In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate
The following are some of my thoughts and emotions about what we have experienced in recent months. My aim is to help Muslims articulate their feelings (even through disagreement) and to help non-Muslims understand where some of us are coming from.
In the confusion of wartime in which we are caught up, relying as we must on one-sided information, standing too close to the great changes that have already taken place or are beginning to, and without a glimmering of the future that is being shaped, we ourselves are at a loss as to the significance of the impressions which press in upon us and as to the value of the judgements which we form.
Sigmund Freud 
“The events of September 11.” “What happened on September 11.” Such is the perceived enormity of that day that we cannot even categorise it; it remains beyond categorisation. The sheer violence of the initial impact followed by the heart-crushing collapse of the twin towers was more than this soul could bear, and I began to turn my face away as the TV editors repeatedly showed the images of death. For that’s what they were, images of death, moments when hundreds if not thousands  died. I could not look on in awed fascination, as some have described.
Yet, I did feel some selfish concern at this moment. I thought: “I hope some Muslims didn’t do this, otherwise we’re in trouble.” And so at the moment when thousands were dying, I was worrying about me. I am ashamed by my own selfishness and lack of humanity; and perhaps this leads on to my next question, for surely the events of September 11 did nothing more than throw up a thousand questions summed up in the words, “What have we become?” Perhaps the saddest point to note in the aftermath is that instead of awakening everyone’s heart to suffering, this event may have sent us further into our trenches from which we fire accusations at each other. It should have been a day when all self-critical souls looked into their own hearts and wondered whether they helped to bring this about. It should have been a day when suffering, by being brought right up to our faces, should have pulled humanity by the hand of humility from its present abyss.
O you who believe, stand up for justice, even if it is against yourselves.
(Qur’an, Sura Ma’ida, verse 8)
I felt guilty. I felt responsible, even though I have no connection to Usama bin Laden and the ‘Jihad’ group. The first time I ventured out after the attacks, I remember feeling more paranoid than normal. Looking intensely at others, with the thought that perhaps they were looking at me, holding me to account. I felt like approaching them and shaking them and shouting: “But I don’t agree with what was done! I was not involved!” And then, not for the first time in my life, and probably not for the last either, the way things are going, I realised what Durkheim meant when he said that collective representations are social and coercive.
I have lived through the Rushdie affair when we were the vanguard of religious fascism. I have lived through the Gulf war when we were the fifth column. And perhaps most traumatically, I have lived through the war in Bosnia-Hercegovina, when we were passive onlookers to the murder of 200,000. I used to read newspapers, but stopped during the war in Bosnia-Hercegovina. I couldn’t read anymore. Rape after rape. Murder after murder. I still vividly remember walking past the Evening Standard hoardings next to the newsstands at London tube stations before and after the fall of Srebenica. I remember the day before it fell, the adverts announced: “Srebenica About to Fall!” Similarly, on the day itself, “Serb Troops Enter Srebenica!” A few days later: “Thousands of Men and Boys ‘Missing’ in Srebenica!” All the while, the commuters flowed back and forth, striding past the news, too busy, too tired and probably not deeply bothered . Those days were maddening for me. As was the Gulf war, at the beginning of which George Bush proclaimed: ‘Our quarrel is not with the people of Iraq’, which was before a million (half of them children) were killed through US-led sanctions. How I maintained my sanity, I don’t know. In fact I remember on September 10, thinking to myself, that bearing in mind the number of Muslims who have died in the last few decades (several million), the Muslims generally have been very patient. But that was before the towers fell. Perhaps what was so maddening was the absence of argument and voice. I couldn’t speak. If I did, no one listened. I was the wrong colour for a start, and I come from ‘Paki’-land.
There is an underlying religious feeling to this conflict, even if it may ultimately not be about Christianity and Islam. The Twin Towers fell, and religious people believe that God permitted it to happen as He can permit all human actions, good and bad, ours and theirs. The Taliban similarly withdrew from the cities and the Northern Alliance took over. God similarly permitted this to happen. The nervous post-hoc interpretation of both actions as either signifying God’s pleasure or displeasure reminds me of Weber’s analysis of the Protestant ethic, and how success in capitalist activity was the mark of God’s pleasure in this life and success in the Next. It is as if the unfolding events are somehow indicative of who has the Truth, and whom it is that God is ultimately pleased with.
So why are we where we are today? I remember attending a conference in London in 1993 at which Ernest Gellner and François Burgat spoke . Gellner said that the two main events of the twentieth century were the fall of Marxism and the rise of Islam. No doubt Islam has confounded key sociological thinkers such as Durkheim, Marx and Weber who argued that as secularisation and its engine of modernity progress, religion must go into decline. Islam’s answer to that has been “Count us out.” When I asked Giddens in an interview why this was so, his reply was, “Well the theorists were wrong about it, weren’t they?” So religion is here to stay. The question then is, how to deal with it. More specifically, for those whose moral order is based upon liberalism, how to deal with political Islam. There is no doubt that there has been an awakening within Muslim countries in the last few decades, and Islamic movements have achieved varying degrees of success. The example that is closest to the point that I wish to make here is that of Algeria. After the FIS had walked through the first round of elections with a victory that would make Tony Blair jealous, the army stepped in and cancelled the elections. (Note a liberal paradox: the right of the individual Rushdie must be upheld, but the right of the nation Algeria can be ignored.) The apology of Western writers stated that Islam was simply anti-liberal, women being oppressed, hands being chopped off, and the rest. So even if the people want Islam, they must not be allowed it. And so democracy works to a lesser extent in most of the Muslim world with the aid of Western intelligence agencies. (Whence the disingenuous claim of Israel being the only democracy in the Middle East. First of all, democracy is not allowed in most of the Muslim world, thanks to the Western governments. Secondly, what is the point of being a democracy if one cannot treat other human beings with respect?) At the same conference, François Burgat  spoke of bilateral radicalisation. This is the idea that the moderates would attempt to work through the political process, be prevented by the respective governments’ imaginative use of law (cf. Turkey and Egypt), so that sections of the movement would become radicalised and move outside the political process. This historically has lead to the formation of the Jihad movement of which Usama bin Laden is a charismatic leader. Calling for the overthrow of corrupt governments, the Jihad movement has grown over the last few years as injustice after injustice has been piled upon the Muslim world. (The second area of activity for the Jihad movement has been in Muslim minority situations such as Kashmir, Palestine and the Caucasus.) But effectively what has happened is that sections of political Islam have been radicalised towards extra-judicial violence, and the relative rise of the jihad group has meant, in one sense, that oppression in Muslim lands has been successful. I am reminded of that game I used to play without much success in Blackpool. A twopenny piece had to be inserted through a slot at the top of a machine and the coin fell down onto or alongside a pile of coins. A machine moved the pile along as the coins hung on one side over a ledge. If my coin could move the pile along, five coins might fall. Maybe (and usually) not. The coins falling from the top of the machine are the numerous injustices heaped upon the Muslim world, and the coins that fall over the edge are the terrorists.
We have all been radicalised over the last decade or so, at least discursively. Who could not have been, after the Gulf war, Bosnia, Chechnya, Kashmir, and now Afghanistan, etc. etc. For how long can we bear the etcs?  But – and this is where most media commentators miss the point – Islam is not a religion of violence. It teaches us to control our anger, to withhold it, to be patient through prayer. Because if Islam was a religion of violence and advocated insurrection, then I and many, many others would have become violent by now. Because the pain has been maddening. 5000 children in Iraq every month. There have been times when I could not sleep because of this number. The disgust and shame that this number brought upon me has impelled me into great anger. But I have controlled myself, as have the millions of practising, angry Muslim youth over the world. Why? Because my religion has told me to control myself, and what my religion teaches me is sacred, full stop.
The play Iranian nights written by Tariq Ali and Howard Brenton and performed in the aftermath of the Rushdie affair suggested that the refugee turns to religion because he feels rejected:
Now I live in Notting Hill, with my mum. She is not well. The terror, the fear have broken her. Who can understand the fate of the prisoner and the poor who have fled from hate to a nowhere in the West, a nowhere in the rain? Who can understand our pain? Why does the West think it can do no wrong and expect the refugee to be superhumanly strong, more tolerant, more wise than any human being can be? It’s a miracle that so many of us do have the strength to bear the abuse, bear the blind ignorance of what we are and where we come from. A miracle! That only a few have gone fanatic! That only a few rave about the satanic! Therefore, the more who speak out, the better. The more! The more! The better! About the profound matter of the nature of God and man, speak out as best you can! What finer sound is there than a human being singing against cruelty! Against hate! 
It is not a miracle that we have not become terrorists, it is more simple than that. Islam prevents us from doing so.
The argument that has been proposed post-September 11 suggests that Islam is inherently violent, and that this is why these Muslims committed such acts of violence: they were acting on Islamic teachings. There is justification within Islam for these acts – that is the claim being made. If we are to play in an equal field, then does this mean that Christianity can justify the IMF or the sanctions against Iraq? Or Judaism justify Israel’s militarism? Let’s not let the secularists get away with this. Would the religion of the selfish gene justify sanctions against Iraq? The fact of the matter is that if there are one billion Muslims, at least a hundred million take Islam seriously, 1 in 10, and violence is not the norm in Muslim society. The twentieth century’s violence was mainly European, not Islamic. We have not responded to the numerous events of the last decade with acts of violence. In fact our response has always been one of restraint, and, unbelievably, dialogue.
The issue of sleepers is an interesting one. I would suggest that instead of sleepers being conscious, recruited members of a secret network, we could do ourselves a favour by examining the social nature of this phenomenon. I would suggest that a total climate of oppression has led to a situation in which there are millions of sleepers all over the planet. They are not members of al-Qaida. They are ordinary practising Muslims. They become activated once they cannot take it any more and they lose touch with fiqh. The American government is chasing a mirage if it thinks that al-Qaida is as organised as it suggests. This is the real problem for the American government: how to deal with a massive social phenomenon. (To be anti-hegemony is not in itself a bad thing; Foucault felt able to applaud Khomeini for being anti-hegemony.) If I was an anthropologist wandering around Washington at the moment, I would suggest that the bureaucrats of government agencies such as the State Department, the FBI and the CIA have a fetish for organisation. They need to construct the mirage of an organised body so that they can investigate it.
“Are you with the civilised world or with the naan-civilised world?” These words of James Rubin, the former US assistant secretary of state, still ring clear in my mind. He said these words, echoing Ehud Barak’s, across the discussion floor on the day of the attack. (How strange that Barak happened to be in the BBC offices at the time of the attack, as was reported. What was he doing there: congratulating the BBC for its objective coverage of the Middle East? And how strange, that Colin Powell echoed the same words in interviews following the attack. This was spin too well spun.) So suddenly civilisation was on the agenda. “Are you civilised or uncivilised?” Why the resurrection of pre-colonial justificatory discourse?  What irritated me most about Rubin was that this was the same man who was paid to justify the sanctions against Iraq. This is civilisation. The hijacking of language to cover mass murder. Call me uncivilised.
Well, I can’t let this discussion on civilisation pass without mentioning Lord Douglas Hurd, former Secretary of State for the Home Office and then the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. During the Rushdie affair, he said to Muslims gathered at Birmingham Central Mosque: “You clearly feel as if the most sacred things of your faith have been insulted and wounded. You feel shocked and you feel angry. But to turn such protests towards violence as has been suggested, not, I agree, in this country but elsewhere, or the threat of violence, I must say, is wholly unacceptable. Talks of death, talks of arrows being directed at hearts, such talk is vicious, it’s repugnant to civilised men or women.”  It was Douglas Hurd who was influential as one of the politicians who argued that the Bosnian Muslims must be refused the right to arm themselves. That would lead to an escalation in the war, he argued (his term was “a level killing field”). Meanwhile, many died. Imagine my feelings when I read Francis Wheen’s article in the Guardian (November 5 1997) which related how the same Hurd became deputy chairman of the National Westminster Bank. Markets which early in 1996 “concluded a deal with Milosevic to privatise Serbia’s post and telecommunication system and manage the country’s national debt. NatWest’s fee was said to be in the region of $10 million”. Call me uncivilised.
Terrorism. Global political structures use words like ‘terrorism’ so much that their semantic utility tends to decline sharply. The popular usage would mean “the use of violence by madmen to secure anti-democratic ends”. Of course, terrorism is directly and inversely related to democracy, at least rhetorically. Hence the frequent sloganeering about “democracy and freedom” (a friend of mine said recently that he gets worried whenever they start talking abut democracy and freedom, because it means that they are about to bomb a third world country. He was right). The terrorists are against democracy and freedom. Our right to be free. Superficially, this may ring true. But how about changing ‘free’ to ‘rich’? “These terrorists hate our freedom (wealth)! They don’t want us to be free (rich). We must fight those who are willing to attack us just because we want to be free (rich)”. Make any more sense?
Those persons who talk most about human freedom are those who are actually most blindly subject to social determination, inasmuch as they do not in most cases suspect the profound degree to which their conduct is determined by their interests.
Karl Mannheim 
“The horror. The horror.” Colonel Kurtz’s last words. I wonder sometimes about their meaning. Is this the horror of the civilised man grown savage, or the horror of the corrupting influence of power? Or both? As we journey through the labyrinth of political error that has led us where we are, the question to be asked is: is the horror on our side or theirs? The answer, of course, is that the horror is on their side. Have we become savage in the pursuit of civilisation? Has power corrupted us in our pursuit of egalitarianism? The practical answer to this question lies in the machination of modernity. I would suggest that as knowledge and power are two sides of the same coin according to Foucault, in the same way, violence and distance are also two sides of the same coin in the discussion on terrorism and modernity. The terrorist terrorises us because he bridges this gap in the late modern era, whereas the objective of modernity is to make the equation of violence over distance tend as much towards zero as possible. The violent act committed by the state has to be out of sight, out of mind and out of discourse (hence the present discussions about press access to casualties in Afghanistan, and the resentment against Al-Jazirah). The sanctions against Iraq work so well because the distance between the act of violence and the actor is so great that the thread linking the two is too tenuous for the frail democratic sense. The “terrorist” act decreases this distance almost to zero. Suffering, of course, does not look to the name of the sender. But for some strange reason, we are today living in times when the “terrorist” form of violence exacts more horror. The drama of the moment holds our attention.
