God's Terrorists

Mr. Allen is an historian who has written several books on Central Asia and the British colonial period, including Soldier Sahibs and The Buddha and the Sahibs. He recently received the Sir Percy Sykes Memorial Medal for his work in "stimulating public interest in Britain's imperial encounter with Asia." His latest book is God's Terrorists: The Wahhabi Cult and the Hidden Roots of Modern Jihad (Perseus Books). He lives in England.

There is a widely held view in the West that the violence perpetrated by Muslim jihadists is a response to Western imperialism: a defence of Islam that will cease as soon as the US and its allies pull out of the Middle East, Iraq and Afghanistan (taking the Israelis with them). As a student of South Asian history I am bound to take a more sanguine view: that this violence has its roots in the perceived failure of Islam to achieve its destiny as a global religion, resulting in attempts to renew Sunni Islam and set it back on course to become the new world political order. The failure of our respective state departments to recognise the true nature of this revivalism has, I believe, contributed significantly to the West’s failure to get to grips with the phenomenon of Islamist extremism.

Sunni Muslim revivalism has a known history – and a hidden one. The known history begins with the rise to power of the Arab cleric Muhamad ibn Abd al-Wahhab of Nejd in the 1740s. Al-Wahhab was greatly influenced by the teachings of the controversial fourteenth century jurist of Damascus, Ibn Taymiyya, the ideologue whose reinterpretation of jihad (the Muslim’s duty to ‘strive’ for his Faith) is today cited by every extremist. Ibn Taymiyya developed his uncompromising views on jihad at a time when Islam was threatened by Mongol invaders. Al-Wahhab had no such excuse but he also believed that Islam was under threat: Islam’s conquest of the world was faltering and this could only be because Muslims had turned away from the true path. He called upon his parishioners to return to the pristine Islam of the days of the Prophet and to combat innovation with violence. His words fell on deaf ears – until he found a secular champion in a local Bedouin chieftan named Muhammed Ibn Saud. The imam and the emir formed an alliance cemented by the marriage of their children and then set about converting Arabia to Wahhabism by the sword with the simple philosophy of ‘convert to Wahhabi Islam or die’. In the process they brought death and destruction to a large corner of the Ottoman empire.  Six generations later the interlinked houses of Ibn Said and Al-Wahhab became joint rulers of the Wahhabi Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Wahhabism would have remained a merely regional blot on the face of Islam but for the combination of three events in the late 1970s: the coming to power in Pakistan of the dictator General Zia-ul-Haq, determined to turn his country into an Islamic state; the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan next door in December 1979; and  the dramatic hike in oil prices, which allowed the Saudis to devote huge sums to promoting the Wahhabi creed overseas – particularly in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

So much for the known history of Wahhabi Islam. What is much less well known is that Al-Wahhab’s creed was exported abroad by pilgrims returning from Mecca and took root in Muslim countries as far apart as Morocco, Chechnya and Sumatra. But nowhere did Wahhabism have a greater impact than in India, where it was first propagated in the 1820s by a charismatic preacher named Syed Ahmad. Determined to restore India to Islam Syed Ahmad led a small army of mujahedeen fighters to the Afghan border where he established a base in the mountains known as the kilamujahedeen or ‘fortress of the holy warriors’. He did this in imitation of the Prophet, who led his followers to Medina to establish a dar ul-Islam or ‘land of Faith’ from which he launched his campaign to capture Mecca from the infidels. From his own dar ul-Islam in the mountains Syed Ahmad rallied the local Pathan tribes and then set out to liberate the Punjab from its Sikh rulers. He failed and in 1831 died bravely in battle along with most of his followers.

That should have been the end of it, but the survivors regrouped: some returned to their mountain redoubt while the rest went underground to form a secret organisation dedicated to restoring India to Islam. Reinforced by volunteers and guns supplied by their supporters in India, the Wahhabis in the mountains tried time and time again to bring the Pathan tribes out in armed jihad against the British, one such uprising in 1897-98 requiring an army of 80,000 troops to suppress it. Although the British chased these Wahhabi mujahedeen from one hideout after another they kept the banner of jihad flying, and when Pakistan was created in 1947 their descendents were still to be found preaching jihad in a remote village called Bajour - the scene of the Pakistan Army’s recent gunship assault on a Taliban madrassa and previously the hideout of Osama bin Laden’s lieutenant Dr Ayman Al-Zawahari. The influence of these Wahhabi mujahadeen on the Pathans can hardly be exaggerated: they introduced the hardline Wahhabi interpretation of Islam to the Pathans, they provided a shining example of militant jihad, and they established the concept of a dar ul-Islam on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border – a belief that Osama bin Laden exploited when he set up his camp for Arab volunteers and named it Bait al-Ansar or ‘the House of Ansar’ (Ansar being the man who gave the Prophet refuge when he retreated to Medina). Later the same concept inspired Al-Qaeda, the ‘Military Base’.

