More fantasy-world moral and theological equivalence from the world’s greatest dhimmi, Karen Armstrong. “The label of Catholic terror was never used about the IRA,” from The Guardian, with thanks to Nicolei, Eric and Scaramouche:
Last year I attended a conference in the US about security and intelligence in the so-called war on terror and was astonished to hear one of the more belligerent participants, who as far as I could tell had nothing but contempt for religion, strongly argue that as a purely practical expedient, politicians and the media must stop referring to “Muslim terrorism”. It was obvious, he said, that the atrocities had nothing to do with Islam, and to suggest otherwise was not merely inaccurate but dangerously counterproductive.
She was astonished, mind you, not because this analysis is absurd, but because she was amazed to hear it from the bull-necked hawks she expected to find. This is a common thing to hear, but no matter how common it is, it makes about as much sense as saying, “Now, we must not refer to ‘Nazi anti-Semitism.'” The Nazis were anti-Semitic because of core Nazi teachings. The Muslim terrorists are committing acts of terrorism, by their own account, because of core Islamic teachings. Saying that we are supposed to ignore that is tantamount to saying that we must ignore what the enemy tells us about himself, who he is, what he wants, why he is fighting. Which is tantamount to saying that we should surrender. We cannot defeat an enemy we are afraid to name.
Rhetoric is a powerful weapon in any conflict. We cannot hope to convert Osama bin Laden from his vicious ideology; our priority must be to stem the flow of young people into organisations such as al-Qaida, instead of alienating them by routinely coupling their religion with immoral violence. Incorrect statements about Islam have convinced too many in the Muslim world that the west is an implacable enemy. Yet, as we found at the conference, it is not easy to find an alternative for referring to this terrorism; however, the attempt can be a salutary exercise that reveals the complexity of what we are up against.
I see, Karen: “Lie about Islam or you will make more Muslims into terrorists.” Got it. Ignore the elements of Islam that give rise to terror, and they will stop giving rise to terror. Got it. I contend on the contrary that if we are to have any hope of stemming “the flow of young people into organisations such as al-Qaida,” it can only come from speaking forthrightly about what it is in Islam that makes them flow into such organizations, and calling upon Muslims who call themselves moderate to renounce those Islamic teachings, while alerting non-Muslims to the existence of such teachings so that they can take realistic actions against the threat in its true dimensions. No problem can be fixed by denying that it is a problem.
We need a phrase that is more exact than “Islamic terror”. These acts may be committed by people who call themselves Muslims, but they violate essential Islamic principles. The Qur’an prohibits aggressive warfare, permits war only in self-defence and insists that the true Islamic values are peace, reconciliation and forgiveness. It also states firmly that there must be no coercion in religious matters, and for centuries Islam had a much better record of religious tolerance than Christianity.
It is not enough any longer, if it ever was, simply to assert that the terrorists “violate essential Islamic principles” and talk about self-defense and peace. The jihadists have again and again characterized their struggle as defensive. Let Ms. Armstrong demonstrate, if she can, from the Qur’an or Islamic tradition why their characterization is in this case inaccurate, and how moderate Muslims today can refute it. But I do not think she can.
Like the Bible, the Qur’an has its share of aggressive texts, but like all the great religions, its main thrust is towards kindliness and compassion. Islamic law outlaws war against any country in which Muslims are allowed to practice their religion freely, and forbids the use of fire, the destruction of buildings and the killing of innocent civilians in a military campaign. So although Muslims, like Christians or Jews, have all too often failed to live up to their ideals, it is not because of the religion per se.
Lots of sleight-of-hand in that paragraph. In the first place, the problem within Islam is not that of a few aggressive texts in the Qur’an, just like the Bible has. In the Bible there are indeed aggressive texts, but there is no open-ended and universal command to all believers to make war against unbelievers, a la Qur’an 9:29. Nor is that an isolated text: Islam, unlike Christianity, has a developed doctrine sanctioning and calling for this warfare.
Also, look closely at her wording: “Islamic law outlaws war against any country in which Muslims are allowed to practice their religion freely.” This is similar to the statement of Mufti Ebrahim Desai of South Africa: “if a country doesn’t allow the propagation of Islam to its inhabitants in a suitable manner or creates hindrances to this, then the Muslim ruler would be justifying in waging Jihad against this country, so that the message of Islam can reach its inhabitants, thus saving them from the Fire of Jahannum. If the Kuffaar allow us to spread Islam peacefully, then we would not wage Jihad against them.”
A central part of the Islamic religion is its prescriptions for governance. Would opposition to Sharia be hindering Muslims from practicing their religion freely? The problem with such statements — both Armstrong’s and Desai’s — is that they are so elastic as to be meaningless in terms of restricting Muslims from waging war. The “war on Islam” rhetoric coming today from jihadists is a case in point. They assert that America is waging war on Islam, despite Bush’s dhimmitude, and thus justify waging war against us.
Likewise Armstrong’s statement that “Islamic law…forbids the use of fire, the destruction of buildings and the killing of innocent civilians in a military campaign.” Innocent civilians. Were the office workers in the World Trade Center innocent? Osama says no. Can Armstrong refute him on Islamic grounds?
We rarely, if ever, called the IRA bombings “Catholic” terrorism because we knew enough to realise that this was not essentially a religious campaign. Indeed, like the Irish republican movement, many fundamentalist movements worldwide are simply new forms of nationalism in a highly unorthodox religious guise. This is obviously the case with Zionist fundamentalism in Israel and the fervently patriotic Christian right in the US.
