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Alfred Metzger {*}

Where Does the Hatred Come From?

The Ideology of the Militant Muslims


From: Herder Korrespondenz 59, 2005/9, p. 452-456
webmaster's own, not authorized translation


    Since 11 September 2001 the world is living under the spell of Islamic terror which has meanwhile struck Europe. In the motivation of the perpetrators merge radical anti-western currents of Islam, orientated by the Dschihad against unbelievers, with reactions to the western violence in the Near East.


Each new assassination attempt perpetrated by radical Muslims in the world, will inevitably raise the question: By what motives are the assassins driven? This question is the more intensively debated the nearer those attempts approach Europe; and when, as Madrid in March 2004 and in July 2005 London, one of the European metropolises is visited by terror, the search for explanations reaches, understandably, fever pitch.

To be able to fight terrorism better, the wish to see through every form of terrorism is understandable. But in this case these Muslims obviously do not shrink from anything, and this menace appears much more existential than, for example, the terror of left-radical groups in Europe in the seventies or eighties. You can accuse the RAF or the Red Brigades of cynicism and cold-heartedness towards their victims, but their attacks were directed against single, selected persons from the elite of the society (with some exceptions). The left radical organisations were not out for mass murder of unsuspecting civilians.

The al-Quaida-network and all those who are inspired by its philosophy act differently: their aim is the maximum number of casualties. They want to strike the West in its deepest core, and to put it into a state of shock. The motives of the RAF, its idea of a revolutionary elite that hits the state at its most sensitive spots, and provokes it to hard counteractions which will incite people to revolt against the "pig system", will be shared by a minority of Germans, but a certain logic can nevertheless be seen behind it.


What will be achieved by anonymous mass murder?

But what is intended by anonymous mass murder that is done by the perpetrators without making any concrete demand? Above all, which ideology is behind it that can justify such a thing?

This question is legitimate, and it will be continually asked. But to concentrate only upon the thought constructs of radical Muslims, to be able to understand their way of acting, is insufficient. In addition it is necessary to keep in mind the historical and political particularities of the Near East, which made possible the breakthrough of such an ideology in the first place. In other words: Are there events in the recent history of the Near East that in some way made plausible the urge of revenge and requital, as well as the cynicism of radical Muslims?

To put that question in this way will mostly lead to vehement disputes between, roughly spoken, two different camps: On the one side stand those who blame ideology - or possibly even religion? - for the terrorism of radical Muslims. Correspondingly they plead for the closure of the Madrassas in Pakistan, and for the deportation of "hatred preachers" from Europe, then, no doubt, the stream of recruits for al-Quaida would ooze away. On the other side stand those who put in the foreground the political circumstances which, according to their meaning, are responsible for the terrorism that is moving from the Near East towards the West.

Words have their effect, and precisely religiously charged ideologies are able to seduce people, should the occasion arise, to actions which could otherwise be regarded as immoral by them. The killing of civilians is easier, if it happens allegedly by the mandate of a God-given mission, and, what is more, is directed against members of another, a "hostile" religion.

On the other hand, by looking into the recent history, it will become clear how much subjugation, cultural arrogance, and not least cynical disregard of the human victims, from the side of the west towards the Islamic world, have joint responsibility for the present condition. People in the Near East feel themselves not only as victims of a western aggression, as in German papers it is mostly neutrally formulated, but they have been it also in many cases, as a matter of fact. To some extent this is still true now.

It is important to know that, even if it is painful. The unleashing of violence that manifests itself in the terror of al-Quaida is also a reaction to the great number of dead men, woman, and children caused by western, above all American invasions in the Near East just in the past twenty years.

The ideology of the radical Muslims is the software, as the American Islam scientist Juan Cole calls it, that is implanted by al-Quaida into the adepts, and which enables them to perpetrate terrifying crimes. But t h a t people are after all ready to absorb that software is not least connected with the violence committed by the west against the Islamic world.


