Islam without illusions
Islam and the politics of power
Pakistan's Mein Kampf
Western view of Islamic Terror
Islam and America against the world?
ISLAM WITHOUT ILLUSIONS
Theory and practice explained
The Calcutta Quran Petition
Sita Ram Goel
New Delhi, Voice of India, 1999, 3rd edition
325 + xvi pages, Rs 150 (PB)
Reviewed by Dr. N.S.
The average educated person today, anywhere in the world, is likely to be both confused and frightened by Islam. On the one hand, it is supposed to be a religion of peace that preaches equality and justice for all, while on the other, it is hardly possible to escape the sight of the most unspeakable acts of violence being committed by individuals and groups in its name. To make the situation more confusing, there is no shortage of 'experts' - Eastern and Western - who tell us that Islamic terror is an aberration that has nothing to do with the 'true' Islam. It is fair to say that a majority of the people in the world has swallowed this explanation while remaining ambivalent about Muslims and their behavior. In the book under review, Sita Ram Goel, one of the world's most incisive students of Islam, blows away this confusion by giving an unwarnished, scholarly yet highly readable account of the theory and practice of Islam. By a detailed analysis of its scripture and history, he explodes the charade that Islamic terror can somehow be separated from its teachings. In the process, the prolific and erudite Mr. Goel has probably written his masterpiece.
To return to the confused state of knowledge about Islam, there has long been a need - more urgent today than ever before - for a work that can explain the theory and practice of Islam for the average reader. This void is now effectively filled by the book under review - 'The Calcutta Quran Petition' by Sita Ram Goel. His pluralistic Hindu background gives him a distinct advantage over his Western counterparts, who, despite their best efforts, cannot entirely break free of the shackles of their exclusivist Judeo-Christian heritage that springs from the same soil as Islam. Goel on the other hand looks at Islam as a complete outsider, disregarding its pious claims. If there is one book on Islam that a concerned person should read, it is his 'The Calcutta Quran Petition'.
The book could with equal justice be titled 'Islam for Nonbelievers: Its scripture, history and practice'. The reason for the unusual title is historical. On 29 March 1985, one Chandmal Chopra filed a writ petition in the Calcutta High Court seeking a ban on the Quran under Sections 153A and 295A of the Indian Penal Code because it "incites violence, disturbs public tranquility, promotes, on the ground of religion, feelings of enmity, hatred and ill-will between different religious communities, and insults other religions or religious beliefs of other religious communities of India." The Calcutta High Court disallowed the petition, but the issues raised by it remain relevant, especially now when the need to understand the causes of terror in the name of Islam is greater than ever. More significantly for the present discussion, it led Sita Ram Goel to write the volume under review. The sordid details of the case in question would probably be of little interest to the average reader today though they shed much light on the ignoble conduct of the Governments of India and West Bengal in the face of real or perceived Muslim threats. Out of a total of 345 pages, the author devotes no less than 230 pages to a general discussion of Islam that has little directly to do with the Calcutta Petition. These pages, covering Chapters 2 through 10, constitute for all practical purposes an independent manual on Islam, beginning with the message of the Quran. This is what is reviewed here.
The first point about the Quran is that it does not stand alone. The Suras (verses) of the Quran were created in specific situations arising out of specific military, political and sometimes personal needs. They invariably reflect the convenience of the Prophet who found it expedient to invoke Allah as authority to have his own way with his people. Seeing this, his favorite wife A'sha once observed, "I find that Allah is prompt to proclaim commandments in accordance with your desire." This means that the context in which a Sura was created is all-important. Taking Quranic passages out of context can lead to outlandish interpretations like Sir Abdullah Suhrawardy's Sayings of Muhammad, which Mahatma Gandhi hailed in his Foreword as among the "treasures of mankind."
The all-important context for interpreting the Suras of the Quran is provided by the Hadis. They may be described as the record of the activities of the Prophet. They are so detailed, that it is possible to obtain a more or less complete picture of the private and public life of the Prophet. It may fairly be said that the Hadis rather than Quran form the basis for Islam, for without them the Quran becomes virtually incoherent. As Goel makes clear (Chapter 3) there is practically no difference between Allah and the Prophet; Allah does at the Prophet's bidding. This made the great Maharshi Dayananda Saraswati observe, "Allah is the Prophet's domestic servant." As Goel explains, this makes the Quran (the 'Word of Allah') and the Hadis ('Acts of Muhammad') interchangeable.
In other words, the Hadis describe the Quran in action, meaning the acts of the Prophet. These in turn became the model of behavior to be emulated, for every true Muslim from the highest to the lowest. As Goel observes: "It is this fixed and frozen image of the Prophet which is meant when a Muslim proclaims his Din (fundamental faith). In fact the Prophet produced a 'revelation' (33.21) presenting himself as the perfect model for those who look forward (with hope) for the Day of Judgement. For a pious Muslim, human life is best lived when it conforms to Muhammad's conduct even in minor matters such as defecating... , cutting one's beard to a specific size and so on. Islam leaves no room at all for individual initiative or judgment...
In case of doubt, a pious Muslim must go to a mufti (juriconsultant) and obtain a fatwa [ruling] about how the Prophet would have conducted himself in a situation which, according to all sources, the Prophet is not known to have faced." Needless to say, this is not a climate conducive to progress.
This has a sinister side with far-reaching implications. Since the later part of the Prophet's career is full of war and bloodshed in the name of Allah, religious war or Jihad is seen as the highest goal of Islam. What the world is faced today - from Kashmir to Kosovo - is Jihad or religious war to bring the whole world under the sway of Islam. This reality cannot be wished away as is done by liberal academics in East and West, by giving an abstract interpretation of Jihad. As Walter Laquer, an American expert on terrorism observed, "Many interpreters of jihad in the Muslim world, and an equal number in the West, have explained that jihad has a double meaning: it stands for jihad bi al saif (holy war by means of the sword) and also for jihad al nafs (literally, struggle for one's soul against one's own base instinct). Both interpretations are true, but Islamic militants have rejected the spiritual explanation as dangerous heresy. ...The Taliban in Afghanistan and many militants are not impressed by the speeches and writings of more moderate exegetists about the 'poverty of fanaticism' and the 'spiritual mission of Islam,' and this fact is what matters..."
