Johannes J.G. Jansen, ‘Religious Roots of Muslim Violence’, in: Gelijn Molier, Afshin Ellian & David Suurland, eds., Terrorism: Ideology, Law and Policy, Dordrecht 2011, pp. 165-185.

Religious Roots of Muslim Violence

Johannes J.G. Jansen

Introduction, Definitions

The world has witnessed a number of acts of terrorism, especially in the last four or five decades. On this truism controversy is difficult to imagine. Muslims committed not all of these acts, but part of them. This, too, cannot be denied, except by not accepting the common definition of a Muslim: someone who professes to have Islam as his religion, and who would be seen as an apostate by Islamic Sharia law if he stopped presenting himself as a Muslim.

Sharia law is not a collection of internal directives relevant to, e.g., Muslim professional religious leaders only. This clumsy term of four words has to be used because Muslims disapprove of using the more general word ‘clergy’ to refer to ‘the group of professional Muslims that are qualified to perform leadership functions in an organized religion and are recognized as such’.

Islamic Sharia law is not in the same class as Catholic canonical law. It is, on the contrary, a highly developed universal system of law that supplies the believers with rules for all transactions he might wish to conduct and all relationships he might wish to establish. It regulates the relationship that exists between man and his God. The Sharia enumerates man’s religious duties. It completely controls all aspects of human behaviour, religion included. Islam teaches that the rules and provisions of Sharia law are identical to God’s will, and have to be obeyed.

The penalty that the Sharia prescribes for leaving Islam is death. This sentence has preferably to be pronounced by a court, but even without a clear court decision to this effect, a religious enthusiast may mete out the death penalty informally. In such cases, according to Sharia law, payment of the usual indemnity is not required, and the act of the murderer is qualified as only iftiyaat, an ‘offense’. According to the handbooks, it is not a crime. Most serious handbooks of Islamic law will confirm this, e.g., N.H.M. Keller, The Reliance of the Traveller, Beltsville 1994, p. 596.

It is, however, not only the books that say so. The prestigious Egyptian cleric Sheikh Muhammad al-Ghazali was consulted as an expert on Sharia law when the assassin of Farag Foda stood trial in 1993. To the amazement of many, the expert declared in court that according to Islamic law killing an apostate should not be judged to constitute the crime of murder. The Egyptian writer Farag Foda had been killed informally in the summer of 1992 for his alleged apostasy from Islam, see my The Dual Nature of Islamic Fundamentalism, London 1997, p. 170-171. In his expert testimony, the learned Sheikh actually used the word iftiyaat, ‘offense’, and added that he did not believe Islam had a punishment in store for people guilty of this ‘offense’.


All this has the effect of making Muslims who would prefer to stop presenting themselves as Muslims, extremely circumspect and careful. Many apostates would not even consider coming out of the closet. The mere existence of a prescribed ‘fixed’ punishment for apostasy from Islam makes, moreover, all statistics on the number of Muslims in a region or period unreliable. All numbers ever quoted anywhere must be too high.

If we are allowed to pass over the semantic games about who may be called a Muslim and who may not be designated as such, and what constitutes ‘Muslim terrorism’, and what does not, it is safe to say that the world would have been a less dangerous place if the acts of terrorism committed in the name of Islam by Muslims (in whatever meaning of that word) had not occurred. Millions of expenses, millions in whatever currency, could have been put to better use than guarding against destruction, robbery, murder and other acts widely seen as crimes.

It is not only individuals who are responsible for the problems here referred to. Also Muslim organizations deserve attention. In all official lists of terrorist organizations, Muslim organizations are heavily overrepresented. Several states, the European Union and the United Nations keep such lists. Some organizations are on all of these lists, a few on only a few. Muslims number roughly 20% of the world population (or less, since open apostasy is forbidden and dangerous), but on these lists much more than 50% of the organizations are by their self-appellation identifiable as Muslim.

It is not unreasonable to regard an association that calls itself, e.g., The Soldiers of Allah, as an Islamic group. Also, many of the non-Muslim terrorist organizations that figure on these lists have not been active for decades and may be small or powerless. It is difficult to escape the conclusion that Muslims are overrepresented in the world of terrorism. No matter how one defines the relevant terms, this overrepresentation cannot be redefined into non-existence.

In theory, it is a possibility that all known acts of terrorism committed by Muslim individuals or Muslim organizations are caused by legitimate local specific grievances, and should rather be seen as acts of resistance against injustice or illegal occupation, not as terrorism. All of these acts of resistance, or terrorism, may be reasonably explained by local history or local social circumstances. They may even be perfectly justifiable.

This needs to be researched seriously and extensively. Such research should definitely not be omitted or be neglected, no matter how enormous the task will be. It would be a huge project indeed, stretching out from Northern Nigeria to Chechnya, from the Darfur to East-Timor and Bali, and from Madrid, Amsterdam, Berlin, Paris and London to New York. Facts from all of these areas will have to be collected and analyzed.

It is, however, only reasonable that another question should be looked at as well. Can these acts of terrorism be explained or understood by something that is peculiar to Islam or to the Muslims? Can these acts, perhaps, even be connected to certain Islamic prescripts that form part of the Islamic religious heritage that is taught to Muslims by their professional religious leaders? Does Islam order and prescribe acts of terrorism, perhaps even only in theory? Do Muslims who commit acts of terrorism perhaps feel that they are simply carrying out the commands of their God?

Most Western scholars will reject this possibility out of hand, for two reasons. All religions are attempts at applying the ethics of reciprocity, the British writer on religion Karen Armstrong believes, and many think, or hope, that she is right. The ethical system of reciprocity is best known in the form of the Golden Rule: ‘As ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.’ Other languages than English, for instance Latin, sometimes prefer the negative formula: Quod tibi non vis, alteri ne feceris, ‘What you do not wish to be done to you, do not do to another.’

In its positive form, the Evangelist Luke (Lk 6:31) presents the Golden Rule as a saying of Jesus. Elsewhere in the New Testament, and in the Old Testament, slightly different forms of the rule occur. This means that to a Western intellectual of whatever stature, all forms of religion he is familiar with urge their followers to apply this rule. This, however, does in no way mean that all religions do so.

Scholars do not always realize that they share this belief in the omnipresence of the Golden Rule, and are too often certain that is self-evident that the Golden Rule is part of every religious system known to man. Hence, they concluded, terrorism cannot be a religious duty since no one, believer or unbeliever, ‘desires to become the object of terrorism. Nevertheless, this is what the ethics of reciprocity would demand. In the case of terrorism a desire for reciprocity would be an absurdity. There can be only one conclusion: Terrorism can never be a religious duty.’ It is needless to say that especially a belief which scholars hold unconsciously needs to be doubted, and examined.

Especially in the case of Islam, attempts at demonstrating that the Koran or the Sharia prescribe or contain this rule, are unconvincing, or worse. In Islamic formulas assumed to contain the Golden Rule, non-Muslims are usually excluded explicitly, or the rule is formulated in such a way that not much energy or insight is needed to interpret the rule as not applicable to non-Muslims. Exhortations that may with some difficulty be interpreted as an Islamic variant version of the Golden Rule often mean that a Muslim should want others to become Muslims as much as he himself wants to be a Muslim.

This is laudable, but not identical to the Golden Rule. Moreover, the Sharia clearly and unequivocally, implicitly and explicitly, differentiates between Muslims and non-Muslims, men and women, slaves and free men. This differentiation may well be God’s will, but it is not in accordance with the Golden Rule. As far as difference of opinion on this question is possible, the matter is unequivocally decided by Koran 48:29, a verse that clearly and unmistakably, perhaps even deliberately, contradicts the Golden Rule:

Muhammad is the messenger of Allah

Those with him are violent (ashiddaa’) against unbelievers

Compassionate amongst themselves. (Richard Bell’s translation)

Secondly, modern Western scholars (with exceptions) do not readily believe that ideas can have influence without economic, social or other material, this-worldly support. The ‘real’ reason for undesirable behaviour, or even any other form of behaviour, can never be religion, Westerners think. There should always be something ‘behind it’. The belief in ‘something behind it’ is unshakable because it is rarely made explicit, or even recognized as a belief that could be verified. According to enlightened Western opinion, something as marginal and flimsy as religious ideas cannot seriously affect the material world or human behaviour, or motivate people to kill and be killed.

Joseph Stalin, that inimitable paragon of Enlightenment, put this idea into words with the inimitable sneer: ‘How many divisions has the Pope?’ We all now know that, as the saying goes, the Pope has more of what Stalin needed than that the Pope needs what Stalin possessed in such abundance.

In a way, the same is true for Islam. In principle, Islamic teachings have as much moral authority as Catholic teachings. However, Islam possesses something which Stalin had and which the churches have not, or not any longer: Men willing to kill and fight for it. Islam here even has a considerable advantage on Communism since a number of Muslims who take Islam seriously are not only willing to kill but also ready to die for it.

The many books and articles written by the American scholar Rodney Stark show that in order to gain (or not to loose) the respect of their peers people carry out the commands that their religion imposes. They do so irrespective of other this-worldly considerations. The need to be respected is sufficient explanation. Conversions, too, are the result of the desire to gain respect and attention from the individuals whose opinions or esteem the convert values.

As long as being a suicide bomber creates respect, suicide bombers will be around. Someone who announces that he will, God willing, become a suicide terrorist, rises in the esteem of his surroundings. Failing to carry out his suicidal mission will make his life impossible socially. Christian martyrdom in the Roman arenas in ancient times can be explained very similarly. Rejecting the crown of martyrdom would have reduced the candidate to unimaginable social insignificance. Martyrdom then has to be accepted, in spite of the disadvantages.

Islamic doctrine and ideology have profound influence on Muslims, whatever their individual social or other circumstances. The only reason for this is that Muslims tend to take Islam seriously indeed. Other explanations may be interesting but they are easily falsifiable: not all poverty, for instance, translates itself into fanaticism, fundamentalism or terrorism. Certain religious commands, however, will do so eventually. If this is true, it becomes important to find out what these commands are, in which holy texts or in which sermons a believer hears of them, and who encourages his fellow Muslims to obey such commands.

The Koran

The Koran is an obvious point to start the search for possible elements that might incite Muslims to participate in terrorism or to initiate it. Muslims believe that the Koran is the literal word of God, but it does not follow that the Koran has the same authority over Muslims as the Bible in the theory of Protestant fundamentalism. It should, however, be noted that also in Protestant fundamentalism it is rather the agreed-upon interpretation of the Bible than the Bible itself that is seen as the highest and absolute authority.

In the theological system of official Islam, the Koran is one of the four ‘roots’ or sources of Islamic law. The first of the other sources (it is well known) is the example of Muhammad (570?-632?), the prophet of Islam. Reports on his example are codified in canonical collections of ‘Traditions’, in Arabic hadiith, plural ahaadiith. Analogy and consensus are the third and fourth ‘source’. For practical purposes, consensus is the most important of these, since Muslims believe that if they agree on a point, it must be correct.

This belief, in its turn, is justified by a saying ascribed to Muhammad: ‘My community will not agree on an error’. Consequently, in daily life direct appeals to the Koran are extremely rare. This has led apologists for Islam to try and ridicule their opponents by pointing out that Muslims are not automatons or robots who mechanically execute the commands of the Koran. This is true, but critics of Islam rarely argue that this is the case if only because humans, whether Muslims or not, are not machines, and this by definition. Nevertheless, the Koran sets the tone for much of what Muslims believe and think.

The Koran contains dozens of passages that order the killing of the non-Muslims, or going to war against them. Most Western intellectuals have lost contact with the reality of war, and do, perhaps, not always realize that war and killing usually come together. It may, hence, be slightly pedantic but at the same time useful to point out that to order people to wage war is ordering them to kill.

It is probable that some of these warlike passages from the Koran are not meant as general commands, but refer to specific military situations that existed during Muhammad’s lifetime. This, however, it is not the way these passages are understood by large numbers of Muslims, or the standard Muslim Koran commentaries like the authoritative and well-known commentary by Al-Jalalayn which represents standard Muslim opinion. These commands are linguistically crystal clear.

There is very little to interpret in the case of a text that says ‘Kill them wherever you find them’ (e.g., Koran 2:191, 4:89, 4:91, and 9:5). Such verses from the Koran are widely understood as a license to kill unbelievers if this can be done without too much cost to the Muslim community. The questions and interpretations that these verses provoke are limited to the problem who has to do the killing, and under which circumstances the killing becomes an immediate necessity and has to be undertaken.

According to some counts, there are 164 of such verses. The Internet and Google make it easy to find the war passages in the Koran, but one of the most interesting war passages is not included in the 164-list. Koran 9:30, at the end of the verse, contains a curse: God announces that He wishes people who believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God to be killed in battle. Needless to say that translations are careful when rendering this verse. Its text, however, is completely unambiguous: qaatalahumullaah.

The Scottish scholar Richard Bell here translates: ‘Allah fight them!’. The respected Translation and Commentary by A. Yusuf Ali limits itself to ‘God’s curse be on them’, and leaves out the reference to killing and war. Since a large number of people actually believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, this verse, and the way it is understood, can be said to contain information rather useful to church dignitaries who are in charge of Islamo-Christian dialogue, and to politicians who have the constitutional duty to take the measures necessary to the protection of the lives and property of those who elected them.