Here the word “terrorism” requires some comment. It is a word that, like its twin “fundamentalist”, doesn’t really mean much. Ask someone what they mean when they use the word and present different scenarios to question their definition and you’ll get the picture. “Terrorism” according to the lay definition means “the use of violence by madmen to secure anti-democratic ends.” I use the term “madmen” specifically. The suggestion according to this essentially right-wing definition is that “terrorists” are those people who are responsible for their actions because they have decided through rationalisation to commit acts of violence. The simultaneous description of them as “madmen” confounds their ambivalent reception, for “madness” limits the agency of the individual (as in the case of the assassination of King Faisal of Saudi Arabia) and renders them free of law. Perversely, madness can be a route to freedom. A more left-wing definition of “terrorism” would be “politics by desperate means” – the desperate under total political and military oppression resort to acts of individual and extreme violence. It is an attempt to take violence back into the court of the initiator state. Blair has entered this debate (and hence tacitly admitted the problem of defining terrorism) by offering the following definition in his answer to a question about the war in Afghanistan at Prime Minister’s Question Time (November 7): “Terrorism maximises loss of civilian life, we minimise loss of civilian life.” Netanyahu had offered the same definition on BBC2’s Newsnight a week earlier (October 31).
The use of the word “terrorism” by subaltern agents is a valiant attempt to re-focus concern towards universal suffering but the word has meaning only in reference to the powerful. There’s a word that we don’t hear much of. Power. Why? An open discussion on the nature of the relationship of terrorism to power would of course lead to the subaltern victory. Hence, the absence of discussion. For “terrorism” is the violence of the powerless, while “militarism” is the violence of the powerful. And since anything that can establish a relation to the nation state can automatically assume authority, the “militarism” approach reflects the order of things, while “terrorism” reflects disorder. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “terrorism” as “the use of violence and intimidation for political purposes.” Interestingly, this definition does not introduce the question of level of violence.
Recent reports suggest that the American intelligence agencies are re-considering the employment of torture as a tool to extract information. Simultaneously, the newly introduced human rights act in Britain is being set aside so that suspects can be imprisoned forever without trial. Well, this at least confirms to Muslims (for whom this act is primarily intended) what they have always thought, that they are insufficiently human to be warranted human rights. Both are examples of extremes of policies that are practised in the Middle East on a regular basis. It seems that the policies have come home. Is this reverse globalisation or the boomerang effect?
Ichheiser  has written about the difference between ideology in principle and ideology in practice in American culture. Ideology in principle is democracy. Ideology in practice is nationalism.  These past few months have thrown up this distinction to a remarkably clear degree. The talk has been of democracy, but the symbolism has been that of nationalism. The American flag out-selling the Afghani flag. And it is this distinction between rhetoric and practice that allowed the bombing to begin and continue. “You killed American citizens, we must kill you.” This base nationalist feeling is perhaps the most dangerous idea roaming the planet and it is this same feeling that punctures any attempt to achieve humanitarian sensitivity. Ultimately, history and geography decide who can be a human being in practice. In rhetoric, we are all human beings, as human rights discourse usurps the old-fashioned democracy slogans; but in practice, human beings are unequal. There are currency rates for human lives. And I think recent events have shaken these markets. So exactly how many Afghans are equal to one American?
“Not one American or British soldier has been killed so far,” crow the hawks. If the Americans had sent their soldiers into battle, it might have been a different story. Instead, they used the Northern Alliance to fight the Taliban, Afghan against Afghan, because Americans are worth more. We do value certain lives more than others, and this is because of the way that we interpret individualism. The ideology of human rights being derivative of Kantian rationalism assumes individuals are mutually replaceable, all equal in front of the UN. But in reality, human psychology does not work like this. We may say that all humans are equal, but in reality, humans are different, and it is culture that determines the ascription of value. Culture strikes through human rights discourse. That is why the deaths of New Yorkers mean more so much more to viewers than the deaths of Afghani villagers or Iraqi children (those alert to media imagery will have noticed that after the angry, shouting crowd of Muslim youth and the wailing, pleading hijabi, has come a third image, that of children training for warfare, the implicit question following on from Israeli spin being “What kind of people train children to kill?”, thus implicitly justifying the murder of Muslim children). But New York is the home to global culture. “Friends” and “Sex and the City” both have a New York-style backdrop to their narratives of life. Superman, Spiderman and Batman were all New Yorkers. We share, or aspire to, that culture. We can relate to them because they invade our TV screens regularly. We live and make sense of our lives through their stories. And now we feel their suffering, because we can relate to them. More, certainly, than we can relate to a third-worlder. It is this social psychological reality that punctures the ascending balloon of human rights discourse. Culture brings people together, and forces people apart. (Kant is important as an ancestor because he has been described as the founder of the modern concept of race). 
Compare what the Catholics in Northern Ireland, the Palestinians, the Kashmiris and the Chechens have received and one begins to realise that there are decreasing levels of justice in this world. I suggest that “justice” (minus the infinite) needs to be heard of a bit more. This word doesn’t really match well with human rights discourse, mainly because human rights discourse is so frequently useful in serving hegemonic powers. Human rights activists say that you can have economic or political justice only if you agree with our way of doing things, that is to say, you can’t have your cake, even if you want to eat it.  An attempt to universalise human rights discourse is essentially an attempt to globalise the Enlightenment project, especially in the notion that there are only rights for individuals; and this is highly problematic.
For those who wish to discuss the real nature of things, a knowledge of economics is necessary. Oil money, the WTO, the IMF, the numerous trade agreements, rapid liberalisation of third world markets at the expense of local business: who is the thief? One doesn’t have to be a Marxist to recognise that economic globalisation is proceeding in an unbalanced manner. The ideology in practice means that the South Carolina farmer is rich because the African or the Indian farmer is poor. For those who remain unconvinced, I direct them to the writings of Susan George and Vandana Shiva.  The US’s approach to globalisation has simultaneously included the retreat from the Kyoto protocol (on the cutting of greenhouse gas emissions), the retreat from the anti-biological warfare treaty, the retreat from the anti-racism conference and the retreat from the anti-ballistic weapons treaty. So the US is interested in economic globalisation, but not, it seems, in other forms. John Locke wrote: “In the beginning, all the world was America”  (referring, ironically, to the then relative insignificance of the accumulation of wealth), today perhaps it would be: “The whole world is becoming America”, and tomorrow: “America is the world”. This does not mean that the US is unified on these matters. It is just that big business decides in Washington. It is the study of the interaction between democracy and economics that I wish to encourage here; but what should we call it? How about demonomics?
You may accuse me here of being anti-American. I would be disappointed. Much of what I wish to say about America is already an intrinsic part of American discourse, whether it be in relation to anti-globalisation, democracy, war or Muslims. Sayyid points out in his book: “There is a convergence between ‘internal’ critics of the West and the Islamist critique of Western hegemony”.  This is an internal dispute whose ramifications are played out amongst innocents living in other parts of the world. This leads on to two interconnected points. First of all, the idea of the US being isolationist. So what exactly does the CIA do? How can true democrats tolerate the existence of an organisation whose central purpose is interference in the affairs of other countries? How many CIA agents are currently aiding the numerous Muslim governments against their own populations? Why do no political observers and analysts talk about the influence of the intelligence services? It is of course politically impolite to ask such questions, but I only do so for the interests of the political rights of other countries.
The second issue is of the nature of politics in the US and the UK. One of the more depressing sights over the last few weeks has been the closing of political ranks. Perhaps there are no greater political issues in our times. However the three main British political parties have virtually fallen over each other in agreement post-September 11. The same is true for America. Only last year, the world witnessed an intense polarisation in the political sphere as Democrats and Republicans bickered about the Florida recount. But today they are united in the “war against terror.” Giddens’ notion of political debate in the late modern era as being beyond left and right proved true for much of the last parliament.  Tony Blair’s Labour Party managed to walk over and occupy the centre ground. The Tories, in their perplexity, shifted to the right. The debates on key issues such as public services became a real bore. Arguing over fine details and intricate numbers, both Blair and Hague defied the common man in PMQ after PMQ to understand what exactly it was that they were disagreeing about.
But recent years have witnessed the emergence of a new political space, one outside the normal consensus. This is represented by the anti-globalisation movement. It takes seriously the effects of one political nation upon the rest of the world, and it calls on citizens of one particular country to audit their effect, primarily economic, on other human beings, which means that it takes the language of human rights seriously, and it disregards in one clean sweep the nationalist agenda. One cannot help but think, while listening to the political rhetoric coming out of Washington and London, that we are hearing the last cries of nationalism before we approach the post-nationalist era. I think this political space has arrived and needs to be articulated and expanded. The Blair government is attempting to carve out a new political space for itself and in doing so it wishes to afford morality, an ideology in principle. But there are at least two obstacles. Firstly, the ethical foreign policy was one attempt at this, but once Robin Cook discovered the price of human rights, little more was heard of the phrase. Secondly, the government has released information on policy shifts in regard to nuclear processing, Railtrack, tuition fees and asylum vouchers in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, highlighting the interaction between policy and manipulation. The government, it seems, does not have the necessary moral courage, though it has a huge democratic mandate. If within the modern democratic framework a strong government cannot afford morality, then who can?
A noticeable characteristic on the part of Jim Liberal is the refusal to engage with detail, especially in relation to international issues. A friend of mine was once talking to a non-Muslim friend of his who was slightly upset with Muslims. After my friend managed to give his side of the story, the non-Muslim’s response was “We should blow the whole world up and start again.” The refusal to deal with detail as in the case of much Middle Eastern politics may be a source of much humour for people like me, but ultimately, it remains as a tragic wall that bars political progress. “Both sides are at fault.” “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” As if all wrongs are equivalent.
This myopic interpretation is common in international debate. But closer examination reveals that such platitudes are irrelevant at least. For example, let us take two forms of violence and murder. The attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, and the sanctions against Iraq. Both required planning and execution. An attention to detail is necessary. But here the similarities end. One act of violence ended in a moment. The other has lasted for ten years. One act of violence has the backing of a government which is democratically elected. The other has the backing of a small and freakish network. And this is where the strange nature of social attribution reveals itself. Governments representing nations (i.e. the majority) are not accountable according to the press, but Muslims and Islam are accountable for the actions of a small religious minority (even though the media is doing much to counterbalance this effect). So responsibility is differentially distributed. Strange, but true. In fact, the Archbishop of Canterbury, representing the majority of British Christians, supported the bombing of Afghanistan, whereas violence has only ever been advocated by minority Muslim spokesmen. Perhaps stereotyping is only against the weak, that is, it lies in the hands of the powerful and the majoritarian, the hegemonic? Of course, one could be cynical, and read political actors through the reverse of their professed statements. So Tony Blair appeals to the middle classes although he is the leader of the Labour party. Similarly, John Major celebrated his Brixton beginnings, though he was Conservative Prime Minister. So what does this say about Tony Blair’s religion and the current government? (Note how Blair began by using the anti-drugs argument as a pretext for war in Afghanistan, later permitting his Home Secretary to decriminalise cannabis).
The argument regarding the Holocaust as a supreme evil because it employed the machinations of modernity towards suffering is, I believe, a strong one; although I do have a problem with the implicit valorisation of rationality, as if it could, if left alone, never lead to evil. The sanctions against Iraq have killed at least 1 million – that’s a sixth of the Holocaust – and I think that as such the sanctions qualify to join the Evil Hall of Fame. The machinations of modernity have been used here as well, including the proper functioning of democracy. How many times have the sanctions been raised in the Commons, and how many times have MPs ignored them while eyeing Front Bench positions? Democracy can walk shoulder to shoulder with mass murder if the thinking masses and the chattering classes are drunk on the wine of banality.
There is a problem with commenting on recent events, and it is to do with the interaction between media studies and international relations. The Glasgow University Media Group has conducted some research on the reporting of war, but to my knowledge (and I would love to know of instances that prove otherwise) there has been no major piece of work on the relation between information dissemination and time after a major event. One opportunity is provided by the recent publication of a book on the conflict in Bosnia by Brendan Simms, a Cambridge historian, examining the nature of political decision making that permitted so much mayhem.  One could compare the content and style of discourse within this book with the newspaper coverage at the time, and see what differences, if any, emerge. Similarly one could compare a recent article detailing US political decision-making in relation to Rwanda in the Atlantic Monthly (September 2001) entitled “Bystanders to Genocide” by Power (a professor at Harvard University) with US newspaper coverage of the genocide at the time.
We all know that the first casualty of war is truth. However what I am wishing to suggest here is that the type of discourse changes dramatically as one moves further and further away from the source event as truth begins to appear without disguise. Secret files are released, ex-ministers are more open, shocked bureaucrats leak sensitive information, international friendships fall apart. And the truth begins to appear. The huge wave of news information post-September 11 is enough to drown one under detail after detail. However, for those who are interested in the real nature of things, the best thing to do is to stand back, treat media speculation for what it is, and to buy a few books on the history of politics in the Middle East and American foreign policy.
I remember once having a discussion with one of my teachers about the nature of reality in our times. He was working on the social psychology of globalisation and implicit to his work is the principle that the picture of the Earth from the moon is enough to convince people that the Earth is round. (Like millions of others I have received the e-mail which tries to convince me that NASA faked it, but let’s leave that issue aside – I am not a flat-earther). I remember discussing the efficacy of imagery as proof with him. I was suggesting that as computer imaging develops, it will become more difficult to distinguish between true images and false images. The Gulf War made this issue real and perhaps this is what Baudrillard meant by his essay The Gulf War did not take place : he was satirising the postmodern contempt for suffering. Of course, the events of September 11 have turned this issue on its head. Many people will have seen the films that can be related symbolically to the planes crashing into the twin towers. “The Towering Inferno” has a burning building about to collapse. “Independence Day” has scenes in which buildings representing American nationalism are blown up. “The Siege” has a secret enemy cell plotting to kill innocent civilians in New York. “Executive Decision” has Muslim terrorists (sic) hijacking a plane.
On September 11, all the story lines merged into one in a single dramatic moment. “It was just like a movie!” This was heard often in the aftermath of the attacks. The reality wasn’t, it was worse, much worse, because not only did the hijackers manage to combine the worst aspects of each film narrative, they also managed to kill thousands. That doesn’t happen in the movies. And now films are being shelved because the weak distinction between fact and fiction isn’t standing up under so much scrutiny. There is something of the self-fulfilling prophecy about this. For years, Muslims had complained of negative representation. There were no major terrorist acts. Now, of course, some people will say, “You see, we were right!”. But they are wrong. Allport  has written of the self-fulfilling nature of representation (though it may be mediated by ambivalence) and it seems that this repeated representation of Muslims as terrorists has become a reality. The distinction between representation and reality has been further blurred by references to Bin Laden’s similarity to Blofeld – the arch-enemy of James Bond – in the Sunday Times (October 7). Even a Downing Street source said after the Northern Alliance went into Kabul: “Things are going to be a bit messy. This was never going to unfold like a Steven Spielberg movie” (Independent on Sunday, 18 November).
