THE U.S. THE MIDDLE EAST AND THE ISLAMIC UNION
The 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon marked a turning point and the beginning of a new world order. Some experts predicted that this attack would lead to greater conflict and violence, while a majority of voices pointed out that America's response and future policies must be measured and just.
In the aftermath of the attacks, America began a large-scale offensive against terrorism. Most countries and international organizations supported this effort, which, in essence, is a military operation directed against terrorism and all organs that support it. At present, despite some partial successes, this war has not met its objectives or achieved a conclusive victory.
One of the primary reasons for this failure is that the American strategy is based mainly on military operations to the exclusion of any educational or cultural measures. Military measures, such as removing regimes that support terrorism, cannot defeat terrorism, for terrorism is a socio-psychological and ideological problem. Such a military-only strategy creates tragedies in which countless innocent people lose their lives, as well as the radicalism that, in turn, becomes yet another factor feeding terrorism. Only an intellectual war can effectively diffuse the terrorists' propaganda and eradicate terrorism. Military operations should be used only when appropriate.
For this reason, the war on terrorism must be conducted within the rules of international law and by the use of peaceful but effective measures. Every activity that ignores the law and human rights, especially when it is causing civilian deaths, will cast a shadow over this war, even if it began as a just cause. It is important for the American leadership to remember such facts when determining its strategy, for it is the psychology and ideology of terrorism that must be destroyed. The so-called "Islamic terrorism" thought to be behind 9/11 feeds off radical groups that interpret the Qur'an wrongfully. The true morality of Islam must replace such warped interpretations of religion, and people must be taught this Qur'an-based morality instead of the misrepresentations leading to terrorism.
America's efforts to solve the problem from the outside will not succeed. Since the problem arises out of an erroneous view of Islamic morality, its solution must come from within the Islamic world. Muslims must assist in replacing these mistaken views with the correct understanding of Islamic principles and prevent those who misunderstand Islam from acting upon their rage. Thus, American policy should support a solution from within the Islamic world. As we have stated all along, forming the Islamic Union is the only realistic solution.
It is in America's best interest to adopt this approach, not to mention within the best interest of the Islamic world and the world in general. Those who think otherwise should reconsider, as they might well be dragging the world into a bloodbath. The American leadership also must be careful not to be distracted by such misrepresentations that lead them to identify Islam as a hostile religion and culture. The people behind such distortions are strategists and ideologues who wish to see a bloody war between the West and the Islamic world. They are doing their best to present American anti-terrorism policies as a war on Islam. Some commonsense announcements by the American leadership, which rejects the idea of a war between the West and Islam, have had positive effects; however, they need to be seen by the global community as affecting American policies.
How Can America Help Achieve Global Peace?
In the aftermath of 9/11, the Bush administration announced a new national security and foreign policy strategy. One week after the terrorist attacks, President Bush revealed the framework of this strategy in his speech to the nation. Known as the "Bush Doctrine," it proclaimed, in effect, that America would engage in preemptive strikes in order to defend itself. While such attacks may sometimes be justifiable, in actuality it meant the beginning of a new era. This strategy was hammered out under the prevailing psychology in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, drawing heavily on President Bush's patriotic feelings. Some hawkish circles in the country promptly suggested that this new strategy should target almost all of the Middle East and that the nation must be prepared to stomach a 20-year war in the region. Less provocative circles pointed out such an approach's inherent flaws and asserted that it risked escalating terrorism. Before examining the potential risks, it is necessary to clarify the meaning of "preemptive attack."
America, the world's only superpower, quite naturally should have political interest, as well as a strategy, in different parts of the world. Besides, American military intervention has had some positive results. For instance, in the 1990s, American diplomatic and military intervention targeting Serbia, which first attacked first Bosnia-Herzegovina then Kosovo, played an important role in stopping Serbian aggression. The important question here is whether or not such American policies are compatible with international law, and whether they are just and conciliatory, in compliance with human rights, and fairly protect the rights of each group.
In international relations, precautionary defensive measures by individual countries are usually received with a degree of tolerance. Of course, every country wants to defend its existence and future, and therefore develops strategies for this purpose. However, this defensive approach should not allow unjustifiable intervention into other nations' affairs. The most successful and safest strategy for a country to adopt is one that seeks to preserve peace and happiness. Peaceful strategies lead people to prosperity and security, and every attempt to disrupt the peace and prevailing order is very dangerous.
Within the American leadership, those who advocate preemptive attacks are proposing a very risky strategy that far exceeds any country's legitimate rights of self-defense. According to this flawed mentality, which is trying to prepare the ground for all kinds of attacks, the assertion that "they might become a threat in future" is the perfect excuse. However, turning to military means alone to resolve disputes cannot succeed, as history has shown over and over again.
According to this flawed logic, international relations depend not upon law, but upon power. These people would like to see America show off its power and clearly demonstrate to its opponents that the nation is still going strong. The Bush administration's hawks believe, mistakenly, that America can maintain its superior military might only through war, and that therefore it must always be the one to strike first. However, not all members of the Bush administration share this dangerous attitude. From time to time, the hawks gain the upper hand in American politics. However, many bureaucrats as well as advisors advocate a measured and peaceful policy.
All countries, especially America, must strive for peace and protect and support it at all cost. Circles that push the ideas that "might is right" or "the use of force will solve the problems in direct proportion to its use" are, in reality, driving their country into a dead-end situation. One aspect of this is the risk of escalating terrorism. Many strategists point out that America has begun to lose its economic as well as political power. American military might may well have its advantages, but the ongoing threat of war, as well as the continuous state of alarm and readiness for war trumpeted by the hawks, will deal a serious blow to its economy.
