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Terror and Liberalism

The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad by Fareed Zakaria


Polyarchy by Robert Dahl

The Nazi Seizure of Power

The Nazi Seizure of Power by William Sheridan Allen

Terror and Liberalism

Terror and Liberalism by Paul Berman

In Association with

The Moon Is Down by John Steinbeck



Michael Kinsley has posed a very timely question to America and the world. In his Slate article, he asks the simple question of "Who Wants This War? And why don't we find out before we start one?" It sure seems like a question that should be answered before Iraq gets its share of U.S. military hardware dropped on them.
Many rumors and opinions have been thrown into the public fray for every pundit to gnaw on (including myself) concerning what to do about Iraq. Everyone has had something to say about how Iraq fits into this "War on Terror." What hasn't happened, until now, is for someone to question if all of this posturing and arguing is even supported by public opinion. As Kinsley puts it in his article, "It seems as if true enthusiasm for all-out war against Iraq is limited to the Bush administration and a subset of the Washington policy establishment." This small but powerful group should not be the only support base for a war that will likely involve 250,000 American troops. That is simply irresponsible. It is a war that would be difficult and without provocation, but most importantly without the support of even the oppressed Kurdish populations of northern Iraq. For an oppressed minority group who has felt the stinging effects of mustard gas and other chemical weapons from Saddam's army first-hand to say that they think such a war "would be more trouble than it's worth," well, that's saying something that the Bush administration should be listening to.
As it has been proven by nearly every news organization worldwide, there is no link between Iraq and the events of September 11. With no real reason to launch such a huge war, those who are determined to create a war with Iraq should take a step back from the war plans drawing board and look to see what the world would think of such an unprovoked war on a nation we have no war-worthy grudge against.

  posted by Kris Lofgren @ 5:14:00 PM

Thursday, July 11, 2002  


Here's a special posting that I thought would be relevant. After reading the article that I have linked in my previous posting which mentions Sayyid Qutb, a Islamic political theorist who was very influential to Osama bin Laden, I thought that a paper that I had written this past spring might shed more light on the roots of bin Laden's religious beliefs and the entrenched mindset that America's free and open society must prevail against.

Read and learn:

Islam has always been known to be a peaceful, monotheistic religion. Islam was founded on the words of a simple man who was chosen to become a prophet. From the time of the first Muslims, who saw the words of the Prophet Muhammad as a message straight from Allah, Islam has been a religion of deep convictions that demands much of its followers. Despite its strong call for orthodox worship and strict adherence to a religious daily life, Islam has managed to be a nonviolent religion with primarily defensive measures to counter attacks on its people. The word ‘Islam’ itself can be roughly translated to mean ‘peace.’
It is despite this tradition of peace and passivity that Osama bin Laden and his followers, and predecessors, have managed to use Islam to transform the words of the Prophet into words of conflict, aggression and terrorism. Bin Laden was raised in a position of power within the Arab elite. His upbringing allowed him to see what he interpreted as injustices towards his fellow Muslims. His time at King Abdul-Aziz University gave him the opportunity to befriend and be influenced by some of the most radical and prominent Islamic thinkers and activists of the generation before him. From these early influences his beliefs about the plight of the Islamic world became more radicalized. It is from this period of his life in which he outlined his chief complaints with the Western world. To bin Laden, Muslims were being corrupted by the shameful practices of the West, and by the United States in particular. In his opposition to Western influence in Arabia, bin Laden invoked the Koran to justify his call for jihad. With a selective reading and a twisted interpretation of the Muslim holy book, bin Laden was able to use God to justify his actions against the West. Through his interpretation, his call for jihad against the “Jews and the Crusaders” was a righteous one in which every Muslim should feel compelled to defend his or her religion against the infidels who had invaded Islam’s holiest lands. Bin Laden’s call for Holy War against the infidels of Israel, Britain and the United States leads us to wonder if there is any basis for this claim. What is jihad, and how can it be used to justify terrorist acts? Furthermore, how has the concept of jihad developed over the history of Islam and how has it been caught up with the ideas of al-Qaeda? These ideas of warfare and of protecting Islam are topics that the Prophet Muhammad often spoke about. However the Koran, like sacred scriptures of many religions, has conflicting passages that lead a zealous individual to find religious justification for almost any political aim or social agenda. Therefore, bin Laden’s early influences, when supported by accommodating religious validation from the Koran, have set him on a course of Islamic revenge aimed at the seemingly evil, infidel forces of the United States’ military, and in the past few years, at American citizens in general.
Osama bin Laden’s childhood was filled with wealth and religion. His family had a close relationship with the Saudi royal family, al-Saud. Osama’s father, Mohammed, was made minister of public works under King Faisal and the bin Laden construction company virtually became the private contractor of the King. In the late 1960’s, the bin Laden construction company was asked to rebuild the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. Similarly, the company also was responsible for the renovation of the al-Haram , and al-Nabawi mosques in Mecca and Medina, respectively. These projects gave the bin Laden family a unique relationship with the ruling Saudi family, the situation in Israel and of the holiness of Islam’s greatest sites.
It is rumored that when the Israeli state was declared in 1948, Mohammed bin Laden was so enraged by the prospect of non-Muslims occupying the lands of Jerusalem that he offered to have his construction equipment transformed into tanks. As expected, however, the Saudi government denied this offer of assistance. Mohammed bin Laden was Osama’s main inspiration for committing jihad. “My father was very keen that one of his sons should fight against the enemies of Islam. So I am the one son who is acting according to the wishes of his father,” Osama once said. He genuinely felt a calling to resist the insurgence of Zionism in Islam’s third holiest site, and later, to battle against what he saw as the foreign occupation of the land of the Prophet Muhammad, or hijra, by the Allied armies of the West during the Gulf War.
While his oldest brother, Salem, ran the multi-billion dollar family business, Osama was being transformed into an Islamic reactionary by the influential teachings and ideas of Abdullah Azzam and Muhammad Qutb during his University years. These two Islamists were radical in their interpretation of Islam’s concept of jihad and had tremendous influence on bin Laden that helped him solidify his own views. While attending al-Azhar University in Cairo, Azzam became politically involved with both Sayyid Qutb, brother of Muhammad Qutb, and the Egyptian Sheik, Omar Abdel Rahman who has since been convicted for his part in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. Azzam was the first to plant the concept of the khalifah in bin Laden’s mind. Azzam was a strong believer in the idea that jihad was the only route to achieving the khalifah. During his time recruiting fighters for the jihad in Afghanistan against the Soviets, Azzam was known to say, “to stand one hour in the battle line in the cause of Allah is better than sixty years of night prayer.” Azzam believed in fighting the non-Muslim invaders, such as the Soviets in Afghanistan, as well as the un-Islamic regimes that insist on secular rule, such as the Egyptian government. His greatest drive was to establish Allah’s rule on earth through governments, or even better, a single government, that would rule not based on secular laws, but instead on the strict code of behavior presented in the Koran called the sharia. The sharia is the law as dictated from the Prophet Muhammad who received these revelations by way of God’s angel, Gabriel. Unlike Christianity and Judaism, Islam holds that the scripture is the actual word of Allah and has not been subject to interpretation and manipulation. Therefore, deference to Islamic law is a primary goal for those who demand pure Islamic life and justice.
The other influential Islamist in bin Laden’s early life was Muhammad Qutb. His brother, Sayyid, was the author of leading contemporary jihad thought. Sayyid Qutb argued that the governments of Islamic nations were operating in a state of social and political ignorance called Jahiliyyah. For Qutb, true Muslims must perform jihad in order to create the perfected Islamic state. He dismissed the widely held scholarly belief that jihad was for defensive purposes only. After Sayyid’s execution in Egypt, Muhammad carried on his brother’s legacy and brought it into the fervent arms of bin Laden.
As bin Laden’s thoughts were formed around both his belief that he had a duty to his father to defend Islam, as well as his encounters with prominent Islamists of the 1970’s and 1980’s who taught him that jihad was an offensive war and that the khalifah was the ultimate goal of that jihad, he began to put those thoughts into practice. After earning his degree from King Abdul-Aziz University in 1981, bin Laden journeyed with Azzam to Afghanistan where his beliefs would be tested and hardened. Much like his mentor, bin Laden saw the jihad in Afghanistan as one of the most holy actions that a Muslim could do. In an echo of Azzam’s tenet, bin Laden proclaimed that, “one day in Afghanistan was like one thousand days of praying in an ordinary mosque.” To bin Laden, Afghanistan was the example for jihad that all Muslims should follow wherever they encountered infidel forces, be it in Kashmir, Bosnia, Chechnya, Somalia, or Palestine. Bin Laden’s experience as a part of the mujahideen in Afghanistan was a watershed for his future relationship with the Saudi government, as well as his Islamic convictions that offensive jihad was the solution to Islam’s current misguided future.
After returning from Afghanistan triumphant, bin Laden was determined that Islamic doctrine would justify his ultimate ideals for Muslim society. Having defeated one of the world’s two global powers, bin Laden felt invincible. Even before the outcome of the jihad in Afghanistan was certain, bin Laden had already turned his attention and opposition towards the United States.
With the start of the Gulf War, everything changed for bin Laden and he burned his bridges with the House of al-Saud, to whom he had offered his services, along with his fellow “Afghans,” to defend Saudi Arabia from the invading Iraqi armies. With Saudi Arabia’s acceptance of American protection in the Gulf War, and the Allied presence ever since, bin Laden saw the Saudi government as a lackey of the infidel Americans and proclaimed them “apostates;” a harsh charge against a ruling family that saw itself as the keeper of two of Islam’s holiest sites. While bin Laden was not in favor of fighting his fellow Muslims from Iraq, he recognized that Saddam Hussein had no aspirations for the good of Islam and instead was an authoritarian megalomaniac. The surrender of the Holy land of Arabia to foreign, non-Muslim armies was a sin without comparison. Bin Laden immediately made the expulsion of the Allied forces from Saudi Arabia his primary objective. “Clearly after Belief (Imaan) there is no more important duty than pushing the American enemy out of the holy land,” declared bin Laden in his 1996 Declaration of War against America. Furthermore, he calls upon all Muslims to join him in faith to expel the Americans from Islam’s holiest land.
“If it is not possible to push back the enemy except by the collective movement of the Muslim people, then there is a duty on the Muslims to ignore the minor differences among themselves; the ill effect of ignoring these differences, at a given period of time, is much less than the ill effect of the occupation of the Muslims’ land by the main Kufr.”

