Islam is not our adversary. Muslims are peaceful and tolerant people who have nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism.
The peer-reviewed Middle East Quarterly published an interesting analysis last summer (2015) written by A.J. Caschetta. He examines the inconsistencies and the weaknesses in arguments that try to rip apart the connective tissue linking terrorism and Islam. Caschetta opens his article by stating that the “reluctance to countenance the role of Islam and Islamism in suicide terrorism” has led to both blaming the victims, mostly the Israelis, and in the invention of euphemisms, such as “tactical martyrdom” and “altruistic murder”.
I had never heard these terms so I scholar-googled them. “Tactical martyrdom” appears to have been coined by Jeffrey Lewis. Historically, the martyr acted alone and did not harm anyone but himself or herself; it was an act borne from deeply held believes and the view that death was a lesser evil than compromising those beliefs. Terror organizations began manipulating people into becoming martyrs intent on taking innocent victims with them across the life-death barrier; in this way, the use of martyrdom became a tactical weapon of war, the ammunition became human beings. The term can also be found on twitter:
— Abdulqahar Balkhi (@balkhi_a) March 19, 2015
The term, “altruistic murder” was originally applied to instances of domestic violence whereby individuals believe that they and their child, partner, or entire family would be better off dead than deal with what they believe are the overwhelmingly difficult circumstances of their lives. It was then applied to terrorist organizations that orchestrated suicide-murder of their enemies, justifying it as making the world a “better place”; in other words, dying for the sake of others. Cult expert Robert Lipman explains this in an interview:
RL: That’s right, because the guru and his close disciples had this idea that everything around them, ordinary people, the world at large, was defiled, was defiled and had to be destroyed because it had no prior contact with purity, namely the guru. It’s so wild and absurd idea, but it can be embraced. And that’s the apocalyptic side.
BM: Is that what you meant when you once referred to altruistic murderers?
RL: Yes, exactly. I talked about them as performing altruistic murder and in their case there was a further idea that in killing someone, you are favoring him or her by initiating a special kind of immortality for the victim, there’s a kind of theory which they put forward. With bin Laden it isn’t that he’s offering us more immortality so, to speak, by killing random people, but there is a parallel idea that the world will be purified and that the renewal will improve the world, will be a service to the world.
Islam and Terrorism
Caschetti reports that suicide terror attacks began shortly after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini achieved power in Iran and “carefully manipulated Islamic tradition” so that he was able to convince Muslims under his sway that “suicide is not suicide and death is not death” (p 2). Apologists continually refer to verses from the Quran that prohibit suicide (such as Sura 4:29), not making the effort to explore the issue more deeply than simple, perhaps erroneous, translations. As early as 1946, Islamic studies scholar Franz Rosenthal noted that all contemporarily
available translations of the Quran [include] eight that treat 4:29 as a a prohibition against suicide, five as a prohibition against killing fellow Muslims, and seven that point out the ambiguity through notes or double translations. (cited on p 3)
To add to the confusion, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Egyptian born leader of al-Qaeda today, claims that
Ending one’s life “out of depression and despair” is suicide, but ending one’s life “to service Islam” is martyrdom. (cited on p 5)
Therefore, suicide terror is not suicide. And Islam is the excuse.
We are all familiar with how martyrdom cheats the Angel of Death and prevents delivery of the dead terrorist into its clutches, instead offering up the promise of 72 virgins in Paradise. As Zawahiri wrote:
The Martyr is special to Allah. . . . He sees his throne in Paradise where he will be adorned with the ornaments of faith. He will wed the Aynhour [wide-eyed virgins] and will not know the torments of the grave. . . . And . . . he will . . . be able to offer intercessions for seventy of his relatives. (cited on p 5)
Therefore, death is not death. And Islam is the excuse.
Is the Islamic Basis for Terror an Anomaly?
There are scholars who argue that those who recruit suicide terrorists and incite for terror comprise a deviation from the norm “and that ‘mainstream interpretations of Islamic texts do not support’ their actions” (p 5-6). However, this does not mean that those who recruit and manipulate the potential suicide bombers, knifers, and car rammers do not find substantial material in Islamic texts. It appears that “under the right circumstances” (p 18) suicide is in fact rewarded and it is this aspect that terror organizations capitalize on.