In India itself the Wahhabis played a leading role in instigating the uprising of 1857 known to the British as the Indian Mutiny, even though they refused to join with the other rebels because of their own prejudices against Hindus and Shias. In the event the soldiers’ mutiny at Meerut on 10 May 1857 took the Wahhabis by surprise but a number of Wahhabis did join in the struggle against the British, most notably a group under the leadership of Sayyid Nazir Husain of Delhi. After the collapse of the uprising this group broke up, some fleeing to Arabia and others going underground – including two young men named Muhammad Qasim Nanautawi and Rashid Ahmed Gangohi.

A decade later the Wahhabi’s secret organisation was discovered, leading to a series of high profile trials and the imprisonment of many Wahhabi leaders, and giving rise to much heart-searching among India’s Muslims as to where their first loyalties lay. For all their misgivings about Wahhabi dogma, many ordinary Muslims interpreted the Wahhabi trials as persecution of fellow-Muslims and part of a general pattern of increasing discrimination against Muslims. A number of historians have subsequently taken this line, citing as evidence the decline in the numbers of Muslims in government employment from this time onwards. The sad reality is that this decline was part of a pattern of withdrawal from public life as a large element of India’s Sunni Muslim community began a slow retreat into the past.

Spearheading this great leap backward were two groups of mullahs with Wahhabi links. The more extreme of the two set up a politico-religious organisation known as Jamaat Ahl-i-Hadith, ‘The Party of the Tradition of the Prophet’. Its co-founder was Sayyid Nazir Husain of Delhi. The second group of clerics was led by Muhammad Qasim Nanautawi and Rashid Ahmed Gangohi, the former students of Sayyid Nazir Husain. In May1866 these two set up their own madrassa in the village of Deoband, drawing their students from the peasantry and refused to accept funding from government. The ethos of Deoband was that of the Arab seminary: English was prohibited, all students began their studies by learning the Quran by heart in its original Arabic and were taught a narrow-minded, intolerant fundamentalism that denounced such sinful activities as music and dancing and waged a ceaseless war of words against Shias, Hindus and Christian missionaries. Deobandism retained jihad as a central pillar of faith but it now focussed this jihad on Islamic revival through the immutability of sharia and the authority of the ulema, the Muslim clergy.

By promoting itself as a Dar ul-Ulum, or ‘Abode of Islamic Learning,’ the Deoband madrassa gained the support of the masses, providing Muslims with a new sense of identity. By the end of the nineteenth century Dar ul-Ulum Deoband had become the leading religious authority in Asia and its graduates had gone on to set up hundreds of lesser Deobandi madrassas. Today there are ten thousand Deoband-associated madrassas worldwide – and eight thousand in Pakistan alone.

The impact of Deobandism on central and south Asian Islam has been immense. It has given new authority to the clergy and has led to a revival of traditional Islam, resulting in seismic shift within Sunni Islam in South Asia, which has become increasingly conservative and intolerant and more inclined to look for political leadership from the madrassa-trained mullah committed to the cause of leading Muslims back to the true path. Nowhere is this shift more evident than in Pakistan.

In the 1920s and 1930s Deobandis became increasingly involved in politics and the outcome was the formation of two politico-religious parties with strong Deobandi links. Neither found much popular support in Pakistan until the coming to power of General Zia-Ul-Haq in 1977. Determined to create an authoritarian Islamic state, Zia promoted the Deobandi and Ahl-i-Hadith politico-religious parties – a process greatly assisted by the intervention of Saudi Arabia after the Russian intervention in Afghanistan. Through representatives like Osama bin Laden the Saudis directed huge sums of money towards the four openly Wahhabi or Deobandi mujahadeen groups fighting the Russians – and towards Wahhabi and Deobandi madrassas along the border. It was here in the 1980s and 1990s that the Taliban’s leaders and many of its rank-and-file were educated and jihadised. Today a coalition of Wahhabi and Deobandi politico-religious parties dominate the tribal areas on the Pakistan side of the border and the Taliban continues to regroup, knowing that it has widespread support among the Pathans.


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N. Friedman - 11/18/2006

Thank you for your kind words.

Peter Kovachev - 11/17/2006

Thank you Mr. Friedman, that was implicit in my argument, since I don't believe that Islam has ever been single-minded enough, or that Muslim powers have ever been unified enough to conspire for a common campaign. You put this better than I could, and I just may have to quote you in the future.

Peter Kovachev - 11/17/2006

The Wall of China has little to do with any of this, Mr. Chamberlain. Neither is it my argument that Muslims and their jihads are the only aggressive people in the world. It's that Islam has been on the path of opportunistic campaigns of territorial expansion and subjugation or conversion of others right from its beginning down to the present time. Hence the list, which should make this quite clear, if not indisputable.