Furthermore, if this country is always at war somewhere in the world, people will no longer perceive it as the guardian of human rights, democracy, and freedom. As a consequence of its hawkish policies, America will become a nation feared by, instead of respected by, the world community. Even if some military objectives are achieved, America will suffer economically and damage its international image. So, it would only be a very limited success for the country. In reality, the American government also does not want to end up in such a situation, and so it must be cautious and measured when taking the hawks' flawed views into account and do its best to follow rational policies.
Moreover, these circles should consider the example they are setting for other nations and calculate the potential costs of other countries behaving in the same way to protect their interests. It is fairly obvious what kind of chaos and conflict the world would experience were such nuclear-armed countries as Russia, China, India, or Israel to adopt the strategy of preemptive attack. Even just the possibility of such a scenario represents a great threat.
Clearly, America has the right to protect its national interests and defend itself against potential threats. The international community respects this, especially after the 9/11 tragedy. This right, however, can be used to benefit America and the world at large if its use complies with international law. The most important mechanisms for preventing this strategy from descending to the level of a personal war are international law and the broad consensus of the international community reached within its framework. If these mechanisms are ignored, the proponents of this strategy will lead America into a crisis and will represent a threat to world peace.
America must reconsider its strategy in the light of all the above concerns. The way to world peace and stability cannot be aggression and violence, but common sense, fairness, and caution. The primary strategy for its war against terrorism must be to support cultural activities. In order to defeat every ideology that considers violence to be a solution, human relationships a source of personal gain, and aggression legitimate, the conditions that give rise to terrorism must be fought. The widespread acceptance of religious morality, which demands tolerance, conscience, love, and compassion instead of evil incited by anti-religious ideologies, will provide lasting solutions to terrorism and many other social ills.
Appropriate cultural programs can be implemented by American cooperation with non-governmental organizations, many of which are currently working on such issues. This is an encouraging sign, no doubt, but lasting solutions require state backing and a widening of these efforts' scope.
Besides, the American government must not forget that Christianity's central tenets oppose war and hostility. God forbids people to incite chaos or endanger peace and security. If America respects religious beliefs, it must become a role model for all people by seeking to bring peace and security, not fear and apprehension. Those members of the Bush administration who often perceive the need to mention their Christian faith must not forget that Jesus commands them to be ambassadors of peace: "Blessed are the peacemakers." (Mathew 5:9).
American religious leaders have called upon the Bush administration in this regard. In a letter (50 signatories) to President Bush in the days before the American invasion of Iraq, the National Council of Churches (NCC) gives important messages:
We write out of concern that those same precious gifts [of God] may be damaged by actions being contemplated by our nation.
We, leaders of American churches and church-related organizations, are alarmed by recent statements by yourself and others in the Administration about pre-emptive military action against Iraq for the expressed purpose of toppling the regime of Saddam Hussein. Understanding that Mr. Hussein poses a threat to his neighbors and to his own people, we nevertheless believe it is wrong, as well as detrimental to U.S. interests, to take such action.
We oppose on moral grounds the United States taking further military action against Iraq now… Military action against the government of Saddam Hussein and its aftermath could result in a large number of civilians being killed or wounded, as well as increasing the suffering of multitudes of innocent people.
... As Christian religious leaders responsible for millions of U.S. citizens we expect our government to reflect the morals and values we hold dear—pursuing peace, not war; working with the community of nations, not overthrowing governments by force; respecting international law and treaties while holding in high regard all human life.25
The Devastation Caused by War
War is an evil that always brings pain and tears to the warring parties and causes terrible losses. Religious morality requires that people resolve their disputes peacefully and in a conciliatory manner. Those who live according to religious morality refrain from such harmful attitudes as hate, revenge, and anger. Instead, they adopt a tolerant and forgiving stance. When people are distanced from religious morality, an environment conducive to internal and mutual communal conflict develops. Accordingly, the two world wars were evils brought about by irreligious ideologies. The First World War caused devastation from Europe to the Middle East and killed more than 10 million people, while the Second World War, which, like the first, had no valid justification, ended in horrific bloodshed costing 55 million deaths. The survivors witnessed levels of cruelty rarely seen in history, and millions of innocent people perished in concentration camps.
Sadly, these two world wars and the resulting devastation still have not convinced many people just how terrible a disaster war actually is. The Second World War did not end conflict and war; instead, new ones broke out all over the world, killing continued, and the political ambitions of the few killed millions of people, crippled untold thousands, destroyed entire cities, and devastated whole nations. Wars have also caused serious psychological damage to the survivors and damaged the spiritual well-being of an entire generation. Wars produced people who experience anxiety attacks, shake uncontrollably, and suffer from sheer fear just by hearing the word "bomb" or seeing a uniform. Some of them have remained schizophrenics for years because of the terror they have witnessed, and others have failed to readapt to society.
Those who believe that war can solve problems only have faith in military solutions. Those who plan new wars, particularly in the Middle East, must remember previous human tragedies and abandon their dangerous plans. The cost of invading Iraq reveals another dimension to such affairs.
Thoughts on the Cost of Invading Iraq
Many statistical studies conducted in America about the costs of invading Iraq reveal that besides the direct costs, there are serious other implications that need to be considered. For instance, the study by Senator Joseph Biden, chairman of the U.S. Foreign Relations Committee, puts this cost at $100 billion. Biden also stated that another $50 billion would be needed to rebuild Iraq, and that the total cost would be more like $150 billion. At present, it appears that the invasion was successful and that everything has been contained within the estimated limits. However, this will not cause the tragedies experienced during the war to be forgotten and does not justify using these resources for this war instead of the American people's prosperity.
The $100 billion cost is not considered a significant amount by the hawks in the Bush administration. However, it is three times the education budget for children aged between 0 and 12, four times the country's foreign relations budget, and able to cover the health costs of all American children without health insurance for 5 years. This is indeed a thought-provoking fact: That this amount of money is spent on an invasion that costs the lives of thousands of people instead of used to increase the living standards of all Americans. However, given that these estimated costs have been calculated based on ideal conditions, many retired military and defense experts say that the costs will spiral, considering the potential risks of the post-invasion period.
Past American wars have shown that the costs of these wars far exceeded the planned amount. For instance, the Secretary of the Treasury in Lincoln's cabinet estimated the cost of the Civil War for the North would be $240 million; in fact, the actual cost was 13 times higher ($3.2 billion). In the 1966 budget, $10 billion was earmarked for the war in Vietnam, which was expected to end in the summer of 1967. But the war continued until 1973, at a direct cost of between $110 and $150 billion.26 In addition, 47,000 American soldiers died on the frontline, another 11,000 soldiers died in various circumstances, and a total of 303,000 soldiers were injured. More than 1 million Vietnamese civilians lost their lives, 225,000 Vietnamese soldiers were killed in the war, and 570,000 were injured.27
These examples reveal that the cost of warfare can spiral out of control when things do not go according to plan. Therefore, all future wars and invasions must be prevented, for the human and financial losses on both sides can increase dramatically. Moreover, a democratic, peaceful, and moderate order cannot be created in the Middle East by means of war, as the Bush administration is intent on doing. Even if military success is achieved, it is next to impossible to create a lasting peace and order in this way. Winning a war on the battlefield is not necessarily enough to control and rule a region politically. And, what usually happens after any invasion is a very good proof of this.
The Middle East rests on precarious balances. History proves that it is highly unlikely that foreign powers will maintain these balances justly or fairly, or achieve an order that is acceptable to the region's very diverse population. Only a power that shares the region's culture and civilizational ethos can do this. This must be a central authority that unites all Muslim nations, one that reflects and represents their will. This authority is the Islamic Union, which will not only resolve the problems in the Middle East, but also all problems between the West and the Islamic world. Therefore, the West, especially America, must support the formation of the Islamic Union, which will unite all Muslim nations under a peace-seeking, tolerant, and constructive umbrella and cooperate with it. In this way, America will find a reliable political union with which to maintain dialogue and cooperation, a union stretching from Morocco to Indonesia.
Many American strategists and thinkers have pointed out this fact, and William Nordhaus, a renowned economist and professor at Yale University, states in the "conclusions and suggestions" section of his report, titled: "The Economic Consequences of a War with Iraq," the following:
From a political point of view, unilateral actions, particularly those taken without support from the Islamic world, risk inflaming moderates, emboldening radicals … in those countries.28
Who Is Behind the Invasion?
It is an interesting question to ask why America invaded Iraq despite the clearly visible damage and negative impact that such an act would engender. Many strategists think that this invasion had been planned well before 9/11, and suspicions concerning the Bush administration's claim that Iraq had, and possibly intended to use, weapons of mass destruction began to be heard.
This military action is part of America's new Middle East strategy. Those who developed this strategy had decided already in 1997 that America had to hit Saddam and remove him from power. The first signs of this emerged in 1997, when a group of strategists in Washington, under the influence of the Israeli lobby, formed the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) think-tank to advocate for occupying Iraq. The foremost names of PNAC, later to become the most influential people in the George W. Bush administration, were Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney. Even if they had originally set out to create a stable world order under American leadership, they acquired the belief, assisted by the Israeli lobby, that a war in the Middle East was necessary. Had they made a comprehensive evaluation, they soon would have realized that such a belief was mistaken. If the purpose was to create stability, it is obvious that war never brings about stability and order. To the contrary, it destroys the existing order and brings about nothing but loss. It is a historic fact that stability can be achieved only by preserving peace.
An article titled "Invading Iraq Not A New Idea For Bush Clique: 4 Years Before 9/11, Plan Was Set," published in the Philadelphia Daily News under the name William Bunch, stated the following:
But in reality, Rumsfeld, Vice President Dick Cheney, and a small band of conservative ideologues had begun making the case for an American invasion of Iraq as early as 1997— nearly four years before the Sept. 11 attacks and three years before President Bush took office.
An obscure, ominous-sounding right-wing policy group called Project for the New American Century, or PNAC—affiliated with Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rumsfeld's top deputy Paul Wolfowitz and Bush's brother Jeb—even urged then-President Clinton to invade Iraq back in January 1998.
"We urge you to ... enunciate a new strategy that would secure the interests of the U.S. and our friends and allies around the world," stated the letter to Clinton, signed by Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and others. "That strategy should aim, above all, at the removal of Saddam Hussein's regime from power.29
But what was the reason for PNAC's members to be so persistent about bringing down Saddam? The same article continues:
While oil is a backdrop to PNAC's policy pronouncements on Iraq, it doesn't seem to be the driving force. [Ian] Lustick, [a University of Pennsylvania political science professor and Middle East expert], while a critic of the Bush policy, says oil is viewed by the war's proponents primarily as a way to pay for the costly military operation.
