The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Islam and Terrorism

This morning I read a brief essay written by Professor Howard Kainz (Marquette U.) and published online on The Catholic Thing. In his essay, Dr. Kainz discusses a fascinating book, Cruel and Usual Punishment, by Nonie Darwish. Ms. Darwish, who was raised in Egypt as a Muslim, is the daughter of a senior Egyptian intelligence officer who was specifically targeted and killed by the Israelis. As a result her father is considered a martyr in her home country. She later moved to the United States and subsequently converted to Christianity. A founder of the organization, Former Muslims United, she speaks and writes about what she believes to be the true nature of Islam, Islamic terrorism, and Sharia Law. I suggest taking a moment to read Dr. Kainz' essay.

Islamic terrorism today seems to be one of those arms-length subjects that most folks try to avoid. Oh, they may talk about it privately among family and friends, but you don't hear many people discussing it frankly and openly. It seems that, despite much rather convincing evidence, making any connection between Islam and terrorism is just about the most politically incorrect thing one could do. What I find particularly interesting is watching the PC crowd as it forces itself to dance around the subject through the use of some very odd euphemistic language.

For example, a few years ago the European Union declared it would no longer use the words "Islamic Terrorism" to describe attacks carried out by Muslims. Instead, it decided to use the phrase "terrorists who abusively invoke Islam." At the same time the EU also banned the words "Islamist," "Fundamentalist," and "Jihad" because the use of such words might be offensive to Muslims. (I assume, however, that the EU did not shy away from using the word "fundamentalist" when referring to Christians.) The EU's counter-terrorism chief stated that the revised policy "makes clear that we are talking about a murderous fringe that is abusing a religion and does not accept it." I'm not sure the majority of Muslims living in Muslim-majority nations would agree that the terrorists living among them do not accept Islam. But that's another subject.

Of course we expect these kind of decisions of Europeans since most of them long ago gave up on their culture and show a remarkable ability to look the other way as it enters the final stages of decay. But if you thought such ostrich-like behavior was limited to Europeans, think again. Our own government has only recently decided that it too will avoid terms like "Islamic Terrorism" or "Jihad" when referring to terrorism conducted by our nation's violent enemies. It has made this change in terminology despite the fact that the vast majority of these terrorists claim strong adherence to Islam in one form or another. 

John Brennan, President Obama's adviser for homeland security and counter-terrorism, recently defended the new policy by saying that "describing our enemy in religious terms would lend credence to the lie propagated by al Qaeda and its affiliates to justify terrorism, that the United States somehow is at war against Islam. The reality, of course, is that we have never been and will never be at war with Islam. After all, Islam, like so many faiths, is part of America." I'm not so sure most Americans would agree with Mr. Brennan's statement.

Our government is not alone in this effort to separate Islam from terrorism, at least linguistically. If I recall correctly, the Religion Newswriters Association preempted the current administration by several years when, in the days following the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, it stated it was troubled by the frequent use of the term "Islamic Terrorist". I remember the organization's spokesperson being rather uncomfortable with the fact that the terrorists themselves even used the term. One got the sense that she considered it unfortunate that, in this instance, the language of political correctness necessarily trumped the terrorists' own terminology. Hope it didn't hurt their feelings.

It seems to me we should want to address these issues head-on and not hide behind euphemisms and other feel-good rhetoric, especially since they affect our future as a free society. It might not be very PC to say so, but more than a few Muslims, including some who are widely regarded as key religious leaders within Islam, believe that what you and I would call terrorism is quite legitimate. Do you remember the reception the Ayatollah Khomeini received when he returned to Iran in 1978? (That's him in the photo at left.) For Shiite Muslims it was a transforming event, an event that had been awaited since the disappearance of the 12th Imam in 931 A.D. With the ascendancy of Khomeini, they believed they were once again living under legitimate religious authority. This was enough to put the Shah out of business. The theocracy Khomeini created is still in power, still motivated by his and his successors' religious values. And in case we've forgotten, Khomeini stated those values very clearly in his famous statement about Jihad and the duty of Muslims:
Islam makes it incumbent on all adult males, provided they are not disabled or incapacitated, to prepare themselves for the conquest of [other] countries so that the writ of Islam is obeyed in every country in the world. . . . But those who study Islamic Holy War will understand why Islam wants to conquer the whole world. . . . Those who know nothing of Islam pretend that Islam counsels against war. Those [who say this] are witless. Islam says: Kill all the unbelievers just as they would kill you all! Does this mean that Muslims should sit back until they are devoured by [the unbelievers]? Islam says: Kill them [the non-Muslims], put them to the sword and scatter [their armies]. Does this mean sitting back until [non-Muslims] overcome us? Islam says: Kill in the service of Allah those who may want to kill you! Does this mean that we should surrender [to the enemy]? Islam says: Whatever good there is exists thanks to the sword and in the shadow of the sword! People cannot be made obedient except with the sword! The sword is the key to Paradise, which can be opened only for the Holy Warriors! There are hundreds of other [Qur'anic] psalms and Hadiths [sayings of the Prophet] urging Muslims to value war and to fight. Does all this mean that Islam is a religion that prevents men from waging war? I spit upon those foolish souls who make such a claim. [See Amir Taheri's book, Holy Terror: Inside the World of Islamic Terrorism, Adler & Adler, 1987, pp. 241-3.]
It should be clear from this why Iran continues to be a major supporter of terrorist activity in Iraq, Afghanistan and pretty much everywhere else: it seems it considers such acts to be a religious duty. But just imagine people motivated by these beliefs also possessing nuclear weapons. Pretty scary stuff.

I understand that Iran's leadership is Shiite and doesn't speak for all Muslims. It doesn't even speak for all Shiites, as can be seen by the continuing protests and active dissent by many -- probably a majority -- of the Iranian people. Many Shiite Muslims reject these Jihadist teachings, want only to live their lives in peace, and have no desire to spread their religion at the point of a gun or strapped to a suicide bomb.

The same is no doubt true of most Sunni Muslims who make up close to 90% of Muslims worldwide. But they, too, are not immune to the Jihadist ideology. Indeed, Osama bin Laden is a Sunni, and I suspect he wouldn't disagree with very much of the Ayatollah's above statement. (Indeed, the photo at left shows him enjoying the company of a Kalashnikov.) And neither would members of the Muslim Brotherhood, a Sunni fundamentalist movement founded in Egypt in the 1920s in reaction to the growing post-World War I influence of Western culture in Egypt. It was the Muslim Brotherhood that assassinated President Anwar Sadat in 1981, accusing him of apostasy and condemning him for the peace treaty he’d signed with Israel. Interestingly, Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s second in command, was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and was imprisoned for a time because of his involvement in a 1997 terrorist attack in Luxor, Egypt aimed at Western tourists. 62 men, women and children died in that incident.

Islam is certainly no monolithic religion. Muslims hold a variety of religious and political beliefs. But it must be understood that the Western concept of separation of church and state is completely foreign to Islamic teaching, whether Shiite or Sunni. One need only look at Iran and Saudi Arabia to understand how Sharia Law is designed to cross all societal boundaries and address every aspect of life in an Islamic state.

I'm no expert on Islam. Although I've read the entire Quran (in translation, of course), I find it a confusing book, full of contradictions that can lead to the justification of all kinds of behavior. One thing, however, is certain: Allah is not at all like the Trinitarian God of Christianity. And so I disagree strongly with those who claim Muslims and Christians worship the same God. We don't, at least not today, although perhaps some day we will all worship Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As Christians that should be our prayer. In fact, if all Christians prayed daily for the conversion of Islam, God would hear our unified voice.

Pray for peace and unity...

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