176 “Knowing the Enemy”: Jihadists

Much has been written, since 9/11, regarding the “roots” responsible for Islamic terrorism.  Marxists cite economic inequities, Anti-Americans blame U.S. imperialism, Palestinian proponents fault Israel, and Howard Dean targets George Bush.  Still others, acknowledging the religious rhetoric of the terrorists, have sought to locate reasons for their violence in The Qur’an while Islamic apologists allege that Islamic “fundamentalists” have hijacked the holy book of a peaceful religion.  Providing a thorough and thoughtful evaluation of this complex issue, Mary R. Habeck, an associate professor at the School of Advanced International Studies, John Hopkins University, has written Knowing the Enemy:  Jihadist Ideology and the War on Terror (New Haven:  Yale University Press, c. 2006).  

She gets right to the point in her first chapter:  “Why They Did It.”  Obviously al-Qaida orchestrated the 2001 assault on America.  Equally obvious, not all Muslims support al-Qaida, so the terrorists’ roots are located in only a slice of Islam.  Professor Habeck argues that they “are part of a radical faction of the multifaceted Islamist belief system.  This faction—generally called ‘jihadi’ or ‘jihadist’—has very specific views about how to revive Islam, how to return Muslims to political power, and what needs to be done about its enemies, including the United States.”  The extremists differ from other Muslims in their “commitment to the violent overthrow of the existing international system and its replacement by an all-encompassing Islamic state.  To justify their resort to violence, they define ‘jihad’ (a term that can mean an internal struggle to please God as well as an external battle to open countries to the call of Islam) as fighting alone.  Only by understanding the elaborate ideology of the jihadist faction can the United States, as well as the rest of the world,  determine how to contain and eventually end the threat they pose to stability and peace” (pp. 4-5).  

In the jihadists’  historical account, devout Muslims followed Allah’s will—the “true faith”—for a millennium (or parts thereof).  Then apostasy swept away large segments—or perhaps all—of real Islam.  Christians and Jews began to dominate the world, including much of the world earlier ruled by Islam.  Some jihadists locate the apostasy quite early, following the four righteous Caliphs of the seventh century.  Others mark the final collapse in “1924, when Mustafa Kemal Ataturk abolished the Ottoman Caliphate” (p. 11).  Whatever the various explanations, it’s clear that today’s terrorists want both to make radical changes in the Islamic world and destroy all Western powers that oppose them.  To the al-Qaida terrorists, attacking the U.S. on 9/11 would “begin the ultimate destruction of falsehood around the world” (p. 14) and lead to the establishment of a world-wide Islamic state.  

Professor Habeck provides a careful historical explanation of jihadism, detailing the influence of thinkers such as Ibn Taymiyya in the 13th century, Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab in the 18th, and Sayyid Qutb in the 20th.  Today’s terrorists, whether in Hamas, Hezballah, the Muslim Brotherhood, or al-Qaida, almost all justify their frenzy with interpretations of Islam given by these clergymen, all of whom championed aggressive, violent forms of jihad.  Though they could not but rely upon the Qur’an as their “constitution,” these radicals quote it quite selectively and generally rely heavily upon supplementary materials, such as the Hadith and biographies of Muhammad, for their distinctive messages.  

Their version of Islam, which they consider the only true one, is comprehensive and totalizing.  The one true God, Allah, is totally in control, and all non-Islamic religions and political institutions are evil as well as false.  No human laws deserve respect, for Allah has prescribed everything, down to tiny details, necessary for a righteous society.  All property is God’s, to be controlled by His representatives, and individual freedom is an anathema.  The Muslim-controlled world (dar al-Islam) ever wars with the rest of the world (dar al-harb), and ultimately all peoples must submit to the true faith and embrace Islamic law (the Sharia).  Parts of the world once ruled by Islam, including Israel and Spain, must be reclaimed, as was Palestine from the Crusaders in the 12th and 13th centuries.  “Israel is seen as part of the military assault by the West to ‘subjugate a portion of the Muslim world permanently’” (p. 97), so it must be eliminated.  Importantly, to some jihadists, wherever an enclave of Muslims takes up residence dar al-Islam (the house of Islam) is de facto established.  In such communities, whether in England or Canada, Islamic law must be established.  Immigrants thus lay claim to pockets of the world that is later to be incorporated into the world-wide Islamic state.  Meanwhile, Muslim warriors, waging jihad against dar al harb (those outside the house of Islam) justifiably use any means necessary to attain their righteous ends—lying, looting, suicide bombings, terror tactics designed to elicit fear and capitulation are all “good.”

