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baqqa mqarqra
A Frog's-eye view

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Sunday, September 01, 2002
Once again I am grateful to Peter Briffa's Public Interest Blog for drawing my attention to another piece of The Patroniser's nonsense on world terrorism. Following the September 11th attacks, every journalist and his brother is suddenly an expert on Islamic terror. Minor impediments such as knowing something about Islam and the Middle East or even knowing where to look up the basic facts about Islam and the Middle East have not prevented journalists from espousing their ignorant views on the causes of the attacks on the USA.

In an ill-conceived article, in which the facts are not allowed to complicate the conclusions - that poverty and inequality lay behind the attacks - Martin Woollacott performs intellectual somersaults to try to convince us that in spite of the evidence, the wickedness of the west is responsible for the vicious murder of innocent civilians that took place on September 11th.

Of course, Woollacott must address the facts in some form:

"The world's unfair economic arrangements, and the way in which they are buttressed politically, were proposed as a cause, among others, by many trying to explain the attacks. The argument was pretty quickly overturned, in the minds of many people, by what was learned about the religious motivation of the hijackers and their social background.

On the American right, in particular, some seemed to relish the fact that the hijackers mainly came from well-off or even rich families. That seemed to them to dispose of the idea that urgent action on global inequality was a necessary part of any programme to prevent or reduce the chance of more attacks. Poverty was not the problem."

So the nasty American right, delighted at the chance at some terrorist bashing, jumped upon the fact that the Al-Qa’ida operatives were religiously motivated in order to maintain the inequality that they so love. Now clearly, they must have been wrong, so Woollacott explains to us:

“They took that line even though it was historically established that attacks on the political status quo, whether revolutions or rebellions or more isolated challenges like terrorism, rarely come from the ranks of the truly poor, but from classes adjacent to them and suffering from their own different but related insecurities”.

In other words: don’t take the beliefs of Al-Qa’ida seriously. Don’t read what they have to say about themselves and their struggle against western society. Don’t believe that they are supported by some of the richest people in the world, who have no problem in keeping the citizens of their country in abject poverty while enjoying the incredible revenues with which their monopoly over the country’s oil resources have provided them. After all, it was “historically established” that this is not the case, and only stubborn fools like the American right would stand in the face of what has been historically established.

This one-dimensional view of Islamic society has been addressed by Bernard Lewis in his essay “The Return of Islam”, originally published in 1976 and “revised and recast” in his 1993 volume “Islam and the West”. The book, which appears on the syllabus of many an introductory BA course in Islam in the Modern World, is of course in English and was published by the Oxford University Press, so Woolacott, who writes for a British newspaper, would have no problem in obtaining it or reading it.

On page 134 Lewis writes:

“Modern Western man, being unable for the most part to assign to dominant and central place to religion in his own affairs, found himself unable to conceive that any other people in any other place could have done so and was therefore impelled to devise other explanations of what seemed to him only superficially religious phenomena. We find, for example, a great deal of attention given by eighteenth-century European scholarship to the investigation of such meaningless questions as 'Was Muhammed sincere?' or 'Was Muhammed an Enthusiast or a Deceiver?'. We find lengthy explanations by nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century historians of the 'real underlying significance' of the great religious conflicts in Islam among different sects and schools in the past, and a similar determination to penetrate to the 'real' meaning of sectarian and communal struggles at the present time.

To the modern Western mind, it is not conceivable that men would fight and die in such numbers over mere differences of religion; there have to be other 'genuine' reasons underneath the religious veil. We are prepared to allow religiously defined conflicts to accredited eccentrics like the Northern Irish, but to admit that an entire civilization can have religion as its primary loyalty is too much. Even to suggest such a thing is regarded as offensive by liberal opinion, always ready to take protective umbrage on behalf of those whom it regards as its wards. This is reflected in the inability of political, journalistic, and academic commentators alike to recognize the importance of religion in the current affairs of the Muslim world and in their consequent recourse to the language of left-wing and right-wing, progressive and conservative, and the rest of the Western vocabulary of ideology and politics.”

M’lud I rest my case.

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