Thursday, January 21, 2010

Book: Reconciliation

**DISCLAIMER: I'm summarizing what the author says in this book, without editorializing. By no means should any of this be taken to be my opinion or my agreeing with her. Or should the assumption be made that what she states is correct or true.**

My new book (I finished God is Not Great, and I just don't care enough about it to talk about it. Blah) is Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy and the West by Benazir Bhutto. This is the book she was working on when she was assassinated in December, 2007.

So far I've only read the introduction (written by her co-author for the book, Mark A. Siegel), first chapter, and started on the second. I know I'm an emotional sap, but there were a few times I was tearing up reading the introduction and first chapter. The first chapter is written in the first person and it's her describing her homecoming in October of 2007, and the assassination attempt that failed to kill her, but did kill 179 innocent supporters of hers, many who had formed a human shield around her vehicle to try and keep assassins from her. I cried, not just for the men who died for nothing other than wanting freedom, but also knowing that shortly the people who wanted her dead would succeed.

In the second chapter, she's discussing the 'battle within Islam'. So far it's been taken up with what 'jihad' really means (she claims that it's not the violent wars and terrorism that we know and associate it with), that it's meant to be an internal struggle of the Muslim against their own desires and failings. She asserts that, as in Christianity and Judaism, Muslims are only supposed to fight 'just wars'. But, of course, you have to acknowledge, who defines what war is just? Certainly, we in the West don't feel that the Muslims have any reason to wage war on us, and yet those Muslims who do so feel that their war is just. She has, at this point, named three Muslim 'scholars' that extremists turn to to support their desires for death and destruction of everyone who is not 'them' - Ahmad Ibn Taymiyya (a medieval Muslim scholar) who wanted the ummah to return to the ideals of the first Muslim community at Medina. 'He drew a sharp line between Muslims and nonbelievers and asserted that, "Muslim citizens thus have the right, indeed duty, to revolt against them [nonbelievers], to wage jihad."' This dictum has been copied by many groups, al Qaeda being just one - they draw a sharp line between believers (Muslims who follow their exact flavor of Islam) and nonbelievers (everyone else). Maulana Maudoodi (founder of the extremist group Jamaat-i-Islami in South Asia) believed that Muslim identity was threatened by a sense of nationalism, which he saw as a 'Western threat' - in order to 'protect' the ummah against it, he felt that the West, and all it's ideology had to be destroyed. And, of course, she cites Sayyid Qutb, who believed that the entire world was still jahiliyyah, and that the spread of the Western ideals needed to be stopped in order for Islam to spread (and, you know, fix everything - since it's done so well in making the world a shiny, happy place where it has clawed it's way to the top).

These, she says, are just examples of the mindset that is prevalent in the Islamic world now. 'Using mistaken interpretations of the Quran, they believe that they can justify acts of violence against innocents, people of the Book, and even fellow Muslims in order to achieve their goals. Clearly the Quran does not support the teachings of these reactionary clerics. They may provide an intellectual infrastructure for the terrorist movement, but it is a house of false cards and twisted logic. Fanatics will use every rationalization to justify their terror, and this has traditionally been true for religious extremists.'

Here's a short passage showing why she believes that terrorism is forbidden by the Qur'an, and Islam: 'Certainly, the Quran and the hadith argue for dying for a just cause. Two hadith examples are illustrative. Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj (d. 875 c.E) and Ibn Maja (d. 887) gave reports that claim that God forgives martyrs for all sin but debt. Abd al-Razzaq al-San'ani (d. 826) quotes the Prophet: "When one of you stands within the battle ranks, then that is better than the worship of a man for sixty years." These verses do support God's forgiveness for those who die in just causes. However, later jurists and extremists who allege that the Quran supports the actions of terrorists who take their life to kill innocents do not have textual support. Suicide-murder is specifically and unambiguously prohibited in the Holy Book: On that account:

For this reason did We prescribe to the children of Israel that whoever slays a soul, unless it be for manslaughter or for mischief in the land, it is as though he slew all men; and whoever keeps it alive, it is as though he kept alive all men; and certainly Our messengers came to them with dear arguments, but even after that many of them certainly act extravagantly in the land.

