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The Religious Sources Of Islamic Terrorism
Shmuel Bar
Policy Review; Jun/Jul 2004; 125; Research Library
pg. 27
The Religious Sources
Of Islamic Terrorism
(IHU E TERRORISM — even in the form of suicide
attacks — is not an Islamic phenomenon by definition,
it cannot be ignored that the lion’s share of terrorist
acts and the most devastating of them in recent
years have been perpetrated in the name of Islam.
This fact has sparked a fundamental debate both in the West and within the
Muslim world regarding the link between these acts and the teachings of
Islam. Most Western analysts are hesitant to identify such acts with the bona
fide teachings of one of the world’s great religions and prefer to view them
as a perversion of a religion that is essentially peace-loving and tolerant.
Western leaders such as George W Bush and Tony Blair have reiterated time
and again that the war against terrorism has nothing to do with Islam. It is a
war against evil.
The non-Islamic etiologies of this phenomenon include political causes
(the Israeli-Arab conflict); cultural causes (rebellion against Western cultural
Shmuel Bar is a senior research fellow at the Institute for Policy and
Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel and a veteran of
the Israeli intelligence community.

JUNE & JULY 2004 27 Policy Review
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Shmuel Bar

colonialism); arid social causes (alienation, poverty). While no public figure
in the West would deny the imperative of fighting the war against terrorism,
it is equally politically correct to add the codicil that, for the war to be won,
these (justified) grievances pertaining to the root causes of terrorism should
be addressed. A skeptic may note that many societies can put claim to similar
grievances but have not given birth to religious-based ideologies that justify
no-holds-barred terrorism. Nevertheless an interpretation which places
the blame for terrorism on religious and cultural traits runs the risk of being
branded as bigoted and Islamophobic.
The political motivation of the leaders of Islamist jihadist-type movements
is not in doubt. A glance at the theatres where such movements flourished
shows that most fed off their political — and usually military — encounter
with the West. This was the case in India and in the Sudan in the nineteenth
century and in Egypt and Palestine in the twentieth. The moral justification
and levers of power for these movements, however, were for the most part
not couched in political terms, but based on Islamic religious sources of
authority and religious principles. By using these levers and appealing to
deeply ingrained religious beliefs, the radical leaders succeed in motivating
the Islamist terrorist, creating for him a social environment that provides
approbation and a religious environment that provides moral and legal sanction
for his actions. The success of radical Islamic organizations in the
recruitment, posting, and ideological maintenance of sleeper activists (the
9-I I terrorists are a prime example) without their defecting or succumbing
to the lure of Western civilization proves the deep ideological nature of the
Therefore, to treat Islamic terrorism as the consequence of political and
socioeconomic factors alone would not do justice to the significance of the
religious culture in which this phenomenon is rooted and nurtured. In order
to comprehend the motivation for these acts and to draw up an effective
strategy for a war against terrorism, it is necessary to understand the religious-
ideological factors — which are deeply embedded in Islam.
The Weltanschauung of radical Islam
ODERN INTERNATIONAL Islamist terrorism is a natural offshoot
of twentieth-century Islamic fundamentalism. The
“Islamic Movement” emerged in the Arab world and Britishruled
India as a response to the dismal state of Muslim society in those
countries: social injustice, rejection of traditional mores, acceptance of foreign
domination and culture. It perceives the malaise of modern Muslim
societies as having strayed from the “straight path” (as-sirat al-mustaqim)
and the solution to all ills in a return to the original mores of Islam. The
problems addressed may be social or political: inequality, corruption, and
oppression. But in traditional Islam — and certainly in the worldview of the
2.8 Policy Review
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The Religious Sources of Islamic Terrorism
Islamic fundamentalist — there is no separation between the political and
the religious. Islam is, in essence, both religion and regime (din wa-dawla)
and no area of human activity is outside its remit. Be the nature of the problem
as it may, “Islam is the solution.”
