Equivocal Questions: Ambiguous Answers

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Non-Muslims have absolutely the right to wonder about Islam as about any other religion, but as to what is Islamic and what is not, they cannot judge. There is a good reason for that: if there is no clergy and no intermediary in Islam between the man and his God, people are not allowed though to say whatever they want about the substance of islamic matters. The word Islam means submission. Submission to God and to His law, as it has been revealed in the Koran. There is nothing rebellious or anti-social in Islam. Were it a terrorist religion, it could not have expanded widely and spread from the Arabian peninsula to India and the Caspian sea eastward, and to the shores of the Atlantic westward. Anyway, the important question for those who are trying to understand what exactly happened on that fateful 11 September is not about what Islam is or what it is not, but rather about what terrorism is and what it is not. And it is quite disturbing for a billion of Muslims throughout the world that their religion is mingled so skittishly sometimes with the awful and sorrowful mess that occurred at the hands of immoral terrorists.

That’s why they keep asking for evidence. Not because they are sympathizing with the Taliban: many of them know nothing about them, and many others hate them because of their fanaticism. Yet, it is as hard for the Muslims to believe that such a monstrous thing might have been the result of their co-religionaries’ acts, as it is hard for the victims’ parents to state that they will never be able to see their beloved again. Worst, if Islam could produce such a monstrosity, this is to mean that something is wrong with this religion! This is quite an unacceptable idea for any Muslim, since the Koran – as the Word of God- is the perfection in itself. Do you only imagine the impact of such an idea about one billion of Muslims? Do you imagine the shame, the guilt, and the humiliation they would feel? Indeed, they are said these are the acts of fundamentalists! But this is a poor consolation! For it means that all the Saudis, the Qataris, the Pakistanis, and many others are responsible for the death of more than 6000 people, since it is known that they are fundamentalists!

But this kind of logic is as irrational as misleading.

To begin with, when Bin Laden and his comrades of the so-called World Islamic Front, issued their statement of February 23, 1998, calling for ” killing Americans and their allies- civilians and military…” they were not given carte blanche from one billion Muslims to represent them. Many of those Muslims, likely the majority, never heard of such a declaration. A lot of them did not even suspect that Bin Laden exists before the media focused on him after the bombing of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Besides, those men were neither representing Afghanistan nor another Islamic country. They were – and still are- pariah and outlaws in the majority of the Arab and Islamic countries, and they were on their own. As we know, they have funds and enormous sources of money so that they hardly need the support of any state to fulfill their sinister projects. Their congregation includes five movements or groups, which are:

– Al- Qaida: Bin Laden.

– Jihad group of Egypt: Ayman al-Zawahiri.

– Egyptian Islamic group: Abu Yasir Rifai Ahmad Taha.

– Jamiat-ul- Ulema of Pakistan: Mir Hamza.

– Jihad movement of Bangladesh: Fazlul Rahman.

And although these groups have their own principles and plans, it is easy to mistake them for other fundamentalist fighters: e.g. the Sunnite Hamas in Palestine or the Shiite Hizbollah in Lebanon, which both – do we need to recall it? – have condemned without ambiguity the September 11 attacks. It must be underlined though that what Israel is facing and calling “fundamentalist terrorism”, is considered in the whole Arab and Islamic world as a resistance against the Zionist occupation. It is utterly regrettable that civilians are also the victims of bombs, but there are casualties on both sides, and Israel is still an invader. So, even if one cannot miss the difference between the two groups (: one is resisting an occupying force, while the second is claiming to be some kind of an “illuminated justiciary”), it is rather easy to slip into equivocation.

However, when you look at the so-called World Islamic Front, how many people would you say it is including? Ten thousand? Twenty thousand? Fifty thousand? Come on! Even with one hundred thousand activists, these people are neither a majority in their countries, nor weighing of any political weight upon the future of the world. The sole country where they have some sort of weight is the poor Afghanistan: 21million people according to the latest statistics, and nearly a no man’s land! Yet, they are very dangerous, and their threats must always be taken seriously. For anyway, they have the means to fulfill them, as they proved it several times.

Thus, put together, they are a drop in the Islamic ocean which encompasses peoples of all races, and all countries. Who can say today without falling to a ridiculous stanza that all those peoples, all those races, for which Islam is the binder, identify to Osama Bin Laden or to any of his partners?

To be sure, the problem with Bin Laden is not about Islam, but about terrorism. And this is the way the mainstream media ought to tackle it. But instead of that, what do we see? Everybody, in the papers, on the radio, on TV, or even on internet, thinks he has something to say about Islam, Islamism, and alike subjects, which used to be actually as belonging to the scholars and the experts. With such a focus on these delicate matters in the Western popular media, the flow of insane hatred, and insidious rubbish overrode any control. The subject is no longer about terrorism, but about Islam versus the West!

” In fact”, stated a so-called journalist on a Western radio, ” they (: i.e. the Muslims!) do not like our style of life. They hate our values, and criticize everything we cherish!!!”

From such a statement to declaring that ” the Western values are superior to Islam”, there is only a short step which Mr. Berlusconi, Italy Prime Minister did not hesitate to make, in a complete contempt of his own position as a man in charge of a nation where live and work millions of Muslims.

Then, if some people in the Western elite cannot control themselves and give up to the primary reactions against Islam and Arabs, what about the man in the street?