Indeed. It was not essentially a religious campaign. The IRA was not claiming to blow things up in the name of their religion, justifying their actions by reference to Christian scripture, etc. The jihad terrorists today, however, explain that they are acting in the name of Islam, and quote Qur’an copiously.
Nor was the IRA an international movement with a program calling for the subjugation the world under its system of law and societal mores. Islamic terrorism is.
In the Muslim world, too, where the European nationalist ideology has always seemed an alien import, fundamentalisms are often more about a search for social identity and national self-definition than religion. They represent a widespread desire to return to the roots of the culture, before it was invaded and weakened by the colonial powers.
Quite so. That’s what concerns me.
Because it is increasingly recognised that the terrorists in no way represent mainstream Islam, some prefer to call them jihadists, but this is not very satisfactory. Extremists and unscrupulous politicians have purloined the word for their own purposes, but the real meaning of jihad is not “holy war” but “struggle” or “effort.” Muslims are commanded to make a massive attempt on all fronts – social, economic, intellectual, ethical and spiritual – to put the will of God into practice.
They call themselves jihadists — mujahedin. I do not call them that because I think they do not represent mainstream Islam, but because that is their own usage. Nor does the multiplicity of meanings of the word “jihad” in Islamic tradition amount to anything: jihad as warfare is an unbroken tradition since the time of Muhammad.
Sometimes a military effort may be a regrettable necessity in order to defend decent values, but an oft-quoted tradition has the Prophet Muhammad saying after a military victory: “We are coming back from the Lesser Jihad [ie the battle] and returning to the Greater Jihad” – the far more important, difficult and momentous struggle to reform our own society and our own hearts.
Ms. Armstrong, Osama and his ilk would say precisely that a military effort is a regrettable necessity today in order to defend decent values. Please explain how Muslims can refute that, if they can.
And as for that Hadith, Ms. Armstrong may not be aware that attacks upon it form a central part of jihadist polemic. Abdullah Azzam and Hassan Al-Banna argued that it was a weak hadith, and thus should not be followed by Muslims. They argued that jihad was primarily warfare and that Muslims should understand it as such. And indeed, this statement of Muhammad does not appear in the hadith collections that Muslims consider most reliable. Ms. Armstrong, please explain why you accept this as an authentic hadith, and how Muslims can refute the arguments advanced by Azzam and Al-Banna.
Jihad is thus a cherished spiritual value that, for most Muslims, has no connection with violence. Last year, at the University of Kentucky, I met a delightful young man called Jihad; his parents had given him that name in the hope that he would become not a holy warrior, but a truly spiritual man who would make the world a better place. The term jihadi terrorism is likely to be offensive, therefore, and will win no hearts or minds.
At our conference in Washington, many people favoured “Wahhabi terrorism”. They pointed out that most of the hijackers on September 11 came from Saudi Arabia, where a peculiarly intolerant form of Islam known as Wahhabism was the state religion. They argued that this description would be popular with those many Muslims who tended to be hostile to the Saudis. I was not happy, however, because even though the narrow, sometimes bigoted vision of Wahhabism makes it a fruitful ground for extremism, the vast majority of Wahhabis do not commit acts of terror.
Wow. So even the Wahhabis, with their violent contempt for non-Muslims, are good guys to Armstrong. But in any case, the idea that Wahhabism is violent and the rest of Islam is peaceful is simply false. The doctrines of violent jihad are found among all Muslim sects.
Bin Laden was not inspired by Wahhabism but by the writings of the Egyptian ideologue Sayyid Qutb, who was executed by President Nasser in 1966. Almost every fundamentalist movement in Sunni Islam has been strongly influenced by Qutb, so there is a good case for calling the violence that some of his followers commit “Qutbian terrorism.” Qutb urged his followers to withdraw from the moral and spiritual barbarism of modern society and fight it to the death.
It is at least good of Armstrong to acknowledge that Qutb was not a Wahhabi. Other Islamic apologists are not so willing to do so.
But what Armstrong has not demonstrated, and cannot demonstrate, is that “Qutbian terrorism” represents in any way a departure from traditional Islamic teaching.
Western people should learn more about such thinkers as Qutb, and become aware of the many dramatically different shades of opinion in the Muslim world. There are too many lazy, unexamined assumptions about Islam, which tends to be regarded as an amorphous, monolithic entity. Remarks such as “They hate our freedom” may give some a righteous glow, but they are not useful, because they are rarely accompanied by a rigorous analysis of who exactly “they” are.
The story of Qutb is also instructive as a reminder that militant religiosity is often the product of social, economic and political factors. Qutb was imprisoned for 15 years in one of Nasser’s vile concentration camps, where he and thousands of other members of the Muslim Brotherhood were subjected to physical and mental torture. He entered the camp as a moderate, but the prison made him a fundamentalist. Modern secularism, as he had experienced it under Nasser, seemed a great evil and a lethal assault on faith.
Precise intelligence is essential in any conflict. It is important to know who our enemies are, but equally crucial to know who they are not. It is even more vital to avoid turning potential friends into foes. By making the disciplined effort to name our enemies correctly, we will learn more about them, and come one step nearer, perhaps, to solving the seemingly intractable and increasingly perilous problems of our divided world.
I couldn’t agree more, Karen. Let’s name our enemies correctly. And speak the truth about Islam.