Jan 292011
 
The American administration has been struggling to come to terms with the unfolding events in Egypt and take a stand that has credibility and reflects any defendable principle. This was on glorious display in the 28th/January press briefing by Obama’s Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. You could only feel sorry for the poor man as he tried to use as many words as he could to say as little as possible and stay noncommittal. Again, the old friend in Egypt is watching everything, and the US cannot afford taking the risk of angering him. After all, he may manage to overcome the protests, which is what the US hopes.

US administrations have always known what a brutal dictator President Hosni Mubarak is, but they have also made him a good friend and ally. He is the individual that they use to get what they want even if against the will of his people. That is the benefit of befriending a dictator; one can bypass people. On the 28th/January, Clinton said that “Egypt has long been an important partner of the United States on a range of regional issues.” This is a false and misleading statement. It is the dictator of Egypt not Egypt that the US has partnered. In effect, the US has been Mubarak’s partner in dictatorship in Egypt. This is the most accurate way to describe the US-Mubarak relationship. We should avoid using the American preferred term of “US-Egypt” relationship, as there has never been one.

If the USA wanted, it could have taken a tough and uncompromising stand against Mubarak’s dictatorship, but the US administration could have taken the opportunity of the current popular uprising to come out publicly against Mubarak’s brutal dictatorship and agree with the frustrated people of Egypt that he must step down. The problem, however, is that this is not what the US administration wants. Mubarak has been a good subservient partner, in particular when it comes to Israel. The vote of the 80 millions of Egypt for whatever policy the US would like to have in the Middle East can be easily, albeit fraudulently, secured by having one man on board. Too tempting even for the leader of the free world.

There is no question that Obama deserves much more respect than any other American President in recent times, but the Middle East remains the US’s Achilles’ heel even for this President. Presidents come and go, but the influence of Israel, the Israeli lobby, and powerful Zionists on the US remains. Israel wants Mubarak, so the US has to want him too. Israel knows that getting away with its illegal occupation and savage massacres, which have been ongoing for decades, requires having its neighbouring countries run by the likes of Mubarak — dictators who would do anything in return for being helped to stay in power.

On the 28th/January, the Middle East envoy Tony Blair claimed that he was “absolutely in favor of change” in Egypt. But he also stressed the importance planning “very, very carefully how it is done and how it is staged.” Even more interesting is this bit: “the danger is that if you open up a vacuum anything can happen.” Then shamelessly he went on to justify supporting Mubarak as the partner who moved the peace process forward. Blair was so frank that he implied that Mubarak is among the open-minded elite whereas his people are closed-minded. What he was arguing for is what the USA has also been advocating: having a dictator that is easy to have on board is better than having to negotiate with a legitimate leadership of a people who happen to have different views about what is going in their part of the world. The USA and its allies have been very much working with Mubarak in his capacity as dictator, so any suggestion that they were trying to have him to abandon his dictatorship is absurd. They are partners in his dictatorship.

When Hamas won the Palestinian election in 2006, the voters, who have already been suffering brutal living conditions because of the Israeli occupation, were severely punished by Western powers that cut aids to the Palestinian authority. They sent a clear message: democracy is good but only if we approve of its outcome. This is exactly why Mubarak is what the USA, the UK, and other Western allies want. An agreeable dictator is better than a difficult legitimate leader.

The US is now realizing that the Middle Eastern dictatorships it always supported and relied on can disappear overnight, as happened in Tunisia recently. But events are developing so fast that the US administration has not had the time to decide whether it has to change its policies and the terms of its relationships with the dictators it has partnered. The American President and the Secretary of State have been slow to comment on the situation in Egypt and to take a credible view because the US administration has never prepared for such a change. They did not believe it could happen. But they also never wanted it to happen. Their preferred action has always been to come out each now and then with the weakest possible statement in support of democracy in the Middle East, including Egypt, while maintaining the strongest possible relationships with its dictatorial partners. The former is for the peoples of those countries that the US administration arrogantly underestimates their intelligence, whereas the latter is for US interests, at the top of which are the interests of Israel.

Whether the US is willing to abandon its partnerships with Middle East dictators might become irrelevant soon. If those partners are toppled by their respective peoples the US would be deprived of those friends anyway. Playing the friend of those dictators would not be in the best interest of the US. It is in the best interest of the USA and the world that all those dictators disappear. If the US’s claimed support for democracy is to start gaining any credibility it has to come out now and strongly in favour of democracy and against dictatorship. The USA has the right to have its own interests which may or may not agree with the interests of another nation. However, any differences should be dealt with by engaging with the people through their legitimate leaders. Through negotiation and compromises common ground can be found. But bypassing a whole nation to get what the USA wants from its dictator is never a wise choice and does nothing to help advance USA interests in the longer term.

The slow and hesitant response of the US administration to the popular protests in Egypt represents everything repugnant about the US foreign policy in the Middle East. Both President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have been very careful not to say something that might alienate Hosni Mubarak, should he survive the most serious crisis of his 30-year role, as they try to manage the strategic relationship that the US has with the ailing Egyptian President. On the 26th/January Clinton first volunteered advising “all parties to exercise restraint and refrain from violence.” She gives the same advice to a nation that has been oppressed for three decades and to their oppressor! But to its credit, the US administration has called on the Egyptian authorities to restore access to “social networking and the internet.” This is as much as Egyptians should hope to get from the friends of their dictator — at least as long as those friends cannot be sure that the friend of old is on his way out.

 

Copyright © 2010 Louay Fatoohi
Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/louay.fatoohi
Twitter: http://twitter.com/louayfatoohi
All Rights Reserved

Feb 212009
 
This article is from the second edition of Jihad in the Qur’an: The Truth from the Source. The book is now in its third edition.

The Qur’an makes it clear that the state of war between the early Muslims and their enemies was started by the latter. I have cited in Jihad As a Means to Peace a number of verses that promote peace and encourage the Muslims to respond immediately and positively to the first signs of the enemy becoming interested in peace. That was the attitude that the Qur’an taught Muslims to adopt in an era in which peace did not commanded any respect. While the Qur’an injected genuine love of peace into the Muslims, the interest of their enemies in peace was mainly pragmatic. Nevertheless, Muslims had to stretch out a hand of peace toward their enemies whenever the latter showed any interest in peace. Significantly, there are verses that indicate that the Muslims used to make peace even with enemies who would break their word each now and then.

Allah ordered the early Muslims to seek peace at a time when peace lovers were few and far between. No question, there is much more appreciation of peace today, not the least because of the awareness of the increasing degree of destruction and devastation that modern wars can cause. In fact, there is hardly a modern violent conflict where peace seekers cannot be found on all sides. This is a sign of optimism in a world that has become increasingly depressing with its level of aggression and violence. The followers of the Qur’an have to make the most of this increasing inclination toward peace. This is a great time to emphasize the Qur’anic message of peace and put it into practice.

The growing appreciation of peace has resulted in growing interest in talking even to what they perceive as their sworn enemy. This is also a great opportunity for Muslims. Let’s remember that the Prophet used to talk to various people and that he would stop only when they wouldn’t be willing to listen anymore. It is time to cite this great verse again: 

Call [O Muhammad!] to the way of your Lord with Wisdom and goodly exhortation, and argue with them in the best manner. Surely, your Lord best knows those who go astray from His path, and He best knows those who follow the right way. (16.125)

Resolving conflicts through dialog is much more valued by today’s educated people than by the population of the Arabian Peninsula at the time of the Messenger of Allah. Given that the above was Allah’s command to the Prophet, today’s Muslims are certainly required to be continuously engaged in dialogue with other people, including their enemies. The Qur’an makes it absolutely clear that patience, endurance, tolerance, and, particularly, responding to evil with good can turn an enemy into a close friend: 

The good deed and the evil deed are not equal. [O Muhammad!] Repel [evil] with the best response, then the person between whom and you there is enmity shall be as though he is a close friend (41.34). But none will receive it (this grace) save those who exercise patience, and none will receive it save he who has great fortune. (41.35)

Note how verse 41.35 stresses that responding to evil with good requires patience. Forcing one’s self to behave in this way involves a great deal of jihad. The fruit of this jihad, which is converting enemies into friends, is so great in the sight of Allah that He describes those who get it as people of “great fortune.”

The Qur’an was the guide of the Prophet in his debates with people which verse 16.125 refers to. All Muslims must seek inspiration from this unique Book. Muslims believe that the Qur’an is the greatest miracle, but many of them don’t really treat it in a way that reflects this belief. This divine peaceful weapon can achieve results no other weaponry can. Man-made weapons can allow Muslims to kill their persecutors. The Qur’an, on the other hand, can make Muslims instead win over many of those enemies, or at least convince them that they can all live in peace. By teaching the true message of the Qur’an and applying it, Muslims should be able to at least make peace with many of their enemies before they get to the point where using arms to defend themselves is the only option left. This is real victory. This is a miracle that only the Qur’an can work.

During the time of the Prophet, there were disbelievers who wouldn’t accept to live in peace with Muslims, leaving the latter with no option but to fight them. But other enemies who were ultimately won over and who chose to convert to Islam were manyfold more than those who were killed. This is one miracle of the Qur’an.

Despite the intensive hostile propaganda, Islam is the fastest growing religion today, with many people converting to Islam all the time. These numbers can be substantially higher if Muslims can better utilize the great power of the Qur’an. The degree of success of the enemies of Islam in distorting its image is indicative of the extent of the failure of Muslims to present the truth of Islam to the world.

          

  Copyright © 2009 Louay Fatoohi
All Rights Reserved

Oct 122008
 
This article is from the second edition of Jihad in the Qur’an: The Truth from the Source. The book is now in its third edition.

Muslims need to recognize that the world they live in today has barely any resemblance to the world at the time of Prophet Muhammad. Today’s world is immeasurably more complicated. Modern struggles, conflicts, and challenges, therefore, are also more involved and complex than their equivalents in the far past.

In the wars in which the early Muslims were involved, differentiating between the good and the evil parties was straightforward. Prophet Muhammad and his followers wanted only to follow their faith. The disbelievers did not only decide not to embrace Islam, in which case no problem would have occurred, but they also brutally persecuted Muslims. This aggression was the cause of the wars that broke out between Muslims and their enemies. Many Muslims tend to classify any war between Muslims and non-Muslims as a war between good and evil, right and wrong, faith and infidelity. Consequently, they classify the fighting of the Muslims as armed jihad, though they use the general term “jihad.” This simple model of classifying warring parties and identifying the case for armed jihad applied perfectly to the wars that the early Muslims were involved in. Then, the peace seeking Muslims stood for everything right and good, and their aggressive enemies represented everything wrong and evil. This is why Allah granted Muslims the right to armed jihad in the first place, as made clear in the following verses which I discussed elsewhere

Permission [to fight] has been granted to those against whom war is waged, because they are oppressed; and surely, Allah is well capable of assisting them [to victory] (22.39). [The permission is to] those who have been driven out of their homes without a just cause, only because they say: “Our Lord is Allah.” Had it not been for Allah repelling some people by others, then certainly cloisters, churches, synagogues, and mosques in which Allah’s name is much remembered would have been pulled down. And surely Allah will help him who helps His cause; surely, Allah is Mighty, Invincible. (22.40)

But even then, not every violent aggression by disbelievers against Muslims necessarily counted as a cause for armed jihad. For instance, as I have already pointed out elsewhere in my comment on verse 8.72, an aggression by disbelievers who had a peace treaty with the Prophet against Muslims who had declined to immigrate to al-Madīna did not count as a cause for armed jihad for the Muslims of al-Madīna: 

Surely those who believed, immigrated, and jāhadū [did jihad] with their properties and selves in the way of Allah, and those who gave shelter [to the immigrants] and helped them, these [the immigrants and the helpers] are close friends of each other. Those who believed but did not immigrate, you [O you who believe!] have no duty of close friendship toward them until they immigrate; and if they seek help from you for the purpose of religion, then help is incumbent on you, except [helping them] against a people between whom and you there is a treaty; and Allah sees what you do. (8.72)

This is a clear-cut case where violent persecution of some Muslims for their faith by non-Muslims was classified by Allah as incomparable to the case of the aggression of the disbelievers against the Muslims of al-Madīna, hence did not call for armed jihad. Given the far more complicated nature of today’s violent conflicts, there is even more reason not to hasten to liken modern armed conflicts between Muslims and non-Muslims to the wars that Prophet Muhammad and the early Muslims fought against the disbelievers. In fact, we can read warnings of such complication to come in the Qur’an itself which refers in this verse to inter-Muslim conflicts: 

And if two parties of the believers fought each other, mediate [O you who believe!] between them; but if one of them acts wrongfully toward the other, fight the party that acts wrongfully until it returns to Allah’s command; then if it returns, mediate between them with justice and act equitably; surely Allah loves the equitable. (49.9)

This verse talks about a war between two factions of Muslims. Allah here orders the other Muslims to mediate between the warring parties and broker a peace. If one faction then rejected the reconciliation and peace and insisted on fighting unjustly, then other Muslims are ordered to fight those aggressors. The principle underlying this divine command is very simple and straightforward. By rejecting peace and insisting on their unjust war, those Muslims would have acted exactly like the disbelievers who launched unjust war against Muslims. Should the war against those in the wrong convince them to stop their aggression, Muslims must mediate between those who were at war.