The fact of the matter is that influential Muslim leaders see the violent version of Jihad as the only valid one. Jihad to them is "the most glorious word in the vocabulary of Islam," and by this they don't mean striving for inner perfection. Goel explains this vital fact with clarity and thoroughness with profuse illustrations from the history and scripture of Islam. As he points out, the Quran studied alongside the Hadis is a nothing but a manual on Jihad - or religious war. Just as the Prophet became the model for Muslim behavior, his blood soaked career became the model for a succession of Muslim leaders down to the present.
While the Hadis are indispensable for understanding Islam, they present a bewildering mass of detail to the uninitiated. In Chapter 4 ('The Prophet Sets the Pattern'), the author takes the reader through the Prophet's career by presenting a systematic picture of the historical background and the key events. He describes also two interesting episodes that are not widely known: the Prophet's invitation, in a time of distress, to the Christian Abyssinians to invade Mecca, claiming that his teachings were no different from theirs; and the famous 'Satanic verses' inspired by the need to regain the support of the Meccans. In Chapter 5 ('The Orthodox Exposition of Jihad'), the author produces evidence from primary sources to demolish the claim of modern apologists that Jihad has - or ever had - a spiritual meaning. This 'spiritual' interpretation is exhumed only when they feel insecure - as in India today, or when faced with powerful opponents like the United States - to be buried again when conditions turn favorable.
Chapter 6 ('Jihad in India's History') may be read as a practical demonstration of Islam in action. It is to be hoped that every policymaker in India as well as the West will read this capsule account of the 'bloodiest story in history' - as Will Durant called it - and learn its lessons. Indians in particular must face this historical truth and not seek escape in fantasies written by soothsayers calling themselves historians. This chapter should be made required reading for students in India, if mistakes of the past are not to be repeated.
In some ways the most interesting as well original section is Chapter 10 ('A Close Look at Allah of the Quran'). In this, Goel compares Allah of Prophet Muhammad with the Mongol sky god Tengiri who inspired Chengiz Khan on his world conquest. He shows how from the Jaxartes (Syr Darya) in Central Asia to the Nile, the soldiers of Allah were no match for Tengiri's Mongols. Baghdad along with its Caliph were reduced to dust literally under the hooves of the horses of Chengiz's grandson Huelgu Khan and his 'Devil's Horsemen'. This fact though is rarely found in history books in use in India. (Tengiri had a redeeming feature though - he was tolerant of all religions.)
In summary, Sita Ram Goel has produced a manual on Islam that is a 'must read' for everyone concerned about the threat posed by Islamic terror in our time. After reading The Calcutta Quran Petition, one can appreciate what Maharshi Dayananda Saraswati meant, when he said upon reading the Quran, "I cannot tell the difference between its God and its Devil."
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ISLAM AND THE POLITICS OF POWER
Islam viewed as a utopian political ideology rather than religion
In the Path of God
by Daniel Pipes
Voice of India, 2/18 Ansari
Road, New Delhi 110 002
Daniel Pipes is one of the West's most perceptive scholars of Islam. Like his Indian counterparts Sita Ram Goel and Ram Swarup, he sees Islam, or rather, what he calls Islamism without illusions. In his words: "I have adopted a tough line against Islamism, which I see as a successor of fascism and Marxism-Leninism in terms of of its being another radical utopian ideology. Further I argue that Islamism is inherently incompatible with liberal values and there is no such thing as a moderate Islamist. Islamism is best understood not as a religion but as a political ideology; Islamist professions democratic intent are false; Muslims are the main victims of Islam; the main battle is not between Islamists and the West but between Islamists and moderate Muslims; and governments and other leading institutions need to fight this phenomenon, not compromise with it."
All this is unexceptionable, but in countries like India with a significant Muslim minority, one runs into a major difficulty: it is not unknown for a 'moderate' Muslim to suddenly change his stand and take the side of the Islamist (Muslim Fundamentalist) in response to cries of "Islam is in danger!" Pipes correctly points out that Islam gives rise to a weak sense of loyalty to the state, because of its promise a utopian world in return for unquestioned loyalty to the abstract idea of the umma, which makes is easy to break loyalties to human families. "... he lacked allegiance to the political unit;..." This comes to the surface in times of dissatisfaction, when Muslims tend to look across the border to find the promised utopia. The grass on the other side is always greener, especially when Muslims are a minority as in India.
This tenacious hold of religion is something that the West has failed to understand. When Muslims behave in a way that cannot be explained in rational terms—at least as understood in the West—they look for economic or social reasons. As the author points out: "The mere fact of adherence to Islam has profound political consequences. If one-quarter of India's people had not converted to Islam, the subcontinent would not have been split as it was; further, the millions of Muslims who abandoned their homes in India to move to Pakistan neither expected nor received material benefits." The benefit was the act itself— of abandoning the unholy Dar-ul-Harb in which they born to lead their lives in the pure Dar-ul-Islam. These are "impractical acts which cannot be ascribed to economic self-interest." They same can be said of the Taliban and the terror in Kashmir. The worst victims are the Muslims themselves, but that has not made them question, much less abandon Islam as the Russians did Communism. Critical examination lies outside the pale of Islam.
From all this it is clear that secularism or the separation of the state from religion is abhorrent to Islam, for the ulema is a virtual superstate. (This though it has not stopped Muslim and Leftist intellectuals in India from appealing to 'secularism' to safeguard special privileges to Muslims like government subsidies for Haj pilgrimages.) He correctly observes that secularization of the state was primarily an anti-Christian movement of Europe that has no counterpart in other parts of the world. This leads the author to an interesting observation-- of secularization as a transient process that acquired worldwide status as a consequence of Western domination, first through colonization and now technological superiority. This could well be reversed and eventually sweep secularism from its present pedestal even in the West. "An historian of the non-Western world can hardly fail to see Western secularism as a sub-facet of specifically Christian history; indeed, of specifically Western Christian history."
