Ayaan Hirsi Ali is correct that darker passages of Islamic Scripture endorse violence and prescribe harsh punishments for moral or theological infractions. And she is right that in many Muslim countries, too many citizens still think it is a good idea to kill people for apostasy, stone them for adultery, and beat women for disobedience just because Scripture says so. But Hirsi Ali is profoundly wrong when she argues that Islamic Scripture causes Muslim terrorism and thus that the U.S. government should fund Muslim dissidents to reform Islam.
Islamic Scripture is a constant. Over 1,000 years old, it is composed of the Koran and hadith, words and deeds attributed to the Prophet Muhammad by his followers. Muslims who want to justify violence can find plenty of passages to cite—collections of hadith run into the hundreds of volumes. Nevertheless, Muslim political behavior has varied greatly throughout history. Some Muslims have cited Scripture to justify violence, and some have cited it to justify peace. If Scripture is a constant but the behavior of its followers is not, then one should look elsewhere to explain why some Muslims engage in terrorism. And if Islamic Scripture doesn’t automatically lead to terrorism, then one should not expect the reform of Islam to end terrorism. Indeed, even the ultratextualist followers of the self-proclaimed Islamic State ignore Scripture that is inconvenient for their brutal brand of insurgency.
Consider the Gospels, Scriptures that advocate far less violence than the Koran or the Hebrew Bible. Jesus taught his followers to turn the other cheek. Yet the crusaders murdered thousands in their rampage across the Middle East, and U.S. President George W. Bush, a devout Christian, invaded Iraq without military provocation. Readers may object to these examples, arguing that other factors were at play—but that is exactly the point: Christian Scripture doesn’t always determine the behavior of its followers, and the same goes for Islamic Scripture.