Unification News for May 2002

Religion and the War on Terrorism

Frank Kaufmann

This is an excerpt from a paper given April 4, 2002 at a conference -- "Disparate and Alternative Perspectives on the War Against Terrorism" -- convened by the National Consortium for Genomic Management and Services (GenCon), and the Sandia National Laboratories at the USDA National Agricultural Library, in Beltsville, MD.

Events of September 11, 2001 awoke the USA to its vulnerability and set the nation on a number of courses in response. One involved security. Another military. Both require international cooperation, thus generating an international political and diplomatic response as well.

Because the terrorists involved in the attack on the US were said to have acted from religious motivations, the US by necessity also incorporated some religious elements into its response.

This paper examines the religious elements of the current terrorist environment, and offers concrete recommendations to policy makers seeking to restore so far as possible peace and security for US citizens and for the citizens of other countries.

This "war" on terrorism has both short term and long term goals, likewise approaches to both "surface" and "deep" considerations. Presently short term or "surface" considerations dominate. The best of the best are now devoted to forging a web of intelligence, military, political, and diplomatic relations required to respond to the surface manifestation of terrorism. The surface manifestation of terrorism is the fact that people acquire and deploy the tools of violence against civilian targets, according to the theory and practice of asymmetrical or revolutionary warfare, destructive engagement, and tactics of destabilization, developed most recently in the 20th century during the era of communist expansion .

The "war" on terrorism, is currently in its short term and superficial phase. An enormously expensive project designed to disrupt the acquisition and deployment of the tools of violence by those who are willing to use them against the US and US allies.

Were the US were not attacked, we would not be active as we are now in the "war on terrorism." All other countries in the world are lucky the US was attacked because we are so rich and powerful, and good at what we do. Since the US now feels threatened by terrorism, there is a high likelihood that the short term, superficial program to disrupt occasions of terror will have a high degree of success.

Security is a higher and more complex goal than "war". The current phase of the "war on terrorism" is only one element in the larger goal of "security." Though entirely inadequate in the long term, this current process nevertheless, is good for many reasons. It has forced levels of international cooperation far deeper than at any time in human history, including shared intelligence, and military cooperation.

This short term response to the surface aspects of the attack on the US had and to some extent has religious aspects. These derive from the identity of the terrorists, domestic demographics (and those of our allies), and the necessity to rapidly forge and effective alliance for the prosecution of the short term goals. The individuals and organizations involved in attacking the US identified themselves and their actions as Muslim. For this reason the US had to include in its "war on terrorism" some stance vis a vis Islam, an international community of approximately 1 billion believers.

Points which had to be considered include the significant Muslim population in the US and throughout Europe, the Muslim elements of the international and domestic policies of "allies in the war" such as Russia and China, and finally and perhaps most importantly, the need for cooperation from Muslim states.

As an American patriot, and as a religious professional in touch with the far reaches of Muslim positions I hold the opinion that the Bush administration managed the religious element of the superficial phase of its war excellently.

For the first several days immediately following the attack against the United States, President Bush met and appeared with Muslim leaders. Even in the National Cathedral where the innocent dead were first honored, a Muslim Cleric was a prominent member of the clergy present. In addition to these public symbols, President Bush also met privately with Muslim leaders, and (unfortunately) Sikh leaders, since the latter had suffered attack due to the ignorance of vigilantes. But it should also be noted how out of touch US leadership is with its Muslim population by its choice of which clerics were quickly convened to participate in these important national ceremonies.

Additionally, most or all military actions in Afghanistan were accompanied by humanitarian campaigns for the Afghani people, who had suffered at the hands of the radical Taliban. Finally communications were effectively and impressively managed in which the constant refrain hit home that our war is not with the millions of peace loving Muslim believers. This allowed for domestic unification, and the chance for unlikely allies to support US military force on foreign soil. Of course the huge economic windfall, and obvious plum of being a part of the big game made cooperation an obvious choice. Still serious errors on the "short term religious front" could well have confounded the chance to effectively prosecute this "war" at its present superficial level namely to obstruct acquisition and deployment of the means of violence against the US and civilian targets.

The US and its allies in the "war" safely navigated the "religious" elements on the superficial level, through symbol, rhetoric, and content, especially its commitment to fund the reconstruction of Afghanistan. (An Oxymoron, by the way - "construction of Afghanistan" is the only way accurately to describe current efforts.)

As I already said, much good has come from this "war," not only in terms of deeper international cooperation (which should yield many kinds of good), but also as we saw, much of what was precious about America which had been lost in boon times, has been recovered through the sobering impact of our collective shock and sorrow.

The gains in military, intelligence, and security resulting from the external, superficial, and short term goals of the "war" are invaluable, and should have a permanent positive impact on the quality of life all over the world.

