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The Centrality of Jihad in Islam By: Lawrence Auster
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, August 20, 2004


All thoughts of pacifying Islam by assimilating it into the global democratic system must fall down before a simple, terrible fact: Jihad—holy war against all non-Muslims—does not represent a mere excess or defect of Islam, but its timeless core. According to Muslim scholar Bassam Tibi (quoted recently at FrontPage Magazine), "Muslims are religiously obliged to disseminate the Islamic faith throughout the world.... If non-Muslims submit to conversion or subjugation, this call can be pursued peacefully. If they do not, Muslims are obliged to wage war against them." World peace, according to Islamic teaching, "is reached only with the conversion or submission of all mankind to Islam."

 

Moreover, continues Tibi, when Muslims disseminate Islam through violent means, that is not war (harb), as that word only describes the use of force by non-Muslims. Islamic wars are acts of "opening" the world to Islam. "[T]hose who resist Islam cause wars and are responsible for them."

 

In other words, simply by the act of existing, the entire non-Islamic world is equated with war. That is why Muslims call it the Dar al-Harb, the Realm of War. Yet when Muslims wage jihad, they are doing it to bring about the peace of universal Islam. So whatever Muslims do, is by definition peace, and whatever infidels do, is by definition war. This explains, by the way, why "moderate" Muslims almost never admit that Muslim terrorists are terrorists. It is because jihad itself is not war, but a way of pursuing peace. By such manipulations of language and such massive double standards, Islam reveals itself as a closed system that precludes any critical thought about itself, as well as any fair and honest dealings with non-Muslims.

Unsustainable excuses for jihad

Though acknowledging the deadly and totalitarian nature of jihad, some observers insist that the Islamic world isn't naturally or inevitably jihadist. They say the jihadist impulse is merely situational, an understandable response to external provocation. This generous view of Islam is reflected in contemporary Western reference works that define jihad as the use of military force in defense of Islam, rather than, as is the actual case, the use of military force to expand Islamic-controlled territory.

The same non-judgmental attitude is seen in the notion that jihadism, after a long period of dormancy, has been reawakened in recent decades by outside threats and irritants, namely the U.S. support for Israel, the U.S. presence in the Persian Gulf states, and American cultural imperialism. In reality, intrusion by a Western power into a Muslim land has never been needed to set off a jihad. Jihadists in the 19th and early 20th centuries repeatedly engaged in horrendous violence, and not just against colonial occupiers.

In the 1860s a Muslim cleric in the Punjab launched murderous jihad against Sikhs and then against all non-Muslim groups. In the 1820s and '30s the Padri Islamists in West Sumatra waged war against less pure Muslims whom they accused of paganism. In South India in 1921, jihadists carried out massacres, the forcible conversion of Hindus and the desecration of Hindu temples. And today, of course, Islamists are attacking non-Muslims along a vast arc extending from Nigeria to Indonesia. Far from having fallen into permanent remission, jihad remains an ever present threat—it is the default mode of Muslims whenever they find themselves in close and sustained proximity with non-Muslims.

It is clear that a state of powerlessness lasting centuries has failed to remove the jihadist imperative from the souls of Muslims. As the Muslim scholar C. Snouck Hurgronje wrote in 1916, "Even if they admit the improbability [of world conquest] at present, they are comforted and encouraged by the recollection of the lengthy period of humiliation that the Prophet himself had to suffer before Allah bestowed victory upon his arms."

The reference is to the first stage of Muhammed's career, when he was living in Mecca among non-Muslims who were hostile to his message. Since Muhammed underwent a long period of relative weakness, Muslims, treating the Prophet's life as a model for their own, can with equanimity accept the same. They can hang out for ages, confident that sooner or later will come the hejira, the paradigmatic escape to Medina, whence they will be empowered to start waging jihad in earnest.

