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CALENDAR OF EVENTS

April 2019
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Speeches

A. Ali: The State, the Mosque, and the Masses: Discordant Discourses in the Muslim World

No sooner did militants claim to be acting in the name of Islam while perpetrating the September 11 carnage in New York than Muslim governments and Muslim religious leaders went into damage control. Muslim governments, with very few exceptions joined the international chorus of support for the US-led "war on terrorism." When Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network claimed responsibility for the massacre, Muslim governments, particularly in the Middle East, were quick to urge the Taliban regime in Afghanistan to hand over Osama to America.

At the same time, the imams and muftis across the Muslim world distanced themselves and sermonized to dissociate Islam from terrorism and strove hard to explain to a bewildered West that Islam is against killing innocent people. They condemned in unison the attack on America and demanded that the culprits be brought to justice. On the question of whether bin Laden and his al Qaeda should be punished, the majority remained non-committed, but some called for clear evidence. The majority of Muslim sas well as a great many Europeans and Americans, while regretting the loss of innocent lives in New York, did not support American military response beyond the legitimate pursuit of those who publicly took responsibility for attacking the United States.

Many in the Muslim world quite openly expressed their hatred of the US administration. To them, bin Laden became a hero overnight. In short, while Muslim governments empathized with the American wrath and supported its stand on terrorism, the mosques sat on the fence watching the drama unfold. The masses, however, turned openly anti-American. How does one understand this discordance within the Muslim world? Can America and its Western allies ignore the Muslim masses and achieve the elusive victory over terrorism?

Muslim states

Although there are more than 50 independent Muslim governments in the world today, very few of them can claim objectively to carry popular support from their respective citizenry. In the Middle East in particular, "no single Arab country can yet be classified as a democracy."[i] According to the Arab Human Development Report 2002, "Representative democracy is not always genuine and sometimes absent. Freedoms of expression and association are frequently curtailed. Obsolete norms of legitimacy prevail."[ii] Rigged elections, electoral gerrymandering, military coups, dictatorships, and mass repression, which are some of the common characteristics of politics in Muslim countries reflect the underlying legitimacy deficit. Without the backing of the national security forces, a majority of these governments would find it difficult to remain in power even for a single year. Open public resistance to ruling regimes is rarely tolerated, often suppressed with force and driven underground to operate covertly. The United States of America and its Western allies are not unaware of this fundamental political fragility, but tenets of political realism prevail over principles of democracy and the Western powers are too ready to exploit this weakness to maximize their own influence and interests.

Historically, the modern state in the Muslim world is a non-Islamic product in the sense that it neither evolved as an offshoot of the Islamic caliphate, which after seven centuries of glory and might began to disintegrate from the thirteenth century before disappearing completely in the twentieth, nor received religious authenticity from the primary sources of Islam, the Qur'an and the sunnah (the body of Islamic customs and practices based on the Prophet Mohammed’s words and deeds), or, through the leading interpreters of these sources, the ulema. The concept of the  nation state is an anathema to Islamic orthodoxy, which believes in a universal ummah or community that is territorially borderless. As Fuller states, 'The umma(h) is blessed by God; the nation-state is not."[iii] Even the border between darul Islam (the realm of Islam) and darul harb (the realm of war) according to the orthodoxy is only temporary until the establishment of pax Islamica.

In reality however, there are Muslim nation states although many of them were artificial concoctions of former colonial powers. They are in essence, as Vatikiotis describes, "successors to more traditional relations of dominance, but surrounded or propped up by a scaffolding of European-style institutions and claiming legitimacy partly on the basis of imported ideologies ... Whatever their justifications in borrowed ideology or institutions, these states, so far, have been unable to meet, let alone counter, the challenge of the native political idiom and perception, that of Islam."[iv]

John Keay assesses correctly the enormity of the difficulties involved in creating nation-states when he writes, "A construct like the nation-state, forged through centuries of conflict and consolidation among linguistically distinct peoples in Western Europe, could not be replicated elsewhere simply by a dollop of representational reform and a squirt of nationalistic rhetoric."[v]

Rashid Khalidi shows greater understanding of the dilemma of the modern nation states in the Middle East. " ... (I)n the Middle East," he writes, "this process took place in a region that was previously dominated by multiethnic, dynastic states whose legitimacy was derived from religion; a region that was not particularly well-suited to the European-derived model of ethnically homogenous nation-state."[vi]

Thus, "... for some 40 years," according to Sadiki, "ruling elites in the AME [Arab Middle East] have relied on outside moral and political (through diplomatic and protégé status) legitimacy as a substitute for electorally-based legitimacy."[vii] In a sense, it is this legitimacy or authenticity deficit, as Fuller argues forcefully in his The Future of Political Islam, that has caused the rise of lslam in several parts of the Muslim world.

