The lesson of Algeria: Islam is indivisible

Conor Cruise O'Brien
Sunday 23 October 2011 03:32

"Fundamentalist Islam" is a misnomer which dulls our perceptions in a dangerous way. It does so by implying that there is some other kind of Islam, which is well disposed to those who reject the Koran. There isn't.

Islam is a universalist, triumphalist and political religion. It claims de jure dominion over all humanity; that is God's will. The actual state of affairs, with unbelievers of various sorts dominating most of the world, is a suspension of God's will anda scandal to the faithful. The world is divided between the House of Islam and the House of War, meaning the rest of us.

For more than two centuries now, the House of War has been in the ascendant, and the House of Islam has been abased. The remedy for this unnatural and intolerable state of affairs is jihad. Jihad is defined as "the religious duty imposed on all Muslims to wage war upon those who do not accept the doctrines of Islam". The Prophet Mohamed himself not merely preached but waged jihad. God's word, dictated to the Prophet and preached by him, is binding on all Muslims, and his example is their inspiration.

In the glorious centuries of expansion, the jihad carried Islam from Arabia, to the west as far as the Atlantic; to thenorth as far as Vienna; to the south as far as the Sahara and down the east coast of Africa to Madagascar; and to the east across Persia and the Indian subcontinent into part of China and Indonesia.

What is going on today in the Muslim world is not the advent of some aberrant thing called Islamic fundamentalism but a revival of Islam itself - the real thing - which Western ascendancy and Westernised post-Muslim elites no longer have the capacity to muffle and control. The jihad is back.

The jihad is at present raging in many parts of the world and shaking many westernised and westernising regimes (and many Russified and Russifying ones as well). The front of the jihad that comes nearest to us in Europe, and is of the most immediate danger to us, is that in Algeria.

The Algerian jihad and the French-backed attempt to repress it, cost an estimated 25,000 lives last year, and the death toll is at present estimated at about 800 a month. Nobody really knows for sure. This is the most unreported of the world's wars, bec

a use both sides are in the habit of murdering journalists. The French-backed side murders journalists who report things the French don't want reported; the Islamic side murders journalists for being unbelievers, or for being employed by unbelievers. News

organisations, accordingly, have pulled out of Algeria and the place has become a kind of black hole as far as reporting is concerned.

The general public in the West only became aware that something peculiar was going on in Algeria when the news broke of the hijacking of a French airbus by the Armed Islamic Group (GIA). This was followed by the spectacular news of the French rescue operation and then by the killings of four Catholic priests in the courtyard of their Church in Tizi-Ouzou. The GIA announced it had killed the priests as part of a campaign of "annihilation and physical liquidation of Christian crusaders". The G

I A added that it would continue its jihad against all who stood in the way of achieving the supremacy on earth of God's Sharia (Islamic law) and the establishment of a wise caliphate (an Islamic state, eventually ruling over the whole world).

The GIA is reckoned to be a relatively small organisation, but its actions and statements are endorsed by the much larger Islamic Salvation Front (FIS). The FIS has so much popular support among Algerians that it looked liked winning the elections scheduled three years ago, which was the the reason why the French-backed junta cancelled the electoral process, thus precipitating the outbreak of the jihad. The junta is pledged to the eradication of Islamic fundamentalism, but it looks as if this can hardlybe done without eradicating the Muslim population.

It is now clear that the French-prompted decision to cancel those elections was a terrible mistake. It is true that an elected government in Algiers, dominated by the Islamic Salvation Front, would have been a much more uncomfortable neighbour for Francethan that of previous secular Algerian governments. Uncomfortable, but hardly as uncomfortable as the sustained jihad that followed the cancellation of those elections, and hardly as uncomfortable as an Islamic government resulting from the victory of the jihad is likely to be.

The tragic error of the French in trying to cope with the revival of Islam derives from a conceptual error; the illusion that "Islamic fundamentalism" is something distinct and separate from Islam itself. If separate, then detachable; if detachable, the

n eradicable - if necessary, by force. So reasoned those Cartesian minds, moving with impeccable logic to an erroneous conclusion, since their basic premise was false.

That basic error is by no means confined to the French. It is very general in the West, and is affecting American policy, not in the "logical" French form, but in a more sentimental manner. According to a report in the Washington Post: "Administration

officials - like many scholars of Muslim teachings - distinguish between Islam as a religion and extremist political acts carried out in its name." Or, as President Clinton himself put it during his visit to Indonesia in November: "Even though we have had problems with terrorism coming out of the Middle East, it is not intrinsically related to Islam, not to the religion, not to the culture."

That statement was of course made before the GIA's hijacking of the Airbus, and subsequent murder of the four priests. But the view that terrorist acts perpetrated in the name of Islam are somehow not "intrinsically related to Islam" was reflected in theClinton administration's handling of the news of what the GIA had done and said in December, according to a Washington Post report (29 December).

In denouncing the hijacking of an Air France jetliner by four young Algerians, the US government has carefully avoided linking the crime to the Muslim religion. The hijacking was "a grave terrorist crime" for which there can be no justification whatsoever, said the State Department spokesman, Michael McCurry, implicitly rejecting the hijackers' claim to be acting in the name of Islam.

That the claim of a group of Muslims to be acting in the name of Islam, is rejected by an unbeliever, speaking for other unbelievers, will do little to reduce the credibility of the claim, in the eyes of other Muslims.

President Clinton's personal approach to this matter appears to be governed by a kind of woozy ecumenism, fairly prevalent among Western liberal churchmen. As the president told the Jordanian Parliament in October: "After all, the chance to live in harmony with our neighbours and to build a better life for our children is the hope that binds us all together. Whether we worship in a mosque in Irbid, a baptist church like my own in Little Rock, Arkansas, or a synagogue in Haifa, we are bound together in that hope."

"All the great religions are the same" is the idea. Only they aren't. The Clintonian world view observes the hard specificity of Islam. The Prophet Mohamed did not offer his followers a chance to live in harmony with their neighbours. He taught them to fight their neighbours, if they were unbelievers, and kill them or beat them into submission. And it is futile to say of those Muslims who faithfully follow those teachings today that their actions are "not intrinsically related to Islam".

We are facing an Islamic revival. The pro-Western rulers of the Maghreb and the Middle East know this, and know that their own stance is increasingly unacceptable to their peoples.

Representatives of Syria and Saudi Arabia met last week in Cairo with President Hosni Mubarak in something resembling panic stations, over the news from Algeria. What these three regimes have in common is that all of them supported the unbelievers duringDesert Storm. (The fact that Saddam Hussein is not a model Muslim is felt to be immaterial. Under attack by unbelievers, he raised the flag of Islam and had widespread support at popular level.)

How the West should cope with the Islamic revival is a complex matter. But one thing is clear: we can never get it right if we go on trying to believe that there is something called "Islamic fundamentalism" which is somehow not intrinsically related to Islam itself.

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