Forging a Common Front Against the Totalitarian Mind: A Case Study in Religious Demonization
by Dr. Robert Dickson Crane
Part One: Causes
Compulsive Fear: The Common Denominator
The entire world seems to be caught up in a frenzy of triumphalist arrogance by extremists who want to conquer the world. The decades-long Chairman of the Federal Reserve System, Alan Greenspan, in his new tell-all book released on September 16, 2007, The Age of Turbulence, writes, “I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.” On the other side of the divide, some CIA analysts write that Osama bin Laden wants to conquer the world in order to get back the wealth that has been stolen by America and its allies. Both of these observations are superficial. They do not explain the increasing violence in the world that soon may reach the level of a Fourth World War.
As a lifelong student of extremism over the centuries, I have been convinced that the primary motivating cause of militant extremism is not the simple drive for power, but rather its opposite in the form of compulsive fear. The defense mechanism is first to demonize what one fears and only then to destroy it.
This fear is what motivated the terrorists who designed a strategy of “shock and awe” by hi-jacking commercial airliners to demolish the World Trade Center as the leading symbol of the Great Shaitan’s oppression of billions of people through its oligarchical control of economic globalization. Fear is also what motivated American NeoCons to wage terroristic counter-terrorism by bombing Baghdad four years ago in a frenzy of shock and awe that killed 3,000 Iraqi civilians.
The full truth of 9/11 may never be known, but the origin and result of the initial attack on Baghdad has now been exposed, despite official denial of substantial “collateral damage.” I was in Saudi Arabia during the attack watching the bombing on TV together with a senior Saudi general, the right-hand man of the Defense Minister. The American TV commentator assured us that the impressive fireworks were caused by surgical strikes that harmed no-one. The rest of the world knew better.
Much has been written about the origin, nature, and goals of the Neo-Cons, but none of these commentaries identified the real dynamic of this intellectual movement, which was based on compulsive fear of imminent global chaos. Certainly such chaos would threaten access by oil consumers to countries that “sit on oceans of oil.” But, the fear goes beyond material greed. It is existential.
The real motivations for the origin of what appears to be simple NeoCon imperialism go back to the real origin of the Neo-Conservative phenomenon exactly half a century ago in the writings of the original Neo-Conservative godfather, Robert Strausz-Hupe, who once told me that he wanted me to succeed him as Director of the Foreign Policy Research Institute. We were fighting the totalitarianism of world Communism, which threatened to destroy the Free World. His conclusion was that Communism would disappear within two or three decades but that the aftermath would create a far greater threat to global civilization in the form of inchoate chaos. This mortal threat of chaos, he concluded, could be contained and defeated only if America was willing to grasp its historic opportunity and obligation to impose a world federal government through its overwhelming superiority in both moral force and military conquest.
During the next few decades, the moral force argument somehow got lost in the shuffle, so all that remained was military conquest with public deference to what Muwahid Shah calls the hijab or cover of freedom and democracy. The clearly stated motivating force was not expansionist imperialism, as most would contend, but rather abject mortal fear of population explosion worldwide by peoples who did not share American values and would eventually gain access to nuclear weapons.
The Politics of Fear
In politics the two most powerful motivators are fear and religion. This is especially true in places like America and the Muslim world where religion is a powerful force and therefore can be harnessed in the pursuit of power for whatever purpose.
We are now in the middle of an almost unique example of this truism. Muslims are not the only ones who exploit religion for political ends. American extremists, both political and religious, are exploiting religion by demonizing Islam as a necessary first and decisive step in a perceived war of self-defense against universal evil.
A week ago, on September 1, 2007, presidential candidate, Senator John McCain, sent out a letter to his supporters pegging his new campaign on a single theme that he hopes will be a sure-fire road to electoral victory in a time of great national peril. This theme is simple. He declared, “The transcendent issue of the 21st century is the struggle against radical Islamic extremism.”
