Among the many important discussions we should be having these days, this one stands out because it evokes strong emotions on both sides of the issue. Personally, my opinions (formed quickly when the topic was first mentioned) are relatively firm. Having said that, I nevertheless have been listening to “the other side” of the issue and trying to see it from perspectives other than my own. The result has been the following summery of my research which I present for your consideration in the simple hope that it will evoke some thought and, perhaps, a little open and honest debate.
America has some very real and very dangerous foes who attempt to justify their murdering and maiming of innocent civilians by calling their opposition a holy 'jihad' and by using the Muslim religion as a tool in their bid for power and influence. Because it is difficult for some Americans to make a distinction between these terrorists and the Islamic religion as a whole, it is important that we attempt to discover the truth about jihad and how it is seen by “main stream” Muslims. There is a very real need to be sensitive and civil to the Muslim culture. Affixing to the Islamic religion as a whole the aggressive and bombastic speech of al-Qaeda does not seem fair, nor does it obviate the need for intellectual honesty (and it certainly risks the spread of unwarranted and unjustified prejudice against the rest of the Islamic culture).
John Brennan, assistant to the President for homeland security and counter-terrorism, spoke recently at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies. He went to great effort to avoid admitting what seems commonsense to most Americans. There is a connection between some parts of Islamic thought and the repeated assertions of Osama bin Laden and his supporters that they are waging “jihad” against the United States. It was actually quite surprising to hear Mr. Brennan say that the religious views of America’s Islamic terrorist adversaries shouldn’t even be discussed. Ignoring this important aspect of the issue would be a ludicrous and dangerous failure. It would make identifying the problem and finding a workable solution much harder, if not impossible.
Explaining the White House’s position, Brennan said they were avoiding reference to “jihadists” even though terrorist adversaries of the United States often call themselves exactly that. He said that jihad was “a holy struggle, a legitimate tenet of Islam meaning to purify oneself and one’s community.”
At this point I decided to do some research, to go to the source, the Quran, Islam’s holy book, and find out what it “really” says. As it turns out, Mr. Brennan is partially correct. He is referring to the “greater jihad,” as defined by Mohamed himself—but it is not the whole meaning of jihad at all. In fact, serious and respected scholars of Islam assert that by far the largest proportion of Islamic historical references to jihad refer to what is called the “lesser jihad”—the duty of Muslims to wage war on non-Muslims in order to subdue all countries and communities for Allah.
The Quran is quite explicit about this. Surah 9, for example, the “surah of the sword,” explicitly calls on Muslims to “fight those who do not believe in Allah, nor in the latter day, nor do they prohibit what Allah and his Apostle have prohibited, nor follow the religion of truth, out of those who have been given the book until they pay the tax in acknowledgment of superiority and they are in a state of subjection” (Surah 9:29).
Surah 2:216 says “jihad is enjoined for you, though you dislike it, and it may be that you dislike a thing while it is good for you, and it may be that you love a thing while it is evil for you, and Allah knows, while you do not know” (Surah 2:216).
Brennan’s claim that the extremists were victims of “political, economic, and social forces,” meant that they should not be described in “religious terms.” The obvious problem with that is America’s Islamic opponents describe themselves in religious terms, so, we must acknowledge that connection and treat these people as an aberration of the Islamic religion and not a representation of it.
Mr. Brennan’s unawareness of Islamic explanations of jihad is baffling when you consider that he once headed the CIA in the entire Middle East and he spent a year learning Arabic at university in Cairo.
The plain truth is, jihad has been often used by Islamic movements as justification for their politics. Hamas, which seeks the entire destruction of Israel, openly describes itself as fighting a jihad against the infidel. Back during World War I, the entire Ottoman Empire officially declared jihad against Great Britain and all the friendly powers allied with her against Germany and her allies. I don’t think the supreme mufti in Constantinople was trying to get the Muslims of the world to simply become purer in their behavior --he wanted them to kill Brits.
There is certainly a need to be cautious in discussing Islam, especially since there are many Muslims living in the United States and love this country and the American people. But, to avoid the word “jihad” when it is employed by the terrorists themselves is rather like visiting Lenin’s tomb in Moscow and failing to mention that Lenin was a communist.
It is also interesting to note that when Brennan mentioned Jerusalem, a city he says he loves, he called it “Al-Quds,” the Arabic term that didn’t come into existence until the era of Islam in the 7th century AD. Jerusalem is the English word that comes from Hebrew Yerushalayim. In fact, this city had been inhabited by Jews for hundreds of years before the Islamic religion came into existence.
On a Lighter Note: