Monday, July 31, 2006

Sugar Tits

Well, it's official. Mel Gibson is an anti-Semite. The hooked noses and knack for pecuniary motives Jews exhibit in the Passion don't seem like coincidences any longer.

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Sunday, July 30, 2006

Our Responsibility to Iraq

For me, there are primarily two reasons the U.S. military must stay in Iraq: our moral obligation to the Iraqi people and the likelihood that a failed Iraq will become the next safehaven for al Qaeda and other fellow travelers to export terrorism. Frank Rich agrees with the first reason, but with legitimate skepticism.
But it's the collapse of the one remaining (and unassailable) motivation that still might justify staying the course in Iraq - as a humanitarian mission on behalf of the Iraqi people - that is most revealing of what a moral catastrophe this misadventure has been for our country. The sad truth is that the war's architects always cared more about their own gradiose political and ideological ambitions than they did about the Iraqis, and they communicated that indifference from the start to Iraqis and Americans alike. The legacy of that attitude is that the American public cannot be rallied to the Iraqi cause today, as the war reaches its treacherous endgame.
The frightful thing about Iraq is that even if we do not stay for the first reason, we will stay for the second reason. So as the U.S. military continues to occupy Iraq to keep it from becoming the "new Afghanistan," "collateral damage" will spiral even more out of control thereby creating more insurgents. This is rightfully described as a disaster and probably the worst thing I can write is I do not see a solution that can achieve both objectives outlined above. We have lost whatever legitimacy we originally had with the Iraqi people which ensures the U.S. will only sacrifice the blood of insurgents, civilians, and America's young in a war with no end in sight and with incoherent justifications and objectives.

Iraq is a meatgrinder of American making.

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Friday, July 28, 2006

What Television Can Be

I'm watching Bill Moyers' on Faith and Reason right now. This is television at its best. I say this in full disclosure that I worked as his personal researcher and production assistant for about two years but, Jesus, this is amazing. Tonight is agnostics Margaret Atwood and Martin Amis. It is truly refreshing to hear intelligent people discuss God and religion skeptically but reaffirming that this pursuit, when humble and honest, confirms a humanity worth preserving.

As anyone reading this blog regularly knows, I'm not a believer. I'm quite against religion and all its noxious waste, but I do agree the search for God is worth every ounce of energy. What I was left with after my hunt was my isolation and utter minuteness. Liberating. There is only one intelligence you answer to in this world ultimately: yours.

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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The Parts of the Whole

FP breaks down what groups make up the insurgency in Iraq. Informative stuff.

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Sunday, July 23, 2006

Decriminalize It

More evidence that pot won't land you in Betty Ford, but simply make you giggle, eat too much cookie dough, and fall asleep.

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Saturday, July 22, 2006

Bombs Away

Via the NYTs:
The Bush administration is rushing a delivery of precision-guided bombs to Israel, which requested the expedited shipment last week after beginning its air campaign against Hezbollah targets in Lebanon, American officials said Friday.
An impartial intermediary is a foregone conclusion. Enough said.

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Friday, July 21, 2006

With Friends Like These

Now granted this is from Pat Buchanan, but his latest column on WorldNetDaily reports Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman professed to a gathering of Christians United for Israel, "Today we are all Israelis!"

Now I don't have to tell you what this looks like to Muslims worldwide: More evidence that the People of the Book have united to savagely attack Muslims and their religion. This also carries with it the bizarre and cynical affinity fundamentalist Christians have for the state of Israel. This has nothing to do with Israeli security and everything to do with Biblical prophesy where war erupting in Jerusalem will signal the apocalypse and that blessed event the Rapture where God wields that great dirt-devil in the sky to suck up body and soul, the true believers.

These are the people that make up President Bush's base?

It's scary to think our President may believe such supernatural revelation, content to allow Israel to violate the Geneva Conventions by bombing the infrastructure of Lebanon without a bit of protestation, leaving it a modern-day Sodom and Germorrah.

But then again, international law is for the fools and the fragile, not the indispensable nation and its most precious proxy.

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Under God

I am, of course, a couple days late in posting this. And I must acknowledge up front that I did not spend those two days formulating a thoughtful position on the recent House vote to bar federal judges from ruling on cases involving the Pledge of Allegiance. I don’t have much to say, besides noting that this is another destructive and short-sited attack on the constitution and the separation of powers it establishes.

Since the Executive seems intent on usurping Congresses power (see domestic surveillance) and since Congress seems intent on usurping the Judiciary’s power (see above) perhaps we should just cut the chase and collapse all three branches of the federal government into one super efficient juggernaut, under God, with family values and warrantees wiretapping for all.


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Wednesday, July 19, 2006


Checks and Imbalance

Apparently the president decides when president’s programs need to be investigated.
President Bush personally blocked a Justice Department investigation of the anti-terror eavesdropping program that intercepts Americans' international calls and e-mails, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Tuesday.

Bush refused to grant security clearances for department investigators who were looking into the role Justice lawyers played in crafting the program, under which the National Security Agency listens in on telephone calls and reads e-mail without court approval, Gonzales told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Without access to the sensitive program, the department's Office of Professional Responsibility closed its investigation in April.
Arlen Specter barked a bit at Gonzalez...
"It was highly classified, very important and many other lawyers had access. Why not OPR?" Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., the committee chairman, asked Gonzales.
...but by most accounts he’s preparing to play ball with the White House by proposing a bill aimed at bringing the surveillance program under the review of the FISA court.
Last week, Gonzales said the bill gives Bush the option of submitting the NSA program to the intelligence court, rather than requiring the review. Specter said Tuesday Bush assured him he will seek the court review if the legislation passes without significant amendment.
So the president who killed the Justice Department investigation of the surveillance program will be given the option of submitting the program for FISA review. Nice to see the legislative branch standing up for itself.


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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Misinformed Consent

This is what happens when science takes a backseat to ideology:
Federally funded "pregnancy resource centers" are incorrectly telling women that abortion results in an increased risk of breast cancer, infertility and deep psychological trauma, a minority congressional report charged yesterday.

The report said that 20 of 23 federally funded centers contacted by staff investigators requesting information about an unintended pregnancy were told false or misleading information about the potential risks of an abortion.

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Morality 101

For those of you who were struggling with the issue, John Bolton explains the difference between those killed in Israel and those killed in Lebanon.
Asked to comment on the deaths in an Israeli air strike of eight Canadian citizens in southern Lebanon Sunday, he said: "it is a matter of great concern to us ...that these civilian deaths are occurring. It's a tragedy."

"I think it would be a mistake to ascribe moral equivalence to civilians who die as the direct result of malicious terrorist acts," he added, while defending as "self-defense" Israel's military action, which has had "the tragic and unfortunate consequence of civilian deaths".

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Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Becoming

I'm trying something new. I just posted the first third of a screenplay I've been working on for at least a year or two off and on. It's called The Becoming. It's Columbine High School meets An American Werewolf in London. I hope you can check it out and leave me some comments. Tell me what you like and what you don't like.

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Thursday, July 13, 2006

Not so Fast...

If you were thinking that the Administration’s recent concession that terror suspects are protected by the Geneva Convention represented sea change in detention and interrogation policy, think again, says Marty Lederman.
[Sen.] Graham indicated to the New York Times -- as did Administration officials -- that Congress could "limit" Common Article 3 "in a way that resembled the language of the [McCain Amendment]." Of course, as Graham concedes, this really wouldn't so much be "limiting" Common Article Three as gutting it, because, according to Graham himself, the restrictions of Common Article 3 go "well beyond the McCain standard." (The Washington Post reports that the White House and Senator McCain are crafting a bill that would track the McCain Amendment and that "makes some changes to Common Article 3," such as dropping the phrase "outrages upon personal dignity.")

How can that be? After all, the McCain Amendment categorically prohibits all "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment." Well, as I've tried to explain, Congress has defined those terms under McCain to include only what the Due Process Clause would prohibit if the interrogation were taking place in the United States. That is to say, conduct that "shocks the conscience" -- a standard that the courts have never applied in the context of interrogations intended to elicit information about future terrorist activity. As I feared, the Administration apparently has (if Graham's remarks are accurate) construed the McCain "shocks the conscience" test not to prohibit techniques such as sleep deprivation and "cold cell," i.e. hypothermia. (Whether that's the best understanding of the Due Process standard is open to serious question -- certainly it would not be under Justice Kennedy's concurrence in Chavez v. Martinez, which might have the support of five Justices on today's Court (although Justices Souter and Breyer have not yet tipped their hand). But Justice Thomas's opinion in that same case indicates that it takes a whole lot more to shock his conscience (and Justice Scalia's) than it does to shock Justice Kennedy's.)

But Common Article 3 is not limited to "conscience-shocking" conduct, but instead prohibits all violence against detainees and "outrages upon personal dignity." CA3 therefore almost certainly does prohibit techniques such as cold cell, or prolonged sleep deprivation.

