I looked, and behold, an ashen horse; and he who sat on it had the name Death; and Hell was following with him. Authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth. Revelation 6:8


Islamic Violence: Socio-Economic Phenomena or Faith Motivated

Islam came under the public spotlight, more than ever before, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks on the USA. It was examined to discern if and why it allowed nineteen Muslims to commit suicide and kill three thousand others in doing so. Some commentators wrote of Islamic militancy and defined Islam and Muslims as a philosophy and people distinct from secular and pluralistic Western norms. Others rushed to defend it from the actions of a few. In any case, the events of September 11 brought nascent rumblings against Islam to a head and placed it squarely centre stage in the on-going animosity between Muslim and non-Muslim societies, a situation which has continued since Islam first evolved. With the influx of Muslim immigrants into the West, the “Muslim question” has acquired an immediacy not known since the Turks stormed the gates of Vienna. The apocryphal man in the streets of London, New York, Paris, Amsterdam, Madrid and elsewhere in the Western world has, for one reason or another, formed a mental nexus between Islam and violence. Some academics, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, seeing this linkage being formed, ascribe various factors to explain the rise of Islamic militancy. They claim that Islam is a tool used by some influential individuals to further their political agendas. Others claim that it is not Islam which is to blame; it is the underlying social, political and economic repression felt in the Arab world on a daily basis which, added to the perceived loss of self-esteem on the world stage, fuels Islamic militancy.

However, as this paper will demonstrate, while social and economic repression does indeed exist in most Muslim-majority nations, Islam as a religion and ideology is the primary motivator of Islamic violence and is more to blame than any repressive socio-economic factors. This paper will examine some of the arguments put forward by Muslim and non-Muslim apologists and demonstrate that these arguments are, for the most part, invalid. In so doing, it will demonstrate that Islamic teachings are more to blame for Islamic violence, more than any other alleged source.

On the One Hand...
Some academics highlight the differences between Islam and the West. In his book, “The Clash of Civilisations and the Remaking of World Order”, Huntington ascribes five main reasons - a booming population resulting in large-scale unemployment, the Islamic resurgence, Western efforts to impose its values, institutions and economic superiority, the collapse of Communism, and increasing contact between Westerners and Muslims due to globalisation - for the conflict between Islam and the West. He also notes that Islam has “bloody borders”, i.e. there is conflict where it conjoins other civilisations. In short, the perception that Islam is warlike and distinct from the pluralistic and secular West does exist.

While not denying Huntington’s observations, Esposito posits four phenomena common to the present Muslim experience. These are
(1) an identity crisis precipitated by a sense of failure, loss of identity and lack of self-esteem, (2) disillusionment with the West, the failure of many Muslim rulers and their Western-inspired governments to respond adequately to the political and socio-economic needs of their societies, (3) the newfound sense of pride and power that resulted from military (Arab-Israeli war) and economic (oil embargo) success in 1973 and the Iranian Revolution of 1978-79 and (4) a quest for a more authentic identity rooted in an Islamic past (Esposito, 1998).

Kidron and Segal confirm Esposito’s observations of the economic situation in Muslim-majority states. Their research shows fifteen of nineteen countries that will never be self-sufficient in food production are Muslim-majority states. Also, seven of the twelve countries with the lowest record of life-expectancy (under 45 years) are Muslim-majority states (Kidron & Segal, 1991). Not much appears to have improved since their observations in 1991. Lewis provides more of the same statistics regarding the economic situation in Islamic nations. He notes,
In the listing of economies by gross domestic product, the highest ranking Muslim-majority country is Turkey, with 64 million inhabitants, in twenty-third place, between Austria and Denmark with about 5 million each. The next is Indonesia, with two hundred and twelve million, in twenty-eighth place, following Norway with 4.5 million and followed by Saudi Arabia with 21 million (Lewis, 2003, p.88).
Lewis also notes that in terms of life expectancy and in a human development index, the first Muslim-majority state ranks thirty-second.