The underlying element in the radical Islamist worldview is ahistoric and
dichotomist: Perfection lies in the ways of the Prophet and the events of his
time; therefore, religious innovations, philosophical relativism, and intellectual
or political pluralism are anathema. In such a worldview, there can exist
only two camps — Dar al-Islam (“The House of Islam” — i.e., the Muslim
countries) and Dar al-Harp (“The House of War” — i.e., countries ruled by
any regime but Islam) — which are pitted against each other until the final
victory of Islam. These concepts are carried to their extreme conclusion by
the radicals; however, they have deep roots in mainstream Islam.
While the trigger for “Islamic awakening” was frequently the meeting
with the West, Islamic-motivated rebellions against colonial powers rarely
involved individuals from other Muslim countries or broke out of the confines
of the territories over which they were fighting. Until the t. 9 8os, most
fundamentalist movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan
Muslimun) were inward-looking; Western superiority was viewed as the
result of Muslims having forsaken the teachings of the Prophet. Therefore,
the remedy was, first, “re-Islamization” of Muslim society and restoration of
an Islamic government, based on Islamic law (shari’ah). In this context,
jihad was aimed mainly against “apostate” Muslim governments and societies,
while the historic offensive jihad of the Muslim world against the infidels
was put in abeyance (at least until the restoration of the caliphate).
Until the 19 8os, attempts to mobilize Muslims all over the world for a
jihad in one area of the world (Palestine, Kashmir) were unsuccessful. The
Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was a watershed event, as it revived the concept
of participation in jihad to evict an “infidel” occupier from a Muslim
country as a “personal duty” (lard ‘ein) for every capable Muslim. The basis
of this duty derives from the “irreversibility” of Islamic identity both for
individual Muslims (thus, capital punishment for “apostates” —
Salman Rushdie) and for Muslim territories. Therefore, any land
(Afghanistan, Palestine, Kashmir, Chechnya, Spain) that had once been
under the sway of Islamic law may not revert to control by any other law. In
such a case, it becomes the “personal duty” of all Muslims in the land to
fight a jihad to liberate it.l If they do not succeed, it becomes incumbent on
I “If the disbelievers occupy a territory belonging to the Meshing it is incumbent upon the Muslims to
drive them out, and to restore the land back to themselves; Spain bad been a Muslim territory for more
than eight hundred years, before it was captured by the Christians. they Ii.e., the Christians literally, and
practically wiped out the whole Muslim population. And 1101.4, it is our duty to restore Muslim rule to
this land of ours. The whole of India, including Kashmir, Hyderabad, Assam, Nepal, Burma, Behar, and
junagadh was once a Muslim territory. But we lost this vast territory, and it fell into the hands of the disbelievers
simply because we abandoned jihad. And Palestine, as is well-known, is currently under the
occupation of the Jews. Even our First Qibla, Bait-ul-Mugaddas is under their illegal possession.”
— Jihaael ul-Kuffaari coal-Munaafigeen.

NNE 6- JULY 2.004 29
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Shmuel Bar

any Muslim in a certain perimeter from that land to join the jihad and so
forth. Accordingly, given the number of Muslim lands under “infidel occupation”
and the length of time of those occupations, it is argued that it has
become a personal duty for all Muslims to join the jihad. This duty — if
taken seriously — is no less a religious imperative than the other five pillars
of Islam (the statement of belief or shahadah, prayer, fasting, charity, and
haj). It becomes a de facto (and in the eyes of some a de jure) sixth pillar; a
Muslim who does not perform it will inherit hell.
Such a philosophy attributing centrality to the duty of jihad is not an
innovation of modern radical Islam. The seventh-century Kharijite sect, infamous
in Islamic history as a cause of Muslim civil war, took this position
and implemented it. But the Kharijite doctrine was
rejected as a heresy by medieval Islam. The novelty
The centrality is the tacit acceptance by mainstream Islam of the
basic building blocks of this “nco-Kharijite” school.
of the duty The Soviet defeat in Afghanistan and the subseof
jihad is quent fall of the Soviet Union were perceived as an
eschatological sign, adumbrating the renewal of the
not an jihad against the infidel world at large and the apocalyptical
war between Islam and heresy which will
innovation result in the rule of Islam in the world. Along with
the renewal of the jihad, the Islamist of modern Weltanschauung, which emerged from the Afghani
radical Islam. crucible, developed a Thanatophi le ideology2 in
which death is idealized as a desired goal and not a
necessary evil in war.