Many of the jihadists take Muhammad’s life as the perfect pattern.  In Mecca he first enunciated the religious principles of Islam.  Moving to Medina, he launched an offensive jihad, waging war and leading raids and seizing booty.  There he established a state-within-a-state, building up strength until he could at last return to Mecca and lay claim to his rightful role as ruler, both religious and secular, of the world.  To extremists, such as Osama bin Laden, places such as Afghanistan under the Taliban are modern equivalents of Medina.  From there jihadist assaults are to be launched, preparing the way for the final victory of Islam.  Osama bin Laden, says Habeck, was shocked that the U.S. did not collapse following the 9/11 attacks.  He fully expected a repeat of President Reagan’s retreat from Lebanon in 1984 and President Clinton’s withdrawal from Somalia in 1993.  That President Bush attacked rather than postured proved that America was not the paper tiger the jihadists believed.  Yet thee jihadists are prepared for a long struggle, much like the 200 years needed to expel the Crusaders from Palestine.  And if we are to effectively wage the war on terror, Habeck insists, we must first understand the depth of the jihadists’ convictions.  Along with military response, there must be an awareness of the theological basis for the terrorists’ resolve.  Radical preachers, as well as suicide bombers, must be countered.  And ultimately, she hopes, if the jihadists are appropriately stigmatized, a large majority of Muslims will turn away from extremism and embrace a healthy form of democracy that will resolve the conflict now endangering the world.

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Bat Ye’or, an Egyptian living in Switzerland, writing under a pen name to help insure her survival, has devoted her life to the study of Islam.  In Islam and Dhimmitude:  Where Civilizations Collide (Madison, N.J.:  Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, c. 2002), she provides historical documentation—ample appendices, notes, and bibliography—for what happens to people (ethnic majorities treated as religious minorities) whose lands fall prey to the sword of Islam.   As was evident in her earlier work, The Decline of Eastern Christianity Under Islam (which I reviewed “Reedings” #131 ), she brings a relentlessly critical, indeed hostile, approach to her subject.  But, importantly, she demonstrates a mastery of her sources and provides ample documentation for her assertions.  

The story of dhimmitude began in Medina, as soon as Mohammed seized control of the settlement in 622 A.D.  He and the Jews of Khaybar made an agreement (a dhimma) whereby Jews were allowed to continue farming “their lands, but only as tenants; he demanded delivery of half their harvest and reserved the right to drive them out when he wished” (p. 37).  In return, he promised to provide military protection.  Thus was established the pattern of dhimmitude that endures to this day:  first there is a jihadist conquest, then taking booty and seizing land, and finally the abject subservience of all unbelievers to Islamic rule.  Dhimmi were forbidden to bear arms or own land or ride horses, and they were forced to wear distinctive clothing, and pay extortionate taxes.  They were forcibly removed from the sacred soil of Arabia and were often reduced (despite clear Islamic laws forbidding it) to slavery.  Indeed, Christian slaves, in places of influence, often mitigated the harsher aspects of dhimmitude.  Though Jews and Christians were technically “free” to worship, it was a tightly limited freedom, and “[u]nder the Fatimid caliph al-Hakim (996-1021), every church and synagogue in Egypt, Palestine, and Syria was demolished” (p. 85).  

Bat Ye’or traces the pattern established in the 7th century as it was sustained over the next 14.  At times the dhimmi managed to live in a somewhat satisfactory accord with their Muslim masters.  At other times intense persecution (indeed genocidal attacks such as took place in Armenia a century ago) made it almost intolerable for Jews and Christians to survive under Islamic rule.  “The Armenian tragedy,” she concludes,” is not an unique phenomenon; it belongs to an immense historical cycle of dhimmitude that still operates—in Lebanon, Sudan, in the war against Israel, and in other Muslim-Christian conflicts.  This cycle has its own characteristics, linked to the principles and values of the civilizations of jihad” (p. 374).  Following WWI, and the instability that ensued as a result of Europe’s policies, Arab nationalism (often attuned to Nazi propaganda) became both intense and vitriolic, especially regarding the Jews.  “Anti-Zionist terrorism was merely the modern version of jihad” (p. 173).  Nearly one million Jews were removed from Muslim lands in the Middle East following the founding of Israel in 1948.  

