The House of Islam, The House of War, Existential Struggles

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:

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.


  1. Though my Koran study isn’t up to your level (religious writing is so hard to read), the sense I’ve gotten is that you’re right.One minor quibble– I hate referring to past attitudes as “misogynist” or “racist” or whatever. It just seems anachronistic to impose modern sentiment on some long since past culture. I mean, George Washington would, but today’s standards, doubtless be called a racist for thinking certain things about Native Americans or Africans, etc. But given the context of his life and culture, it’s a bit unfair to call him racist.Yes, some (most? all?) modern Islamic states are pretty horrible in terms of misogynist, anti-Jewish thought, and religious tolerance is almost unheard of. And these modern states are a product of a very conservative religion, so it’s a slippery question. In fact, I’m not even sure I know why I’m writing this. So there.


  2. Lance,I’d say I agree with you in 9 of 10 contexts on this point. But the problem here is that most of the Muslim world has not yet emancipated itself from that past–it still binds itself to the 7th century on all too many levels. We are talking about a fundamentalism that is, itself, anachronistic (like pre-medieval) in some very perplexing ways.Really–for the real-life 21st century implications of this all-too-real 7th century mysogyny go read Manji’s book, or check out her website. stuff.


  3. I too have not read the Koran lately. And I have no reason to doubt your observations. I’ll go further. I agree that the Wahabbi lunatics are dangerous and a campaign to build bridges of understanding, tolerance and alternative forms of education is urgently needed. But the clash of civilization/ war on terror meme creates an umbrella cover for any form of military action, repression and coercion for this administration. And Islam is used as a recuitment strategy for radical political groups seeking to push out the US military and overthrow (frequently) corrupt middle eastern governments. Islam. Christianity. Judaism. Marxism. Democracy. Manifest Destiny. Handy excuses for illicent murder.I was in an evangelical church before the Iraq invasion. We were exhorted to be prayer warriors and pray for military success and the pastor read from Joshua. I read ahead, the part where God told the chosen people to go into the next town and slaughter every, man, woman and child, then rejoice and give thanks to God. It’s not a new story.


  4. A poll from Oxford!! Says Iraqis want us out. But no, why don’t WE tell them what they want. See below. As to what “most Muslims believe,” Arabs form a small minority of the Muslim world. And most scriptures have an obscene range of violence and war mongering. It all starts with stop taking food out of my cave or I’ll kill you. To I think I’ll kill you and take food out of YOUR cave. To, my tribe will take land from your tribe. To, my tribe is chosen by God to take land from your tribe. Christians and Jews have at least as bloody a history justifying mass murder by claiming Manifest Destiny and unique divine appointment. And even the Bhagavad Gita is a story about a warrior laying siege to native peoples with God’s blessing, which some historians attribute to Aryan hordes sweeping through peaceful Indian tribes, justifying their slaughter as divine will.It is a non-starter, if your interest is world peace (remember that quaint notion? Remember Bush I’s kinder, gentler America and new world order? He was a wise man, in his own way, I thought.) to say that your holy book is a vile sewer of hatred. Forget it. Goes nowhere. Why not start by saying I respect you, want to live in peace with you. Requires compromise, restraint and diplomacy, living with international law and institutions, and then carrying our military supremacy with humility and forebearance. It’s still about us wanting to go into the cave next door and achieving economic interests by force. All other justifications–democracy, concern about dictatorship, WMD, war on terror–are modes of public manipulation.Poll: Most Iraqis Oppose Troops’ Presence– – – – – – – – – – – –By WILL LESTER Associated Press WriterDecember 12,2005 | WASHINGTON — Most Iraqis disapprove of the presence of U.S. forces in their country, yet they are optimistic about Iraq’s future and their own personal lives, according to a new poll.More than two-thirds of those surveyed oppose the presence of troops from the United States and its coalition partners and less than half, 44 percent, say their country is better off now than it was before the war, according to an ABC News poll conducted with Time magazine and other media partners.But Iraqis are surprisingly upbeat on many fronts, the poll suggests.Three-quarters say they are confident about the parliamentary elections scheduled for this week. More than two-thirds expect things in their country to get better in the coming months.Attitudes about Iraq’s future were sharply different in the Sunni provinces and other parts of Iraq, however. Only a third in the Sunni regions were optimistic about their country’s future. Shiites, who with the Kurds dominate the current parliament, had a much more positive view than the Sunnis of their own personal safety and whether their own lives are going well.A majority of both the Sunni and Shiite population say they favor a unified country, however.In other poll findings:–Two-thirds express confidence in the Iraqi army and in police.–Half now say the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was wrong, up from 39 percent in February 2004.–More than six in 10 say they feel safe in their neighborhoods, up from 40 percent in June 2004.–Six in 10 say local security is good, up from half in February 2004.But the national concern mentioned most often is security, named by 57 percent.A fourth of those surveyed, 26 percent, say U.S. forces should leave now, and another 19 percent say troops should leave after those chosen in this week’s election take office. The other half say U.S. troops should stay until security is restored, 31 percent, until Iraqi forces can operate independently, 16 percent, or longer, 5 percent.The poll was conducted by Oxford Research International face-to-face with 1,711 Iraqis age 15 and over from Oct. 8 to Nov. 22. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.


  5. Reuters:“Voting started on a day that U.S.President George W. Bush gave a rare estimate of the number of civilians killed since U.S. troops invaded in 2003, acknowledging that 30,000 civilians had died in the violence.”


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