Now, superimpose that list of jihads against political and religious maps of the world, and you'll note that it's no mere accident that once culturally diverse areas like Asia Minor, the Near East, Central and South Asia, and the whole of northern Africa are now a proverbial Muslim lake.

N. Friedman - 11/17/2006


I think you miss Peter's point. He does not say that all wars involving Muslims have been wars of conquest.

He is saying that Islam is consistently a motivation to make war for conquest since the religion preaches use of war to spread Islamic rule - the spread of that rule being a religious imperative. That assertion is a different thing from what you took out of Peter's words. In other words, he suggests Islam creates a pre-disposition.

And, war for conquest is the thing that is asserted by modern Jihadists. And, that view does appear to have strong historical support.

Oscar Chamberlain - 11/17/2006

Do you know when the Chinese started building that big wall of theirs? Do you know why? There were periodic coalitions of tribes significant enough to threaten their neighbors to the south long before Islam could have been a possible factor. You are not merely bending the history of Islam out of shape, you doing the same to the history of Mongolia and China.

As to your second point, you are defining all acts of war by Muslims as jihad (that at least has a measure of truth), but then you are arguing that all jihads have a fundamentally offensive nature. That is simply not true. Islam and Islamic nations have far too varied a history to make such a facile generalization.

Now if you were arguing that some Muslims today interpret their history as a series of jihads, and that his provides them justification for violence regardless of the truth of their claims, that would be different. But you are making the same mistake they are, which is distorting history to match your current concerns.

Peter Kovachev - 11/17/2006

And what does that have to do with the price of tea in China, then? The Mongols also went as far as France, but the point is that there were peaceful at the time when jihad was waged against them and their immediate neighbours. The jihad campaigns against them coalesced the loosely-organized tribes and formed them into superb and terrifying fighters.

My argument is that jihad is a constant feature of Islam and that the West's current conflicts with terrorism and Islamist authoritarianism aren't isolated and unrelated incidents, but a part of a larger and longer pattern.

Oscar Chamberlain - 11/15/2006

You have not read much about the Mongol's invasion of China, have you?

art eckstein - 11/15/2006

Okay, Barrie.

Lawrence was involved with Churchill in creating Iraq in 1921, that's for sure--before he became "Ross".

But as you acknowledge, Lawrence (or Churchill for that matter) is not responsible for the creation of the Saudis or for Saudi Arabia, and in fact Lawrence supported vigorously the Sherifians who opposed Ibn al-Saud. Too bad they didn't win.

Barrie Lambert - 11/15/2006

Sorry, Art. I did not mean to imply that Lawrence supported either the Saudis and or the geographical entity that is now Saudi Arabia (Lawrence’s own map of the desired geography of the Arab world in the Imperial War Museum is highly instructive here). As an aging Brit, Lawrence’s life, his achievements, and - most notably, being a Brit - his failures enjoyed a central place in our national mythology during my childhood.

In a receding colonial world, it was a mythology of betrayal and lost opportunities (including, for instance, a separate state for Armenians). Therefore, I deliberately used the term “dealing making”, the deals in question betraying both Lawrence’s vision and the Arab Revolt, and resulting in Lawrence's withdrawal from public life: Syke-Picot, 1916, the Balfour Declaration, 1917, and the Paris Peace Conference.

In this instance, mythology, grimly, is uncomfortably close to our current understanding of historical events.

Peter Kovachev - 11/15/2006

"It was the clear implication that in all these wars Islam had taken the offensive that put it off the scale for me." (Oscar Chamberlain)

More than clear implication, Mr. Chamberlain, more like clear evidence. Unless, of course, you can find a way to show how Islamist plunder and head-chopping "adventure tours" as far away from Mecca as Poland, China, Europe and Africa can be qualify as defensive measures.

Peter Kovachev - 11/15/2006

You are welcome to deconstruct my laundry list, Mr. Chamberlain. Suggesting, though, that I, in effect, write a book covering each and every instance in that list to fill-in what are evidently vast voids in your historical knowledge, that the list inexplicably "reveals a vast ignorance" or, most mysteriously, that it's a "clever Al Qaeda covert attempt to discredit all critics of Islam" isn't going to do it. Good for mild chuckle, though.

Still, you have made one attempt at deconstruction, probably thanks to vague memories of grade-school mentions of the "terrible Mongols," and it deserves a response. Actually, yes, the Mongols were a fairly peaceful people, as peaceful as loosely allied and bickering nomadic herdsmen the world over can be...until they had enough of six hundred years of savage Islamic incursions into China and Mongolia. After they unified to repel the Moslems in the 13th century, they nearly managed to destroy Islamdom, which is probably where you would like to begin with your politically correct history of the Mongols.

N. Friedman - 11/15/2006

Thank you.

art eckstein - 11/15/2006

"The Crusades were a limited set of events in the history of Christianity. Jihad is an institution in Islam."

