29 April 2006
Unfortunately, Islam nowadays reminds Usame Bin Laden, Zarkawi, Al Qaeda, suicide bombers, blood, violence and bombs since the September 11 attacks. Islam as a religion and Islam as one of the few civilizations of the world have been ignored.
Western media often mentions ‘Islamic terrorists’, instead of ‘religionist’ or ‘Islamist terrorists’. ‘Islamic’, which means convenient to Islam, usually amalgamate with Islamism as an ideology or it is done consciously.
However Islamic World (if there is one world that can be called with this name) has incredible diversities… In the Islamic World numerous different views that Western world could not even imagine, can exist even in religion, which is mostly seen as taboo. The level of democracy and plurality in the countries like Sweden, Norway and the US deserve appreciation. On the other hand it is difficult to say that the Western world is successful in protecting the diversities. The differences between the political parties and the NGO’s are filled in time in the western world. However in the East the differences are still radically high…. In the same country the government and the opposition could champion very different world views and government types. An ethnic group or a sect could survive 1000 years without any changes while in the West there is a high level of assimilation. Europeanization, another name of assimilation for instance could be observed among the people who went to Europe as workers 30 or 20 years ago. This process will result in melting within a few decades and a high level of assimilation will occur. It is discussable which one is correct, the radical differences in the East or the ‘harmony’ in the West. But at least we can say that the Islamic World could not be seen as unitary and homogeneous. May be because it has immature political and social system or as a distinction the Islamic World is so colorful that could not be compared with the West. In the Islamic World modernity and traditional societies could be seen together. Industrial society and agricultural society could live together. Hundreds of languages could be spoken in one state or very different sects of one religion could live together preserving all their characteristics for centuries. There are numerous differences between Nigerian and Indonesian Muslims. The ones defending that the music is forbidden share the same religion with the ones worshiping with music.
It is unjust, even nothing, to identify such a colorful and deep world with Usame Bin Laden. If one identify Laden and Islamic World, it means that he or she neither understand the true nature of Islam nor Islamists. We experienced similar situation during the 1980s. The West confused Islam and Iranian interpretation of Islam.
Now the Western World means ‘Usame Bin Laden ideology’ when speaking about Islam although a number of Muslim clergymen do not support Bin Laden even they question him as Muslim. On the other hand Bin Laden has a considerable mass of fans in the Muslim world and in particular in the Arab world. For example: in a questionnaire made in Kuwait the proportion of the ones regard him as “hero” exceeds 75%. But seeing Bin Laden as a hero or being happy that he gives harm to the US does not make one ‘Ladinist’. In fact millions of non Muslim people are also content with Bin Laden’s actions.
They sometimes feel sympathy to Bin Laden’s actions not because they like him but because they are not happy with the American policies.
Bin Laden: an Islamist or Islamic?
A great majority of Muslims regard Bin Laden as wrong doer, even a sinner and do not support him. Bin Laden and his cause are still marginal. For instance 91 % of the Turkish people see Ladin as ‘terrorist’ according to the latest ISRO Terrorism Survey.
It is true that Bin Laden is an Islamist. Namely, he is interpreting Islam around his political aims and like any Islamist, his political interests are on the fore rather than his religion. Namely, political objectives are in the center not the religion. Not politics serves Islam but Islam serves politics. However Islamism is not the sole and the most important column in Bin Laden’s ideology. Bin Laden’s and Al Quaida’s ideology could be argued to consist of three pillars:
1. First Pillar of Bin Laden Ideology: Islamism
As it was mentioned before, Islamism has a great room in Bin Laden’s ideology. But Bin Laden’s sole aim is not to set an ideal Islam community and to live a religious life. If this was his real aim, profoundly peaceful tools were present. Being a member of an oil rich family in Saudi Arabia provided him numerous opportunities. But he did not prefer to build mosques, schools and hospitals or conducting missionary work in the West or lobbying to make his government more religious. Instead of these he started suicide attacks, taking hostages, mass killing although he knows the victims were innocent. Such violence was not implemented in the Prophet’s time, which was claimed to taken as an example by Bin Laden. However neither in Mecca nor in Medina Periods taking hostage, fire raisings, and kidnappings and using terror to achieve political aims was attempted by the Prophet Muhammed and his close friends (sahabe). From this point of view it could be argued that Bin Laden has chosen the Western examples for himself rather than Mohammad’s way. Marxism is interestingly one of the very first of them. When Bin Laden’s actions are taken in to consideration, it will be recognized that he is influenced by Marxism not only with his radical opposition but also with his actions. The training, the oath takings before suicide bombings of Al Quaida militias could be called as any leftist organization’s, if the Islamic details are abolished. Being more successful than Marxist organizations distinguishes Bin Laden. But he is successful not because Bin Laden is more genius than Marxist organizations are, but because the opportunities granted to him by the conjuncture.