One obvious winner in the past months has been the media. No doubt much will be written in the years to come about the media and September 11. There are many areas for analysis: the overlap between fact and fiction, the effects of the repetitive display of images of extreme violence, the symbolism of the attack, the representation of otherness, the challenge of language, and the totalisation of discourse. Of these, it is the latter that most interests me. This was probably the first time since the globalisation of the media post-internet and satellite TV that discourse was total. Meaning that there was no space for difference. Poor Pakistan! The whole world was staring at Pakistan with accusative eyes on the Thursday after the Tuesday. “Either you are with us or against us!” And who could disagree in the face of such total carnage, the destruction of two buildings that championed America like no other? Or was it the number of lives that were lost that constituted the real disaster? I can’t help feeling that the destruction of the two buildings means more to some than the three thousand lives. How could there be disagreement after such total mayhem? And total mayhem means total discourse. We could only think through the words and the images that we were seeing.
The media, which usually struggles to capture major audiences, suddenly found itself serving captive audiences. There was no other topic of conversation (whence the British government’s timed press releases). The language devoured us all. Muslims were objectified as a global Other at that moment, through the image of Usama bin Laden. Muslims generally have no problem opposing the hegemony, in fact we quite enjoy it, but at that time, the horror did not escape us. We felt also. But the bombings on Afghanistan (which were presumably ordered to meet public opinion before the month ran out) changed the moral landscape again and the total language no longer exerted its hold over us. I think that Western governments lost the one opportunity they had to make serious headway towards conflict resolution.
The acceptance of Islam can only come about after Western agencies cease to caricaturise Islam and the sharia. (See Euben’s “Enemy in the Mirror”  for a grown-up discussion on comparative political theory in which she examines the similarities between Islamist political discourse and the writings of Arendt, Bell, Bellah and Taylor.) Cultural theorists would say that I am being too optimistic. The increase in stereotyping and caricaturing is related to the increasing threat of a certain sort of ‘political Islam’. That is, as this Islam advances on the public scene, stereotypes will be constructed in order to make it seem threatening, different, alter to our ego. The Taliban were used precisely for this reason. Story after story hit the papers emphasising their complete otherness to the idyllic, Surrey middle-class lifestyle. How representative were the Taliban of the world’s one billion Muslims? Or the numerous expressions of political Islam? And how representative were the media stories about the Taliban of the Taliban themselves? I’ll return to this later. I remember a series on BBC2 last year called “Behind the Lines” in which Sean Langan, a journalist, visited Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Palestine, interviewing a series of Others. The argument being put forward was that here is a line which divides us from a fascistic Them (in almost every programme Langan spoke about how he could not say what he wanted, or about how he was being followed, Orwellian style), and hence we have two blocs. The democratic, secular West and the fascist Islamic East. Of course, had he visited Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria and the like, the argument of freedom (political) and Islam would have been turned on its head. The line is not so clear anymore. The convenient story not so believable. He did, as it happens, visit Egypt, but according to inside sources the BBC pulled the programme for “technical reasons.” I am no great defender of political Islam, the Islamist cake will most probably be a modernist cake in postmodernist times  (with an Islamic cherry on top), but surely other nations have rights to representative government? The Western media’s support for what in many cases are appallingly tyrannical regimes belies their commitment to freedom.
But this is not the end of it. The above position is justified by suggesting that Muslims are actually against freedom, and especially the freedom of women. This is another area requiring grown-up discussion. Feminists who rage against Muslim treatment of women monopolise the banner of freedom (so that the girl who wears hijab is oppressed but the girl who wears a miniskirt is free) while concurrently failing to recognise the involvement of women in the Muslim resurgence. Instead, desperate lists are produced and fake scenarios rehearsed (men throwing acid on the faces of women) detailing oppression after oppression. The arguments that such feminists propose assume an individualism that is crude and rooted deeply in Protestant culture valuing the public role and work ethic of the self-sufficient male. And all must converge on this model. The grown-up discussion on individualism versus communitarianism and gender relations allows for a bit more flexibility. Crude individualisms advanced as enlightenment positive truths are not the answer. Two questions to be asked here are: is it necessary for one discourse which is culturally specific to one society and historical experience to be universalised? The feminists would surely reply by pointing out that this is exactly what religion assumes. So feminism (a crude version) is now a religion? Secondly: can feminists be racists as well? Well, the feminist community has been there before and the answer is yes. Feminism does inform the present debate and it seems that it legitimates the bombing, such that, “Because the Taliban oppress their women, we can bomb them.” Is it any wonder that the papers took issue with Question Time immediately after September 11 by printing a large picture of the sister in hijab who spoke assertively against American foreign policy? What could they not tolerate: her opinion or her challenge to their stereotype of Muslim women?
And blessed are they who in the main
This faith, even now, do entertain.
Wordsworth, ‘Ode to Duty’
A fairer representation of an assertive Islam is a huge problem, and I am not sure that enough in the West have a sufficient sense of fair play for this to happen. So perhaps there is another way. Let us recognise that we do accept the sharia when money (or oil) is involved as in the case of Saudi Arabia, and so it is possible when it suits our interests. Perhaps, I am simplifying the matter. An ideological analysis would suggest that the two master signifiers in the Muslim world are Israel and oil. The value of any country and its applicant leader depends on their answers to these two questions. So a Muslim leader can be good if he accepts the Oslo peace process, even if he is bad for his own population. A Muslim leader can similarly be good if he is co-operative towards our oil needs, even if he is corrupt. The Muslim masses know this, and they know that they are on the receiving end of both policies. The caricaturing of Islamic law is merely one of several ideological strategies aimed at maintaining the position of the master signifiers. The right of any Muslim country to self-determination is easily brushed aside. Recent events show that attempts to maintain this hegemony have lead to increasing radicalisation and therefore more violence. I would suggest that an accommodation with political Islam in fact serves the long-term interests of Western stability. Otherwise, radicalisation and the cycle of violence will continue.
Cycle of violence. Now there’s an interesting phrase, used repeatedly by the US State Department over the last year in regard to the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. “We urge both sides to show restraint.” “We call on both sides to cease this cycle of violence.” No right, no wrong. No strong, no weak. Only a “cycle of violence.” There has been a cycle of violence in the Middle East for the past three decades. The US and other Western governments built up Saddam Hussein and his army in order to fight Iran in the Eighties, and then spent the nineties bombing them down again. They simultaneously trained Usama bin Laden and friends,  and are now currently bombing them. Who will we train now in order to bomb them in 2012? The American foreign policywonks are probably repeating the Hardy line to each other: “That’s another fine mess you got me into!” Which way to turn? So much danger around. If I was scared of nature, I would use the analogy of dropping someone into the middle of the Amazon forest and asking them to make their way to the sea.
“Give me your hand!”
“If we live, we live together, if we die, we die together!”
“Scared of what?”
”You don’t know me.”
“I know about you.”
“Give me your hand!”
It has been open season against Islam. Writers who normally struggle to put a few hundred words together and labour to find an issue of sufficient importance, have been presented with an opportunity to provide their analysis of a world event. Except that most of them don’t have a clue. Especially in relation to the issue that supposedly lies at the heart of this crisis: Islam and the West. Assumptions, stereotypes, even ignorance become acceptable replacements for informed opinion. For example, Peter Beaumont in the Observer (October 14) writes of Bin Laden sharing Khomeini’s conception of Islamic revolution (e.g. the vilayet-e faqih) when most people who know a thing or two about both the Iranian revolution and the Jihad movement know that they don’t agree at all. Salafism and Shi‘ism have different notions of authority. But the trajectory of radicalism is too good a narrative to ignore, as Khomeini passes the baton relay-style to Bin Laden. (Interestingly Rashid Rida becomes a co-radical in the same article!) Similarly, Salman Rushdie, that great expert on Islam , wrote in the Guardian (October 6) like a Tory proselyte, erupting with right-wing discourse all the way through his article. Not that I am a leftie. But correct me if I am wrong; wasn’t Rushdie a leftie in a previous decade? Note, then, the shift to the right-wing talk of “Let’s smoke ’em out!” It seems that the terrorists are not the only desperate people. Well, one interesting point to note from Rushdie’s essay is his list that proves that “fundamentalists” (sic) are tyrants. Leaving aside the confusing terminology (since it is the norm), he suggests in this list that Muslims are against accountable government. He is obviously ignorant of the Islamist claims of non-accountability against the Saudi the Egyptian regimes. In fact, accountability is one of the most recurrent arguments of Islamists. (Other members of the list included beardlessness and sex. I can reassure Mr Rushdie that we are innocent on both accounts. On the first, women don’t have to wear beards, and on the second, the Prophet encouraged sex as a charitable act.) One should take note of how Rushdie’s writing supports the hegemonic rationale for numerous corrupt Muslim governments. Thirdly, Henry Porter in the Observer (October 14) argues the Eurocentric view (great timing!) that Islam needs to experience a reformation. If he knew more about Islam then he would know that the closest thing that Islam has had to a reformation has led to the problems that he is trying to explain. But he doesn’t.
The Observer and the Guardian would no doubt be upset. Why don’t I criticise the real ignoramuses of other papers  for their jingoistic, half-baked diatribes? Exactly. I think I can get a conversation with the Observer and the Guardian, and their coverage on the whole has to be commended as brave and important. The secularists, much to my non-surprise, have managed to use these events to play their favourite game, “Who can bash religion the most?” Of course, Dawkins, a professor of the Public Understanding of Science (irony of ironies) at Oxford, always wins hands down. Religion, Mr Dawkins, is keeping the peace at the moment. The day we all follow his selfish gene hypothesis, much in the style of American foreign policy, will be the day that this world lurches much closer towards anarchy. But Mr Dawkins has not been alone. There have been numerous Muslim-bashers out roaming the pages, and I play a game with myself while reading their pieces. Two questions are to be asked of each: “How many Muslim friends have they got?” and “How many books on Islam have they read?”. Of course, two ducks makes them expertly qualified. It is more amusing on TV, watching them mispronounce names, get their history wrong, their facts wrong, and stumble over the geography, but hey, here come the experts. If it wasn’t so serious, but it is serious. Two and a half cheers for Fred Halliday (no Islamophile) for at least being an expert.
Thinking about the recent Islam week on BBC2, I remember the extent to which Islam and being Muslim oversignifies all other categories. Islam is a total discourse.  All actions have to be related back to God, and hence the futile attempt to philosophically (as opposed to politically, which is less of a problem) marry Islam with freedom, since ultimately all actions have to become subservient to God, if not now, then on the Day of Judgement. The human imperative is to reconcile free will with the Will of God. So for a Muslim, Islam is totalising, and if you ask me of the phenomenology of it, in a liberating sort of way. Yet, what is strange about the non-Muslim observation of Muslims is the extent to which Islam is so significant as the key source of categorisation. “Do you do that because of your religion?” How often are we asked this? How often are we explained away because of some crude caricature of our faith? And how little are we actually heard? As national conversation on the television or in the newspapers seeks access into the phenomenology of so much that represents the alternative, there remains still an absence: “What are Muslims like?”
Muslims may wonder what non-Muslims think about them. Zadie Smith’s “White Teeth” provides an answer, albeit fictional. Joyce, a woolly middle-class do-gooder, decides to take in Millat, an angry, confused, young Muslim, for tutoring. She comes to the conclusion through the aid of her doctor friend Marjorie, that Millat suffers from Attention Deficit Disorder: ADD. Joyce and Irie, a friend of Millat’s, discuss how best to deal with Millat:
“Because if Marjorie’s right, and it is ADD, he really needs to get to a doctor and some methylphenidate. It’s a very debilitative condition”.
“Joyce, he hasn’t got a disorder, he’s just a Muslim. There are one billion of them. They can’t all have ADD”.
Joyce took a little gasp of air. “I think you’re being very cruel. That’s exactly the kind of comment that isn’t helpful”. 
I don’t think that British or Western people are ignorant of Islam. It is not that they don’t know, it is mostly that what they know is factually incorrect or unrepresentative.  They know, for example, about the fatwa, the book burning in Bradford, hands being chopped off, the stoning of adulterers and forced marriages. (They also know about the Alhambra, the Taj Mahal, zakat and hajj but the scales are tipped heavily on one side.) There is enough mistrust of Islam for accusations to stick without checking as Islam occupies the space of feared, threatening, mistrusted Other. Said’s book Covering Islam  provides some of the reasons for why this is the case. These examples occupy the fore of Western imagination as it interacts with Muslims, such that as soon as a Muslim opens his mouth, the retort comes back “But what about the fatwa?”. Trapped is he who doesn’t have his answers already prepared. What is the point of dialogue beyond such retorts? Excusing, explaining, apologising: “But you don’t understand …”
Voltaire and Montesquieu differed in their understandings of the Ottoman Empire. For Montesquieu, the Ottoman empire represented a phantasmic, despotic Other whereas Voltaire was more cautious.
There is plainly no question here of splitting Voltaire and Montesquieu. On the level of evidence, Voltaire is right, and without doubt the analysis of the Asiatic regimes developed by Montesquieu – be it the Ottoman, Persian, Mogul or Chinese empires – rests on partial information and partial interpretation. Correct though these criticisms may be, however, it seems to us none the less that they in no way detract from the force of the concept of despotism as elaborated and deployed by Montesquieu.
There was a force to the false narrative which, it seems, is being replicated today. We live in a society in which visual culture dominates oral culture. Ichheiser has said: “Looking at each other is the most primary form of conversation”.  Our eyes have taken over from our ears. The distance that separates us can be maintained by looking but not by hearing. Much of what we find out about others is through reading. It’s so much easier than listening to someone, especially someone we might know. People don’t talk to each other, they find out about each other through newspapers and books, and so misinformation is crucial towards maintaining separation. I remember sitting across from a lady on a train in London. She was reading White Teeth. She might have been reading about Millat Iqbal, the young lad who gets wrapped up in a fundamentalist group called KEVIN (were they too illiterate to realise?), and through Smith’s novel maybe she could have begun to understand why young Muslims become radicalised, like the young Muslim sitting opposite her? I doubt it. If modern cultures allowed for more open conversation, then maybe people would talk to each other on trains, even across differences. Who knows, we might even begin to understand each other a bit more.