Another presidential hopeful, not yet declared but with even better chances of success, is Newt Gingrich, who engineered the so-called Gingrich Revolution in 1994 by taking over both houses of Congress for the Republicans. Shortly thereafter he laid the groundwork for a new war against evil by calling for a war against Islamic totalitarianism. In the American lexicon developed in the war against Communist global conquest, the world is full of harmless tyrants who seek only their own power at home and therefore can be co-opted to serve American purposes. Such tyranny is different from totalitarianism, which by definition seeks total control of the human mind not only as a means to consolidate its own power but primarily as the ultimate end of its own destiny.
Fortunately, Gingrich, who is a past master at mind control, overplayed his hand and flamed out. Since 9/11, however, the demonization of Islam and of Prophet Muhammad, salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa salam, as its living example has been gathering supporters non-stop with the infused strength provided by an alliance with sixty million radical Christian extremists. Senator McCain has concluded that exploiting existential fears now promises to gain decisive political traction. The fear of Islam as it has been presented by this alliance is more than mere political make-believe, which is why it is so powerful.
McCain is taking a page right out of the playbook of the other of the two godfathers of Neo-Conservatism, Leo Strausz, who escaped from Nazi Germany in order to fight the new totalitarian menace. He was an atheist but he advocated appealing to religion as a useful tool in the search for power to counter Nazism, Communism, or any other form of totalitarianism. In other words, his life experience taught him that the most effective weapon against a totalitarian attack is a counter-attack that is more effective in using the same techniques.
The shift to a global war on Islam as the root of all evil, rather than merely on terrorism as a modern means of warfare, is bad news because it seems to suggest a retrogression from previous governmental policy. Two years ago, the hard-charging Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, let slip some of his carefully hidden sophistication by dropping the term “Global War on Terrorism,” called GWOT for short, and introduced a new acronym in Washington, GSAVE, which stands for “Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism.” A struggle, however, does not necessarily require military victory, and extremism is politically too generic, so within days President Bush as Commander in Chief vetoed this innovation and demanded that everyone go back to GWOT, the Global War on Terrorism.
Note that both of these paradigms or frameworks for policy were generic and avoided demonizing a religion. Now in a bold stroke McCain is leading a charge backwards from both of them by zeroing in on a popularly more demonizable target, “radical Islamic extremism.”
Two weeks ago, the professional lobbying group, Jihad Watch, which last year produced Robert Spencer’s sophisticated book, The Truth about Muhammad: Founder of the World’s Most Intolerant Religion, called for a new level of high intensity warfare to be inaugurated next month. In FrontpageMag.com, which is one of David Horowitz’s many front groups including Jihad Watch, he declared, “This October 22-26th, I am declaring Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week. I will hold demonstrations and protests, teach-ins, and sit-ins on more than 100 college campuses. Our theme will be the oppression of women in Islam and the threat posed by the Islamic crusade against the West.” Front and center as high-power ammunition will be the new book by Robert Spencer, which represents the final product of his two decades devoted to the professional demonizing of Islam.
As a follow-up to the original announcement, Horowitz explained during the commemoration of 9/11, “During the week of October 22-26, 2007, the nation will be rocked by the biggest conservative campus protest ever – Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week, a wake-up call for Americans on 200 university and college campuses.” As a leader of this new national movement, together with Frank Gaffney, James Woolsey, and Rick Santorum, Horowitz warned the American voters that, “Islamo-Fascism constitutes the greatest danger Americans have ever confronted.”
A straw in the wind was the political summit held exactly two months ago, on July 16, 2007, by Christians United for Israel. This is the organization founded by the doyon of the new Christian megachurch phenomenon, John Hagee. Max Blumenthal of the Washington Post interviewed a dozen of the thousands of participants in this rally. He expressed his amazement at, as he put it, “how excited they are at the prospect of Armageddon coming tomorrow.”
Hagee has close ties with Republican McCain and Democrat Joseph Lieberman and others in both Congress and the White House. This most extreme of all extremist groups in the world is calling for a unilateral military attack on Iran and the expansion of Israel as the final steps in the Battle of Armageddon to destroy the world in order to cleanse the earth of evil and bring about the return of Jesus to Jerusalem.
