Islamic violence must end. The lives of billions are at stake

After the tragic events in Paris, some Westerners got the point, most did not. Interestingly, Egypt's President el-Sisi really nailed it in late December asking starkly whether Islam would reform or risk killing the world's population of 7 billion

How many of these leaders really get it?
Michael Curtis
On 15 January 2015 14:00

On Sunday January 11, 2015 Paris became the capital of the world as the setting of a unique historical demonstration in which more than 40 international political leaders marched in the city ahead of two to three million people who had rallied against the terrorist attacks four days earlier.

In symbolic fashion they were manifesting their opposition to two attacks: the massacre at the Paris office of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo by gunmen who, using Kalashnikov military weapons, killed 12 people, including the editor in chief much, of his staff and two police officers; and the murder of 4 innocent people, all Jews, in the kosher supermarket in the Rue des Rosiers in eastern Paris.

As has happened so often before, some of the mainstream media and the Obama Administration were hesitant in determining the nature of the attacks and the identity of the “gunmen.” French political leaders, destined by history to carry the banner of humanity, informed them of the brutal truth of which they seemed unaware or deliberately avoided.

These “gunmen” were not petty criminals involved in a drug war in the streets of Paris, or disturbed individuals who were temporality insane.

President Francois Hollande immediately spoke of the massacre at Charlie Hebdo as a terrorist act of extreme brutality. His political rival, Nicolas Sarkozy, regarded it as an attack on French democracy. The essential truth came from French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, on Saturday January 10, 2014 in a speech at Evry, south of Paris.

He made clear that France is at war with radical Islam. The war, he said, is not a war against a religion, not against a civilization, but a war to defend French values which are universal: “It is a war against terrorism, against jihadism, against everything that is aimed at breaking fraternity, freedom, solidarity.”

Some of the mainstream media in Western countries have been unwilling to accept this perspective. Instead, they have tended to romanticize Islam or to provide excuses or plausible understanding for murderous action.

Muslims are said to suffer from grievances, real or perceived. They are seen to have a serious identity crisis and cannot feel at home in French or other European societies. Some of the media even explain away in uncritical way the Islamic hatred of Jews and of the State of Israel.

These excuses have no validity in connection with the terrorists in Paris. Collected information reveals that the two main killers, two brothers, were influenced by Anwar al-Awlawi, the extremist preacher who recruited people for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP): he had been killed by a US drone strike in September 2011.

One brother had lived two years in Yemen, and the other had spent time and attended a military training camp there in 2011. These two acted on behalf of the al Qaeda group. However, the third terrorist, the killer of Jews in the kosher shop, declared his allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (IS) and to the self-proclaimed Caliph, Abu Bake al-Baghdadi.

Whatever the rivalry and their warfare against each other in Syria, or the organizational cooperation in France between the two terrorist groups, al Qaeda or IS, both share Islamist jihadist extremism and hatred of Western civilization. Islamist spokesmen, using social media, did not hesitate to applaud the attacks in Paris and to praise the killings by the “heroic jihadists.”

They were joyous that “two lions” had terrified all of Paris. The spokesman for AQAP threatened that France would not live in safety as long as there was aggression against Muslims.

Though French political figures have made clear that the terrorist acts were committed by Islamist jihadists, the most important commentary on Islamist behavior has come from Egyptian President Abdel al-Fattah el-Sisi in a speech before religious scholars and clerics at Al-Azhar University, Cairo on December 28, 2014.

He put the issue starkly and clearly.

There was a need for reform. The problem for the Muslim world was not their faith but their ideology that was hostile to the whole world, and was a source of concern. That ideology was a body of ideas and texts that had become sanctified in the course of centuries to the point that challenging them had become very difficult.

Was it conceivable, he asked, that 1.6 billion Muslims would kill the world’s population of seven billion? The Islamic nation was being torn apart and destroyed. He implored the clerics to revolutionize the religion and get closer to a truly enlightened ideology.

There are two outstanding issues: the support that has been given to Muslim clerics who preach the same hatred, hatred against Jews, the State of Israel, and the democratic world in general; and the politicization of Islam.

It is this politicization that is the cause for concern. The problem, the combination of religious and political power, goes back to the origin of Islam, since in 624 the first raid by the Prophet Mohammed against a caravan in Mecca, and the continuing subjugation of other peoples. From the 7th century on, the Islamic empire stretched from Spain to Constantinople (the center of Christendom at the time), Persia, India, and the borders of China.

Holy Islamic wars continued until the 18th century, when the Ottoman Empire suffered some defeats, and has been reignited in the late 20th century. Their goal was spreading the “true” faith led by a spiritual leader who would implement sharia law in the areas conquered. The world was divided into two parts: Dar al-Islam (Home of Peace) and Dar al-Harb (Home of War).

The fundamental problem facing the world is whether the extreme Islamist ideology can be ended or controlled. The Western world must act in this regard. Passivity is complicity. Nevertheless, the argument of President Sisi suggests that Muslims must fix the problem.

With this in mind, it is worth asking where American Muslims stand on this issue. Will the Imans and Muslim clerics in the US make categorical statements on Islamic terrorism and condemn all attacks made in the name of the “true” faith. Their voice ought to be heard in mosques condemning Islamic violence.

The problem is reminiscent of the European past with its religious conflicts between Catholics and Protestants and the brutality exhibited by, among so many others, Crusaders (11-13th centuries), Wars of Religion (16-17th centuries), the French Wars of Religion 1562-98, the Spanish Inquisition, Anabaptists in Munich, conquistadors in South America, pogroms in Russia.

This led to important calls for religious reforms starting with Calvin and Zwigli, and the ending of religious wars. Resolution came in France largely with the Edict of Nantes that stopped most of the fighting and gave certain rights and tolerance to the Huguenots. The 30 years war in Germany -- at first between Catholics and Protestants, 1618-48, the last serious war of its kind in Europe -- ended with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648.

European countries have ridden out the storm of their religious wars, have ended them, and are tolerating religious diversity. Islamists within the Muslim world are still fighting a terrorist war against the non-Muslim world.

Separation of church and state, spiritual and temporal power, was introduced in Europe, laicité in France in December 1905, and in the US, leading to neutrality of the state in religious matters, freedom of religious exercise, protection of religious institutions from state interference, and no funding of religious groups by the state.

The haunting question is whether the Muslim world can emulate European progress and reform itself leading to freedom of expression, religious freedom and tolerance, and an end to violence based on religious hatred.

World peace depends on the outcome.

Michael Curtis, author of "Jews, Antisemitism, and the Middle East", is Distinguished Professor Emeritus in political science at Rutgers University. Curtis is the author of 30 books and last year was awarded the French Legion d'honneur. This article has also been submitted to The American Thinker, an American outlet we highly recommend

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