Terrorists themselves talk about their motivations to commit suicidal acts by which they kill the maximum number of innocent victims possible and they talk about doing it for Allah, for the honour of the Muslims, and for the sexual rewards that await them as their souls are set free from their shattered bodies and proceed directly to Paradise.
In spite of this, the apologists claim that those who are incited to commit acts of terror are the disenfranchised, youth who are angry at the disadvantages and humiliation caused by, for example, the Israeli occupation. Why do we not acknowledge the words of the Sbarro Pizzera bomber’s mother, who said:
I don’t believe that my son went as an act of revenge because no one in our family was ever directly hurt through the occupation. But I think that someone put into his head that this was a way to go to paradise. He wanted to go to paradise. (cited on p 18)
Other Arguments Against Connecting Islam and Terror
Some researchers make parallels with non-Islamic suicide terror attacks. However, according to Caschetta, they play with the data and skew the picture to make it appear that one can equate the numbers of Muslim and non-Muslim terrorists. One cannot, for example, say that the terrorist who intends to die in the attack is the same as the terrorist who sets a bomb and dies while trying to run away fast enough to survive and set another bomb.
Other researchers claim that some of the early Arab terrorists were secular Muslims, using Yasser Arafat as an example. However, Arafat was a devoutly religious man. Organizations thought to be secular, and sometimes telling the world that they are secular, are, in fact, not divorced from Islam. While the fight for Palestinian nationalism seems to be a secular fight, it is steeped in Islamic ideology. For example, George Habash who formed the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PLFP) in 1968 claimed to be based on Marxism.
However, when the PFLP decided to carry out suicide bombings, recruited and dispatched killers . . . and then extolled them as Islamic martyrs killing Jews in “occupied Jerusalem’ in the name of Islam, it forfeited any claim to secularism. (cited on p 8)
Many analysts have argued that the suicide bomber suffers from psychological disorders and would probably commit suicide anyway. At the same time, these researchers acknowledge that terror organizations exploit Islamic fundamentalism to control these vulnerable individuals. This is an area of study that merits further exploration and is beyond the scope of both Cashetta’s article and this one.
Some researchers suggest that contemporary social media has caused the plague of suicide terrorism as groups try to outdo each other in dramatics in order to recruit new members. Yet, Caschetta suggests that this form of recruitment only works where suicide terrorism is a culturally accepted phenomenon. The rewards offered to the Muslim suicide-murderer means that the pool of potential new recruits remains large, and is directly related to Islam.
Finally, are the “Israeli occupation” and assassinations of Arab terrorist leaders to blame for suicide attacks? Caschetta argues that revenge is a normal human response to such but that suicide is not. You need Islam for the latter.
Caschetta Concludes His Examination of Suicide Terror and Islam
He asks academics and journalists (and politicians?) to recognize that Islamic tradition underlies the explosion of suicide terror acts over the past few decades. He writes:
Today the world is full of disillusioned youths, alienated from their societies and confused about their identities, and there is no shortage of women who believe that their respective societies have socially and economically marginalized them. According to popular academic opinion, this enormous pool of human beings constitutes the population from which suicide bombers will emerge. But popular academic opinion is wrong, for only when Islamism is part of the equation does disillusionment lead to murderous self-detonation. A foreign military presence may offer a depressed, crazed, suicidal person the opportunity to commit suicide while killing the enemy, but only the promise of a heavenly reward can offer the opportunity for martyrdom. The “vast reward” offered to the martyr is the single most important incentive for suicide bombers.” (p 19)
A Final Note
If we insist that Islam has nothing to do with terror, then we are not facing reality. Journalist Fareed Zakaria wrote, in a Washington Post article:
. . . the enemy is radical Islam, an ideology that has spread over the past four decades — for a variety of reasons — and now infects alienated young men and women across the Muslim world. The fight against it must at its core be against the ideology itself. And that can be done only by Muslims — they alone can purge their faith of this extremism.
Researchers need to set aside Political Correctness and study the relationship between terror and Islam with open minds. Journalists and politicians need to insist that Muslims do something to combat the terror that relies on Islamic sources, twisted and manipulated as they may be. This is not racist or Islamophobic – it is realistic and honest.
This article first appeared on Israel Diaries.