"I'm from Texas, and every oil man that I know is against military action in Iraq," said PNAC's Schmitt. "The oil market doesn't need disruption."
Lustick believes that a more powerful hidden motivator [for war] may be Israel. He said Bush administration hawks believe that a show of force in Iraq would somehow convince Palestinians to accept a peace plan on terms favorable to Israel.30
In short, the real architects behind the invasion are Israel and its American allies. At this stage, it once again becomes apparent that America's Middle East policy is heavily influenced by Israel. Some radical Zionists acting in Israel's interest exercise great influence over America's decision-making mechanisms and convince Washington to act according to Israel's Middle East strategy. Moreover, they do so while claiming that American and Israeli interests are identical, despite the fact that American interests in the Middle East are not compatible with supporting radical Zionists in Israel. Just by doing so, the US manages to affront the entire Arab world. Its interests would be better served by persuading Israel to moderate its policies and make peace with the Arabs, with itself serving as a just mediator.
This same Israeli influence can be seen in the planning stage of the invasion. The Israeli lobby misdirected the strategists who would come to hold influential positions in the Bush administration so that they would see the "need" to invade Iraq. However, this has caused new tensions in the region and gradually opened the way for a military action that caused the death of many innocent Iraqi civilians.
Irrespective of how much these strategists talk about American interests, in reality they are defending Israel's interests, because it is not in America's interest to fight with the entire Middle East and to offend and alienate its people. America does not have an anti-Islamic ideology and strategy, as some circles claim. As we stated before, America was one of the greatest allies of the Balkan (e.g., Bosnian, Kosovan, and Macedonian) Muslims who were exposed, during the 1990s, to Serbian atrocities. The only American "frontline" that negatively affects the Muslim masses is in the Middle East, due to the incredible power certain officials, who are staunch Zionists and pro-Israeli, exercise over American foreign policy. Once these officials are freed from such manipulation and thus enabled to assess the Middle East without bias, fairer policies will be developed.
This is the reason behind the American strategy of rearranging the Middle East, which the Bush administration enacted after 9/11. Israeli radicals, playing upon Israel's long-standing fear of annihilation, have long sought to rearrange the Middle East to make it a more controllable and safer region for Israel. With this goal in mind, they have exerted their influence over America and manipulated its Middle East policy for decades.
In reality, it is not in Israel's interest to be in conflict with the Islamic world either. Jews, Christians, and Muslims have the right to worship as they wish in these lands, but the Israeli leadership's policies oppress Muslims and worries Christians and even Jews. It would be far better for the Israelis, as well as for all Middle Easterners, if Israel withdrew from the Occupied Territories and made true peace instead of being in a constant state of war with the entire Middle East. This permanent atmosphere of war inevitably hurts Israel, for it then becomes the target of the very radicalism that its own policies have created. And then, innocent Israeli civilians are exposed to attack and live in constant fear. Therefore it is necessary, also for the safety of the 4.5 million Israeli citizens, to intellectually fight the radical Zionist philosophy that seeks to perpetrate war in the Middle East as well as to incite a clash of civilizations.
Zionism, a racist, chauvinistic, and oppressive ideology, aims to force non-Jewish residents from Palestine or even to kill them for the sake of the Israeli state. However, the ongoing lack of knowledge and misinformation combine to prevent both Jews and Christians from realizing the truth about Zionism. It is the responsibility of every person working for world peace to show Zionism's danger to humanity at large. Genuinely religious Jews, along with conscientious Christians and Muslims, must unite to invite everyone to the righteous path. When people come to realize the truth about the fascist, social Darwinist, and oppressive ideology known as Zionism, this large obstacle to world peace will be removed, and people who now advocate violence will become defenders of peace.
Jewish Religious Leaders Call for a Fast for Peace
Ever since the beginning of the Iraqi crisis, religious leaders from all over the world have made genuine efforts for peace. One such effort was made by Rabbi Waskow, a leader of the peace organization Shalom, which calls upon people to fast for peace. Many religious leaders of various denominations joined in and once more demonstrated that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are all anti-war:
We call upon Americans to fast:
To reflect, to seek a truer peace, to pray
In the name of the God of compassion, Who commands us to seek peace and justice…
God calls on us all to seek peace and pursue it.
Yet with deep concern we see the danger that neither the government of Iraq nor the government of the United States is taking this calling as its primary goal…
God calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves, to love the stranger and the foreigner, to do nothing to others that would be hateful to ourselves…
God calls us to feed the hungry, house the homeless, clothe the naked, heal the earth, free the mind and spirit…
God calls us to reflect—to think, to feel, and to pray before we act.
Yet we see that with no evidence of any imminent and urgent danger, our government is rushing into a war that threatens to bring death to many families—"our own" as well as those who live in another country. A war that may engulf in rage and destruction an entire region of the world, one that all our traditions hold especially dear…
At this moment of great danger, we turn toward God…31
Saddam Hussein's True Ideology
From the first day of the Iraqi invasion, the stated main goal was to remove Saddam's regime. Such a strategy, irrespective of the offered justifications, cannot be implemented successfully by military means. The lives lost during the invasion prove that this choice was wrong and that it should have never been made. However, it is also clear that Saddam was a dictator who was damaging to the region and whose regime needed to be removed.
Saddam Hussein is just one of many people who, in the 1960s, were led astray by Arab socialism, which was sweeping through the Arab world at that time. Arab socialism fused extreme fascism with a fanatic third world leftist agenda supported by the Soviets. Stalinism, the Soviet version of communism, stamped its mark upon the worldview of Arab socialists, who developed aggressive, oppressive, and provocative policies. Saddam was a leading Ba`th Party militant, the embodiment of this erroneous ideology in Iraq. In his youth, he organized and carried out attacks on political organizations and individuals opposed to the Ba`th movement through the Jihaz Hanin (the Apparatus of Yearnings) terrorist organization. Following the Ba`thists' first coup d'etat, an interrogation unit was formed under Saddam's command and subjected its victims to horrific torture. It was known that Saddam even devised new torture techniques.
Under the influence of the Stalinist ideology in which he fervently believed, he became a ruthless and merciless dictator known for his cruelty. In 1980, he ignited a bloody 8-year war by invading Iran; 2 years after that tragedy ended, he invaded Kuwait. He was violent with all domestic groups and individuals that he considered potential threats, as his chemical weapons attack on the Kurdish village of Halabja (northern Iraq) proved: 5,000 innocent people died. And, this was just one of his regime's crimes against humanity.
All of this clearly proves that Saddam was not fit to rule Iraq. People expect their leader to deliver peace, security, happiness, and prosperity, as well as peace and stability both to their neighbors in particular and the world in general.
Now that Saddam and his regime have been removed from power, the post-invasion strategies are crucially important. It is not enough to portray Saddam as a tyrant for a lasting peace to appear in the Middle East. What is needed is an analysis that can correct the conditions and ideologies that led him to tyranny. What made Saddam a bloody dictator was the Ba`thist ideology and the fascist culture that sought to resolve all issues with force or even bloodshed. A comprehensive education campaign and enlightened policies are needed if the Arab world is to be cleansed of this ideology and culture, both of which must make way for a civilized generation and people who are compassionate, loving, and humanitarian, as required by Islamic morality. In a society that practices this morality, such problems will not be encountered.
It must not be forgotten that this provocative ideology and culture does not just exist in Baghdad, but also is found in many other regions—often under the guise of religion. Its real solution lies in telling people of the true religious morality in an effective way.
Achieving Law and Order
It is highly probable that the Iraqi invasion will cause wide-ranging and prolonged instability in the Middle East. It appears as if circles with influence over American policy want to rearrange the whole Middle East, and even the Caucasus and Southeast Asia, if necessary, by war. Some members of the Bush administration express the view that "America could take action against '40-50 countries'," by which they divulge such plans.32 Irving Kristol, a PNAC participant, argued that "it is always a positive sign when the American people are prepared to go to war,33 which is another example of this mentality. All of this means that even those who devise these plans will probably not live long enough to see the end of this continued state of war.
This state of war, which will drag the world into pain and destruction, will rock the world order and deeply affect the people in the region and mankind as a whole. As we pointed out earlier, America and all other nations have the right to protect their national interests and to take precautions against situations endangering their security. But like all nations, America, as the only superpower, must use this right on the basis of ensuring world order and peace. The national security strategies of all countries, especially America, must comply with international law in order to prevent arbitrary actions. Also, when issues like terrorism threaten world security, multilateral cooperation and international alliances increase the chances for peace. Reducing tension and resolving conflict by supporting moderate and democratic forces, instead of trying to suppress violence with violence, must become the way forward. If we want to make the twenty-first century one in which all people's prosperity and security are guaranteed, all leaders must drop any ambition of creating a world order in which only the strong rule and have rights by means of continuous warfare.
Both America and other Western nations, as well as all Muslim nations, want potential threats to world peace to be eliminated, wish for economic stability, call for the strengthening of democratic regimes, demand an end to human rights abuses, seek to end all forms of tyranny over people's lives, and seek a better quality of life and an equal share of world's rich natural resources. Some strategists portray Muslims as the intended targets, which, in addition to affronting the entire Islamic world, is an equally dangerous and flawed strategy. People who interpret religion wrongfully are susceptible to myths and false beliefs and become extremists by moving against the grain of religion. Such people, who can be found among Muslims, Jews, and Christians, are all a great danger to world peace. Removing this danger is only possible by preventing extremism and forming an alliance of all moderate, peace-loving, civilized, and sincerely religious people. Only such an alliance can weaken the influence of those who present war as the only option and believe, erroneously, that it guarantees security. Thus, even more bloodshed, tears, and financial losses will be prevented.
In order to create this alliance, Westerners need to abandon their prejudices, come to really know and understand the Islamic world, and formulate joint policies that will help it develop. All parties can eradicate mutual misunderstandings by means of educational and cultural programs, for radicalism is the result of ignorance. While these educational projects will enable the West to understand Islam better, the myths and false beliefs anchored in the Islamic world will be done away with so that mutual tolerance and understanding will take root. Hate, anger, and malevolence will be replaced by peace, tolerance, and security. The resulting culture of peaceful coexistence will lead to peace between different civilizations, and cultural sympathy and interaction will deliver social progress, contrary to the claims of those who advocate a clash of civilizations.
