Monday, January 31, 2011

When Good Muslims Go Bad

Lt. Colonel James Zumwalt, USMC (ret)

As we struggle to understand an Islamic extremist mindset that influences followers to abandon all sense of humanity in a bid to establish a world order ruled in accordance with 7th century sharia law, it is important to recognize when and why this happens. For there is a definitive line over which a good Muslim, gone bad, steps in committing himself to the Islamist cause.

To best understand, one need heed the experience of would-be Islamist Tawfik Hamid. An Egyptian doctor now living in the US under a pseudonym, Hamid lectures on the extremist mindset and how it came into play in trying to recruit him as a young medical student. He was approached by members of the Islamofascist group Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyah who visited him and other students daily to develop a rapport.

Tawfik Hamid

He remembers the indoctrination starting slowly. “Why do you think Allah blessed Saudi Arabia with such vast wealth,” his handlers would ask. Without waiting for a response, they answered, “To encourage the revival of Islam.” But, as the indoctrination continued and intensified, Hamid remembers an admonishment he received—and has never forgotten since.

Hamid regularly attended prayers with his handlers at a nearby mosque where he listened to “fire and brimstone” sermons. The imam preached that those who failed to be true believers would suffer an afterlife of torment and pain, extolling how boiling water would be poured down upon non-believers, consuming their skin. Afterward, Hamid questioned some of the imam’s statements. In a response that goes to the crux of Islamofascist indoctrination, his handler sternly warned, “If you start to think for yourself, you will become an infidel!”

Hamid immediately realized this brand of Islam demanded followers surrender all independent thought, blindly serving religious masters enforcing upon Muslims a lifestyle mandated under sharia law—i.e., Allah’s will—as interpreted by them alone. This was a line Hamid was unwilling to cross—leading him to abandon the cause and go into hiding.

The late Western 20th century Islamic law scholar Joseph Schacht described sharia as the “canon law of Islam,” tracing the term’s origin to verses in the Koran. According to Islamists, it mandates that life be lived by believers the same way it was lived by the Prophet Muhammad in the 7th century—with draconian punishments imposed for failing to do so.

Schacht explained, while sharia is representative of “Islamic thought and forms the nucleus of Islam itself,” it is difficult to modernize its application due to salient characteristics of the law creating insurmountable obstacles to doing so. Schacht wrote, “Allah’s law is not to be penetrated by…intelligence…i.e., man has to accept it without criticism, with its apparent inconsistencies and its incomprehensible decrees, as wisdom into which it is impossible to (inquire). One must not look in it for causes in our sense, nor for principles; it is based on the will of Allah which is bound by no principles, therefore evasions are considered as a permissible means put at one’s disposal by Allah himself.”

Many factors relative to practicing Islam today raise issues for those seeking to be sharia law-compliant:

- Muslims believe the Koran was revealed by Allah to Muhammad via the Archangel Gabriel in the early 7th century; but it is extremely difficult to live life in the 21st century based on a lifestyle memorialized in a 7th century holy book—raising issues of interpretation.
- As it is impermissible for man to interpret Allah’s words, it is difficult for followers to resolve conflicting interpretations they have on Allah’s intended wisdom in a particular verse, relative to 21st century life.
- Where followers need guidance in such situations, they turn to their religious leader; but, as no Islamic equivalent to the Vatican’s Pope exists to ensure uniformity of guidance on an issue, any learned religious leader can issue his own interpretation—thus defeating uniformity and only creating more confusion among followers.
- Because followers are told they cannot use independent thought, they cannot exercise their own reason to determine what Allah would want them to do—leaving them to follow their religious leader’s interpretation.

These factors converge to create mass confusion, thus making compliance with sharia a continuing exercise in hurdling hypocrisies generated by it.