The key to understanding the behavior of Muslims is the position of the Shariat, the Sacred Law. The author observes: "Sacred law is the key to Islam in politics, the critical instrument by which Islam affects the mundane lives of its adherents." As a result, regardless of nationality, a cry in the name of Islam almost always touches a responsive chord. Further, the Sacred Law that binds Muslims takes precedence over the law of the land, whichever country the faithful may be living in. The author's message to the secular West to recognize this reality in dealing with Islam. Hindus a thousand years ago mistook this political ideology in religious garb for a true spiritual movement; the West today is repeating this mistake by trying to interpret Islam in material terms to defeat the menace that it represents. Because the threat is to the material well being of the West, it is implicitly assumed that there exists a material solution to the problem.
In understanding Muslim behavior, especially of the ulema, it helps to recognize that the "Quran may be seen as the constitution of Islam and the Sharia as the corpus of laws that explicate it." While the rest of the world may see this as part of politics and government, open to debate and compromise, the believing Muslim sees it as the inviolable Word of God conveyed through the medium of the Prophet.
The author is illuminating on the topic is jihad, which is widely misinterpreted as Holy War. The author gives the correct perspective as: "Jihad is less a holy war than a 'righteous war,' fighting carried out in accordance with [the laws of] the Shari'a." The idea is to extend the power of Islam. At the same time, it should be noted that not all jihadis follow the finer points of the Sharia. To the Taliban, for example, as also terrorists in Kashmir, Jihad is nothing but the means for extending their power through terror. (See The Quranic Concept of War reviewed below) "Jihad, Muslims believe, should continue until they take control of the entire planet and all mankind becomes subject to Islam's law."
On the subject of jihad, the author is not altogether convincing when he argues: "In no case may the vanquished be compelled to embrace Islam; as the Qu'ran puts it, "There is no compulsion in religion (2.256). Conversion to Islam is not the purpose of righteous war, but only its sweet by-product." In practice, this is a distinction without a difference; often the choice is 'Islam or death,' which is not much of a choice. Also, many commentators have pointed out that taken in the right context, "No compulsion in religion," means that Islam should be willingly accepted failing which of course other means may be adopted. Even to those not converted, the Islamic state imposes humiliating conditions as dhimmis (or zimmis). "In court, dhimmis resemble slaves and Muslim women; the testimony of each of counts about half of that of a free Muslim."
The most important factor in Muslim behavior is a persistent atavistic tendency to see the world in simplistic terms as made up of Dar-ul-Harb and Dar-ul-Islam. No amount of reason nor centuries of historical experience appears to have made much of a dent on it. It comes to the fore especially in times of stress, when Muslims attribute the same tendency to the rest of humanity. Its comprehension seems to be beyond the scope of the secular West. The author has made a valuable contribution by highlighting these problems, especially to the Western readers. This nicely complements Sita Ram Goel's The Calcutta Quran Petition, which covers some of the same ground from a different perspective.
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PAKISTAN'S MEIN KAMPF
Pakistan's program of Jihad as explained in its official manifesto of terror.
The Quranic Concept of War
Brigadier S.K. Malik
with a Foreword by General Zia-ul-Haq
Kargil is on the way to becoming a symbol of our time. The war fought there was not just for the protection of the Line of Control or even Kashmir, but for the preservation of civilization against the onslaught of barbarian hordes who want to plunge the world into a Dark Age in the name of religion. This new barbarism is Talibanism. Its instrument is terror. It is as simple as that. Let there be no mistake about it: the battle in Kargil is only the beginning, not an end. An Indian victory there will only be a temporary reprieve, not a permanent solution. For civilization to survive, Talibanism must be destroyed root and branch, not just handed a local defeat. Just driving them beyond the LOC as India is doing, or attack a few bases in Afghanistan as the US did, can at best be temporary measures. They do not get to the root of the problem. The problem is not territorial aggression but expansion through terror, which recognizes no geographical or political boundaries.
Before the world decides to take on the Taliban terror, it must understand what is driving it. Fortunately, we have a lucid manual on Talibanism written by one of its own. It is called The Quranic Concept of War. Its author is one S.K. Malik, a brigadier in the Pakistani Army. His patron was none other than General Zia-ul-Haq, who may truly be called the Father of Talibanism. He wrote a laudatory Foreword to his protégé’s book. Pakistan is the legitimate face of Talibainism. There is virtually no difference between the two. The Quranic Concept of War is essentially a manifesto of religious terror — the Taliban’s (and Pakistan’s) version of Hitler’s Mein Kampf.
According to this manifesto, the impoverished state of Pakistan sees itself as a theocratic imperial power driven by a mission to end oppression and bring its version of justice to the people of the world. To achieve this, it prescribes an ideology that is intended to turn Pakistan into an Islamic military machine drawing its inspiration from the Quran and early Islamic history. This was President Zia’s program, continued by his successors. It has reached such a point that there is now no difference between Talibanism and Pakistan: Talibanism is to Pakistan what Nazism was to Hitler’s Germany.
General Zia commends the book to "both soldier and civilian alike." According to him, "JIHAD FI-SABILILLAH is not the exclusive domain of the professional soldier, nor is it restricted to the application of military force alone. The book brings out with simplicity, clarity and precision the Quranic philosophy on the application of the military force, within the context of the totality that is JEHAD." In other words, all the resources of the state must be subordinate to the Islamic military machine in pursuit of its cause. A careful study of the book reveals how closely Pakistan has been following the guidelines laid down by it, both military and diplomatic, down to the use of terrorism as an instrument of policy. Its present policy of sponsoring terrorist groups and activities comes as no surprise.
The source of this ideology is the Quran, and the doctrine of total war that Brigadier Malik sees in his study of the military campaigns of the Prophet. "More than mere military campaigns and battles, the Holy Prophet’s operations against the Pagans [pre-Islamic Arabs] are an integral and inseparable part of the divine message revealed to us in the Holy Quran. … The war he planned and carried out was total to the infinite degree. It was waged on all fronts: internal and external, political and diplomatic, spiritual and psychological, economic and military." Here is Pakistan’s grand strategy: to duplicate in India the Prophet’s successes against the Pagan Arabs in his time by adopting similar tactics.
This doctrine of total war is what Pakistan has been trying to put into practice in India through the ISI and its infiltrators — and now the army. As a result, the Pakistani armed forces are no longer a professional military, but a religious army. It was General Zia who presided over this transformation. This was part of his program of ‘Talibanization’.
