Can We Call It Islamic Terrorism?
A debate is taking place across the political, academic, and religious spectrum about whether acts of terrorism committed by Muslims should be called Islamic Terrorism. I've recently attended conferences where I've heard alleged experts state that it should not be. If terrorism committed by the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka is not called Hindu Terrorism, they argue, and if the terrorism of Norwegian Anders Breivik is not Christian Terrorism, why are acts of terror committed by Muslims called Islamic Terrorism?
It is a good question deserving a thoughtful answer which was given, in my opinion, by Rashid and Middle East Forum director Magdi Khalil in this recent Arabic program. Rashid noted that terrorism could be described as religious terrorism if it fulfilled the following four criteria:
1. The individuals carrying out the operation were devoted to their religion.
2. These individuals used religious texts to justify their operation.
3. The individuals carried out their operation to achieve religious objectives.
4. Religious leaders supported the operation and praised those who carried it out.
Rashid and Magdi then applied these four criteria to the perpetrators of 9/11, the Oklahoma Bombing, and the Norwegian Massacre. In his final testament, suicide pilot Muhammad Atta mentioned three times in four short pages that he would soon be meeting the virgins of paradise promised him by his prophet Muhammad. In his justification for 9/11, Osama bin Ladin did not inform his fellow Muslims it was intended to punish an imperialistic, political enemy. He did say that it was a blow against the rayyis al-kuffar, a religious expression meaning the leader of the infidels. The writings of bin Ladin, as well as Ayman al-Zawahiri and other al-Qaeda Sharia or religious leaders are filled with references to the Koran, the Hadith, and early Islamic history to justify their strategy. The 1500 page manifesto of Anders Breivik, in contrast, does not mention the teachings of Jesus or the Bible a single time. His only reference to Christianity is a generic one in which he envisions a Christian Europe being changed to a Muslim one. And Timothy McVeigh, rather than fantasizing about virgins in paradise, acknowledged that if there was a hell he would probably be going there.
What were the objectives of McVeigh and Breivik, as compared to Muslim terrorists? Again, the first two had nothing to do with achieving the goals of Christianity. McVeigh was angry at his government, and Breivik was fearful for his culture. Muslim terrorists, on the other hand, state again and again that their goal is to establish Deen Allah, the religion of God, throughout the earth as Islam was practiced by Muhammad and his early followers.
It was in the response of Muslim religious Shaykhs to the death of Osama bin Ladin that the contrast is most clear. Rashid played a montage of Arabic-speaking Imams across the Middle East eulogizing the death. Without exception they attacked and blamed the United States but praised bin Ladin. He was a sincere Muslim, they reminded their viewers, and it is our responsibility to pray Salat al-Ghaib, the prayers for departed souls asking God to receive them into Fardous or Paradise. We might have had our differences with him, they added, but these differences were only minor points of disagreement. What I find interesting is that the "minor points of disagreement" were the practice of al-Qaeda of declaring Muslim governments Takfir or infidel. It would understandably be difficult for an Egyptian, Moroccan, or Saudi Shaykh who only holds his position with the blessing of his government to join Ayman al-Zawahiri in condemning that government as apostate.
I've noted before that the difference between the public stated positions of Muslims in the West and their counterparts in the Arab World is striking. I've also noted that most Western non-Muslim academics and politicians, very few of whom know Arabic, have as their sources English-speaking Muslims who tell them what they want them to believe. Even those non-Muslim experts who claim to know Arabic, in my opinion, don't really know it well enough to listen to the Osama bin Ladin eulogies played by Rashid and really know what is going on.
Magdi Khalil then divided Islamic history into five stages. The first, he said, was the Islamic conquest of the 7th and 8th centuries, followed by the Crusades in which Europe attempted to regain the territory it had lost to Islam. The third stage was the Ottoman Empire in which Islam again tried to reconquer Europe and famously reached "the Gates of Vienna" in 1683, followed by the European imperialism and colonization of the next two centuries. The last forty years, said Magdi, have seen the beginning of the fifth stage, the revival of political Islam which again strives to reign throughout the world.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the show was when Khalid called in from Jordan. "Hello Rashid," said Khalid. "I was a terrorist. I left Jordan to go to Iraq in 2003. I had been a university student and a moderate Muslim but left university to devote myself to Islam. I first went to Syria, where all the incoming Mujahideen and Jihadists stayed together. We were given food and everything we needed until it was time to depart to Iraq. We travelled to Abu Kamal, which is a town on the Syrian-Iraqi border, and entered with no difficulty because we had been given passports and all the necessary travel documents. We first went to Al Qaim, then to Ramadi, and finally arrived in Baghdad where we were divided up into different groups. There were young Jihadists from all parts of the Arab World including Tunisia, Syria, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. You name the country, they were there. We were all young extremists who had come for Jihad. We were not interested in politics, but based our beliefs upon the Asoul, the original texts of Islam. If the texts supported fighting and killing, we were prepared to fight and kill."
"But some Muslims argue," interrupted Rashid, "That you misinterpreted the texts of Islam."
"That is incorrect," replied Khalid, "We followed the exegesis of Ibn Taymiyah. He said that when Muslims were living in a state of weakness they should follow the peaceful suras of the Koran that were written in Mecca, but when they became powerful they should follow the suras of Medina."
"Why did you change your mind about Jihad?" asked Rashid.
"The reason I left Iraq and returned to Jordan was not for religious reasons or because I thought I had misinterpreted Islam," replied Khalid. "I returned because my family needed me. But after my return I began to ask myself why I was being told to hate and fight Christians and Jews. I discovered that the reasons were religious, not political."
When Rashid asked Khalid where he was now in his spiritual journey, Khalid replied he no longer believed in Muhammad but was beginning to investigate the teaching of Jesus.
I find stories like this very encouraging. When I say my goal is to convince Muslims that Muhammad was just a man and the Koran is just a book, I am often informed it will never happen. The experience of Khalid tells me that it can happen, although just one person at a time. I believe that is much more intellectually honest than trying to convince Khalid he merely misinterpreted the peaceful message of Muhammad and the Koran. And yes, I do believe it should be called Islamic terrorism.
Staring at the View