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The Mumbai attacks remind us of the urgency of dealing with Islamism. To do so, we must have a good understanding of what it is. Judging from various mail, Muslim quotes and other misconceptions did not really satisfy the skeptics and there is much confusion between Islamism and Islam in the minds of many.

Here are the major points points to keep in mind:

1. Radical Islamism* (or Jihadism) is not the same as Islam.

2. Radical Islamism, and not Islam, is the motivation and ideology of the Mumbai attacks and groups like Al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood.

3. Radical Islamism as defined by its modern founder, Sayyid Qutb discards all the hadiths and the fiqh (jurisprudence) that it doesn't like. It relies only on the Quran as it interprets it, and its own ideology. Its hatred of Jews and Christians and the West is not based on the Quran, and in fact is moderated to some extent by Quranic injunctions about treatment of people of the book. Therefore it is not relevant for the understanding of Islamism to determine what the Quran "really says" or intends with respect to slogans like "kill them wherever you find them" and it doesn't matter if this Hadith states that one must treat the people of the book well or the other states that one must kill them all.

4. Radical Islamism in its modern form declares that it is at war with all regimes that are the rule of man, rather than the rule of God, and that includes all the current regimes in Muslim countries. In the perception of many, hopefully most, Muslims, Islamism is at war with Islam. It is not a war between civilizations, but a war between Islamism and the rest of us.

5. Radical Islamism can point to certain Hadiths and literal interpretations of the Quran to back its stand, which in reality does not stem from traditional Islam. Islamists also use the usual chauvinistic instincts of all peoples to gain legitimacy and rally support among Muslims. They want to claim that they represent Islam. Those who claim that Islamism has its roots in the Quran are inadvertently legitimizing Islamism and helping to put it in a position of leadership.

6. Anti-Semitism is also regrettably widespread in the Middle East, regardless of the Muslim faith or lack thereof. It is easy for Islamists to use this issue as a rallying cry, and those who insist that it is "about the Jews" are helping the Islamists as well. It certainly is, in part about the Jews. It is also about the Christians. But the major thrust of Islamism is aimed at gaining power in Muslim lands. They hope to show that the regimes who do not support them are illegitimate because they are controlled by Jews and Christians.

The philosophy of Sayyid Qutb. is explained in his book, Milestones. One has to read the book to appreciate the full flavor of this wildly mystical creed, which seems to be based on the idea that repeating the Shahada (confession of faith) over and over will produce enlightenment and is sufficient for revealing everything that must be known about how to run a modern society. Qutb preached that all countries are in a state of Jahiliya - the dark ignorance before the advent of Islam. The only way to free man from "oppression" is to remove the rule of man and replace it by the rule of God, where everyone spends their time saying "There is no God but Allah" and contemplating the meaning of this phrase. The Jahiliya and the rule of man result in oppression. "Real" Islam will therefore do everyone a big favor and and free them from the oppression of governments. This is what Islamists really mean by fighting "oppression." It doesn't refer to occupation of Palestine or to Saudi cooperation with the United States.

The hatred of Jews that caused the Mumbai massacre is explained by Qutb in the following passages:

....explaining the purpose of man and his historical role in philosophical terms ... is one of the tricks played by world Jewry, whose purpose is to eliminate all limitations, especially the limitations imposed by faith and religion, so that Jews may penetrate into body politics of the whole world and then may be free to perpetuate their evil designs. At the top of the list of these activities is usury, the aim of which is that all the wealth of mankind end up in the hands of Jewish financial institutions which run on interest. [Milestones, p.110-111]

At the beginning the enemies of the Muslim community did not fight openly with arms but tried to fight the community in its belief through intrigue, spreading ambiguities, creating suspicions. They do likewise today. They have plotted and they go on plotting against this nation. Hundreds and thousands have infiltrated the Muslim world, and they still do in the guise of Orientalists. The pupils of the latter fill today the positions of the intellectual life of the countries whose people call themselves Muslim. Their aim is clearly shown by the Protocols [of the Elders of Zion]. The Jews are behind materialism, animal sexuality, the destruction of the family and the dissolution of society. Principal among them are Marx, Freud, Durkheim and the Jew Jean-Paul Sartre.(Sayyid Qutb, "Ma'rakatuna ma'a al-Yahud," (Our Battle Against the Jews) [essay] 1951. Published in book of the same name [Ma'rakatuna ma'a al-Yahud], Jedda, Saudi Arabia, 1970)

. These are approximately the ideas later adopted by the Hamas and by Mahathir Muhammad. They have no relation to anything in the Quran, which did not refer to Jean Paul Sartre or Emile Durkheim, nor are there any Hadiths about Freud or Marx.

In the West, the struggle against Islamism is misunderstood in one of two ways. The reaction of the left and the "realists" is to identify Islamist ideas with Islam and to urge "dialogue" and toleration. Those who favor social revolution see the word "oppression" and convince themselves that Islamism is a progressive movement and will be satisfied by removing "oppression" - democratizing Muslim regimes and granting concessions to Palestinians and Hezbollah, "engaging" with Islamists to learn what is troubling them and carrying on "dialogue" to show that we are really nice and democratic. This is a hopeless idea. The Islamists already know that you are democratic and believe in rights. That is why they hate you. Qutb came to the United States and was disgusted by freedom given to women and by the Jazz music of Africans, whom he plainly considered to be immoral and inferior. In their topsy turvy world, slavery is freedom, racism is tolerance, advocacy of human rights is oppression.

