Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Root Cause of Barbary Terrorists

Joshua London's piece comparing contemporary terrorism to the Barbary Pirates of old is a useful piece of historical comparison. London's central thesis is that
America’s Barbary experience took place well before colonialism entered the lands of Islam, before there were any oil interests dragging the U.S. into the fray, and long before the founding of the state of Israel.

America became entangled in the Islamic world and was dragged into a war with the Barbary states simply because of the religious obligation within Islam to bring belief to those who do not share it. This is not something limited to “radical” or “fundamentalist” Muslims.

Which is not to say that such obligations lead inevitably to physical conflict, at least not in principle. After all peaceful proselytizing among various religious groups continues apace throughout the world, but within the teachings of Islam, and the history of Muslims, this is a well-established militant thread.
He points out that even when the pirates themselves were more concerned with booty than jihad, the average folks of the Barbary coast still believed that they were "holy warriors." He also offers this analysis
The Barbary pirates were not a “radical” or “fundamentalist” sect that had twisted religious doctrine for power and politics, or that came to recast aspects of their faith out of some form of insanity. They were simply a North African warrior caste involved in an armed jihad — a mainstream Muslim doctrine. This is how the Muslims understood Barbary piracy and armed jihad at the time, and, indeed, how the physical jihad has been understood since Mohammed revealed it as the prophecy of Allah.
He concludes that we should include "regional squabbles, economic depression, racism, or post-colonial nationalistic self-determinism" in our analysis of terrorism's root cause, we should also consider what "Thomas Jefferson and John Adams came to learn back in 1786, the situation becomes a lot clearer when you listen to the stated intentions and motivations of the terrorists and take them at face value."

I tend to believe we should operate from the premise that people mean what they say for the reasons they offer, unless they've proven that they can't be trusted. As London himself explains, the Barbary Pirates continued to rhetorically adhere to an ideology of jihad even when their interest devolved to economic motivation. And the people continued to believe them. Contemporary terrorists also rely upon the ideology of jihad and they haven't yet offered any evidence of other goals.

James Robbins
, who likens jihad to the Muslim version of a Crusade, reviews a book (The Legacy of Jihad: Islamic Holy War and the Fate of Non-Muslims" a new anthology edited by Andrew G. Bostom) about jihad history and also explains:
The nature of jihad is of course one of the central questions of the conflict. Frequently I have had students from Muslim countries explain very passionately that our understanding of jihad is flawed. That what we think of as jihad — violent struggle to extend the domain of Islam — is actually the "lesser jihad." True jihad is a moral struggle within each person to enjoin the good and resist evil, what is called the "greater jihad." Some say further that the idea that force can be used to convert is not Islamic; it would make the greater jihad impossible because the convert would not sincerely believe. All this may be true, in their understanding of the faith, and I have no quarrel with it. Would that everyone felt that way.

Nevertheless, not all Muslims are as interested in this spiritual quest, and some of the more radical adherents of the faith are convinced that nonviolence is not an option. Andrew Bostom's book shows comprehensively the historical roots of this school of thought, and its continuity over the centuries to the present day. It helps one understand jihad operationally; its use, its claims to legitimacy, its perceived inevitability. Whether this is or is not the way most Muslims view the concept of jihad in its totality is not particularly relevant because people sincerely engaged in "greater jihad" are not a national-security threat. Likewise, those terrorists who have made "lesser jihad" their avocation have no use for fellow Muslims who are seeking only to bring themselves closer to God's ideal as they understand it. As the Ayatollah Khomeini said of those who argued that Islam was a religion of peace that prevents men from waging war, "I spit upon those foolish souls who make such a claim."

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