Is there a fear of the Muslim voice? I remember watching Question Time after the attacks. I noticed the trepidation before a Muslim spoke. “What will they say this time?” “Will they be reasonable?” The silence before the storm. Except that usually there wasn’t a storm. He/she would generally sound quite reasonable. But I remember the fear, I felt it myself, “I hope they don’t say anything stupid.” There is a fear of the Muslim voice, perhaps we are scared to hear criticism, perhaps we are afraid of their anger, perhaps they don’t make sense. One point, though, to note about Usama bin Laden is that that old dictum has been proved true: “If you say something often enough, people will learn how to pronounce it.”
The release of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon last year was met with public acclaim. The critics were pleased that a non-English language film had done so well. A film that was at ease in another culture was celebrated as marking the beginnings of Western openness. But just as the huge wooden doors of tolerance were being pushed open, along came the Taliban. The Taliban, of course, don’t employ spin doctors. But this doesn’t mean that media personnel don’t make money from them. The Taliban have the unfortunate accolade of being the indirect employers of reverse-spin doctors. These are those who spin the message away from the desired result, and there’s plenty of them. Their spinning has justified Western prejudices against other-worlders, and huge gates of tolerance have been shut again for another few years. The repetitive showing of images of violence and the easy stereotyping of “bearded fanatics” and “oppressed Muslim women” has reassured liberals that they are in fact right. This is not the only moral Other. One section of the liberal-left adopted the Taliban as their supreme moral Other. Another section has opted for the US as their supreme moral Other. Superficially, these two groups may seem similar except that their intended targets are poles apart. But I think further analysis will find that though both groups aim to occupy the same political space, their analyses are in fact diametrically opposed in terms of basic concepts, the most crucial being power.
The presence of Muslims in Britain has been raised again as questions are asked about our loyalty to the Queen. I look at this issue from a slightly different perspective. Imagine, in an ideal liberal world, there would be no Muslims in Britain. Instead, they would all live far away in distant countries which we could visit if we wanted to. We would not have to hear their constant complaining about rights, local and international, we would only have to endure their company at global conferences which only last for a few days. Things would be so much easier. I disagree. The most important contribution that the Muslim community makes to this country at present is not cultural (meaning the restaurants – why is it that multicultural events are always about pakoras and bhangra?) but political, though it should be spiritual. Our strong-mindedness may be irritating, but it serves to hold up the political parties, lobbies and commentators to their claims. We constantly remind politicians of the universal applicability of their pious hopes. We refuse to let easy answers slip away, we inform the debate with knowledge and experience, we place Britain (as a country that is still struggling with these debates) at the centre of the world discussion on Islam, indeed we improve the quality of the debate. This is without extensive participation in the media: look at the number of writers in the press who have written about Islam and Muslims and check to see how many of them are actually Muslim. Is this why Edward Said chose to begin his influential “Orientalism” with Karl Marx’s: “They cannot represent themselves; they must be represented”? 
What about those British Muslims that are fighting with the Taliban? Déjà vu? The same questions were asked during the Gulf War when some British Muslims were interrogated about their loyalties. I would agree with the mainstream, “If you’re going to go, then don’t come back.” The stories, true or false, raise the spectre of the enemy within and it are a powerful narrative to argue against. In fact, there isn’t much anyone can do, once the label has been fixed. If I deny, then I am told that I am lying, and to accept is become a traitor. Maybe this is about a drowning nationalism holding on to the nearest scapegoat? As it drowns, it points to the treacherous Muslims: “Can you not see why you need me?” I am using here Sayyid’s argument from his book A Fundamental Fear. He suggests that the decentring of Europe permits Islamism to emerge. Taken from the vantage-point of the dominant discourse, Islam can be seen as justification for various discourses that are past their sell-by date. I would suggest that we have witnessed several discourses utilising recent events as opportunities to prop themselves up, even though they are either suffering severe wounds or critical, internal fractures. These include (all in a very general but absolutely necessary way): liberalism, feminism, materialism, and nationalism. Since the voice of Islam is either unheard or unintelligible, these discourses are able to prolong their shelf-life for perhaps a few more years by holding up a lazy caricature and then shooting it down.
Madness. Civilisation. These words are used to frame our moral discourse because we don’t at present have an understanding of the word “wrong”. The hijackers were mad. What kind of madness was it? Schizophrenia? I think not. When we say mad, we actually mean that we don’t know what to say, we don’t understand, we cannot categorise them.  So they must be mad. To guess at their mind set, I don’t think that they were mad. I think that they had become in true twentieth-century fashion numb to suffering. They could see their own death and the death of thousands of others ahead of them, but they had become numb to suffering, perhaps numb to moral discourse. They had heard Western political leaders sidestep the murder of tens/hundreds/thousands of Muslims one too many times and they had moved from the stage of intense pain to numbness. This is the point at which Islamic law steps in, and holds us back, for I too am numb to suffering. If Muslims are to be critical of themselves, and indeed now they need to be so, they should ask about what has happened to Islamic law that can abandon its traditional self so completely to permit some acts which are so obviously forbidden. I leave this question to those who are more knowledgeable on this than I, but I urge the average Muslim like myself to think about their relationship with the law, because the law is a blessing, it protects us even from our own selves. We are living in times when laws and rules, rights and wrongs, don’t mean much. One million people use cannabis every week against the law in Britain and the argument for legalisation is “Well, so many people break the law, so let’s change it”. Muslims have to be careful that they don’t join in. The law is sacred in Islam, as the expression of a divinely-guided consensus. As soon as this is challenged and doors are opened for furious men to re-read the scriptures themselves and ignore the scholars, then we will begin to arrive at destinations that we did not intend.
We are passing through a weak phase in our history and we should not feel the need to defend every Muslim for any action. Unfortunately, some Muslims can do certain things which are not only forbidden in themselves, but can also lead to the dishonouring of Islam and threaten the safety of other Muslims. We cannot say on these occasions that we must defend our co-religionists at all costs. We have to have some moral standards which do not reflect a base nationalism; our ethics have to override our sense of community. In fact, this is what is needed for the whole of mankind. The ulema have all condemned the actions of September 11, and it needs to be understood that if there is a particular way of thinking through Islamic law that can lead to this, then we have to understand it, analyse it and then condemn it also. Akbar Ahmed’s book on Postmodernism and Islam is one of the lesser attempts at tackling one of the key issues of the modern age. Sayyid and Sardar are better.  However, Ahmed does say one thing which I believe is pertinent to the current Muslim predicament. He says that the media may succeed in changing Muslim character. I believe that they have, to our detriment. Angry, suspicious, closed-hearted, fearful, narrow-minded, ignorant (frankly), impatient. I know and understand why we have become like this, but I, all praise be to Allah, have moved on, and I urge others to do so. The Muslim scholar and mystic Ibn Ata’illah says in his Hikam: “The source of every single disobedience is being pleased with oneself.” It is time that we recognised our own faults.
The media not only distort character, they also distort our analysis of the situation. Can there be any doubt that our proposed solutions to the Muslim predicament are determined heavily by the media focus upon crisis events, victims and violence? Does this not valorise a political/military solution (hence the rapid rise of such groups during the nineties)? Instead, the Quran says: “Verily, Allah does not change a situation of a people until they change what is in themselves”. Perhaps the media makes us conveniently shift the focus away from our own selves, for indeed are we not responsible for our situation? Iqbal’s Jawab-i Shikwa, written almost a hundred years ago, is perhaps as relevant today as then: “If you are faithful to Muhammad, then I am yours. This world is nothing, the tablet and the pen will become yours.”
I fear that as the situation progresses, we will let the media decide our agenda for us. A similar thing happened during the Rushdie affair. Muslims began to support Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa even though Sunni Islam had a different fatwa. Because the media were asking “Whose side are you on?”, many Muslims by jumping quickly through a few logical hoops decided that they were for Khomeini. Similarly, we have to be careful that the media do not push us to argue for positions that are simply forbidden – haram. That is, that in order to defend Islam from the accusations of non-Muslims, we decide to take up positions which distort the Islamic perspective.
The last decade or so has seen the increasing radicalisation of the Muslim position, especially within the British national public sphere. This can be demonstrated by referring to the choice representative of national newspapers of “Islamic fundamentalism”. The first such representative was Kalim Siddiqui who was probably the most radical and strong-minded defender of Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa during the Rushdie affair. The second choice representative was Omar Bakri Mohammed, a former leader of Hizb ut-Tehrir and now leader of the al-Muhajiroun faction, who is more assertive in his pronouncements but generally against the use of violence. The third is Abu Hamza al Masri, a spokesman for the Salafi Jihad movement, who is more assertive still and believes in the use of violence. Kalim Siddiqui was popular in the early nineties, though he gave way to Omar Bakri Muhammad in approximately 1993-1994, while Omar Bakri Muhammad gave way to Abu Hamza in the late nineties. All three represent small minority affiliations in the Muslim community. This progressive radicalisation of the Muslim representative was paralleled by the accompany radicalisation of Muslim youth after the Gulf war, Bosnia, Chechnya, Kashmir and Palestine. The events of September 11 reversed this process. The death and destruction seemed to be at the hands of Muslims. There was now a tendency towards moderation as many Muslims began to decry the radicalised alternative, “We must stop this madness!” But the bombing of Afghanistan put a stop to that too.
Reading the media over the last two months or so has made me realise how much the radicals and the Islamophobes need each other. One such Islamophobe, Kilroy-Silk, had decided to focus one of his complex television discussion programmes on the issue of Muslims in Britain fighting against the British alongside the Taliban. Omar Bakri Mohamed had been invited to join the discussion. A campaign (mainly by Muslims) began to e-mail, phone and fax those involved with the production of the programme in order to persuade them to prevent Omar Bakri Mohamed from participating. Eventually the campaigners succeeded, but Kilroy-Silk was furious (cf. his article in the Express on Sunday, 11 November). I felt while reading his article that perhaps there is a symbiotic relationship between Islamophobes and extremists. They need each other.
There are calls for a Muslim reformation. What do they mean? Where is the Islamic Catholic church whose authority should be challenged? Is it not the absence of religious authority that has brought us to where we are? So what is meant, demanded, by this call? The last person on earth whom Muslims would be prepared to listen to on such issues is Salman Rushdie, a Pip to modernity’s Miss Haversham (“I would do anything to please you, Madam”). Yet he wrote in the Guardian (3 November) “Let’s start calling a spade a spade…”, meaning that this is indeed a war against Islam, and “the world of Islam must take on board the secularist-humanist principles on which the modern is based, and without which their countries’ freedom will remain a distant dream.” Perhaps this is what is meant by a Muslim reformation: secularism, not scripturalism. But then to what extent should Islam be modified for it to be deemed acceptable? Could somebody please provide a list of all appropriate changes that we should make in order to become worthy citizens of this new moral order? Of course, I jest. Let’s call a spade a spade. Islam doesn’t need to take on board secularist-humanist principles, this would never be sufficient, for secularist-humanists have problems with basic religious beliefs such as God and accountability in the Hereafter. It is not the legal periphery of Islam that is the problem, it is its spiritual centre. As we have seen in Britain, the adoption of such an approach has led to the demise of religion itself.
The call for a Muslim reformation is in one sense a call for a liberal Islam. The subjugation of Islam to the heart’s command may provide opportunities for the emergence of liberal Islam, but it is the same hermeneutic that leads to an Islam that advocates violence. Rendering the interpretation of law to the heart’s desire may not lead to the desired outcome. In fact, the present political climate tilts the balance heavily away from any conciliatory interpretation of Islam, quite the opposite. But the line that establishes the Western moral position (if there is such a thing) is in a perpetual state of motion. Are all others condemned to play catch up from now on? Or will they be permitted to establish themselves as alternatives? If others are to play catch up, then maybe one way that they could try to break ahead is by asking what is post post-modernism and making sure they get there first? Ultimately though, Islam has a stronger historical claim than liberalism, having lasted longer while establishing itself across a wider spectrum of cultures. Islam doesn’t require a reformation; liberalism needs to de-centre itself.
The cinematographic power of the images of September 11 could perhaps be explained as modernity’s hara-kiri. The world watches two planes fly into the Twin Towers on TV through satellite communication. Is this the end of modernity? Is this what is meant by the numerous references to “the challenge to our whole way of life”? Were the events of September 11 the result of modernity’s disregarded children returning to their homes? Or perversely, were they the championing of modernity? That modernity could only be attacked through modernity itself – thus establishing it as the sole surviving grand narrative? That in its moment of supreme weakness, modernity established its universal strength? Or is it all about postmodernism and Islam? How strange that the images on our TVs fluctuate between the city that symbolises postmodernism unlike any other, New York, and the villages of Afghanistan that symbolise the most pre-modern of eras. It is as if the trajectory of progress is being narrated visually. I wonder if bombing Afghanistan would have been so easy if it had been a modern or postmodern country? Or does it make it more difficult? Do their traditionalism and clear Otherness facilitate our bombing? Or does their poverty make us gulp out of shame? Probably both.
About the Taliban themselves and the numerous stories concerning their ultra-Otherness, I am sceptical. Remember the “babies-in-incubator” story that was employed prior to the Gulf war to demonstrate Iraqi barbarism, and which later turned about to be false? Politics and the media, already as siamese twins, tend to merge into one body during war efforts. I remember Malcolm X’s comment about the Japanese (or the Germans?) and the Russians, and how the American media so swiftly switched public opinion pre-1945 and post-1945, and wonder whether the same is not happening now. Were the Taliban not welcomed a few years ago by the US embassy in Islamabad as a stabilising force? The numerous photographs, TV footage and eyewitness accounts are to be taken with a pinch of salt. I am not saying that the media lie, they only strategically misrepresent.
Strategic misrepresentation? Let me give you an example. The Ouseley Report  published in Bradford in the aftermath of this year’s riots was extensively covered in the media. A salient claim was that religious schools in Bradford have led to segregation and in fact are implicitly the cause of the race riots (see The Observer, September 30). This point has been repeated again and again, especially as evidence against the government’s proposed scheme to expand the number of faith schools, and became a sub-narrative to the September 11 attacks. The report, however, also includes the following points: there is a white flight from ‘Asian inner city’ areas towards the suburbs (point 2.5.1), Islamophobia is regarded as prevalent in the schools and community (point 2.5.5) and the police “collude with non-intervention” in the drugs problem (point 2.5.10). These points are never mentioned, even in the liberal press. Instead, the blame is laid at the door of the sole Muslim school in Bradford which is supposed to have caused the riots. It is a girl’s school. Correct me if I am wrong, but I didn’t see any girls rioting. The mass of non-Muslim readers, not knowing any better, would have been content with the story of religion yet again dividing and disrupting society. The truth of the matter is far more complicated, and much less gratifying. The point about Algeria mentioned earlier is relevant here. The denial of freedom in the name of freedom through the distortion of facts is happening in front of our very eyes.