Bin Laden’s call to arms is one that seeks to invoke as many religious connotations as possible in order to stir the emotions of both his close followers and his clandestine supporters throughout the Islamic world.
Bin Laden’s three main tenets of complaint are the Allied occupation of the lands of the holy places, the attacks on the Iraqi people, and the unjust nature of the Israeli treatment of Palestinian sovereignty in Jerusalem. The first of these, the occupation of Saudi Arabia, is a complaint directed not only at the American, British and international presence, but also at the House of al-Saud which bin Laden has seen as an oppressive and illegitimate regime ever since the start of the Gulf War. He attacks the Saudi government by saying that they are, “Ignoring the divine Shari’ah law; depriving people of their legitimate rights; allowing the American to occupy the land of the two Holy Places; [and the] imprisonment, unjustly, of the sincere scholars.” Bin Laden sees Islam as being corrupted from its very roots by those who claim to be its protectors and caretakers. He sees the refusal, by the Saudi government, to rule and live by the sharia as a great sin.
“[T]o use man made law instead of the Shari’a and to support the infidels against the Muslims is one of the ten “voiders” that would strip a person from his Islamic status. The All Mighty said: {and whoever did not judge by what Allah revealed, those are the unbelievers} (Al-Ma’ida; 5:44).”

To bin Laden, the American presence in Saudi Arabia is not only tangible, but also symbolic of what he sees as the Western attempt to break up the khalifa and to turn the umma against itself. The Western occupation of Islam’s Holiest lands only further shows the lengths that the “Zionist-Crusader alliance” will go to in order to keep the Muslim people from uniting in opposition to the corrupting influences of the West.
Bin Laden’s second grievance concerns the American aggression towards the Iraqi people by way of sanctions and occasional bombing. Bin Laden, rightfully so, states that the sanctions against Iraq only punish the devout Muslim people who are subjugated to authoritarian control by a ruler who does not hold true Islamic values to be principal, and who lives in splendor, comfortably distant from the sanctions against his nation. However, instead of blaming Hussein for the aggression directed at Iraq, bin Laden holds that the suffering of the Iraqi people can be largely blamed on the international sanctions against the nation. Similar to bin Laden’s beliefs about infidels in Arabia, Iraq also holds a very prestigious position in Islamic historical tradition since it is widely believed to be the land of the first civilization and therefore strikes bin Laden as a primary concern in his attempt to keep Islamic Holy sites as such.
The third qualm that bin Laden has against the “Zionist-Crusader alliance” is that of Palestine. He sees the plight of Palestinians as one that the international community has largely ignoring simply because they are a non-state entity. Along the same lines, bin Laden sees the question of control of Jerusalem as crucial to the protection of Islam’s Holy prestige. He sees Israeli control of Jerusalem, and the state of Israel in a broader sense, as harmful and threatening to Islam’s most sacred histories.
Bin Laden’s use of the Koran in his diatribes against the United States and Israel is unique in its selectivity. Bin Laden uses a very narrow and aggressive view of the Koran in order to justify his actions. In fact, he never fully justifies his acts of violence because he sees them as simply a step in the process of jihad. What he does use Islam for is to motivate fellow Muslims to his call for jihad against the infidels who have invaded Islam’s Holy spaces. Bin Laden quotes heavily from the Koran to justify his call to jihad, but when he speaks of the relevant economic and political issues related to his complaints, his language is far more subdued concerning religious rhetoric. When laying out his jihad agenda, his speech is almost identical to that of Muslim ulema in its use of religious oration.
“By the grace of God, Praise and Glory be to him; this Nation, the Nation of Muhammad, God's peace and blessings be upon him, has responded to this appeal and this instigation. We will continue this course because it is a part of our religion, and because God, Praise and Glory be to him, ordered us to carry out jihad so that the word of God may remain exalted to the heights. If the instigation for jihad against the Jews and the Americans, in order to liberate Al-Aksa Mosque, and the Holy Ka'aba, is considered a crime, let history be a witness that I am a criminal.”
