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“Should We Blame Islam For Terrorism?”
by Hugh Fitzgerald
This is the rhetorical question — “no” being the only conceivable response — that the Iranian-born David Shariatmadari, now living in the U.K., asked in a recent article in The Guardian.
He began his exercise in taqiyya by insisting that while in the late 20th and early 21st century, some Muslims have begun to resort to “jihadi terrorism,” such a weapon had never before been used in the 1400-year history of Islam. And since nothing had changed in the message of Islam – the texts have remained the same since Islam’s beginning – what could explain this sudden appearance, in the late 20th century, of “jihadi terrorism”?
Shariatmadari locates the cause in the “political economic, military, and social changes in the Middle East.” He deplores the fact that many non-Muslims are starting to seek in the Qur’an the explanation of Muslim violence. He quotes the philosopher Roger Scruton as saying “that we need to deal with these difficult suras,” and notes condescendingly of Scruton that “it’s not an unreasonable thought if you’re unfamiliar with Islam.” For Shariatmadari says that what’s in the Qur’an “provides an easy-to-grasp account of acts that otherwise seem inexplicable. Who knows (or can be bothered to find out) what those verses [really] say, and how they can be interpreted?” Yes, Infidels will misunderstand the Qur’anic verses – they can’t “be bothered to find out” what they really mean – that is, will take them literally, and in this manner, will explain the phenomenon of “jihadi terrorism.”
However, he doesn’t feel obliged to let his readers decide for themselves what Qur’anic verses may mean. He fails to quote a single verse or sentence or phrase from the Qur’an or Hadith. Shariatmadari wants you to stay well away from those texts, insisting that “a proper explanation [for Muslim terrorism and violence] isn’t to be found here [in the Islamic texts].” In fact, the Qur’an gets in the way of a meaningful inquiry: “all it [looking into the Qur’an] really does is stand in the way of a proper investigation. It’s like a sign that says ‘look here and no further,’ obscuring sometimes a little too conveniently, far more complex causes.” So let’s have no more talk about the Qur’an.
Shariatmadari says we have to “look beyond the [Islamic] texts.” Why? Is it because the texts are beyond an Infidel’s understanding, and would only confuse him, as he implies, or is it, rather, that the texts are all too clear – and have been for 1400 years – in commanding the use of violence and terror against the Infidels?
Few will agree with Mr. Shariatmadari that looking into the Qur’an “stand[s] in the way of a meaningful inquiry” into Islam. It is, in fact, the only way to find out what Islam teaches. And when he mocks those who claim that “Islam is especially predisposed towards violence,” this makes one even more eager to take a look at those texts. So let’s round up the usual Qur’anic suspects. Here are just four of the most telling:
Qur’an (3:151) – “Soon shall We cast terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers, for that they joined companions with Allah, for which He had sent no authority“
Quran (8:12) – “I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them”
Quran (9:5) – “So when the sacred months have passed away, then slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them captive and besiege them and lie in wait for them in every ambush, then if they repent and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate, leave their way free to them.
Quran (9:29) – “Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.
There are more than one hundred other verses in the Qur’an that are all about violence and terror. Shariatmadari does not mention, not even in an attempt to explain away, by “contextualizing,” any of the 109 Jihad verses, and the violence that runs through the Qur’an and the Hadith. He keeps up his extended mockery of those who want to draw conclusions from what is in those texts: “Who knows (or can be bothered to find out) what those verses say, and how they have been interpreted?” Well, many Unbelievers have not been dissuaded from finding out “what those verses say”and “how they have been interpreted” is clear from the 1400-year behavior of Muslims. If 1.5 billion Muslims can find out “what those verses say” then so can I, and so can you, and so can any man. And we discover those commands to Believers, telling them to engage in violent Jihad against, and to terrorize the Infidels, the very verses cited by al-Awlaki and al-Baghdadi and Osama bin Laden and other leaders or members of terror groups, so scrupulous in adducing textual justification for their acts.