‘Fighting is prescribed for you’, Koran 2:216, cannot be misunderstood. Neither can 9:111, ‘They fight in the cause of Allah; they kill and are killed’. It is interesting to note that in the first verse of these two fragments, 2:216, the Muslims are referred to as ‘you’, and in the second one, 9:111, as ‘they’. This, however, does not make the message of these verses less menacing. It is, according to the Koran, moreover entirely reasonable that Muslims fight the Unbelievers, because ‘there is sickness in their hearts’, 2:10. And: ‘Urge on the Believers to fight!’, 8:65. Verse 4:74 is clear: ‘Let them fight in the way of God… Whosoever fights in the way of God and is slain, or conquers, We [God] shall bring him a mighty wage’. Someone who is not convinced by these verses will not be convinced by more or even much more of the same.

Apologists for Islam argue every now and then that the relations between Muslims and others are not regulated by these bloodthirsty passages, but by Koran 109:5, ‘Ye have your religion, and I have mine’, and 2:256, ‘Let there be no compulsion in religion’. It is awkward to have to contradict this, since it would be a great step forward if it were true. However, Muslim theologians have developed an elaborate theory on abrogation, similar to the Christian theories on the abrogation of a number of prescripts from the Old Testament by later prescripts given in the New Testament. For instance, Christian theologies hold the prohibition against pork which the Old Testament (Dt 14:8) contains, to be repealed by the New Testament, Acts 10:9 ff., but Christian theologies leave less room for argument than the Muslim system of abrogation, since there can be no doubt that the Old Testament precedes the New Testament.

In the case of the verses from the Koran, however, the chronological order is a less certain. One has to trust the tradition on the chronology of the revelation of the Koran as agreed upon by the Muslim religious leaders through the ages. Nevertheless, all standard and authoritative Muslim commentaries on the Koran, without exception, hold these two peaceful and reassuring fragments to be repealed and ‘abrogated’ by the later ‘verse of the sword’, Koran 9:5, which argues that Muslims should ‘slay the idolators’ and ‘lie in wait for them at every place of ambush’, but if they capitulate and become Muslims, ‘God is All-forgiving’.

Muslim missionaries are eager to save others from the eternal fires of Hell. This is good. But in their eagerness to help others, they sometimes forget to explain that the verses from the Koran that preach religious tolerance and that appear to permit religious plurality have been repealed by later verses that command the true believers to go to war against all others, at least according to standard Islamic theology.

Muslims believe that outsiders hate Islam. Concerns about this supposed enmity of the unbelievers are not limited to theologians. Press and TV in the Muslim world make it abundantly clear that such concerns are shared universally. Outsiders do not necessarily have to notice this. However, the frequent complaints from Muslims that Westerners suffer massively from ‘Islamophobia’, or that they ‘discriminate’ against them, can only be understood as echoes of the fear and distrust Muslims themselves harbour against the adherents of other religions. The general attitude in the West on Islam and Muslims is not dominated by phobias, fear or hatred, but rather by ignorance, indifference, naiveté and trust. The general public in the West is rarely even interested in Islam, and can hardly hide its amazement when Muslims claim that the West suffers from Islamophobia and worse.

Also printed testimonies from within the Muslim world abundantly illustrate that in general Muslims (with individual exceptions, one hopes) distrust and hate the West. They see the West as an enemy, and it is their religious background that encourages such judgements. Islamic ideologies not only encourage anti-Western attitudes, they even are responsible for creating them, in as far as one can hold an ideology responsible, and not the persons who spread it. A little reading will confirm the reality of this hatred.

Amongst the books written by Muslims that confirm the widespread existence of this hatred it is possible to mention the writings in Arabic by the Egyptian diplomat Husayn Ahmad Amin, or the feminist and medical doctor Nawwal al-Saadawi (both moderates) but there is much more. The Malady of Islam (2003) by Abdelwahab Meddeb, A God Who Hates (2009) by Wafa Sultan, or the testimonies by apostates collected by Ibn Warraq, Leaving Islam (2003), are more easily accessible, and condemn this hatred unambiguously. It is a sad spectacle, but there is some consolation in the fact that most Westerners do not know this. Those who do know often are not really bothered by it, since they, too, disapprove of the West and its culture in the widest meaning of that word. Western self-hatred finds, of course, a faithful ally in Muslim hatred.

The Koran heaps abuse upon Jews (‘pigs’, 5:60), and on non-Muslims in general: ‘the worst of beasts’, 8:55. Such abuse is called dehumanization, and it would definitely draw some attention when contemporary Western media would reciprocate. It is plainly unimaginable that Western religious leaders would make similar statements about Muslims. Westerners may have some difficulty in imagining a God who subjects humans to verbal abuse. Yet this is the picture the Koran offers (E.g., 2:65, 5:60, 7:166, 8:55, 74:50). It is actually a minor miracle that relations between Muslims and non-Muslims are what they are. This can only mean that Muslims are more humane than Islam itself.

It is true that the Bible, too, contains strong qualifications of individuals. Sometimes, perhaps, the law is read to whole generations, or all members of certain professions. Even if the authors of such texts may have aimed their abuse at all Jews or all pagans (which they did not), churches and synagogues have since long understood such passages as specific, not valid for all times and all places. It is, on the other hand, clear that an enemy about whom Islam teaches that God himself calls him an ape, a donkey, a swine, a dog or just an animal, has no human rights. It is only proper to terrorize such subhuman unpersons.

The Bible consists of stories, every now and then interrupted by passages that provide instructions on proper behaviour and belief. Theologians and philologists often regard these stories not as history but as sermons in the disguise of a story. Official church doctrine does not always completely agree to this view, and would like to take these stories more literally. In the Koran, the reverse is true. The Koran contains only a very limited amount of stories, and is, on the contrary, rich in instructions and rules. Two instructions that the Koran is understood to issue will not cease to amaze outsiders. One concerns the assassination of rulers (5:44), another one calls for terrorizing non-Muslims (8:60). 


Rulers who do not use their authority to have the laws of God applied are called apostates in 5:44. The verse is actually subtler than that; it designates such men as kuffaar, ‘pagans’, but a Muslim who becomes one of the kuffaar is generally understood to have committed the crime of apostasy from Islam, which has to be punished by death. This understanding of the verse can already be met with in the Koran commentary by a certain Ibn Kathir (ca. 1300-1375 AD). Ibn Kathir’s commentary is widely read and studied even today. The duty to kill a ruler who does not apply Sharia law in full became the central argument in the pamphlet written by the men who in 1981 assassinated the Egyptian President Sadat. The pamphlet was entitled Al-Farida al-Ghaiba, ‘The Neglected Duty’. The duty neglected was waging Jihad against impious rulers.

