Islamic Terrorism or Islamist Terrorism?
Political correctness must be dead after all.
Phillip Blond and Adrian Pabst have written a provocative article on "The roots of Islamic terrorism" in the July 28th issue of the International Herald Tribune. Here's how the article begins:
Most commentators argue that Islamic terrorism is a fanatical perversion of Islam which deviates from its true teachings. They call for a Western-style modernization of the Muslim world, hoping thereby that radical Islam will be tamed.
This analysis misses the point. The nature of the terrorist threat is unambiguously Islamic and is not so much a deviation from Muslim tradition as an appeal to it.
Not so long ago, the IHT would not have printed such a boldly 'unorthodox' current of thought, but I suppose that it's now flowing in the mainstream.
But what do Blond and Pabst mean by stating that the "nature of the terrorist threat . . . is not so much a deviation from Muslim tradition as an appeal to it"? Couldn't it both deviate from and appeal to Islam?
Unclear to me from their article is whether or not they consider terrorism to be rooted in the nature of Islam itself. They state:
When extremists say they are killing in the name of Islam, they are in part appealing to Islamic traditions of long standing.
Well, yes they are, but did those traditions themselves advocate terrorist attacks? Blond and Pabst do not clarify this point.
I know some of the texts that they might be thinking about:
Soon shall We cast terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers, for that they joined companions with Allah, for which He had sent no authority: their abode will be the Fire: And evil is the home of the wrong-doers! (Qur'an 3:151)
Let not the unbelievers think that they can get the better (of the godly): they will never frustrate (them). Against them make ready your strength to the utmost of your power, including steeds of war, to strike terror into (the hearts of) the enemies, of Allah and your enemies, and others besides, whom ye may not know, but whom Allah doth know. (Qur'an 8:59–60)
Here in the official Yusuf Ali translation, we find the word "terror," and the means of terror include but are not limited to war. And there's also a hadith from Bukhari:
Allah's Apostle said, ". . . I have been made victorious with terror." (Sahih Bukhari: Volume 4, Book 52, Number 220)
I think that we can clearly infer from these sources that Islam has no scruples about terrorizing its enemies, but this does not necessarily imply that Islam encourages terrorism. Note that although the Qur'anic verses do speak of terrorizing the enemy, e.g., during military jihad, they say nothing explicitly about terrorist action, and the hadith from Bukhari provides no clarifying context at all. These sources may mean nothing more than that Allah Himself brings the enemy into a state of terror.
Thus, it would take enormous hermeneutic effort for such sources as these to justify the large-scale terrorism of our technological age, since for seventh-century Arabia, terror accomplished by slamming commercial airliners into skyscrapers or by bombing train stations in the heart of a city was thoroughly unimaginable.
But I'm not sure that Blond and Pabst mean quite this anyway. They note that modern Islamist terrorism like that of Al Qaeda "draws on two traditions to legitimize itself: one classical, the other modern."
For the classical tradition, they point to the prophet himself:
The Prophet died a successful military leader who created a single Islamic polity that expanded -- through warfare -- all over the known world. The caliphate combined the double logic of a religious community and an imperial state.
For the modern tradition, they point to such Muslim thinkers as the 18th century Arabian figure Muhammad Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab, the Indian Muslim Abu Ala Maududi (1903-1979), and the Egyptian Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966). These last two appear to be the intellectual progenitors of current Islamist terrorism:
Like Maududi, Qutb fused the history of Mohammed's travails with a revolutionary vanguard-type ideology that removed medieval limits on warfare by championing a modern death cult in the quest for a revivified caliphate.
The crucial point here is that these two "removed medieval limits on warfare" -- though I'd be very interested in knowing just what these limits were.
Blond and Pabst also note that:
Al Qaeda sympathizers avidly read European fascist literature and pursue religious ends via atheist methods.
This remark is interesting because it suggests that the inspiration for Islamist terrorism might come from a non-Islamic source, assuming that I'm reading correctly what they mean by "atheist methods," i.e., terrorism?
Yet, they also say:
The essentially Islamic nature of this terror demands nothing less than a reformation in the name of an alternative Islam.
This assumes that the Islamist terrorism is an essential part of Islam. So, we're still left wondering: Is Islam itself the problem?