Bible Commentator


Rabbi Moshe Reiss



‘It is a certain fact that not all Muslims are terrorists, but it is equally certain, and exceptionally painful, that almost all terrorists are Muslims. Does all this tell us something about ourselves, our societies and our culture?’  (Abdel Rahman al-Rashed, Manager of TV news of al Arabiya and former editor of the London daily Asharq Al Awsat.)

Turkey, an overwhelmingly Muslim country forbids veils and scarves in Parliament or Universities. (The Prime Minister’s wife who wears a scarf could not attend his swearing in at the Parliament.)

In Israel laws legislating the closure of shopping malls on the Jewish Sabbath must be approved by a multi-religious Parliament composed of Muslims (10%), Orthodox Jews (20%) and explicitly anti-Orthodox Jewish members (15%).

Turkey is a secular state; Israel is a ‘Jewish’ state, both are democratic.

The government of Shah of Iran failed and was deposed due his being an autocratic secularist. He was replaced by autocratic Muslim clerical rule.

In both cases it is the ‘autocracy’ that failed just as ‘democracy’ in the case of Turkey and Israel succeeds. It is autocracy that limits democracy, not religion. Terrorism is the enemy of all religions.

How many of the 1.2 billion Muslims in today’s world support Jihadists, Islamists (non violent fundamentalists) or Traditionalists? What is Islam’s Mainstream? Is Jihadism as represented by Osama bin Laden a perversion of Islam? Is Islamism as represented by the Wahhabism of Saudi Arabia different than Jihadism?

It is often stated that Muslims live in undemocratic countries because Islam opposes democracy. However, in fact more that half of the Muslims in the world live under some degree of democratic rule in Indonesia, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Malaysia, Mali, Senegal, Turkey, India, Europe and  North America. The countries who fail to practice democracy are not Islamic countries they are Arab countries.

Many have stated ‘Islam is incompatible with democracy’. That opinion is based on the Islamic precept that Muslims are superior to other human beings; equality among of all human beings is not a concept to be found in Islam. Democracy requires a basic mind set of the tolerance for opposing ideas and the ability to share political power. Are such concepts acceptable in Islam? Are they acceptable within the religions of Christianity and Judaism? Since democracy requires reciprocating ideas could the mind set of monotheism tolerate plurality and the diversity of ideas or do its beliefs hold that only ‘it’ has the Truth? Is supremacy not inevitable if you know the truth? Bernard Lewis stated that Judaism as the founder of monotheism established the mind set of religious intolerance. It is the Christian Philip II of Spain whose statement, ‘I would rather sacrifice the lives of a hundred thousand people than cease my persecution of heretics’. He understood as do the Muslim Jihadist that apostasy - that Salman Rushdie - is more dangerous than sinners, even than Jews.

Christianity is no longer Christendom and no longer controls any countries (aside from the tiny Vatican); Judaism is a minority religion thorough out the world with the exception of Israel, a democratic country. Democracy requires the effective separation of Church and State, a paradigm of secularity and modernity that is generally rejected by Muslims.  Mohammad during his lifetime as Prophet held the roles of both Imam (spiritual leader) and Caliph (political leader); that continued during the reign of the first four ‘rightful Caliphs’. Thereafter the relationship between religion and politics in Islam were in fact separated. (This is different from Judaism and Christianity. In the former Moses, the spiritual leader began the religion; in Christianity Jesus, the spiritual leader began the religion. Political power, the profane, while growing out of the original leader’s spiritual power was left to their disciples.) And that continues today, the vast majority of Muslims live in countries where the political domain is separated from the religious domain. (We understand that this is not the same as separation of Church and State as it is practiced in western democracies.) Even in most Arab countries clerics do not control the government.

Islamic fundamentalist’s ideal is not democracy. They prefer their particular interpretation of Islam which is rule by the shari’a. The Sunni ‘Shari’a’ (with its four differing schools of interpretation) varies from the Shi’a ‘shari’a’.  A terrorist and disciple of bin Laden, Yusuf al Ayyeri wrote an essay shortly before he was killed by Saudi security forces in June 2003. He believed democracy to be an enemy of Islam owing to the encouragement given to Muslims to believe that they could create their own laws, through their own reasoning and likewise it fostered the belief they could control their own destiny. This according to al Ayyeri was anti-Islam. Fundamentalists believe God has sovereignty over His world including His people; conversely democrats believe that the people are entitled to sovereignty over their own lives.


Is democracy an Islamic value?

A fundamental Qur’anic idea is that God vested with all of humanity a part of His divinity: “Remember, when your Lord said to the angels: ‘I have to place a viceregent on earth,’ they said: ‘Will you place one there who will create disorder and shed blood, while we intone ‘Your litanies and sanctify Your name?’ And God said: ‘I know what you do not know’”. (2:30) In particular, human beings are responsible, as God’s viceregents, for making the world just. By assigning equal political rights to all adults, democracy expresses that special status of human beings in God’s creation. That has the same meaning as the statement in Genesis that humanity was ‘created in God’s image’ (Gen. 1:26).

Can this be understood as God’s choice to allow the people to interpret His will – His sovereignty? By refusing to appoint a successor did not Muhammad demand that the people must choose? A hadith of Muhammad states ‘my community will never agree on an error’.  

We shall discuss ‘choosing’ as the essence of democracy.

