Jürgen Todenhöfer’s Ten Theses against The Hate from the book “Feindbild Islam: Zehn Thesen gegen den Hass”
(Demonization of Islam : Ten Theses against The Hate)
The author’s theses are very compressed and highly consolidated. They contain a density of facts without which it would be difficult to even understand the conflict between East and West, let alone solve it.
The theses contain generalizations, and the author draws particular attention to the problems they raise. When he talks of “the West”, he is primarily referring to the political administrations of major western countries. There are western countries that have never been guilty of colonialism or neocolonialism. And there have been, and still are, numerous people in the West who have at all times fought ardently for the fair treatment of Muslims.
1. The West is much more violent than the Muslim world. Millions of Arab civilians have been killed since colonialism began.
The great French historian and politician Alexis de Tocqueville was a passionate champion of the freedom of the individual. For him, it always took precedence over equality. Inequality, he wrote, comes “directly from God.” So it is no wonder that, like most of his contemporaries, this enlightened statesman did not think highly of racial equality.
In his major work “Democracy in America”, published in 1835, Tocqueville made a remark that characterized the era: “If we reasoned from what passes in the world, we should almost say that the European is to the other races of mankind, what man is to the lower animals; — he makes them subservient to his use; and when he cannot subdue, he destroys them.” For the liberal thinker there was “consequently no reason to treat Muslim subjects as if they were equal to us.”
And that is precisely how the West has treated the Muslim world for the past 200 years. During the colonial period in Algeria for example, Muslim families were hunted like “hyenas, jackals and mangy foxes.” The strategy that the 19th-century colonial rulers adopted to break resistance to their “civilizing mission” was to “ruin, hunt, terrorize” (Olivier Le Cour Grandmaison). In Algeria entire tribes that had sought refuge in caves were “smoked out” (“enfumades”).
The French colonel Lucien-François de Montagnac wrote in a letter from Algeria in 1842: “We kill, we strangle. The cries of the desperate and dying mingle with the noise of the bellowing, bleating livestock. You ask me what we do with the women. Well, we keep some as hostages, others we exchange for horses, the rest are auctioned like cattle… In order to banish the thoughts that sometimes besiege me, I have some heads cut off, not the heads of artichokes but the heads of men.”
Louis de Baudicour, a French writer and settler in Algeria, described one of the many massacres: “A soldier cut off a woman’s breast in jest, another grabbed a child by its legs and smashed its skull against a wall.” Victor Hugo reported that soldiers would throw children to each other in order to catch them on the tips of their bayonets. They would get 100 sous for ears preserved in brine. The bonus for a severed head was higher. The bodies of Arabs were sometimes turned into animal charcoal (Oliver Le Cour Grandmaison).
Napoleon III nonetheless saw the hand of God at work: “France is the mistress of Algeria, because that is what God wanted.” The Algerians saw it differently. They had to pay a very high price for their freedom. In the war of independence from 1954 to 1962, 8,000 Algerian villages were destroyed with napalm bombs by the French air force.
The Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN) also committed gruesome acts of terror, as Albert Camus rightly pointed out. But in terms of numbers there is no comparison between those acts and the violent deeds committed by the colonialists. During their 130-year “civilizing mission” they killed well over two million Algerians, according to Algerian sources. French estimates say more than one million Algerians and 100,000 French nationals were killed.
The Iraqis, colonized by Britain, did not fare much better. When they rose up against British oppression in 1920, Winston Churchill accused them of “ingratitude” and used chemical weapons against them – “with excellent moral effect,” as he noted.
‘Bomber Harris’, the spiritual father of “moral bombing”, reported proudly after a bombing raid: “The Arabs and Kurds now know what real bombing means. Within 45 minutes an entire village can be practically wiped out.” In Iraq, bombing raids were also considered an effective way to persuade people to pay their taxes. One Royal Air Force officer, Lionel Charlton, resigned in 1924 after he visited a hospital and saw the mutilated victims of such a raid. He could not know that his country would again bomb Iraq 80 years later.
In Libya, the colonial power Italy dropped phosgene and mustard gas on both rebels and civilians. Tribal leaders were taken up in airplanes and thrown out. More than 100,000 civilians were deported to camps in the desert; half of them perished. Libyan girls were kept as sex slaves for the colonial troops. During the Kabyle rebellions in Morocco Spain also used chemical weapons – to equally horrible effect.
The model for the treatment of the Arabs was the strategy adopted to wipe out the indigenous peoples of America. The mad ideas about racial and cultural superiority prevalent at the time knew no bounds. Gustave Le Bon, founder of mass psychology and opponent of the “superstition of equality,” divided mankind into four classes: the native Australian and American peoples he termed “primitive races;” “Negroes” he classed as “inferior,” Arabs and Chinese as “intermediate,” and the Indo-Europeans as a “superior race.”
Since the Second World War as well, the West has often treated the Muslims as subhuman beings on a “level with the superior apes” (Jean-Paul Sartre). This is true of the wars against the colonial powers, interventions to secure supplies of raw materials, the question of Palestine, and the sanctions against Iraq, which were pushed through by the United States and Britain. According to UNICEF, these punitive measures against Iraq, which the Vatican called “perverse”, caused the deaths of more than 1.5 million civilians, including half a million children.
The current Iraq war also shows a breathtaking contempt for the Muslim world. Thousands of civilians were killed as U.S.-led forces marched in. Countless numbers were crippled by bombs, some of which contained uranium. A study conducted by independent American and Iraqi physicians and published in the medical journal The Lancet estimates that more than 600,000 Iraqis had met with violent deaths by June 2006 as a result of the war and the chaos caused by occupation forces.
It says 31 percent were killed by U.S.-led coalition forces, and 24 percent as a result of sectarian violence and suicide attacks. Responsibility could not be attributed in 45 percent of the violent deaths; according to The Lancet, the high number of gunshot victims suggests also here a “direct involvement of the U.S. military.”
A study by the independent British research institute ORB in January 2008 estimates that until then more than one million Iraqis have been killed and around the same number injured. It reports that in Baghdad almost one in two households has lost a family member. According to Human Rights Watch, Saddam Hussein was responsible for the death of 290,000 Iraqi civilians in the course of his 23-year rule.
Since fall 2007, the number of fatalities has declined in Iraq. But according to experts’ conservative estimates, in the summer of 2008 more than 3,000 Iraqi civilians were still dying each month in the chaos of the war. That is as many as perished in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
The people of Iraq are worse off now than they were under Saddam (according to Kofi Annan). There will not be many Iraqis who say: “Great, our country has been destroyed; more than a million people have been killed; four and a half million have been made refugees; the child mortality rate is one of the highest in the world; electricity, water and medicine are scarce; unemployment and inflation have risen to 50 percent; one can hardly go out onto the street; in Baghdad people are living in walled ghettos, since ‘good fences make good neighbors,’ as U.S. general David Petraeus put it – but it was worth it, Saddam is gone.” The only beneficiaries of this disaster are Iran and radical Islamism.
Does it then come as a surprise, that according to a survey conducted by the BBC and ABC, 86 percent of all Iraqis, no matter whether Shiites or Sunnites, demand the withdrawal of the US-American troops?
Over the past 200 years no Muslim state has ever attacked the West. European powers and the United States have always been the aggressors and not those under attack. Since the beginning of the colonial era, millions of Muslim civilians have been killed. When it comes to killing, the West is leading by a ratio of more than ten to one. The current debate about the Muslim world’s alleged propensity to violence is a mockery of the historical facts. The West was and is much more violent than the Muslim world. The problem of our era is not the violence of Muslims but the violence of some Western countries.
2. In view of the warmongering of the West, it is really not surprising that support for Muslim extremists continues to grow.
To understand Muslim extremism, one also has to try to see the world from the point of view of a Muslim. Our horizon is not the end of the world. A young Muslim who follows the news on television sees day after day how Muslim women, children and men are killed by Western weapons, Western allies and Western soldiers in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Lebanon, Somalia, and elsewhere.
It is cynical of great Western thinkers to furrow their brows and ponder the decline and fall of Arab civilization, which once was “militarily, economically and culturally far superior” (Hans Magnus Enzensberger). The West played a major part in making that happen. It plundered and ravaged the colonies and then withdrew.
In 1830, when the colonization of Algeria began, it had a literacy rate of 40 percent, higher than that of France or England. In 1962, when the French occupying forces pulled out, it was under 20 percent. Colonialism stole from the Arab world more than a century of development. Seventeen years after the French conquest of Algeria, Tocqueville noted with resignation: “The lights have been extinguished… We have made Muslim society much more miserable, disorganized, ignorant and barbaric.”
Western colonialism raged in almost all parts of the world. But in the oil-rich countries of the Mideast it never stopped. That sets the region apart and makes it a breeding ground for terrorism.
Terrorism is not a Muslim problem but a global one. It has always existed and has been used by all kinds of movements. Alongside Arab terrorists who murdered Jewish settlers, there were also “Zionist terrorist organizations” such as Irgun, led by Menachem Begin, and the Fighters for the Freedom of Israel, led by Itzhak Shamir, who described themselves as terrorists. They used terrorist tactics – also against civilians – to fight the British and the Arabs for a free Israel.
In the current debate on terrorism it is often said: “Not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims.” That is simply wrong. Until September 11, 2001, the Hindu Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka were considered the world’s deadliest terrorist organization. In their fight for freedom and independence, they professionalized and perfected suicide terrorism; and they were copied down to the last detail by others around the world, especially in the Mideast. They continue to bomb and to be bombed even today. But they do not kill Westerners. That is why their attacks are not reported in depth.
Of the 48 organizations classified as terrorist by the European Union in 2006, 36 have nothing to do with Islam. These “anti-imperialist” or “anti-capitalist” terrorist groups are responsible for the deaths of countless civilians in Latin America, Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. In the West, they do not figure in public awareness because they do not kill people like us.
After the official end of colonial rule in the Mideast, the colonial powers were often replaced by financially and militarily dependent puppet regimes, pawns in the geopolitical game of Western great powers.
Whoever did not play along was advised that a people only has a right to self-determination as long as it does not infringe Western interests. Freedom never meant freedom from us. One might call this “lex Mossadeq” in memory of the Iranian prime minister Mohammad Mossadeq, who was democratically elected in 1951 and deposed two years later by the CIA and the British.
Whoever fails to act in accordance with this law is ousted in a putsch or subjected to a concerted media campaign and branded a “rogue”. Using the media to create “villains” is a specialty of Western foreign policy. As the example of Gaddafi shows, the title of ‘rogue’ can be revoked at any moment.
Even Saddam Hussein, a “partner” who was renamed a “rogue,” might still be doing as he pleases even today, had he remained a partner of the United States. The massacre of Dujail, in which 148 people died and for which he was executed, occurred in 1982. At the time Saddam was, for the United States, an important player in the Mideast and waged war with Western support against Khomeini’s Iran. Donald Rumsfeld visited Saddam in 1983 as special envoy of the U.S. president, even though he had been thoroughly informed about Dujail.
Saddam was, after all, our anti-Islamist comrade-in-arms; he was supplied by Germany with components for chemical weapons, by France with fighter jets, and by the United States with satellite data on Iranian positions. In the Mideast, the West never showed real interest in human rights or democracy; it was and is fighting for oil.
Cynical dehumanization in the name of human rights, which the bloody images from Iraq, Afghanistan and other Muslim countries document daily, has left a deep and painful mark on the Muslims’ cultural memory. Samuel Huntington was right on at least one point: “The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion, but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence. Westerners often forget this fact, non-Westerners never do.”
How can the Muslim world believe in our values of human dignity, the rule of law and democracy if all it sees is the way we oppress, humiliate and exploit it? Is it really surprising that extremists gain more and more support? Or that some people eventually hit back when their families are again and again mowed down by our machinery of destruction? Nobody is born a terrorist.
Despite all this, the kindness and hospitality still shown to Western visitors in oriental countries are overwhelming. One can visit religious sites with no problem, not only in secular Syria, but also in theocratic Iran – churches, synagogues and mosques. Most Muslims feel more respect towards Judaism and Christianity than we do. Despite their rejection of American foreign policy, they admire the West in many respects. Young Muslims like to wear (fake) Western trainers, jeans and T-shirts. While retaining their faith, they would like to be like us in many ways – free, modern and, on their terms, democratic. They would like to like America, once the great beacon of hope for oppressed people around the world, were it not for its blood-drenched foreign policy.
The Muslim world is nothing like the way it is depicted in the Western media. Western television broadcasters show a manufactured, distorted image of mobs raging against the West. In September 2001, after the attacks on the World Trade Center, many television stations showed Palestinian children rejoicing. But the footage had been staged. According to reports in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the children had been given sweets so that they would rejoice in front of the cameras. “Spontaneous” anti-Western demonstrations in the Muslim world usually take place only when they are carefully organized and staged in cooperation with Western broadcasters. As soon as the cameras are turned off, the “TV demonstrators” are given a little baksheesh and are taken back home in the same trucks that brought them.
In contrast to the West, xenophobia is unknown in the Muslim world. We may be economically and technologically more advanced than these countries – but not in human terms. When it comes to kindness and love of one’s neighbor, a sense of family, and hospitality, we could learn a lot from the Muslims.
This cordiality can, as in the case of Iraq, turn into raging anger when the West yet again scornfully tramples upon the rights of the Muslims. Jean-Paul Sartre described this self-destructive despair during the Algerian war of liberation in 1961: “The repressed rage, never managing to explode, goes round in circles and wreaks havoc on the oppressed themselves. In order to rid themselves of it, they end up massacring each other, tribes battle one against the other since they cannot confront he real enemy – and you can count on colonial policy to fuel rivalries;…the torrent of violence to sweep away all barriers. … It is the age of the boomerang; the third stage of violence: it flies right back at us, it strikes us and, once again, we have no idea what hits us.”
Does that not sound rather like a description of the situation in Iraq in 2008? The “coalition of the willing” has taken from the Iraqis everything that might have given them the opportunity to be as “noble, helpful and good” as we like to perceive ourselves. It has destroyed all their state structures; it has trampled upon their dignity and pride. It has systematically incited the Iraqis to turn on each other.
It is so hypocritical of the West to then be “amazed” that the strategy really works and that the despair of the Iraqis sometimes even turns into self-destruction. It is absurd to claim that “something like that could never happen here” – a claim often uttered with an undertone of racist disgust.
Just consider how a power outage in New York in 1977 and a hurricane in New Orleans in 2005 were enough to trigger widespread looting, murder and mayhem. Homo homini lupus – “Man to Man is an arrant Wolfe” (Thomas Hobbes). This is true, not only of Muslims, but of Jews and Christians as well.
3. Terrorists in Islamic disguise are murderers. The same holds true for the ringleaders disguised as Christians who wage wars of aggression in contravention of international law.
The attacks carried out since the mid-1990s by Arab terrorists on Western facilities are in their view a response to the never-ending “organized robbery and murder” on the part of the West. The attacks, including those on the World Trade Center, have killed more than 5,000 Western civilians. They are morally completely unacceptable. The end never justifies the means.
That is why the attacks on the World Trade Center were condemned by all Muslim governments, by Syria and Iran, even by Hizbollah and Hamas. In many Muslim countries distraught people laid flowers in front of the U.S. embassy. Terrorists who kill innocent people are not freedom fighters or resistance fighters, holy warriors or martyrs. They are murderers.
But are not those who mastermind illegal wars of aggression also terrorists and murderers, who even murder their own soldiers? If one talks about the 5,000 Westerners murdered by Al-Qaeda, must one not also talk about the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians who have been killed in George W. Bush’s illegal war?
Do not the legal yardsticks we apply to Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosevic or Omar al-Bashir also apply to Western heads of governments? Why do Western elites not even dare to ask whether George W. Bush and Tony Blair should be brought before an international criminal court because of the war in Iraq that is based on lies? Does international law not apply to Westerners? Why are victors never tried for their war crimes?
In the opinion of the Nuremberg war crimes tribunal, “To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime: it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within it the accumulated evil of all crimes of war.” The chief U.S. prosecutor Robert H. Jackson stated: “We must never forget that the record on which we judge these defendants is the record on which history will judge us tomorrow. (…)”
“Wars of aggression are the terrorism of the rich,” as Peter Ustinov put it. For an Iraqi child, it makes no difference whether he is blown apart by an “Islamic” suicide bomber or a “Christian” bomb. For this child, George W. Bush and Tony Blair are just as much terrorists as Bin Laden is for us.
The high number of civilian victims of military operations is often excused with the argument that such “collateral damage” is not premeditated. That is disingenuous – at least with respect to aerial attacks – because the death of civilians is almost always tacitly accepted in such cases. Tacit acceptance (dolus eventualis) is in advanced legal systems regarded as acting with intent.
Aerial bombardment is, moreover, rarely effective. Special-forces operations on the ground can usually achieve much more. But then one would have to accept a greater number of fatalities within one’s own ranks. And that could cost votes. So instead one drops cluster bombs and tacitly accepts the death of civilians. Dropping cluster bombs from the safety of a pilot’s cockpit is the most cowardly form of terrorism on the part of the powerful.
The myth of the honorable war is mankind’s greatest lie. “Dulce bellum inexpertis” – War is sweet to those who have not experienced it (Erasmus of Rotterdam).