Well put, N.F.!

People--and especially those people who like to think that the Crusades were an especially horrible and/or particularly Western imperialism--should carefully consider this point.

N. Friedman - 11/15/2006


In this regard, we disagree. The Crusades were a limited set of events in the history of Christianity. Jihad is an institution in Islam. It is a central element of the faith, not something concerning a particular period. So, it is not something akin to the Crusades. JIhad is something unique to Islam.

Wars by Muslims against others are, if just, Jihads. So, the declaration of Jihad is centrally important in a way that use of the term Crusade to discuss Western wars is not.

My point, to note, was not that all Jihads are, from our point of view, Jihads; but, for Muslims, just wars are Jihads. And such wars are generally declared to be jihads, whether we would classify them as such.

art eckstein - 11/15/2006


T. E. Lawrence was NOT a supporter of the Saudis! He supported the family of the Sherifs of Mecca, bitter enemies of the Saudis who were driven out of the Hijaz BY Ibn Saud and his jihadist armies in the 1920s.

Is THIS the level of your historical knowledge?

N. Friedman - 11/15/2006


I tend not to entirely agree with Professor Eckstein in his view that there is a tolerant Islam that, but for its inability to fight off the Wahhabis, might blossom.

My view is that Islam is a lot of things, some rather good, with Jihad - which is not, as I see it, good for non-Muslims - being an ongoing and important ingredient of Islamic thought and practice, except at times when Jihad to extent Islamic rule was not really possible for political or military or a variety of other reasons.

Classical Islamic theology is nearly universal in its favoring Jihad as a vehicle to extend Islamic rule under Islamic law. Such, to note, has not always been the agenda taken up by Muslim rulers in practice but such is the agenda which is pushed by the religion's classical theology.

Now, the vehicle that might, in practice, put the Jihad back into the bottle could be the re-institutionalization of Jihad under the authority of an individual. Such, after all, is what the (Sunni) Caliph - from a non-Muslim perspective - was.

In this regard, it should be noted that, in classical Islamic theology, the Caliph decided to declare a Jihad to extend Muslim rule under Muslim law. The non-Muslim perspective on that arrangement might, as Ephraim Karsh argues, mean a government with an imperial agenda. But, at least the agenda would have an address, the leader might be a rational person (and quite a number of Caliphs were) and deterrence, as with other hostile powers, might prove possible.

Then again, the direction of the Caliph has not always been followed by groups of Muslims. Such people have tended to live, in past times, on the edges of Muslim ruled territory and to cross into non-Muslim territory in order to engage in razzias - what we would call terrorism -, something that was done with great religious fervor. Such is rather well documented during quite a bit of Muslim history.

Perhaps - just perhaps - , the Jihadists among the Muslim immigrants to Europe engage in modern razzias much as occurred across the time when Islam had great armies that placed non-Muslim parts of the world on the defensive.

Barrie Lambert - 11/14/2006

"Default mode", with all the ramifications of that term; or strong tributary; or a unique response to clearly defined circumstances and, to a considerable degree, reliant on their maintenance? Interesting.

You say it's not a response to European colonialism, but what about, say, Lawrence and the deal making leading to Land of the House of Saud?

What are your "weak case" arguments?

art eckstein - 11/14/2006

Mr. Lambert, Islam may not be monolithic, but where are the powerful voices of modernization and moderation? They voices may there, but they are not powerful, and they are lost in the sea of extreme Wahabism-Salafism. Therefore one must deal not with Islam as it was, or as it might in an ideal form be, but with Islam as it is--really existing Islam.

The problem, as I see it, is that Wahabi-Salafist Islam is increasingly the "default mode" of this really-existing Islam. That is not an accident, nor, however, is it a response to European colonialism. It is a development, fundamentally, internal to Islam, and it draws on a very old and powerful Islamic tradition. Wahabism developed in late 18th century Arabia--where Europeans were hard to find indeed. And the reason for its efflorescence is in one sense simple: Saudi money. The Saudis came to power in Arabia in the 1920s as Wahabi fundamentalist Jihadis and since 1979 they have spent $100 BILLION on prosyletizing their narrow, hate-filled brand of Islam--including, especially, the creation of thousands of religious schools, and acadamies to train Mullahs. This has had, one must say, a very wide and deep and deleterious effect--all in favor of violent jihadism.

Oscar Chamberlain - 11/14/2006

"Jihad has to be considered in the mix of motivations"

If there is evidence for its significance of course. But the use of the term in itself gives no sense of the signficance of the idea in that context.

A counter example: it is likely that the term "Crusade" has been used by some American in every war the United States has fought. Each use possibly is evidence that at least some supporters have been motivated by their religion and even, perhaps, by a militant view of Christianity.

But such evidence alone would be utterly insufficient to show that the Christian tradition of a Crusade was at or near the heart of the conflict, much less that the war in question was in some way an extension of the Crusades of the medieval world.

