Saturday, October 28, 2006

At War With Jihad

One of my favorite columnists is Robert Fulford who writes s a weekly column for The National Post. In this week's column, he discusses the rise of militant Islam as researched by Mary Habeck in her book, Knowing the Enemy: Jihadist Ideology and the War on Terror and notes that this movement is neither new nor a response to Western actions in the Middle East.

We are at war with Jihad
Robert Fulford
National Post
Saturday, October 28, 2006

Abu Bakar Bashir, who recently served 25 months in an Indonesian prison for his part in the Jakarta and Bali bombings, depicts himself as a traditionalist cleric calling Muslims back to the robust spirit of Islam's origins. As he said on Al-Jazeera in August, he believes Islam grew weak over the centuries because Muslims forgot that the Prophet carried a spear when he spoke. "If the Prophet carried a spear, then we can carry an M-16!"

Remember, he said, that jihad (in the sense of holy war) brought Islam to power in the first place and will do it again: "There can be no Islam without jihad." A religion of warriors, Islam will eventually produce states that enforce Islamic law with determination and without the distraction of democratic consultation. In modern times only one country has come close to Bashir's ideal, Afghanistan under the Taliban.

Thousands of Muslims, spread through many countries, see the world and the future this way. Reading their words, and hearing about their atrocities, raises a crucial issue: What do they represent? We want to believe they are marginal and eccentric, as many Muslims suggest, but they are obviously too important to be casually brushed aside. Any force that can reorganize world politics through terror, as they have clearly done, deserves serious study.

That's what Mary Habeck, a military scholar at Johns Hopkins University, gives them in her short, sharp book, Knowing the Enemy: Jihadist Ideology and the War on Terror (Yale University Press). She analyzes their intellectual and spiritual roots, which reach back at least to the 12th century.

Journalists and politicians in the West, being secularist in outlook, see the jihad in mainly social and political terms. We imagine jihadists are angry for the reasons we might be angry in their place.

That's wrong, Habeck says. Jihad does not arise because of widespread poverty or oppressive Arabic governments or imperialism or American support of Israel.

Those issues may well stimulate recruiting, but jihadists have something much larger in mind. Jihad is not marginal and not ephemeral. It is a religious movement with a long, dense history. Its dream, recently reignited by the circumstances of the 21st century, is ancient. One of the most powerful theorists, Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab, "developed his version of radical and violent Islam long before the West colonized Islamic lands, indeed at a time when Islam seemed triumphant." He died in 1792.

Jihadists see themselves as the authentic core of Islam, not as murderers with a taste for suicide. They believe themselves "honoured participants in a cosmic drama, one that will decide the fate of the world and that will ultimately end with the victory of the good, the virtuous and the true believers."

To make their case, jihadist scholars select from their holy books only those writings that support extremism and ignore anything that appears in the Koran about tolerance, peace, etc. Ironically, they also claim that they, unlike other theologians, take the Koran literally and honestly. As Habeck says, "The emphasis is always on those parts of the books that define jihad as fighting and that paint the relationship between believer and unbeliever in the bleakest terms."

Habeck leads her readers through the thinking of such 20th-century theorists as Hassan al-Banna, the Egyptian who founded the Muslim Brotherhood, and Sayyid Abul A'la Mawdudi, the Pakistani who founded his country's jihadist party. The major figures in the story agree that Islam is both the true religion and the only religion that should be permitted.

We have misnamed the war on terror, Habeck argues. Why describe a war in terms of a military tactic? We are at war with jihad. When we see it that way, we can begin to understand jihadists as they understand themselves; "we must be willing to listen to their own explanations."

Listening, however, will not encourage optimism on our side. Osama bin Laden and the legions of less celebrated jihadists have taught themselves to think about the distant future in a way that's alien to most people in the West. Jihadists argue that they aren't discouraged because mass uprisings haven't followed their atrocities, even 9/11. They believe in perseverance and patience. Eventually, they believe, Islam will produce a modern version of Saladin, the triumphant 12th-century Egyptian sultan.

This leader will inspire Islam and drive its enemies from the Middle East.

Then he or his successors will conquer the rest of the world. But it won't happen quickly. Mary Habeck mentions that, in the jihadist view, the war could run 200 years.

After reading this column, I am more convinced than ever that the so-called "war on terror" is a far different creature than our politicians see it as. This very well could be the predominant foreign affairs issue of our lifetime. What will make it unique and uncomfortable for secular western diplomats and human rights activists is that religion and religious freedom are central issues. And while groups like The Voice of the Martyrs have tended to try to avoid diplomatic debates in the padst, I suspect that we will be called upon to play a more significant role in the days to come. Christians in Islamic countries have been witnesses to the violence of Islamic militants far earlier than we have here in the West. They know the true face of Islam, not the watered down version that moderate Islamic leaders and government leaders (eager to win or retain votes) would have you believe. I don't know about you, but I am going to order a copy of Habeck's book right after I post this blog.


Fared Mohammed said...

IKhwanweb is the Muslim Brotherhood's only official English web site. The Main office is located in London, although Ikhwanweb has correspondents in most countries. Our staff is exclusively made of volunteers and stretched over the five continents.
The Muslim Brotherhood opinions and views can be found under the sections of MB statements and MB opinions, in addition to the Editorial Message.
Items posted under "other views" are usually different from these of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Ikhwanweb does not censor any articles or comments but has the right only to remove any inappropriate words that defy public taste
Ikhwanweb is not a news website, although we report news that matter to the Muslim Brotherhood's cause. Our main misson is to present the Muslim Brotherhood vision right from the source and rebut misonceptions about the movement in western societies. We value debate on the issues and we welcome constructive criticism.

Glenn Penner said...

Interesting to note that I can find nothing in the "Other Views" section that criticizes or goes against MB positions. Publish articles like this column and I will believe your stated good intentions, Mr. Fared Mohammed. But then I would imagine that such columns and criticisms would, in your opinion, "defy public taste."