What is ‘Islamic’ terrorism, I wonder? Islam is as closely related to terrorism as light is to darkness or life is to death or peace is to war. They do come into contact with each other, of course, but from directions diametrically opposed. They are found grappling with each other but never walking hand in hand happily together.
However, one cannot deny that on many occasions some Muslims are found involved in terrorist activities either on behalf of a group or on behalf of a country with a predominately Muslim population.
Are there not equally, other groups involved in terrorism and subversion throughout the world? Would it be fitting to label all brands of terrorism by using the same principle which gave birth to the term ‘Islamic terrorism’ creating a list of Sikh terrorism, Hindu terrorism, Christian terrorism, Jewish terrorism, atheist terrorism, Buddhist terrorism, Animist terrorism and pagan terrorism?
It is not easy to close one’s eyes to various brands of terrorism which unfortunately flourish all over the world; in fact, it is impossible for an observer not to be aware of the persecution, bloodshed and murder, often in the name of some purported ideal or noble cause. Terrorism is a global problem and needs to be studied in its larger perspective. Unless we understand the forces behind the violence, we shall not be able to understand why some Muslim groups and states are turning to terrorism to achieve certain objectives.
I am fully convinced that almost every form of communal violence witnessed in the world today, wherever that is and whatever cloak it wears, is essentially political in nature. Religion is not the exploiter; it is itself exploited by internal or external political interests.
For instance, we find terrorism generated by racism—but that, in the final analysis, is essentially political in nature. There are other small expressions of terrorism born out of rebellion and hatred against prevailing social systems and cultures. These are generally regarded as acts of madmen and anarchists. There is a special kind of terrorism which is related to the Mafia’s struggle for supremacy; this terrorism is directed by certain factions against other factions within the Mafia. Obviously, this terrorism is really a power struggle and therefore political.
When we examine so-called ‘Islamic terrorism’, we discover political forces working behind an Islamic facade. More often than not, the real manipulators and exploiters are not even Muslims themselves. Let us turn to some particular illustrations of terrorism in order to diagnose the underlying maladies. We shall begin with Iran and see how Khomeinism came to be born.
It is common knowledge that in the days of the Shah there was great prosperity. The highly ambitious industrial and economic development plans augered a bright future for the country. But can man live by bread alone? As far as Iranians under the despotic rule of the Shah were concerned, the answer was an emphatic ‘No’. They wanted to have a responsible share in the running of affairs in their own country. They could no longer just be satisfied with full stomachs. Their hunger for self-respect and dignity and their craving for freedom and liberation from a highly regimented system of oppression made them more and more restive and volatile. This situation was ripe for a violent and bloody revolution.
If the nature of this imminent revolution had not been essentially Islamic, it would have been a communist revolution and could have been even bloodier and more extreme. The turmoil which was to shake Iran from north to south and east to west was a natural and inevitable consequence of a long political oppression and negation of fundamental human rights and liberties, and also of subversion and exploitation by a great Western foreign power. Iran was aware of the fact that the despotic regime of the Shah was fully backed, supported and sanctioned by the government of the United States of America. The people’s hatred and urge for revenge did not stop at the toppling of the Shah’s regime and the destruction of all internal forces which in one way or another had been responsible for the maintenance of the monarchy.
The consciousness of American support had brought out in the Shah the very worst of his despotic tendencies. He had been held in awe to begin with, but gradually awe gave way to terror. The fear of revolt stiffened his attitude even more with the passage of time. Gradually a police state of the worst type came to be born in Iran. With the passage of time Iranians became aware that the police state was fully and unequivocally supported by the government of the USA. The Shah played the part of a mere puppet whose strings were tied to the subtle, manipulating fingers of USA. This, as has been mentioned above, led to a situation ripe for revolution motivated by a consuming fire of hatred.
The situation was capitalized upon by Ayatollah Khomeini. The ideology which he propounded to give color and complexion to his revolution was Shia Islam. But was it really a love of Shia Islam which generated hatred against the USA, or was the name of Islam a mere facade to hide the underlying motives? Had Khomeini not raised the banner of Islam, would there not have been a revolution in some other name? Is it not a fact that had Khomeini not exploited the situation and given it an Islamic color and complexion, the same situation of hatred could have been equally well exploited by a non-religious philosophy such as nationalism or scientific socialism?
