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It can be presumed that readers of this website are aware of the frequency with which Islam is depicted as a religion of peace. It can also be presumed that readers of this know that such an argument is stark nonsense, at least if we leave aside particular sects and certain contemporary forms of liberal Islam to focus on the words of the Quran, the life and example of Mohammed and typical Islamic practice during a millennium and a half of history.
But the fact that violence is not at odds with Islamic tradition does not mean that all contemporary Muslims who perpetrate violence are Islamic traditionalists. Much of the violence perpetrated by Muslims today is, rather, motivated by belief systems which synthesize elements of traditional Islam with elements of modern leftist ideologies.
In other cases, it is even perpetrated by "cultural Muslims" whose violent actions are motivated entirely by contemporary leftist modes of thought. And some of the particular forms of violence used by contemporary Muslims (most notable suicide bombings) have only been embraced within the past century and cannot be justified on the basis of historically traditional Islamic theological consensuses.
A first distinction which needs to be made is between secular organizations, movements and governments dominated by people who happen to be Muslim and organizations, movements and governments of a professedly religious nature.
The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), for example, is a coalition of secular movements which professes no religious goals and is open to all ethnic Palestinians regardless of their religious beliefs. The largest movement within the PLO coalition, Fatah, professes secular nationalism. The second-largest, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, is explicitly Marxist and Leninist.
At different points in its history, the PLO received support from the Soviet Union and supported communist guerrilla and terrorist groups in Latin America which, in turn, sometimes supported the PLO after gaining power.
The PLO is dominated by Muslims in part because most Palestinians belong to that religion and in part because the traditional religious beliefs of Palestinian Christians place greater restrictions on the use of violence. That many Muslims support movements such as the PLO for reasons grounded in their religious beliefs cannot be disputed, just as it cannot be disputed that many American Catholics vote for Republican politicians on religious grounds.
But the motivations of the former do not make the PLO an Islamic organization any more than the motivations of the latter make the Republican Party a Catholic one.
The second distinction we must make is that within professedly Islamic organizations, movements and governments, a distinction between those who adhere to one or another form of "pure traditional Islam" (meaning those uninfluenced by leftist, liberal or modernistic theories) and those which synthesize elements of traditional Islam with elements drawn from modern leftist ideology.
Ayatollah Khomeini, leader of the 1979 Iranian Revolution and founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, was, for example, a fierce critic of the secular state but favored socialist economics.
Sayyid Qutb, a political theorist whose theories have strongly influenced al-Qaeda, was influenced by modern secular theories in his early life who, after his later turn to a form of strict religiosity and to support for Islamic government based upon Sharia, continued to support Western leftist ideas of "social justice" and redistribution of property.
His doctrine has even been referred to as "anarcho-Islam." One of his students, Ayman al-Zawahiri, was among Osama bin Laden's mentors and became chief of al-Qaeda upon the latter's death.
One of the Muslim thinkers who exerted a strong influence on some of the most aggressive and violent advocates of "modern" Islamic government, Amin al-Khuli, is of particular interest.
Far from being a traditional Islamic theologian, al-Khuli proposed that the Quran should be read primarily as a "literary work" — a theory quite similar to the principles embraced certain variants of the modernistic "historical critical" school of biblical exegesis.
And just as traditional Catholic theologians have condemned modernistic historical criticism for traditional doctrines concerning biblical inerrancy and the divine inspiration of Scripture, so too have traditional Islamic theologians condemned al-Khuli for undermining the traditional Muslim understanding of the Quran as divinely inspired and inerrant.
It is even possible to draw comparisons between some violent Islamist groups and liberation theology. Of course, the former are not merely Muslim variants of the latter, their support for some form of Islamic state (even if not an entirely traditional one) and for patriarchy presenting a contrast to liberation theologians' common support for religious diversity and for feministic egalitarianism.
But real similarities nevertheless exist and include a shared opposition to "imperialism" and common theories of how best to bring about social and economic transformation as well as the above mentioned leftist economics and modernistic theology.
Of course, the very modern influences on many contemporary Muslim perpetrators of violence cannot be used to deny that the use of aggressive violence is part of Islamic tradition, a tradition which undoubtedly increases the likelihood that Muslims will join terrorist organizations and support violent regimes and rebellious quasi-states.
None of that, however, should cause us to overlook the important differences between the violence of traditionalist Muslims and the violence of more contemporary ones, while the leftist influences on many contemporary Islamists should raise questions about why the contemporary Western Left is so eager to welcome Muslims into our society while opposing so-called "Islamophobia."