The political situation in these states is hardly any better. In its “Special Report on The World’s Most Repressive Regimes to the 59th Session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights” in 2003, Freedom House notes that five of the seven most repressive regimes are Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Morocco. In Saudi Arabia, for example, no elections are held, the king rules by decree in accordance with Islamic law, and Saudis have little protection from arbitrary arrest, prolonged pre-trial detention and torture by security forces. The judiciary is subject to the government – in effect, the House of Saud. Freedom of expression is extremely restricted, with criticism of the royal family, government or Islam prohibited. The Sauds own all broadcast media and closely monitor all privately owned (though publicly financed) publications. Public demonstrations for political issues are completely banned. Trade unions, collective bargaining and strikes are prohibited (Freedom House, 2003). The situation is not much different in the other four nations.
Kidron and Segal assert that twenty nine of thirty two Muslim-majority nations are “terror states”, i.e. states which use assassination and torture on their own populations (Kidron & Segal, 1991). Levitt adds, “Political terrorism, often sponsored by states, has long been a major factor in Middle East politics. Terrorist groups’ ability to act more frequently and effectively is closely linked to [governmental] financing” (Levitt, 2002, p. 127).

On another issue, up-to-date statistics on women’s issues are not readily available due to a lack of reporting. However, Kidron and Segal note that,
[S]eventeen of the twenty three countries with the worst records of jobs for women (i.e. where women make up only 10% - 20% of all workers) are Muslim-majority. Similarly, ten of the eleven worst offenders of opportunity between men and women are Muslim-majority states. Again, seven of the twelve states with the worst records for unequal treatment of girls are Muslim-majority states (Kidron & Segal, 1991).

On the literacy front, a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report on Arab Human Development, published in 2002, and prepared by Arab intellectuals notes,
The Arab world translates about 330 books annually, one fifth of the number that Greece translates. The accumulative total of translated books since the Caliph Maa’moun’s time [the ninth century CE] is about 100,000, almost the average that Spain translates in one year (UNDP, 2002).

Additionally, the report notes that the average per capita income growth during the preceding two decades years in the Arab world was only one-half of 1% per annum, worse than anywhere but sub-Saharan Africa, that one in five Arabs lives on less than two dollars per day; that fifteen percent of the Arab workforce is unemployed, and this number could double by 2010; that only 1% of the population has a personal computer, and only one-half of 1% use the Internet and, perhaps most tellingly, a full half of Arab women cannot read. Interestingly, fertility rates remain high where traditional values, especially illiteracy, obtain. But where literacy increases they plummet to levels comparable to the West. As Longman observes,
No single aspect of modernisation can account for the decline in population growth rates, but the literacy rate alone explains most of the difference in fertility rates in Muslim countries. Among the 34 largest Arab countries, just one factor, namely the difference in literacy rates, explains 60% of the difference in the population growth rate in 2005 (Longman, 2004, p. 103).

For example, Somalia, with 25% adult literacy, has a population growth of 4% per annum. In Algeria, where 62% of adults are literate, the growth rate is 1.4% per annum. Qatar, with a literacy rate close to 80%, has a population growth rate of 1.2% (Longman, 2004). In short, he notes, “Faith is increasingly necessary as a motivation to have children” (Longman, 2004, p.107)1.

Too, there is deep discontent and frustration in Muslim countries. As Ghadbian states,
“Political authoritarianism, economic crisis and social anomie have been the dominant realities in the Arab world over the last three decades, despite variations among countries. ... [B]oth traditional and progressive regimes continue to justify authoritarianism ... [A]fter nearly four decades of authoritarian rule, Islamist groups took up the banner of popular resistance ... recruiting their cadres from the young, students, low-level white collar workers, and the unemployed. ... Authoritarian political environments, coupled with economic hardship and political anomie are characteristics of contexts that engender violent groups. The more intense the perception of the discrepancy between aspirations and social conditions, the greater the potential for political violence – in systems where non-violent means of political participation are narrow to nonexistent” (Ghadbian, 2002).

Adding to the sense of frustration, Lewis notes,
“The Muslim has suffered successive stages of defeat. The first was his loss of domination in the world to the advancing power of Russia and the West. The second was the undermining of his authority in his own country through an invasion of foreign ideas and laws and ways of life … The third – the last straw – was the challenge to his mastery in his own house, from emancipated women and rebellious children. It was too much to endure …” (Lewis, 1990).

Lewis also explains that various Islamic regimes were so contemptuous of Europeans because of their sense of superiority based upon past Arabic accomplishments, they failed to see that they were being overtaken in technology and science. By the time the caliphs and sultans realised that, the parts of the world they had long dominated had been snatched from under their noses. According to Lewis, this was seen as “a reversal of both natural and divine law” (Lewis, 1990, p. 4).