An offshoot of this philosophy poses a dilemma for theories of deterrence.
The Islamic traditions of war allow the Muslim forces to retreat if their
numerical strength is less than half that of the enemy. Other traditions go
further and allow retreat only in the face of a tenfold superiority of the
enemy. The reasoning is that the act of jihad is, by definition, an act of faith
in Allah. By fighting a weaker or equal enemy, the Muslim is relying on his
own strength and not on Allah; by entering the fray against all odds, the
mujahed is proving his utter faith in Allah and will be rewarded accordingly.
The politics of Islamist radicalism has also bred a mentality of hello ergo
sum (I fight, therefore I exist) — Islamic leaders are in constant need of popular
jihads to boost their leadership status. Nothing succeeds like success:
The attacks in the United States gave birth to a second wave of mujahidin
who want to emulate their heroes. The perception of resolve on the part of
the West is a critical factor in shaping the mood of the Muslim population
toward radical ideas. Therefore, the manner by which the United States
2This is characterized by the emphasis on verses in the Koran and stories extolling martyrdom (“Why do
you cling to this world when the next world is better?”) and praising the virtues of paradise as a real and
even sensual existence.
30 Policy Review
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The Religious Sources of Islamic Terrorism
deals with the present crisis in Iraq is not unconnected to the future of the
radical Islamic movement. In these circles, the American occupation of Iraq
is likened to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan; a sense of American failure
would feed the apocalyptical ideology of jihad.
The legality of jihad
7″….-‘ 1ESE BELIEFS A RE commonly viewed as typical of radical Islamic
ideology, but few orthodox Islamic scholars would deny that they
are deeply rooted in orthodox Islam or would dismiss the very ideology
of jihad as a military struggle as foreign to the basic tenets of -Islam.
Hence, much of the debate between radicals and nonradicals is not over
the religious principles themselves, but over their implication for actual
behavior as based on the detailed legal interpretation of those principles.
This legal interpretation is the soul of the debate. Even among moderate
Islamic scholars who condemn acts of terrorism (albeit with reservation so
as not to include acts perpetrated against Israel in such a category), there is
no agreement on why they should be condemned: Many modernists
acknowledge the existence of a duty of jihad in Islam but call for an “Islamic
Protestantism” that would divest Islam of vestiges of anachronistic beliefs;
conservative moderates find in traditional Islamic jurisprudence (shari’ah)
legal justification to put the imperative of jihad in abeyance; others use linguistic
analysis to point out that the etymology of the word jihad (jahada)
actually means “to strive,” does not mean “holy war,” and does not necessarily
have a military connotation.-;
The legalistic approach is not a barren preoccupation of scholars. The
ideal Islamic regime is a nomocracy: The law is given and immutable, and it
remains for the leaders of the ummah (the Islamic nation) to apply it on a
day-to-day basis. Islam is not indifferent to any facet of human behavior; all
possible acts potentially have a religious standing, ranging between “duty”
(lard, pl. fara’id); “recommended” (mandub); “optional” (jaiz); “permitted„
(mubah); “reprehensible” (makruh); and “forbidden” (harain). This taxonomy
of human behavior has far-reaching importance for the believer: By performing
all his religious duties, he will inherit paradise; by failing to do so
(“sins of omission”) or doing that which is forbidden (“sins of commission”),
he will be condemned to hell. Therefore, such issues as the legitimacy
of jihad ostensibly deriving from the roots of Islam cannot be decided
by abstract morality4 or by politics, but by meticulous legal analysis and nil-
3This is a rather specious argument. In all occurrences of the concept in traditional Islamic texts — and
more significantly in the accepted meaning for the great- majority of modern Muslims — the term means a
divinely- ordained war.
4A frequently quoted verse “proving” the inadequacy of human conscience in regard to nuttier; of jihad
is Koran 2:2 i 6: “Fighting is ordered for you even though you dislike it and it may he that you dislike a
thing that is good for you and like it thing that is had for yon. Allah knows but yon do not know.”
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Shrnuel Bar
ing (fatwa) according to the shari’ah, performed by an authoritative Islamic
scholar (‘alum, pl. ‘ulama).
