We Are Fighting an Enemy of Two Civilizations

Author: ZENIT



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 Christianity."

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 Schwartz.

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 radical fringe.

Religious schools

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 700,000 children.

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 Prophet."

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 extremists."

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  

This article has been selected from the ZENIT Daily Dispatch
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