Given their economic, political and social hardships, it is hardly surprising that disaffected Arabs turn to Islam, their primary commonality. This leads to a “sense of shared identity and fate among Muslims [which] is coupled with a Muslim perception that the non-Muslim world is equally undifferentiated - and united against Islam” (Simon, 2005, p. 14). Simon continues,
The Arab Middle East has disengaged from the world economy, even as its population continues to grow. Regional unemployment, on average, is about 25 per cent and won’t improve for years. Populations are burdened by authoritarian, corrupt governments and inefficient, stifling bureaucracies. Muslims are embroiled in violent conflict from Chechnya to Palestine to Kashmir, while Muslim rulers in the region are seen to be doing nothing but enriching themselves. For years, the only place to register dissent was the mosque (Simon, 2005, p. 16).

Lewis adds to that,
… Dictators can forbid parties, they can forbid meetings – they cannot forbid public worship, and they can to only a limited extent control sermons (Lewis, 2003, p. 116).

This situation, and the view that modernisation and Western values have not eased their hardships, is perhaps a key reason for a growing tendency to look back to the golden age of Islam. As Lewis observes, many Muslims yearn for a return to the times of the caliphs, when Islam was “the leading civilisation in the world, marked as such by its great and powerful kingdoms, its rich and varied industry and commerce, its original and creative science and letters” (Lewis, 2003, p. 117). This is wholly in keeping with Esposito’s position on a Muslim search for identity in Islam’s past.

From this perspective, the argument that radical Islam is a cry of despair for the decline of Islamic civilisation, with declining population growth rates and the erosion of traditional values in the face of globalisation, is cogent. However, as Kenneth Pollack observed in reviewing Lewis’s work,
Lewis still has not grappled with the deeper questions for his readers. He still has not offered his explanation for why the Islamic Middle East stagnated, why its efforts at reform failed, why it is notably failing to become integrated into the global economy in a meaningful way and why these failures have produced not a renewed determination to succeed ... but an anger and frustration with the West so pervasive and vitriolic that it has bred murderous, suicidal terrorism despite all of the Islamic prohibitions against such an action (Pollack, 2003)2.

The last remaining of the four phenomena posited by Esposito is that of warfare between Arab nations and Israel, encompassing the Palestinian issue. The Six Day War between Israel and the combined forces of Egypt, Jordan and Syria in 1967 led to an Arab rout and loss of territory. This “raised serious questions about the force of Arab regimes and their nationalist policies, in particular Nasser’s Arab nationalism/socialism. Most important, the loss of Jerusalem … and its sacred shrines was a major blow to Muslim pride and faith, precipitating a crisis of confidence and identity” (Esposito, 1998, p.161). This thinking soon took religious overtones.
If Islamic belief and history taught success and power were the signs of a faithful community, many again asked, “What has gone wrong in Islam? Why has God seemingly abandoned His community?” … Massive failure could only be a sign of waywardness and faithlessness. Coping with modernity did not require new, foreign-inspired alternatives when the community (umma) had a tried and true faith and way of life (Esposito, 1998, p. 162).

Esposito notes, additionally, that the Israeli movement of its capital, after the shameful defeat of the Arab forces, to Jerusalem demonstrated to the Arab world its military inability and the fact that the West was decidedly an ally of Israel.

The Egypt-Israel War of 1973 was seen by many Arabs as vindication of their 1967 losses. Sadat used Islamic symbols and rhetoric to motivate his forces, giving the encounter distinctly religious overtones. Thus, though the Israelis were victorious, the Arab forces’ initial victories were seen as a victory for Islam. The commonality was religion – Islam. Later, the defeat of the Soviet military in Afghanistan in the 1980s demonstrated to the Arab world that a united Muslim force could defeat a “Western Power”. Unger expands on this:
Thousands of young warriors calling themselves Afghan Arabs streamed out of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Yemen, and all over the Middle East to aid the Mujahideen. ... They were motivated by religious fervour and passion. This was a people’s war, a noble crusade against an infidel superpower that had invaded Muslim lands, a fight to avenge the martyrdom of their Afghan brothers being crushed by Moscow. It was time to demonstrate faith and courage. For many Muslims, the liberation of Afghanistan became a very personal jihad (Unger, 2004, p. 99).

