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Spring 2002 cover

National Observer Home > No. 54 - Spring 2002 > Articles

A Reality Check on Radical Islamic Terrorism

Raymond Watson

Recently newspaper headlines featured yet another Palestinian suicide bomber who killed himself and massacred scores of Israelis - not soldiers, nor even illegal West Bank settlers, but working class Jews playing pool in Tel Aviv, the old capital of the pre-1967, Israeli state. "Scoreboards" of the recent toll of the suicide bombers’ Israeli victims, including women, children, old and young, and even some Arab victims, were set out.

On the same day we read of a Pakistani suicide bomber who had killed eleven French technicians and two Pakistani civilians. Reports of Algerian Islamic fundamentalist terrorists killing scores of fellow Muslim civilians have become so frequent they no longer feature as "big" news stories, but are tucked away in the "other news" columns.

Frank Devine, writing about the response to the 11 September 2001 terrorist attack posed the question, no doubt rhetorically: "Where is the Muslim coalition against terrorism?"1  Devine bemoaned the tiresome introduction of "politically correct" notions regarding Islam and concern for Muslim sensibilities at a time when the West has to confront an enemy that raises the banner of Islam to justify its outrages. History is being rewritten, misconstrued or forgotten, creating equivocation over the struggle against terrorism.

The 11 September, 2001 terrorist outrages have almost become "old news" now, but it ought to be recalled that none of the perpetrators were Palestinians. They were well-educated Saudi Arabians from wealthy families, making nonsense of the naïve claims that radical Islamic terrorism is simply caused by "Israeli occupation" or "poverty".

There may be understandable concerns about the tactics of the U.S.-led war against terrorism, and there are legitimate fears about the coalition avoiding the necessity of confronting the issue of a general settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, perhaps the only legitimate grievance that inspires Muslim and Arab antagonism towards the West. It can surely be argued, however, that the United States attempted precisely this by facilitating the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords, which led to the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, the general Palestinian response to which, under the effective leadership of the Muslim fundamentalist Islamic Jihad and Hamas, has simply been more terrorist violence, which the Palestinian Authority either cannot or will not prevent.

Unfortunately, even an eventual solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will not satisfy the aspirations of the Islamic fundamentalist terrorists, as is evidenced by their successive insurgencies in such disparate countries as Afghanistan, Algeria, Chechnya, China, Egypt, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, The Philippines, Saudi Arabia and Syria. Half of these countries are already ruled by Muslim governments.

It is also pertinent that when Israel recently withdrew from its "security zone" in southern Lebanon, the Muslim fundamentalist Hezbollah responded by moving artillery up to the border and began shelling Israel. The end of Israeli occupation was not enough, Israel itself must be destroyed.

The "politically correct" notions employed to minimise criticisms of Muslims are spurious and may have the effect of sapping the will of any Western power to persevere in the struggle against Islamic fundamentalist terrorism.

The U.S.-led coalition against Afghanistan-based terrorism was urged last year, for instance, out of consideration for Muslim sensibilities, not to continue the war during Ramadan, the Muslim holy month. However, there was no guarantee that the Taliban and Bin Laden's Al Qaeda terrorists would cease their activities for the duration - they did not - and history shows that Ramadan was ignored by both Muslim armies for the duration of the ferocious Iran-Iraq War. Indeed, when Egyptian and Syrian armies struck against Israel during the holy month in 1973, they even referred to their assault as the "Ramadan War". Likewise, the Islamic fundamentalists of the Algerian "Armed Islamic Group", whose major tactic in its war against the secular military government involves massacres of innocent Muslim villagers, actually chose Ramadan in the year 2000 to escalate their struggle, murdering over 200 people.

A particularly common "politically correct" cliché eagerly seized upon by multiculturalists mortified by the thought that any "community culture" could prove unassimilable, is that Muslim terrorists such as Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda and the suicide hijackers who perpetrated the September 11 outrage were "violating Islam".

In fact, just as there were Jews and Christians in the past prepared to wage war on "unbelievers" in the cause of their faith, there are many Muslims who similarly interpret their own.