Infact Khomeini outpaced forces which were coming fast at his heels and which, given time, might have overtaken him and all he stood for. That is why the situation in Iran became extremely complicated and confused. The basic urge of the revolution was not against communism or any leftist philosophy but was aimed at the Shah and his mentors. But because there was a real likelihood of leftist leadership taking over the reins of revolution from Khomeini, he had to fight on three fronts simultaneously. After toppling the Shah, he not only undertook to eradicate and exterminate all supporters of the former Shah, but also to root out American influence wherever it was suspected to be. That in itself could have lent support to the leftist ideology which, if permitted to flourish unchecked, might have succeeded in snatching the power from Khomeini’s hands and replacing the Islamic ideology with Marxism-Leninism.
Fortunately for Ayatollah Khomeini, he was shrewd and powerful enough to wield the double-edged sword of Islamic ideology not only against American rightism but as effectively against Russian leftism.
But when all is said and done, it is clear that, whatever else it was, it certainly was not Islam which guided and instructed the Iranian revolution. At best, you can, if you wish, call what happened and is happening in Iran Khomeinism. The real forces at work are not truly and essentially religious in character. Political powers have exploited the reaction of the Iranians against the Shah to achieve purely political ends.
There is a long history of a growing Iranian consciousness of its exploitation and enslavement by foreign powers of one type or another. Despite the fact that a very large majority of Iranians are Muslims, one cannot ignore the fact that Iranians have never been able to forget or forgive the conquest by Arabs of their homelands. Although the wounds appeared to have been healed long ago and many potent factors such as commonality of religion and common enmity against other countries have played an important role in cementing the Iranians to the Arabs, it cannot be denied that there is still an undercurrent of dissatisfaction at the Arab domination of Iran for the past few centuries. One must also bear in mind that in the pre-Islamic era, Iran could boast one of the most powerful and illustrious civilizations ever to have influenced mankind anywhere in the world. At the inception of Islam, the Arabs knew of only two worlds—that in the West, dominated by the Roman Empire, and that in the East, commanded and governed by the Chosroes of Iran. The memories of that remote and glorious past, though subdued to some extent by the strong influence of Islamic brotherhood, could not entirely be wiped out. There always has been along and lingering shadow of the great Iranian civilization in the hearts of Iranian intellectuals.
The long history of Iranian-Arab feuds and Iranian punitive excursions into Arabia also left ugly and irritating scars on the Arab minds which even the great healer, time, could not obliterate. This is only human. People throughout the world may sometimes find it difficult to dissociate themselves from the past or to forget injuries and insults to their honor. Such chapters of history are never permanently closed but are opened again and again.
Enough of Arab-Iranian feuds of the past. Let us now turn to more modern times It is not against the Arabs alone that the Iranians have been nursing their grievances. During the Second World War, the Iranians were subjected to a worse kind of domination by predominantly British forces. Whilst in the Arab case there had at least been the redeeming factor of a common cultural and religious bond, in the case of the British the chasm between the ruler and the ruled, rather than narrowing, grew wider. Nor could it be bridged by any social, cultural or religious similarities.
After the decline of British influence there followed an era of indirect control and subjugation of Third World countries by the major powers through stooges and puppet regimes. It was in this period of neoimperialism that the Iranian protégé was transferred from the British lap to the American lap. The Shah of Iran thus became a symbol of American imperialism which supported conflicting ideologies to its own as it does today, for example, in Poland, Nicaragua, Israel and South Africa.
The fuel of hatred which was ultimately sparked off by the Khomeinian revolution was not only a product of American oppression but had been accumulating for centuries, like the subterranean reserves of oil and gas. The important point to note is that this hatred was not essentially religious in origin. If Khomeini had not exploited the hatred in the name of Islam, some communist leader would certainly have exploited it in the name of social justice. Whatever religious or irreligious name was given to the revolution, the underlying forces and factors would remain the same.