If the democratic legitimacy and religious authenticity that the Muslim states need in order to survive are lacking, then the license to remain in power has to be sought elsewhere. While the support of local police and armed forces, a state-managed media, and state-controlled mosques provide the necessary security and propaganda strength, it is the external backing from the super powers and former colonialists that actually supply the lifeblood for many Muslim governments. The inflow of badly needed funds and weapons from external sources is vital for survival. The predicament of these governments was less acute during the Cold War environment that split the Muslim world into two halves, and each half utilized its dependency on respective super powers to solidify its power base. But with the demise of Soviet communism, however, and with the emergence of the United States of America as the sole hyper-power hegemony, all Muslim governments are forced to revise their survival strategies. President George W. Bush's open declaration to the world that "either you are with us or with the terrorists" and Washington's reference to possible "regime change" to enforce its hegemony sent shock waves to shaky Muslim rulers and governments. They had no option but to go along with US policies on war and terrorism.

The ruling families of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates, the presidencies of Egypt and Pakistan, and the governments of Turkey, Algeria, and Indonesia, the most strategically important countries in the Muslim world, are all confronted with a rising tide of domestic dissatisfaction and militant opposition arising from three main sources: political marginalization of the majority, economic failure of more than four decades of modernization and development, and the erosion of cultural identity in the wake of secularization and westernization.

"It is not surprising," says Fuller, "that we see backlash on the part of the majorities of these populations who feel their traditional values ignored and themselves left behind the modernization process of the elites."[viii]

It is this political vulnerability of the Muslim states more than anything else that explains their total compliance with the US heavy-handed response to the 9/11 outrage. All criticisms of US foreign policy remained muted, and there was active support for US military action against Afghanistan and Iraq.

A classic case of policy U-turn is the government of Pakistan. It is now clear from Ahmed Rashid's study of the Taliban that successive Pakistani governments from the time of General Zia ul-Haq systematically sponsored and actively supported religious fanaticism with flow of financial assistance from Saudi Arabia, which ultimately produced the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.[ix] One of the reasons the Pakistani governments were becoming increasingly religious in their posture was the need to win legitimacy from the Pakistani masses. A shortcut to achieve this was to win the sympathy of religious leaders, who invariably carry huge influence amongst the rural poor and the illiterate.

Pakistan was created in the name of Islam but not necessarily with the blessings of the leading ulema (religious scholars). Abu-Ala Maududi, in particular, the founder and ideologue of Jamat-e-Islami (Islamic party), was one of those who denounced the secularist Jinnah and his Muslim League for blaspheming the Qur’an and sunnah (the body of Islamic customs and practices based on the Prophet Mohammed’s words and deeds) to create a non-Islamic Pakistan. Maulana Shabbir Ahmad Usmani was another leading cleric who advocated a theocratic state for Pakistan. Like the Ikhwanul Muslimeen (Islamic Brotherhood) in Egypt, the Jamaat also aspires to create an Islamic state. Although the party has been repeatedly defeated at the ballot box it still remains a potential force of power in Pakistani politics. As Fuller surmises, "Pakistan, facing government failure, corruption, geopolitical weakness after the Afghan war and pressure from India, sectarian violence, and lack of leadership may well turn out to Islamist parties as an alternative in time of crisis."[x]

It is in this context that one should view the ad hoc efforts of various Pakistani governments to Islamize the nation through promoting the traditional and more fundamentalist madrasa education and through implementing hudud (the class of punishments that are fixed for certain crimes such as theft, fornication, consumption of alcohol, and apostasy) laws under the pretext of adopting the Islamic law (shariah). It was an opportunistic attempt and a smokescreen put forward by the secular elite to win the support of religious opposition in the hope of receiving legitimacy for their rule.

These measures, however, succeeded in creating a "military-mullah nexus," as Tariq Ali, describes and it remained intact until 9/11. The United States and its Western allies in their fight against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan tolerated this military-mullah unholy alliance because it supplied Mujaheddin fighters to the battlefield. The Taliban regime in Afghanistan was the illegitimate child of this American-Pakistani parenthood.