Dr Mike Diboll, explained the "theological" rationale:2

"Shuhuhaa, ‘martyrdom’ resulting from a suicidal mission in the cause of Islam, is regarded as a short cut to Jenna, the Muslim Paradise. The answer to how supposedly God-fearing people can crash an aeroplane containing children lies in the dogma of mukallafat, the Islamic ‘age of responsibility’. This, according to various Islamic schools of religious jurisprudence, lies between the ages of seven or eleven years-old.

Thus, for a Muslim fundamentalist, if someone hijacked is over the age of mukallafat and is not a Muslim, he or she has made a conscious decision to reject Islam, and is therefore an infidel destined for Hell, and hence, a legitimate victim. Even if innocent, the hijacker has done him or her a favour, since the victim will also enter Jenna without having to endure the Day of Judgement."

Even innocent Muslims who may perish in such actions as 11 September - one of the World Trade Centre towers was home to a mosque, in which hundreds of Muslims came to pray daily - are deemed to have participated in the shuhuhaa and will enter Paradise with the perpetrators. Therefore, an accepted interpretation of Islamic theology has the potential to justify any acts by terrorists committed to a jihad ("holy war") in the name of Islam.

The current jihad may have been stimulated by the Palestinian intifada, but how does this explain the rise of the Taliban and its brutal "theocracy" in Afghanistan and its harbouring of Al Qaeda, or its popularity in neighbouring Pakistan? Or the continuing support for radical Islamic terrorist groups by the Islamic Republic in Iran?

The cause is a resurgent, fundamentalist - or rather, "literalist" - Islam, with an unbroken historical memory that goes back hundreds of years to the disaster of the Christian Crusades and the consequent Muslim victory; the spectacular rise and rueful decline of the Islamic Caliphates and Sultanates; and in the 20th century, the painful realisation by the Arabs that by allowing themselves to be turned against their Ottoman Sultanate Muslim brethren, they facilitated the British and French colonial carve-up of the Middle East and the loss of Palestine.

The struggle to avenge these historical wrongs is fired by a determination to destroy the results of this disastrous policy, and a "born again" religious zealotry reinforced by a sense of contrition for having allowed the Western "infidel" powers to trespass upon the nations of Islam in the first place.

Martyrdom in the cause of this struggle is believed to be honourable in the eyes of Allah; it is not considered suicide. Nor is it considered wrong that fellow Muslims die in the jihad, especially if it is believed they have collaborated with the kafirs ("infidels") or even, by their passivity, acquiesced in the infidels’ trespasses.

Significantly, Muslim Arab leaders have never had any qualms about eliminating Muslim fundamentalist insurgents who threaten their own "compromised" regimes. When Muslim extremists under the command of a self-proclaimed Mahdi attacked and seized the Muslim holy city of Mecca in November 1979, the Saudi Arabian regime mercilessly crushed the rebellion and had sixty-three of its leaders publicly beheaded. (We ought not take any comfort from the fact that Saudi authorities recently arrested militants linked to Al Qaeda, who were accused of planning rocket attacks on military bases used by U.S. forces. The issue, again, was that they dared to do so inside Saudi Arabia and as such, were challenging the Saudi regime's rule.)

So in February 1982, Syrian leader Hafez al-Assad suppressed a Sunni Muslim Brotherhood revolt in Hama, killing approximately 20,000 people. For good measure, he sent in bulldozers which literally crushed the corpses into the dirt, and then, with tanks and artillery, razed about a third of the city's buildings to the ground.

Likewise in 1997, after radical Muslims of the Gamaat Islamiya massacred sixty tourists and their local guides, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak unleashed his feared internal security forces who, in a campaign of interrogations, torture of suspects and open gun battles, killed scores of militants of both the Gamaat and Egypt's Islamic Jihad, breaking the back of the fundamentalist terror campaign.

Attacked by Western European governments and U.N.-affiliated human rights groups for his methods, Mubarak angrily rejected their protests and warned the West that they would have to resort to similar tactics themselves one day, correctly predicting that the Muslim fundamentalists would begin targeting Western countries.

