The question of Islamic extremism has more relevance to Muslims than to non-Muslims. It’s mainly Muslims who are obsessed with Islamic extremism. And with good reason. As they so often point out; they tend to be its leading victims.
It’s not that Islamic extremism doesn’t exist. Islam, like every ideology, has its gradations. It’s that for Muslims, there is a great deal at stake in the battle over Islamic extremism. That battle will determine whether they can listen to music, play chess or watch soccer games. Whether men can shave their beards, women can drive cars, little girls can go to school and little boys can grow up learning anything except Koranic verses.
Non-Muslims however remain unequal no matter which brand of Islamic theocracy is in charge. And either way they remain fair game in their own countries.
Every leading form of Islam agrees that an Islamic society is perfect, that its laws perfect man and that imposing those laws on society is a religious duty. They may differ on whether those laws allow Muslims to vote or fly kites; but that is small consolation to the non-Muslims who lose their civil rights either way.
Islamic extremism is primarily concerned with imposing the extremities of Islamic law on Muslims. As part of its Islamization campaign, it will also kill and subjugate non-Muslims; but in this it is no different than so-called moderate Muslims.
Islamic societies are built around an Islamic law that makes non-Muslims second class citizens. Whether Islamic law is the basis of all legislation, as tends to be written in the constitutions of most “moderate” Muslim countries, or whether it actually is the legislation, makes a great deal of difference to Muslims who fear losing the ability to sing or play chess at the snap of a fatwa; but has less impact on non-Muslims who are still doomed to an unequal status.
What Western secular liberals insist on describing as extremism is really a reform movement seeking to purge innovations from the modern Islamic admixture that date back to the ideas and customs that Islamic empires absorbed from the cultures and peoples they conquered and subjugated.
Reform means major changes for the descendants of the Islamic conquerors who have learned to like the living standards of Islamic empires and don’t care for going back to the ways of their many times great-grandfathers who were desert nomads and violently suspicious of anything that resembled civilization.
It doesn’t change things nearly as much for the non-Muslim minorities who were conquered by those Islamic empires. Life for them would become worse if the Salafists were to take over. But the difference lies in the degrees of subjugation. There is no Islamic option for equal rights.
The dilution of Islam through secularism made life more livable for the Muslim conquerors who wanted to enjoy life in their new dominions in Egypt, the Persian Empire, Byzantium or India. They were less concerned with the comfort of the conquered; the Christians, Jews, Hindus, Zoroastrians and others groaning under their rule. Their increased freedom is an unanticipated and undesired aspect of the general liberalizing of standards that is the first thing to go when the reaction begins.
Salafis are more likely to engage in acts of terror against Western targets.