The curse of radical Islam as a political religion
By Rodrigue Tremblay
Online Journal Guest Writer
Sep 13, 2006, 02:10
"Muslims must . . . educate their children to Jihad.
This is the greatest benefit of the situation: educating the children to Jihad
and to hatred of the Jews, the Christians, and the infidels; educating the
children to Jihad and to revival of the embers of Jihad in their souls. This is
what is needed now . . ." --Sheikh Muhammad Saleh al-Munajjid, an imam in
"Islam makes it incumbent on all adult males,
provided they are not disabled or incapacitated, to prepare themselves for the
conquest of [other] countries so that the writ of Islam is obeyed in every
country in the world . . ." --Ayatollah Khomeni (1902-1989), religious
leader of Iran
"The leader who needs religion to govern his people
is weak . . . We have to rid ourselves of superstition. Anybody is free to
believe in anything, but we need freedom of thought." --Atat�rk
(1881-1938), founder of modern Turkey.
Some readers have told
me that I do not write enough about the political side of Islam,
especially as it relates to the mixing of religion and politics and to the
fringe element of radical Islam
which is supportive of international terrorism. As a matter of fact, I have
written extensively on the question, but in French (see my 2001 book
"L'Heure juste"). Here, then, is my position on this topic.
religions tend to mix politics and religion because one of their objectives is
to control how people think and behave. On this score, I would say Islam
("submission" or "surrender" in Arabic) doesn't fare well,
because it tends to institutionalize a symbiosis between politics and religion.
It is a religion that tends theoretically to concentrate temporal and spiritual
authority in a single entity. Structurally, in Islam, the Caliph and the Sheik
are supposed to be the same person, wielding spiritual and political powers
over the people. Mind you, something approaching the same result prevailed in
Christianity after the 4th century, when the Church and the Throne formed close
alliances, the clergy confirming the power of kings and emperors, and the rich
and powerful aristocracy protecting the equally rich and powerful religious
hierarchy. It is only with the advent of the Renaissance that
Christian Europe began talking about democracy as the most
humanist form of government.
progressive and modern Muslim countries that have advanced the most
economically, socially and politically, such as Turkey, Malaysia
are those that have rejected the unhealthy, near complete mixing of religion
and politics that is called for by fundamentalist Islam. In other Muslim countries,
such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, a more extreme brand of Islam prevails. This
movement in Sunni Islam, (the
dominant form of Islam), is called Wannabism or "Salafism," and it distinguishes itself by not only
refusing Western values and ideologies, such as nationalism, socialism and
capitalism, but also by rejecting the Western concepts of freedom, liberty,
economics, constitutions, political parties, revolution, social justice and the
very idea of a rationalist, secular culture. The
other minority branch of Islam,
Shia Islam can also be considered extremist, especially
in contemporary Iran, in the sense that it reserves to the clergy a dominant
political role in an Islamic country. It is mainly concentrated in Iran,
although Shiites also live in Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan
It can be argued
that before Islam, which appeared in the early part of the 7th Century, Arab civilization
was more advanced and more peaceful than after the imposition of the new faith
through violence. It had participated fully in the rich Greek, Assyrian,
Persian, Chaldean and Babylonian civilizations, to which we owe mathematical
breakthroughs, such as the concept
of zero found in the Greek and Hindu decimal systems and the Pythagorean
Theorem in Babylonian mathematics.
respect for science, it has to be said that one of Muhammad's successors, the
Caliph Omar of Damascus, distinguished himself by having centuries-old literary
treasures destroyed, besides setting afire the large Egyptian library of Alexandria,
a wonder of the Ancient World. Caliph
Omar is reported to have justified his order to destroy the books in the
library of Alexandria by saying that "they will either contradict the
Koran, in which case they are heresy, or they will agree with it, so they are
religions have theologies that stress so-called divine revelation over human
reason, it is not surprising that religious extremists can be opposed to human
intellectual progress, especially if such progress is perceived as a threat to
their political power. Not surprisingly also, such a bias against the human
intellect and against scientific achievements is bound to have a detrimental
influence on the economic, social and political development of countries that embrace
such an attitude. Indeed, the absence of intellectual freedom and censorship
are the two biggest enemies of human progress.
During the 9th and 10th centuries, Islamic civilization redeemed itself
somewhat by having many ancient scientific and philosophical tracts translated
from ancient languages, especially Greek, into Arabic. It is these translations
which were imported into Europe and which played such a central role in
bringing about the European Renaissance, from which Western civilization still
draws most of its inspiration.
