“Lewis backs Bush: Suicide terror a perversion of Islam,” from the World Tribune, with thanks to Mathew:
Princeton historian Bernard Lewis, a foremost authority on Islam and the West, said recently that the Bush administration needs to better identify its global campaign against terrorism.
“I feel that while we are indeed engaged in a war against terror, it is inadequate and even misleading,” Lewis said recently at a forum. “If Churchill had informed the country in 1940, we are engaged in a war against bomber aircraft and submarines, that would have been an accurate statement but not a very helpful one. To say we are engaged in a war against terror is of the same order. Terror is a tactic. It’s a method of waging war. It is not a cause, it is not an adversary, it is not anything that one can identify as an opponent, and I think we need to be more specific in fighting a war. It’s useful to know who the enemy is.”
That part is great. In fact, it sounds as if Bernard Lewis has been reading my book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) in which I make precisely this point.
(Note for the literal-minded: no, of course I don’t think Lewis has read any of my books.)
Lewis, speaking at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life last month, agreed with President Bush that Islamist extremism is a perversion of Islam.
“Take, for example, the suicide bomber. Classical Islamic legal and religious texts are quite clear on the subject of suicide. Suicide is what Christians would call a mortal sin. Even if a man or a woman had lived a life of unremitting virtue, by committing suicide they forfeit paradise and go straight to hell, where, according to the sacred texts, the eternal punishment of the suicide consists of the eternal repetition of the act of suicide,” he said.
Under Islam, a person who poisons himself will experience “an eternity of bellyache.”
Suicide terrorism is a recent development that has come in stages. Islamic jurists recently ruled that throwing oneself to death against a superior enemy was permissible.
“And that was where it stood for centuries and centuries,” Lewis said. “Even the famous Assassins of the Middle Ages never died by their own hands and never killed anyone but the marked target.”
Recently, however, Islamist extremists were able to change the law to allow taking one’s life while taking a sufficient number of the enemy as well. Lewis called it a “radical departure” from past Islamic practice and theology.
Suicide terrorism emanated from Wahabism, in Najd, part of Saudi Arabia in the 18th Century.
All right. Just a couple of points here, Professor Lewis. As I have noted before, John Paul Jones encountered suicide attacks by Muslim Turks in 1788 — a time when Wahhabism was an Arabian movement opposed by the Ottomans. Jones described a naval encounter between the Turks and the Russians that took place when Jones served in the Russian Navy:
“…for it was the intention of the Turks to attack us and board us, and if we had been only three versts further the attempt would have been made on the 16th [June 1788] (before the vessel of the Captain Pacha ran aground in advancing before the wind with all his forces to attack us,), God only knows what would have been the result…The Turks had a very large force, and we have been informed by our prisoners that they were resolved to destroy us, even by burning themselves, (in setting fire to their own vessels after having grappled with ours.) [note added by Jones: Before their departure from Constantinople, they swore by the beard of the Sultan to execute this horrible plan…if Providence had not caused its failure from two circumstances which no man could forsee.”]
That’s from John Paul Jones’ Letter to Prince Potemkin, June 20, 1788, from Life and Character of John Paul Jones-A Captain in the Navy of the United States, John H. Sherburne, 1825, p. 308 (thanks to Looney Tunes).
Now why would these almost certainly non-Wahhabi Muslim sailors do such a thing? Could it be because At-Tauba 111, chapter 9 verse 111 of the Qur’an, is in their Qur’ans as well as in Wahhabi Qur’ans? That verse promises Paradise to one who “kills and is killed” for Allah. Such a death is not considered suicide, and so Lewis is noting Islamic prohibitions of suicide even though they simply don’t apply to jihad/martyrdom attacks.
UPDATE: Andrew Bostom has alerted me to the fact that Professor Franz Rosenthal, the great American scholar of Islam who 50 years ago translated Ibn Khaldun’s classic Muqaddimah, wrote this in his 1946 essay “On Suicide in Islam”:
While the Qur’anic attitude toward suicide remains uncertain, the great authorities of the hadith leave no doubt as to the official attitude of Islam. In their opinion suicide is an unlawful act….On the other hand, death as the result of “suicidal” missions and of the desire of martyrdom occurs not infrequently, since death is considered highly commendable according to Muslim religious concepts. However, such cases are no[t] suicides in the proper sense of the term. (Rosenthal, Franz, “On Suicide in Islam,” Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 66, pp. 243, 256.)
What would Lewis say to Rosenthal? Would he consider that an accurate or an inaccurate summation?
Bostom himself notes what has often been noted here, about Qaradawi and others:
That is why even clerics such as the popular Al-Jazeera personality Yusuf Al Qaradawi openly sanction murderous Palestinian homicide bomber “martyrdom” operations against innocent Israeli citizens (all of whom are considered “combatants” who obstruct the “call to Islam”) during fatwa councils convened in the heart of Europe.