Suffering and Jihad
[Editor's note: during the hoiliday period, we are republishing classic articles along with a few new ones. This article was written in January 2004, when Yasser Arafat was still alive]
One of the arguments heard frequently since 9/11 is that there is a need for moderate Muslims to challenge and combat the radical Islamists who have become the vanguard of the world's fastest growing religion, and won millions of adherent on all continents. The argument made on behalf of the need for the moderates to speak out, is that the radicals have distorted or perverted the true teachings of Muhammad, and missed his message.
Jack Wheeler disagrees [a subscription publication: only sample paragraphs available — ed]. He believes that the message of Muhammad's life and the message of his holy book is in fact quite consistent with the message that the most fervent imams in the mosques of Gaza City or Saudi Arabia are broadcasting. That message includes such 'teachings' as: kill the Jews, murder the apostates, and make war on the infidels.
What if the reason that moderate Muslims are not rebelling against the radicals is because they do not have 'scripture'behind them? What if the choice for those who do not want to follow these teachings is to leave Islam, rather than challenge it from inside ('Leaving Islam: Apostates Speak Out') . Other than a few brave souls, I do not see this abandonment of Islam becoming a mass movement with any positive effect. If anything, it simply removes from the ranks of believers those who might challenge the Islamists from within, and who have some authority to speak as members of the faith.
Wheeler says terrorism is the last gasp of a dying Old Islam. He argues that for Muslims to improve their lives, they will need to adopt the values of human rights and political freedoms that underlie Western civilization. But if these traditions are largely absent from Muslim—dominated societies today, what is the likelihood that such Western concepts can emerge from these closed societies?
An excellent case in point is the Palestinian struggle against Israel. Bradley Burston in Haaretz argues that the Islamists who run Hamas, and other terror groups, care not a whit about the suffering of their people. Suffering is good for the Palestinian side, since it hardens the hearts of the adherents, and points the way to more violent actions against the enemy. The message is struggle, and suffering until victory—never accommodation with the enemy.
In 2000, on the eve of the Camp David Summit, the stars seemed aligned for a deal between the Israelis and Palestinians. President Bill Clinton, known for his strong powers of personal persuasion, was committed to devoting sufficient time to achieve a deal. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak had signaled before Camp David his willingness to make concessions that crossed all the 'red lines he had set out when he ran for office in 1999.
But most important, both sides seemed to be benefiting from the lull in their 50 year war. In Israel, the economy was booming, two million tourists had visited in one year, and terror deaths were at their lowest point in many years. For the Palestinians, more than 150,000 were working in Israel. Israeli gamblers, among the world's worst, I must assume, based on their results, were pouring hundreds of millions in losses into the Jericho casino. Israeli shoppers were spending lots of money in the West Bank towns. The Palestinian economy had a GDP annual growth rate like China's today.
So why did this intifada occur? Was it just to squeeze a few more concessions from Israel, or was it designed to end this period of accommodation, which threatened to soften Palestinian hearts and minds and might lead to acceptance of a two state solution? For Islamists, a part of the pie, and not all of it could never be acceptable, since it violates the promise of the return of the refugees and their descendants, kept alive as an article of political faith for more than 50 years. Barry and Judith Rubin in their biography of Yasser Arafat argue convincingly that Arafat is himself an Islamist.
Certainly the intifada, as Burston points out, has hurt Israel — its economy, immigration levels, tourism — and led to some fissures in Israeli society. But Israel, I think, responded more firmly than Arafat or other terror leaders might have believed possible in the summer of 2000, when this war was planned.
The lesson of the intifada, and Wheeler's analysis of Islam, is that those who believe that Israel can improve its hand by taking steps to improve the lives of the Palestinians are mistaken in believing that this is a goal that the leadership of the Palestinian side and the Islamic terror groups share. Lives can improve, but only after Israel is gone. For now, suffering is good. It creates the warrior class such as the young mother who blew herself up today, and murdered 4 Israelis in Gaza. Israel can no more achieve a compromise with Arafat, than America can with Bin Laden.
Richard baehr is the Chief Political Correspondent of The American Thinker.