The murder of four Americans in Benghazi on the anniversary of 9/11, and the subsequent attempts by the Obama administration to blame the attacks on a YouTube video critical of Islam, exposed the delusional assumptions of Obama’s foreign policy. This notion that Western bad behavior––whether colonialism, support for Israel, or insults to Islam and Muhammad––is responsible for jihadist violence, however, has vitiated our approach to Islamist terrorism for over a decade now. Our main mistake has been the belief that al Qaeda and other jihadist groups are outliers among Muslims, a tiny minority of fanatics who have “hijacked” the faith that under both Republican and Democratic administrations has been called the “religion of peace,” and so we must reach out to that majority of moderate Muslims and convince them how much we admire and respect their religion. But this desperate search for these moderates has lead to dangerous policies, such as considering the Muslim Brotherhood “moderate Islamists,” an oxymoron that blinds us to the Brotherhood’s long-term goal to recover the global dominance that is Islam’s divinely sanctioned birthright.
Andrew Bostom, a professor of medicine at Brown University, has for a decade relentlessly exposed the distortions of history and Islamic theology that have accompanied these policies. In The Legacy of Islamic Jihad, he exposed the lie that jihad is merely a spiritual struggle to be a good Muslim, amassing evidence from Islamic theology, scripture, and jurisprudence to show that jihad has in fact predominantly denoted the use of violence to subject unbelievers to Muslim hegemony. In The Legacy of Islamic Anti-Semitism, he swept away the rationalizations for widespread Jew-hatred among Muslims that blamed it on imported Western anti-Semitism, once more letting Islamic texts speak for themselves to show that since the 7th century, Jews have been hated, despised, massacred, and subjugated in both Islamic theology and practice. Now Bostom, in the 43 essays collected in his new book, Sharia Versus Freedom: The Legacy of Islamic Totalitarianism, has turned to the totalitarian foundations of Islam codified in shari’a law, the totalizing system that controls every dimension of human life––political, economic, civic, familial, and personal.
The great virtue of Dr. Bostom’s work is the collection of primary documents and secondary commentary that taken together provide a more accurate picture of Islam than the fantasies concocted from ignorance or political expediency, or the postmodern propaganda manufactured by Edward Said and his followers. The notion of jihad, for example, has been distorted by apologists like Georgetown professor John Esposito, who wrote in the Washington Post that in the Koran jihad “means ‘to strive or struggle’ to realize God’s will, to lead a virtuous life, to create a just society and to defend Islam and the Muslim community.” Under the Bush administration, the National Counterterrorism Center similarly advised its employees never to use the term “jihadist,” since “jihad means ‘striving in the path of God’ and is used in many contexts beyond warfare.” But these assertions cannot stand next to the abundant evidence Bostom collects, such as Al-Tabari’s 10th century “Book of Jihad,” which shows that for 14 centuries jihad refers to war waged against the unbelievers, the “harbis” (denizens of Dar al Harb, the “House of War”) whom it is legal to kill, enslave, and plunder.
Even those, like the influential scholar Bernard Lewis, who accept the martial meaning of jihad sometimes assert that such wars are conducted under limitations similar to the Western laws of war, limitations so-called Islamist extremists ignore. Yet Islamic jurists such as the 8th century founder of the Hanifi school of Islamic jurisprudence, Abu Hanifa, Bostom writes, affirm “the impunity with which non-combatant ‘harbis’––women, children, the elderly, the mentally and physically disabled––may be killed.” According to Hanifa, there is nothing wrong with using catapults against “the polytheists’ fortresses . . . even if there are among them a woman, child, elder, idiot” or anyone suffering from a physical disability.
