Tuesday, July 19, 2005


Sean Nelson is right that we should not assume a direct connection between Iraq and London. Terrorist violence is a standing order for the al Qaedists, regardless of current events. In Usama bin Laden's 1998 fatwa (legal pronouncement or ruling), his directions were clear: strike at them wherever and whenever. At most, Iraq should be considered just one more entry on bin Laden's very long list of grievances.

I think Nelson is off, however, when he claims that the London bombings have no political character. Nelson wrote:
[T]o connect the invasion of Iraq with the bombing of London represents the worst kind of moral blindness, because it invests the act with a political and spiritual legitimacy to which it is simply not entitled. The perpetrators of this mass murder have no legitimacy—political, spiritual, or otherwise. They're just murderers.


This was not a political act (though politics were its Trojan horse). It was a religious one. And religion must be held accountable.

Religion is of course the motivation behind Islamist terrorism, but that by no means makes this terrorism non-political. Islamists themselves make no distinction between the religious and the political, indeed one of their goals is a polity in which any line between the two is erased. The compartmentalization of religion and politics into separate spheres is a Western innovation, one I happen to like very much (though I'd argue that many liberals have an unrealistic view of just how separate religion and politics can and should be kept.) This distinction simply does not apply, however, when we are considering the motivations and goals of Islamist terrorism.

From bin Laden's 1998 fatwa:
The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies--civilians and military--is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it, in order to liberate the al-Aqsa Mosque and the holy mosque from their grip, and in order for their armies to move out of all the lands of Islam, defeated and unable to threaten any Muslim. This is in accordance with the words of Almighty God, "and fight the pagans all together as they fight you all together," and "fight them until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in God."

Clearly, bin Laden advocates the use of terrorism as a means of changing the behaviour of governments: His goal is the removal of Western troops from Muslim lands, and the creation of a single Islamic state throughout the Middle East. This seems to me political by definition. Bin Laden's objectives may be somewhat more abstract and grandiose than those of the Irish Republican Army or the Zionist Irgun, for example, but his objectives are still political, albeit a politics which is completely entwined with religion.

As to Nelson's claims about legitimacy, I also regard both the means and ends of Islamist terrorism as illegitimate, but I'd offer that legitimacy is in the eye of the beholder. In the view of a very small minority of fundamentalist Muslims, the al Qaeda ideology (and at this point al Qaeda is much more an ideology than it is an organization) and the violence it inspires are legitimate responses to what they perceive as an aggressive and invasive West. This is certainly not meant to justify or excuse terrorism, only to point out that it matters very little whether Nelson or I consider it legitimate. For those willing to kill and die for this ideology, its legitimacy is a matter of fact.

As unspeakably tragic as the London bombings were, It's encouraging that they seem to have inspired many more moderate Muslims, both in Western and Islamic media, to publicly condemn the perversion of their religion. The largest Sunni Muslim organization in Briatin yesterday issued its own fatwa condemning suicide terrorism. This is where the true solution lies, in the growing movement of devout Muslims willing to vigorously challenge bin Laden's terrorist ideology as illegitimate, unrighteous and un-Islamic, and to champion the values of consensual government and pluralism in the Islamic world.

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