I have pointed out many times to those who regard excesses committed by Khomeini against some of his own people, and acts of revenge perpetrated in other countries, as Islamic in character that Islam as a religion has nothing to do with the expression of Iranian dissatisfaction. In a manner of speaking, the West should treat Ayatollah Khomeini as their benefactor rather than as their enemy. I say this because I am quite positive that if Khomeini had not exploited the situation and given it an Islamic face in order to support and perpetuate a junta of Muslim ‘clergy’, the situation would most certainly have been exploited by Iranian leaders of leftist inclination. The same Iran which we see as green sprinkled with red today would have instead appeared to us entirely red. It would be naive to say that the communist leadership created and trained by Dr Mossadeq had been weakened and enfeebled to such a degree at the time of the Shah’s overthrow that it could not have played an effective and revolutionary role at this epoch-making juncture of Iranian history. In fact, the communist leadership was well supported and trained. It was entirely ready to seize an opportunity. But for Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran could well have ended up as a radical Marxist regime. Such an event would have had disastrous consequences for the oil-rich but militarily weak Middle East. So even Khomeinian Islam—however gory and loathsome it may appear to the West—could be seen as a blessing in disguise. The role of Ayatollah Khomeini should be seen in this perspective.
The Iraq-Iran war may not appear to be relevant to the subject under discussion but it does throw some light on the nature of explosive events in a part of the world of Islam. Both countries claim to be Muslim and purport to draw their inspiration for hating, destroying, and annihilating each other from the sacred name of Islam.
All the soldiers who died in the battle on the Iraqi side were applauded as great martyrs by the Iraqi media. All the Iranian soldiers who died at the hands of the Iraqis were condemned as infidels dispatched straight to hell by the Iraqi media. Exactly the same story was repeated in reverse day in and day out on the other side of the border in Iran. Whenever an Iraqi soldier was bayoneted to death the battlefield resounded with the cry of ‘Allaho Akbar’ (God is the greatest). On which side was Islam? One wonders! All this demonstrates the hollowness of these slogans. The only point which can be proved beyond a shadow of doubt is that the Iraqi and Iranian soldiers who laid down their lives for an apparently noble cause were duped by their leadership. Islam was neither here nor there.
The Holy Quran states:
Allah will surely defend those who believe, Allah loves not the perfidious and the ungrateful. Permission to fight is granted to those against whom war is made, because they have been wronged, and Allah indeed has the power to help them. They are those who have been driven out of their homes unjustly only because they affirmed: our Lord is Allah. If Allah did not repel the aggression of some people by means of others, cloisters and churches and synagogues and mosques, wherein the name of Allah is oft commemorated, would surely be destroyed. Allah will surely help him who helps His cause; Allah is indeed Powerful, Mighty. (22.39–41)
Whenever they kindle a fire to start a war, Allah puts it out. They strive to create disorder in the land and Allah loves not those who create disorder. (5.65)
If two parties of believers should fall out with each other and start fighting, make peace between them. If one of them should transgress against the other, fight the one that transgresses until it submits to the command of Allah. Then if it should so submit, make peace between them with equity, and act justly. All believers are brothers; so make peace between your brothers, and be mindful of your duty to Allah that you may be shown mercy. (49.10–11)
During the war, the above teachings were ignored by the warring nations. In Mecca during the times of the annual pilgrimages some attempts were made by Iran to deliver the message of Khomenian revolution to the rest of the Muslim world through the pilgrims who came there. Unfortunately, these attempts sometimes resulted in very ugly situations, to the extreme embarrassment of Muslims. For instance, what happened in Mecca during the 1987 pilgrimage and the extreme countermeasures taken by Saudi Arabia were much talked about in the Western media. The Holy Quran, however, teaches all Muslims: ‘But fight them not in the proximity of the Sacred Mosque unless they fight you therein, should they fight you even there, then fight them; such is the requital of disbelievers.’ (2.192)
One benefit which all the great powers (which have overtly or covertly been supporting Israel), chief among them being the USA, have drawn from Khomeini and Khomeinism is that Khomeini was left with no choice but to prolong the Iraq-Iran war. That diverted the attention of the Muslim world from a most irritating thorn in their side, Israel, towards a completely different issue. The consciousness of an external enemy threat gave way to a growing mistrust between one Muslim and another.