Many Muslim scholars state that the sources for democratic ethics in Islam lie in the Qur’anic verse ‘and consult with them on the matter’ (3:159) as well as the verse praising ‘those who conduct their affairs by counsel’ (43:38). In this way, the Qur’an instructs the Prophet to consult regularly with Muslims on all significant matters and indicates that a society that conducts its affairs through a deliberative process is considered praiseworthy in the eyes of God. Many reports suggest that the Prophet regularly consulted with his companions regarding the affairs of the state. Shortly after the death of the Prophet the concept of shura (consultative deliberations) and ijma (consensus) had become a symbol signifying participatory politics and legitimacy.

According to Bernard Lewis, the Islamic tradition refers to the Caliphate as exercising political power ‘is a contract, creating bonds of mutual obligation between the ruler and the ruled. Subjects are duty-bound to obey the ruler and carry out his orders, but the ruler also has duties toward the subject, similar to those set forth in most cultures’.  This was often more honored in the breach than in observance. This happens in western democracies as well. The goal of the Jihadists and particularly of al Qaeda, after the defeating of the West is the re-establishment of the caliphate, but in their own image.

The Qur’an states that God explicitly created people with great diversity and grouped them into nations and tribes with the express intention ‘to come to know another; to learn from each other. Muslim jurists reasoned that the expression ‘come to know one another’ indicates the need for social cooperation and mutual assistance in order to achieve justice (49:13). The Qur’an notes that people will remain different from one another until the end of human existence. It also states that the reality of human diversity is part of the divine wisdom and an intentional purpose of creation: ‘If thy Lord had so willed, He could have made mankind one people, but they will not cease to dispute.’ (11:118). Was this not the intention of the Prophet when he stated in the Compact of Medina, approved by the people of Medina, ‘the Jews have their religion and we [Muslims] have ours’? It is worth noting that for centuries Jews were treated with more tolerance in Islam than in Christendom.

These statements unquestionably attest to the concepts of democracy and toleration imbedded in the Qur’an.

Based on the current government of Iran an Islamic state is defined as a theocratic state even if has the formal rituals of democracy; elections for a President and a Parliament exist. However candidates for both the presidency and for Parliament must be approved by the clerics; hence it is a theocracy. Despite the often declared statement that Islam and Democracy are incompatible; the most important Iraqi cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistani stated (based on his interpretation of the Qur’an) that inherent in an Islamic state are free elections, freedom of religion and civil liberties and excluding a government role for clerics. A great majority of Grand Ayattolah’s in the twentieth century concurred with Sistani’s position. Izz al Din, the son of Grand Ayattolah Muhammad Baqir al Hakim stated in the name of his father ‘Muslims are entitled to live in a democratic society. Muslims, be they good ones or bad, have the right to vote’ (quoted by Reuel Marc Gerecht, ‘The Islamic Paradox’).

Sistani is associated with the ‘Quietist’ school of Shi’ism which contrasts starkly with the theocracy of the late Grand Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran who favored the ‘Activist’ school. It is Khomeini who in fact was the exception and was a revolutionary in theology. Due to Khomeini’s success in Iran it is often assumed that his view of an Islamic state is the sole viable option. Sistani if he succeeds in the January 30 election in Iraq may create an alternative to Khomeini’s theocracy. His clerical associate Sheik Muhammad al-Huqqara has stated that Sistani wishes a ‘non-Islamic government that is respectful of Islam. . . Neither the Western or Islamic traditions are all good or all bad. In each there is something to be used’ (quoted by Reuel Marc Gerecht ‘The Islamic Paradox’). If Sistani succeeds the impact on the Shi’te reformers in Iran will be interesting to watch. It is certainly possible that the Arab Sistani despite being a Shi’ite, could have more impact of the Arab Sunni world than the Persian Khomeini.


Democracy does not require the western standard model, but it does require the free consent of the people (demos). This is exactly what is referred by the Qur’an. According to the Pew Research Center Report (2003) in most Muslim populations, large majorities continue to believe that Western-style democracy including multiparty elections, freedom of speech and religion and an impartial judiciary can work in their countries. At the same time, most Muslims also support a prominent – and in some cases expanding – role for Islam and religious leaders in the political life of their countries. That opinion does not seem to diminish Muslim support for a system of governance that ensures the same civil liberties and political rights enjoyed by democracies.

Democracy does not pretend to give us the meaning of life or give us a higher cause for sacrificing ones life; it gives us the freedom to choose a meaning even a passionate and truthful meaning for our lives. In the modern world religion itself is a choice. And since religious monopoly no longer exists the choice is very large.

Making choices may even require choosing an identity. It is no longer automatic. Any choice is an individual choice as opposed to a choice dictated even by being born with a particular religious identity. Can an individual choose an identity? Human beings require identity; does it require choosing it through its the enemies?

Every person who becomes ‘born again’ – whether Jewish, Christian or Muslim – makes an individual choice. Paradoxically it is often to join a group or sect that denies individual choice.  Of course choice is difficult; especially in the modern world - it requires decision making. That may be why psychological therapy is so prevalent in the modern world. It is much easier to follow some traditional rule – whether how to choose a spouse or a place to live or a career or a religious identity.

Traditional rule require hierarchical relationships. Hierarchy is impossible without a leader who embodies the interests of the group. The leaders of tribalistic and patriarchal systems who rule families in traditional Arabic societies are bound by webs of responsibility and customary obligation to their ‘subjects’, just as those gain much from the reputation and success of the groups with which they identify. The leader when an Imam, a Bishop or Rabbi embodies the religious cultural identity of the group.