Illustrating the continuity of modern Islamist ideology with traditional Islamic theology and jurisprudence, Bostom quotes Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, the “spiritual” leader of the Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Jazeera television star whose program reaches 60 million people: “It has been determined by Islamic law that the blood and property of people of Dar Al-Harb . . . is not protected . . . in modern war, all of society, with all its classes and ethnic groups, is mobilized to participate in war.” Hence even those not actually fighting are fair game, an argument similar to the one bin Laden made after 9/11 when he justified attacking civilians. These traditions give the lie to the “religion of peace” claim made by apologists, and also explain why, as Bostom quotes Samuel Huntington, “Wherever one looks along the perimeter of Islam, Muslims have problems living peaceably with their neighbors.” Moreover, jihadist raids and attacks across those borders were, Bostom writes, “designed to sow terror” in order to make future conquests easier by breaking the spirit of the enemy, as recorded by the 17th century historian al-Maqqari when discussing such attacks: “Allah thus instilled such fear among the infidels that they did not dare to go and fight the conquerors; they only approached them as suppliants, to beg for peace.” Such passages suggest how the Islamists interpreted Obama’s 2009 groveling Cairo speech: as the supplications of the infidel begging for peace.
Bostom provides a similar correction to the oft-repeated claims that anti-Semitism is not inherent in Islam. On the contrary, Bostom writes, “There is voluminous evidence from Islam’s foundational texts of theological Jew hatred: virulently Antisemitic Koranic verses whose virulence is only amplified by the greatest classical and Muslim Koranic commentaries . . . the six canonical hadiths collections, and the most respected sira,” biographies of Muhammad. In this tradition Jews are minions of Satan, cursed because they resisted Islam, killed prophets, and transgressed the will of Allah. They are destined to be transformed into apes and swine, and to be humiliated, abased, and eternally damned for their deceit and treachery.
Again demonstrating the continuity of this 14-century-long tradition with the anti-Semitic calumny of modern Islamists, Bostom quotes from a sermon given by an Egyptian-government appointed cleric delivered at a mosque at Al Azhar, the most prestigious and venerable institution of Sunni learning: “Muslim brothers, God has inflicted the Muslim nation with a people whom God has become angry at [Koran 1:7] and whom he cursed [Koran 5:78] so he made monkeys and pigs [Koran 5:60] out of them. They killed prophets and messengers [Koran 2:61/3:112] and sowed corruption on Earth [Koran 5:33/5:64]. They are the most evil on Earth [5:62/63].” And Bostom reminds us that Muhammad’s jihadist career began with the conquest and massacres inflicted on the Banu Qurayza, Banu Khaybar, and Banu Nadir Jews. As Bostom summarizes, “Muhammad’s brutal conquest and subjugation of the Medinan and Khaybar Jews and their subsequent expulsion” by the “Rightly Guided” Caliph Umar “epitomize permanent, archetypal behavior patterns Islamic Law deemed appropriate to Muslim interactions with Jews.”
Given this theological sanction, we should not be surprised to find the grimly consistent record of Muslim pogroms and massacres of Jews that Bostom documents from the Middle Ages to the 20th century. Nor should we be surprised that Jew-hatred continues to dominate the modern Middle East, and is foundational to the Arab hatred of Israel. Hence the quotation of the apes and swine Koranic verse in the charter of the terrorist Hamas organization, or the quotation of Koran 5:64, which calls Jews the sowers of corruption, by “moderate” Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in 2007 during a speech urging Muslims to “aim their rifles at Israel.”
The exposure of these “Islamophilic” distortions of Islam provides the necessary backdrop for the discussions of Islamic shari’a law that follows. Our misunderstanding and downplaying of the threat to liberal democracy represented by a legal code that subjects every facet of human life to its strictures have been facilitated by the same political and ideological prejudices. Meanwhile, the imposition of shari’a is the highest goal of the various Islamist organizations, whether actively violent or not, roiling the Middle East and North Africa today. Bostom’s essays remind us what history also teaches: that totalitarian threats to our freedom and way of life will not be neutralized by the refusal to see clearly the illiberal ideology driving the Islamist agenda.
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