Washington's decision to punish this illegitimate child and bomb Afghanistan obviously threw the internal political power balance in Pakistan into disarray. General Parvez Musharraf’s momentous speech to the nation on 12 January 2002 condemning Islamic extremism and the Taliban demonstrated a policy U-turn under duress. He not only banned five of the Islamist organizations including Jaish-e-Mohammad, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and Sipah-e-Sahaba but also ordered that all mosques be registered and no new mosques be built without permission from the government.[xi] Two days after his speech, 470 local offices of these organizations were shut down and more than 1400 suspected associates of these organizations were arrested. "All this from a Musharraf who six months ago was extolling jihad as part of Pakistan's India policy and had stepped up clandestine military support to militant groups fighting for the Taliban and Kashmiri separatists."[xii] While his speech immediately won applause from Washington, it was condemned by the lamaat-e-Islami.[xiii] From a hotbed of Islamic fundamentalism and Muslim terrorism Pakistan has now become a staunch ally of the United States and its war against terrorism.

Indonesia, the largest Muslim nation in the world, is another example of this conversion. As long as General Suharto was in power, his military dictatorship and repressive policies kept at bay both the radical as well as the orthodox religious groups. Suharto's willingness to be mentored by Washington and compliance with the dictates of multinational institutions won him legitimacy abroad. Within the country, however, his regime, born in blood and repression, nepotism, and corruption, lost its legitimacy and had to depend entirely on the support of the security forces for survival.

After his ignominious departure, the governments of Habibi, Wahid, and Sukrnoputri showed greater readiness to win the support of the masses through major religious parties. Islamic activism received a new breath of life after Suharto, and groups like Jamaah Islamiyyah found more space to operate in a relatively relaxed political atmosphere. State tolerance of religious activism was so great that even "Six months after September 11 Indonesia was the only country where demonstrations in support of Osama bin Laden ... (were) being sustained" and they had been the "largest" and the “most vociferous."[xiv]

This situation changed dramatically after the Bali bombing in October 2002. Even before this tragedy, Indonesian governments, in spite of their tolerance towards Muslim religious groups, were not at ease with the growing anti-American sentiments in the country because of the potential political and economic damage it would endanger if Washington were to react negatively. In fact, after the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center, "gleeful, hate-filled youths went from one luxury hotel to another, looking for Americans."[xv] According to some of those arrested and charged by the police in connection with the Bali bombing, their intended target was Americans rather than Australians and others.

The Indonesian government was obviously trapped in a dilemma. As Gunaratna says, the Indonesian elite "is divided on how it should tackle ... (the Islamist) groups."[xvi] From the point of view of Indonesian rulers domestic legitimacy demands grass roots support for the government but international legitimacy requires support for the so-called war on terrorism and alliance with the West, which is unpopular with the masses. Given the interlocking economic and military relationship between Jakarta and Washington from the time of Suharto the post-Suharto regimes had no option but to comply with the demands of the Bush administration.

International pressure on Indonesia after the Bali massacre has changed the government's position from one of being inactive or lackadaisical towards Islamic militancy to one of active partnership in the anti-terror campaign. The presence of multinational police and intelligence services personnel on Indonesian soil mainly from Australia, the arrest and media orchestrated trials of a number of so-called terror suspects including Abu Bakar Bashiyar, the leader of Jamaah lslamiyyah, and a new wave of criticism against radical Islam by Indonesian presidents, government ministers and other politicians indicate a policy u-turn and attempts at damage control.

The Arab states in the Middle East are also in a similar predicament. The national boundaries of these states were artificially drawn by former colonial powers, and the Arab rulers were either chosen by the same powers or allowed to rule with their consent. The economics of petroleum and the politics of the state of Israel have virtually made it impossible to relax the Arab governments' tight dependency on the West. Internal dissent to the ruling regimes is deep and extensive, but the external support they receive primarily from the United States keeps them afloat.

