The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life recently conducted a scientific poll of 2,000 American adults about their views of religion and conflict, and particularly their views and knowledge of Islam. The poll was conducted between July 7 (the date of the first terrorist attacks in London) and July 17, 2005. Pew's research seems to show a glimmer of hope, as more Americans separate the terrorist attacks carried out by Muslim radicals and Islam the world religion.
The Pew survey finds that 55% of Americans have a favorable opinion of American Muslims; an increase from March 2001, when 45% of Americans said that they viewed American Muslims favorably. The most recent number is roughly equivalent to the percentage of people who answered favorably in similar polls conducted during March 2002 and July 2003.
In the most recent poll, 36% of Americans believe Islam is more likely than other religions to encourage violence; this is a significant decrease from 44% in the July 2003 poll. More Evangelical Christians (49%), White Catholics (42%), and Republicans (45-49%) are likely to view Islam as more likely to encourage violence than Democracts (25-34%), political Independents (33%), and secularists (26%.)
The most recent poll shows that 39% of Americans view Islam favorably and 25% have no opinion, while 36% view Islam unfavorably. By far, a plurality of Evangelical Protestants (47%) view Islam unfavorably. Most Republicans (46%), in general, view Islam unfavorably, while 47% of Democrats and 42% of political independents view Islam favorably.
Below are some more findings of the July 2005 Pew survey:
*59% believe that Islam is very different from their own faiths.
*75% believe that religion in general contributes either "a great deal" or "a fair amount" in causing conflict and war around the world.
*65% believe that religion plays a role in causing political conflict within the United States.
*29% believe that terrorist attacks represent a "major conflict" between Islam and the West, while the vast majority (60%) believe that they represent "conflict with a small radical group."
*A slim majority (51%) of Americans could correctly identify what the Qur'an (Koran) is and 48% were able to correctly identify the Islamic notion of Allah (the God, or al-Ilah.)
*Only 5% feel that they know "a great deal" about Islam; 28% feel they know "some" things about Islam; while the majority (66%) know "not very much" or "nothing at all" about Islam.
*An overwhelming majority of Americans view Jews (77%) and Catholics (73%) favorably. A slim majority of Americans view Evangelical Protestants (57%) favorably.
To read the Pew Forum's overview report on their July 2005 survey, see:
To download the full report as a PDF, see:
Tuesday, July 26, 2005
Pew Poll Finds Fewer Americans Link Islam to Violence in 2005 Than 2003; Majority Ignorant About Islam
Monday, July 25, 2005
Professor Juan R. I. Cole (right), current President-elect of the Middle East Studies Association of North America, is a professor of history at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He is a renowned expert on Islam, particularly Shi'i Islam, as well as South Asian and Middle Eastern history.
Although Professor Cole's response is a bit dated (it originally appeared on July 9), I believe that it provides an excellent summary of what op-ed columnist Thomas L. Friedman, part-time pompous windbag and part-time incisive pundit, got wrong in his editorial, "If It's a Muslim Problem, It Needs a Muslim Solution," which was published in The New York Times on July 8.
The links included with the quoted passages below appear on Professor Cole's post, which was published on his excellent blog, Informed Comment. I have made minor edits as necessary for my own blog's format.
Professor Cole writes:
A 'fatwa' is simply a considered opinion of a Muslim jurisconsult. Such opinions are numerous. First of all, almost all the major Shiite Grand Ayatollahs have condemned Bin Laden and al-Qaeda. You could say that is easy, since Shiites don't generally like Wahhabis. But they are the leaders of 120 million Muslims (some ten percent of the 1.2 billion). So that is one....So then what about the Sunni world? The leading moral authority for Sunnis is the rector or Grand Imam of the al-Azhar Seminary/ University in Cairo, Egypt. Al-Azhar is perhaps the world's oldest continuous university and has been since the time of Saladin a major center of Sunni religious authority. The current incumbent is Shaikh Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi. So what about Tantawi and bin Laden?" [http://www.usembassyjakarta.org/lawmaker.html]
What about Pakistan? Admittedly, it has some clerics who are fans of Bin Laden, or at least who would avoid condemning him. But the allegation Friedman is making is that no major cleric has condemned him.
I don't personally care for Yusuf al-Qaradawi. He is an old-time Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood preacher who fled to Qatar and now has a perch at al-Jazeera. But he does have some virtues. He is enormously popular among Muslim fundamentalists. And, he absolutely despises Bin Laden and al-Qaeda. Al-Qaradawi has repeatedly condemned the latter. He even gave a fatwa that it was a duty of Muslims to fight alongside the US in Afghanistan against al-Qaeda! See also: http://www.islamfortoday.com/qaradawi02.htm
There are also substantial Muslim communities in Europe with leaderships that have explicitly condemned Bin Laden. E.g.: http://www.geocities.com/Paris/Rue/4637/terr42a.html. There are on the order of 250,000 Muslims in Spain.
High Mufti of Russian Muslims calls for Extradition of Bin Laden. The Russian Muslim community is about 20 million strong, or 15 percent of Russia's 143 million population, and is growing rapidly, so that in a century Russia may be 50 percent Muslim. So this is not a pro forma thing here.
Friedman also does refer to a major conference of Muslim clerics, thinkers and notables wound up just Wednesday that made a powerful statement about religious tolerance and condemned everything Osama Bin Laden stands for. But he seems oddly unaware of the significance of having Grand Ayatollah Sistani, Grand Imam of al-Azhar Seminary Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, and many other great Muslim authorities sign off on this epochal statement of Muslim ecumenism.The statement forbids one Muslim to declare another "not a Muslim" if the believer adheres to any of the mainstream legal rites of Sunnism and Shiism. The whole basis of al-Qaeda is to call the Muslim leaders of countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, as well as Shiites, "not Muslims." The statement also demands that engineers should please stop pretending to issue fatwas, which should be left to trained clerical jurisconsults. This para. is also a slam at Bin Laden.PS As for Friedman's main point, that Muslims haven't done a good job of fighting jihadi ideology and terrorism, it is bizarre. The Algerian government fought a virtual civil war to put down political Islam, in which over 100,000 persons died. The Egyptians jailed 20,000 or 30,000 radicals for thought crimes and killed 1500 in running street battles in the 1990s and early zeroes. Al-Qaeda can't easily strike in the Middle East precisely because Syria, Egypt, Algeria, etc. have their number and have undertaken massive actions against them. What does Friedman want? And, besides, he is wrong that this is only a Muslim problem. In the global age all problems are everybody's. That's part of flat world, too, Tom.
