Leading Article: The false prophets of militant Islam

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The Independent Online
IT WOULD be good to think that the Muslim activists assembling in London this weekend might take as their text the verse from the Koran which instructs the faithful to 'invite all to the way of your lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious'.

Unfortunately it is the life and works of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini which provide the inspiration, if not the exact theology, for the devotees of the Islamic Liberation Party. 'The governments of the world should know that Islam cannot be defeated,' said the spiritual leader of Iran. 'Islam will be victorious in all the countries of the world.'

That is precisely what the party has in mind. It propounds a system of theocratic government which would overthrow the existing states of the Middle East and establish a realm of the just to be governed by a godly ruler. There would be no place for Jews there. Death would await those who, in Khomeini's lethal phrase, might be 'waging war upon God'.

Naturally the organisers expect to benefit from British tolerance and from the Western tradition of free speech, a quality absent from their own prescriptions for a perfect society. As long as they obey the law, they should do so. The insurrections of the Middle East will not be resolved by banning a conference in Wembley.

None the less, this gathering serves to highlight the renewed upsurge in militant Islam, now that car bombs have once again exploded in London and the Islamic revolt in Algeria is worrying all of Europe. The movement first commanded attention when the Shah of Iran fell in 1979 and thereafter it seemed to fade, despite the efforts of Hizbollah in Lebanon and those of the benighted government in the Sudan. But the movement within Islam which seeks to unite religion and politics in one potent force did not go away. It burnt underground, and few noticed the smouldering.

One of those who did was the Prince of Wales. He argued in a speech last year that the Western and Islamic worlds stand at a crossroads in their relations. 'I do not accept the argument that they are on course to clash in a new era of antagonism,' he said, calling for dialogue and understanding. Prince Charles noted that 'our judgement of Islam has been grossly distorted by taking the extremes to be the norm'. His message achieved considerable effect in the Arab world. It should be taken up anew by politicians and policy-makers, for it offers a chance to avert the confrontation of which he warned.

The most important task is to distinguish between the search among many Muslims for purity through renewal and the political programme of the fundamentalist groups. The first is a spiritual quest worthy of respect and emulation, a response to a global mass culture which many perceive as crass, materialistic and immoral. The second is a calculated effort to seize power by force and retain it in perpetuity, since the laws of God are by definition incapable of improvement and therefore a true Islamic government cannot be replaced. This latter is the Leninism of our time.

The movement exists everywhere from Indonesia to the Moroccan coast but its impact is greatest in the Middle East, where the twin grievances of Palestine and Western interference combine to fertilise a ground made ready by failed governments and poor living conditions. Its real targets are the Arab monarchies and republics, in fundamentalist eyes false creations from the outdated age of nation states, now doomed to submersion in the Islamic polity.

Britain's last ambassador to the court of the Shah compared the Iranian revolution in importance to the French and Russian revolutions. Its clerical Leninists remain in power at home in the face of riots and economic chaos, yet their enduring ability to foment strife abroad proves the ambassador's point. The battle for the soul of Islam has yet to be won.