Consequently, Muslims began to believe that any antagonist could be defeated if they combined under that one common factor – religion. From that point it was a very short step to viewing all conflicts in terms of them (non-Muslims) and us (Muslims). The Iraq War of 1991 further fuelled resentment of the West and its perceived collusion with Arab rulers. The West was viewed as supporting regimes which were antithetical to Islam or its followers. As Hutchison narrates,
“The animosity between Islam and the West is a matter of fact,” a Saudi engineer working on the oil clean-up told me. “Many of us feel it was wrong for the king to have asked the West to defend us. More and more we are convinced that the Gulf War was a Western plot to install a permanent military presence in Saudi Arabia.”
“But then we ask ourselves, with all the money that our government spends on armaments - $16 billion last year – why do we need the Americans to protect us from Iraq? Many friends in the university feel that King Fahd has allowed Islam’s holy land to be defiled by foreign troops,” he said (Hutchison, 1998, p. 384).

With this new-found sense of commonality and brotherhood under the banner of Islam, Muslims became increasingly militant, seeing themselves as being at least equal, if not superior to, non-Muslims in terms of battle, war and dying. Apart from military action, however, the Arab oil embargo of 1973 was a key factor in re-establishing perceptions of Arab equality with, if not superiority to, the West. Esposito notes, “For the first time since the dawn of colonialism, the West seemed dependent on the Arab world. The Arab states were no longer client states but a world economic power to be reckoned with. Importantly, for many in the Arab world the embargo was a source of pride and a sign of the return of God’s blessings” (Esposito, 1998, p. 163).

Then came Khomeini with his audio-taped messages to the Iranian people. The 1979 Iranian revolution marked a watershed in Islamic resurgence. In that year the US-backed Shah was deposed and Ruhollah Khomeini, a Shi’ite Ayatollah, installed as the ultimate head of Iran. The Iranian revolution had distinct religious overtones and embodied claims that “a return to Islam would restore Islamic identity and vitality and enable all Muslims, with God’s guidance, to implement a more autonomous and self-reliant way of life despite a regime’s military power and Western allies” (Esposito, 1998, p. 163).

Also in 1979, extremists took control of the mosque in Mecca. Saudi forces reclaimed it only after the loss of over two hundred personnel and much prestige, having to rely on French troops to regain control of the mosque. The Saudis consequently reached an accommodation with the Wahhabi sect,
... not only to accept their views about propriety, pious behaviour, and Islamic law, but effectively to turn over education in the Kingdom to them and later to fund the expansion into Pakistan and elsewhere of their extreme, hostile, anti-modern, and anti-infidel form of Islam. As a result, this Wahhabi sect, which would have been regarded as recently as fifty years ago as an austere, fringe group by a large majority of Muslims, is now extremely powerful and influential in the Muslim world due to Saudi government support and the oil wealth of the Arabian peninsula (Centre for Religious Freedom, 2005)

Militant groups have used the Iranian revolution as a model to establish Islam-oriented political systems in the Middle East, giving rise to the Western notion that Islam alone was the motive force behind them. This view was soon accepted throughout the Western world where state and religion are demarcated. This in turn gave rise to the notion that all Muslim states are inexorably bound by Islamic law and, inevitably, further distanced Muslims and Islam from the West.

On the Other...
These factors aside, Islam itself must be examined as a cause of militancy. Many Muslims believe that Islam means “peace”. This is not quite accurate. While some verses of the Quran preach peace, the word itself means “submission to the will of God” (Spencer, 2002). In what can only be seen as an attempt to placate Muslim sentiment in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on New York in 2001, George Bush stated that the attacks “violate the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith” (Bush, 2001). Tony Blair in London and John Howard of Australia mouthed similar platitudes, leading Heitmeyer to comment that Western political leadership “collectively appears to have acquired an instant postgraduate degree in Islamic studies, enabling them to lecture the population concerning the true nature of Islam” (cited in Benard, 2003). Scholars too sought to distance Islam from violence. Karen Armstrong tried to remove the Islamic aspect from the 9-11 attacks, declaring,
Constantly the Quran (the Islamic Holy Book) points out that Mohammed (the Islamic Prophet) had not come to cancel [Judaism or Christianity], to contradict their prophets or to start a new faith. His message is the same as that of Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon or Jesus (Armstrong, 2000).

Unfortunately for Ms Armstrong, this assertion is theologically debatable. Put simply, Muslims believe that Jesus of Nazareth was a prophet and no more while Christians believe he was god incarnate and worship him as such. This one fact by itself demonstrates the vast gulf between the two faiths and gives the lie to the claims of many Muslims and commentators like Armstrong that the two religions profess the same god. Moreover, as we will see, while Jesus commanded Peter to put away his sword in the Garden of Gethsemane, Muhammad used force to further his religion.