To read Professor Cole's complete blog entry, see:
Professor Cole's latest monograph, Sacred Space and Holy War: The Politics, Culture and History of Shi'ite Islam, provides a detailed and scholarly overview of its subject:
Sunday, July 24, 2005
This is an update on a previous post that appeared on Wed., July 20. This post was a part of my Radical Watch series on extremists of all religious and ideological persuasions. To view that post, see: http://occident.blogspot.com/2005/07/radical-watch-bomb-mecca-says-colorado.html
In an op-ed published on July 24 in the Denver Post, Colorado Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo (right) reiterated his belief that the U.S. government should consider attacking Mecca and Medina in response to a future terrorist attack on U.S. soil, moderating little from his original thesis. He infers that there is no "mainstream" Islam (the quotation marks were his) and that as long as the so-called "War on Terror" is grinding on with little or no end in sight, the U.S. should not take "any option or target off the table, regardless of the circumstances."
Tancredo also writes, "if the mere discussion of an option or target may dissuade a fundamentalist Muslim extremist from strapping on a bomb-filled backpack, or if it might encourage "moderate" Muslims to do a better job," then his statements were justified. In a nutshell, he exemplifies the "ugly" American armed with a big stick, but who doesn't know how to use it and instead of carefully targeting his real enemies, bashes away at everyone. Tancredo's suggestions would do little to impact the war against terrorism and, despite his disparaging remarks about his critics, the "option" he suggests would prove to the world that the U.S. really is the ugly bully that it is portrayed as in Europe, South America, Canada, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. People like Tancredo have no idea how to carry out diplomacy, instead feeling comfortable with the use of brute strength. The problem is, brute strength never works in the long term.
To read Tancredo's full op-ed, see:
In another recent statement, Tancredo said, "I didnt say nuke anything. I just said, 'take out their holy sites."
In a July 22 article ("Tom Tancredo Eyes White House Run"), Associated Press writer Steven K. Paulson reports that Tancredo, considered by many to be out of step even with the mainstream Republican Party and a bigot, is considering a Presidential run in 2008. This year, he has visited Iowa and New Hampshire, two states that hold important caucus/primary elections. Most politicians considering a Presidential run test the waters early on by visiting key states to speak with local party activists and independent organizations.
Tancredo is quoted as saying, "Unless I misread the political tea leaves, there is a great deal of support for what I say."
Unfortunately for Tancredo, even President George W. Bush, who is the most conservative Republican President since Ronald Reagan (and he's arguably even more conservative than Reagan), does not support statements like those made by Tancredo. This seems to suggest that such views are not conducive to winning a national election.
In 2002, the national Republican Party distanced itself from Tancredo, who is known for his vehemently anti-immigrant views, because they feared he would cost them valuable Hispanic-American votes. However, in the upcoming 2006 Congressional elections, the GOP is backing Tancredo's re-election bid. Tancredo's immigration views are also at odds with President Bush's.
Although all political analysts say that Tancredo has no real chance of winning the Presidency, he may have an impact on the 2008 election by forcing immigration issues to the forefront.
To read the full AP, story, see:
Saturday, July 23, 2005
Early on Saturday morning, a series of three bombings ripped apart a hotel and a coffee shop in and around Sharm el-Sheikh, an Egyptian resort spot on the Red Sea that is popular with Europeans, Israelis (Jews and Arabs), and wealthy Arabs. The two car bombs and one satchel bomb were set off around 1:15 a.m., when tourists frequent Sharm el-Sheikh's many clubs and bars. It is not known as of yet whether suicide bombers were involved. Currently, estimates put the number of dead at between 88 and 90 people, but these numbers may rise in coming days as cleanup crews begin to sift through the debris; over 200 people were wounded.
Early claims of responsibility have been made by a group that says it is connected to al Qaeda, but not independent verification has taken place yet. This group, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, takes its name from a radical Jordanian cleric who was one of Osama bin Laden's mentors during the war in Afghanistan that pitted Muslim fighters (mujahideen) backed by the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan, against the invading Soviet Union. Azzam (left) was assassinated in 1989; it is unknown who was behind his murder. The Abdullah Azzam Brigades claim to have cells operating in both Egypt and Syria; they were one of two groups to claim responsibility for bombings in Taba and Ras Shitan, both located in the Sinai, that killed 34 people on October 7, 2004.
In an interview broadcast on state television, Egyptian Tourism Minister Ahmed el-Maghrabi said, "What happened early this morning is rejected by all people. These criminal gangs will not be able to prevent people from travelling and moving."
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who has ruled the country since 1981, said of Saturday's bombings, "Terrorism is still approaching us from time to time with its ugly face. It is a blind terrorism which is expanding all over the world, terrorizing people and targeting them everywhere." He has vowed to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice. Almost immediately after the bombings, Egyptian security forces went into action, rounding up dozens of potential suspects and witnesses. Egypt's formidable security services are known for using physical torture in their campaigns against opponents of the ruling government, both militant and non-militant.
Saturday's attacks were the bloodiest since November 17, 1997, when Egyptian militants gunned down 58 tourists, four Egyptian civilians, and three Egyptian policemen in Luxor, along the Nile River.
To view stories with additional information on Saturday's terrorist attacks, see:
The Al-Qaeda/Egypt Connection
Despite the lack of independent verification of the claims made by the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, there seems little reason to doubt that today's terrorist attacks were indeed the work of an al Qaeda affiliate. Although Egypt's homegrown Islamic political movement, the Ikhwan al-Muslimin (Muslim Brotherhood) abandoned armed resistance against the Egyptian government decades ago, after severe crackdowns by Presidents Gamal 'Abd al-Nasir and Anwar al-Sadat in the 1960s and 1970s, the country is also the home of two extremist organizations, Gama al-Islamiyya and al-Jihad. Of the two, al-Jihad is the most violent.
Al-Jihad, which was headed by Ayman al-Zawahiri (right, shown facing camera with Osama bin Laden), the Egyptian medical doctor and veteran of the war in Afghanistan who is currently al Qaeda's operational chief, has carried out a number of attacks, both inside and outside of Egypt. In October 1981, they assassinated President Sadat in Cairo; in August 1993, they assassinated Interior Minister Hassan al-Alfi; in November 1993, they assassinated Prime Minister Atef Sedky; and in 1995, they bombed the Egyptian embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan. According to intelligence sources, al-Jihad merged with al Qaeda in 2001 and has not carried out a successful attack inside of Egypt since late 1993.
For more information on al-Jihad, taken from a report issued in 2004 by the U.S. Department of State, see:
For more information on al-Jihad taken from a report published by the Monterey Institute of International Studies, see:
See below for more photos of Saturday's attacks:
Friday, July 22, 2005
Note: The title of this entry is a slightly edited form of an article that appeared in The New York Times, which I will discuss within.