The verse above highlights the fact that Muslims can be on the wrong side of a conflict. In fact, they can go astray to the extent of unjustly fighting other Muslims and of having other Muslims, under the instructions of Qur’an, fighting against them.

It is an undeniable fact that a number of conflicts in recent times have involved Muslims fighting each other, with other Muslims being victimized by the war. This is one way of looking, for example, at the Iraqi-Iranian war in the 1980s, and the violent history of Afghanistan during and after the expulsion of the Soviet occupation army. It is also true that some of those conflicts involved non-Muslims fighting on the side of each one of the warring parties, or at least providing them with various forms of support. Throughout their eight-year long war, both Iraq and Iran were aided by Western governments and intelligence agencies that they publicly described as their enemies, or even enemies of Islam. In such situations, it is simply impossible to say that the party that is fighting a just war is that of the Muslims, or that the wrongful side is that of the non-Muslims. Both fighting sides were Muslims, and both were supported by non-Muslims. If this situation is not complicated enough, a war may involve more than two warring parties each of which includes people with different affiliations. This is particularly true of civil wars, such as Afghanistan’s and the one that kept on breaking out every now and then in Northern Iraq after the Gulf war in 1991.

One essential condition for applying armed jihad is the availability of clear evidence on aggression by one party against another. This is not the case in many of today’s complicated conflicts. Let’s remember the following verse: 

O you who believe! When you travel in the way of Allah, investigate and do not say to any one who offers you peace: “You are not a believer,” seeking riches of this world, for with Allah there are abundant spoils. You too were such before, then Allah conferred favors on you. Therefore, investigate. Allah is aware of what you do. (4.94)

Note the emphasis that Allah puts on seeking evidence before taking action. The Muslim must not resort to armed jihad before being absolutely sure that peace is not an option, and that armed jihad is indeed fully justified. If the Muslim has any doubts whether there is a case for armed jihad, then he must not carry out any armed action until all doubts had gone and he has become totally certain that armed jihad is justified.

I have already noted that one major reason for the ease with which some Muslims declare armed jihad is the widespread misunderstanding of jihad in general and armed jihad in particular. One equally influential factor is the underestimation of the high status of peace in the Qur’an.

          

  Copyright © 2004 Louay Fatoohi
All Rights Reserved

Jul 122008
 
This article is from the second edition of Jihad in the Qur’an: The Truth from the Source. The book is now in its third edition.

 
There have been and will be Muslims who do not adhere to the Qur’anic principles when responding to injustices and violence that they or fellow Muslims are subjected to, making innocent victims pay for aggressors’ crimes. This form of injustice has been committed by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. History of ancient and modern violent conflicts involving various cultures and religions confirms that this is a universal phenomenon. When a violent aggressor is powerful and immune to retaliation, frustration, desperation, and anger can at times drive his victims to direct their violent revenge at innocent, vulnerable victims whose only crime is some irrelevant association with the aggressor.
 
One aspect of the problem of the violent image of Islam in the West is the focus on the violent reactions of some Muslims while ignoring, almost completely, the miseries that pushed them down that road. It is certainly right to condemn Muslims’, and to that matter any group’s, violent behavior that targets innocent people. However, failing to acknowledge and denounce the violence that Muslims were subjected to and resulted in their violent reaction is equally criminal and condemnable. The modern term for this is “double standards.”
 
Applying double standards in any conflict can guarantee only one thing: claiming more innocent victims on all sides. I do not think those who apply double standards in any conflict can be separated from the culprits. They share the responsibility for any blood shed, child orphaned, family rendered destitute, and atrocity committed. Given that I was driven to write this book by the tragedies of September 11, I would like to cite a related event to show the use of double standards and their damaging effects.
 
In the middle of December 2001, TV channels and radio stations across the world broadcasted excerpts from a video tape by the anti-Islam campaigner Osama Bin Laden.1 In the one hour long tape, the terrorist calls the attack on September 11 “blessed” and talks at length about his version of “jihad” against the West. He cited instances of Western injustices against Muslims in various regions in the world as a justification for his and his followers’ war against the USA and the West. He talked about the mass killing of innocent Palestinians, the death of more than half a million children in Iraq as a result of the sanctions, the persecution of Muslims in Kashmir, and other tragedies. What we are particularly interested in here is the comments that this speech drew from Western politicians.
 
The White House spokesman dismissed the speech as “nothing more than the same kind of terrorist propaganda we’ve heard before.” “Terrorist propaganda” is how the Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman also described it. The other comment that Western politicians rallied to make on the tape is that it proved Bin Laden’s involvement in the criminal attack of September 11, 2001. As put by the British Foreign Secretary: “By boasting about his involvement in the evil attacks, Bin Laden confirms his guilt.”
 
At first glance, the response of the Western politicians might seem reasonable and understandable. After all, they exposed Bin Laden’s tape as “terrorist propaganda” and, thus, neutralized any effect it could have. The reality, though, is that this response was nothing other than a complete failure to deal with the issue. Their response amounted to a non-response. The reason that the reaction of Western politicians was effectively a non-response is actually quite simple and straightforward. Bin Laden cited the persecution and suffering of Muslims in various countries, and accused the West of being heavily involved in those tragedies, in order to urge Muslims to attack the West and Western interests everywhere. Bin Laden was not that stupid to try to recruit Londoners, Californians, or Berliners for his bloody cause. He was addressing and trying to move Muslims who have been living or following closely the years-long injustices that he mentioned. The response of Western politicians, however, was to tell Westerners that Bin Laden’s tape was “terrorist propaganda”!
 
What Westerners thought of the tape, if they had time to listen to or read excerpts from it, was not really relevant. It is what Muslims, the overwhelming majority of whom do not live in the West, made of his speech that really mattered. Particularly important to the West was the response of those Muslims who can be vulnerable to Bin Laden’s rhetoric. This audience was completely ignored by the wise politicians in the West. I cannot think of a better endorsement Bin Laden could have had from Western politicians for his message. They proved his point for him.
 
Bin Laden used what is described in Arabic as a “right argument for a false cause.” He incited feelings of hatred to the USA and the West in general, by citing their involvement in sufferings of Muslims, to ask his audience to join his campaign of brutal terror. Western politicians chose to address Westerners because they can easily overlook the facts that Bin Laden cites in front of an audience who listens only to Western media and knows little about the problems that Bin Laden mentions. They ignored the target audience of Bin Laden’s message because they cannot really come up with any convincing response to an audience that is well-informed on these issues, let alone people who are living those injustices. Western politicians cannot explain why more than half a million Iraqi children had to die because of sanctions that they imposed to punish a brutal dictator who the West decided one day to demonize and change his identity from friend to enemy. They are unable to explain why a whole people in Palestine should be driven out of their homes and forced to live for generations in camps under humiliating and brutal occupation forces that the West boastfully support.
 
By choosing not to respond to Bin Laden’s recruitment message, Western politicians chose yet again to apply double standards. We are back to square one and the vicious circle goes on and on. Muslims are left to continue to suffer away from the eyes of the rest of the world. Some would feel an urge to inflict misery on the West to take revenge and/or maybe bring a change. Innocent, vulnerable victims would then be caught up by the bloody rage. Here is another proof on the violence of Islam, we would then be told!

 

NOTES

1 The name “Bin Laden” means in Arabic “Son of Laden.” I prefer to read and understand it rather differently. In Arabic, when a word ending with the letter “n” is followed by one starting with the letter “l,” the “n” is pronounced like an “l.” So, “Bin Laden” is actually pronounced more like “Bil Laden.” This is very close to “Bila Deen,” which means “without religion,” and which better reflects this terrorist’s lack of any religious identity.

 

          

  Copyright © 2004 Louay Fatoohi
All Rights Reserved

Mar 302008
 
This article is from the second edition of Jihad in the Qur’an: The Truth from the Source. The book is now in its third edition.

 
Another progeny of misunderstanding the concept of fighting in the way of Allah is illustrated in the way some Muslims react to aggression, falling in the trap of responding to evil with evil. It is an undeniable fact that in modern times Muslims have constituted the vast majority of victims of persecution where the persecutors and the victims belong to different religions. Many major accidents of genocide in the last century have seen Muslims forced to play the victims. If the suffering of the Muslim population in many countries at the hand of their European colonists is now history, the grand scale massacring of Muslims in places such as Palestine, Kashmir, Iraq, Bosnia, Chechnya, and Kosovo is very much today’s news. Some of the crimes against masses of Muslims have been going on for decades now under the watchful eyes of the world. Of course, there are always sickening excuses to justify those mass murders and acts of genocide; man can find justifications even for the worst and most evil acts.
 
This is not the right place to discuss how masses of Muslims were and are being victimized. These facts are well documented, though not necessarily equally known. The importance of studying those painful events cannot be exaggerated, but let’s focus here on the response of Muslims to some of those atrocities.
 
The term “jihad” has been used by Muslim individuals and groups to describe their equally atrocious vengeful retaliations to atrocities committed against them or other Muslims. From the Qur’anic perspective, such reactions violate clear Qur’anic commands that prohibit the Muslims from responding to unjust aggression with the same. I have already cited in §4.4 a number of such verses including this one:
 

O you who believe! Stand firm for Allah, [as] witnesses with justice. And let not hatred of a people cause you not to act equitably; act equitably; that is nearer to dutifulness. And act dutifully toward Allah; surely, Allah is aware of what you do (5.8).

Crimes against Muslims must not be allowed to turn Muslims into criminals. Jihad, and ultimately Islam itself, is here to control the drives to commit evil actions, even if they were reactions to evil crimes. While atrocious, non-Islamic responses to crimes against Muslims are themselves crimes in equal measure, calling those evil acts “jihad” is a crime against Islam. The Muslims who behave in this way are far from serving Islam. They do the name of Islam a big disservice while serving only their lower selves.

Muslims must protect fellow Muslims, and for that matter any victims, against aggression. They must also try to bring the aggressors to justice. What Muslims must never do, however, is allow those criminals to turn them into similar criminals. If Muslims fail to adhere to the principles of the Qur’an when reacting to the victimization of Muslims, they would simply help their enemies in achieving their goals. In fact, they would be joining their enemies against themselves.  