Saudi Arabia, "the world's leading expression of feudal absolutism,"[xvii] is an illustrious example of this fragile existence. Because Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Islam and its prophet, and houses the two most venerated spots in Islam, Mecca and Medina, the entire Muslim world, at least its majority Sunni segment, looks to that country for spiritual leadership although the particular brand of Saudi Islam, Wahhabism, is the most conservative of all Muslim sects and is not followed in its entirety in any other region. Within Saudi Arabia, of course, the picture is different. The Saudi oligarchy, its medieval rule and nepotism, the financial profligacy of the ruling family, the social suffocation of Wahhabism, and the presence of American troops (until the invasion of Iraq in 2002) have increased domestic dissent and the legitimacy of the regime is under serious threat.[xviii] In fact, Osama bin Laden's initial grievance was not against the United States or the West but against the Saudi regime and he is now openly calling for its overthrow.

The Saudi regime is the child of a "marriage of convenience between the House of Shaykh and the House of Saud." [xix]The former, representing the Wahhabi clerical establishment, takes care of the spiritual side of Saudi society while the latter looks after the material sphere. But, there is a fundamental conflict between what Wahhabism preaches and what the regime practices. Wahhabism's puritanical, exclusivist, and intolerant version of Islam is diametrically opposed to the ostentatious lifestyle of the royal family and its close ties with the Christian West, particularly with the United States.

In fact, even before Osama came into the scene, Juhayman bin Muhammad Al-Utaybi, who led the Mecca rebellion of 1979, had already fired the first shot against the royal household. Juhayman was a student of Wahhabism, studied at the Islamic University of Medina, came under the influence of the blind cleric Abdulaziz bin Baz, found the Saudi regime “flouting the tenets of Wabbabi doctrines, and decided to overthrow it violently.”[xx] To the Muslim world outside the kingdom, the House of Saud was presenting a holier face through generous funding to erect mosques and establish madrasas to indoctrinate Wahhabi orthodoxy.

The Saudi's export of Islamic fundamentalism in the seventies and eighties was never discouraged by the US and its European allies, because religious fundamentalism was viewed by them as a bulwark against godless communism. At the same time, Saudi money financed the recruitment of Mujaheddin fighters against Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. According to Rasheed, during the anti-Russian war in Afghanistan Saudi funds to the Mujaheddin forces matched those from the United States "dollar for dollar."[xxi]

After September 11, with American resolve to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan and militant Islam around the world, Saudi funding for religious activities abroad came under scrutiny by the Bush administration. Realizing the regime's vulnerability against external and internal dissent, the Saudi rulers chose to preserve the external support by throwing themselves in the front line in the so-called War on Terrorism. As Aburish emphatically states, "Without the West there would be no House of Saud."[xxii]

Egypt, with its oldest Muslim university al-Azhar, and once the seat of Fatimid Caliphate, is another important center of Islam. Over the years al-Azhar has churned out Islamic religious scholars from many parts of the world, and the fatwas or rulings on religious matters that emanate from al-Azhar are considered authoritative in all Sunni Muslim countries. During the presidency of the charismatic leader of Arab socialism and the Non Aligned Movement, Gamal Abdel Nasser (1953-70), Egypt was widely looked upon to provide international leadership to the Muslim world. However, with Egypt falling into the American camp since the time of Anwar al-Sadat (1970-81) and his policy of appeasement with Israel, popular resistance to and political oppression by the government has increased. Sources from Egypt reveal that since Hosni Mubarak took office as President in 1981 the number of jails in the country grew from 12 to 60, and they are getting overcrowded with anti-government protestors. The assassination of Sadat, an attempted assassination of Mubarak, and several incidents of bloody violence and riots in Cairo and other cities indicate the extent of anti-government bitterness in Egypt.

Any semblance of a democratically elected presidency has proved a farce because of election rigging which triggered a massive outcry and caused the interior minister in charge of the poll to be transferred to another ministry during President Mubarak's first term of office.[xxiii] As in other Middle East Muslim countries, the legitimacy of the Egyptian government is in question. Isolated from the masses and protected by domestic security forces and foreign intelligence services, the Mubarak regime has no option but to depend totally on the support of the United States for its survival. The US financial aid to Egypt to the tune of $2.3 billion a year, two-thirds of what US gives to Israel and three fifths of it in the form of sophisticated weaponry[xxiv] mostly to defend the regime against popular uprising, is another reason for this dependency. In the light of this vital link, the reason for the Mubarak government's outright condemnation of Muslim terrorism and al Qaeda and its continued repression of anti-government resistance is self-explanatory.

Even an outspoken leader like Mohamed Mahathir, the fomer Prime Minister of Malaysia who is noted for his criticism of the West and was popularly elected by his people, was quick to join in the Western chorus of anti-Osama and anti-al Qaeda.

Why did leaders like him support Washington's stance on terrorism? The reason lies more in domestic political necessity rather than external pressure. The word terrorism and the label terrorist have no universally agreed definitions. Subjectively however, they are convenient tools in the hands of rulers and their regimes to malign the opposition. As Geoffrey Robertson concludes in his passionate study on human rights, "the label of 'terrorist' is merely a pejorative description of the insurgents whose aims we do not like (or whose enemies we do)."[xxv] After all, President George W. Bush has declared that "So long as anybody is terrorizing established governments, there needs to be a war."[xxvi] This, as Robertson believes, "offers a blank check to vigilante states, and a convenient excuse to governments which simply want to lock up the dissidents."[xxvii]

Even outside the Muslim world, the Israeli government, for example, conveniently and deliberately describes all Palestinians who oppose Israeli oppression as terrorists. Within the Muslim world, almost all Muslim governments are noted for their dismal record of dictatorial politics and human rights violations. Imprisonment without trial, torture of political prisoners, suppression of NGOs, trade unions, and political parties often brutally with military force, government censorship of anti-government media, and rule by emergency laws are not the exception but norm in that part of the world. Until after September 11, these practices, in spite of widespread criticisms by reputed human rights organizations like Amnesty International, were justified by the practitioners on the pretext of maintaining law and order in the country.

Needless to say, during the Cold War atmosphere of the pre-eighties, rivaling super powers readily defended their respective client states whenever the latters’ human rights record came under attack by international agencies. Yet, those criticisms were embarrassing to the regimes, damaged the prospects of receiving foreign investment and aid, and consumed an enormous amount of diplomatic time and effort to repair damages. The antiterrorism campaign after September 11 came as a godsend to these governments and provided a more legitimate justification to continue their old practices. As long as any opposition party or a protest group could be branded as terrorist or a sympathizer of terrorism, international criticism against human rights violations and excessive use of force against opposition could be thwarted under the cloak of fighting terrorism.

Many sympathizers of the Islamic opposition who have questioned the legitimacy of the governments in Turkey, Pakistan, Algeria, Malaysia, Egypt, and Indonesia, to name only the most glaring of examples, have been incarcerated and tortured in the name of fighting terrorism. In short, the US policy of self-defense against international terrorism and the policies of Muslim governments to defend their own regimes converged after 9/11.

The mosque

Historically, the mosque has played a multiple role in Muslim societies. Though primarily a place of worship, it also has functioned as an office of civil administration, a center for learning, a hide out for political conspirators, and a refuge for the poor and the homeless. With the advent and spread of the modem state and with the development of social institutions that specialize in welfare activities, that multiple role of the mosque has disappeared in many regions and only the primary function is left to continue. As a result, the commanding influence that the mosques once enjoyed has diminished greatly, and with it the influence of the local imams and other functionaries attached to the mosques.

Unlike the Christian church, the Hindu and Buddhist temple, or the Jewish synagogue, the Muslim mosque is functionally a far busier place because of the obligatory five daily prayers. The Islamic shariah reckons congregational prayers as more virtuous than praying individually, and accordingly the faithful gather at the mosque five times daily and in far greater numbers on mid-day every Friday. The Friday sermon by the imam is a significant event in the Muslim calendar. The largest gathering of Muslims is, of course, on the occasion of the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, and the sermon there is expected to be of crucial importance to the ummah (community).

Theoretically, the sermon should address the faithful on issues both mundane and holy that should be currently relevant and affect people's daily life. In practice, however, these sermons in many countries have virtually become a monotonous repetition of medieval thoughts and traditions couched in colorful analogies and captivating phrases. But in recent times and mostly in Muslim majority countries, the sermons have been transformed into government propaganda where the imam faithfully reads a script already written by a government religious department or a ministry. Even the sermon in Mecca has lost its international significance. On one topic, however, there is convergence of view in all the sermons, i.e., that Western culture is un-Islamic, that its influence in the Muslim world is corrupting Islamic values, and that the Muslims should hold fast to the teachings of the Qur’an and the sunnah of Prophet Muhammad in order to escape from this danger. Virtually no sermon ends without reminding the faithful of this perceived calamity.