The instrument of this is Jehad — "the most glorious word in the vocabulary of Islam" — which both the author and President Zia describe as total war. "Jehad is a continuous and never-ending struggle waged on all fronts." Another point that Brigadier Malik makes is that the war should be carried out in the opponent’s territory. "The aggressor was always met and destroyed in his own territory," he tells us. It is puzzling that he should call this a ‘defensive war’, until one recognizes the Orwellian sense in which it is used to mean aggression. And what is the goal of this aggression — or of ‘defense’ as the book calls it? Here the author leaves no room for doubt.
"The central theme behind the causes of war as spelt out by the Holy Quran, was the cause of Allah… In the pursuit of this cause, the Muslims were first permitted to fight but were later commanded to fight the Way of God as a matter of religious obligation and duty." As a result, those who resist it are the aggressors, and it becomes necessary to fight a defensive war to overcome them in their own territory!
But this doctrine does not stop here; it goes on to encompass the whole world: "It was the cause of humanity in general and not just the Muslim community in particular," informs Brigadier Malik. It is a universal doctrine, to be applied to all of us, and not just the believers. So India is only a stepping stone in taking its campaign of ‘justice and freedom from oppression’ to the whole world.
The principal tactical tool to be used in achieving this divinely ordained mission is terror. "The Quranic military strategy thus enjoins us to prepare ourselves for war to the utmost in order to strike terror into the heart of the enemy, known or hidden, while guarding ourselves from being terror-stricken by the enemy." It is not hard to see that Pakistan has put this terror doctrine into practice in its proxy war in Kashmir, as it did in Punjab earlier and in Afghanistan recently. Its recent atrocity of returning the mutilated bodies of captured soldiers is part of the same strategy — of striking terror in the heart of the enemy.
But the terror doctrine does not stop here, for Brigadier Malik tells us: "Terror struck into the hearts of the enemy is not only a means, it is the end in itself. Once a condition of terror into the opponent’s heart is obtained, hardly anything is left to be achieved… Terror is not a means of imposing decision upon the enemy; it is the decision we wish to impose upon him." That is to say, the enemy is to live in a state of perpetual terror. This is necessary in order to bring ‘justice and freedom from oppression’.
Just as aggression is carried out in the name of defense, in the field of diplomacy also treaties and agreements are broken in the name of observance. Brigadier Malik begins with the solemn assertion that treaty obligations must be respected, but can be broken under certain circumstances. Under which circumstances? When one suspects possible treachery on the part of the other party; suspicion will do, no evidence is needed. In other words, a treaty may be broken at will. So the Lahore Declaration with Prime Minister Vajpayee, and the later Washington Accord with President Clinton can be broken under this doctrine — as indeed they have been.
In this context, it is helpful to look at the ideas put forward Professor Samuel Huntington in his well-known book Clash of Civilizations. His main contribution is the thesis that future struggles will be between civilizations, and not necessarily between political and national entities as in the past. He divides the world into several civilizations of which three are of particular interest: Western (secular-humanistic), Hindu and Islamic. And he sees the expansion of Islam, with its accompanying violence as a major threat to freedom in the world. He speaks candidly of "Islam's bloody frontiers".
It is unlikely that there will ever be an ideological struggle between the West and India — the former rooted in secular humanism, the latter in spiritualism. Both value freedom and tolerate pluralism. The real conflict is and will be between freedom and terror — between civilization and barbarism. And the epitome of barbarism in our time is Talibanism — now in control of Afghanistan, Pakistan and the part of Kashmir under its illegal occupation — trying to extend its reach into the Indian part of Kashmir. Once it achieves its goal of Talibanizing all of Kashmir, it will try to spread into India and Central Asia. Its ideology makes it see the whole world as its domain.
This places the LOC also in its true perspective. It is no longer the cease-fire line agreed to by two sovereign states but the Line of Containment, which one side is trying desperately to breach to spread its doctrine of terror, and the other trying to turn it back. In order to defeat the goal of terrorists, it is clear that the LOC must not be an artificial line in the snow as it is today, but an easily defensible border. On this rests the security not just of India, but the world, of civilization itself. The ‘Clash of Civilizations’ that Professor Huntington wrote about has taken a somewhat different turn: it is now a struggle for civilization, with India trying to push back the forces of barbarism intent on spreading terror in the name of God. Like it or not, the whole world and not just India, now has a major stake in defeating the forces of terror masquerading as religion.
In conclusion, though distinguished more by dogmatism than scholarship, The Quranic Concept of War is valuable as giving a unique insight into the behavior of Talibanized minds — past, present, and possibly future. Understanding this is the first campaign in the war against the spread of barbarism spearheaded by Pakistani terrorists. India today has become the frontline state in the struggle for civilization. Terror and freedom cannot co-exist. As Abraham Lincoln once said (quoting the Bible): "A house divided against itself cannot stand. … It will become all of one thing, or all of the other."
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In a famous speech much derided by intellectuals at the time, the then president Ronald Reagan referred to the Communist Empire dominated by the former Soviet Union as the 'Evil Empire'. It is now history, but it cannot be said that the world is any more secure today than it was when Mr. Reagan uttered those famous words. With wider availability of nuclear materials even the risk of nuclear war is probably greater today than it was ten years ago. There are now more states coveting nuclear weapons with some even willing to risk their use. More fundamentally there is an underlying expansionist ideology that is widely misinterpreted as a religious reaction. It is more diffuse than Communism or Nazism, and for that reason perhaps more difficult to contain. We know it as Islamic Fundamentalism; though its goals and methods are entirely political in nature, it is invariably confused with religion. As the world begins to feel its heat, it is imperative to understand its true nature.
In places as far apart as Argentina, New York, Mumbai and the Philippines, but concentrated in a belt from North Africa to Bangladesh one can clearly see this ideology in action. From the bombing of the New York World Trade Center to the assassination of foreigners in Algeria and kidnappings by Moro rebels in the Philippines, what we are witnessing are nothing but political actions against governments in the name of religion. With the ‘Talibanization’ of Pakistan, there is now a band of terrorism in the name of religion stretching from Kashmir in India, running through the Caucasus (Chechnya and Dagestan) to Kosovo in Southern Europe, less than a hundred miles from Trieste on the Italian border. There are of course pockets of Islamic terrorists in Moscow, Germany, France, Britain and the United States. And following the action of Australian troops against the Islamic (Indonesian) militias in East Timor, Australia can also expect to feel the heat before long. (This has partly come true. New Zealand police recently uncovered a plot to blow up a nuclear plant during the Sydney Olympics.)
