The story of Islam is a murder mystery. It's not the kind of murder mystery where you wonder who did it, but when it will end. The detective peering with his magnifying glass at a scrap of fiber left behind on the carpet or a curly piece of hair caught in the door isn't really trying to sort out who did it. He knows who did it. The great mystery that consumes him is how to make the killer stop.
When a woman has power and a man doesn't, then the man has been dishonored. When a Christian has power and a Muslim doesn't, then the Muslim has been dishonored. There is only one answer for dishonor, death. Kill the one who has dishonored you so that you can feel powerful again. The men with the magnifying glasses will call it extremism, but it's much simpler and much more complicated than that.
The powerful need not compromise. They have honor. Those who have no power but do not compromise also have honor. The extremist does not compromise whether in power or out of it. Therefore he always has honor. The extremist is willing to die for the power and honor of Islam.
Islam is never powerless, but is always compromised in some way short of perfect purity. Perhaps it fails to drive out all the non-Muslims and doesn't force women to cover their eyes. Or maybe it tolerates chess and kite flying. Even the crudest Salafist finds some human norm short of total and complete extremism. He compromises and the seed of that compromise gives birth to a movement that will not compromise even on that. Each Islamic movement carries within it the seeds of its own extremist counter-movement and that movement too will carry its own seeds of death. The Islamic revolution devours its own children forever for honor's sake.
Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Absolute honor is the search for absolute power. A power so pure that it transcends the human means necessary to achieve that glorious end. A purity so total that it will elevate the smuggled cocaine, the rapes and murders, the torture and the broken oaths to the golden truth that the ends of Islam justify all its mangled means.
The murderer kills because he wants power. He goes on killing for honor's sake. When the blade slips or the victim pulls a gun, then the murderer skulks off into the night nursing his grudges and pledging that he will return or his children will return or their children, on and on through the ages.
All this may have started because the murderer wanted a goat, a gold coin or a wife, but it continues because it is now a matter of honor. A moment ago the murderer only wanted a gold coin, but having failed to obtain it, it is now a matter that will not leave off for all the gold coins in the world. Murder transmutes the gold coin into honor. The motive no longer matters. It is all about the end now.
The more the murderer is resisted, the angrier he becomes. The failure to kill forces him to take refuge in myth. He begins inventing glorious stories of his battles complete with poems and epic battles. There are sacred deaths with drops of blood falling like jewels and doves ascending into the sky. Every man becomes a lion and every enemy a monstrous eater of children. Eventually the story becomes his whole reason for being. It is a tale that is passed down through the tribe until countless of the murderer's descendants derive their identity from the story. Until they are all murderers.
Having been thwarted, the murderer cannot stop. The failure to kill has left him powerless, no better than a woman or an infidel. It causes him to doubt the worth of his religion and his people. It robs life of its sweetness. The only way to heal his trauma is to finish what he started. The only way for him to be at peace is to be at war.
Speak to him of peace and he will not listen, except as a ploy for finishing the unfinished murder. Peace is for the powerless. To desire peace is to admit to weakness. It is to give in to the prosaic mortality of the ordinary life. Before he began to kill, the murderer might have been satisfied with the ordinary life, but it is no longer good enough for him. Nothing will do but the knife and the blood and the screams.
The murderer will lie about wanting peace, but he will not make peace. To lie in order to kill is honorable, but to live in peace is not honorable. Peace narrows the borders and closes off horizons. What was once a green territory that the grandchildren or great-grandchildren might overrun in a hundred years is suddenly forever lost and forever foreign. How can he be asked to make such a terrible concession?
You might as well ask the sailor to stay on the land and the explorer to put up his feet in front of the fire. The murderer isn't a mere murderer, he is a romantic at heart, and whether he lives in a mud hut or a tacky palace decorated with giant portraits of himself, in secret he imagines himself a sultan or an emir. And if not him, then his children or grandchildren.
This is his story and the myth that governs his life. He is not a builder. In his part of the world, it is the slaves who build. It is the men who have no power and no honor who work a set schedule, lifting bricks and arranging girders. Nor is he a farmer, that too is work fit only for serfs. He makes a decent merchant, cheating and being cheated in turn in a ritual mercantile combat. In a pinch he might be a shepherd, wandering the hills aimlessly, and watching his flock nibble the sparse desert grasses down to a wasteland, killing and eating them when it suits him like a little grubby god.