To summarize our discussion so far: (1) The command to wage jihad is laid on all Muslims. (2) Jihad must be carried out until the whole world has been brought under the power of the Islamic state. (3) Even when Muslims lack the present ability to wage jihad, the hope of jihad remains alive in their hearts, enabling them to wait for generations for a new chance to spread the faith. And finally, (4) jihad is not a recent revival of the late 20th century but has periodically erupted during long ages of apparent Muslim quiescence.

Despite these considerations, many Americans will find it hard to believe that the Islamic community is ineluctably bound to wage holy war against us. They don't want to think that Islam is so fearsome and implacable that no civilized relationship—let alone a relationship of liberal inclusion and multicultural equality—is possible with it. They figure that if a religion commands a certain behavior, such as jihad, that doesn't necessarily mean that most members of that religion will actually practice that behavior.

So, in much the same way that the Clinton administration saw terrorist attacks as individual crimes rather than as acts of war, many Americans will prefer to picture jihad as a matter of occasional violent outbreaks here and there, rather than as part of a sustained war against all non-Muslim societies. They argue further that if we end our supposed provocation of Muslims (by withdrawing all our forces from Iraq, say, or ending our friendship with Israel) the current jihadist fever will die down.

One of the problems with this hopeful view is that jihad is not just some secondary doctrine of faith, which Muslims can take or leave, which they can affirm formally but ignore in practice. It is the very core of the Muslim identity, embraced not only by Muslim religious leaders, but by every Islamic government in the world.

At a meeting in Cairo in 1990, representatives of all 54 Muslim countries signed the Declaration of Human Rights in Islam, a Muslim-style answer to the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As Andrew Bostom describes it:

the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam included the triumphal announcement that the Shari'a has primacy over the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and included the specific proclamation that God has made the umma (Islamic community) the best nation, whose role is to "guide" humanity. This statement captures the indelible influence of the uniquely Islamic institutions of jihad and dhimmitude on the Shari'a, rendering sacred and permanent the notion of inequality between the community of Allah, and the infidels.

Can the document be as bad as Bostom claims? Let's go to the text (all emphases in the following quotes have been added).

The Cairo Declaration begins by asserting the moral and civilizational supremacy of Islam: "The Member States of the Organization of the Islamic Conference ... [r]eaffirming the civilizing and historical role of the Islamic Ummah which God made the best nation that has given mankind a universal and well-balanced civilization ... and the role that this Ummah should play to guide ... humanity ..."

The Cairo Declaration, in pursuing its aim of finessing the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights, states principles that are common to all civilization, but then qualifies each of those principles in terms of the Shari'ah, the strict law that governs Islamic societies. Thus it affirms "[man's] freedom and right to a dignified life in accordance with the Islamic Shari'ah." It says the laws of Islam are "binding divine commandments ... and that no one as a matter of principle has the right to suspend them in whole or in part or violate or ignore [them] ..." Further, the Declaration says that "it is prohibited to take away life except for a Shari'ah prescribed reason." It says Shari'ah must rule supreme in matters of criminal law as well: "There shall be no crime or punishment except as provided for in the Shari'ah."

Freedom of speech is allowed, but—once again—there's a catch: "Everyone shall have the right to express his opinion freely in such manner as would not be contrary to the principles of the Shari'ah." The only values that can be spoken or advocated are those of Islam: "Everyone shall have the right to advocate what is right, and propagate what is good, and warn against what is wrong and evil according to the norms of Islamic Shari'ah." Nothing critical can be said about Islam: "Information is a vital necessity to Society. It may not be exploited or misused in such a way as may violate sanctities and the dignity of Prophets, undermine moral and ethical values or disintegrate, corrupt or harm Society or weaken its faith."

Political rights are also subject to Shari'ah: "Everyone shall have the right to participate directly or indirectly in the administration of his country's public affairs. He shall also have the right to assume public office in accordance with the provisions of Shari'ah." And in its final article, the Declaration re-affirms the self-enclosed, impermeable-to-criticism nature of the Islamic mind: "The Islamic Shari'ah is the only source of reference for the explanation or clarification of any of the articles of this Declaration."