Bin Laden has no problem labeling himself as a criminal if it means he is acting on behalf of God. He sees the label of criminality as another tool to advance his prestige and his authority against his enemy. If his enemy labels him as a cancer to their prosperity, his arguments gain validity in the eyes of the Muslim world. If he can attach religious themes and doctrines to his self-indictment as a criminal, his authority as a fighter against Islam’s enemies will gain attention and support and will be all the more effective. In February 1998, Bin Laden announced the formation of the World Islamic Front for Jihad against the Jews and the Crusaders. It brought together Ayman al-Zawahiri of the Egyptian Jihad Group and several other prominent leaders of militant Islamic fundamentalist groups. In its opening statement, bin Laden spared no imagination as to what his true, ultimate goal was. In response to the, “declaration by the Americans of war on Allah, His Prophet, and Muslims,” bin Laden found himself justified to make the following statement:
“Based upon this and in order to obey the Almighty, we hereby give all Muslims the following judgment: The judgment to kill and fight Americans and their allies whether civilians or military, is an obligation for every Muslim who is able to do so in any country.”

Bin Laden had burned his last bridge to redemption with his proclamation of murder. To him it was a declaration of self-defense, to most people in the world, however, it was a blatant call for worldwide terror. This distinction is one that will be crucial to the legitimacy of bin Laden’s aims in comparison with the Prophet Mohammad’s words concerning justified jihad.
Bin Laden, not unlike extremists of most all religions, interprets the holy scripture very literally. The famous utterance by the Prophet Mohammad on his deathbed, “Let there not be two religions in Arabia,” is one that bin Laden and other Islamists have taken as a call to rid any non-Muslims from the region extending from Morocco to Pakistan and from Turkey to Tanzania. In Islamic tradition, any land that has ever been ruled by Muslims is seen as Islam’s forever. The only possible way for this to happen is by the use of jihad, according to Islamists; but what is jihad?
Jihad in its most literal sense means “to strive,” or “to struggle.” Interestingly, the Koran presents two forms of jihad: “the greater jihad” and “the smaller jihad.” The larger and more important of the two, “the greater jihad,” is an individual’s struggle with his own evil tendencies. It is often meant to signify a battle between good and evil within one’s moral beliefs. The lesser of these two jihads is “the smaller jihad.” This is the jihad that bin Laden has come to embrace. “The smaller jihad” is the fight against enemies of Islam. This distinction between one’s personal struggle and the physical battle with Islam’s enemies is one that the Prophet Mohammad relayed to his followers when they returned from a raiding trip by proclaiming that, “We have now returned from the Smaller Jihad to the Greater Jihad.”
Evidence for jihad from the Koran is both frequent and inconsistent. From the viewpoint that this “smaller jihad” is a defensive tactic offered by the Prophet Mohammad, there is evidence that urges restraint. The Prophet states: “And fight in the way of God with those who fight you, but aggress not: God loves not the aggressors.” While that verse calls for self-discipline, other verses such as, “Prescribed for you is fighting, though it be hateful to you,” advocate good intentions when partaking in jihad. In early Islamic tradition, jihad was the best voluntary religious action that a man could do – greater even, than religious fasting or the hajj. According to bin Laden and his mentor Azzam, this idea that jihad is the greatest duty of a true Muslim is one that is still cherished today.
Defensive jihad is an interpretation that bin Laden claims to abide by. With his interpretation that infidel forces from the West are attacking Islam, defensive jihad is justified, at least in theory. If, however, bin Laden’s jihad is seen as unprovoked terrorism, then his justification for acts of violence is unfounded. Bin Laden relies heavily on verses that suggest offensive jihad against infidels, yet he insists that it was America that first declared war on Islam. Bin Laden refers to verses such as, “so when the sacred months have passed away, then slay the idolaters where ever you find them, and take them captives and besiege them and lie in wait for them in every ambush.” Bin Laden and his followers apparently misinterpreted this command by the Prophet Mohammed because the attack on the U.S.S. Cole took place on the first day of one of Islam’s holiest holidays.
He also invokes passages from the Koran that urge vengeance until the last non-believer has been dealt with. One passage that is especially relevant to bin Laden’s belief that he is justified in attacking his enemy is a section that makes it clear that God abhors those who persecute others and who show aggression.
“And slay them wherever you come upon them, and expel them from where they expelled you; persecution is more grievous than slaying. But fight them not by the Holy Mosque until they should fight you there; then, if they fight you, slay them – such is the recompense of unbelievers… Fight them, till there is no persecution and the religion is God’s.”

