09/06/2005, 00.00
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Islam condemns violence? Sometimes it's only opportunism

by Samir Khalil Samir

Part Two of the series "Islam and the West", by Fr Samir Khalil Samir, an Egyptian Jesuit and professor of Arab and Islamic studies at Saint Joseph University in Beirut.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – Days ago, the Muslim Council of Britain condemned the posthumous video of Mohammad Sidique Khan, one of the suicide bombers that killed 56 people and injuring dozens in London on July 7.

In the video, released by Al Jazeera, Khan says that the London attacks are a reply to the politics of Western countries that support governments which are responsible for crimes against humanity.

"Your democratically elected [Western] governments continuously perpetuate injustice against my people all over the world… Until you will stop the bombing, gassing, imprisonment and torture of my people, we will not stop this fight."

Ayman Al Zawahiri, Al Qaeda's second-in-command, also appears in the video, defending the London attacks as "as a slap in the face of Prime Minister Tony Blair's policy" in Chechnya, Afghanistan, Palestine and Iraq, and promises further attacks in the future.

Al Zawahiri also accuses Muslim figures in the West for having harshly condemned the Al Qaeda attacks.

From a certain perspective, in fact, the Muslim world seems to be reawakening from its torpor and silence.  In recent months, fatwas (Islamic ruling) against the attacks in London, Turkey, Egypt, and further back in Beslan and Madrid have multiplied.  But these condemnations need to be studied.  The Muslim Council that condemned Sidique Khan's words was also quick to add that "the war in Iraq and our Middle East policy" have fueled "radicalism among a part of our Muslim youth."

Is Islam really "peace and tolerance"?

All in all, Islamic reactions to terrorist attacks have been a bit free and easy, as well as sentimental and opportunistic.  In the face of the violence exercised by some Muslim, the Islamic world does not follow clear principles, it freezes, it doesn't know what to say or do, or it simply contradicts itself.  It might say – as has been the case – that such violence "is not Islam", that "Islam is peace and tolerance."  But we know that this is not true: Islam can also be violent, because faith is mingled with politics, including in the Sacred Book.  To say that Islam is a religion of peace means not having gone full depth in considerations on whether violence is legitimized or not.

For this reason, I feel that those who speak out – much to Al Zawahiri's irritation – often do so only as a gesture of political opportunism, more than out of a profound and absolute conviction of the basic wickedness of terrorism.  When we hear "Islam is peace", it is not from Islamic pacifists, but from opportunists who fear a strong anti-Islam backlash in the West.  Currently, Muslims are worried about widespread Islamophobia and for this reason they are quick to speak out against terrorist acts, but they do so to protect Islam itself and, tomorrow, these same people could remain silent in the face of other misdeeds.

Our Muslims brothers do not realize that Islamophobia derives right from this sort of ambiguous behaviour from the Islamic world, which blindly defends the politics of Muslims and always finds something to condemn in the West.

In the name of certain principles, the Islamic world needs to go beyond the love for fellow Muslims.  The same applies to me: love for the Church cannot overshadow love for truth or justice.

Islam needs to condemn its own deviations, to engage in self-criticism.  But there's a lack of courage.  Al Zawahiri complains about all the ado of Islamic scholars.  But when do Muslim intellectuals intervene to condemn violence without mincing their words?  Hardly ever.

The roots of violence: mixing religion and politics

But courage is needed to say that violence in Islam stems from the conflation of politics and religion.  This interweaving explains why the Muslim world, in the name of Islam, defends Palestinian terrorism: this is the worst harm that can be done to Palestine, as it complicates ever more the solution to the Palestinian problem.

It should be said, by the way, that it is unacceptable to defend Israel on the basis of religion or the Bible, just as it is unacceptable to defend Christian violence on the basis of faith.

Islam must be helped to separate religion and politics.  And the West can do that, curbing all those Islamic fundamentalist requests being made in Europe on the question of head coverings, halal (acceptable) meat, freedom of Islamic teaching and freedom of mosques.

All these are in fact political requests under religious cover.

Behind the request to wear head coverings lies a political claim.  Wearing head coverings is a sign of the affirmation of Islamic identity, as if to say: we are here, we're visible, we're strong, look!  This is not to deny the existence of a real religious sentiment or a sincere reaction to West's excessively liberal mores.

In various Western countries, fundamentalism has launched the campaign for halal meat.

More and more Muslims are asking that all places (restaurants, cafeterias in workplaces and schools, hospitals etc.) make halal meat (butchered according to Islamic criteria).  They demand it as an expression of religious freedom: i.e. "everyone has the right to eat according to his religion."  But the Koran literally says. "The meat of the people of the Book [Jews and Christians] is halal for you" (Koran 5,5).  All the fatwas released to date say that Muslims can eat meat prepared by Christians, because their meat is halal.  But fundamentalism, in an attempt to create problems for the West, goes in the opposite direction.  They push the faithful to demand a distinctive element of their religion, to put political pressure on governments.  In fact, these requests are a form of terrorism, a form of cultural terrorism on the part of a group of citizens to get people culturally islamisized.

After the London attacks, the British government and, in part the Italian also, placed limits and checks on Islamic teaching and mosque life.  All this is very positive because fundamentalism is born right in schools and mosque preaching.

The West has often made a fatal error in believing that the mosque is only a place of worship, like a church.  Instead, a mosque is a place for doing politics, where problems are discussed, etc: it is a sort of public square for the Islamic community.  For this reason it is necessary to check that these places are not used to exalt violence or for fanatical indoctrination.  History shows us that terrorism always starts out from mosques: the Intifada began at the Al Aqsa Mosque: wars were declared from mosques on Fridays.  This is why it is reasonable to monitor the teaching that goes on in these places, where actually, in the name of Islam, dangerous political plots can be created.  In fact, such monitoring exists in all Muslim countries.

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