Bible Open

Islam's September Lessons

by Roy Brown


Over the past few years and with the global coverage of television, we have witnessed scenes of devastation from around the world, of famines, earthquakes, floods and natural disasters in which thousands upon thousands of people may have died.

But none of these events touched us as deeply as have the events of 11th September 2001. This was a blow to the heart of civilisation itself, and it was perpetrated deliberately by our fellow human beings. We saw the scenes of rejoicing from Palestine and wondered what the Americans had done that these people could hate them so much.

Most religious leaders - Muslim as much as Christian and Jewish - have been united in their condemnation of the terrorists. Even Iran and Libya have condemned the atrocities, while Pakistan, the state both geographically and theologically closest to Afghanistan, has agreed to help track down the terrorists.

Since the terrible events of Black Tuesday millions of words have been uttered and written seeking to explain how and why such a catastrophe was possible. We have heard much of the lax security at American airports, of the fanatics' burning hatred of America and of the part played by the US government's support for Israel. But as the dust begins to settle we begin to hear the beat of another idea amid the noise: "Islam itself is not to blame".

Islam and fundamentalism

At a time when the American government is trying to gather together the widest possible coalition to fight terrorism the idea that Islam itself is not to blame is a comforting mantra. This view has been supported, as one would expect, by many Muslim leaders, and every Islamic apologist has leapt for his pen in defence of this thesis. In a letter to the Times of London, nine Muslim leaders wrote:

"Islam condemns such abhorrent behavior and the Holy Koran equates the murder of one innocent person with the murder of the whole of humanity."

Yet just a few years ago, one of the writers of this letter was calling for the death of Salman Rushdie.

Of course, we must not condemn all Muslims for the actions of a few of their co-religionists. But we can and we must condemn Islam to the extent that it preaches terror. To pretend Islam is a religion of peace and love is to delude ourselves.

If we continue to do so we will never understand this tragedy. Islam, which means "submission", submission to the will of God, has been a religion of conquest. Convert or die.

To argue that it is only a few Islamic extremists who are guilty rather than Islam itself is to argue that it was only a few Germans who were responsible for the holocaust, not Nazism itself.

The professor of Islamic studies at the University of Birmingham, Prof. Jorgen Neilsen, wrote in the Times on 15th September:

"Muslims young and old have been as horrified by these events as everyone else. But they are also apprehensive about the reactions of their neighbors and the public generally. They know too well that they very easily become exposed to popular hatred in a way that no other community currently seems to.

At the time of the Omagh bombing no one suggested that Roman Catholics en bloc were complicit, nor was there talk of a retaliatory strike against the Vatican. Such a suggestion would have been as absurd then as blaming Muslims for New York now."

It is certainly true that many Muslims young and old were horrified. But quite a few young Muslims in Britain were absolutely delighted that America - who they have been taught to regard as the Great Satan - had been bombed.

We read in the Times of young Muslims in Bradford explaining to reporters their lack of sympathy for the Americans by saying: "We are Muslims first". Schoolboys in Paris told their teacher with pride: "Now you see what we Arabs can do!"

Professor Neilsen continued in his article:

"Islam does not teach revenge. It does not encourage the killing or oppression of non-Muslims; jihad is not holy war."

But holy war is precisely what Jihad is. The west will never understand what happened in New York and Washington if such blatant falsehood is allowed to go unchallenged.

Britain has a very poor record in dealing with Islamic extremism. Britain has been a safe haven for terrorists from Egypt, Yemen, India, Chechnya and Iraq, and is a fertile recruiting ground for young men ready to go and fight in the dozens of hot spots around the world where Islam is in conflict with other religions and cultures.

All young Muslims are taught from an early age that they are Muslims first, and British, French, German or American second. In any conflict between their native country and Islam they must side with Islam. It need not be so. But before this can change Islam itself must change.

The fundamentalists' goal.

There has been much talk of American "arrogance", of America's failure to address the legitimate grievances of the Muslim world. Were the terrorists seeking to punish the Americans for their arrogance? Partly no doubt, but they have a deeper agenda.

It is doubtful if any action the Americans could have taken would satisfy them. What they want is nothing less than world domination. To achieve this they must first precipitate World War III, a holy war against the Great Satan.

