What’s a liberal to think about Islam and violence except to hold two thoughts together simultaneously? In other words, I don’t see how one can reduce Islam to this act of horrific violence, just as I don’t understand claims that this had nothing to do with Islam.
Both claims rest upon the idea of an “essence.” According to some people on the right, Islam is essentially rotten to the core. According to some people on the left, this has nothing to do with “the essence of Islam,” which is a religion of peace, or just simply the world culture of a billion ordinary people (this latter claim being one which I actually believe to be “true”).
As a parallel line, consider the case of Baruch Goldstein. I would not want to reduce Judaism or Zionism to that act of violence, but nor would I claim that the slaughter of Muslim worshippers in Hebron back in 1994 had nothing to do with a radical and violent form of Judaism as it has taken shape politically at a certain time and place.
In each case, it seems better to say that these people or this racism or that violence belongs to us, and then work to rip that violence up at the roots without apologetics. I think the best place to stand regarding these matters is at a liberal center, combining shared, universal norms and standards along with a capacious form of equal civic inclusion.
About the violence now shaking the Arab and Muslim worlds I try to avoid broad generalizations one way or the other like “everything” or “nothing.” One thing has “something” to do with the other. But about this violence, I’m inclined to think that it has less to do with Islam or Arab political culture per se and much more to do with their radical disintegration.
In memory, I posted above this photograph of Ahmed Merabet, murdered during the attack against Charlie Hebdo in Paris. As a non-Muslim, I follow “religiously” the political and moral lead of liberal critics like Hisham Melham and Nervana Mahmoud, whom you can read here and follow here.