The Middle Eastern world was tom apart. The ‘fear’ of Israel was shelved as a minor and latent danger which could be attended to later. The fear of one section of Muslims for another was a far more pressing and demanding factor which put into oblivion real or imaginary fears about an external enemy. Of course, to dupe the simple common soldier, the slogan that Islam was in danger was often used on both sides. In reality, what was happening was the revival of historic rivalries and jealousies between the Arabs and the Iranian ajm (non-Arabs, aliens). It was not a question of Islamic versus non-Islamic forces or Shiaism versus Sunnism, but a simple and straightforward re-enactment of feuds surviving over thousands of years. That is why even those Arabs who had formerly been critical of Iraq and Saudi Arabia were inevitably led to taking the side of Iraq. It was simply a matter of Arab survival against the growing challenge and threat from Iran.
The Arabs indulged in prolonged inter-tribal feuds over petty matters before the advent of Islam. Islam put a stop to this. It joined Muslims into a brotherhood, free of rivalries and discrimination of any sort. But when Muslims ceased to live by the teachings of Islam, brothers became foes and tribal rivalries returned to the forefront. So what we observe in the world of Islam is not truly Islamic in character. It is another case of the revival of old feudalistic tendencies.
The great powers roundly condemned the war and repeatedly demanded a cessation of hostilities, but they were themselves responsible for a constant supply of arms to both Iraq and Iran. After all, warplanes, rockets, missiles, cannons, tanks, other artillery vehicles and destructive weapons which were freely used by both warring factions were not manufactured on their own soils. Overtly and covertly, Middle Eastern oil and Western weapons changed hands. The fire of war was fuelled, in the ultimate analysis, by the oil which was produced by Iraq and Iran and converted into weapons by Western and Eastern non-Muslim powers. As far as the West was concerned, this was not a bad bargain at all—Middle Eastern oil was bought in exchange for obsolete or relatively old weapons. What more advantageous bargain could be envisaged than this?
As we have seen, even the Israeli arch-enemy was totally forgotten. Muslims killed Muslims. The oil of the Muslim world was used to burn and destroy the economy of the Muslim world. The painstaking economic achievements of the previous decade were nullified. As far as progress and prosperity were concerned, instead of moving forwards both Iraq and Iran started to travel backwards in time.
Of course, all wars have devastating effects on economic development, material and human resources, cultural achievements and industry. But in the case of advanced countries, the war industry can be supported from their own resources or those of their allies. The demands and pressures of war and the struggle for survival do not simply drain their resources; it enriches their scientific knowledge and technical know-how to a remarkable degree in a short span of time. The knowledge and expertise gained during times of war can be employed immediately afterwards not just to rehabilitate the economy but to give it a tremendous boost. The destructive wars give rise to new constructive ideas and breakthroughs in scientific and industrial achievements. Therefore, though impoverished materially as a result of a prolonged war, they can be greatly enriched in order to build a better future.
Such, alas, is not the case in the scientifically and economically backward countries which indulge in the luxury of war. Their only choice is to sell whatever they have and even pawn their future by making arrangements with scientifically and industrially advanced countries to supply them with war materials. Without doing that, it would be impossible for any war in the Third World to be prolonged for such a long time and with such devastating effect, as happened in the Iraq-Iran war. The responsibility for whatever attrocities these countries commit against each other and occasionally against other countries must, to some extent, be shared by those who are responsible for the supply of arms and ammunition to them.
When all has been said and done, all debts settled, and the exchange of commodities taken into account, perhaps it would be pertinent to consider the question of who after all is the beneficiary of the hostilities?
We have seen that Islam is condemned as a barbaric religion which upholds terrorism, preaches hatred and intolerance and divides adherents into opposing camps of bloodthirsty foes. This is not surprising. There are fringe benefits to be obtained by those who design, plot, implement and provide the instruments of destruction to the most unfortunate warring factions of the Muslim umma.
