Picking up the thread from the discussion between my esteemed colleagues Brian Gruber and Tony Blair, I’d like to give a little background on the question of whether or not Islamic terrorism is driven primarily by religious OR political motivations.
First I’d like to recommend this excellent article: http://www.policyreview.org/jun04/bar.html
Second, for anyone who wants to get a full understanding of the impact of religion and the Koran particularly on modern Arab politics–in all of its mysogynist glory–I would strongly recommend the courageous book from the Canadian Muslim writer Irshad Manji “The Trouble with Islam Today.”
I think an appropriate starting point is to pose the question I set out to explore after 9/11–can justification for a militant, terrorist ideology be developed out of the Koran without unduly distorting its plain meaning or unfairly extrapolating from limited material?
I arrived at the rare categorical “yes”. No question.
How did I do this? I read the Koran, cover to cover. Then I went and discussed my conclusions with my two Persian housemates in Oxford. I told them I had read it through and found intolerance, hatred, and justifications of violence on almost every page. “no, no, no” they told me, Islam is a religion of love, and of peace, you have read a terrible translation.” So the next morning there was a note from beautiful Farnaz (one of these two lovely Iranian girls) and a fresh translation of the Koran purchased as a gift was in my “pidgeon hole” (Oxonese for “internal mailbox”).
Determined to make a fair reading, I commenced a second journey through the Madlib religious landscape of the Koran. And again it was there. It was not a few instances. Not an occasional dyspeptic reference to the Jews. It was pervasive. Violence justified against the unbelievers, particularly against the treacherous Jew for his rejection of Mohammed. Violence against women (incidentally–one of the more prominent figures assasinated by Mohammed was a prominent poetess who openly criticized him).
And–for a culture that quite openly binds itself to its founding moment and wholly to its founder–there is also abundant justification for violence in the modern age. There is the infamous Battle of the Trench after which the Jewish male population was lined up and beheaded. There are the multiple assasinations of prominent figures in Mecca and Medina who dissented, who challenged the religious authority he claimed from his visions.
It is out of both Koranic scripture and this bloody birthing context which is so vividly branded onto Muslim fundamentalism that modern Islamic extremists contruct their view of the world in which there are only two domains: Dar al-Islam (the “House of Islam”) and Dar al-Harb (the “House of War”). This is the condition of the world, in the minds of the Islamofascists, until the final and ultimate victory of Islam.
While I agree with Brian that most of the Muslim world does not embrace this ideology, enough of them do that we are, by definition, faced with an existential struggle. “Existential” does not, in my mind, necessarily connote physical death, it may be cultural. But there is no mistaking it. The objective of Islamist groups–many of which, like the Sunni Wahabists, wield disproportionate influence in the Islamic world, and are rarely effectively challenged by moderate voices–is to replace Dar al-Harb with Dar al-Islam. They believe they are in an existential struggle with us.
And it only takes one to make a struggle existential.
The best way for us to fight it is by encouraging and cultivating the moderate forces that have been suppressed and shut out. To revive civil society where it has been suffocated. But we have to first recognize that it is not all, at its roots, about mere political aspiration.