By Raphael Israeli
1st part of 2
Every word in the title would have warranted a definition, in view of the widely differing meanings lent to it by various parties. We shall tackle here mainly the controversies surrounding the epithets of Islam - "radical" or "fundamentalist" or "Islamist" which are usually charged with all evil and violent manifestations of that creed, while the majority of its followers are usually discharged as "peaceful" and well-meaning. It will also be necessary to sort out the claims that Islam, being itself Semitic, cannot be "anti-Semitic" by definition in the European sense, and should be exonerated as "Judeophobic".
The waves of recriminations of the Muslim world against the West and Israel, which have also been expressed in the rise of Muslim parties in Turkey, Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority; in the unbridled desire of the Iranians to go nuclear, and in the thug-like rhetoric of its President Ahmadinejad against Western values and the Jews in general, to the point of denying the Shoah and wishing the destruction of the Jews and Israel in blatant terms, are indications of the spreading anti-Western antagonism and anti-Semitism in Islam. The zeal in the Islamic world is directed not only against
It is unconvincing that the Muslims are merely anti-Israel and anti-Zionist and not anti-Semitic, when they habitually attack Jews in the Diaspora for no other reason whatsoever today, or when they historically mistreated, beat, massacred or forced Jews to convert or to leave the lands of Islam, apart from the fact that they were Jews. French Jews, British Jews, or Belgian Jews are all citizens of the countries in which they live, and cannot influence the policies of the Israeli government even if they wished to do so. To attack them is totally gratuitous and is undeniably an expression of the innate anti-Semitism in Islamic thinking. The equivalent in Jewish attitudes would be for Jews to attack their Muslim fellow-citizens in European countries or in Canada and Australia every time an Arab or a Muslim country defames, vilifies or demonizes Jews in the media, school curricula, or subjects them to economic boycotts individually or collectively, (or indeed physically attacks them), all of which happen on a sustained, daily basis. But that would be considered a case of Islamophobia, and the fact that it does not happen proves firstly that Islamophobia, at least on the part of Jews, is a figment of the Muslims' imagination (bandied about precisely to combat the very notion of their pervasive anti-Semitism); and secondly that Jews, at least in the Diaspora, can distinguish between right and wrong, and have never lost their sense of justice and civilized behavior despite the relentless provocations of Muslims, not only "radicals", against them.
When part-time processes of liberalization are adopted in the Muslim world, like in Algeria, Jordan, Egypt, and lately Palestine, namely when people are given the opportunity to express themselves semi-freely, it is invariably political Islam that gains votes, and since it is popular vote, it cannot be said to represent "radicals", exactly as it cannot be claimed that the more than 60% of the Palestinians who voted for Hamas are all "Islamists". If, as some claim, there were a certain percentage of Muslims who are "radical", "fundamentalist" or simply "Islamists", while the majority is Muslim of the good brand, which politicians like Bush and Blair simply call "peace-loving", then how come that we see vast crowds, which seem to represent the local majorities, in every place where Muslims burst out in violence, be it in Cairo, Gaza, Pakistan, Teheran, Kabul or during the Cartoon Affair? What happens to those supposedly peace-loving majorities if they are not represented by the violent crowds? And when Muslim columnists, including Western-educated and degree-holders, write in the mainstream journals of the Muslim world, including in "moderate" and "pro-Western" countries, genocidal wishes against Jews and Israel, virulent recriminations against the West, and expressions of joy after September 11 or every time a bus or a restaurant blow up in the West with dozens of victims, are those representative of "radicals" or of "Islamists", or of "Judeophobic" individuals who stay clear from blatant anti-Semitism ? Then, where is the difference between peace-loving Muslims and "Islamists"? So, while there are theological differences of nuance between Sunnites and Shi'ites, and within the Sunnites between the four Schools of law (madhahib), for instance between the puritanical Wahhabis of the Hanbali cult and the more lenient Hanafites on matters of Shari'a law, there appears to be unanimity among them with regard to Jihad wars, the denigration of the Jews and the contempt and hostility towards the West, because they all draw from the same medieval Abu Yussuf and Ibn Taymiyya and the more modern Hassan al-Banna, Sayyid Qut'b or Mawdudi. Understandably, not every Muslim would observe to the letter the strictest prescriptions of those scholars, but at the same time no sweeping, authoritative alternative to them has emerged to challenge them, let alone replace them.
