In 1998 I watched an al-Jazeera TV interview with a handsome, soft-spoken, eloquent, charismatic young man I'd never heard before. He stated that after the first Gulf War, America had promised that its forces would leave Saudi Arabia, the land of the Two Holy Mosques, within six months. Seven years later they were still there. If American troops did not leave, he warned, America would be sorry. His name was Osama bin Ladin.
As I watched him I thought, "He really means this. I hope someone far above my pay scale takes him seriously." As it turned out, few people did. When American embassies were bombed in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, President Clinton's response was to send a few missiles to Afghanistan and blow up the al-Shifa (it means healing in Arabic) pharmaceutical factory in Khartoum. There was even less reaction when the USS Cole was attacked in Yemen two years later. It took 9/11 for America to realize it had a problem on its hands.
I had the same feeling - I hope someone other than me is taking this seriously - recently while watching this debate on al-Jazeera between pro-Jihad scholar Nader Al Tamimi and Muslim advocate for non-violence Jawdat Said, hosted by Dr. Faisal al-Qassem.
Leading up to the show, Faisal asked his viewers to respond to an online poll. The question was, Do you believe that a non-violent Islam is an impractical, outdated theory? Sixty-five percent of the respondents said Yes, only 35% said No.
Jawdat Said spoke first. He based his argument for a peaceful Islam on his understanding of human psychology and the Quran. Man was the only being created with a superior brain, he argued, and Allah intended him to use his brain and not his brawn to resolve conflicts. Allah offered this responsibility of moral integrity to the Heavens, Earth, and Mountains in Surat Al Ahzab (Quran 33:72) but they refused, so he gave it to man (Yes, he does take this literally). If Japan could rise from the rubble of WWII to become a world power without the use of force, and Japan did not even bear a spiritual message, what could Islam accomplish with its message from God's Final Prophet?
Faisal then gave the microphone to Nader Al Tamimi. Like a steamroller squishing a mouse, he demolished the arguments of Jawdat Said. "Praise be to Allah who gave Jihad as the most powerful weapon in the Muslim arsenal. Jihad brought Islam from Arabia to the Levant, and then to Iraq, North Africa, and as far as Spain. Jihad is a two-edged sword; it enables the weak to conquer new territory, and then protects Islam in that territory. After Khalid ibn al-Walid led the Muslim army to victory in Syria, he left to fight the Battle of Yarmouk. The Syrians wept asking, "Are you again leaving us to the Byzantines?" The Copts in Egypt begged the Muslims to save them from Byzantine rule, and the Spaniards pleaded with Tariq ibn Ziyad and Musa ibn Nusair to save them from the armies of the Visigoths. The Movement of Liberation through Jihad that was begun by Muhammad ended 10 centuries of Byzantine, Persian, and Visigoth rule, and spread Islam throughout the world.
"Our brother says he begins with the Quran! Surat Al Bakarah (2:216) says that fighting is ordained for Muslims whether they want it or not. According to Surat Al Imran (3:142), Allah keeps those who refuse Jihad out of heaven. They will plead that they prayed, fasted and performed the pilgrimage, but he will ask, "Did you do Jihad when it was imposed upon you?" Jihad is an individual obligation imposed upon us today. Our Prophet said that Jihad will continue unabated until the Day of Judgment. That is why I applaud the Mujahideen of Iraq who put an end to America's scheme for the region. President Bush said he was leading a campaign to change the map of the Middle East from Tangiers to Bahrain. The American Chief of Staff said after Iraq would come Syria, followed by Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The Mujahideen in Iraq caused them to rethink their plans and flee, and the same thing is happening in Afghanistan. Allah says in Surat Al Baqarah (2:251) that he uses one group of people to push back another, so the earth is not filled with their evil. There are billions of bacteria in the human body, but our immune system prevents them from spreading disease. The immune system is constantly on guard; if it fails or becomes weak, the bacteria will prevail. An ideological form of AIDS is widespread throughout the Ummah, led by misguided thinkers, and only the immune system of Jihad will stop it. When the British ruled India a movement of Jihad arose to force them out. A similarly misguided thinker named Ahmad Qadiani claimed to be the awaited Mahdi and taught Jihad had been replaced by proclamation. There is a place for preaching, but there is also a place for Jihad. There is a place for treatment and medicine, but if the infection is too wide-spread the only remedy is surgery!"
