Muslim world is passing through its difficult times. From Afghanistan to Syria they are at the receiving end. As Muslims we too are looking inside ourselves to determine what might be at fault within the same time as analysing how the foreign policies of the fundamentalism is a malaise of the twentieth century; it has afflicted almost every major religious tradition, no matter how old- Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Fundamentalism banishes reason from religion and compassion from faith. It is not necessary for everyone to agree with all its main traits as described by some scholars such as: revivalism, hostility towards minorities, anti- intellectualism, intolerance, arrogant insularity, intellectual bankruptcy, and moral blindness. They are reflected in a rejection of rational discourse, pluralism, free speech, democratic governance, secularism and in recourse to violence. Not one of the fundamentalist movements has a programme of social uplift and equality or economic progress. Their decline was predictable and was, indeed, predicated. However and surprisingly, based on available studies, the ultimate blame is on Islam, Muslims and its fundamental teachings.
Even before when Islam was hardly out of the news, there was a perception amongst non-Muslims, that Islam is a religion of the sword. The lingering heritage of the crusades has no doubt contributed to the formation of negative stereotypes and, as was clear after the events of 9/11, the word jihad and crusade are still omnipresent slogans with deep resonances that are both religious and historical. In twentieth century, Muslims and Islam have been demonised and labialised as terrorists and radicals and mother of all evils. Such is the theory of Huntington, who referred much more explicitly to terrorism in his analysis of the Islamic civilization. For the clash between Islam and other civilizations, Huntington stated that ‘while groups from all religions have engaged in various forms of violence and terrorism, the figures make it clear that in the past decade Muslims have been involved in far more of these activities than people of other faiths. He particularly stressed the use of terrorism in relation to the asymmetric clash between Islam and the West. He argued that: following the 1979 Iranian Revolution, an inter-civilization war developed between Islam and the West ...(It) is a quasi-war because, apart from the Gulf War of 1990-1991, it has been fought with limited means: terrorism on one side and air power, covert action and economic sanctions on the other. But Huntington did not provide a systematic explanation of why terrorism is a favourite weapon employed in these clashes. The reason given for the use of terrorism by other civilizations against the West did not go beyond the observation that ‘terrorism historically is the weapon of the weak’. His explanation of the extraordinary conflict intensity of Islam was not based on profound theoretical reasons either. He perceived Islam as a ‘religion of the sword’ with an absolutist ideology that makes cohabitation with other religions extremely difficult. However, many religions, not just Islam, can be and have historically been misused for justifying terrorist violence.
According to Huntington, one should expect a particularly strong clash between Islam and the West given the legacy of fourteen centuries of conflict. This conflict ultimately stems from similarities in the aspirations of the two civilizations - as universalistic and missionary with simultaneous fundamental differences in culture and religion. He stresses that ‘the underlying problem for the West is not Islamic fundamentalism, but it is Islam, a different civilization whose people are convinced of the superiority of their culture and are obsessed with the inferiority of their power.’ The Cold War period plastered over this conflict to some extent, but ‘the collapse of communism removed a common enemy of the West and Islam left each the perceived major threat to the other. The problem for Islam is not CIA or the US Department of Defence. It is the West, a different civilization whose people are convinced of the universality of their culture and believes that their superior, if declining, power imposes on them the obligation to extend that culture throughout the world. These are basic ingredients that fuel conflict between Islam and the West. Thinking on the same lines, Bernard Lewis remarks that; ‘this is no less than a clash of civilizations — the perhaps irrational but surely historic reaction of an ancient rival against our Judeo-Christian heritage, our secular present, and the worldwide expansion of both.’ However, these perceptions were challenged by John L. Esposito’s, remarkable work, ‘The Islamic Threat’ 1992, exposed such baseless myths.
The charge that political Islam is inherently militant became an excuse for suppressing movements and closing the door on democratization in many Muslim countries. These beliefs and attitudes affected the policies of governments and the actions of Islamic activists in the Muslim world and in the West. At the dawn of the twenty-first century, placing global events and fears within a balanced context has never been more important.