One of the major issues with Islam is that it does not have a hierarchy similar to, for instance, the Church of Rome. It has no single spokesperson or formally appointed official to interpret scripture. This leaves the meanings of Quranic verses open to debate and interpretation (ijtihad). Some guidelines to interpretation exist, but these are ambiguous and permit circumstantial interpretation. In practice, therefore, many preachers tend towards extreme views. Simon sums the situation up succinctly. “The splintering of religious authority … has enabled radicals and self-appointed clerics to control the way scripture is applied to modern day problems as both explanation and prescription” (Simon, 2005, p. 18). This begs the often-asked question, “Who speaks for Islam?” As a consequence of interpretation and emphasis, the so-called “Sword Verses”, those which decree warfare against non-Muslims, are emphasised by militant Islamists with the “moderate” Muslim retort being notably absent.

There is another argument put forward by apologists, who seek to remove Islamic theology from the terrorism equation, which must be put to rest. Recently, the word “jihad” has been described as meaning “to strive” and not necessarily as “religious war”. This, too, is debatable. Benjamin and Simon note,
Ibn Taimiyya would not have recognised the modern day distinction between “greater jihad”, the struggle for spiritual excellence and “lesser jihad”, the waging of war against Islam’s enemies. … Along with his contemporaries he considered the superior form of jihad to be combat against infidels. Spiritual jihad was important as preparation for the more physically demanding kind of jihad. This classical emphasis of jihad as warfare has been adopted enthusiastically by contemporary militants who reject more recent Sufic and Apologetic assertions that spiritual jihad is the authentic jihad.
The last century has seen a trend toward interpretation of the so-called greater jihad as the more genuine form of Islamic struggle. The term comes from a hadith of disputed reliability in which Muhammad is reported to have said, upon returning from battle, that he has now returned from the lesser jihad to the greater, spiritual jihad (Benjamin & Simon, 2002, p. 55).

Lewis goes further, writing,
...the presumption is that the duty of jihad will continue, interrupted only by truces, until all the world either adopts the Muslim faith or submits to Muslim rule (Lewis, 2003, p.32).

Moreover, it is simply wrong to assume that fighting is only permitted in the defence of Islam. Jamal Badawi, a Muslim apologist, says, “Actual armed jihad is permissible under two conditions alone: one is for self-defence, and the other is for fighting against oppression” (cited in Eck, 2001). Although correct, this explanation is incomplete. “Self-defence” and “oppression” are defined in broader terms by Islam than the West. Islam decrees that a nation’s leaders are “oppressors” if they do not acknowledge sharia, and are “a legitimate target for war” (Kelsay, 1993). Consequently, America is perceived as a cultural aggressor for exporting its “Hollywood values”, which are generally seen as being antithetical to Islam, so any fight against it is perceived as self-defence (Galli, 2001).

It has been argued by Muslim apologists and others that the Qur’an enjoins Muslims not to attack first (Qur’an 2:190). However, given the long history of violence between Islam and Christianity, for one, virtually every Muslim attack is presaged with implied statements that “They attacked us first.” By this Muslims refer to the alleged actions of Jews against Mohammad. However, given the vitriolic nature of the Qur’an when it speaks of non-Muslims (including Christians and Jews), it is the “moderate” Muslims who are left with the task of splitting hairs to explain why the “People of the Book” are now being attacked. They are forced to bring Mohammad’s precedent in attacking Jews to prove the validity of their argument. In doing so, however, they are forced to admit that their prophet was not a man of peace, as was Jesus of Nazareth, but a war-lord and a political leader. If Mohammed combined politics and religion it is hardly surprising that the two are closely inter-related today and difficult to distinguish between. Muslim leaders, therefore, have no choice but to profess to be Muslims first and foremost.

But arising from this, what the same apologists speak little about (or nothing at all) is the subject of Islamic imperialism. Muslims by and large always refer to Western imperialism when explaining the motivations for attacks such as 9/11. But the subject of Islamic imperialism is strictly off limits or never referred to at all. As Lewis explains,
[The word imperialism] is, for example, never used by Muslims of the great Muslim empires – the first ones founded by the Arabs, the latter ones by the Turks, who conquered vast territories and populations and incorporated them into the House of Islam (Dar ul Islam). It was perfectly legitimate for Muslims to conquer and rule Europe and Europeans and thus enable them – but not compel them – to embrace the true faith. It was a crime and a sin for Europeans to conquer and rule Muslims and, still worse, try to lead them astray. (Lewis, 2003, p.55).