These verses are prescriptive, valid for all time, for Muslims everywhere. Can similar verses commanding violence and terror against an enemy, and prescriptive rather than descriptive, be found in the Jewish scriptures? In the New Testament? Robert Spencer notes the significance of this difference: “Indeed, throughout history, these texts[in the Bible] have never been taken as divine commands that either must be or may be put into practice by believers in a new age. All these passages, after all, are descriptive, not prescriptive. They nowhere command believers to imitate this behavior, or to believe under any circumstances that God wishes them to act as his instruments of judgment in any situation today.”
Do we find violence prescribed, or described, for Hindus in the Bhagavad Gita? And where does Christ speak of war and violence in the way that Muhammad does? Did we overlook something in the Sermon on the Mount? Where does Christ preach war against non-Christians? Where does the Buddha preach unending war against all non-Buddhists? Jews may lay claim to the Land of Israel, but Muslims lay claim to the entire world. There is a difference. Islam, claims Shariatmadari, “is not especially predisposed toward violence.” But no major religion’s foundational texts have anything like the violence that is to be found throughout the Qur’an and Hadith and Sira.
What about the Muslim wars of conquest? asks Shariatmadari. Yes,” they definitely happened” he admits, “but not in a way that marks Islam out from other cultures.” For “the dominant (often genocidal) military powers since the 17th century have been Christian.” Not for the first time, his Tu-Quoque is showing. Here’s the difference, and it’s a simple one: When Muslims conquered many different lands and subjugated many different peoples, they were acting according to what Allah had commanded, and following the example of Muhammad, the Model of Conduct and the Perfect Man, and the leader of many military campaigns, as recorded in the Hadith and Sira. When Christians conquered lands and subjugated non-Christian peoples (as the Spanish did, with such ferocity, in South America), they were acting not according to, but in defiance of, the teachings of Jesus. That’s what “marks Islam out from other cultures.” One might also note that the behavior of the Spanish conquistadores in South America does have something to do with Islam, for their violence reflected the effect of 770 years of the Reconquista, when the Spanish tactics and attitudes mirrored the brutality of the Muslims they were fighting.
Shariatmati mocks those who may have concluded that there is something “special” about Islam:
Since the Westminster attacks, many people seem to have been getting stuck on the following question, as they do after most acts of jihadi violence: “Is there something special about Islam? Something that lends itself to terrorism?”
There may be some people still “stuck on the question” of whether “there is something special about Islam,” but fewer with every attack by Muslim terrorists. That “something special” is to be found in the verses I’ve quoted above, and more than a hundred others in the same deadly vein. And it’s to be found, too, in the words and deeds of Muhammad, as recorded in the Hadith and Sira. People in the Western world have had their attention fixed on Muslim terrorists not, pace Shariatmadari, “ever since the Westminster attacks,” nor intermittently, “after most acts of jihadi violence,” but steadily, since 9/11/2001, when the attack by jihadi terrorists on the World Trade Center signaled the real beginning of their campaign of terror against Infidels in the West. That campaign has continued, with more than 30,000 attacks by Muslim terrorists world-wide recorded since that fatidic date. And terror has been used, along with the conventional warfare conducted in recent decades by Jihadis against the Unbelievers, in many places: in Afghanistan, against Russian soldiers; in Kashmir, against the Hindu Pandits; in the Philippines, against the Christian farmers in the Moro Islands; in both Thailand and in the Chittagong Hills of Bangladesh, against Buddhists; and in Nigeria, against the Christian Igbo.
In the West, many have come to understand what it is about Islam that has led so many Muslims either to participate in, or to give support to, or express agreement with, terrorism against Infidels. These people realized that they could not rely on what Muslims themselves said about Islam, for the practice of taqiyya – religiously-sanctioned deception to protect the faith of Islam, which originates in Shi’a Islam but has analogues in Sunni Islam – has become too frequent and too transparent. Nor could they trust the academic “experts” in Islam, given the intellectual corruption in universities (where Islamic studies are almost everywhere in the hands of apologists in the Esposito and Armstrong line). Instead, they have engaged in self-directed study, a kind of home-schooling, reading the Qur’an and significant portions of the Hadith, and Sira, to make sense of this faith that, they soon discovered, is also a political ideology. For Islam not only regulates almost every aspect of life for its adherents, but imposes a duty of conquest on them as well. Islam is based on an uncompromising division of the world between Muslims and Unbelievers, and prescribes war between the two, until the ultimate triumph of the Jihadis, when Islam will everywhere dominate, and Muslims rule, everywhere. This is something David Shariatmadari does not mention.
