Islam Encounters Israel
Wednesday, August 2, 2006
1. The religious wars that tore Europe apart began to cease in the eighteenth century, in part at least, because of the Enlightenment commitment to a state that was neither dominant over the church nor dominated by the church, but was not radically separated from the church either—though not radically separated from Christian thought, at least as the Enlightenment expressed itself in an early American context. Islam has not gone through such an “Enlightenment.”
2. For all practical purposes when Western people speak about Muslim Fundamentalists, in reality they are thinking about beliefs that are held by virtually all real Muslims. Just as traditional Christians and Jews believe that our civil laws should have a moral base rooted in the Ten Commandments, Muslims believe that Islamic Law, Sharia, rooted in the Quran and Hadith (for Sunnis), is the foundation for a just government. The trouble is that Sharia is fundamentally opposed to some of the liberties we in the West regard as essential Democratic values. Virtually all true Muslims reject the idea of a secular state that gives full and equal treatment to all religions. Even relative secularists, such as Baathist Saddam Hussein, did not go so far as to grant full equality to non-Muslim religions.
3. Unlike Christianity where a person can have assurance of salvation through faith in the person and work of Christ, under Islam salvation is based on the individual’s performance evaluated by a Supreme Being who has not bound himself to his creatures by covenant the way that the God of Scripture has. Under Islam the only way to know for sure that you are going to have a happy landing in the hereafter is to die in Jihad, defending Islam and its religious institutions and symbols.
4. Traditional Islam aims at dominance of all non-Muslims as a fundamental tenet—indeed, the very word “Islam” means submission—first to Allah and his law and then forced submission on those who do not submit voluntarily. Christians and Jews, people of the Book, have historically been tolerated as long as they submitted to Muslim dominance over them. While world-wide dominance is a basic calling for all Muslims (not completely unlike evangelism is for all Christians), when a nation that has had a Muslim government (the Arabic term for such is Dar al-Islam.) ceases to be such, “freeing” that land becomes fundamental calling.
5. What about “suicide bombers”? While Muslim spokesmen who understand the Western way of thinking are quick to state that Islam condemns suicide, they tend not to be open about suicide bombers. Using a Western military analogy: while we don’t tend to send men on “suicide missions,” we do honor soldiers who voluntarily give up their lives to save their comrades. The soldier who dives on a grenade to save his squad is a hero. The same is true for the Secret Service agent who takes a lethal round to save the President. Given limited materiel, and certainly lacking the kinds of advanced weapons that the United States and Israel possess, the majority of traditional Muslims accept the ethics behind suicide missions. They see no fundamental ethical difference between President Harry S. Truman’s sending the Enola Gay to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Sheik Osama bin Laden’s sending the “soldiers” of his “government” to use commercial airliners to hit the two greatest symbols of the West’s “Crusade against Islam,” the Pentagon and the Capitol, on the one hand, and the World Trade Center on the other.
6. Muslims tend to have a radically different understanding of the nation-state than the West has had (at least for the past five hundred or so years). In the understanding of many, the Shiite Hezbollah and the Sunni al Qaeda are just as much “real” civil governments as, say, those of Britain and the United States.
7. When masses of people who hold to these ideas come into conflict with Zionism, the likelihood for unending war drastically increases because neither true Muslims nor committed Zionists can compromise except for tactical purposes.
7.1. Zionism is committed to the idea that Jews have a divine right to establish a Jewish state within the Holy Land apart from Messianic blessing, and the present borders of Israel are smaller than the Zionist ideal.
7.2. It is a tenet of traditional Islam that the lands now under Israeli control were once Dar al-Islam, and they must be “liberated.”
8. The War on Terror faces unprecedented difficulties in light of the things mentioned above. Given modern notions of relatively fluid borders in order to facilitate freer trade and the move toward greater global governance, and given the Western, especially the American liberal tradition of not favoring one religion over another, we are likely about to find ourselves in an unbelievably difficult and frightening situation that could cause the collapse of the American republic. Why do I say that?
1. Beyond the “denominational” divisions within Islam, American Muslims fall into several categories:
1.1. Some American Muslims have moved into what is essentially a Western view of religion, rejecting the historic Muslim doctrine of political and religious domination over non-Muslims. The sad reality about this group is:
1.1.1. They are not the majority of Muslims.
1.1.2. They face significant difficulty when confronted with the question of loyalty to the American government as over against loyalty to fellow Muslims. There is great temptation to look the other way when they observe things that non-Muslim, native born Americans would not hesitate to bring to the attention of the authorities.