Incidentally, the term ‘Islamic terrorism’ leads to another interesting term which has been coined by the Western media in the last decade: ‘Islamic nuclear bomb’. Pakistan is alleged to possess this. Of course, there has to be an Islamic nuclear bomb if there is any such thing as Islamic terrorism. Maybe some other terms applicable to various modes of war will become attached to the prefix ‘Islamic’. Why do we not hear of a Christian nuclear bomb, a Jewish nuclear bomb, a Hindu nuclear bomb, an Apartheid bomb or a Shinto bomb? It is strange that with the possibility of referring to thousands of other ‘religions’ bombs, the Western media has chosen only to pick upon, identify and censure the single Islamic bomb, whose very existence is doubtful.
As stated earlier, the real forces at work are not truly and essentially religious in character. Why single out ‘Islamic’ whenever terrorist forces are at work today in Muslim groups or countries? Those powers responsible for the prolongation of the Iraq-Iran war by ensuring a constant supply of arms cannot escape their responsibility for the immense waste of life and property and the indescribable human suffering that has resulted from it. Whatever their ulterior motives may have been, they will only help Khomemism to survive longer. Had the waning countries been left alone with their meager resources, Khomeinism might have started to decline.
Among other things, this war revived and strengthened a nationalist spirit which diverted the attention of the Iranians from internal problems towards the threat of an external enemy. It would be surprising had more disillusionment not arisen within Iran, possibly resulting in an open challenge to and even rebellion against Khomeinism. Within Iran, there is a very strong tendency towards assessing the values of the revolution and judging its pros and cons. Though a major part of the elite has been wiped out, the intellectuals who have survived are bound to reassess their losses and gains during the Khomeinian revolution. A move towards finding a new order for Iran could be imminent.
During the war, the need to keep up the morale of the common masses in Iran was amply met by the excitement of the conflict. When Iran runs out of morale, that will be the day of great uncertainty. Whether the present regime is replaced by leftist or rightist forces or by whatever is left of the middle-roaders, there will certainly be a great battle to gain supremacy and take over the government. Everything will go back into the melting-pot and nobody can say for certain what is in store for Iran. Allah knows best. I can only pray for the people of Iran that their difficult times may come to a peaceful and happy conclusion. They are a brave and gifted people indeed. They have suffered so much in the past and are still suffering, both at the hands of non-Iranian and Iranians—and, ironically, they have also acquired a bad name into the bargain. May Allah shower mercy upon them and deliver them from their great predicament.
Now we turn to another aspect of the Khomeinian revolution in Iran. Soon after coming to power, Ayatollah Khomeini planned not only to change the life-style of Iranian Muslims from overt or covert foreign domination, but he also committed himself to bring about similar revolutions in the neighboring Muslim states. He also made it known to the Muslim world that he would play a stronger role in helping the Palestinians and defeating the Zionist forces. Obviously, neither the other Muslim states nor the state of Israel were willing to receive couriers of the Iranian revolution with open arms, so the export could not be effected through legal and peaceful means. Iran has failed to deliver the revolutionary goods to neighboring Muslim countries. It has achieved a measure of success, without doubt, in the Palestinian—Israeli sector. As I have already explained, the terrorist activities carried out in this area, whether directed against Israel or against representatives of Western powers, take their license not from Islam but from the philosophy of the Iranian revolution alone.
The growing talk of militancy and the use of force which we hear needs to be carefully analyzed before we can understand the importance of this bizarre phenomenon. The narrow, non-tolerant attitude is certainly becoming more popular with the Muslim ‘clergy’ in almost all Muslim countries. The responsibility for this mainly lies on the shoulders of Saudi Arabia, which is attempting to capture the imagination of the whole Muslim world and seems resolved to spread its political influence under a religious guise. As it enjoys the unique advantage of being the custodian of the two holiest cities in Islam, Mecca and Medina, it is certainly in a position to exploit this situation to its best advantage.
The religious philosophy of the Saudis emanates from Wahabism, which draws its inspiration from the non-tolerant world of medieval Islam rather than from the more understanding and benign Islam of the time of the Holy Prophetsa. The spread of Saudi influence is aided by Saudi petro-dollars and the colossal size of Saudi bank balances in major banks throughout the world. It is to the credit of Saudi Arabia that part of the interest accruing from these colossal investments is being used to form channels of aid from Saudi Arabian coffers to the poorer Muslim nations with sizeable Muslim populations. More often than not, this aid is provided not to boost their ailing economies, but to build mosques, training schools and institutes producing scholars of a Saudi brand.