If America retaliates with massive air strikes against its perceived enemies, World War III is indeed the likely outcome. Large numbers of innocent Muslims will be killed.

That can only serve to drive many moderate Muslims into the arms of the fundamentalists. Every young Muslim who sees his family members killed becomes another potential suicide bomber.

In the heat of war anyone is capable of inhuman acts. But to murder innocent people in cold blood and to sacrifice one's own life: Ah, that takes absolute conviction: that takes religious fervor.

The madrasas of northern Pakistan which trained the Taliban have been instilling that conviction, that fervor, in thousands of young Muslim men for the past ten years.

The fundamentalists believe totally that the Koran is the absolute and final word of God. In it He enjoins every Muslim to wage holy war against the infidels.

The West, for all its military might, could not win a world war against a billion Muslims and the West will never accept domination by such an alien culture. The war would be long and bloody. There could be no winners.

Is there any way out? Yes. Above all, America must not seek justice and retribution on its own. It must forge an alliance with its allies and with as many of the Islamic states as possible before striking back. What we need now is restraint and only that force necessary to bring the guilty to justice.

One worrying feature so far has been the total absence of any call to involve the United Nations. The UN could be the first real casualty of this war. Since the end of the Cold War America has rarely avoided the temptation to go it alone; to act out its role as the new Leviathan. To do so now could be little short of catastrophic and the consequences could dwarf anything we saw in New York last week.

Another worrying feature was president Bush's call for "A Crusade against Terrorism". Well, I don't know how much history they taught the future president at Harvard, but for sensitivity at a time when you are trying to rally support from the entire Islamic world the use of the C-word must rank as probably the most monumental gaffe from an American president in the past 100 years.

Assuming America, gung-ho as always, can be persuaded to wait until everyone is on side and to take its Islamic allies into its confidence before striking back, then there is a chance that the escalation can be minimized.

But that of course will not be the end of the problem. The grievances of the poor and dispossessed will not have been resolved just because America has either killed or brought Osama bin Laden to justice.

America will have to recognize that globalisation means engagement. They will no longer be able to treat the rest of the world as just so many potential consumers of American goods and services. The rich do have a duty to the poor, and the polluters do have a duty to the planet.

But even if the United States were to accept their global responsibilities, this would not be the end of the problem either. Islamic fundamentalism will still exist and the Koran will still be calling for Jihad against the infidels. Islam itself will need to change.

The concepts of human rights and democracy are alien to Islam. Even though most Islamic countries signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights when it was first promulgated in 1948, many have since then hedged their bets and have qualified their support by signing for example, the so-called Universal Islamic Declaration of Human Rights.

This later document accepts human rights "insofar as they conform to Islamic law", which is not very far. There is no concept of freedom of speech in Islam. Ask our friend Dr Younus Shaikh languishing on death row in Rawlpindi for explaining what life was probably like at the time of the Mohammed.

There is no equality of treatment for men and women under Islamic law. Ask any young woman who has just been raped and as a result is now facing prison for indecency. Or any young woman from Bradford sent to Pakistan to be married against her will.

The gulf in understanding between Islam and the modern world must be bridged and it is Islam and the Muslim world that must change. All Muslims need to learn that, first and above all, we are human beings; that we share our common humanity with everyone else on this planet regardless of race, religion, colour or sex. All religion must be interpreted in the light of that simple fact.

In the meantime Muslims must not allow themselves to be used by the fundamentalists. They know that what happened in New York was evil and brings shame on the perpetrators. To side with the fundamentalists would be to share in their guilt.

Muslims must stand up and be counted on the side of civilized values and, just as the Christians have had to do over the last four hundred years, must be prepared to critically evaluate and reject some of the more violent and primitive facets of their religion.

Christianity only became civilized after the church was forced to accept that it did not hold all knowledge of the cosmos nor have the complete prescription for everyone's life.

Islam still believes that it has such a prescription, but it is a pre-enlightenment, pre- scientific prescription based on the medieval values of a desert people. It may have power, wealth, numbers and conviction, but it no longer has any relevance for the modern world.

Muslims are prisoners of their belief that Islam has all the answers. Ordinary Muslim men and women must make a stand against the fundamentalists. Muslim men and women must shake off the chains that bind them and stand side by side with us in a world where human rights and human values are universally respected.