U.S. warplanes are flying over Somalia, and U.S. battleships are sailing its waters. In a nationally televised media report, the activities of U.S. military advisors in a campaign to wipe out the Abu Sayyaf movement in the Philippines was featured as an aspect of the war against terrorism. The report referred to the Abu Sayyaf movement as an “Islamic” terrorist group, even though none of this group’s reported activities fit within Islamic theology. Only days before these two events, former presidential candidate Patrick Buchanan posted an article that sought to examine the feasibility of a clash between Islam and the West, all of this leading perhaps to the presumption that indeed we have either embarked upon such a clash, or we are at least contemplating the possible outcomes of such an endeavor.
It is not difficult for most of us to imagine that following the attacks of September 11th many Americans are numb to the truth that Islamic theology, neither in its political, or spiritual theology promotes or condones terrorism. The terms, Islam and terrorism, having become almost synonymous, makes it increasingly difficult for us to appreciate this fact. We are also, for reasons that are explainable, conveniently discarding the truth that religions, their theologies and sciences, can be quite separate and distinct from the behaviors of supposed adherents, and when this is the case, as it is with Islam and terrorism, we have an obligation not only to acknowledge the distinction, but to limit our comments and critique of such behaviors to the actions of the individuals or groups who are suspect. We should never seek to cloud the truths of religious faiths with the behaviors of those who claim these truths on the mere supposition that claimed religious affiliations dictate behaviors. When we do this, we open the door to possibilities where the potential exist for conflict with shadows, rather than reality.
The situation now confronting the United States is not new, although the magnitude of the argument against Islam has increased due to the September 11th tragedy. Yet, many of us remember that years prior to the attacks in New York and Washington D.C. of September 11th, Muslims sought to apprise the United States of the fact that armed groups were parading as Islamic activists in the Muslim world while carrying out terrorist acts. In one such incident, it was reported that it was militias controlled by a secular Muslim government, in league with one of the European nations in opposition with political Islam due to its efforts to end government corruption, who were flaunting Islamic disguises and carrying out atrocities in the name of Islam, hoping that by so doing, they would vilify the faith, and its adherents, while making it appear that the very idea of Islam is a threat to U.S. interests both here and abroad, as well as our values. Some years later, several human rights activists confirming that in fact the suspicious marauders were indeed likely controlled and dispatched by governments, released a researched publication attesting to this fact. As a result of our willingness to accept the characterization of all Islamic movements as violent, the United States had prematurely stepped in to cancel the outcomes of a democratic election, allowing the re-installation of a dictator, thinking that we had properly resolved ourselves to support the least of the two evils. We turned our backs on the people of that nation. After working behind the scenes to cancel the outcome of the election, we refused to take steps to end the massacres, since we felt that what was taking place was perhaps a justifiable attempt to wipe out the residuals of a violent or “terrorist” movement, having recognized at that point that the villages targeted for slaughter were the centers of support for the Islamic party.
We must ask ourselves, prior to our commitment to an all out war against the peoples who adhere to the Islamic faith, if indeed Islam is the culprit in many of these occurrences, or if in fact, those who are carrying out such hated acts are only using the name “Islam” to garner support from the 1.2 billion Muslims for a so-called jihad against the West on the one hand, while drawing the United States into armed and ideological conflict with Islam on the other, and thereby possibly destroying two powerful birds with one stone. There are those who live by the old adage that if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck that it is in fact a duck. Duck hunters who successfully use decoys to draw ducks to the kill would be the first to attest to the fallacy of this cliché.