In a June 14 article by Peter Bergen (left) and Swati Pandey of the New America Foundation, the myth that Islamic religious schools or madrassas are the root of all terrorism committed in the name of Islam was successfully debunked. They note that while Western political leaders, including former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and now British Prime Minister Tony Blair, have placed the blame on madrassas, particularly those located throughout Pakistan, for "teaching hatred," the truth is acutally much more complex.
In their basic form, Sunni Muslim madrassas in Pakistan and the rest of the Islamic world teach students to memorize and recite the Qur'an while also introducing them to the Ahadith collections of traditions associated with the Prophet Muhammad and Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) and law (shari'a.)
Shi'i seminaries are generally much more scholarly and instruct students in a range of other subjects, including non-Muslim philosophy, logic, critical thinking, history, languages, and oratory. Shi'i seminaries are a separate issue and, in fact, are not the focus of Western accusations of teaching militancy of the brand al Qaeda peddles.
As Bergen and Pandey state, while it is true that some madrassas (right) may indoctrinate their young students with a simplistic and militant brand of Sunni Islam, "such schools do not teach the technical or linguistic skills necessary to be an effective terrorist. Indeed, there is little or no evidence that madrassas produce terrorists capable of attacking the West. And as a matter of national security, the United States doesn't need to worry about Muslim fundamentalists with whom we may disagree, but about terrorists who want to attack us."
Bergen and Pandey note that after examining the backgrounds of 75 terrorists involved in recent, high profile attacks, 53% of them have attended college or have earned a college degree; 52% of Americans have been to college. They conclude that, on average, the terrorists are as well educated as most Americans. In fact, many of the world's terrorist leaders are highly educated and have spent little time in a madrassa and have minimal formal religious training. Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda's Operational Chief Ayman al-Zawahiri, and a host of other al-Qaeda leaders are not trained as clerics. Instead, many of them have advanced education in fields such as business and the laboratory sciences, including biology and medicine. So, the root causes of their ideology cannot be solely blamed on the madrassas.
Now, as Bergen and Pandey note, the type of education provided by some madrassas is an issue. Indeed, some do teach their students a simplistic and militant brand of Sunni Islam and this needs to be addressed. However, to blame all of the world's terrorism woes on madrassas is simplistic and foolish. On a related note, Western leaders should also not be so quick to look at the Muslim world as the sole cause of such ideology; let us not forget that many of the September 11, 2001 hijackers and the London bombers were educated in the West. In the case of the London bombers, three of the four were British nationals with advanced degrees from secular universities. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraff has brought up this very point in response to Blair's accusations implicating Pakistani madrassas in the London bombings.
To view Bergen and Pandey's full op-ed, see:
For an excellent critique of the madrassa debate, written by Muhammad Ali Siddiqi, a former Pakistani ambassador, see:
Thursday, July 21, 2005
This post is part of my occasional series, Radical Watch, which seeks to bring to the forefront individuals whom I consider to be radicals, regardless of their religion or ideology. I believe that these individuals need to be monitored and condemned by their potential constituency and society at large. For the record, I categorically condemn the views of every individual who appears in this series.
Call her Italy's version of shrill American ultra-loon conservative crow Ann Coulter; she's every bit as biting and melodramatic as Coulter. This Italian joins the ranks of Islamaphobes such as Robert Spencer. She's Oriana Fallaci (left), a 76-year-old, cancer-ridden anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, biased journalist and firebrand. It's no secret that she hates all Muslims. Hates; not distrusts or dislikes and not just the radicals, she hates them all. She has bitterly attacked the "false" ideas of multicultural and Muslim moderation; as far as she's concerned no Muslim is moderate. She has bemoaned the growing Muslim communities in Western Europe, both indigenous and immigrant, dubbing Europe today, "Eurabia." Authoring three bitter, hate-filled books about her views, Fallaci was sued for the Italian equivalent of defamation in May, and is awaiting the start of her trial.
In a July 21 article that appeared in The Economist, it's noted that Fallaci's books have become bestsellers. At the heart of her hate speech, Fallaci's theses are quite simple: anything un-European or un-Western is evil, European culture is superior to all others, and attempts to live in harmony or toleration with other cultures in Europe and the West is a foolish, stupid endeavor. She is the heroine of European ultra-right political parties and social movements, such as Italy's Northern League, as well as many of Italy's most powerful politicians.
Her most influential book to date has been La Rabbia e l'Orgoglio (The Rage and the Pride), which was published shortly after September 11, 2001. In it, Fallaci regurgitates the "clash of civilizations" theory made infamous by Professor Samuel Huntington of Harvard University, although, unlike Huntington, Fallaci focuses solely on "Islam vs. Western civilization." Ignoring her own country's lengthy and troubled past (Genoa and Venice were powerful Crusader states during the Medieval period), Fallaci bitterly attacks Islam and all Muslims. The book has sold over 1.5 million copies to date.
Calling La Rabbia "a sermon," Fallaci wraps many of her arguments in religious language and metaphors: “The clash between us and them is not a military clash. Oh, no. It is a cultural one, a religious one." The conflict is nothing short of a new Crusade between Islam and Christianity. The problem with that is the fact that the vast majority of Europeans are thoroughly secular and atheist. A second problem with Fallaci's cry of wolf is the fact that if Islam was engaged in a war for supreme control of the world against Christianity, why are comparatively few Muslims actually participating? There are 1.3 billion+ Muslims in the world; if they were commanded to kill all Jews and Christians, why have comparatively few actually been killed? If the religion calls for it and if religion is such a strong, all-encompassing thing for all Muslims, why hasn't Fallaci's world war occured yet? The facts, simply stated, do not support Fallaci's views.
In her book The Force of Reason, Fallaci compares Islam to, "a pool that never purifies." She has also said that Islam by definition is a terrorist religion, a "reality that has existed for 1,400 years." Muslims can never be assimilated into European culture, Fallaci argues. While attacking Islam for being intolerant and supremacist, she essentially calls for a renewal of Italian nationalism and European supremacism over all other cultures. An ardent ultra-Zionist, Fallaci downplays the deaths of Palestinian civilians while attacking European media outlets and public figures for "playing down" Israeli deaths.
Even Daniel Pipes, the director of the Middle East Forum, a conservative American think tank, criticized Fallaci's book. He notes, "She does not pretend to be a specialist and this slim book makes that very clear."
He goes on, "Fallaci does not admire Islamic civilization, dismissing with a broad sweep of the hand as having left 'a few beautiful mosques but no contributions to the history of thought' and despising women so deeply that their deaths are of 'no importance' at all...She makes some rudimentary mistakes (twenty-four million Arab Muslims in the United States?). [The book is] like a number of other European attacks on Islam find a wide and receptive audience; really what they show is the primitive nature of the public debate about Islam in those countries."