So the Afghanis can taste freedom now. Cinemas, pop music, how could anybody tolerate life with such huge absences? A question that I ask myself is to what extent Afghanistan should approximate to Western cultural practice for the various Western lobbies to be satisfied?. (I know, I’m homogenising Western culture.) Polly Toynbee’s article “Behind the burka” in the Guardian (28 September) was an angry critique of the treatment of women in Afghanistan. Reading the article again, it is obvious that her ink must have burnt from the intensity of her hatred. It couldn’t have taken her long to write it. Anyway, that evening the television schedule offered the following choices at approximately 11 pm. BBC1: Jo Brand. ITV1: Lily Savage. CH4: Graham Norton. What does this say about gender in Western culture, except that it is somewhere between swings and roundabouts. Perhaps, that’s what irks some intolerant feminists so much, that Islam provides a reasonable, working model for gender.  Holding up the burka in order to shoot it down helps the intolerant feminist avoid facing the consequences of gender disruption (which have yet to be assessed).
If the key question is: How do we make the world safer, then immediate and obvious answers are: American troop withdrawal from Saudi Arabia, a ceasing of intelligence agency interference in Muslim countries especially in relation to the move towards representative and accountable government, a return of Israel to pre-1967 borders at least, secure environmental protocols, and fairer global economic trade agreements. Long term answers relate to shifts in industries reliant upon oil and warfare. Can the world’s brains not think up alternative ways of making money? Those who read books know this. But the game of modern-day politics is to avoid the obvious and excuse the inexcusable. I ask myself two questions as I listen to the experts: “How close do they get?” and “What excuses will they offer?” The second question is the linguistic equivalent of hide and seek. Self-explanatory? Perhaps these two strategies could be called the strategies of prevarication and containment. A third question that I ask myself is, “Do they know any better?”
Terrorism is inherently related to fear. The fear of disruption, disorder, chaos. The violation of our structured world, our life, our concerns, our … Where does this “our” end? It ends probably where the threat of terrorism begins. A fear of disorder that was realised so spectacularly on September 11. “Things have changed forever.” Have they? If the US had not bombed Afghanistan, then maybe. But they did. And at that moment Usama bin Laden won the war. A rich man who lives as if he is poor won the war when the richest nation on earth began to bomb one of the poorest nations on earth. So things have not changed. Well, not for the rest of the world, and for the short term anyway. Long term, things may have changed. And I think the greatest effect of the events of September 11 on the US has been and will be symbolic. A confident and secure nation will never feel the same way again. The worrying thing is that in post-moral times, the events of September 11 do provide a strong moral basis for action. But that is all that Western leaders have. And they will need much more if they wish to move beyond rhetoric. I fear as I type that I am typing in vain. Albert Camus said “If our speech has no meaning, nothing has meaning”.  Make no mistake about it folks, this ain’t a crusade. It’s only an escalation in the cycle of violence. Is losing language worse than losing life?
The heart ordered the voice:
“Hold yourself, until I say”,
And the cynic ran away.
Any correspondence to firstname.lastname@example.org
© S. M. Atif Imtiaz
(1) Freud, S. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud (trans. J. Strachey) 14:275. London: Hogarth. 1953-1974.
(2) There is some disagreement as to the exact number of victims. The BBC in the immediate aftermath suggested that up to 50,000 could have died. However, Michael Ellison writing in the Guardian (October 28) quoted New York City officials as putting the figure at 4,964. The New York Times suggested 2,950, the USA Today proposed 2,680, the Associated Press 2,625 and the American Red Cross which had received $500 million in donations towards supporting the families of the deceased suggested 2,563. Why is it that if I were to say that there is no independent confirmation of these figures, replicating the BBC’s response to casualty figures from Afghanistan, I feel that I am somehow less of a human being?
(3) In attempting to explain how the Holocaust could have happened, social psychological studies into the nature of fascism suggested that the authoritarian personality forced the silent masses into submission (cf. Adorno, T. W. et al. The Authoritarian Personality. New York: Harper and Row. 1950). Any such examination today would have to include the role of the media as an agent for comatisation.
(4) Both papers can be found in: Tamimi, A. Power-sharing Islam? London: Liberty for Muslim World Publications. 1993.
(5) For further reading: Burgat, F. and Dowell, W. The Islamic Movement in North Africa. Austin: University of Texas Press. 1993.
(6) But what about Kosova? How can a Muslim explain the recent bombing of Yugoslavia by the US and Britain in order to protect a Muslim population? It certainly confounded expectations, and experience, and that is why Islamists remain mute on this issue. It remains as one example against a whole list of counter-examples. International politics and Popperian falsificationism simply don’t add up.
(7) Ali, T. and Brenton, H. Iranian Nights. 1989. Aired on Channel 4: 20 May, 10.25 pm.
(8) The consequence of a denotation of barbarism is the civilising process which requires political control and military action.
(9) Quoted on The Late Show aired on BBC2, 8 May 1989, 11.15 pm.
(10) Mannheim, K. Ideology and Utopia (Trans. E. Shils) p. 43. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. 1972.
(11) Ichheiser, G. ‘Misunderstandings in Human Relations: A Study in False Social Perception‘. American Journal of Sociology, 55 (suppl.). 1949.
(12) For examples of how seemingly liberal ideas can be used towards illiberal ends see: Parekh, B. ‘Decolonising liberalism‘, in Pieterse, J. N. and Parekh, B. (eds.). Decolonising the Imagination. London: Zed Press. 1993. Said, E. Culture and Imperialism. London: Vintage. 1993. Wetherell, M. and Potter, J. Mapping the Language of Racism. Hemel Hempstead: Harvester/Wheatsheaf. 1992.
(13) Pieterse, J. N. White on Black: Images of Africa and Blacks in Western Popular Culture. London: Yale University Press. 1992.
(14) For further reading: Pereira, W. Inhuman Rights: The Western System and Global Human Rights Abuse. New York: Apex Press. 1997.
(15) George, S. Feeding the Few. Washington: Institute for Policy Studies. 1979. George, S. A Fate Worse than Debt. Harmondsworth: Penguin. 1988. Shiva, V. Biopiracy. Cambridge, MA: South End Press. 1997. Shiva, V. Stolen Harvest. Cambridge, MA: South End Press. 1999.
(16) Locke, J. Two Treatises of Government , p.140. London: J. M. Dent and Sons. 1989/1690.
(17) Sayyid, B. S. A Fundamental Fear: Eurocentrism and the Emergence of Islamism, p.118. London: Zed Books. 1997. See also a Jewish attempt to provide common ground between internal critics of the West and religious faith: Sacks, J. The Persistence of Faith: Religion, Morality and Society in a Secular Age. London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson. 1991.
(18) Giddens, A. Beyond Left and Right. Cambridge: Polity Press. 1994.
(19) Simms, B. Unfinest Hour: How Britain Helped to Destroy Bosnia. London: Penguin Press. 2001.
(20) Baudrillard, J. The Gulf War Did Not Take Place. Sydney: Power Publications. 1995.
(21) Allport, G. W. The Nature of Prejudice. New York: Doubleday Anchor. 1954.
(22) Euben, R. L. Enemy in the Mirror: Islamic Fundamentalism and the Limits of Modern Rationalism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. 1999.
(23) “Sociology suggests that you cannot have modernisation, technology, urbanisation and bureacratisation without the cultural baggage that goes with it and this baggage is essentially a post-Enlightenment system of thought”. Turner, B. S. Orientalism, Postmodernism and Globalism, p.8. London: Routledge. 1994.
(24) For further reading: Johnson, C. Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire. New York: Henry Holt and Company. 2000.
(25) See Sardar, Z. and Davies, M. Distorted Imagination: Lessons from the Rushdie Affair. London: Grey Seal. 1990.
(26) The Telegraph published an Islam supplement on Thursday 15 November presumably to counter the misconceptions that other papers were spreading.
(27) Sayyid, B. S. A Fundamental Fear: Eurocentrism and the Emergence of Islamism. London: Zed Books. 1997.
(28) Smith, Z. White Teeth, p. 434. Harmondsworth: Penguin. 2000.
(29) Minorities have been found to appear in the news as individuals in stereotypical roles (criminals, rioters) or as members of controversial organisations ; see Van Dijk, T. Racism and the Press, p.85. London: Routledge. 1991.
(30) Said, E. W. Covering Islam. London: Vintage. 1997.
(31) Grosrichard. A. The Sultan’s Court: European Fantasies of the East, p. 34-35. London: Verso. 1998.
(32) Ichheiser, G. ‘Sociopsychological and Cultural Factors in Race Relations’. American Journal of Sociology, 54, 395-399. 1949.
(33) Said, E. W. Orientalism: Western Conceptions of the Orient. Harmondsworth: Penguin. 1995.
(34) Rose, D. ‘Representations of Madness on British Television: A Social Psychological Analysis’. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of London, United Kingdom. 1996.
(35) Ahmed, A. S. Postmodernism and Islam: Predicament and Promise. London: Routledge. 1992. Sardar, Z. Postmodernism and the Other: The New Imperialism of Western Culture. London: Pluto Press. 1998. Sayyid, B. S. A Fundamental Fear: Eurocentrism and the Emergence of Islamism. London: Zed Books. 1997.
(36) Ouseley, H. Community Pride not Prejudice: Making Diversity Work in Bradford. Bradford: Bradford Race Review. 2001.
(37) “…the logic of Islamism is threatening because it fails to recognise the universalism of the western project”. Sayyid, B. S. A Fundamental Fear: Eurocentrism and the Emergence of Islamism, p. 129. London: Zed Books. 1997.
(38) Camus, A. Notebooks 1942-1951 (trans. J. O’Brien) p. 23. New York: Modern Library. 1965.
How were the attacks on the USA viewed by the Spanish Muslim community?
MA: The Muslim community in Spain is enormously diverse, and has undeniably subscribed to varied and sometimes contradictory points of view on this issue. My own view is that the best reference-point for a Muslim is in the Quran, where Allah says:
‘Fight, for the sake of Allah, those who fight against you; but do not commit aggression; surely Allah does not love aggressors.’ (al-Baqara, 190)
From this perspective it is not possible to accept that whoever has committed these horrific terroristic acts is someone acting from within Islam.
We viewed the attacks, nonetheless, with a very high degree of concern. Initially there was the pain for the innocent victims and their families, expressed in many letters of condolence. This was followed, secondly, and as a result of the media treatment of the event, by a preoccupation with the consequences of the attack. We Spanish Muslims have seen our religion, our spiritual way, demonized and transformed by the power of the press into something monstrous. We have no alternative to interpreting this as part of the onslaught which has been launched in certain powerful circles (principally in the US) in an attempt to make all of Islam a new arena of conflict. This has the capacity to push the arms race into a new aggressive spiral which can only destroy us. As Ecclesistessays: ‘there is nothing new under the sun.’
Do you think that your position is substantially different to that which we might find elsewhere in the Muslim community?
MA: I don’t know all the responses and interpretations that are out there. I know, however, that there are many Muslims who have allowed themselves to be caught by the dialectic of ‘united against the Other’, and who have fallen into the logic of confrontation, exclusion, and war. But for us, Islam and the West are not incompatible. Allah is the One Creator. In reality, we ourselves are as much Muslims as we are Western. We are living proof of the falsity of this supposed incompatibility.
What could motivate an attack such as this against the Muslims?
MA: A deep reality which is latent in our societies, and which we have been denouncing for years: the aberrant image of Islam purveyed by the media. In many cases we know that there is an almost instinctive reaction of contempt towards everything which is not understood. President Bush has issued a summons to a ‘crusade’, and Norman Cohn has spoken of ‘America’s Holy War.’ It is tragic that in moments of crisis irrationality and emotion prevail, when it is exactly at these times when we most need the ability to reflect. A further problem is that the press only depicts what is newsworthy.
Who is Usama Bin Laden?
MA: We reject absolutely any form of terrorism, from whichever state, or group of desperate men, it may emanate. Bin Laden is seen as a product of the American compromise with the Saudi government during the combat with the Soviet Union. But there is something more obscure at work here. The Western governments seem to spare no effort in identifying the spokesmen of Islam with the most radical elements. Today, the new ‘representative’ of Islam is a man whose existence serves American interests. All of this leads to a false dialogue which identifies Islam with fundamentalism, producing a dialectic of confrontation in which Islam itself is conspicuous by its absence.
How do you assess Bin Laden’s interpretation of Islam?
We know little enough about him, but his association with the Taleban movement shows that he advocates an Islam which has lost all its richness and its open character. They pick up a few phrases and convert them into legal precepts stripped of all nuance. This loss of context robs Islam of its all its human dimension and in fact bypasses the greater part of the Quranic message. To explain the origins of this type of interpretation would take too long, and it is enough to remark that it is a legalistic conception which has little to do with the full religion of Islam. It is an interpretation which has always been supported by colonialist policy, and its most prominent representatives have always worked as effective allies of the British and the Americans.
How concerned are the Muslims of Spain? What is the nature of their worries? Have you detected any form of agitation, and if so, what?
MA: The Muslim fears Allah alone. What He wishes for us is what is best for us. But we are concerned about the level of ignorance. People have shown themselves to be highly suggestible and there are forces at work which profit from this. The principal form of agitation emanates from the press, which repeats official opinion without question. In times such as these we should not flag in the task of urging reflection and wisdom.
Dr. Mansur Abdussalam Escudero
Former President of the Spanish Federation of Islamic Religious Organisations
La reacción de los musulmanes españoles ante los acontecimientos del 11 de Septiembre ha sido clara. La Federación Española de Entidades Religiosas Islámicas (FEERI) emitió un comunicado en el que afirmaba que “hechos de este tipo violan no sólo los derechos humanos más elementales sino también las enseñanzas y principios más básicos del Islam.”