While Muslim rulers have no compunction about ruthlessly eliminating Islamic fundamentalists who challenge their own regimes, when it comes to attacks on the "infidel" West, that is a different story. Many of them are actually involved in a cynical game which involves diverting the discontent of their own masses towards the "infidel" West, even while some of them, the Saudi regime in particular, rely on Western support to remain in power, that support forthcoming only by reason of the West's reliance on the unimpeded flow of Middle Eastern oil.

Indeed, the fact that the Middle East, Arabia in particular, is itself the source of much of the world's oil has, ironically, proved to be part of the problem of the social and political stagnation that is the source of Muslim discontent. Bernard Lewis, Princeton University Professor of Near Eastern Studies, Emeritus, and author of numerous works on Islamic and Arabian history, touched on this:3

"The quest for prosperity through development brought in some countries impoverished and corrupt economies in recurring need of external aid, in others an unhealthy dependence on a single resource - oil. And even this was discovered, extracted and put to use by Western ingenuity and industry, and is doomed, sooner or later, to be exhausted. . . But they failed to remedy or even to halt the increasing imbalance between Islam and the Western world. There was worse to come. It was bad enough for Muslims to feel poor and weak after centuries of being rich and strong, to lose the position of leadership that they had come to regard as their right, and be reduced to the role of followers of the West. But the twentieth century, particularly the second half, brought further humiliation.

The proud heirs of ancient civilisations had gotten used to hiring Western firms to carry out tasks of which their own contractors or technicians were apparently incapable. . . By all the standards that matter in the modern world - economic development and job creation, literacy, educational and scientific achievement, political freedom and respect for human rights - what was once a mighty civilization has indeed fallen low.

‘Who did this to us?’ is of course a common human response when things are going badly, and many in the Middle East, past and present, have asked this question. They have found several different answers. It is usually easier and far more satisfying to blame others for one's misfortunes."

Anyone who knows a little about Middle Eastern politics is not surprised by the fact that most of the 11 September suicide hijackers were Saudi citizens. The regime that would be the unchallenged Guardian of Mecca must embrace the most fundamentalist and anti-Western school of Islam, Wahhabism, and is expected to finance the building of madrassahs (Islamic religious schools) around the world, staffed with Wahabbi fundamentalist preachers, the likes of which were instrumental in the creation of the Taliban. Nonetheless western journalists based in Saudi Arabia were ill-prepared for and shocked by expressions of support for the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks that they encountered on the streets of Riyadh.4

Saudi school text books contain violent appeals to fight "Islam's enemies". So for example there have been recent reports of Year 10 school children forced to memorise the Saudi Ministry of Education handbook, entitled Monotheism, that is replete with anti-Christian and anti-Jewish bigotry and violent interpretations of Islamic scripture. Likewise a Saudi government official interviewed recently on the popular Arab Al Jazeera television channel claimed the 11 September terrorist attack was not the work of Osama bin Laden but "was the continuation of the deception and wickedness which infiltrates the U.S. . . . Jews, the brothers of pigs and apes, are the most despicable people who walk the land and are the worms of the entire world."

Saudi Muslim clerics continue to draw upon one thousand year-old memories of jihads against the Crusaders and 1300 year-old memories of the Jews of Mecca and Medina rejecting Muhammad as the Prophet of God. On the understanding that they preach nothing against the ruling regime itself, they may use their sermons to fulminate against the "infidels" and demonise the West and the Jews.

In the absence of political democracy and a free press, and with the mosque being the only forum or outlet for not only religious, but cultural or political expression, the steady diet of such sermons takes on the qualities of "brainwashing".

Credulous multiculturalists can of course find much in Muslim culture that is admirable. It is hard not to admire a religious culture whose vital salutation, as salaam alaykum, means "peace be upon you", and whose tenets not only preach charity towards the poor, but exercise it as a religious duty. It also has attractions for those on the Left, alienated from the "materialism and venality" that they see in Western liberal democracies.

The multiculturalists are not on their own. Many Christians and other non-Muslims opposed to abortion and artificial contraception, and concerned about the breakdown of the institutions of the church and the traditional nuclear family, begrudgingly admire the zeal of fundamentalist Muslims. The support of Muslim allies in United Nations’ and other international forums convened to develop policies on population, birth control and family issues, often renders them loathe to criticise any other aspects of their allies’ faith. The experience of that common cause in what, for them, are such fundamental issues, leads to equivocation on the issue of opposition to Islamic fundamentalist terrorism.

