When events in the Middle East turn especially bloody, as they have during the last couple of weeks in Najaf, I am often struck by a whimsical – some might say ridiculous – thought.
I imagine that the man at the centre of the trouble is not Moqtada al-Sadr (or whoever happens to be the villain of the moment) but Gandhi, the leader of India’s struggle for independence. I wonder what he would have done about it.
Gandhi’s methods of non-violent resistance have never attracted much interest in the Middle East – which is rather odd, because he played a crucial role in ending British rule in India, which in turn led to the unravelling of an empire.
It doesn’t seem to occur to people that there could be lessons there for ending the American presence in Iraq, say, or the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
Gandhi was a Hindu but readily incorporated other ideas into his philosophy. Like many Muslims today, he would undoubtedly have appreciated jihad, self-sacrifice and martyrdom as concepts, though not the methods that often accompany them.
Gandhi would undoubtedly have appreciated jihad, eh? Clearly this has been written by someone who has had his ears filled with carefully designed, glib jihad-is-an-inner-spiritual-struggle explanations and has no idea what Islam really teaches about what jihad is.
Yeah, Gandhi would have loved this: “Jihad means to war against non-Muslims, and is etymologically derived from the word mujahada, signifying warfare to establish the religion.” That’s from ‘Umdat al-Salik (o9.0), a legal manual endorsed by the most respected authority in Sunni Islam, Al-Azhar University in Cairo. I can see how that would have appealed to Gandhi. When Omar Bakri becomes Prime Minister of Great Britain, maybe he can get Ben Kingsley to reprise the Gandhi role with an AK-47 under his robes.
Whitaker, anyway, goes on to wonder why Gandhi has never been a big hero in the Middle East. (Um, could it be because he was not a Muslim?)
In the Middle East, though, his ideas have less appeal. Maybe it’s because a wispy vegetarian in granny glasses and loincloth doesn’t fit with Arab views of a manly hero. The fact that Gandhi had a moustache of almost Iraqi proportions does little to redeem him: John Wayne and Sylvester Stallone are far more attractive role models for the Mahdi militia.
Some, of course, would offer a different explanation: that Islam is an inherently bloodthirsty religion. This is a view that Bin Laden and his kind have done much to encourage.
There are certainly some violent passages in the Koran – though before basing a case on that it’s worth also considering the vast amount of supposedly righteous smiting and slaying that takes place in the Old Testament.
Yeah, let’s consider that, Brian. Let’s also not forget to consider why there is no Jewish or Christian global network of terrorists justifying their actions by the Old Testament.
A number of Muslim writers have made a plausible case for Islamic non-violence. One is the elderly Syrian scholar, Jawdat Said, who watched the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt during the 1950s and predicted that the use of violence by Islamic movements would eventually prove self-destructive.
He has been promoting his non-violent ideas ever since, apart from several periods in jail. Meanwhile, his sons got into trouble with the Syrian authorities for refusing to serve in the army, and were not allowed to graduate from Damascus university as a result.
Hmmm. Why was he in jail? Could it have been because his ideas were so offensive to Islamic orthodoxy?
There’s also a Shia cleric, Imam Mohammad al-Shirazi, who calls for Islamic non-violence, as well as Khalis Jalabi (a Saudi doctor) and Khalid Khishtainy (an Islamic scholar and writer).
One problem with “non-violence” is that the word sounds rather negative when translated into Arabic, implying passivity and surrender. Khishtainy therefore uses an alternative term – “civil jihad” – which sounds more positive and in some ways better reflects Gandhi’s methods.
And therein is stated the core of the problem with the ideas of Jawdat Said and other non-violent Muslims: the goal is the same — the hegemony of Islamic law over the world. Only the method is different.