Those referred to as "Islamists" call and regard themselves simply as plain Muslims, who are perhaps more zealous than others and wish to fulfill Muslim goals here and now. But are they so distinguishable from other Muslims that they deserve to be treated as if they were different Muslims or as if they had invented a different Islam? All religious Muslims venerate the great masters of radical Islam like Hasan al-Banna , Sayyid Qut'b, Mawdudi and Qaradawi, even if they are not categorized as "radical". The latter relate to the masses of common Muslims the way activists or militants in a political party refer to the rank and file of sympathizers who only vote when the day comes, but are not involved in any day to day politics. But we do not distinguish between "radical" and "common" party members. Yes, they differ, in both cases, as far as the degree of commitment, activity and observance are concerned, but we cannot set them apart ideologically, and they continue to belong to the same core of belief and conviction. For if there were a "liberal" or "moderate" tendency in Islam, it would be evinced, first of all, by theologians of Islam who would stand up courageously and battle against the ideas and theses of the "Islamists". However, while truly moderate and daring individuals of Muslim descent (and sometimes conviction) do exist, principally in the safety of the West, we cannot discern any significant trend of moderation and "peace-loving" inclination which rallies behind it masses of Muslims. So, what is erroneously dubbed "moderate" or non-Islamist Islam, is actually the silent majority who is, unfortunately, more likely than not to follow the outbursts of jubilation when the Jews or Israel are harmed, to watch bluntly anti-Semitic series on television which depict Israelis (and Americans for that matter) as blood-drinkers, world -conspirers and children-killers, and to avidly absorb genocidal statements by their leaders and clerics and reiterate their belief in the same non-sensical slogans and conspiracy theories that are circulated in their media. One year after September 11, Dan Rather of CBS News undertook a worldwide survey of Muslim (not "Islamist") reactions to those horrific events. From a sample of 8 Muslim countries, between
Did the Palestinians suddenly become "Islamists" when the radical Hamas won elections among them ? No, they remained as Muslim as they were before the elections. They burst into unabashed joy when September 11 happened, much to Arafat's embarrassment, who sent his security forces to disband those "radical" children to avoid further disgrace. Why did they do that? Because they were indoctrinated by their school textbooks, which assured them the imminent victory of Islam against the "corrupt and tyrannical" West. They burst forth in jubilation when Israeli and Western families were shown torn into pieces, and they re-enacted harrowing scenes of explosions against Israel, showing cardboard buses or restaurants burning and limbs of children flying around, with huge crowds of children, passers-by, shop-keepers, students and policemen clapping hands and rejoicing. Even their universities and schools staged such re-enactments. Could all those be "Islamists"? No, in their eyes, Israelis and the West are perceived as the enemies of Islam (not of Islamists), therefore one should rejoice at their defeat, and because they are not defeated often enough for the Muslims' taste, no Muslim can skip the delight of re-playing that defeat and savoring it in slow motion. Another question is why
It seems that the fictional distinction that is drawn between Islam and Islamists, which is usually made either by Western scholars and politicians or by Muslim moderates who live in the West, emanates more from an instinct of self-defense and survival than from a sober observation of reality. In Muslim countries themselves it is often hard to tell who is who, inasmuch as Palestinian, Saudi, Egyptian and Pakistani clerics who belong to the "moderate" establishment, often issue fatwas and deliver sermons that are every bit as "extremist" as the "radical" ones, and even imported or home grown Muslim clerics in the West do not make any effort to distinguish or to distance themselves from "Islamists", because they themselves cannot tell the difference. Western scholars and politicians, who want to cater to Islam, for electoral or other worldly perks, on the one hand, but cannot deny the rage of their own people against violent Islam, on the other hand, find shelter in that distinction which allows them to claim that the Islam they support or defend is "moderate", while the violence that their people condemn emanates solely from the "extremist Islamists". At the same time politicians and scholars critical of Islam need that distinction to shelter themselves from accusations of "racism", as if multi-cultural and multi-racial Islam were a "race", or of anti-Muslim bias and hatred. Muslim scholars and public figures who live in the West resort to that distinction in order to avoid a blanket condemnation of Islam of which they are part, and to escape suspicions by their coreligionists that they "sold-out" to the West or that they committed an act of "treason" against their culture and religion. Many of them find it more expedient to claim that they are "secular Muslims", a notion that is unacceptable to Islam in all its nuances, and some of them convert to Christianity in order to feel free to lash out at their previous religion, though they know that they are handily offset by the much larger numbers of Westerners who convert to Islam.