          

Copyright © 2004 Louay Fatoohi
All Rights Reserved

Aug 222005
 
This website is dedicated to content about the Qur’an, so an article about the London bombings of the 7th/July/2005 may not look appropriate. However, there are two reasons that make me think that this is still the right home for such an article. First, terrorist atrocities such as those committed in London are often made, unfairly, to reflect on Islam and Muslims. Second, the carnage in London places a duty on Muslims, particularly in Britain, to contribute to the debate to understand and stop such acts.

 

It Is Not Islam

I should start first by stressing that Islam is a peaceful religion and is in no way responsible for any act of terrorism. Many people have already spoken and written extensively about this, and I myself have also contributed a book about the concept of Jihad in the Qur’an after the terrorist attack on New York and Washington in 2001. I would like here to only stress that any objective observer can only conclude that linking Islam to terrorism is attributed to one or more of the following causes:

1) Ignorance of Islam — both its history and thought.
2) Ignorance of ancient and modern history of human violence — both religious and non-religious.
3) Outright hostility to Islam for various reasons.
4) Inability to properly establish logical links between causes and effects.

If the 1st, 3rd, and 4th points may be contentious for one reason or another, the 2nd surely calls on an objective judge: history. The history of religious and secular violence shows that there is no justification to single out Islam and accuse it of being a violent religion.


The Myth of Their Hatred for “Our Values and Way of Life”

If Islam is not the cause, then what drove those individuals to carry out outrages such as the 11th of September attack that killed almost 3,000 innocent people? More intriguing is the case of the London bombers. What motivated individuals who were born, brought up, and educated in Britain to kill scores of innocent people in the capital of their country?

This, it goes without saying, is the one question that just about everyone in Britain, and many more elsewhere, have been asking. Prime Minister Tony Blair was first to offer an answer. In his first comment three hours after the attack, he accused the attackers of seeking to destroy “our values and our way of life”, and later on the same day he promised that the British people “will hold true to the British way of life.” The inaccurate and misleading nature of this fantastically rushed explanation of the terrorists’ objective is very reminiscent of the weapons of mass destruction argument that Blair used to take Britain into Iraq.

Blair’s quick movement to position the terrorist bombings as an attempt against our way of life and values is understandable, but not excusable. Anyone with common sense almost immediately thought of the Iraq war and how much it might have contributed to the perpetration of this carnage. This is a major problem for Blair, because before his adventure in Iraq the Prime Minister claimed that the country needed to go to war because Britain’s security was at stake because of Iraq’s WMD — an argument that he never abandoned even after he himself accepted that those weapons were a myth. He then kept on insisting that this war has made Britain, and the whole world, more secure. Even those who believed him until now would find it difficult to continue to do so — certainly not when London’s streets start to bear chilling similarity to those of Baghdad. Blair had to move quickly to blame the London bombings on something else, to avert any link between them and the Iraq war.

Because of his Iraq adventure, Blair is now part of the problem of terrorism that the country is facing. He is in no position to be part of the solution. He confirmed this by blaming the bombings on the attackers’ hatred for our way of life and values. A different Prime Minister would have certainly found himself in a much better position to respond to the London bombings rationally, without fearing that his own credibility would be at stake if he applied common sense when discussing the causes of the problem. This danger of terror on British soil is in need of real leadership, and Blair’s recent history would just not allow him to act as a genuine leader. Instead of leading the nation in a difficult time, he chose to mislead it, again.

Blair’s fundamental problem here is the same one he had when he was building a case for joining the USA in their war against Iraq: he set out to challenge facts with fallacies. Lies and unsubstantiated claims may be maintained for a long time, but they will have to bow down one day to facts and reality. In the case of the Iraqi WMD, this has already happened. Blair’s poor dismissal of the role of the war on Iraq in what happened in London is equally doomed, with experts and non-experts alike taking the common sense view that the Iraq war has played a significant role in what London suffered.

The suicide bombers in Palestine have been killing themselves and Israelis not because they do not like the Israeli lifestyle. Bin Laden and his followers never said that they bombed and will continue to bomb America because the American electoral college system is not to their liking. The terror that is infesting Iraq now is not the result of the terrorists’ objection to the democratization of Iraq. Similarly, the Leeds terrorists did not blow themselves and tens of people up simply to protest against our food, drink, cinemas, and other aspects of our lifestyle. None of these and similar terror groups were formed and continue to operate around the agenda of changing the British or American way of life.

The number of people who attempt to commit atrocities in the UK is very small in comparison with those who travel to get involved in violence in the places of violence, such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Chechnya, and Palestine. This clearly shows the cause and objective of these acts of violence. Angry young people do not go to fight in Iraq in order to change the British way of life. The intelligence of the British people certainly deserves more acknowledgment and respect than Mr Blair’s argument shows.

What do Iraq and Palestine in particular have in common that can be linked to the two of them producing the largest number of suicide bombings and other forms of savageries? Certainly, not a like or dislike to particular form of democracy or a specific way of life, but a well known source of violence called occupation. The overwhelming majority of attacks in Iraq are targeting foreign troops and Iraqi policemen and army personnel who are considered as collaborator with the occupier. Of course, in the lawless state that Iraq has become and it being on the brink of civil war, ethnic and religious tensions have also flared up and have become a significant factor in the cycle of violence. The atrocious violence in Iraq has nothing to do with how Londoners live in their city. It has a lot to do, however, with the decision of London politicians to invade and occupy Iraq.

British ministers have been warning that any attempt to understand the terrorist bombings in London in a way different to Mr Blair’s explanation, is to play in the hands of terrorists. There is also the suggestion that linking the bombings to the Iraq war is to somehow justify the atrocities. None of these claims is true. Understanding the causes of violence does not mean condoning it or doing what the terrorists want us to do. It is the sensible response of any intelligent person to find a solution to an extremely serious problem.

It is so arrogant and patronizing of Blair and his government to use such a preposterous and intimidating approach to prevent people from thinking about the causes of terrorism. These politicians have abandoned their responsibilities at a time of crisis in order to protect their political careers; nothing more and nothing less. The country will certainly continue to try and understand what happened and its causes.


Extending the Myth with the “Evil Ideology” Claim

The Prime Minister argued on the 16th/July/2005 that these terrorists are driven by an “evil ideology”. Any ideology that permits the killing of innocent people is surely evil, but Blair’s use of the term “ideology” has other, subtle goals. By blaming an ideology, Mr Blair attempted to isolate this terrorism from anything that has been happening in the world, in particular in Iraq, and position it as a fundamentally religious problem. He would like us to believe that the problem is one of a perverted understanding of Islam that is being used to force us to change our way of life. He can, thus, claim that the solution is simply to tackle this interpretation of Islam. This terrorism, according to Blair, is a localized problem that exists within Islam and the Muslim community and there is no need to consider any other external causes. This is simply absurd.

To his credit, Blair did emphasize that this ideology is as distant from Islam as the Irish Christian terrorism from Christianity, but his analysis all but nullifies such a passing, fair remark. His explanation makes this terrorism a completely Islamic problem, and Muslims are mainly the ones who have to sort it out. This convenient and overly simplistic view of what lies behind the London bombings will not help much in addressing the problem. By framing the problem as completely Islamic — in order to avoid talking about significant contributory factors, such as the Iraq war and Western foreign policies in general — Blair has attempted to distract attention from finding a fundamental and genuine solution.

Islam has had minorities of followers develop extremist ideas and interpretations. But all religions share with Islam this phenomenon. To talk about an “evil ideology” only when the terrorists call themselves Muslims or when they commit their crimes under the name of Islam is to implicate Islam.

The fact is that any act of terrorism and genocide could be linked to an ideology. The terrorism of the Irish Protestants and Catholics may be linked to ideologies. The acts of terrorism, genocide, and ethnic cleansing that were committed by Christians, with the well known backing of the Church, in the former Yugoslavia, which resulted in the killing of tens of thousands of Muslims may also be linked to an ideology. The decades long killing of numerous Palestinians and the systematic stealing of their lands by Jews who descended on Palestine from all parts of the world may also be associated with an ideology. The violent policies of the fundamentalist Christian US administration in Afghanistan and Iraq that have led to the death of numerous people, and the keenness of these fundamentalists on making sure that Palestinian territories remain in the hands of its usurpers, also have ideological dimensions. Apart from the people who perpetrated any of acts of violence above, almost everyone else would consider such ideologies to be evil.

Another fundamental flaw in Blair’s analysis is the claim that terrorism by Muslim individuals is causally linked to an evil ideology. In other words, it is this “evil ideology”, whatever it is, that caused those terrorist atrocities. True, terrorists have their own perverted version of Islam that gives them the right, or even imposes on them the duty, to behave in this brutal way. The same holds true for terrorists who act under the name of Christianity, Judaism, and other religions and thoughts. But these ideologies are formed and sought in order to provide religious and ethical backing to their respective campaigns of terror. These ideologies are not the causes of terrorism, but they are used by terrorists to add legitimacy to their violence. The real causes of terrorism are responsible for making such ideologies needed, sought, and popular among the individuals and groups that adopt them. Fighting an ideology will not defeat the causes of terror it is associated with. Even its intellectual defeat can only trigger the emergence of a new ideology to support the violence.

Blair is wrong in both assumptions of his claim. First, the terrorism that is perpetrated by people who label themselves as Muslims is not the only form of terrorism that may be linked to an ideology. Such an ideology, I must also stress, has nothing to do with Islam. Second, this terrorism is not caused by its associated ideology. While the latter is used by terrorists to legitimize their violence, it is more of a result than a cause.

Blair’s claim that the recent terrorist acts in London and elsewhere are all about a bunch of disaffected Muslims getting their religion wrong is a poor attempt to protect his personal standing, rather than a genuine attempt to solve an extremely serious problem. We need serious efforts to identify and understand the causes of terrorism. We have to resist the manipulative attempts of politicians, such as Blair, and the media to equate the attempt to understand terrorism with justifying it. This is essential for finding a solution.


The Real Drive of Terrorism

The main drive for the London bombers, and other related terrorist acts, is a deep sense of anger and frustration at the role of the West in the injustices and grievances that Muslims have been facing in a number of places in the world. This has received recently a big new momentum and efficacy by the war on Iraq. These feelings, but not the violent actions, are normal human reactions to injustice, humiliation, occupation, murder, and various other forms of human suffering. The overwhelming majority of people who have these feelings do manage and control them properly. But in some individuals they develop into a strong desire for violent action, to inflict revenge, impose their idea of justice, or achieve similar objectives.

Terrorists, such as the London bombers, conflate completely different places and fail to deal with the stark differences between them. In Britain, where they physically live, they experience peace, safety, respect for human rights, and very high living standards. In the other places where they are only mentally present, it is war, death, oppression, extreme violation of human rights, and a very poor quality of life. Convinced, rightly or wrongly, that Britain is at least partly responsible for the blights of the Muslims in those places, and failing to manage that anger and channel it in a positive way, the terrorists end up trying to make Britain live the same blight of those countries. Instead of acting to spread peace and prosperity from Britain to those blighted places, the terrorists import from there war and devastation to Britain. There is no justification for this criminal behavior; but living in denial of the causes of such crimes is also unjustifiable.

The failure of an individual to manage anger and pain is not restricted to this specific case of terrorism, nor even to terrorism only. This is a common human failure that can occur to various individuals and can be witnessed in a variety of circumstances and contexts, leading at times to homicide, suicide, or both, as in the case of suicide bombing. An existing ideology is called upon, or a new one is invented, to justify the irresistible desire to commit violence. The ideology is not the cause of the violence, but it acts as a facilitator, as it helps the terrorist get rid of any internal tension that he may feel between his inclination to take deadly actions and values that he holds or is told that he should hold that denounce such acts. By relieving him from this pressure, the ideology makes it easier for the would-be terrorist to become one.

