The Mirage Of Moderate Islam


The following was written by Eric Raymond and is reprinted with his permission. While the Qur'an may encourage violence against non-believers, there are a lot of Muslims who do no such thing. Most of them, in fact. They read and follow the compassionate parts of the Qur'an and try to ignore the violent parts.

Just as any modern Christian will be quick to tell you, there are some violent parts to the Bible. What is missing in the Islamic world is the great majority of moderate Muslims who are willing to say the same thing. Part of the reason they don't is that they are afraid, because some of the violent parts of the Qur'an are directed at people who think the Qur'an is not perfect the way it is. With all that in mind, here is Raymond's article:

DIPLOMATIC LIES notwithstanding, Islam is anything but a `religion of peace'. Any honest scholar will tell you that Islam is a religion of violence, martyrdom, and conversion by the sword. The duty to wage war for the propagation of the faith is plainly written in the Koran; Osama bin Laden's suicide bombers are part of a tradition that springs from Islam's warlike origins and has been re-affirmed in every generations by ghazis, hashishim, and numerous other varieties of holy warrior.

It is the interiorization of `jihad' as a struggle for self-mastery that is revisionist and exceptional, one proposed by only a few Westernized and progressive Muslims and (one senses) not wholeheartedly believed even by them. A truer window on the nature of Islam is the way that it divides the Earth into the Dar al-Islam (the House of Islam) and the Dar al-Harb — the House of War, the theater of battle to be waged with zeal until the infidel is crushed and submits to the Will of God. The very word, islam, means `submission'.

Conspicuous by their absence are any clear denunciations of bin-Ladenite terror from the members of the ulama, the loose collective of elders and theologicians that articulates the Islamic faith. Such internal criticism as we do hear is muted, equivocal, often excusing the terrorists immediately after half-heartedly condemning them. Far more common, though seldom reported in Western media, are pro-jihadi sermons that denounce America as a land of devils and praise Al-Qaeda's mass murderers in one breath with Palestinian suicide bombers as martyrs assured of a place in heaven.

There has been some play given in the media lately to the notion that the ideological force behind Islamic terrorism is not Islam per se but specifically the puritanical Wahhabi sect associated with the House of Saud. Some accounts trace the rise in terrorism to Wahhabi prosyletization in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere. Most versions of this theory have it that Wahhabism is an unattractive doctrine (by contrast with, say, the Sufi tradition of the Caucasus or the relaxed syncretic Buddhist-influenced Islam of Indonesia) but that it wins converts because, with billions in Saudi oil money behind it, the Wahhabites can afford to field missionaries and build schools that promulgate the puritan party line.

The trouble with this theory is that it ignores the history of Islam and the internal logic of Islamic doctrine. The history of Islam is a collection of cycles of doctrinal decay followed by fundamentalist renewal. Believers tend to drift away from strict Islam, but every century or two some mad-eyed wanderer will come screaming out of the desert and haul the faithful back on to the Narrow Way with a blend of personal charisma, argument and force (the latter generally administered by some allied warlord who sees political gain in it).

This drama keeps getting re-enacted because, in general, these charismatic fundamentalist looney-toons are correct in their criticism of `soft' Islam. The Koran, the actions and statements of the prophet Mohammed, and the witness of the lives of his immediate followers are pretty clear on what the religious duties of a Muslim are. Long before the 9/11 attacks, I read large portions of the Koran (in translation) and more than one history of Islam, because I collect religions. I learned about the Five Pillars and the hadith (the traditional sayings of Mohammed) and the ulama. The picture is not a pretty or reassuring one.

Moderate Muslims trying to argue against the latest version of Islamic fundamentalism are in a difficult situation. All the fundamentalists have to do to support their position is to point at the Koran, which is much more authoritative in an Islamic context than the Bible is in most Christian ones. Moderates are reduced to arguing that the Koran doesn't really mean what it says, or arguing from hadith that qualify or contradict the Koranic text. Since the Koran trumps the hadith, this is generally a losing position.

The grim truth is that Osama bin Laden's fanatic interpretation of Islam is Koranically correct. The God of the Koran and Mohammed truly does demand that idolatry be purged with fire and sword, and that infidels must be forced either to convert to Islam or (as a limited exception for Christians and Jews, the "Peoples of the Book") live as second-class citizens subject to special taxes and legal restrictions. The Koran really does endorse suicidal martyrdom and the indiscriminate killing of infidels for the faith.

(The Koran does not, however, require purdah and the veil; these are practices the Arab world picked up from Persia after the tenth century CE. Nor does it require female genital mutilation, which seems to have been acquired from sub-Saharan Africa.)