Clearly, the Islamic world needs a culture of tolerance just as much as the West. From time to time, some Muslims come under the influence of bigoted views that make them hostile to people of other religious denominations or ethnic groups, even though this is against the Qur'an's morality. Throughout history, Islamic societies were centers of justice and tolerance, especially at the time of our Prophet (may God bless him and grant him peace). Ever since that time, history has been full of examples of oppressed Christians and Jews seeking refuge in Muslim lands, known for their compassion and protection. Bearing this in mind, especially at a time when peace is so badly needed, Muslims need to develop exemplary models based on the prophetic Sunnah and the Qur'an's values. These models will develop the Islamic world's core values and deprive all foreign powers of their ability to claim that they will bring stability and democracy to the Islamic world. Rather, the Islamic Union will lead the way.
Muslims and the People of the Book
In the Qur'an, God calls Jews and Christians the "People of the Book" and reveals in detail how the Muslims should interact with them. From the birth of Islam onward, tolerance and mutual understanding between Muslims and the People of the Book have usually been very good, for even though their holy books and some of their beliefs have been tampered with, they still have many moral values and concepts based upon divine revelation. The Qur'an encourages respectful and civilized conduct between Muslims and the People of the Book. For example, Muslims can eat their food and vice versa, and Muslim men can marry their women (Qur'an, 5:5). These rules show that it is possible for individuals belonging to these three religious communities to have friendly and neighborly relations, bond as relatives, and accept each other's invitations to share a meal.
Our Prophet, (may God bless him and grant him peace), was always just and compassionate to Jews and Christians and sought to establish an atmosphere of mutual tolerance and love among all members of these divinely revealed religions. During his lifetime, he made agreements and gave assurances that the Christians and Jews could practice their religions freely and continue their existence in autonomous communities. In the early years of Islam, some of the Muslims who had endured Makkan oppression and cruelty sought refuge with Negus, the Christian king of Ethiopia, with the Prophet's (may God bless him and grant him peace) blessing. On the other hand, the believers who migrated to Madinah with him developed a model of coexistence that became an example for all succeeding generations. In the period of Islam's growth, this entered history as an example of Muslim tolerance and justice toward Jews and Christians.
For instance, the text of an agreement dictated by our Prophet (may God bless him and grant him peace) and written down by the Christian Ibn Harris b. Ka`b and his fellow Christians stated: "The religion, churches, lives, chastity and goods of all Christians living in the East and the West are under the protection of God, the Prophet and all believers. None of those living by Christianity will be forced to turn to Islam. If any Christian is subjected to any killing or injustice, Muslims must help him."34 And then read this verse from the Qur'an: "Only argue with the People of the Book in the kindest way, saying, 'We believe in what has been sent down to us and what was sent down to you." (Qur'an, 29:46)
Numerous accounts relate that our Prophet (may God bless him and grant him peace) attended Jewish and Christian wedding receptions, visited their sick, and hosted them generously. When the Christians of Najran visited him, he spread out his cloak and asked them to be seated thereon. His marriage to the Egyptian Christian Maria is an example of this mentality. Following his death, the good treatment accorded to the People of the Book had at its heart the same tolerance that the Prophet (may God bless him and grant him peace) had shown toward these two communities throughout his life.
Muslims Treated the People of the Book with Tolerance and Justice
Christianity was born on Palestinian soil but spread towards present-day Syria and Iraq because of the Christian church's oppressive rule. When our Prophet (may God bless him and grant him peace) began to teach Islam, there were many Jewish and Christian communities in southern Arabia. Therefore, from the very beginning of Islam, Muslims, Jews, and Christians maintained a dialogue.
With the spread and strengthening of Islam, the region's Jews and Christians came under Muslim rule. Relations based upon tolerance and mutual understanding continued, and various agreements made at the time of our Prophet (may God bless him and grant him peace) granted the Jewish and Christian communities certain privileges that guaranteed their rights and existence. The privileges granted to the the monks of the St. Catherine Monastery at Mt. Sinai are examples of this. These documents guaranteed the legal, religious, and social rights of those Jews and Christians who came under Muslim rule or acknowledged Islam's sovereignty. Problems were resolved by referring to these documents. For example, the history books mention that the Christians in Damascus presented the documents recording their privileges to Caliph Umar when they encountered a problem and asked him to resolve the issue accordingly.35
The caliphs who succeeded the Prophet (may God bless him and grant him peace) practiced God's justice according to the prophetic Sunnah. In the conquered lands, both the native population and the new arrivals lived in peace and security. For example, Abu Bakr, the first caliph, gave the following command to his army before sending them toward Syria:
Stop, O people, that I may give you ten rules to keep by heart: Do not commit treachery nor depart from the right path. You must not mutilate, nor kill a child or an aged man or woman. Do not destroy a palm tree, nor burn it with fire, and do not cut any fruitful tree. You must not slay any of the flocks or herds or camels, save for your subsistence. You are likely to pass by people who have devoted their lives to monastic services; leave them to that to which they have devoted their lives. You are likely, likewise, to find people who will present to you meals of many kinds. You may eat, but do no forget to mention the name of God.36
The rapid growth of Islam brought Byzantine-ruled Syria and Egypt, as well as Sassanid-ruled Iraq, under Muslim rule. Each of these regions had large Christian populations. These Jews and Christians witnessed first hand the Muslims' justice and compassion. None of them were asked or pressured to change their religions or traditions. No practice or intervention that would have altered the existing social order or unsettled them was permitted. Various Christian sects that were being oppressed by Rome or Byzantium actually preferred Muslim rule. The Western historian Phillip K. Hitti writes:
Under the stimulus of Islam, the East now awoke and reasserted itself after a millennium of Western domination. Moreover, the tribute exacted by the new conquerors [Muslims] was even less than that exacted by the old, and the conquered could now pursue their religious practices with more freedom and less interference.37
According to Princeton scholar and author Samuel Moffet:
Under the patriarchal caliphs and all through the turbulent years of the civil wars, apart from the killings and horrors to be expected in any war, treatment of Christians in the [Muslim] conquered territories of Persia and Byzantine Syria proved to be remarkably generous.38
When examining their social and religious lives under Islamic rule, the following picture emerges:
On Islamic territory, true freedom of religion existed. No one was forced to change his or her religion, and communities that rebelled and came back later under the authority of Islam were given the same rights as before. The Islamic authority, save for a few exceptions, never intervened in the election of patriarchs or the appointment of religious authority, and guaranteed not to intervene by signing various agreements. These communities continued to speak their own languages in their private lives as well as in their religious lives. For instance, the Nestorians who left the Byzantine church chose to leave their Greek language also for the Suryani (Assyrian) language, and were free to do so. In the Christian and Jewish schools, religious education continued freely, and monasteries and other institutions that educated the community's future religious leaders preserved their autonomous status. Likewise, the sanctuaries of other religious denominations were protected by the Muslim authorities. During the conquest, places of worship were never harmed, for synagogues and churches were guaranteed protection by agreements made with the People of the Book from the time of the Prophet (may God bless him and grant him peace).
