On 9-11

Muslim Perspective on September 11th
Rev. Joe Handman


Muslim perspective on September 11th and reflection on how we should respond I have decided to attempt a contribution to the public discussion concerning the tragic events of September 11th because I have noticed an important missing dimension in what I've heard so far in the press--namely, a lack of understanding of how Muslims see all this.

This lack of consideration of the Muslim mentality shows up particularly at the two opposing ends of the spectrum: the "Let's bomb the hell out of them!" attitude and the "Let's shower them with flower petals!" perspective. I fear this lack of grasp of Muslim realities and sensibilities will make "real politic" impossible, and will lead the United States to falling into the terrible trap which has been set for it (although I am somewhat hopeful about America's uncharacteristic restraint so far).

My qualifications for these comments, aside from considerable study, include 20 years of involvement in an extended Muslim family through marriage, as well as in my family's related Muslim communities both in Canada and India. 1. In assessing the current situation, it is more helpful to think of Islam as a culture rather than as a religion. As far as religion is concerned, Islam as generally practiced is no closer to authentic religion than the Christianity of most of our churches is to authentic Christianity.

Having said that, the external trappings of Islam as a religion are far closer to its culture than Christianity is to Western culture. In fact, Islamic religious trappings are virtually identical with the culture. My point is that what we are engaged in is a life-and-death clash between two enormous global cultures. Think Islamic culture and Western culture and forget about religion.

2. Islamic culture is virtually synonymous with an all-pervading legal system where everything and everybody is either absolutely right or absolutely wrong. When Islam is understood as it should be, the faithful give equal and balanced weight to Hakika (Islam's authentic spiritual and monastic tradition) and to Sharya (Islam's legal system governing every dimension of life).

In fact, Hakika is nearly extinct. Most Muslims only vaguely remember hearing the word somewhere. As a result, the culture is reduced to The Law. To be a Muslim is to exercise The Law (period). As we know, when the law prevails, the practitioner always rationalizes being on the "right" side. Hence, from a Muslim perspective, Islamic culture is seen as absolutely right and ordained by God whereas other cultures are a manifestation of the devil. There is no ambiguity in this whatsoever.

3 .Power, political power, is being in a position to interpret Sharya for the greatest number so as to decide and impose what is "right".

4. Every Muslim is frightened to the quick by the rapid encroachment of Western culture on a global basis. This has to do with losing an entire way of life. There isn't a lot of middle ground here. It has to do with what is abominably profane, and therefore wrong, winning the great battle.

5. It is helpful and probably accurate to think of Osama bin Laden as the most dangerous, most brilliant and most psychotic enemy Western culture has faced in a long time--far more dangerous in current stances than Hitler was in his. At a minimum, it is a huge mistake to underestimate bin Laden.

6. It is helpful to think of bin Laden purely in political terms. Forget the religious part. Although he justifies what he does according to an interpretation of Sharya, this is really only ideology and has no relationship to religion. His goals and actions are strictly political.

7. Bin Laden is acting according to a masterplan, and so far he is succeeding very nicely.

8. His ultimate goal is nothing less than to become the supreme focal leader of all Islam and to defeat and wipe out Western culture. He will stop at nothing to realize this paramount goal.

9. In order to defeat Western culture, he must first attain an all-important interim goal of winning over the Muslim world. He literally needs their bodies to carry out his plan. In our sense of caring, he cares not a whit for them. If they die in his cause, they go straight to heaven.

10. The current series of events is focused squarely, perhaps even brilliantly, on the interim goal of winning the Muslim world. I wish I felt that our political leaders understood that what is happening is literally a public relations tug-of-war with enormous stakes. Will bin Laden win or is it still possible for our side to prevail? If the later, it will require a series of actions which ultimately help to humanize both sides. At the moment, however, winning the Muslim world is what this incredible turn of events is all about.

11. The Muslim world is powerfully predisposed to going in bin Laden's direction. In recent days the West has taken great comfort in expressions of sympathy from dictatorial Islamic governments, from mantric reiterations that the majority of Muslims don't support these actions because they cannot be justified by "real" Islam (as though this is relevant), and from ignoring the support (still modest but growing) the terrorists had to have from Muslims inside Western countries. Underestimation continues to be the Russian Roulette of choice.The reality is that average Muslims worldwide are (a) scared by the encroachment and power of Western culture, (b) feel that great injustice has been inflicted on their people and on their point of view, (c) have a conceptual, emotional and moral framework well imbued for embracing Jihad (Holy War), and have a secret or not-so-secret admiration for bin Laden as their David to our Goliath.

12. The matter of winning the Muslim world now hangs in the balance. At present, a relatively small percentage of the global Muslim community is in bin Laden's camp--although I would be surprised if it is less than 10%. At the other end of the spectrum is a small percentage which will never go his way for a variety of reasons. In the middle is a huge majority, the "prize" in the current set of actions.Most members of this majority are deeply conflicted. On the one hand, they sympathize with the innocent suffering of September 11th. On the other, they are deeply worried about the invasion of Western culture, they have a certain attraction to Jihad as a concept which is not foreign to them as a method for defeating what is "evil", they are angry about the West's relentless bullying to shore up its interests and to implement the draconian transnational corporate agenda, they feel that huge injustice has been done to them, particularly in Palestine and Iraq, and they see that bin Laden is at least willing to stand up. All indications point to a shifting amongst "moderate" Muslims worldwide.

13. The events of September 11th had nothing to do with an irrational or desperate lashing out. They are intrinsic to a global master plan. Their strategic purpose is to provoke the United States to fall into a trap which in turn will tip the majority of Muslims across the line and into the bin Laden camp. To Muslims, the United States has inflicted huge injustice in Palestine. They are acutely aware of the suffering of Muslims there. They are equally aware of the suffering of the Iraqi people. And they are also aware of the innocent suffering of the Afghan people, now shaping up as possibly the worst human cataclysm of our lifetimes.

The September 11th attacks had one essential purpose alone which is to provoke the United States to invade Afghanistan. Bin Laden cares nothing about the suffering of Afghan people. He is a psychotic and besides they will go straight to paradise if they die in his cause. What he knows and cares about is that (after Palestine and Iraq) an invasion of Afghanistan by the United States will tip the balance of Muslim opinion and support in his direction. (He also knows that such an invasion will never find him.)

14.What will bin Laden gain by this? He will become the focal point and unquestioned leader of the Muslim world with its vast resources at his disposal--including millions to die for his cause rather than the mere thousands he has now. He knows that a U.S. invasion of Afghanistan will destabilize several "moderate" Islamic governments making way for Taliban-type governments under his control. Of special note is the virtual assurance that such an invasion will topple the government of Pakistan placing The Bomb in his hands.

15.What should we do? I have written the foregoing to express most urgently that the situation is probably far worse than we already think. This is a time for consummate "real politic"--not for childishness and naivete:

We should do everything we can to take bin Laden out of circulation by subterfuge. However, we have even less chance than we've experienced with,Saddam Hussein and, even if we succeed, it will only slow down the overall global trajectory described above for a while. But it is definitely worth every effort.

We MUST NOT invade Afghanistan.

We must identify two or three high-profile measures favourable to the Palestinians and "convince" the Israelis that it is in the wider interest to implement these immediately. And then we need to work for a lasting peace on an equitable basis.

We must lift the embargo on Iraq immediately. We must invest several trustworthy NGO's (including Islamic ones) and United Nations' agencies with billions of dollars under the strictest accountability to rebuild the health, educational and food distribution infrastructure of that great nation, the birthplace of civilization.

We must do a similar rebuilding in Afghanistan. We must tell the Muslim world precisely why we are doing this because we are in a deathly struggle to win their partnership in building a truly equitable future for all people and because we recognize and respect their right to exercise their culture freely within an even-handed legal framework. And we must mean this!

The president of the United States must get on television and explain the foregoing plan to the American people openly, step-by-step, with no double talk. Yes, he will have a red-neck reaction. He will not be as popular as the is today. But he will be a leader. It's been easy for him to be the great leader so far. But this would be real leadership. If it is explained clearly and carefully, I have more hope than I would have had at any previous time in my life that the American people as a majority will understand and rise to this most critical of occasions.

Here is the meaning I choose to assign to the tragic events of September 11th. It is being forcefully disclosed that we live in a world which will no longer tolerate the imposition of the will of one group on other groups.

Guerilla warfare, pioneered on a local scale in places like Viet Nam, can now be successfully applied at the global level and with weapons of indescribable destruction. We are called to an age of justice whether we like it or not--justice for all humans, justice for all of the communities of life of the Earth, and justice for the Earth herself. This is no longer merely an option. There is a great deal of work to do.

It appears that just about the first step of this great journey is a struggle for the minds and hearts of our Muslim brothers and sisters, patiently inviting and encouraging them to join us in a renewal of the civilizing process to which they have contributed so much in the past. If Osama bin Laden succeeds with his interim goal, the ultimate objective is not far behind. "Let us not talk falsely now. The hour is getting late."

Stan Gibson