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Islam, Middle East and Fascism

by Ibn Warraq

In a speech that he gave at Columbia University, Umberto Eco spelled out fourteen features that he considered were typical of Eternal Fascism (which he also calls Ur-Fascism ); adding however this explanatory detail: " These features cannot be organized into a system; many of them contradict each other, and are also typical of other kinds of despotism or fanaticism. But it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it."

Umberto Eco: [1] The Cult of Tradition. "Truth has already been spelled out once and for all, and we can only keep interpreting its obscure message."

Islam is the quintessentially tradition-bound religion. First, the Koran is the eternal and infallible Word of God, and contains the whole of God’s final revelation to man, and must be obeyed in all its details. "This day I have perfected your religion for you and completed My favour to you. I have chosen Islam to be your faith." The Koran is immutable, "Say: ‘It is not for me to change [the Koran]. I only follow what is revealed to me. I cannot disobey my Lord, for I fear the punishment of a fateful day." "Proclaim what is revealed to you in the Book of your Lord. None can change His Words. You shall find no refuge besides Him." The Koran is a faithful and unalterable reproduction of the original scriptures which are preserved in heaven.

A Muslim’s wish is to establish a new life in accordance with a religious law willed by God and consonant with the Prophet Muhammad’s intentions. Clearly the Koran by itself (i.e. uninterpreted) did not furnish enough guiding principles to meet the changing requirements of the early Muslims. Thus, in all matters whether civil or religious, the will of the prophet had first to be ascertained and followed as a true guide to practical conduct. The Prophet’s Companions were considered the best source for learning the Prophet’s will ; that is, from people who lived their lives in his company, witnessed his actions, and heard his very words and pronouncements on every single aspect of daily life. After the passing of this first generation, pious Muslims had to rely on the members of the next generation who passed on what they had learnt from the first. Thus, transmission from generation to generation continued down to contemporary periods. Finally, conduct and judgment were accepted as correct and their legitimacy was established if a chain of reliable transmission ( isnad, in Arabic )ultimately traced them back to a Companion who could testify that they were in harmony with the Prophet’s intentions. On the strength of such traditions, certain customs in ritual and law were established as the usage of the authoritative first believers of Islam, and as having been practised under the Prophet’s own eyes. As such, they acquired a sacred character. They are called sunna, sacred custom. The form in which such a usage is stated is hadith, tradition. Sunna and hadith are not synonymous ; hadith being the documentation of sunna.

Sunna intimately reflects the views and practices of the oldest Islamic community, and thus functions as the most authoritative interpretation of the Koran. The Koran cannot answer every single problem that any morally sensitive Muslim is likely to encounter ; and it only comes alive and effective through the sunna. Furthermore the Koran, contrary to what many Muslims realize, is an extremely obscure text ; even Muslims exegetes acknowledge that they do not know the meaning of many words and whole passages. For instance, the exegetes have classified obscure or opaque sentences of the Koran into Zahir ( obvious ) or hidden ( Khafi ). The Khafi sentences are further subdivided into Khaji, Mushkil, Mujmal, and Mutashabih. In Khaji sentences the other persons or things are hidden beneath the plain meaning of a word or expression ; Mushkil sentences are ambiguous; Mujmal sentences have a variety of interpretations , while Mutashabih ones are intricate sentences or expressions, the exact meaning of which it is impossible for a man to ascertain until the day of resurrection. The Koran itself tells us that it contains ambiguous verses, and verses whose interpretation is only known to God ( sura iii.5 p .214 vol.1).

The Sharia or Islamic Law is based on four principles: The Koran; the sunna of the Prophet, which is incorporated in the recognized traditions ( hadith ); the consensus (ijma) of the scholars of the orthodox community ; and the method of reasoning by analogy (qiyas)

Many liberal Muslims ( if that is not a contradiction in terms) get excited by ijma, sensing that somehow therein lies their only hope of modernising Islam. However, historically, the notion of consensus (ijma) has nothing democratic about it ; the masses are expressly excluded. It is the consensus of suitably qualified and learned authorities. The doctrine of the infallibility of the consensus, far from allowing some liberty of reasoning as one might have expected, worked in favour of a progressive narrowing and hardening of doctrine. By the beginning of 900 C.E., Islamic Law became rigidly fixed because Muslim scholars felt that all essential questions had been thoroughly discussed and finally settled, and a consensus gradually established itself to the effect that henceforth no one might be deemed to have the necessary qualifications for independent reasoning in law, and that all future activity would have to be confined to the explanation, application, and, at most, interpretation of the doctrine as it had been laid down once and for all. This closing of the gate of independent reasoning, in effect, meant the unquestioning acceptance of the doctrines of established schools and authorities. Islamic Law became increasingly rigid and set in its final mould.

Liberal Muslims think they are more liberated than their "fundamentalist" cousins because they (the Liberal Muslims) believe that by some creative re-interpretation of the Koran they will thereby bring the Koran, albeit screaming and kicking, into the 21st Century. First, it does not seem to strike these misguided liberal Muslims that they are still prisoners to an obscure, incoherent, bizarre mediaeval text, a curious amalgam of Talmudic Judaism, apocryphal Christianity and pagan superstitions (especially in the rites and rituals of the Hajj), full of barbarisms. They have not cut their umbilical cords, and are still trying to make sense of an often senseless text, more than a thousand years old. Second this desire to re-interpret has led to some willful and intellectually dishonest "re-reading" of the Koran. Feminists pretend that the "real Koran" is progressive towards women, human rights activists pretend, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary that the « real Koran » is totally compatible with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The reality is that the Koran, and the Sharia derived from the Koran, are totalitarian constructs that try to control every single aspect of an individual’s life from the way he or she urinates and defecates, the way he/she eats, dresses, works, marries, makes love, prays, to the way he or she thinks on every conceivable subject. Finally, while the Koran is open to some re-interpretation, it is not infinitely flexible.

Umberto Eco: [2] "Traditionalism implies the rejection of modernism …The Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, is seen as the beginning of modern depravity. In this sense [Eternal fascism] can be defined as irrationalism."

Umberto Eco: [3] "Irrationalism also depends on the cult of action for action’s sake …. Thinking is a form of emasculation. Therefore culture is suspect insofar as it is identified with critical attitudes. Distrust of the intellectual world has always been symptom of Ur- [or Eternal Fascism ]."

