After 9/11 and subsequent attacks the question of the origins of the hostility towards the West came up very quickly. This search is reflected by the video of a young American blogger who in turn refers to a 2012 Ron Paul ad. Ron Paul unambiguously states that terrorists are driven by America’s foreign policy.
While it’s certainly true that the US has conducted many operations that caused more damage than good, Ron Paul (and an entire section of public opinion) fails to consider several critical points.
The Islamist movement has reasons that go beyond the usual grievances. Christopher Hitchens put it in his own inimitable way.
Despite American support for the Taliban in their fight against the Soviets in the 1980s, Jihadist propaganda and recruitment inside the US was already going on way before the first Gulf War in 1990, let alone the military action in Afghanistan and Iraq in 2001 and 2003 respectively.
It is quite illuminating to take a closer look at the al Qaida messages, especially those that are not directed at the Western world and thus remain largely unknown. Raymond Ibrahim, who is of Egyptian descent and fluent in Arabic, has done exactly that in his book “The Al Qaeda Reader”.
In a 2007 article he noted the huge contrast between the messages directed to the West and those for the Arab world:
“Most significantly, however, the documents struck me as markedly different from the messages directed to the West, in both tone and (especially) content. […] They were theological treatises, revolving around what Islam commands Muslims to do vis-à-vis non-Muslims. The documents rarely made mention of all those things — Zionism, Bush’s „Crusade,“ malnourished Iraqi children — that formed the core of Al Qaeda’s messages to the West. Instead, they were filled with countless Koranic verses, hadiths (traditions attributed to the Prophet Muhammad), and the consensus and verdicts of Islam’s most authoritative voices. […] There was, in fact, scant mention of the words „West,“ „U.S.,“ or „Israel.“ All of those were encompassed by that one Arabic-Islamic word, „kufr“ — „infidelity“ — the regrettable state of being non-Muslim that must always be fought through „tongue and teeth.“”
On the one hand there are those grievances related to foreign policy that make up the better part of the messages directed to the West:
“You should ask yourselves whether your security, your blood, your sons, your money, your jobs, your homes, your economy, and your reputation are more dear to you than the security and economy of the Israelis. […] Let me say that we have declared many times, over more than two and a half decades, that the reason for our conflict with you is your support for your Israeli allies, who are occupying our land of Palestine.”
On the other hand some of Bin Laden’s words to the Islamic world seem to be quite different:
“Our talks with the infidel West and our conflict with them ultimately revolve around one issue… Does Islam, or does it not, force people by the power of the sword to submit to its authority corporeally if not spiritually? Yes. There are only three choices in Islam… Either submit, or live under the suzerainty of Islam, or die.”
Obviously Bin Laden’s statement concerning the “three choices in Islam” is closely connected to the doctrines of Islam and its interpretations. The concept of Jihad has a broad ideological basis that has been in existence for more than a millenium. In Andrew Bostom’s “The Legacy of Jihad” this is illustrated extensively. In that regard the preface of the book provides a sufficient variety of evidence.
In traditional Islam concepts and laws are derived from the Koran and the Sunna (the traditions of Mohammed) and are identified by the generic term Sharia, i.e. Islamic law. It is of specific relevance since Islamic law is not just limited to private aspects of believers but also contains the Islamic social order and a legal system.
One of the manuals of classical Islamic law available in English is “Reliance of the Traveller”.
It is certified as conforming “to the practice and faith of the orthodox Sunni Community” by Al Azhar University (Cairo/Egypt) which is one of the leading institutions in the Islamic world.
Regarding the concept of Jihad it reads:
“Jihad means to war against non-Muslims, and is etymologically derived from the word mujahada, signifying warfare to establish the religion.”
It goes on to state that the objective of Jihad towards non-Muslims is either the conversion to Islam or their submission as non-Muslims under the social order of Islam by paying the non-Muslim poll tax (Jizya).
The fact that Jihad is not a relict of history is also reflected by an internal Muslim Brotherhood document apparently captured prior to the Holy Land Foundation Trial in 2007. The Muslim Brotherhood is probably the largest organization of modern Islamism and formed the basis for movements like Hamas and to some degree al Qaida. The document called “An Explanatory Memorandum On the General Strategic Goal for the Group In North America” states:
“The Ikhwan [Brotherhood] must understand that their work in America is a kind of grand Jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and „sabotaging“ its miserable house by their hands and the hands of the believers so that it is eliminated and God’s religion is made victorious over all other religions. Without this level of understanding, we are not up to this challenge and have not prepared ourselves for Jihad yet. It is a Muslim’s destiny to perform Jihad and work wherever he is and wherever he lands until the final hour comes, and there is no escape from that destiny except for those who chose to slack.”
It is interesting to note that the Muslim Brotherhood was formed in 1928, at a time when America’s involvement in the Middle East was marginal and the State of Israel didn’t even exist. Despite the fact that the Brotherhood’s inception goes back more than 80 years its ideology is well alive.
It’s an indication that the origin of movements like the Taliban and their ideology precede any grievances they may have towards the West.
Ron Paul argues that the trouble in the Middle East started with the overthrow of Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953. However, history didn’t start with 1953.