Hence, wherever you follow the flow of Saudi aid, you will also observe a rapid increase in the narrow, non-tolerant attitudes of Muslim ‘clergy’. No doubt, when the Christian world hears these voices roundly condemning all non-Islamic values and preaching jihad (that is, holy war), against non-Islamic governments, they are led to believe that the talk of this holy war will readily be translated into actual belligerency. What is happening is in fact completely different.
The Muslim ‘clergy’ talk loudly about holy wars and the utter destruction of non-Islamic forces. What they actually mean by no Islamic forces is not Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, or atheist forces. According to their view, all Muslim sects other than their own are either no Muslim in their character or hold to doctrines that render them liable to earn the wrath of Allah and His true servants. The real enemies of Islam, as they discern them, are not non-Muslims but some sects of Islam within the world of Islam. The awakening militant tendencies are much more directed by Muslims of one sect against Muslims of another sect than against non-Muslims. This is why so much stress is laid by them on capital Punishment for Apostasy. That is their weapon against Muslims who differ on some doctrinal issues from the majority sect of a country. These sects are, in fact, dealt the death blow in two steps—first, their doctrines are declared to be non-Islamic, which earns them the title of apostates; and second, the doctrine of death being the penalty for apostasy, they are considered liable to be executed.
A neutral observer will agree that this growing militant tendency is creating disorder among the Muslims themselves and that it is responsible for generating extreme hatred in the hearts of adherents of one sect against the adherents of another.
As far as the non-Muslim powers are concerned, they can feel completely safe and should rest assured that there is no danger whatsoever to them from the so-called militant tendencies of the Muslim world. To demonstrate this, one has only to consider the relationship of Saudi Arabia with the West, particularly the USA. It is inconceivable that Saudi Arabia or countries under her influence could even dream of raising the sword against the USA or her allies. The Saudi regime is 100 per cent dependent for survival on the USA. Almost the entire wealth of the ruling family is deposited with American and Western banks. On top of this, the dependence upon the West for internal and external security is so obvious that it need not be dwelt upon here. These two factors alone guarantee that neither Saudi Arabia nor any Muslim country under her influence can ever pose a threat to the non-Muslim West. Moreover, the very fact that none of the Muslim states is today self-reliant in its production of war materials, and has to depend either upon the West or East for all of its defensive or offensive requirements, provides more than enough of a guarantee for the safe and peaceful conduct of their relations with no Muslim powers. The same principle is applicable to countries like Libya and Syria, which enjoy more cordial relationships with Eastern powers than with Western ones.
No one who has even a remote understanding of modem warfare can imagine a real threat from so-called ‘Islamic’ militancy. Of course, there is danger in these growing tendencies and one is bound to be perturbed by them. The danger from ‘Islamic’ militancy is a threat to the world of Islam itself; it is an inward-looking threat which is destroying the peace of Muslims everywhere. All the intolerance, narrow-mindedness and bigotry which we observe in the Muslim world today is playing havoc with the peace of the Muslim world. Alas!
I am conscious of the fact that, strictly speaking, the word ‘terrorism’ applies to acts of terror, attempts to cause bomb explosions, and so on. But I do not believe that this is the only type of terrorism the world is suffering from. I believe that whenever repressive measures are taken by governments against their own countrymen to still the voice of disagreement, those measures too should be included within the term ‘terrorism’ and be as strongly and roundly condemned as any other form of terrorism. I consider all oppressive measures taken by governments against the left or right within their own countries as terrorism of the worst type. When acts of terrorism are directed against foreign governments and take the form of the use of explosives here and there, or the hijacking of planes, such events gain a great deal of attention. World opinion sympathizes with the victims of such callous terrorist acts, as indeed it should. Such sympathies are not merely voiced, but are generally followed by constructive means to prevent and pre-empt such attempts in the future.