Intolerance and mindless violence
History has witnessed that Western imperialism and foreign occupation since the nineteenth century have provoked jihad movements in many parts of the Muslim world. For some, the call for jihad has a specific nationalist focus, such as the ongoing Palestine/Israel conflict. Other groups have resorted to terrorist acts across the whole world under the banner of jihad in protest against Western, and especially US, interventionism. Such as actions of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation and its wings, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Fateh in the 1960s and 1970s, or through the Libyans, Iraqis, and Iranians, such as Hamas or Hezbollah in the 1980s. A perceptible pattern is found where Muslims in Islamic lands have opposed the dominant interests of major capitalistic states vying for a new world order.
In September 1970, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine hijacked four planes; three of them were taken to Jordan and one to Cairo. On 13 September, the three in Jordan were blown up in front of the assembled world media. This was the starting point of international terrorism appearing before a worldwide audience. Sadat’s assignation was preceded by the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979 and was followed by a series of gruesome acts of violence in the next two decades. In 1997, 58 foreign tourists were killed in Luxor, Egypt, in a bid to cripple the country’s economy. The drama of Flight 847 in 1984, the hostage-taking of American Embassy staff in Tehran coupled with so many other regularly occurring acts continue the violence worldwide. In the 1990s, the US military was attacked in Riyadh (1995) and Dhahran (1996) in Saudi Arabia. On August 7, 1998 American embassies in Tanzania and Kenya were bombed, killing 263 people and injuring more than 5,000. In relation, the America attacked sites in Sudan and Afghanistan on August 27, which it alleged were used for training terrorists. In April 1995, there was a huge bomb explosion in Oklahoma, killing hundreds of people, including women and children, and resulting in much havoc. Before this outrage, what the Americans would like to call one of the most spectacular acts of terrorism, though it would not rank as such amongst other similar acts, was the bomb explosion at the World Trade Centre on 26 February 1993, killing about ten people and injuring a great many more.
These events are such that every ordinary human being cannot but be concerned for the victims of such terrorism. Their misery, suffering, afflictions and for many their deaths deserve full human sympathy, irrespective of the cause for which human being may stand. By this time Osama bin Laden emerged as the leader of the ‘Arab Afghans’- Arabs who had joined the ‘jihad’ in Afghanistan against the Soviet forces, under the auspices of the United States’ CIA, Pakistan’s ISI and Saudi Arabia’ intelligence under the leadership of Prince Turki bin Fasial al-Sud. Bin Laden’s citizenship was seized by Saudi Authority and was compelled to move to Sudan in 1994 were he became an Islamic activist, openly in the cause of Islam.
In all this, the image of Islam in the West was once again painted with highly skilful artistry. It is an image which displays this ugly face of terrorism, as also of violence, fanaticism coupled with a dark hue of hatred. Islam and this image have become fused. After these incidents, there has been a continuous stream of books with titles like ‘The Dagger of Islam’, ‘The Militant Islam’, ‘The Rage of Islam’, etc. Such fundamental fears in newspaper and periodical articles are evident by titles such as ‘The Warriors of God’, ‘The Holy Warriors in the Path of God’ and ‘Islam Backs the Dark Ages, ‘The Roots of Muslim Rage, ‘The Holy Killers of Islam and the TV film ‘The Sword of Islam’ had done their work. Since 1979, following the Iranian Revolution, the British newspapers especially Daily Telegraph set the tone with its column leader: ‘Islam on the March Again after Seven Centuries.’ Then, television is not far behind. German TV has been showing a multi-part series entitled ‘Terror in the name of Allah’ which sets the image and tone before the audience. So, this image of Islam as a form of terrorism has become transfixed in the minds of those who are listening and watching these films or reading these books and articles. Prejudice against Islam has existed even at the best of times. Now, a whole climate of adversarial relationship was created. This, in turn was strengthened by expression of prejudice and senseless acts of violence in some Muslim countries.
...To be Continued