In the 18th century American merchant ships in the Mediterranean Sea were repeatedly attacked and plundered. Back then, the countries of North Africa were part of the Ottoman Empire, which was the last Islamic Caliphate. In 1785 Thomas Jefferson and John Adams negotiated with Tripoli’s envoy and asked him about the reason for the hostility towards American vessels. The ambassador replied:
“It was written in their Koran, that all nations which had not acknowledged the Prophet were sinners, whom it was the right and duty of the faithful to plunder and enslave; and that every mussulman who was slain in this warfare was sure to go to paradise.”
This eventually led to the formation of the US Navy. In fact, the Marines‘ Hymn still refers to the First Barbary War when it reads “From the Halls of Montezuma, To the shores of Tripoli”.
America had hardly declared its independence when she had to face attacks for purely ideological reasons.
When it comes to the conflict in the Middle East we are able to observe a similar pattern. Israel has been facing a large amount of incitement and subsequent violence.
However, the ideological roots transcend the usual grievances both with regards to content and chronology.
Prominent figures of politics and clergy presented their view at the Fourth Conference of the Academy of Islamic Research at Al Azhar (Cairo) in 1968.
The repeating themes of Jihad and Antisemitism attest to how widespread they were (and still are).
In that regard a Fatwa (Islamic legal ruling) from January 1956 is especially illuminating. It was signed by the leading members of the Fatwa Committee of Al Azhar, i.e. its Chairman and ex-Mufti of Egypt, and major representatives of all four Islamic schools of jurisprudence:
“The question put to us reveals that the land of Palestine has been conquered by the Muslims […] Accordingly, Palestine has become a territory under the jurisdiction of Islam and governed by Islamic laws. […] Jews have taken a part of Palestine and there established their non-Islamic government […] The Jihad is an absolute necessity when Muslim territories are attacked…the action taken by the Jews in Palestine is an attack on an Islamic country. It is the duty of the Muslims therein to repulse the attack by force until the country has been liberated and restored to the Muslim owners. In this case the Jihad is the duty of all Muslims, not just those who can undertake it. […] Muslims cannot conclude peace with those Jews who have usurped the territory of Palestine and attacked its people and their property in any manner which allows the Jews to continue as a state in that sacred Muslim territory. […] Everyone knows that from the early days of Islam to the present day the Jews have been plotting against Islam and Muslims and the Islamic homeland.”
Note that this Fatwa was signed before Israel conquered Gaza and the Westbank in 1967. But regardless of grievances towards Israel, the reason given for Jihad is the existence of a non-Islamic (in that case Jewish) government on a territory that is supposed to be governed by Islamic law. As it turns out, Sharia law requires non-Muslims to pay the Jizya (i.e. tribute) and live in subordination.
In other words, according to this Fatwa, the mere existence of Israel as a non-Muslim state constitutes a violation of Islamic law which must be rectified through Jihad.
However, violence as a means to compel conformity to Islamic law is hardly an invention of the 20th century but occured rather repeatedly.
One of the more prominent instances is the 1066 Granada massacre, which led to a significant death toll among Jews. Apparently the attack was a form of retaliation after the Jew Joseph ibn Naghrela rose to prominence. The massacre may have been provoked by an anti-Semitic poem originating from a writer called Abu Ishaq:
“Do not consider it a breach of faith to kill them, the breach of faith would be to let them carry on. They have violated our covenant with them, so how can you be held guilty against the violators? How can they have any pact when we are obscure and they are prominent? Now we are humble, beside them, as if we were wrong and they were right!”
Apart from the irony that the massacre took place during the so called golden age of Islam, the violence was a result of overstepping the bounds of the Sharia (or breaching “our covenant” as Abu Ishaq described it) which stipulates a life of subordination for non-Muslims.
Speaking of antisemitism and chronology it is well worth considering the following polemic:
“Our people observing thus the occupations of the Jews and the Christians concluded that the religion of the Jews must compare unfavorably as do their professions, and that their unbelief must be the foulest of all, since they are the filthiest of all nations. Why the Christians, ugly as they are, are physically less repulsive than the Jews may be explained by the fact that the Jews, by not intermarrying, have intensified the offensiveness of their features. Exotic elements have not mingled with them; neither have males of alien races had intercourse with their women, nor have their men cohabited with females of a foreign stock. The Jewish race therefore has been denied high mental qualities, sound physique, and superior lactation. The same results obtain when horses, camels, donkeys, and pigeons are inbred.”
This piece was written by al-Jahiz, an Arabic prose writer and author who was born in the 8th century.
While the harm anti-Jewish motives in the Christian and European traditions have caused is well known, comparably little light has been shed on the antisemitism in the Islamic sources although their impact is far more present today. In “The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism” Andrew Bostom attempts to close this gap. Its abstract provides plenty of content on this topic.
Another ingredient to the modern Middle East conflict that is almost completely missing in the textbooks is the notorious figure of Haj Amin al-Husseini. Between 1921 and 1937 he was the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and had considerable influence in the region.
