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January 24, 2007
Dear Concerned Citizen,
by Dinesh D'Souza

side bar tothesource podcast side bar side bar side bar side bar side bar side bar For many Western liberals - and even some conservatives - the war on terror is a clash of opposed fundamentalisms: Christianity vs. Islamic fundamentalism. And the solution? Promote secularism both here in America and throughout the Muslim world. This means urging our Muslim allies in Turkey, Indonesia, Pakistan, Egypt and elsewhere to get rid of Muslim laws and have secular laws. It means closing down the Muslim schools and replacing them with secular schools. It means encouraging secular programs on radio and TV.

Not only is this diagnosis of the problem wrong, but the solutions proposed are actually fueling Muslim rage and making future terrorist attacks against us more likely. The reason is that, from the point of view of Islamic radicals, America is not hated because it is Christian. Rather, America is hated because it is secular, what Osama bin Laden has called "the leading power of the unbelievers." So by promoting secularism, we are corroborating the charge of radical Muslims that we are the enemies of their religion, and this also alienates traditional Muslims and pushes them into the radical camp.

It is time to revisit some common assumptions. Many Americans consider Islamic fundamentalists and Christian fundamentalists as essentially equivalent, "kindred spirits," in the words of the late novelist William Styron. Al Gore finds in President Bush "the American version of the same fundamentalist impulse that we see in Saudi Arabia." In her book The Mighty and the Almighty, Madeleine Albright frets that "hard-liners can find in the Koran and the Bible justifications for endless conflict."

In this view, Christian and Muslim religious fanatics are once again fighting each other, as they have done in the past. As Jim Wallis puts it in his book God's Politics, there is a close parallel between Islam's holy war against the West and George Bush's holy war against Islamic terrorism. From this perspective, the best solution is for America to stand up for the principles of secularism and oppose both Muslim fundamentalism and Christian fundamentalism.

This view of the war is founded, however, on a superficial understanding of bin Laden's rhetoric declaring a religious war of civilizations. Bin Laden does speak of the world as being divided into a "region of faith" and a "region of infidelity." And at times he defines the clash as one between Muslims and the "crusaders."

But the context of bin Laden's arguments clearly shows that he is not speaking of a religious war between Islam and Christianity. In the same videotaped remarks in which he posits these conflicts, he praises Christianity. In one statement, he observes that Islam respects the prophets of Judaism, Christianity and Islam "without distinguishing among them."

In the classical Muslim understanding, there is a fundamental distinction between Jews and Christians, on the one hand, and polytheists and atheists on the other. According to Islam, Judaism and Christianity are incomplete but genuine revelations. As monotheists, Jews and Christians have historically been entitled to Muslim respect and even protection. In every Islamic empire, from the Umayyad to the Abbasid to the Ottoman, Jews and Christians were permitted to practice their religion, and in no Muslim regime has it ever been considered legitimate to systematically kill them.

By contrast, polytheists and atheists have always been anathema to Islam. The Koran says, "Fight the pagans all together as they fight you all together," and "Slay the idolaters wherever you find them." These passages, which bin Laden frequently quotes, do not refer to Christians, because Christians are not considered pagans or idolaters. Rather, they refer to those, like the Bedouins of ancient Arabia, who worship many gods or no god. Muslims are commanded to fight these unbelievers, especially when they threaten the House of Islam.

Muslim radicals could repudiate the entire Islamic tradition and argue that Christians and Jews are no different from atheists and deserve the same treatment. But this claim would undoubtedly alienate traditional Muslims. Sheikh Sayyed Muhammad Tantawi, head of Al-Azhar University in Cairo, recently argued the traditional view that "Islam has never been and will never be at war with Christianity."

For bin Laden to declare war against Christianity would divide even the radical Muslim camp. The influential radical Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi has said that Muslims "believe in the Jewish and Christian Scriptures. Our Islamic faith is not complete without them."

Islamic radicals such as bin Laden make their case against America and the West not on the grounds that these cultures are Christian, but on the grounds that they have abandoned Christianity. In his May 2006 letter to President Bush, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad faulted America not for being Christian, but for not being Christian enough. Many years earlier, the radical theoretician Sayyid Qutb made the same point: The main reason for the West's moral decay is that in the modern era, "religious convictions are no more than a matter of antiquarian interest."

Other Muslim radicals today echo these arguments. The influential Pakistani scholar Khurshid Ahmad, leader of the Islamic Assembly of Students, or Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba, argues: "Had Western culture been based on Christianity, on morality, on faith, the language and modus operandi of the contact and conflict would have been different. But that is not the case. The choice is between the divine principle and a secular materialistic culture."

Even though Christianity has eroded, Muslim radicals contend that the ancient crusading spirit now infuses the pagan culture of the West. When bin Laden calls America a crusader state, he means that America is on a vicious international campaign to impose its atheist system of government and its pagan values on Muslims. How? By supporting secular dictators in Pakistan, Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. And by exporting a secular culture that undermines the traditional values of Islam.

