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
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
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."