Playing "Muhammed's Advocate" for a moment, I would like to suggest that the Declaration is perhaps not as bad as it appears. First, can we reasonably object to the Islamic nations' believing that their own laws and standards are superior to those of the UN? As a traditionalist conservative who believes in preserving our historic civilization against the UN and other globalizing forces, I can hardly be alarmed when other peoples seek to preserve their civilizational traditions against the UN.

Second, is the Declaration's insistence that Shari'ah must guide all laws and social practices really so egregious? I myself have written at FrontPage that if liberal individual rights are not to destroy our society, they must operate within the constraints of a moral and cultural order that is not itself liberal.

And third, why should be be offended at the Muslims' belief that it's their mission to guide humanity? Any civilization worth its salt believes it has a leadership role to play in the world. Think of ancient Israel, or ancient Athens, or ancient Rome. Think of the British empire. Think of France, with its "Mission to Civilize." Think of our own United States of America. How can we gainsay the Muslims' touting themselves as a guide to mankind, when our own president constantly makes the same claim for us?

Unfortunately, however, these more benign interpretations of the Cairo Declaration are not sustainable. When we remember the actual content of the Shari'ah,—that it's nothing less than a totalitarian system of oppression that is utterly alien to Western ways, the rule of law, cultural and technical creativity, and the most basic human freedoms—then the Islamic nations' insistence on the primacy of Shari'ah in all matters, combined with their stated mission to guide humanity (guide humanity toward what? toward submission to Shari'ah!), does indeed add up to an endorsement of jihad, even though the word jihad doesn't appear in the document. As Andrew Bostom has pointed out, the flowery language of the Declaration confuses many who do not understand what "Shari'ah" and "Islamic justice" really mean.

The Cairo Declaration of Human Rights is conclusive evidence of the central and defining role of jihad in Islam. In this document all the Islamic countries, acting as a body, have formally endorsed the worldwide dominance of Shari'ah, which in turn implies the necessity of waging jihad to bring that dominance into existence. Thus a shared commitment to jihad constitutes the substance—the very identity—of the Islamic Ummah.

Of course, not all Muslim individuals and societies actively support jihad, and, to their credit, many Muslims have opposed the more extreme crimes committed in the name of jihad. But when we recall the observation of various Muslim and Western scholars that at least 50 percent of all Muslims worldwide sympathize with the jihadist message, we realize once again that jihadism is the activist core of Islam. Which means that we cannot expect any organized force to arise within the Islamic world against jihad. Just as Christians who organized against the belief in Jesus Christ would have ceased to be Christians, Muslims who actively opposed jihad would have ceased to be Muslims.

It is true that Turkey under its Kemalist order has (at least until recently) finessed the problem of Muslim orthodoxy by removing Islam from the state and the public square. Yet Turkey, which so many hold up as the hope of a moderate, secularizing Islam, is also a signatory of the Cairo Declaration.

What to do

I conclude from all of the above that we cannot rely on "moderate" Muslims to oppose jihadism. If the job is to be done, we have to do it. On the domestic front (as I have outlined previously at FrontPage), this means ceasing all mass immigration of Muslims, deporting all Muslim illegal aliens, deporting all Muslims associated with Islamic radicalism, and renouncing the leftist ideology of multiculturalism, which has led Muslims and other non-European immigrants to feel they have the right to remake America in their own image. The totality of these steps would result in a steady net out-migration of Muslims from the United States, much of it voluntary, and thus a steady lessening of their power here, instead of the steady increase of their power that we are now enduring.

But what to do about the forces of jihad emanating from the Muslim lands themselves? I have grave doubts about President Bush's "forward strategy for democracy." As our present horrendous situation in Iraq illustrates, it is most unlikely that we have the ability to engraft Western-style or any style of stable democracy onto Muslim countries. And even if we did have the ability to carry out this incredibly ambitious project, it would require us (in Afghanistan and Iraq, it has already required us) to involve ourselves intimately in the Muslim world for decades and generations to come, with incalculable destabilizing effects on our own society.