Making choices requires a completely new mind set. Going back two centuries traditional Mid Eastern society quickly grasped the advantages of Western timepieces, importing clocks and watches in significant numbers, even making beautiful pieces with Islamic motifs themselves. (This could be seen in the Islamic Museum in Jerusalem before many were stolen.) Yet Mid Eastern attitudes toward time itself changed little, as the punctuality demanded by modern life remain little valued in many parts of the Mid Eastern world (including Israel). In today’s world some in the Mid East (particularly in Israel) revel in modern technology particularly the Internet and Email yet they prefer to use cellular phones rather than Email despite both being equally instant and the latter much more precise. Phoning is less efficient but talking is more personal.

Another example of tradition is the marriage policies of Muslim Arabs. Men are encouraged to marry their own first cousins despite the known genetic disadvantage of such consanguineous marriages. This practice of cousin marriage helps to shelter close female relatives. It also helps create a closed and self-sustaining kinship and an anti-modern anti-choice society.

Jihadists understand choice; they feel free to express their oppositional rhetoric in America knowing full well they cannot in their home countries whether Saudi Arabia or Egypt for fear of execution. They also know they can bring a Qur’an into Christian America while George W. Bush knows he cannot bring a Bible into Saudi Arabia – for his own use. Sayyid Qutb, the self proclaimed theologian of Arab Islamism, proclaimed that ‘claiming the right to create values, to legislate rules of collective behavior and to choose any way of life that rests with me, without regard to what God has prescribed’ was ‘jahiliyya’ barbarous (Milestones).

Choice requires democracy!


The failure of non-Islamic ideologies in Islamic lands: Communism, Socialism, Baathism, Secularism and Globalization have left a vacuum filled by Islamic fundamentalism. And fundamentalists like Islamism and al Qaeda are an ideology not a religion or religious sect. (Secularism is an alternative belief system. In Europe it is treated as a religion based on the Enlightenment. It is the religion of the government of France, as well as that of the majority of the governments of Western Europe. It is not the personal religion of the people of Europe who are mostly agnostics toward God despite having been baptized as Christians.)

Islam is a religion whose appeal for one thousand years was based less on revelation than on political success.  When their political success failed culminating in Napoleon’s entrance into Alexandria two hundred years ago self blame was not considered a possibility, then or today. (When the ancient Hebrews failed against the Romans they also did not assume their religion was the problem. But despite that they adopted self criticism and adjusted their religion into the newly revised Rabbinic Judaism and later accepted the enlightenment.) Hasain Haqqani claims millions of Muslim children are taught to believe that the Ottoman Empire fell in 1918 for the same reason Muslims lost Baghdad in 1258: The rulers and their people had gone soft, approaching religion with tolerance and accommodation rather than viewing civilization as divided between Islam and infidels. On the other hand Fouad Ajami wrote ‘If Muslims truly believe that their long winter of decline is the fault of the United States, no campaign of public diplomacy shall deliver them from that incoherence.’

Fundamentalists view history as a cosmic struggle between good and evil using stark dichotomies to describe the opposing camps. The rhetoric is often spiritual. Jihadists however use this rhetoric as a holy war to legitimize terrorism against their enemies whether military or civilian. If their objective is, as is often claimed, ‘spiritual liberation’ is these a legitimate means to achieve what can be defined as a legitimate end? Recently Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi defined ‘civilians’ working with infidels as no longer ‘civilians’ but as appropriate military targets. Jihadists believe that since their end cause is good (as they define it) their means are justified even if it is the murder of civilians. Al Zawahiri (bin Laden’s associate and mentor) has previously defined Muslim civilian workers in the bombing of the Egyptian Embassy in Islamabad (1996) similarly.

In his second inaugural address Abraham Lincoln declared that the competing American armies and peoples both ‘pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes.’

Islamists are fundamentalists – i.e. they claim to know the absolute truth and hence to know His - God’s purposes. Many Christians and Jews also believe they ‘know’ God’s truth but they refrain from resorting to a theology of coercion and violence. However, violent fundamentalists in Christianity and Judaism are nothing more than a fringe element who posses little political power. Can the same be said regarding Islam?  

The most prevalent form of Islamic fundamentalism is Wahhabism. Wahhabism is the theology of Saudi Arabia under whose fertile ground bin Laden and fifteen of the nineteen suicide bomber of September 11 grew. Wahhabism is a literalist and puritanical sect of Islam developed in the eighteenth century when its theological founder Abd al Wahhab combined his forces with the Arab tribal leader al Saud to conquer much of what is today Saudi Arabia. Wahhabism is the bedrock of Jihadism. It has supported the Jihadists both theologically and financially. Wahhabism appeals to Islamic populations in countries where autocracy rather than democracy rules; in Pakistan, in Kashmir, in Algeria (where it failed), in Chechnya, in Sunni Iraq and even in Indonesia not until recently a democratic nation. The Saudi established and financed madrass’ and mosques indoctrinate young students and communities in virulent anti-western dogma and have damaged tolerant and pluralistic traditions in eastern and central Asia and Northern Africa. They are likely to believe the Hadith (or perhaps by the eight century Jurist Abu Yussf) ‘Fear God, obey Him: and if a flat nosed shrunken-headed Abyssinian slave is inserted with power over you obey him’ (Quoted by A.K.S. Lambton ‘State and Government).