Armed resistance to wars and occupation that are illegal under international law is nonetheless only legitimate if it is conducted in accordance with the humanitarian law that applies in armed conflicts. Suicide attacks on civilians, who have different beliefs, such as we see every day in Iraq and elsewhere, are acts of terrorism. They have nothing to do with legitimate resistance.
The most spectacular attacks on civilians in Iraq are, however, for the most part directed from outside the country. According to a statement issued on July 11, 2007, by the spokesman for the multi-national forces in Iraq, General Kevin Bergner, between 80 and 90 percent of the suicide bombers come from abroad.
One must clearly distinguish between this almost entirely foreign terrorism directed against civilians and the legitimate multi-confessional Iraqi resistance to foreign occupation. Nobody can take away from the Iraqis’ their right to resist. It is a timeless inviolable right of all peoples, guaranteed by Article 51 of the U.N. Charter.
The great majority of the Iraqi people support the resistance movement, which explicitly rejects attacks on civilians. The resistance not only involves Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims, but Christians as well. The number of Christian resistance fighters in Iraq is greater than the number of Al-Qaeda fighters. Women also fight in the multi-confessional Iraqi resistance.
Is that really surprising? What would we do if there were enemy tanks on our streets? Are only those resistance fighters who are on our side “freedom fighters” and the rest “terrorists”?
The Iraqis have long since lost the media war. There are still at least 50 military operations conducted by occupation forces against the Iraqi civilian population every day, and a comparable number of counter-attacks every day by the resistance on occupation forces and their allies. The daily count of suicide attacks against civilians is one, two or three at most.
Nevertheless, TV broadcasters show almost exclusively pictures of such suicide terror attacks, which are carried out mainly by foreigners, as if they were typical of the Iraqis’ struggle against the United States. They therefore convey a completely distorted picture of the situation in Iraq. We do not get to see the true face of this war. The Pentagon has a monopoly on information in occupied Iraq, and exploits this to the full.
Of course, non-violent resistance in the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King would be preferable to violent resistance, even when it is legitimate. In the religious war between the city states of Mecca and Medina Muhammad’s most fascinating victory came when, to the amazement of his enemies in Mecca, he and his followers gathered, unarmed, outside the gates of Mecca and demanded access to the holy sites.
Passive resistance born of the power of faith would also make the Iraqi resistance more credible. But for centuries have we not shown the world that only brute force guarantees success?
4. Muslims were and are at least as tolerant as Jews and Christians. They have made a major contribution to Western civilization.
It was not Muslims who invented “holy war”, joined Crusades under the rallying cry “Deus lo vult – God wills it” (Urban II) and in the process massacred more than four million Muslims and Jews. It was not Muslims who waded “ankle-deep in blood” in Jerusalem before they “rejoicing and weeping from excess of happiness … came to worship and give thanks at the sepulcher of our savior Jesus,” as a contemporary reported.
Islam never associates the word “holy” with war. Jihad means “exertion, a struggle on the pathways of God” (Hans Küng), an effort that can involve defensive war. Nowhere in the Qur’an does jihad mean “holy war.” Wars are never “holy”, only a just peace is holy.
Nor was it Muslims who massacred up to 50 million people in the name of colonizing Africa and Asia. It was not Muslims who instigated the First and Second World Wars, in which almost 70 million people perished. And it was not Muslims, but we Germans, who ignominiously murdered six million Jews – fellow citizens, friends and neighbors – in an industrially organized breach of civilization. No other culture has been more violent and bloody over the past centuries as Western civilization. When have so-called “Christian” politicians ever honored Christianity, this wonderful religion of love?
Nobody can deny that the territorial expansion of the Muslim dynasties between the 7th and the 17th centuries – like that of the European powers over the same period – was conducted also with the sword. On the Muslim side as well, there were inexcusable massacres.
Muslim conquerors did not however, as a rule, attempt to force Christians or Jews to accept Islam, expel them, or exterminate them. When Saladin won back Jerusalem after a hard-fought battle in 1187, he made a point of not exacting revenge and let the Christians go free in exchange for a ransom. He even waived the ransom for poor Christians.
Tolerance towards Christians and Jews was the law and the pride of Muslim civilization. Under Muslim rule entire peoples remained Christian or Jewish, while the “Christian” Inquisition burned those who held different beliefs at the stake.
When the Muslim general Tariq ibn Ziyad landed on the Iberian Peninsula in 711, a period of cultural and scientific blossom began, which was to last for more than seven centuries and contribute enormously to Western civilization. In Andalusia, then the most modern state in Europe, the coexistence of Muslims, Jews and Christians proved to be an unparalleled success. The Jews fared much better under Muslim rule than under “Christian” hegemony.
It was only when the “Christian” King Ferdinand of Aragon completed the Reconquista in 1492 by taking Granada, the last Muslim bastion in Spain that the merciless expulsion of the Jews began. Hundreds of thousands of Jews were forced to leave the country. For centuries the Jews had been respected, held high office, and lived together in harmony with their Muslim contemporaries. Most fled to Muslim countries around the Mediterranean.
The coexistence of Christians, Jews and Muslims in Muslim countries only became troubled with the advent of colonialism and nationalism in the 19th and 20th centuries, when some Muslims came to see Christians and Jews as party to aggressive Western imperialism. The Armenian tragedy in Turkey was a result of nationalist, not religious intolerance.
Muslims in the enlightened Andalusian era not only salvaged for us the sunken treasures of Greek and Roman culture and philosophy, they also created new sciences. They pioneered experimental optics, invented the compass, discovered the paths of the planets and crucial elements of modern medicine and pharmacy. Even if we do not want to believe it: We live in a culture that was formed by Judaism, Christianity AND Islam.
5. Love of God and love of one’s neighbor are the central commandments not only in the Bible but also in the Qur’an.
A comparison of the texts shows that the Qur’an is at least as tolerant as the Old and New Testaments. God and his prophets do sometimes express themselves in very martial tones in all three scriptures. In the Old Testament Book of Numbers 31:7,15,17 it is written: “They did battle against Midian, as the Lord had commanded Moses, and killed every male. … Moses said to them, ‘Have you allowed all the women to live? … Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known a man by sleeping with him'”.
In the New Testament, Jesus is quoted in Matthew 10:34 as having said: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” In his Table Talk the powerfully eloquent Protestant Martin Luther said: “One may give short shrift to heretics. While they perish at the stake, the faithful should destroy the evil by the root and bathe their hands in the blood of the bishops and the pope.”
Surah 4:89 of the Qur’an is no less violent: “They but wish that ye should reject Faith, as they do (…). Take (…) not friends from their ranks until they flee in the way of God (from what is forbidden). But if they turn renegades, seize them and slay them wherever ye find them.”
Extremists and preachers of hate in East and West almost always ignore the historical context of these passages. Moses, Jesus and Muhammad were not born in a historical vacuum but into a belligerent world. At first glance, the Old Testament, especially in its historical passages, might seem to be the bloodiest of the three holy books – much bloodier than the Qur’an.
But anybody who has studied the Old Testament knows that its central commandment – apart from the commandment to love God and justice – is: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). For Christians too, love of one’s neighbor and justice are the most important commandments after the love of God (Matthew 5:6, 5:10).
The Qur’an tells Muslims to “Do good … to neighbors who are near, or neighbors who are strangers” (Surah 4:36). Islam also endorses the “Ten Commandments,” including the prohibition on killing – with the sole exception of the commandment to observe the Sabbath, as according to the Islamic view God did not need a day of rest after creating the world. The Qur’an calls for “more humanity and more justice” (Hans Küng).
The main problem with the Western debate about the Qur’an is that everybody talks about it but hardly anybody has read it. The bellicose passages in the Qur’an have to do with “the religious wars of the period between Mecca and Medina and therefore only (have to do with) the people of Mecca and Medina of the period,” as the Egyptian minister of religious affairs Mahmoud Zakzouk has correctly pointed out.
In Surah 29:46 it is written: “Our God and your God is one,” even though God is called Jehovah in Hebrew and Allah in Arabic – by Arab Christians as well. We are all children of Abraham. Is it not outrageous blasphemy when Jews, Christians or Muslims misuse the Bible and the Qur’an as a weapon, in order to hammer home their particular view of this one God?
Terrorism is never religious. To be a terrorist is to adopt the methods of the devil; no terrorist may invoke God. There is no “Islamic” terrorism, just as the terrorism of the IRA in Northern Ireland was never “Christian” or “Catholic”. There is merely terrorism that bears an Islamic mask, and it does not lead to paradise, but to hell, as do wars of aggression that bear a Christian or democratic mask.
The claim that violence is above all a religious problem is an atheist myth. People committed murder before religion existed and have continued to do so ever since. The mass murder of the Nazis and of the Soviet and Chinese Communists are the sad proof that man is the cruelest creature – with and without religion.
The shocking fascination of contemporary suicide terrorism is based on two kinds of shamelessness: the shamelessness of some Western politicians who continue to spill Muslim blood at a ratio of 10:1, and the shamelessness with which those who mastermind terrorism distort the Qur’an and try to make young Muslims believe that all they have to do to become Islamic martyrs is blow themselves up as suicide bombers.
6. Western policies towards the Muslim world suffer from a shocking ignorance of even the simplest facts.
Only few people in the West know that there are 30 churches in Teheran and that Christian children receive instruction in their own religion. There are also 15 synagogues in the Iranian capital and about 4,000 Jewish children go to Jewish schools. There are kosher butchers, kosher restaurants and a Jewish hospital, to which the notorious troublemaker Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recently donated some money.
The 25,000 Jews have a constitutional right to a representative in parliament, similar to the Christians. In 1979, shortly after the revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini even issued a fatwa decreeing that Jews were to be protected. His words are painted on the walls of many Iranian synagogues: “We respect religious minorities. They are part of our people. Islam does not sanction their oppression.”
Relations between Jews and Persians have been good since ancient times. It was the Persian king Cyrus the Great who in 538 B.C. freed the Jews from their Babylonian captivity. The Bible calls him a “shepherd loved and anointed by God.”
It is true that as protected minorities, Jews and Christians in Iran do not enjoy the same political rights and duties as do Muslims. But do we really grant the Muslims the same rights as Christians and Jews in their everyday lives in Europe? Does Israel really grant its Arab fellow-citizens the same rights in daily life as its Jewish citizens?
Ahmadinejad has indeed made vicious “anti-Zionist”, anti-Israeli statements, which on top of that were falsely translated in the West.. However, his aggressive stance, which is rich in political folly and poor in historical understanding, finds little support among the Iranian people and has even earned him the rebuke of Iran’s spiritual leadership. This anti-Zionism, however, is not to be equated with hatred of the Jews or anti-Semitism. Orthodox Jews, such as the Hasidic Satmar community, also reject an Israeli state “before the advent of the Messiah” and thus also represent an “anti-Zionist” position.
In Iran and other Muslim states there has never been real anti-Semitism or persecution of the Jews by the state, as was the case in Europe. During the Nazi era many European Jews fled to freedom via Iran. The Jews in Iran are respected citizens. As Ciamak Morsathegh, the Jewish director of the Jewish hospital in Tehran, put it: “Anti-Semitism is not an Islamic, but an European phenomenon.”
That is no excuse for Ahmadinejad’s provocations. By making lots of noise on the foreign-policy front, he is seeking to divert attention from his policy failures at home. In February 2007, the conservative Iranian newspaper Jomhuri-ye Eslami rightly complained of his “repulsive tone” that “unnecessarily gives the international community an impression of hostility” and called on him to stay away from “rabble-rousing and sloganeering.”
And those of the mullahs, who are responsible for Iran’s repressive system, are also extremely unpopular among Iran’s young people. They see these repressive mullahs as relicts of the past and they consider their repressiveness an annoying hindrance to progress. The revolutionary religious fervor of the late ’70s and early ’80s has long since been extinguished.
For eight years before Ahmadinejad came to power, Iran had a cosmopolitan reformist head of government, Mohammad Khatami. He stood for democracy, human rights, and the enhancement of women’s rights. But much to the annoyance of the U.S. government he was independent-minded and not its puppet. The United States never gave him a chance. Khatami’s lack of success in foreign policy and at home was one of the main reasons why so many pro-reform middle-class Iranians did not vote in 2005 – which led to Ahmadinejad’s surprise election victory.
The West itself contributed to the rise of this rowdy demagogue. Nonetheless, Iran, with its great and ancient civilization and its charming and distinguished people, deserves a more cosmopolitan and tolerant government that respects human rights. But is that not true of many a Western country as well?
Western ignorance of the Muslim world is also evident in much more banal issues than the Iran conflict – for example, in the view, widely held in Europe, that the Muslim headscarf is a “symbol of the oppression of women.” On this issue the United States is much more tolerant. The U.S. Department of Justice has stated that the intolerance evident in banning headscarves “is un-American, and is morally despicable.”
The German weekly Die Zeit jokingly commented on the crusade to free Europe of the headscarf: “If you ask five Muslim women why they wear a headscarf, you will get five different answers: One covers her head for God; another because the scarf goes well with her fashionable H&M clothes; the third will reveal herself to be an ardent feminist; the fourth cites traditions in her village; while the fifth is defying her ultra-secular mother, who has forbidden her to wear a headscarf.”
Of course, forcing anyone to wear a headscarf is unacceptable. But is not forcing anyone to take it off just as unacceptable?
The debates about forced marriage, female circumcision, or honor killing are also conducted with a shocking degree of ignorance. There is nothing in the Qur’an or the Hadeeth of Muhammad about these completely unacceptable misogynist practices. They derive from a pre-Islamic patriarchal and heathen era.
Some of these practices are several thousand years old – the gruesome “pharaonic” circumcision of women, for example. This brutal mutilation is not only practiced in Muslim countries such as Egypt and Sudan, but also in predominantly Christian countries such as Ethiopia and Kenya. The victims are Muslims, Christians, Jewish Falashas, as well as members of other religions.
So-called honor killings unfortunately also occur among Christians – for example, in such Christian countries as Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela. Most Muslim (and Christian) governments rightly take legal measures to counter these deplorable pre-Islamic and un-Islamic customs and crimes.
In some Muslim countries the advancement of women has gone much further in certain respects than in the West. In Egypt, 30 percent of all professors are women, in Germany the figure is only 15 percent. In Iran well over 60 percent of students are women, which has prompted the introduction of a 30 percent quota for men. There is also a longer tradition of female heads of government in Muslim countries than in the West.
Nonetheless, a lot still needs to be done if women are to attain full and equal rights in all Muslim countries, particularly in our partner countries Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, but also in Iran. However, that is not a problem with Islam. It is a political problem and one that has to do with antiquated patriarchal social structures.
The fact that in the Western countries, public and private shelters for battered women are bursting at the seams shows that even in the presumed modern societies of the West violence against women is a grievous social problem that has not yet been resolved.
We should mind our own business and examine ourselves more closely: Until 1957 a German man had the legal “right of directive” to decide whether his wife may go to work. Until 1970 the men of Switzerland refused to give women the right to vote – after all, both the Old and the New Testament demand the submission of woman to the will of man (see Genesis 3:16 and 1 Corinthians 14:34f.).
Whoever wants to see an end to hatred and intolerance should above all overcome his own ignorance. Everybody has the right to his own opinions, but definitely not to his own facts. What is to prevent us from traveling to Syria or Iran to form our own opinions on that alien and purportedly so dangerous world? The streets of Damascus and Tehran are much safer than the streets of New York or Detroit.
According to United Nations statistics, in 2006 the homicide rate in the United States was 5.9 per 100,000 inhabitants. In Iran the rate was 2.93 and in Syria 1.4. Most Muslim countries are safer than the United States, even safer than Switzerland, where the rate is 2.94 per 100,000 inhabitants.
Why don’t we start intercultural dialog in our own personal environment? Why not expand student exchange programs between Muslim and Christian countries – or even with Israel? Why not get to know some works of wonderful Arabic literature or read the famous Ring Parable in Nathan the Wise by the great German writer of the Enlightenment era Gotthold Ephraim Lessing? There, a father (God) bequeathes to each of the three sons he loves equally (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) an identical ring. One ring is the original; it has the ability to render its owner pleasant in the eyes of God and mankind. The other two are replicas.
The brothers call on a judge to establish which of them has the original. The judge, with the wisdom of Solomon, explains that the bearer of the authentic ring is he who earns the love of his fellow men.
For German chancellor Angela Merkel, the most beautiful passage in the play is when the Muslim Saladin calls out to the Jew Nathan “be my friend!”. Could we not all learn from this ancient Sephardic Jewish parable and its dream of a peaceful competition among the religions?
7. The West must treat the Muslim world just as fairly and as generously as it treats Israel. Muslims are worth as much as Jews and Christians.
With a mixture of self-righteousness, ignorance and hatred, many people in the West think Islam is a bloodthirsty religion and that Muslims are potential terrorists who are hostile towards democracy, women, Jews and Christians.
The friend and spiritual advisor of the former U.S. president George W. Bush, Frank Graham, has called Islam “a very evil and wicked religion.” Bill O’Reilly, TV idol of American conservatives, has said: “We cannot intervene in the Muslim world ever again. What we can do is bomb the living daylights out of them.”
The American television commentator Ann Coulter thinks: “We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.” She also says: “Perhaps we could put aside our national, ongoing post-9/11 Muslim butt-kissing contest and get on with the business at hand: Bombing Syria back to the Stone Age and then permanently disarming Iran.” The list of such statements could be extended indefinitely.
