Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers

By the Sword: Ibrahim and Spencer Unveil the Truth of Islam

by Bruce S. Thornton

Private Papers

The New York Times’s Thomas Friedman is right on the mark most of the time in his analysis of the dysfunctions troubling the Muslim world and of our own failures in confronting them. Particularly important is his frequent criticism of our feckless disregard of our dependence on fossil fuels. As Friedman argues, we should all be doing more about the fact that our oil consumption subsidizes the terrorists who want to blow us up.

But even Friedman has a blind spot that compromises his otherwise sensible analyses. His July 4 column is a perfect example. It accurately links global Muslim terrorist attacks to the intolerant chauvinism inherent in Islam, which to its adherents is “the most perfect and complete expression of God’s monotheistic message, and the Koran is God’s last and most perfect word.” Yet this spiritual perfection collides with a world dominated by the same West that for nearly a thousand years quailed at the armies of Allah. “This creates,” Friedman writes, “a real dissonance and humiliation. How could this be? Who did this to us? The Crusaders! The Jews! The West! It can never be something that they failed to learn, adapt to or build. This humiliation produces a lashing out.”

That last sentence, redolent of middle-class parents trying to figure out why their geeky kid vandalized the neighbor’s SUV, is where Friedman loses it by indulging a reductive psychology that locates behavior not in the spiritual imperative he himself identifies, but in a neurotic reaction to environmental pressures. By the end of the piece this misstep has become a pratfall: “Muslims have got to understand that a death cult has taken root in the bosom of their religion, feeding off it like a cancerous tumor.”

Notice that metaphor: jihad — for that is what the terrorists are engaged in, as they repeatedly tell us — is a cultic deformation of otherwise healthy cells in the body of Islam, an alien growth that needs to be excised so health returns. Yet this received wisdom, repeated over and over, even by the Bush administration, is simply false to Islamic history, theology, and jurisprudence. If one attends carefully to that record, it is obvious that jihad is not an alien “tumor” but a vital organ of Islam.

Of course, one can try to avoid this unpleasant fact by denying that what the terrorists are engaged in is jihad. One can indulge the laughable rationalization that jihad is really “inward striving” to be a better Muslim. This minority interpretation of jihad appears late in Islamic history, and is looked on with scorn by many Muslims themselves. Listen to the Ayatollah Khomeini, creator of the first modern Islamic nation, writing in 1942: “Those who know nothing of Islam pretend that Islam counsels against war. Those [who say this] are witless. Islam says: Kill all the unbelievers just as they would kill you all! . . . Islam says: Whatever good there is exists thanks to the sword and the shadow of the sword.” And again in 1979, from a speech delivered at the Feyziyeh Theological School: “Islam grew with blood . . . . The great prophet of Islam on one hand carried the Koran and in the other a sword . . . . Islam is religion of blood for the infidels but a religion of guidance for other people.”

Some Westerners, following duplicitous Muslim apologists, no doubt would argue that Khomeini, a revered Muslim theologian, is distorting the traditions of his faith. But given that the 1979 speech was delivered at a theological school, where the audience is knowledgeable about their faith and so could identify distortions of its tenets, this rationalization is incredible. Common sense tells us that Khomeini and the other modern jihadists know their own faith and its doctrines, and are speaking squarely in that tradition, as can be documented from the Koran, Hadiths, and subsequent Muslim theologians, jurists, and other commentators (see Andrew Bostom’s invaluable anthology, The Legacy of Jihad). All these sources tell us that jihad indeed is the imperative to follow the example of the prophet Mohammed, who said in his farewell address: “I was ordered to fight all men until they say, ‘There is no god but Allah.’”

Modern jihadists, then, aren’t “heretics” or “fanatics” who have “highjacked” the “religion of peace” in order to compensate for their neurotic “humiliation” at Muslim backwardness. Bin Laden and his lieutenant Aymin Al Zawahiri have issued many writings that define their terrorist war as a traditional jihad, backing up their argument with numerous references to Islamic theology and jurisprudence. In a few weeks The Al Qaeda Reader will be published, Library of Congress researcher Raymond Ibrahim’s translation of the most significant al Qaeda treatises, many of which have not appeared before in English. This promises to be one of the most important books since 9/11, a critical resource for accurately understanding the motives of al Qaeda. These writings, especially those intended for Muslims, ground the war against the West squarely in the Islamic tradition of jihad: “Zawahiri’s writings,” Ibrahim notes, “especially are grounded in Islam’s roots of jurisprudence; in fact, of the many thousands of words translated here from his three treatises, well more than half are direct quotations from the Koran, the Sunna of Muhammad, and the consensus and conclusions of the Ulema [past and present commentators and interpreters of Islamic belief and practice].”

Even the killing of women and children is argued for on the basis of that same tradition, which provides traction for rationalizations based on Islamic military weakness, sophistic definitions of “innocence,” and the oft-repeated injunction to kill all infidels. This interpretation may be erroneous, but the mere fact that it can be argued for at all, and accepted by many Muslims, is itself significant. And such an interpretation is possible because there already exists the doctrine of jihad, which glorifies and justifies violence against non-believers. This helps to answer the obvious question why other ex-colonial peoples supposedly “humiliated” by their failure to keep up with the powerful West have not resorted to terrorist violence.

Again, it beggars belief that a Zawahiri or a Khomeini is distorting his faith’s traditions and dogmas, particularly when millions of Muslims world-wide agree with those traditional interpretations. Are we to think those millions don’t know their own religion? That they are dupes of manipulators and distorters? Or is it rather the case that they know very well their faith and see bin Laden et al. as traditionalists attempting to restore to Islam the doctrinal purity that fueled Islam’s remarkable conquests? Perhaps this agreement with the so-called “Islamists” explains the dearth of protests against these presumed “distortions” on the part of all those “moderate” Muslims we keep hearing about.

No, it is we who are the dupes of distorters, all those apologists, propagandists, and Western useful idiots who obscure the truth of Islam and its history. And they are successful: Washington Times columnist Diana West, writing on July 6 about Robert Spencer’s important web-site jihadwatch.org, reports that “very ominously, Mr. Spencer’s Web site is being blocked by assorted organizations which, according to his readers, continue to provide access to assorted pro-jihad sites. Mr. Spencer reports he’s ‘never received word of so many organizations banning this site all at once.’ These include the City of Chicago, Bank of America, Fidelity Investments, GE IT, JPMorgan Chase, Defense Finance and Accounting Services and now, a federal employee in Dallas informs him, the federal government.” Why? “Some Internet providers deem the factually based, meticulous analysis on display at jihadwatch.org to be ‘hate speech.’”

This is the pass that we have come to: facts about the motives of an enemy sworn to our destruction are censored as “hate speech.” This betrayal of the truth demonstrates perfectly the West’s self-loathing failure of nerve that confirms the enemy’s belief in his spiritual superiority — and his ultimate victory.

©2007 Bruce Thornton

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About Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. He is also the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History, Hillsdale College, where he teaches each fall semester courses in military history and classical culture.

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