The use of fatwas to call for violent action first became known in the
West as a result of Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa against Salman Rushdie, and
again after Osama bin Laden’s 1998 fatwa against the United States and
Israel. But as a genuine instrument of religious deliberation, it has not
received the attention it deserves. Analysts have frequently interpreted fatwas
as no more than the cynical use of religious terminology in political propaganda.
This interpretation does not do justice to the painstaking process
of legal reasoning invested in these documents and the importance that their
authors and their target audience genuinely accord to the religious truthfulness
of their rulings.
The political strength of these fatwas has been time-tested in Muslim
political society by rebels and insurgents from the Arabian peninsula to
Sudan, India, and Indonesia. At the same time, they have been used by
Muslim regimes to bolster their Islamic credentials against external and
domestic enemies and to legitimize their policies. This was done by the
Sudanese mandi in his rebellion against the British (“88 I -85); by the
Ottoman caliphate (December 1914) in World War I; by the Syrian regime
against the rebellion in northern Syria (“98 ); and, mutatis mutandis, by
Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to legitimize his peace policies toward
The fatwas promulgated by sheikhs and ‘ulama who stipulate that jihad is
a “personal duty” play, therefore, a pivotal role in encouraging radicalism
and in building the support infrastructure for radicals within the traditional
Islamic community. While one may find many fatwas which advocate various
manifestations of terrorism, fatwas which rule that those who perform
these acts do not go to paradise but inherit hell are few and far between.
The questions relating to jihad which arc referred to the religious
scholars5 relate to a number of issues:
The very definition, current existence, and area of application of the state
of jihad. Is jihad one of the “pillars” (arkan) or “roots” (usul) of Islam?
Does it necessarily imply military war or can it be perceived as a duty to
spread Islam through preaching or even the moral struggle between one’s
soul and Satan?6 if the former, then what are the necessary conditions for
jihad? Does a state of jihad currently exist between Dar al-Islam and Dar al-
Harh? And how can one define Dar al-Islam today, in the absence of a
‘sThe following list of questions has been gleaned from a large corpus of fatwas collected by the author
over recent years. ‘the fatwas represent the questions of lay Muslims and responses of scholars from different
countries. Some of the fatwas were written and published in mosques, others in the open press, and
others in dedicated sites on the inierneL.
°This claim, a favorite of modernists and moderates, comes from a unique and unconfirmed hadith
which states: “The Prophet returned from one of his battles, and thereupon told us, ‘You have arrived
with an excellent arrival, you have come from the Lesser jihad to the Greater jihad — the striving of a
servant lof Allah! against his desires.”
3 2. Policy Review
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The Religious Sources of Islamic Terrorism
caliphate? Is the rest of the world automatically defined as Dar al-Harb with
which a state of jihad exists, or do the treaties and diplomatic relations
which exist between Muslim countries and “infidel” countries (including the
charter of the United Nations) change this?’
Who must participate in jihad, and how? Is jihad a personal duty (lard
‘ein) for each and every Muslim under all circumstances or a collective duty
(fard kiffaya) that can be performed only under the leadership of a leader of
all Muslims (imam, khalifa, anur al-inu’aminin)? Is it incumbent on women?
On minors? (According to Islamic law, in the case of a defensive jihad for
the liberation of Islamic territory from infidel occupation, “a woman need
not ask permission of her husband nor a child of his parents nor a slave of
his master.”) May a Muslim refrain from supporting his attacked brethren
or obey a non-Muslim secular law which prohibits him from supporting
other Muslims in their struggle?
How should the jihad be fought (jus in helium)? The questions in this
area relate, inter alia, to: (A) Is jihad by definition an act of conflict against
the actual “infidels” or can it be defined as a spiritual struggle against the
“evil inclination”? If it is the former, must it take the form of war (jihad fisabil
Allah) or can it be performed by way of preaching and proselytization
(da’awah)? (11) Who is a legitimate target? Is it permissible to kill noncombatant
civilians women, children, elderly, and clerics; “protected” non-
Muslims in Muslim countries — local non-Muslims or tourists whose visas
may be interpreted as Islamic guarantees of passage (al/1(m); Muslim
bystanders? (c) The legitimacy of suicide attacks (istishhad) as a form of
jihad in the light of the severe prohibition on a Muslim taking his own life,
on one hand, and the promise of rewards in the afterlife for the shahid who
falls in a jihad on the other hand!’ (n) The weapons which may be used. For
example, may a hijacked plane be used as a weapon as in the attacks of
September t i in the light of Islamic prohibitions on killing prisoners?
