An international conference on jihad that took place in Jerusalem on Sunday highlighted what hawkish scholars on Islam described as "real disputes" about the nature of the problem. The event also inspired the controversial Dutch legislator Geert Wilders to plan a European follow-up in the coming months.
"It's time for such an event in the Netherlands," the far-right Wilders said on the terrace of Jerusalem's Begin Center, where the event was held. "But the cost of security would be much higher in Holland than in Israel."
Wilders - the only one of the six speakers to receive a standing ovation from the 600 people in the audience - told his listeners that "as the terrorist attacks in Mumbai proved, there's no moderate Islam," and it is time for the West to realize it is "in a conflict with the Muslim faith at large." He sided with scholars like Haifa University's David Bukay, who averred that "moderate Islam" does not exist and that the Koran could not be reformed or modernized.
But American scholar and activist Daniel Pipes disagreed. Quoting Egyptian philosopher Hassan Hanafi, Pipes said the Koran "is like a supermarket where one takes what one wants and leaves the rest." This freedom of selection, he argued, provides a means for reshaping Islam.
Pipes opined that those who regard Islam rather than jihad as the enemy fail to realize that a change has occurred over the past few years: Although moderate Muslims are still a small force, they are stronger than they were two years ago.
"Millions took to the streets to protest Turkey's Islamist ruling party, the AKP," he said when asked to name examples. And "hundreds of thousands demonstrated in Pakistan" following the murder of prime ministerial candidate (and former premier) Benazir Bhutto last year.
Nonetheless, Pipes said he supported more determined Western military action against radical Islam as a means of fostering this change. He also advocated "crushing the Palestinians' hope for eliminating Israel" and opposed the creation of a Palestinian state and the ongoing peace talks.
Duke University's Prof. John Lewis, pointing out that Turkey and Pakistan are not Arab countries, suggested that the fight against jihad needs to focus on non-Arab Muslim nations like Indonesia, whose populations "do not share the jihadists' apocalyptic practice of Islam."
Wilders' short movie "Fitna" also received its first Israeli screening at the event, which was organized by MK Aryeh Eldad of the Hatikva Party. The film consists mainly of Muslim hate sermons and gory images from jihad-inspired attacks, and due to the death threats he has received since its release in February, Wilders is now constantly accompanied by bodyguards.
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