Umberto Eco: [4] " No syncretistic faith can withstand analytical criticism. The critical spirit makes distinctions, and to distinguish is a sign of modernism. In modern culture the scientific community praises disagreement as a way to improve knowledge. For Ur-Fascism (or Eternal Fascism), disagreement is is treason."

Umberto Eco: [5] "Besides, disagreement is a sign of diversity. Ur-fascism (or Eternal Fascism) grows up and seeks for consensus by exploiting and exacerbating the natural fear of difference. The first appeal of a fascist movement is an appeal against intruders. Thus Ur-Fascism (or Eternal Fascism) is racist by definition."

I shall show that, mutatis mutandis, Islam also rejects modernism, is hostile to reason, critical thought, fears disagreement, and is terrified of ‘intruders,’ though Islam’s form of exclusion is based on religion and not race.

The revival of modern Muslim thought owes a great deal to the writings of the Indian (later Pakistani) al-Maududi. In works such as Jihad in Islam, Islam and Jahiliyya, The Principles of Islamic Government, al-Maududi was the first modern Muslim thinker to "arrive at a sweeping condemnation of modernity and its incompatibility with Islam, and to formulate a definition of the danger it constituted." Sayyid Qutb, the Egyptian thinker, was in part influenced by al-Maududi, and felt that "Domination should be reverted to Allah alone, namely to Islam, that holistic system He conferred upon men. An all-out offensive, a jihad, should be waged against modernity so that this moral rearmament could take place The ultimate objective is to reestablish the Kingdom of God upon earth …"

Second, let us not forget that all three of the major Abrahamic religions are irrational, that is, they are based on irrational dogma that do not stand up to critical scrutiny. The whole framework of the three religions is historical, in that all three depend on the historical veracity of putative events described in their respective scriptures. But increasing critical inquiry and scientific thought( historical, philological , archaeological ) has revealed the improbability of the historical events described in their scriptures, and traditions. While Higher Biblical Criticism, developed by great thinkers such Spinoza, and further elaborated in Germany in the 19th Century, is well-known to, at least, educated Westerners and intellectuals in general , astonishingly few people even among the Western Islamologists seem to be aware of the shaky historical foundations of the beliefs of Muslims.

Muslims seem to be unaware that the research of the German Higher Critics apply directly to their belief system, which seems impervious to rational thought. For instance, there is absolutely no evidence, archaeological, epigraphic, documentary, that Abraham ever set foot in Arabia, let alone build the Kaaba. Many scholars such T. L. Thompson have even put forward the idea that not only Abraham but Isaac and Jacob never existed. Muslims are also committed to the dogma that Moses wrote the Pentateuch despite research since the 17 the Century of thinkers such as La Preyre, Spinoza, and Hobbes, and in the 19th Century by historians such as Julius Wellhausen who have all argued that Moses could not possibly have written the First Five Books of the Old Testament. No Western scholar believes the apocryphal Christian story of Jesus that is to be found in the Koran. Further it is surely totally irrational to continue to believe that the Koran is the word of God when the slightest amount of rational thought will reveal that the Koran contains words and passages addressed to God ( e.g. the Fatihah; sura vi.104; vi..114 ; xvii.1; xxvii.91; lxxxi.15-29; lxxxiv.16-19; etc.) ; that it is full of historical errors: at sura xl.38, the Koran mistakenly identifies Haman, who in reality was the minister of the Persian King Ahasuerus ( mentioned in the book of Esther ), as the minister of the Pharaoh at the time of Moses ; there is a confusion of Mary, the mother of Jesus, with the Mary who was sister of Moses and Aaron ; at sura ii.249/250, there is obviously a confusion between the story of Saul as told therein, and the account of Gideon in Judges, 7.5; the account of Alexander the Great is hopelessly garbled historically (sura xviii.82).

Finally, Goldziher, Lammens and Schacht, have shown that a vast number of traditions (hadith) accepted even in the most rigorously critical Muslim collections were outright forgeries from the late 8th and 9th centuries. It is simply irrational to go on accepting the "truth" of these traditions.

The history of the Islamic theology can be seen as a struggle between reason and revelation, with the eventual triumph of the dictates of revelation, with a victory for irrationalism and blind obedience to tradition.

It is undoubtedly true that there was at the dawn of Islam, a rationalising tendency as, for example, in the theology of the Mu‘tazilites. But the Mu‘tazilites were nonetheless Muslims, which in itself, as I have tried to argue above, is an indication of irrational beliefs. Second, they were ready to assassinate those who rejected their doctrines and advocated the jihad in all regions in which their dogma did not have the ascendancy. They were responsible for the Mihna or the Muslim Inquisition.

Finally, the rationalism of the Mu ‘tazilites was defeated by the philosophy of al-Ashari (died 935 C.E.) who, while not totally abandoning reason, did essentially subordinate reason to revelation. And the final death blow was given to rationalism by the real traditionists whose views eventually prevailed in Islam. The traditionists had no time for scholastic theology, which, for them was no different from Aristotelian philosophy –both led to unbelief. The traditionists refused to bend to aql, or reason, for them, reason was not required for religious understanding. Religious truth lay in in the Koran and the sunna, both of which had to be accepted without question and doubts. For example, al Shafi ‘i is made to say in true traditionist fashion that people who advocate scholastic theology with its modest amount of rationalism, "should be beaten with whips and the soles of sandals, and then paraded through all tribes and encampments while it is proclaimed of them, ‘Such is the reward of those who forsake the Koran and sunna and give themselves up to scholastic theology ( kalam ). ’" Al-Ghazali was similarly dismissive of reason; he constantly criticizes the Greeks and the Muslim philosophers influenced by them. Al Ghazali finds Greeks the source of all kinds infidelity ; he was totally opposed to spirit of free inquiry; for example in section 7, chapter 2 of his Ihay ulum al-adin, al Gahazali tells us that certain of the natural sciences are contrary to the law and religion, and in chapter 3 he tells us to abstain from free thought and accept the conclusions of the prophets. The great Ibn Khaldun is also suspicious of unbridled reason, which he also finds the source of unbelief. "No," wrote Ibn Khaldun, "one must be on guard by completely abandoning any speculation about (causes)...We have been commanded completely to abandon and suppress any speculation about [causes] and to direct ourselves to the Causer of all causes, so that the soul will be firmly coloured with the oneness of God. A man who stops at the causes is frustrated. He is rightly (said to be) unbeliever ….Therefore we are forbidden by Muhammad to study causes."