Dos semanas después del desastre del World Trade Center, un musulmán negro que conozco visitó una tienda de revistas situada a unos pocos bloques del lugar de la catástrofe. Los dueños de la tienda, que habían vuelto a abrir justo aquel día, eran cinco immigrantes senegaleses. Aquella mañana, una cliente, que conocía perfectamente que los dueños eran musulmanes, entró en la tienda, se acercó a ellos y les dijo: “ Que pena tan terrible lo que ha pasado. Pero no os preocupéis. Sabemos que los que lo hicieron no eran musulmanes. Eran wahhabis.”
El mundo occidental está ahora comenzando a comprender por qué el Wahbismo es tan impopular entre los musulmanes. Joseph Biden, presidente del Comité de Relaciones Internacionales del Senado, usualmente no muy dado a apreciaciones sutiles de la fe islámica, ha dicho que los “saudíes estan teniendo que comprar sus grupos exteremistas con el fin de autoperpetuarse … esencialmente, están financiando una parte significativa de eso con lo que ahora tratamos – el Islam descarriado.”
El destacado escritor andaluz Mansur Escudero, él mismo un veterano de la yihad afgana contra en terror soviético, reaccionó de la siguiente manera: “Sentimos un absoluto rechazo hacia toda forma de terrorismo, sea perpetrado por cualquier Estado, o proveniente de los desesperados del mundo. Bin Laden es visto como un producto del compromiso estadounidense con la monarquía saudí para combatir a la Unión Soviética. Pero ahí hay algo un poco más oscuro, que nos deja siempre al margen. Los gobernantes occidentales parecen siempre empeñados en señalar como interlocutores del Islam a los elementos más radicales. Ahora el nuevo ‘representante’ del Islam es un hombre cuyo poder proviene de los propios norteamericanos. Todo ello conduce a un falso diálogo que propicia la identificación del Islam con el fundamentalismo, a una dialéctica de enfrentamientos donde el Islam ‘brilla por su ausencia’.”
Según el periodista musulmán Stephen Schwartz, que escribe en el periódico inglés The Spectator, “Bin Laden es un extremista wahhabi, lo mismo que sus aliados egipcios, que, hace no muchos años, se regocijaban emitiendo blasfemos gritos de éxtasis, mientras apuñalaban a turistas extranjeros, con los brazos bañados en sangre. Y lo mismo ocurre con los terroristas islámicos argelinos, cuya gran contribución a la purificación del mundo ha consistido en asesinar a gente por pecados tales como utilizar un proyector de cine o leer periódicos seculares … la inmensa mayoría de musulmanes en el mundo … odia el wahhabismo porque éste significa una violenta quiebra con la tradición… Exponer las dimensiones de la influencia extremista saudí y wahhabi entre los musulmanes americanos pondría en un embarazoso compromiso a muchos cléricos islámicos en Estados Unidos.”
El análisis académico ha concluido también que el Islam saudí se encuentra en el centro de la crisis actual. Muchos estudios citan la tesis de 1998 del disidente saudí Nawaf Obeid, en Harvard. Dice este autor: “Según un oficial de alto rango del Ministerio de Justicia (Saudí), Sheij Mohammed bin Yubeir (actual presidente del Consejo Consultivo Saudí), que ha sido considerado como el ‘exportador’ del credo wahhabi en el mundo musulmán, era un decidido defensor de la ayuda a los talibán.”
Los simpatizantes con los ataques contra las Torres Gemelas reaccionan a la defensiva ante las obvias preguntas. Yusuf Rodríguez, al entrevistar a activistas pro-wahhabi en El Cairo, obtuvo esta respuesta: “¿Guerra justa? Les digo que la guerra santa tiene condiciones claras en el Islam, que no se puede matar a mujeres y niños. No encuentro una respuesta única. Unos dicen que esos no son musulmanes, otros dicen que, en circunstancias extremas , en guerras sin ejército, eso es inevitable, e incluso dudan de la inocencia de un pueblo que apoya la injusticia de sus gobernantes. ¿Se puede justificar así la muerte de cualquier americano? Te dicen que no atacaron al pueblo americano sino a sitios claves, símbolos del poder de sus dioses.”
La vehemencia wahhabi de este tipo – especialmente entre los árabes – no es ni mucho menos infrecuente, pese a su obvio alejamiento del fiqh ortodoxo y normal. Sin embargo, las bombas americanas no caen sobre las universidades saudíes en Medina y Riyadh, en cuyos laboratorios se diseñan las nuevas corrientes de wahhabismo, cargadas de odio. Ni tampoco figura Arabia Saudí en la lista de estados que apoyan el terrorismo, elaborada, de forma notablemente torpe, por los americanos. Los saudíes, como de costumbre, se libran de una crítica seria, pese a que los expertos están de acuerdo en señalar que, aunque tal vez ellos mismos nos sean la raíz del problema, sí que están, indudablemente, alimentándolo.
Los observadores musulmanes especulan acerca de las razones de esta extraña contradicción. Pocos creen que la política americana ignore aún tantas cosas acerca de la dinámica interna de Oriente Medio que simplemente no tenga ni idea acerca de la implicación de los wahhabis en el terrorismo internacional. La respuesta, sugieren, se halla en los intereses de la industria americana. Arabia Saudita es el aliado más importante de Estados Unidos en la lucha para mantener bajo el precio del petróleo. De forma no menos significativa, Arabia Saudí compra armamento americano, manteniendo así a flote la ingente industria armamentística cuyo futuro parecía amenazado por el final de la guerra fría.
Denis Holiday, el anterior Vicesecretario General de las Naciones Unidas, que dimitió en respuesta a las sanciones contra Iraq, realiza la siguiente observación: “Si atendemos a las ventas de armamento americano, Sadam Hussein es el mejor vendedor que existe. Calculo que más de 100 billones han sido vendidos a los Saudíes, Kuwaitíes, los Estados del Golfo, Turquía, Israel, etc. Y todo gracias a Sadam. Sólo la semana pasada, se vendieron 6.2 billones de dólares en aviación militar a los Emiratos Árabes Unidos. ¿Pará que diantre necesita un pequeño país un armamento como ese?” Claramente, esta es una gallina de los huevos de oro que los americanos van a resistirse a sacrificar.
Otros musulmanes sospechan que las razones de la indiferencia americana por el wahhabismo hay que buscarlas en una estrategia para acabar con el Islam mediante el apoyo a un movimiento que lo está destruyendo desde dentro. Jurshiddudin, responsable de una mezquita en Barcelona, sugiere, tal vez con cierta paranoia, que el Islam ortodoxo, con sus caminos espirituales y su rica herencia cultural e intelectual, es percibido como la verdadera amenaza para los Estados Unidos. Occidente, según esta opinión, permite que las universidades wahhabis continúen enviando sus misioneros por todo el mundo islámico, con el fin de eliminar cualquier dimensión de la religión que pudiese atraer a los occidentales, e interesar a la gente educada de los países musulmanes.
Jurshiddudin, que pasó algún tiempo en una universidad en Meca, para terminar por convertirse en un veterano crítico del extremismo, realiza también una observación puramente religiosa. Como otros musulmanes sunníes, Jurshiddudin cree que las actuales desgracias del mundo islámico prueban que, debido a la difusión de doctrinas falsas, los musulmanes han dejado de merecer el favor divino que un día les diese dominio sobre el planeta.
Jurshiddudin recuerda cómo “el Califa otomano Mehmet recibió el permiso divino para capturar Constantinopla cuando envió a sus derviches a la vanguardia del ejército, y estos llevaron a cabo una ceremonia sufí a la vista de los muros de la ciudad. En aquellos tiempos, había tantos awliya (santos) rezando por el ejercíto musulmán que el Islam salía victorioso incluso en sitios en los que nunca había vencido.”
El valiente Jurshiddudin insiste en que “debemos preguntarnos por qué las oraciones de estos extremistas no son respondidas. En Argelia, rezan todos los días por la destrucción del gobierno, pero sus oraciones son rechazadas. En Afganistán, rezan por la derrota de los americanos, pero sus oraciones son rechazadas. En Egipto, rezan por la muerte de Mubarak y los cristianos, pero sus oraciones son rechazadas. Si pretenden ser el tipo de musulmanes que Allah ama, deberían observarse a sí mismos, y preguntarse por qué fracasan sus oraciones.”
Muchos creen que esta crítica ortodoxa del wahhabismo contiene una predicción acerca de su caída. “La popularidad del wahhabismo se debe a un sentido de frustración política y social,” dice Ismael del Pozo, un periodista de Andalucía que también ha tenido contactos con wahhabis. “Y si está enraizado en sentimientos políticos, morirá con rapidez cuando sus motivos políticos terminen por fracasar.” Del Pozo señala que en España, los wahhabis norteafricanos que hicieron público su apoyo a los ataques al World Trade Center han callado completamente tras el súbito colapso de los talibán, los importantes aliados de loas wahhabis en Afganistán. La embajada saudí ha estado haciendo llamadas telefónicas a mezquitas y organizaciones, anunciando que su financiación ha sido repentinamente cancelada.
La situación del Cáucaso también ha forzado a muchos antiguos simpatizantes de los wahhabis a preguntarse acerca del fracaso de sus oraciones. En Azerbaiyán, los intentos de atacar al gobierno por parte de pequeños grupos wahhabis, liderados por Mubariz Aliev, han logrado tan sólo que el régimen se torne anti-religioso. Aliev, arrestado en Bakú por el ataque de diciembre de 1998 contra el Banco Europeo de Reconstrucción y Desarrollo, lideraba un grupo que, según se cree, estaba implicado en una serie de amenazas contra ‘el cuartel general de la idolatría’, y que culminaron en 1999 con el asesinato del famoso astrólogo Etibar Yerkin y sus dos hijos. Por ahora, el gobierno de Azerbaiyán ha suprimido el terror wahhabi, pero el precio pagado por musulmanes ordinarios ha sido muy grande: las mezquitas y los periódicos son examinados con creciente desconfianza, amenazando con debilitar la revivificación del Islam entre la minoría sunní de la república, y con lanzar a jóvenes airados a ataques vengativos que no hacen sino provocar una mayor represión gubernamental.
En las repúblicas del Norte del Cáucaso, el wahhabismo es el mayor responsable del fracaso de los esfeurzos por reintroducir la Sharia o Ley islámica, y por presentar un frente musulmán unido contra la ocupación militar rusa. La página web del gobierno de Chechenia en el exilio, www.amina.com, identifica la expansión del wahhabismo como una de las causas más importantes de la caída, hace dos años, de la independiente Chechenia.
El ascenso del wahhabismo en esta región, devastada por siete décadas de ateísmo oficial, data usualmente de 1991, con el establecimiento de la madrasa El-Hikma en la ciudad de Kizilyut, en el Dagestán. Su director Bagauddin Kebedov, aceptó fondos y asesoramiento de dos organizaciones wahhabis, Al-Haramain y Al-Igase. Aunque ninguno de estos grupos defendía la revolución armada, las creencias que estimularon condujeron a algunos de los 700 estudiantes de la madrasa a declarar que los musulmanes caucasianos normales eran apóstatas (murtad). Cuando Kebedov partió para Chechenia en 1998 y su sucesor, un wahhabi relativamente moderado llamado Ahmad-Qadi Ajtaev murió al año siguiente, tuvo lugar una súbita radicalización. Bajo el liderazgo del soldado wahhabi saudí Abd el-Rahman Hattab y su socio checheno Shamil Basayev, los wahhabis locales atacaron las comisarías de policía y las mezquitas tradicionales sunníes del Dagestán. La revuelta fue rápidamente aplastada, pero trajo como consecuencia una creciente dependencia de las fuerzas rusas por parte del Dagestán, así como la huida de Chechenia de los líderes wahhabis.
En aquel tiempo, el presidente checheno Aslan Maskadov lideraba una nación chechena completamente independiente. Arabia Saudí, temerosa de provocar la ira de Moscú, se había negado a reconocerla (aun cuando el diminuto pero evidentemente más arrojado estado de Estonia lo había reconocido sin dudar). Tal vez a causa de la política saudí, Mashkadov adoptó una línea marcadamente anti-wahhabi. En 1998, al anunciar el éxito de la Guardia Nacional chechena en repeler un ataque de wahhabis en la ciudad de Gudermes, anunció que “el liderazgo checheno tiene fuerza suficiente para detener la expansión en Chechenia de la perniciosa doctrina anti-islámica de los wahhabis.” Añadió que “las formaciones militares de orientación wahhabi serán desarmadas y desmanteladas. Los cabecillas e ideólogos de estos movimientos serán perseguidos legalmente. Antes de permitírseles partir, deberán hacer frente a un tribunal de la Sharia y ser castigados por su intento de provocar una guerra civil en Chechenia.”
La incursión de los soldados de Basayev en Agosto de 1999 dio lugar a la guerra que el común de los chechenos había temido tanto. Según la página web oficial de Chechenia, “A lo largo de todo aquel verano, la gente sabía que se estaban reclutando a muchachos de las áreas wahhabis. Cualquiera podía ver que, si los comandos empezaban a causar problemas en el Dagestán, habría una nueva guerra con Rusia. Así que los líderes de los clanes acudieron a Shamel Basayev y le pidieron que abandonara su plan. Pero él no hizo ningún caso.” La presencia de Hattab era particularmente provocativa. En una entrevista con Greg Myre, de Associated Press, llegó a lanzar amenazas explícitas: “Que Rusia espere nuestras explosiones en sus ciudades. Juro que lo haré.”
La incursión wahhabi trajo consigo, como se temía, una invasión masiva de los rusos. A diferencia de la primera guerra chechena, documentada por Anatol Lieven en su libroChechenia: la tumba del poder soviético, este nuevo conflicto contenía un ingrediente wahhabi significativo. El fracaso era, por tanto, inevitable, y Chechenia está hoy firmemente en manos de Moscú. “La ira local contra los wahhabis,’ dice un comentarista checheno, “es hoy más encendida que nunca.”
