Terrorists Threaten Mainstream Islam Too
LONDON, 13 OCT. 2001 (ZENIT).
Does the West face some type of Crusade in reverse, with a militant
Islam intent on religious war?
Since the Sept. 11 attacks, many theories have surfaced as to the cause
of the terrorists actions: resentment against the United States for its
support of Israel; economic divisions between rich and poor nations;
nationalism; the influence of radical Islam.
Commentators split over the religious dimension of the conflict. Many
insist that the Koran does not sanction the mass killing of innocents as
carried out by the terrorists. Others, however, point to some troubling
aspects within Islam.
Martin Kramer, editor of the Middle East Quarterly, wrote Sept. 19 in
National Review Online, affirming that "Islam, the religion of more
than a billion believers, has been hijacked." Kramer insisted that
Islam is not any more inclined to sponsor terrorism than the other
monotheistic faiths: "In times past, Islam has served as the
bedrock of flourishing, tolerant and peaceful orders."
Nevertheless, he pointed out that during the last couple of decades
groups of Muslim extremists have justified their violent actions by
appealing selectively to sacred texts. The most serious problem here for
Kramer is that the much more numerous and moderate elements in the
Islamic world have not denounced the radicals' actions.
Stephen Schwartz, writing in the Sept. 23 edition of the London daily
Telegraph, argues the need to distinguish between political extremists,
who can be of any faith, and Muslims. He notes that the Tamils in Sri
Lanka blow themselves up in their war, but they are not Muslims.
Likewise, the Japanese kamikaze pilots in World War II were not Muslims.
Schwartz affirms that ideology of the Osama bin Laden's followers
"is no more intrinsically linked to Islam or Islamic civilisation
than Pearl Harbour was to Buddhism, or Northern Irish terrorists are to
Schwartz does, however, observe that within Islam the school of
Wahhabism does give cause for concern. This tendency originated less
than two centuries ago and is both violent and intolerant. "Not all
Muslims are suicide bombers, but all Muslim suicide bombers are Wahhabis—except,
perhaps, for some disciples of atheist Leftists," comments
Not only is bin Laden a Wahhabi, so too are the suicide bombers in
Israel, the Egyptians who stabbed foreign tourists to death at Luxor not
many years ago, and the Algerian Islamist terrorists.
The pernicious influence of Wahhabism was also highlighted by U.S. News
& World Report in its Oct. 1 edition. According to Akbar Ahmed,
former Pakistani ambassador to the United Kingdom and professor of
Islamic studies at American University in Washington, D.C., "It's
not Islam versus the West as much as it is Islam versus Islam."
What is needed, according to Ahmed, is an Islamic response to the
A source of strength for the extremists is to be found in the religious
schools in Pakistan, where students from that country and Afghanistan
are inculcated in a radical form of Islam. There are thousands of
mosque-based madrasahs, or religious schools where young male students
not only study the Koran, but also are trained in the use of weapons,
the Wall Street Journal reported Oct. 2.
The influence of these institutions has grown due the poor state of
public education in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Pakistan, the world's
sixth most-populous nation, with 150 million people, will spend only
about 2% of its gross national output on public education this year,
notes the Journal. And the madrasahs have stepped in to fill the gap.
Last weekend Pakistan's military dictator and president, General Pervez
Musharraf, stated in an interview with CNN that his country's 7,000 or
8,000 madrasahs provide free education and living arrangements for up to
But intelligence and education officials in Pakistan say madrasahs
receive much of their money from radical Islamic groups and charities in
such Muslim countries as Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq. Some of these
officials say some schools receive funds from alleged terrorist
mastermind Osama bin Laden.
An enemy of civilization
For David F. Forte, writing in a commentary on terrorism for the
Heritage Foundation, at the bottom of the attacks is not a conflict
between civilizations, because the radical groups are attacking
mainstream Islam as well as Western institutions. "We are fighting
an enemy of two civilizations," Forte exclaims.
The radical tendency represented by bin Laden and others is only one of
many traditions in Islam. Moreover Forte notes, "it is a tradition
that Islam early on rejected as opposed to the universal message of its
In recent years the radicals have increased their influence, and some
regimes protect and even sponsor them. It is a mistake to consider that
this extreme violence is an integral part of Islam according to Forte,
but at the same time it is a tendency that must be resisted.
Roy Mottahedeh, professor of history and chairman of the committee on
Islamic Studies at Harvard, observed Sept. 30 in the New York Times that
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of Iran, one of the most conservative and
anti-American Muslim clerical leaders, called the fight against
terrorism a "holy war."
And only last May, the grand mufti of Saudi Arabia and the highest
authority on Islamic law in that country, Abdul Aziz bin Abdallah Al al-Shaykh,
stated publicly that those who kill themselves in attacks do not, as
they might imagine, die as martyrs but as suicides—suicide being
unequivocally forbidden in Islamic law.
Professor Mottahedeh stated that while some politicians and Muslim
clerics have used the word "jihad" loosely in the sense of
armed struggle, this meaning is rejected by most modern Muslim scholars.
For Mottahedeh the people behind the Sept. 11 attacks committed a crime
against humanity, and "under the precepts of every great religious
tradition, they and their sponsors must be brought to justice."
How to respond
Wisely, President George W. Bush has been at pains to avoid giving the
impression that Islam is the source of terrorism. In a U.S. State
Department release of Sept. 26, Bush was quoted as saying: "There
is no connection between Islam and the terrorist acts of Osama bin
Laden's al-Qaida organization." He added: "I have told the
nation more than once that ours is a war against evil, against
In an address to cultural leaders during the recent trip to Kazakhstan,
John Paul II stated, "I wish to reaffirm the Catholic Church's
respect for Islam, for authentic Islam: the Islam that prays, that is
concerned for those in need. Recalling the errors of the past, including
the most recent past, all believers ought to unite their efforts to
ensure that God is never made the hostage of human ambitions. Hatred,
fanaticism and terrorism profane the name of God and disfigure the true
image of man."
The conflict then is not between Islam and the West, but acts of
aggression by groups of extremists, who are supported by some elements
in a limited number of Islamic countries. The difficult task facing
world leaders is how to take care of the extremists without provoking a
wider conflict. ZEA0110132