To read Daniel Pipes' review, see:
Before Fallaci pontificates on what "Islam is," it would help if she were aware of the total picture of its intellectual and historical heritage from art, literature, music, poetry, historiography, medicine, mathematics, astronomy, anatomy; of the legacies of al-Andalus, Ibn al-Arabi, Jalal ad-Din Rumi, al-Ghazali, Averroes (who inspired St. Thomas Aquinas) and of the Muslim scholars who preserved the Ancient Greek, Roman, and Persian texts that would lead to the European Renaissance. She must be dismayed that the number system that entire world uses was invented by the Arab Muslims, who also worked out the ideas of decimal fractions, exponents, and other advanced forms of mathematics and the sciences. In summation, Fallaci's vision of "Islam" is essentialized, incomplete, and inaccurate. Her ignorance speaks volumes.
When even Pipes, a firebrand when it comes to railing against what he views as radical Islam (i.e. political Islam of any kind) is critical of your work, there is something seriously wrong with it. If even Pipes believes your work to be petty, poorly researched, and shallow, the game is over.
Of course, Fallaci has the right to express her views within the bounds of Italian law regarding free speech. Much like in the U.S., people are allowed to deliver hate speech, as long as it does not cross the boundaries and actively incite people to commit violence or break the law. However, there is a bit of hypocrisy in her diatribes, since she rails against the "intolerance" of all Muslims while peddling a brand of xenophobia and racism that is the epitome of extremist thought; in many ways, her speech differs little from that of Osama bin Laden. Perhaps Fallaci would do well to remember where modern fascism was born: Europe.
To read more about Fallaci's upcoming trial, see:
For a laudatory and slanted/biased biography and examination of Fallaci's work, see:
To read a recent article/interview with Fallaci, see:
To read a balanced critique of Fallaci's work by National Post writer George Jones, see:
To read Fallaci's op-ed, "I Stand with Israel: I Stand with the Jews," which was published on December 2, 2002 in the extremist American right-wing platform publication, FrontPage Magazine, see:
To read excerpts of the transcript from a speech Fallaci gave at the American Enterprise Institute, a right-wing organization, see:
Wednesday, July 20, 2005
This post is part of my occasional series, Radical Watch, which seeks to bring to the forefront individuals whom I consider to be radicals, regardless of their religion or ideology. I believe that these individuals need to be monitored and condemned by their potential constituency and society at large. For the record, I categorically condemn the views of every individual who appears in this series.
This week, Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo (R-Colorado, 6th District), one of the looney extreme right-wingers in the Republican Party, said in a WFLA-AM radio interview with Pat Campbell that the United States could hypothetically "take out" the Islamic holy cities of Mecca and Medina in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia if we were attacked with nuclear weapons by Muslim terrorists, such as members of al Qaeda. In the interview, Tancredo acknowledged that such a hypothetical attack was "draconian" and would be "the ultimate response."
After his comments began to circulate nationally, arousing anger from many segments of American society, not just Muslim-Americans, Tancredo backtracked, saying that he was, "just throwing out some ideas." Rather than address further questions himself, Tancredo hid behind his spokesman, Will Adams, who insisted that his boss does not support threatening Mecca and Medina. Adams again reiterated the argument that Tancredo was speaking of hypothetical situations.
Even if Tancredo was speaking hypothetically, his statements remain divisive, ignorant, and extremist. Not only would his "hypothetical" policy suggestion not deter terrorism, it would prove the point that Osama bin Laden has always made; the United States is the mother of global terrorism, on the one hand condemning it while on the other hand engaging in state terrorism as it sees fit. The entire world, including our closest allies, would condemn such an attack, and rightly so. Tancredo's remarks, like most made by the looney right and left wing extremist fringes of both major U.S. political parties, are ignorant and foolish.
Tancredo's statements also stand in stark contrast to the views of President George W. Bush and the national Republican Party, currently headed by Ken Mehlman. However, this latest incident clearly shows the issue of credibility currently facing the Republican Party. On the one hand, they claim to be all inclusive, or at least as all inclusive as they can be without betraying their key beliefs. They also claim that the majority of religious Americans, of any religion, will naturally be Republican due to their conservative social values. On the other hand, the Republicans pander to the Christian Evangelical Right, which casts doubt on the sincerity of their approach to Republicans of other faiths, such as myself.
To hear an MP3 segment of Rep. Tancredo's statements, see the July 15 section on:
To visit Tancredo's official web site, see:
Tuesday, July 19, 2005
I have decided to bring to the forefront individuals whom I consider to be radicals, regardless of their religion or ideology. I believe that these individuals need to be monitored and condemned by their potential constituency and society at large. For the record, I categorically condemn the views of every individual who appears as part of my Radical Watch occasional feature.
Name: Omar Bakri Muhammad
Short Biography: Bakri Muhammad is a Syrian native, who has lived in the United Kingdom for the last two decades with his family, which includes seven children. He was a member of the Syrian Muslim Ikhwan (Brotherhood), which led the brutal uprising against Syria's secular dictator at the time, Hafez al-Asad. In 1982, after the Syrian Ba'thist government crushed the rebellion, killing tens of thousands of people in the process, Bakri Muhammad fled to Lebanon before moving to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia the next year.
He was expelled from Saudi Arabia 20 years ago for his extremist views and has lived in the U.K. on government aid since then; he has been allowed to remain in that country on indefinite leave. Bakri Muhammad has been connected to the radical British Muslim organization al-Muhajiroun, whose followers include young, South Asian Brits educated in the U.K.'s secular universities.
Bakri Muhammad has publicly and repeatedly praised terrorist attacks in Chechnya, Palestine, Israel, the United States, and Europe. He infamously dubbed the 19 hijackers who carried out the September 11, 2001 attacks in the U.S., the "Magnificent 19."
After the July 7 terrorist attacks in London, the British government has become increasingly aware of the extremist views of radical, foreign shaykhs such as Bakri Muhammad. Reports suggest that the British government is trying to decide whether or not to try and expel Bakri Muhammad and others like him, which would surely lead to lengthy court battles. By preaching and condoning violence in the U.K., Bakri Muhammad is breaking a traditional tenet of Islamic law, which forbids Muslims from attacking the government in the state where they are living as guests.
For further information on Omar Bakri Muhammad, see:
For a synopsis of his radical, extremist views, see:
Monday, July 18, 2005
Thomas L. Friedman, The New York Times' resident loudmouth and ignoramus can shut up now. The fatwa he so desperately wanted has been issued.
On Monday, July 18, Jama'at e Ahl e Sunna, the United Kingdom's largest Sunni Muslim organization, issued a fatwa (religious legal opinion) condemning the July 7 terrorist bombings in London that killed over 50 people. In their ruling, the Jama'at declared that the attack was not condoned by the Qur'an.