The militancy of Islam derives, to a large extent, from the wars fought by Muhammad and the exhortations in the Quran to fight and to emulate him. In his book, “The Life of Muhammad”, Guillaume describes many acts of extreme violence perpetrated by Muhammad on his enemies. These examples sanction and justify some of the worst crimes perpetrated, in turn, by Muslims against non-Muslims. For example, Durant states unequivocally, “...the Islamic conquest of India is probably the bloodiest story in history” (Durant, 1993). Gautier echoes this assertion,
Let it be said right away: the massacres perpetrated by Muslims in India are unparalleled in history, bigger than the holocaust of the Jews by the Nazis; or the massacre of the Armenians by the Turks; more extensive even than the slaughter of the South American native populations by the invading Spanish and Portuguese (Gautier, 1996).

And again, this from Alain Danielou:
From the time Muslims started arriving, the history of India becomes a long, monotonous series of murders, massacres, spoliations, destructions. It is, as usual, in the name of ‘a holy war’ of their faith, of their sole God, that the barbarians have destroyed civilisations, wiped out entire races (Danielou, 1997)

It must be asked, how do Muslims who kill justify their actions? Invariably, they cite religious sanction. Where, it must be asked, were the “moderate” Muslims who denounced Khomeini’s fatwa on Salman Rushdie? Even Western converts to Islam have no compunctions in adhering to the necessity of killing “apostates”. Speaking of Rushdie, Cat Stevens, a hippie convert to Islam, saw the need to kill him because of religious compunction. Endorsing Khomeini’s fatwa on his website, Stevens (now Yusuf Islam) says,
Under Islamic Law, the ruling regarding blasphemy is quite clear; the person found guilty of it must be put to death. Only under certain circumstances can repentance be accepted. ... The fact is that as far as the application of Islamic Law and the implementation of full Islamic way of life in Britain is concerned, Muslims realise that there is very little chance of that happening in the near future. But that shouldn’t stop us from trying to improve the situation and presenting the Islamic viewpoint whenever and wherever possible. That is the duty of every Muslim and that is what I did (cited in Harris, 2004)3.

What is it, if not Islam, which turns a peaceful hippie who sang in one of his most famous songs, Peace Train, “Why can’t we live and let live?” into an intolerant, bigoted individual who advocates, or at least justifies, murder? The Qur’an is replete with admonitions against non-Muslims, speaking of religious conflict on virtually every page. Given this, it may be prudent for those apologists who read these admonitions and yet deny the link between Islam and Islamic violence to consult their nearest psychiatrist.

Again, it is to be noted that many eminent commentators refuse to speak of Islamic fundamentalism because the “fundamentalists”, who are usually those who are willing to use force to encourage non-Muslims to follow their religion of peace, are very different from “mainstream” Muslims who do not agree with their “fundamentalist” views. This, too, must be refuted. Ask any Muslim if the Qur’an is the literal word of their deity and the answer will be a resounding yes. How, then, does this make the “mainstream” Muslim different from fundamentalist Christians who say the same of the Bible? However, in the case of Christianity, we note the “mainstream” Christians who state that the Bible was inspired by their god. Where are the “mainstream” Muslims who would make that claim of the Qur’an? Moreover, if the Qur’an is indeed the literal word of God, then it stands to reason that all Muslims must, in Mohammad’s words, “wage war against people until they say that there is no god but Allah..." (http://islamicweb.com/beliefs/fiqh/alalwani_usulalfiqh/ch2.htm).

As Ruthven, writing about Mohammed, notes, “The prophet had been his own Caesar ... If imitato Christi meant renouncing worldly ambition and seeking salvation by deeds of private virtue, imitato Muhammadi meant sooner or later taking up arms against those forces which seemed to threaten Islam from within or without” (Ruthven, p. 7).