Within the next ten years, if not sooner, the free world can expect this problem to assume critical proportions. The main battleground is likely to be India and its neighborhood, but countries in Europe and America, especially the United States — the Great Satan in the eyes of fundamentalists — cannot expect to remain free of the threat. London is fast becoming a nerve center for fundamentalists and it can also expect to see escalating violence. Gaining a clear understanding of the true nature of this ideology and its threat should be of paramount concern to the free world.
Despite its worldwide presence, the true nature of Islamic Fundamentalism is poorly understood. To begin with, it is a serious error to treat this as the defensive reaction of disaffected religious groups who see westernizing ways as a movement away from the pristine purity of their faith. Nothing could be further from the truth; it is in reality an aggressive political movement whose one goal is to take control of the apparatus of the state and establish totalitarian regimes at every opportunity. Viewed in this light there is not much difference between Lenin's coup against the Kerensky government in Russia of 1917 and Khomeini's in Iran of 1979. In both cases the ruler had already abdicated and in both cases the result was the same: a totalitarian regime controlled by parties loyal to the dictator —apparatchicks in the Soviet Union and the clergy in Iran. It will be the same wherever the fundamentalists succeed.
Until recently, most Western analysts were inclined to regard Islamic Fundamentalism as an aberration — a departure from the ‘true’ teachings of Islam, which they held was a religion of peace and brotherhood. To a large extent this is still true of academics in the West. Unlike some Indian scholars who sought explanation for it in the scripture of Islam itself, Western analysts tried to explain it in political and economic terms in keeping with their own secular-humanistic orientation. It is a welcome sign that some Western scholars are also beginning to comprehend the nature of Islamic terror founded on the concept of Jihad. But they have not yet begun to appreciate the fact that Islamic Fundamentalism is an expansionist, even imperialist doctrine guided by Jihad.
One of the more useful Western works to recognize the true nature of Islam as a political ideology masquerading as religion is The New Terrorism: Fanaticism and the Arms of Mass Destruction by Walter Laquer (Oxford, New York). He is only of America's leading experts on terrorism. To be sure his book is about terrorism and its ways, not just Islamic terrorism, but the present review is mainly about his views on Islam. For all his knowledge and experience, Laquer does not seem to recognize that Islam is ultimately an imperialist ideology. At the same time, he writes about the true nature of Islamic terror without mincing words:
"The current resurgence of religious terrorism is largely identified with trends in the Muslim and the Arab world, much to the chagrin of the defenders of Islam and Islamists in the West and East. According to them, the revival of fundamentalist religion is a worldwide phenomenon, which is quite true… They [Islamists] claim that Islam is a highly moral religion, espousing love rather than hate, and is pluralist and democratic in inspiration. Because of this energetic defense, it has become almost taboo to discuss terrorism in the Islamic context." (Emphasis added.)
Indian scholars will recognize the problem — especially the part relating to the taboo on discussing terrorism in the context of Islam. It is a measure of the still remaining illusions about Islam in the West that when this book first appeared, a reviewer in the Washington Post called it full of hyperbole about Islamic terror. As for the claim that Islam is ‘pluralist and democratic’, it is so far removed from the scripture and practice of Islam as to be laughable. As Laquer goes on to observe: "But those emphasizing the essentially peaceful character of radical Islam find it difficult to account for the fact that in the contemporary world most of the violent conflicts, internal and external, happened and continue to happen in Muslim countries or in those with active Muslim minorities. …According to a survey by Freedom House, the leading American institute devoted to the study of human rights worldwide, forty-five of fifty-one states in the contemporary world defined as "unfree" are wholly or in part Muslim."
He is unsparing when it comes to Jihad: "Many interpreters of jihad in the Muslim world, and an equal number in the West, have explained that jihad has a double meaning: it stands for jihad bi al saif (holy war by means of the sword) and also for jihad al nafs (literally, struggle for one’s soul against one’s own base instinct). Both interpretations are true, but Islamic militants have rejected the spiritual explanation as dangerous heresy. …The Taliban in Afghanistan and many militants are not impressed by the speeches and writings of more moderate exegetists about the ‘poverty of fanaticism’ and the ‘spiritual mission of Islam,’ and this fact is what matters in the present discussion [about terrorism]."
He has a valid point: what threatens the world is the violent, fanatical manifestation practiced by terrorists, not its spiritual aspect that its apologists extol. Although Laquer devotes insufficient attention to India and Pakistan, failing to recognize the key role of Pakistan in the spread of worldwide terror, it is to his credit that he sees that the battle over Ayodhya is more nationalistic than religious. He also recognizes that Islam is the most aggressive of religions today. As he observes, "the missionary, aggressive element in radical Islam is stronger than that in other religions, even though many Muslims, and particularly many Arabs, perceive of themselves as victims rather than aggressors."
This is a perceptive observation — that Muslims (and not just Arabs) see themselves as victims of previous- or possible future aggression. This allows them to justify their own aggressive acts as defensive measures. Many radical Muslims fear that non-Muslims will treat them in the same manner as they have always treated non-Muslims. This fear is particularly acute in India where historical memories are tenacious, and where several centuries Islamic rule failed to eliminate Hinduism despite intense persecution. This fear can be highlighted with an example from Indian history.
It was the fear of Hindu backlash that led Nawab Viqar-ul-Mulk, Mushtaq Hussain to the founding of the Muslim League. The Nawab’s apprehension was that if the British left, "then the rule of India would pass into the hands of that community which is nearly four times as large as ourselves … Then, our life, our property, our honor, and our faith will all be in great danger. … woe betide the time when we become the subjects of our neighbors, and answer to them for the sins, real or imaginary of Aurangazeb, … and other Mussalman conquerors and rulers who went before him." The fear embodied in this extraordinary statement is still the ghost that haunts the psyche of Indian Muslims.