Is this more likely to happen to Muslims, in which case there would be a case for looking more carefully for a special ideology? Certainly not. Circumstances similar to those that recruited terrorists such as the London bombers have led and can lead to violent actions by individuals and groups of various beliefs and ideologies, and even to wars involving whole nations. It is ignorance or double standards that suggest that some Muslims, as opposed to non-Muslims, are particularly violent or prone to violence. Decades long of extreme miseries, such as those of the Palestinians, can lead to violence regardless of the beliefs or nationality of its victims. This is how the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, articulated this fact on the 20th/July: “Under foreign occupation and denied the right to vote, denied the right to run your own affairs, often denied the right to work for three generations, I suspect that if it had happened here in England, we would have produced a lot of suicide bombers ourselves.” This is the reality that undermines any attempt to link terrorism such as we recently saw in London to any particular ideology, or to the even more absurd suggestion that those terrorists are against “our values and our way of life”.

In fact, we do not need to think of any hypothetical scenario in order to put the London bombings and other terrorist acts committed by Muslims in perspective. While the suicide bombers in Palestine have caused a large number of innocent casualties, the number of innocent Palestinians killed by the Israeli army and armed settlers living on stolen land is manyfold that number. Every time a suicide bomber kills Israelis, more Palestinians are killed by the Israelis, more are made destitute in the occupied lands, and more suffering is added to people who have already been living as refugees in their own country for decades. Yet despite the disproportionate use of firepower, and the fact that the Israelis use even air force against what are effectively refugee camps, Mr Bush, Mr Blair, and other Western leaders are completely obsessed by suicide bombers, and utterly unwilling to acknowledge that this violence is actually much less devastating than the organized violence by the state of Israel and its advanced weaponry.

It is revealing that suicide bombing is particularly condemned and explicitly considered as worse than any other form of violence. True, the police and the army find suicide bombers more difficult to guard against and control, but unarmed civilians living in refugee camps are certainly even far more powerless toward army helicopters and war airplanes. Western politicians and media resent suicide bombing more than any other form of killing for two reasons. First, it is frustrating, because it is difficult to control, and deprives people the satisfaction of applying justice to the bomber. Second, it allows politicians and media to easily reject the violence of particular groups of people, but not the others; it allows the rejection of terrorist acts committed by Palestinians, but not those committed by Israelis. Ken Livingstone has noted that: “If a young Jewish boy in this country goes and joins the Israeli army, and ends up killing many Palestinians in operations and can come back, that is wholly legitimate. But for a young Muslim boy in this country, who might think: I want to defend my Palestinian brothers and sisters and gets involved, he is branded a terrorist. And I think it is this that has infected the attitude about how we deal with these problems.”

Advancing his theory that the terror of the London atrocities was ideology driven, Blair dismissed the almost universally held view that the Iraq war has played a role in this carnage. He argued that terrorist attacks such as those of the 11th/September/2001, and earlier atrocities, happened well before the Iraq war. It is amazing that the Prime Minister should resort to such a lame argument. Mr Blair is certainly aware that the Palestinian tragedy started almost 60 years ago; the deployment of American troops in Saudi Arabia that enraged many Muslims happened in 1990; this deployment was followed by a devastating war on Iraq; and this war itself was preceded and followed by brutal sanctions that went on to last for 13 years that killed countless innocent people. If the bombardment of Iraq in the gulf war lasted for about 45 days only, the other issues have gone on for years. The recent war in Iraq is only one other instance of a Western foreign policy that has been causing havoc in parts of the world. Additionally, Mr Blair surely knew that Bin Laden himself and his movement are both the creation of Western governments and intelligence agencies. Al-Qaeda is not the product of an ideology, but the illegitimate child of an irresponsible foreign policy.


The British Muslim and Britain

Whenever an atrocity is committed by Muslims, Muslims everywhere, and particularly in the West, are put under scrutiny, and probing and accusatory questions get asked: Do they really renounce violence? Is their Islamic identity in conflict with their national identity? Do they have real allegiance to their countries? And so on. No surprise, then, when the London bombings took place, these questions came to the front again. This is a failure of the media and politicians to separate between the many millions of Muslims and the few individuals who committed those crimes. The whole of the Muslim community is put on the back foot, and they have to confirm once again their identities, beliefs, and the fact that they are different from the terrorists and more like their compatriots. This is indeed a unique treatment.

For instance, when a black person is attacked or killed by racists, we do not see all white British people looked at suspiciously and asked to explicitly renounce racism. When Christian Serbs slaughtered thousands of unarmed Muslims, Christians in Britain were not put under pressure to come out and renounce this act of genocide. White people are not responsible for the racist actions of a small minority of them, and Christians in Britain should not be made to apologize for crimes committed by other Christians elsewhere. Similarly, British Muslims should not be made to stand trial for atrocities committed by Muslim individuals, whether in Britain or elsewhere.

Because of his interest in the affairs of Muslims elsewhere, the average British Muslim follows closely the news of the Muslim world and what is happening to fellow Muslims. He may not be an Afghani, Bosnian, Chechen, Iraqi, Kashmiri, Kosovan, or Palestinian, but he would be very interested in the state of his brothers and sisters in those and other places. This makes the average British Muslim far more knowledgeable about the affairs of these countries, including Britain’s foreign policies toward them, than the average British non-Muslim person.

There is nothing wrong in the British Muslim being interested in the welfare of Muslims elsewhere. It is, after all, a Muslim’s duty to be concerned about the welfare of all people everywhere – regardless of colour, race and religion. Moreover, it is not wrong for people to have a keen interest in the quality of life of people elsewhere, particularly if it was poor. The average British person would certainly be very interested in what happens in America, France, or Germany, if the people there faced any serious plight. The sympathy that the British, and people from around the world, showed for the Americans after the attack on New York and Washington is an example of this. Many people in Britain expressed their condolences and solidarity with the American people in various ways. No one can suggest that this sense of sympathy with the people of another country is non-British or wrong. Some British people even felt it imperative that Britain should join the so-called war on terror. Another more recent example is the phenomenal response of the British people to the victims of the Tsunami disaster. There are numerous examples that show the keenness of the British people on helping other peoples and nations.

If helping and caring for those who suffer injustice and degradation is what Britain is supposed to stand for as a bastion of human rights, democracy and freedom, then surely caring for Muslims in other parts of the world is perfectly British. In fact, standing up for justice is the patriotic thing to do for the welfare and future of this country. It is also the Islamic thing to do. Muslims are always required to stand up for justice, and Islam totally rejects any politics of identification. Muslims must always take the side of the weak and the oppressed, whatever their faith.

It is, therefore, perfectly British for Muslims in Britain to follow the news of Muslims in other countries and sympathize with them. The plights of many Muslims have been going on for decades. Keeping a close eye at what is happening to Muslims anywhere in the world has become very easy in this age of communication, although the experience itself has never been an easy one. Watching, hearing, or reading everyday about the killing of scores of innocent people, the driving of families from their homes, the humiliation of fellow Muslims, and similar serious mistreatments are very painful. These kind of sufferings call for sympathy for their victims regardless of their identity. What makes this sense of pain even worse for British Muslims is that Britain, their own country, is involved directly or indirectly in those plights.

Additionally, the Muslim in Britain is always made to feel that his country does not want to know about those tragedies. The British media is so biased and unfair in their coverage of events in places such as Palestine, Afghanistan, and Iraq that the British Muslim is forced to feel at times a sense of alienation. He loves Britain, but not its bombing or invasion of Iraq, or its role in imposing sanctions that killed hundreds of thousands of powerless people. He loves Britain, but resents how the British establishment honors Israeli politicians who have been ruling, brutally and by force, a land stolen from its people. The British media and politicians recently cried their eyes out for the Zimbabweans who were bulldozered out of urban slums by Robert Mugabe’s eviction campaign. Evicting Palestinians, demolishing their homes, and stealing their lands have been Israeli policies for decades, but most of the media and politicians are just not interested.

There is also Britain’s support for oppressive Middle Eastern regimes that rule against the will of their people and the interests of their countries. When Britain takes a stance against a dictator it is not because of his dictatorship, but because he is considered to have interests that are not compatible with Britain’s. Saddam Hussein, who was completely demonized after his invasion of Kuwait, used to be a useful friend and ally during the Iran-Iraq war.

This is why the average British Muslim has an element of identity crisis. He is British and Muslim, but at times he struggles to harmonize both identities. The role of his country in some of the tragedies of his Muslim brothers and sisters elsewhere attempts to redefine Britishness in a way that puts it in conflict with his Islamic identity. British Muslims are keen on both identities, but many would find it at times difficult to maintain a complete harmony between the two. This results in a more complex and less harmonious identity, and a rather confused self-image.

But why would the British Muslim expect his country to behave differently? What makes him think that Britain must change some of its foreign policies to be more in line with his views as a Muslim? It is Britain’s declared principles and values that justify these expectations. Britain has one of the greatest democracies in the world. It is indeed something that every British should be proud and feel privileged to be part of. Britain is expected to stand with the oppressed, against the oppressor; support justice, and fight injustice; and promote freedom, and oppose dictatorship. Muslims who are suffering oppression and injustice in various parts of the world are entitled to, at least, moral support from Britain. This is what the British Muslim expects his country to do, because this is what Britain stands for. He cannot understand how Britain can become among the causes of the suffering of his brothers and sisters.

Resentment to their country’s role in Palestine, Afghanistan, and Iraq is not the feeling of Muslims only. Millions of British non-Muslims share this feeling. Anyone who knows enough about what a big tragedy Iraq has become and how Britain was dragged into an unwarranted war sees a complete detachment between his government’s action and Britishness. Anyone who knows the ongoing tragedy of Palestine would not accept that Britain’s relevant policies reflect the British values. Many of these people would tell you that the role that Britain has been made to play is incompatible with what it stands for, and that they completely dissociate themselves and their country from that role. Muslims may feel stronger about these ongoing tragedies, but both camps share fundamentally the same feelings.

This deep sense of betrayal is not something that can surface only when Muslims are at the receiving end of Britain’s foreign policy. If Mr Blair decides tomorrow to march troops to another, non-Muslim country and start a war that consumes so many innocent lives, both Muslims and non-Muslims would again stand against it. This response would not be only in defense of potential innocent victims that we do not know, but it would also be to defend Britain against the way it has been abused by politicians and their supporters in the media.

What does this tell us? Britain suffers from an identity crisis, whose effect can be seen on its Muslim citizens. This modern, democratic state which has great respect for human rights, freedom, and democracy pursues at times foreign policies that go against its very principles and values. Its long history of support for Israel, for instance, does not reflect the good values that this country stands for. Even after sixty years of continued Israeli oppression and persecution of the Palestinians, occupation of their lands, eviction of millions of them from their homes and turning them into refugees in their country and other countries, Britain is far more friendly with the Jewish state than the Palestinians. Britain was happy to go to war with Iraq because of WMD that did not exist, but it never broke its silence on Israel’s growing pile of nuclear weapons. It has also always shied away from directing any substantial criticism of Israel’s prolonged history of aggression. If the British media would cover the suffering of Palestinian victims in the same way it covers Israeli victims, there would be hardly any time or space left for any other news. It is fascinating to listen to British politicians discussing the violence in Palestine in terms of Palestinian terrorism and Israeli actions.

