As on September 11th 2001, you probably remember where you were or what you were doing when the bombs went off in London on July 7th 2005. This act of terrorism not only cost many innocent lives but also threatened to undo decades of hard and delicate work of building bridges between the host nation and the Muslim community. Thankfully, apart from the predictable racists, the people of Britain did not overreact, realising that this was the deed of a small band of criminals who did not represent the majority of law-abiding Muslims.
Unlike 9/11, the official Muslim response to the atrocity this time was a swift and utter condemnation. In London, Leeds and other cosmopolitan cities, faith leaders stood together, determined more than ever, to maintain good community relations and peaceful coexistence. Pope Benedict appealed to men of violence to “stop, in the name of God” and Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor reminded everyone that “the law of history is not on the side of the terrorists”.
Dr. Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, leader of the Muslim Parliament, warned at a conference in Birmingham that Muslims have been living “in denial” about the threat from the terrorists in their midst. Violent “jihadists”, he added, are infiltrating mosques and Islamic institutions across Britain, offering a radical interpretation of Islam that is attracting alienated and impressionable young Muslims. Although Tony Blair was too quick to dismiss Iraq, poverty and discrimination as added motives for the bombings, he nevertheless echoed Siddiqui in pinning the blame squarely on the ideology of Muslim fanatics who misuse Islam to further their own religious and political agenda.
So what kind of a breed are these terrorists, what are they after, and how should they be dealt with? It is clear by now that these perpetrators of violence—whether in New York, Bali, Madrid, Egypt or London—all seem to come under the broad umbrella of Al-Qa’ida organisation, headed by Usama Bin Ladin. What is worrying us now, however, is the fact that the London bombers are home-grown British citizens and that there are hundreds like them who, having been trained by fanatics in religious schools (madrasas) in Pakistan, may be ready to strike again at any time.
We know that most Muslims are not fanatics or “fundamentalists”, and that most of the fundamentalists are not terrorists, but most of the present-day terrorists around the world are Muslims who very proudly proclaim themselves as such. Some may be poor, confused or not so intelligent, but the majority are well off, well educated and very focused. The best examples are the bombers of New York and London. All, without exception, claim to be doing Allah’s will and are ready to die for their cause. So what is this cause then?
Today’s Muslim extremists are the descendants of the Wahhabis of 18th c. Saudi Arabia, the reformers who called upon fellow-Muslims to shun “corrupt” Christian and Western practices and to return to the sources of Islam, i.e., the Qur’an, the Sunnah (Tradition of their Prophet) and the Shari’ah-law. The Wahhabi movement may have been puritanical in its inception but was not violent in its intent, even though it aligned itself with the House of Saud who forcefully unified most of the Arabian peninsula under its rule.
With the passage of time, Wahhabism gave rise to more militant movements, such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Then, with the defeat of the Arab armies and Palestinians coming under Israeli rule, there arose violent anti-Israeli organisations which were sponsored by Iran and Saudi Arabia. In fact, Saudi oil money has been used in recent decades for building and financing thousands of mosques and Islamic institutions throughout Europe and North America, many of which have been infiltrated by clerics and academics holding extremist religious and political views.
The United States is their primary object of hatred, for three reasons: 1) its constant support of Israel, 2) its invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, and 3) its military, economic and political dominance in the world. Britain is hated for its past colonialism of Muslim peoples and its present support of America. The West in general is both envied for its wealth and technological superiority, as well as hated for exerting “corrupt” (synonymous with “Christian”) influences such as immorality, gambling and secularism. Part of the anger levelled by fanatical Muslims at Christians and Jews today is actually an old one, i.e., their refusal to embrace Islam. This accusation is echoed in the Qur’an (in 3:85, for example, where we read that Islam is the only religion acceptable to God).
The last charge has been at the heart of the messages addressed by Bin Ladin and other terrorists to the West. Their intention, then, is not only to frighten and kill as many “infidels” as possible, but, in the long run, to subjugate the whole world to Islam through global terrorism. They are “jihadists” or “holy warriors”, for they have stripped the concept of “jihad” of all other connotations, and given it a strictly military meaning. They aim to restore the “golden age” of Islam when many lands were conquered in Asia, Africa and Europe. But since they cannot do it through conventional methods of warfare, they are resorting to methods of terrorism.
But what about the killing of innocent civilians, including fellow-Muslims? Well, this is equivalent to what the Americans euphemistically call “collateral damage”. These terrorists, in any case, consider all Muslims who disagree with their ideology as “infidels”, in effect in the same category as non-Muslims, and hence the object of their hatred and revenge.
One puzzle, though, is why the bombers want to kill themselves in the process of killing others. This has no precedent in Islamic history, not even among the fearsome “Assassins” of the 12th/13th cc. Suicide is clearly condemned by the Qur’an, the sayings (Hadith) of Muhammad and Islamic jurists. Suicide bombings actually started in Isreal in the 1980’s, and the Palestinians who carried them out were labelled as “martyrs”. All suicide bombers undergo a long and rigorous military training, have their debts paid off prior to the operation and have their families looked after following their death. Most importantly, though, they are brainwashed into believing that their immediate reward will be paradise, where they’ll be in the company of the Prophet and many attractive virgins. There are Qur’anic verses (e.g., 4:57 & 74) where paradise and its sensual delights are promised for men who “fight in the way of Allah”.
Now with practically everyone in Britain confused, outraged and fearful regarding the future, it is mandatory to have a clear plan for the future. Apart from the obvious necessary security precautions, two important things ought to happen: a) isolating the religious fanatics and b) continuing the process of bridge-building. Concerning the second, we Christians should maintain our on-going dialogue with our Muslim neighbours and cooperate with them at all levels for the common good of our society. It is only through dialogue, mutual understanding and respect for one another that we can hope to live together in peace.As for isolating extremists, this is a task of crucial importance, particularly for the Muslim community, and it needs to be done urgently. Up until now, moderate Muslims have been intimidated by the fanatics among them. But fortunately, following the London carnage, Muslim leaders are increasingly convinced that something ought to be done to resolve this critical situation. The challenge is to persuade young Muslims that radicalism and hatred are not the answer, but that one can be a good Muslim as well as a good British citizen, and that both identities do not contradict but rather complement each other. Thus, once the fanatics are deprived of a “theology” of violence, they will have no cause left to pursue. There is a civil war at the moment raging throughout the Islamic world between the extremists and the moderates. Let’s hope to God that the moderates will prevail and very soon.
(© JS, 2012, article previously published in The Catholic Times, 29 July 2005, reproduced here with permission)