On the first anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks, I presented a paper for Hanshin University's Humanities Research Institute titled:
"Striving to Understand 9/11: Some Religious Dimensions of the Attack."
A few of you may have noticed the link in my sidebar. For some reason, the margin specifications are screwy in the official online site that I've linked to, so if that's too hard to read, try a google-search link.
In that presentation, I attempted to make clear to a generally leftist Korean audience that the issues were not so clearcut as they imagined.
What did they imagine?
That the 9/11 attacks were an inevitable anti-imperialist reaction to America's imperial foreign policy.
I began by acknowledging that Islamists don't like American foreign policy. That much is rather obvious. I spent the rest of my presentation in trying to show that the leftist 'analysis' of the attacks was inadequate because it was utterly unaware of the imperialist aspect of Islam.
The primary reaction to my paper was silence. I think that a lot of people were simply baffled. The great majority didn't know the material that I was referring to and had no frame of reference by which to judge it.
I should have expected this. In preparing for the event, I worked with the chairman of my department, who was going to present the response. This was a man of the left who took an active interest in world politics . . . or so I thought. But in my discussions with him about the issues, I came to see that his reading of world events was refracted through the lens of political analysis by the Korean left, which focuses on America's role in all political events, and followed this logic:
Anyone who attacks America is anti-imperialistic.
The 9/11 perpetrators attacked America.
The 9/11 perpetrators were therefore anti-imperialistic.
I suppose that this is a pretty tight argument if one accepts the basic premise, but it's simply untrue that anyone attacking America is anti-imperialistic.
I should have asked this Korean professor if the Pearl Harbor attack was an anti-imperialistic act and if the Japanese imperialists had therefore been anti-imperialistic despite their colonization of Korea and their Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.
But there was little time for irony.
I was occupied with gently explaining to him that, no, the United States has no military bases in Israel and that Bin Laden's reference to American troops in the land of the two holy mosques was not an allusion to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem with its Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque but a reference to Saudi Arabia and its two holy places of Mecca and Medina.
Then, he floored me with this question:
"Well, are there any of these sorts of attacks elsewhere in the world and not against Americans?"
Speechless at first, when I found my voice again, I asked:
"Are you serious? Is this a rhetorical question?"
He assured me that he was serious. So, I said:
"Have you never heard of the jihad in Sudan, the attacks in Nigeria, the attacks in Indonesia, the conflict in the Philippines . . . and many other places, all of which have little to do with America?"
"And these have nothing to do with politics?" he asked.
"There is always politics," I replied, "but you cannot ignore the factor of religion, especially in Islam, which encompasses politics within religion."
If I had possessed the resources at the time, I could have pointed him to this sort of statement by Sheikh Wajdi Hamza Al-Ghazawi in his sermon on October 6, 2001 at the Al-Manshawi mosque in Mecca:
"The [kind of] terror [in Arabic, "striking of fear"] that Islamic religious law permits is terrifying the cowards, the hypocrites, the secularists, and the rebels by imposing punishments according to the religious law of Allah . . . . The meaning of the term 'terror' used by the media . . . is Jihad for the sake of Allah. Jihad is the peak of Islam. Moreover, some of the clerics . . . see it as the sixth pillar of Islam. Jihad -- whether Jihad of defense of Muslims and of Islamic lands such as in Chechnya, the Philippines, and Afghanistan, or Jihad aimed at spreading the religion -- is the pinnacle of terror, as far as the enemies of Allah are concerned. The Mujaheed who goes out to attain a martyr's death or victory and returns with booty is a terrorist as far as the enemies of Allah are concerned . . . . Accordingly, the believer must not use this word . . . . Jihad, oh believers, is an integral part of our religion. The word 'terror' is used to damage this mighty and blessed foundation . . . ."
Sheikh Ghazawi's point? That the non-Muslims might call it "terror" but that Muslims should call it "jihad" and that it can be used not merely defensively to protect Muslims but also for the violent appropriation of "booty" from the unbeliever and the effective spread of Islam through war.
Whether Sheikh Ghazawi was defending the 9/11 terrorists or simply making an academic point, I do not know, but he was certainly making an explicit, unapologetic statement in defense of Islamist imperialism.
Let's keep Ghazawi's statement in mind as we strive to understand the 7/7 attack in London.