial point where, in my opinion, modern Islamists tend to become vague, or play semantic games.   

If historical Islam is simply one of several interpretive possibilities, then the extreme version must also be acknowledged as one such possibility, regardless of how often historically it was adopted by Muslim cultures. The legacy of its limited popularity must not negate its interpretive possibility, especially in the face of glaring evidence that Wahhabism is THE chosen version of Islam by the Saudi Islamic theocracy.   

It seems by calling Wahhabists "extremists", but refusing to confirm they are "wrong", Islamists tend to jettison responsibility for pro-actively stamping out terrorist elements within their societies. This tendency is, however, not unusual in human history.    

Recently I was reading a book by Gavin De Becker, titled "The Gift of Fear," in which he asserts: "even in a gathering of aberrant murderers there is something of you and me.  When we accept this, we are more likely to recognize the rapist who tries to con his way into our home, the child molester who applies to be a baby-sitter, the spousal killer at the office, the assassin in the crowd.  When we accept that violence is committed by people who look and act like people, we silence the voice of denial, the voice that whispers, "This guy doesn't look like a killer."" [p. 46]   

This denial may be quite similar to "cognitive dissonance," a phrase coined by Leon Festinger.  Most likely due to this, Muslims tend to have difficulty admitting that culturally, philosophically and doctrinally Islam has interpretive potential to instigate violence against non-Muslims.  Instead they seem only too quick to label all such violence un-Islamic and declare the perpetrators "different" and/or "aberrant”----even if some Islamic murderers claim that they were “Quranically-inspired."   

Interestingly this "aberration" is seldom apparent before those murders occur, even though in hindsight apologists assign that label swiftly.  This denial or cognitive dissonance most likely prevents otherwise peace-loving majority Muslims from pro-actively controlling their small, but virulent, radical brethren.   

As to how this dissonance serves to help Islamic extremists to continue, Muslim apologists seem to suffer a severe case of denial to acknowledge and admit.  The denial is irresponsible, because failure to suppress Islamic radicalism does not appear to corroborate the claim made by majority Muslims that Islam is a religion of peace.   

We must note, as objectivist Ayn Rand also contended, that when it comes to religious arguments, "contradictions are possible and A is non-A".  It is therefore not surprising that many Muslim faithful have difficulty to admit the Quran may lend itself to violent interpretations.  They are programmed since childhood to "believe" it is the final, perfect book from Allah.  Their perception of Allah is peaceful, no matter how many Quranic verses can be offered in rebuttal of, or as a challenge to, that perception.  Moreover, lacking the heritage comparable to the Period of Enlightenment and thereafter, when religious criticism became acceptable as part of academic and social discourse in Europe, many Muslim intellectuals seem plagued by denial that literal Quranic interpretation could very well lend itself to extremism.  The darkest spot in their religious cognition lies beneath their “cherry-picked” perception of Islam!  

For Muslims at large this may be a short-lived state of cognitive flux as they evolve to greater intellectual maturity and find their own version of the enlightenment which would allow them to “privatize” Islam, focusing on its intellectual positives and rejecting its arguable and dogmatic negatives. They ought to allow critiques of Quranic commandments as part of people's freedom of speech, without fear of fatwas, to help develop a cognitive measure of the world in broader, more universal and humanistic terms, rather than the arbitrary, divisive and narrow perspective of "Muslims" versus "kaffirs."   

Apart from the faith of die-hard Muslims, about it there is hardly any material evidence that in cases of accidents, deaths, and natural disasters that Allah has been anymore protective of Muslims--the upholders of His allegedly final and perfect "comprehensive guidance"—than he has been of all of humankind.  Observable facts seem to contradict any claim of superiority or closeness in the eye of Allah that, by sheer "belief," many Muslims consider to be fact.  Gavin De Becker maintains: "Aside from outright denial of intuitive signals, there is another way we get into trouble.  Our intuition fails when it is loaded with inaccurate information.  Since we are the editors of what gets in and what is invested with credibility, it is important to evaluate our sources of information." [p. 36]    

Isn't it high time for Muslims to re-consider the denial of their intuitive signals and evaluate the source of their "belief" in light of factual evidence?  Isn't it time to explore inward, while also seeking to understand external reasons why conditions in Islamic countries appear so dismal, even though the faith/hope remains engorged over an Islamic heaven in afterlife, with (some contend) promise of 72 young women for each Muslim man? [took out the DEEN reference.]  

In addition to simply blaming the West, perhaps Muslims could also take pro-active measures to stamp out bullying by Islamists in their societies--both in their native lands as well as throughout the global Islamic Diaspora?  While Western imperialist forces may have contributed to the recent rise of Islamic fundamentalism, that cannot be the sole reason.  Life is seldom purely black or white unless a religious ostrich denies the vast grey sea of reality, in which humans, including Muslims, often find themselves.   

Perhaps it is time for Muslim intellectuals to acknowledge the elements within the Quran that have served to instigate interpretive radicalism, and propose their marginalization using humanist perspectives?  Given the track record of Islamic radicals, any such de-prioritizing ought to be understood by Allah, who is claimed to love everyone equally and whose latest dicta aka Islam is claimed to be a religion of peace.  

Might it be blasphemous to also suggest Allah will accept private/individual interpretations of His commandments? Might those be any more speculative than interpretations by charlatans---apologists who have no way to confirm if their translations are in line with His actual wishes? After all, Allah seems to have taken a long sabbatical since his last alleged visit(s) to the Middle East.  

Having mingled with several Islamists and seeking to learn from their arguments with empathy and interpersonal respect, it is my opinion that, among many of them, cognitive dissonance is a reverberating reality. My opinion is based upon first-hand evidence gathered over two years. The evidence confirms a dangerous and disturbing dig of denial among many Muslim apologists.





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