Islam was born in
war and grew the same way. From the time of Muhammad (c. 570�632),
in the 7th century, the means of Muslim expansion was always the sword and
military conquest. Islam, at least at the beginning, was not a "religion
of peace," to mimic the expression used often by President George W. Bush.
It was fundamentally a military movement that used forced conversion to Islam
to expand its dominion. Muhammad began the first violent movement in Medina,
after a declaration of a Jihad against so-called
'infidels'. There, for example, the Jews who refused to convert to Islam were
driven from the land or beheaded. Approximately 15 years later he marched on
Mecca with an army of about 20,000, and later against the Assyrians, the
Armenians and the Coptics in Egypt. Those who converted to Islam were spared.
Those who refused to convert were beheaded. So much for a compassionate Islam.
It has been argued
convincingly that the imposition of Islam upon the Arabs was a regressive
development. With Islam, the Arab civilization lost much of the scientific
accomplishments and the tradition of intellectual vitality that it had
inherited from the Greek and Assyrian civilizations.
question of the religious foundation of violence and terrorism
needs attention. It is the most pressing, because the world is not going to
tolerate very long being subjected to blackmail and having its prosperity and
freedom threatened this way.
It is no surprise
that terrorist leaders use the mask of religion to diabolize their enemies and
to cloak their cruelties and atrocities in a pious justification. The cover of
religion to justify terrorism, especially suicide
terrorism, and the killing of innocent people also has the advantage
of making it easier to recruit so-called martyrs and fanatics, if not utterly
deranged people, who would not be as easily mobilized for a purely political
cause. That may be one reason why today's religious-based terrorism is more
deadly than the nationalist-based terrorism of 40 or 50 years ago.
Extremists in any religion can find passages in their 'holy books' that
condone violence against others. Suffice it to say that they overlook the
book's other teachings about "peace," "justice,"
"kindness," "courtesy," and "compassion" toward
others, to concentrate on the admonitions which call for intolerance and aggression
against so-called "infidels."
Some religious ideologues
can reinforce the violent tendencies of the most exalted people by emphasizing
the most violent religious teachings. For instance, an Egyptian scholar, Sayied
Qutb, argued in the 1950s, in his book of Quranic interpretation,
entitled "Fe-zelal-al-Qur'an," that a state of permanent war is
normal between Muslims and non-Muslims, ignoring that the Qur'an (Koran)
dictates that its teachings be understood in full, not in bits and pieces
(Surah 20:114), as it relates mainly to individual morality, not to politics.
The religious-based Al Qaeda terrorist movement
takes its violent inspirations from such impractical subversive teachings. It
is part of the Jihadist ideology of
hatred and destruction.
Faced with the
threat of Islamist terrorism, the important task for the rest of the world is
to avoid antagonizing the moderate Muslims who are largely in the majority in
their countries. Both for reasons of domestic support and for acceptance by the
Muslim masses, governments anxious to fight and contain international terrorism
should, now more than ever, retain the moral high ground and
not be the aggressors. They should reject the negative, misleading and
self-fulfilling propaganda rhetoric of "Islamo-Fascism," "war of
civilizations" or even worse, of "war of religions,"
and concentrate on concretely assisting Muslim countries in acceding to
modernity and prosperity, while supporting their efforts in combating
anti-modernity religious-based terrorism.
pursue a policy of openness, assistance and fairness toward Muslim countries
would seem to be the most just and the most constructive approach, while
simultaneously maintaining a firm attitude against gratuitous international
terrorism. Sad to say, this is not the kind of rational and sophisticated
policy being followed by the current American administration, which seems bent
on glorifying and multiplying the most extremist Islamist organizations, while
alienating and silencing the most reform-minded people in the Muslim world.
On this score, the
best thing the Bush-Cheney administration could do in fighting international
Islamist terrorism would be to announce a phase out of its military occupation
of Iraq, while persuading its close ally, Israel, to end its own military
occupation of Palestine, and take concrete steps to solve once and for all the
rotten Israeli-Palestinian conflict. On the other hand, the worst thing the
Bush-Cheney team could do would be to start bombing Iran. The latter would be a
most counter-productive move and would feed both extremism and terrorism.
Rodrigue Tremblay is
professor emeritus of economics at the University of Montreal and can be
reached at rodrigue.tremblay@
yahoo.com. He is the author of the book 'The
New American Empire'. Visit his blog site at www.thenewamericanempire.com/blog.
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