Second Pillar: Anti Westernism
Anti Westernism is the second most important pillar of Bin Laden Ideology, and its anti Westernism emulates to Marxism and Western style nationalism more than religion both at ideology and action levels. In this respect, if Bin Laden was not a Muslim, let him be a Catholic or a Buddhist Arab, he would probably make the same actions. Then we would have talked about Buddhist or Catholic Arab terrorism. In fact a number of Christian Arabs within Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) has fought using very similar methods, Al Quaida uses, together with HAMAS against Israel for decades.
Every kind of reason is present to be anti Western in particular in the Arab world and in general in the Islamic World. This base and the governments that could not resist the West have a significant place in the appearance of movements like Bin Laden’s. For example: the Western policies concerning Palestine, Chechnya, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan and Bosnia Herzegovina are mostly disingenuous and deserve reactions. In every example of massacres (if they were not genocide) were experienced. The inconsistent attitudes of the West have encouraged the guilty and the powerful, on the other hand made weak victims weaker. At the same time, the Islamic World is under undemocratic and weak governments. Corruption and injustice in income distribution are exorbitant. Also it is well known by the masses that the governments in these countries have the support of Western states. Masses think that they are sacrificed by the West sometimes in exchange of oil or weapon trade. Contrary to this a sound opposition is not formed in the Arab countries. In its first uprising, any opposition finds itself in the jail tortured or even destroyed without putting to jail. A few dissenters in exile have very little effect in their motherlands. In other words, in the Islamic World, in particular in the Arab world, there is a great lack of opposition and this gap is filled by radical rise of Bin Laden. For the first time the Arab World has found itself a ‘leader’ that could challenge the West and talk to it as equal partners. Bin Laden can be perceived as a hero in the Arab World because contrary to the so called leaders of the Arabs who are almost begging the US, he could “launch a war against the US”, and even he could give great harm that no other country could ever give to the US. An ordinary Arab could say “That is enough, do we always have to die, let the Americans suffer.”
There were some other anti Western, secular movements in the history. In fact the nationalism of Nasser in Egypt challenged the West and was followed by millions in the Arab World. Equally the movements of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Hafiz Assad in Syria emulated Nasser and represented anti Western, secular opposition. PLO has formed a different kind of secular opposition to the West. Examples could be multiplied. But all these anti Western movements have resulted with disappointments or they were unsuccessful. For example: PLO could not change the humiliation that is experienced by the Arabs. Saddam Hussein could not go beyond being a mediocre dictator, who serves the interests of the West consciously or not rather than being anti Western. Consequently secular opposition could not avoid the humiliation of the Arabs and even have a special role in this humiliation. Thus it can be said that the Arabs became the most humiliated nation in the world. I do not imagine a nation that is suffered and humiliated so much as the Arabs in history. From Iraq to Palestine, from the occupied territories of Syria to Kuwait all the Arab World seems as if they can not protect themselves and live under mercy of the West. Torture in Iraq, bombed houses in Ramadan, raped women, murdered children in Palestine etc…Under these circumstances no Arab country could be reasonable about terrorism and war. That’s why Turkey and Iran are more independent and successful in resisting the Western policies in the Middle East. Turkey for instance was considered more Arab than the Arab nations regarding the Iraq policies by the Arab media.