The Graham/McCain/Administration initiative now being hatched thus would authorize the use of techniques that would violate the Geneva Conventions. Congress has the power to do this: Where a statute authorizes something that a treaty prohibits, the statute governs for purposes of domestic law if it was enacted subsequent to the Senate's ratification of the treaty.
This raises an interesting dilemma for those who opposed military tribunals and inhumane interrogation tactics as instances of Executive overreach. Hamdan may have curtailed the Administration’s ability to sidestep Congressional approval, but it may not, in the end, have much practical impact on detainees. Should Congress move forward with an initiative similar to the one Lederman describes, opponents can no longer claim that the Executive is acting outside of its constitutional authority. Opponents may continue to challenge the “Graham/McCain/Administration initiative” as being inconsistent with an international treaty, or simply, as bad policy, but those arguments will be tough sells considering the current makeup of Congress, the Court, and the public.


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Sunday, July 09, 2006

The Theology of Conquest

September 11th obliterated the neoconservative notion that the world is steadily secularizing and marching toward norms of socio-political liberalization. In less than two hours, a new threat, metastasizing within the Islamic world, broke through blue skies and into the psyches of all Americans. Problems once relegated to distant lands, instantly became mundane America’s own. At the heart of this problem was a transnational and decentralized network of jihadists that called itself Al-Qaeda. This organization, with absolute certainty, claimed the attacks were heaven-sent punishment for the ills the U.S. had brought upon the Muslim world. They were the work of self-proclaimed pious, religious men, who with the divine’s help, sought to “slaughter” the “animal.” The “martyrs” and their craft were merely a divinely guided tool to make known that the status quo – apostate regimes propped up by U.S. economic and military might -- within the Islamic world was an abomination before Allah and that retribution and change were now in order. The innocents killed in the process – including future casualties -- of this jihad or holy war were deemed collateral damage in the pursuit of Allah’s sovereignty embodied in the irredentist and imperial concept of the Caliphate.

As hard as it was for Americans to understand the logic inherent within this normative construct, there is a parallel within U.S. history. From the onset of “American history” there was the myth of a New World of pristine, uninhabited land, away from the dungeons of Europe and open to the Western expansion of freedom and Christianity. Yet the reality was quite different. Across the vastness of the North American continent, millions of Native Americans made their home. When the natives would not submit to the new Anglo-American Christian “race” encroaching on their land, conflict naturally occurred. With superior technology and the idea of “Providence” – the notion the Anglo-Saxon race was to settle this new world and spread the twins doctrines of liberty and Christianity by divine inspiration – the new nation of the United States exterminated the original inhabitants with expedience and ferocity.

The nature of this paper is to ask: Can similarities be shown in the underlying normative logic of Al-Qaeda terrorism and their goal to restore a pan-Islamic Caliphate with the U.S.’s extermination and ethnic cleansing of the Indians in an effort to establish a Christian and Anglo-Saxon nation from “sea to shining sea?” If so, how does each go about constructing the “Other” theologically to minimize the fact they are indeed killing human beings, thereby contradicting a central tenet of each respective faith?

My methodology will be to compare the historical discourses of each respective time period by using a method David Campbell describes as a “history of the present” to demonstrate how Al-Qaeda and the early American Anglo-Saxon intelligentsia relied on absolute, metaphysical and theological truth claims to articulate danger, separate “Us” from “Them,” and legitimize spectacular acts of violence. A history of the present, according to Campbell, is therefore a mode of analysis that “asks how certain terms and concepts have historically functioned within discourse.”

In Al-Qaeda’s case I will analyze the discourses of Osama Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri before and after 9/11. The texts I will consult are as follows:
·The World Islamic Front’s Statement, “Jihad Against the Jews and Crusaders” of 23 Feburary 1998
·Bin Laden’s first post-9/11 speech broadcast on Al-Jazeera on 7 October 2001
·Bin Laden’s recording broadcast on Al-Jazeera on 3 November 2001
·Zawahiri’s letter to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi dated 9 July 2005 and placed on the webpage of the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence on 11 October 2005
The texts are by no means exhaustive. Nevertheless, they do show a consistent reproduction of the “Other” in a theological manner that legitimizes the violent (re)conquest of territory.

In the early American context -- beginning with The Declaration of Independence and ending with President Jackson’s Indian Removal Act of 1830 and its immediate aftermath -- I will show how the discourse of Anglo-Saxon Christian superiority bequeathed by “God” or “Providence” gradually led to the policy of Indian removal, which mutated into acts of extermination and ethnic cleansing from earlier policies to “civilize” the Indians as the United States steadily expanded West.
My aim is not to show moral equivalence between Al-Qaeda terrorism and the American extermination of the native population, but to show how claims of theological absolutism functioning in a politico-spatial context, necessitates the Us/Them dichotomy, and become pregnant with mass murder. As Michael Shapiro writes :
[F]ixations on particular narratives of collective identity – the stories through which “peoples” enact their identities and collective coherences (and on particular geographical imaginaries) and the spatial models allocating global proprietary control – participate in violence and inhibit ethical modes of mutual recognition at a global level.
This is why I compare such seemingly disparate historical phenomena as Al-Qaeda terrorism and the U.S. elimination of its indigenous population. The point is not to demonstrate the similarity of two different historical situations “on the ground,” but to emphasize the similarity in ahistorical logic: That the difference between “Us” and “Them” has been revealed by God or Providence and not by self-interest. Which means more generally and abstractly that if a particular people or community swim against the tide of a divinely determined history, they are destined for demise. I call this the theology of conquest.

I now move on to elucidate how difference theoretically is contingent on identity and how human belief in divine supremacy has the tendency to overflow its barriers into spectacular and systematic acts of violence.

Identity/Difference and Religious Absolutism

Identity is a central feature of humanity. As Campbell argues in Writing Security, “Identity is an inescapable dimension of being. Nobody could be without it.” Identity comes at a price for it can only be constructed in relation to difference thus alterity, or creating a “state or quality of being other; a being otherwise.” Thus, borders designating what is internal from external are erected to separate the “Us” from the “Others” inhabiting the world as well. Yet, identity is also situational and therefore fragile and constantly needs to be reaffirmed or reproduced. Thus, as Michael Shapiro argues, humans create stable identities by telling “identity stories that construct actors as one or another type of person…” but these stories “provide the foundations for historical and contemporary forms of antagonism, violence, and interpretive contention over the meaning of actions.”
This same process of identity/difference that happens individually also occurs organizationally as well. For Campbell, the state – or a bounded, hierarchical, and political construction that functions for the maintenance of security – is the unit of his analysis and also follow this logic of constructing identity in relation to difference. But for the state theorized as a security apparatus to have cohesion, difference must be articulated as danger. Danger is conceptualized as something outside the state, the “Other,” an externality that the people of the state are to be protected against if they are to maintain their identity, if not their life. As Campbell explains danger is necessary for the existence of states:
…(W)ith no ontological status apart from the many and varied practices that constitute their reality, states are (and have to be) always in a process of becoming. For a state to end its practices of representation would be to expose its lack of prediscursive foundations; stasis would be death. Moreover, the drive to fix the state’s identity and contain challenges to the state’s representation cannot finally and absolutely succeed…Ironically, then, the inability of the state project of security to succeed is the guarantor of the state’s continued success as an impelling destiny.
For a state’s continued existence then, as one danger is dealt with another must be conceived and articulated. Campbell shows this in relation to U.S. foreign policy as the Cold War ended the “War on Drugs” was quickly launched.

While Campbell limits his analysis to states, particularly the United States, I wish to argue that Al-Qaeda follows the same logic of producing discourses of danger to construct their identity and its necessary corollary: the “Other” – meaning the enemies of Islam. As I’ll show, Al-Qaeda’s articulation of danger produces its identity, its mission, and its enemies: those apostate regimes, supported by the “crusader-Zionist” alliance, which forsakes tawhid (unity of God) and places Muslims into jahiliyya (pre-Islamic state of ignorance). This means that Muslims live not under the rule of God, but the corrupting rule of man. To remedy this situation, Al-Qaeda and other fellow travelers wage jihad (holy war) to attack apostate regimes and their Western supporters to once again bring the ummah (community of believers) under the rule of the Khalifa (the caliphate). Much like the United States’ early discourse, the norms – “the collective understandings of the proper behavior of actors” – subservient to the divine, underpinning Al-Qaeda’s objectives necessitates violence. So while the construction of the “Other” makes violence easier to legitimate in defense of identity, adding religious absolutism to this process makes it combustible. As I will argue, the radical theological element of Al-Qaeda’s articulation of danger is essential to understanding its unrestrained violence. Certain that it is waging the good fight according to Allah’s will against the enemies of Islam, Al-Qaeda has accepted no boundaries to its violence. The idea of innocence does not factor into its moral calculus. In the same way, the evolution of U.S. policy towards the indigenous population can be analyzed in the same light. After the revolution, Puritanism and its “American Jerusalem” myth meshed with Enlightenment elevation of reason to produce a theological and pseudo-scientific discourse to push the American Indian outside the realm of moral consideration. Gradually, the discussion regarding the native population turned from one of assimilation to forced removal and extermination bolstered by the believe in the innate superiority of the Anglo-Saxon race which was conferred by Providence -- and confirmed by racial scientism -- to spread the twin doctrines of political liberty and Christianity. By conceptualizing their missions as divine mandates to defend and spread the faith geographically, Al-Qaeda and the early citizens of the United States lifted the parameters that each religious tradition set to reduce violence. As Bruce Lincoln argues:
When social groups constitute their identity in religious terms and experience themselves as a sacred collectivity (the faithful, the righteous, or God’s chosen people, for instance), as a corollary they tend to constitute their rivals in negative fashion (heretics, infidels, apostates, evil, bestial, demonic, satanic, etc.) Under such circumstances, the pursuit of self-interest…can be experienced as a holy cause, in support of which any violence is justified.
As each case study will show, the discourses produced by Al-Qaeda and within the early United States dehumanized their opponents not only in the eyes of the “sacred collectivity” but also in the eyes of the divine. Their campaigns of violence were therefore not man’s will but God’s law and/or design, thereby absolving them of acts they would dare not perpetrate on one another without fear of punishment.