While Vatican spokesmen and Christian bodies based in Jerusalem have issued many statements critical of Israeli military actions in and around the holy city, few have issued unequivocal condemnations of the Islamic fundamentalist "suicide bombings", and the newly-elected Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, leader of the world's Anglicans, has described U.S. and allied military intervention in Afghanistan as "morally tainted."

When many observant Christians or morally outraged Westerners look upon the irreligious, even sacrilegious, and morally bankrupt Hollywood-dominated culture in which they find themselves, they are tempted to secretly admire the zealotry of Islamic fundamentalists.

While many in the West were taken aback by Ayatollah Khomeini's fatwa death sentence pronounced upon author Salman Rushdie for "insulting Islam" in his The Satanic Verses, others were wondering aloud why the Christian churches seemed incapable of inspiring a fear of retribution in those who freely insult their faith and even desecrate images of The Messiah and The Madonna in the name of "artistic freedom". In an extreme example, U.S. "Christian Right" fundamentalist Jerry Falwell essentially absolved the 11 September terrorists by describing the carnage as a "divine judgement on a sinful society", as if his God's wrath would be expressed through the agency of a murderous and avowedly anti-Semitic, anti-Christian movement.

In a parallel, secular political example of this appeasement, socialists, radical environmentalists and other social malcontents epitomised by the S-11 movement, who are frustrated by the apparent omnipotence of American-dominated global capitalism (and oblivious to the fundamental antagonism of radical Islam towards their own ideology), act as apologists for the Islamic fundamentalist terrorists, simply because they strike at the same "enemy".

Just as the Jewish Torah and the Christian Bible contain seemingly contradictory messages which may be interpreted to justify both "holy war" and "good will to all people", the Koran has its mixed messages. Thus while naïve multiculturalists are enthusing about the message of assalaam alaykum, many Muslim fundamentalists are literally interpreting sura 9, verse 5 of the Koran : "Then fight and slay the pagans where you find them", and 9:123, "Believers, make war on the infidels who dwell around you" - ignoring the fact that they were written in a schismatic religious struggle in Arabia thirteen centuries ago.

After capturing Mecca and unifying Arabia, Muhammad the Prophet sent emissaries to the great empires of the known world, calling on them to accept the new faith, the emissaries apparently being met with bemusement or contempt.

A hundred years after Mohammed's death, however, the Muslim empire stretched from Spain to China and threatened Western Europe. For a moderate Muslim, this may now just be history. To a fundamentalist Muslim, this is the former glory of Islam that it is his duty to reinstate. A moderate Muslim may indeed desire and strive to live in peace with his or her non-Muslim neighbours. A fundamentalist Muslim employing a literalist interpretation of Islam, however, cannot contemplate continued existence in Dar Ul Harb (the non-Muslim world) but must strive to convert it to Dar Ul Islam (the Muslim world).

This ethos is essentially antagonistic to the naïve optimism of Western Christian leaders who believe that all Muslims, being similarly monotheistic, have the potential for "inter-faith" reconciliation. It is also essentially antagonistic to the pluralist assumptions of multiculturalism, as governments in the United States, Britain and Australia are discovering, after learning that Al Qaeda , the Taliban and the Pakistani-based Jaish-e-Mohammed, have successfully recruited Muslim citizens from their own countries.

Naïve Western multiculturalists have made the baseless presumption that because they have largely abandoned their religious faith, or at least moderated it with an egalitarian acceptance of other religions, people of other faiths have similarly "lapsed" in their religious commitment. This is a strange presumption on the part of those who purport to be sensitive to other cultures, and it leaves them ill-equipped to deal with reality.

Part of this reality is a decline in religious faith and commitment to the values of Judaeo-Christian culture, its replacement with a "cultural relativism" with ahistorical, utopian expectations of social harmony and a questioning, or even rejection, of Western cultural values. This is accompanied by a naïve belief in a reciprocal response from those who actually hold this "godlessness" in contempt and see it as a sign of weakness. This is occurring at the very same time as a radical resurgence of a militant Islam antagonistic to the "decadent" West.