Many non-Muslims have not wanted to look too closely into Islam. It’s upsetting. They choose to believe that Islam is “peaceful” and “tolerant” (as Muslim apologists keep assuring them). That’s a comforting fiction, but also dangerous, as it minimizes the menace, and keeps too many in the imperiled West whistling in the dark. It is especially disturbing to see those in positions of power, who are supposed to instruct and protect us, choose rather to dismiss Islamic terrorism as “having nothing to do with Islam,” or as being carried out by “misunderstanders of Islam” (Barack Obama). Others declare that Muslim terrorists “defame” Islam (General Mattis), or insist that what those terrorists do constitutes a “perversion of the faith” (General McMaster, Theresa May). No matter how many times Muslim terrorists declare quite clearly the justification for their attacks by quoting from the Qur’an and Hadith, no matter how many learned clerics similarly justify these attacks by citing Islamic jurisconsults, many Infidels still refuse to connect Islam to Islamic terrorism, and further declare that anyone who does so is guilty of Islamophobia, an unpardonable offense in today’s topsy-turvy world.
David Shariatmadari insists that the people who connect terrorism by Muslims to what is in the Qur’an and Hadith are proving themselves “unable to deal with the complexities of a world in which politics…interacts with religion.”
Shariatmadari’s claims are absurd. Those who “connect terrorism” to the Qur’an and Hadith are not “unable to deal with the complexities of the world,” but on the contrary, they are the ones most able to squarely face the disturbing reality of what Islam teaches. It is those who deny that connection who cannot bear too much reality. Those who have taken the trouble to study the Qur’an and the Hadith (that is, a few hundred of the Hadith most relevant to Jihad and terrorism), the very people Shariatmadari repeatedly mocks, know there is indeed something “special” about Islam. They know that the Qur’an contains more than a hundred verses extolling and commanding violence, and verses telling Believers to “strike terror” in the hearts of the Infidels. They know that Muhammad was a military leader, who conducted many dozens of raids on the enemy, and that the Hadith and Sira are full of stories of his taking part in attacks, and even participating in mass decapitations of prisoners. They know, because they’ve read them, that the texts of Islam are suffused with violence.
Shariatmadari writes: “Let’s assume for a moment, then, that Islam is especially predisposed towards violence. If that’s your view, then you’ll need to show why the history of jihadi terrorism is so very short: this is emphatically a late 20th and early 21st century phenomenon, yet Islam has been around since the seventh century.”
This is the heart of Shariatmadari’s argument, and is flatly false. The history of jihad terrorism is as old as Islam itself. For the Islamic conquests were not merely a matter of armies clashing, but of terror deliberately inflicted by Muslims in order to subdue much more numerous populations. How was the conquest of North Africa, all the way across to the Iberian Peninsula, and then into France, where the Muslims were finally halted by Charles Martel at Tours, achieved? Was there no terrorizing of the conquered populations? What were the Muslim conquests of the Byzantine Empire, or of the Sasanian Empire, if not acts of sustained terror by mass killings? What was the conquest of India, if not one vast exercise in jihadi terrorism that constituted the greatest genocide in history, where rule by a tiny Muslim minority was maintained over centuries by terror, with many millions of Hindus killed in campaigns designed to keep them from any thought of revolt? Instead of today’s terrorism of suicide vests and trucks, it was, rather, that of “striking terror” into the hearts of Infidels by massacring not only enemy soldiers taken prisoner, but non-combatants, including women, children, the elderly.
Shariatmadari pays no attention to the history of Islamic conquest except to insist that while such “wars of conquest” did happen, it was “not in a way that marks Islam out from other cultures.” He is, after all, defending the faith, and lying in its defense is not just permissible, but laudable. It is true that the kind of terror we naturally think of today was not possible before the late 20th century. For the first thirteen hundred and fifty years of Islam, the deadliest weapons used by modern terrorists – the explosives, the suicide vests, the automatic weapons that could spray a nightclub or restaurant with gunfire, the planes to be commandeered or blown up, the trucks and cars to be stolen and rammed into crowds of Infidels, the pressure-cookers repurposed to explode in the middle of other crowds – simply did not exist. But jihadi terror was inflicted on civilians for 1400 years, with sword and scimitar and mangonel (a siege weapon to shoot projectiles over city or fortress walls), and, much later, with guns too. If you massacre helpless civilians, no matter how limited your means, that is not conventional warfare; that is sowing terror, as the Qur’an commands.
What Shariatmadari should have said is this: modern technology has done two things for Muslim terrorists: first, it has provided them with deadlier and more varied instruments of terror (though decapitation is still a mainstay) than were available to Muslim terrorists in the past; second, technology has now made possible the instant dissemination of news of those attacks all over the world, through the Internet, as was never possible in the past, and thereby makes such terrorism more vivid and frightening.
There is another change, not mentioned by Shariatmadari, that explains the greater use of terror by Muslims in the West, starting in the late 20th century. It’s because they can. It is only during the last few decades that Muslims have been allowed to enter and settle in that same West, among those who would then become victims of Islamic terror. The Muslims who committed the terror attacks in London, who put bombs in Underground trains, who butchered Drummer Rigby, who killed French cartoonists, Jewish shoppers, nightclubbers, and diners in Paris, and strollers on the promenade in Nice, who executed Pim Fortuyn (killed by a Leftist who said he “did it for Dutch Muslims”) and Theo van Gogh in the Netherlands, who murdered Americans in San Bernardino and Orlando and Fort Hood and Boston, would in an earlier day simply not have been living in Great Britain, or France, or the Netherlands, or the U.S. The great migration of Muslims to the West — there are now tens of millions of them in Europe — and the availability of new weapons, and new ways to weaponize what were never intended as weapons (planes, trucks, buses, cars), are what explain the flourishing of Islamic terrorism in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. We in the West take note of Muslim terror now because we are its well-publicized, and latest victims, and we tend to forget that in numbers far more people, millions of them, have been killed in Asia and Africa over the centuries in campaigns of Islamic terror.
Shariatmadari claims that in the late 20th century, certain “political, economic, military and social changes in the Middle East,” caused jihad terrorism to start up. So why doesn’t he describe even one of those changes? What does he have in mind? Surely the main change in the Middle East has been this: some Muslim countries, once poor, became fabulously rich from oil and gas. And how would all these carefully unspecified changes “in the Middle East” explain the jihad terrorists who are to be found outside the Middle East, in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, even China, and in many dozens of other countries? How do changes in the Middle East explain the jihad terrorism by converts to Islam in Europe? Could it be deprivation — poverty or lack of education — that explain why Muslims support or engage in sustained campaigns of war and terror against non-Muslims? No, all the studies agree that the Muslims who engage in terrorism are both better off and better educated than the average Muslim. Africans in wretched sowetos, impoverished Hindus in Calcutta, Christians in miserable favelas in Brazil, do not become terrorists, but rich Muslims – especially Saudis and other Gulf Arabs – do. The one constant among jihad terrorists, whether in the Middle East, or Asia, or in Europe, and whether they are converts or Muslim from birth, or rich or poor, is that they have read, and have taken to heart, the Qur’an and Sunnah. For Jihad terrorism, that is both necessary, and sufficient.
Yes, there is something “special” about Islam. It comes back to Muhammad as a military leader, bent on conquest and grabbing loot. The Qur’an is a manual of war. Shariatmadari hopes you won’t bother to read either it or the war stories that are included in the Hadith. He hopes you don’t know much about the history of Islamic conquest, but will assume it involved only a series of battles between regular armies, and not the campaigns of terror as well, that were so often the Muslim norm.
The weapons of jihadi terrorism have changed over time, the technology to broadcast bulletins of terror has become immeasurably more powerful, and the peoples against whom such terror is directed have also changed, as new venues (Paris! London! New York!) have presented themselves. Violent jihad is central to the ideology of Islam, and given the immutable nature of the Qur’an, will never fall from favor, or become anything else.