More than historically important, jihad, dhimmitude and shari’a are essential, unchanging components of Islam.   In southern Sudan, let us never forget, some two million (largely Christian) people perished.  “Abduction, slavery, and forced Islamization of children . . . are similar to those mentioned in the historical records relating to jihad” (p. 206).  (Sadly enough, when details regarding slavery in Sudan came to light, neither the U.N., the Vatican, the World Council of Churches, nor influential NGOs dared criticize the Islamists ruling the country!)  To Bat Ye’or, “for all modern Islamists, the aim of jihad will always remain the expansion of Islam—by war or by persuasion—over the entire world, and the establishment worldwide of shari’a, the law of Allah.  The concept of dar al-harb embraces all non-Muslim countries; they constitute the empire of Evil and ignorance, the jahiliyya—the Arabic word used for the ‘paganism’ that preceded Islam.  It is the religious duty of Muslims to replace it with the empire of Good and of True Faith, which is Islam” (p. 218).  

Islamic goals are facilitated by various intra-dhimmi conflicts, especially evident in a number of Christian churches’ efforts to benignly portray and compromise with Islam.  Leaning in the direction of the heretic Marcion, who eliminated the Old Testament from his “Christian” canon in the second century, some modern churches have excised or minimized references to Jewish aspects of the Christian faith.  Others urge believers to embrace dhimmitude, to “serve” their Muslim masters under the guise of love and compassion—a move that strikes Bat Ye’or as both devious and wrongheaded.  Compounding these  problems, numbers of Christians (all too many of them high ranking ecclesiastics) court favor with the Muslims and profit from the alliance.

Equally important in assisting jihad are the Europeans and Americans who champion the Muslim (and particularly the Palestinian) cause.  For some French politicians, the reason is economic, since Middle East oil sustains the modern industrial system.  For others, especially professors in prestigious Western universities who are  committed to “multiculturalism” and tolerance, siding with Islam is a mark of modern secularism.   In the process, they rewrite history in much the same fashion as Stalinists updated school textbooks to fit the Party line.  To an alarming extent the West has legitimized dhimmitude, establishing “at all levels a dissymmetry in respect of human rights, freedom of the press, of opinion and religion, as well as of democratic rights.  The reason is that dhimmitude is not recognized as a crucially important page of world history.  Hence the West has adopted the Islamic view of history, where dhimmi nations had no history, no culture, no existence.  Indeed, dhimmi peoples have neither a cause nor history.  They do not have the right to claim any reparations for the centuries of exile, deportations, spoilations, massacres and persecution.  They do not even have the right to speak of this” (p. 398).  

But speak of this Bat Ye’or does!  

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Though Bat Ye’or has devoted her life to historical research, her most recent publication—Eurabia:  The Euro-Arab Axis (Madison, N.J.:  Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, c. 2005)—focuses almost singularly upon current conditions.  “This book describes Europe’s evolution from a Judeo-Christian civilization, with important post-Enlightenment secular elements, into a post-Judeo-Christian civilization that is subservient to the ideology of jihad and the Islamic powers that propagate it.  The new European civilization in the making can be called a ‘civilization of dhimmitude’” (p. 9).  To grasp her message, she warns us that Islamic jihad has, during the past 1300 years, transformed “once thriving non-Muslim majority civilizations” into appalling states “of dysfunctional dhimmitude,” impoverished and oppressed (p. 9).  Jihadist tactics never change:  “Hostage taking, ritual throat slitting, the killing of infidels and Muslim apostates are lawful, carefully described, and highly praised jihad tactics recorded, over the centuries, in countless legal treatises on jihad” (p. 159).  Looking at the globe, wherever Islam has taken root earlier (and often higher) civilizations “have disappeared.  Others remain as fossilized relics of the past, unable to evolve” (p. 9).  What happened in the Middle East centuries ago could happen to Europe, Bat Ye’or warns, unless movements currently in motion are quickly reversed.  

Too weak today to mount a military invasion to conquer Europe, Islamists have devised less overt strategies.  Relentlessly trumpeting “peace and justice,” Muslim emissaries have worked to subvert the Judeo-Christian West and are successfully establishing “Eurabia.”  They have persuaded Europeans to defend radical Muslim positions, especially in support of Palestinians, in order to maintain economic ties with oil-rich Muslim states.  “The huge sums that the EU pays to Arab Mediterranean countries and the Palestinians amount to another tribute exacted for its security within the dar al-sulh.  Europe thereby put off the threat of a jihad aimed at the dar al-harb by opting for appeasement and collusion with international terrorism—while blaming the increased world tensions on Israel and America so as to preserve its dar al-sulh position of subordinate collaboration, if not surrender to the Islamists” (p. 77).  

