Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

The Mad Pastor and the War on Terror | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Let us imagine that terrorist cells in our region, and throughout the world, decided to hold an expansive, secret convention with a two-point agenda: (A) The qualitative and quantitative escalation of terrorist operations, and (B) the recruitment of around 5,000 to 7,000 youths, into the terrorist networks’ ranks, during the next couple of years years. What would be the new incentives and temptations for this recruitment and escalation?

We have no doubt that the terrorist leaders, and their cadres that incite extremism and recruit potential activists, will exploit the mere call to burn the Quran – let alone the actual act of torching – as a primary incentive for escalating terrorism. Let us also imagine that during their convention, these recruiters would say: “Do you see, young Muslims? The (infidels) have now come to an advanced phase in their war on Islam. They are now burning the Quran itself! The problem is not one of terrorism or extremism, as the (infidels) claim. They act out of a total fundamental hatred of Islam – animosity against the Quran and the Sunnah – as they prepare to burn the Quran. They are fighting our faith and thus it is our duty to fight and be hostile towards them”. The organizers of the convention may also cite God Almighty’s words “But if they violate their oaths, after their covenant, and taunt you for your Faith, fight ye the chiefs of Unfaith for their oaths are nothing to them: That thus they may be restrained” [Al-Tawbah (The Repentance); 9:12]. As is their habit, they will deliberately misinterpret the Quran as part of their customary misleading generalizations. In other words, they will use the crime of burning the Quran, that a handful of Christians intend to commit, as an excuse to generalize and pass judgment on all Christians – whether American or non-American – despite the many Christian condemnations, from the Vatican and from others, voiced against this crime, or indeed the intention to commit it.

Let us imagine the reaction of the audience at this convention, to these calls urging to escalate terrorism. It is predictable that there would be a strong reaction, in light of the fierce and rousing anger, and the inflamed atmosphere, that has emerged in defense of the Quran. Yet this terrorist convention is not a mere figment of our imagination. Similar conventions, or other forms of collective meeting, were held when criminals desecrated the Quran in Guantanamo Bay detention centre in 2005. As soon as these provoking reports spread, the Muslim world erupted in a wave of stormy indignation. Thus the ringleaders succeeded in recruiting groups of angry Muslim youths to the underground cells and terrorism networks. A similar contemporary example can be observed in the strong waves of anger that have raged throughout the Muslim world, in opposition to the criminal intention to burn the Quran. When people are angry and upset, levels of reason and rationality fall, whilst hysteria and extremism rise. Then people, at the height of their emotions, will favor any reaction that vents their anger and harms the aggressors, in any way!

Indeed, amid his madness, the demented American pastor is unwittingly holding a new, large scale recruitment party, and a celebration for terrorism. Perhaps his deluded mind envisaged that with this insane act, he would be avenging what happened in New York in 2001, and he would be fighting terrorism. In fact, he has supplied terrorists with a pretext, making them more deranged and ruthless, as well as increasing their ability to win over thousands of Muslim youths to their ranks.

This is America’s tragedy, or rather its dilemma and it has manifested itself in disappointing results, regarding the U.S. fight against terrorism (of course, there is a big difference between the demented pastor, and those ordinary Americans opposed to terrorism). On the 11th of September 2001, the atrocity took place in New York, and on Saturday, 15th of September (i.e. four days after the event) I wrote the following: “The whole world – believers and unbelievers; educated and ignorant – was shocked and stunned by this catastrophe, committed by insane and immoral terrorists, that has struck the vital organs of the United States nervous system. . . Regardless of its sources or pretexts, we strongly condemn terrorism based on our opinion, which is not derived from CIA rhetoric or from the sensationalist or exaggerated media. Our stand against terrorism is based on Islam (our own private point of reference) that has criminalized violence in the strongest terms possible. . . However, an agreement should be reached on combating terrorism, in a manner that does induce further madness and immorality. If an anti-terrorism alliance is formed on the basis of errors, blindness, injustice, and obsession, then the equal and opposite reaction would be the emergence of a global terrorist alliance that is more bloody, vicious, and barbaric. The world would then turn into a giant bullring of battling human ‘bulls’, this time with ‘horns’ of weapons of mass destruction.” (An example of this is what has been happening in Afghanistan for a decade).

Yes, when the accursed incident took place in New York the whole world strongly sympathized with the Americans. After a while, however, this sympathy declined at an alarming rate, due to the massive American shift towards the war on terror. For instance, one year after this strong sympathetic public reaction, the results of an opinion poll conducted by the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington showed that the Europeans took an opposite stand, compared to the then US Administration (the George W. Bush Administration). The Europeans considered the US stand as ‘a unilateral approach’ in foreign policy. About 85 percent of the German people, 80 percent of the French, 73 percent of the British people, and 68 percent of the Italians, believed that the United States actions, in its war on terror, were based on its personal interests. We say: No country can be blamed for taking actions that look after its own private interests. However, in an international issue, where this country seeks international cooperation, it should first coordinate with the rest of the world sincerely and honestly, yet without foregoing its own interests. The utmost interest of the United States is to create a genuine – not token – collective will against terrorism. However, such a collective will should be based on modesty not arrogance, consultation not individualistic opinion, equality not racism, and a sense of global responsibility. The United States did not adhere to these concepts and standards. Thus, it is hard to say that the US policies succeeded in this regard over almost a decade (2001 – 2010).

The United States has been invited to adopt more useful and more rational policies in combating terrorism. Tolerating the rising trend of hostility toward Islam is certainly not one of these. We are not holding the current US Administration accountable for the consequences of such trends. Nevertheless, the United States can devise new methods to at least contain them. It is not something new to rely on old arguments or excuses, such as ‘freedom of expression’. In many past instances, US leaders have placed the national security of their country over ‘the individual’s right to freedom of expression’. On top of this, a new factor has emerged as far as President Obama is concerned; namely, he has adopted a specific policy of reconciliation with the Muslim world. This policy is now under threat. The image of the United States is being distorted in Muslim public opinion, due to the criminal intention to burn the Quran, and waves of rising antagonism towards Islam, in a country headed by Obama himself! The President should be wary of the determination of his radical right wing adversaries in the opposition party. They are determined to abort his efforts of reconciliation with the Muslim world.