However, what about those hundreds of thousands of people suffering under the stem and merciless hands of their own governments? Their cries of anguish are seldom heard outside. Their cries of protest are very often muffled by the application of strict measures of censorship. Even if philanthropic agencies like Amnesty International draw the attention of the world to such cruel acts of persecution, torture, and denial of human rights, such events are only mildly condemned, if at all, by world governments. More often than not, these are considered to be internal matters for the countries concerned. Instead of being described as acts of terrorism, they are widely mentioned as government efforts to suppress terrorism in these countries, and to establish peace, law and order.
I am quite convinced that in essence all restrictive and punitive measures taken by a government against its own people to suppress a popular movement or suspected opposition, more often than not, go beyond the limits of genuine legal measures and end up as brutal acts of violence designed to strike terror in the hearts of a dissatisfied section of their own people. Humanity has suffered far more through such acts of State terrorism than through all acts of sabotage or hijacking put together.
As far as Islam is concerned, it categorically rejects and condemns every form of terrorism. It does not provide any cover or justification for any act of violence, be it committed by an individual, a group or a government.
There are, of course, regions of restlessness in the Muslim world where groups, organizations, and sometimes even governments, seem to be committed to acts of terrorism, violence and sabotage. Palestine, Lebanon, Libya and Syria are often in the news. In a majority of cases, those concerned happen to be Muslim by faith, but there are exceptions. Amongst Palestinians, for instance, there are many who have pledged themselves to terrorism against Israel, but happen to be Christian by faith. For convenience or through lack of knowledge they are all dubbed by the Western media as Islamic terrorists. In Lebanon, there have been Muslim terrorists and Christian terrorists, and also Israeli agents and soldiers involved at one time or another in terrorist activities which appall human sensitivities. But you will not hear of Jewish or Christian terrorism in relation to what is happening in Lebanon. All acts of violence are put together and wrapped up in the package of ‘Islamic terrorism’.
As far as Salman Rushdie is concerned, no sane person with any real knowledge of the Holy Quran can agree with Imam Khomeini that his death sentence is based on any Islamic injunction. There is no such punishment for blasphemy in the Holy Quran or in the Traditions of the Holy Prophet of Islam. Blasphemy against God is mentioned in the Holy Quran in the following words: ‘And abuse not those whom they call upon besides Allah, lest they, out of spite abuse Allah in their ignorance.’ (Ch. 6:109)
No authorization has been granted to any man to inflict any punishment for blasphemy against God. Blasphemy was committed by Jews against Mary, the mother of Christas. It has been mentioned in the Holy Quran, where it says: ‘And for their disbelief and for their uttering against Mary a grievous calumny.’ (Ch.4:151)
Again no punishment other than by God Himself is prescribed. It is both tragic and deplorable that Imam Khomeini has thus inadvertently maligned Islam rather than defending it, and has caused immense damage to the image of Islam in the free world.
The Imam of the Grand Mosque of Azhar, in Cairo, has already discredited Imam Khomeini’s edict, and I am certain that there are also many Shia Muslims who would disagree with Imam Khomeini in this instance.
Despite all this, it would be unjust if one were to ignore the real issue. I feel it is unfair, as some politicians and scholars have done, to condemn Khomeini only rather than Salman Rushdie, who has produced a book whose extreme language is deliberately offensive to the many millions of Muslims throughout the world. Nor is this all. The book has helped to undermine peace between Muslims and Christians and, if one can judge from the comments in some letters to national newspapers, to have unleashed the forces of racial intolerance.
Let it be very clear that I do not justify terrorism of any kind whatsoever, whatever the color, religion, sentiment or objective the terrorist may claim to represent. Islam is my faith and religion; and Islam does not approve of disorder in any form. Islam is far from teaching terrorism.
What is the religion of the terrorism organized and supported by Col. Qaddafi’s oil-dollars, one may ask? What again is the religion of terrorist activities that Syria has been indulging in the past? Is it Islam? If so, what is the difference between this Islam and scientific socialism? Is it not a fact that the Green Book of Col. Qaddafi is only green in color of its binding? The contents of the book are red through and through.
If the terrorist activities of the Muslim ‘fundamentalists’ of Iran or Libya are to be dubbed as ‘Islamic terrorism’, the color of their Islam would appear to be dark green. How could the concept of Islam be diametrically opposed to itself and how could Islam be ‘green’ and ‘red’ at the same time, one wonders? If anything, Libya’s terrorism can only be seen as nationalist terrorism in disguise. Incidentally, it reminds one of Fidel Castro of Cuba. He marches far ahead of Col. Qaddafi in his taste for violence and terrorism. Yet one never hears his deeds described as Christian terrorism.
