Monday, 14 July 2008

Islam and Islamism

Mustafa Akyol, as I've pointed out before, is one of my favourite Turkish opinion columnists.

In his latest piece in the Turkish Daily News he takes on the notion that violence against innocents is an inherent part of Islam.

While I regularly take issue with some of his views it's good to know that people in the Muslim world are trying to deal with the issue of terror committed in their name.

Akyol also acknowledges that connection between Islamism and Marxism-Leninism, which I'm sure would make the vast majority of today's cultural relativists and moral equivalence crowd on the left squirm more than a little bit.

Of course, it comes as no surprise that the debate is being had in largely secular Turkey and not Syria, Saudia Arabia or Yemen.
Today’s militant Islamists violate the traditional rules of Islam to maximize their violence. Because their motivation comes from politics in the first place, not religion

Wednesday's bloody shootout at the American Consulate in Istanbul is still not totally solved. No organization claimed the attack, which left three Turkish policemen dead and two injured. But the evidence collected by the Turkish security forces so far makes it reasonable to assume that there was an Islamist motive in the mind of the attackers. Actually three of them died right on the spot, and the fourth one turned out to be a paid driver. So there is no interrogation-based information. But the police found out that one of the dead terrorists had traveled to Iran and Afghanistan. The other's father was arrested in 1999 for links with the shadowy “Turkish Hizbollah,” a Kurdish Islamist terror group. The general impression in the Turkish media is that the attackers were at least ideologically linked with al Qaeda. So, this seems to be a case of “Islamist terror.”

But is that an appropriate term at all?

Islamic versus Islamist:

I think, yes, it is. What I would object to would be an apparently similar but actually quite unalike term: “Islamic terrorism.” The difference between “Islamic” and “Islamist” is crucial, because while one refers to a religion, the other refers to an ideology. While Islam teaches the path to win God's consent by being a righteous believer, Islamism envisions a roadmap to establish a totalitarian political system. And while Islam has existed since the early seventh century, Islamism has been around only since the early 20th century.

To contrast the two — Islam and Islamism — let's see what their judgments would be on terrorism, which I define as deliberate attacks on civilian targets for political purposes.

It is true that Islam has a concept of jihad, which is sometimes translated as “holy war,” but it is not a war without rules. The Koran told Muslims to “Fight in the way of God against those who fight you,” yet it also warned them: “But do not go beyond the limits.” (2:190) These “limits” were explained by Prophet Mohammed in the orders he gave to Muslim armies. "Do not kill the very old, the infant, the child, or the woman," he reportedly said to his soldiers. Abu-Bakr, the prophet's closest companion and successor as the first caliph of Islam, is also on the record for saying: "Do not kill a young child, an old man, or a woman. Do not uproot or burn palms or cut down fruitful trees... You will meet people who have set themselves apart in hermitages; leave them to accomplish the purpose for which they have done this."

That's why Muslim jurists of the Middle Ages developed a doctrine of just war, according to which the life of non-combatants was valued and respected. In his book, “Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror,” Bernard Lewis, one of the prominent Western experts on the history of Islamic Middle East, notes the following:

“Fighters in jihad are enjoined not to kill women, children, and the aged unless they attack first, not to torture or mutilate prisoners, to give fair warning of the resumption of hostilities after a truce, and to honor agreements. The medieval jurists and theologians discuss at some length the rules of warfare, including questions such as which weapons are permitted and which are not. There is even some discussion in medieval texts of the lawfulness of missile and chemical warfare, the one relating to mangonels and catapults, the other to poison-tipped arrows and the poisoning of enemy water supplies. Some jurists permit, some restrict, some disapprove of the use of these weapons. The stated reason for concern is the indiscriminate casualties that they inflict. At no point do the basic texts of Islam enjoin terrorism and murder. At no point — as far as I am aware — do they even consider the random slaughter of uninvolved bystanders.”

But today's militant Islamists — from al Qaeda to Islamic Jihad — openly advocate and practice the random slaughter of uninvolved bystanders. Osama Bin Laden repeatedly said that his followers should “kill American and Jews,” without making any distinction between civilians and combatants. That's why al Qaeda terrorists unhesitantly hit the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. They knew they were killing civilians, but they did not care about the prophet's call for “not to kill women, children, and the aged.” And the gunmen who hit the U.S. Consulate last Wednesday would probably target the diplomatic personnel had they been able to break into the building.

But why is that? Why do today's militant Islamists violate the traditional rules of Islam to maximize their violence?

Hear what Carlos says:

They do this because their motivation comes from politics in the first place, not religion. Bin Laden tried to justify his call for indiscriminate killing by arguing, “American history does not distinguish between civilians and military, and not even women and children. They are the ones who used the bombs against Nagasaki.” This is a political argument, not a religious one. It is about the role of America in the world; not the status of non-Muslims in the Koran. A communist militant could have made the same argument.

It is no accident that there is indeed some ideological connection between Marxism-Leninism and Islamism. And no one proclaimed this as bluntly as Carlos the Jackal, who, from his prison cell, penned recently a book titled “Revolutionary Islam.” This brand of Islam, argued the veteran terrorist, "attacks the ruling classes in order to achieve a more equitable redistribution of wealth" and is the only "transnational force capable of standing up to the enslavement of nations."

This is, again, an argument about not God and salvation, but politics and revolution.

The problem is, in other words, Islamism but not Islam. Therefore the fight against terror in the name of Islam has to be focused on two goals: First one is detaching Islam from Islamism. This does not necessarily mean to separate Islam and politics all together, as secularists assume. Islam indeed can influence politics, and that's all welcome as far as this takes place within the framework of democracy. If it is possible to synthesize Islam with totalitarianism as the Islamists do, then it is possible to synthesize it with liberalism as well.

The other goal should be to solve the political problems of the Muslim world — such as the Arab-Israeli conflict — which act as engines of radicalization. The main battle cry of Islamist militants is “Islam is under attack!” And the best antidote to this is to reduce the Muslim's perception of being under attack. The next U.S. president should keep that very much in mind.
An important piece and one that should be read widely throughout the Muslim world.

Perhaps Al Jazeera should interview Akyol and get his views?

Doesn't seem likely, does it? Which just goes to show where that network stands in the grand scheme of things.

A point that is not discussed but is germane is that while it's probably true that the majority of the Muslim world reject violence against innocents it's the violent and fundamentalist aspects of the religion that are in charge.

It's true to say that many Germans rejected the violent aspects of Nazism while at the same time embracing the renewed sense of national pride that the Nazis instilled in the people after the loss in World War I, the subsequent Treaty of Versailles and then the Depression.

Similar situations existed in Soviet Russia and Communist China but that didn't stop the worst elements from taking over and inflicting awful suffering on their people, ironically, in the name of the people.

In the cases of Germany and the Soviet Union it took an external force to deal with the totalitarian, violent regimes. China is also in the process of being broken down by the external force of good old capitalism.

In none of these situations were 'the people' able to bring about change.

I don't see the situation being any different with regard to Islamic fundamentalism.

(Nothing Follows)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There is an ever increasing trend to bridge a connection between a legitimate aspiration of Muslims of choosing their politcal destiny which is the Caliphate and violence.

The West can only hide behind the labeling of violence with Islam to create a ignorant view amongst the non - muslim masses.