The ultimate sign within Islam of the fear of disagreement is surely the law of apostasy, (in Arabic, irtidad, or ridda ; while an apostate is called a murtadd). In the Koran (xvi.106 ff ) the apostate is threatened with punishment in the next world only, but under Islamic law the penalty is death. In the Traditions, Ibn Abbas transmits the following saying of the Prophet : . "Kill him, who changes his religion" or "behead him" ( Ibn Maja, Hudud, bab 2 ;Nasai, Tahrim al-dam, bab 14; Bukhari, Murtaddin, bab 2; Tirmidhi, Hudud, bab 25, Abu Dawud, Hudud, bab. 1; Ibn Hanbal, i.217, 282, 322.)

Finally, we come to Islam’s fear of ‘outsiders.’ Islam undoubtedly preached, to its credit, the equality of all free-born, Male Muslims. However Muslim women, and Muslim slaves are of course not considered equal. Thus Islam is not, in theory, racist .However Islam excludes people on the basis of belief. Salvation outside the Islamic faith is impossible. The world is divided between Muslims and Non-Muslims. There are very many sayings in the Koran which preach hatred and ill-will towards non-Muslims , and show a pathological fear of the "other:"

iv.101: The unbelievers are your sworn enemies.

lx.4: We renounce you (i.e. the idolaters): enmity and hate shall reign between us until you believe in Allah only…

lviii.23: You will not find believers in Allah and the Last day on friendly terms with those who oppose Allah and His apostle, even though they be their fathers, their sons, their brothers, or their nearest kindred …

ix.7: Allah and His apostle repose no trust in idolaters …

viii.13-14: Thus We punished them because they defied Allah and His apostle. He that defies Allah and His apostle shall be sternly punished. We said to them, "Feel our scourge. Hell-fire awaits the unbelievers."

viii.55: The basest creatures in the sight of Allah are the faithless who will not believe …

xxv.55: Yet the unbelievers worship idols which can neither help nor harm. Surely the unbeliever is his Lord’s enemy.

v.72: … He that worships other Gods besides Allah shall be forbidden Paradise and shall be cast into Hell-fire. None shall help the evil-doers.

ix.23: Believers! do not befriend your fathers or your brothers if they choose unbelief in preference to faith. Wrong-doers are those that befriend them.

ix. 28: Believers ! know that the idolaters are unclean.

xi. 28: Let believers not make friends with the infidels in preference to the faithful ; he that does this has nothing to hope for from Allah – except in self-defence.

iii.118: Believers ! do not make friends with any men other than your own people. They will spare no pains to corrupt you. They desire nothing but your ruin. Their hatred is clear from what they say, but more violent is the hatred which their breasts conceal …

v. 14: Therefore, We stirred among them (the Christians) enmity and hatred, which shall endure till the Day of Resurrection, when Allah will declare to them all that they have done.

v.64 … That which Allah has revealed to you will surely increase the wickedness and unbelief of many of them (the Jews). We have stirred among them (the Jews) enmity and hatred which will endure till the Day of Resurrection.

v.51: Believers! take neither Jews nor Christians for your friends. They are friends with one another. Whoever of you seeks their friendship shall become one of their number. Allah does not guide the wrongdoers.

Christians are marginally better regarded than the Jews, but the Koran still accuses them of falsifying the scriptures.v.75: "They surely are infidels who say, "God is the third of three"; for there is but one God; and if they do not refrain from what they say, a severe punishment shall light on those who are unbelievers."

They are also accused of worshipping Jesus as the son of God, and like the Jews, they have been led astray and must be brought back to the true religion, that is, Islam.

According to the Koran, Jews have intense hatred of all true Muslims, and as a punishments for their sins, some of them had, in the past, been changed into apes and swine (surah v.63), and others will have their hands tied to their necks and be cast into the Fire on Judgment day. The attitude enjoined upon the Muslims towards the Jews can only be described as anti-Semitic, and certainly was not conducive to a better understanding, tolerance or co- existence.

v.51: Believers, do not take Jews or Christians as friends They are but one anothers friends. If anyone of you takes them for his friends,, then he is surely one of them. God will not guide evil-doers."

v.56-64: O Believers, do not take as your friends the infidels or those who received the Scriptures before you [Jews and Christians] and who scoff and jest at your religion , but fear God if you are believers. Nor those who when you call them to prayer, make it an object of mirth and derision This is only because they are a people who do not understand.

Say: "People of the Book: isn't it true that you hate us simply because we believe in God, and in what He has sent down to us, and in what He has revealed to others before; and because most of you are evil doers?"

"Why don't their rabbis and doctors of lax forbid them from uttering sinful words and eating unlawful food ? Evil indeed are their works.

"The hand of God is chained up ", claim the Jews .Their own hands shall be chained up __ and they shall be cursed for saying such a thing ".

Jews are often accused, in the Koran, of perverting the scriptures, and holding doctrines they never held:

ix.29,30: "Declare war upon those to whom the Scriptures were revealed but believe neither in God nor the Last Day ,and who do not forbid that which God and His Apostle have forbidden, and who refuse to acknowledge the true religion [Islam] until they pay the poll-tax without reservation and are totally subjugated.

"The Jews claim that Ezra is a son of God, and the Christians say, " the Messiah is a son of God ".Those are their claims which do indeed resemble the sayings of the Infidels of Old. May God do battle with them! How they are deluded!"

And they deserve fully any punishment they get:

ii.61: "Wretchedness and baseness were stamped upon them [That is the Jews] and they drew on themselves the wrath of God. This was because they [the Jews] disbelieved the signs of God and slew the Prophets unjustly, and because they rebelled and transgressed ."

iv.160,161: Because of the wickedness of certain Jews, and because they turn many from the way of God, We have forbidden them good and wholesome foods which were formerly allowed them; and because they have taken to usury, though they were forbidden it; and have cheated others of their possessions, We have prepared a grievous punishment for the Infidels amongst them ".

Such are some of the sentiments expressed in the Koran, which remains for all Muslims, and not just "fundamentalists", the uncreated word of God Himself. It is valid for all times and places, its ideas are, according to all Muslims, absolutely true and beyond any criticism.

The treatment of the Jews by Muhammad is certainly not above reproach. The cold-blooded extermination of the Banu Qurayza ( between 600 and 900 men ), the expulsion of the Nadir and their later massacre (something often overlooked in the history books) are not signs of magnanimity or compassion. His treatment of the Jews of the oasis of Khaybar served "as a model for the treaties granted by the Arab conquerors to the conquered peoples in territories beyond Arabia." Muhammad attacked the oasis in 628, had one of the leaders tortured to find the hidden treasures of the tribe, and then when the Jews surrendered, agreed to let them continue cultivating their oasis only if they gave him half their produce. Muhammad also reserved the right to cancel the treaty and expel the Jews whenever he liked. This treaty or agreement was called a DHIMMA, and those who accepted it were known as DHIMMIS. All non-Muslims who accepted Muslim supremacy and agreed to pay a tribute, in return for " Muslim protection," are referred to as dhimmis.

The second caliph Umar later expelled the Jews and the Christians from the Hijaz (containing the holy cities of Mecca and Medina) in 640, referring to the dhimma of Khaybar. He is said to have quoted the Prophet on the right to cancel any pact he wished, and the Prophet's famous saying: " Two religions shall not remain together in the peninsula of the Arabs." To this day, the establishment of any other religion in Saudi Arabia is forbidden, many Christians have been executed for simply practising their religion. Here is how Amnesty International describes the situation in Saudi Arabia :

"Hundreds of Christians, including women and children have been arrested and detained over the past three years, most without charge or trial, solely for the peaceful expression of their religious beliefs. Scores have been tortured, some by flogging, while in detention….The possession of non-Islamic religious objects – including Bibles, rosary beads, crosses and pictures of Jesus Christ – is prohibited and such items may be confiscated" (AINO 62 ; July /August 1993).

At least since the Renaissance, one of the characteristics of Western civilisation has been its interest in other lands and societies. "This universal curiosity is still a distinguishing, almost an exclusive, characteristic of Europe and her daughters." Muslims are by contrast profoundly convinced of the finality, completeness, and essential self-sufficiency of their civilisation. For the Muslim, Islam is the one true faith, beyond which there are only unbelievers. "You [ Muslims ] are the best of peoples" the Koran tells Muslims (sura iii.110) It is a remarkable fact that until at least the late 16 th century, when Turkish historians began to show a vague and still faint interest in European history, Muslim historians, with three noble exceptions, and Muslims in general, showed little desire to step outside their civilisation intellectually. The exceptions are just that, exceptions : the geographer Masudi, cultural historian and observer al-Biruni, and historian Rashid al-Din. Until the end of the 18th century, very few European books were translated into Muslim languages, and most of these dealt with useful topics such as medical science. This attitude has continued to this day. No Islamic country has university faculties that study non-Islamic civilisations, with the exception, significantly of Turkey, where, in Ankara, one can study Sanskrit. Even to listen to Western classical music is considered undesirable, and a danger to Islamic civilisation; "the treason of an Arab begins when he enjoys listening to Mozart or Beethoven;" wrote the Tunisian al-Wasiti ( quoted by Norman Daniel, Euro-Arab dialogue, p.88 ) Here is how one political analyst sums up the situation in the 1990s :

"Arabs may be well informed on currency movements and the latest chat on the prospects of the Western economies but know surprisingly little about how Western societies and governments operate. Even those who live in the West or visit it frequently on holiday do not have much understanding of it because, in most cases, when they are there they mix with other Arabs,, principally their own relations, and take no interest in the culture, history or institutions of the countries they are in." Dr.Muhamed Talbi also makes a similar point by quoting Ibn Khaldun and Maryam Jameelah :

"Au VIIIe / XIVe siècle, Ibn Khaldun, dont le génie est pourtant incontestable,écrivait: "Il faut donc se tenir à l'écart des sciences relatives aux religions antérieures à l'Islam et il est interdit d'en discuter". Ibn Khaldun, en cela seulement, fut écouté, ou plutôt il était l'interprète d'une mentalité qui avait preevalu jusqu'à nos jours. "Peu de musulmans, écrit Maryam Jameelah, ont réellement une connaissance profonde de l'Occident. Combien de musulmans, par exemple, maîtrisent - ils le grec ou le latin, et combien sont - ils intellectuellement équipés pour étudier le Judaïsme et le Christianisme aussi bien que les idéologies laïques à partir d'un point de vue musulman? Alors que des générations d'orientalistes occidentaux avaient étudié l'Islam conformément à leurs besoins et à leurs buts, n'est - il pas essentiel que quelques ulémas deviennent des occidentalistes?"

Muslims are certain that Islam is not only the whole of God’s truth, but it is its final expression. Hence Muslims fear and persecute such post-Islamic religious movements as the Baha’is and the Ahmadis. Here is Amnesty International on the plight of the Ahmadis [ ASA :33/15.91]: "Ahmadis consider themselves to be Muslims but they are regarded by orthodox Muslims as heretical because they call the founder of their movement al-Masih [ the Messiah ]: this is taken to imply that Muhammad is not the final seal of the prophets as orthodox Islam holds, i.e., the Prophet who carried the final message from God to humanity …. As a result of these divergences, Ahmadis have been subjected to discrimination and persecution in some Islamic countries. In the mid-1970s, the Saudi Arabia based World Muslim League called on Muslim governments worldwide to take action against Ahmadis. Ahmadis are since then banned in Saudi Arabia."

Umberto Eco: [6] "Ur-Fascism (or Eternal Fascism) derives from individual or social frustration."

