Bible Commentator

Special Stories

Rabbi Moshe Reiss


Religion: In 1966 Time magazine ran a cover story that God was dead.

God seems to have recovered and to be on a winning streak; is that Good? Can the Sacred scriptures be considered ‘dangerous to our health’? Part 2

“The land of [Israel] [Palestine] is a [Jewish] [Islamic] trust left to the generations of [Jews] [Moslems] until the day of resurrection. It is forbidden for anyone to yield or concede part or all of it." (Hamas covenant issued on Aug. 18, 1998 and by many Orthodox Jewish Rabbis supportive of the Greater Israeli thesis.)

By attributing truth solely to God, and by pretending God’s will is knowable independently of human interpretation and reason, and therefore of human interest, needs and desire—in short by allowing nothing to human as against divine nature it abolishes politics and compromises – i.e. Humanity.


Radical Islam:                

The violence behind Religious fundamentalisms is a very ‘modern’ phenomenon. They operate and engage within modernity. Religious fundamentalism, whether Jewish, Christian or Islamic answer similar needs and occupies a shared theology and psychological territory. They all believe in a theological ‘sacredness’ which is inviolable and nonnegotiable and a psychological need that centers in their religious identity. In both Israel – a Jewish state – and Iran – an Islamic state – the issues of being Israeli (as opposed to being Jewish) and being Persian (as opposed to being a Muslim) remain contentious.  

For religious fundamentalists, the claim is based on the demand that the word of their God must be taken literally. Fundamentalists are absolutely certain about their beliefs and destinies. ‘We’, the rest of us – non-fundamentalists - cannot quite achieve this level of certitude. Thus fundamentalists believe in religious ideologies that are always just beyond the grasp of those excluded from their literalist system of belief. Thus to Hamas believers it is literally true that God gave to Islam the land that they call Palestine. To Jewish (and some Christians) believers of the Greater Israel thesis it is literally true that God gave the land they call Israel to the Jews. We have our Bible and they have their Koran. A modernist has no way of proving either belief since scientific proof is a tenet of modernity. The democratic government of Israel has given up on Greater Israel. Will Hamas ever acknowledge and agree to live in peace with a Jewish state that has been established in the midst of the Muslim wafq?

Radical Islamism is a byproduct of modernization itself, arising from the loss of identity that accompanies the transition to a modern, pluralist society. It is no accident that so many (in fact almost all) recent terrorists, from Sept. 11's Mohamed Atta to the murderer of the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh to the London subway bombers, were radicalized in democratic and secular Europe and intimately familiar with all of democracy's blessings. More democracy is likely to mean more alienation, radicalization and terrorism.

Islam traditionally divides the world into the Muslim World and the non-Muslim infidel World. Under the best of circumstances the Muslim World can only have a truce with non Muslims. This is a form of imperialism and the height of supersessionism. Can an independent non-Muslim nation state or civilization develop and maintain a peaceful relationship with Islam?

The real problem is the violent form of fundamentalism known as Radical Islam. However it also includes those you support violence even if they do not themselves act violently. Followers of Saudi Arabia Wahhabism may not in themselves be violent but have for decades supported violent fundamentalism. Wahhabism can be understood as a return to medieval purity and piety. The most quoted Sheiks consider themselves Wahhabees. (Salafism is a non-Saudi Arabian mutant of the same disease.) Since bin Laden and  9/11, consistency has reigned between Salafism, Wahhabism and Radical Islam; they all believe in theological totalitarianism. As an example it was against the law for President George Bush to bring a Bible into Saudi Arabia or pray at a thanksgiving dinner at a U.S. Base. He had his dinner on an American ship so he could pray to his God.

These Muslim extremists are bent on purging Islam (and the infidel world) of anyone who does not subscribe to their particularist and intolerant views. Today Sunni jihadist terrorists in Iraq have begun to use apostate (‘takfir’) as a rallying cry for violence against the Shiites as the Shia do against the Sunnis. Ayman –al Zawahiri, the Emir of Iraq (appointed by bin Ladin), has stated as his objective the prevention of Iraqi Shiites and Sunnis uniting. Bin Ladin has accused the Saudi’s (the founders of Wahhabeeism) of apostasy.  They demand the death penalty against apostates.  

Oliver Roy called those fundamentalists involved in Violence as neo- fundamentalist’ while those that support violence but do not act violently simply as fundamentalists’.1 Both oppose any form of secularism, modernity (despite using modern techniques) and democracy. They all believe they alone speak for God and a literalist Koranic text. They do not believe in any man made innovation. Neo-fundamentalists do not believe in national or tribal cultures, different legal schools, philosophies or theologies. They reject all forms of Occidentalism and Orientalism, bin Laden the icon of neo-fundamentalist believes in the universal Caliphate. Neo-fundamentalists believe only in ‘good Muslims’ – their kind – all else are infidels and apostates. They are firm believers in Jihad being required individually by all ‘good Muslims’. They are equally opposed to the ‘near enemy’, Muslim run states like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and democratic Israel of course and to the ‘far enemy, the U.S. and Europe.

Fundamentalists as defined by Roy consider Jihad a collective duty, not an individual duty; neo-fundamentalists consider suicide bombing an individual duty.

Neo-fundamentalism is an apocalyptic movement one of whose objectives is the destabilization of the West and everything modern. They wish to destroy all and begin anew. They are a new version of the medieval Christian millennium thinkers. Or even earlier ancient thinkers. Think of the writers of the Dead Sea Scrolls and their absolutist hostility toward fellow Jews or ancient Christian heresy seekers such as Augustine hostility towards the Manicheans.  The neo-fundamentalists are defenders of the faith renewing the Crusader Wars. They believe another Saladin will arise to lead the battle.