1.1.3. Almost none of these people support America’s policies regarding Israel.
1.2. The majority of American Muslims are glad to be in America to enjoy economic opportunities, but they are significantly outraged by many things in America, especially our public morals and some of our foreign policies: helping to keep dictators in power in certain Muslim lands and America’s unwavering support for Israel.
1.2.1. Not only are these folk unlikely to show loyalty to the American government when conflicted with loyalty to fellow Muslims, many privately sympathize and cheer when terrorists inflict harm on those whom they view as anti-Muslim, such as Israel and those who support Israel.
1.2.2. Some of these people may support organizations that the American government would view as terrorist.
1.3. There are Muslims in America who are either actually terrorist “sleepers” or potential terrorists.
1.3.1. Sadly, I believe that this group—if one considers potential terrorists as being part of it—is larger than the first group, the truly Westernized Muslim.
1.3.2. The most likely potential terrorists are those young Muslims who did not grow up in Muslim lands and who in searching for post-adolescent significance, buy into Islamicist rhetoric, rejecting the “plastic Islam” of their Westernized parents. Muslim missionaries to Western nations tend to be of the strict Wahabi sect of Sunni Islam. This sect is dominant in Saudi Arabia and is the faith of Osama bin Laden.
1.3.3. As American violence in Iraq is televised and spread through other media, and especially now that Israel’s campaign against Hezbollah in Lebanon—the least Muslim nation in the Middle East apart from Israel herself—is televised and interpreted, increasing numbers of Muslims are being won over to the terrorist cause.
2. Warfare is changing. Several decades ago, I read a bit of Frantz Fanon and Vo Nguyen Giap: The Wretched of the Earth and People’s War, People’s Army. This kind of thinking has taken hold in many places around the world.
2.1. The face of government is changing in two directions away from the traditional nation-state: on the one hand, we are increasingly moving toward global governance, while at the same time ethnic groups are beginning to function in a pre-modern way as de facto civil governments, seizing the weakening of the traditional, smaller independent nation-state. Hezbollah, for example, is not only a Shiite terrorist organization; it is also a political party. But more importantly, it is a political party ad hoc, temporarily and tactically only, but functioning in reality as a civil government that provides all the services of a modern government to the Shia of Lebanon: hospitals, work, education, welfare, police and “homeland security.”
2.2. The military face of our enemies is evolving at the same time along similar lines with the newly emerging, pre-modern states. The modern enemy soldier is a “citizen soldier” in ways very different from American National Guard units. Military “headquarters” are fluid, and military central command is replaced by networks to keep the apparatus as a whole functioning when one part is hit —not unlike the American military development of a computer network without one central hub that lead to the Internet. Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda is more of a network than a traditional military hierarchical chain of command. Furthermore, military posts and bases are inextricably woven into the civilian landscape, and the soldiers of these emerging, pre-modern states only wear their uniforms for ceremonial functions because they must blend in with the civilian populations as much as possible.
2.3. These modern “soldiers’” willingness to endure suffering as well as their willingness to bring terrible suffering on their own families and ethnic groups is irrational to the “civilized” mind of the Western thinker. To the terrorist, the propaganda value of spinning the Israeli massacre of children at Qana and Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s statement that it was likely that deliberately targeted the UN observer post are easily “worth” the toll of human suffering on the terrorist’s own people.
What do I see as probable events down the road?
1. Israel has hit a rattlesnake on the tail with a stick, but I doubt their ability to cut off its head without engaging in the type of campaign that will turn world opinion, including even American opinion against them. This means that Nasrallah will gain enormous, heroic status within the Muslim world—a very bad development to say the least!
2. Muslim attempts at vengeance against Israel and the United States are most likely to increase dramatically. The July 28, 2006 attack on Seattle’s Jewish Federation is probably the tip of the iceberg of the expression of Muslim rage and frustration with the United States in failing to “reign in Israel.”
3. Muslim leaders who did not quickly condemn Israel’s recent bombing campaign in Lebanon are likely to be assassinated, where vulnerable, and replaced with those who hate the United States. This is true even in the majority Sunni world. The royal family of Saudi Arabia is very vulnerable, given that the majority of Saudi citizens are of the Wahabi sect of Sunni Islam. So is King Abdullah II of Jordan—that’s likely one reason why his stepmother, Queen Noor has begun to speak out for a cease fire in Lebanon.
American Christians need to think through these things pretty carefully, and we need to pray for those who govern us to be granted divine wisdom.