In a strongly worded statement, Mufti Muhammad Gul Rehman Qadri, Jama'at chairman, declared, "Who has given anyone the right to kill others? It is a sin. Anyone who commits suicide will be sent to Hell." The statement reiterates the traditional Islamic theological view that suicide is a sin and is punished by the perpetrator being sent to Hell; this view is not unlike that of Christianity and some Jewish sects. Qadri went on to say, "What happened in London can be seen as a sacrilege. It is a sin to take your life or the life of others."
The fatwa stated, "Leaving aside the atrocities being committed in Palestine and Iraq, the attacks in London have no Islamic justification, are totally condemned and we equally condemn those who may have been behind the masterminding of these acts, those who incited these youths in order to further their own perverted ideology."
Despite its buzzword status in the West, a fatwa is not binding; it is a legal opinion issued by a Muslim religious leader, usually a qadi (judge) or mufti (senior religious cleric.) This is something people like Friedman do not seem to understand.
For more information, see:
Friday, July 15, 2005
He’s at it again. The doyen of op-ed columnists from The New York Times, Thomas L. Friedman (left), has yet again written an editorial that presents his readers with a general, simplistic argument about the "War on Terror." This time, his target is Sunni Islam, which Friedman believes has become stagnant and is struggling with the challenges of modernity.
Friedman writes: "Part of what seems to be going on with these young Muslim males is that they are, on the one hand, tempted by Western society, and ashamed of being tempted. On the other hand, they are humiliated by Western society because while Sunni Islamic civilization is supposed to be superior, its decision to ban the reform and reinterpretation of Islam since the 12th century has choked the spirit of innovation out of Muslim lands, and left the Islamic world less powerful, less economically developed, less technically advanced than [the West and India and Asia.]"
It is true, generally speaking, that traditional orthodox Sunni Islam's four main legal schools of thought, the Hanafi, Shafi'i, Maliki, and Hanbali, hold that the gates of ijtihad (reasoned legal interpretation of the Qur'an and the Ahadith literature) has been closed since the 12th century. The Medieval jurists of these four legal schools took this position because it was thought that the classical jurists (such as the founders of the schools) had expounded all possible rulings from the sacred sources and thus, there was no need to continue with ijtihad.
However, what Friedman fails to mention is that a sizeable number of Sunni jurists in later centuries argued that ijtihad should be brought back in order to allow the Sunni Muslim communities to engage current problems that did not exist during the lifetimes of the four founders of the legal schools. Among these reform-minded jurists was Muhammad ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab, who lived during the second half of the 18th century in Arabia and who was an ally of the al-Sa'ud family that would come to rule most of Arabia in the early 1920s. Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab rejected the practice of taqlid, the following of past practices because they had become traditions. Instead, he believed that a reinterpretation of the sources was needed to reach a purified form of Islam. Ironically, after this utopian stage was reached, the practice of ijtihad, in the views of Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab, would no longer be necessary.
In the 20th and 21st centuries, Hassan al-Turabi (right), the ideologue of the National Islamic Front in Sudan during the 1980s and 1990s, also believed that the "gates" of ijtihad should be reopened, specifically so that the Muslim communities can address contemporary issues in the modern age.
For a lengthy and detailed analysis of al-Turabi's thought, see: http://www.jur.lu.se/Internet/Biblioteket/Examensarbeten.nsf/0/1B8208A004D0D54BC1256CFE00749D49/$File/xsmall.pdf?OpenElement
For biographical sketches of al-Turabi, see:
In the 19th and 20th centuries, ideolgues such as the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood's chief intellectual Sayyid Qutb, Pakistan's Syed Abu-Ala' Maududi (right), Syria's Muhammad Rashid Rida, and the Pan-Islamic thinker Jamal ad-Din al-Afghani all practiced a renewed version of ijtihad.
To view Syed Abu-Ala' Maududi's influential introduction to the Qur'an, see:
For a biographical sketch of Sayyid Qutb, see:
In Friedman's view, if only ijtihad was brought back, then the Sunni Muslim world would perhaps no longer be prone to a "poverty of dignity and a wealth of rage," as he puts it. To put it frankly, the historical record is not on his side. Although I agree that the return of ijtihad would allow orthodox Sunnism to better tackle some of the modern age's ethical issues, such as abortion, euthanasia, and stem cell research, Friedman's argument that it is a major cause of militancy is incorrect. Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab, Qutb, Maududi, and al-Turabi shared Friedman's view that ijtihad should be resumed, yet none of them are individuals that I think Friedman would deem "moderates," though al-Turabi is a more complex figure and harder to pin down than the others.
Friedman also states that the "ban" on ijtihad has "choked the spirit of innovation out of Muslim lands."
First, legal interpretation within the four Sunni legal schools continued past the 12th century, regardless of any informal "ban" on ijtihad. Under the Ottoman Turks, who were largely followers of the Hanafi school, some of the religious practices of the ruling elite were far from being in accordance with the traditional orthodox mode of thought.
Second, Friedman uses the term "Muslim lands;" does he forget that Iran, although part of the Islamic world, is not Sunni, but Twelver Shi'ite? In Shi'ite Islam, ijtihad never stopped and has continued for centuries. Indeed the ayatullahs of Twelver Shi'ism serve as mujtahids, jurists of high education and rank who are capable of interpreting the religious sources and issuing fatawa (religious legal opinions) to the "laity." Friedman's choice of words and phrases make it clear that his view of the world is simplistic at best. By using incorrect or overly broad terms, he shows his ignorance or lack of concern about being accurate and truthful.
In summation, through his writings about Muslims and the larger Muslim world, it is apparent that Friedman has only a cursory understanding of the complex histories, cultures, and cycles of thought that have effected them. Yet, he still insists on writing simplified and often inaccurate op-eds about Muslims and the Muslim world. To students, whether formal or not, of Middle East history and Islamic studies, Friedman's ignorance is clear and nauseating.
Certainly, he has the right to be ignorant. However, he should show more concern for his readers, since his personal ignorance does not just effect himself. While it is also true that on many (some would say most) topics Friedman is a pompous windbag, this does not excuse his blatant and continued misinterpretation of the historical record and the facts.
To view Friedman's latest op-ed, "A Poverty of Dignity and a Wealth of Rage," which was published in the July 15 edition of The New York Times, see: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/15/opinion/15friedman.html
Thursday, July 14, 2005
A friend of mine, Jed Blue (right), a former Copy Chief and Editor in Chief of Broadside, posted a critique of my argument against collective guilt on his own blog. I have linked it here in the hopes that it will provide an alternative view to this debate:
To re-read my comments on the concept of collective guilt, see the first three paragraphs under the section entitled, "Related Comments":
Tuesday, July 12, 2005
An inspiring true story of civilian courage in the face of armed militants.