Just imagine for a moment that Graham, O’Reilly or Coulter had said “Judaism” instead of “Islam” and “Israel” instead of “Muslim countries”. There would have been a storm of protest, and quite rightly so. Why may one say fascistic things about Muslims and their religion, while any such comments about Christians or Jews would be rejected as entirely unacceptable, and rightly so?
We must end this demonization of Islam and Muslims. It is not only shameful, it also harms our interests.
The deepening divide between Orient and Occident also endangers the security of Israel. The strongest long-term guarantee for the survival of Israel and its five million Jews is not the enmity, but the friendship of its 300 million immediate and more distant Arab neighbors. To attain this, the West, but also Israel, must make a fair contribution.
The Jewish people did not attain its moral stature because of its military victories or because of the impressive number of its talents. It attained its moral uniqueness through its piety, wisdom, humanism and creativity, as well as through its long, brave and often cunning struggle for justice and against oppression.
It is understandable that after the Holocaust Israel has sought to ensure its military strength – and to defend its legitimate interests with great vigor, even severity. But severity without justice is a strategy that is doomed to failure. If all the creative country of Israel does is destroy, it will destroy itself as well.
Israel – and the entire Western world – must invest at least as much in justice as in weapons. The treatment of the Palestinians is not compatible with the moral stature and uniqueness of the Jewish people. This is the only conclusion one may come to, especially as an admirer of Jewish culture.
The Palestinians must also change their policies. The West is right to demand that they renounce violence against Israel. But should it not also demand that Israel renounces violence against the Palestinians? According to the Israeli human-rights organization B’Tselem, in 2007 13 Israelis were killed in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, while 384 Palestinians were killed by Israeli security forces.
Reconciliation between Jews and Arabs is just as possible as the miraculous reconciliation between the Germans and the French proved to be. Jews and Arabs have more in common in religious, cultural and historical terms than most people realize. As Israeli president Shimon Peres put it, they “have the same parents, Abraham and Moses.”
For centuries both Jews and Arabs were persecuted – and not only during the Crusades and the Reconquista. The Vichy government in France, for example, applied the same racist discriminatory laws to the Jews that had been “successfully” tested on the Algerians (Olivier Le Cour Grandmaison).
We Germans have a historical responsibility towards Israel and its right to exist – in the past, the present and the future. Because of its history and everything it has gone through over the millennia, the Jewish people deserve a secure home in Palestine.
But for the very same reason we also have a historical responsibility towards the Palestinians. They are paying the price for the guilt Germany will always bear because of the Holocaust. The Jewish political scientist Alfred Grosser is surely right when he said: “Whoever wants to shake off Hitler, must (also) defend the Palestinians.”
The true lesson of the Holocaust is that we may never just stand by and watch passively as people are oppressed, stripped of their rights and humiliated. We should have stood up for the Jews back then when they were weak, and not only nowadays, when they are strong and influential. Belated courage is the opportunist brother of cowardice.
It is a bizarre spectacle to observe certain Western politicians fight ever more resolutely and courageously year after year against past injustice, while remaining inexcusably silent about present injustice. One can also be guilty of not saying a word.
The challenge of our era is to help heal the wounds in the Mideast – by means of security guarantees for Israel, to which Europe must provide a robust military contribution, but also through helping to establish a viable Palestinian state. We must build bridges, not walls.
A model Palestinian state, that is backed by the West and acknowledges Israel’s right to exist within just borders, and that opposes all forms of terrorism really would mark a new start for the Mideast – and for the relationship between the Western world and the Muslim world. We cannot continue on our current path.
The “wars on terror” against the Muslim countries Afghanistan and Iraq have already cost $1.6 trillion, which is more than the Vietnam War cost. The United States spends more than $100 billion on the war in Iraq each year, but less than $5 billion for economic reconstruction there.
In light of these figures, can one seriously ask what a successful alternative to the current “anti-terror” policies might look like? We have to turn the ratio around. We have to treat the Muslim world just as fairly and as generously as we – quite rightly – treat Israel. We must ultimately deprive international terrorism of any arguments in its defense.
8. The Muslims must champion a progressive and tolerant Islam, as did their prophet Muhammad. They must strip terrorism of its religious mask.
Not only the West, but also the Muslim world needs to change its behavior in a fundamental way. While retaining their religious identity, moderate Muslims must show more courage in standing up for freedom and the rule of law; for a political and economic system that fosters individual talent rather than stifling it; for the full and equal rights of men and women; for real freedom of religion also for Jews and Christians – for a tolerant progressive and modern understanding of the teachings of Islam. The many millions of Muslims living in the West could play an important part in this process.
Muslims must interpret the fascinating message of their prophet Muhammad for the modern world and continue with the social reforms he risked his life for. They must throw the pre-Islamic ballast overboard that is impeding a renaissance of Islamic civilization. They must create an educated elite that can lead the Muslim world successfully into the third millennium. Muhammad, market economy, and modernity can fit together very well.
Unlike many Muslim politicians of our day, Muhammad was not a reactionary. Unlike them, he did not long to be transported back 1,400 years. He was a bold, forward-looking egalitarian revolutionary, who had the courage to break the bounds of tradition. His Islam was not a religion of stasis or regression, but of renewal and new departures. Even a little of this great reformer’s dynamism would do the Muslim world a lot of good – a world that at least in part is submerged in fatalism and self-pity.
Muhammad fought passionately for social change. He stood up for the poor and the weak and – to the annoyance of many of his male followers – for a massive improvement in the rights of women, who in pre-Islamic times in almost all cultures enjoyed virtually no rights at all. Men who oppress women may not claim to have the backing of Muhammad or the Qur’an.
Muhammad was – like our Jewish forefathers Abraham, Moses and King Solomon, who according to the Bible had a thousand wives and concubines – married to several women, one of whom was Jewish and another Christian. They both remained true to their religion. Muhammad warned his followers: “Whoever wrongs a Jew or a Christian, will have to face me on the Day of Judgment.” It would be good if some Muslim extremists took the prophet’s wise words to heart.