There has been a demographic explosion in the Islamic world, and the leaders have simply not coped, unable to provide jobs, housing, health facilities, transport, inflation running high, all compounded by human rights abuses (torture, summary justice, executions, and so on ) This failure has been very ably exploited by the Islamists to increase their prestige, to increase their power, which has led, in turn, to mounting demands for increasing Islamization of society. Another essential factor in the current Islamic revival has to do with Islam’s crisis of identity, especially in face of the West’s overwhelming economic and cultural success in contrast to the relative economic, cultural, human rights failures of the post-independence regimes in the Islamic world. These failures have led to an increase of frustration, envy and hatred of the West, and an exaggerated emphasis on their Islamic identity. And "since for Muslims Islam is, by definition, superior to all other faiths, the failures and defeats of Muslims in this world can only mean that they are not practicing authentic Islam and that their states are not true Islamic states. The remedy, therefore, is return to the pure, authentic Islam of the Prophet and his Companions, a rejection and elimination of the accretions and innovations that had debased and corrupted the faith and enfeebled the Islamic society … "

Umberto Eco: [7] " …Thus at the root of the Ur-Fascist psychology there is the obsession with a plot, possibly an international one. The followers must feel besieged. The easiest way to solve the plot is the appeal to xenophobia. But the plot must also come from the inside: Jews are usually the best target because they have the advantage of being at the same time inside and outside."

A belief in international plots, or, in other words, conspiracy theories are the key to understanding the politics of the Middle East. As Daniel Pipes in his acclaimed study, "The Hidden Hand, The Middle East Fears of Conspiracy" put it : "…Whoever hopes to understand the Middle East must recognize the distorting lens of conspiracy theories, understand them, make allowance for them, and perhaps even plan around them. Conspiracism [the belief in international plots or conspiracies] provides a key to understanding the political culture of the Middle East." Amazingly enough, most of the leading Muslim thinkers and actors of the twentieth century have put forward conspiracy theories to excuse the continuing cultural and economic backwardness of Islamic countries; the prevalence of such theories indicate a refusal on the part of Muslims to take responsibility for their own failures. As Pipes in his brilliant work says, "although grand conspiracy theories surfaced in the Middle East only in the late nineteenth century, their subject matter ranges much farther ; indeed it often extends right back to the time of the Prophet Muhammad. More broadly, conspiracy theorists reinterpret the whole sweep of Islamic history, plundering medieval texts to locate instances of conspiracy, especially on the part of Christians and Jews."

The Iranian scholar Ervand Abrahamian has shown how prevalent the conspiracies are in Iran,, leading often to tragic consequences , as in the mass executions of 1981-82:

"When in June 1981 the [People’s] Mojahedin tried to overthrow the Islamic Republic, Khomeini proclaimed that the CIA was planning a repeat performance of 1953 and that the whole opposition, not just the Mojahedin, was implicated in this grand international plot. In six short weeks, the Islamic Republic shot over one thousand prisoners. The victims included not only members of the Mojahedin but also royalists, Bahais, Jews.

"Kurds, Baluchis, Arabs, Qashqayis, Tukomans, National Frontists, Maoists, anti-Stalinist Marxists, and even apolitical teenage girls who happened to be in the wrong street at the wrong time. Never before in Iran had firing squads executed so many in so short a time over so flimsy an accusation."

Muslim thinkers premise their understanding of modern history on Western plots against Islam. For example, Muhammad al-Ghazali, a leading contemporary Muslim thinker from Egypt, wrote, "there is a conspiracy against Islam …by Western secularism because it claims that Islam is a dangerous religion.". Khomeini goes further by explaining, "In the interests of the Jews, America, and Israel, we [Muslims] must be jailed and killed, we must be sacrificed to the evil intentions of foreigners." According to such Muslim thinking, Islam made the Muslims great, culturally, militarily, economically , but because of external influence and plotting of the Jews and the imperialists, Muslims have been lured away from the Koran, the Sharia, the Muslim way of life, and hence have lost their moorings. Khomeini saw the Shah of Persia ‘s granting women the right to vote as an "attempt to corrupt our chaste women" and a plot against Islam "perhaps drawn up by the spies of the Jews and the Zionists" intending to destroy "the independence of the state and the economy." Rushdie’s novel, Satanic Verses he saw as a mortal threat to Islam.

As Pipes concludes, nearly all the most influential Muslim thinkers, such as Hasan al Banna, Sayyid Qutb, Abu’l A’la al-Maududi, accept the premise of anti-Islamic conspiration by Jews and Europeans, as do most of the preachers, scholars , journalists, and politicians. The very constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran refers to plotting, when it describes the White Revolution (the Shah’s land-reform program) as an "American plot … a ploy to stabilize the foundation of the colonialist government [of the Shah] and strengthen Iran’s …ties with world imperialism." This constitution also promises that non-Muslims will be well-treated if they refrain from getting "in conspiracies hatched against the Islamic Republic of Iran."

Muslims of the Middle East fear two main conspirators, Jews and Imperialists. Jews are seen as a threat to the whole of humanity, and are considered responsible for every evil in the world, from assassinations of Lincoln, McKinley, and Kennedy, to the French and Russian Revolution, and so on. As Robert Wistrich put it, for the Muslim Brethren of Egypt, "Of all the myriad enemies of Islam …Jewry represents the ultimate abomination, evil in its purest ontological form." and as Daniel Pipes adds, and the same applies for many other Muslims, for example, Sayyid Qutb, the very influential Egyptian thinker, wrote, "Through the lengthy centuries – regretfully – [the Jews] poisoned the Islamic heritage in a way that may itself be revealed only with the effort of centuries."

While Mustafa Mashur, another Egyptian thinker sees Jews behind "every weird, deviant principle" in history.

Muslims considered the U.N. International Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo in 1994 as an international plot to undermine Islam, and to annihilate Muslims. Adil Husayn, a leading Muslim Egyptian thinker argued that the West’s promotion of birth control "is not aimed at developing the poor world. It is a racist plan to designed to continue looting and weakening us in favour of the dominating white race ….The conference is the culmination of a scheme aimed at annihilating mankind and Muslims."

What precisely is the reason for the prevalence of conspiracy theories in the Muslim Middle East. Many analysts are convinced of the role and nature of Islam in the incubation and perpetuation of conspiracy theories. The saying "better a 100 years of repression than a day of anarchy" sums up the fear of anarchy (fitna) that lies deep in Islamic culture, and may be responsible for encouraging the paranoid style of thinking. More commonly, Middle Eastern analysts point to the fatalism inculcated by Islam . Though there, as usual contradictory statements in the Koran on this subject, in the end it was the predestination doctrine that prevailed in Islam .Here are some quotes from the Koran that have led to a kind of fatalism within Islam :

liv. 49 All things have been created after fixed decree.

iii.139 No one can die except by God’s permission according to the book that fixes the term of life.

lxxxvii.2 The Lord has created and balanced all things and has fixed their destinies and guided them..

viii.17 God killed them, and those shafts were God’s, not yours.

ix.51 By no means can anything befall us but what God has destined for us.