For both shallow diplomatic/political reasons and deeper psychological ones, Westerners have trouble grasping just how bloody-minded, intolerant, and prone to periodic murderous outbreaks of fundamentalist zeal Islam actually is. But we must come to grips with this. If we treat the terror war as a merely geopolitical conflict, we will be fighting the wrong battle with the wrong weapons.

It is not merely Al-Qaeda or the Taliban or even Wahhabism we are fighting, it is a fanatic tendency wired deep into the origins and doctrine of Islam itself, a tendency of which these movements are just surface signs. That tendency must be cured or cauterized out. No lesser victory will do for a world in which means and weapons of mass destruction grow ever easier for terrorists to acquire.

What al-Qaeda Wants

I have described the Koranic roots of Islamic fanaticism, and observed that Osama bin Laden's terror war on the West is part of a recurring pattern of fundamentalist revival associated with jihad in Islamic history.

In this essay, I'll get more specific about what Osama bin Laden is really after. In the process, it will become clear why Arab-world governments are so frightened of him.

The first thing to understand is that Osama bin Laden is neither crazy nor stupid. He is a very intelligent, educated, visionary man who is operating from deep within the Islamic worldview. He's trying to do on a global scale what the Ayatollah Khomeini did in Iran in 1979; he's bucking for the job of Caliph of Islam ("Khalifa" in Arabic).

The position of Khalifa has been vacant since the last Padishah Emperor of the Ottoman Empire was deposed in 1924, when the British and French broke up the Empire after it picked the wrong side in World War One. Before that, the Caliph was in theory both the supreme temporal and spiritual ruler of the Islamic world.

I say "in theory" because the Caliph's actual authority varied considerably. In the early centuries of Islam, during the initial expansionary phase of the Empire, it was absolute -- in European terms, as though Charlemagne or Napoleon were also the Pope. It tended to decrease over time as the increasing size of the Islamic empire led to political fragmentation. Independent emirs swore nominal fealty to the Caliph and accepted his symbolic authority in religious matters, while otherwise behaving as sovereigns. An able Caliph backed by strong armies could buck this disintegrative trend and make the allegiance of the emirs more than nominal. Eventually emperors of the Ottoman Turks collected this title, and gathered most of the Islamic world under their sway. But the Ottoman Empire had been in decline for four centuries by 1924, and the title of Caliph had become almost meaningless.

One of the signature traits of Islamic revivalism is nostalgia for the halcyon days of Islamic expansion, when the Caliph was the undisputed Arm of Allah and there was plenty of plunder and rapine to go around as the armies of God smote the infidel and claimed new lands for the Dar-al-Islam.

Here's where we cue the ominous theme music. It is part of Islamic tradition that the title of Khalifa may be attained by conquest if the incumbent is not fulfilling his duties -- or if there is no incumbent. Under shari'a law and hadith, the umma (the consultative assembly of the elders of Islam) is required to recognize as Khalifa anyone who is able to fulfill the duties of the position and demonstrates the sanction of Allah by mobilizing the Dar-al-Islam in successful jihad. Jihad, here, is interpreted broadly; a war of consolidation that united a substantial portion of the Dar-al-Islam under a fundamentalist Islamic theocracy would do it.

In other words, since 1924 the position of Caliph has been waiting for a Man on Horseback. Or, for you science-fiction fans out there, a Muad'Dib. The Ayatollah Khomeini could never quite make this nut; first, because he was not a plausible warlord, and second because he's part of the 10% Shi'a minority branch that disputes the Khalifal succession. The next Caliph, if there is one, will have to belong to the 90% Sunni majority.

Osama bin Laden has behaved precisely as though he intends to fill that role. And in doing so, he has frightened the crap out of the rulers of the Arab world. Because he's played his religious and propaganda cards very well in Islamic terms, barring the detail that he may well be dead and buried under rubble in an Afghan cave.

On 9/11, bin Laden took jihad to the symbolic heart of the West more effectively than any Islamic ruler has managed since the Siege of Vienna was broken in 1683. By doing so he caught Arab rulers (especially the Saudis) in a neat theo-political trap. They have been encouraging hatred of Israel and the West, and hyping the jihadist mythology of fundamentalist Islam, as a way of diverting popular anger that might otherwise focus on their own corrupt and repressive regimes. But Bin Laden has trumped and beaten them at this game. He has acted out the Koranic duty of jihad in a way they never dared -- and in doing so, seized the religious high ground.

