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The Bigotry of Jihad
By: John Perazzo
Wednesday, October 02, 2002


Properly understood, jihad means war, dispossession, slavery and death.


Members of the political Left pride themselves on their ability to recognize and condemn instances of bigotry in the United States. They stand — admirably — ever-prepared to expose that bigotry to the light of day, whether via the mass media or public rallies in the streets. Thus when a white-perpetrated hate crime occurs — such as when three white racists dragged James Byrd of Texas to his death in 1998 — the story may well become national news. And so it should.

Yet few liberals recognize the bigotry that flows in the other direction, frequently manifesting itself in the form of minority-on-white violent crime. While such incidents are statistically far more commonplace than are white-on-minority attacks, racial motives are rarely ascribed to the former. In short, liberals tend to consider bigotry a one-way street, and subscribe to the doctrine that minorities cannot possibly be racists since they purportedly "have no power" in society. As the National Urban League's Whitney Young once asserted, black people's "anti-white feelings" cannot be equated with white bigotry, because that would be "to equate the bitterness of the victim with the evil that oppresses him."

The same type of selective vision, or blindness to bigotry, exists regarding vital social and political issues on the other side of the planet as well. Liberals in academia and the media largely refuse to acknowledge the prejudice that animates anti-Israeli and anti-American sentiment in much of the Arab world today. Rather than identify it as raw, unadulterated bigotry, they posit all sorts of rational "explanations" for Muslim antipathy toward other groups. With regard to anti-Semitism in particular, these pundits trace it to such causes as Israel's "occupation" of Palestinian lands, the Palestinian refugee problem, and flawed Israeli (and American) policies. The common thread woven through each of these explanations is the notion that Muslim hatred is largely a self-defensive reaction to external injustices; that it is at least rational, if not pleasant. Rarely is it suggested that Islamic extremists might just be plain, old-fashioned bigots — not unlike the white American bigots who killed James Byrd four years ago.

Yet if the truth be told, the anti-Jewish feelings permeating tens of millions of hearts in the Muslim world flow from a deep wellspring of religious intolerance. These feelings can be neither wished away, nor negotiated away, nor appeased away. Were Israel to withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza tomorrow, Jews would be despised no less than they are now. Were Israel to voluntarily condense itself into a tiny, cramped ghetto, militant Islamists would feel no less a desire to see every last Jew driven into the sea. Were Israel to unilaterally dismantle its military, Jews would nonetheless be considered interlopers in the vast land that Muhammad said "belongs to Allah and his Messenger." Simply put, Jews are hated for what they are, not what they do. Such has been the case through centuries of discrimination, persecution, and wholesale slaughters of Jews in the Muslim world — long predating Israel's birth.

The fourteenth-century Muslim jurist Ibn Taymiyya asserted that because it is "illegitimate" for infidels to possess land, a permanent state of war is justified to assure that all land is returned to the adherents of the true religion, who have Divine Right on their side. Because it aims to restore supremacy to the rightful party, this unending battle, or jihad, is deemed holy. Thus any acts of war within non-Islamic territory — even barbaric crimes against civilians — are regarded as just and legitimate.

Founded in hatred, jihad is the animating principle behind Islamic terrorist attacks against Israel and the US alike. By any honest measure, it is an ugly concept, which of course presents a problem both for its apologists and for cultural relativists. Thus we see scholars and preachers — Western and Middle Eastern alike — spinning myriad benign "explanations" of jihad's supposed virtues. For example, a Harvard Islamic Society (HIS) faculty advisor benignly defines true jihad as the desire "to do good in society." In a similar vein, HIS president Zayed Yasin recently delivered a commencement address during which he told his audience of 32,000 that "jihad is not something that should make someone feel uncomfortable." And a Harvard history professor characterizes jihad as "a struggle without arms."

But this is intellectual dishonesty of the highest order. As the great scholar Bat Ye'or explains, for non-Muslims through history jihad has quite clearly meant "war, dispossession, . . . slavery and death." In short, there was, and still is, a great deal to fear. "The fate of Jews in Arabia," Ye'or adds, " . . . foreshadowed that of all the peoples subsequently conquered by the Arabs. The primary guiding principle was to summon the non-Muslims to convert or accept Muslim supremacy, and, if faced with refusal, to attack them until they submitted to Muslim domination. . . . The jihad developed into a war of conquest whose chief aim was the conversion of infidels. Truces were allowed, but never a lasting peace."

Given the foregoing definition, it is clear why Islamists refuse to accept Israel's right to exist, and why they hate America for aiding Israel. It is equally clear why Yasser Arafat's Arabic speeches are essentially calls to war, exhorting his followers to form an endless parade of martyrs for the struggle to "liberate Palestine." And it is also clear why all official Palestinian Authority maps of "liberated Palestine" are in fact maps of the entire state of Israel. The vile philosophy of jihad refuses to yield a single square inch of soil to the infidels.

"The jihad," writes Ye'or, "is a global conception that divides the peoples of the world into two irreconcilable camps. . . . [It] is the normal and permanent state of war between the Muslims and the [infidels], a war that can only end with the final domination over unbelievers and the absolute supremacy of Islam throughout the world." This is not a philosophy that can be won over by reason or by gestures of goodwill. Frenzied hatred is not assuaged by acts of appeasement; it is only emboldened.

Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen writes, "The Arab world is the last bastion of unbridled, unashamed, unhidden, and unbelievable anti-Semitism. Hitlerian myths get published in the popular press as incontrovertible truths. . . . How the Arab world will ever come to terms with Israel when Israelis are portrayed as the devil incarnate is hard to figure out."

It is just as difficult to figure out how America — a lightning rod for the same Islamist contempt — can ever "win the hearts and minds" of those committed to its destruction. But perhaps a good starting point would be to unapologetically call radical Muslim bigotry exactly what it is. We might then consider stopping our pained, self-critical quest to discover "why they hate us." Was James Byrd to blame for the racist hatred of the men who murdered him? Hardly. The same applies here.

Muslim extremists hate us because we are not like them. Period. This by no means implicates all Muslims; Middle East Forum director Daniel Pipes estimates that militant Islamists constitute perhaps 10 to 15 percent of Muslims worldwide. But a minority of that size is no small group; it is comprised of tens of millions of people clambering for an opportunity to strike a deadly blow against "infidels" like us. Such unpleasant truths cannot be given a cheerful spin. If we minimize the brutality of concepts like jihad, we are less likely to recognize the sordid fanaticism of its "holy warriors," unduly apt to blame ourselves for their fanaticism, and unlikely to be prepared to defend against it.


John Perazzo is the Managing Editor of DiscoverTheNetworks and is the author of The Myths That Divide Us: How Lies Have Poisoned American Race Relations. For more information on his book, click here. E-mail him at WorldStudiesBooks@gmail.com