As the EDL protest in London today and with attacks against the Muslim community having soared since the tragic Woolwich incident, let’s remind ourselves of the backdrop of Islamist extremism.
It’s sad to see that Islam, the religion itself, being blamed for the atrocity in Woolwich and not the political manifestations of a more fundamental problem. While many commentators have rightly brought to attention our country’s foreign policy as a key determinant in these so-called jihadist attacks, the problem in fact dates back to colonialism.
The initial reaction by Muslims to colonialism was to ask: what went wrong? According to American Muslim scholar and polymath Hamza Yusuf one of the responses that emerged was a clampdown on spirituality. Many Muslims felt that their co-religionists had become too “other-wordly” and therefore became the easy subjects of western hegemonic forces. A reactionary Islam that was a hybrid closer to Marxism subsequently emerged, with the much-criticsed Marxist ideology of the ends justifying the means being adopted.
The Wahhabi movement then gained ascendancy in the 20th century and today, is probably the greatest enemy of Islam and Muslims. Saudi Arabia is widely known as the key exporter of this twisted interpretation of Islam, a country, of course, being propped up by the British government. We, in Britain, are partly to blame for directly and indirectly supporting Wahhabism through our support of the authoritarian and undemocratic House of Saud monarchy. The Gulf state, let’s not forget, has paid British arms manufacturers £4bn in the past four years in bilateral trade deals.
In 1995, American Muslim scholar Nuh Ha Mim Keller wrote about how Wahhabis were tampering with classical Islamic texts. It is probably still happening today. These texts, let’s remember, are disseminated throughout the world, many even arrive in the UK.
Human error can also be involved in terror attacks. In 2010, a conference in Turkey entitled Mardin: The Abode of Peace, was attended by many of the world’s most eminent Muslim scholars. As a result of this conference it emerged that the fatwa which Bin Laden used as a justification to kill Americans on 9/11, the same one which was used as a reason to assassinate former Egypt President Anwar al-Sadat, was based on a misprint. Yes, a misprint. The corrupted wording in the fatwa – originally written by the conservative 13th century Muslim scholar Ibn Taymiyyah – read: “Non-Muslims living outside the authority of Islamic Law should be fought as is their due” but the original actually read “non-Muslims living outside of the authority of Islamic Law should be treated according to their rights.”
The misprint made its first appearance over 100 years ago, in the 1909 edition of Ibn Taymiyyah’s Fatawatahat which was published by Faraj Allah al-Kindi. Another edition was then printed and published based upon the text and replicated the error.
Montasser al-Zayat, in his book al-Zawahiri as I knew Him, says that the current al-Qaeda chief, Ayman al-Zawahiri, was traumatised by his imprisonment and torture in Egypt after Sadat’s assassination, which had an effect on his subsequent development and radicalisation.
Indeed, Islam in many countries is a political force as much as it is a religious one, in a way that is much more strident than in Christian-dominated countries. But certain western countries, such as the US and Britain, have often meddled in Muslim-majority countries, fostering religious anarchy and usurping democracies with despots.
In Iran, for example, Prime Minister Mohammad Mossaddegh was the democratically elected leader of Iran from 1951 to 1953 before his government was overthrown in a coup d’état orchestrated by the MI6 and the CIA. In Afghanistan, the CIA supported the Mujahideen, when they were struggling against the former Soviet Union in the 70s and 80s. After the Soviet invasion, the Mujahideen subsequently fought one another in the bloody Afghan Civil War. And it was the US administration’s lack of support for the Mujahideen following the invasion, which is often cited as a key ingredient in the bitterness Osama bin Laden felt towards the US in the lead up to 9/11.
“They [Wahabbis/Salafis in Saudi] are a form of Taliban in the Arab world. They’ve been spreading it to Europe. They also have the money to produce books, so they send their poison to Mosques in Europe to propagate their school of thought,” says Dr Mohammed Fahim, a London based Imam.
Indeed, the backdrop of Muslim terrorism is complex and nuanced, involving many socio-political factors – Muslim institutions could probably do more, too. But enlightened versions of Islam appear to have been restrained by western politicking, which, in turn, has led to a slowing down in progress for many Muslim societies but also pathological reactions by some Muslims. Islam is not to blame for recent terror attacks, that misnomer, according to Roger Hardy, an expert on Islamic affairs, is based on ignorance.
“Knowledge levels of Islam are pitiful,” Hardy says. “The Islam practised by the Taliban in Afghanistan or the Wahhabis in Saudi are taken to be the norm, they simply aren’t,” he says.
No matter how hard many try to justify their misplaced anger towards Islam, either wittingly or unwittingly through decontextualised scriptural verses, the religion is free of blame.