Today, CNN Interactive reported that a wounded U.S. Navy SEAL was hidden by Afghan villagers who defied demands from armed Taliban fighters loyal to the group's leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar (right), that he be turned over. The SEAL, who had multiple leg injuries, was one of the members of a missing reconnaissance team who disappeared in late June. The other 3 SEALs in his party were killed in action against Taliban fighters. A U.S. MH-47 transport helicopter, carrying reinforcements and a search party, was shot down by the Taliban, killing all 16 U.S. military personnel aboard.
Early reports, spurred on by Taliban announcements, stated that up to 3 SEALs had been captured by the militant Deobandi organization. Some reports also said that Taliban militants had executed them. These reports have been denied by U.S. military spokespeople, though a total of 19 soldiers died in the reconnaissance and rescue operations.
According to U.S. military reports, an Afghan villager discovered the wounded SEAL and helped him back to a nearby village. When armed Taliban paramilitary fighters came to the village and demanded that the SEAL be turned over, the villagers rebuffed them. After turning the Taliban away, a villager carried a note from the soldier verifying his identity and location to U.S. forces, who picked up the SEAL on July 3.
To view the full CNN Interactive story, see:
In my opinion, this is an inspiring example of the courage of ordinary people, in this case Afghan villagers, who stood up against an armed militant group known for its violence and repressive attitudes toward both men and women. Instead of being cowed by the Taliban, these villagers defied them, forcing them to back down. This is no small matter, since the Taliban's record is both brutal and well-known. During the five years it ruled most of Afghanistan, they issued draconian restrictions on women and men, severely cracked down on all forms of entertainment and activities that they deemed to be "un-Islamic," and they committed numerous massacres, including a series of organized executions of Shi'ite Hazara between 1998 and 2001.
To view a U.S. Department of State report on massacres committed by the Taliban, see:
My sincere hope is that more and more ordinary Afghans and Iraqis say, "enough is enough," to the terrorists and radical insurgents that commit acts of horrific violence in the name of Islam. I think there are already signs that this is beginning to happen.
Friday, July 08, 2005
Substantial additions and edits were made to this entry on Sunday, July 10 and Monday, July 11, taking into account the most recent information and available statemens from relevant parties and individuals.
Renowned New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman's (below right) recently had a column published, "If It's a Muslim Problem, It Needs a Muslim Solution," on July 8 in which he states that no major Muslim organization or leader has issued a religious opinion (fatwa) condemning Osama bin Laden and the attacks of September 11, 2001.
To view Friedman's column, see:
He makes no mention of the fact that many Muslim religious and political leaders across the globe did issue such condemnations. I would refer Mr. Friedman to the following web sites that document these responses; all are connected to reputable American academic organizations or professors:
Among the leaders who condemned the attacks were several who play important roles in the worldwide Muslim community. These individuals include Shaykh Muhammad Sayyid al-Tantawi of al-Azhar Mosque and University in Egypt; Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi in Qatar; 'Abd al-Aziz ibn 'Abd Allah al-Ashaykh, grand mufti of Saudi Arabia; Grand Ayatullah Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah in Lebanon; outgoing Iranian President Muhammad Khatami; the foreign ministers of the Organization of the Islamic Conference; 15 major American Muslim organizations, including the Council for American-Islamic Relations; Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, a prominent American Muslim religious leader; Yusuf Islam, formerly Cat Stevens; and former Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim. Even organizations such as Hizbu'llah and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood condemned the attacks and in the U.S., major figures in the progressive Muslim movement, including Professor Khaled Abou El Fadl of UCLA (left), Professor Abdulaziz Sachedina of the University of Virginia, and Professor Omid Safi of Colgate University, also condemned the attacks and acts of terrorism.
In short, Mr. Friedman's inference that no major Muslim leader or organization has condemned the attacks of September 11 are simply not true and I encourage him to look at the evidence more closely.
Mr. Friedman also states his opinion that, "“When jihadist-style bombings happen in Riyadh, that is a Muslim-Muslim problem. That is a police problem for Saudi Arabia. But when al-Qaeda-like bombings come to the London Underground, that becomes a civilizational problem.” This comment infers that violence committed in "Islamic" lands is somehow not a "civilizational" problem. By that logic, racism and segregation in the U.S. and South Africa was also not a "civilizational problem," but was instead a local issue to be dealt with by "those people." In a related question, what exactly is a "civilizational" problem? Are Muslims not part of a global "civilization?" Clearly Friedman has a very "us and them" view of the world.
There are a large number of individuals who believe that all Muslims bear some guilt for terrorist attacks launched in the name of their religion. While I would agree that the Muslim community should continue to be strong in its condemnation of terrorism, I would also question the idea of "collective guilt." Are all Christians guilty of attacks on abortion clinics and practitioners by radical Evangelicals? Are all Jews guilty of the crimes committed by radical Israeli Jewish setlers in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip? Are all Hindus guilty of the massacres of Muslim civilians, the destruction of the Babri Mosque or the racist policies of the BJP Party in India? Are all Americans guilty for any war crimes committed by our military or the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent civilians (the so-called "collateral damage") abroad?
I think that the same people who support "collective guilt" for Muslims would balk at extending that to other groups. There is a constant call for "Islam" to say this or that. However, generally speaking "Islam," being an inanimate object, says nothing. Muslims, however, do.
Yes, the Muslim community should make sure to speak out against terrorism, and in fact it has and continues to do so. Yes, those that support al Qaeda from inside the Muslim community should be criticized and ostracized. Yet, an entire group of people, over a billion people or 1/6 of the world's population, cannot be "convicted" for the acts or thoughts of some. For those who are so ignorant as to hold all Muslims responsible for the acts of people like Osama bin Laden and his ilk, no amount of convincing will change their mind; they have decided that they are happy to reside in their shallow world of ignorance and bigotry.
There is also a claim that Islam cannot exist in a "democratic" or egalitarian society. The evidence against this idea is strong: Islam exists in some of the largest parliamentary/republican democracies in the world, including India, Malaysia, Indonesia, the U.S., Canada, Turkey, Bosnia, and throughout Western Europe. Even Bernard Lewis, the renowned Princeton University emiritus scholar, argued recently in the May/June 2005 issue of Foreign Affairs that from within Islam there are potential tools that fit the "democratic" mold. He also states that those who claim the Middle East in specific is somehow not conducive to "democracy" because of some inherent (i.e. religious) flaw are ignorant of the region's history and callous toward its future.
And for those that believe or hope that Islam will wither and disappear, here's a fact for them: by many accounts, Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world and by 2025 it will be the largest; no longer will Christianity be the largest faith, instead, it will be overtaken by Islam and the secularists.