Muhammad was neither a fanatic nor an extremist. He wanted to tell the polytheist Arabs of his day about the God of the Jews and the Christians – in authentic, pure form. The Qur’an is in part a wonderful re-telling of the central messages of the Bible: “And before this, was the Book of Moses as a guide and a mercy: And this Book confirms (it) in the Arabic tongue” (Surah 46:12). For Muslims, the Qur’an is the “Newest Testament.”
Muhammad repeatedly proclaimed that Jesus would rise again before the Last Judgment: “How happy you will be when the son of Mary descends to you.” Jesus and Mary are described in the Qur’an with great love as “signs for all peoples” (Surah 21:91). The Qur’an also treats the great Jewish prophets, especially Moses, as role models “A Muslim who does not believe in Muhammad’s precursors Moses and Jesus is not a Muslim” (Mahmoud Zakzouk).
Today’s terrorism is an absurd distortion of Muhammad’s teachings. It is a crime against Islam. Islam means submission to God and peace. The Muslim world may not permit its great and proud religion, with its ethos of humanity and justice, to be sullied by raging terrorists whose hearts and minds are filled with hatred.
Nobody has caused greater damage to the standing of Islam in the course of its history, which spans almost fourteen centuries, than terrorists pretending to be Muslims. The Muslim world must rip the religious mask from the face of the terrorists.
9. Nothing fosters terrorism more than the West’s “war on terror”. Wars of aggression are not only the most immoral, but also the least intelligent way to combat terrorism.
The Western claim, Muslims have to finally clarify their relationship towards violence, also applies to the West itself. We must unmask the West’s warriors of aggression. We must show the infinite stupidity of their strategy. Terrorism in the guise of Islam is an ideology; ideologies cannot be shot down. One has to undermine its foundations, prove it wrong.
In early 2001, radical Islamism around the world was on the ropes. The dream of solving Iran’s or Afghanistan’s political problems by means of a process of radical Islamization had had turned into a nightmare. The Muslims had come to the bitter realization that the hard-line Mullahs had turned some of their countries into grim (religious-) police states. During the United States’ blitzkrieg, the Afghan people demonstratively left the Taliban to their fate – an unusual event in the history of Afghanistan.
In light of this evident failure of radical Islamism, Al-Qaeda’s attack on New York and Washington was not just an act of revenge but also an attempt to regain the high ground. Through an act of such diabolical boldness and the ensuing media spectacle, the radical Islamists wanted to win back the sympathy of the masses. They wanted to provoke the United States into overreacting, which would in turn give radical Islamism a new impetus.
The whole scenario is made all the more absurd by the fact that the hawks of the US government had been keenly awaiting just such an opportunity. Al-Qaida wanted to provoke, and the Bush administration was just waiting to be provoked.
Al-Qaida’s strategy worked perfectly. The countless bombs that rained down on the heads of Afghan civilians, who were already tired of the Taliban, revived prostrate radical Islamism and helped it back on its feet. The Afghans certainly wanted to get rid of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda – both groups that had been created by the secret services of the United States, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan – but they did not see why thousands of Afghan civilians had to be bombed to death to achieve that goal.
None of the terrorists who attacked the World Trade Center were from Afghanistan or Iraq. They came from Germany, Saudi Arabia, the United Emirates, Lebanon and Egypt. In order to neutralize their Saudi Arabian ideological leader Osama Bin Laden at his retreat in the mountains of the Hindu Kush, more intelligent methods could have been adopted than bombing Kabul.
So the radical Islamists once again had reason to issue a worldwide call-to-arms against the foreign invaders and against their own authoritarian pro-Western governments – just as they had done in 1979 when the Soviets marched in.
The election victories of Hamas, the rise of radical Islamism in the once secular Iraq, and the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan have a lot to do with the brutality and stupidity of the wars on terror.
Radical forces in the West and in the Muslim world have spurred each other on. Bin Laden and Ahmadinejad provided George W. Bush with his best catchwords, and vice versa. We must break through this fatal reciprocity as swiftly as possible.
The West does not have the right to take military action all over the world against radical Islamist movements – or against leftwing radical or rightwing radical organizations. It does not have the right to turn the world into a bloody and chaotic battlefield in order to impose its vision of the world. Western combat troops have no business fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan or Iran.
The Muslim countries must solve their problems with radical Islamism primarily by themselves. Even where radical Islamism degenerates into terrorism, it is first and foremost the task of national forces to combat it. Only in extreme and exceptional cases and with the backing of the United Nations Security Council should international police task forces provide reinforcement.
The damage foreign military interventions cause is almost always greater than the benefit, even when the motives are honest and humanitarian. It is not enough to want to do good, one has to actually do good.
The war on terrorism will not be won by military means – neither in the Hindu Kush nor in Baghdad. It will be won in the hearts and minds of the world’s 1.4 billion Muslims, who live in the East and the West, the North and the South, and who are observing the politics of the West very closely.
With every Muslim child killed by a Western bomb, terrorism grows. With each day that passes, we are sinking deeper into the morass of our own policies.
It is above all aerial warfare that has failed miserably as a means of fighting terrorism. Despite continuous aerial bombardment Bin Laden managed to escape from Tora Bora, because there were more journalists than American soldiers surrounding the cave complex where he was believed to be hiding. At about the same time, the Taliban leader Mullah Omar succeeded in breaking through the thin ranks of the U.S. forces on a motorbike.
Tora Bora is a grotesque symbol of the folly of the anti-terror crusade. Not even Cervantes, the creator of Don Quixote, could have dreamed up a more bizarre slapstick finale.
10. What is needed now is the art of statesmanship, not the art of war – in the Iran conflict, in the Iraq conflict and in the Palestine conflict.
Not enough space! Read the tenth these directly on the author’s website: