Faith and Reason: The moral case for a holy war in Bosnia: The Muslim theologian and writer Shabbir Akhtar argues that the ill-treatment of Muslims is justification for armed intervention to secure peace in the Bosnian crisis.

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The Independent Online
DURING the Gulf war, Saddam Hussein had the words 'Allah-u-akbar' ('God is greater') hastily stitched on to the Iraqi flag. It was a crude attempt to annex Islam to the Baathist cause. It failed because it was too obviously an afterthought - unlike the case of the shrewd Saudis whose flag has always displayed the creed of Islam. The Muslim world ignored Saddam's call for a holy war.

The Gulf war did, however, become a holy war. The Protestant Deity made several belligerent appearances, through His proxies, on Good Friday and Easter Sunday 1991. Western leaders were praying for their troops; clergymen blessed the war effort. The Church of England lent the dignity of revealed religion to the conflict by dubbing it a 'justifiable cause' - in a characteristically Anglican confusion of piety with patriotism. We might excuse the pious remarks of politicians as merely conventional: even left-wing MPs attend church services on special occasions. But surely some clergymen must have meant 'May God bless our boys' in a robust sense. In any case, the purely cultural use of words such as 'God' is dangerous when dealing with a people who still take the idea of God seriously enough to prevent their faith from becoming a branch of archaeology.

In the Bosnian case, the call for jihad is morally justified. The battle has been taken to a Muslim people; innocent men and women are fighting for self-preservation, not in the pursuit of empire. The Bosnians are, if we borrow a Koranic description, 'a people who have been expelled from their habitations solely for saying, 'Our Lord is God' '. Muslim states are obliged by sharia ordinance to intervene in order to stop the humiliating persecution of 'Europe's Palestinians'.

Neither the European Community nor the United Nations wish to see a Muslim state in the heartland of Christianity. For the existence of such a state would officially associate Islam with the white continent of Europe. A religion that had been brutally erased from the Iberian peninsula precisely 500 years ago would be reinserted into European history. Islam could then no longer be seen as an alien Semitic force out there in some distant land. It would be important in the politics of all European minorities.

There is no political event involving Muslims, as Muslims, which elicits sympathy from Westerners. The Islamic Revolution in Iran, the Rushdie affair, the Muslim opposition to the Gulf war, and now Bosnia, have all appeared to involve British Muslims primarily as supranational believers rather than national citizens.

There was admittedly Western sympathy for the Afghans' holy war against Soviet imperialism. But there the Muslims were seen as merely anti-Communist fodder. When Catholics behave as Catholics - when, for example, they oppose abortion - they may be condemned as wrong but not as crazy. To persuade Europeans to see Muslim ambition as sane if misguided would be an achievement in itself. Perhaps one day European Islam will be seen as simply a more superstitious version of Catholicism. And then Muslim opinion will be understood if not applauded. The Muslims are a friendless community. Think how differently Westerners would have reacted to the Rushdie affair if Islam were the official religion of even one white nation.

A minority whose members trace political causes and effects further than the majority finds convenient cannot expect to be liked. One motive for the hostility to the call for jihad in Bosnia is that the initiative is wholly Islamic. There are no white allies, no liberal anti-racist lobbies to supply paternalism if not moral support. But it is one thing to treat people as symbols, victims and useful allies; it is quite another to see them as equals.

The ruling establishments of the Euro-American West have a clear vision of their interests and seek to ensure the hegemony of a global capitalism legitimised with the moral veneer of an apolitical Christianity. After the demise of Communism, Islam is the only challenge to unjust capitalist systems. Yet, ironically, without the regular injection of Muslim oil wealth, the collapse of Western capitalism would be as dramatic as the collapse of Communism.

In such an order, Muslim interests count for nothing. Islamic protest remains private and domestic. Where public, its style of anger is stereotyped as motiveless malice and fanaticism. For Muslims are not wrong but crazy.

But these Bosnians are blue-eyed blonds, Europeans, ethnically correct. Yes; but the unholy germ of Islam has contaminated them. The European Community has allowed this genocide not because the Bosnians are devout Muslims but because their ancestors were devout Muslims. Such is the reach of religious hatred.

European idealism, once centred around revealed religion, now coagulates around a romantic nationalism that makes up in parochialism for what it lacks in political humility. Everywhere in Europe, armed men are exorcising the unholy spirits of foreign races. Some even claim Jesus, the pale Galilean, our brother, to be their guide. And who can blame them when the churches are silent?

In February 1989, in a British newspaper, I wrote that 'the next time there are gas chambers in Europe, there is no doubt concerning who'll be inside them.' At the time, I was condemned by many Westerners as not only wrong but crazy. Yet the events in Bosnia today show that those remarks were not madness, not journalistic hyperbole, not shock tactics, but rather a terrible prescience. Will fundamentalist Muslim commentators be taken more seriously next time?

The Koran orders believers to 'enter fully into a state of peace'. But, tragically, the way to peace is through war. The pursuit of an enduring peace, founded on justice and mercy, is an active affair. Muslims should be ready to fight for it, with a noble sentence - 'Allah-u-akbar' - on their lips.

Terrible things are happening to innocent Europeans in Bosnia. But Western foreign policy seems based on the view that no principle is worth our soldiers' dying for if the only people to benefit from that principle are poor foreigners. Islam teaches instead that we must act on our noble impulses.