At the heart of the problem is the binary view of the world, which Islam fosters among the faithful. The result is an absence of a spirit of give and take — or ‘live and let live’ attitude — without which life is impossible in a pluralistic world. As Laquer observes: "Endorsements for nearly anything can be found in the holy writs of major religions and the Koran is no exception. In Sura 2, verse 256, it says there should be no religious compulsion, but adherence to this rule is a rare exception in Islam." It should also be noted that read in the context this Sura implies that one has no business continuing in the old path after the true light of Islam has been shown.
To return to Laquer, he writes: "On the whole, violence is sanctified in Islam if it is carried out against infidels or heretics ‘in the path of Allah.’ On the philosophic religious level, there is no room for nonbelievers in the Islamic system, even if minorities are temporarily tolerated. The faithful live, at least in theory, in a permanent state of war with the non-Islamic world, and this will change only if and when the nonbelievers have accepted the one true faith."
The key phrase here is ‘the path of Allah’; one who stands in the way of the ‘true path’ ordained by Allah, that is, one who refuses to accept Islam, becomes automatically an ‘aggressor’. It becomes then necessary to fight a ‘defensive’ war against him. This justifies terrorist acts against innocent people as defensive measures. Mr. Laquer goes on to observe "pacifism is still no virtue in Muslim eyes. In brief, the Islamic fundamentalist attitude towards violence is that the final aim justifies the means." The final aim is of course to make the whole world Islamic.
It is interesting to contrast this recent book by Walter Laquer with the views of Indian thinkers like Sita Ram Goel and Ram Swarup. Surrounded by countries with active fundamentalist movements, from Iran to Bangladesh, Indian political thinkers and philosophers have out of sheer necessity made a close study of the phenomenon and its effects on societies. They also have access to the primary sources, and are therefore less dependent on modern translations; the latter are often the work of apologists who tend to rationalize violent behavior as aberrations of a misguided few. One of the most incisive thinkers on the ideology of Islamic Fundamentalism was the late Ram Swarup (1920 – 98). And he has highlighted something that few others seem to have noted: Islam has been an imperialist political movement whose ideology derives no less from the Hadis than the Koran. He has given a remarkably lucid analysis of this expansionist ideology in an important book he wrote on the subject, Understanding Islam Through Hadits. Fundamentalist forces in India succeeded in getting the book banned by putting pressure on a weak government. However his book is available in the United States.
The Hadis are not entirely unknown in the West. But unfortunately, Western students have tended to be somewhat gullible, swallowing facile explanations by apologists that conceal the true meaning and motives of fundamentalist forces — a tendency, which the Belgian scholar Koenraad Elst calls 'Negationism'. Ram Swarup avoids this trap; his book is a remarkably clear-sighted and original analysis of the politics of Fundamentalism and its relationship to the Hadis. And it is for this reason that Indian fundamentalists clamored for its ban, not because of any inaccuracy. His book has blown their cover.
Unlike the Koran, which is regarded as a divine revelation in the form of utterances by Prophet Muhammad, the Hadis consist of the traditions and practices of the Prophet and his companions said to be recorded in the generations immediately following his death and codified into a sacred canon some two centuries later. Whereas the Koran consists of the teachings of the Prophet, the Hadis are seen as the Koran in action — its implementation in practice. Theologians make no distinction between the two. Mr. Swarup has observed that few, even among scholars, recognize the true meaning and significance of the Hadis. It is not uncommon to see some Western authors claiming to find pacifism in sources that advocate religious war against infidels! (This has been fully debunked by Mr. Laquer in passage quoted earlier.)
Some modern scholars hold the traditions recorded in the Hadis to be spurious — as the work of later authorities interested in legitimizing their own actions to facilitate their rule. This may or may not be true but the end result is the same. To the orthodox, the Hadis carry the same authority as the Koran and few will be found to dispute them on theological grounds; if anything the Hadis are more important. A cleric demanding the death of Tasleema Nasrin can cite as authority the following episode from the Hadis: the Prophet himself ordered the death of the poetess Asma bint Marwan for satirizing his claims. The Hadis record that she was done to death while sleeping by one Omayr bin Adi. As a result, any argument trying to suggest that the demand on Ms. Nasrin's life may lack Koranic sanction carries no weight with a fundamentalist.
Despite its aggressive intentions, followers of this ideology always assume an aggrieved posture, posing as victims with cries of 'Islam in danger', a point made also by Laquer in his book. Nowhere was this clearer than during the Tasleema Nasrin episode in Bangladesh. We were continually being told that the clerics were acting in defense of Islam against the threat posed by the writings of a relatively unknown author. What this self appointed religious police was demanding was the 'religious right' to suppress the rights of others. The truth is that the clergy sensed an opportunity to threaten the government and strengthen their theocratic hold. The fact that Islam faces no danger in Bangladesh where the Muslims form an overwhelming majority is of little account to the mullahs as long as they are not in complete control of the state.
Even in countries where Muslims are a minority — as in India and Great Britain — fundamentalists have not been shy of making extra-legal political demands in the name of religious freedom. They have sought to establish institutions like an Islamic Parliament in Britain and Islamic Law Courts in India — institutions that are essentially above the law. In the United States also, there was at least one instance of an Arab family trying to get their underage daughter married against state law. In reality these demands are entirely political in nature having the goal of establishing a theocratic state within the state beyond the pale of the law of the land. Death threats against Ms. Nasrin and Mr. Rushdie are examples of the actions of such institutions and their contempt for secular law.
It is also a mistake to see the worldwide fundamentalist movement as being aimed at bringing justice to the dispossessed in the Middle East simply because of attacks on Jewish organizations in places like London and Buenos Aires. No such explanation can account for the behavior of mullahs in Bangladesh, Pakistan (where a twelve-year old Christian boy was tried for blasphemy) or of the Moro rebels in the Philippines. Fundamentalist groups are always governments in waiting, looking for an opening to seize control of the state. In this regard they are not very different from Communist insurrection movements before the fall of the Soviet Empire. Seeing this as having anything to do with religion serves only to confuse the scene, working to the advantage of the fundamentalists. (The recent coup in Pakistan seems to have had covert fundamentalist backing. It will not be long before they are in control.)
