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Less Violent Islamists Are Still Islamists

Is the debate among Islamists over violence a turning point in the War on Terror — or just another distraction?

by
Youssef M. Ibrahim

Bio

June 3, 2008 - 12:30 am

A fierce debate is brewing among jihadists, it seems. To hear pundits and the CIA boss describe it, the rupture is growing over interpretations by radical theologians about whom to kill and how to do it in the name of God.

It is progress of sorts flushing out mea culpas from repentant Islamists and widening divisions within Terror Inc., but far from advancement toward a triumph in a war of terror.

A more serious shortcoming is an accompanying refrain promoting “moderate Islam” to fill the void. That is tantamount to saying: “Okay, we take bin Laden heavy off the table and give you Sharia light.”

A month ago I was on a panel discussion on “Confronting Radicalism in the Arab World” that included Tawfik Hamid, whose pedigree includes serving in al-Gamaa al-Islamiyya, the bloodiest of Egypt’s terror groups that assassinated Egypt’s Anwar Sadat in 1981 and carried out assaults on hundreds of intellectuals, writers (including Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfouz), Christians, and government officials in the eighties.

Hamid has developed a good gig as speaker and op-ed writer (mostly at the Wall Street Journal). He passionately expounds on “conditional” interpretations of Koranic verses urging killing of apostates, non-Muslims, infidels, and renegades, explaining that his former colleagues misinterpret them. His subtext is trickier, pleading for a second chance for “moderate Islam” to accomplish what radical Islam clearly is failing at.

Why are we debating on such uneven playing fields? If Muslims want to reeducate radicals in their midst, the argument should not be about laying out more space for moderate Islamists.

Both never differed on their rejection of secular civil society. Indeed, scholarship accumulated since 9/11 demonstrates that Islamist groups — the Taliban, Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, and so on, as well as the declared leadership of Muslim communities in Europe and America — are all spawned from the umbrella Muslim Brotherhood school of thought. Like it, moderate Islam’s single-minded pursuit has never been about blending.

The most prominent such group in America, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, CAIR, was first to leap to the defense of 700 Somali Muslim cab drivers who at the Minneapolis airport in 2007 launched a boycott of passengers with seeing-eye dogs (animals are dirty) or those carrying liquor (that’s sinful). CAIR again latched onto the seven imams taken off a commercial flight in 2006 after staging a flamboyant public prayer at an airport boarding area and requesting special seating arrangements on the flight in an obvious provocation of fear.

Across Europe too, the prime objective of “moderate” Muslim groups has been separateness in local and regional councils. Islamists have no time for the view that modernity as it stands today is the sum total of experimentations across centuries, past religious church tyranny all the way to the defeat of totalitarian Nazism and communism.

If anything, the cocktail of religion and government has only acted as an obstacle to modernization and freedom for the largely moderate 1.2 billion Muslims of the globe.

Saudi Arabia, tirelessly promoted as the “responsible model of moderate Islam,” is one disastrous example of how Sharia law has barred social evolution. King Faisal, its greatest reformer, was shot dead by his nephew over the introduction of television and female education. A subsequent four-week-long siege of the Holy Mosque of Mecca in 1979 by Juhayman al-Otaibi and 400 armed supporters, who were forerunners to al-Qaeda, was staged to demand the expulsion of four million non-Muslims expatriates — the men and women doing all the work of the kingdom, as natives hardly do any labor at all. Xenophobia was Osama bin Laden’s driving motive too in taking on the royals for allowing 500,000 Western soldiers to defend the country against Saddam.

As entertaining as the ongoing jihadists’ tribulations may be, the West has got to stay focused on the War on Terror, where a real triumph transcends such shenanigans.

Beyond protecting the home front, the objective is nothing less than what happened in Europe after World War II and the fall of the Soviet empire. Via a war of arms coupled with one of ideas, more than 400 million people transited out of totalitarian mentality to this side of civilized society.

Moderate Muslims here can enhance the process not by demanding free passes on polygamy, oppression of women, radical religiosity, and restrictions of personal freedoms, but by absorbing the values of where they landed.

For inspiration they need only glance at the tragic societies lingering in misery from Pakistan to Saudi Arabia. It is out there that “moderate Islam” scores its biggest failure by abandoning generations to turbaned demagogues who claim they possess the last word on holy wisdom.

Youssef M. Ibrahim, a freelance writer and risk consultant, is a former New York Times Mideast correspondent and Energy Editor of the Wall Street Journal. He can be reached at ymibrahim2004@yahoo.com.
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