Britain’s foreign policy in the Middle East still reflects, at least partially, a very different Britain — one that is more reminiscent of the colonial empire and its Judo-Christian heritage. The stark conflict between this Britain of the past and the modern, democratic, secular, and just Britain reflects a dichotomous identity. This identity crisis has been further deepened by Britain’s unconditional association with a USA that, while claims to be the beacon of democracy, is led by a self-righteous Christian fundamentalist administration that has its own agenda. Blair’s near blind following of Bush has added more negativity to Britain’s image in the world and in the eyes of many of its citizens.

Nothing can better illustrate the schism in Britain’s identity than the fact that Britain is also a great country for Muslims to live in. Britain is not perfect, but there is no another country, whether Muslim or not, that treats its Muslim population better than Britain. This fact also points to one aspect of the stupidity and detachment from reality of the terrorists who targeted their capital. The welfare that Britain has offered them, and the freedom that it has generously given them to practice their religion, are not privileges that they can find easily elsewhere. Are Muslims in Pakistan, Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia or any other Islamic country treated better by the state than Muslims in Britain? The answer is a firm no. While it is true that Britain has double standards when it comes to its foreign policy, British Muslims who wage war against Britain because of these double standards are themselves practicing the same, simply because Britain remains a much better country for Muslims to live in than any Islamic country.


The Way Forward

As we have seen, the problem of terrorism in Britain can be simply described as a violent reaction by some Muslim individuals to Britain’s foreign policy in Muslim countries. Any solution has to consider both elements: the angry individual and Britain’s foreign policy. The attempt of politicians and the media to put the onus on finding a solution on British Muslims, and on them only, is both unfair and misguided. The British Muslim community can and must play its role in fighting any extremists within it, but it just cannot prevent individuals who are bent on terror from committing crimes. Additionally, it is not only the Muslim community, but the state also needs to take action to resolve the problem of terror. This action revolves around a number of issues.

 

Preaching Hatred and Violence

Within their societies, Western countries need to take effective action against those who preach messages of violence and hatred, such as those who do this under the name of Islam. Such individuals take advantage of the disillusion and anger of some young Muslims to provide them with the final push they need to turn to violence. They mentor and manipulate their victims.

However, most people find it difficult to understand why there are individuals preaching death and hatred in Britain with almost impunity. Whenever a terrorist act is committed, a new TV program on terrorism is produced, or a new media report on related issues is released, we find ourselves suddenly watching video and listening to audio recordings of public and private meetings, in Britain, held by British and non-British individuals preaching the worst messages under the name of Islam. You get the impression that these preachers seem to have a freehand in the country to say what they like. The British people, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, have the right to ask why we have to be reminded each now and then of the presence of those preachers, and be given, in the course of this reminiscence, the impression that the country is powerless to do anything about them. The fact that there is material evidence on messages of violence and hatred that extremists have been preaching freely not only in private but also in public can only point out to a major failure of our law makers in their duties.

Recently, the Government gave itself the undemocratic power to lock up terror suspects indefinitely without putting them on trial, yet apparently it is still powerless in dealing with people standing on the street, in public, preaching the killing of others. Instead of taking the more difficult but proper action of enacting laws that can tackle the problem, politicians chose the easy option of replacing trying with sentencing. The Government would say that even this law has proven insufficient, but that is simply because it is the wrong law; it is a law to suspend the rule of law.

The Prime Minister, backed by cross-party support, has already signaled his intention to introduce new legislations to extend current laws to criminalize activities such as indirectly inciting terrorism. Clearly, the country does need laws to protect its citizens, but rushing laws quickly and shortly after a terrorist attack might well result in flawed legislations that unnecessarily infringe civil liberty, or allow prejudicial treatment of Muslims in general or particular ethnic groups within the Muslim community. The last thing we need is legislations similar to the American Patriotic Act which, while supposed to target terrorism and terrorists, has been used against people who oppose some US policies, particularly those who oppose the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Fortunately, Britain has a far more politically aware population than the USA, but considerable care and vigilance would be needed as recent history has shown that British politicians can take the country in a wrong direction and against the will of its population.

Muslims have an equally important role to play in ensuring that preachers of violence, whether British or not, are held fully accountable for their words and actions. Muslims must take part in exposing those individuals, isolating them, and helping in bringing them to justice. It is a Muslim’s religious duty to condemn other Muslims who act in an oppressive, unjust, or violent manner, and not to excuse their behaviour or take their side merely based on the fact that they are “Muslim brothers”. This is one Qur’anic verse that commands the Muslims to support justice unreservedly: 

O you who believe! Stand firmly for justice, and be witnesses for Allah, even if against yourselves, your parents, or your kin. Whether he is rich or poor, Allah will take care of him. Therefore, do not follow your low desires, lest you deviate; and if you swerve or turn aside, then surely Allah is aware of what you do (4.135).

 While new legislations might well drive such preachers underground, Muslims still need to show vigilance and be alert to the possible presence of such people among them. Britain has always been sensitive to ethnic and religious minorities, and it would help considerably if Muslims themselves took an active role in helping law enforcing agencies bring to justice extremist preachers. The preachers of violence are enemies of the religion and the Britishness of the British Muslim.


The Failure of Violence

Terrorists believe that their violent actions help oppressed fellow Muslims, and they often claim that Islam backs their action. In response to this, Muslims need to emphasize that the terrorists are wrong on both scores, and this is not difficult to show. The killing of innocent people has nothing to do with Islam. The Qur’an, the history of the Prophet Muhammad, and the history of Islam in general show that Islam always supported peace and never advocated the killing of the innocent.

With regard to the terrorists’ claim that their atrocities help Muslims, this is also so easy to refute. Just look at who suffered the most from the 11th/September attack in the USA. The “war on terror” that followed has so far claimed the lives of so many thousands of innocent Muslims. The Western media has done very little to inform people about how many whole families in Afghanistan and Iraq were bombed in their own homes, how many people were maimed, how many were made destitute, and how the lives of millions have been made a total misery. Even Muslims elsewhere, including those living in the West, have had to suffer consequences of that one act of terrorism, as they started to be treated with much more suspicion and prejudice. No one paid for the savagery of the 11th/September more than Muslims. Hammering this message home will undermine the argument of using terrorism to support any cause of Muslims anywhere.

Terrorism has targeted innocent people, but the response of the West has also ruined the lives of innocent people. No one comes out of this cycle of terror and death with any credit. Bush, Blair, and others involved in the ongoing “war against terror” are at pain to point out that their war is the right response to terrorism. The high death toll of innocent people, the destroyed lives of millions, and the destruction of whole countries are some of the facts that ridicule their extraordinary claim.

It is also a fact that Muslims have been the main victims and losers in any terrorist act that is committed allegedly to support them or under their name.


The Potential of Democracy

The alternative to violence is democracy. In order for democracy to work, people must engage in it, and for this to happen people need to believe in its effectiveness. They need to believe that democracy is a powerful vehicle for change and achieving their goals. People also need to learn how to use democracy. Many Muslims in Britain lack faith in how much they can achieve through democracy and the skills to use it.

It is not difficult to see why many Muslims in Britain have little faith in what democracy can do for them. British Muslims have grown to over 1.6 million, yet they have had little influence on issues that are very close to their hearts, such as Britain’s foreign policy in the Middle East. Islamophobia in the media today might be even worse than it ever was. There is the feeling that the establishment is just too difficult to change, and that British home and foreign policies are set to be the same regardless of Britain’s significant Muslim population. It is very difficult indeed to see what real difference Britain’s 1.6 million Muslims have made to Britain’s foreign policy. Muslims do feel that they are being told how they should become part of British society, but without being allowed the right to contribute to what this society stands for.

This lack of faith in what they can achieve through democracy is also related to the Muslims’ limited experience with democracy, engagement in it, and use of its institutions. A lot of first generation British Muslims originally came from countries that are or were under outright dictatorship or have a façade of democracy. It is only in Britain that they experienced real democracy.

British Muslims need also to develop the skills and knowledge needed to fully engage in British democracy and develop representative organizations that integrate well with British democratic institutions and allow them to express their needs and views. This way Muslims can ensure that their voice will be heard and be effective. It is true that democratic and political processes can take time to deliver results, but they can achieve a lot. It is vital to develop a strong and effective Muslim vote.

It is essential that British Muslims, particularly the young generation, believe and feel confident that they can change Britain’s foreign policy through democratic means and institutions. Any anger they may have at such policies would then result in positive, constructive, and peaceful actions. This would also close the door to manipulators who try to take advantage of the inexperienced youth and their anger.

In conclusion, the British Muslims are at the center of a faith related problem. But the faith in question is not, as many think, Islam. It is faith that British Muslims need to have in Britain, and faith that Britain needs to have in its Muslims.

Copyright © 2005 Louay Fatoohi
All Rights Reserved

Jan 042004
 
This article is from the second edition of Jihad in the Qur’an: The Truth from the Source. The book is now in its third edition.

 
In 1995, the British newspaper Todaypublished on its front page the heart-breaking picture of a fireman carrying the charred remains of a dead infant from the wreckage of a mighty explosion. That picture was accompanied by the sensational headline: “In the name of Islam.” The other sad side of this piece of news is that the picture was taken from the tragic scene of the Oklahoma City bombing in the United States on April 19, which neither Muslims nor Islam had anything to do with. Nevertheless, they were presumed guilty.
 
Islam has been the subject of a great deal of misunderstanding and misrepresentation. It is not uncommon to see this religion being portrayed in the media, explicitly and implicitly, as an enemy of modern good values such as democracy, liberty, and tolerance. Writing in the London newspaper The Times, Conor Cruise O’Brien stated that the Muslim society “looks profoundly repulsive…. It looks repulsive because it is repulsive…. Arab society is sick…. A Westerner who claims to admire Muslim society, while still adhering to Western values, is either a hypocrite or an ignoramus or a bit of both.”1 O’Brien is not only adamant that Islamic and Western values are incompatible, but he is equally hostile to Westerners who disagree with his extreme view.
 
The alleged irreconcilability of Islamic and Western values, meaning the inferiority of the former to the latter, is not a view advocated by maverick journalists only. Similar views expressed by influential people appear all the time in Western media. After the sad events of September 11, 2001, as prominent and responsible a figure as the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi made the following statement to reporters: “We must be aware of the superiority of our civilization, a system that has guaranteed well-being, respect for human rights and – in contrast with Islamic countries – respect for religious and political rights, a system that has as its values understanding of diversity and tolerance …” He went on to say that the West “will continue to conquer peoples, like it conquered communism,” even if that means confronting “another civilization, the Islamic one, stuck where it was 1,400 years ago.”2 The statement caused a furor which forced Mr Berlusconi to apologize two days later. He claimed to have been misquoted, though the reality is probably that he was simply being too open. The Italian Prime Minister also happens to be a powerful media tycoon.
 
Accusing Islam of being incompatible with an age and its values is not a new phenomenon. Throughout history, the West continued to see Islam in negative images that reflected what was considered to be bad and evil at the time. The inferiority of Islam was always considered a fact, though its supposed proof changed with time. Author Karen Armstrong cites a couple of modern stereotypical images of Islam:
 

We constantly produce new prototypes to express our apparently ingrained hatred of “Islam.” In the 1970s we were haunted by the image of the immensely rich oil sheikh; in the 1980s by the fanatical ayatollah; since the Salman Rushdie affair, “Islam” has become a religion that spells death to creativity and artistic freedom. But none of these images reflects the reality, which is infinitely more complex. Yet this does not stop people from making sweeping and inaccurate judgements.3

Islam also gets a great deal of association with violence. In a Newsweek article expressively titled “The Age of Muslim Wars,” professor Samuel Huntington, advocate of the controversial “Clash of Civilizations” theory, made the following sweeping statement:
 

Contemporary global politics is the age of Muslim wars. Muslims fight each other and fight non-Muslims far more often than do peoples of other civilizations. Muslim wars have replaced the cold war as the principal form of international conflict. These wars include wars of terrorism, guerrilla wars, civil wars and interstate conflicts. These instances of Muslim violence could congeal into one major clash of civilizations between Islam and the West or between Islam and the Rest.4

The perception of Islam as a political, religious, economic, and social threat reflects ignorance of this religion. It is ignorance of the reality of Islam that has provided the fertile land for the growth of unfounded phobia of this religion. Even worse, people seem to be ignorant of this ignorance.
 
