Islam - a peaceful religion?
by Jonathan Rosenblum
December 6, 2002
President Bush was right to distance himself from a number of the anti-Islam statements emanating of late from the Christian Right. On the eve of a possible military confrontation with Iraq, the United States must do everything possible to make clear that an attack on Iraq is not an attack on Islam. Saddam Hussein, of course, will proclaim otherwise, and the great fear in Washington is that an attack on Iraq will trigger widespread rioting throughout much of the Arab and Muslim world.
In addition, we must do everything possible to speed the assimilation of Western democratic norms by the millions of Moslems already in America. The way to do that is not to make them the subjects of religious hatred. There are already religious wars between Moslems and Christians (virtually always instigated by the former) raging all around the globe, and the last thing we need is to import them to America.
Jews, in particular, have little interest in stoking the flames of hatred against religious minorities. The latent xenophobia in televangelist Jimmy Swaggert’s call for sending every Moslem student back where he came from has in the past been turned against Jews, and could be again.
AT the same time, one hopes that Bush does not himself believe his frequent remarks about Islam being a religion of peace, with only a small minority of Moslems worldwide attracted to Islamofascism. That portrait of peaceful Islam becomes increasingly untenable by the day, if it was ever true. Certainly no major world religion has ever placed such a high value on military conquest as Islam, and ``peace" in Islam most often refers to the submission of non-Moslems to Moslem rule.
It may be true, as Stephen Schwartz argues in his book The Two Faces of Islam, that there are traditionally moderate strands of Islam, and that most of the world’s Moslems subscribe to these forms of Islam. But it is the fiercest, most repressive interpretations of Islam that are spreading worldwide and which have attracted the greatest support among young Moslems around the globe.
Take any world hotspot, and one is almost certain to find a group of angry, young Moslem males at the center. At the very least, as Mark Steyn has written, Islamism is now the ideology of choice for the world’s troublemakers, just as Communism once was. The hundreds recently left dead in Nigeria, in the wake of rioting after an irreverent remark in a newspaper column about Mohammed, is small potatoes as Moslem rage goes.
In the Sudan, prolonged war between the Moslem North and Christian and animist South, has resulted in the deaths of over 2,000,000 people and many thousands more sold into slavery. Moslems in Indonesia slaughtered at least 200,000 Christians in East Timor, a former Portugese colony annexed by Indonesia in 1975, and another 100,000 Christians have been killed in Indonesia proper. Moslem fighters returning from fighting the Russians in Afghanistan, murdered over 100,000 in Algeria in the ‘90s.
Christians are not safe anywhere in the Moslem world. In recent years, more than a score of Copts have been murdered in Egypt; seven Christians executed gangland style in Karachi, Pakistan; and an evangelical aid worker assassinated in Lebanon.
Saudi Arabia stands at the center of the spread of fanatic Islam. Saudis provided both the funding and the manpower for Al Qaeda. Not only were 15 of the 19 September 11 hijackers Saudi nationals, but so were 7 out of 9 of Al Qaeda’s largest financial supporters. Money from one of the 300 Saudi charities (with annual distributions of $4 billion) paid the plotters of the bombing of the American embassies in Tanzania and Kenya.
The same Saudi billions that funded Al Qaeda finance the export of the Saudis particularly fanatical brand of Wahabbi Islam around the globe. In the words of one senior U.S. government official, quoted in the November 26 Washington Post, ``There may be tens of millions of [Saudi] dollars spent to fund terrorism, but there are hundreds of millions of dollars spent to propagate extreme, intolerant, religious views that are highly critical of Western values, and that is our most bedeviling problem." Hundreds of thousands of impoverished Pakistani youth study in madrassas paid for by the Saudis.
As a consequence of Saudi financing, whatever is most aggressive and repressive in Islam is increasingly seen as normative by Moslems around the world. Wahabbism is characterized by extreme xenophobia and hatred of all other religions. On the eve of the 1990 Gulf War, the Saudis informed President Bush that he could not recite grace at a Thanksgiving meal for American troops stationed in Saudi Arabia. Doctors and nurses in Saudi Arabia openly celebrated September 11 in hospitals, and school children in Pakistan gleefully kept poking their fingers into their hands to simulate planes ramming into the Twin Towers.
Though suicide is one of the five cardinal sins in Islam, Moslem clerics throughout the Arab world have enthusiastically endorsed suicide bombings. Sheikh Sayed Tantawi, the leading Sunni authority in Saudi Arabia, calls ``martyrdom operations" the ``highest form of jihad." And Sheikh Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, the government-appointed grand mufti of Egypt, views the ``proliferation of martyrdom attacks" as the solution to Israeli terror. Ominously, Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah has called for the culture of suicide bombing to spread worldwide, and his hopes have become reality in New York City, Bali, and now Mombasa.
Islamists, like Reform Jewish theologians, have little interest in their religion’s traditional legal texts. The former automatically reject whatever they view as modern while the latter instinctively equate their religion with whatever is most au courant. When Abou El Fadl, a professor of Islamic jurisprudence at UCLA, traveled to Qatar, under State Department guarantees of his safety, to debate Islamist Sheik Youssef al-Qaradawi on the ethics of suicide bombings, he cited pre-modern Islamic jurists on the ethics of revenge. His opponent impatiently brushed aside such legal niceties -- ``I don’t know why brother Abou El Fadl keeps needlessly complicating such things; Islam is against such complications" – and contented himself with citing statistics of the number of Palestinian children killed in the current violence.
Moslems in the West have not proven immune to Islamism. Over a fifth of the recognized mosques in the United States are Wahabbi-controlled, and 69% of Moslems surveyed said it was important to have Wahabbi teachings in their mosque. The leading Moslem cleric in England openly calls for the imposition of Sharia, Moslem religious law, either by conquest or infiltration from within, and he sent dozens of followers to fight with the Taliban in Afghanistan. A survey of imams in Canada found that only two were willing to acknowledge that Moslems had been involved in the September 11 attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.
Kanan Makiya, a critic of the timidity of Moslem intellectuals in the face of Islamist advances, charges his fellow Muslims with having fallen prey, like anti-Semites, ``to deeply imbedded conspiratorial patterns of thought . . . unmoored from any rational understanding." While Moslems in the West may not be in any rush to become suicide bombers themselves, writes Mark Steyn, neither have they shown any real revulsion at what is done in Islam’s name. Salman Rushdie writes in the November 27 New York Times, ``Muslims, in the West, too, seem unnaturally silent on these topics. If you’re yelling, we can’t hear you."
RECOGNIZING that Islam in its dominant present mode is anything but a peaceful religion has important policy implications. For one thing, it suggests a certain death wish behind Europe’s eager acceptance of Moslem immigrants. But the policy implications go far beyond that. The fantasy underlying the Islamist vision, and which gave rise to the rejoicing of Moslems around the world on September 11, is of a triumphant Islam conquering the West.
That fantasy alone mandates that the United States act forcefully in confronting Iraq and other terrorist regimes. The Islamist dream will only be uprooted by a clear show of Western military superiority and determination. The leading historian of Islam, Bernard Lewis, describes in What Went Wrong, his study of Islam in decline, how only a long series of military defeats at European hands, forced the Ottomans to start considering seriously Western political institutions and constitutional arrangements. One suspects that today as well the only chance of bringing much of the Moslem world into the company of civilized nations is a few more pummelings like that administered to the Taliban.
Related Topics: September 11 Attacks
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