I simply ask that we use the word "Jihad" with the same care, and with an equal recognition of nuance, that that we would wish historians to use with the word "Crusade." (I am well aware that not all historians have shown such care with the word "Crusade" either, but as the lawyer said in "Inherit the Wind," I have the right to hope.)

Barrie Lambert - 11/14/2006

The sub-text being that a monolithic Islam is bonded by Jihad and we must all quake in our beds as we reflect on the future of liberal democracy, &c,&c,&c, as confirmed by, if I may echo Mr Dylan, a simple list of dates.

Barrie Lambert - 11/14/2006

The sub-text being that a monolithic Islam is bonded by Jihad and we must all quake in our beds as we reflect on the future of liberal democracy, &c,&c,&c, as confirmed by, if I may echo Mr Dylan, a simple list of dates.

N. Friedman - 11/14/2006


On this, we agree, if the view is to understand the events as a whole. But, again, if the goal is to understand how the participants viewed the matter, Jihad has to be considered in the mix of motivations when one is declared.

Oscar Chamberlain - 11/14/2006

It was the clear implication that in all these wars Islam had taken the offensive that put it off the scale for me.

Also, as you note, these wars did not all occur because the Muslim's had solely religious motives.
In some cases--such as the original expansion--it is clear the primary motive. In others, such as the early wars against the Mongols, it is clearly self-defense. In other cases, the Mughal empire comes to mind, the mixture of religious and secular motivation varies radically from conflict to conflict and from ruler to ruler.

When the term jihad is applied to all these conflicts with no sense of distinction, it sheds no light whatsoever on how the conflicts of our time emerged.

N. Friedman - 11/14/2006


Jihad has, in fact, been an important feature in the history of Islam. And there have been a lot of declared Jihads. If Mr. Kovachev's point is that there have been a lot of declared Jihads, he certainly is correct. That, of course, does not mean that those attacked by Jihad forces or attacking such forces considered the matter to be a Jihad.

It is sometimes misleading - which is, I gather, what you may be alluding to - to refer to all declared Jihads as being Jihads where, no doubt, war might have broken out without regard to the religions of those involved.

On the other hand, it is worth considering how such disputes were seen by the participants as well. In this regard, I note that Jihad can, in Islamic thinking, be considered a form of "just war" - even when the goals are purely offensive. So, that is something to consider as well, as the declaration of Jihad provided a moral basis for fighting.

Oscar Chamberlain - 11/14/2006

A list of wars with questionable titles and with no discussion of who started what is at best remarkably devoid of information. In this case, it's either dishonest, reveals vast ignorance, or is a clever Al Qaeda covert attempt to discredit all critics of Islam.

As an example, "jihad against Monggols." Yep, those peaceful Mongols were all hacked up by a Muslim "crime of opportunity."

Peter Kovachev - 11/14/2006

Mr. Ewener,

You ask, "...why did political jihadism arise when it did? Why did the original Wahhabis themselves not carry their fight to the west, back in the 18th century?"

That sentence indicates two assumptions which you may wish to reconsider. The first is that jihad is a recent and isolated phenomenon and the second is that the targets or victims become targets or victims because of who they are. The ideology and rationale behind jihad has not changed all that much since the time of Mohammed and the list below will show you that the only common denominator among the targets and victims is that they were non-Muslims and that they either presented a lucrative opportunity or that they resisted Islam's spread.

The other point to look at is that jihad is a "crime of opportunity." The West was spared for a long time because it was inaccessible to the jihadists and the technology wasn't there; not very practical to ram a steam ship into a building or to build a suicide bomb with gunpowder and no technical knowledge.

Jihad goes back to the emergency of Islam, and its victims have born the brunt: the jihad among Arabs (622-651); jihad against Zoroastrians of Iran, Afghanistan and Baluchistan (634-651); jihad against Christian Byzantium (634-1453); jihad against Christian Copts of Egypt (640-655); jihad against Christian Copts, Nubians and Sudanese (650 and ongoing in Africa); jihad against Berbers and other North Africans (650-700); jihad against Spain (730-1492); jihad against the Franks of France (720-732); jihad against Sicily (812-940); jihad against China (751); jihad against Armenians and Georgians(651-751); jihad against Turks (651-751); jihad against Mongols (1260-1300); jihad against Hindus (635-1857); jihad against Malays and Indonesians (1450 to 1500); jihad against Poland (1444-1699); jihad against Rumania (1350-1699); jihad against Bulgaria (1350-1843); jihad against Serbians Croats and Albanians (1334-1920); jihad against modern Greeks (1450-1853); jihad against Hungary (1500-1683); jihad against Austria (1653).