Many Muslims likewise believe that the Koran instructs them to kill rulers who do not rule by Sharia law. If only the rulers themselves would be targeted by such aspirations, this would be bad enough. But their ‘lackeys’, too, may be targeted. Not resisting the apostate ruler is taken as a sign of their own apostasy. This constitutes a threat to anybody who works for the ‘apostate’ government, in whatever capacity.

Algerian radicals in the 1990s even realized that Sharia law sees the wives of such apostate policemen as deserving the death penalty: Sharia law does not allow Muslim women to remain married to a non-Muslim. Moreover, marriages are automatically annulled by the apostasy of one of the parties. When the couple nevertheless continues to live together, they become guilty of illicit sexual intercourse, which is a crime for which Sharia law prescribes the death penalty by stoning.

Dr Umar Abd al-Rahman is held in prison in the United States for his involvement in the 1993 terrorist actions against the World Trade Centre and the United Nations buildings in New York. Abu al-Ala Al-Mawdudi (1903-1979) is the ideologist behind the foundation of Pakistan. The Egyptian writer Sayyid Qutb was hanged in Cairo in 1966. All three men are immensely popular and widely read. They supported in their writings and speeches with great fervour this understanding of Koran 5:44. Terrorism and assassination are the logical consequence of this understanding of 5:44. Many contemporary Muslims nevertheless see these men as latter-day men of God.

In 1982, Sheikh Jad al-Haqq Ali Jad al-Haq fulfilled the office of Rector of the Azhar University in Cairo. This means that at the time he was arguably the highest authority on Sharia law. Not long after the assassination of Sadat, he gave a learned legal opinion, a fatwa, on Koran 5:44. This fatwa was published in the official collection of fatwas which the Egyptian state makes available to the public, Al-Fatawa al-Islamiyya min Dar al-Ifta’ al-Misriyya. Sheikh Jad al-Haqq’s fatwa on 5:44 can be found in volume 10 of this prestigious series, fascicule 31, pp. 3726-3761. The fatwa is dated January 3, 1982. According to Sheikh Jad al-Haqq, Koran 5:44 addressed the Jews in Medina, and is not about ruling.  How could Jews have ruled Medina in the days when Muhammad was the master of that town? The verse, on the contrary, orders the Medinese Jews to mediate in all their affairs according to the religious principles that Judaism demands from its adherents. A modern Western philologist would tend to agree with Sheikh Jad al-Haqq.

However, the blind Sheikh Abd al-Hamid Kishk, an extremely popular Egyptian preacher at that time, found a way to combine both the traditional and the liberal interpretation of the verse. Of course, he said, this verse addresses the Jews, and not the Muslims. Of course, he went on, the verse does not talk about ruling, but about mediating. But, he then asks, if God told the Jews to mediate according to Jewish religious law, how much more would Muslims be expected to arrange their affairs in accordance with God’s will, i.e. the Sharia?

Without denying the specific background of the verse, he thus nevertheless managed to impose its traditional understanding: a ruler who deviates in any way from God’s laws (as understood by Muslims) is not a Muslim any longer, with all the consequences this entails.

Sheikh Kishk made this remark in his voluminous commentary on the Koran. Doing so, he once again illustrated that the belief is common that 5:44 instructs believers to assassinate Muslim political leaders when these do not apply Sharia law in all its details. His words would have been difficult to understand, if not meaningless, if not against this background. The belief that rulers who are lax in applying Sharia law are apostates is common indeed. It has been so for centuries. Luckily not every Muslims feels that this verse addresses him personally. But it is not difficult to understand that an activist (who is familiar with this theory since childhood) may come to believe it has started to apply to him personally. He may then may initiate action, and become a terrorist.


Outsiders will nevertheless have difficulty in believing that the Koran directly orders assassination of rulers in 5:44, but they will be even more amazed when they see that a number of Muslims take 8:60 as a command to terrorize non-Muslims. The verse actually uses the word turhibuuna, which in contemporary Standard Arabic definitely means ‘you terrorize’. A court interpreter who during a trial translated ‘you terrorize’ with anything else than turhibuuna would be replaced instantaneously – if found out. The same is true for a conference interpreter who has to give a simultaneous translation.

Nevertheless, a committee of professional Muslim scholars thinks that 8:60 is not much more than the equivalent of the Roman maxim Si vis pacem, para bellum, ‘If you wish for peace, prepare for war’ (Al-Muntakhab fii Tafsiir, Cairo 1968). They may be right. Rome, however, was a state, not a religion. Moreover, the way in which these scholars present their argument can easily be taken as an indication that they are thoroughly familiar with less innocent interpretations of 8:60. Arthur Arberry translates the verse as

Make ready for them whatever force and strings of horses you can

to terrify (turhibuuna) thereby the enemy of God and your enemy

Richard Bell translates turhibuuna in 8:60 with ‘to overawe’, A. Yusuf Ali: ‘to strike terror in their hearts’. Only one conclusion is possible. Although the word ‘terrorism’ is a modern word, and although to use this word in a Koran translation would look anachronistic, both Muslim and other translations of the Koran confirm that 8:60 may be read as a call to terrorism. Many modern Muslims definitely understand it as such.

Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, Mufti of the Egyptian Republic, is one of the greatest authorities in modern Islam. Western media often but incorrectly refer to him as ‘the Pope of Islam’. He explains 8:60 in his Koran commentary, published in Cairo, 1992, vl. 6, pp. 139-144. He makes clear that this verse orders the believers to sow fear and confusion in the minds of the unbelievers,

first of all (‘alaa ra’s ha’ula’ gamii‘an) the pagans of Mecca who expelled [the Muslims] from [their] houses, and the Jews of Medina who leave nothing undone that might harm [the Muslims] (p. 140)’.

The expression ‘first of all’ which this dignitary uses here is extremely interesting and significant. In a similar way as his less illustrious colleague Sheikh Kishk, Sheikh Tantawi here manages to combine the specific and the general meaning of the verse. Tantawi’s commentary, by bringing in the seemingly innocent words ‘first of all’, teaches that verse 8:60 is not specific to exclusively the situation which existed during the lifetime of Muhammad but that its meaning is more general, and includes modern, contemporary ‘enemies of God and Islam’, whether ‘unbeliever, polytheist or heretic’, kull kaafir wa-mushrik wa-munHarif.

A number of Western friends of Islam deny this, but to readers of Arabic Islamic texts it is well known that ‘polytheist’, mushrik, is often used to refer to Christians since Christianity believes in the Trinity, which, according to Islamic doctrine, is a form of polytheism. Fear has to be put in the hearts of all these people. What better way to make people live in terror of Islam than terrorism?

