The Reality of Cognitive Dissonance among Muslim Apologists
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
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
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.