For the 20th and 21 centuries we have jihadist-inspired wars against Jews (1920s-present); against the British (1947 to present); against the U.S. (9/11/2001 an on); against India and Hindus elsewhere (1947 and on); against the Filipinos (1970 and on), against Christians of Indonesia of Malaku and East Timor (1970 and on); against Russians (1955 and on); against Thais (2003 and on); against Nigerians (1965 and on); against Canada (2001 and on); and against Australians (2003 and on).

Seen this way, the West has enjoyed a very brief and relative peace with Islam, lasting no more than half a century and thanks due to economic and technological disparities. Now that the Islamic world is awash in trillions of petro-dollars and is catching up technologically, the "game is on" once again. If you take the time to look closely at each of the jihads, you will see that appeasement, negotiations, and cooperation has brought very temporary respites...mostly of the strategically-minded "hudna" variety...and the only time nations, religions and people have been able to maintain their independence is when they stood firm against Islam and repelled or crushed its jihads.

What is most remarkable is that after the centuries of mostly defensive wars with Islam, we in the West have lost the view of the larger picture and that we rationalize and scrape for any excuse we can find not to fight the threat. I'm afraid that because of our timidity and stupidity, we will allow big chunks of our civilization to be swallowed, as has happened in the past, or that this remarkable historical devlopment of secular liberal democracy will just be a brief flash in the historical pan. Oh, well, it was nice while it lasted.

A. M. Eckstein - 11/13/2006

Jeffrey, Halily is not an obscure preacher, he is the Mufti of Australia and (as of today) he has refused to step down as Mufti. There have been statements against him by other Muslim leaders but note that he has not been removed as Mufti. He was appointed as Mufti by a major conference of Muslim organizations.

Nor is al-Halily alone, as you claim. His views were recently (i.e., this month) supported by Abdul Jalil Ahmad of Perth, the leading Muslim cleric in Western Australia. As of Nov. 1, Ahmad's position was that women should not leave their homes unless they are accompanied by a man. He claims that sexual attacks only happen because "man is provoked."

Last year Ahmad demanded that Muslim immigrant communities in Australia be ruled in terms of family relations by Sharia law, not Australian law.

These are not minor figures and these incidents are not a minor. The claims of these Muslim clerics, immigrants in a country of Western culture, are a combination of feelings of victimization and feelings of the religious right to domination, a quite frightening "dual psychology". It is hard to see how the "grievances" that emerge from the dual psychology can ever be "resolved" except by surrender.

Halily and his friends and supporters may or may not represent a majority of Muslims in Australia but they certainly represent a significant percentage of them, with Halily still giving sermons in the largest mosque in the country.

But even if you do not except the Australian Mufti and his powerful friends as a good example of what is going on in term of the nature of "Muslim grievance", you can take the Cartoon Jihad as a far more terrible example (as Mr. Friedman says), and the murder of Theo van Gogh is another. Note that since van Gogh's murder no one in Holland has dared to make a film critical of Islam. I guess that Muslim grievance has indeed been resolved. But at what cost to western values of freedom of speech?

N. Friedman - 11/13/2006


There are many possible reasons why the Jihad broke out now. The most likely factors are, I think: a large generation of young people; the wide migration of Muslims beginning in the 1960's; the Internet; a new generation born after the retreat of European influence (and looking to tradition for solutions) and oil money. There may be other factors but my factors all suggest that opportunity, not outside causes, are primarily in issue.

My point with respect to Munich is that past wrongs may be causal but the effect can take on its own life, as occurred in Germany after WWI. I do note that the British, in particular, mistook a, if not the, cause of the Nazi's ability to seize power (whatever the cause of Nazism may be - and you note some factors) with how to address Nazism in power. I think that much the same can be said about the religious revival among Muslims, which are, as I see it, well within the bounds of traditional Islam.

You also write: "As far as I know, he is the only one who has made anything like the comments you otherwise so carefully cite. Even the rape seems to have been an individual incident, and nothing like the organized campaign you seem to suggest."

I do not think you are correct here. I think there are similar events that have occurred, most particularly in Europe.

On the other hand, I do not take the incident Professor Eckstein notes as being a particularly good way to illustrate anything but a reactionary preacher - although it may, in fact, be what he claims -. But, it should be noted that efforts to squelch speech in Europe and the violence used to force European policy in a particular direction, etc., etc. are really good examples.

N. Friedman - 11/13/2006


Delete this sentence: "Such also does not explain why Muslims in the West - but not Hindus, for example - do not engage in Jihad like activity in tandem with Muslims. I note this in view of the arrest in England of a former Hindu convert to Islam for some rather extraordinary plots of mass destruction. "


Such also does not explain why Muslims in the West - but not Hindus, for example - engage in Jihad and it does not explain why non-Muslims do not engage in Jihad in tandem with Muslims. I note this in view of the arrest in England of a former Hindu convert to Islam for some rather extraordinary plots of mass destruction. One joins to the cause, which means joining the religion.