Después de la catástrofe en el Cáucaso, Hattab buscó refugio en Afganistán, donde pudo haber muerto en la reciente lucha por la ciudad norteña de Kunduz. En Kunduz también murió Yuma Namangani, líder del Movimiento Islámico wahhabi de Uzbekistán. Namangani saltó a la fama durante los vernaos de 1999 y 2000, cuando sus soldados invadieron áreas remotas de Uzbekistán y Tayikistán, estableciendo un pequeño campamento utópico wahhabi en la región de Tavildere, cerca de la capital tayika de Dushanbe. Después de su incursión en Kirguistán, el alcalde de la ciudad de Osh, que había sido saqueada por las fuerzas wahhabis, observó: “No puedo decir que no haya problemas. Los wahhabis se mantienen muy activos entre los jóvenes, que saben poco acerca del Islam.” En Tayikistán, sin embargo, el gobierno diezmó pacíficamente las filas de los partidarios de Namangani, cuando el Tribunal Supremo legalizó los partidos islámicos de oposición. Más de la mitad de los antiguos activistas de Namangani aceptaron una amistía y eligieron carreras en el ejército o la policía. La última formación rebelde significativa, que contaba con 800 hombres bajo el mando de Mirza Ziaev fue completamente integrada dentro del gobierno tayiko, y el mismo Ziaev fue nombrado ministro de Defensa Civil. Un núcleo duro de soldados fundamentalmente árabes y chechenos permanecieron en las colinas, llamando a todos los que cambiaban de bando ‘apóstatas’ y ‘hermanos de los demonios’.
El fracaso del extremismo en el Cáucaso y en Asia Central ha sido ahora repetido en Afganistán. Jurshiddudin cree que el fracaso de Chechenia refleja con exactitud el fracaso del extremismo en Afganistán. Un gobierno islámico sunní local fue incapaz de impedir que su territorio fuese usado por activistas wahhabis, muchos de ellos venidos de Oriente Medio. “La explicación más obvia del súbito fracaso que siguió,” añade, “es la provocación a estados más poderosos representados por la radicalización y la creciente xenofobia de las poblaciones. Pero la verdadera explicación musulmana es que dondequiera que va esta gente, atraen el rechazo de Allah. Faltan el respeto a los santos, rechazan a los ulema (teólogos, eruditos) Hanafi, atemorizan a mujeres y cristianos e introducen fitna (división) en cada mezquita. En esta situación Allah no ayudará a un estado musulmán. Solo basta con mirar a Argelia. Allah dice que ‘venceréis si sois verdaderos creyentes.’ Necesitan reflexionar sobre este verso.”
Jurshiddudin cree firmemente que los talibán estarían aún en el poder si el Mulá Omar no se hubiera dejado arrastrar a una alianza con los partidarios, fundamentalmente saudíes, de Bin Laden. En este sentido, cita al Mulá Muhammad Jaksar, el anterior viceministro del interior de los talibán, que denunció la política del Mulá Omar tras la caída de Kabul, diciendo: “La personalidad del Mulá Omar cambió en un 95% desde el comienzo del movimiento. No creo que los árabes deban ser perdonados. Fue por culpa de ellos que la aviación americanan vino a Afganistán y bombardeó nuestro país, matando a miles de personas.”
Muchos de los que han comentado la crisis en las principales páginas web musulmanes de habla española parecen subrayar el análisis de Jaksar. La alianza con Bin Laden fue una catástrofe para el pueblo afgano, y un regalo para los amricanos, que ahora se están atrincherando en Uzbekistán y ya están trabajando en un nuevo oleoducto que cruza la región. Algunos incluso echan la culpa de la acusada sequía afgana (que comezó, de forma más acusada, en 1998, el año de la fatwa de Bin Laden defendiendo el asesinato indiscriminado de ciudadanos americanos) a la decisión del Mulá Omar, citando el verso coránico: ‘Si la gente de los pueblos hubiesen creído de verdad, Habríamos vertido sobre ellos bendiciones de los cielos.” Trágicamente, la ‘gente de los pueblos’ y sus gobernantes recibieron bombas en vez de bendiciones.
As New York turns its gap-toothed face to the sky, wondering if the worst is yet to come, Muslims, largely unheeded by the wider world, are counting the cost of the suicide bombings. The backlash against mosques and hijabs has been met by statements from Muslim communities around the globe, some stilted, but others which have clearly found an articulate and passionate voice for the first time. In comparison with the pathetic near-silence that hovered around mosques and major organisations during the Rushdie and Gulf War debacles, the communities now seem alert to their cultural situation and its potential precariousness. Many of the condemnations have been more impressive than those of the American President, who seems unable to rise above clichés.
The motives are twofold. Firstly, and most patently, Sunni Muslims have been brought up in a universe of faith that renders the taking of innocent lives unimaginable. By condemning the attacks, we know that we defend the indispensable essence of Islam. Secondly, Muslims as well as others have died in large numbers. The Friday Prayers in the World Trade Centre always attracted more than 1,500 worshippers from the office community, many of whom have now surely died. The tourists, who spent their last moments choking on the observation deck, waiting for the helicopters that never came, no doubt included many Muslim parents and their children.
But the Western powers and their fearful Muslim minorities, both battered so grievously by recent events, now need to think beyond press-releases and ritual cursings. We need to recognise, firstly, that there has been a steady ‘mission-creep’ in terrorist attacks over the past twenty years. Hijackings for ransom money gave way to parcel bombs, then to suicide bombs, and now to kiloton-range urban mayhem. It is not at all clear that this escalation will be terminated by further anti-terrorist legislation, further billions for the FBI, or retina scans at Terminal Three. America’s tendency to assume that money can buy or destroy any possible obstacle to its will now stands under a dark shadow. Far from being a climax and the catalyst for a hi-tech military solution, the attacks may be of more historical significance as an announcement to the militant subculture that a Star-Wars superpower is utterly vulnerable to a handful of lightly-armed young men. There could well be more and worse to come.
Sobered by this, the State Department is likely to come under pressure from business interests to ask the question it never seems to notice. Why is there so much hatred of the United States, and so much yearning to poke it in the eye? Are the architects of policy sane in their certainty that America can enrage large numbers of people, but contain that rage forever through satellite technology and intrepid double-agents? Businessmen and bankers will now start to read carefully enough to discern that it is not US national interest, but the power of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, that tends to drive Washington’s policy in the world’s greatest troublespot. Threatened with disaster, corporate America may just prove powerful enough to face AIPAC down, and suggest, firmly, that the next time Israel asks Washington to veto the UN’s desire to send observers to Hebron, it pauses to consider where its own interests might lie.
Among Muslims, the longer-term aftershock will surely take the form of a crisis among ‘moderate Wahhabis’. Even if a Middle-Eastern connection is somehow disproved, they cannot deny forever that doctrinal extremism can lead to political extremism. They must realise that it is traditional Islam, the only possible alternative to their position, which owns rich resources for the respectful acknowledgement of difference within itself, and with unbelievers. The lava-stream that flows from Ibn Taymiyya, whose fierce xenophobia mirrored his sense of the imminent Mongol threat to Islam, has a habit of closing minds and hardening hearts. It is true that not every committed Wahhabi is willing to kill civilians to make a political point. However it is also true that no orthodox Sunni has ever been willing to do so. One of the unseen, unsung triumphs of true Islam in the modern world is its complete freedom from any terroristic involvement. Maliki ulama do not become suicide-bombers. No-one has ever heard of Sufi terrorism. Everyone, enemies included, knows that the very idea is absurd.
Two years ago, Shaykh Hisham Kabbani of the Islamic Supreme Council of America, warned of the dangers of mass terrorism to American cities; and he was brushed aside as a dangerous alarmist. Muslim organisations are no doubt beginning to regret their treatment of him. The movement for traditional Islam will, we hope, become enormously strengthened in the aftermath of the recent events, accompanied by a mass exodus from Wahhabism, leaving behind only a merciless hardcore of well-financed zealots. Those who have tried to take over the controls of Islam, after reading books from we-know-where, will have to relinquish them, because we now know their destination.
When that happens, or perhaps even sooner, mainstream Islam will be able to make the loud declaration in public that it already feels in its heart: that terrorists are not Muslims. Targeting civilians is a negation of every possible school of Sunni Islam. Suicide bombing is so foreign to the Quranic ethos that the Prophet Samson is entirely absent from our scriptures. Islam is a great world religion that has produced much of the world’s most sensitive art, architecture and literature, and has a rich life of ethics, missionary work, and spirituality. Such are the real, and historically-successful, weapons of Islam, because they are the instruments that make friends of our neighbours, instead of enemies fit for burning alive. Those that refuse them, out of cultural impotence or impatience, will in the longer term be perceived as so radical in their denial of what is necessarily known to be part of Islam, that the authorities of the religion are likely to declare them to be beyond its reach. If that takes place, then future catastrophes by Wahhabi ultras will have little impact on the image of communities, whose spokesmen can simply say that Muslims were not implicated. This is the approach taken by Christian churches when confronted by, say, the Reverend Jim Jones’s suicide cult, or the Branch Davidians at Waco. Only a radical amputation of this kind will save Islam’s name, and the physical safety of Muslims, particularly women, as they live and work in Western cities.
To conclude: there is much despair, but there are also grounds for hope. The controls of two great vehicles, the State Department, and Islam, need to be reclaimed in the name of sanity and humanity. It is always hard to accept that good might come out of evil; but perhaps only a catastrophe on this scale, so desolating, and so seemingly hopeless, could provide the motive and the space for such a reclamation.
Although the response from Muslims in the UK seems to have been very favourable to my essay, with one or two requests that it be sent to national newspapers for reprinting on their pages, it is inevitable that under pressure from real or potential rioters and cross-burners, some Muslims consider premature any attempt to begin a debate among ourselves about the cultural and doctrinal foundations of extremism.
It is true that no convictions have been secured, and that in the Shari’a suspects are innocent until proven guilty. However it is also regrettably the case that these suspects will not be tried under Shari’a law, and that we need, in the absence of a traditional framework of accusation and assessment, to hold our own discussions. This is particularly urgent in this case, since the damage to the honour of Islam, and the physical safety of innocent Muslims, in the West and in Central Asia and elsewhere, is very considerable. We Muslims are now at ‘ground zero’. As such, we cannot simply ignore the duty to ask each other what has caused the attitudes that probably, but not indisputably, lie at the root of these events.
My essay, which endeavoured to kick-start this debate, takes its cue primarily from the UK situation, which is no doubt less intense than in the US, but is nonetheless serious. In particular I am concerned to insist that Muslims distance themselves from, for instance, the janaza prayer for the hijackers that was held two days ago at a London Wahhabi mosque (the term Wahhabi is more useful, since ‘Salafi’ can also refer to the Abduh-Rida reformism and is hence confusing). Having spoken to the editor of one of this country’s major Muslim magazines, it is clear that the small minority of voices which have been raised in support of the terrorist act were in every case of the Wahhabi persuasion. Clearly, we cannot simply ignore this on grounds of ‘Muslim unity’, since those people appear so determined to destroy Muslim unity, and endanger the security of our community.
I hope that the recent events will spur Muslims to consider the implications for the wider ethos in which we understand our religion of the shift which we have witnessed over the past twenty years or so away from accommodationist and tolerant forms of Islam, and towards narrowmindedness. Al-Ghazali recommends a tolerant view of non-Muslims, and is prepared to grant that many of them may be saved in the next world; Ibn Taymiya, as Muhammad Memon has shown in his book on him, is vehement and adversarial. In our communities in the West, and indeed worldwide, we surely need the Ghazalian approach, not the rigorism of Ibn Taymiya. Not just because we need to reassure our neighbours, but also because we need to reassure those very many born Muslims who are made unsure about their attachment to Islam by events such as this that they can belong to the religion without being harsh and narrow-minded. Extremism can drive people right out of Islam. In 1999 the Conference of French Catholic bishops announced that 300 Algerians were among the year’s Easter baptisms. Noting that ten years earlier Muslims never converted at all, they reported that the change was the result of the spread of extreme forms of Islam in Algeria.
In Afghanistan, too, there are now Christians for the first time ever, and I have heard from one ex-Taliban member that this is because of the extremism with which Islam is imposed on the people. The shift away from traditional Islam, and towards Ibn Taymiya’s position, has been widely documented, for instance by Ahmad Rashid, in his chapter ‘Challenging Islam’, in his book on the Taliban. The Saudi-Wahhabi connection has been very conspicuous.
We must ask Allah to open the hearts of the Muslims everywhere to recognise that narrow mindedness and mutual anathema will lead us nowhere, and that only through spirituality, toleration and wisdom will we be granted success.
The most appropriate du’a’ for our situation would seem to be: ‘Ya Hayyu Ya Qayyum, bi-rahmatika astaghiith’, which is recommended in a hadith in cases of fear and misfortune. It means: ‘O Living, O Self-Subsistent; by Your mercy I seek help.’
This article first appeared in Q-News, the Muslim magazine,
On September 11th our lives changed forever. We witnessed an act of aggression that in many ways does not have a parallel in past or present times. There are several elements that make this act unique, from the use of civilian planes as weapons of mass destruction to the attack on the most widely recognised skyscrapers in the world. Nor have we ever witnessed the terrible indictment of Islam as having a part to play in such a heinous crime, writes Hamza Yusuf.
Muslims were seen rejoicing in some parts of the world in a display of what can only be called shamaatatul aadai’, which is rejoicing at the calamities of ones’ enemies. This is something explicitly prohibited in Islam and was never practiced by the Prophet of Mercy, upon him be prayers and peace. We have seen images since of American flags burning to further arouse the wrath of a nation filled with grief, confusion and anger. Again, Islam prohibits the burning of flags according to the explicit verse, “Do not curse [the idols] of those who call on other than Allah, thus causing them to curse Allah out of animosity [toward you] and without knowledge.” This verse prohibits even the cursing of false gods because of the consequences. We have also seen image after image of Muslims with beards and turbans, who by all outward means look religious and pious – but are they really?
Unfortunately, the West does not know what every Muslim scholar knows; that the worst enemies of Islam are from within. The worst of these are thekhawaarij who delude others by the deeply dyed religious exterior that they project. The Prophet, peace be upon him, said about them, “When you see them pray you will consider your own prayers insignificant. They recite the Quran but it does not exceed the limits of their throat.” In other words, they don’t understand the true meanings. The outward religious appearance and character of the khawaarij deluded thousands in the past, and continues to delude people today. The Muslims should be aware that despite the khawaarij adherence to certain aspects of Islam, they are extremists of the worst type.
Our Prophet said, peace be upon him, “Beware of extremism in your religion.” Islam is the middle way between excess and neglect. Zealots are a plague upon religion. These extremists come in two types. The first is a reactionary extremist who falls far right of a centre-point. Reactionary extremists do not want any pluralism; they view the world in melodramatic, black and white, good and evil terms. They are good and anyone who opposes them is evil. From among the Muslims these are people who ‘excommunicate’ any Muslim who fails to share their interpretations of the Quran. They use takfir and character assassination as a tool for marginalising any criticism directed at them. They are used often by the Western media in order to scare simple people and cause them to believe that Muslims are insane. Unfortunately, our communities provide them with much fuel to fire their incendiary flames.