(e) The status of a Muslim who aids the “infidels” against other Muslims.
(n) The authority to implement capital punishment in the absence of a
How should jihad be funded? “Pocketbook jihad” is deeply entrenched in
Islamic tradition. It is based on the injunction that one must fight jihad with
his soul or with his tongue (jihad ahlissan or da’awah) or with his money
(jihad fi-mal). Therefore, financial support of jihad is politically correct and
7Some Islamic judicial schools add to the Dar al-I slamll)ae al-11arb dichotomy a third category: Dar al-
‘Ahad, countries which have peace treaties with Muslims and therefore arc not to be attacked. The basis
for discerning whether or not a country belongs to Dar al-Islam is not agreed upon. Some scholars claim
that as long as a Muslim can practice his faith openly, the country is not !Jai hub.
81t should he nutted that in the historic paradigms of “suicide” terror, which are used us authority for justification
of such attacks, the Martyr did nor kill himself but rather placed himself in a situation in which
he would most likely be killed. Technically, therefore, he did not violate the Koranic prohibition on a
Muslim taking his own targets of the suicide terrorist of ancient nines were also quite different
— officials of the ruling class and armed (Muslim) enemies. The modern paradigm of suicide bombing
called for renewed consideration of this aspect.
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Shinuel Bar
even good for business for the wealthy supporter. The transfer of zakat
(almsgiving) raised in a community for jihad ft-sabil Allah (i.e., jihad on
Allah’s path or military jihad) has wide religious and social legitimacy.9 The
precepts of “war booty” (ghaneema or tdy’) call for a fifth (khoms) to be
rendered to the mujahidin. Acts that would otherwise be considered religiously
prohibited are thus legitimized by the payment of such a “tax” for
the sake of jihad. While there have been attempts to bring Muslim clerics to
denounce acts of terrorism, none, to date, have condemned the donation of
money for jihad.
The dilemma of the moderate Muslim
CAN on safely assumed that the great majority of Muslims in the
world have no desire to join a jihad or to politicize their religion.
However, it is also true that insofar as religious establishments in
most of the Arabian peninsula, in Iran, and in much of Egypt and North
Africa are concerned, the radical ideology does not represent a marginal and
extremist perversion of Islam but rather a genuine and increasingly mainstream
interpretation. Even after 9-i 1, the sermons broadcast from Mecca
cannot be easily distinguished froth those of al Qacda.
Facing the radical Weltanschauung, the moderate but orthodox Muslim
has to grapple with two main dilemmas: the difficulty of refuting the legalreligious
arguments of the radical interpretation and the aversion to — or
even prohibition of — inciting an Islamic Kulturkampf which would split
the ranks of the ununah.
The first dilemma is not uniquely Islamic. It is characteristic of revelationbased
religions that the less observant or less orthodox will hesitate to challenge
fundamental dogmas out of fear of being branded slack or lapsed in
their faith. They will prefer to pay their dues to the religious establishment,
hoping that by doing so they are also buying their own freedom from coercion.
On a deeper level, many believers who arc not strict in observance may
see their own lifestyle as a matter of convenience and not principle, while the
extreme orthodox is the true believer to whom they defer.
This phenomenon is compounded in Islam by the fact that “Arab” Sunni
Islam never went though a reform.m Since the tenth century, Islam has
lacked an accepted mechanism for relegating a tenet or text to ideological
obsolescence. Until that time, such a mechanism — ijtihad — existed; ijtihad
prominent- fundamentalist Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, for example, gave a //diva obliging Muslims
lund jihad out of money collected For charity (‘aka[). I,taftuvi from April i i , 2002 in Islamonline.)
