Posted by: religionthink | September 10, 2009

The Argument against Islamic Terrorism: A Preventative Approach. by R. Wilcox

Today Islamic Terrorism threatens Americans in the continental U.S. and abroad.  In Theology of Crime and the Paradox of Freedom, Dr. E. Scott Ryan pointed out that rehabilitation or reduction of theological crime such as terrorism would be more successful if the change came from within one’s own culture with secular and religious cooperation (6-7).  I will therefore make an argument why it is in the best interests for both secular and devout Muslims to actively work to stop terrorism against the West.
Technically there should be no such thing as a “secular Muslim” since “Muslim” means one who submits to the will of God, and one either submits or does not submit.  The P.L.O., Ba’th Party and most Islamic governments such as Kuwait, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia may have embraced more Western Culture than other Muslims, and considered as “secular” or “traitors” by fundamentalist Muslims, but these “secular” Muslims see Islam as the epitome of modernity and see no contradiction in being innovative and being Muslim (Swanson).
Before I can proceed with how to stop terrorism, I must first explain how it evolves.  Sociology Professor Mark Juergensmeyer gave these “stages of symbolic empowerment” that leads to terrorism: First is a world gone awry.  Second is the foreclosure of ordinary options.  Third is satanization and cosmic war.  Fourth is symbolic acts of power (184-185).
A world gone awry, Juergensmeyer explained, “begins with real problems: The Israeli occupation of Palestine, the corruption of secular governments, discrediting traditional values and the dehumanization of modern societies” (184-85).  For example, extreme poverty may be a factor.  Unemployment among young men in Palistine stays around 50% (191).
The foreclosure of ordinary options, Juergensmeyer explained, is instead of trying to change their conditions through normal means such as political/social campaigns or electing new leaders, they turn to violence (185).  “To die this way (suicide bombings), is better than to die daily in frustration and humiliation,” explained the founder of Hamas Abdul Aziz Rantisi. My main argument to Islamic governments is that since terrorists have given up on legislative solutions, terrorists tend to target their own government leaders who they see as traitors for not fixing their problems.  Egypt’s Anwar Sadat was assassinated in 1981 by al Jihad, and these same Muslim extremists killed Rifaat al-Mahgouv, the speaker of the Egyptian Assembly in 1992.  The prestige King Hussein of Jordon held from having a direct lineage back to the Prophet Muhammad’s Hashimite family did not keep the P.L.O. from trying to assassinate him in the early 1970s.
Satanization and cosmic war Juergensmeyer explained as simplifying the world into a struggle between absolute good and evil.  The evil has to take the form of a faceless collective, a dehumanization in order to turn innocent victims such as housewives and school children into targets for Hamas.  “No one is innocent in the war between Arabs and Jews” Rantisi explained (175).  One Hamas suicide bomber that was intercepted by police explained he despised Jews for taking his land, but he admired the Israeli soccer team and knew the players by name.  When asked if he could blow u a soccer field of Zionists and nonbelievers, he admitted he could not (241).
To make the enemy less faceless and abstract, I recommend that Palestinian and Israeli schools teach both Hebrew and Arabic.  I watched a documentary entitled “Promises” that showed Israeli checkpoint guards holding back a crowd of Palestinians.  The guards were desperately calling out in English, “Does anyone here speak both Arabic and Hebrew?”  There can not be a “grass roots” effort for peace while Palestinians are segregated in refugee camps and do not share a common language with Israelis.  The conflict has already lasted over a half a century so an effort should be made to prepare the next generation so they at least don’t have the language barrier as in the past.  This won’t necessarily be a cure.  One just has to turn to the Turner Diaries which influenced Timothy McVeigh’s Oklahoma City bombing: there is no other way to destroy “the system” than by killing thousands of innocent victims (175).  There was no language barrier for McVeigh, but America’s militia terrorists are not as active as Hamas either.