Another factor contributing to the current confusion over Fundamentalism is its practice of concealing real intentions by resorting to misleading rhetoric. In justifying political actions, fundamentalists exhibit a capacity to give completely new and sinister meanings to old and familiar terms — a tactic employed by Lenin also. An example of such Orwellian language can be found in the arguments advanced by some Indian fundamentalists while defending Bangladeshi clerics' demand on Ms. Nasrin's life. Mr. Syed Shahabuddin, then a member of the Indian parliament, and the country's leading spokesman for fundamentalist causes, justified their demand in the name of 'secularism'. According to him: "... it is wrong to depict the orthodox reaction to Taslima's blasphemy as anti-secular. ... You may call it a battle between orthodoxy and liberalism, between obscurantism and progressivism, but not between secularism and communalism." By his definition secularism means theocracy. In a way that he probably did not intend, Mr. Shababuddin is quite right. He has done us a favor by putting the fundamentalist position clearly in focus: it is entirely a secular political movement by a self-appointed thought police. The rest of the world should also begin to look at it the same way and not keep confusing it with religion. What the world now faces with is a battle as old as mankind: between freedom and totalitarianism. It is all the more dangerous because it is being presented as defense of religion.
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the important new book under review here, Alexandre del Valle offers an
interesting new insight. Following the Cold War, there is a strategic
re-alignment between the West and Islam. The United States has joined hands with
the oil-rich countries of Middle East, while abandoning Europe to face the wrath
of militant Islam rooted mainly in the poorer Islamic nations. This is manifest
in the terrorist belt from Chechenya (in Russia) to Kosovo in Europe. In his
preface, General Pierre-Marie Gallois observes that during the Cold War, the
West mobilized several Islamic countries on the periphery of the ‘Evil
Empire’ (Soviet Union) in a strategic encirclement. According to both General
Gallois and the author Alexandre del Valles, this strategy is now turned against
Europe and poses a threat to Western civilization itself. This raises a
fundamental question. What is the purpose of NATO in defending Europe when it is
prepared to arm Muslim forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo, both in southern
Europe? Is this is part of post Cold War US strategy, of allowing Islamic
terrorists to be active in Europe to ensure the safety of its oil interests in Saudi Arabia.
idea of America keeping terrorists at bay while safeguarding its vital interests
is not altogether new. I had myself suggested more than a year ago that
America’s appeal to India to exercise ‘restraint’ in Kargil was motivated
by similar considerations. It wants Islamic terrorists to be engaged in Kashmir,
Chechenya, Kosovo — or anywhere else — but not in the Middle East. America’s
nightmare is a Kashmir or Chechenya type situation developing in Saudi Arabia. So
its wants ‘safety valves’ like Kashmir somewhere else, more of which later.
del Valle’s view though is Eurocentric. It fails to see that Kashmir is an
analogy to the situation that could well develop in southern Europe in the next
decade. This is all the more surprising since he talks of an ‘Indo-Pakistan
paradigm’ in Kosovo; but that focuses on the emergence of a significant Muslim
minority leading to the partition of former Yugoslavia. A valuable insight
indeed! The book’s understanding of Islam also is an advance over that of most
previous Western works, with a few notable exceptions like Daniel Pipes and
Koenraad Elst. For example, General Gallois quotes La
Declaration islamique (‘The Islamic Declaration’) of Aliza Iztbegovic of
Bosnia-Herzegovina as saying (my translation): “It is without doubt impossible
to have any understanding between Islam and non-Islamic systems. And there
cannot be any coexistence between the Islamic religion and non-Islamic political
and social institutions.” This is nothing new to Indian scholars beginning
with Sita Ram Goel and Ram Swarup. Del Valle in fact seems to have drawn on the
work of Indian scholars though only Harsh Narain is mentioned by name.
book is in two parts. The first part titled L’Islamimse
ou le retour de l’islam is devoted to an analysis of the ideology of Islam
and its consequences. It is a useful summary, particularly for its highlighting
of Islam’s implacable hostility towards non-believers and other belief systems.
While the treatment is decidedly an advance over what much of what has appeared
on Islam in the West, it falls well short of the depth of analysis found in the
work of some Indian scholars. For example, Sita Ram Goel’s The
Calcutta Quran Petition (Voice of India, New Delhi) leaves it far behind in
both depth and thoroughness of historical analysis. The author does however make
a telling observation: the division of Islam into the ‘moderate’ Sunni and
the fanatical ‘chiisme’ (Shia) is a creation of the Western media that has
no basis in fact.
author then gives a lucid and uncompromising exposition of Jihad as “l’imperatif d’islamisation du monde par le force”— an
imperative to Islamize the world by force. He then defines “Du paradigme indo-pakistanois” (the Indo-Pakistan paridigm),
seeing Kosovo as its manifestation in Europe. Except for his insight on Kosovo
and also Bosnia-Herzegovina, all this is familiar stuff to Indian students of
really valuable portion is the second part titled L’Alliance
Americano-Islamiste contre l’Europe (The American-Islamic Alliance Against
Europe). The author exhibits the common European prejudice against America,
especially acute among Frenchmen, of seeing the United States as less a nation
than a collection of special interests. According to him (my translation):
“America is certainly not a nation like others. Founded by groups of marginal
faiths (religions), defaulters, undesirables of Europe in search of profit only,
and also by fanatical priests of obscurantist puritanism (as seen in the Salem
Witch Trials) — all these combined in the same enterprise of exterminating the
Amerindians — making the United States an aborginal mutant civilization.”
According to del Valle this has made Americans schizophrenic and ambivalent,
making them self righteous moralists like fanatical priests while simultaneously
being totally unscrupulous like the cowboys. This makes them impose the
‘American Way’ on the world. It might be pointed out that this simplistic
caricature is like the
pot calling the kettle black, for Europeans have not exactly been restrained in
exploiting the natives of Africa, Asia and even the Americas. The horrific
Tutsi-Hutu conflicts in Africa that has killed millions of innocents is a direct
consequence of the artificial racial divide created by French missionaries and
colonial officials. But leaving aside such diatribes, which are best ignored,
the book does offer some important geopolitical insights.