The other Western reaction to Islamism is one we have been seeing in response to the Mumbai attacks. It insists that all of Islam is inherently racist and violent, and that these ideas are all legitimized by the Quran and the Hadiths. This is precisely the reaction that Islamists want to evoke. It legitimizes them as the spokespeople of Islam, in the same way as claiming that all Christians are evil because they follow the doctrines of the Inquisition and Torquemada would legitimize extremist Christianity. It attacks all of Islam, so it forces moderate Muslims to rally around the flag of groups solidarity and defend the extremists.

Jews tend to emphasize the fact that Jews were targeted in Mumbai. For the anti-Semitic constituency of Al-Qaeda, Jewish and non-Jewish, this is a big recommendation, and the murder of Jews was a great accomplishment. Sick people are really sick.

In the Muslim world, there are two contrasting receptions to the message of Sayyid Qutb and Al Qaeda, and BOTH of them may be found among moderates. There is no doubt that one group of Muslim moderates lends a sort of legitimacy to Qutb. One foolish person went so far as to compare Qutb with John Locke. If only Americans understood this, the article claimed, everything would be fine (theglobalist.com/printStoryId.aspx?StoryId=3324). Another "moderate Muslim" who pleads for dialog with Islamists wrote the following:Like peoples in non-Western civilizations, Muslims suffer the concrete effects of disruption and dislocation, but unlike the others they have a worldview that entitles them to dominate. But to to the contrary, they are dominated by others, to whom they feel -- thanks to their divine revelation -- superior. If this point is missed, Western observers will fail to grasp how Muslims feel about the current world order. (Tibi, Bassam, The Challenge of Fundamentalism, University of California, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 2002, p 61). The above is not very different from the idea that the Aryan race deserves to be dominant and has been suppressed by the influence of the Jews and the Bolsheviks. Its appeal to simple chauvinism is obvious, but it cannot be the basis of any "understanding." There is nothing to understand. If someone claims the right to dominate, they must be stopped by force, and the more "oppressed" they are, the better it is for the rest of mankind.

The other Muslim reaction, which is growing, is to emphasize that Islamism is not Islam, and to understand that Islamism is the enemy of every civilized country in the world. In Revisiting Islam vs Islamism, Hussain Solomon makes this point: Forget the `Clash of Civilizations' thesis; the battle lines within Islam have been drawn. Two years ago I published a paper entitled "Between Tolerance and Totalitarianism, Between Islam and Islamism* The basic thrust of my argument then was that Islamic principles of tolerance and compassion are increasingly being displaced by Islamism. Islamism is a twentieth century totalitarian ideology that seeks to mould Islamic religious tradition to serve narrow political ends of domination. Not only is Islamism totalitarian in character, it is also violent in its methods and, in the process, betrays the very Islamic ideals it supposedly champions...

Following the terrorist attack on Mumbai, Muslim clerics in India once again went on the offensive. Mumbai's Muslim Council refused burial space to the terrorists killed in the Mumbai attacks, making it very clear that they do not regard these as Muslims. Muslim imams in Mumbai also called on the community to wear a black ribbon on Eid as an expression of solidarity with those killed. Meanwhile, the India Organisation of Imams of Mosques called on all mosques, muftis and madrassas to reiterate in this week's Friday prayers that "Islam forbids the killing of innocent people and is against any form of terrorism. We are deeply aggrieved by the loss of human lives and especially by the brutal killing of Jews."

As a Muslim, I have to admit that I was really proud of these imams. Muslims were coming to terms with the enemy within -- those who seek to subvert the noble ideals of a great religion into one which would justify the brutal massacre of the innocent. Just as the Mumbai terrorists demonstrated that the targets of terror have no religion -- Hindu, Jew, Christian and over 40 Muslims were killed in Mumbai - so too were these imams loudly proclaiming that terrorists have no religion -- whether Timothy McVeigh, Yigal Amir or Osama bin Laden. This gives me hope that in the battle between Islam and Islamism, Islam will triumph in the end.
These are the Muslims who must be strengthened and encouraged. Some will point out that Osama Bin Laden, unlike McVeigh, has a big following in the Muslim world and that the terror problem in the Arab world cannot be ignored. Well frankly, during the Crusades, Christianity had a big problem with violence and racism. Would it have helped to say, "Violence is part of Christianity and it cannot be eliminated unless we persuade Christians to give up all their beliefs?" I don't think so. It is also important to remember that some of the worst ideologies in the Arab world and the most violent terrorists were founded by Christians. George Habash, who founded and led the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine was not a Muslim. Michel Aflaq who founded the Baath party was not a Muslim either. Gamal Nasser was a secularist and so, nominally, was Yasser Arafat.

If you do not believe a Muslim who writes that Islamism is not Islam, then perhaps you will believe an Israeli, Boaz Ganor:One concept unites jihadi terrorist attacks around the world: The belief in a divine commandment that justifies jihadists to kill, kidnap, behead, commit arson and extort innocent civilians to express their religious-political grievances.

This is not Islam but a cynical, calculated misuse of Islam.
Those who advocate "dialogue" and "engagement" with extremists, as well as those on the other side who lump together all Muslims and all Islam as terrorist and racist, are betraying moderate and reformist Islam in favor of the forces of darkness and fanaticism and of their apologists. The Websites and demagogues who insist that the all Muslims are terrorists and that the Quran is the basis of Islamist ideology are disseminating a doctrine quite as dangerous and destructive as that of the terror groupies and fools who try to market Qutb as John Locke.

Ami Isseroff
* The philosophy behind the terror attacks is perhaps most accurately called Qutbism. "Islamism" is also used to refer to relatively moderate political groups such as AKP, which are not the same as the radical Islamism discussed here.


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