N. Friedman - 11/13/2006


As always, you have good points.

I wonder about the bond between Western Jihadis and those in the Muslim regions. I am not sure it is quite as you describe. It seems to me that the rebel rousers do not merely share the pain of their Middle Eastern brethren. Many are actually from the Middle East. And, those engaged in Jihad are not all deep thinkers about the world situation or history.

Now, the history of imperialism with respect to the Muslim regions is also not that simple. The Ottoman Empire did not die until the end of WWI. The Qajar dynasty lasted until 1925. There was Western imperial control in some areas (e.g. in Egypt and Lebanon) but not in others (e.g. Saudi Arabia).

And there was plenty of imperialism from Muslim empires. It was not merely a one way street. That was certainly the case until 1683 - when the Ottoman Empire began its long retreat from Europe. But, that Empire did not leave all at once or cease its imperial character or activity. It just was less successful.

Such also does not explain why Muslims in the West - but not Hindus, for example - do not engage in Jihad like activity in tandem with Muslims. I note this in view of the arrest in England of a former Hindu convert to Islam for some rather extraordinary plots of mass destruction.

I really do not think that imperialism is the issue here. I think that you are examining two rather imperial world views, not merely one. And the Muslim imperial view is a product of religion, which makes it more difficult to fathom for us.

Jeffery Ewener - 11/13/2006

Mr. Friedman,

If religion were a causal and not just a conditioning factor, why did political jihadism arise when it did? Why did the original Wahhabis themselves not carry their fight to the west, back in the 18th century? Why did the rest of Islam take up arms to put them down at that time? If I made myself sound like I can predict the future, I apologize. I should have said I see no reason why the violence would not immediately begin to abate. The emphasis in my mind as I wrote that was on "begin to" -- I was allowing for the possibility that it may take time, that once the passion to violence is raised, it can take some time to cool, especially with the aggravating factor of a religious justification. But violence is such a horrible thing that it takes a huge amount of energy input to keep it going.

While I find your reference to Appeasement a little wearying, sir, let me say that Hitler would have had a far harder time achieving power without the Versailles Treaty outraging the Germans. But if it were only Versailles that he had to work with, he probably wouldn't have been so attractive to them either. That 19th-century mystical national struggle was the foundation for it, as was the long disgraceful tradition of anti-semitism in Christianity in general and central Europe in particular. (But apropos our current discussion, anti-semitism lies very deep in the Christian religion -- but why did it break out in one century and not another, in this place and not that one? I would argue that it was not so much a drive as a pretext that could be seized upon when it served other purposes.)

And for the record, I'm a practising Catholic, not a disinterested secularist.


You're right -- a complex problem requires a complext solution. And time.

A.M. Eckstein,

You refer to "leading Muslim clerics". The leading Muslim clerics have called for the Mufti's resignation. As far as I know, he is the only one who has made anything like the comments you otherwise so carefully cite. Even the rape seems to have been an individual incident, and nothing like the organized campaign you seem to suggest.

Worse is the incidence of abortion clinic bombings in the United States, where women exercising their legal rights, and medical people performing legal procedures, are targeted for murder. This is Christian terrorism -- or at least terrorism justified by Christian self-righteousness.

I would say that what the Australian Mufti has called for is no worse and no more crudely expressed than similar calls by intolerant and misogynistic reactionaries of all faiths and in every country. I would absolutely gobsmacked if similar statements had never been made by prominent Christians at some point, even right there in Australia.

If anything, this incident shows a basic commonality between religious reactionaries of all stripes. This may not be grounds for reejoicing, but it's even less a reason for religious or cultural discrimination. Women and the men who support them have to struggle against every laboured justification or encouragement of violence against them, regardless of religious or cultural source.

A. M. Eckstein - 11/13/2006

In Australia, the "grievance" is long sentences for Muslim men engaged in gang-rape, the "grievance" being that European-Australian women should know better than to walk around without being sufficiently covered. This is the position of Taj al-Hilaly, the Mufti of Australia and "spiritual leader" of 300,000 Australian Muslims. Recently he has received support in his position by the leading Muslim cleric in Perth, Western Austrlia.

The violence here is not a threat but has already happened, to multiple Australian women. And yet is being justified by leading Muslim clerics. Jeffrey, what kind of aggressive Muslim triumphalism do you suppose could have led to the emergence of this Muslim "grievance" against Australian women, and how do you propose the Australians should "remove this grievance"? Shall Australian women now go "covered" in order to be sensitive to Muslim sensibilities--and to avoid being raped?

I wish I were making this up. But I am not.

And I fear it serves as a paradigm for all the list of "grievances" the Muslim population is able to come up with, including Western cartoons that lampoon Islam, as cartoons lampoon other religions. That led to enormous violence too. Shall we "remove the grievance" by getting rid of traditional Western freedom of speech?

