20070930

Islamic Ideologies, Not U.S. or Israeli Policies, Motivate Jihad

Raymond Ibrahim is editor and translator of "The Al Qaeda Reader." In his article, "The Two Faces of Al Qaeda," published in the Chronicle of Higher Education Review, he debunks the West's unwillingness to confront the truth of Islam as interpretable as condoning violence against the non-believers to get Islam to dominate the world.

"It soon became clear why these particular documents (which I discovered and translated into English in The Al Qaeda Reader) had not been directed to the West. They were theological treatises, revolving around what Islam commands Muslims to do vis-√†-vis non-Muslims. The documents rarely made mention of all those things — Zionism, Bush's "Crusade," malnourished Iraqi children — that formed the core of Al Qaeda's messages to the West. Instead, they were filled with countless Koranic verses, hadiths (traditions attributed to the Prophet Muhammad), and the consensus and verdicts of Islam's most authoritative voices. The temporal and emotive language directed at the West was exchanged for the eternal language of Islam when directed at Muslims. Or, put another way, the language of "reciprocity" was exchanged for that of intolerant religious fanaticism. There was, in fact, scant mention of the words "West," "U.S.," or "Israel." All of those were encompassed by that one Arabic-Islamic word, "kufr" — "infidelity" — the regrettable state of being non-Muslim that must always be fought through "tongue and teeth."

Consider the following excerpt — one of many — which renders Al Qaeda's reciprocal-treatment argument moot. Soon after 9/11, an influential group of Saudis wrote an open letter to the United States saying, "The heart of the relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims is justice, kindness, and charity." Bin Laden wrote in response:

As to the relationship between Muslims and infidels, this is summarized by the Most High's Word: "We renounce you. Enmity and hate shall forever reign between us — till you believe in Allah alone." So there is an enmity, evidenced by fierce hostility from the heart. And this fierce hostility — that is, battle — ceases only if the infidel submits to the authority of Islam, or if his blood is forbidden from being shed, or if Muslims are at that point in time weak and incapable. But if the hate at any time extinguishes from the heart, this is great apostasy! Allah Almighty's Word to his Prophet recounts in summation the true relationship: "O Prophet! Wage war against the infidels and hypocrites and be ruthless. Their abode is hell — an evil fate!" Such, then, is the basis and foundation of the relationship between the infidel and the Muslim. Battle, animosity, and hatred — directed from the Muslim to the infidel — is the foundation of our religion. And we consider this a justice and kindness to them.

Bin Laden goes so far as to say that the West's purported hostility toward Islam is wholly predicated on Islam's innate hostility toward the rest of the world, contradicting his own propaganda: "The West is hostile to us on account of ... offensive jihad."

In an article titled "I was a fanatic ... I know their thinking" published by the Daily Mail soon after the London and Glasgow terrorist plots, Hassan Butt, a former jihadist, helps explain the Islamist dichotomy between the propaganda of reciprocity and the theology of eternal hostility toward the infidel: "When I was still a member of what is probably best termed the British Jihadi Network ... I remember how we used to laugh in celebration whenever people on TV proclaimed that the sole cause for Islamic acts of terror like 9/11, the Madrid bombings, and 7/7 was Western foreign policy."

One is reminded of the captured video showing bin Laden laughing and gesticulating soon after the 9/11 strikes, boasting that many of the hijackers weren't even aware that they were on a suicide mission. Butt continues:

By blaming the government for our actions, those who pushed this "Blair's bombs" line did our propaganda work for us. More important, they also helped draw away any critical examination from the real engine of our violence: Islamic theology. ... As with previous terror attacks, people are again saying that violence carried out by Muslims is all to do with foreign policy. For example, on Saturday on Radio 4's Today program, the mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, said: "What all our intelligence shows about the opinions of disaffected young Muslims is the main driving force is not Afghanistan, it is mainly Iraq."

Whatever position one takes as to why Al Qaeda has declared war on America, one thing is clear: We must begin to come to terms with all of Al Qaeda's rhetoric, not just what is aimed specifically at Western readers. We must particularly come to better appreciate the theological aspects that underpin radical Islam. As Butt puts it:

The main reason why radicals have managed to increase their following is because most Muslim institutions in Britain just don't want to talk about theology. They refuse to broach the difficult and often complex truth that Islam can be interpreted as condoning violence against the unbeliever — and instead repeat the mantra that Islam is peace and hope that all of this debate will go away.
When news of The Al Qaeda Reader leaked to the press in 2005, some on the left questioned whether the book would be a pseudoscholarly attempt to demonize Muslims. Others on the right worried that unfiltered exposure to the radical beliefs and propaganda of bin Laden and his cohorts might unintentionally lead to more converts or sympathizers.

My reply is simply this: Whatever one's position in regard to the "war on terror," understanding the ideas of our enemy is both a practical necessity in wartime and a fundamental liberal value. It is my hope that both sides in this bitter debate will profit from a deeper acquaintance with these works. In any case, it simply will not do to dismiss Al Qaeda as an irrational movement without ideas.

Raymond Ibrahim is editor and translator of The Al Qaeda Reader, recently published by Broadway Books. All translations in this article are from the book. Hugh Fitzgerald of Jihad Watch believes that everyone involved with fighting-terror should read this book for greater understanding.

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