It is a matter of course for the average Muslim reading the foregoing to state that the Qur’an admonishes Muslims not to force Islam upon others – “There shall be no compulsion in Islam (Qur’an 2:256). To employ another term Muslims like to use as often as they can, Muslims must tolerate others. However, this “tolerance” only applies to Christians and Jews, not Hindus, Buddhists, Animists, Atheists, or other “pagans” and “idolaters”. But then, even the Christians and Jews must pay the jizya tax to Muslim authorities. It is easy enough to see why that average Muslim may use this argument. What is not as clear is why an acknowledged expert commentator like Fareed Zakaria does, not unless we consider the fact that all Muslims must prove a blind loyalty to their creed and prophet despite what historical evidence demonstrates. He notes that Jews had a much easier life under Islamic rule than under Christian (Zakaria, 2003, p. 126). While this may be true, it is a comparison in relativity. There are two points to be made here. Firstly, what Zakaria does not dwell too long upon is the fact that he too is forced to compare the actions of Islam’s followers with those of Christianity’s. He probably does not wish to face the fact that the Christian authorities who persecuted the Jews did so against the specific teachings of the Bible, whereas the Muslim authorities did so in compliance with the Qur’an. Secondly, and despite Zakaria’s views to the contrary, life for Jews under Islamic rule consisted of humiliation and persecution. Under Islamic rule, Jews could not bear arms, give evidence in court or ride horses. They were forced to wear yellow badges (which Hitler copied) and to keep away from certain streets and buildings. They could only pass Muslims on their left (this being associated with the Muslim act of ritually cleansing oneself using only the left hand), and had to keep their eyes lowered while doing so. In some parts of the Muslim world it was customary for Muslim children to throw stones at Jews and spit upon them (Dershowitz, 2003, p. 61).

If that was not bad enough, Jews suffered pogroms under Islamic rule which continued into the second half of the last century. For the sake of brevity only some of those which occurred in the twentieth century are listed: Algeria (1934), Egypt (1919, 1921, 1924, 1938-39, 1945, 1948, 1949, 1967), Iran (1910), Iraq (1936, 1937, 1941, 1946, 1948, 1967, 1969), Morocco (1903, 1912, 1948, 1952, 1955), Palestine (1929, 1936), Syria (1945, 1947, 1948, 1949, 1967), Yemen (1947) (Wistrich, 1991).

This alone puts Zakaria’s argument to rest. Nevertheless, he goes on to state that Muslims living in present-day Western nations are generally tolerant of the beliefs of others. Again, Mr Zakaria appears to be myopic. He, perhaps, fails to see the violence perpetrated by Muslims in Europe, North America and Australia – all in the name of their religion. But then again, isn’t it necessary for a minority to appear “tolerant” of the beliefs of the majority until they are in a position of strength? Is it not necessary for Muslims to emulate Mohammad who was commanded by the Islamic god to “wage war against people until they say that there is no god but Allah”? If so, how can they do so from a position of weakness? Does it not make sense then to wait until they have grown strong? The West should not confuse the “tolerance” of a relatively weak minority for genuine liberalism. Mr Zakaria’s arguments, in this matter at least, are as simplistic as those of the “average Muslim”.

Another argument used by this mythical average Muslim is that of the teachings against suicide. Pollack, in his review of Lewis’s work (noted previously), referred to Islamic teachings not to commit suicide. However, he too seems to have exaggerated the number of such teachings against self-destruction. There appears to be only one (rather ambiguous) Qur’anic statement, “Do not destroy yourselves” (Qur’an 4:29). On the contrary, Islam provides every incentive to commit suicide if it is done for the sake of religion. In this it is a veritable cult of death. Yes, there are those who claim that it goes against Islamic teaching to commit suicide. However, these individuals are in a minority (and if recent Pew polls are any indication, extremely scarce on the ground). The Muslim street usually refers to suicide bombings as “sacred explosions”; in their view the suicide bombers are not sinners but martyrs who will receive their reward of “rivers of the purest water, and rivers of milk forever fresh; rivers of wine delectable to those that drink it and rivers of clearest honey” (Qur’an 47:15). The suicide bombers will be “attended by boys graced with eternal youth ... arrayed in garments of fine green silk and rich brocade, and adorned with bracelets of silver” (Qur’an 76:15). It would appear that the single ambiguous statement against suicide is more than outweighed by other facets of this religion.

One further Muslim argument often used to justify Islamic violence is to be examined. Many Muslims, Osama bin Laden included, cite the Christian Crusades as a major reason for Islamic militancy. It is true that many horrors were perpetrated by Christian Crusaders upon Jews and Muslims, but it must be remembered that “the Crusades were a direct response to Muslim aggression - an attempt to turn back or defend against Muslim conquests of Christian lands” (Madden, 2005). Pryce-Jones summarises the situation insightfully. Echoing Huntington’s notion of “bloody borders”, he states,
The assumption of Muslim superiority and dhimmi [non-Muslim, second-class citizenry] inferiority underlay the rightful order of the Muslim world. In the modern age, however, such an assumption evidently became absurd. Twin reactions have followed in the House of Islam: self-pity in finding itself in such backwardness, and hatred of those thought to be responsible for it. Inflamed by this mindset, Muslims around the perimeter of the Islamic world are fighting their neighbours of other religions – Hindus in India, Communist and Buddhist Chinese, Jews, Christians in a score of countries, and pagan animists in Africa. In this light, it is wishful thinking to bracket Islam and peace” (Pryce-Jones, 2002).