Only months prior to the September 11th attacks in the United States, a plethora of newspaper articles hit the stands, which suggested that Islamic movements were luring young men into martyrdom with the promise that celestial virgins called houris would be their concubines in heaven. In one such article published by the Los Angeles Times, an Egyptian who claims to be an Islamic jurisprudent verified these claims, saying that both the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qadea used martyrdom to advance their push for power over Muslim governments, when neither the Muslim Brotherhood or al- Qadea, up to that point, had ever carried out a suicide attack anywhere, making the supposed jurist’s comments almost prophetic. He also claimed that the Egyptian martyr and ideologue of the Muslim Brotherhood, Sayyid Qutb, used the seduction of Houris to encourage young men to commit suicide. This is counter to what one reads in Qutb’s book Milestones. Ironically, immediately following the U.S. attacks against the Taliban and al-Qadea in Afghanistan, CNN described both the Muslim Brotherhood, and the mainstream Islamic movement in Pakistan, the Jamaat al Islami as terrorist organizations that use martyrdom, when neither group has ever demonstrated any terrorist behaviors, or issued terrorists threats against their governments. In fact both groups have played significant roles in their countries as social reform movements, and not necessarily strictly religious movements.
Even the opportunistic verbal attacks we have witnessed against Saudi Arabia likely began as a ploy to attack Saudi Arabia as the home of Wahabism, an ancient brand of Islam that is practiced by a minority of Saudi’s in the Kingdom. This criticism, which began years prior to the Sept.11th attacks, have reached a feverish pitch as U.S./Saudi enemies, in an attempt to sour U.S./ Saudi relations play further upon America’s fear and ignorance of Islam. The United States and Saudi Arabia have enjoyed a close relationship that caused Saudi Arabia to be one of our countries few reliable Middle East allies. Its open opposition to U.S. policies on Palestine, along with its financial support for Islamic missionary activities in the West drew the Kingdom some important enemies, and as a result of the hoax perpetrated against the Kingdom and the United States, rumors are circulating that Saudi Arabia will ask the United States to pack up its military and leave Saudi soil, leaving Israel the only U.S. “strategic asset” in the region. Experts who have studied the al-Qadea movement know quite well that they are not practitioners of Wahabism, but another brand of Islam called Deobandism that most Muslims have never heard of and was never heard of by anyone before now. Unfortunately this fact was seldom if ever mentioned by the media in its extensive coverage of the Taliban and al-Qadea movements. Add to this the fact that once the new interim government in Afghanistan was announced, important al-Qadea and Taliban activists were allowed to mysteriously escape either death or capture, giving the impression that the United States has served only as a victim, seduced into a war to eliminate the enemies of one faction, and to empower another, leaving the United States empty handed.
As we contemplate the feasibility of a clash of civilizations, we must ask ourselves from where this clash should originate and upon what premise shall we mount it? Should our sons and daughters be the sacrificial lambs in an attempt to purge the earth of people who hold to dissimilar faiths based on innuendo and circumstantial evidence? And upon what pretense will we embark upon such an irreligious pursuit? Will we claim to do it as an exercise of our Christian faith, or our Jewish faith? Or will we carryout such an act to protect our Judeo/Christian values? In his article on the same topic, Patrick Buchanan asks what those values are? The answer to this question will likely determine how far we can expect to get; since one of the primary tenets of each of the major monotheistic faiths, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism is “Thou shall not kill without just cause” and “You reap what you sow.” How will we justify a war on Islam? What “just cause” will we claim, when in fact it may not be Islam that we should be fighting, but Islam and the United State’s common enemies, once we learn who they are?
Before we raise the flag of the Crusaders and take off to rid the earth of all infidels, we should make sure that we are attacking the right infidels. This will require more than emotional knee jerk reaction to every self serving rumor put into circulation, or even every act that is staged to look “Islamic” or every call for jihad by every renegade that knows the potential potency of the word, yet does not have the religious authority to issue such a call, or even the urging of our public officials, many of whom are not well informed nor unbiased. There is another common thread of thought that is spun through the teachings of each of the monotheistic faiths, which says that even if the truth is as small as a mustard seed hidden in a stack of hay, God will bring it forth. The United States must be prudent and cautious as we chart our future course in the war on terrorism, and at all cost, we must avoid being used by the devil to rid the world of the two most influential religions on the earth, Islam and Christianity.
The writer is director for Public Affairs at the United Association for Studies and Research (UASR), a Washington, DC area Islamic think tank.