The sheikhs and ayatollahs now have a dilemma. If they support jihadism, they must either start a war against the West they know they cannot win or cede their own legitimacy to the Caliph-claimant who is leading the jihad. But if they come out against jihad, bin Laden or his successor can de-legitimitize them simply by pointing to the Koran. The possibility that the semi-mythical "Arab street" would revolt behind local Khomeini-equivalents hot to join al-Qaeda's jihad is quite real.

Let the last word go to the mentor of Osama bin Laden, Sheik Abdullah Azzam: "Jihad must not be abandoned until Allah alone is worshiped by mankind...Jihad and the rifle negotiations, no conferences and no dialogue." The Palestinians are, as usual, disposable pawns in a larger game. The objective of al-Qaeda's game is to follow the Koranic blueprint to its logical conclusion; global jihad, a second age of conversion by the sword, the destruction of the West, and the establishment of a global Islamic theocracy.

Osama bin Laden himself may be dead now. Unfortunately, this doesn't necessarily stop the game, because his body hasn't been found. The Twelfth Imam of Shi'a disappeared under mysterious circumstances in 941CE; persons claiming to be him and calling the faithful to jihad emerged at intervals for a thousand years afterwards, the most recent one being the Mahdi who led an anti-British revolt in Egypt in 1881. If the jihadist tendency in Islam is not confronted and destroyed, Osama bin Laden could haunt the West for a thousand years.


How To Make Terrorism a More Appealing Subject to Talk About


MANY PEOPLE don't want to talk about terrorism because it is a divisive topic, prone to overheat people. There is always the chance of it becoming an upsetting conversation as people entrench themselves into their opinion and start arguing.

Plus it's an ugly topic. You're talking about people wanting to kill other people in horrible ways. It's about as negative as topics get.

But you can make it easier in several ways, and even interesting. First of all, approach it that way. Not as a way to have an argument or put people in their place or prove you know more than they do, but as a fascinating subject.

How jihad works and how non-Muslims have dealt with it in history is fascinating. What jihadis are doing now in Iraq and Afghanistan and around the world is fascinating. The public statements by world leaders about Islam is (morbidly) fascinating. And the content of the Qur'an is really surprising to most people in Europe and America. So capitalize on all these points of interest. Make the conversation interesting. The facts themselves are persuasive. You don't have to try to persuade.

Find the most interesting, surprising facts, and use those to open the conversation.

Another way to approach the topic is to come at it obliquely by sharing something you've learned that citizens can do about terrorism. Part of what makes the topic upsetting is that people don't see the point in talking about it because they feel helpless about it.

However you approach it, allow people their point of view. It's okay. Most of us started with that point of view. It's understandable. After talking with you for awhile, they'll think differently, so you can relax. No need to get upset by it. And if you're not upset, it will help prevent them from being upset too.

We need these conversations to happen in free countries so they can remain free. It is a good thing to take seriously. But that doesn't mean you can't enjoy it.


How Many of the World's Conflicts Involve Muslims?


The following is quoted from an article called The Age of Muslim Wars:

"In the 1990s violence occurred between Muslims and non-Muslims in Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Chechnya, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Kashmir, India, the Philippines, Indonesia, the Middle East, Sudan and Nigeria.

"Mujahedin fighters from the Afghanistan war were central participants in many of these conflicts as well as in Muslim terrorist organizations in countries throughout the world. In the mid-1990s, roughly half the ethnic conflicts in the world involved Muslims fighting each other or non-Muslims.

"In one inventory by
The Economist, Muslims were responsible for 11 and possibly 12 of 16 major acts of international terrorism between 1983 and 2000. Five of the seven states listed by the U.S. State Department as supporting terrorism are Muslim, as are a majority of foreign organizations listed as engaged in terrorism.

"In counter-actions between 1980 and 1995, the U.S. armed forces engaged in 17 military operations against Muslims. According to the International Institute of Strategic Studies, 32 armed conflicts were underway in 2000; more than two thirds involved Muslims. Yet Muslims are only about one fifth of the world’s population."

And yet, far and wide we hear "Islam is a religion of peace." There are three main reasons that phrase is repeated so often. One is because of the religious duty of Islamists to deceive unbelievers. And the other is that Islamists have an entirely different interpretation of the the phrase "religion of peace" than the one that naturally occurs to people in free countries.

And the third is that ignorant westerners, trying to be sensitive and multicultural, say Islam is a religion of peace because it is the politically correct thing to say. They are unwittingly helping the Islamists keep westerners in the dark while the Islamists advance their purposes (the overthrow of western governments in Europe and the USA).



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