Thus, in the Quran, preserving life is a central moral value. The Quran once again shows God's preference for life over death in this next verse: "He who disbelieves in Allah after his having believed, not he who is compelled while his heart is at rest on account of faith, but he who opens (his) breast to disbelief—on these is the wrath of Allah, and they shall have a grievous chastisement."
The Quran holds saving one's life in such high regard that it allows one to renounce his faith if he is under duress, as long he keeps his true faith in his heart (that is, he does not actually renounce it).
These verses demonstrate the value the Quran puts on life; it does not permit suicide but demands the preservation of life: "And spend in the way of Allah and cast not yourselves to perdition with your own hands, and do good (to others); surely Allah loves the doers of good." The Holy Book goes on to give another specific prohibition of suicide (although on the group level): "O you who believe! do not devour your property among yourselves falsely, except that it be trading by your mutual consent; and do not kill your people; surely Allah is Merciful to you." The Quran is thus explicit in denying the validity of murder-suicide in its teachings.
Let us look specifically at the issue of terrorism. Muslim jurists developed a specific body of laws called siyar that interprets and analyzes the just causes for war. Part of the law indicates that "those who unilaterally and thus illegally declare a call to war, attack unarmed civilians and recklessly destroy property are in flagrant violation of the Islamic juristic conception of bellum justum. Islamic law has a name for such rogue militants, muharibun. A modern definition of muharibun would very closely parallel the contemporary meaning of `terrorists.' The acts that these muharibun commit would be called hiraba ('terrorism'). Thus all terrorism is wrong. There is no `good terrorism' and `bad terrorism.'" Osama bin Laden's creed that "the terrorism we practice is of the commendable kind" is an invented rationalization for murder and mayhem. In Islam, no terrorism—the reckless slaughter of innocents—is ever justified.'

So far, I really love this book. I'll probably be posting more as I keep reading.


  1. WOW. This just moved to the top of my must read list.

  2. Just War---Quran defines "Just War" as a defensive war against oppression and injustice.

    The U.S. has supported opressive and unjust regimes in the Middle East that exploit the people and the country's rescources without benfiting the people---Just so that Americans can have the luxurious lifestyles they have become used to. The information on U.S. foreign policy is just a mouse click away---do your research.

  3. One of the most fun things about blogging is identifying who is writing the anonymous comments. It's often easier than they think.

    Anyway, that was off topic. :)

    Sounds like an interesting book! The issue of when violent action by Muslims is justified, is a tricky one because it is very hard to extract general timeless principles from the Quran - everything in it about war is situational. I think that makes it vulnerable to being exploited to justify terrorism. But thankfully a lot of Muslims think like Benazir here. People will see whatever they want to see in scripture.

  4. LK,

    Glad to be spreading this book. It is, so far, a very excellent read.

  5. Last Anon,

    So...does the Qur'anic definition of 'just war' allow for the murder of noncombatants? Innocent men, women and children? Or do you go with the whole, 'the best defense is a good offense' style of politics? How do you justify the acts of the Muslims fighting your 'just war' in light of the Qur'an which forbids their actions?

    Oh, yes, yes, of course. 'Evil America' - so the people, who have done *nothing* to Muslims, who, hell, half the time never even thought about Muslims, deserve to be murdered because, what? Muslims feel like they're being oppressed? Or do you think we did that too? One of those One/New World Order conspiracy kind of things?

    Let me just say, I don't talk about politics here - I understand the fluidity of history, and just like any other country, 'meet the new boss, same as the old boss'. But, I'll tell you, as far as I'm concerned, I think America should pull out of *everywhere* we are, and focus on our own problems. All those countries where we're giving aid? Forget it. And the Middle East can burn itself to the ground with intra-Muslim/tribal warfare. Or maybe Saudi or the UAE can police their own people, and then the extremist Muslisms can focus on *their* decadent and luxurious lifestyles. Because you have to have somebody to blame, or else face the fact that your society doesn't work.

    Your 'Islamic' governments are corrupt, far worse than any democratic government we have. Whose fault is that?

  6. Sarah,

    Ah, the internet. It's great, but it gives us the opportunity to spout whatever comes to mind, without people knowing who we are. That being said, I at least want a tag so I can address them. I'm done with the anonimi.

    Moving on...

    It is a good book. It's true that everything in the Qur'an, on war, is specific to a certain set of circumstances that Mohammed was in at the time. And it *is* painfully easy to take what supports an extreme view out of the whole, ignoring the actual context, and say, 'Allah told us to!' *rolls eyes* Thankfully, yes, the majority of Muslims don't believe this way. Sadly, enough do that they've poisoned the well for the rest of them.