Early in 2008, the Dutch Member of Parliament Geert Wilders produced a short film, entitled Fitna. In this movie, we see a number of well-known images of death and destruction that were put on film in the aftermath of acts of modern Muslim terrorism. In the background, a professional Egyptian Koran reciter chants a number of verses from the Koran. Amongst these 8:60. For whatever reason, the reciter repeats the word turhibuuna, ‘you terrorize’. This is chilling. The text of the Koran has the word only once. To non-Muslims, this is bad news as it is. But why would the reciter want to improve on the text by repeating the word? There can be no other reason than that this professional Koran reciter desires his fellow Muslims to pay extra attention to what is widely being understood as a Koranic call for terrorism against non-Muslims.

Calls like these do not go unheard. Samir Azzouz, born in Amsterdam in 1986, is a Dutch/Moroccan terrorist. Dutch courts found him guilty of terrorism in 2006 and 2008. He wrote an autobiographical document of roughly 25 pages, possibly during his detention and at the request of his interrogators. The document became known in 2005. Samir describes how after much soul-searching, it was the word turhibuuna, ‘you terrorize’, in Koran 8:60 that made him see the light.

Since Samir only has a superficial knowledge Arabic, it would be interesting to know who pointed out this verse to him. The association between terrorism and 8:60 is completely convincing in Arabic, but in a translation it will be much less so. Someone who is not thoroughly acquainted with Arabic will not easily see the connection. Samir is a friend of Mohammed Bouyeri, the assassin of Theo van Gogh. Mohammed Bouyeri knows no Arabic either. Who coached Samir Azzouz and Mohammed Bouyeri into believing that the Koran prescribes terrorism? Morally, such a person is as guilty of their crimes as these two young men are themselves.

It is, of course, out of the question that a connection exists between these radical theories on ‘fighting the unbelievers’, Jihaad in Arabic, and the killings a certain Nidal Malik Hasan went in for at Fort Hood in the United States. Nidal (which means ‘struggle’ in Arabic) is a military psychiatrist of Palestinian origin. According to eyewitness accounts he shot and killed thirteen unarmed military men while shouting Allahu Akbar, ‘God is the greatest’. He wounded many others, some of them seriously. This happened in the first week of November 2009. The day before the shootings he had emptied his apartment ‘since he would not return’.

It is totally irresponsible to suggest that this pious Muslim, who even participated in giving advice on radical Islam to the American authorities, simply followed Islamic teaching. Like so many before him, he must have been an isolated case. He must have been an eccentric. There must be no doubt that he was an unconnected and exceptional case. His amazing and surprising behaviour will have nothing to do with the standard Islamic ideology, many hope.

Dr. Daniel Pipes in 2006 coined the term ‘Sudden Jihad Syndrome’ for cases like Nidal Malik Hasan. One would hope that Dr. Pipes simply was wrong. But, on the other hand, if this syndrome would really exist, and not be a racist fantasy, the consequences for Muslims living in the West would be grave. It would not be just ‘Islamophobia’ that victimizes them. People tend to forget that it is only the powerless that feel fear.

However, information that became available afterwards has suggested that the Jihad Syndrome of Nidal Malik Hasan may not have been so ‘sudden’ after all. This of course reflects well on the trusting nature of the American authorities.

The standard Muslim denial and defense

When outsiders point out that many passages in Koran may easily be understood as incitement to violence, the standard Muslim defence is that outsiders should not misinterpret the Koran, that only those who know Arabic to perfection are entitled to interpret the Koran, and that is only Western hatred of Islam that makes people lay blame on Islam. ‘The Koran is a book of peace, and to understand it as inciting to violence is just a malicious misinterpretation. How can enemies of Islam be assumed to understand the Koran or Islam – which they hate – correctly?’ The second defense is a stern warning to outsiders not to base their opinions on clerical statements. ‘The clerics are not the people’!

The third defense is ridiculing outsiders for forming their opinions on the basis of the point of view of inexperienced young men who may not even know Arabic and hence cannot even read the Koran. It makes, however, little difference to the victim whether the killer is experienced or not, and whether or not he is able to read Koranic Arabic. In order to be (mis)led, it is not necessary to be able to read. On the contrary.

All these types of defense nevertheless have their merit, and they even may be true in parts. But when (i) the plain meaning of text of the Koran, (ii) statements by authoritative influential professional religious leaders, and (iii) statements originating with convicted terrorists all three point into the same direction, the non-Muslim world definitely has a problem, and there can be only one reason to ridicule outsiders who feel compelled to point this out. Western worries are, to say the least, justified. The previous phrase will make many Muslims smile.

Arguments from Muhammad’s life and sayings

Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, may have been born around 570 AD in Mecca and if he existed, he died in Medina around 632. Both towns are situated in the Higaz, a part of the Arabian Peninsula, a territory that since the 1920s-1930s forms part of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. There are no solid proofs for Muhammad’s historicity, which is curious in the case of someone who lived that late and that close to literate societies in what is now the Middle East: Greeks, Armenians, Copts, Persians, Jews, etcetera. However, the argumentum e silentio is never very strong. Who knows what archaeologists will find in the future. There may, at present, be no contemporary witnesses to Muhammad’s historicity, but that historicity is completely and utterly irrelevant to the threat Islamic terrorism poses.

Muslims trust their prophet Muhammad existed, and they feel they are familiar with his career, his sayings and his acts. Muslims consider Muhammad to be the ‘good example’ par excellence (Koran 33:21, uswa Hasana). The Koran contains no biographical details on his life and career, but Koran commentaries do, and appear to be omniscient. The average Muslim draws little or no distinction between the contents of the Koran and the contents of the traditional authoritative standard commentaries. Hence, Muslims feel in general assured that the Koran contains information on Muhammad’s life, and since the Koran is infallible, so is this information. Rarely people realize that their information (on, e.g., the battle of Badr, on the year of Muhammad’s birth, on his having been an orphan, etc. etc.) is derived from commentaries, not from the book itself. These commentaries may be wrong even if the book might be infallible.

Muhammad’s behaviour as reported in Muslim tradition sets in every detail an example for all Muslims. Apart from what one comes across in the Koran commentaries, his sayings and acts are assumed to be known from two groups of sources: biographies like the one by Ibn Ishaq, ca. 750, and canonical collections of his sayings and instructions like the ones compiled by Al-Bukhari and Muslim, both ca. 860 AD. All these sources were written down late, more than a century after the death of Muhammad. All these texts have been translated into English, and many other languages.

What ‘good example’, ‘that has be followed in all its details’, did the prophet of Islam set for his community? According to the Muslim sources themselves, Muhammad and his men raided their neighbours, captured these, and sold them into slavery. Mohammed and his men robbed travelers and caravans, and assassinated critics of their behaviour. According to the Muslim sources themselves, Muhammad and his men migrated from Mecca to Medina, but once there they rewarded the inhabitants of Medina by killing a large number of them. These sources themselves report how Muhammad beheaded 700 Medinese Jews, on the flimsiest of excuses. His contemporaries and later Muslim historians were embarrassed about this behaviour.

Muhammad did not claim to be God. He would have made himself ridiculous by doing so. He asserted to be just a little less than God himself. He declared to be the messenger of God, and stated that he received communications from God. These divine messages and orders had to be obeyed absolutely. The result has been that he got more direct power over his men’s lives than God. People around him had no choice but to submit to his commands that, perhaps, were indeed coming from God himself. Only Muhammad himself knows.

He married a woman and slept with her on the day he had killed her father, her husband and her brother. She was forced to catch a glimpse of the bodies of these unlucky men, who must have been close to her, on her way to Muhammad’s bed. Muhammad arranged for the assassination of poets and singers who made fun of his pretensions. He married a young girl and slept with her when she was, perhaps, nine years old. Or, according to some Islamic traditions, she was even younger. He himself was over fifty at the time. In order to get information out of prisoners of war, he tortured them by starting a fire on their chest.

All this comes from Muslim canonized sources. What did these sources leave out? How much longer has such a list to become before outsiders get worried when they hear that millions of men want to die and to kill in order to be able to follow this unique example?

A few quotations from Muhammad’s noble sayings are in place. ‘Paradise is beneath the shadows of swords’. ‘I have been commanded that I should fight people till they bear witness that there is no God but Allah and keep up prayer and pay zakat [‘contribute to the war chest’, i.e., capitulate and become Muslim]. When they do this, their blood and their property shall be safe with me.’ Perhaps Westerners have become so peaceful that they cannot see that this last phrase means ‘when they surrender and become Muslim they will not be killed and robbed’. ‘I bring you slaughter’. ‘Become a Muslim and thou wilt be in peace’, aslim taslam, equally translatable as ‘surrender and you will live’.

Al-Bukhari relates how Muhammad and a group of his followers heard a far-off sound. His followers asked him: ‘What is that noise, Oh messenger of God?’, and he replied: ‘That’s the Jews suffering torment in their graves’. Wafa Sultan was born and educated in Syria. She studied medicine there, migrated to the United States and became a psychiatrist. February 21, 2006, she unexpectedly, in a live program on the Arabic TV station Al-Jazeera, criticized Islam in front of a number of Muslim religious leaders who were stupefied by so much female indecency. In her autobiographical book A God Who Hates (2009) she explains how this ‘anecdote’ about the torment of dead Jews got ‘etched’ into her memory (p. 201).

Another saying, also reported by Wafa Sultan, and by many others, is perhaps even more memorable:

An impostor, the Antichrist, will come along and claim to be the Messiah. Seventy thousand Jews will follow him, each girt with a sword. But the Messiah will catch [the Antichrist], kill him, and defeat all the Jews. Each and every stone and tree will say: ‘Oh servants of Allah, Oh Muslim, here is a Jew hiding behind me, come and kill him.’

Etcetera. The few examples Wafa Sultan cites from the canonical collections of Muhammad’s saying are sufficient to convince each and every Western reader that these ancient texts are anti-Semitic and that the commands they contain or imply are not in accordance with what modern open societies see as normal, humane behaviour. Consequently, such incitements constitute a threat to Western, open societies. The sayings on Christianity and Christians are not reassuring either.

Luckily the authors and collectors of these texts were obviously unable to imagine modern atheism and agnosticism. It is, however, not a demanding intellectual effort to envision what they would have said about these two isms.

Arguments from Islamic Sharia law

Next to the Koran and the way it is generally understood, and the example of Muhammad as officially codified, and transmitted by Muslims to Muslims, we have to take into account the system of Islamic Sharia law as a third religious factor inductive to terrorist behaviour. Islamic law is not codified the way most Western systems have been under the influence of Napoleon (d. 1821). This makes it difficult if not impossible for outsiders to find the exact ruling that the Sharia prescribes.

The absence of codifications creates the need to consult a qualified, professional Muslim scholar specialized in the matter. This need for help produces a dependence on such men that many would deem to be unhealthy. Nevertheless, both Muslims and non-Muslims living under conditions that impose Muslim Sharia law, have incessantly to consult such experts. This gives these men great power. What will they think about the name I choose for my daughter’s Teddy bear? Will they permit me bring out this book, article, poem or movie? Are my clothes decent – according to these men? Should I shave my beard, or is shaving my beard forbidden? What can I eat? What can I drink? Whom can I receive in my own house without being accused of immorality? Will they deem it permissible if I take this job? Mortgage my house? Become member of an association? A political party? A labour union? Play a musical instrument? Participate in an election?

Governments in Islamic countries are not always happy about the scope of this power, and try to control the members of the guild of Sharia experts as tightly as possible. In Iran, the members of this guild (they call themselves, and are called, ayatollah, ‘sign of God’) have taken over the government completely, and have established a religious dictatorship in 1979, in the wake of the Iranian Islamic Revolution led by Khomeini. The Bible, talking not about Islam but about Judaism, calls the members of such a guild ‘scribes’ (e.g., Mt 2:4, Jeremia 8:8.) or ‘lawyers’ (e.g., Lk 7:30). Most Biblical passages about such men are negative.

Sharia law, hence, is not codified, and according to most experts it even cannot be codified. Nevertheless, we are happy to possess a number of good introductions to Islamic Sharia law in several languages, and one excellent handbook in English, made in the United Sates – good old American know how – , by an American convert to Islam who calls himself Nuh Ha Mim Keller: The Reliance of the Traveller, Beltsville (Maryland) 1991 and several reprints, 22 + 1238 pages. The Azhar University, the most prestigious centre of Islamic learning in the world, endorses the book. The Azhar ‘certification’ of it can be found in English on p. 20, in Arabic on p. 21. The contents of the book, the Azhar experts declare, ‘conform to the practice and the faith of the orthodox Sunni community’, muwaafaqa li-manhag wa-‘aqiidat ahl al-sunna wa-l-gamaa‘a.

Unlike many non-Muslim friends of Islam, Keller is completely honest:

Jihad means to go to war against non-Muslims (...). The scriptural basis for jihad (…) is such Koranic verses as: (1) ‘Fighting is prescribed for you’ (Koran 2:216); (2) ‘Slay them wherever you find them’ (Koran 4:89); (3) ‘Fight the idolators utterly’ (Koran 9:36); and such hadiths as the one related by Bukhari and Muslim that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said ‘I have been commanded to fight people until they testify that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah’ (…) and the hadith reported by Muslim ‘To go forth in the morning or evening to fight in the path of Allah is better than the whole world and everything in it.’

