By Ed Felien / The Rag Blog / August 3, 2010
How can war be holy?
What righteous god would welcome the massacre of innocents?
And, yet, the origins and history of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have their roots in war. The Old Testament and Talmud are catalogs of epic battles. Jesus, who brought the new commandment, Love thy neighbor, also told his followers, “Let him who has no sword sell his mantle and buy one. For I tell you that this scripture must be fulfilled in me, ‘And he was reckoned with transgressors.'” (Luke: 22, 36-37)
Muhammad, not just a prophet and the founder of Islam, was a remarkable general. His continued battles with rival tribes eventually led to a consolidation of most of the Arabian Peninsula into an Islamic confederation during his lifetime. Much of the fire and intensity of the Qur’an is because Muhammad is encouraging his early Muslim supporters to fight to defend the faith.
Combining religious zeal with a sword is a lethal mixture, and, although there are many progressive developments that flow from early Islam: a more enlightened view of women; a rejection of feudal autocracy and privilege; and the development of a uniform code of justice; still, one of the dominant themes of the Qur’an is its effectiveness as a manual of war: “Fight and kill the disbelievers wherever you find them. Take them captive, harass them, lie in wait and ambush them using every stratagem of war.” (Qur’an: 9, 5)
The community of the faithful in Islam is called the ummah. The community spread from the Arabian Peninsula in the Seventh Century to as far east as China and Indonesia and as far west as North and South America. There are now between one and two billion Muslims worldwide, 21% of the world’s people. But, just as Italians feel a sense of ownership of the Roman Catholic Church, Arabs have a similar proprietary reaction to Islam. The major shrines are in Arabia or the Middle East. Devout Muslims are supposed to visit Mecca once in their lifetime. The Qur’an is written in Arabic, the language of Saudi Arabia.
The particular brand of Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia is Wahabbi. This ultra-conservative variant was developed at the end of the eighteenth century as a reaction against the dominance of the Turkish Empire and its more liberal brand of Sufi Islam. Local tribesmen were more likely to fight against Turkish occupation if they felt it was blasphemous, thus skirting the prohibition in the Qur’an of Muslims fighting Muslims.
When the British joined the local rebels (most notably with Lawrence of Arabia), that sealed the fate of the Turkish Ottoman Empire. When oil was found in Arabia, Western countries found a good reason to continue support for the Saud family and all the other petty warlords they had made heads of state in the countries they had drawn on the map of the Middle East.
All this seemed like it would continue forever. The oil companies allowed the Arab countries to become rich, as long as the oil companies became richer. The conservative orthodoxy of Wahabbi Islam allowed the Saud family to rule with autocratic simplicity. They controlled their people and that allowed the British (and soon American interests) to get the oil and make everybody happy.
These fairy tale kingdoms continued in the Middle East until the Iranians threw America’s Shah off the Peacock Throne in February of 1979. Unhappy at losing our perch in the Middle East, President Carter grew jealous of Soviet influence in Afghanistan. He reportedly gave over a billion dollars to the Pakistan ISI (a CIA equivalent) to support a religious group that was fighting to throw out the Soviets. So, the truth of the matter is that the U. S. was the original funder for al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden and the holy war or jihad against Western influences in the ummah.
When Osama bin Laden declared a fatwah against the U. S. and Western influences in the Middle East in 1998, he listed three examples of how the U. S. has attempted to destroy Muslim interests:
First, for over seven years the United States has been occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of places, the Arabian Peninsula, plundering its riches, dictating to its rulers, humiliating its people, terrorizing its neighbors, and turning its bases in the Peninsula into a spearhead through which to fight the neighboring Muslim peoples.
Second, bin Laden opposed the sanctions and then the war against the people of Iraq, and, third, he opposed the state of Israel and supported a Palestinian state.
But the principal focus of jihad today is the war in Afghanistan. This holy war to throw out the infidel has strong support among Afghan locals. They’ve been doing it for at least a thousand years. And it can draw on the support of millions of Muslims worldwide who see an attack on the ummah as an attack on Islam.
The most explosive ingredient in this already deadly Afghan stew is the influence of Pakistan. The ISI has supported the Taliban and al Qaeda with war materiel for decades. The Taliban are happy to please their benefactors with attempts to blow up the Indian Embassy in Kabul.
The only thing about Pakistan that you can count on is that they hate India and they want Kashmir. All alliances, agreements, treaties, etc. are just temporary steps to facilitate those two objectives. The recent release of military documents by WikiLeaks shows the duplicitous game ISI has been playing with the U. S. and the Taliban. They have no hesitation to sell out one side or the other in the pursuit of their own objectives.
A further complication in the Afghan jihad is the Pashtun influence. The Pashtun are an ethnic group that date back at least to the 8th Century and the introduction of Islam in the area. Currently, they make up about 40% of the population of Afghanistan and 15% of the population of Pakistan. For many years it was the goal of tribal leaders to secede and form their own Pashtunistan. There is no question that tribal and Pashtun loyalties are stronger than national loyalties, and they have no respect for the Afghan/Pakistan international border.
So, what do we have?
We have a holy war waged against the U. S. by millions of Muslims that has as its principal focus a narco-terrorist state that produces 92% of the world’s opium made up mainly of a population that has no interest in being Westernized and resents our invasion. It’s a war that can’t be won, and it is bleeding us dry in terms of the lives of our best soldiers and our national treasury. And, it’s a holy war that we began 30 years ago.
Isn’t it time to declare our prayers have been answered and get out?
[Ed Felien is publisher and editor of Southside Pride, a South Minneapolis monthly.]