    The same can be said of any extremist members of any faith. She does mention that the same mindset that fuels Muslim terrorists fuels the Christian fundamentalists who bomb abortion clinics or the Jewish fundamentalists who attack Muslim holy sites in Palestine. It's not an attitude unique to Islam by any stretch of the imagination.

  7. I want to be Captain Awesome!


    Thanks for sharing about this book. It sounds really great and I appreciate you quoting parts of it. My Muslim friend described jihad more as an internal struggle and I read a book from a Catholic who did things with Muslims who compared it to our own "good fight of faith." (Eph 6) I can understand jihad in this context although I think the OTHER jihad is known more in the West.

    About Anon's comment, true that America is hardly innocent. However, I really hate the victim mentality so I think those Muslims need to stop blaming others and realize their own faults first. Muslim terrorists often kill a lot of Muslims - look at Iraq. Most of those getting killed when suicide bombers "go off" near mosques are - well, Muslims. So the ummah has its own problems first and foremost.

    Muslims can blame the West for all their ills, but really if THEY are the people of God then why is God allowing them to be oppressed like this? Could it be because of their own sinfulness? *shrug*

    I did hear before that the Middle Eastern societies used to be more liberal, but they saw how awful they were so the Muslims decided to "go back to their religion" which meant women started covering and, I guess, men did whatever religious men do. Not sure if it's helped or not.

    I agree we should just pull out of everywhere and let the Muslims deal with each other. If they want to get along as they do in Syria, superb! But if they want to kill each other as they demonstrate frequently in Iraq and Lebanon, eh...let them.

  8. Susanne,

    Okay. :) You can be Captain Awesome from now on.

    My understanding of the 'greater jihad' is as you said, an internal struggle, similar to our own fight for faith - a fight against *our* weaknesses and temptations. The 'lesser jihad' is the fight against outside foes. But I think many find it easier to blame everyone else for their own failings and desires, and fight them, rather than admit the problem is internal. They turn from the inner fight, which they don't want to admit to, to an outer fight, where nothing is their fault.

    As for the rest of your comment: Amen! I agree with everything!

    (try not to collapse in shock!) ;)

  9. Did you hear that big ol' thud?

    That was Capt. Awesome collapsing in shock. Now 'scuse me as I try to get myself off the ground. It's hard typing from here!

    :) verification word is "hentest." Hen test?

  10. *fans Captain Awesome to help revive her*

    I'm impressed you can type this well from that angle!

    Heh. Better than hen pecked I guess.

  11. I love chuck. captain awesome is hot

  12. Susanne and Amber, you guys crack me up. Such a great double act you would make. LOL

    Oh, I understand the Capt Awesome thing now... it's in your comment form message!

  13. Slice,

    It's a truth of the universe that Captain Awesome is, in fact, awesome. And hot. Did you see last week's Chuck? All the more wonderful for more Captain Awesome. :)

  14. Sarah,

    We'll be here for the foreseeable future. Be sure to tip your waiter. ;)

    Heh. I guess it wouldn't make a whole lot of sense if you didn't see that, would it?

  15. I didn't know Captain Awesome was a character on a TV show!

    Yes, roll your eyes, Amber. I know, I know. I'm soooooo out-of-touch with pop culture.


    I just wanted to be Captain Awesome because it's so, so ME, right?

    I know it's hard for you to admit, but, Sweetie, *I* got the right answer on the fox and little prince story.

    Yeah, that's right...I'm still bringing up THAT little incident from last year. :)

  16. Susanne,

    I kind of guessed that it was just the awesome factor of the name that drew you. I *are* kind of *old* for Chuck. *giggles and runs away*

    I imagine you yelling at kids to 'get off my lawn!' Oh! And turning the hose on 'em! ;)

    Seriously, though, Chuck's a great show if you're into comedy/spy.

    You can still be Captain Awesome. Just because you're *you*.

    *headdesk* I'm going to be hearing about the prince & fox until the day I die, aren't I? Oh, crap! *eyes Susanne* I'll be hearing about it *after* I die too...

  17. Your last comment seriously was soooooooooooooooooooooooo funny!


    Thanks for the laughs. It's good for old folks like me to laugh.

    That whole "laughter does good like a medicine," ya know? And with the cost of medicine, I need all the cheap meds I can get!

  18. :)

    I'm doing my best to keep you healthy.


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