I °True, religions are naturally conservative and slow to change. Religious reforms are born and legitimized
through the authority of a supreme spiritual leader (a pope or imam), an accepted mechanism of
scholarly consensus (LthIllid, the ii//7(C 01 the schools of Orisprudence in early Islam), internal revolution
(Protestantism), or external force (the destruction of the Second Ilianple in Judaism). Islam canonized
itself in the tenth century and therelore did not go through any of these “reforms.”
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The Religious Sources of Islamic Terrorism
is the authorization of scholars to reach conclusions not only from existing
interpretations and legal precedents, but from their own perusal of the texts.
In the tenth century, the “gates of litihad” were closed for most of the Sunni
world. It is still practiced in Shiite Islam and in Southeast Asia. Reformist
traditions did appear in non-Arab Middle Eastern Muslim societies (Turkey,
Iran) and in Southeast Asian Islam. Many Sufi (mystical) schools also have
traditions of syncretism, reformism, and moderation. These traditions, however,
have always suffered from a lack of wide legitimacy due to their non-
Arab origins and have never been able to offer themselves as an acceptable
alternative to ideologies born in the heartland of Islam and expressed in the
tongue of the Prophet. In recent years, these societies have undergone a
transformation and have adopted much of the Middle Eastern brand of
Islamic orthodoxy and have become, therefore, more susceptible to radical
ideologies under the influence of Wahhabi missionaries, Iranian export of
Islam, and the cross-pollination resulting from the globalization of ideas in
the information age.
The second dilemma — the disinclination of moderates to confront the
radicals has frequently been attributed to violent intimidation (which, no
doubt, exists), but it has an additional religious dimension. While the radicals
are not averse to branding their adversaries as apostates, orthodox and moderate
Muslims rarely resort to this weapon. Such an act (takfir — accusing
another Muslim of heresy [kufrj by falsifying the roots of Islam, allowing that
which is prohibited or forbidding that which is allowed) is not to be taken
lightly; it contradicts the deep-rooted value that Islam places on unity among
the believers and its aversion to fitna (communal discord). It is ironic that a
religious mechanism which seems to have been created as a tool to preserve
pluralism and prevent internal debates from deteriorating into civil war and
mutual accusations of heresy (as occurred in Christian Europe) has become a
tool in the hands of the radicals to drown out any criticism of them.
Consequently, even when pressure is put on Muslim communities, there
exists a political asymmetry in favor of the radicals. Moderates are reluctant
to come forward and to risk being accused of apostasy. For this very reason,
many Muslim regimes in the Middle East and Asia are reluctant to crack
down on the religious aspects of radical Islam and satisfy themselves with
dealing with the political violence alone. By way of appeasement politics,
they trade tolerance of jihad elsewhere for local calm. Thus, they lose
ground to radicals in their societies.
The Western dilemma
T IS A TENDENCY in politically oriented Western society to assume that
there is a rational pragmatic cause for acts of terrorism and that if the
political grievance is addressed properly, the phenomenon will fade.
However, when the roots are not political, it is naive to expect political ges-
JuNE jinx 2004 35
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Shrnuel Bar
tures to change the hearts of radicals. Attempts to deal with the terrorist threat
as if it were divorced from its intellectual, cultural, and religious fountainheads
are doomed to failure. Counterterrorism begins on the religious-ideological
level and must adopt appropriate methods. The cultural and religious sources
of radical Islamic ideology must be addressed in order to develop a long-range
strategy for coping with the terrorist threat to which they give birth.
However; in addressing this phenomenon, the West is at a severe disadvantage.
Western concepts of civil rights along with legal, political, and cultural
constraints preclude government intervention in the internal matters of
organized religions; they make it difficult to prohibit or punish inflammatory
sermons of imams in mosques (as Muslim regimes used to do on a regular
basis) or to punish clerics for fatwas justifying terrorism. Furthermore, the
legacy of colonialism deters Western governments from taking steps that
may be construed as anti-Muslim or as signs of lingering colonialist ideology.
This exposes the Western country combating the terrorist threat to criticism
from within. Even most of the new and stringent terrorism prevention
legislation that has been enacted in some counties leans mainly on investigatory
powers (such as allowing for unlimited administrative arrests, etc.) and
does not deal with prohibition of religion-based “ideological crimes” (as
opposed to anti-Nazi and anti-racism laws, which are in force in many
countries in Europe).