One thing leads to another: the discussion of terrorism conjures up before one’s vision various phases of history. Christianity has been purportedly involved in ugly acts of persecution and torture, and some Christian monarchs have indulged in brutal acts of violence and persecution under the misguided notion that they were serving the religion of Christ. During the years of the Black Death, 1348–9, were not many Jews burnt alive in their homes? In the age of the Spanish Inquisition, a long reign of terror prevailed under the guidance and direction of some Christian priests. Numerous helpless women at various times, were put to death because they were said to be witches and there was a distorted notion that this was the Christian way of dealing with witchcraft.
However much these acts were related directly to Christianity, the crimes against humanity were a product of a very dark age when ignorance ruled supreme. When will man begin to understand the difference between the conduct of a person and the teachings of his religion? If one confuses the two and tries to understand religion by studying the conduct of its adherents, many questions arise. The conduct of adherents of every religion varies from country to country, from sect to sect, from age to age, and from person to person.
How very different is the conduct of Jesus’ disciples from those in Pinochet’s Chile, or in South Africa, who claim to uphold Christian values. Which is to represent Christianity? Are we entitled to describe the First and Second World Wars, in which millions of people lost their lives,’ as Christian wars against humanity? In the Second World War, Russian losses alone are estimated to have exceeded 6.1 million. Three quarters of the entire population of Bosnia was wiped out. The loss of property and material are of such magnitude as to be almost impossible to assess (2). Will this enormity be described as Christianity in action or shall we take our understanding of Christianity from those early Christians who, having been struck on one cheek, turned the other cheek towards the striker, and those who were fed to beasts and burned alive in their homes rather than answer violence with violence? I would much rather choose the latter.
Any act of war in a Muslim country is perceived in the West as the extension of ‘Islamic terrorism’ but in any other country such an act is seen as a political dispute. Why must such dual standards of justice prevail in this day and age? One really begins to wonder if there is an undercurrent of hatred for Islam beneath the apparently calm surface of Christian civilization. Is it perhaps a hangover from centuries of Crusades against Muslim powers or is it the old wine of the orientalists’ venom against Islam served in new goblets? The idea that Islam was spread by the sword is highly questionable. The wars of Muslim governments should be judged according to the prevailing principles of politics and international relations and not on the basis of religion.
The expression of violence is symptomatic of the many diseases in society. The Muslim world today does not know which way to turn. People find themselves dissatisfied about many things over which they have no control whatsoever. They are dead meat for exploitation by their own corrupt leaders or agents and by stooges of foreign powers. Unfortunately, many leaders in Muslim countries themselves seek sanction from Islam for their acts of violence and oppression, as happened in the time of the late General Zia-ul-Haq of Pakistan. Bloody revolutions are totally alien to the philosophy of Islam and have no place in Islamic countries.
As a man of religion, and head of a spiritual community of followers who have faced a century of persecution, terror and cruelty, I most strongly condemn all acts and forms of terrorism because it is my deeply rooted belief that not only Islam but also no true religion, whatever its name, can sanction violence and the bloodshed of innocent men, women and children in the name of God.
is love, God is peace!
Love can never beget hatred,
and peace can never lead to war.
- In the First World War, the mobilised forces of the Allies
totalled 42.6 million and the Central Powers had 22.85 million. Total casualties
on both sides were 57.6 per cent. In the Second World War, the peak armed
strength was 72,581,566, out of which 16,829,758 were killed or missing (presumed
killed) and 26,698,339 were wounded. (Source: Arthur Guy Enock, This
War Business , London: Bodley Head, 1951, and US Department of Defense.)
The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has estimated that the First
World War cost $400,000,000,000, excluding civilian property damage and the
cost of loss of life. According to one estimate, the direct costs of the
Second World War for the participating nations were a staggering grand total
- William J. Roehrenbeck, Collins
Encyclopaedia , vol. 23, article headed ‘War Costs and Casualties’