Do we, the United States, the West, have an argument with Islam? We surely have an argument with a lot of Muslims. The media in Muslim countries are full of anti-Americanism. Furthermore, most Muslim countries practice forms of government completely at odds with the political ideas cherished by Americans. They are despotic and intolerant. Muslim countries seem to conform to the pattern of so-called "shame" cultures, in which the rightness and wrongness of deeds are judged not by some moral compass, but by the reactions of onlookers.
And then there is the dreadful antisemitism with which Islam seems to be riddled. From professors of theology at Saudi universities to New York City cab drivers, it sometimes seems you only have to scratch a Muslim to find an antisemite of the vicious, irrational kind that largely disappeared from the Christian world half a century ago. Sophisticated Muslims tell you that this is really just anti-Zionism, a reaction to the indignities suffered by their co-religionists in Palestine. You can believe that if you want to. Muslim anti-Semites say "Zionist" when they're being very careful, but mostly they just say "Jew." Besides, Israel is an ethno-state, a Jewish homeland. To target your feelings precisely against that nation, leaving aside the Jews of other lands (most of whom, in any case, support Israel to some degree) is a job of emotional fine-tuning very few human beings are actually capable of. I am sure there are anti-Zionists who are not anti-Semitic (there is in fact a Judaic sect, the Neturei Karta, who are anti-Zionist), but I am also sure their numbers are small - among Muslims, I think, vanishingly small. And certainly Muslim anti-Semitism pre-dates the founding of the modern state of Israel.
So what are we to think of Islam? Is it a cruel, dark religion full of hate, whose most characteristic political expression is corrupt dictatorship? If so, why are all those Muslims being so nice to some people? Seeking enlightenment, I tried reading the Koran. This didn't get me very far. Frankly, I found the thing unreadable. It seems to have no narrative thread, like the Gospels or the historical books of the Old Testament. It reads, in fact, like the boring bits of the Bible: Deuteronomy, or Revelations, or one of the more tiresome prophets.
I don't know that this really signifies, though. Other people's scriptures are always a tough read. I had a go at some Buddhist scriptures once; they were pretty darn boring, too. The Analects of Confucius is in my opinion a seriously dull book.(Analects) The thing about scriptures is that they are not to be taken like any other book. You have to soak yourself in them, preferably from early childhood. For best results, you have to memorize them - as devout Muslims do the Koran, and as gentlemen in Imperial China used to do with the Analects. One of those latter, the 11th-century scholar Cheng Yi, reported that when he read the Analects his hands unconsciously began to...