( See also, xiii.30 ; xiv.4 ; xviii.101 ; xxxii.32 xlv.26 ; lvii.22 )

Kanan Makiya, the Iraqi political thinker, sees, "extreme fatalism …that may be a characteristic of Islamic culture generally « as a key explanation for conspiracy theories. In his view, this world view undermines the notion of man as responsible to himself. Similarly, Homa Katouzian traces conspiracy theories to an « unimaginable fatalism;" and Jahangir Amuzegar ascribes them to a "fatalistic streak." Others point to the Shi’a tradition of taqiya ( dissimulation – for self-protection and the safeguarding of faith ; and finally some single out the Shia tradition of martyrdom (shihada) that causes Iranians to externalize evil, to seek to put the responsibility for their failures, misdeeds, blunders onto others plotting against them.

Umberto Eco: [8] "The followers must feel humiliated by the ostentatious wealth and force of their enemies ….However, the followers must be convinced that they can overwhelm the enemies. Thus, by a continuous shifting of rhetorical focus, the enemies are the same time too strong and too weak. Fascist governments are condemned to lose wars because they are constitutionally incapable of objectively evaluating the force of the enemy."

The Muslims in the Middle East have been constantly humiliated for centuries, but perhaps at no time more so than since the late 18th century when Napoleon first burst upon the scene with the conquest of Egypt. Ever since then, Muslims have continued to be at once both attracted, and repelled by Western civilisation, and all its material and spiritual wares, which they cannot afford to buy, or emulate for fear of being accused of treason towards Islam. The Six –Day War with Israel totally humiliated not just Arabs, but all Muslims around the world. And as Umberto Eco says, they are condemned to lose wars as they seem incapable of rationally and objectively assessing the strength and weaknesses of the enemy. The enemy is seen as both too strong and too weak . As Field puts it, the paranoid style in the Middle East "is obviously linked to the theorists’ general ignorance of the outside world and this is clearly a disadvantage for any society. The belief in plots, combined with ignorance, leads the Arabs to exaggerate the power of the West and misjudge its motives, making them believe that it is hostile and manipulative when it is more likely to be morally censorious, occasionally concerned with upholding states’ sovereignty and /or protecting its oil interests, generally interested in promoting its exports, and often indifferent to Arab issues – or concerned but unable to see how it can influence events."

For the Middle Easterner, the Jewish or Imperialist conspirator is at once too powerful and too weak. Thus "the conspirator never rests, never falters, never makes mistakes, and never shows fear; word to the contrary is disinformation. He is tireless." "Every day the [enemies of Islam] plot new conspiracies and schemes." The Zionist conspiracy "has enormous resources at its disposal: money, media, industry, technology, oil, military hardware, and the intelligence agencies, led by Mossad and CIA." Gamal Abdel Nasser also believed in the omnipotence of the West, "The Americans know perfectly well what we will say, where we will proceed, and what we will do." While Sattareh Farman Farmaian tells of the servants in her family’s Iranian home that they "believed that the English were so diabolical that they could even cause floods, droughts, and earthquakes. And it was true that to Iranians, the British seemed almost supernaturally clever."

And yet, the enemies of Islam never wins . "The Jews may try, but they will never destroy the [Muslims]." Or as The Baghdad Observer put it, "A savage campaign has been conducted by the U.S. inside the Security Council to hurt Iraq, choke its economy and starve its people. Yet, as the first chapters of the conspiracy have failed to weaken Iraq, the final phase of the enemies’ schemes is definitely going to meet the same fate. The whole conspiracy is doomed to failure."

Umberto Eco: [9] "For Ur-Fascism, (Eternal Fascism) there is no struggle for life, but rather life is lived for struggle. Thus pacifism is trafficking with the enemy. It is bad because life is permanent warfare."

Umberto Eco: [11] "…Everybody is educated to become a hero …This cult of heroism is strictly linked with the cult of death. In non-fascist societies, the lay public is told that death is unpleasant but must be faced with dignity ; believers are told that it is the painful way to reach a supernatural happiness. By, contrast, the Ur-Fascist craves heroic death, advertised as the best reward for a heroic life. The Ur-Fascist hero is impatient to die. In his impatience, he more frequently sends other people to death."

Umberto Eco’s feature [9] goes naturally well with feature [11], so I shall discuss them here, and leave feature [10] for later.

The totalitarian nature of Islam is no where more apparent than in the concept of Jihad, the Holy War, whose ultimate aim is to conquer the entire world and submit it to the one true faith, to the law of Allah. To Islam alone has been granted the truth - there is no possibility of salvation outside it. It is the sacred duty - an incumbent religious duty established in the Koran and the Traditions - of all Muslims to bring it to all humanity. Jihad is a divine institution, enjoined specially for the purpose of advancing Islam. Muslims must strive, fight and kill in the name of God:

ix.5-6: "Kill those who join other gods with God wherever you may find them."

iv.76: "Those who believe fight in the cause of God..."

viii.12: "I will instill terror into the hearts of the Infidels, strike off their heads then, and strike off from them every fingertip."

viii.39-42: "Say to the Infidels: If they desist from their unbelief, what is now past shall be forgiven them; but if they return to it, they have already before them the doom of the ancients! Fight then against them till strife be at an end, and the religion be all of it God's."

ii.256: "But they who believe, and who fly their country, and fight in the cause of God may hope for God's mercy: and God is Gracious, Merciful."

It is a grave sin for a Muslim to shirk the battle against the unbelievers, those who do will roast in hell:

viii. 15, 16: "Believers, when you meet the unbelievers preparing for battle do not turn your backs to them. [ Anyone who does ] shall incur the wrath of God and hell shall be his home: an evil dwelling indeed ".

ix.39: "If you do not fight, He will punish you severely, and put others in your place."