In a Roper poll conducted in 1998, well before the attack on the World Trade Center, more than half of the respondents described Islam as inherently anti-American, anti-Western or supportive of terrorism. Significantly, only 5% said that they had much contact with Muslims!5
 
Contrary to what many believe, misunderstanding and misrepresenting Islam are not associated with non-Muslims only. People who are Muslims in name yet almost totally ignorant of their religion have been major contributors to the painting of the widespread distorted image of Islam. Under the name of Islam, some individuals and groups have adopted ideas and taken actions that have nothing to do with Islam. These non-Islamic concepts and actions then get unfairly associated with Islam. Misunderstanding of Islam and phobic reactions to this religion, thus, become an inevitable outcome.
 
One infamous example of such actions took place after author Salman Rushdie published his notorious book The Satanic Verses in London in September 1988. This novel, which contains extraordinary derogation of Islam, the character of Prophet Muhammad, and other historical Islamic figures, caused outrage among Muslims everywhere. Many Muslims dealt with this vicious attack on their religion in a peaceful, rational way, expressing their views on the publication of a book which does not seem to achieve much beyond attacking the religion of Islam and offending its followers. A minority of Muslims, unfortunately, had other ideas about how this matter should be handled. They decided that Rushdie must be punished for what he did. This culminated in the notorious fatwa6 of Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini on February 14, 1989, which sentenced Rushdie to death.
 
Understandably, this death sentence outraged many in the West. Reactions that followed were rather easy to predict. Two days after the Iranian Shiite cleric had passed his sentence on Rushdie, and copies of the novel were burned by angry protestors in the city of Bradford, Anthony Burgess published in the British newspaper The Independent an article entitled “Islam’s Gangster Tactics” in which he wrote:
 

I gain the impression that few of the protesting Muslims in Britain know directly what they are protesting against. Their Imams have told them that Mr Rushdie has published a blasphemous book and must be punished. They respond with sheeplike docility and wolflike aggression. They forgot what Nazis did to books … they shame a free country by denying free expression through the vindictive agency of bonfires… If they do not like secular society, they must fly to the arms of the Ayatollah or some other self-righteous guardian of strict Islamic morality.7

One fatwa, from a religious leader of a minority of Muslims, followed by a reaction by some Muslims, was enough for all Muslims to be branded “intolerant” and even likened to the “Nazis.” The many Muslim voices of reason and peace went unheard for the murmur of an old cleric in Iran. It is true that Khomeini had a large following of Shiites, but then most Muslims did not acknowledge this Shiite leader as a Muslim scholar of any standing in the first place, let alone follow him. Shiism represents a smaller branch of Islam, and the Shiites of Iran are yet one, though the largest, branch of Shiism.
 
Additionally, Rushdie was not the first one to be sentenced to death by Khomeini. Other, Muslim, political opponents in Iran were even less fortunate than Rushdie, as they had to face their death sentences. These sentences, and the sentence against Rushdie, were Khomeini’s. Islam had nothing to do with them.
 
The outrageously disproportionate coverage of Khomeini’s action is one instance of the attitude to publicize Muslim individuals and groups far more than their representation warrants. This attitude, which is widespread in the West, has played a major role in misinforming the public about Islam and Muslims. Let me cite another example which is much less known outside Britain, but is even closer to the subject of this book.
 
Since the vicious attack of September 11, the British TV, Radio, electronic, and printed media have been educating their tens of millions of British audience on the explosive and repulsive views on Jihad and Muslims’ relations with the West of a self-appointed, Egyptian-born Muslim cleric known as Abu Hamza. What is particularly amazing about the excessive prime time coverage of the views of this man is that he is known to a very small number of people. His following is probably restricted to some of the people who attend the same mosque where he preaches.
 
This cleric would have needed to spend many millions of pounds to achieve some of the publicity that the British media have offered him for free. Thanks to their decision to turn him into a public figure, his name and views are now known to millions of people. On December 17, 2002, he was guest on the BBC 2 night news bulletin.8 Abu Hamza was given the opportunity to educate the nation on concepts and practices that he labeled as “Islamic.” One bizarre, as well as criminal, concept that he mentioned was “shoot and loot.” This, the cleric explained, denotes the right of Muslims to shoot and loot banks; the latter are considered non-Islamic, evil institutes!
 
After a rather tense and aggressive exchanges, the presenter of the program, Jeremy Paxman, rejected a claim by Abu Hamza that he spoke for other Muslims. He confronted him with the fact that the cleric was so shunned by other Muslims that he was even not allowed into any mosque other than his. Unsurprisingly, the unintelligent man rejected the accusation. He claimed to represent the sincere Muslims, implying that the overwhelming majority of Muslims who opposed his views were not sincere to their religion.
 
The cleric missed a great opportunity to embarrass Paxman who is well known for his aggressive interviewing tactics. He could have rebuffed the presenter’s provocative claim by pointing out that had he been as isolated and rejected as Paxman claimed, he would not have been invited to talk about his views on that news bulletin and on many other programs; would he?
 
I should not end this short story before mentioning another revealing fact about this darling of the British media. Abu Hamza took part in the Afghan war against the Soviets, when he lost an eye and had both arms blown off by a landmine. This is a war in which Western intelligence agencies and governments were fully involved, supporting the Muslim fighters against the old cold war enemy. This is the war that produced terrorist individuals and groups, such as Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban, that Islam is being held accountable for.
 
Accusing Islam and Muslims for what an individual does under the name of Islam is not the only aspect of unfairness of the attitude of the Western media toward Islam. Ancient and modern history provides so many examples of political and religious leaders, representing various political persuasions and religious beliefs, inciting violence against their opponents and those who did not share their beliefs. However, not all those political beliefs and religions get tarnished because of what individuals who believed in them did or said. Christianity is one case in point.
 
It is telling that the long, bloody history of Christian crusades never managed to convince the Western media to accuse Christianity of being a violent religion, as they accuse Islam. Commenting on a massacre which took place at the end of the first crusade, Karen Armstrong wrote:
 

On July 15 1099, the crusaders from western Europe conquered Jerusalem, falling upon its Jewish and Muslim inhabitants like the avenging angels from the Apocalypse. In a massacre that makes September 11 look puny in comparison, some 40,000 people were slaughtered in two days. A thriving, populous city had been transformed into a stinking charnel house. Yet in Europe scholar monks hailed this crime against humanity as the greatest event in world history since the crucifixion of Christ.9

In vivid, grisly details that defy belief and send a shiver down the spine, J. Arthur McFall described in an article in the Military History magazine what happened in that massacre and how it was perceived by religious clerics:
 

The Crusaders spent at least that night and the next day killing Muslims, including all of those in the al-Aqsa Mosque, where Tancred’s banner should have protected them.10 Not even women and children were spared. The city’s Jews sought refuge in their synagogue, only to be burned alive within it by the Crusaders. Raymond of Aguilers11 reported that he saw “piles of heads, hands and feet” on a walk through the holy city. Men trotted across the bodies and body fragments as if they were a carpet for their convenience. The Europeans also destroyed the monuments to Orthodox Christian saints and the tomb of Abraham.

There were no recorded instances of rape. The massacre was not insanity but policy, as stated by Fulcher of Chartres12: “They desired that this place, so long contaminated by the superstition of the pagan inhabitants, should be cleansed from their contagion.” The Crusaders intended Jerusalem to be a Christian city–and strictly a Latin Christian city. “This is a day the Lord made,” wrote Raymond of Aguilers. “We shall rejoice and be glad in it.”13

The Crusaders cut open the stomachs of the dead because someone said that the Muslims sometimes swallowed their gold to hide it. Later, when the corpses were burned, Crusaders kept watch for the melted gold that they expected to see flowing onto the ground. While the slaughter was still going on, many churchmen and princes assembled for a holy procession. Barefoot, chanting and singing, they walked to the shrine of the Holy Sepulchre through the blood flowing around their feet. Reports that the blood was waist deep are believed to have come from a later misreading of a Bible passage. However, in the official letter “To Lord Paschal, Pope Of The Roman Church, to all the bishops and to the whole Christian people” from “the Archbishop of Pisa, Duke Godfrey, now by the grace of God Defender of the Holy Sepulchre, Raymond, Count of St. Gilles,14 and the whole army of God,” the Crusaders recorded that “in Solomon’s Portico and in his Temple our men rode in the blood of the Saracens [Muslims] up to the knees of their horses.”15

The crusades resulted in massacres on the largest scales. Although these religious wars were blessed, and even instigated, by many high ranking clerics, including Popes, the Western media do not associate these acts of genocide with Christianity. Khomeini’s fatwa against Rushdie and actions by other Muslim individuals, on the other hand, are attributed to Islam. Recent conflicts in Europe — in places such as Serbia, Kosovo, and Chechnya— provide many examples of massacres of Muslims by Christians, sometimes involving the support or consent of the Church. None of these are interpreted as meaning that Christianity is a violent religion. The ongoing bloody conflict between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland is never attributed to Christianity. Such violent conflicts and crimes, unlike ones where the wrongdoers are Muslims, never yield media terms such as “Christian terror,” “Christian terrorists,” “Christian terrorism,” and “militant Christianity.” As noted by Angela Stephens in The Progressive:
 

After the Oklahoma City bombing, the media rushed to spread rumors of Middle Eastern-looking suspects, only to learn later that the bomber was a fair-haired soldier and decorated Gulf War veteran. We never labeled him a “Christian terrorist,” though one might argue that is what he was.16

It would be wrong to ascribe such violence to the religion of Christianity. But it is equally wrong to associate Islam with violence for the misdemeanor of a minority of its followers. The Khomeini/Rushdie affair, the story of Abu Hamza, and similar cases point a finger of accusation at the Western media, while show at the same time the damage that some Muslims have done to the image of Islam.
 
A follower of a religion is not necessarily a true representative of that religion. This is particularly true with a religion that has both sophistication of thought and popularity of following, which is the case with Islam. Islam, whose followers are estimated today to be more than one billion, is a far deeper thought than commonly believed. While it is not a religion for the intellectual elite only, it does require some interest in learning. For the intellectual, Islam has unlimited horizons of knowledge. This is why the Qur’an emphasizes throughout the value of knowledge, encourages Muslims — and people in general — to seek knowledge, and dispraises ignorance:
 

And We [Allah]17 have sent among you [O people!] a Messenger [Muhammad] from among you who recites Our verses to you, purifies you, teaches you the Book and Wisdom, and teaches you that which you did not know (2.151).

How different from the ungrateful person is he who worships in obedience during hours of the night — prostrate and standing — bewares of the hereafter, and hopes for the mercy of his Lord! Say [O Muhammad!]: “Are those who know equal with those who know not?” Only the men of understanding pay heed [to Our words] (39.9).

It is the knowledgeable ones from among Allah’s servants who fear Him (from 35.28).

The status that the Qur’an gives to knowledge is well demonstrated in its labeling of pre-Islamic times in the Arabian Peninsula as “jáhiliyyah,” which means “the age of ignorance,” implying that the advent of Islam marks the beginning of an age of knowledge, awareness, and enlightenment. These are two of the four verses in which the above term occurs (the other two verses are 3.154 and 33.33):
 

Is it then the judgment of jahiliyyah (the age of ignorance) that they [the disbelievers] desire? And who is better than Allah a judge for a people who have certainty [in their belief]? (5.50).

