It is asserted, in connection with 10th anniversary observances of al Qaeda’s Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, that “we are not at war with Islam, only against a tiny minority trying to hijack this peaceful religion for violent ends.” The assertion is more lullaby than description.
A decade after the terrorist murders of 3,000 people, 10 years including U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Transportation Safety Administration’s strip-search X-rays and Manhattan’s ground zero mosque, U.S. leaders including Presidents Bush and Obama have avoided a basic truth: We are not at war with Islam, but what is perhaps the most influential ideological trend in contemporary Islam is at war with us.
Shortly after the destruction of New York City’s World Trade Center and the coordinated attack on the Pentagon, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf reassured Westerners that no more than 10 or 15 percent of Muslims supported Sunni extremist Osama bin Laden. That would be at least 130 million people, roughly equivalent to the combined populations of France and Germany. Hardly a majority of the world’s Muslims, but much greater than a “tiny minority.”
Shi’a extremists, epitomized by the mullahs running Iran’s Islamic Republic, have been at war with the West, the United States in particular, since the 1979 seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran. Related attacks have included the 1983 bombings of the U.S. embassy and Marine barracks in Lebanon, the ’86 destruction of Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, and the countless deaths of GIs in Iraq and Afghanistan from Iranian-designed or supplied roadside bombs. All as hors d’oeuvres to Iran’s accelerated development of nuclear weapons.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg insinuates that opponents of the ground zero mosque are “racists.” A USA Today editorial implies that those objecting to consideration of Shariah (Islamic law) in American courts are bigots. A few questions, then, for our opinion leaders:
1) Recognizing that Islamic thought and practice is diverse, according to mainstream theological interpretations, what is the status of Muslims who convert to other religions? Do authorities still consider them apostates subject to execution?
2) In normative Islamic thought, is the category of dhimmi, the “protected” status of Christians and Jews as “people of the Book,” still operative? Protected, that is, from oppression by Muslim majorities if they accept second-class status and pay the jizya tax on unbelievers?
3) Regarding internal and external jihad, personal religious self-improvement or active defense against enemies of Islam, are groups like al Qaeda, which call for “jihad against the Crusader and Zionist West” and re-establishment of an international Islamic caliphate, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, with holy war a part of its very name, mistaken or merely excessive?
4) How does that answer relate to the concepts of dar al-Islam and dar al-harb, the world of Islam in which peace is to reign and the non-Islamic world in which war against Islam’s enemies is permitted?
Other such questions could be asked of leaders given to uncritical references to Islam as “a religion of peace.” These include: Why are portions of some European cities “no-go zones” for non-Muslims, including police? Why have there been several dozen significant domestic U.S. terrorism cases since 9/11 involving Muslim participants, among them the 2009 Fort Hood massacre, but no similar outbreak from followers of other religions?
For champions of diversity and tolerance, what is the status of homosexuals under Islamic law, or of a non-Muslim spouse? May he or she raise their children as non-Muslims?
The three major monotheisms — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — have common roots. But their development has taken divergent paths. Islam has not had to accommodate itself to millennia of dispersion, as Judaism did. Neither has it experienced transformative upheavals like Christianity’s Protestant Reformation and Catholic Counter-Reformation, although extremist-driven bloodshed from Algeria to Indonesia may yet produce something similar.
On the 10th anniversary of 9/11, let us eschew empty, if comforting generalities. Instead, let us simply, profoundly, remember.
Eric Rozenman is a Washington-based news media analyst.