This naïvety prevents an understanding of how people can contemplate martyrdom, and Western multiculturalists fuddle about for rational, "secular" explanations for the phenomenon, offering simplistic platitudes, like "poverty causes terrorism".

"Poverty" does not describe multi-millionaire Osama Bin Laden's global financial network, which largely propped-up the Taliban and funded the European and American university enrolments, flight training school courses, international air travel and high living that ended up placing the 11 September terrorists in charge of the four jet airliners that wreaked such horrific death and destruction. Nor does it describe the situation in their Saudi homeland.

Neither does it describe the wealth that Saddam Hussein has available to "recompense" the families of Palestinian suicide bombers, who are reported to receive "blood money" cheques worth U.S.$25,000 each from the Iraqi dictator.

Indeed, modern history provides many examples of non-Muslims prepared to sacrifice their lives for a cause or an idea, such as the Russian Nihilists, Vietnamese Buddhist monks, the Tamil suicide bombers, or even the deluded followers of certain religious cults in the West.

Most Australians have lived for so long now without the prospect of war that they have no consciousness of the many soldiers, even in regular armies, who knowingly - if "irrationally" - went to their deaths in suicidal military operations.

Australians with longer memories recall the Japanese Kamikaze pilots who, with a fanatical religious-nationalist devotion to their emperor, willingly died in the process of killing hundreds of enemy sailors by flying their explosive-laden aeroplanes into their warships.

The worst consequence of this incomprehension is the irrational conclusion that if someone is prepared to die for a cause, that cause must somehow deserve respect. It was Oscar Wilde who said "a thing is not necessarily true because a man is prepared to die for it".

This same naivety is manifested in the new "anti-war movement" opposing the "war against terrorism". This movement calls for "Peace". But there is no peaceful solution possible in a conflict in which one side desires the destruction of the other and is prepared to die for that cause, using every and any tactic available, no matter what the cost in innocent lives.

Unfortunately, the only solution involves military action that eliminates the terrorists themselves, providing a sobering disincentive for others contemplating that path, and an unequivocal and widely communicated determination not to surrender.

One must question the motives of the "peace movement", with its slogan, "No War". Why were its supporters not out on the streets, condemning the terrorist outrage of 11 September? Was this an act of war ?

Why do they remain silent about the carnage in Israeli shops, cafes or pool halls, or, for that matter, the continuing slaughter in Algeria ? Why is death and destruction perpetrated by radical Muslims exempt from their protests ?

But these are rhetorical questions. They only oppose wars waged by certain states - in fact, particularly the United States and its allies - but not wars waged by terrorists. Their propaganda in effect actually encourages further terrorist actions, the perpetrators emboldened by the possibility of "defeatism" in the enemy's "ranks".

Indeed, most of the constituents of the current "anti-war" movement are the "usual suspects" who failed to lift a finger, let alone an anti-war banner, against the brutal invasion and occupation of Kuwait by the Iraqis in 1990. They only took to the streets, chanting "No war !", after the U.S.-led coalition to free Kuwait began its military operations. The chronology here also is telling.

So is the fact that they offer no alternative strategy in the face of the new global jihad.

This is not a "peace movement", it is an appeasement movement. Its only strategy is surrender to terrorism. These people are essentially collaborating with an enemy determined to destroy the West, the very kind of society that allows them the freedom to take the enemy's side without suffering retribution.

NOTES

1. The Australian, 1 November 2001

2. The Spectator, 13 October 2001.

3. The Atlantic Monthly, January 2002.

4. The mutaween, the "religious police", are in some respects more extreme than the regime. This was evidenced in April 2002, when mutaween deliberately drove schoolgirls back into their school, which was on fire, and watched them perish, rather than let them flee to safety because they were not "suitably clad". No charges of culpability were laid against them. They are, indeed, a law unto themselves. It is noteworthy that initial American State Department translations of the October 2001 Osama bin Laden videotapes missed his reference to Saudi "religious police" facilitating the transit of Saudi Islamic extremists to Al Qaeda bases in Afghanistan, this reference only being correctly translated later by professional Arabic linguists employed by the C.N.N. Network.

National Observer No. 54 - Spring 2002