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Terrorism and the Hajj By: Robert Spencer
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, February 11, 2003

No matter how often the President repeats that Islam is a religion of peace, the Administration just can’t seem to avoid offending Muslims. The professional victims at the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) took umbrage to Attorney General John Ashcroft’s linkage of the heightened terror alert to the conclusion of the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, the Hajj.

Said CAIR’s Executive Director Nihad Awad: "The unnecessary linkage of Hajj to terrorism merely serves to promote the growing perception in the Muslim world that the war on terrorism is in reality an attack on Islam. That perception damages our nation’s interests and could generate increased suspicion of and discrimination against ordinary Muslims. Hajj has nothing to do with terrorism. To imply otherwise is an insult to the American Muslim community. Attorney General Ashcroft needs to clarify his position on this important issue."

However, according to AP reports, it wasn’t Ashcroft who linked the Hajj to terrorism, but al-Qaeda: "Attorney General John Ashcroft said the government had received intelligence information, corroborated by multiple sources, that Osama bin Laden’s terror organization sought to attack Americans at home or abroad during the time of the annual Hajj pilgrimage to the holy Saudi city of Mecca."

Up to now the line has been that Islamic terrorists are discredited heretics who twist peaceful Islam for their own purposes. Yet apparently Awad assumes that the Muslims of al-Qaeda will scrupulously adhere to CAIR’s depiction of the Hajj as "a once-in-a-lifetime journey of spiritual purification, repentance and renewal, not an excuse for killing innocent people."

Pity poor Awad. It’s an unenviable task to have to keep straight all the labyrinthine complexities of the "religion of peace" mantra. It must be especially tough to maintain a chip on his shoulder about Ashcroft’s Hajj alert in light of the fact that the Saudi government has deployed "no less than 20,000 security personnel" in the Muslim holy city of Mecca for the Hajj, according to Major Moussa al-Tanbi of the Saudi Public Security Office.

Why would so much security muscle be needed to oversee this gentle time of spiritual purification, repentance and renewal?

One reason may be that the Hajj can be a scene of unimaginable chaos, particularly as the number of pilgrims to Mecca annually has risen from fewer than 100,000 in 1950 to well over a million today. Stampedes killed 35 pilgrims in 2001, which is down significantly from 180 in 1998, 270 in 1994, and 1,426 in 1990.

But the 20,000 Saudi cops won’t just be directing traffic: they’ll also be on the lookout for terrorist activities. Prince Nayef, the Saudi Interior Minister, vowed: "Terrorist organizations seeking to tamper with our security during the Hajj will be dealt an iron fist." CAIR’s Awad doesn’t seem to have lodged a protest with Prince Nayef for linking the Hajj to terrorism.

In light of the history of the Hajj, Awad might have trouble making a case anyway. A few notorious incidents from recent years include the seizure of Mecca’s Grand Mosque by Muslim terrorists in November 1979. The terrorists took hundreds of pilgrims hostage; 250 people were killed in the ensuing battle. In 1989, one pilgrim was killed and 16 wounded when bombs went off near the Grand Mosque.

Two years before that, tensions between the Saudi government (which makes life difficult for its Shi’ite minority) and the Ayatollah Khomeini’s Shi’ite Islamic Republic boiled over at the Hajj. 402 people were killed in a riot as Saudi security forces clashed with Shi’ites staging an anti-U.S. demonstration.

The Saudis have been frank this year about the need for heightened security to stave off just such demonstrations by supporters of Saddam Hussein. Demonstrators may find irresistible the prospect of an anti-American protest in Mina, a spot where the patriarch Abraham is said to have resisted temptation by throwing stones at Satan. Pilgrims throw their own rocks at a stone stele popularly known as "the Great Satan." Evidently the Saudis thought this was enough of a possibility to mobilize 20,000 security personnel.

Once again, therefore, CAIR is muffing an opportunity to prove that Islam really is a religion of peace. Instead of protesting the terror alert and smearing the Attorney General, it could follow the line of our "friends and allies" the Saudis and applaud their efforts to stop terrorists from sullying the Hajj. But just as Saudi Arabia’s real commitment to eradicating terrorism is questionable, so are the actual motives and priorities of the good folks at the Council on American Islamic Relations. So far they have given little indication that they see the Bush Administration as less of a danger than al-Qaeda. Shows what pandering will get you.

Robert Spencer is a scholar of Islamic history, theology, and law and the director of Jihad Watch. He is the author of eight books, eleven monographs, and hundreds of articles about jihad and Islamic terrorism, including the New York Times Bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad. His latest book, Stealth Jihad: How Radical Islam is Subverting America without Guns or Bombs, is available now from Regnery Publishing.

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