Faisal next asked Jaudat if it were not true that preachers of non-violence such as himself were only tools in the hands of the West. He replied there was another side of Jihad, quoting a Meccan Sura (25:52) where Allah told Muslims to engage in Jihad against the unbelievers by earnestly preaching the Quran.
Faisal responded incredulously, "You want to engage in Jihad against Israel and America, who are trampling us underfoot, with verses from the Quran?
Jaudat replied that was correct, and he would prove it from Islamic history. When the parents of Muslim Amar ibn Yasir were killed by the Quraysh in Mecca, Amar sought revenge. Muhammad told him to be patient because he would gain Paradise. This Quranic principle of returning evil for good, said Jaudat, has been lost in Islam. Because we fight America with our weapons, we only gain their hatred and hypocrisy. Why not acknowledge that Western society has invented all the modern means of transportation and communication used today, and work with the West rather than resist it?
Only after Muhammad established rule in Medina, continued Jaudat, was force permitted to maintain justice. An early Islamic movement known as the Kharijites were as committed to Islam as are the Mujahideen today but they killed Ali, the Fourth Caliph and son-in-law of Muhammad thinking that would get them closer to Allah. Ali's death ended the Caliphate of the Rightly Guided and ushered in a circle of violence that has never ended.
It was back to Nader, who expanded on his earlier statement that Jihad is a two-edged sword. The first side, enabling the Muslim to conquer new territory, is Jihad at-Talab or offensive Jihad. Protecting Islam after it conquers that territory is Jihad ad-Defaa, or defensive Jihad. Every Mathhab, or school of thought, has agreed throughout Islamic history that if the Kuffar occupy a single inch of Muslim territory or take a single Muslim prisoner, it is incumbent upon each Muslim living in that territory to engage in Jihad ad-Defaa to force the occupier from that territory (Yes, this does include all of Israel). If the local residents are unable to achieve victory, neighboring territories are to help. If they are still unable to dislodge the occupier, the entire Muslim Ummah must get involved. This includes every man, woman, and child, young or old. Woman who normally cannot even leave the house without permission of their fathers or husbands are ordered to do so when waging Jihad ad-Defaa.
Nader was not about to leave unchallenged Jaudat's comment about the West being the Mother of Invention. They stole that concept from us, he thundered, when we ruled Spain. Why do we not invent and produce today? Our rulers will not allow us to. We must engage in Jihad to remove them from power. "I am not calling for riots in the street," he cautioned, "But I am calling for civil disobedience to change the situation."
As Nader had finished his first argument with an illustration from medicine, he ended this one with an example from agriculture. A farmer carefully cultivates his fields, he noted, for the good of his own livestock, not for that of the foxes and rabbits outside that he prevents from even entering the fields. Arab rulers today consider their countries to be their private farms, with the produce going only to their families and cronies and allies in the West.
As with most Arabic TV debates, the substance was all in the first half of the interview. The two men were more interested in getting their point across than in really listening to each other, and in the second half basically repeated what they had said earlier. I'd like to close with this comment:
As I noted earlier, Nader Al Tamimi came across as a steamroller and Jaudat Said as a mouse. But even a mouse is a giant in a colony of ants. Many of the "mice" find their way to the West, where we see them as giants of Islamic moderation and intellect. They teach in our universities, represent Islam on TV, and their books fill our bookshelves. They advise our Presidents, Diplomats, and Generals.
Just as we ignored Osama bin Ladin in 1998, we ignore the Nader Al Tamimis of 2010. Who has even heard of him? The "peaceful Muslims" would have us believe he is insignificant, only representing a fringe of the Arab and Muslim mentality. I'm just not so sure all is as calm as it appears.