Arizona Atheist, my co-blogger, and I have sharply different views on roots of Islamic terrorism and how to confront it. It appears appropriate to discuss some of the issues that have come up recently, to clarify where differences are coming from. The main reason I am writing a post on this subject is not to highlight different viewpoints; it is to explain why I focus so much on Islam in my overall writings, and to make the point that the ideological influence cannot be dismissed, regardless of whatever political, economic and other influences that may exist.
Here is what Arizona Atheist comes from, blaming primarily foreign policy as the motivator of terrorists, and condemns drone strikes against the militants(specifically, concerning the Boston Marathon Bombing):
As far as Tsarnaev goes, he stated his political reasons in the note he left. What more is there to say? At most, he may – may – have had some religious influences (I still have not seen any direct quotes of this), but what drove him over the edge? The killing of innocent people, as he stated several times… But assuming this is true, it would not contradict what I’ve been saying all along. Religion is a factor in many of these attacks, but foreign policy is a reason for many more.
And hence, his “solution” for dealing with terrorism: during that conversation I asked him many times how terrorist leaders, who are not only not in hiding but address mass rallies in major cities despite their history of mass murders and having millions on their head, should be dealt with. Given the utter failure of law enforcement, I do not believe there is a substitute for drone strikes against such individuals, imperfect a solution as it is. But he never gave an answer to this specific question, only maintaining that they should be dealt with as all terrorists, which to him, means no more “imperialism”. Hey, India, stop being an imperialist nation! (Given that the terrorist leaders in question actually called for India “to be conquered”).
But I digress. Let’s explore the evidence, regarding whether religion is a bigger factor, or foreign policy, specifically in the case of the Boston Marathon Bombing.
Upon arriving in the US, the Tsarnaev brothers (younger Dzokhar and elder Tamerlan) lived more or less like any immigrant teens. That is, until their mother came up with a brilliant idea-that becoming more religious was good for them.
Tamerlan had discovered religion, a passion that had begun in 2009. In interviews, Zubeidat [his mother] has suggested it was her idea, a way to encourage Tamerlan, who spent his off-hours partying with his friends at local clubs, to become more serious. “I told Tamerlan that we are Muslim, and we are not practicing our religion, and how can we call ourselves Muslims?” she said.
It was during this period that Jahar told his friend Will that he felt terrorism could be justified, a sentiment that Tamerlan apparently shared. Whether or not Jahar truly agreed with his brother, their relationship was one where he couldn’t really question him.
The boys’ uncle Ruslan hoped that Jahar, away at school, would avoid Tamerlan’s influence. Instead, Jahar began to echo his older brother’s religious fervor. The Prophet Muhammad, he noted on Twitter, was now his role model. “For me to know that I am FREE from HYPOCRISY is more dear to me than the weight of the ENTIRE world in GOLD,” he posted, quoting an early Islamic scholar.
It was against this backdrop that Tamerlan Tsarnaev traveled to Russia and joined a militant Islamist organization, whose tactic the people were used against the people of Boston.
And after the attacks, this was the justification, from the younger Tsarnaev:
When investigators finally gained access to the boat, they discovered a jihadist screed scrawled on its walls. In it, according- to a 30-count indictment handed down in late June, Jahar appeared to take responsibility for the bombing, though he admitted he did not like killing innocent people. But “the U.S. government is killing our innocent civilians,” he wrote, presumably referring to Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan. “I can’t stand to see such evil go unpunished. . . . We Muslims are one body, you hurt one, you hurt us all,” he continued, echoing a sentiment that is cited so frequently by Islamic militants that it has become almost cliche.
If “Muslims are but one Ummah (body)” is repeated so often by Islamic Militants, where does it come from? I am quoting an Islamist website here which I won’t link to, but if you google the phrase you will find many such sources (emphasis original):
The Prophet described the Ummah as one body; if one member becomes sick then the other members of this one body will take care of the sick one:
“The Believers, in their mutual love, mercy and compassion, are like one body: if one organ complained, the rest of the body develops a fever.” [Bukhari & Muslim]
The media outlets and internet have no shortage of news revealing the turmoil that Muslims are living in around the world: from occupation of Muslim lands to the dire poverty of our brothers and sisters. This is where a sense of brotherhood becomes the vital connection between Muslims around the globe. It is our obligation to be politically and intellectually aware of all affairs impacting Muslims everywhere. Allah has described the believer as a brother to another believer, and therefore it should pain us – just as it would if it were our own blood brother – when we read about the plight of our fellow Muslims.
The enormity of events facing Muslims, coupled with the visible impotence and corruption of the ruling regimes in Muslim lands, are creating frustration and an artificial sense of helplessness among Muslims. This sense of frustration and helplessness is also further fuelled by the daily pressures of life facing Muslims. All these factors lead to a gradual decline in reacting to the turmoil facing Muslims outside of their immediate circle of friends and blood relatives – causing a fatal departure from the very foundations and ties of the Ummah.
Muslims should always gravitate toward the concept of brotherhood and the obligation of helping and sympathizing with our brothers and sisters in Islam regardless of where they are or what their condition is.
Although helping our brothers and sisters may not be physically possible in all circumstances, it is imperative to always care and be concerned for their affairs, regardless of geography or language, and do whatever is possible within the circumstances. It is imperative to care, or even train ourselves to care for Muslims in nearby or remote parts of the world by reminding ourselves that our bond with all Muslims is that of brothers and sisters.
The sentiment behind the “Ummah” concept couldn’t be any clearer. The tribalist commandment for treating one another “like body parts”, to the Islamists, means taking action in favor of other Muslims (including when their lands are “occupied”, which is defined very loosely and includes, for example, Kashmir being part of India, see above), regardless of their geography or language. It is only in this light that vindictiveness of 2 Russians like Tsarnaevs for Iraq and Afghanistan makes sense, as they obligingly reminded us. (Now, of course, it would be absurd to claim that ALL Muslims take that sentiment to mean they should commit violence, but it is equally absurd to claim that Islamic militants like Tsarnaev use a slogan that is directly traceable to the Islamic Hadith (quotes from the prophet), and yet their motivation is anything but religion.)
And yet Arizona Atheist said this, in response to pointing out the above:
Those who acknowledge the facts agree with me (even assuming a majority agreed with you, that’s simply a logical fallacy and proves nothing). Unfortunately, most people are sucked in by the government’s propaganda.
Too bad Al-Bukhari and Al-Muslim didn’t know they were doing propaganda work for US government when they wrote the Hadith!
While Arizona Atheist maintains that foreign policy is the main factor fueling terrorism, it helps to remember that Islamists are not the only ones with (real or imaginary) grievances against the US. During my conversation with him, I brought up the example of malicious actions by Nixon administration, personified by the notorious Henry Kissinger, and immortally documented by Christopher Hitchens.
In the book and movie that followed it, Hitchens meticulously narrated actions by Kissinger, which lead to untold suffering and loss of life, in Vietnam, Cambodia, Timor-Leste, and Chile. (These are, of course, just examples, and controversies concerning various administrations’ actions during the cold war abounded and continue to do so, justifiably or not). Yet none of this lead to retaliatory actions in the US. Is it just a coincidence that people in those countries do not believe in the “Ummah” concept?
And yet right after I brought up this example, Arizona Atheist declared the conversation over and told me that I was “grasping at straws”. More like redwood tree trunks!