Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Bernard Lewis on Islamic Radicals in the West

Bernard Lewis

In yesterday's post, I posed the query as to what in Islam makes it so susceptible to political misuse, and in perhaps oblique response, long-time reader and occasional commentator Erdal linked to an article in Die Welt (The World) by Bernard Lewis, "Drei Phasen des islamischen Kampfes" (April 20, 2013), which translates as "Three Phases of the Islamic Struggle," and I will quote the German, then offer a translation, of a few relevant passages:
Der Angriff vom 11. September 2001 war offenkundig . . . als Beginn . . . gedacht. Der Krieg sollte mitten ins Feindeslager getragen werden. In den Augen einer fanatisierten und entschlossenen Minderheit von Muslimen hatte schnell darauf die . . . Welle des Angriffs begonnen: die Angriffe auf Europa. In diesem Zusammenhang sollten wir uns nichts vormachen: Diesmal nehmen die Attacken verschiedene Formen an, genauer -- zwei Formen: Terror und Migration . . . .

Ich möchte Ihre Aufmerksamkeit . . . auf einige . . . bedeutsame Faktoren lenken. Einer davon ist der neue Radikalismus in der islamischen Welt, der in verschiedenen Ausformungen auftritt: bei Sunniten, insbesondere Wahhabiten, und iranischen Schiiten seit der iranischen Revolution. Wir erleben das befremdliche Paradox, dass die Gefahr, die vom islamischen Radikalismus oder einem radikalen Terrorismus ausgeht, in Europa und Amerika weit größer als im Nahen Osten und Nord-Afrika ist, wo man weit besser darin ist, Extremisten unter Kontrolle zu halten.

Der Wahhabismus hat vom Prestige, vom Einfluss und der Macht des Hauses Saud profitiert, das die Heiligen Stätten des Islam und die jährliche Pilgerreise kontrolliert und enorme Einnahmen aus dem Ölgeschäft zur Verfügung hat. Der Fall der iranischen Revolution liegt anders. Der Begriff Revolution wird im Nahen Osten oft gebraucht. Er ist nahezu der einzige allgemein akzeptierte Titel der Legitimation. Doch die iranische Revolution ist eine echte Revolution im Sinn der französischen oder russischen . . . . [Sie] hatte . . . enorme Auswirkungen auf die ganze Region, mit der die Iraner im Diskurs stehen -- also: auf die islamische Welt . . . .

Den islamischen Radikalen ist es gelungen, in Europa einige Verbündete zu finden. Um sie zu beschreiben, muss ich die Begriffe rechts und links verwenden, die zunehmend in die Irre führen. Sie sind schwer auf die heutigen Verhältnisse im Westen anzuwenden. Und sie sind kompletter Unsinn, wenn man sie auf die unterschiedlichen Zweige des Islam appliziert.

Die islamischen Radikalen haben eine gewisse Anziehungskraft auf die antiamerikanische Linke in Europa, für die sie gewissermaßen an die Stelle der Sowjetunion getreten sind. Die antisemitische Rechte sprechen sie an, weil sie in deren Weltsicht an die Stelle der alten Achsenmächte treten. So haben sie in beiden Gruppen Unterstützer gefunden. Bei manchen Europäern wiegt der Selbsthass schwerer als ihre Loyalität der eigenen Gesellschaft gegenüber.
Roughly translated, this says:
The attacks of September 11, 2001 were clearly intended as . . . the beginning . . . . The war should be carried into the midst of the enemy camp. In the eyes of a fanatical and resolute minority of Muslims, the . . . wave of the attack had started quickly: the attacks on Europe [and the US]. In this context, we should not delude ourselves: This time, the attacks take various forms, more precisely -- two forms: terrorism and migration . . . .

I want to draw your attention. . . to some. . . significant factors. One of them is the new radicalism in the Islamic world, which occurs in various forms: from Sunnis, particularly Wahhabis, and Iranian Shiites since the Iranian Revolution. We experience the strange paradox that the threat posed by Islamic radicalism or radical terrorism in Europe and America is far greater than in the Middle East and North Africa, where the extremists are far better kept under control.