Details concerning jihad are found in the military expeditions of the Prophet  (Allah bless him and give him peace), including his own martial forays and those on which he dispatched others. The former consist of the ones he personally attended, some twenty-seven (others say twenty-nine) of them. (p. 599-600)

This is not about spiritual warfare. This is about warfare.

Jihad is a communal obligation. When enough people perform it to successfully accomplish it, it is no longer obligatory upon others (…). If none of those concerned perform jihad, and it does not happen at all, then everyone who is aware that it is obligatory is guilty of sin, if there was a possibility of having performed it. (…)

There are two possible states in respect to non-Muslims. The first is when they are in their own countries, in which case jihad is a communal obligation (…) upon Muslims each year.

The second state is when non-Muslims invade a Muslim country or near to one, in which case jihad is personally obligatory. (p. 600)

This is followed by paragraphs on ‘The rules of warfare’ (p. 603-604), ‘Truces’ (p. 604-605) and ‘Spoils of Battle’ (p. 606). It is hard to imagine that this is about ‘spiritual warfare’. It should, moreover, be noted that waging war is obligatory both when non-Muslims are ‘in their own countries’, and when they are not. This, one must conclude, means that warfare is always obligatory.


With a little help from the handbooks on Muslim Law, even the most feeble-minded apologist for Islam can find out how bad things really are. On the other hand, no law made by God or men obliges Muslims to warn others about these things. Muslims cannot be faulted for being discrete about the subject. In the opinion of some Islamic religious authorities, Muslims even have the right, or the duty, to be careful about divulging these warlike aspirations, and are at liberty to practice ‘prudence’ or ‘dissimulation’ of their real convictions and aspirations.

The Arabic word here is taqiyya, often understood as ‘lying’ but in reality ‘caution’. Muslims practice ‘caution’ about these sensitive things, and right they are. When non-Muslims are too lazy or too stupid to find out what Muslim religious texts prescribe concerning warfare and terrorism, they are themselves responsible for their unhappy fate.

Muslims preserve a certain reticence about the Islamic enmity against the West, and about the commands to use violence that the Islamic religious tradition issues to Muslims. It is, of course, known to them that the Koran, the Hadith collections, sermons in the mosque and the Sharia handbooks all order the judicious application of violence, and can easily be understood to do much more than that. This obviously may result in senseless terrorism. From the Muslim point of view this reserve is understandable.

It is, on the contrary, more difficult to understand why Western professional Islam-watchers would be even more reticent. When they are familiar with the sources, which they no doubt are, they must know how things stand. Why would they be so careful? Their discretion has an unwelcome side effect: Western politicians, who have no choice but to rely on the information that is supplied to them, tend to loose sight of the dangers Islamic violence may pose. Not being supplied with the necessary information makes it impossible for them to reach the right conclusions.

Professor John L. Esposito (Georgetown, Washington DC) ‘spent most of the last two decades pooh-poohing the widely held belief that Islam is a threat to the West’. He enjoys a unique prominence. Islam is only associated with terrorism, the eminent professor writes, ‘because Christians and Jews do not understand its true meaning.’ ‘Contemporary Islam is more a challenge than a threat’. ‘It challenges the West to know and understand the diversity of the Muslim experience.’ The American journalist Paul Sperry took the trouble to make a study of John Esposito and his mind-numbing writings. Sperry published his conclusions in ‘Interfaith Phoniness: Breaking Bred with Radicals’, in his Infiltration: How Muslim Spies and Subversives Have Penetrated Washington, Nashville (Tennessee) 2005, pp. 95-100, and following.

In Europe, Professor Esposito has so many indigenous clones that the autochthonous European tradition of studying Islam has all but disappeared. The German scholar Theodor Nöldeke (1836-1930), the Dutchman Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje (1857-1936) and the Hungarian Ignaz Goldziher (1850-1921) were the founding fathers of that tradition. It was a tradition that had no problems with facing reality. It did not, like Professor Esposito and his latter-day clones, receive subsidies from governments and private persons in the Muslim world. On the other hand, it is difficult to imagine that even for money an academic who is employed in the free world would withhold part of the truth, especially when vital interest of state and society are at stake.

The duty of Jihad

However this all may be, Jihad is, in principle, a collective duty. Under normal circumstances, the state has to make the arrangements that are necessary for the discharge of this duty. The last example of Jihad waged by an Islamic state is the siege of Vienna, 1683. Nevertheless, on September 11, 1683, the Polish army started to chase away the Muslim Ottoman Turks from under the walls of Vienna where they were carrying out their collective Islamic duty of annual Jihad.

The Poles succeeded in liberating Vienna, and gained everlasting glory. This was momentous, and the lifting of the siege of Vienna started a period that would last a little over three centuries in which Islamic Jihad waged by states, or other actors, did not plague Europe. Most inventions that made life in Western societies paradisiacal were made in this period. It is in these three centuries that an ever-growing gap appeared between the West en the rest.

Individual Muslims and Muslim NGOs, however, have recently taken up engaging in Jihad, but now as an individual duty. Tactically, this was the right decision. An Islamic state that would openly initiate a Jihadi war against a Western country would be annihilated. The intended victims of Jihadi expansionist wars would utterly destroy their enemies – if they knew who they were and where they could find them. Since the turn of the century, Jihad has consequently become more and more a private affair. States may have facilitated Jihad activities but they can easily deny having done so even if they did. Such denial would certainly be in the best interest of their self-preservation.

This, however, does not mean that Jihad has not been resumed, but it is now not any longer waged by states.  NGOs like Al-Qaida and individuals have taken over. Since the attack on the United States, September 11, 2001, and the assassination of the Dutch columnist and filmmaker Theo van Gogh in Amsterdam, on November 2, 2004, this became difficult to overlook. But nevertheless a number of Western leaders bravely attempt to keep up face, and courageously deny the resurgence of Jihad. Their courage deserves a better cause.

In the eyes of Americans it may not be appropriate to compare the assassination of one individual artist with an attack that took thousands of lives. However, the assassination of Theo van Gogh had a deeper effect on Dutch society than any large-scale operation could possibly have had. Murdering Van Gogh brought home eloquently that in the Netherlands free speech on Islam would not be allowed any longer. Victims of 9/11 were, in a way, accidental. It was a terrible fate, but it could have befallen anybody irrespective of the opinions he had uttered about Islam. Bad luck, outside one’s control. But the murder of Van Gogh could, on the contrary, not have happened to anybody but Van Gogh.