It is hard to top this one, but another presidential candidate, Tom Tancredo, made a good try. Last month, he demanded that America bomb Iran back to the stone-age and suggested that the U.S. Air Force should consider launching the mother of all “shock and awe” by bombing Mecca into oblivion.
This manipulation of the politics of fear may be the most radical and dangerous in the world today, because it revels in its own fears. It reminds one of the person with acrophobia or fear of heights who is terrified by standing at the brink of a cliff and cannot resist the temptation to jump off.
Part Two: Effects
Identifying the Principal Perversions
It may seem ironic that there is much overlap between the accusations levied by the professional Muslim bashers against the clear message of divine revelation in the Qur’an and those promoted by Muslim extremists themselves. Therefore, a concerted and coordinated campaign to counter the perversions of the Muslim bashers also serves to counter the perversions by Al Qa’ida and its legions. And the reverse is also true. To counter the lies spread by the Wahhabi religion serves equally to counter those spread by professional Islam bashers in America.
There are two distinct approaches to exposing the lies about Islam and its principal exemplar, the Prophet Muhammad, salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa salam. The first is to explain positively or proactively the teachings of the Qur’an and its expression in the sayings of Prophet Muhammad and the sirah of his life. The second is to explain reactively what they are not.
The second approach is to identify the leading distortions of the Qur’an and of the sayings and life of the Prophet Muhammad and then expose the questionable and fraudulent sources of these errors through scholarly analysis. The leading dozen of these principal distortions are illustrated clearly in the recent book by Robert Spencer, The Truth about Muhammad: Founder of the World’s Most Intolerant Religion.
These dirty dozen, as well as many more, are found in all the major attacks on Islam and on the Prophet Muhammad, but Spencer alleges that his latest book is the most scholarly because he bases all his claims on statements over the centuries by Muslims themselves. These dirty dozen range from the accusation that the Prophet Muhammad, salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa salam, was a pedophile, to the bizarre contention, shared by many Muslims, that Islamic law requires women to be stoned to death. This article highlights perhaps the most spectacular one of these dirty dozen to illustrate the bias that mars the scholarship of Robert Spencer’s use of sources. This one concerns the Prophet Muhammad’s alleged massacre of Jews in Medina.
Bias in Selecting Sources
The underlying problem in most of what Robert Spencer writes to demonize Islam and the Prophet Muhammad is his bias in the selection of sources. He claims that his scholarship is impeccable because he relies entirely on Muslim sources. Unfortunately, he relies heavily on sources that are either bogus or biased and reflect the strain of extremism that is found in every religion.
From the very beginning, there has never been a shortage of extremist Muslims to provide ammunition for those with a biased agenda. The first Wahhabis were the Mukharijun who condemned Ali bin Abi Talib, ‘alayhi as-salam, in the earliest period of the Muslim community for offering to compromise with the tyrant Mu’awiya. They declared that all who disagreed with themselves are infidels who should be executed, and eventually in the year 661 they succeeded in murdering Ali whom they had once supported. One could quote Kharijites (Mukharijun), who survived in one form or another for centuries, but no scholar, not even Spencer, has ever quoted them to prove anything about Islam.
The most extreme example of Robert Spencer’s bias, and one shared by many ignorant Muslims over the centuries, is the apocryphal story about the massacre led by The Prophet Muhammad against an entire Jewish tribe in Medina, the Banu Qurayzah. They were one of the three Jewish tribes that together with the resident Arab tribes had originally invited the Prophet Muhammad to Medina in order to bring peace among the warring parties in the city. All of these tribes signed the Medina Covenant, which was the first known constitution of any city or country. In it, each tribe promised to support the others in the common defense and to work together for their common good. When an alliance of the Quraish and surrounding warlike tribes was threatening to annihilate the Muslims in Medina, the Banu Qurayza committed treason by allying with these tribes.