The regimes of the Middle East have proven their mettle in coercing religious
establishments and even radical sheikhs to rule in a way commensurate
with their interests. However, most of them show no inclination to join
a global (i.e., “infidel”) war against radical Islamic ideology. Hence, the
prospect of enlisting Middle Eastern allies in the struggle against Islamic radicalism
is bleak. Under these conditions, it will be difficult to curb the conversion
of young Muslims in the West to the ideas of radicalism emanating
from the safe houses of the Middle East. Even those who are not in direct
contact with Middle Eastern sources of inspiration may absorb the ideology
secondhand through interaction of Muslims from various origins in schools
and on the internet.
Fighting hellfire with hellfire
Th- ING INTO ACCOUNT the above, is it possible — within the
bounds of Western democratic values — to implement a comprehensive
strategy to combat Islamic terrorism at its ideological roots?
First, such a strategy must be based on an acceptance of the fact that for the
first time since the Crusades, Western civilization finds itself involved in a religious
war; the conflict has been defined by the attacking side as such with the
eschatological goal of the destruction of Western civilization. The goal of the
West cannot be defense alone or military offense or democratization of the
Middle East as a panacea. It must include a religious-ideological dimension:
36 Policy Review
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The Religious Sources of Islamic Terrorism
active pressure for religious reform in the Muslim world and pressure on the
orthodox Islamic establishment in the West and the Middle East not only to
disengage itself clearly from any justification of violence, but also to pit itself
against the radical camp in a clear demarcation of boundaries.
Such disengagement cannot be accomplished by Western-style declarations
of condemnation. It must include clear and binding legal rulings by
religious authorities which contradict the axioms of the radical worldview
and virtually “excommunicate” the radicals. In essence, the radical narrative,
which promises paradise to those who perpetrate acts of terrorism,
must be met by an equally legitimate religious force which guarantees hellfire
for the same acts. Some elements of such rulings should be, inter alia:
• A call for renewal of ijtihad as the basis to reform Islamic dogmas
and to relegate old dogmas to historic contexts.
• That there exists no state of jihad between Islam and the rest of the
world (hence, jihad is not a personal duty).
• That the violation of the physical safety of a non-Muslim in a Muslim
country is prohibited (haram).
• That suicide bombings are clear acts of suicide, and therefore, their
perpetrators are condemned to eternal hellfire.
• That moral or financial support of acts of terrorism is also haram.
• That a legal ruling claiming jihad is a duty derived from the roots of
Islam is a falsification of the roots of Islam, and therefore, those who
make such statements have performed acts of heresy.
Only by setting up a clear demarcation between orthodox and radical
Islam can the radical elements be exorcized. The priority of solidarity within
the Islamic world plays into the hands of the radicals. Only an Islamic
Kulturkampf can redraw the boundaries between radical and moderate in
favor of the latter. Such a struggle must be based on an in-depth understanding
of the religious sources for justification of Islamist terrorism and a plan
for the creation of a legitimate moderate counterbalance to the radical narrative
in Islam. Such an alternative narrative should have a sound base in
Islamic teachings, and its proponents should be Islamic scholars and leaders
with wide legitimacy and accepted credentials.11 The “Middle-
Easternization” of Asian Muslim communities should also be checked.
A strategy to cope with radical Islamic ideology cannot take shape without
a reinterpretation of Western concepts of the boundaries of the freedoms
of religion and speech, definitions of religious incitement, and criminal culpability
of religious leaders for the acts of their flock as a result of their spiritual
influence. Such a reinterpretation impinges on basic principles of
Western civilization and law. Under the circumstances, it is the lesser evil.
11Here the pessimist may inject that, today, all the leading Islamic scholars in the Middle East who enjoy
such prestige are in the radical camp. But there have been cases of “repentant” radicals (in Egypt) who
have retracted (albeit in jail and after clue “convincing”) their declarations of takfir against the regime. In
Indonesia, the moderate Nandlatul Ulama led by former President Abdurahman Wahid represents a genuine
version of moderate Islam.
JUNE & JULY 2004

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