In this way, bin Laden argues that America is hell-bent on destroying the Muslim religion. The rallying cry of Islamic radicalism is that "Islam is under attack." In a 1998 declaration, bin Laden called on Muslims to "launch attacks against the armies of the American devils" and to kill Americans, whom he identified as the "helpers of Satan." In a 2003 sermon, he praised the Sept. 11 hijackers and compared the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center to the idols in the Kaaba that the Prophet Muhammad destroyed in the year 630 upon his victorious return to Mecca.

Thus, the popular notion that the war against terrorism is a battle of two opposed forms of religious fundamentalism is false. This is not why the Islamic radicals are fighting against America. From the perspective of bin Laden and his allies, the war is between the Muslim-led forces of monotheism and morality against the America-led forces of atheism and immorality. Secularism, not Christianity is responsible for producing a blowback of Muslim rage.


Response to Who else is to blame?:

For those who possess a moral conscience and realize the societal necessity of moral values, this article rings true. D’Souza lays out very plainly the core motivation for Islamic terror and offers a practical suggestion for at least a start toward a possible solution. I think it is debatable whether or not forcible conquest is inherent within Islam. There are as many historical examples of Islamic conquest as D’Souza gives for peaceful Islamic “empires”. The difference between Christian crusades and Islamic conquest is that the former is not justified by Biblical teaching. A literal reading of the Koran renders clear instruction toward forcible conquest for the spreading of religion. The Bible does not. Not to mention the actual violence committed by the founder of Islam as compared to the peaceful founder of Christianity. But the major point of the article, that American decadence is to blame for much of Islamic hatred of America, is spot on. - Brent Atkinson

This was a very helpful article! Please do all that you can to get the message out that the cultural left does have responsibility for 9/11. I am a christian and I am troubled that we are caught between a rock and a hard place. By that I mean we do have much to fear from the Islamic radicals who want to kill Americans but on the other hand, they hate the values that Hollywood and the cultural left promotes and so do I as a christian. What am I to do? Thank you for your good work. - Rodney Thole

Once again, you speak of "traditional Christianity" without any attempt to distinquish violent from non-violent strains. Anabaptists would never, never think you can justify an act of aggression like in the invasion of Iraq. Yet Anabaptists (and other peace churches) are "traditional." Just another tradition, and apparently not your tradition. - Boyd Holliday

I often find the readings in "To the Source" fascinating. The interview with Dinesh D'Souza is no less so, but I do find a couple of things that trouble me about it, and perhaps it is just definitions. "Traditional Christians." I am a pastor in a local United Church of Christ parish, and uphold what I consider "traditional Christian values" but I don't see that these cannot be applied to "non-traditional" families, i.e. two gay men, two lesbian women, single moms who have survived abusive relationships, single dads whose wives have left because they want a different life. I work with and accept and affirm and the congregation I serve accepts these people who live in these situations because they are faithful Christians with the same values we espouse. Does that make us "radical secularists?" Or does that make us "non-traditional Christians" and thus also unacceptable in the traditional Islamic world? The other aspect of "traditional Christianity" that is troubling to me in this context is that it believes, at least theologically if less so in practice, that every non-Christian is on a path to hell, and needs to be offered the opportunity to convert by "accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior". This tends to be more the practice in "traditional" conservative and evangelical Christianity, and traditional formerly "Mainline" communions lean toward co-existence, while the more "progressive" Protestant traditions would promote working side by side to create a more just world in which all faiths could sit down and learn from one another. I believe that this concept of "offering conversion" goes against the grain of traditional Islam. It is the use of the word "traditional" leaves too much room for misunderstanding. I'd enjoy an answer from Mr. (Dr.?) D'Souza on these questions, if possible. (or maybe I need to find his book) Thanks, - Bruce Burnham

Although I certainly agree that American decadence promoted by the Left helps inflame anti-American feeling among Muslims, D’Souza ignores history when he says, “Despite the Koran’s call to “slay the infidels” this has never been read as a mandate to forcibly convert or kill non-Muslims.” In fact that is exactly what happened in the latter part of the Ottoman Empire from 1895 to 1922 in Turkey. Over 1.5 million Armenians, including my own grandfather, were given that choice between conversion or death, and almost all of them were slaughtered or sent on death marches because they would not convert. Another 1.5 million became refugees all over the world, so that there are at best 50,000 Armenians left in Turkey today. And seeing a few churches in Istanbul is as much an indication of religious tolerance as having six churches in Beijing, China, a city of 11 million people. - Rev. Roger Minassian

Thank you for making this aware to the public. I hoped it gets picked up by talk shows around America. You do us a great service. I heard a BBC report while in Australia sometime in June/July 2002 where they were tracing back the rise of radical Islam. They mentioned an Egyptian named Sayyid Qutb who was encouraged to go to college in the US so he could understand the West and build relationships with such powerful influencers. He didn't want to go, but finally relented. If I remember right, it was in the late 40's that he came. What he saw shocked and horrified him. He was invited to a church youth activity, and young men and women were in the same room having a good time (nothing suggestive by our standards - just a youth group gathering, but not cultural appropriate for him I guess). He was appalled at the decadence he saw. They mentioned a popular song at the time that also really set him off. I heard it played just this last Christmas as well. It was called "Baby, it's cold outside" - a song about a guy and a gal who wants to leave, and he keeps pushing saying "Baby it's cold outside" (1949 sung by many top performers).