By 1980’s the Arab World depended mainly on secular movements. There were also some Marxist movements in addition to the Naserist Arab nationalism. In this period of time religion / religionism was not a sound alternative. In other words, in Arab World religionist terrorism did not arise in an early period. Even it could be claimed that religionist terrorism in Islam and Arab world aroused in a very late period when compared to other religions and geographies of the world: ‘Catholic terrorism’ in Ireland, ‘Jewish terrorism’ in Israel, the role played by the ‘religious men’ during the colonization efforts in Britain, Spain, and other European states and when the crusaders are taken into consideration it could be claimed that Islam has a “more clean history” concerning religionist terrorism and fundamentalism. The religious terror in Israel started with the foundation of Israeli state. A number of terrorist attacks in the West have been related to sects of Christianity. In addition to all, the fundamentalist religionist attitudes of US President George W. Bush and Israel Prime Minister Ariel Sharon should be taken into consideration. The intention to religionist violence of a person should not depend on his having a state or not. The fundamentalism of state leaders is as important as the fundamentalist ideas of Bin Laden. From this point of view it should be wondered why Bin Laden raised so late rather than why he is raised.
In summary; what Bin Laden does is to fill a vacuum… Abusing the realities, Laden shows the desperate peoples that they could take revenge at least by dieing. There is a great vacuum of opposition to the US leadership in the world. Thus, in addition to opposition vacuum in the Islamic World there is also a global opposition vacuum. Then Bin Laden has become a symbol in filling such a vacuum. Reactions that could not express themselves through peaceful and democratic ways, have expressed themselves through explosion.
Third Pillar: Terrorism
In addition to Islamism and Anti Westernism, Terrorism is the third and another most important pillar of Bin Laden Ideology. Although terrorism is perceived as a method and its ideological dimension is underestimated, it will be wrong to perceive it as a temporary method. None of the leaders that make terrorism the most important part of his cause could ever give up terror totally.
Terrorism is also a way of thinking. A terrorist regard himself right in his actions. He thinks that his enemy deserves every kind of bad treatment. He believes that giving harm to the enemy or to other people to convince the enemy to certain policies is acceptable. Terrorism is a pattern of thinking. From this perspective, it is like communism or fascism. Namely it could be regarded as an ideology. This ideology is the third pillar of Bin Laden’s approach. Bin Laden believes in Terrorism before Islamism. The relationship between Bin Laden’s belief in Terrorism and his Islamism is quiet limited. He is not a terrorist because he is an Islamist. If he was a member of another religion or of another race, he would probably adopt Terrorism as a method and an ideology. And the Muslim states support Bin Laden not because he is an Islamist, but because he is challenging the West. Many who supported the USSR in the past now give support to Laden’s policies against the West.
In summary, Bin Laden’s ideology has three pillars. Islamism is just one of them and probably the weakest of them. Anti-Westernism and Terrorism are more significant in this ideology. In this respect Bin Laden naturally has no power of representation of the Islamic World. Asking “why terrorism rises in Muslim communities?” therefore is at least an unjust question, if not irrelevant. When underdevelopment, corruption, unjust distribution of wealth in the Muslim communities and the role of West in these problems are taken into consideration, the rise of Bin Laden could be evaluated as a late explosion. Bin Laden and his friends are like the screams of a tortured body. Bad words could be heard and even the tortured one could give harm to the others. However such kind of actions could not be acceptable, under any circumstances even they were very ripe for evil actions. On the other hand this does not make Bin Laden the representative of more than 1 billion people. He is a terrorist and Al Quida is a terrorist organization. Neither the Muslims benefit from it, nor the West could reach any point focusing on it by disregarding millions of Muslims.
Translated by Gulcin YATIN
4 August 2005
Sedat Laciner: Assoc. Prof. Dr. of International Relations and Davos Economic Forum Young Global Leader 2006