Long Term Considerations

What has yet to be pursued adequately however, are the long term, or "deep" elements of the "war." This is not a failure. In my opinion the response to date has gone well. One cannot do everything at once. Any further delay, however, in moving ahead to the deeper and more long term issues, in my opinion, will have dire consequences for the whole world, and for Americans. Already the diplomatic bind in which the US finds itself vis a vis escalation of violence in Israel shows beyond doubt that the US must rapidly enter its second, more difficult phase in the "war." It is at this phase in which the religious aspects of the war come more strongly to the fore.

The long term or "deep" aspects of the war on terrorism is one which transcends a perpetual military action and must result in some resolution. No war is designed to be prosecuted indefinitely. The necessity for exit, ultimately will require a clear understanding of the religious issues beyond symbol and rhetoric, and will necessitate the involvement of religious leaders themselves.

Potential terrorists feel justified in prosecuting asymmetrical warfare for a just cause. Why is attack on America and its allies a just cause: "George W. Bush [is] among the most menacing and belligerent [presidents] in American history. [He has] outlined a program of limitless and perpetual warfare, on every continent, and against any regime that stands in the way of the rapacious American ruling class.... like Hitler and the Nazis, American militarism has embarked on a campaign of world conquest and world domination... [President Bush has issued] a declaration of the unbridled appetites of the military and of the most ruthless, corrupt and criminal sections of the American ruling elite ...Like Hitler, Bush presents an upside-down view of the world in which small and weak states are mortal threats to the most powerful and heavily armed... The Middle East and Central Asia possess, between them, more than two thirds of the world’s reserves of oil and natural gas. The US attacked Afghanistan as the first step in a campaign to establish its military position in Central Asia. Iran has come into direct conflict with this drive by pursuing its own interests in the Persian-speaking regions of western Afghanistan. Iran and Iraq are themselves the second and third largest oil producers in the region, following only Saudi Arabia... From a military standpoint, the network of bases and access rights which the US has established since September 11 resembles more and more a noose tightening around China: Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, India, the Philippines" (By the Editorial Board, 31 January 2002, World Socialist Web Site)

Are militant Islamists the only people who feel this way about America? By no means, half of New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles think this way, half the Harvard faculty, and half of CNN hold views along similar lines of analysis.

And what of the American pursuit of Al Qaeda? At least that is seen as justified. Right?

Hear is how near a million young men between 10 and 20 are taught on the current situation: "Seminaries, called madrassas, have become incubators in Pakistan for the holy warriors who say they will die to defend Islam and their hero, Osama bin Laden, from the infidels. In many of the 7,500 madrassas in Pakistan, inside a student body of 750,000 to a million, students learn to recite and obey Islamic law, and to distrust and hate the United States... in many madrassas here in Pakistan especially those near the border with Afghanistan militant Muslims lecture students that the United States is a nation of Christians and Jews who are not after a single terrorist or government but are bent on the worldwide annihilation of Islam. .. "They send cruise missiles against gravestones," said Al-Sheikh Rahat Gul, the stick-thin, 81-year-old maulana who heads Markaz Uloom Islamia in Peshawar, a madrassa with about 250 students. The Americans kill only innocents, said the maulana, a large pair of thick-lensed, black-framed glassed sitting crookedly on his head. "The Koran forbids the killing of females, children, elders and cattle," he said. "That is war. That is not holy war." Sons of Islam must answer that tyranny with holy war, he said.

But surely these young people would feel sadness over the Trade Tower bombing?

"[Al Shaikh Rahat Gul], condemns the World Trade Center attack but dismisses any connection to this part of the world. "The Jews have done this," he said, calling the attacks a plot by Israel to draw the world into war. "And the Hindus are just like them." [New York Times, October 14, 2001]

How naive to imagine that the pursuit of a single man, or a single group, or the prosecution of a superficial war on acquisition and deployment, holds any likelihood of a lasting peace and resolution to the problem of terrorism.

I have just returned from Israel where nightly I slept within earshot of violence. Suicide bombs going killing innocents during crowded worship services on the most sacred days in the Jewish calendar, in crowded coffee shops, and supermarkets. The places where life should proceed peacefully, every single day. The Israeli response seeking to root out such terrorism and isolate Arafat is widely regarded as a violation of international law and protocol.

This eruption threatening to drag the world into war, has not involved a single member of al Qaeda. While all of America plays a billion dollar game of where’s Waldo, 16 year old girls commit suicide and murder innocents convinced that the act is Godly!

"I am very happy and proud of what my son did and, frankly, am a bit jealous,'' says Hassan Hotari, 54, father of the young man [Hassan Hotari] who carried out the attack June 1 outside a disco in Tel Aviv [killing 21 civilians]. It was Israel's worst suicide bombing in nearly four years. ''I wish I had done (the bombing). My son has fulfilled the Prophet's (Mohammed's) wishes. He has become a hero! Tell me, what more could a father ask?''

A leading Islamist authority, Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi, recently explained the distinction this way: attacks on enemies are not suicide operations, but ''heroic martyrdom operations'' in which the kamikazes act not ''out of hopelessness and despair, but are driven by an overwhelming desire to cast terror and fear into the hearts of the oppressors.''

In other words, Islamists find suicide for personal reasons abominable, suicide for jihad admirable [Pipes Jerusalem Post, July 30, 2001]

The role of religion in the war on terrorism requires an understanding of theology, history, and what one may call "ecclesiology" or doctrine of clerical authority.

Expertise in these matters lies with scholars of religion, and with religious leaders themselves. The assumption that one can conduct international affairs absent constant consultation with religious scholars and with religious leaders themselves should be unthinkable. Culpability for this problem lies not only with political and diplomatic leadership, but also with the religions themselves.

Very briefly for the long term war on terrorism one must have a clear and complete knowledge of the full range of potential doctrinal interpretation on the issues of violence, the use of violence, conditions of war, issues of self-defense and so forth. Further one must similarly know the full range of interpretation for texts and authority pertaining to the rights of and postures toward non-believers. For example since September 11 everyone has heard of the term Jihad, but virtually no non-Muslim is aware of Wa Qatalehum, (which pertains to the extent and nature of self defense, and what constitutes aggression). This latter term to my mind is endlessly more dangerous in its range of interpretation.

The theology of land is also central if one desires a sound and long term approach to the problem of terrorism.

Secondly one must know deeply and clearly religious and interreligious history. Narrowly, as pertains the war on terrorism, it is important to know the history of what might be called "religious conquest," and conversion and expansion. As cultures and empires rise and fall, they leave behind them a record of what might be called "theological declaration." That the Ruler is, or is loved by [the true] God, and that [the true] God is glorified in the highest place of honor. This habit of conquerors and leaders has created for the modern world half dozen or more physical sites which invoke fanatical reaction. These include, the sacred sites in the Holy Land, most especially the Dome of the Rock, and now the Church of the Annunciation, the site of the Ayodhya Mosque in Gujarat, to a lesser but not insignificant extent sites in Constantinople, most specifically the Haga Sophia and Blue Mosque.

Additionally one must know the history of religiously defined political and military activity (the Crusades for example), through the prism of what each tradition erects as its "theology of history." Namely to what degree does what happens in history reflect the "hand of God".

Finally one must know deeply what I have termed "ecclesiology" or the structures of clerical and interpretive authority in religions. For example why is Osama Bin Laden able to have a following? Could Bin Laden, for example have defined his activity as a Catholic cause? Why or why not? How is religious authority established in Islam, for example?

First, it is important to understand that there is no central authority in Islam and that there is enormous flexibility and diversity in Islamic legal rulings. Nevertheless, there is often great consensus among Muslim scholars on matters large and small.

Scholars argue their various perspectives in legal opinions called fatwas. Fatwas have no weight unless accepted by the community of scholars. Consensus among scholars is recognized by the broad acceptance of legal opinion.

Terrorism: So if all this is true, then how do the very small number of Muslims who take part in terrorist activities justify their actions? This returns us to the discussion of the flexibility of Islamic law. A scholar may write a fatwa justifying terrorist acts, and he may be condemned by the consensus of Muslim scholars. But if anyone wants to rely on that fatwa, it is acceptable to do so. [Laury Silvers-Alario, Instructor of Islam, Holy Cross College, Worcester, Mass.]

At least the 3 elements of religion must be negotiated by religious scholars and leaders representing all religions and cultures involved in any response to what has been labeled "terrorism."

A public and responsible multi-religious council for public affairs must be established to advise and participate in decision making in domestic and international affairs.

My organization the IRFWP has a record of 25 years on the ground in matters of religion and peace. We have been involved in international consultation during the Gulf War, and the 1993 Ayodhya Mosque controversy, as well as recently in Mindanao, Southern Philippines.

We held an international assembly in New York within a month of the Trade Towers on Global Violence, and a month hence held a major, international conference for world wide Muslim leadership in Jakarta, Indonesia, resulting in the Jakarta Declaration, which stands to date as the most far reaching statement for peace representing the broadest Muslim coalition assembled since September 11th.

Already by August of 2000, the founder of the IRFWP issued a clear policy speech at the United Nations, outlining concrete proposals well in advance of the current descent into violence and military response. This speech called for a permanent multi-faith body IN the United Nations - corresponding to the political representation in the General Assembly, and further introduced the doctrine of Peace Zones, by which many current religiously charged flash points can be administered and gradually resolved without violence.

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