What does Libyan leader Muammar al- Gaddafi’s call for jihad on “infidel” Switzerland and Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi’s attack on the judicial power in his country that he has described as “similar to the Taliban” have in common? Apart from being neighbors on the opposite banks of the Mediterranean Sea, what is common here is their use of strong nationalistic and religious sentiments to mobilize their targeted audiences.
After the crisis in relations between Switzerland and Libya that erupted in July 2008 because the Swiss police detained one of his sons, Al- Gaddafi decided to remember jihad to please God. At a recent ceremony marking the feast of Al-Mawlid al-Nabawi [Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) Birthday) in Benghazi, he called for jihad on Switzerland, saying that it is an infidel state that destroys mosques. In his speech, Al- Gaddafi said: “Any Muslim anywhere in the world that deals with Switzerland is an infidel against Islam, against Muhammad, against God, and against the Koran”. As for Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi, he wanted to liken the members of the Italian judiciary to members of the Taliban movement in the same week that the local media covered the killing of an Italian soldier in Kabul at the hands of the Taliban. Berlusconi is not in accord with the Italian judiciary because it issues decisions not to his liking. So Berlusconi has persistently accused the judiciary of persecuting him for political reasons and that the judiciary is manipulated by the Italian left.
On 13 October 2009, I wrote an article referring to Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Selah’s categorization of the supporters of the southern secession movement as apostates and renegades from Islam or similar to those that have reneged on Islam. I viewed this excessive religious criticism and the use of religious accusations against political foes as a dangerous trap in which everyone falls. For men of religion or followers of political Islam movements to classify their foes as infidels or apostates or enemies of religion and for them to call for jihad against them is understandable – although it is unacceptable, of course – because it is “compatible” with the nature of the political discourse of such groups, sheikhs, and activists. But what is incomprehensible is for secular politicians – leaders of countries that profess to be secular regimes fighting against religious fanaticism and fundamentalism – to resort to this approach. In a split second, they are ready to deliver strongly-worded speeches outbidding the sheikhs of religious fanaticism and the chants of the cadres of fundamentalist groups. How odd!
The words of the Libyan leader and the accusations made by the Yemeni president can be understood in the Arab Islamic context that continues to be the captive of the notions and disputes of the past because the Arab and Muslim societies have not succeeded in crossing toward the civic state and disengaging religion from the state and society. That is why no Arab or Muslim political leader has found it hard to peddle or promote a politicized religious discourse before the masses are ready and programmed to interact with such discourses and political uses of religion. But what is amazing is how the elected prime minister of a secular civil state and leader of a European nation that has accomplished its modernization and left the conflicts of the past behind it can use political extortion to blackmail his adversaries. Likening a person in Italy or Germany or Britain to a member of the Taliban or Al-Qaeda is like likening an Arab or a Muslim to a member of the Zionist movement. The purpose of such epithets is to manipulate the emotional religious stockpile of the masses against a certain person or targeted party.
Does this mean that at this moment, the politicians of the world are wagering that the shortest and most effective way to exclude adversaries is through religious brinkmanship? What is happening is more dangerous than the nuclear arms race. The radiations of religious fanaticisms are more dangerous and more pervasive than the harm done by nuclear radiations. We tried and saw how we suffered and continue to suffer from the radiations of the Afghan “Jihad” that were “enriched” in the early 1980s. The leaks from the Afghan jihadist reactor continue to flow to the East and the West of the globe. The radiations of this Afghan reactor reached the two towers of the World Trade Center in New York as they reached Casablanca, Riyadh, and Bali. The problem is that neither religion gained from this politicization of religion nor did politics and politicians reap healthy fruits from this politicization. The one that kills using the sword of religion is killed by the same sword himself. The proof and evidence is more than can be counted since the days of the Al-Khawarij to this day. Every day in the Arab world takfiri fatwas [Muslim religious rulings that proclaim other Muslims to be infidels] are issued and calls for killing are made that inflame enraged youths. What remains is only the moment of execution of this Shariaa duty stipulated in the fatwa. Often, this moment comes at the hands of concealed fingers that stretch in the dark to carry out this or that fanatical fatwa. Meanwhile, we all continue to deal with the event superficially and we confine it within the circle of a criminal deed. We do not look out of the box to find out how this young man reached this final stage. We do not try to find out who sowed the seeds of hatred in society and blew away the fresh breezes of tolerance that made a young man slake his thirst for immortality and sacrifice with murdering this and bombing that.
We always stand in the middle of the road until we come to the moment when everybody participates in the game. Here is Al- Gaddafi – whose jails are full of the sons of fundamentalist jihadist groups – declaring jihad against a country he does not like called Switzerland and using the weapon of religion. The issue is not defending Switzerland or confiscating Libya’s right or any country’s right to prosecute any country it wants for any reason. But this is done through civil channels and political discourse that is governed by the rules of the game. However, jumping directly to use the tongue of one that has disavowed politics and international relations as the tongue of fundamentalist jihadis is the epitome of oddity! So who have been fighting against all these years and what is the identity of the Arab countries? Sheikh Abdul-Rahman al-Barrak has recently issued a fatwa classifying anyone that endorses gender-mixing as an apostate. Naturally, this fatwa is not an innocent one. It was made in light of other fatwas and studies by Saudi jurisprudence scholars who are trying to clean the word gender-mixing from the ugly images that have clung to it. These ugly images label any gathering of men and women in a scholarly or other forum as haram [prohibited by Islam] because it is akin to pimping and it legitimizes haram. Therefore, it is useless for some to defend this fatwa by saying that it is conditional on one kind of gender-mixing not all gender-mixing because the course of events and the circumstances tell the one that receives the fatwa what is actually intended from it. What if a zealous young man enforced the fatwa of this sheikh on anyone that expressed a jurisprudential opinion on the issue of gender-mixing in a society of men and women? What if this young man enforced it?
For these reasons, I wish the Arab countries, legislators, lawmakers, educators, and thinkers would agree on criminalizing the issuance of fatwas that declare others as apostates and infidels and that condones their bloodshed. Such fatwas encourage hate crimes and criminal religious incitement. They undermine social peace and civic stability. Because of such chaotic issuance of fatwas, a young Egyptian almost succeeded in killing Najib Mahfuz, the great novelist, with a fanatical dagger in one of the streets of Cairo and by orders of a fatwa issued by an Egyptian sheikh. If we criminalize this kind of fatwa and the abuse of religion to kill and exclude adversaries – not only in the Muslim world but in the whole world and regardless of their religion – we would be removing the issue from the framework of freedom of expression and taking it to the framework of laws that regulate freedom among individuals within a society. Just as inciting racism or sectarianism is prohibited in most of the western countries; it should also be prohibited in our frail societies. We have seen a bloody “rehearsal” that resulted from sectarian incitement in Iraq. Shouldn’t we learn before the dagger catches up with us? Because we have allowed this religious chaos to continue and because we have allowed many to be accept such dangerous language, what should be a cure to a disease has become its cause! For the sake of the purity of faith and religion, for the sake of a clear political life and its conflicts, and for the sake of protecting the environment, stop abusing religion and the globe.