Saudi Arabia has also been supported militarily by the United States. A conflict between support of the Jihadists and support by the United States was inevitable and bin Laden is now the enemy of Saudi Arabia. According to Michael Doran in ‘The Saudi Paradox’, Saudi Arabia is in the throes of a crisis, and the elite are bitterly divided on how to escape it. Crown Prince Abdullah leads a camp of reformers who seek rapprochement with the West, while Prince Nayef, the Minister of Interior, sides with an anti-American Wahhabi religious establishment that has much in common with al Qaeda. Abdullah cuts a higher profile abroad -- but at home Nayef casts a longer and darker shadow.’ Nayaf appears to support Jihad (although not in Saudi Arabia), Abdullah does not.

Saudi Arabia is a highly complex and conservative society; religion plays a central role in framing political discourse for rulers and opponents alike. As the Saudi’s fight an Islamist insurgency led by al-Qaeda; both use the same religious grounds from which each draws its legitimacy. Can the Saudi’s alienate their traditional allies in the religious establishment who seem to support the Jihadists?

In addition Saudi Arabia is a country where 60% of the population is aged 18 or under and the reactionary government is run by men over 70 years of age. Saudi Arabia as a country is a time bomb run by people corrupted by the ways of the world and more threatened from within than from without.

The chief difference between the modus operandi of al Qaeda and the Saudi religious establishment lies in their definition of their primary foes: Al Qaeda believes that the Saudi royal family forms an integral part of the problem whereas the latter does not. This divergence is not insignificant; however it does not preclude limited or tacit cooperation on some issues. Although some in the Saudi regime are indeed bin Laden's enemies, others are his de facto allies. Al Qaeda activists sense that the U.S. plans include the separation of ‘mosque and state’. This constitutes the greatest immediate threat to their designs yet they sense that the time is not yet ripe for a broad revolution. Hence al Qaeda's short-term goal is not yet to topple the regime but rather to shift Saudi Arabia's domestic balance of power to the right and punish supporters of Abdullah. In a recent tape recording (December 15, 2004) Osama bin Laden accused the Saudi government of ‘practiced injustices against the people, violating their rights, humiliating their pride.’ Osama bin Laden and his accomplices have succeeded in riding American troops from Saudi Arabia.

One can argue as some have that Wahhabism and Talibanism are not Islamism. The argument goes along the lines that Islamism is a modern ideology and Wahhabism and Talibanism are an attempt to revert to an ancient puritanical form of Islam. But given the financial support to Islamism by the government of Saudi Arabia and the geographic support of Afghanistan to bin Laden the difference – especially in terms of democracy - is hardly worth pondering. It has been said that Islamists believe in democracy and electoral participation but only once, if in power they would put an end to democracy immediately thereafter. During the last decade, Islamist parties and candidates have participated in elections in eight Arab countries (Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, and Yemen), always with modest results. These elections suffered from various degrees of government interference, but according to Marina Ottaway and Thomas Caruthers (Foreign Policy) there is no indication that the Islamists would have won in a more open environment.


The word ‘jihad’ in Arabic translates as ‘struggle’. The Arabic implies in a spiritual sense, a quest for virtue. Jihad, however is often used referring to a warrior - ‘mijahid’ – one who struggles to ‘correct’ his soul by engaging in a ‘holy war’. Bernard Lewis stated that ’the overwhelming majority of classical theologians, jurists, and traditionalists understood the obligation of jihad in this military sense’. The motto of the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood is ‘dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope’.

Jihadism in the military sense of the term embodies a form of ‘apocalyptic’ thinking’. One of its goal is the genocide of Jews, as in a well know hadith (oral tradition) ‘when even the rocks and trees will call out Oh Muslim, there is a Jew hiding behind me, come and kill him!' Other definitions add Christians as well; 'First the Saturday people, then the Sunday people.’  Recently some have defined this ‘apocalyptic thinking’ to mean that every Muslim must kill 'a Jew or Christian to substitute for him in Hell. This has (as noted by Richard Landes) been interpreted to mean that every Muslim has to kill a Jew or a Christian in order to be saved. A French-Arab youngster slaughtered and mutilated a Jew, his neighbor since childhood. He triumphantly announced to his parents', his hands still bloodied, 'I've killed my Jew, I can go to Paradise.’

To a Jihadist that which is not pure, that which does not belong to the kingdom of God, is barbarous and must be destroyed. For Jihadists the Holy and the Profane are indivisible. Thus any change is a threat to the whole.  To quote bin Laden ‘the conflict is between Two Ways: the Divine, Perfect Way and the Vulgar, Secular Way.’ This is an apocalyptic worldview. The second step in this worldview (a Shi’ite view) is the coming of a messiah figure. Thus the present day fighting in Iraq is a harbinger of the arrival of the Mahdi, the messiah figure whose expected return will bring about the final judgment. As noted in the New York Times (D. Benjamin and G. Weimann) a Shi’ite Imam stated ‘The people will be chided for their acts of disobedience by a fire that will appear in the sky and a redness that will cover the sky. It will swallow up Baghdad.’

Jihadists intrinsically believe death to be preferable to life in a non-Islamic world. Their mission is to create a kingdom of Heaven but here on Earth. From there perspective the eventuality of death prior to the total eschatology is an insignificant price to pay. Heaven is after all the ‘true’ world.