Those who die fighting for the only true religion, Islam, will be amply rewarded in the life to come:

iv.74: "Let those fight in the cause of God who barter the life of this world for that which is to come; for whoever fights on God's path, whether he is killed or triumphs, We will give him a handsome reward."

It is abundantly clear from many of the above verses that the Koran is not talking of metaphorical battles or of moral crusades; it is talking of the battle field. To read such blood thirsty injunctions in a Holy Book is shocking.

Mankind is divided into two groups - Muslims and non-Muslims. The Muslims are members of the Islamic community, the umma, who possess territories in the Dar ul Islam, the Land of Islam, where the edicts of Islam are fully promulgated. The non-Muslims are the Harbi, people of the Dar ul Harb, the Land of Warfare, any country belonging to the infidels which has not been subdued by Islam but which, nonetheless, is destined to pass into Islamic jurisdiction either by conversion or by war (Harb). All acts of war are permitted in the Dar ul Harb. Once the Dar ul Harb has been subjugated, the Harbi become prisoners of war. The imam can do what he likes to them according to the circumstances. Woe betide the city that resists and is then taken by the Islamic army by storm.. In this case, the inhabitants have no rights whatsoever, and as Sir Steven Runciman says in his "The Fall of Constantinople, 1453":

"The conquering army is allowed three days of unrestricted pillage; and the former places of worship, with every other building, become the property of the conquering leader; he may dispose of them as he pleases. Sultan Mehmet [after the fall of Constantinople in 1453 allowed] his soldiers the three days of pillage to which they were entitled. They poured into the city...They slew everyone that they met in the streets, men, women and children without discrimination.. The blood ran in rivers down the steep streets...But soon the lust for slaughter was assuaged. The soldiers realized that captives and precious objects would bring them greater profits."

In other cases, they are sold into slavery, exiled or treated as dhimmis, who are tolerated as second class subjects, as long as they pay a regular tribute.

It is common nowadays for the apologists of Islam, whether Muslims or their Western admirers, to interpret "Jihad" in the non-military sense of "moral struggle," "moral striving." But it is quite illegitimate to pretend that the Koran and the books on Islamic Law were talking about "moral crusades." Rather as Rudolf Peters says in his definitive study of Jihad says, "In the books on Islamic Law, the word means armed struggle against the unbelievers, which is also a common meaning in the Koran." Apologists of Islam, even when they do admit that real battles are being referred to, still pretend that the doctrine of Jihad only talks of "defensive measures," that is, the apologists pretend that fighting is only allowed to defend Muslims, and that offensive wars are illegitimate. But again, this is not the classical doctrine in Islam; as Peters makes clear, the Sword Verses in the Koran were interpreted as unconditional commands to fight the unbelievers, and furthermore these Sword Verses abrogated all previous verses concerning intercourse with non-Muslims. Peters sums up the classical doctrine as:

"The doctrine of Jihad as laid down in the works on Islamic Law, developed out of the Koranic prescriptions and the example of the Prophet and the first caliphs, which is recorded in the hadith; The crux of the doctrine is the existence of one single Islamic state, ruling the entire umma [Muslim community]. It is the duty of the umma to expand the territory of this state in order to bring as many people under its rule as possible. The ultimate aim is to bring the whole earth under the sway of Islam and to extirpate unbelief : "Fight them until there is no persecution and the religion is God’s entirely." (sura ii.193 ; viii.39). Expansionist jihad is a collective duty (fard ala al-kifaya), which is fulfilled if a sufficient number of people take part in it. If this is not the case, the whole umma [Muslim community] is sinning."

Here are more bellicose verses from the Koran, the words of Allah telling Muslims to kill, murder on his behalf :

ii.193: Fight against them until idolatry is no more and Allah’s religion reigns supreme.

ii. 216: Fighting is obligatory for you, much as you dislike it. But you may hate a thing although it is good for you, and love a thing although it is bad for you. Allah knows, but you do not.

ix.41: Whether unarmed or well-equipped, march on and fight for the cause of Allah, with your wealth and your persons. This is best for you, if you but knew it.

ix. 123: Believers! make war on the infidels who dwell around you let them find harshness in you.

lxvi.9: O Prophet! make war on the unbelievers and the hypocrites and deal sternly with them hell shall be their home, evil their fate.

ix.73: O Prophet Make war on the unbelievers and the hypocrites. Be harsh with them. Their ultimate abode is hell, a hapless journey’s end.

viii.65: O Prophet! Exhort the believers to fight. If there are twenty steadfast men among you, they shall vanquish two hundred; and if there are a hundred, they shall rout a thousand unbelievers, for they are devoid of understanding.

xlvii.4-15: When you meet the unbelievers in the battlefield strike off their heads and when you have laid them low, bind your captives firmly ….

xxv.52: Do not yield to the unbelievers, but fight them strenuously with this Koran.

viii.67: It is not for any Prophet to have captives until he has made slaughter in the land …

What Umberto Eco calls the cult of heroism and the cult of death is beautifully exemplified in the Muslim cult of martyrdom. The Koran promises Paradise with its seductive houris to all those who die in the cause of Islam :

x. 4-15 "...As for those who are slain in the cause of Allah, He will not allow their works to perish. He will vouchsafe them guidance and ennoble their state; He will admit them to Paradise He has made known to them."

ix.111: "Allah has purchased of their faithful lives and worldly goods and in return has promised them the Garden. They will fight for His cause, kill and be killed."

iii.169-171: "You must not think that those who were slain in the cause of Allah are dead. They are alive, and well-provided for by their Lord…. "

iii.157-158 "If you should die or be killed in the cause of Allah, His mercy and forgiveness would surely be better than all the riches that amass. If you should die or be killed, before Him you shall all be gathered."

Bukhari gives the following hadith : "Narrated Anas bin Malik : ‘The prophet said, 'Nobody who dies and finds good from Allah (in the hereafter) would wish to come back to this world even if he were given the whole world …except the martyr who, on seeing the superiority of martyrdom, would like to come back to the world and get killed again (in Allah's cause.)'"

Finally, on the obligation of Jihad, I shall quote from two Muslim thinkers greatly admired in the West. First Ibn Khaldun in his Muqaddimah writes: "In the Muslim community, the holy war is religious duty, because of the universalism of the Muslim mission and (the obligation to) covert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force."

