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Fundamentalism: "diabolic" union between religion and politics

Bernardo Cervellera

Beirut (AsiaNews) -- The deaths at the Kadhimiyah mosque, preceded by mortar attacks for which a Sunni group linked to Al Qaeda has claimed responsibility, are once again the signs of the "diabolic" face of Islamic terrorism. 

According to Jesuit Fr Samir Khalil Samir, this Islam has lost all ties with spirituality and religiosity and has become an "anti-divine" and "anti-human" ideology, which seeks only power.  "Certainly, this movement claims an Islamic quality," Fr Samir told AsiaNews, "but what defines it is the desire for power, mixed with a religious element, in the name of God.  Marxist ideology was the same thing, but without God; the same goes for nationalism: they are all forms of ideology where the aim becomes power.  This is, in point of fact, anti-divine, diabolical, even if done in the name of God; it is anti-human." 

These are a few indications of the considerations that Fr Samir, professor of the history of Arab and Islamic studies at Beirut's St Joseph University, made in a series of conversations with AsiaNews on Islam and the West.  Today's is the first part of a series that will be published periodically.  Topics range from Islam, to terrorism, to fundamentalism and the closed quality of the Muslim theological and social world.  A part of the conversation is dedicated to European Islam and to Muslim youth and their ties to the fundamentalism of Koranic schools in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.  Fr Samir also offers advice to European governments and societies on how to curb pressure from fundamentalists, and their ever more insistent requests to see the adoption of Islamic schools, mosques, butchershops, and clothes in the West. 

The series will culminate in a close examination of the Islam's profound needs: Islam, Fr Samir says, "needs a 'new Enlightenment', which separates within itself what is religious from what is political.  To this end, dialogue with European Christianity itself could be the big occasion for a veritible religious renaissance of Islam.

Part One -- Terrorism: the war against Islam and the West 

Those who died among the crowds of people that fled from the Kadhimiyah mosque in Baghdad were preceded by those killed by mortar fire and the rumours -- whether spontaneous or concocted -- of imminent suicide attacks.  Iraqi authorities are referring to a "terrorist act."  If we link these killings to those caused by the many past attacks in Egypt, Turkey, Israel, London and Madrid, we can see that terrorism is increasingly targeting civilians and, above all, it is also targeting Muslims. 

This reveals something that was previously hidden: the primary aim of Islamic terrorism is to overturn governments of the Islamic world considered to be false, corrupted, Westernized Muslims, in order to create that model society which would be the sharia-based Islamic society. 

Even in the 1960s and 70s, ideologues were not thinking so much of attacking the West, but the Islamic world and they developed the theory that was limited to overturning Islamic governments.  Then, over time, in analyzing the strong ties that existed with the West, they began a phase in which they attacked mainly the West.  Today, we have reached a phase where everyone is under attack: Islamic governments and Western governments. 

Yesterday massacre in Baghdad can be seen as Wahabi fundamentalism's attack against the Sh'ite heretics.  The hatred that exists between Sunnis and Shi'ites surpasses by far the hatred that can exist between Christians and Muslims.  This because the first is caused by strictly political reasons, i.e. who was to take power of the Caliphate.  This explains the many attacks and destruction aimed at Shi'ites in Iraq and Pakistan.  But it also reveals that what is driving fundamentalism is a political project that wants achieving by eliminating the adversary. 

Let's take a few examples, like that of Sharm el Sheikh last August.  There had already been another attack in the past in the same area, and another in the touristic area of Luxor.  The aim is to attack Egypt in its weak point, the economy and especially tourism.  Tourism has a dual function: firstly, it is a primary source of income for the country; secondly, it makes for a lot of publicity, an element that terrorists are always after.  If children, locals, Arabs, Muslims are affected, they couldn't care less: their terrorism has by now become a blind ideology, lacking any sort of principle.  Initially, they acted in the name of Islam, but by now they are only looking to take power at whatever cost in Islam and throughout the world.  The Koran says in fact, "You are the most perfect community that has ever existed."  Their battle serves this purpose. 

The same holds for Iraq. From the outset, terrorists killed 4 or 5 as many Iraqis as Americans and the trend continues, since what counts is gaining publicity and striking the government, whatever it may be, that they never wanted.  They say that the people do not want these governments... Certainly, no government is perfect, but people voted for them.  No one thinks that Iraq or Egypt are model countries, yet they have their legitimacy.  Perhaps they would be more justified to attack Saudi Arabia, which many Muslims describe as "the world's most corrupted country." 

In a certain sense, Westerners are deceiving themselves when they define these people as "Islamic."  Certainly, this movement claims its Islamic quality, but what defines them is the desire to take power, in the name of God.  Marxist ideology was the same thing but without God, as was nationalism: they were all forms of ideology where the aim becomes power.  This is, in point of fact, anti-divine, diabolical, even if done in the name of God; it is anti-human. 

The problem is that Wahabi fundamentalists refer to Mohammad and his Medina experience, in other words, an Islam that is conflated with politics.  Islam would need to be helped to reread the Koran in an historical and sociological sense, to separate religion from politics, but unfortunately this step is accepted only by a minute Westernized minority. 

Islam has never made the distinction -- typical of Christianity -- between what is Caesar's and what is God's. 

These groups seek power and make use of religious motivations, of pure orthodoxy, to battle the Shi'ites, Westernized Muslims, and Westerners themselves.  When these groups attack the West, there can be a semblance of battle against the infidels, which many Muslims justify.  When fundamentalists attack other Muslims, Islamic communities remain speechless, in the grips of anxiety and fear.

A rereading of the Koran, inspired by the behaviour of Mohammad at the Mecca, at the outset of his vocation, is by now absolutely necessary to enter into the modern world.

 

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Copyright 2004 Victor Claveau. All Rights Reserved