Jihadism is a modern form of totalitarianism challenging traditional Islam. They are fascists with imperial demands on the rest of the world. Sayyid Abdul Ala Mawdudi, a Pakistani and the intellectual mentor of Sayyid Qutb has written, ‘Islam wants the whole earth and does not content itself with only a part thereof.  Islam wants and requires the earth in order that the human race altogether can enjoy the concept and practical program of human happiness, by means of which God has honored Islam and put it above the other religions and laws’.

Jihadism is a modern phenomenon dressed up in traditional garb, both the Sunni and Shia version. Very few Jihadists base their theology on traditional Islam. They are according to scholar Oliver Roy ‘a by-product of westernization and not a backlash against traditional Muslim cultures . . . they are born again Muslims’. Their training with few exceptions was not in the madrass’. The majority of the leaders are western oriented and educated. Sayyid Qutb, the founding theocrat of the Muslim Brotherhood did not study theology, graduated from an Egyptian secular University and  then engineering in the United States; bin Laden’s deputy Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri is a medical doctor; Ramzi Yusuf {of the original 1993 World Trade Center bombing) was an electronic engineer trained in the U.K., Omar Ahmad Saeed Sheikh who murdered Daniel Pearl before a video recorder was a born British Muslim of Pakistani descent, educated in private schools and at the London School of Economics, Muhammad Atta, the leader of the September 11 bombing was a bright architectural student who resided in Germany, and the London based high tech expert Sheik Omar Bakri Muhammad, a Syrian with British citizenship, who called the September 11th bombers ‘The Magnificent Nineteen’ and stated shortly afterwards that we will replace the Bible with the Qur’an. Bin Laden himself despite issuing fatwas is not a cleric or a trained theologian but a western oriented businessman more familiar with money transfers through electronic technology that Islamic theology. His personal religious ideology includes a redacted Qur’an, with western technology. According to the N.Y. Times he now considers himself a diplomat, the elder statesmen of his borderless Islamic Nation (N.Y.T. Dec.19, 2004).

These men trained in the west are modern and urbanized. They have developed a modern political ideology based on their version of how to reconcile ‘Islam’ with the modern world. Their archcompetitors are capitalism and globalization; not Christianity or Judaism. This was confirmed by al Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood when he stated that ‘the Muslims are not socialist nor capitalist; they are Muslims.’

Olivier Roy finds the fundamentalist inspiration to be far more mundane than spiritual: "For many of them, the return to religion has been brought about through their experience in politics, and not as a result of their religious belief”.  It may be that the foot-soldiers and suicide bombers come from the madrass’ but the leaders do not.

According to Iran's current spiritual leader Khamene'i, ‘The Islamic system that the imam [Khomeini] created . . . has not existed in the course of history, except at the beginning [of Islam], and does not exist elsewhere in the world today’. The vast majority of the Shia Grand Ayatollahs in the twentieth century disagreed with the Kohmeini theology. In January 1989 Khomeini sent a letter to Mikhail Gorbachev which asserted the universality of Islam. He stressed the failure of the communist ideology and implored the Soviet president not to turn westward to market capitalism for a replacement but to Islam.

The Ayatollah Khomeini who defeated the Shah, the great ‘Satan’s’ representative proved to the potential Jihadists that victory was possible. In the Iraq-Iran war Khomeini fostered the equation: suicide death is martyrdom. His successor the Ayatollah Khamenei stated it as follows: ‘In the Iraq-Iran war, America supported Iraq against Iran. America has harmed Iran more than anyone else, and it fully deserves the title ‘The Great Satan’ because it engages in evil, in treachery, in murder and because it is arrogant. America is also the greatest supporter of the Zionist regime which has thrown out an Islamic nation from its homeland.’ (Khamenei translated Qutb’s Arabic texts into Farsi.)

During the same period of time the Arab fundamentalists (with the help of the United States) defeated the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. These two events were the birthstones of Jihadism and bin Laden. Bin Laden as the self proclaimed child of the Afghanistan war compares himself loosely to Muhammad and his conquest of the Empires of Eastern Christendom and Persia as well as Saladin who defeated the Crusader armies and conquered Jerusalem.  

Is Jihad a growth industry? Despite September 11 and with the exception of Iran twenty five years ago the globalization of Jihadism has not succeeded and consequently Gilles Kepel suggested they are a dying beast. That may be why terrorism is their only strategy.  

Without being blind to the dangers of militant fundamentalism one needs to develop an awareness of the practical (although not moral) distinction between theologies such as those of the Wahhabis as compared to terrorist groups such as al Qaeda who kill civilians.  

Fundamentalists and non-Jihadist Muslim spokesmen all are aware of the nature of Jihadist revolutionaries as enemies of any prevailing order. Given the opportunity al Qaeda will destroy their self defined ‘near enemies’ whether they be in Egypt, Syria, Jordan or Saudi Arabia. Jihadists consider Islamists as clients of the infidels. It is imperative to prevent bin Laden's call to arms from bringing those Islamic fundamentalists into his Jihadist arms and into his ideological/political battle.


Suicide bombing is as a form of discontent in living; and the asphyxiation of hope.