In agreements dating back to the initial period of Islam, clauses allowed Muslims to stay in monasteries while traveling. This shows that Muslims sought to develop a dialogue based on mutual respect with the People of the Book. Moreover, these communities were also permitted to rebuild derelict churches or build new synagogues and churches when they wished. For instance, the St. Sergius monastery outside Madain was destroyed by Patriarch Mar Emme (644-647 ce) but rebuilt at the time of caliph Uthman. Many such examples can be cited: Uqba, the governor of Egypt, helped build a monastery for the Nestorians; during Mu`awiya's reign a church in Edessa was renovated, and the Marcos church was commissioned in Alexandria. The fact that churches and synagogues in Palestine, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, and Iraq still remain is an indicator of the Muslim's respect for other divinely revealed religions. Another example of Muslim tolerance is the Monastery of Mt. Sinai, one of Christianity's important pilgrimage sites.
The source of the Muslim's tolerance is the Qur'an's morality, which says:
… if God had not driven some people back by means of others, monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques, where God's name is mentioned much, would have been pulled down and destroyed. God will certainly help those who help Him … (Qur'an, 22:40)
The People of the Book were free to celebrate their festivities as part of their religious tradition in their places of worship as they wished, and Muslim leaders often joined these celebrations. The Nestorian Patriarch Isho'yab III (650-60 ce) wrote a letter to the Bishop of Persia following the Muslim conquest that voices the Muslim leadership's compassion and tolerance toward the People of the Book from a Christian perspective:
The Arabs to whom God has given at this time the government of the world … do not persecute the Christian religion. Indeed, they favour it, honour our priests and the saints of the Lord and confer benefits on churches and monasteries.39
Besides these freedoms and respect, the justice and fairness with which these non-Muslim communities were treated is remarkable too. The Muslim leaders' sense of justice was renowned, and many Christians brought their cases to the Islamic courts even though they had their own courts. At one time, the number of Christians using Islamic courts reached such high numbers that the Nestorian patriarch Mar Timothee I (780-825 ce) issued a declaration warning Christians.
The People of the Book living in Muslim-ruled lands were not considered captives, but dhimmis, which gave them a legal status: non-Muslim people who recognized Muslim authority paid a jizya tax. In return, their lives and property were protected, they enjoyed freedom of thought and religion, were exempted from military service, and allowed to resolve their internal affairs by their own laws. From time to time, the jizya tax was even returned to them. A majority of historians recognize the fact that the dhimmis lived under a tolerant and just system. The renowned historian Bernard Lewis states:
But by and large their [dhimmi's] position was infinitely superior to that of those communities who differed from the established church in western Europe in the same period. They enjoyed the free exercise of their religion. … They were seldom called upon to suffer martyrdom or exile for their beliefs.40
Our Prophet (may God bless him and grant him peace) said: "On the Day of Judgment I will dispute with anyone who oppresses a person from among the People of the Covenant [i.e., a Dhimmi], or infringes on his right, or puts a responsibility on him which is beyond his strength, or takes something from him against his will,"41 thereby describing the correct attitude toward dhimmis. In line with this morality, Muslims considered it one of their important responsibilities to protect the non-Muslims under their authority. During a war with the Byzantine army, our Prophet (may God bless him and grant him peace) ordered that the tax collected from non-Muslims be returned, for the Muslim army was unable to protect them.42 This is the type of morality that he taught Muslims. Another good example of compassion and consideration is Umar's words to an old dhimmi woman: "By God, we would not be fair if we take from him when he is young and disgrace him when he is old."43 Taking the jizya only from non-Muslims is not unjust, because Muslims had to serve in the army; non-Muslims were exempt from military service.
For centuries, Muslims lived side by side with Jews and Christians in peace and security. Those Jews and Christians who lived in Muslim-ruled lands engaged in free trade and acquired property, chose their desired profession, held offices in the state bureaucracy, and even worked in the ruler's palace. They benefited from the official policy of freedom of thought, were part of their society's scientific and cultural life, and wrote books that we still have today. The exercise of their rights was not challenged or prevented. Considering that at the same time in Europe people belonging to other religions or non-Orthodox sects were cast out, persecuted, and killed, and books that published different views were burned in piles, the freedoms and peace that reigned in the Islamic world becomes even more significant.