These new apocalyptic people appeal to the disenfranchised and alienated and uprooted - as a new communal identity. They appeal to the failures of globalization – to those in need of a reconstructed identity.2

The community these fundamentalists are building is not a polis; it's what they call an ummah, the global community of Muslims, and it is open to all who share their faith. (In this way it is comparable to Communism.) They are global Muslim fundamentalists. The ummah's new globalists consider that they have returned to the fundamentals of Islam; much of what passes for Islam in the world, much of what has passed as Islam for centuries, they think a sham. Roy has observed, these neo-fundamentalists wish to cleanse Islam's pristine and universal message from the contingencies of mere history, of local cultures. For them, Roy notes, "globalization is a good opportunity to dissociate Islam from any given culture and to provide a model that could work beyond any culture." It is interesting that both fundamentalism and globalization disconnect religion and culture.

But societies have always been made of continuities and discontinuities  and the identity of a society survives through the changes. Progress continues because people and consequently societies grow. Societies without change are not more authentic; they just do not know they have died (like the aborigines). Progress is not evil, it simply is reality.   

The neo-fundamentalists identified by Roy claim to be anti-modernists and yet they use modern techniques. They extensively use the Internet, chat rooms and cellular messaging, international banking and modern bombing techniques. They are western trained using modern technical and analytical skills. They differ from us in having radically different value systems. They can blow themselves up in the midst of a crowd of women and children. Christian martyrs were willing to die for their faith, Jihadists are willing to die for their enemy’s death.

The Arab world claims to define Islamic identity. Arabism is a culture not a religion. There are Muslim Arabs, Christian Arabs, Jewish Arabs and secular Arabs. Arabism is characterized by collectivism rather than individualism; it discourages dissent and initiative; innovation and social change and emphases family, clan and tribal cohesion. It would appear that there is something in Arab political culture that has been more resistant to democracy. It might well be a cultural obstacle that is not related to religion, such as the survival of tribalism

Does Islam define its identity as Arabism? Globalism discouraged exactly these characteristics. Do the Muslims of Indonesia the largest Muslim country in the world and relatively democratic; define their political identity so? According to Ralph Peters (‘Rolling Back Radical Islam’, Parameters, Aug. 2002) only 20% of Indonesian Muslim population follow the accepted rituals of Sunni Islam. The majority do not speak or read Arabic, do pray to shrines and Saints, drink alcoholic beverages and few of even the minority wear the burka.

Khaled Kelkal one of the first French Islamic Radical said in a paraphrase of Al Banna ‘I am not French, I am not an Arab, I am a Muslim’. Hizb ut-Tahrir, the missionary neo-fundamentalist organizations states it thus: ‘Our Brotherhood is Real and their Citizenship is False’. 3 Its motto seems to be ‘If you don't volunteer to be my brother you should die’.

Radical Islam is an ideology like fascism or communism; none trust individual human beings or communities to determine their own lives. They all assume humans will choose the ‘wrong’ alternative. It is a form of intransigent homogeneity.

Radical Islam will not succeed; anymore than the Luddites in the nineteenth century could by destroying new machinery. A prosperous society, in fact desired almost universally by all who are aware of it, requires technologically advanced modernization. And more and more are becoming aware daily.

Dr. Wafa Sultan, a Syrian born psychologist stated in an Al Jazeera T.V. interview: “The clash we are witnessing around the world is not a clash of religions, or a clash of civilizations. It is a clash between civilization and backwardness . . . between barbarity and rationality . . . between human rights on the one hand and the violation of these rights on the other, between those who treat women like beasts and those who treat them like human beings."

In March 2006 Abdul Rahman, an Afghan was on a trial for his life for converting to Christianity. Only the West who have supported Afghanistan independence with billions of dollars (as well as its blood) rejected this medievalism, not a single Muslim majority country publicly rejected this travesty. He was released based on insanity – after all why else would a Muslim convert to Christianity! He has been given asylum in Catholic Italy.

Both Sultan and the incident involving Rahman represent medieval ideologies. It is probable that the only way to communicate the reality of the modern world to these imperial theocrats of Radical Islam is the current fight to the death.

Who are they?

In “What Makes a Muslim Radical?” in Foreign Policy magazine, John Esposito, a professor of religion at Georgetown University, and Dalia Mogahed, executive director of Muslim studies for the Gallup Organization, summarize the conclusions on a new Gallup World Poll based on more than 9,000 interviews in nine Muslim countries.

Because terrorists often hijack Islamic precepts for their own ends, pundits and politicians in the West sometimes portray Islam as a religion of terrorism. They often charge that religious fervor triggers radical and violent views. But the data say otherwise: There is no significant difference in religiosity between moderates and radicals. In fact, radicals are no more likely to attend religious services regularly than are moderates. ...

It’s no secret that many in the Muslim world suffer from crippling poverty and lack of education. But are radicals any poorer than their fellow Muslims? We found the opposite: There is indeed a key difference between radicals and moderates when it comes to income and education, but it is the radicals who earn more and who stay in school longer. ...

Whenever a suicide bomber completes a deadly mission, the act is often attributed to hopelessness — the inability to find a job, earn a living, or support a family. But the politically radical are not more “hopeless” than the mainstream. More radicals expressed satisfaction with their financial situation and quality of life than their moderate counterparts, and a majority of them expected to be better off in the years to come.

1 Roy, Oliver, Globalized Islam, Columbia University Press, N.Y., 2004,  pgs. 232- 288.

2 Roy, pg. 269-270.

3 Roy, pg. 274.