The fact is that throughout the Muslim world, the legitimacy of Israel is challenged, the holocaust is denied systematically, as evidenced by the popularity there of such holocaust deniers as Robert Faurisson, Roger Garaudy or David Irwing, the prohibition of Schindler's List on their screens and the violent declarations of the Iranian President on both scores. This is a common denominator of most Muslims, nothing differentiates between "radicals" and "moderates" there, exactly as anti-Jewish stereotypes, be they anti-Semitic or "Judeophobic" are current among them all, with few exceptions. That is the reason why we find them contradicting themselves on the Sho'ah, denying it on the one hand and wishing Hitler had brought his annihilation plan to completion on the other; urging a "scholarly, free and objective" research of the Holocaust , in order to prove that it never was. Similarly, the belief in and the spread of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the Blood Libel, the poisoning of wells by Jews, the conspiracy theories where Jews star, are recurring themes in Palestinian (not only Hamas) as well as mainstream Egyptian, Jordanian, Saudi, Pakistani and others' writings, systems of beliefs and propaganda. Genocidal threats against the Jews abound not only in Bin-Laden's statements and in Ahmadinejad's delusions, but also in columns of Egyptian, Saudi, Palestinian and other newspapers of the respectable mainstream. Is this Judeophobia of the "moderates" or plain anti-Semitism of the "Islamists"? Words have a significance, and it is imperative to streamline our vocabulary, otherwise we are under the permanent threat of losing our ability to express what we mean or to comprehend what we are told.
Matters are further complicated and made less comprehensible to western minds by the paranoia and conspiracy theories that are very widespread in the Muslims world, among Islamists and others alike, whether Muslims are modern and western-educated or traditionalist and obscurantist. Those theories that are rampant even among Muslims living in the West, would insist that world leaders who support Israel are Jewish (like Presidents Reagan and Bush), that the UN of all places, is the mastermind of the Jews who utilize it as the tool for their world dominion, and that the major violent acts that shook the world, like the world wars, the world revolutions and September 11, are all the fruit of Jewish imagination and execution. Their minds are so permeated with these non-sensical theories that they become impervious to logical, rational debate that is open to argument, discussion and to conviction. Therefore, the difficulty of dealing with Muslim minds consists not only of removing the mountains of pure delusion that choke their free thinking, but also of persuading them that the very attempt to counter-argue those futilities is not necessarily part of the world conspiracy that is being woven against them. It is possible to explain their imaginary picture of the world by their need to project on their enemies the analytical shortcomings that bewitch them, but it is impossible to move them out of the illusory scenarios that they have constructed around themselves and then they cling to them with a tenacity that defies and contradicts western standards of conduct. The result is that even when Muslims initiate and launch an act of violence, they accuse the West of it and dub it, or what led to it, as an act of aggression of which they are the victims and which deserves their retaliation.
As long as the Muslim anti-Western and anti-Semitic discourse was internal, little attention was paid to it in the outside world. But since the end of the Afghanistan War (1979-89) which also signaled the end of the Cold War and the return of the Mujahideen to their Muslim home countries, tremendous energies were released by the Afghanis (i.e, the foreign battle-hardened graduates of the war in Afghanistan) which were channeled both domestically (Islamist activity in Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan and Taliban Afghanistan), and internationally to wage a worldwide Jihad, led by Bin Laden's al-Qa'ida, but carried out simultaneously on Arab, American, African, Asian and European soil. The rising prices of oil afforded some oil-producing Muslim countries and their rulers the possibility to finance the spread of Islam of the puritanical and violent brand in the West and to absorb some of the unemployed Afghani Mujahideen, while the others were turned loose and ended up in the battle fields of Iraq , Lebanon, Bosnia, Chechnya and Palestine, or became mercenaries of violence in America and Europe. The Danish Cartoon Affair proved a golden opportunity for Muslim regimes who began to feel the heat of terrorism breathing down their necks, to re-direct the rage and fury of the masses outwardly against the West and Israel, regardless of whether we define them as radicals or moderates, anti-Semitic or Judeophobic, for Western institutions were attacked in Libya, Egypt, Palestine, Syria and Lebanon, and the boycott of Danish products was launched by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states which are usually considered "moderate" and "pro-Western".
When one examines the spread of Islam into Europe one must take stock of all those considerations, and come to the conclusion that it is not enough to account for Muslim immigration into the Old Continent and its transformation at their hands, but also go into the dialectic between European counter-measures after the major acts of terror that occurred there and the Muslim worldview which regards those defensive measures as aggression, persecution, racism, discrimination against the ever-docile and always "poor" , helpless, innocent and "victimized" Muslim who had just come to seek work. When Britain or Germany idolize multi-culturalism as a way to "enrich" European culture and celebrate the fake "difference" between moderate Islam of the mainstream and the violent few, the Muslims regard that by and large, as an attempt to dilute Islam in order to dominate and eliminate it. Only their unrestricted and violent activity against local Jews in
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.
 .Al-Ahram Weekly, "Beyond the Vacuum", 13-16 April, 2006.