In short, while Islam speaks of peace at times, the actions of Muhammad and his followers were far from peaceful, strengthening belief in and providing the foundation for religiously-sanctioned violence. It is impossible to distinguish between state and religion under Islam. If Islamic politics derives from the religion, then it stands to reason that any action taken by a political entity – a state, government or other – also stems from that source. This, by extrapolation therefore, holds true for military actions taken by the state. The Muslim apologist when faced with this reasoning finds it uncomfortable to explain Jordan’s massacre of Palestinian Muslim refugees or Saddam’s actions against Kuwaitis. Consequently, the apologist has no recourse but to state that Hussein of Jordan and Saddam were not true Muslims. If these governments were not truly Muslim it must be asked who were or are. Some short-sighted individuals at one time would answer, “The Taliban”. In light of the atrocities committed by the Taliban, however, the response to the question increasing is “The Caliphs”. Here too, the apologist stands on shifting sand. As many have stated, the rule of the Caliphs were anything but golden. In his book, “Islamic Imperialism”, Karsh makes no bones of the fact that the caliphs had no qualms in enforcing their religious views upon all and sundry, if necessary by force. If this is indeed the case, then we must conclude that the Caliphs were Muslim rulers in name only because the admonition not to compel Islam upon non-Muslims. But then, if even the Caliphs cannot be recognised as true Muslims, who do we turn to as an example of a Muslim who lived in full accord with the tenets of the Qur’an? This leaves only one individual: Muhammad. At this point the Muslim apologist appears to be on safe ground, because Muhammad is perceived by most Muslims as the perfect man. If only it was that simple.

A closer inspection of Muhammad’s life shows anything but a life lead in accord with the Qur’an. This is amply demonstrated by his self-defence: “I have been commanded to wage war against people until they say that there is no god but Allah.” This statement has several connotations. Firstly, the Islamic god might have decreed on set of rules in the Qur’an but refuted those because he or she felt it best for some reason or other. Else, the Qur’an did not apply to Muhammad. If this is not the case, then the Qur’an is simply wrong in its command not to compel in religion. To attempt to discern divine reasoning or to state that the Qur’an is wrong is anathema to the Muslim. This leaves us with only one conclusion: Muhammad knowingly rejected his own Qur’anic command. If this is correct, then Muhammad isn’t a Muslim either. This, as can be imagined, causes several major theological problems.

All this aside, one simple fact must suffice: the perfect man Muslims are told to emulate was a warlord and not above using compulsion to further his own agenda. If the founder of Islam was a violent man, can the Muslim be anything else but that? No matter the socio-economic or political difficulties reviewed in the first part of this paper, it is Islam which must be held responsible for Islamic violence. Why is it that, despite the hardships faced by Buddhists or Jains, we do not hear of Buddhist or Jain terrorists? Or Buddhist or Jain suicide bombers? Why is it that during the course of the Vietnam War when a Buddhist monk wanted to make a point, he chose self immolation? On the other hand, witness the carnage brought about by Muslim suicide bombers. The difference between the Buddhist and the Muslim is that Islam condones violence. Pure and simple. This is not something an apologist can deny.

To conclude, Huntington is correct in his assessment that Islam has bloody borders; the religion is responsible to a large extent for Islamic militancy. Yes, there are underlying economic, social and political factors in Muslim-majority nations Arab nations which cause acts of terror by frustrated Muslims. Islamic suicide bombers act out of desperation to obtain, ironically, a better life. However, as this paper shows, despite the underlying social and economic causes of frustration, Islam is in itself militaristic. It condones violence perpetrated in the name of its God. Other peoples have suffered indignities, brutalities and repression. The original inhabitants of Diego Garcia were removed from their island home to make way for an American base there. When last did we hear of these people becoming suicide bombers? Or slitting the throats of British or American citizens? They chose to fight for their cause in various courts of law, not by flying aircraft filled with innocent travellers into buildings. The difference lies in Islam. It is Islam which provides the theological foundation to promote and even sanctify violence.

Unfortunately, this situation will only continue until either the entire world accepts a specific brand of Islam (choose from Sunni, Shi’a, Deobandi or other sects) or that religion is changed – from within or without. Until that happens, Islamic violence will continue because it is motivated by religious sanction.


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