In "Removing the ‘cloak’ of religious extremism" for the Common Ground News Service (via Middle East Online), Laura McAleer, a student at Georgetown University, and Hala Ali, a student at South Valley University of Cairo, who together participated in a "Western-Arab intercultural dialogue program," spin some fanciful but familiar tales:
Washington, D.C./Cairo Egypt - In the wake of September 11th, many in the Western world have struggled to correctly identify acts of terrorism and their perpetrators. Often, people reading newspapers and watching television news reach the conclusion that such acts were committed in the name of jihad, the Islamic concept commonly, and incorrectly, defined as "holy war."
Why do they rush to such a conclusion? Could it be because of statements urging "Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders"? Of course not. The primary culprit here is -- who else? -- Westerners. Oh, and "others" do it too, which is like saying "In 1933 in Germany a regime came to power consisting of some established German politicians such as Franz von Papen, along with some others."
Many Westerners (and others around the world) equate the two, developing misconceptions about Islam and the Muslim community. This misunderstanding is detrimental to relations between the U.S. and the Arab world, and it can only be mitigated by recognising the distinct definitions of both terrorism and jihad.
The U.S. State Department, according to the official National Strategy for Combating Terrorism policy document, defines terrorism as "premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant targets by sub-national groups or clandestine agents," usually intended to influence an audience. It is an act condemned by all religions that aims to shake the stability of major world powers and seeks to undermine their capabilities and threaten their futures.
The events of September 11th clearly fit this description. However, the fact that the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were committed by a group of people acting in the name of Islam has lead to a great deal of prejudice toward the Muslim community in the United States and around the world. This is evidenced by a March 2006 Washington Post-ABC News Poll, which reported that 33% of Americans believe Islam condones violence against non-Muslims (up from 14% in 2002). Even Americans who said they understood Islam and were more likely to see the religion overall as peaceful and respectful were no less likely to say it harbours harmful extremists, and they were also no less likely to have prejudiced feelings against Muslims.
You see that the 33% of Americans who believe that Islam condones violence against non-Muslims do not understand Islam, while those who see it as peaceful "understand it." Unfortunately, McAleer and Ali do not explain how such passages as Qur'an 9:5, 9:29, 47:4, as well as ahadith such as Sahih Muslim 4294, and innumerable other similar passages, can be understood in a way that does not somehow condone violence.
Also, does the Islamic world harbor "harmful extremists"? Even if they have "hijacked" the religion, isn't that self-evident with every day's headlines?
What is the definition of jihad that Muslims feel is accurate and want the Western world to understand?
The best way to get the Western world to understand this would be to live it out, and to rein in those who commit violent acts in the name of jihad.
The word "jihad" is derived from an Arabic root (J H D) that means to make good use of your virtues, good nature, and God's gifts to help please yourself and others. More specifically, one could say that to practice jihad is to make every effort to worship and obey God, to gain knowledge, to advise others how to be good and true believers in God, and to work hard to spread peace, freedom, love, and tolerance. Moreover, the word "Islam" is derived from the Arabic word "saalam", which means peace.
Actually no, it is not derived from "saalam"; rather, both Islam and salam are derived from the same SLM root. And "Islam," of course, means "submission."
The events of 9/11 and terrorism acts committed since then cannot, when the true meaning of 'jihad' is considered, be seen as acts of jihad. Rather, they were planned and executed by those who chose to use their religion as a sort of cloak. A comparison can be made to the Crusades: the Crusaders of Europe acted in the name of Christianity, but the tenets of Christianity (both then and now) do not allow for their horrible, even "terrorist" actions. The Islamic extremists who commit acts of terrorism are somewhat similar to the Crusaders; they have misunderstood, misinterpreted, and grown accustomed to distortions of Islam, and they have used these misrepresentations as a basis for action.
It is exceedingly odd, then, is it not, that those Muslims who hold to an undistorted, unmisrepresented version of Islam have not managed to mount any large-scale, comprehensive program to teach Muslims to reject the jihadist version of Islam. If what McAleer and Ali are saying is true, this shouldn't be difficult. Is it too much to ask for?
Clearly, those Muslims who have been involved in terrorism have been acting on their own personal beliefs which do not accurately represent the tenets of the faith or the convictions of the majority of the world's Muslim population. Rather, the Qur'an teaches that "anyone who murders any person who had not committed murder or horrendous crimes, it shall be as if he murdered all people. And anyone who spares a life, it shall be as if he spared the lives of all people…"
This is the oft-quoted verse 5:32, which is followed by 5:33, which says: "The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land is: execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land..." What's more, in condemning "anyone who murders any person who had not committed murder or horrendous crimes," the Qur'an leaves a huge loophole for someone who believes that he is killing someone who has committed horrendous crimes and thus deserves his fate. And that's just what Osama bin Laden thinks.
The basic truths about the concept of jihad have not been widely disseminated in the West.
I couldn't agree more!
The resulting dearth of information is not only a disappointing disconnect between two cultures, but also a major cause of further terrorist acts.
So are McAleer and Ali saying that Americans' alleged "ignorance" about jihad causes terrorism? I can't begin to figure out how the reasoning behind that one goes, unless they're making a D'Souza-like point -- something like, our thinking jihad can be violent so enrages Muslims that they turn to...jihad violence.
And yes, that is what is going on:
The fact that many Americans and other Westerners fail to make an effort to understand Islam and, as revealed by the polling described above, are suspicious of all Muslims they meet, can only serve to drive more and more Muslims under the "cloak" of Islamic extremism. This cycle of misperception leading to further violence can only be stopped through education. With proper definitions and through mutual understanding, the "cloak" can be removed from those who have engaged in acts of terrorism in the past, and future acts can be prevented.
So we are to believe that Westerners' suspicion of Muslims, arising from 9/11, drives Muslims to become "extremists." So put yourself in that position: imagine yourself as a Muslim who "understands" Islam, and is aware that jihad is a peaceful interior struggle, and that those who commit violence in the name of jihad lack any justification whatsoever within Islam itself. Then 9/11 happens, and some Americans start being unkind to you. This so enrages you that you begin to misunderstand Islam, and join a group that promotes violent jihad. Anger toward being unjustly suspected has led you to throw the truth of your religion overboard and to join a gang you had hitherto regarded as heretics and criminals.
This is the Dinesh D'Souza theory of one of the causes of jihad violence. I think its absurdity is self-evident.