Update on London Attacks
The death toll has been raised to at least 50 and is expected to rise. One of the bombed subway trains has not yet been reached by British police and rescue squads and it is believed it will contain other dead victims. Reports say that there is no evidence that suicide bombers were involved; the bombs seem to have been package bombs set off by timers connected to cell phones.
Arab and Muslim condemnation, at the government and civilian levels, has been strong and continuous since the bombings:
In a related note, Professor Tariq Ramadan (below right), one of the most renowned European Muslim intellectuals and academics, wrote in an op-ed that was published in the Saturday, July 9 edition of the British newspaper Guardian:
"We must condemn these attacks with the strongest energy; Muslims in unison with wider British society. But to condemn is not enough. Our values, our societies, our common future require that we become aware of our shared responsibilities. Yes, London is a multicultural society but - in common with the rest of Europe - it will preserve its pluralistic equilibrium only through the personal engagement of every individual in their daily life, within their own neighbourhood.
In the name of the rule of law, democracy and human rights, we cannot accept that the rights of individuals (Arab or Muslim) be trampled upon, or that populations are targeted and discriminated against in the name of the war against terrorism. The strength of democratic societies relies on their capacity to know how to stand firm against extremism while respecting justice in the means used to fight terrorism."
Professor Ingrid Mattson (below left), who teaches Islamic studies at Hartford Seminary where she is also the director of the Muslim chaplaincy program, wrote in an article for BeliefNet:
"Frankly, American Muslims have generally been more critical of injustices committed by the American government than of injustices committed by Muslims. This has to change...American Muslims, in particular, have a great responsibility to speak out. The freedom, stability, and strong moral foundation of the United States are great blessings for all Americans, particularly for Muslims. So let me state it clearly: I, as an American Muslim leader, denounce not only suicide bombers and the Taliban, but those leaders of other Muslim states who thwart democracy, repress women, use the Qur’an to justify un-Islamic behavior and encourage violence. Alas, these views are not only the province of a small group of terrorists or dictators. Too many rank-and-file Muslims, in their isolation and pessimism, have come to hold these self-destructive views as well."
To view Professor Mattson's article, see:
Feisal Abdul Rauf (right), imam of the al-Farah mosque in New York and director of the ASMA Society, is a renowned American Sufi Muslim leader. Sufism is the mystical tradition within Islam, a tradition that has given the world the passionate poetry of Ibn al-Arabi and Jalal ad-Din Rumi and the philosophical masterpieces of Abu Hamid al-Ghazali. In a recent BeliefNet article, Imam Rauf said:
"The Holy Quran teaches us that "Whoever kills a human being, for other than manslaughter or corruption in the earth, it is as if He has killed all mankind: and if he saves a human life, it is as if he has saved the lives of all mankind" [Quran 5:32.]
There can be few things as antithetical to religion, particularly my religion of Islam, as the wanton violence wreaked by the recent attacks in London. It is at times like these that the responsibility falls again on us, those of a truly humane spiritual nature, to speak out against the violence, and to console those who have suffered from it."
To view Imam Rauf's full statement, see:
Professor Juan Cole (right), an expert on Islam who teaches South Asian and Middle Eastern history at the University of Michigan, was recently interviewed by BeliefNet. This interview is strongly recommended for those who wish to increase their knowledge of Islam and particularly radicalized Islam.
To view the interview with Professor Cole, see:
It was reported on July 9 that al Qaeda is actively seeking recruits from amount the large number of unemployed British Muslims, many of them who were born to immigrant parents in the country:
There are signs that segments of the European Muslim community, particularly the younger generations, are increasingly coming under the influence of radical Salafi shaykhs, who generally are immigrants from countries abroad such as Egypt and Algeria. Many of the traditionalist, middle-aged religious and community leaders, the majority of whom have been thoroughly assimilated into Western Europe without losing their faith, are being challenged by these radical religious leaders from abroad. While the indigenous, moderate religious leaders, such as Switzerland's Tariq Ramadan, envision a "Western" Islam that is fully integrated into European and Western societies while still remaining true to the tenets of the faith, the radicals, such as Abu Hamza al-Masri (right), rail against Crusaders and Jews, turning a blind eye toward militancy or even actively supporting it. The decision is a stark one: who will win the war of words and ideas? The important, revolutionary ideas of Ramadan and his colleagues or the bitter diatribes and violent outbursts of al-Masri and the radical Salafis?
To view an article about the new, "defiant" trend among young Muslim Britons that ran recently in The Christian Science Monitor, see:
There have been two new op-eds published since I originally wrote this entry, one by Behrooz Ghamari, assistant professor of sociology at Georgia State University, and Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International:
To view Professor Ghamari's op-ed, which critiques Thomas Friedman's, see: http://www.counterpunch.org/ghamari07092005.html
To view Fareed Zakaria's, see:
As an interesting side comment, thousands of innocent Iraqis have been murdered this year by terrorists in their country. Are their lives worth any less? Do most Americans and Europeans feel as bad about those innocent lives lost? If not, then any criticism of Arabs and Muslims for not feeling sympathetic enough toward Western victims is hypocritical, plain and simple. It is a sad fact that human nature tends to prioritize the importance of death.
This morning, four bomb blasts ripped through morning rush hour crowds in London, a day after the International Olympic Committee had announced that the city would host the 2012 summer games. Three of the bombings took place on the London underground rail system, while the fourth blew apart a double-decker bus. As I write this, 37 people have been confirmed killed and over 700 are wounded. A shadowy, previously unheard of group calling itself the "Secret Organization of al-Qaeda in Europe," possibly linked to Jordanian terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (right), issued a claim of responsibility on a terrorist web site, though the claim has not been verified at this point. However, the attacks were similar in many ways to previous ones claimed by al-Qaeda: coordinated bombings that took place in fairly rapid succession, much like the Madrid bombings of March 11, 2004.
For more on the possible al-Qaeda connection, see:
Professor Juan Cole of the University of Michigan notes in his latest blog entry (Friday, July 8) that many of al Qaeda's leaders are in fact not clerics and many have no extensive, formal religious education. The truth is that many al Qaeda leaders and senior operatives are and have been trained in the sciences, including engineering, chemistry, biology, and medicine. Ayman al-Zawahiri, considered to be the "brains" behind al Qaeda, is not a cleric, but a medical doctor. In Afghanistan during the decade-long war against the Soviet Union, he served as a doctor, not as a cleric. Osama bin Laden himself is also not a cleric, though he fancies himself a "shaykh." He is a spoiled rich kid who comes from a family that owns the largest construction firm in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
On a wider scale, many hardcore Salafis, especially in the West, are not trained in religion. Many are scientists, doctors, and engineers. That is not to say that there aren't Salafi clerics, trained extensively in a particular school of thought within Islam, because there are. However, it is important to remember that many of these clerics' followers do not have the training or the desire to pursue knowledge, which would allow them to question the religious rulings they hear or read.