Whatever his profession, he fancies himself a warrior and the kind of war that he prefers is the raid. Village against village. Riders against caravans. Hijacked planes against skyscrapers. If he wins, then he gains honor. If he loses then he gains honor by vowing vengeance, for even the worst of losers can always hang on to his honor by threatening to kill the winners.
And that is where the murders become a mystery, at least to those detectives whose little magnifying glasses can make out the grooves on a thread, but not the distorted rage on a murderer's face. The more they try to convince the murderer to stop, the more he kills. There is a pattern here, but unlike carpet fibers and footprints, it is not one that they can understand.
The men with the magnifying glasses want their lives back. So does the murderer. And the only way he can get it back is by taking theirs. The institution of the feud has lapsed in their world, but it is the defining one in his. Both detective and murderer are trapped in a cycle, but the murderer has a way out. All he has to do is kill them. The detectives cannot do the same thing. There is no room in their rational world for such a crude solution. They try to break the cycle with words. He tries to break it with bombs and bullets. And the cycle of violence continues.
Failure goads the murderer. The more he fails at killing, the more he aspires to it. On his tenth attempt he is ten times as motivated as on his first attempt. Like all people he has his ups and downs, but he always keeps on trying harder.
Each time he fails, he tells himself that the game wasn't fair, the other side broke the rules, rigged the contest and undermined him. He spins complex conspiracies of spies and saboteurs in which the mind of the enemy is as convoluted as his, and that only fuels his outrage. How dare his victim plot so cleverly to undermine his own murder! Outraged, he spins his own convoluted plots, playing Wiley E. Coyote to an oblivious Roadrunner who is occasionally baffled to learn that he is alleged to have controlled every major public figure in the Middle East or seeded the Nile with trained sharks.
"Sure," says the murderer. "You didn't expect him to admit it, did you? I wouldn't in his place."
In this way the murderee takes on an outsized importance until he, she or it comes to represent every obstacle that the murderer has ever faced in his life, every nightmare and night terror. Whatever crimes the murderer commits, he is certain that the murderee has committed even more of them. The murderer's dark side steps out of the shadow and takes on the role of his victim so that the act of murder becomes an act of purification that purifies nothing for the dark forces that the murderer tries to kill are still inside him even while his victim bleeds on the floor.
Eventually the murderee fills the world. Rushdie was only a minor writer until a series of random events caused his name to come to the attention of a shaky Iranian leadership looking for a scapegoat. And then Rushdie became an obsession for the Iranian regime. Rushdie filled their world. Likewise the average Muslim did not spend any time thinking about the Jews, who were always despised, but like most non-Muslims, weren't of consequence. Having conquered their lands and their persons, they could go about ignoring them, aside from the usual thefts, murders and assorted cruelties. But then, after making numerous compromises, the honorless Jews, the sons of apes and pigs, defeated armies far stronger than them. The murderers were robbed of their honor. And when the murderer is Muslim and the victim is non-Muslim, then the honor of the murderer is the honor of the whole Muslim world.
And there can be no peace now. Not tomorrow or in a thousand years. Not with the Golan Heights, the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem, the Galilee and the grimier parts of Tel Aviv. Nothing will do but for the murderers to finish what they started, the aborted murder, the unfinished crime and the unconsummated honor killing to end all honor killings. Nothing will do but death.
A murderer will forgive many things. You may kill his son and rape his daughter, so long as the blood price or the honor price changes hands. You may do the same with all of his many relatives and their relatives, as is so often the case in these dirty little wars that are really packs of murderers roaming and raiding, firing at each other and falling back, and then waiting for the mourning women to come out and wail over the bodies of the dead. You may even cheat him as much as you like, for he will probably cheat you worse, even while you fancy that you are coming out ahead. But what you cannot do is take away his honor.
The House of Saud has never forgiven the House of Washington for helping aid its power. It draws a blood price from it every year, but it cannot rest until the House of Washington falls. So too all alliances must one day end in betrayal or death. There is no room in the green country of the horizon for two tribes to rule. Nor is there room in the inner palaces of honor with their bejeweled tapestries and arabesque curves for a helping hand. The Sultan and Emir, like Allah, can have no antecedent. Like Mohammed, he must be the final revelation of power over a powerless world.
And the murderer? He cannot sleep. The man he tried to kill has filled his world. Once he wanted gold or goats, but now it is honor he wants. On his bed, the murderer dreams of killing a man whose only crime was humiliating him by refusing to die. The murderer rolls over and smiles. Tomorrow, he will kill. Tomorrow, he will regain his honor.