The second group are radical extremists, who while they are almost identical with the former group, differ in that they will use violence to further their cause. They are actually worse than the first. They believe like every nefarious secret society before them that ‘the end justifies the means.’ They see any act as acceptable if it will further their ‘cause.’ This is blatantly anti-Islamic for a number of reasons.
Firstly, Islam’s means must reflect its noble ends. Any means that does not embody the core truths and ethics of Islam is not from Islam and thus denounced as aberration. Secondly, Islam is not a secret society of conspirators who no one knows what they are planning. Islam declares openly its aims and objectives and these are recognised by good people everywhere as pure and congruent with their own wisdom and traditions. In the case of many of these extremists even the non-Muslims recognise that no religion of any weight could sanction the taking of innocent lives. The Quran says that the Torah and the Gospel have guidance and light and that the Quran came to fulfil these prior dispensations. Good Christians and Jews who believe in God and live ethically upright lives have no frame of reference for such acts, so how could these acts be from Islam, which confirms what has come before it?
Thirdly, they are invariably people who have never taken a true spiritual path to God and nor have they studied the humanities. I can almost guarantee that you will not find a scholar of poetry among the whole vile lot of these people. They have no true knowledge of Arabian culture, which is centred in the idea of futuwwa; a word akin to the western word chivalry. The terrorists posing as journalists who killed Ahmad Shah Masuud were cowards of the worst type. Killing themselves was not bravery but stupidity, but killing one’s enemy in such a way is the worst form of treachery and the Arabs have many poems denouncing such type of people.
Our real situation is this: we Muslims have lost theologically sound understanding of our teaching. Islam has been hijacked by a discourse of anger and the rhetoric of rage. We have allowed for too long our mimbars to become bully pulpits in which people with often recognisable psychopathology use anger – a very powerful emotion – to rile Muslims up, only to leave them feeling bitter and spiteful towards people who in the most part are completely unaware of the conditions in the Muslim world, or the oppressive assaults of some Western countries on Muslim peoples. We have lost our bearings because we have lost our theology. We have almost no theologians in the entire Muslim world. The study of kalaam, once the hallmark of our intellectual tradition, has been reduced to memorizing 144 lines of al-Jawhara and a good commentary to study it, at best.
The reality is we are an Umma that no longer realises that Allah is the power behind all power; that it is Allah who subjugates one people to another; that He gives dominion to whom He pleases and He takes it away from whom He pleases. Our understanding of tawhid has fallen into such disarray that we can no longer introspect when afflictions befall us and then wonder in amazement at why the Americans seem incapable of introspection. Indeed, I personally attended a memorial service in San Francisco with over 30,000 people and the Reverend Amos Brown said in no uncertain terms that America must ask herself what she has done either wittingly or unwittingly to incur the wrath and hate of people around the world. Muslims on the other hand, generally prefer to attack the West as the sole reason for their problems when the truth is we are bankrupt as a religious community and our spiritual bankruptcy has led to our inability to even deliver the message of Islam to Westerners in a time when they were giving us platforms to do so.
It is ironic that the Western media while producing many vile programs on Islam has also produced and aired material of the highest quality with a high level of accuracy only to be vilified by Muslims because it was not good enough. Where is our media? Where are our spokespeople? Where are our scholars? Where are our literary figures? The truth is we don’t have any – and so instead of looking inward and asking painful questions such as why we don’t have such things and such people, we take the simple way out by attacking people whom Allah tells us will do mean things, say bad things and plot against us. And always when we are warned we are told to be patient, to work for the good, to trust in Allah, to return to Allah, to implement our deen.
Conspiracy or not, we are to blame for the terrible backlash against Muslims. The simple reason is that when a crazy Christian does something terrible, everyone in the West knows it is the actions of a mad man because they have some knowledge of the core beliefs and ethics of Christianity. When a mad Muslim does something evil or foolish they assume it is from the religion of Islam, not because they hate us but because they have never been told by a Muslim what the teachings of Islam are all about.
In the Name of Allah, Most Merciful and Compassionate
By what one can gather from the press, the FBI and CIA have seemingly been unable to prove who precisely, if anyone, may have masterminded the attack earlier this month on the World Trade Center other than the immediate assailants,who are presumed to have been a number of young men from Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and one from the United Arab Emirates. Whoever they were, the facts point to a number of inescapable conclusions. The planning of it argues for a method to the madness, coupled with at least normal intelligence and a technical education, while the psychological facts entail that such people do not destroy themselves unless they see some advantage for themselves in doing so, which entails that they believed in an afterlife, meaning that according to their own standards, they were in all probability “religious.” The question arises: “What sort of religion condones killing thousands of ordinary civilian people?” The answer is “No religion at all.”
As far as I know, there is no religion or system of morality that justifies deliberately killing or injuring someone unless (1) he is an aggressor seeking to take one’s life, against whom one may defend oneself; (2) he has been proven to be guilty of a capital crime, or (3) he is a combatant in war. Most ethical systems agree upon these three justifications for deliberately inflicting death or injury upon someone. The World Trade Center tragedy raises the question of what on earth may have made some contemporary people think that these principles may be set aside?
If there are altogether no moral reasons for this crime, there is perhaps a discoverable mentality behind it. We call it “terrorism,” in view of its typical motive, which is to strike terror into the hearts of those conceived to be guilty by committing atrocities against those of the innocent who resemble the guilty closely enough, whether in race, citizenship, or social class, for the terror not to be lost on the guilty. But its enormity as a crime, as I apprehend it, lies less in the motive of its perpetrators, which is bad enough, than in the fact that shedding innocent blood is wrong. All previous moralities and religions agree that one cannot kill the innocent, but only the guilty. One cannot, for example, kill a generic “American” for the actions of other Americans, or for the actions of his country’s army if he is not part of it, or for the foreign policy of his government. In general, moral law mandates that one may not kill a man for what another man has done.
How has this now come to be set aside in some minds? While I am not a specialist in the history of atrocities, it seems to me that this basic principle of morality was first violated, and on a grand scale—and with the tacit and the spoken support of the intelligentsia, press, and policy makers—in the Second World War, with the advent of “carpet-bombing.” Here, ineffective attempts at precision bombing of military targets and factories gave way first to incendiary bombing of particular German cities to burn them down, then to “area bombing” of as much urban acreage as possible. Bombing everything—soldiers and civilians, combatants and non-combatants, residential areas and strategic targets—would shorten the war; so the bombs rolled out, and eliminating civilians became itself a major strategic aim. In Cologne, in Hamburg, in Dresden: the numbers of the dead were unprecedented and horrendous. In Dresden, where there were no war industries at all, some 130,000 were killed. Perhaps the ultimate “area bombing” (there is little reason not to call it “terror bombing”) was the atomic bomb dropped on the old Japanese provincial city of Hiroshima, and later on Nagasaki. Men, women, babies, schoolgirls: the first instantaneous flash of atomic radiation burned their clothes off them and cooked the outside of their bodies, then the concussion blew it off so that it hung down in flapping strips seen by those who survived when they looked at each other. One can read the eyewitness accounts. We were showing them what would happen if we dropped one on Tokyo. They got the picture.
My point is that a mentality has been given birth in this century, and the attempts by its beneficiaries to draw some legitimacy for it from existing morality or religion, if understandable at a psychological level, have nothing to do with morality or religion. This kind of terrorism is going on today, indeed has been carried out by American presidents and their proxies in Nicaragua, in Sudan, in Lebanon, and in Iraq for the last twenty years, as described by Noam Chomsky, Edward Said, and others whose books and articles about these events are many and well-documented, and blithely ignored by almost everyone in America.
The little bands of bomb makers and plane hijackers are not at bottom religious men, but desperate men. They are inspired less by religion than by hope that on a symbolic scale they can somehow emulate the “success” of America’s and Israel’s “punitive strikes,” and “preemptive attacks.” Civilians die all the time in the West Bank and in Iraq. Someone in Jordan told me of a relative from another country who needed a kidney and could not find a donor of suitable blood group from his extended family, so he went to Iraq and bought one for two thousand dollars. The donor did not have food to eat, and was willing to sell his kidney. People are starving there. Birth defects and cancer are burgeoning from all the chemicals and explosives that have that been dropped on the people. Bombs are dropped from time to time to show them who is boss. According to Chomsky we have by now succeeded in killing one million civilians in Iraq, one half of whom were small children. The United States continually vetoes the United Nations initiative to allow UN observers into Israel to see what is being done to Palestinians there. In 1998 Clinton destroyed one half of Sudan’s pharmaceuticals and the means of replenishing them in punitive bombing raids on that country and killed untold numbers of civilians. How many? We don’t know, because the United States prevented the UN inquiry. Eighty percent of the refugees of the world bear Muslim last names. Desperation grows among these throngs, as hope wanes for a balanced U.S. foreign policy, or even an abatement of U.S. bombing and violence against Muslim civilian populations. There is no hope for people who know from the example of Nicaragua, Sudan, Iraq, and Israel that any attempt of redress or appeal to the United Nations orWorld Court will be vetoed or defied by the attackers. People without hope do a lot of things.
Someone recently informed me that half the terrorist organizations officially listed on some or another “terrorist watch website,” were Muslim. Though Islamic law does not countenance terrorism or suicide of any sort, and I know these organizations represent an extreme splinter of an extreme splinter of Islam, I did not find the statistic particularly shocking. Rather, if in the last fifty years world governments like the United States and Britain have somehow convinced themselves that it is morally acceptable to kill, starve, and maim civilians of other countries in order to persuade their governments to do something, it would be surprising if this conviction did not somehow percolate down to the dispossessed, the hopeless, the aggrieved, and the powerless of every religion and ethnic group in the world. It looks as if it has.
We Americans are not bombing people, young and old, whose lives, when they survive, are brutally interrupted by the loss of an arm or a leg, or a father, or a son, or a mother, or a house that the family saved for years to build. We are too civilized for that. Rather, we bomb Iraq. We bomb Sudan. We bomb Southern Lebanon. We bomb “Palestinian positions.” We don’t cause the tens of thousands of birth defective and mentally retarded babies with the chemical mayhem and ten-year famine we are currently paying for in Iraq: We are “imposing sanctions.” We don’t kill actual human beings with all the explosives we are dumping on these countries. We are killing generic Iraqis, generic Sudanis, generic Palestinians. It sounds like we may now have to kill some generic Afghanis. And now the shock of all shocks, the devastation of all devastations: some crazy people this past month decided to kill a lot of generic Americans. What on earth made them think it was morally acceptable to kill people who hadn’t committed any crime, who were not combatants, and were not killed in self-defense?
The answer, I apprehend, is not to be found in Islam, or in any religion or morality, but in the fact that there are fashions in atrocities and in the rhetoric used to dress them up. Unfortunately these begin to look increasingly like our own fashions and sound increasingly like our own rhetoric, reheated and served up to us. The terrorists themselves, in their own minds, were doubtless not killing secretaries, janitors, and firemen. That would be too obscene. Rather, they were “attacking America.”
The attack has been condemned, as President Bush has noted, by “Muslim scholars and clerics” across the board, and indeed by all people of decency around the world. I have read Islamic law with scholars, and know that it does not condone either suicide or killing non-combatants. But what to do about the crime itself?
The solution being proposed seems to be a technological one. We will highlight these people on our screens, and press delete. If we cannot find the precise people, we will delete others like them, until everyone else gets the message. We’ve done it lots of times. The problem with this is that it is morally wrong, and will send a clear confirmation—if more is needed beyond the shoot-em-ups abroad of the last decades that show our more or less complete disdain for both non-white human life and international law—that there is no law between us and other nations besides the law of the jungle. People like these attackers, willing to kill themselves to devastate others, are not ordinary people. They are desperate people. What has made them so is not lunacy, or religion, but the perception that there is no effective legal recourse to stop crimes against the civilian peoples they identify with. Our own and our clients’ killing, mutilating, and starving civilians are termed “strikes,” “preemptive attacks,” “raiding the frontiers,” and “sanctions”—because we have a standing army, print our own currency, and have a press establishment and other trappings of modern statehood. Without them, our actions would be pure “terrorism.”
Two wrongs do not make a right. They only make two wrongs. I think the whole moral discourse has been derailed by our own rhetoric in recent decades. Terrorism must be repudiated by America not only by words but by actions, beginning with its own. As ‘Abd al-Hakim Winter asks, “Are the architects of policy sane in their certainty that America can enrage large numbers of people, but contain that rage forever through satellite technology and intrepid double agents?” I think we have to get back to basics and start acting as if we knew that killing civilians is wrong.
As it is, we seem to have convinced a lot of other people that it is right, among them some of the more extreme elements of the contemporary Wahhabi sect of Muslims, including the members of the Bin Laden network, whom the security agencies seem to be pointing their finger at for this crime. The Wahhabi sect, which has not been around for more than two and a half centuries, has never been part of traditional Sunni Islam, which rejects it and which it rejects. Orthodox Sunnis, who make up the vast majority of Muslims, are neither Wahhabis nor terrorists, for the traditional law they follow forbids killing civilian non-combatants to make any kind of point, political or otherwise. Those who have travelled through North Africa, Turkey, Egypt, or the Levant know what traditional Muslims are like in their own lands. Travellers find them decent, helpful, and hospitable people, and feel safer in Muslim lands than in many places, such as Central America, for example, or for that matter, Central Park.
On the other hand, there will always be publicists who hate Muslims, and who for ideological or religious reasons want others to do so. Where there is an ill-will, there is a way. A fifth of humanity are Muslims, and if to err is human, we may reasonably expect Muslims to err also, and it is certainly possible to stir up hatred by publicizing bad examples. But if experience is any indication, the only people convinced by media pieces about the inherent fanaticism of Muslims will be those who don’t know any. Muslims have nothing to be ashamed of, and nothing to hide, and should simply tell people what their scholars and religious leaders have always said: first, that the Wahhabi sect has nothing to do with orthodox Islam, for its lack of tolerance is a perversion of traditional values; and second, that killing civilians is wrong and immoral.
And we Americans should take the necessary measures to get the ship of state back on a course that is credible, fair, and at bottom at least moral in our dealings with the other peoples of the world. For if our ideas of how to get along with other nations do not exceed the morality of action-thriller destruction movies, we may well get more action than we paid for.