The Dschihad of the Wahhabits

Among the radical Muslims one can find generally two ideological movements that joined in the al-Quaida-network at the end of the nineties: On the one hand, the Salafists, who represent an extreme conservative Islam that sets a high value on the literal observance of Islamic norms, and is therefore in the truest sense of the word fundamentalist. On the other hand the Qutbists, who are convinced that all present regimes in the Islamic world are not Islamic, hence they are to be overthrown.

It is the aim of the Salafiyya to correspond as far as possible to the Islamic order that dominated at the time of Mohammed and his companions. Salafiyya is ideologically wide ranging, and not nearly all Salafists are followers of the Dschihad against the infidels. The Jamaat al-Tabligh for example is a worldwide operating organisation that attempts by mission to bring Muslims who "apostatized" back again on the path of virtue.

The decisive coinage of the Salafiyya is found most of all in Saudi-Arabia, since decades - provocatively - a narrow ally of the west! The Wahhabism, in the Saudi kingdom the predominant religious ideology - even if the Wahhabits do not call themselves that way -, came into existence in the 18th century, and is coined by an extreme Puritanism, coupled with a strong intolerance against other religions as well as non-Sunni Muslims.

In Saudi-Arabia it is forbidden for Christians to exercise their religion publicly. Well, Shiites are tolerated but exposed to various reprisals. For Mohammed Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, the founder of the Wahhabism, the Shiites were apostate Muslims, because, among other reasons, of their veneration for Ali, Mohammed's son in law. Therefore they could be treated correspondingly. Also Sufism, a spiritual way of Islam, was a thorn in his side.

In the year 1746 Abd al-Wahhab declared Dschihad against all who were charged by him with idolatry and apostasy. The Wahhabits called themselves "Muslims", and whoever was against them was in their eyes a "Non-Muslim", hence someone who had apostatized, and could therefore be killed. Correspondingly the Wahhabitic warriors proceeded ruthlessly. They burnt down towns, destroyed holy shrines, and committed real massacres among their enemies. Abd al-Wahhab died in the year 1791, but with his death the Dschihad of the Wahhabits was nowhere near its end.

So in the year 1802 Wahhabit warriors set out for a raid to Kerbela, a town in today's Iraq, which is located about 50 kilometres south of Bagdad. Kerbela is one of the holiest towns of the Shiite Islam, with the shrines of Hussein and Abbas, the two grandsons of the prophet. After the Wahhabits had stormed the town, they killed 2000 of the Shiite inhabitants and pillaged the holy places where precious jewels were deposited.

The spirit of Abd al-Wahhabs blows in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia up to this day. It is found in the rigorous Islamist educational system, in universities, and in mosques. That does not mean that Wahhabits are marching permanently into Dschihad against people of a different faith. On the contrary, Saudi Arabia is politically one of the most important partners of the USA in the Near East. But under certain circumstances the xenophobic character of the Wahhabits erupts violently against the alleged enemies of Islam, who had previously still been allies..

Osman bin Laden for example, a Saudi of Yemeni origin, fought in the eighties Dschihad against the Soviet invaders in Afghanistan - then still with the support of the USA. Only after the Gulf War of 1991 and the stationing of American forces on Saudi soil did his rage turn against the Americans.

The other ideological basic movement of the radical Islamism is represented by the Qutbism. It owes its idea to the Egyptian Sayyid Qutb who was executed in 1966 by the Egyptian government.


A paradigmatic career

Sayyid Qutb's course of life is paradigmatic for the history of the Near East in the first half of the 20th century. He was born in 1904 in a village in Upper Egypt. Like the founder of the Muslim brothers, Hassan el-Banna, he received a traditional religious education. According to the impression of his autobiography which he wrote about his childhood, he enjoyed the country life. But Qutb ran away during his youth from the country idyll and settled in Cairo. The revolution of 1919 made him in to a committed nationalist who was interested in the fortunes of little people. Social justice as a basic theme is running through the whole opus of Sayyid Qutb.

As for most of the intellectuals in the twenties, Islam was of no importance in his thinking. Qutb was a secularist, he studied European literature, for which he felt enthusiastic, and about which he wrote essays. One of his mentors was Taha Husain, the famous writer, who in the twenties examined critically the interpretation of the Koran. At that time nothing suggested that Qutb would become the fanatic Islamist who declared the murder of infidel rulers as the duty of every Moslem.

In the thirties Qutb worked in the education ministry, and in that time he began to doubt, if European civilisation was a suitable model for Egypt. The behaviour of the British in his country made him look for alternatives. Qutb's process of change went on slowly but steadily. In the middle of the forties the education ministry sent him to the USA in order to pick up suggestions from the education system there.

At that time the USA enjoyed, in the Arabian world, a good reputation, in contrast the English- and the French, as they had not set foot on Arab soil yet, in order to control it. What is more, it was the American president Woodrow Wilson, who stood up for the right of self-determination of nations - an idea that, up to this day, is of great importance for the Arabs, as surely in no other region of the world.

For Sayyid Qutb however his stay in the USA meant the final break with the west. Raised in the Egyptian province, where the relations between men and women followed severe rules, he felt disgusted by the sexual permissiveness in America. But his disappointment about the attitude of the Americans to the Near East conflict weighed still more heavily. For the Arabs the right of self-determination played such an important role because it remained denied to them after the First World War. The conflict about Palestine that smouldered between the world wars meant the elongation of that trauma. Sayyid Qutb saw how in the USA the proclamation of Israel was received with enthusiasm, thereby for him, the superpower lost finally its reliability.

A short time after Qutb had returned in 1949 from USA to Egypt, he joined the Muslim brothers. Like many of his combatants he welcomed the revolution of July 1952. He led the negotiations with Nasser about a possible participation of the Muslim brothers in the new government. Qutb supported the aims of the officers, all the greater was his disappointment when the negotiations failed, and Nasser opposed the Muslim brothers.

Sayyid Qutb belonged to the first who after the failed assassination attempt of 1954 was sent to prison where he was heavily tortured. Just at the time when Qutb thought that he could realize his ideas, he was sent into exile.


The psychological basis for the radical Islamism

During the years in prison he turned more and more away from reality and began a virtual fight against his enemies. The theses which he worked out, needed not be measured by reality, but arose only from his fantasy. They were thus formed by an uncompromising hardness and radicalism. Qutb pointed a picture of a society where good and evil stood against each other, and where good could win only when it took action against evil with all severity.

In Qutbs' fantasies this fight justified any means, and everyone who stood on the side of the good was obliged to take part in this struggle. The Muslims represented the good, the disloyal rulers, who reigned in the name of Islam but spread in reality only vices and ruin, the evil.

Qutb's basic approach was radical. He did not admit any nuances, as Islamic lawyers in the 1300 years since Mohammed's death had developed them, to adapt the Islamic law to specific situations. A tyrannical ruler, according to the consensus of the medieval lawyers, who is taking care for stability and enables his subjects to exercise their faith, was better than an Islamic ruler who is unable to deal with his enemies and is spreading chaos.

Qutb did not accept that. An Islamic ruler had the duty to realize God's will, and that meant, to apply Sharia to all life areas. Only the divine law was valid, but the whole law thought out by men contradicted the will of the creator. Nevertheless, whoever made use of it, was an apostate, and had therefore to be dethroned.

Hence Gamal Abd al-Nasser, like the rulers of his time, fell into the second category. They might call themselves Muslims, but for Qutb, they were apostates and hypocrites. The Islamic world, so Qutb, had fallen back into the time of Dschahiliya, the time of ignorance, that ruled in the world before the appearance of Mohammed. It was the task of a small, knowledgeable elite, for Qutb, to lead the Islamic world back again to its old greatness. By that he created the psychological basis for a revolutionary Islamism which saw its mission in establishing the divine order by Dschihad. Since the opponents were per se infidels, violence against them could be justified without any problem.

Ayman al-Zawahiri, the second man in the al-Quaida-network, belongs to that tradition. He was the leader of the Egyptian Islamic Dschihad that tried, up to the nineties, to overthrow the Egyptian regime, and to replace it by an Islamic one. Only when he failed in this did he merge his organisation of 1998 with al-Quaida, and joined its Dschihad against the USA.