In the aftermath of 9/11, however, because of a worldwide condemnation of the outrage there was a general expectation in the community for the religious leaders to enlighten their followers at least on the Islamic aspect or otherwise of what took place in New York. Surprisingly, and as pointed out by several media reporters in the West, there was a numbing silence from this quarter. On issues such as whether suicide bombing is Islamic and whether attacking American and Western interests is part of a jihad, the mosques—until very much later when Western reporters started attacking the lack of proactive voice from the imams against terrorism—never issued a unified fatwa or a coherent explanation.

According to one report, when the chairman of a Saudi-funded Fiqh (jurisprudence) Council based in Virginia was asked whether the suicide bombers violated Islamic laws, his answer was "this kind of question needs a lot of research and we don't have that in our budget."[xxviii] This kind of diversionary tactic was commonly noted in the views of many imams, and they in general took an easy way out in their sermons by dwelling on the hackneyed theme of Islam means peace, jihad does not permit killing of the innocents, and suicide in general is irreligious. There were some exceptions to this general silence, such as when a leading cleric, Sheikh al-Qaradawi, condemned the actions of al Qaeda. His popularity among the Muslims declined somewhat after this condemnation.[xxix]

How does one explain this noncommittal discourse from the mosques? To answer this question one must understand the economic status of imams and other religious functionaries.

In countries where the governments are politically committed to promoting Islam and the spiritual welfare of Muslims such as in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam and so on, the imams and other religious functionaries are state employees. Where the governments are too poor to pay the imams or where the Muslims are a minority, the imams are paid by voluntary contributions from local congregations. In recent decades and after the petroleum-fuelled wealth in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia and Libya in the Sunni and Iran in the Shi’a regions are also paying a number of imams all over the world in order to capture for themselves the position of international Islamic leadership.

All in all, the vast majority of the imams are not economically independent. This lack of independence is a serious threat to the intellectual integrity of religious scholars and is reflected in the publicly expressed opinions of these functionaries. “Political and intellectual conformity complement each other.”[xxx] Some imams totally become propagandists to their paymasters; few of course are prepared to remain intellectually honest even if their views earn the wrath of their sustainers, but many tactfully remain silent on matters of controversy.

Why didn't the imams condemn the killers and al Qaeda openly? To many of them, the 9/11 incident symbolically represented an attack on the Westernization of the Muslim world. Anti-occidentalism, "an expression of revolt against the global civilization dominated by the West,"[xxxi] and "Occidentosis: A plague from the West"[xxxii] are themes that continuously recur in the sermons of the imams. According to Muslim orthodoxy, the fight against the culture of occidentalism and occidentosis is part of a greater jihad, and in that sense the suicide attackers of New York were martyrs of Islam. On another level the attack on America were viewed as a frustrated Arab response to the pro-Israeli policies of Washington over Palestine. Although the imams regretted the loss of innocent lives, they were not prepared to mourn the destruction of the World Trade Centre, a symbol of global capitalism. Above all, President Bush's cruel offer to the world to choose between "us" and "them" (terrorists), with a crusader overtone left the imams with no alternative but to remain silent.

The majority of imams are living in a totally different world. To them, history virtually ended with the death of the fourth caliph in the seventh century. They want the Muslims to return to that golden era, roughly 50 years from the beginning of Muhammad's prophethood in 610 to the death of Caliph Ali in 661, and restart history. In fact, the real glory of Islam in terms of economic, political, scientific, and intellectual achievements occurred during the Abbasid and Ottoman caliphates—neither of which could be described as Islamic in the orthodox sense—and the Andalusian caliphate—described as "the ornament of the world"[xxxiii] —produced one of the most magnificent civilizations in history that was multicultural and multiethnic. To them, it was the Medinan model of the Prophet, and not the Andalusian model, that is worth emulating and reproducing. To achieve that they declare a jihad or Holy War on progress itself because, in their view, any progress since the seventh century and all the modern scientific advancement since the eighteenth century is devoid of spirituality and therefore tantamount to backwardness.

In the writings of Syed Qutub and Abul ala Maududi, two of the famous firebrands of radical Islam, one could see the total condemnation of Western civilization. Muslim orthodoxy equates modernity with pre-Islamic jaahiliyya or state of ignorance. The concept of jihad is used loosely, and the examples cited to illustrate jihad are the battles fought by the Prophet Muhammad and his immediate followers against their own kith and kin, the Quraysh, who were the infidels at that time and who were bent on destroying the new faith along with its Prophet. From this piece of history a parallel is drawn quickly between then and now, and the West is portrayed as the new infidel.

