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Islam for terrorists

Islam & Terrorism

Issue: "Islam and teroris," Oct. 27, 2001

Now that we have looked at five positives of Islam, five key differences between it and Christianity, and five societal implications, let's dig a little deeper into the particular type of Islam that its terrorists embrace.

It's not hard to find bloody Quran verses. For instance, Sura 8:39, "And fight with them until there is no more persecution and religion should be only for Allah." Or 9:14, "Fight them, Allah will punish them by your hands and bring them to disgrace." Or 9:29, "Fight those who do not believe in Allah ... until they pay the tax in acknowledgment of superiority and they are in a state of subjection."

Islamic scholars in turn tend to point to exterminate-the-Canaanite passages in the book of Joshua, or the order in 1 Samuel to commit genocide against the Amalekites, to which Jews and Christians reply that those writings reflect special circumstances, to which Muslims say, "So do ours."

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Thrusts and parries can continue on those lines, but two pairs of facts are unarguable. First, Jesus was a man of peace, Muhammad at times a man of war. Christians read the Old Testament's bloody passages in the light of the New; Muslims have nothing to take the edge off. Second, Christianity initially spread through nonaggressive means, especially the blood of martyrs, while Islam initially spread at least in part through military conflict, with the blood of its opponents often flowing. Christianity held up its peaceful dead for imitation, Islam its warlike victors.

It is also easy to find verses promising that good things will happen to all who die in a campaign to spread Islam. "Those who fly in Allah's way and are then slain or die," Sura 22:58 promises, "Allah will most certainly grant them a goodly sustenance, and most surely Allah is the best Giver of sustenance." Some of Muhammad's hadith sayings indicate that those who die fighting for Allah receive special benefits.

On the other hand, mainstream Islam has never considered self-martyrdom or kamikaze suicide as a guarantor of immediate access to Paradise. Muslim jurists over the centuries have emphatically considered terrorist attacks against unsuspecting and defenseless victims to be immoral and downright evil. Arson and attacks against travelers also received harsh treatment, whatever the reason, and whether victims are Muslim or non-Muslim.

Even if another country's attacks have created civilian casualties among Muslims, traditional Islam still does not justify terroristic acts, because the injustice of others does not create a license to kill.

Nor are historical grievances such as the Crusades supposed to justify revenge brutality nine centuries later. (As one Crusader reported the brutal conquest of Jerusalem in 1099 a.d., "With drawn swords our people ran through the city; nor did they spare anyone, not even those pleading for mercy.... They did not spare the women or children. The horses waded in blood up to their knees, nay, up to the bridle. It was a just and wonderful judgment of God.")

Significantly, while Muslims agree that it's not right to attack civilians or innocent bystanders, some are making up new definitions of noncombatant categories. Some Palestinian groups war on every Israeli, conveniently claiming that almost all citizens receive some military training so that few people are civilians and no one is innocent. It's only one step from that to claim that every Pentagon worker is an enemy because the U.S. supports Israel. It's one step further to declare everyone at the World Trade Center an enemy because capitalists control the world. It's a further step beyond to state, as bin Laden did in 1999 to Newsweek, that "any American who pays taxes to his government ... is our target, because he is helping the American war machine against the Muslim nation."

At various times in Muslim history, factions arose that took extra steps down what can quickly become a slippery slope. The Kharajites became infamous within early Islam for murdering Muslims who disagreed with them. Centuries later, some Muslims who used hashish to get themselves ready to kill originated the word assassin. Orthodox Muslims saw these killers as evil, much as Ku Klux Klan clowns claim to be Christian but clearly are not, much as the Northern Ireland IRA or Serbian leadership's claims to be waging Christian holy war are full of holes. But, with Islam's early history of violence and its tendency to respect dictators pushing for unicity, violent movements within Islam continue to arise.

The new terrorists of the bin Laden school largely come from the latest violent movement, Wahhabism. Founded by Ibn Abdul Wahhab (1703-1792), Wahhabis from the start were willing to kill civilians who opposed them. They did just that in the city of Qarbala in 1801, leaving 2,000 ordinary folks dead. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Wahhabis opposed the "decadence" of the Ottoman Turk empire. Now they are out to overthrow "the American empire," and have trained a generation of students for that pursuit through a network of madrassahs (religious boarding schools) funded by Saudi oil money.

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