Thus goes on the talk about Bin Laden’s Islam! Not about his terrorism, but precisely about his Islam! Again, people miss the point and put the strain on the wrong question. Why so? What are they expecting to know from all that interminable polemic about Islam and Islamism? These are philosophical and juridical matters that even the Muslim thinkers are not discussing anymore. Why? Because this is the history of Islam.

To sum it up in a few lines, in the three centuries which followed the prophet’s death, attempts were allowed to interpret the Koran in the light of a changing world. The practice was known as Ijtihad. But by the end of the ninth century Islam had been codified in legal manuals of the Shari’ah -: the law-, a comprehensive code of behavior that embraces both private and public activities. The gates of Ijtihad were then closed. Indeed, some prominent Sunnite scholars, such as Ibn Taymiyyah (1236-1328) and Jalal ad-Din as-Suyuti (1445-1505), dared to reopen the gates. And Shiite Muslims – a minority predominating in Iran and parts of Iraq- believe that Ijtihad is still allowed. Yet, it is not a matter to be put into the hands of anybody. Those who are allowed, must be acknowledged by the religious authorities. True that some Sunnite modernists tried to reopen Ijtihad in the end of the 19th century, to reconcile Islam with valuable scientific traditions in the West. But their efforts have not been pursued, and it is unthinkable that any non-Muslim scholar whatever his erudition could be allowed to direct Muslims in matters concerning their religion.

Thus, with all the consideration Muslims vouch to the Western experts of Islam, it is really a madness to believe that they would let them dictate – or even suggest- to them what is islamic and what is not, either the topic is related to fundamentalism or any other subject. The true specialists know this very well, and never even think of it. But those who have to take important decisions in the Western governments, related to the Arab-Islamic world, should think about it.

Now, let’s come back to Bin Laden.

Whether he is Muslim or not, whether his Islam is right or not, whether he prays five times or more, is it of any importance? The problem is about murder, about whether he has or not the right to call to murdering people, and whether he masterminded the attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon or not. Now, we do not know of any religion or any secular law that allows individual or collective assassination and absolves its perpetrator or whoever pushes to it. That is the point, not the religion of Bin Laden and his partners. And that is why people in the Arab and Islamic countries are so suspicious about the U.S. intentions, and some governments are so reluctant to help, despite they suffered from terrorism well before it reached the West. They even suffered from two kinds of terrorism: one from their own co-religionaries, and the other from the Israelis. Nobody can forget it, since it is perhaps a key- element if we want to understand what happened. Yet, in calling for a coalition against terrorism, the Bush administration sounds omitting that just one day before the attacks against America, the problem of the terrorism was worded differently, according to each camp. On the one hand, there was the Israeli terrorism denunciated by many Western media, not to speak of the Arabian ones, which caused nearly the collapse of the Durban conference and, anyway a huge controversy. And on the other hand, the terrorism denunciated by the USA, which included several countries along with some well known groups. Then, have the September 11 attacks changed something in this controversy about terrorism?

Anyway, in the Arab-Islamic world, there is a feeling about an equivocation of some kind in the American position.

Let’s put it straightforward: Some Muslims throughout the world – Arabs included- feel that there is an abusive, unrestrained, and somewhat immoral use of their religion in connection with terrorism, through media bias, misjudgments, bigotry, and other abuses. They wonder whether the West intends to fight terrorism with all its aspects and under all its names, or only to fight Islam under the misleading banner of combating terrorism.

If the first option is wished, needless to say that the second, even as a mere hypothesis, is causing a deep trouble among Muslims of all countries, including indeed the Western states, where many Muslims and Arabs – mainly in the USA- have been the victims of discrimination and hate. The fact that 500 to 1000 of the missing or presumed dead in New York are said to be Arabs and Muslim is not highlighted. The fact that General Sharon and his war-machine have been the only de facto beneficiary from the tragedy, has not even been discussed by the mainstream media in the West. The fact that the tragic event of September 11 completely reversed a growing feeling of distrust towards Israel, in the wake of the Durban conference and the widespread accusations of war crimes towards Sharon, has not been seriously debated either.

Instead of that, ” the US indicated that (…) this time the coalition could also include Israel”, writes Al Ahram Weekly (: 24/09/01). How could the Americans expect – honestly – that in twenty-four hours the Arabs change their minds and accept to be part of a coalition along with General Sharon, with whom the controversy is still subsisting? For President Mubarak, ” to fight terrorism, the whole world must fight, not a small group of countries. A coalition means that we will divide the world into different groups: a group to fight terrorism, a group against this group, and a third group which is neutral. Then, we will fight each other without any reason.”

Yet, if the USA is quite able to wage a war against Afghanistan or whoever it deems supporting terrorism, even without evidence whatsoever, such a war may destroy a country or more, but as to put an end to terrorist acts, there is a doubt about it.

To end terrorism, the USA has not only to obtain the full cooperation of the Arab and Islamic countries, instead of singling some of them out, but also to acknowledge its own faulty foreign policy as regards the claims of the Palestinians, the Syrians, the Iraqis, and all those who, in the last years, feel that they have been victims of American injustice. Everybody understands the anger of the American people for the horrid inhuman tragedy which struck innocent folk. But anger is not a solution. What happened to America on Sep. 11, has been for years the daily lot to innocent people in Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan itself at the hands of Israel, America’s government, and the Taliban. Can anyone deny these facts?

Now,” have no mistake about it”! the problem is not, as some foolish theorists put it, between the Western world and Islam. The problem is about politics and terrorism.

Hichem Karoui is a writer and journalist living in Paris, France.

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