And now Averroes, a much romanticized figure in the West : "According to the majority of scholars, the compulsory nature of the jihad is founded on sura ii.216: ‘Prescribed for you is fighting, though it is hateful to you.’ The obligation to participate in the jihad applies to adult free men who have the means at their disposal to go to war and who are healthy, … Scholars agree that all polytheists should be fought; This founded on sura viii.39: Fight them until there is no persecution and the religion is God’s entirely"… Most scholars are agreed that, in his dealing with captives, various policies are open to the Imam. He may pardon them, enslave them, kill them, or release them either on ransom or as dhimmi [non-Muslim, second class subject of the Islamic state], in which latter case the released captive is obliged to pay poll-tax (jizya) ….Sura viii.67 "It is not for any Prophet to have prisoners until he make wide slaughter in the land." as well as the occasion when this verse was revealed [viz.the captives of Badr] would prove that it is better to kill captives than to enslave them. The Prophet himself would in some cases kill captives outside the field of battle, while he would pardon them in others. Women he used to enslave …. The Muslims are agreed that the aim of warfare against the People of the Book …is two-fold :either conversion to Islam or payment of poll-tax –jizya)."

Umberto Eco: [10] "Elitism is a typical aspect of any reactionary ideology, insofar as it is fundamentally aristocratic, and aristocratic and militaristic elitism cruelly implies contempt for the weak. Ur-Fascism can only advocate a popular elitism. Every citizen belongs to the best people of the world, the members of the party are the best among the citizens, every citizen can (or ought to) become a member of the party … "

Here, it takes very little substitution to see how Umberto Eco's tenth feature applies to Muslims as well. "Every [Muslim] belongs to the best people of the world, the members of the [Umma] are the best among the citizens, every citizen can (or ought to) become a [Muslim] member of the [Umma]."

Islam is the most perfect of religion, and Muslims are the chosen people, as sura v.3 tells us: " This day I have prefected for you your religion and completed My favour to you and chosen for you Islam as a religion." Islam is destined to triumph ultimately, sura ix.33 "He it is Who sent His Messenger with guidance and the Religion of Truth, that He may cause it to prevail over all religions, though the polytheists are averse" (see also xlviii.28; lxi.9).

The arrogance of Muslims is captured very precisely by Frithjof Schuon, a Western convert to a mystical variety of Islam:

"The intellectual – and thereby the rational – foundation of Islam results in the average Muslim having a curious tendency to believe that non-Muslims either know that Islam is the Truth and reject it out of pure obstinacy, or else are simply ignorant of it and can be converted by elementary explanations; that anyone should be able to oppose Islam with a good conscience quite exceeds the Muslims’ imagination, precisely because Islam coincides in his mind with the irresistible logic of things."

Umberto Eco: [12] "Since both permanent war and heroism are difficult games to play, the Ur-Fascist transfers his will to power to sexual matters. This is the origin of machismo (which implies both disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of non-standard sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality)."

Here are some machismo sayings from the Koran :

iv..34 Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other, & because they spend of their property (for the support of women). So good women are the obedient, guarding in secret that which Allah hath guarded. As for those from whom ye fear rebellion, admonish them & banish them to beds apart; and beat them. Then if they obey you, seek not a way against them Lo! Allah is ever High Exalted, Great.

v.6... And if ye are sick on a journey, or one of you cometh from the closet, or ye have contact with women & ye find not water, then go to clean high ground & rub your faces & your hands with some of it...

xxxiii. 32-33 O ye wives of the Prophet! Ye are not like any other women. If ye keep your duty (to Allah), then be not soft of speech lest he in whose heart is a disease aspire to you, but utter customary speech And stay in your houses. Bedizen not yourselves with the bedizenment of the time of ignorance. Be regular in prayer, & pay the poor due, & obey Allah & His Messenger...

Equally, in numerous Hadiths on which are based the Islamic laws we learn of the woman' s role - to stay at home, to be at the beck & call of man, to obey him (which is a religious duty,) to assure man a tranquil existence. Here are some examples:

_____ If it had been given me to order someone to prostrate themselves in front of someone other than God, I would surely have ordered women to prostrate themselves in front of their husbands... A woman cannot fulfill her duties towards God without first having accomplished those that she owes her husband.

_____ The woman who dies & with whom the husband is satisfied will go to paradise.

_____ A wife should never refuse herself to her husband even if it is on the saddle of a camel.

_____ Hellfire appeared to me in a dream & I noticed that it was above all peopled with women who had been ungrateful. "Was it towards God that they were ungrateful?" They had not shown any gratitude towards their husbands for all they had received from them... Even when all your life you have showered a woman with your largesse she will still find something petty to reproach you with one day, saying, "You have never done anything for me."

_____ If anything presages a bad omen it is: a house, a woman, a horse.

_____ Never will a people know success if they confide their affairs to a woman.

Al -Ghazali (1058 - 1111), whom Professor Montgomery Watt describes as the greatest Muslim after Muhammad, in his " The Revival Of The Religious Sciences," defines the woman' s role:

"She should stay at home & get on with her spinning, she should not go out often, she must not be well-informed, nor must she be communicative with her neighbours & only visit them when absolutely necessary; she should take care of her husband & respect him in his presence & his absence & seek to satisfy him in everything; she must not cheat on him nor extort money from him; she must not leave her house without his permission & if gives his permission she must leave surreptitiously. She should put old on clothes & take deserted streets & alleys, avoid markets, & make sure that a stranger does not hear her voice or recognise her; she must not speak to a friend of her husband even in need... Her sole worry should be her virtue, her home as well as her prayers & her fast. If a friend of her husband calls when the latter is absent she must not open the door nor reply to him in order to safeguard her & her husband's honour. She should accept what her husband gives her as sufficient sexual needs at any moment "...She should be clean and ready to satisfy her husband's sexual needs at any moment." The great theologian then warns all men to be careful of women for their, "guile is immense & their mischief is noxious; they are immoral & mean spirited." "It is a fact that all the trials, misfortunes & woes which befall men come from women," moaned Al Ghazali.

Continue Reading "Islam, Middle East and Fascism" by Ibn Warraq

 



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