Eric Hoffer in his classic ‘The True Believer’ wrote that if one sees life as debased ‘to lose one’s life is but to lose the present and, clearly, to lose a defiled, worthless present is not to lose much.’ If one expects virgins in Heaven then surely there may be much to gain. Humiliation can easily turn into a cult of the pure and the authentic. A debased world often requires a scapegoat – one to blame instead of self-blame – the Jews served that purpose in Christian Europe and that has now migrated to Islam. They were connected to all the precepts of the enlightenment: secularism (as the prototypical anti-Christ), cosmopolitanism, education, tolerance, and finance. Anti-Semitism has more recently become allied and merged with another scapegoat in the form of anti-Americanism.  (It is interesting to note that according to Ivan Krastec in the Journal of Democracy there is no such defined word as ‘Americanism’, there is only anti-Americanism. While in Europe both the right and the left are anti-American there is a significant difference: the right comes to its anti-Americanism because of its anti-Semitism; the left come to its anti-Semitism because of its anti-Americanism.)

As noted in Al Qaeda’s latest Journal for Women ‘We will stand covered by our veils and wrapped in our robes, weapons in hand, our children in our laps, with the Qur’ar and the Sunna of the Prophet of Allah directing and guiding us. The blood of our husbands and the body parts of our children are the sacrifice by means of which we draw closer to Allah, so that through us, Allah will cause the Shahada for His sake to succeed. . . [Our reward will be] the pleasure of Allah and His Paradise’.

This ideology as noted by Fred Halliday is ‘an extreme case of borrowing; some elements from Sunni Islam, some from Shi’a Muslims, and mixing both with modern nihilism, a cult of extreme heroism, self-sacrifice, anti-globalization rhetoric and nationalism.  It is an ideology that thrives on its intoxicating incoherence’ and is based on existential despair. Al Zawahiri developed a new theology justifying suicide bombing and the killing of children called ‘for the greater good of Islam’ (Maha Azzam, ‘Al Qaeda’). This reversed 1,300 years of previous Islamic theology.

One such young man photographed on the Guardian Front Page was wearing a black woolen hood with slits for his eyes, but what was most noticeable was his blue and yellow T-shirt and tracksuit bottoms bearing the logo: SUPER; nothing Islamic about his wear. Kemal Ataturk made the inhabitants of his country remove their fez and scarves to make a political statement.  As opposed to the Turks of Ataturk’s reign this young man chose his wear. What political statement are these young men making – a post-modernist statement? What is their religious identity?

It is worth noting that in late December 2004 Sheik Hasson Yussuf, the leader of Hamas in the West Bank stated that ‘God created people to live, not to die.’ This is a remarkable change from the leader of the group that perpetuated the most intentional death from suicide bombing in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

 How does the Qur’an respond to murder?

‘We ordained for the Children of Israel [for believers] that if any one slew a person - unless [or except] it be for murder or for spreading mischief [or corruption] in the land - it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people. Then although there came to them Our messengers with clear signs, yet, even after that, many of them continued to commit excesses in the land (5:32).

This appears to be a clear prohibition of murder confirming the importance of every single human being. The problem is that the words ‘unless’ or ‘except’ when combined with the words ‘spreading mischief’ or ‘corruption’ are problematic. The murderers of the Jewish Nicholas Berg claimed; ‘We tell you that the dignity of the Muslim men and women in Abu Ghraib and others is not redeemed except by blood and souls’ a form of spreading corruption in a Muslim land. This can be a justification for any ‘jihad’ operation.

These men and women were not mentally unbalanced people. They have been called as psychologically normal as you and I. They are certainly not socially dysfunctional.  These statements in various forms have been attested to by Jerrold Post, George Washington University; Rona Fields, author of ‘Martyrdom: The Psychology, Theology and Politics of Self Sacrifice’, and of Clark University; Robert Jay Lifton, Harvard and Yale Universities; Ariel Merari, Tel Aviv University; Clark McCauley, University of Pennsylvania; Eyal Serraj, Psychiatrist, Gaza Strip; Barbara Victor, author of ‘Army of Roses’ among many others; Tali Eilam Tzoreff, Ben Gurion University; Anat Berkos, Hertzliya International Policy Institute; Dr. Nancy Korbin, University of Rhode Island and psychoanalyst among others.

Their acts are not suicidal. A suicide is based on individual pathology. The individual who performs suicide bombing does not commit suicide; they are involved in a culture of death.

Suicide bombers are not poor and uneducated. 47% have an academic education and an additional 29% have at least a high school education. RAND Corporation economist Claude Berrebi says that in his study of 285 Islamic Jihad and Hamas terrorists killed in action between 1997-2002, he found that ‘they were more educated and wealthier than the average Palestinian.’ 83% of the suicide bombers are single, 64% of the suicide bombers are between the ages 18-23; the rest are under 30 years of age. The leaders as noted above are more educated in fact are western educated, urban and alienated. They of course have never convinced their own children to commit Shahid!

Their parents are with rare exceptions proud of their children’s acts.  They consider their deaths to satisfy some sense of ‘honor’. A Palestinian mother of two dead sons (Umm Nidal) stated it doesn't matter to me whether I have two or three Shahid [sons]. [As far as I'm concerned], let all my sons be Shahids. What matters is doing what Allah wills and waging Jihad for the sake of this homeland. This is [Allah's] grace, and we are in the service of the religion and the homeland.’