These two examples reveal that far more is involved here culturally than post-colonial struggles.

Oscar Chamberlain - 11/13/2006

You have a point that religion can be a causal factor and not simply a rationalization. I am also dubious about the idea that enmity would immediately begin to decline.

However, we are one of the inheritors of a complex imperial legacy, and as a part of our Cold War strategy, we worked to shape the region's leadership. The latter in particular is a problematic legacy and creates a bond of sympathy between more western oriented Muslims and their radical radical brethren.

Over time changes in policy (what changes are for another post) might reduce that bond. Over the long haul that would be to our advantage, but seeing positive results would require considerable patience. To succeed it would also be only one part of a larger policy.

N. Friedman - 11/13/2006


You write: "So today. If the grievances that drive some to violence in the Islamic world were removed, the violence would immediately begin to abate."

How can you be so sure? It seems to me that even if the causes are wholly outside of religion, the effect has taken on a life of its own.

Consider, that the likely cause for the Nazis rise to power was the treaty of Versailles. Would you argue, as Chamberlain and his cabinet argued, that resolving that treaty's shortcomings and unfairness to Germany would abate the move to war in Europe pre-WWII?

You write: "Religious revival movements do not erupt out of thin air, any more than the so-called Mutiny did in 1857. People resist regimes only when those regimes become intolerable. They then explain this to themselves, and ready themselves for the necessary sacrifices, through appeals to their religion."

Your position is essentially that religion is not a causal thing. How can that be the case? It may not be causal for you but to say that people who believe are not motivated by religion and, in some cases, religion alone is, to me, nonsense. It also ignores the history of Jihad's motivation to Muslims, something that has been a driving force since Islam began to triumph in the 7th Century.

I can see the argument that religion is not the only causal factor but to say that religion is not part of the mix - but rather, only a rationalization, as you suggest - strikes me as not consistent with the known facts including, for example, the fact that the movement is a movement of only Muslims in places where there are, for example, both Muslims and Christians living in the same area and under the same conditions. I do not see any Copt or Maronites joining in with the Jihadist movement. Do you?

Jeffery Ewener - 11/13/2006

Mr. Allen's research is fascinating and valuable, but his argument is not adequate to its purpose.

The fact that modern political jihadism "has its roots" in an older Islamic political & theological movement does not contradict the "widely held view" that the modern movement is nevertheless "a response to Western imperialism ... that will cease as soon as" or shortly after its proximate cause is removed.

Religion is a worldview. It is enlisted to explain the phenomena of daily life. Religious revival movements do not erupt out of thin air, any more than the so-called Mutiny did in 1857. People resist regimes only when those regimes become intolerable. They then explain this to themselves, and ready themselves for the necessary sacrifices, through appeals to their religion.

European resistance movements have used Christianity in just this way from before the Peasant's Revolt down to the congregational singing of Onward, Christian Soldiers during World War Two. Its religious "roots" can be found in Jesus's driving the moneychangers from the temple, or in a variety of bloody acts throughout the Old Testament. But the peasants didn't rise "because" of their theology, though clerical abuses might have added to their exasperation. Primarily, they used theology to justify their rebellion.

The salient fact is that, had the social, economic and political causes of the Revolt been eliminated or even mitigated, the violence could have been forestalled. The religion would not have changed. Europe would have remained Christian, though that Christianity would have shifted somewhat in emphasis. And Christianity would have remained the same complex and contradictory ground of understanding that it was before -- much like any other religion.

So today. If the grievances that drive some to violence in the Islamic world were removed, the violence would immediately begin to abate. It could perhaps be argued that the addition of religious ideology adds inertia to social movements -- and can help to prolong the violence after the immediate causes were removed, just as it probably helped to contain and deflect protest against those grievances for many years, before the theological justification for violence was developed. But Islam -- like Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism or Buddhism, to select a few from the morning paper -- is too rich, deep, ineffable and nebulous to "cause" a contemporary political movement, violent or otherwise.

N. Friedman - 11/13/2006

Mr. Allen,

I agree that one needs to understanding the Jihad in its own terms. That is a very important point as not everything that happens in the world is a reaction to the US or the West or anyone else. Some issues have roots inside a tradition.

On the other hand, you perhaps underestimate the role of Jihad before Ibn Taymiyya. You might read Patricia Crone's book God's Rule - Government and Islam: Six Centuries of Medieval Islamic Political Thought in which she documents NGO type Jihad during the religion's first six centuries, David Cook's Understanding Jihad, which details the role of Jihad and its ideology throughout the history of Islam.

Which is to say, Wahhabism is a carrier of the Jihad bug in the contemporary world. But, the role of Jihad, as a force of conquest, goes back to the religion's very beginnings and has been a rather consistent force throughout its history.

And, your article fails to note the role of the Iranian revolution in Jihad's revival. Not only was it an inspiration for Shi'a but for Sunni as well.

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