Wahhabism has benefited from the prestige, the influence, and the power of the House of Saud, which controls the holy sites of Islam and the annual pilgrimage and has available the enormous revenues from its oil business. The case of the Iranian Revolution is different. The term revolution is often used in the Middle East. It is almost the only generally accepted title of legitimization. But the Iranian Revolution is a genuine revolution in the sense of the French or Russian . . . . [It] had . . . a huge impact on the whole region, with which the Iranians are in discourse -- i.e., on the Islamic world . . . .

Islamic radicals have managed to find some allies in Europe. To describe this, I have to use the [political] concepts right and left, which increasingly lead astray. They are difficult to apply to the current situation in the West. And they are complete nonsense when they are applied to the different branches of Islam.

The Islamic radicals have a certain attraction to the anti-American Left in Europe, for whom the Islamic radicals have effectively taken the place of the Soviet Union. The anti-Semitic right speaks to them because Islamic radicals take the place of the old Axis powers in the anti-Semitic right's worldview. So, Islamic radicals have found supporters in both groups. For some Europeans, self-hatred outweighs loyalty to their own society.
Lewis thus analyzes Muslim immigration to the West as a trend that the Islamic radicals (i.e., those whom I usually call "Islamists") intend to make use of in their long war with the West, and perhaps this is what Erdal was considering as a possible response to my question about what in Islam makes it susceptible to political misuse, i.e., the large number of Muslims in the world, and now in Europe, such even a statistically small percentage can be a large actual number.

But what radicalizes the Islamic radicals, and what leads them to consider Islamically legitimate such towering acts of terror as the 9/11 attacks? And what is there about the Western far left and radical right that makes Islamic radicals appear worthy of allying with?

I wish Lewis had said more about these issues.

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At 2:26 PM, Blogger Kevin Kim said...

"...the threat posed by Islamic radicalism or radical terrorism in Europe and America is far greater than in the Middle East and North Africa, where the extremists are far better kept under control."

Really? What about all those massive car bombings and other incidents, both great and small, peppering the Middle East? Ten people dead here, fifty people dead there...

I'm also idly curious as to whether Lewis wrote the original article in German. I think you did a fine back-translation, if so, but I'd love to compare it to the English original, if such original exists. Of course, Lewis is fluent in several European languages, so I wouldn't put it past him to write in German.

At 2:53 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Lewis may have a bad conscience about Iraq since he argued that the Iraqis would be grateful to be liberated from Saddam and happy to adopt democracy after dictatorship.

I think Lewis wrote in German -- Die Welt mentioned no translator or English original.

Now that you're in Seoul, we'll have to get together. I wish Ewha were hiring these days, but apparently not . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:24 AM, Anonymous Erdal said...

"I'm also idly curious as to whether Lewis wrote the original article in German."

It sounds like a slightly redacted transcript of a speech to me. In several places, you have him addressing the audience in a form that sounds like it's meant to be heard, not read.

At 5:55 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I hadn't noticed that, but it might explain some of the discontinuities, e.g., the jump from the first to the third wave of Islamist war on the West without a clear explication of the second wave.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:25 AM, Anonymous Erdal said...

Maybe this explains the sloppy wording that Kevin Kim correctly pointed out, too:
Of course there are more "massive car bombings and other incidents, both great and small, peppering the Middle East". The place is littered with militant radicals, after all. Turkey, to name an example I know the approximate numbers of, has more than 3.000 jihadis of several flavours locked up, mostly on very flimsy evidence. There must be tens of thousands of these types behind bars between Djakarta and Dakar, plus those that are killed on the spot when found out. In Europe and the US? A couple of dozens, I'd guess. It's all about relative threat, of course.

At 9:31 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Erdal, for the details.

Jeffery Hodges

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