All this to say was that Sayyid went back and wrote articles and books that inspired guys like Bin Laden and such. Here is part of an article I found on this subject: www.nmhschool.org/tthornton/sayyid_qutb.php "Sayyid Qutb, 1906-1966, an Egyptian and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, was a prominent Islamist (revivalist) figure whose career spanned the middle decades of the twentieth century. His thought, deeply influenced by Mawdudi's revolutionary radicalism, falls into two distinct periods: before 1954, and from 1954 on during which he suffered imprisonment and torture in Nasser's jails. Following the attempt on Nasser's life in October, 1954, Nasser rounded up large numbers of the Muslim Brothers, including Qutb, and put an official ban on the organization. In 1964, Qutb, having suffered torture and ten years of incarceration in Nasser's prisons, published his best known work, Milestones, (Ma'alim fi'l Tariq: alternate translation of the title is Signposts) a work that has inspired some of the most extreme expressions of Islamic revivalism, such as Islamic Jihad and Takfir wa-l Hijra. One of the central concepts of the book, jahiliyya ("pagan ignorance and rebellion against God"), was molded at least in part by Qutb's unpleasant sojourn in the United States from 1948 until 1950, an experience in cross-cultural living that did not go well. Qutb was an employee at the time in the Egyptian Ministry of Education. He had been sent to the U.S. to study American educational institutions. Qutb was deeply offended by the racism he observed (and experienced first-hand) and was scandalized by the openness between the sexes in American society. (see his comments on women) Even a Sunday night "sock hop" to which he had been invited, put on by a youth group in a church in Colorado, was too much for this lifelong bachelor. Following his return to Egypt, Qutb's increasing radicalization led him to join the Muslim Brotherhood in 1952. In Milestones he wrote (Beirut: The Holy Koran Publishing House, 1980), pp. 7-15, 286): Mankind today is on the brink of a precipice, not because of the danger of complete annihilation which is hanging over its head - this being just a symptom and not the real disease - but because humanity is devoid of those vital values which are necessary not only for its healthy development but also for its real progress. Even the Western world realizes that Western civilization is unable to present any healthy values for the guidance of mankind. It knows that it does not possess anything which will satisfy its own conscience and justify its existence... It is essential for mankind to have a new leadership... It is necessary for the new leadership to preserve and develop the material fruits of the creative genius of Europe, and also to provide mankind with such high ideals and values as have so far remained undiscovered by mankind, and which will also acquaint humanity with a way of life which is harmonious with human nature, which positive and constructive, and which is practicable. Islam is the only system which possesses these values and this way of life. If we look at the sources and foundations of modern ways of living, it becomes clear that the whole world is steeped in Jahiliyya (pagan ignorance of divine guidance), and all the marvelous material comforts and high-level inventions do not diminish this Ignorance. This Jahiliyya is based on rebellion against God's sovereignty on earth: It transfers to man one of the greatest attributes of God, namely sovereignty, and makes some men lords over others. It is now not in that simple and primitive form of the ancient Jahiliyya, but takes the form of claiming that the right to create values, to legislate rules of collective behavior, and to choose any way of life rests with men, without regard to what God has prescribed. The result of this rebellion against the authority of God is the oppression of His creatures... The Islamic civilization can take various forms in its material and organizational structure, but the principles and values on which it is based are eternal and unchangeable. These are: the worship of God alone, the foundation of human relationships on the belief in the Unity of God, the supremacy of the humanity of man over material things, the development of human values and the control of animalistic desires, respect for the family, the assumption of the vice-regency of God on earth according to His guidance and instruction, and in all affairs of this vice-regency, the rule of God's law [al-Shari'a] and the way of life prescribed by Him... In the scale of God, the true weight is the weight of faith; in God's market the only commodity in demand is the commodity of faith. The highest form of triumph is the victory of soul over matter, the victory of belief over pain, and the victory of faith over persecution. Qutb, sounding to some like Lenin, urged the creation of a "vanguard" ( tali' ah) of believers who would lead the way in the war on jahiliyya, a clear call for Islamic militancy. His thought played a key role in the emergence of the sahwa ("awakening") movement, a blend of Qutbist ideas and radical Wahhabist thinking that grew out of the work of exiled Muslim Brothers from Egypt and elsewhere beginning in the 1960s and that achieved prominence in Saudi Arabia in the 1980s (see also the Buraydah Uprising of 1994). Qutb's influence over radical Muslim movements did not go unchallenged in the Muslim world, even in places like Saudi Arabia (see for example). " In reality, it would be true Christianity that would fulfill what Qutb is asking for, for only in Christ could you have true moral and a harmony between God and His Creation. - Gary Peterson

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  Dinesh D'Souza
Dinesh D'Souza, the Rishwain Research Scholar at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, served as senior domestic policy analyst in the White House in 1987-1988. He is the best-selling author of Illiberal Education, The End of Racism, Ronald Reagan, The Virtue of Prosperity, What's So Great About America, and The Enemy at Home.
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