I will now use Campbell’s “history of the present” mode of analysis to compare textually the theologically similar ways Al-Qaeda and the early United States constructed their identities in relation to difference (the “Other”), how difference produced danger, and how danger produced a discourse that legitimated large scale violence. I will take the discourses of Al-Qaeda first as they are the most recent expression of religious absolutism’s tendency toward massacre.

Back to the Future: Al-Qaeda Terrorism and the Restoration of the Caliphate
On 23 February 1998, The World Islamic Front (WIF) released their fatwa to all Muslims:
The ruling to kill Americans and their allies – civilians and military – is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it, in order to liberate the al-Asqa Mosque and the holy mosque [Mecca] from their grip, and in order for their armies to move out of all the lands of Islam, defeated and unable to threaten any Muslim. This is in accordance with the words of Almighty Allah, “and fight the pagans all together as they fight you all together,” and “fight them until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in Allah.
The fatwa was signed by both Osama Bin Laden of Al-Qaeda and Ayman al-Zawahiri, then emir of the Jihad Group in Egypt. The first two paragraphs of this document presents identity, difference, and danger in the most Manichean of ways. Identity is conceived of as submission to God and his Prophet Muhammad or as being Muslim, while difference and its corollary, danger, are encapsulated by a quote from the prophet Muhammad, “I have been sent with a sword between my hands to ensure that no one but Allah is worshipped.” The mission is clear: the Prophet demands the world must be subdued in the name of Allah. Yet, the situation is dire, as the statement explains the “Arabian peninsula has never…been stormed by any forces like the crusader armies spreading in it like locusts, eating its riches, and wiping out its plantations.” The statement supports this assertion by detailing the “aggression” of the United States towards Iraq and the West’s influence in keeping Arabia divided into “paper statelets” in an effort to protect the state of Israel. This logic is inherently defensive and deflective. Islam’s weakness expressed territorially has nothing to do with internal weakness, but with external oppression from a perverse “Other” whose contact and influence weakens the unifying reality of Islam. Throughout the document this “Other” is constructed as “pagans,” “locusts,” “crusader-Zionist alliance,” and “Satan’s U.S. troops and the devil’s supporters allying with them” seizing on Muslims’ legitimate historical grievances through the dangerous theological prism of “believers” against “infidels.” The remedy to this situation is one of faith and action for all Muslims: Believe in “Allah’s order to kill the Americans and plunder their money wherever and whenever they find it” and fear not because the hereafter awaits. The “hereafter” grafts another dangerous trend onto an already dangerous theology mixed with irredentism and calls for violence against the “Other.” Not only is it legitimate to harm or kill the target, but by killing this enemy of the faith, the attacker is rewarded with everlasting bliss in Paradise for being God’s instrument.

Shortly after this statement’s release Al-Qaeda carried through its fatwa to kill Americans unleashing a string of terrorist attacks that eventually culminated in its greatest success on September 11th. The first attack occurred on 7 August 1998 where the U.S. Embassy in Kenya and Tanzania were destroyed by explosive-filled lorries that drove into each target. Over 220 people perished in the attacks. A little over two years later, two suicide bombers rammed a boat filled with explosives into the USS Cole in the port of Aden, Yemen. Seventeen American sailors died in the attack. Nearly a year later, nineteen Al-Qaeda militants turn four hijacked planes into fuel-injected missiles killing over 3,000 people in attacks that destroyed the Twin Towers, damaged the Pentagon, and blackened a field in Pennsylvania. The World Islamic Front’s statement therefore reads as a cautionary tale in taking seriously discourse that legitimizes killing in defense of God and his chosen people: from ideas, actions spring.

On 7 October 2001, Bin Laden responded to the 9/11 attacks with a video recorded-speech that followed along the basic framework of reproducing danger and its associated “Other” to legitimize the attacks on the United States and define Muslim identity. The speech minimized the damage done by the attacks by juxtaposing it against the same legitimate grievances felt by Muslims towards the West much the same way the World Islamic Front statement had done nearly three years earlier. Again, this attack was ultimately defensive he argued:
What the United States tastes today is a very small thing compared to what we have tasted for years. Our nation has been tasting this humiliation and contempt for more than eighty years. Its sons are being killed, its blood is being shed, its holy places are being attacked, and it is not being ruled according to what God has decreed.

Bin Laden went on to conceptualize U.S. foreign policy in relation to Iraq –especially the sanctions and its toll on Iraq’s children – as well as Israel’s occupation of Palestine not through the international relations discourse of the West but theologically as a war on Islam itself. He argues the “infidel” President Bush and his allies have come “to fight this group of people who declared their faith in God and refused to abandon their religion. They came out to fight Islam in the name of terrorism.” Since this fight is not about defending a country but defending a civilization’s faith, “every Muslim should rush to defend his religion.”

The same day the videotape of Bin Laden’s warning to America aired, the U.S. began its assault on Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban regime when it refused to hand Bin Laden over to the U.S. for prosecution. Bin Laden had been using Afghanistan as his asylum and base to plan terrorist attacks worldwide. On 3 November 2001, a recording of Bin Laden aired by Al-Jazeera spelled out the fullest articulation of his and Al-Qaeda’s discourse of danger and their theologically inspired “Us vs. Them” worldview in response to the U.S. led campaign against Afghanistan. From the outset Bin Laden divides the world into two spheres: those who supported the strikes against the U.S. and denounce the military attacks on Afghanistan and those who denounced the terror attacks against the U.S. and supported the airstrikes against the Taliban. The latter camp is “the entire West” which “supports this unfair, barbaric campaign, although there is no evidence of the people of Afghanistan in what happened in America.” Moving immediately from denouncing the strikes against an Islamic emirate by a Christian coalition, Bin Laden plays the religious identity card arguing “this war is fundamentally religious…Under no circumstances should we forget this enmity between us and the infidels. For, the enmity is based on creed.” Bin Laden’s logic is strictly binary: You are either for Allah and us or against us and for the infidels. Forcefully he continues: “Any one who lines up behind Bush…has committed one of the ten actions that sully one’s Islam.” Here Bin Laden is summoning Ibn Wahhab’s Ten Voiders of Islam, which sets out the conditions for which a Muslim can be expelled from the faith. The specific voider to which Bin Laden refers is number eight: Supporting or helping non-believers against Muslims. For if a Muslim is expelled from the faith, they fall into jahiliyya (pre-Islamic ignorance) and therefore takfir (apostasy). According to Islamic fundamentalists such as the Egyptian Islamist theoretician Sayyid Qutb, the transgressor forfeits the protection of the law and is condemned to death. This has dire implications for Muslims and can be seen as Bin Laden’s attempt to ensure group cohesion as well as keeping the “Other” external to his community of believers so corruption from the inside doesn’t endanger their mission.

As we have seen in prior statements, Bin Laden returns to his familiar trope that the West, particularly the United States, is the source of all the ills facing Islamic nations, whether that be in Palestine, Iraq, southern Sudan, Somalia, Kashmir, Chechnya or the Philippines. Accordingly, the conflicts these states are mired in should not be seen as particular with their own histories but “as part of a chain of the long, fierce, and ugly crusader war. Every Muslim must stand under the banner of There is No God but Allah and Mohammad is God’s Prophet.” For Bin Laden, the West constantly threatens the world of Islam. Following Qutbist jihadist theory, if Islam is ever to be preeminent again, Muslims must unify and repel the crusaders and overthrow the apostate rulers that keep Muslims under the rule of man rather than God. Which brings us to the final, essential part of Al-Qaeda theological discourse of danger where security can only be secured by the restoration of the Caliphate of Islam’s hegemonic past where life – all life -- is governed by shari’a or the law of Allah. Its fullest expression comes in an intercepted letter from Al-Qaeda second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, to the leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Within the letter, Zawahiri writes to Zarqawi about what tactics and objectives should define jihad in general, but focuses closely on the Zarqawi-led jihad in Iraq. Much like Bin Laden, Zawahiri conceptualization of the conflict is strictly binary. He sees the present conflict as the “greatest battle of Islam in this era” as a “fight between Islam and atheism.” But unlike the jihads in Afghanistan or Bosnia, Zarqawi’s jihad is in “the heart of the Islamic world.” Allah has privileged him with this honor and “granted [Zarqawi] superiority over the idolatrous infidels, traitorous apostates, and turncoat deviants.” To increase this “superiority,” the “intended goal” is to establish a caliphate in Iraq protected by the mujahedeen from which Islam will radiate outwards over the globe as generation hands over the “banner to the one after it until the Hour of Resurrection.” This war against infidelity and for God is interminable. This reproduction of danger is perpetual. It will not end until “the Hour of Resurrection,” or at the end of days.

“American Israel” and Indian Removal

Much like the World Islamic Front’s statement that constructed a permanent hostility and call for violence in radical Islam’s relationship with the United States, the new republic founded in 1776 produced enduring enmity that proved disastrous to the native population in its founding document. Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence of the colonists’ grievances against King George, including that “(h)e has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.”
This discourse of danger has its origins in the first settlements in North America. Ever since the first settlers landed on America’s shores, they came into contact with its indigenous population. Campbell writes that, “(d)istant from the familiar environs of Europe, the early colonists found themselves subject to an estrangement from traditional identities that magnified their condition of endangerment.” As settlements expanded, wars between colonists and Indian tribes broke out. The Puritans’ war with the Pequots is illustrative, as their rationales were largely theological as were their conception of themselves as a “chosen people” which in turn fed directly into the myth of the United States as being an instrument of Providence. According to historian Howard Zinn, the Puritans appealed to two Biblical passages to justify their wars of expansion with the Pequots:
Psalms 2:8: ‘Ask of me, and I shall give thee, the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.’ And to justify their use of force to take the land, they cited Romans 13:2: ‘Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.’
Commenting on a massacre of Pequot Indians, Puritan theologian Dr. Cotton Mather made it plain the theological frame in which the battle was conceptualized: “It was supposed that no less than 600 Pequot souls were brought down to hell that day.” He also had the tendency to describe them as “Ravenous howling Wolves.”

From the beginning, the English colonization of America was perceived through a theological lens. This was made all the more problematic by the widespread belief that God had tapped the English Anglo-Saxons as his “chosen people” to spread liberty and Christianity west. As Reginald Horsman writes:
Englishmen who settled in America at the beginning of the 17th century brought as part of their historical and religious heritage a clearly delineated religious myth of a pure Anglo-Saxon church, and in the 17th and 18th centuries they shared with their fellow Englishmen an elaborately developed secular myth of the free nature of Anglo-Saxon political institutions.
Race and creed operated jointly to fashion an identity that left the Indians, bereft of ancestry and Christianity, on the outside looking in as their interactions increased with the newcomers’ territorial expansion. As time passed and the English colonists’ successes mounted, culminating in a successful revolution, belief in their providential roles in history only solidified with what was perceived as ample empirical evidence. And this was not wholly illogical considering a small enclave of colonies -- beset by danger on all sides -- had defeated the greatest military power in the world. Even the most irreligious of the revolutionary generation believed in the United States’ elected status.

In 1785 Jefferson proposed that the seal of the United States should represent the children of Israel led by a pillar of light – a suggestion supporting a biographer’s observation that he was convinced that ‘the American people was a chosen people, that they have been gifted with superior wisdom and strength.

With this new sense of providential mission, the newly christened Americans looked to expand liberty and faith westward and with it arose an “Indian problem.” Initially, Enlightenment belief in reason and human progress won out as a policy of assimilation was advanced. One of the greatest proponents of Native American assimilation was Thomas Jefferson. He believed the “savages” of the Declaration of Independence could be civilized and made farmers so as to cut Indian land usage for more white settlement. He advocated “agriculture … manufactures … civilization.” But when this process failed on average as the Indians fought to keep their way of life, a gradual policy of Indian removal was championed. Deemed “savages” and “ungodly,” Indian resistance proved to the Americans they were right in their prior judgments all along. British observer John Smyth noted: “The white Americans also have the most rancorous antipathy to the whole race of Indians, and nothing is more common than to hear them talk of extirpating them totally from the face of the earth, men, women, and children.” Even Jefferson changed his tune, after England’s incitement of the tribes to rise against the United States during the War of 1812, he wrote to Alexander von Humboldt that the government had to “pursue them to extermination, or drive them to new seats beyond our reach." As the Enlightenment and ethnocentric discourse of assimilating the Indians retreated after the War of 1812, the Puritan’s theological version of the Anglo-Saxon’s right to the land crept back in. This version deemed that only those who cultivate the land had right to it since God had commanded man to subdue the earth. Therefore the Indians’ nomadic ways were characterized as inferior and as dangerous as they impeded the progress of civilization. Governor William Henry Harrison of the Indiana territory summed up the prevailing view with a rhetorical question:
Is one of the fairest portions of the globe to remain in a state of nature, the haunt of a few wretched savages, when it seems destined by the Creator to give support to a large population and to be the seat of civilization, of science, and of true religion?
While the de facto process of Indian removal started after the War of Independence, it did not become official government policy until 1830 when President Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act passed Congress. President Jackson was familiar with the indigenous as his rise to national prestige came with his victory at Horseshoe Bend where 800 out of 1,000 Creek Indians perished in battle. Afterwards, Creek lands were seized by the United States. It is recorded that Jackson told the Creek chief Big Warrior that “the United States would have been justified by the Great Spirit, had they taken all the land of the [Creek] nation.” With his rise to the presidency, Jackson’s theological discourse of danger continued along the same lines as Providence [i.e. The Indian Removal Bill] pushed 70,000 Indians east of the Mississippi River west with disastrous results. Lewis Cass, Jackson’s Secretary of War from 1831-1836, wrote in an 1830 essay championing Indian removal for The North American Review that “(t)he Indians are entitled to the enjoyment of all the rights which do not interfere with the obvious designs of Providence…” Indian resistance followed this policy of removal west, but again, their struggle to maintain their traditional lands and identity only assured their inferior, thus expendable, worth. The Seminoles of Florida were a prime example of this. Instead of acquiescing to removal, the Seminoles waged guerilla warfare, attacking white settlements on the coast. In response, David Levy of Florida constructed the Seminoles as the most objectionable, vile “Other” imaginable: “They know no mercy. They are demons, not men. They have the human form, but nothing of the human heart. Horror and detestation should follow the thought of them. If they cannot be emigrated, they should be exterminated.” And largely they were, as forced emigration was largely a death sentence for the Indians and “reinvigorated the nascent doctrine of manifest destiny.” The U.S. State Department’s website describes the immediate toll of “Indian Removal” on one Indian tribe, the Cherokee Nation: “Under the guns of federal troops and Georgia state militia, the Cherokee tribe made their trek to the dry plains across the Mississippi. Thousands died en route from the brutal conditions of the “Trail of Tears.’”

Conclusion: Identity and Moral Space
By comparing the discourses of Al-Qaeda and the early American republic, a striking similarity arises: When a community constructs its identity theologically in a territorial pursuit, the “Other” that also inhabits that space provokes a fear response and is excluded from the community’s ethical framework, which loosens the constraints of violence and may result in the elimination of the “Other” spatially as well. To a large extent, the early American republic was able to achieve this logical progression as President Jackson’s Indian Removal Bill spelled the beginning of the end for the American Indians. The American “theology of conquest” discourse that privileged “Providence” over the moral worth of the Native Americans translated into an actual policy of removal and extermination that largely succeeded. While Al-Qaeda’s “theology of conquest” discourse has also been translated into spectacular acts of terrorism like September 11th, the probability that it -- a decentralized network of jihadists connected more by ideology then organizational structure – will ever command enough power or lethality to destroy the United States and the “un-Islamic” regimes America supports in pursuit of its Pan-Islamic Caliphate seems unlikely. Nevertheless, it remains dangerous for the same reason the United States became the mortal enemy of the Native Americans: By constructing its identity theologically as a divinely chosen people, it relegates anyone outside its own identity as inferior, thus allowing it to trample anything “Other” as a means to a providential end.

In each context we see how Al-Qaeda and the early American intelligentsia used much of the same theological terms of alterity as “infidel,” “demon,” and “ungodly” to describe their enemies. By doing so, both Al-Qaeda and the early American republic created a discourse that ethically legitimated the “acceptance of the Other’s absolute exteriority, a recognition that ‘the other is no way another myself, participating with me in a common existence.” Ethics conceptualized this way does not restrict the use of force, but widens its scope where the “Other” must be cleansed or killed to make way for an ahistorical, supernatural design created for and known by only the privileged.

This requires one last question to be asked: How can humans evolve away from constructing theological identities that create privileged moral spaces in which all “Others” are banished from?

However crude, the answer is simple and rather unsatisfying. If humanity is to stop constructing its identity in reference to theological certainties and the violence endemic to it, the faithful must remain humbled by the notion that faith is a “belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.” As Christopher Coker writes:
If metaphysics was pre-condition of inhumane warfare, the abandonment of metaphyics is a pre-condition of humane warfare. In the words of Richard Rorty… “without metaphysics we can dedicate ourselves to save other people from pain and humiliation. Our first obligation must not be to seek the ‘truth’ but to eliminate pain.”
To kill or declare war for theology or faith is cruel, vicious and pointless, precisely because real, physical pain and suffering are meted out for an unprovable abstraction. It deprives real human beings of the one thing almost all of “Us” hold dear, and that is life itself.

Extended Bibliography

Theory/ Criticism Techniques

Barnett, Clive, “Violence and Publicity: Making Distinctions, Taking Responsibility,”
Found online:

Campbell, David, Writing Security: United States Foreign Policy and the Politics of
Identity (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1998).

Campbell, David and Michael J. Shapiro, Moral Spaces: Rethinking Ethics and World
Politics (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1999).

Coker, Christopher, Humane Warfare (New York: Routledge, 2001).

Kimball, Charles, When Religion Becomes Evil: Five Warning Signs (San Francisco:
HarperSanFrancisco, 2003).

Lincoln, Bruce, “Theses on Religion and Violence,” ISIM Review Found Online:

Russell, Betrand, Why I Am Not a Christian: And Other Essays on Religion and Related
Subjects (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1957).

Thomas, Ward, The Ethics of Destruction: Norms and Force in International Relations
(Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2001).


Primary Sources

Bin Laden, Osama, “Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders,” in Walter LaQueur (ed.), Voices
of Terror: Manifestos, Writings, and Manuals of Al Qaeda, Hamas, and Other
Terrorists From Around the World and Throughout the Ages (New York: Reed
Press, 2004).

“Bin Laden’s Warning,” BBC, 7 October 2001, Found online: http://news. /hi/world/south_asia/1585636.stm

“Bin Laden Rails Against Crusaders and UN,” BBC, 3 November 2001, Found online:

Zawahiri, Ayman al-, “Knights Under the Banner of the Prophet,” in Walter LaQueur
(ed.), Voices of Terror: Manifestos, Writings, and Manuals of Al Qaeda, Hamas,
and Other Terrorists From Around the World and Throughout the Ages (New York: Reed Press, 2004).

“Letter From al-Zawahiri to al-Zarqawi,” Office of the Director of
National Intelligence, 11 October 2001, Found online: release _letter_101105.html.

Secondary Sources

911 Commission, The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National
Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (New York: W.W. Norton & Company).

BBC News, “Timeline: Al-Qaeda,” BBC News, Last Updated: 22 April 2005, Found
online: /1/hi/world/3618762.stm.

Bergen, Peter, Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama Bin Laden (New York:
Touchstone, 2002).

“The Wrong War: Backdraft: How the War in Iraq Has Fueled Al Qaeda and Ignited Its Dream of Global Jihad,” Mother Jones, July/August 2004, Found online: http://www.motherjones .com/news/feature/2004/07/07_401.html.

Burke, Jason, Al-Qaeda: The True Story of Radical Islam (New York: I.B. Tauris, 2004).

Chipman, Don D., “Osama bin Laden and Guerilla Warfare,” Studies in Conflict and
Terrorism Vol. 26, No. 3 (May-June 2003), pp. 163-170.

CNN, “Afghanistan Wakes After Night of Intense Bombing,”, 7 October 2001,
Found online: gen.america .under.attack/.

Fukuyama, Francis, “After Neoconservatism,” The New York Times Magazine, 19
February 2006, p. 62.

Kepel, Gilles, Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam (Cambridge: Belkap Press of Harvard
University Press, 2002).

Ruthven, Malise, A Fury For God: The Islamist Attack on America (London: Granta
Books, 2002).

United States Relations with and Discourse about Native Populations

Primary Sources

“The Declaration of the United States of America,” Found online: http://www.archives.

“The Indian Removal Act of 1830,” Found online:

Secondary Sources

Adams, Ephraim Douglass, The Power of Ideals in American History (New Haven: Yale
University Press, 1913).

Dunbar-Ortiz, Roxanne, “The Grid of History: Cowboys and Indians,” The Monthly
Review Vol. 55, No. 3, (2003): 83.

Friedberg, Lilian, “Dare to Compare: Americanizing the Holocaust,” American Indian
Quarterly Vol. 24, No. 3, (2000): 353.

Horsman, Reginald, Race and Manifest Destiny: The Origins of American Racial Anglo-
Saxon (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981).

Lewy, Guenter, “Were American Indians the Victim of Genocide?” Commentary Vol.
118, No. 2, (2004): 55-64.

Mead, Walter Russell, Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How It
Changed the World (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001).

David Stannard, American Holocaust: The Conquest of the New World (USA: Oxford
University Press, 1993).

Weinberg, Albert K., Manifest Destiny: A Study of Nationalist Expansionism in
American History (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1935).

Wickham, John A., “September 11 and America’s War on Terrorism: A New Manifest
Destiny?” American Indian Quarterly Vol. 26, No. 1 (2002): 116.

United States Department of State, “Indian Treaties and the Removal Act of 1830,”
Found online:

Zinn, Howard, A People’s History of the United States (New York: Harper Perennial,

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Friday, July 07, 2006

Pure Ignorance

If there was one state in the nation that I believed had let the philosophical and constitutional essence of equality perculate throughout it, my bet would have been New York.

Not so.

Today New York became the next state to eviscerate the Bill of Rights, ruling an individual does not have the right to marry another consenting adult of the same sex. The ruling is tinged throughout with lazy moralizing about what's best for children even though children cannot be a product of gay unions obviously. Some conservatives may say that's just it, the only point to marriage is to produce children. So why not create a ban on marriage if the couple involved matter-of-factly states their union is not a means to a laborous end? Doesn't this fit into the following excerpt of the majority decision of the court written by Judge Robert S. Smith.
First, the Legislature could rationally decide that for the welfare of children, it is more important to promote stability, and to avoid instability, in opposite-sex than in same-sex relationships. Heterosexual intercourse has a natural tendency to lead to the birth of children; homosexual intercourse does not. Despite the advances of science, it remains true that the vast majority of children are born as a result of a sexual relationship between a man and a woman, and the Legislature could find that this will continue to be true. The Legislature could also find that such relationships are all too often casual or temporary. It could find that an important function of marriage is to create more stability and permanence in the relationships that cause children to be born. It thus could choose to offer an inducement - in the form of marriage and its attendant benefits - to opposite-sex couples who make a solemn, long-term commitment to each other.

The Legislature could find that this rationale for marriage does not apply with comparable force to same-sex couples. …el4 There is a second reason: The Legislature could rationally believe that it is better, other things being equal, for children to grow up with both a mother and a father. Intuition and experience suggest that a child benefits from having before his or her eyes, every day, living models of what both a man and a woman are like. It is obvious that there are exceptions to this general rule - some children who never know their fathers, or their mothers, do far better than some who grow up with parents of both sexes - but the Legislature could find that the general rule will usually hold. …

In sum, there are rational grounds on which the Legislature could choose to restrict marriage to couples of opposite sex. Plaintiffs have not persuaded us that this long accepted restriction is a wholly irrational one, based solely on ignorance and prejudice against homosexuals.
I'm a straight man that someday would like to get married but does that mean I've entered into an immoral arrangement if my wife and I choose not to have children? Are we just selfish ass blue-state careerists if we decide against children?

Also, is it the court's responsibility to ensure family stability? Doesn't this fall under the liberty of the individuals concerned? Also Roberts ruling is a non sequitur. There can be no offspring from a homosexual union, so how does a gay union compromise the traditional family unit anymore than my decision not to marry and stay a bachelor for the rest of my life.

In this country we are creating a second-class citizenry of a very slim minority of the population for no other reason than religious bigotry, scientific misunderstanding that labels homosexuality a mental illness rather than biologically determined, and a pervasive homophobia whereby men are afraid secretly that they just may enjoy a gay romp if no one would find out.

Religion is winning the battle against secularism and it's making for a more intolerant population that will listen to irrational rants from clerics with a single source rather than dispassionate reasoning and analysis from scientists and the emotional pain felt by those gays and lesbians that only wish to live a normal life with a partner of their choosing with the same rights as straight people.

Let me end with the dissenting position written by Chief Judge Judith S.Kaye who understands rights do not come from tradition but by reason laced with enlightened self-interest.
The court concludes, however, that same-sex marriage is not deeply rooted in tradition, and thus cannot implicate any fundamental liberty. But fundamental rights, once recognized, cannot be denied to particular groups on the ground that these groups have historically been denied those rights. …

Simply put, fundamental rights are fundamental rights. They are not defined in terms of who is entitled to exercise them. …el4 The claim that marriage has always had a single and unalterable meaning is a plain distortion of history. In truth, the common understanding of "marriage" has changed dramatically over the centuries. …

The long duration of a constitutional wrong cannot justify its perpetuation, no matter how strongly tradition or public sentiment might support it. …

Defendants primarily assert an interest in encouraging procreation within marriage. But while encouraging opposite-sex couples to marry before they have children is certainly a legitimate interest of the state, the exclusion of gay men and lesbians from marriage in no way furthers this interest. There are enough marriage licenses to go around for everyone.
I have a new heroine to watch now.

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Islamism Can't Get Away from the West

Here's another essay I did while at St. Andrew's. My professor didn't like this one too much. I'd like to read any comments you -- my small, but incredibly smart readership -- have.

Is there a specifically “western” form of political Islam?

The simple answer is no, a specifically “western” form of political Islam does not exist. Yet, I will argue that while a specifically western form of Islam does not exist, there does exist more western forms of political Islam. The reason I take this nuanced approach is that political Islam cannot get away from “the West.” For Islamists, whether of the fundamentalist veneer or the more liberal variety, the main referent is the West, whether or not they acknowledge it. They can either be repelled by it as something alien or “Other” and therefore opposed to it or it can function as something to be accommodated within their project to repoliticize Islam, but it can never be completely evaded. This is because Islamist discourse appropriates the discourse of the West – concepts such as the state, vanguard, revolution, freedom, democracy – and tries to situate it in an Islamic context, sometimes using imprecise Arabic words from the Koran as facsimiles.

To demonstrate the Islamist’s preoccupation with the West and its appropriation of its discourse, I will engage with the two opposing poles of Islamism. To the right lies the fundamentalist position of Sayyid Qutb, which regarded the West, especially liberal democracy, as the antithesis of Islam, yet sought to keep the West’s technological innovation. Nevertheless, Qutb’s discourse has more in common with Marxist-Leninism and Che Guevara’s “New Man” with his talk of revolution and vanguard than anything in the Koran.

At the left pole reside the modern liberal Islamists that argue that western concepts such as freedom, democracy and reason have specific Islamic corollaries. They do not see a contradiction between Muslims following Islam and participating democratically in a modern, secular society. Using Arabic words such as hurriya (liberty), shura (consultation) and ijtihad (rational interpretation) they seek to demonstrate the compatibility between traditional Islamic concepts and modern liberal democratic concepts.

By juxtaposing the rejectionism of Qutb with the accomodationism of the liberal Islamists, liberal Islamism can therefore be rightfully conceptualized as a more westernized form of political Islam. Unlike fundamentalists like Qutb, liberal Islamists believe individuals should be free to worship as they please, free to participate politically, and free to interpret the Koran as they see fit according to the needs of modern Muslims living in the twenty-first century. Most importantly, liberal Islamists argue Islam or more specifically the shari’a may provide guidance for the law but is not the nizam or all encompassing system fundamentalists argue it to be. The shari’a is therefore not a legal system; it is ethics.

To show how the ideational influences reactions to real world situations, I will show how Muslims in the West’s reaction to the Danish cartoon controversy demonstrates liberal Islamism’s influence toward liberal democratization as opposed to the fundamentalist and illiberal Islamist response throughout the Muslim world earlier this year. I will conclude with thoughts relating to whether the rise of liberal Islamism and its tangible manifestations relating to the Danish cartoon controversy demonstrates Islam and liberal democracy are not as contradictory as previously thought.

Conceptual Clarification

One of the main barriers to understanding political Islam and its uneasy relationship to concepts such as the West and liberal democracy is clarifying what we mean by these terms. Therefore I want to take a short interlude to define precisely what I mean by these concepts.

Unlike Bassam Tibi , I do not agree that political Islam coincides primarily with fundamentalism. Rather I agree with Robin Wright that political Islam “is not a monolith; its spectrum is broad.” Fundamentalism is only one variant of political Islam or what Wright more accurately deems “Islamism” in accord with most scholars. Islamists, whether of the fundamentalist or liberal vein, are attempting to use Islam to solve the crisis of fragmentation felt by modernity. The arena for this struggle is the political. This can be as disparate as waging jihad, or holy war, such as Al Qaeda or running in elections like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Whatever their shade, Islamists are fixated on the West.

The West is not merely a geographical location. The West functions as a subject. It is the originator and perpetrator of modernity: the idea that knowledge and truth come from rational inquiry into nature without divine guidance. Culturally, modernity sees the person as:
…an autonomous subject/individual free to discover and master nature and place it at the service of one own society for fulfilling human needs. This worldview is both secular and man-centered, and as such required the replacing of the cosmological views of the world by a rational worldview based on modern science.
It is primarily in this cultural sense that fundamentalists like Qutb concentrate their antagonism toward the West.

The political organization that originated out of the modern project was liberal democracy. Liberal democracy is constructed from the notion that the free citizen en masse wields political power and not God or his intercessors. Individuals are free and equal under the law made consensually by the citizenry through their elected representatives. Simply put, liberal democracy in practice is “the general method of choosing or removing governments that developed in England and then spread among English-speaking peoples and beyond.” As we will see, Sayyid Qutb rejected all that was culturally western as jahiliya or pre-Islamic ignorance.

The Ironic Rejectionism of Sayyid Qutb

Sayyid Qutb’s rejection of the West, especially its cultural aspect, is logical when starting from his initial premise that Islam is an all-encompassing system that regulates all life for all time. Islam is not a mere religion in this view, but a system devised by the divine and bequeathed to man through the prophet Muhammad. Allah “made it to be a guide for all the inhabitants of this planet in all their affairs until the end of time.” It is as political as it is religious for the two are inextricably meshed together. Sovereignty remains God’s alone. Any deviation from the Islamic system of shari’a that acknowledges God’s sovereignty is therefore jahiliya.

This Jahiliyyah is based on rebellion against God's sovereignty on earth. It transfers to man one of the greatest attributes of God, namely sovereignty, and makes some men lords over others. It is now not in that simple and primitive form of the ancient Jahiliyyah, but takes the form of claiming that the right to create values, to legislate rules of collective behavior, and to choose any way of life rests with men, without regard to what God has prescribed. The result of this rebellion against the authority of God is the oppression of His creatures.
This directly relates to why Qutb believed democracy was idolatrous. Sovereignty was situated in the human person rather than Allah. The rules that governed the society did not stem from a perfect divine source, but through the collective and flawed desires of the human political collective. The only outcome from “this rebellion” could be “the oppression of His creatures.” The West and its sovereignty of man (and not to mention its colonialilsm) fit perfectly Qutb’s typology of what constituted jahiliya and what Islam was the polar opposite of. Nevertheless, as Qutb would propound his theory of Islam against the cultural modernity of the West, he would ironically draw on the concepts associated with the West’s modern project to reject it. The West is always present in Qutb’s writing, whether setting the terms of the debate or as the subject to be fought against.

Qutb’s Pseudo-Western Discourse

First, Qutb uses thoroughly modern terms such as sovereignty and the state which have no relation to Islam. Sovereignty as a concept arose out of the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648 that resulted in the creation of the modern state system based on a secular foundation, which ironically ended religious warfare. In Milestones, Qutb equates the Arabic phrase “La ilaha illa Allah” (There is no deity but Allah) with sovereignty, stating that during the Meccan period Muhammad and his followers “knew that 'Uluhiyah' means 'sovereignty.'” Qutb provides no evidence that the two concepts share the same denotation.

Moreover, Qutb concentrates his attention on the shari’a or what he terms “the divinely ordained law” as a legal system in the modern sense. Qutb’s conception of the shari’a is an all-encompassing system of governance.
…[T]he Shari'ah which God has given to man to organize his life is also a universal law, as it is related to the general law of the universe and is harmonious with it. This obedience to the Shari'ah becomes a necessity for human beings so that their lives may become harmonious and in tune with the rest of the universe…
Whereas Qutb conceives of shari’a in the modern sense as an enforceable legal system governing the Islamic state as well as all life, scholars today argue shari’a did not mean anything approximating Qutb’s definition in the Koran itself. As Bassam Tibi notes, the term shari’a occurs only once in the Koran. Husain Fawzi al-Najjar, a critic of the Islamic state concept, asks the necessary question of fundamentalists for whom Scripture is the be all and end all of Islam: “If Islam was meant to be a political order, then why does the Qur’an leave this issue without further clarification?” As we will see with more liberally inclined Islamists, shari’a is an ethical framework, not a divinely revealed legal system in which punishment is derived. Worse, Qutb violates his own fundamentalist tenets, as the shari’a was not constructed into a coherent legal body until the eighth century, long after Muhammad’s death and his revelations termination. This is why Tibi argues it is a post-Qur’anic construction.

But the most striking modern aspect of Qutb’s theory for change in Milestones is his reliance on Marxist-Leninist terminology. Much like Lenin’s vanguard that would hasten the day communism spread the world by conquering one state at a time, Qutb conceptualized an eerily similar program for Islamic militants.
It is necessary that there should be a vanguard which sets out with this determination [to begin the “Islamic revival in some Islamic country”] and then keeps walking on the path, marching through the vast ocean of Jahiliyyah which has encompassed the entire world. During its course, it should keep itself somewhat aloof from this all-encompassing Jahiliyyah and should also keep some ties with it.

Much like the Bolsheviks before him, Qutb argued this Islamic vanguard would wage the struggle for the Islamic system through a worldwide revolution, albeit dressed up Islamically as jihad. Jihad, or striving, was the means to reestablish God’s authority on earth and thus the Islamic vanguard “has the right to take the initiative… It has the right to destroy all obstacles in the form of institutions and traditions which limit man's freedom of choice.” Yet, Qutb does not allow humans the freedom of choice to govern themselves, because it would deny God his rightful sovereignty:
“In all other systems, human beings obey other human beings and follow man-made laws. Legislation is a Divine attribute; any person who concedes this right to such a claimant, whether he considers him Divine or not, has accepted him as Divine.”
Human legislation is therefore heresy, meaning democracy as a political framework is jahiliya and must be abolished. Therefore Qutb resides in the rejectionist wing of political Islam where western concepts like state, revolution, and freedom are Islamicized and projected back into a past that never existed to create a totalitarian state governed by a legal system ostensibly derived from God. Thus, Qutb’s theory and program has ironically more in common with the Communists he so hated and the Soviet Union they spawned than anything in Islam’s history.

Whereas Qutb believed the Koran justified a political system governed by God, liberal Islamists argue that same Koran justifies a more open society by stressing Islamic concepts they argue are close, if not synonymous, with liberal democratic discourse. They provide the closest thing to a westernized form of political Islam operating today.

The Accomodationism of Liberal Islamism

Liberal Islamism should be seen as a direct confrontation with Qubt’s fundamentalist Islamism, seeking to accommodate Islam within Western modernity. It is a movement that argues fundamentalists like Qutb have hijacked Islam and its terminology through misinterpretation for rigid ends. As Gudrun Kramer observes:
Moderate, pragmatic Islamists…are remarkably flexible with respect to modes of political organization, providing for institutionalized checks on the ruler in the form of separations of powers, parliamentary rule, and in some cases even multiple parties. They are more positive than is often acknowledged concerning the protection of human rights, which are generally founded on duties toward God but nevertheless widely seen as part of the common heritage of all humankind.
As such, it is a movement seeking at best dialogue and reconciliation with the West or at least détente, by highlighting certain Islamic concepts that show compatibility with liberal democracy. I will therefore look at these concepts – hurriya (liberty), adl (justice), shura (consultation), and ijtihad (rational interpretation) – through the work of liberal Islamists such as, Abdelwahab El-Affendi, Laith Kubba, Radwan A. Masmoudi, and Abdul Karim Soroush.

Before analyzing these concepts, I think its important from the start to address liberal Islamists’ views on the shari’a. Whereas the fundamentalists believe the shari’a to be of divine revelation and legally binding, liberal Islamists counter the shari’a functions as a moral ethos, is historically contingent, and therefore flexible to whatever changing times require. Take for instance Laith Kubba. He affirms his belief in the Koran as the divinely revealed scripture of Islam, stating, “Islamic authority is the Koran’s alone.” And if the Koran is the be all and end all of Islam, then the shari’a, as previously shown, appears only once without elaboration. Kubba underscores this, observing, “…if we refer to shari’a law there is no holy book called Shari’a.” Being outside the Koran, the shari’a is the not the immutable law of God, but a contextual human interpretation of Islamic morality within the Koran. Agreeing, Abou Filali-Ansary quotes Fazlur Rahman: “Islamic law…is not strictly speaking law, since much of it embodies moral and quasi-moral precepts not enforceable in any court.”

When shari’a law is seen as a human construction and prone to evolution with changing times and not the immutable legal system bequeathed by a sovereign God to humanity, it provides an Islamic glasnost, where traditional Islamic concepts can be drawn on to fit modern contingencies. Soroush’s understanding of shari’a is illustrative of this viewpoint: "Shari'a is something expandable. You cannot imagine the extent of its flexibility,”…"in an Islamic democracy, you can actualize all its potential flexibilities.” I will now turn to the three most compatible Islamic concepts with liberal democracy.

Much as Qutb tried to Islamicize western concepts such as state and revolution, liberal Islamists are guilty of the same conceptual importations from the west – specifically freedom. According to Bernard Lewis, “the use of ‘freedom’ as a political term was an imported novelty, dating only from the time of the French Revolution and General Napoleon’s Bonaparte’s arrival in Egypt in 1789.” To Muslims, “freedom” had only the shallowest meaning in relation to its western connotation and “meant simply the condition of not being a slave.” Nevertheless, scholars should not fall into the trap of essentialism and deny Islamists the chance to culturally modernize as Christians and Jews did previously. What matters is that liberal Islamists are favorably addressing “freedom”, in the broadest sense.

As Radwan A. Masmoudi explains hurriya is the Islamic approximate of the West’s liberty. Masmoudi stresses that God created human beings free and therefore are free to think what they choose, free to believe in whatever religion they choose, and free to move wherever on earth they choose. As Masmoudi argues, “Without freedom, life and religion have no meaning and no flavor. God, in his unlimited wisdom, intended human beings to be free.” Abdul Karim Soroush agrees, but provides a deeper philosophical reason for God’s gift of freedom to human beings. To believe in God, one must be free. If an individual is coerced or forced to accept belief, it is false and adhered to because of fear of punishment. To remain free and a true believer according to Soroush’s logic is also to retain the liberty to leave the faith.

Bernard Lewis also points out that civil disobedience exists legitimately within Islam, although it does take on a more theological cask. While obedience is an obligation of the ruled to the ruler, it can lapse if the ruler commands something sinful. Unlike western political thought such as that of Henry David Thoreau where civil disobedience is a right, in Islam there is a “divinely ordained duty of disobedience.”

Freedom matters on more pragmatic grounds as well. If Muslim countries are to succeed in the modern, globalized world and violence extremism is to be defeated, Masmoudi argues freedom is the only cure. If the freedoms associated with liberal democracy are expanded – those of the press, of religion, of thought and of association – then an open debate about the problems affecting the Muslim world can be breached. If that means Islamists come to power, it is for the best. The only way for Islamists to come to terms with democracy is for them to be experience democracy. Masmoudi points to the different trajectories Turkey and Algeria to bolster his argument. Islamist inclusion in Turkey led to a semblance of democracy while Islamist exclusion in Algeria led to a spiral of chaos and violence.

For Orientalists, the notion of a pluralist democracy functioning within an Islamic context is a contradiction. Yet Gudrun Kramer observes that pluralist democracy is being called for throughout the Islamic world or at least its basic tenets – the rule of law, human rights, political participation, government control, and accountability – through the Islamic concept of the shura. As Kramer argues, the shura is “the idealized Islamic concept of participation -qua- consultation.” The concept of shura appears twice in two short Koranic passages. Tibi writes:
The first honors “[those] who avoid gross sins and indecencies and, when angered, are willing to forgive, [those] who obey their Lord, attend to their prayers, and ‘conduct their affairs by mutual consent”…(Qur’an: Surat al-Shura, 42/37-38). The second passage is in the sura of ‘Imran: “Take counsel with them in the conduct of affairs…” (Qur’an: ‘Imran, 3/159).
Again, while Tibi argues shura is the historical leftover of the “pre-Islamic system of intertribal consultation among the leaders of ethnic groups,” all that matters is that the concept of shura is being used to derive modern notions of democratic processes and norms.

Radwan A. Masmoudi is illustrative of this trend to reconcile the concept of shura with liberal democracy. For Masmoudi, God is a benevolent being that loathes oppression. If human beings are to remain free then the decisions of the community must be made collectively, free of coercion. Bordering on a form of direct democracy, Masmoudi argues, “[c]onsultation must include all members of the community and must be binding on the rulers or officeholders.” He forcefully argues that the Prophet intentionally did not pick a successor to his rule so that the community of believers would freely elect their leaders. Masmoudi therefore travels in a popular Islamist notion that democracy was an originally Islamic concept adapted by the West and not vice versa.

It should be noted that shura is only a limited approximation of liberal democracy, which underscores why I argue liberal Islamism is only the most western form of political Islam. According to Kramer, even liberal Islamists have a problem privileging the political over the religious (which we’ll see when we turn to the Danish cartoon debate). Although there is recognition that God created human beings as diverse creatures, “and that therefore differences of opinion (ikhtilaf) are natural, legitimate, and even beneficial to humankind and the Muslim community.” There’s an important caveat: Differences of opinion must “remain within the confines of the faith and of common decency.” As Kramer strongly concludes, “The bottom line remains: There can be no toleration of, and no freedom for, the enemies of Islam – the hypocrite, the skeptic and the atheist, the libertarian and the subversive.” Therefore, western notions of rights – especially freedom of expression – would be severely circumscribed by shura.