It could only happen to someone who had expressed opinions on Islam. The assassin targeted someone who had spoken freely about Islam, in the way in which in the Netherlands Catholicism or Judaism are routinely denigrated. People got the message. Public figures who had small children withdrew from the media and the public debate. Self-censorship became rife. Publishers even refrained from reprinting Dutch books or offering them for translation into foreign languages – fearing that such things might draw unwelcome attention.

Martyrdom operations, suicide

Major Nidal Malik Hassan in 2009 and Van Gogh’s assassin in 2004 survived their personal contribution to Jihad (although Major Hasan may be sentenced to death and executed), but in most cases Jihad as a personal, individual, non-collective duty is difficult to distinguish from suicide. Suicide, however, is strictly forbidden in Islam. Nevertheless, in 1946 the late Franz Rosenthal (d. 2003) published an essay in which he mentioned suicide terrorism, ‘On Suicide in Islam’, JAOS, vl. 66, pp. 243-256. Already in 1946 he noted that in contrast with the negative Islamic attitudes towards suicide for reasons of depression, acts of Jihad martyrdom were extolled by some:


While the Qur’anic attitude toward suicide remains uncertain, the great authorities of the hadith leave no doubt as to the official attitude of Islam. In their opinion suicide is an unlawful act…. On the other hand, death as the result of “suicidal” missions and of the desire [for] martyrdom occurs not infrequently, since death [in such situations] is considered highly commendable according to Muslim religious concepts. However, such cases are no suicides in the proper sense of the term.

A little over half a century later the ‘moderate’ Islamic scribe Dr. Yusuf al-Qaradawi (b. 1926) reproduces the very same thought. The American researcher Dr. Andrew Bostom puts this in plain words in his excellent study The Legacy of Jihad, Amherst 2005, p. 250, quoting a passage in which Al-Qaradawi discusses ‘martyrdom operations’.

Al-Qaradawi, speaking in 2003 at an Islamic conference in Sweden, attempted at that occasion to give an answer to the question whether suicide operations should be seen as Jihad, or as just suicide. To an outsider, it is actually amazing that Al-Qaradawi knows how to distinguish between the two. Someone who kills himself, he writes, is ‘too weak to cope with the situation’ in which he finds himself. ‘In contrast, the one who carries out a martyrdom operation does not think of himself. He sells himself to Allah in order to buy Paradise in exchange’.

How can Dr. Al-Qaradawi know what motivates a terrorist? Most people do not even know their own motivations. Can Al-Qaradawi read minds? But we have to ask ourselves another, more important question: if this is how the moderate Muslims reason, what can we expect from the radicals?

There are no Islamic religious impediments that make suicide terrorism problematic from the religious point of view – on the contrary. To argue that religion, or at least Islam, applauds and approves of suicide missions is seriously defensible. Someone who goes on a suicide mission may well feel that he simply is doing his religious duty. He can, at least, be assured that his coreligionists and his religious leaders admire him for his determination. Others he certainly frightens.

Constituting elements of the ideology

The theology and ideology of Islam can both be used to justify violence and terrorism. As two Austrian scholars have pointed out, political Islam is characterized by a number of what these researchers have called Ideologeme, eight ‘elements of an ideology’, that can be summed up as anti-secularism, anti-Semitism, anti-liberalism, anti-communism, misogyny and homophobia. To this list an intense loathing for music and alcohol have to be added. (Thomas Schmidinger & Dunja Larise, Hrsg., Zwischen Gottesstaat und Demokratie: Handbuch des politischen Islam, Wien 2008, p. 33).

Some would call these eight elements ‘memes’. A ‘meme’ can be defined as ‘postulated, imitable unit or element of cultural ideas, symbols or practices, transmitted from one person to another’. These eight memes are all of Islamic religious origin, and can each be demonstrated to be current in either the Koran, or the Hadith, or the Sharia, or in two or three of these – but usually in all three.

A movement that consists of these eight elements, that has these eight themes as its ideological centre, cannot come to power democratically. In a free and open society, or in any society, such a movement needs stealth and terror to have its way. If the supporters of such a movement are serious about their desire to reshape society (and the world), they will actually start to employ surreptitiousness and terror. They, however, sincerely believe that God has ordered them to do so. They feel they are part of God’s plans for humanity. They are the Hizb Allah, ‘The party of God’. Their enemy is by definition the Hizb as-Shaytan, ‘The party of Satan’ (Koran 59:19 and elsewhere).

Muslims may well see deeds that Westerners would consider to be acts of ‘terrorism’ as the fulfillment of the religious duty of Jihad, and this with good scriptural and other reason. It is, at the same time, completely understandable that the Western political elite wants to deny that Islam may serve as a justification for terrorism: if the Western ruling elite would have been familiar with these Islamic aspirations, it should have protected the populations entrusted to their care, and prevented the Muslims from invading their countries. It is, on the other hand, completely understandable that Muslims deny that Islam may be used to justify terrorism: Why warn the enemy you are attacking? This will just prolong the struggle. It is in everybody’s interest that the struggle is not drawn out unnecessarily.

The strongest point of Western culture through the centuries has been its unique ability to admit its own mistakes, and to correct them. This strength explains the incredible and unique Western successes in science and technology. Perhaps this potency may convince a number of Muslims that they should come over to the other side, to the side of change, progress and liberty. After all, an ideology that idealizes death and suicide is not attractive to the living. If Muslims continue to hold on to the battle cry that was made famous in Europe by the Spanish fascists in the 1930s, Viva la Muerta, ‘Long live Death’, they may successfully terrorize the West, but they will not win over many hearts.


The present Western political elite stubbornly refuses to admit that the West is being threatened, and under attack. This refusal is not only due to political correctness but also to lack of imagination. Perhaps these two are the same. Ibn Warraq, the pseudonym of an apostate from Islam who is at the same time an acute observer of its strength and weakness, wrote in the aftermath of the Fort Hood massacre:

We are confronted, after all, with Islamic terrorists; and we must take the Islamic component seriously. Westerners in general and Americans in particular no longer seem able to grasp the passionate religious convictions of Islamic terrorists. It is this passionate conviction, directed against the West and against non-Muslims in general, that drives them. They are truly, and literally, God-intoxicated fanatics. If we refuse to understand that, we cannot understand them. (CFI Releases, Statement from Ibn Warraq in response to Fort Hood Tragedy, November 11, 2009, Center For Inquiry, News)

Western peace of mind may be better served when we neither understand Ibn Warraq’s statement nor the intoxication religions can evoke.

There is a battle going on. This, again, is both reason to worry, and a truism. Nevertheless, a large majority of Westerners is ready to deny the reality of this battle till death follows, as it well may. On the other hand, there is little doubt how this battle will end once the West takes off its gloves, if ever it does.