Thomas Friedman – Prisoner in a Glass House

Thomas Friedman, in his recent New York Times Op-ed entitled, “Jihad” [1] states that Muslims lack the moral courage to condemn the murderous outrages of “Jihadi” extremists. Part of the reason for this moral failure, in his view, is because the West has not demanded that Muslims take responsibility for their societies, beginning with a strong condemnation of their violent extremists. Without such a condemnation, coupled with concerted action, America’s efforts to rebuild the Muslim world in her image will prove a futile endeavor.

Mr. Friedman posits that very few Muslim political or religious leaders are willing to challenge the violent ideology of Islamic extremists. Mr. Friedman apparently fails to realize is that there is an intense ideological struggle underway in the Muslim world, and at the heart of that struggle is the effort of orthodox scholars to delegitimize the arguments of those who would use Islamic teachings to justify wanton violence and destruction. Furthermore, contrary to his assessment, orthodoxy is gaining the upper hand.

In making his argument, Friedman quotes Mamoun Fandy, an analyst at London’s Institute of Strategic Studies, as saying: “What Muslims were talking about last week were the minarets of Switzerland, not the killings of people in Iraq or Pakistan.” Indeed, there are Muslims who are concerned about the fate of their coreligionists in the West, and are quick to comment on the real or perceived injustices involving Muslims in western lands. However, most of those commentators condemn the violence of the modern-day Khawarij [2] with far more words, passion and fervor.

By way of example, Shaykh Abdullah bin Bayyah, one of the preeminent jurists in the Muslim world, has written a brief statement on the Swiss minaret controversy. However, he has recently written an entire book condemning the violence and misinterpretations of the so-called “Jihadis.” That book is currently being translated into English and will be available in this country early next year.

Shaykh bin Bayyah is not alone. Many scholars from al-Azhar University, the most prestigious center of learning in the Muslim world, have been engaging in a deep dialogue with members of al-Gama’ah al-Islamiyya, Jihad Islami and other violent Egyptian groups. This dialogue has led to hundreds if not thousands of members of these groups renouncing violence against civilian and noncombatant forces. It has resulted in thousands of pages of literature and a deep societal debate in Egypt. Dr. Sherman Jackson, an Islamic studies and Arabic professor at the University of Michigan is currently translating some of this literature into English and has lectured extensively about this initiative.

A similar effort by scholars and jurists in Yemen has also met with tremendous success. Even within the Jihad movement, there is a deep debate about the moral sanction and strategic efficacy of violence against civilian and noncombatant targets. An excellent article, The Rebellion Within, examining this debate in great detail appeared in the June 2, 2008 edition of the New Yorker Magazine. Written by Lawrence Wright, the article highlighted one of the most influential theorists of the Jihad movement, Dr. Fadl, born Sayyid Imam al-Sharif, and his rejection of the wanton violence of al-Qaeda. In England, Johann Hari has recently written, in The Independent, about similar ideological debates and their influence on British-born Muslim radicals.

This debate about the moral validity and strategic efficacy of wanton violence is raging in every Muslim society. Even in Palestine, many have questioned the moral, strategic, and tactical efficacy of suicide bombings against Israeli targets. The disappearance of that tactic there indicates that the voices arguing against it have prevailed. One wonders how Mr. Friedman can miss all of these developments as he pontificates to “infantilized” Muslims about what they must do to put their house in order.

Mr. Friedman is free to condemn Muslims for a lack of moral courage. However, the same issue he raises can be posed to American political and religious leaders. Namely, when will they find the moral courage to seriously challenge the American military machine that is currently spending a trillion dollars a year, more than the rest of the world combined, for war? If Mr. Friedman thinks that the wanton violence visited upon Muslims by America is less a factor in stimulating Muslims to contemplate violent actions than the agitation of al-Qaeda or similar movements he is seriously mistaken.

I ask Mr. Friedman, are not Americans just as “objectified” in their passive acquiescence to what President Dwight Eisenhower referred to as the military industrial complex, and the tremendous violence ensuing from it, as are Muslims, according to his view? If, as Mr. Friedman argues, Islam needs a civil war to confront the odious idea of a violent minority that believes it is okay to murder Muslims and non-Muslims who will not accept “the most rigid Muslim lifestyle and submit to rule by a Muslim caliphate,” does not America need another civil war to challenge the foul idea that any country, Muslim or non-Muslim, that will not submit to American strategic designs can be bombed, invaded, occupied, or otherwise systematically destroyed?

Yes, Americans defeated the idea of slavery domestically. However, have we as a society defeated that idea internationally? What is the fate of those weak people and states that will not submit to our political and economic domination? Are they not brutalized in the most horrific fashion like rebellious slaves?

As Mr. Friedman argues, a corrosive mindset has indeed set in since 9/11. That corrosion is not limited to what he mentions. It also states that hapless Muslims are the major cause of violence and instability in the world and to deal with them we can engage in preemptive wars, we can develop a generation of tactical nuclear weapons to use against them, we can bomb, invade and occupy their lands on the flimsiest pretexts, and we can silently sit back as they are demonized and dehumanized in the media -as if we do not know what the ensuing political climate has led to in places like Bosnia and Rwanda.

I will make Mr. Friedman a wager. I bet that Muslims will wage an ideological civil war to address their violent extremists long before Americans will. I bet that long after Muslims have reclaimed their subjectivity in this regard, most “objectified” Americans will still be passively acquiescing to the imperatives of the military, and now, terrorist industrial complexes. Like Mr. Friedman, their failure to meaningfully address America’s militarism, aggression and violence will render them prisoners in a glass house.

[1] Thomas Friedman’s article is entitled, “”:

[2] The Khawarij were a fanatical group who emerged in the early days of Islam. One of their well-known excesses was removing Muslims who disagreed with them from the fold of Islam, and then making it lawful to kill them.

Source by Zaid Shakir