All of these practices are requirements of the Qur'an's morality prescribed for Muslims. Peace and security were the norms in the lands administered by Muslims practicing this morality. Muslim administrations sought the people's happiness and prosperity and developed systems that set the standards for generations to come. The Islamic world of today needs to return to the Qur'an's morality and our Prophet's (may God bless him and grant him peace) path.
All of these historic facts point to another important matter: Remodeling the Islamic world according to the Qur'an's values is not only important for Muslims, but also for all members of other religious denominations living here as well as for members of all civilizations, especially those living in the West. The existence of strong nations based on the Qur'an's values will remove the West's concerns about the Islamic world and become one of the cornerstones of world peace.
The Islamic Union's Solution for the Middle East
Once established, the Islamic Union also will resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by presenting a united front to demonstrate the futility of Israel's decades-long strategy of "divide and rule" or of playing Muslim countries off against each another. This will convince Israel to make true peace with its Arab neighbors by withdrawing to its pre-1967 borders, which is the most befitting solution for Arab Muslims as well as Israeli Jews.
In order for Middle East peace to become a realistic prospect, radical Arab movements must be cured, and Israel must abandon its policies of aggression, occupation, and imperialism. The Islamic Union can achieve both objectives, for under Islamic rule in the Middle East, Jews and Muslims existed peacefully side by side. For instance, during Ottoman rule, many Jews lived in Jerusalem and other Palestinian towns without experiencing any prejudice or animosity. The problem arises out of Israel's desire to rule the entire Holy Land, an ambition that continues to cause death and bloodshed in the Middle East.
According to Islam, Jews, as the descendents of Jacob (peace be upon him), have the right to live on the lands of their ancestors, the prophets of the Israelites, and to worship in their holy places and temples on these lands. However, it is unacceptable to seek political sovereignty over the entire region, force people who have populated the area for thousands of years to leave their land, and destabilize the Middle East in order to continue this occupation. The Islamic Union will propose the following solution to Israel:
1) Israel will withdraw from all Occupied Territories, including East Jerusalem, and make peace with all Arab nations.
2) In the Palestinian-governed lands (e.g., East Jerusalem, al-Khalil [Hebron], the West Bank etc.), synagogues will be protected and Jews and Christians will have the right of free movement.
3) The Islamic Union will prevent every kind of terrorist attack on Israeli citizens.
4) The Islamic Union will fight anti-Semitism throughout the world and defend the Jewish communities' safety and peace. If such a comprehensive peace plan is put into practice, Middle Eastern peace and stability will be achieved for the first time in a century. All of the financial resources spent on arms and wars will then be spent on people's happiness, prosperity, health, and education.
25. “Church Leaders Against War In Iraq,” Houston Independent Media Center (October 10, 2002). Online at: http://houston.indymedia.org/news/2002/ 10/4622.php.
26. Arthur Okun, The Political Economy of Prosperity (Washington, DC: Brookings, 1970), chapter 3.
27. “Vietnam War,” Britannica Online. Online at www.britannica.com.
28. William D. Nordhaus, “The Economic Consequences of a War with Iraq” Yale University (October 29, 2002). Online at: www.econ.yale.edu/~nordhaus/iraq.pdf.
29. William Bunch, “Invading Iraq not a new idea for Bush clique,” Philadelphia Daily News January 27, 2003.
31. “Invitation to sign Multi-Religious Call to Fast for Peace,” The Shalom Center (October 26, 2002). Online at: www.endthewar.org/frontps/faith/calltoprayer.htm.
32. John Pilger, “The truths they never tell us,” New Statesman (November 26, 2001).
33. Grant Havers and Mark Wexler, “Is U.S. Neo-Conservatism Dead?” The Quarterly Journal of Ideology 24, nos. 3-4 (2001).
34. Orhan Atalay, Dogu-Bati Kaynaklarinda Birlikte Yasama (Coexistence in Eastern-Western Sources) (Istanbul: Gazeteciler ve Yazarlar Foundation Publications, 1999), 95.
35. Levent Ozturk, Islam Toplumunda Hristiyanlar (Christians in Islamic Community) (Istanbul: Iz Publications, 1998), 123; al-Tabari, Ta’rikh I (History I) (1850).
36. Al-Tabari, Ta’rikh 1, cited in Majid Khadduri, War and Peace in the Law of Islam (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1955), 102; reprint New York: AMS Press, 1979.
37. Philip K. Hitti, History of Arabs from the Earliest Times to the Present (London: Macmillan, 1958), 143.
38. Samuel H. Moffet, A History of Christianity in Asia, vol. 1, Beginnings to 1500 (New York: Orbis Books, 1998), 338.
39. W. H. C. Frend, “Christianity in the Middle East: A Survey Down to A.D. 1800,” in Religion in the Middle East, ed. A. J. Arberry, vols. I-II (Cambridge: 1969), I:289.
40. Bernard Lewis, The Arabs in History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), 101-03.
41. Abu Dawood.
42. Abu Yusuf, no. 139.
43. “Caliph Omar and the Blind Beggar.” Online at: www.geocities.com/am_1_99/ CaliphOmar1.html.
44. “Study Shows New Yorkers Suffered Most Post-9/11 Psychological Stress,” Scientific American (August 7, 2002).