There communities have developed a culture of death. Sheik Ikremeh Sabri, the highest ranking cleric in the Palestinian Authority preached in Al Aqsa mosque ‘They think they scare people. We tell them: In as much as you love life, the Muslims love death and martyrdom’. He does not base this upon Islamic theology; it is his culture that is abhorrent. His culture sees death for what are essentially children – easier to recruit and indoctrinate -  as standing as the appetizer of a lifetime ending it before it really begins. His ‘they’ who are the rest of us, accept death as dessert after a lifetime.  

The world seems obsessed with the ‘occupied territories’ in Palestine. Civilian deaths in Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur, Chechna, Algeria, Iran-Iraq and Cambodia far out-way those in Israel/Palestine. Other ‘occupied territories’ exist in Tibet and Lebanon. Are what can be called the ‘occupied territories’ in Kashmir, given the public nuclear capabilities of India and Pakistan, the instability of the latter country with its ‘Islamic bomb’ and its several citizens – including Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan and his proliferation network - who have already sold nuclear secrets and components to troublesome characters and states, their several wars and the numbers of people involved, not more world dangerous than those in the Israel/Palestine conflict? (President Pervez Musharraf, despite denying Pakistani government involvement instantly pardoned Dr. Khan of any crime.) Yet UN resolutions, numerous conferences, European concerns and subsidies, and American envoys have focused on the ‘occupied territories’ of Palestine.  If one listened to Arab speakers (and some in the West) one would be led to believe that Israel is a uniquely evil state and solving the conflict is an elixir. Is Israel the cause of the Arab democracy and development deficit? Or is it simply West's most obvious and successful outpost as was the Crusader kingdom in the 12th century in the same territory? That is the favorite analogy of bin Laden and al Zawahiri.

Solving the conflict would not solve the problems in the Arab Middle East. Palestine is not a moral issue but a political lightning rod that involves Arab oil, Arab global terrorism and fundamentalist violence in and beyond the Middle East, the importance of Jerusalem to each of the three monotheistic religions, and Arab anti-Semitism that seem to resonate in Europe.

Spengler a columnist for the Asia Times Online noted that ‘culture is the stuff out of which we weave the illusion of immortality ... Frequently, ethnic groups will die rather than abandon their 'way of life'. . .  assimilation implied abandoning both their past and their future. Historic tragedy occurs on the grand scale when economic or strategic circumstances undercut the material conditions of life of a people, which nonetheless cannot accept assimilation into another culture. That is when entire peoples fight to the death’ (May 17, 2004).  As noted by Christian theologian Richard J. Neuhaus, (The Naked Public Square) ‘politics is most importantly a function of culture, and at the heart of culture is religion, whether or not it is called by that name.’

Culture and religion differ from each other. Religion can and is intended to purify cultural tendencies. What we have seen represents a culture of death which has developed for a long period of time in the Arabic culture.  Despite Arabs representing only one fifth of the Muslim world there influence is unfortunately much greater. The Qur’an is written in Arabic and all Muslims pray in Arabic. Islam and the Qur’an do not represent a theology of death; however they have not yet purified the Arabic culture of its death wish.


The dilemma of democratic reform in the Arab countries lies in the fact that autocratic leaders are faced with minimal effective opposition by Parliaments or the Judiciary. This is not surprising in light of the fact that there is a democratic deficit in the culture of the Arab culture. There is a scarcity of organized constituencies demanding political rights. Almost all models of democracy involve the diffusion of power and an organized opposition. The Arab debate over democracy which was constructed in the early twentieth century has dissipated and taken over by the fundamentalists with the founding of the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1920s.  It may have begun anew recently in reaction to Jihadism and especially the killing of the children in Chechnya. It may no longer be considered ‘freedom fighting’ to kill children!

The intersection between religion and politics may differ in countries where the majority population is Arabic versus those where the majority population is Christian. Nevertheless as late as the end of the nineteenth century Pope Pius IX declared in no uncertain terms in Vatican I that he could speak infallibly towards Catholics in terms of religious dogma and he expected total obedience. In direct response the Catholic Lord Acton uttered his now famous remark that ‘power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely’. In the era of Vatican II, less than 100 hundred years later very few in the Catholic West would be constrained by a statement uttered infallibly by a Pope. Vatican I’s proclamation could never have been approved by the time of Vatican II. This is how Christianity has evolved; will Islam evolve in a similar manner?

Confusion exists as to whether Anti-Americanism actually expresses anti democratic tendencies. As noted by a recent U.S. study "Muslims do not 'hate our freedom', but rather, they hate our policies. The overwhelming majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favor of Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the long-standing even increasing support for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan and the Gulf states."

A seminar on ‘Islam and Reform’ was held In Cairo (October 5-6, 2004) More than twenty intellectuals and researchers from the Arab and Muslim world, Europe, and America declared in a final statement the need for the implementation of both religious and political reforms.

The seminar focused on three main issues: parameters for reform in Islam; the potential participation of Islamist groups' participation in democratic regimes; the expansion of relations between American foreign policy and nascent pro-democracy groups in the Muslim world.

In the opening speech Dr. Sa'ad Al-Din Ibrahim, Chairman of the Ibn Khaldun Center For Development Studies in Cairo, said that the plans for reform "aspire to emphasize that the gates of ‘ijtihad’ (independent or critical thinking as opposed to ‘takid’ based on judicial precedent) are wide open and that an [intellectual] Jihad must be waged to keep them open until Judgment Day, as the meaning of this [keeping the gates of ijtihad open] is the protection of freedom of thought and expression, not only in religious matters but in all matters.”