Accordingly, Ayatollah Khomeini called for jihad against America, Israel, and the West. Imams in Baghdad joined Saddam Hussein in calling for jihad, "the mother of all wars," against the Western alliance. Imams in Indonesia called for jihad to fight against the Suharto regime installed and supported by the West, and imams in occupied Kashmir are calling for jihad against infidel India, which is also backed by the United States and Israel. Against this backdrop, the silence of the imams on 9/11 must be interpreted as a tacit approval of the massacre. Their silence, however, satisfied the rulers but not the followers.

The masses

Unlike the state, which sought to avoid the wrath of a super power, and the mosque, which tried to avoid the anger of its own state, the Muslim masses were jubilant at the destruction of the World Trade Center although not at the "collateral" death of the innocents. They were not alone in this malevolence. In Nicaragua, Brazil, Bolivia, Greece, China, and other non-Muslim regions, there were spontaneous eruptions of cheerfulness from students, workers, and community leaders who felt a sense of satisfaction that justice had been meted out at last for decades of despair and frustration caused by the economic and political agenda of the United States. According to one senior academic, 80 percent of the world population privately praised the September 11 attacks.[xxxiv] Why this hatred? Let us answer this question from the Muslim perspective.

Among the existential, cosmological, ontological and definitional reasons adduced by Ziauddin Sardar and Merryl Wyn Davies to explain Why Do People Hate America?[xxxv] is the existential—meaning that America has made existence itself problematic to the majority of world population—that relates directly to the anti-American feelings of the masses. The United States, via powerful multilateral organizations such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization, and through its own global corporations, has achieved a rigid and pyramid-type hierarchical integration of the rest of the world in which the majority at the bottom of the pyramid has been excluded not only economically but also politically and culturally.

"In contemporary renderings, and past," explains Ladiki, "the Euro-American model is the rule, the standard bearer from which the rest of the world's peoples are assumed to reap benefits; converge toward, and strive to copy, politically (democratization), economically (marketization), socially (individualization), and culturally (secularization)."[xxxvi]

In this integrated world the Muslim masses have been systemically marginalized from meaningful political participation, systematically deprived from reaping the economic benefits of marketization, and degradingly branded as culturally backward and religiously fundamentalist. Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilizations and Bernard Lewis' What Went Wrong, two of the most mischievous interpretations of world and Muslim history respectively, published inAmerica, vouch for this cultural and religious degrading.

When it comes to the behavior of the masses, perceptions formulate opinions and the latter, as a nineteenth century British Foreign Minister, Lord Palmerston had said, "are stronger than armies, (and) ... if they are founded on truth and justice, will in the end prevail against the bayonets of infantry, the fire of artillery and the charges of cavalry."[xxxvii] In the Muslim countries in general and in the Arab Middle East in particular, ordinary people’s perceptions about the West and the United States have changed dramatically since the second half of the last century. In fact, as Rashid Khalidi explains, the United States, was admired and loved in the Muslim world during its struggle for political independence from European and British colonialism and until the intrusion of the Cold War in Middle Eastern politics.[xxxviii] This admiration turned into disenchantment when the US, in its desire to control the sources of petroleum in the Middle East, decided to install and support dictatorial regimes that continuously obstructed the development of democracy and denied mass participation in political decisions.

The rise of secular nationalism in the 1950s and 1960s in the Middle East was misconstrued by the American administration as the rise of socialist radicalism; and in a climate of fear generated by the domino effect of international communism, it decided to support the most orthodox, tyrannical, and oppressive regimes in the region. The popular disenchantment that was simmering underneath turned into open hatred when the US administration turned a blind eye to Israeli's atrocities in the Occupied Territories of Palestine.

This atmosphere of disenchantment, frustration, and anger only needed someone or some group to challenge the status quo and win the support of the masses. Osama bin Laden, a fanatic of the Wahhabi School of Islam, and his al Qaida exploited the situation through a clever combination of religious rhetoric, financial favor, and merciless terror. The September 11 outrage made him a hero overnight in spite of the condemnation by Muslim rulers, and in spite of the silence of the mullahs, he still remains a hero to the Muslim masses.

In conclusion, the world of Islam is full of complexities and there is absolutely no uniformity or unity in its reaction to terrorism. The need for political correctness and international legitimacy dictates the anti-terrorist stand of many Muslim states; the twin desires for state support and mass popularity have made the mosques sit on the fence; and the accumulated frustration and disappointment of the masses with their own leaders and the international community have made them throw their support behind extremists like Osama bin Laden. There is indeed a discordant discourse within the world of Islam.



