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To dream the impossible dream

The debate that we have been having here about the bombing in Glasgow and the attempts in London has thrown up the thorny question of to what extent the nature of Islam itself is a cause of these types of pernicious activities. So imagine my surprise when I found this short opinion piece in today’s OZ.


Religion is the root cause

Thursday, July 05, 2007

THIS week’s arrest of Mohamed Haneef in Brisbane may be more curious for the fact he’s a professional lifesaver than for the possibility that he’s a terrorist. So far, most of those being investigated in the latest British car bomb plots are, as is Haneef, doctors. The seeming paradox of the privileged seeking to avenge humiliation has many scratching their heads. Aren’t Muslim martyrs supposed to be poor, dispossessed and resentful? (asks Irshad Manji)

September 11 should have stripped us of that breezy simplification. The 19 hijackers came from means. Mohammed Atta, their ringleader, earned an engineering degree. He then moved to the West, opting for postgraduate studies in Germany. No aggrieved goatherder, that one.

In 2003, I interviewed Mohammad al-Hindi, the political leader of Islamic Jihad in Gaza.

A physician himself, al-Hindi explained the difference between suicide and martyrdom. “Suicide is done out of despair,” the good doctor diagnosed. “But most of our martyrs today were very successful in their earthly lives.”

In short, it’s not what the material world fails to deliver that drives suicide bombers. It’s something else. Time and again, that something else has been articulated by the people committing these acts: their religion.

Consider Mohammad Sidique Khan, the teaching assistant who masterminded the July 7, 2005, transport bombings in London. In a taped testimony, Khan railed against British foreign policy. But before bringing up Tony Blair, he emphasised that “Islam is our religion” and “the prophet is our role model”. In short, Khan gave priority to God.

Now take Mohammed Bouyeri, the Dutch-born Moroccan Muslim who murdered Amsterdam filmmaker Theo van Gogh. Bouyeri pumped several bullets into van Gogh’s body. Knowing that multiple shots would finish off his victim, why didn’t Bouyeri stop there? Why did he pull out a blade to decapitate van Gogh?

Again, we must confront religious symbolism. The blade is an implement associated with 7th-century tribal conflict. Wielding it as a sword becomes a tribute to the founding moment of Islam. Even the note stabbed into van Gogh’s corpse, although written in Dutch, had the unmistakable rhythms of Arabic poetry. Let’s credit Bouyeri with honesty: at his trial he proudly acknowledged acting from religious conviction.

Despite integrating Muslims far more adroitly than most of Europe, North America isn’t immune. Last year in Toronto, police nabbed 17 young Muslim men allegedly plotting to blow up Canada’s parliament buildings and behead the Prime Minister.

They called their campaign Operation Badr, a reference to prophet Mohammed’s first decisive military triumph, the Battle of Badr. Clearly the Toronto 17 drew inspiration from religious history.

For people with big hearts and goodwill, this must be uncomfortable to hear. But they can take solace that the law-and-order types have a hard time with it, too. After rounding up the Toronto suspects, police held a press conference and didn’t once mention Islam or Muslims. At their second press conference, police boasted about avoiding those words. If the guardians of public safety intended their silence to be a form of sensitivity, they instead accomplished a form of artistry, airbrushing the role that religion plays in the violence carried out under its banner.

They’re in fine company: moderate Muslims do the same. Although the vast majority of Muslims aren’t extremists, it is important to start making a more important distinction: between moderate Muslims and reform-minded ones.

Moderate Muslims denounce violence in the name of Islam but deny that Islam has anything to do with it. By their denial, moderates abandon the ground of theological interpretation to those with malignant intentions, effectively telling would-be terrorists that they can get away with abuses of power because mainstream Muslims won’t challenge the fanatics with bold, competing interpretations. To do so would be admit that religion is a factor. Moderate Muslims can’t go there.

Reform-minded Muslims say it’s time to admit that Islam’s scripture and history are being exploited. They argue for reinterpretation precisely to put the would-be terrorists on notice that their monopoly is over.

Reinterpreting doesn’t mean rewriting. It means rethinking words and practices that already exist, removing them from a 7th-century tribal time warp and introducing them to a 21st-century pluralistic context. Un-Islamic? God, no. The Koran contains three times as many verses calling on Muslims to think, analyse and reflect than passages that dictate what’s absolutely right or wrong. In that sense, reform-minded Muslims are as authentic as moderates and quite possibly more constructive.

This week a former jihadist wrote in a British newspaper that the “real engine of our violence” is “Islamic theology”. Months ago, he told me that as a militant he raised most of his war chest from dentists. Islamist violence: it’s not just for doctors any more. Tackling Islamist violence: it can’t be left to moderates any more.

Irshad Manji is a senior fellow with the European Foundation for Democracy. She is creator of the documentary Faith Without Fear and author of The Trouble with Islam Today: A Muslim’s Call for Reform in her Faith (Random House, Australia).

Over to you…



This really goes to the crux of the issue that Madd McColl was concerned with, Irshad Manji makes some very good points about the difference between Muslim Moderates and those, like herself, who want to reform the faith, to make it more relevant for the twenty-first century. Sadly I think that she is paving the road to hell with her good intentions because the faith has such an immutable foundation and ideology. But you can’t help but admire her courage for trying.

My bold in the quote 😉


  1. Brett_McS says:

    She’s dreamin’. There is too much straightforward, untwistable support of hatred and violence in the Islamic texts.

    The blogger MuslimPundit tried the same road but found that the Jihadis had the better foundation in the Islamic scriptures. They won the arguments with him every time.

    He reassessed his position and took the only option available for a person of goodwill and rationality: He left Islam; and now runs a blog to help other ex-Muslims support each other (something they surely need).

    To be frank, that is the only way a Muslim can truly show they are dealing in good faith: Leave Islam.

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