The participants published a final statement which presented the following resolutions:

1. Islam must adjust to the social transformations of the previous eleven centuries.

2. Reliance must be on the Qur’anic text itself.

3. To correct the understanding of ‘ijtihad’.

4. It recommended dialogue with the West

5. Religious and Political reform need to be done simultaneously..

6. Democracy is a strategic option.

High-Ranking Clerics in the Egyptian Religious Establishment attacked the seminar and its participants.

The seminar and its recommendations raised the ire of high-ranking members of the religious establishment in Egypt. The Sheikh of Al-Azhar, Muhammad Sayyed Tantawi, harshly attacked the seminar and its participants, and claimed that their call "to confront all institutions that claim a monopoly over religion" was directed against Al-Azhar. He is the most important Sunni cleric in the Islamic world and had signed the Alexandria Document in January 2002 with other religious leaders, both Christianity and Jewish, stating: ‘We declare our commitment to ending the violence and bloodshed that denies the right to life and dignity’.

Tantawi further claimed that voices in the seminar ‘called explicitly for the disavowal of the Prophet's sunna; Al-Azhar and [Egyptian] society reject this. . .  The participation of Western [research] centers in a discussion of Islam and its legal sources is a mark of shame and a disaster which society and its leaders need to prevent... It is an obligation to forcefully intercede so as to prevent [these] affronts. This is a group of [religious] deviants, one of whom has already been indicted on charges of treason; thus it is forbidden to deal with them and it is an obligation to consider them insignificant in society.’

Another conference held in Saudi Arabia under the patronage of Crown Prince Abdullah (Dec. 2003) with sixty participants including Judges, Clerics, Intellectuals and ten women recommended accelerating political reform, expanding popular participation, renewal of religious discussion, freedom of expression, strengthening women’s rights and improving school curricula.

Imagine the opening up of professorships at King Saud University (or al Azhar University) in Christianity or Buddhism or even Self-Criticism, Women’s Studies or Judaism?

Two French journalists, Christian Chesnot and George Malbrunot were kidnapped by gangsters who sold them to Jihadists in Iraq in mid August 2004. Those Jihadists stated they would behead them unless the French government rescinded its law prohibiting headscarves in public schools. They expected the support of millions of French-Muslims. The vast majority (nearly unanimous according to the media) of French-Muslims paraded in public and rejected the Jihadist request and stated clearly ‘not in our Muslim name’.  On December 21, 2004 the journalists were finally released.  Were the French Muslims aligning themselves with European democracy rather than with Islamic Jihadism?

Several Arab reformers (Dr. Shaker Al-Nabulsi, Tunisian intellectual Al-'Afif Al-Akhdhar, and former Iraqi Minister of Planning Dr. Jawad Hashem) have recently petitioned the U.N. to establish an international tribunal which would prosecute terrorists, as well as people and institutions, including religious clerics, who incite terrorism. It was a response to a fatwa issued by Sheikh Yousef Al-Qaradhawi - a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood movement. He is one of the most important religious authorities in Jihadist  circles. His fatwa promoted the abduction and killing of U.S. citizens in Iraq. Other fatwas justified Sept. 11 and the assassination of Arab intellectuals. Within one month it was signed by 3,000 Arabs from 25 countries.

Who are these people considering reform? Are they only the Arab elites? Are, as Tamara Cofman Wittes (‘Arab Liberalism and Democracy in the Middle East’) stated, Arab Liberals ‘increasingly aging, increasingly isolated and diminishing in number . . . an endangered species?’ ? How many of these Arab liberals write in European languages and live outside the Middle East? Can the West be helpful in empowering both the Reformers and the Moderate Islamists? Or was George Kennan right when he said (before Sept. 11) there ‘is no reason to suppose that the attempt to develop and employ democratic institutions will be the best for many [non European] peoples (quoted by Samuel Huntington in’The Third Wave’).

Are democratic interpretations of the Qur’an increasing? Do these discussions take place in the ‘Arab Street’? The clerical opposition as noted above is clear. The Middle East's unelected rulers have shown no inclination to eliminate themselves. Is Islamism or Democracy the opposition to autocratic regimes? Is Saudi hell better than bin Laden’s heaven?

Despite the low levels of feelings toward the United States in Arab countries the United Nations Development Report states that in virtually every Arab country a majority of respondents would emigrate to the United States if they had the opportunity.

As Muhammad Shahrour stated in ‘Islam and Reform’ noted above one has ‘to differentiate between the religion and state politics. When you take the political Islam, you see only killing, assassination, poisoning, intrigue, conspiracy and civil war, but Islam as a message is very human, sensible and just.’

Today, political reform may be percolating in the region, amid growing public frustration over chronic corruption, poor socioeconomic performance, and a pervasive sense of stagnation.

Freer more liberal societies seem to be emerging worldwide as a result of the economic advantage created by modernity and globalization with or without American help. The difference between the theses of Samuel Huntington and Francis Fukuyama may be more apparent than real.  And Fukuyama (‘The End of History and The Last Man’) may be right about liberal democracy in the long run.

Perhaps the opposition to the ‘West’ may be the need in the human heart simply for opposition for its own sake. Should freer more liberal societies not succeed in the long run and the existing ones fail the result is likely to be a new darker age.