Symbolic acts of power refer to the terrorist’s targets.  Notice they are not strategic.  Their only purpose is to cause terror with no purposeful military objective.  This means they will not stop because they are doing nothing to win.  Rantisi explained “Palestine was occupied before for two hundred years. (Hamas) can wait again for at least that long.”  Because all forms of terrorism do nothing strategically or politically productive Juergensmeyer has defined terrorism as performance violence (175).
In The Theology of Crime and the Paradox of Freedom, Dr. E. Scott Ryan related that “the most successful incident in negotiating with hostage-taking Islamic terrorists occurred at the Algiers airport when a negotiator quoted the Koran to the terrorists in successfully convincing them to release their hostages” (116).  I do not know what was said in the negotiations, but I propose the best way to argue against Islamic terrorism to Muslims is within the context of Islamic law.
Islamic law is a series of “do and do not” instruction.  If they are followed, that individual is believed to be living in accordance with God’s will.  Islamic law consists of two sources.  First is the Koran and second is the Sunna.  Sunna is the examples set by the lifestyles of the Prophet Muhammad and the first Islamic community.  These proscribed and prohibited acts derived from Koran and Sunna is called Sharia, or Islamic law in English.  The interpreters of Islamic law are scholars known as the Ulama.  Their influence is informal and respected only on the Ulama’s own merits, similar to how Protestants relate to their ministers.  This holds true for 85% of world’s population of Muslims.  The remaining 15% are Shiites who give greater authority to their scholars who are given the title Ayatollah (Swanson).
Now Islamic law works by weighing the importance of the proscribed and prohibited acts against one another if they conflict to determine which should take president, or as a Muslim would phrase it “determine God’s will.”  For example, the responsibility to one’s family is often a countervailing obligation to say giving alms or a pilgrimage to Mecca because the family is too poor to do so.  Another example is the proscribed cutting off of a thief’s hand, which is rarely carried out because God is merciful, takes repentance into account, obligation to feed the family and other exact circumstances (Swanson).
Egyptian writer Abd al-Salam Faraj published a pamphlet entitled “The Neglected Duty,” in 1981, which argued for violence against political and social injustice.  It was argued in terms of the Muslim idea of jihad. (Juergensmeyer 81).  Faraj himself was executed for the assassination of Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat, but his work was the greatest influence on Islamic terrorism.  Mahmun Abuhalima who was convicted in the 1990 World Trade Center truck bombing told Mark Juergensmeyer “’Do not say I was influenced by him (Faraj).  I respect him.’  Then he leaned closer and whispered ‘but he was right you know’”(83).
“’In the name of God, the most merciful, the most compassionate,’ are the opening words of the Koran, and used in any if not all circumstances (by Muslims)”  (Swanson).  Reiterating the compassion and mercy of God is the strongest argument against Islamic terrorism.  For instance, the Koran also proscribes taking care of orphans and widows, so it doesn’t make sense that more orphans and widows should be made by terrorist bombings.  In order to stop Muslims from supporting or becoming terrorists, they should be convinced by seeing it is not in accordance with God’s will as proscribed by Koran and Suma.
In closing I would like to emphasize what Westerners should not to do to convince Muslims that terrorism is not God’ s will.  The West has used systematic doubt to question scripture beginning with Pierre Abelard in the 12th century (Burke 44-45), then Baruch Spinoza in the 17th century, and David Hume in the 18th century.  There is no such criticism or line of thinking in Islam.  They may have 14 centuries of scholarship on how to interpret Islamic law, but there is no body of religious speculation of the nature of God.  Islamic scholars are more like Kirkaguard in the respect that they explore the “unknowable-ness” of God.

Works Cited
Burke, James.  The Day the Universe Changed. Boston: Brown, 1985.
Juergensmeyer, Mark.  Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious
Violence.  Berkeley: U of California P, 2000.
Ryan, E. Scott.  “The Criminal Belief Rationality: The Theology of Crime.”  The
Theology of Crime and the Paradox of  Freedom. 2nd ed.  Lancaster: Anchor,

  1. 99-126.

—.  “The Theology of Crime.”  The Theology of Crime and the Paradox of Freedom. 2nd
ed.  Lancaster: Anchor, 2001. 1-7.
Swanson, John Theodore.  “Great World Religions Part II; God and His Prophet: The
Religion of Islam.”  The Teaching Company.  American U. of Cairo.
Audiocassettes.  1997.

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