He met with Adolf Hitler in 1941 and formed a collaboration with the Nazi regime. In that context he helped recruiting Muslim volunteers for SS Divisions on the Balkans.
During World War II he stayed in Berlin and broadcasted into the wider Middle East to promote his cause and gather support.
His incitement (“Kill the Jews wherever you find them. This pleases God, history, and religion.”) contributed to numerous attacks against Jews in the 1920s and 30s, most notably the 1929 massacres in Hebron and Safed.
Those happened at a time when Jews were increasingly fleeing from Europe and the State of Israel didn’t exist yet.
And what about the little known 1834 Safed pogrom, which latest for 40 days? It took place before even the first modern Jewish immigration to the region began and the creation of a Jewish State was an issue.
However, the ideological influence of al-Husseini is not limited to his lifetime. A 2008 book fair in Germany featured a Palestinian history textbook which described him as the spearhead of the Palestinian movement.
Yasser Arafat (whose original name interestingly was al-Husseini) was one of the attendees of al-Husseini’s funeral in 1974.
And recently, Mahmoud Abbas (Arafat’s successor) praised the Mufti as pioneer during a commemoration broadcast on TV.
Given the uncritical reverence of the former Mufti of Jerusalem, the severity of indoctrination is hardly surprising.
A ceremony commemorating the Fatah movement had the current Mufti of Jerusalem as speaker and reflected the ideological elements of key players in today’s conflict: religious Jew-hatred combined with prospect of slaughter.
In addition, the PA (Palestinian Authority) makes a case for gaining concessions through diplomacy while planning to conquer all of Israel later.
Yet, ít is Abbas and the PA/Fatah movement that is considered moderate and Israel’s partner for peace in the Middle East.
What’s remarkable is that the current Mufti traces the struggle of the Palestinian movement to the 7th century. Back then the region was conquered by Umar ibn Al-Khattab and subsequently became part of the Arab-Islamic empire (Caliphate) which relegated non-Muslims to a state of subservience. He also states that the struggle will continue until the end of days where the final destruction of the Jews will take place.
However, these aspirations transcend any grievances like occupation and settlements, both in terms of content and chronology.
What makes matters even worse is the indoctrination of the youth. It ranges from very obvious to more subtle.
Some observers may perceive the combination of systematic indoctrination and genocidal aspirations as reminiscent of a dark period in German history. Given the lack of critical examination of al-Hussein’s past and his impact on today’s matters this is no coincidence.
A prime example of the motives behind the conflict is the charter of Hamas. Apart from the concept of Jihad and anti-Jewish sentiments it incorporates the conspiracy theory of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which originated from Czarist Russia in 1903.
Today, there are numerous calls for the recreation of the Caliphate (supranational Islamic empire) and the implementation of Sharia which includes paying the Jizya poll tax for non-Muslims. They are connected to the “three choices in Islam” Osama bin Laden mentioned and by no means limited to the Middle East.
Mark Durie describes the theological background and the consequences of such a scenario in his book “The Third Choice”.
Ideas matter and the indigenous Christians of the Middle East are increasingly bearing their bitter fruit:
“Rebels recently went to a Christian man’s „shop and gave him three options: become Muslim; pay $70,000 as a tax levied on non-Muslims, known as jizya; or be killed along with his family…. Androus from Mosul, Iraq… says he received a similar demand via telephone. ‚Because you are infidels, you have to pay jizya,‘ he recalled being told over the phone. ‚Either you pay jizya, or we will kill you or your son.'“”
What grievances do those militants have towards the Christians? It’s a bitter irony that Islamists are targeting descendants of the very population that was conquered in the 7th century and now has to live as persecuted minority.
By ignoring the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas and like-minded organizations we are doing ourselves a great disservice.
Hassan Butt, former British Islamist, put it this way:
“I remember how we used to laugh in celebration whenever people on TV proclaimed that the sole cause for Islamic acts of terror like 9/11, the Madrid bombings and 7/7 was Western foreign policy. By blaming the Government for our actions, those who pushed this „Blair’s bombs“ line did our propaganda work for us. More important, they also helped to draw away any critical examination from the real engine of our violence: Islamic theology.”
The clip is part of a 1994 documentary by Steven Emerson:
Reliance of the Traveller, xx-xxi
Reliance of the Traveller, o9.0, p. 599
Reliance of the Traveller, o9.8-o9.9, p. 602-603
Mohamed Morsi is chairman of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political party in Egypt:
For more information see Joshua London, “Victory in Tripoli”
This collection can be expanded at will by accessing the archives of MEMRI and PMW:
Andrew Bostom, “Sharia Versus Freedom”, p. 265
Sam Harris, “The End of Faith”, p. 114
Serge Trifkovic, “The Sword of the Prophet”, p. 183
Andrew Bostom, “The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism”
Andrew Bostom, “The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism”, p. 38, p. 317
Tilman Tarach, “Der ewige Sündenbock”, p. 20
Tilman Tarach, “Der ewige Sündenbock”, p. 81-82
Tilman Tarach, “Der ewige Sündenbock”, p. 89
Tarach dedicated the sixth chapter to the Mufti’s impact on the Palestinian movement.