Both the Wahhabism and the Qutbism certainly play a role in the the radicalization of many young people in the Islamic world. Osama bin Laden as well as Ayman al-Zawahire assure their followers that they act in the name of Islam, when they blow up themselves in the metropolises of the west. Nevertheless, words alone are not sufficient to stir up such hatred, which enables young men to actions like those of 11 September 2001 or 7 July 2005.

For that, you have to be aware of the different views which Arabs and Muslims have about the conflicts in the Near East. In their eyes, the Arabs are victims of western aggression that has cost many more casualties than the terror attempts of al-Quaida. Mohammed Atta for example, one of the wire-pullers of the attempts of New York and Washington, always got excited before his German fellow students about the indifference that had been shown by the West toward the victims in Near East.

In reality, for Europeans and Americans, it is not easy to reproduce the view of the people in Near East. But the statistics of the wars in the past twenty years in the Near East speak volumes. So Osmana bin Laden pointed out repeatedly that Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon was one of the reasons why he began to hate Israel and its most important ally, the USA. Through that invasion up to 20.000 people lost within a few months their lives, most of them were civilians. In August 1982 the Israeli army besieged the capital Beirut and interrupted the water supply in some districts. Moreover, it used, phosphorus- and vacuum bombs, according to the law of nations forbidden weapons.

Also the USA did not act scrupulously in its wars in the Near East. In the first Gulf war of 1991 the American army systematically destroyed Iraqi infrastructure, such as bridges, power stations and waterworks, another violation of international law. In the hot summer months after the end of the war, therefore, up to half a million people died of typhoid fever, cholera, and other epidemics. From 1991 to 2003, the United Nations inflicted, urged by the USA, the strictest embargo in modern history on Iraq. Through the embargo, according to calculations of the UN, a further 500.000 people died - children, old and sick people - who would have survived under normal circumstances.

When the American Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in a 1996 TV-interview touched upon that number, she replied that it was a "hard decision", "but we think the price for it is it worth". The price was the containment of Saddam Hussein. As long as he was in power, the American policy held, also under George Bush's predecessor Bill Clinton, that it would not be ready to waive the embargo. That Saddam Hussein and his clique at that time enriched themselves shamelessly did not soften the hatred of Muslims against the USA at all. They hated Iraq's dictator, a radical Arab nationalist, just as much as the "great Satan" from overseas.

After the Iraqi army had in the summer of 1990 suddenly attacked Kuwait, bin Laden even offered the Saudi royal family, to defend it against a possible attack of Saddam Hussein. But the Saudi king called on American help instead. It is quite understandably from its view, because guerrilla fighters can do little against a regular army in a desert war. But bin Laden and his followers looked upon the American troops on holy Saudi ground as further harbingers of a western crusade against Islam.

Meanwhile, there are speculations that bin Laden orchestrated the attempts of September 11th 2001 to draw the Americans deliberately into new conflicts in the Near East. With the American attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq in March 2003 that plan seems to be successful. Again tens of thousands civilians died, and again bin Laden could accuse the Americans that they had only contempt for Moslem casualties.

This is not without some truth. When John Bolton, a high civil servant of the American Department of State, was asked what it meant to him that by the Iraq invasion presumably 10.000 civilians lost their lives, he reacted similarly as Madeleine Albright, "I think, in view of the greatness of the military operation this is a quite small number." Nevertheless it has been three times more people as by the attempt on the World Trade Centre. Meanwhile, in Iraq, the number of casualties has risen, and has further enflamed the rage of many Muslims at the west. One of the hindered assassins of London gave as a reason for his intent to blow himself up in the tube the pictures of dying women and children in Iraq, which he had seen in TV.


    {*} Albrecht Metzger studied Islam and history, and is living as free author in Hamburg. From 1997 to 1998 he was a scientific assistant at the Orient-Institute of the German-Oriental Society in Beirut. In that time, he wrote his first book "The heaven is for God, the State for us. Islamism between violence and democracy" (Lamuv, Göttingen 2000). In March, he published "Islamism", in the series knowledge of the European publishing house in Hamburg.


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