Such hypocrisy was shown with the death of an innocent merchant in Baghdad soon after the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. He made his living by making and selling ice to the public. He was approached by extremists who warned him, as Muhammad did not have ice in the 7th century, that he had to terminate the activity. Since it was the only financial means of support for his family, the merchant continued selling ice. The extremists returned and killed him, doing so with AK-47 rifles—which also did not exist in Muhammad’s time.

Another example of hypocrisy appears to have been lost upon those Muslims who have surrendered their independent thought. While Islamist imams encourage them to become suicide bombers and target Allah’s enemies (the victims of which bombings often include more believers than non-believers), there is no recorded case of an imam ever practicing what he preaches by donning a suicide bomber’s vest himself—or, for that matter, of the children of an imam doing so. Radical imams “talk the talk” yet prove reluctant to “walk the walk”—a result apparently reached by their exercise of the independent thought they bar followers from using.

Stained glass image of the Four Chaplains

Contrast this example set by Islamist clerics failing to practice what they preach to that set by “The Four Chaplains” of World War II fame. These four religious leaders—two Protestant pastors, a Catholic priest, and a Jewish rabbi—were onboard a US troop ship sunk by a German submarine. With insufficient lifejackets for all, the four chaplains surrendered theirs so others might live. As the ship went down, survivors recalled seeing the four men-of-the-cloth, standing arm-in-arm, each praying in his own way for the survival of the others onboard fighting for their lives. Having talked the talk about the value of human life, the four walked the walk as the final act of their lives played out.

There is an ongoing debate over what causes good Muslims to go bad—i.e., whether a lack of education is a factor. Since the 9/11 terrorists were all educated, it is argued by some that lack of education is not a factor. But it is important to remember the 9/11 terrorists were educated within Arab educational systems. primarily focusing on rote memorization of the Koran and not on stimulating creative thought. This is underscored in a study done several years ago by China to identify the top 500 universities in the world. Not a single Arab university made the list.

There are other indicators a lack of education—and thus the absence of the creativity to which it gives rise—is a factor.

A good measure of any society’s creativity is to examine the number of industrial patents it has filed. A review of patents filed by all 22-member Arab League nations during the period 1980-2000 is most telling as a meager 400 filings were recorded. Compared to South Korea—an evolving democracy during that same timeframe with one-sixth the population—the numbers spell out the story of what a people’s unbridled independent thought can achieve as more than 15,000 patents were filed. (The filing of so few Arab patents is particularly revealing if one considers the fact the American inventor Thomas Edison alone received more than a thousand during his lifetime.)

Another indicator of a society’s creativity, and thus its underlying education level, is the quantity of products sold for export. If one factors oil out of the equation, all the Arab League nations together export fewer products than the country of Finland.

Even Arab scholars recognize the Arab world’s lack of economic success. In the United Nation’s Development Program’s “Arab Development Report 2002,” they reached some startling conclusions as to why. They determined: (1) for the prior 20 years, per capita income growth in the Arab Bloc averaged a stagnant 0.5%--lowest in the world except for sub-Saharan Africa; (2) unemployment was three times the world average; and (3) there were three deficits serving as serious obstacles to human development in the region including (a) a lack of freedom (the Freedom Index ranks the Bloc last in civil liberties), (b) a lack of empowerment of women (half cannot write) and (c) a lack of knowledge.

A lack of education begets a lack of independent thought, which begets a lack of creativity, which begets a lack of economic vitality, which begets an atmosphere of hopelessness. Such an atmosphere then provides fertile ground within which Islamists can plant their extremist seed to nurture others to follow.

Benjamin Franklin noted, “It is the first responsibility of every citizen to question authority.” Unfortunately, for Islamist followers who cross over the line—abandoning their independent thought—that responsibility is the furthest thing from their mind.

Family Security Matters Contributing Editor Lt. Colonel James G. Zumwalt, USMC (ret) is a retired Marine infantry officer who served in the Vietnam war, the US invasion of Panama and the first Gulf war. He is the author of "Bare Feet, Iron Will--Stories from the Other Side of Vietnam's Battlefields" and frequently writes on foreign policy and defense issues."

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