A local parish is sponsoring a debate on whether Islam a religion of peace. At least it was supposed to be a debate, but Robert Spencer could not find anyone to run against him and so it seems that the nays will run unopposed.
The resolution is baffling. How do you debate a slogan? We might as well argue argue about whether Fords are build Ford tough or whether for everything else there’s MasterCard. “Religion of peace” was never meant as a description, still less as a theology, it was just a Bush43 catch phrase meant to… what exactly? To ward off any judgment we might reasonably form in the face of killing a lot of Muslims? I.e. “sure, all the bodies in that crater were Muslims, and so are all those crying widows and orphans, but we didn’t target them because they were Muslims – That is a sheer coincidence! Don’t you know that true Muslims are peaceful? In fact, no true Muslims oppose our heroic defensive efforts in the War on Terror, since Islam is a Religion of Peace(™)!”
Leaving aside the obvious political convenience of the phrase, how could we understand it? Is it the claim that Islam is pacifist, the Quakers or (some) early Christians? Okay, not that. So this leaves us saying that Islam sees war as an acceptable instrument to achieve certain goals or avoid certain evils, a description that makes it more or less indistinguishable from 99.99% of all states or religions. And so taken in the first way the claim is silly-false, in the second way it’s vacuous.
I suppose we could also point out that (some versions of) Islam would see worldwide peace in a universal caliphate arising from widespread conversion by harassment and the sword, others would see it in the free experimentation with ascetic practice, meditation, and mystical experience. Both ISIS and Sufis are seeking worldwide peace, to be sure, but describing them both by the same term hides way more than it reveals.