As an example of the effects I'm talking about, the democratic reform of Muslim societies requires their partial or complete secularization. But if the secularization of Muslim societies becomes a guiding principle of our foreign policy, that would inevitably lead us to secularize our own society as well, which is the very last thing we need. (Of course, it's the very thing that the left most passionately seeks—which, by the way, exemplifies how universalist neoconservative policies inadvertently advance leftist goals.)

If democratization is too uncertain and too costly an endeavor, what other options do we have? We cannot simply destroy Islam (though some would surely like to do so). Nor, as Ann Coulter once half-jokingly suggested, can we convert all Muslims to Christianity (though we can dream, can't we?). What we can do and must do is put the Muslims back in a situation where they cannot threaten us.

There are two principal steps by which this can be accompished. The first step, already mentioned, is to force and encourage the return of Muslim immigrants from the West and from other non-Muslim countries to their historic homelands, thus radically reducing Muslims' ability to wage jihad against the larger world. The second step, suggested by Andrew Bacevich in February 1993, is to police the Moslem countries without trying to reshape them ideologically or getting directly involved in their internal affairs. Bacevich writes:

[T]he message to the Arab world from American officials needs to be explicit and unambiguous: Respect those red lines [e.g. no WMDs, no harboring of terrorists] and we will respect your existing political arrangements; disregard them and we are coming after you, with or without allies, with or without the approval of the U.N. Security Council.

In sum, what we should demand of Arab leaders is not ideological fealty, but simply responsible behavior. And this demand is not negotiable. We will not insist that the House of Saud declare its adherence to the principles of Jeffersonian democracy. But we will insist—as the Bush administration has yet to do—that those who rule the kingdom will ensure that Saudi Arabia cease serving as an incubator of suicidal terrorists. On that point, we will be adamant and uncompromising. And on that point, with the examples of Afghanistan and Iraq showing that we mean what we say, we can expect compliance. [Andrew J. Bacevich, “Don’t Get Greedy! For sensible, limited war aims in Iraq,” National Review, February 10, 2003.]

One way for the U.S. to carry out this policy would be establishment of a permanent military base in a convenient location in the Mideast/Persian Gulf region (though away from any major population centers), from which we could encourage the Muslim states to keep jihadists and other dangerous elements at bay. By maintaining a threat to topple any regime that allowed extremists and terrorists to get out of line, we would let the Muslim governments themselves do the dirty work of suppressing the jihadis in their midst (which they would have plenty of motivation to do, given our credible threat to overthrow them if they fail to do so), instead of our having to do it ourselves, as in Iraq. This would surely be a more effective and less costly use of our national power—and of our men's lives—than our current, "try-to-build-democracy-while-half-the-country-keeps-shooting-at-us" policy in Iraq. The point is, we don't care what the Muslims do in their countries, just as long as they don't do anything that endangers us.

Moreover, this containment of the Muslim peoples can be accomplished without violating their dignity and essence as Muslims. If we sought literally to suppress and destroy Islam, we could be justly accused of practicing cultural genocide. But if we simply contain the Muslims in their historic lands where they can have no power over us, that would not be harming them, even under the terms of their own religion. As I have mentioned here as well as in a previous article, one of the paradigms of Islamic conduct is Muhammed's earlier life in Mecca, where his message was rejected and he was helpless. When Muslims because of adverse external conditions are unable to wage jihad, they calmly accept the situation because it fits the pattern of Muhammed's own life; indeed, their laws explicitly accommodate them to that exigency. It is no shame for a Muslim to accept defeat, because he views it as temporary, and so he waits patiently for future jihadist opportunities to arise. The wait can be very long—centuries, in fact. And that should be just fine with us.

Thus Islam itself has provided us with a satisfactory solution to the Islamic threat, which is to restore the Muslims to the relatively powerless condition of Muhammed prior to the hejira.

Lawrence Auster is the author of Erasing America: The Politics of the Borderless Nation. He offers his traditionalist conservative perspective at View from the Right.




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