This much is a known fact, but the story of the Prophet massacring all male members of the tribe, some 700 men, is pure fabrication. Spencer gets this story from the supposedly reliable account by the first historian of Islamdom, Abu Ishaq (704-773). Unfortunately, the original history by Abu Ishaq disappeared without a trace sometime after it was written 150 years after the death of the Prophet. The only extant version of this first biography of the Prophet Muhammad was written half a century later by Ibn Hisham, who admitted that he had condensed and revised the original to fit his own agenda. Malik ibn Anas (715-801), founder of one of the four surviving schools of law in the Sunni world, called Ibn Ishaq a “Dajjal” or anti-Christ for including ahadith that were invented by Jews to glorify their ancestors. Spencer admits on page 28 that the accuracy of Ibn Ishaq’s life of Muhammad is questionable, yet he says on page 30 that Ibn Ishaq’s biography of the Prophet Muhammad is his principal source for much of his book. Many good scholars even today rely on Ibn Ishaq or what remains of his rewritten writings, but not as the sole source of stories that almost certainly were forgeries.
Spencer devotes an entire chapter to the Prophet’s alleged fondness for shock and awe. This chapter in his book, The Truth about Muhammad, is entitled “Casting Terror into Their Hearts.” According to Ibn Ishaq and several ahadith that derive from his account, the Prophet Muhammad laid siege to the Banu Qurayza’s stronghold in the city. When they surrendered, The Prophet announced that Allah had ordered all the male members of the Qurayzah tribe to be executed for disloyalty. Spencer quotes Ibn Ishaq’s account on page 130 as follows: “The apostle went out to the market of Medina and dug trenches in it. Then he sent for the men of the Qurayzah and struck off their heads in those trenches as they were brought to him in batches.”
This is a great story. The only problem is that subsequent scholarship shows that it was almost certainly a total fabrication from the very beginning. The most detailed expose of this story was published in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society thirty years ago in 1976 on pages 100-107 under the title, “New Light on the Story of Banu Qurayza and the Jews of Medina”.
This scholarly analysis quotes contemporary and later scholars who described the rewritten biography of the Prophet, known as Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah, as a collection of “odd tales” similar to the mythology popular among ignorant desert tribes. Scholars have always been skeptical of the popular Sirah or histories of early Islam because in this genre of writing the evidentiary rules of the muhadithin or collectors of ahadith, and especially of sources deemed valid as sources for jurisprudence, did not have to be followed. It was not necessary to give any chain of authorities or even to give any authorities at all. As a result, the first mention of this massacre occurred a hundred and fifty years after the event.
Ibn Ishaq himself admitted that his account of the so-called massacre of the Banu Qurayzah was pieced together from fragmentary accounts, including the tribal memories of the Banu Qurayzah themselves, who like all tribes in the world are known to embellish their ancestral histories to mythical proportions. Even Tabari, who is one of the earliest and most reliable historians of early Islam, cites Ibn Ishaq’s story about the alleged slaughter with skepticism and provides no supporting evidence as he does for the rest of his historical research.
The only authentic account is in the chapter of the Qur’an entitled “The Confederates,” Surah al Ahzab 33:26, which relates the siege of Medina by the Quraish and their confederates and the treacherous assistance given the besiegers by some of the Banu Qurayzah. These traitors were killed during battle. “He [Allah] caused those of the People of the Book [the Banu Qurayzah] who helped them [i.e., helped the Quraish] to come out of their forts and cast terror into their hearts, so that some you killed, and some you took prisoner.” This is a statement about the battle, and no figures of casualties are given.
Only later were Jewish tribal accounts embellished with statements that all the men of the Banu Quraysh, as many as 900 men, were personally murdered by the Prophet Muhammad, salah Allahu ‘alayhi wa salam, who publicly and enthusiastically chopped off their heads one by one in the main square of Medina.
Modern scholars point out the great resemblance of the above Jewish tale to the early history of the Jews that has survived throughout the ages, according to which the predecessor of Herod the Great hung upon crosses 800 Jewish captives and slaughtered their wives and children before their eyes. At Masada, the number of those who died at the end was 900. The inside story was that the leader of the Banu Qurayzah suggested that all the Banu Qurayzah kill their women and children and then commit suicide, which is the same story told about the last holdout at Masada. A giveaway is that even the same names were given in accounts of these two heroic last stands. It is interesting that modern historians now question the authenticity of the Masada account that 960 Jews committed suicide, which would mean that the Banu Qurayza account of their own refusal to commit suicide might unknowingly have been a more accurate rendition of the original prototype.
Robert Spencer accepts this bogus history as proof for his insistence that the Prophet Muhammad is the perfect model for Al Qa’ida and those who get a thrill from personally beheading captives.
The real significance of Spencer’s reliance on this Jewish tribal history to make his point is found in his reasons for rejecting the Muslim scholars’ skepticism, because this reveals strikingly the bias that poisons everything else in his book.
The scholars argue that this story has to be apocryphal because the strict rule in Islamic law is to punish only those who are responsible for the sedition. The large number of those allegedly beheaded contradicts the Qur’anic prohibition of collective guilt ordained in Surah Fatir 35:18: “No soul shall bear another’s burden.” The leaders of the Banu Qurayzah even in the apocryphal story were well known and even named.
Equally important is the strict rule, never violated at the time of the Prophet, that prisoners of war must be either freed or allowed to be ransomed by their families. This was the rule applied to the other Jewish tribes.
The classical Islamic scholars have another clinching argument. If such a slaughter had actually occurred, it would have been used as a precedent for legal rulings, whereas, in fact, there have never been any such rulings.
Spencer’s argument against the classical Islamic scholars, including the modern scholar, W. N. Arafat, in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, is Spencer’s charge on page 132 that they rejected the very possibility of such a slaughter “chiefly for the anachronistic reason that it would have violated Islamic law.”
This is an all-time classic case of biased and circular reasoning. His careful reversal of everything in the Qur’an related to the universal human rights to life and dignity are demonstrated in Part Four of my article, “Marginalizing Extremists by Revealing the Real Truth About Muhammad,” which was published in http://www.theamericanmuslim.org June ,25th, 2007. Throughout his book Spencer relies on extremist Muslim sources to prove that human rights have never existed in Islam, and then he cites this biased conclusion to justify his acceptance of events that never occurred.
This bias is strikingly evidenced in the contrast between Spencer’s unquestioning acceptance of falsehood and his rejection of truths that are beyond question. He accepts the Banu Qurayzah massacre, because doing so serves to prove the points he is trying to make throughout his book, but he is skeptical about the very existence of the Medina Covenant which granted equal rights to Jews, Christians, and Muslims.
This whole episode is perhaps the most dramatic of the falsehoods perpetrated by Robert Spencer in his superficially very scholarly book, The Truth about Muhammad: Founder of the World’s Most Intolerant Religion, but it is merely the first of the dirty dozen.
Part Three: Facing a Common Enemy
Muslims and most of the people of the world are dumbfounded by such hateful and primitive sentiments of collective guilt, especially because they are coming from America, which used to be the most respected and beloved country in the world. How did all this demonic hatred of an entire religion come about? Equally important, what can anyone do about it without copying the grave crime of collective guilt by blaming America, Christians, and Jews.
Fortunately, the overwhelming majority of the Muslims in the world and the overwhelming majority of Christians and now also of Jews recognize that the demonization of an entire religion is a threat to everyone. They all recognize that there is a growing movement of Muslim extremism, which can result in Muslim terrorism. But they fear that demonizing Islam as the source of Muslim extremism is helping to provoke it. Furthermore, citing the same bogus sources that Muslim extremists use to justify their crimes serves to reinforce the legitimacy of Muslim extremists.
How do we persuade policy makers to use the term “radical Muslim extremism” in order to distinguish between a religion and those who carry out crimes against humanity in its name? There is no such thing as Islamic extremism, any more than there is Christian or Jewish extremism, unless one wants to reduce all religion to the level of tribalism. These are oxymorons or contradictions in terms. Unfortunately, extremists in every religion have always been with us and always will be, so what do we do about it?
The first requirement is to recognize that the traditionalist peoples in all religions face a common enemy. One half of the threat to global civilization is the post-modern phenomenon of the totalitarian mind in the West fixated on fighting fire with fire at the risk of a global conflagration. The other half is the equally post-modernist phenomenon of Al Qa’ida and its evil minions, who play into the hands of those who are willing to destroy civilization in a war against so-called Islamic fascism. There clearly is such a thing as Muslim fascism, but this is a threat primarily to Muslims, both directly as in Iraq and indirectly to Muslims throughout America.