[i] Larbi Sadiki, The Search for Arab Democracy, London: Hurst & Company, 2004, p. 13.

[ii] Arab Human Development Report 2002, United Nations Development Programme/Regional Bureau of Arab Slates: New York, 2002, p. 2.

[iii] Graham E. Fuller, The Future of Political Islam, New York, Pelgrave Macmillan, 2003, p. 19.

[iv] P.J. Vatikiotis, Islam and the State, London and New York: Routledge, 1987, p. 38. (Italics added).

[v] John Keay, Sowing the Wind: The Mismanagement of the Middle East 1900-1960, Great Britain: John Murray Publishers, 2003, p. 37.

[vi] Rashid Khalidi, Resurrecting Empire, London and New York: I.B. Tauris, 2004, pp. 65-66.

[vii] Larbi Sadiki, op. cit., p. 347.

[viii] Graham Fuller, op. cit., p. 202.

[ix] Ahmed Rashid, Taliban, London: Pan Books, 2001, pp. 128-140.

[x] Graham Fuller, op. cit., p. 188.

[xi] The Dawn, 13 January 2002.

[xii] Ahmad Rashid, "A leader tries to reverse the culture of holy war: Tackling the militants," Far Eastern Economic Review. Hong Kong, January 24, 2002, pp. 14-16.

[xiii] The Dawn, 14 January 2002.

[xiv] Rohan Gunarama, Inside Al Qaeda, London: Hurst and Company, 2002, p. 203.

[xv] Amy Chua. World on Fire, London: William Heinsmann, 2003, p. 246.

[xvi] Rohan Gunarama, op. cit., p. 203.

[xvii] Said K. Aburish, The Rise, Corruption and Coming Fall of the House of Saud, London: Bloomsbury, 1995, p. 42.

[xviii] For a comprehensive critique of the Saudi regime and its dependence on the U.S. see, As'ad Abukhalil, The Ballie for Saudi Arabia, New York: Severn Stories Press, 2004. Also, Peter W. Wilson and Douglas F. Graham, Saudi Arabia, New York: M. E. Sharpe, 1994, pp. 35-82.

[xix] As'ad Abukhalil, op. cit., p. 36.

[xx] As'ad Abukhalil, ibid. Peter W. Wilson and Douglas F. Graham, op. cit., p. 57.

[xxi] Ahmed Rasheed, op. cit., p. 197.

[xxii] Said Aburish, op. cit., p. 148.

[xxiii] Dilip Hiro, War Without End, London and New York, Routledge, 2003 reprint, p. 83.

[xxiv] Dilip Hiro, op. cit., p. 97.

[xxv] Geoffrey Robertson, Crimes Against Humanity, London: Penguin Books, 2002, p. 514.

[xxvi] Quoted from International Herald Tribune, 19 October 2001, in Dilip Hiro, op. cit., p. 411.

[xxvii] Geoffrey Robertson, op. cit., p. 516.

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[xxix] Oliver Roy, Globalised Islam, London: Hurst & Company, 2002, p. 241.

[xxx] Oliver Roy, op. cit., p. 159.

[xxxi] Akbar S. Ahmad, Postmodernism and Islam, Routledge: London and New York, 1992, p. 177.

[xxxii] Jalal Ali Ahmad, Occidentosis: A Plague from the West, translated by R. Campbell, Hamid Algar, Mizan Press: Berkley, 1984.

[xxxiii] This is the title of an illuminating piece of historical work by Maria Rosa Menocai, The Ornament of the World, Boston New York and London, Little, Brown And Company, 2002.

[xxxiv] Michael Mathes, "Many Vietnamese happy with attacks on U.S.", Deutsche Presse Agenlur, September 13, 2001. Also cited in Amy Chua, World on Fire, London: William Heinsmann, 2003, p. 246.

[xxxv] Ziauddin Sardar and Merryl Wyn Davies, Why Do People Hate America? Cambridge, UK: lconbooks, 2002.

[xxxvi] Larbi Sadiki, op. cit., p. 325.

[xxxvii] Quoted by Karl E. Meyer & Shareen Blair Brysac in Tournament of Shadows, Great Britain: Abacus, i999, p.xxii.

[xxxviii] Rashid Khalidi, op. cit., chapter 4.