When the disbelievers harbored in their hearts zealotry, the zealotry of jáhiliyyah (the age of ignorance). But Allah sent down His tranquility on His Messenger and on the believers, and made them keep the word of dutifulness [and not submit to zealotry], and well were they entitled to it and worthy of it; and Allah is aware of all things (48.26).

There are also many sayings attributed to Prophet Muhammad that urge the Muslim to seek knowledge, such as the following:
 

The best among you is he who learns the Qur’an and teaches it.18

Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave.

Seek knowledge even if it was in [as far as] China.

He who goes out in search of knowledge is [considered to have gone] in the service of Allah until he returns.19

The search for knowledge is an obligation laid on every Muslim.20

The history of Islam attests to the special status given to knowledge by this religion. Islam was revealed in an illiterate, highly ignorant society. Within decades, however, the Islamic world started to become the scientific center of the world, and produced great scientists and thinkers. There is a clear, direct correlation between the embracement of Islam by the ignorant Arabs and their subsequent development of a great civilization. There is no other religion that had such a direct and fast positive effect on science and human civilization. The attitude of Islam toward science and knowledge is strikingly different to that of the Christian Church. The scientific revolution in the Christian West started only when the authority of the Church started to decline.
 
Islam is the religion of knowledge, so keenness on acquiring knowledge is one main duty of the Muslim. Ignorant Muslims can cause damage to both themselves and the name of Islam.
 
It is important to make a distinction between the effect of the ignorance of an ordinary Muslim and that of one who takes an active yet pseudo educational role in society. The latter creates a much wider audience, possibly of non-Muslims as well as Muslims, for his distorted version of Islamic teachings. This problem is made worse by the fact that so many Muslims inherit and accept a passive attitude toward self-education, relying uncritically and almost entirely on the teachings of whatever past or contemporary clerics or scholars they happen to know or learn about. As is the case with any learning process, it is essential for the seeker of knowledge to have a teacher, but it is equally important that the teacher is a genuine one. As stated earlier, Islam requires the Muslim to proactively seek knowledge. This certainly involves more than total and uncritical reliance on the opinions of a couple of scholars.
 
All of this is best illustrated in this Prophetic saying:
 

He who initiates a good practice will earn a reward for that, and a reward equal to the rewards of those who follow it, without the latter’s rewards being reduced. He who initiates a bad practice will earn a sin for that, and a sin equal to the sins of those who follow it, without the latter’s sins being reduced.21

This saying emphasizes the big responsibility of the teacher and the effect that he can have on society. At the same time, this saying does not take away the responsibility from those who follow pseudo teachers. A real seeker of knowledge would carefully examine any claim to truth made by a book, teacher, or any source of information. Commitment to seeking knowledge is a genuine part of Islam. One aspect of this commitment is the careful examination of the verity of the available sources of information.
 
The saying above, which differentiates between those who initiate good practices and those who start bad ones, makes clear that the Prophet’s words “the best among you is he who learns the Qur’an and teaches it” refer to real teachers of the Qur’an.
 
The reality about Islam is that it is the religion for spiritual development. Islam teaches obeying and satisfying Allah, and living in peace with people, Muslim or not. It is about attaining peace in this world and in the hereafter. Nothing is further from Islam than violence and aggression. Islam is a threat only to evil as it aims to eradicate it and save humanity. We all, Muslims and non-Muslims, harbor inside us some evil which spills over and contaminates the world. Islam is the peaceful war against that evil. Islam is about every action that we take to replace the evil inside us with good and become better servants of Allah and, consequently, better human individuals and members of a human society.
 
One sad truth about Islam is that there is widespread ignorance of just about every aspect of it. In fact, misunderstanding Islam seems to know no limit. As already pointed out, this ignorance is more of a continuation of an ignorance of old than a modern phenomenon. Ill-informed views of Islam started to develop in the Christian West since the early days of Islam, and continued to be based on myths and fantasies to this day. One striking example on this ignorant hostility to Islam is mentioned by Karen Armstrong:
 

The Song of Roland, which was composed at the time of the First Crusade, shows a revealing ignorance of the essential nature of the Islamic faith. The Muslims enemies of Charlemagne and Roland are depicted as idol-worshippers, bowing down before a trinity of the “gods” Apollo, Tervagant, and Mahomet.22

The West may have been rather careless when developing distorted images of Islam. But it has certainly been very careful in maintaining those myths and fantasies and making them deep-rooted in the Western mind. Those mythical and fantasized images changed only when new ones were developed. This is what R. W. Southern says in Western Views of Islam in the Middle Ages:
 

There can be little doubt that at the moment of their formation these legends and fantasies were taken to represent a more or less truthful account of what they purported to describe. But as soon as they were produced they took on a literary life of their own. At the level of popular poetry, the picture of Mahomet and his Saracens changed very little from generation to generation. Like well-loved characters of fiction, they were expected to display certain characteristics, and authors faithfully reproduced them for hundreds of years.23

It is no surprise, therefore, to find an Islamic concept such as “jihad” the subject of such phenomenal misunderstanding and misrepresentation.
 
“Jihad” has become one of the most popular Islamic terms in the media. It is often used in Islamophobic contexts where it is presented as meaning the killing of innocent people, often non-Muslims, by Muslims. An additional slant occasionally put on this ridiculous distortion makes this killing the fate of those who resist being forced into embracing Islam. The great influence of the media over people combined with highly sophisticated brainwashing techniques have caused this misrepresentation of “jihad” to become deeply rooted in the minds of the masses.
 
The common false representation of the concept of “jihad” was and is being fueled by Muslim individuals and groups whose deeds and actions reflect more or less that same misunderstanding. The fact that those individuals show immense emotion and enthusiasm but little knowledge and intelligence never deterred the media from using them to educate the masses about the sophisticated thought of Islam. There must be something cynical when media with presumably educational functions — such as newspapers, television, and radio — make evidently ignorant individuals their sources of information.
 
Recently, self-declared expert on Islam, Daniel Pipes, wrote an article called “Jihad and Professors.” He reported the following findings of his survey of the opinions of more than two dozens of academic experts in American Universities on the meaning of “jihad”:
 

David Little, a Harvard professor of religion and international affairs, had stated after the attacks of September 11, 2001, that jihad “is not a license to kill,” while to David Mitten, a professor of classical art and archaeology as well as faculty adviser to the Harvard Islamic Society, true jihad is “the constant struggle of Muslims to conquer their inner base instincts, to follow the path to God, and to do good in society.” In a similar vein, history professor Roy Mottahedeh asserted that “a majority of learned Muslim thinkers, drawing on impeccable scholarship, insist that jihad must be understood as a struggle without arms.”

Nor are Harvard’s scholars exceptional in this regard. The truth is that anyone seeking guidance on the all-important Islamic concept of jihad would get almost identical instruction from members of the professoriate across the United States. As I discovered through an examination of media statements by such university-based specialists, they tend to portray the phenomenon of jihad in a remarkably similar fashion.

Pipes was not impressed by what he heard from the informed professors, declaring that this “portrait [of jihad] happens to be false.” He then makes of himself an example of how the media and journalists treat jihad and Islam as he prefers other sources for information on jihad: “But of course it is bin Laden, Islamic Jihad, and the jihadists worldwide who define the term, not a covey of academic apologists.”24Preferring the opinion of Bin Laden to that of the American professors is a choice that carries the hallmark of a typical media expert on Islam.
 
This keenness on maintaining a particular distorted image of Islam is not uncommon. Recently, the University of North Carolina required its incoming students to read a book entitled Approaching the Koran by Michael Sells, a professor of religion at Pennsylvania. However, teaching an academic book on the Qur’an was just too much for many, not the least Bill O’Reilly, host of Fox News popular program the O’Reilly Factor. Arguing vehemently with the University of North Carolina professor of English who selected the reading, O’Reilly explained to his academic guest the problem he was having with his decision:
 

I’m for academic freedom. I want all the students in universities and colleges across the country to be as well versed as possible. But I don’t know what this serves to take a look at our enemy’s religion.

The presenter continued to make his argument against teaching the book of the religion of his “enemies,” then he made this extraordinary statement: “If I were going to UNC in 1941, and you, professor, said, Read “Mein Kampf,” I would have said, Hey, professor, with all due respect, shove it. I ain’t reading it”!25 Later O’Reilly wrote on that interview on his web site:
 

The professor in charge told me that knowing about the Koran is relevant and highly necessary after 9/11. I understand that point of view but don’t completely buy it. I believe Americans don’t need to read the Koran to understand that fanatical Islamic killers are a threat!26

O’Reilly was not alone in his position. The decision of the University upset a number of conservative religious organizations who filed a lawsuit to prevent teaching the book. They argued that the university acted unconstitutionally by forcing students to study a pro-Islamic book, but the court dismissed the case.
 
This is an amazing instance of insisting to wrap Islam in an apron of misinformation, maintain the feelings of enmity toward it, and protect the public from better understanding of this religion.
 
As stated earlier, the real image of jihad, and Islam in general, is inarguably best examined by studying the Qur’an, which is the undisputed authority on Islam. This is the approach taken by this book in exploring the concept of jihad.
 

NOTES

1 Conor Cruise O’Brien, The Times, May 11, 1989.

2 The statement was made on September 26, 2001, during a press conference in Berlin.

3 Karen Armstrong, Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet (London: Phoenix Press, 2001), p. 43.

4 Samuel Huntington, “The Age of Muslim Wars,” Newsweek, January 2002.

5 Jonah Blank, “The Muslim mainstream: Islam is Growing Fast in America, and Its Members Defy Stereotype,” U.S. News, July 20, 1998.

6 The word “fatwa” has earned bad connotations in the West because of Khomeini’s fatwa on Rushdie. However, the word itself means “ruling,” and is used for various religious rulings. It has no particular association with “violence.”

7 Anthony Burgess, “Islam’s Gangster Tactics,” The Independent, February 1989.

8 “Newsnight,” presented by Jeremy Paxman, BBC 2, December 17, 2002.

9 Karen Armstrong, “The curse of the infidel: A century ago Muslim intellectuals admired the west. Why did we lose their goodwill?” The Guardian, June 20, 2002.

10 After retreating to the al-Aqsa Mosque, the Muslims surrendered and offered a large ransom to Tancred, who gave them his banner to display over the mosque so that they would not be killed.

11 Raymond of Aguilers was a historian.

12 Fulcher of Chartres is a French chaplain and chronicler of the first crusade.

13 Raymond of Aguilers is here celebrating the massacre with a quote from the Bible (Psalms 118:24)!

14 Daimbert, Archbishop of Pisa, led the Pisan fleet of the campaign. Duke Godfrey, another leader of the crusade, became the first Latin ruler in Palestine after the capture of Jerusalem. He refused the title of “king” preferring to be called “Defender of the Holy Sepulchre.” Raymond of Saint-Gilles, Count of Toulouse, was the oldest and most prominent of the crusading princes.

15 J. Arthur McFall, “Climax of the First Crusade,” Military History, June 1999.

16 Angela Stephens, “Terror in East Africa: fundamentally un-Islamic,” The Progressive, September 1998.

17 Allah sometimes refers to Himself in the singular, by name or by use of a pronoun, and sometimes in the plural. The plural refers to the respect and honor he deserves. He never refers to Himself in the dual because it refers to a specific number. It is common use in Arabic to show respect to a person by referring to him in the plural.

18 Sahih al-Bukhari, saying 5079.

19 Sunan at-Tarmadhi, saying 2859.

20 Sunan Ibn Maja, saying 229.

21 Musnad Ahmad, saying 19719.

22 Karen Armstrong, Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet (London: Phoenix Press, 2001), p. 25.

23 R. W. Southern, Western Views of Islam in the Middle Ages, (Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1978), p. 29.

24 Daniel Pipes, “Jihad and the Professors,” www.danielpipes.org, November 2002.

25 Bill O’Reilly, “The O’Reilly Factor,” Fox News, July 12, 2002.

26 www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,60020,00.html, August 9, 2002.

          

Copyright © 2004 Louay Fatoohi
Blog: http://www.louayfatoohi.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/louay.fatoohi
Twitter: http://twitter.com/louayfatoohi
All Rights Reserved

Jan 042004
 
This is the “Preface” of the second edition of Jihad in the Qur’an: The Truth from the Source. The book is now in its third edition.

Since moving from my native country of Iraq to the UK back in late 1992, I found myself developing a particular interest in observing and studying the misunderstanding and misrepresentation of Islam in my new environment, and the West in general. I was saddened to see even the clearest and simplest facts about the religion that I was attracted to more than twenty years ago being distorted and lost amidst all kinds of misinformation. Unfortunately, this misunderstanding is found among lay people and intellectuals alike.

It was clear to me that much of the misperception of Islam in the West is propagated and enforced by media that have little interest, if any, in truth. It did not take me long to start identifying patterns of misreporting on Islam and Muslims. These include giving misleading information, imposing convenient blackouts on particular news, imbalanced reporting of facts, and even manipulating facts.

However, it was equally obvious that some Muslims play a major role in providing the Western media with pretexts to distort the image of Islam. While the media in the West could have been a lot better informed about Islam and fairer in presenting it, they are not essentially doing worse than the ignorant Muslims that they used as sources of information on Islam.

Having come from a country that was been under dictatorship for decades to a democratic country, I noticed a fundamental difference between the attitude of the people in the two different countries to their national and foreign media. When you live in a dictatorship, you know that your national media are fully controlled by the state. This simple fact is equally known to both the intellectual and the uneducated. Because of the little faith that people have in their media, seeking news and information from foreign media becomes common practice. In Iraq, for instance, most people listen to broadcast in Arabic by Western radio stations such as the BBC World Service, Voice of America, and Radio Monte Carlo, and develop their own views. Political opposition broadcasting from abroad is also interesting, if not necessarily for giving more reliable information than the state media, then certainly for national politicians being spoken about in a way strange, but enjoyable, to the listener’s ear.

There is no such public attitude in the West to listen to non-Western media. People in Britain, for instance, learn about what happens elsewhere in the world only through the British media, even when Britain is involved or has interests in the conflict or issue that is being reported. Those who take the trouble to check the news and views of the other side are unfortunately a minority. The problem mainly is that people think that because their media are not run by the state then it must be telling them the truth, or at least something pretty close to it. What people do not usually realize is that the media lose their reliability not only when run by a dictatorial state, but whenever put in the service of any interests other than the impartial reporting of facts. My personal observations have certainly left me with little faith in using the British and Western media in general as the sole source of information. They can certainly be very good sources of information, but one cannot rely on them only to know the truth. This unreliability can be clearly seen in the way the Western media have been portraying Islam.

For several years now I have been thinking of writing a book that dispels some of the common misconceptions about Islam. I have been particularly interested in writing about the unfair and misleading association of Islam with violence and aggression. After the tragic events of September 11, 2001 in the USA and subsequent sad events, I decided that I should not postpone this project any longer. I temporarily set aside another book I was writing to embark on this one. It seemed appropriate that I should write about the much misunderstood concept of “jihad” and the relevant concepts of “peace” and “war” in Islam. In June 2002, the first edition of this book was published (Jihad in Qur’an: The Truth from the Source (Malaysia: A. S. Noordeen, 2002)).

I have prepared this new edition of the book in response to the feedback that I have received on the first edition. One change that I have made is to remove from the main text of the book all Arabic text as some readers have found it distracting. Instead, I have included all the relevant Arabic Qur’anic text in Appendix D. I have also added considerable new material to this edition, mainly to clarify some points that I make in the book and to support its arguments.

In its endeavors to dispel fallacies about “jihad,” this book concentrates on investigating this concept in the Qur’an. The Qur’an is the undisputed source of and authority on all aspects of the religion of Islam. With it’s exclusive emphasis on the Qur’an, this book sets itself apart from other studies of jihad which at best mix with the Qur’an, and at worst focus on, secondary religious and historical sources. The authenticity and value of these sources have always been matters of considerable controversy even among Muslim scholars. This situation equally applies to the existing compilations of sayings attributed to Prophet Muhammad.

I have cited in the book some Prophetic sayings that are in line with Qur’anic verses I discuss. But I have consciously avoided using Prophetic sayings or any other sources to reach conclusions that the Qur’an does not explicitly support. Using only the Qur’an ensures revealing the truth of jihad, which happens to be very different from the common image of this concept.

Naturally, this book cites extensively from the Qur’an. In fact, it is aimed to read in many places like a commentary on Qur’anic verses. Because of the nature and structure of the Qur’an, addressed in Chapter 2, it is common that one subject is dealt with in different parts of the Book. It is necessary, therefore, that relevant verses are collated and looked at together. This approach, which I have followed in this study of jihad, enables the researcher to see in those verses common themes and complementary meanings that might not be visible when the verses are studied separately.

In this book, I needed to cite and comment on just over half of the Qur’anic verses that mention jihad. However, for completeness and reference, I have added an appendix that lists and categorizes all of the verses in which the term jihad or one of its variations occur.

Because of the depth and richness of its meanings, the Qur’anic text can be translated only with limited accuracy. All cited Qur’anic verses, therefore, have been fully referenced to make it easy to compare the suggested translation with other translations. Each cited Qur’anic verse has been followed by a combination of two identifying numbers. For instance, the combination 16.110 denotes the 110th verse of the 16th chapter.

I have also added in square brackets explanatory texts to further clarify the translation. Round brackets have been used to add alternative texts, such as the English meaning of a term that is cited in its transliterated Arabic origin. Transliterations of Arabic terms are printed in italics. A different font has been used for the translated Qur’anic text.

For those who can read the Qur’an in Arabic, Appendix D includes the Arabic text of all the verses cited in the book.

I have tried my best to make this book self-contained, requiring no previous knowledge of the Qur’an or Islamic history and thought. All necessary information and explanations are given where needed to make this in-depth and focused study an easy read.

By presenting clear, verifiable facts and dispelling unfounded fallacies about jihad, I pray that this book can achieve two goals for two different audiences. First, it would prove a useful source of information to Muslims and searchers for truth who are considering or will consider embracing Islam. Just like believers of any other faith, there are Muslims who lack proper knowledge of fundamentals of their religion.

Second, it would convince others who are not interested in adopting Islam as a religion for one reason or another that Islam is an exceptionally peaceful religion to coexist with.

Many would sadly acknowledge that the gap between Muslims and non-Muslims has been widening. Equally sad is the fact that many do not know that although this conflict involves believers in Islam, it does not owe its origin to the religion of Islam.

I, like many others, feel a share of personal responsibility to help in bridging this increasing gap between Muslims and non-Muslims. Such attempts, if done properly, are actually one form of jihad, as we shall see in this study.

Here is a brief look at the eight chapters and four appendices of the book.

Many Islamic concepts, such as jihad, and consequently Islam as a whole, have been the subject of much misunderstanding. Chapter 1 examines the causes behind the distorted image of Islam in the world. Non-Muslims are usually associated with misunderstanding Islam. Some Muslims, however, have actually played a major role in the misrepresentation of Islam, thus actively and effectively spreading misconceptions about this great religion. A Muslim who knows only little about Islam can cause considerably more damage to its image than an equally ignorant non-Muslim. The chapter also examines the role played by Western media in the development of the distorted image of Islam.

Chapter 2 takes a brief look at the early history of Islam, providing background information for the investigation of the concept of jihad in the following chapters.

In Chapter 3, the general meaning of the Arabic word jihad is first examined. This term refers to exerting efforts, involving some form of “struggle” and “resistance,” to achieve a particular goal. Qur’anic jihad is a special case of jihad where the efforts are exerted for the cause of Allah. Qur’anic Jihad can be divided into “armed jihad” and “peaceful jihad.” The former, temporary form of jihad refers to Muslims’ reaction to armed aggression. Peaceful jihad is mainly the Muslim’s permanent struggle against the evil desires within the self. It also covers the peaceful struggle against any form of evil in the world. Thus, the common belief that jihad means “holy war” is wrong and misleading. This misunderstanding reflects the failure to notice, among other things, that the Qur’an uses mainly the term “qit?l” when talking about fighting an enemy. This Arabic word means “fighting.”

Armed jihad is investigated in Chapter 4. The early Muslims lived about fourteen years after the revelation of the Qur’an before Allah granted them permission to fight back aggression and defend themselves. The ultimate aim of armed jihad is peace. Allah has attached many strings to His permission to Muslims to resort to arms in response to violent aggression. Muslims are prohibited from committing aggression. Their response must be measured and proportionate. Armed jihad must not be used for any purpose other than self-defense. It is certainly not for forcing people into Islam.

Chapter 5 studies peaceful jihad. While it covers the peaceful struggle against any source of evil, the main form of peaceful jihad is the person’s struggle against the inferior drives of his lower self. This kind of jihad is essential for spiritual development, so the Muslim must never abandon it. Various aspects of the struggle against the lower self are examined in this chapter.

Reducing jihad to its armed form only, thus ignoring peaceful jihad, involves misreading references to jihad in some verses as meaning armed jihad when they actually mean jihad in general, both armed and peaceful. This is explained in Chapter 6. Another cause for this misunderstanding is confusing the terms “jihad” and “qit?l.”

After examining various aspects of jihad in the Qur’an in the previous chapters, jihad in today’s world is investigated in Chapter 7. Peaceful jihad is an essential practice for the Muslim today as it was in the past. The Muslim, in fact, must live in a permanent state of struggle against his/her lower self.

The way armed jihad is being applied reflects much misunderstanding of this form of jihad and ignorance of the rules that govern fighting in Islam. Misunderstanding today’s world can only worsen the consequences of that mix of misunderstanding and ignorance. The double standards of the West and its tolerance of the sufferings of Muslims in various parts of the world have contributed directly to the abuse of the concept of jihad by some under the name of Islam.

The Qur’an exceptionally promotes and calls for peace. Muslims need to put more efforts in establishing peace. They can achieve with peace more than they can do using any other means.

In addition to the ongoing struggle against the lower self, the other major form of jihad today is the struggle to remove all misconceptions about Islam and educate people about this great religion. Spreading the truth is one main attribute of those who belong to what the Qur’an calls the “best nation.” The chapter concludes with a brief look at this Qur’anic concept.

Chapter 8 is a summary of the conclusions drawn throughout the book.

The book contains four appendices. Appendix A lists all Qur’anic verses that contain the term jihad or one of its variations. A short chronology of the life of Prophet Muhammad is given in Appendix B. Appendix C lists the transliteration conventions used in the book. Finally, Appendix D contains the Arabic text of all the verses that are cited in the book.

In addition to an index of names and subjects, an index of all of the Qur’anic verses cited in the book is also included for easier reference.

I would like to acknowledge the help of a number of people who reviewed earlier drafts of the first edition of this book and provided valuable feedback. Their insightful comments helped in improving the book considerably. I would like to thank in particular my wife Dr Shetha Al-Dargazelli; my brothers Duraid and Faiz Fatouhi; and my friends Dr Howard Hall, Mr David Barnes, Mr Tariq Chaudhry, and Mr David Mercer. I would also like to thank all readers and reviewers whose feedback made me write and improve this new edition.

 

          

Copyright © 2004 Louay Fatoohi
All Rights Reserved