Within a generation, this collaboration has led to the establishment of Eurabia—a process, Bat Ye’or insists, illustrating continuous Muslim demand for land in exchange for peace and security.  This “is the foundation of the Islamic jihad-dhimmitude system” (p. 104) and is manifestly evident in the relentless  attacks on Israel.  “By implicitly enlisting in the Arab-Islamic jihad against Israel—under labels such as ‘peace and justice for the Palestinians’—Europe has effectively jettisoned its values and undermined the roots of its own civilization.  It even struck a blow against worldwide Christianity, abandoning the Christians in Lebanon to massacres by Palestinians (1975-83), those of Sudan to jihad and slavery, and the Christians of the Islamic world to the persecutions mandated by the dhimma system” (p. 115).  

Within Europe itself a parallel movement has taken place within one generation.  Enormous immigration from Muslim lands has changed the demography of the continent.  Islamic cultural centers, mosques and schools, have proliferated in Europe—whereas nothing comparable has been allowed in Islamic countries.  The success of the Muslim agenda is markedly evident in the policies established by the European Union (which recently proposed a constitution omitting any reference to Christianity), entailing “six main themes:  1) the Andalusian utopia; 2) the alleged Islamic cultural superiority over Europe, and hence the inferiority of the latter; 3) the creation of a Western Palestinian cult, (Palestinocracy); 4) European self-guilt; 5) anti-Zionism/antisemitism; 6) anti-Americanism and Christianophobia” (p. 161).  

None of these themes, all of them manifest misrepresentations and falsifications of history, withstands scholarly scrutiny.  Yet the “Muslim version of history is now being taught and accepted in Europe and America, while more accurate treatments” are disregarded (p. 195).  To a large degree, today’s historians are, like pampered intellectuals in Byzantine lands conquered by Muslims, dhimmis who refuse to fight for the truth.  They are happy with a cultural dhimmitude “based on peaceful surrender, subjection, tribute, and praise” (p. 204).  The same must be said for scriptwriters working for TV and movies—nothing critical is to be said about Islam, whereas there are no limits to anti-Christian sneers and polemics.  And Christian clerics have been perhaps the worst of the compromisers and apologists for the Islamic agenda!  

All of this was exposed by America’s response to 9/11.  “The effect of America’s unmasking of Islamist terrorism, which Europe had officially denied and tried to deflect onto Israel, was profound.  The Iraqui war brought to the surface the anti-Americanism that had been simmering for years among European Arabophiles, neo-Nazis, Communists, and leftists in general” (p. 227).  It is now clear that the European Union,  and the intelligentsia that supports it, “is implicitly abetting a worldwide subversion of Western values and freedoms, while attempting to protect itself from Islamic terrorism by denying that it even exists, or blaming it on scapegoats” (p. 227).  

Bat Ye’or argues her case with ample evidence.  Her bleak appraisal of Europe’s prospects cannot but dismay folks like me, rooted in respect for European culture.  But as events continue to unfold, I suspect that she, and not the champions of tolerance and negotiated peace settlements, rightly understands the truth about Islam’s unending jihad.  Anyone seriously interested in the reasons our world is rent with terrorism—and already immersed in a world war—ought not avoid a thoughtful reading of her books.  

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Even more ferociously anti-Islamic than Bat Ye’or is the celebrated Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci, whose The Force of Reason (New York:  Rizzoli International, c. 2006) details both the persecution, censorship and death-threats she has endured for daring to criticize Islam as well as her reasons for doing so.  (This book is a sequel to The Rage and the Pride, which I reviewed in “Reedings” #136).  Muslims, demonstrating “the only art in which the sons of Allah have always excelled, the art of invading and conquering and subjugating,” are marching, and “[t]heir most coveted prey has always been Europe, the Christian world,” now rapidly submitting to Islamic aggression (p. 36).  She provides a rapid overview of history, concluding “that today’s Islamic invasion of Europe is nothing else than a revival of its centuries-old expansionism, of its centuries-old imperialism, of its centuries-old colonialism.  More underhand, though.  More treacherous” (p. 51).  Muslims today are moving against Europe through immigration, petro-diplomacy, and jihad.  Indeed, “the war Islam has declared on the West is not really a military war.  It’s a cultural war.  A war, Tocqueville would say, that instead of our body wants to strike our soul.  Our way of life, our philosophy of Life.  . . . .  Our freedom” (p. 266).

Fallaci laments her slowness in discerning developments evident in the ‘60s, when most everyone failed to see them as a greater threat to the West than the Cold War.  But now she sees clearly!  She also has nothing but contempt for the “collaborationists” and “the traitors who invented the lie of Pacifism” (p. 137).  She has interviewed many of the most powerful Islamic leaders and terrorists such as Yasser Arafat.  She has peered into the enemy’s eyes and knows we’re in a great war.  That her personal, journalistic perspective so closely resembles the scholarly stance of Bat Ye’or should give one pause.