To bin Laden, his jihad is indeed to fulfill the command of the Prophet – yet based on his own definition of what constitutes aggression and persecution.
One problem that arises from a critical study of the Koran is that, despite jihad’s seemingly opposing views of war and defense, many of the verses that are cited as being pro-aggression and in tune with bin Laden’s dogma, are actually intended for an entirely different purpose. When the Prophet commands, “O believers, fight the unbelievers that are near to you and let them find in you a harshness,” he actually is providing a lesson on how to physically fight the enemy, not on how to declare a righteous, unprovoked jihad. This criticism arises often in the study of verses attributed to jihad. The history of the Prophet Mohammad’s life allowed him the opportunity to say many things that may or may not have been intended for public consumption. His Prophetic later life was marred by war and persecution and therefore his profundity for aggressive language led him to dictate strong and sometimes opposing views on the concept of jihad. As a result, his seemingly harmless attempts to teach proper jihad technique has, in recent years, been interpreted as a call to arms to attack non-Muslims worldwide.
Bin Laden’s view of the world was conceived of at an early age. His family played a huge role in the actual issues that he would argue so violently about later in life. The bin Laden family was built on prestige and fortune as a result of being associated with the very monarchy that bin Laden would denounce years later. His time at King Abdul-Aziz University gave him the opportunity to meet the influential men that would shape his worldview and who would share his dreams and goals. His time in Afghanistan only went to solidify his determination that he was doing Islam a great favor. Bin Laden held his allegiance to his birth nation until he could stand no more, and would forever be banned from Saudi Arabia for his radical thoughts and actions. The Gulf War shaped his images of good and evil permanently and he began his aggression towards the second infidel force to attack Islam’s land during his generation. With attacks on America as his foremost goal, he sought to justify his actions by using his deeply felt, yet unsettlingly twisted view of Islam and the Prophet’s holy words about jihad to commit his acts of terrorism. With a view of Islam that is almost perfectly contrary to its true focus, as practiced by the vast majority of Muslims, bin Laden has brought a terrible legacy to the concept of jihad and to the people of Islam.

  posted by Kris Lofgren @ 9:57:00 PM

Sunday, July 07, 2002  


As I have advocated for months, an intellectual understanding of the Islamic culture and society is what is needed in these times. The author of this article says that leading Islamic scholars have often brushed off Western claims of having a superior civilization because the Western claim is based on freedom. To many Islamic scholars, this freedom is what has eroded American society. Instead, they say, Islamic society is based on virtue. This is why religion plays such a crucial role in politics in many Arab nations.
However, the author points out that a virtue forced is nothing more than a repressive vice. He says that freedom is a precursor to any possible virtue. This is entirely correct.
While America has often failed to live up to the classical political dreams of Aristotle in which politics breeds virtue and virtue, in turn, produces redeeming politics, America has grounded itself in the one quality that makes it stronger than its detractors: freedom. That freedom is what will provide the opportunity for virtuous societies to exist and prosper. An oppressive, demeaning and theocratic society does not provide for virtue when half of its population is barred from being a part of it. Freedom is the basis for meaningful change in many of those cultures that look upon America with contempt. Only with an integrated culture of freedom and virtue will America’s brooding Islamic detractors give up their suicide belt bombs for prosperity and social harmony.
At the rate things are going, the U.S. will be in a dangerous situation in only a few months or years if nothing is done to win the “hearts and minds” of those hate-filled teenagers in the West Bank, Tehran and Islamabad. The military war may be waning, but the intellectual war has yet to begin. It is this war that will decide the strength of American influence and benevolence. It is a battle that cannot wait.

  posted by Kris Lofgren @ 9:23:00 PM