Ijtihad, or rational interpretation, may be the most important concept to liberal Islamism for it allows reinterpretation of Islamic concepts such as hurriya and shura to accommodate changing times. Abdou Filali-Ansary explicates the logic of this new position well; he calls it “enlightened” Muslim thought. “Enlightened” Muslim thought denies the ahistoric essentialism of the fundamentalists and opts for modern epistemological premises. Islam, therefore, cannot be separated from the historical contexts in which it originated and evolved from for almost one and a half millenniums. Nevertheless, it affirms that the norms that emanated from the Prophet are of divine origin and universal in application. The most important living expression of enlightened Muslim thought according to Filali-Ansary is Abdul Karim Soroush.

The most pressing issue for Soroush is to reopen the doors of ijtihad closed by the conservative ulema or religious scholars. The responsibility of this lies with the modern Muslim intellectual. Soroush advocates that the modern Muslim intelligentsia engage in a critical reading of the Islamic corpus of texts. The aim is to find solutions that fit as snuggly as possible between Islam and modernity. In Soroush’s thought, the Muslim intellectual acts as a bridge between two worlds. He is “a hybrid species”…which…. “emerged in the liminal space between modern ideas and traditionalist thought.” His objective is to take the best from the Islamic tradition and the best of modernity without catering to the historically based dogmas of either.

One interesting direction Soroush takes this is concerning the ulema. The ulema is not a clerical hierarchy and therefore has no a priori right to rule like it does in Soroush’s Iran. With no special privileges accorded to them, they are equal with the general population politically. Thus in Soroush’s “Islamic Democracy,” whoever wins popular election would govern the society. This helps to maintain the integrity of Islam since the ulema are “freed” from being pawns of the state (in Sunni countries) or its people (in Shiite communities). In this, Soroush’s logic sounds familiar to the western liberal tradition’s separation of church and state.

Masmoudi can also be seen as advocating the same position to Soroush regarding ijtihad. According to him, God has prescribed moral goals to be achieved on earth for justice to prevail. Muslims, with revelation’s guidance, must do their best to see that these goals are achieved using the intellectual trinity: reason, knowledge, and faith. Because Islam did not confer power on a clergy or a hierarchy, it is all Muslims’ duty to voice their opinions on critical social issues. Passionately, Masmoudi writes, “It is vital for the Muslim ummah today that the doors of ijtihad – closed for some 500 years – be reopened.

“A glimmer of hope” for a more liberal Islam, Masmoudi argues, lies in those Muslims who escaped both the secular fundamentalism and the Islamic fundamentalism reigning throughout the Muslim world and emigrated to the West and “now live in freedom.” These Muslims have the ability to prop the door of ijtihad open for the foreseeable future. They have the ability to modernize Islam and promote “liberal and moderate views of Islam in the Muslim world.” To evaluate how well the thought of liberal Islamists has hewed to the line of democratic norms, I will compare the reaction of Muslims in the West, where liberal Islamism is strong, with Muslims in the Middle East, where it is weak, to the Danish cartoon controversy.

Between Freedom of Expression and Blasphemy
The controversy and violence that surrounded the publication of caricatures of Muhammad -- the most explosive being a cartoon of Muhammad with a bomb for his turban – pits liberal democracy’s freedom of expression against the Islam’s injunction not to produce likenesses of the Prophet or blasphemy against his name. The reaction in much of the Islamic world demonstrates that religious values still have hegemony over more liberal politics values. In reaction to the cartoon’s repeated publication, Saudi Arabia pulled its ambassadors from Denmark while Libya closed its embassy there. Boycotts of Danish goods led to a steep decline in sales for Danish companies in the Middle East. Yet, boycotts and the closure of embassies, however illiberal, still fit into a democratic framework of protest even if the protest is against freedom of expression.

Unfortunately, protests did not remain within the liberal democratic framework throughout the Middle East. As Hamas and Fattah organized large protests in Gaza and the West Bank, an imam at a popular mosque called for those responsible for the cartoons to be beheaded. In Nablus, an imam preached, “If they want a war of religions, we are ready.” In Ramallah, protestors burnt a Danish flag, chanting, “Bin Laden our beloved, Denmark must be blown up.” Protests organized by Islamic political parties in Pakistan set fire to Danish and French flags. Indonesian Islamists in Jakarta went on a destructive spree within the building that held the Danish embassy. Syrian protestors were more successful, burning down both the Danish and the Norwegian embassies. The protestors chanted, “With our blood and souls we defend you, O Prophet of God.” In Afghanistan, several died in riots against the cartoons while police in Bangladesh had to beat back 10,000 protestors marching on the Danish embassy. Underscoring the Muslim world’s misunderstanding of Western society, Khader Habib, leader of Islamic Jihad, stated, “So far we have demanded an apology from the governments, but if they continue their assault on our dear Prophet Mohammad, we will burn the ground underneath their feet.” This implies that Habib does not understand the structure of liberal democracies in the West or that the press is separate from the government and free from its control. This underscores the great strides need to be made in the Islamic world, for if and when Islamists come to power, like the authoritarians they so hate in power currently, freedom of the press will be fragile, if nonexistent.

Apart from a small number of death threats aimed at the cartoonists responsible for the Mohammad drawings and other isolated threats of violence, Muslim protests throughout the West remained within the liberal tradition of peaceful protests. In Dublin, 300 marched peacefully. The protest’s organizer Sheikh Dr Shaheed Satardien said the peaceful march was an “appeal to our Muslim brothers and sisters all over the world to stop the violence in the name of Mohammed.” Summoning the concept of shura, Anas Altikriti, a spokesman for the Muslim Association of Britain, said “We want to move on to positive dialogue.” At a peaceful protest in Montreal, Canada, more liberal sentiment was evoked. An imam and the protest’s spokesman Said Jaziri told reporters, “We are here to denounce the insult to the prophet, we are not here to be provoked. We are here to condemn violence on all sides.” Protestor Metin Selvi agreed, “Muslims are portrayed as terrorists, but we are not terrorists. We want democracy, we are for the respect of all the prophets, for all religions. All we want is equal respect." (my itl.) Other peaceful protests occurred in Paris, Berlin and other European countries as well. In the United States, The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) rejected a violent response to the caricatures of Muhammad. Using the concept of universal rights over religious duty, CAIR’s Ibrahim Hooper stated, “Everyone has the right to peacefully protest defamatory attacks on their religious figures, but protesters should not reinforce existing stereotypes by resorting to violence or inflammatory rhetoric.”

What we can see in western Muslim’s response to the cartoon controversy is an interaction between Masmoudi’s “glimmer of hope” and Olivier Roy’s “westernization of Islam.” Whereas Masmoudi’s Muslims in the West, free from the fundamentalisms of the Islamic world, are redefining what it means to be a Muslim, Roy’s observation bears out that “[e]ach Western country integrates Islam according to its own paradigms, and Muslim citizens tend to express their identity through these Western models” with Muslims expressing their grievances through their right to assemble peacefully while talking of tolerance and freedom of religion rather than retribution and the religious absolutism experienced in the Muslim world. These two phenomena interacting together produce the most western form of political Islam, and in some circumstances (e.g. CAIR) possibly produce merely Muslim liberals content to keep their religion private and interact politically in a secular, liberal democratic space.

A specifically western form of political Islam cannot exist because political Islam is inextricably tied to the West, whether it defines itself as the opposite of the West in the fundamentalist strain or seeks to accommodate the West in the more liberal strain. Whether political Islam wants to topple the West in pursuit of an Islamic world or bring the fruits of modernity – both technical and cultural – it cannot get away from conceptualizing its objectives in Western terms, however hard its proponents try to re-lslamicize them. For fundamentalists, the talk of making the world safe for Islam comes primarily through Marxist-Leninist theory as the Islamic vanguard seeks to replace the sovereignty of man with God by conquering states through revolution or jihad and instituting the shari’a or divine law, which is institutionalized like in modern legal systems.

For liberal Islamists, their insistence on the right of Muslims to ijtihad or rational interpretation, allows them to rescue traditional Islamic concepts such as hurriya and shura and modernize them to fit liberal democratic concepts such as freedom and democracy. Like the fundamentalists, liberal Islamists believe the Koran is the immutable, timeless revelation of God to mankind, yet unlike them, they believe everything after the revelation is historically contingent and represents Muslims’ attempt to apply the Koran’s moral truths to changing times. This difference is critical in explaining the divergent trajectories fundamentalist and liberal Islamist thought takes. As the more liberal Islamists point out, shari’a is not divine law, but a system of Islamic jurisprudence based on the Koran that was not codified to well after the death of the Prophet. It is therefore a human construction and open to interpretation. Ijtihad therefore opens Islam to reconciliation or at least détente to western conceptions of liberal democracy, because the right to interpretation logically leads to difference which leads pluralism, however constrained. Therefore, liberal Islamism can be rightfully deemed a more western form of political Islam.

The Danish cartoon controversy bears this out. Whereas much of the Muslim world saw violent protests stoked by fundamentalist Islamists, Muslims in the West were mostly content to peacefully protest and exert their liberal democratic rights in the face of what is considered blasphemous in Islam. At least in this instance, the religious took a backseat to the democratic and that is an encouraging development in the evolving relationship between the West and political Islam’s more liberal strain.


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