All my life I have been a professional global strategist and long-range global forecaster in advising government and industry on the art of what I call paradigm management. This is the art of both managing and resolving apparently irresolvable conflicts by addressing differing assumptions and views of reality. My conclusion is that the major threat to the world today comes from the Muslim extremists who are trying to pervert the classical wisdom of their own religion and hijack it in their own frenzy of hatred for everyone who disagrees with them. A secondary but still important threat comes from those who demonize Islam by interpreting it the same way that Muslim extremists do and thereby give them cooperation and support.
The demonizers have a valid point in their insistence that action speaks louder than words and that Islam as a religion is fair game unless Muslims take the lead in countering their own demons. The Islam-bashers are right that Muslims must take the lead because only Muslims can effectively wage a war against Muslim fascism. If we cannot mount an effective war against this evil phenomenon, then the professional Muslim bashers will claim legitimacy in blaming Islam as a religion for all the evil in the world. The problem may be viewed as the old saw about the chicken and the egg. Which came first? My answer is that before the chicken and before the egg came the rooster.
The rooster, who has done more than anything else in begetting the apparently insoluble dilemma of two religions and two civilizations fighting for survival, is the demonic hatred among the extremists bred inevitably by the heresy known as Wahhabism. This is officially promoted in the world’s most unjust and un-Islamic society, known as Saudi Arabia. The present Saudi leader, Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, is struggling mightily to overcome this bizarre culture in the symbolic heartland of Islam. He can succeed, however, only if he is supported by the world body of Muslims, the umma, including Muslims in America. American Muslims will be the principal victims of failure to unite in boldly and firmly exposing the heretical nature of the Wahhabi declaration of war against every human right and against even the very concept of human dignity. American Muslims must overcome their defensive stance of “Don’t blame me” and join the critics of Muslim extremism in condemning religious totalitarianism and working to root it out from mosques and Islamic schools.
Exposing the Al Qa’ida Heresies
How can Muslims expose the heresies against Islam that extremist Muslims are advancing to justify what amounts to their war against civilization? The first step is to recognize and denounce the justifications they use for their actions. They and their actions should be denounced in terms they understand, namely, by words used in the Qur’an that apply expressly to them and their crimes.
Their use of the term jihad for what they say is holy war but in fact is terrorism should be called by its proper name in classical Islamic terminology, which is hiraba or unholy and demonic war to destroy society. They call themselves mujahidun or holy warriors destined for jannah or heaven. In fact, they are mufsidun headed for jahannam, evil-doers headed for hell. They claim that they are fighting for ihtiram or human respect, whereas in fact they are committing istihlal, which is the cardinal sin of playing God. Their murderous assault on every human right should be exposed for what it is, namely, a monumental act of rida al shaytaniya or diabolical apostasy.
The last words of the terrorist who crashed the first plane into the World Trade Center, according to plans found later in his personal effects, were from the Qur’an: “Say, my prayers, my actions, my life, and my death I dedicate to Allah, Lord of the Worlds.” He chose to dedicate his death to ending the lives of thousands of innocent people. The context of this verse in Surah al An’am 6:162 called him instead to dedicate his life after the model of Prophet Abraham, ‘alayhi al salam, who lived for Allah out of love in order to bring compassionate justice to all of God’s creation.
Suicide bombing requires blind fanaticism not courage. True submission to God requires the dedication of one’s life to a much more difficult and daunting task. This is to transform one’s own life, which was given as a gift created in the image of God, in order better to transform the world in which one lives out of love, rather than to destroy it out of hatred.
This message applies to everyone in every religion who demonizes whole communities and entire religions out of hatred. Professional Christian demonizers of Islam who recruit naïve young people to their cause are no different from the masters of terror in the proverbial caves of Afghanistan who recruit equally naïve young people to their cause, because the end result is the same.
The challenge for committed members of every world religion is to forge a common front against the totalitarian mind.