Shmuel Bar of the Institute for Policy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel has a fascinating, detailed piece in Policy Review (thanks to Ali Dashti) about what I have been insisting upon all along, in three books, seven monographs, and who knows how many articles: that Islamic terror is not simply an impulse to mayhem or a political response to Western power couched in religious terms. It is a fundamentally religious movement springing from a deeply held and amply attested understanding of Islamic religious principles.
All of Bar’s piece is worth reading; here are some provocative points from his conclusion:
Taking into account the above, is it possible “” within the bounds of Western democratic values “” to implement a comprehensive strategy to combat Islamic terrorism at its ideological roots? First, such a strategy must be based on an acceptance of the fact that for the first time since the Crusades, Western civilization finds itself involved in a religious war; the conflict has been defined by the attacking side as such with the eschatological goal of the destruction of Western civilization. The goal of the West cannot be defense alone or military offense or democratization of the Middle East as a panacea. It must include a religious-ideological dimension: active pressure for religious reform in the Muslim world and pressure on the orthodox Islamic establishment in the West and the Middle East not only to disengage itself clearly from any justification of violence, but also to pit itself against the radical camp in a clear demarcation of boundaries.
Such disengagement cannot be accomplished by Western-style declarations of condemnation. It must include clear and binding legal rulings by religious authorities which contradict the axioms of the radical worldview and virtually “excommunicate” the radicals. In essence, the radical narrative, which promises paradise to those who perpetrate acts of terrorism, must be met by an equally legitimate religious force which guarantees hellfire for the same acts. Some elements of such rulings should be, inter alia:
“¢ A call for renewal of ijtihad as the basis to reform Islamic dogmas and to relegate old dogmas to historic contexts.
“¢ That there exists no state of jihad between Islam and the rest of the world (hence, jihad is not a personal duty).
“¢ That the violation of the physical safety of a non-Muslim in a Muslim country is prohibited (haram).
“¢ That suicide bombings are clear acts of suicide, and therefore, their perpetrators are condemned to eternal hellfire.
“¢ That moral or financial support of acts of terrorism is also haram.
“¢ That a legal ruling claiming jihad is a duty derived from the roots of Islam is a falsification of the roots of Islam, and therefore, those who make such statements have performed acts of heresy.
It is unlikely that the Muslim world will take these steps. This is not only because (as Bar points out) of the imperative of Islamic solidarity (cf. Sura 4:93 of the Qur’an) overrides other considerations, but also because the distinction he makes in this article between “radical” and “orthodox” Islam is problematic. While there are obviously millions of Muslims who are not and will never be radicals, the radicals energetically and persistently claim the mantle of orthodoxy, and by and large they are getting away with it. This is what must change, but the strong roots of the Islamic dogmas that Bar points out must be reformed will make that reform all the more difficult to accomplish.