War Begets War: It’s Not about Islam; It Never Was

Is it not possible that Muslims are angered by something much more subtle and profound than Charlie Hebdo’s tasteless art?

By Ramzy Baroud

It is still not about Islam, even if the media and militants attacking western targets say so. Actually, it never was. But it was important for many to conflate politics with religion; partly because it is convenient and self-validating.

First, let’s be clear on some points. Islam has set in motion a system to abolish slavery over 1,200 years before the slave trade reached its peak in the western world.

Freeing the slaves, who were owned by pagan Arab tribes, was a recurring theme in the Koran, always linked to the most basic signs of piety and virtue:

“The charities are to go to the poor, and the needy, and those who work to collect them, and those whose hearts have been united, and to free the slaves, and those in debt, and in the cause of God, and the traveller. A duty from God, and God is Knowledgeable, Wise.” [Al-Koran. 9:60]

It is unfortunate that such reminders would have to be regularly restated, thanks to constant anti-Islam propaganda in many western countries. The outlandish and often barbaric behaviour of the so-called Islamic State (IS) has given greater impetus to existing prejudices and propaganda.

Second, gender equality in Islam has been enshrined in the language of the Koran and the legacy of the Prophet Mohammed.

“For Muslim men and women, for believing men and women, for devout men and women, for truthful men and women, for patient men and women, for humble men and women, for charitable men and women, for fasting men and women, for chaste men and women, and for men and women who remember God often – for them has Allah prepared forgiveness and great reward.” [33:35]

Third, the sanctity of life is paramount in Islam to the extent that “…if any one slew a person (..) it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people.” [5:32]

Still, this is not about Islam. This is about why Islam is the subject of this discussion in the first place, when we should be addressing the real roots of violence.

When Islam was introduced to Arabia many centuries ago, it was, and in fact remains, a revolutionary religion. It was and remains radical, certainly the kind of radicalism that, if viewed objectively, would be considered a real challenge to classism in society, to inequality in all of its forms, and more importantly, to capitalism and its embedded insatiability, greed and callousness.

To avoid a rational discussion about real issues, many make non-issues the crux of the debate. So Islam is discussed alongside IS, Nigerian tribal and sectarian conflicts, Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation, immigration issues in Europe and much more.

While much violence happens across the world in the name of Christianity, Judaism, even Buddhism in Burma and Sri Lanka, rarely do entire collectives get stigmatised by the media. Yet, all Muslims are held directly or otherwise accountable by many, even if a criminal who happened to be a Muslim went out on a violent rampage. Yes, he may still be designated as a “lone wolf”, but one can be almost certain that Muslims and Islam somehow become relevant to the media debate afterwards.

In their desperate attempt to fend off accusations, many Muslims, often led by credible intellectuals and journalists have, for nearly two decades staged a counter effort to distance Islam from violence and to fight the persisting stereotype. With time, these efforts culminated into a constant stream of collective apologies on behalf of Islam.

When a Muslim in Brazil or Libya reacts to a hostage crisis in Sydney, Australia, condemning violence on behalf of Islam, and frantically attempting to defend Islam and disown militancy, and so on, the question is, why? Why does the media make Muslims feel accountable for anything carried out in the name of Islam, even by some deranged person? Why are members of other religions not held to the same standards? Why aren’t Swedish Christians asked to explain and apologise for the behaviour of Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army, or Argentinean Jews to explain the daily, systematic violence and terror carried out by Jewish extremists in Jerusalem and the West Bank?

Since Francis Fukuyama declared the “End of History” in 1992 – revelling that free markets and “liberal democracies” will reign supreme forever – followed by Samuel Huntington’s supposed contrasting, but still equally conceited, view of the “Clash of Civilizations and the need to “remake the world order”, a whole new intellectual industry has embroiled many in Washington, London and elsewhere. Once the Cold War had triumphantly ended with an inflated sense of political validation, the Middle East became the new playground for ideas about dominion and military hardware.

Since then, it has been an all-out war, either instigated by or involving various western powers. It was a protracted, multi-dimensional war: a destructive war on the ground, an economic war (blockades on the one hand and globalisation and free market exploitation on the other), cultural invasion (that made westernisation of society equivalent to modernity); topped with a massive propaganda war targeting the Middle East’s leading religion: Islam.

The war on Islam was particularly vital, as it seemed to unify a large range of western intellectuals, conservative, liberal, religious and secular alike. All done for good reasons:

– Islam is not just a religion, but a way of life. By demonising Islam, you demonise everything associated with it, including, of course, Muslims.

– The vilification of Islam which morphed into massive western-led Islamophobia helped validate the actions of western governments, however violent and abusive. The dehumanisation of Muslims became an essential weapon in war.

– It was also strategic: hating Islam and all Muslims is a very flexible tool that would make military intervention and economic sanctions possible anywhere where the West has political and economic interests. Hating Islam became a unifying rally-cry from advocates of sanctions on Sudan to anti-immigrant neo-Nazi groups in Germany, and everywhere else. The issue is no longer the violent means used to achieve political domination and control of natural resources, but, magically, it all was reduced to one single word: Islam; or, at best, Islam and something else: freedom of expression, women rights, and so forth.