American view of course is that the culture of conspicuous consumption heralded
by globalization will eventually tame Islam. This in fact is the basis of a much
discussed book Jihad versus McWorld by the American author Benjamin Barber. This
does not seem to be working. Although worldwide media access has greatly
increased in the past decade, this has not led to any lowering of the intensity
of Jihad. If anything the opposite is happening. The problem with most Western
analysts is that they apply secular-humanistic norms to a system that is
founded on faith and fanaticism. What is needed is spiritual insight into
understanding what makes normal human beings behave the way religious fanatics
do. This appears to be beyond the scope of Western scholarship as it now stands.
second part of the book is devoted to the current geopolitical scene, as viewed from Europe. As del Valle and General Gallois see it, in the post Cold War era,
American foreign policy has two main goals. Maintaining its position as the
world’s only superpower, and, more importantly, controlling the energy
resources of the world, 75 percent of which is currently situated in countries
with Islamic governments. The US is prepared to pay any price, including
sacrificing its European allies, to assure itself of uninterrupted flow of
Mideast oil. This has made the US quietly acquiesce to to the activities of
Islamic terrorists from Kashmir to Kosovo. According to this view, the highest,
and in fact the only goal of US foreign policy is to keep Islamic terror away
from its vital interests in the Middle East. As a result, US installations in
the region have become also America’s Achilles Heel, with Pakistani madrasas
(Islamic seminaries) turning out half a million Jihadis
a year unfit for anything except religious war. (Some recent estimates place
it as high as three million.) Keeping them engaged in
Kashmir stops them from heading west— or at least so America hopes.
Cold War, the US used Islamic countries — Pakistan and Afghanistan in particular — in its
proxy war against the atheistic Soviet Union. This has now come back to haunt
the region. There are indications that Pakistan is being seen in a similar light
as Afghanistan, as threatening vital US interests. Unofficial reports suggest
that during his recent visit to Pakistan, President Clinton demanded that
General Musharraf should return all Stinger missiles— said to be anywhere from
600 to a thousand, now in the hands of the mujahadeen. They were gifted to
Pakistan by the US during the ISI run war in Afghanistan. These shoulder carried
missiles are of limited effectiveness in the mountainous terrain of Kashmir, but
can be deadly in the flat deserts of the Middle East, if the terrorists were to
make their way to that vital region. So while the US talks of proliferation, its
real concern is the threat that the fundamentalist soldiers pose to its vital
was more evidence of this during the recently held arms control meetings between
the US and China in Beijing. China told the US that it would keep open its
option of arming Pakistan if the US extended its missile defense umbrella to
Taiwan. China also assured India that its policy was not directed against India.
(This of course should not be readily accepted.) More to the point, why should
the US be concerned if China arms Pakistan? And why should China use this as
leverage against the US? The US, after all, has no vital interests in India or
Kashmir. But both the US and China know that Pakistan can unleash its mujahadeen
against the Middle East. It is the stated goal of the warlord Osama bin Laden to
overthrow the Saudi regime, which he regards as an American puppet. So
Pakistan is a dagger that China holds against the US and its Achilles Heel—
Saudi Arabia. (As to the question whether the Pakistani terrorists can make
their way to the Middle East, the answer is provided by their presence in
Chechenya and Kosovo. Let us also not forget that there are lakhs of Pakistanis
already in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.)
does all this leave India? According to this scenario, it is very much in the
American interest to have a large number of Islamic terrorists engaged by the
Indian army in Kashmir. Once they are driven out by vigorous action, they may
make their way to the Middle East, possibly led by Osama bin Laden and others
like him. (Bin Laden is probably just a visible icon, there are a hundred others
like him. The real issue is the ideology of Jihad and Pakistan as a Jihad
state.) This is the reason that the US has been appealing to India to
‘exercise restraint’ by not pursuing the mujahdeens beyond the Line of
Control. The strategically sensible thing to do is for India to move the cease
fire line to the Indus river in the north, which offers a much better defense
against infiltration. But Indian leaders seem to be so concerned about pleasing
others — as Nehru was in when he agreed to the cease fire in 1948 — that
they are willing to accept a strategically disadvantageous position. They are
paying for it with the lives of Indian soldiers and civilians.
So the US strategy in India seems to be clear: keep
India happy by paying lip service, but at the same time ensure that Pakistan is
not eliminated as a threat altogether. This also explains why the US recently
floated a story claiming that Pakistan was ahead of India in nuclear weapons and
missiles. This is part of the US plan to
prevent India from taking vigorous action. It fits into the overall strategy
of keeping India engaged with the maximum number of terrorists in its own
territory. This means that the US will never stop supporting Pakistan, at least
to the extent it can be active in Kashmir. In all this — by trying to pin down
Islamic terrorists in a belt from Kashmir to Kosovo — the US is exercising a
classic military doctrine known as ‘exchanging space for time’. By this the
US hopes to gain time to protect its interests in the Middle East. Del Valle and
General Gallois have seen the consequences for Europe. Indians should do the
the final part of the book, the author shows his concern for the future by
seeing the the Islamic-American alliance as a combination of hedonism and
fanaticism that poses a threat to Europe. As he sees it, a purely
‘materialistic and hedonistic’ civilization cannot long survive for it sows
the seeds of its own destruction and fragmentation. It needs something
non-material as a binding force. According to the author, it is here that Islam
can fill the spiritual vacuum in the Occident (due to the collapse of
Christianity) and facilitate American imperialism. But he correctly observes
that the weakness is internal, with an ‘invasion’ of Islam from within and a
failure of vision resulting in a spiritual vacuum. He sees it as a choice for
Europeans between “Islamization and return to the ‘spiritual values’ of
their ancestors.” It is not clear though what exactly he means by it—
whether a return to Christianity or the spiritual vision of pre-Christian Greeks and
other pagan ancestors.
The book is more important for what it has to say about the pervading sense of gloom that many Europeans have about their future than any solutions it has to offer. While the analysis often suffers by arguing from the extreme position, it must be recorded that I have met no European who does not share its sense of being abandoned by Americans at a critical juncture in history. As far as Americans are concerned, it will probably only reinforce their view of Europeans as a decadent race. This would be unfortunate. Del Valle and General Gallois have many insights that all of us — not just Europeans — could learn from. But one thing is clear: the threat of Islam is likely to be the major concern for the present and the near future. And no one — not even America — will be able to ‘finesse’ it by playing one group against another. A time of reckoning will come, if it is not already here.
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