As Professor Cole also notes, even militant groups such as HAMAS and Hizbu'llah have condemned the London attacks, as they did the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C. Despite their sometimes radical platforms, both of these organizations are concerned with local conflicts in the Middle East, not in the global war that is al Qaeda's bread and butter. This difference is important and clear, to those who care to examine the evidence, the statements made by their members and leadership.
To view Professor Cole's blog, see:
Within hours of the attacks, talk began of whether al-Zarqawi, who also heads al-Qaeda in Iraq (formerly Tawhid wal Jihad), could be behind them. U.S. and European intelligence sources know that he has recruited potential members for his organization and fundraised in Europe. These same intelligence sources believe that there have been contacts between al-Zarqawi and upper-echelon leaders of al-Qaeda, possibly even Osama bin Laden, about moving the former's operations out of Iraq and to other parts of the world, particularly Western Europe and the United States. Currently, al-Zarqawi's operations in Iraq, which are directed at Coalition and Iraqi government forces, are surging; to date, terrorist attacks and ambushes have killed over 10,000 Iraqis and hundreds of U.S. and Coalition forces.
During the last several days, al-Zarqawi's group has claimed responsibility for a spate of attacks and targeted killings, including the kidnapping and murder of Ihab el-Sharif, Egypt's senior diplomat in Iraq and attempted kidnappings/assassinations of Pakistani and Bahrayni diplomats in Baghdad.
For more on the kidnapping and murder of Ihab el-Sharif, see:
Al-Zarqawi also issued a communique a few days ago announcing that his organization was setting up a special brigade to target Iraqi Shi'ites, particularly the Badr militias, which are connected to the premier Iraqi Shi'ite political party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), which is led by 'Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim (left). In 2004, an intercepted al-Zarqawi message to al-Qaeda leaders abroad railed against the Iraqi Shi'ites, calling them apostates and collaborators who have sold out Iraq and "real" Muslims to the "Jews and Crusaders." The anti-Shi'ite sentiments of al-Zarqawi is the hallmark of al-Qaeda and radical Salafi movements across the globe. Over the last several months, several Iraqi Shi'ite leaders, including representatives of Grand Ayatullah Sayyid 'Ali al-Husayni al-Sistani, have been assassinated, probably by al-Zarqawi's henchmen. Car bombs have also targeted Shi'ite and Kurdish political offices, killing dozens of Iraqis. The mastermind of these attacks has been al-Zarqawi and his terrorist organization, along with its parent, al-Qaeda. To radical Sunnis of the Salafi mold, Shi'ites stand outside the realm of Islam, so pronouncing them apostates (takfir) is acceptable, which means killing them is also allowed, since they are heretics.
Shi'a-Sunni tensions in Iraq have been mounting for the last 2 years,with dozens of attacks targeting Shi'a holy sites and crowds. There are now signs that segments of the Shi'ite community are beginning to arm themselves to protect their constituents. SCIRI has reportedly sent messages to its Badr militiamen to keep an eye out for strangers in predominantly Shi'ite neighborhoods throughout the country. Up to this point, the major factor in maintaining Shi'ite restraint in the midst of horrific terrorist attacks (left) has been the moderate voice of Grand Ayatullah al-Sistani and the other four members of the Marja'iyya, the supreme Shi'ite council of clerics in Iraq (all of its members are grand ayatullahs).
For more information on al-Zarqawi's most recent statement on Iraqi Shi'ites, see:
Immediately after the bombings in London, mainstream Muslim groups throughout Great Britain, the United States, Europe, and the Islamic world condemned them as terrorist attacks. With over one million Muslims living in Great Britain, the country has long been attractive to terrorist recruiters. Indeed, several well-known terrorists, including "Shoe Bomber" Richard Reid and radical preacher Abu Hamza al-Masri (who is currently on trial in Great Britain), have some connection to London.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair noted that the terrorists acted "in the name of Islam," but he also noted that the vast majority of Muslims are not terrorists and do not support terrorism. He thanked the Muslim Council of Great Britain, one of the largest British Muslim organizations in that country, for their swift condemnation of today's attacks.
For more on Prime Minister Tony Blair's comments, see:
Among the major U.S. Muslim organizations to condemn today's attacks was the Islamic Society of North America and the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Influential Muslim clerics across the world have also strongly condemned the attacks and terrorism against civilians, including Qatar-based Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi (right) and Egypt's Grand Shaykh al-Azhar Muhammad Sayyid al-Tantawi (left), the rector of al-Azhar Mosque and University.
For just a sampling of worldwide Muslim condemnation, see:
Monday, July 04, 2005
Hojjat al-Islam 'Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (right), one of the leader's of the Islamization of the 1978-79 Iranian Revolution that swept Grand Ayatullah Ruhollah Khumayni to power, recently lost in his bid to become president of the Islamic Republic for a third time. He had previously served two terms as Iran's president, from 1989-1997, but was most recently defeated by Mayor of Tehran Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, a religious conservative in the Khumaynist mold.
Over the last three decades, Rafsanjani has moved steadily toward the center of Iran's political spectrum, at least publicly. In 1979, he was one of the original members of the Revolutionary Council, along with Khumayni's acolyte, Ayatullah Murtada Mutahhari, who was assassinated by leftist terrorists in May of that year. However, in the most recent presidential election, Rafsanjani portrayed himself as a reformer who wanted closer ties with the West (i.e. the United States) and increased social liberalization.
However, his reputation as a corrupt and possibly morally lacking cleric proved too much to overcome. Rafsanjani, who is a member of the Twelver Shi'ite 'ulama (clergy), happens to be, reportedly, the richest person in Iran. As one of my mentors said recently, how does a cleric become the richest person in Iran?
One of the most impressive images of senior ayatullahs, from Khumayni to Grand Ayatullah Sayyid 'Ali al-Husayni al-Sistani in Iraq and Grand Ayatullah Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah in Lebanon, is how simply they live. Photographs of their offices and homes generally show simple decor (low cushioned coaches with pillows.) The only signs of sophistication are bookshelves full of religious texts and monographs on philosophy and logic and perhaps beautifully decorated copies of the Qur'an.
The duty of the clergy is to serve the needs of the laity, not to pursue wealth. Instead, the clergy are supposed to pass on their knowledge to their students and followers, study and write commentaries on religious texts, serve as guardians of society, and run charitable foundations.
Rafsanjani, in short, is a clear example of a cleric gone "bad." The corruption that fattened his personal coffers when he was president has not been forgotten by the Iranian public, who rejected his attempts at whitewashing his image. Rafsanjani should be ashamed of himself; his betrayals of his religious duties are simply vile. Thankfully, the bulk of Shi'ite and Sunni clerics are not of his ilk.