Thus, it was no surprise to see the likes of Ian Black commenting in the Guardian, hours after gunmen carried out a lethal attack in Paris against a French Magazine on Wednesday, 7 January with the starting line: “Satire and Islam do not sit well together…”

Not a word on the French military and other forms of intervention in the Middle East; its destructive role in Syria; its leadership role in the war in Libya; its war in Mali, and so on. Not even a word on François Holland’s recent statement about being “ready” to bomb Libyan rebels, although it was made only few days earlier.

Sure, the pornographic satire of Charlie Hebdo and its targeting of Prophet Mohammed was mentioned, but little was said, by Black, or the many others who were quick to link the subject to “7th century Islam”, to the hideous wars and their horrible, pornographic manifestations of torture, rape and other unspeakable acts; acts that victimised millions of people; Muslim people. Instead, it about western art and Muslim intolerance. The subtle line was: yes, indeed, it is a “clash of civilisations”.

Did any of these “intellectuals” pause to think that maybe, just maybe, the violent responses to demeaning Islamic symbols reflect a real political sentiment, say for example, a collective feeling of humiliation, hurt, pain and racism that extend to every corner of the globe?

And that it is natural that war which is constantly exported from the West to the rest of the world, could ultimately be exported back to western cities?

Is it not possible that Muslims are angered by something much more subtle and profound than Charlie Hebdo’s tasteless art?

Avoiding the answer is likely to delay a serious attempt at finding a solution, which must start with the end of western interventionism in the Middle East.

– Ramzy Baroud is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. He is currently completing his PhD studies at the University of Exeter. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London).

(The Palestine Chronicle is a registered 501(c)3 organization, thus, all donations are tax deductible.)
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  1. Dear Mr. Baroud:

    You make several very valid observations. I fully agree with a lot of what you say in this article and such perspectives are not sufficiently understood here in the West.

    But the flip side is the violence. You suggest that the gang in Paris are einzelganger, but your own newspaper showed no report on its web site front page of the Paris killing: Nothing. All of the worlds newspapers expressed their horror, and yours did not even report it prominently on your newspaper’s homepage? Such lack does not help achieve the mutual understanding you appropriately propose in your article.

    But again: You article was well taken. Thank you.

    • Are you being serious Palestine has the terrorist state of isreal killing women and children on a daily basis and you are gonna complain cause France didn’t take front page on their website or newspaper. Why isn’t the atrocities being committed in Palestine on a daily basis on your local papers front page.

  2. Hans

    Baroud is an apologist for Arab/Muslim violence. It’s never about them being murderers who belong to death/hate ideology caused Islam.

    • Really Brett? You haven’t responded to or mentioned a thing Mr. Baroud said about the history of Islam and the historical record of the West in the middle east. Actually, I find this article very accurate in what it says about these issues. The US, the UK, and France, to name three Western nations heavily involved in the Middle East, have deplorable records of intervening in the affairs of the nations there. Surely you must be aware of this, eh?

  3. Dear mr. Baroud,

    I want to thank you for this article. You say the truth. As a matter of fact the Western governments have killed so may people and are still killing or maiming people in their rush to money and power. It seems to me that the West feels that its role is over and desperately tries to keep hold, loosing every human value and dignity.

    I think that only honesty and moral magnitude can lead the world forward. This will not come from the West, but from somewhere else.

    I met extraordinary people in the Middle East.

    Thank you once again. Articles like this may change the world in the end..the power of words is sometimes huge…

    Marijke Coster

  4. Ramsy,
    A tremendous piece, clear and articulate. Your outrage is palpable (rightly!).
    Doubtless you had steeled against pathetic harping such as the grievous failings of faith and committment of PC – a load of rubbish!
    Your summation of the millieu in which the Paris debacle occurred seems sound. The ex-colonial powers of Europe, are past masters at creating confusion that tends to perplex us (as now); they’ve had well over 100 years perfecting ‘divide and rule’ strategies, now well honed.
    The shameless intrusion of Israel’s PM reflects the selfish power alignments these days. Of course it’s NOT primarily an issue of religion.
    I share your outrage!

  5. An excellent article Ramzy, which I thank you for. We all need reminding of these things from time to time.

  6. Muslims always want you to thank them for their good intentions. Never mind, their actual conduct.

  7. Gamal Nasser and the League of Arab Nations rallied against the state of Israel and sacrificed tens of thousands of lives in various wars and terrorist attacks for the cause. We see mass protest against cartoon of the Prophet and those who draw them but near silence for those who commit unspeakable crimes in the name of Islam. Other than the mass rallies in Jordon when the Jordanian pilot was burnt alive by ISIS I do not recall seeing mass rallies in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, UAE, Iraq, Egypt, etc. denouncing such an evil act or against those who did so in the name of Islam. The solution to the radicalization of Islam must come from within as much as a change of polices from the West

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